Nationals Baseball: The dream scenario - an easy division title

Wednesday, March 02, 2016

The dream scenario - an easy division title

I said before that the Nats season could break anywhere from .500 to 95 wins (or something like that) without injuries. Today we test the latter assumption. Can a healthy Nats team win 95 games and likely cruise to the NL East crown (you figure a good chunk of the 95 will come from the Mets)?

Let's set the base first and for that I like to use Baseball Prospectus' 3rd Order win totals. You can read up on it, but basically it answers the question "How well would my team do if it played in an absolute vacuum?" The Nats, who finished with 83 wins, sit with 89 wins in this scenario. Sound odd? Well the Pythag record agrees but still it doesn't feel like the Nats were an 89 win team in disguise last year.

Turns out the Nats were helped by a good number of skewed results. The Nationals won 8 games by 9 runs or more and they never lost such a game. Pythag and 3rd order submit that runs scored are just kind of randomly distributed. In other words the Nats happened to score a lot in the same game that they happened to give up a few. Possible sure. But 8-0 seems more than just luck. It feels like something internal to the team like how we went over how Blake Treinen was a different pitcher when there was less pressure on him. I'm going to let my gut change things a little and knock the Nats back down to 88 wins. It's my exercise and that's closer to the team I felt I saw last year.

OK, so now let's roll up our sleeves and do it. First let's make everyone healthy and let them play kind of as expected. Rendon is healthy, plays full season but he's young enough to say we can't be sure about him repeating 2014. We'll put in two more wins. Zimmerman healthy (which let's be honest means 120 games) a win and a half more. Werth healthy (maybe 140) two more wins. Might be underselling Werth a little but he is 37. Eventually you don't bounce back. That's 5.5 more wins for 93.5 wins. Almost there. Wow that was easy! But of course they play and they take away time from others. Robinson plays less (93 wins), Yuney is gone (91 wins). Ok 91 wins.

Now what about replacements? I'm going to make Murphy replace Ian, and Revere replace Taylor (for now) that's about two more wins combined. Back to 93 wins. But Span is gone and he was very good when he played. 91.5 wins.  Ross pitches a full year.  92.5 wins. But Roark replaces Zimmermann. 91.5 wins - ZNN's 2015 wasn't particularly good. Bullpen gets better, but the pen actually wasn't terrible in raw stats, just when it counted, and pens aren't actually all that impactful...another win? 92.5 wins. Maybe the bench is a win better? I'm not sure we can say that for sure. We'll come back.

Now we get into the "plays a little better"/"plays a little worse" type of stuff. Let's go around the field. Ramos/Lobaton? We haven't talked about them. I generally think they'll play the same terrible way. I kind of like Espy to falter a bit. 92 wins. But I think Rendon can make that up. 92.5 wins.  Zimm/Werth I'll keep same for now. Bryce... Here's the thing. Bryce was SO good last year than he can be Paul Goldschmidt great in 2016 and be about 2 wins worse. I'll give his youth the benefit of the doubt and say his regression from historic to merely great only costs the Nats a win and a half. 91 wins. Rotationally, Scherzer too is up for some regression. Again we'll only go from Cy Young candidate to Cy Young possibility and cost the Nats a win 90 wins. But I like Strasburg to step up and cover that. 91 wins.

OK this feels a little low. 91 win team for next year with relative health and expected performances. What's the easiest way to get from here to 95? Let's take that win from the bench now. Taylor plays a little better, Robinson keeps on keeping on, Drew has a decent year. The big thing though is simply replacing those absolute zeros of Moore and Uggla. so we could probably go a win and a half actually, 92.5 wins.  Hmmm. Hmmm. There are places sure but where do I see the most potential improvement? Did I give Ross a win more?  I can give him another half win. That's not crazy at all. Probably in line with a good number of projections. 93 wins. If the pen gets much better we're putting it at near best in the majors. Don't want to go there. I could probably throw another half win at Murphy assuming he plays close to a full season. 93.5 wins.

This is tougher than I thought.  We'll give Werth another half. When he's healthy he's been good and we're assuming health. 94 wins.   Now I think I need to find someone to surprise and frankly that's Rendon. It wouldn't even be much of a surprise. He's 25-26 and two years ago was fringy MVP. Right now we have him as fringy All-Star. Let's make him a sure thing. 1 more win and there you go 95 wins.

OK so I was a little wrong. This Nats team, at least in my eyes, doesn't easily range to 95 wins. So it would be tough for this team, without some surprisingly great play, to end up WS favorites. (I looked it up - that's what I said - not 95 wins). But something just below this? 93 wins or so? That won't be too hard for this team to reach if it stays healthy and has no crazy drops in performance.

There's some leeway here. Some places where the Nats could really take off that wouldn't be crazy. Ramos closes in on average. Zimm plays closer to a full season. Werth defies age again. Ross has no regression and gets even a little better. Roark is closer to 2014 than we think. That in itself is like a 99 win team and that's still with Bryce and Max not repeating what they did.  Of course at this point this becomes an "everything goes right, no one gets worse or injured" scenario, so you'd expect super high win totals. I think what I'm saying is that there is some coverage here for injuries and bad performances. Split the difference and to me it looks like a 92-93 win team.

