Nationals Baseball: Werth a lot, Missing ZNN, and Roark

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Werth a lot, Missing ZNN, and Roark

Dusty said recently that he wants to use MAT like a 6th man. There's a couple things in there that bother me - the idea that he's proving his worth with great spring stats, the idea that you would give Bryce Harper more than a day off a month - but all in all it's what I'd want to hear. MAT will get enough playing time to see if he's making progress. This is a necessity for the Nats to help make decisions for 2017 and beyond.

The follow-up question is what happens if Werth struggles? Could MAT take over his role full time? If Revere struggles, that would certainly happen. If Bryce struggles enough that MAT could take over for him, the Nats are doomed. But if Werth struggles it is not as clear cut. Ideally yes, MAT would take over. Werth is a liability in the field now, so if he's not hitting his value is reduced to seeing pitches and maybe smart baserunning. MAT on the other hand gives you defensive value even if he's not hitting. It would make sense to pull him.

But how long a leash do you give Werth? It will be tempting to pull him if, say, he gives you a bad April, but that may be premature. It was just 2014 when Jayson hit .292 / .394 / .455, a line we'd kill to have MAT match. Taylor has only hit that level once ever for any extended time in minors or majors (discounting a Puerto Rican Winter league stint), during an extended stay in Harrisburg in 2014. Werth's very good at getting on base, and that's a big skill for this team. (The team's OBP last year without Bryce is a dismal .304) He's also never been a fast starter with the Nats, generally having his best months in the dog days of July and August. Give up on Werth too early and maybe he never gets the reps he needs to get loose. There's also the question of how he'd react. He's shown himself to be a bit... self-important. Could he react to a demotion positively?

This could very well be the question of the early season if Werth struggles. In my mind Werth has earned the benefit of time. However, it all depends on how bad he's hitting.

ZNN is gone and he's not coming back. Most people are ok with it. Ross seemed like a fair replacement for the departing ZNN who dipped a little in his final season in DC. It's almost certainly true that the Nats didn't need to sign a ZNN to a long term deal. However, it's going to be hard for Ross to be ZNN. Over the course of the 2012-2015 window, ZNN was the Nats most valuable pitcher (Strasburg was arguably better but pitched a 130 fewer innings). Not only that he was arguably a Top 10-15 pitcher in the entire league. He's not a Kersahw, Sale, King Felix or yes, Scherzer. However, he was healthy, pitched all the time, and pitched well for four years. He was as valuable as a Cueto, Lester, or Bumgarner.

For the sake of 2016 and beyond there are really two questions. The first is whether Ross can match what ZNN puts up during the same time frame, helping to figure out if the Nats could let ZNN go. That's most likely a yes given their respective ages. At the very least we can agree it's a fair gamble. The second is whether Ross can match what ZNN put up over the last 4 years, helping to figure out if the Nats can expect the same sort of production from him as they got from Jordan. That has to be most likely a no. The hurdle you are asking Ross to clear is to be one of the best 15 pitchers in the majors over the next 4 years. I like Ross but I'm sorry I'm not putting my money on that. ZNN was a special talent when the Nats had him and it's going to be hard to replace that.

With Arroyo down and Giolito being expensive 6 years or so down the road, Roark looks pretty secure in his role as the 5th starter. Is Roark up for it? Roark works if he gets ground balls and keeps the ball in the park. He doesn't walk a lot of players but doesn't strike out a bunch either. His spring has looked ok in those regards - no homers, 9 Ks in 9 IP, but it's spring and the equivalent of one complete game, hardly anything you can hang a hat on.  I think the way to look at it is there aren't any warning signs things will be terrible. A bunch of homers (Gott?) or walks (Gio?), or no K's at all (Kelley?).  I think a big question for Roark will be not if he can get grounders but if he can get the grounders that he wants. The 3B/SS side of the field should be defended well. The 2B/1B side might be a big issue if Zimm can't move around. Roark can pitch like he wants to and still be beat if the batters can direct their grounders a little bit.  If Roark can't do it than next up would almost certainly not be Giolito but Blake Treinen. It could work but I'm not sure anyone would look to that with any sort of confidence.


blovy8 said...

Treinen? So one four-inning relief appearance in spring training sold you on him as a starting option? He'd have to miss being on the parent club entirely, but I guess he could keep Arroyo's AAA rehab spot warm and they could carry three lefties in the pen. I'd rather skip the fifth starter turn, leave him as a long man or maybe split a start with he and Petit. Voth or Cole under the eye of Maddux would be ok with me. Probably depends on where Cole's velocity and command is.

Stephen Drew is batting third today. Spring training or not, I have to believe Dusty lost a bet.

blovy8 said...

Well that lineup was for the 18th, I'm an idiot.

Harper said...

blovy8 - didn't sell me, just reading the tea leaves. Praise of him is strong, less use for him as a relief arm now (plus he stunk at it in high pressure situations), other options are weak other than Giolito who is being cost-controlled at the moment.

John C. said...

FWIW (not much), I think the team goes with Petit as the spot starter if someone misses a turn, and A.J. Cole if someone really stinks up the joint and/or gets hurt in April, and possibly into May as well. And of course there is the open question about Bronson Arroyo (unlikely, but not out of the picture).

I think they've tried to move Treinen to a relief role in ST, but he had to make another start when Arroyo went down. I don't think that changes the way they are thinking about him; last week Baker was quoted as saying that he has plans for Treinen to be "a big part of the bullpen." I'd provide the link (to a story on but my work firewall blocked it. Once the season has started and he's pitching out of the bullpen it would be a major effort to stretch him out again to start.

Harper said...

John C - ok I missed that. I wonder if anything has changed? After the Arroyo spot start it doesn't read like it had, but then he had to jump in and toss 4 when Ross got hit and he did well. Next few games should answer that.

Anonymous said...

I can't wait to see Giolito finally debut when he's on his 60th elbow some time in the year 2525.

Alan Wiecking said...

That was a nice inning against Tanaka, spring or no. A fine Jason Werth at bat, just forcing extra pitches and Wilson remembering his power is to right. Drew's shot was pretty good. Revere, Rendon, Harper on the bases is a fast bunch.

I do believe! This is going to be a great year.


Anonymous said...

Werthless will be on the bench opening day and have splinters in his butt by the end of April.