But let's look at the nightmare in a couple days before I conclude anything.I think it'll be pretty hard to get to .500 but I wonder where I'll end up hitting the floor.


Ace21 said...

You missed the Baker for Williams swap. I'd say MW lost at least 4 games (being generous) with terrible decision making that Baker could make up by just not being Matt Williams.

Anonymous said...

. . . or possibly throwing in a significant trade deadline acquisition.

John C. said...

Ace21, he kind of did allow for the "MW factor" by using the "Pythagorean" win total as a base number rather than the actual win total.

How does a "dream scenario" not include a season from Trea Turner that puts him in the RoY conversation?

Harper said...

Ace 21 - also 4 games for a manager is a lot. I'm not saying MW didn't earn that but... it's a lot.

Anon - Sure, but I leave out deals and surprising injuries for this exercize

John C - I debated the dream I wanted to put out. Best possible or best probable. I went with the latter. The former, which includes Turner RoY type has the Nats games over 100 wins. But I did forget Turner in here so through another half-win into it making the pre "better/worse" number more like 93 and you could probably easily give another half-win to him when trying to count up, meaning the Rendon All-Star thing is probably superfluous.

SM said...

@ John C. Agreed . . . except that Dusty Baker has a strong predilection for veteran players.

I wouldn't say "blinkered" vision, but his managing career isn't exactly noted, let alone defined, for breaking in young players into the big leagues. For me, at any rate, it was the largest asterisk next to his name when Baker's signing was announced.

I suspect--fear?--Dusty's already made up his mind about Turner, regardless of how good a camp he has. ("No, really, AAA is good for you. Why, when Honus Wagner and I were . . .") And the way Baker is waxing nostalgically about Arroyo, I'm not certain Ross will be heading north with the big club, either.

Jay said...

I'm hopeful that Giolitto comes up in June and rockets to stardom. I think a rotation of Max, Strasburg, Giolitti, and a bounce back Gio is really something. I'm hopeful the reason Rizzo didn't push harder for a SP is bc he's figuring Giolitto is his "deadline deal". Also, Arroyo is making this team. I'd put money on Baker picking him right now. I will be interested to see who they send down or to the pen.

Donald said...

Does this analysis account for the Nats getting to play the Braves and Phillies 38 times? That's got to be worth something.

Wally said...

Why no mention of Stras in the "plays a little better"/"plays a little worse" category? Couldn't he see a two win improvement in his contract year?

Harper said...

Wally - I have him there getting a game better which is mostly him pitching closer to a full season (like 170). I think he'd almost have to throw 210+ to get a 2-win improvement

Anonymous said...

Did anyone see on ESPN that the Lerners are the richest owners in MLB. Too bad they are hamstrung by that MASN uncertainty.

blovy8 said...

Pythagorean doesn't count what players "should have done", it's just a run formula. Maybe a better manager eases some guys into the lineup rather than throw them all in there. Maybe a better manager doesn't put his relievers in spots where they won't succeed, or has enough communication with his team to know who's a bit sore. Maybe a better manager says, "You are not playing today Werth, I heard this starter was going to aim at your wrist, ha ha ha".

Anonymous said...

Dude, where's my ring?

John C. said...

The concerns about Dusty Baker, as I've seen them, have broadly fallen into three categories:

(1) He burns out pitcher arms. When he was hired, FG did an article ( that points out, among other things, that while Baker leaned very hard on pitchers in terms of pitch counts in the early 2000's, by the mid 2000's this had curtailed to the point that it was essentially unremarkable. This criticism seems pretty clearly no longer supported by evidence.

(2) He defers to veterans. It's hard to quantify this; most managers have a tendency to go with past performance, and indeed it's easy understand why given that nothing predicts MLB level performance better than MLB level performance (the 2014 Red Sox, for example, "went with the kids" and face planted badly). OTOH, Baker benched a very effective Scott Hatteberg (.310/.394/.474, 121 wRC+ in 2007) to go with the untested former 2nd round pick Joey Votto pretty much from the get-go in 2008, so it's not like Baker never goes with the kid.

(3) His lineups are weird/nonoptimal. Judging from this remarks this year, ultimately this criticism may land. On the bright side, the same sabermetric analysis that criticizes the way the "Old School" lineups fall out also (sotto voce) admits that lineups don't ultimately make much difference.

Jay said...

I agree with John C's points. I am hopeful. Last year and really in the playoffs the year before MW was pretty downright awful. It sounds like MW pretty much had relievers warm up multiple times per game and for multiple games in a row. I'm surprised we didn't have more injuries in the bullpen. If Baker can get them back to the team when Davey was there (confident and loose), then I think they could really bounce back. Also, teams have hit everywhere Dusty has been. If he could help the Nats offense then that would make a big difference as well. Those are a lot of "if"s. We'll see, but I am definitely rooting for the guy to be successful.