Nationals Baseball: 2016 Prediction

Friday, April 01, 2016

2016 Prediction

How does one pin down their feelings about this team? How do I look at a team with 3 important, but still big, injury risks returning? A team that was kept in respectability by two career years, one historic and one simply Cy Young? A team that plans to rely heavily on a rookie come May, a second year starter with 75 ML innings under his belt, and a guy who was a good starter two years ago? A team who replaced one attempt to complete a pen with question marks with an attempt to complete it with smaller question marks? How do I look at a team with all those uncertainties and put down a single number?

Well one way is to not do it and say I like the Nats to win 83-93 games and leave it at that. That's kind of a cop-out though.  Especially considering this is no stakes. I don't get punished for getting it wrong. 

I'm going to take a breakdown approach. I'm gonna look at four pieces of the Nats; offense, defense, starting pitching, and relief pitching and figure out what I feel about them and go from there.

OFFENSE

It should be easy to say the Nats should be better. Werth (88 GP in 2015), Zimmerman (95), and Rendon (80) are all starting the year healthy. But even if we consider them good bets to play more, though let's not say full seasons, in 2016, things nag at me. I remember last year the Nats were good offensively too. They had Bryce Harper's year that may very well not be replicated. They had suprisingly good years at the plate from Yunel Escobar and Clin Robinson. They had Denard Span play 60 games of high level ball that Revere or MAT will probably find hard to match.

Still I feel the offense is going to be better because of the following reasons :
  • Replacing 2015 Desmond with 2016 Murphy is a very safe bet to help the offense. 2015 Ian hit .240 / .311 / .409 for an OPS+ of 94. Murphy has never hit that bad and in the past three seasons averaged on OPS+ of 111. 
  • The potential of Werth/Zimm/Rendon trumps what Escobar/Robinson did last year. Escobar (113 OPS+) and Robinson (110) both had very good seasons for the Nats. They essentially matched what we just saw Murphy put up over the last three years. That's good production. In the past two seasons though both Rendon (125) and Werth (134) were noticeably better offensively than that. Zimmerman hasn't been significantly better recently but also has not been worse and has been consistent about it.  If we assume better health then I have to think it's a good bet that at least one of these three significantly outperforms what those two did last year. In that case even if we find one of the remaining two matching and the other underperforming we're at a wash, but at a respectable level for 3 positions rather than two
  • While Revere or MAT may not match Span/Taylor from last year, Revere AND MAT should. Revere is a player with consistent "on a good day average" offensive production. MAT is a guy who struggled last year but is strongly felt that he can do better. I don't trust either one to do better than 2015 Span or even 2015 Span + 2015 MAT BUT do I think the Nats can at least equal that offense by going with the hot hand of the two? Yes, I do.
  • The catching situation cannot get worse. If it does they'd have to go in another direction come the summer, right? 
  • The bench should be better. I don't think adding Drew and knocking one of Revere/Taylor necessarily makes the bench tons better than last year but the fact that the Nats are starting with these guys actually on the bench as opposed to on the field is a plus. 
DEFENSE

Off the top of my head again you have what - Murphy replacing Espinosa (minus). Espinosa replacing Desmond (plus) but maybe Turner coming in (?). Rendon replacing Escobar (big plus over the sneaky bad Yuney). Werth getting older (minus). MAT likely playing less for Revere (minus).

I'm just going to throw up my hands here. There isn't a single overriding direction for the Nats defensive changes. They should be better on the left side of the infield, worse on the right, and a little worse in CF but can I say anything for sure? No. Especially given the vagaries of one year defensive stats. I'll just say it'll stay the same, which was essentially a pretty average D.

STARTING PITCHING

Three guys are coming back so I can take do direct feelings on those guys. I think Max will do a little worse. I LOVE AL to NL guys but I love them most that first year (see Fister, Doug).  I think there is a little comeback after that. I also look at Scherzer's age and how well he did and think it's more likely he doesn't repeat that than he does. Again - this doesn't mean he'll be bad, average, or even just good. It means I think he'll be All-Star worthy, fringe Cy Young candidate, rather than clear Cy Young candidate. Gio I like to get worse too. Frankly I was surprised he pitched as well as he did. Strasburg I like to think will see a little better results.

Now we reach the new pitchers. Can 2016 Ross replace 2015 ZNN? Twist my arm to put money on it and I'd say no. ZNN wasn't great but he threw 200+ innings of solid ball.  Can Roark replace Fister + Ross... It's unclear. The bar isn't actually all that high. It's an ERA of 4.00 essentially. But Tanner didn't get there last year. You'd think that without the jerking around he'd focus better but I don't know. I guess I'll say yes, but I don't feel great about it.

All in all I think I like the starters to be a little worse. I know that puts the Nats starters at right around average, instead of above it but I'll stick to my guns here. If you don't buy that maybe you'll buy the fact that once again the Nats had their starters throw a ton of innings. Scherzer and ZNN didn't miss a start. Gio missed one or two. Fister stunk but he only missed 5 before passing the torch to Ross who didn't miss any. Strasburg did miss about a third of the season but the overall effect is the pitchers the Nats wanted to pitch made over 91% of their starts. That's less impact than if one starter misses half a season and the other 4 basically stay healthy all year long. To expect that again especially with a rotation that's now 4/5ths 27 or older as opposed to 4/5ths 27 or younger, is foolish.

RELIEF PITCHING

The plan was to get better and the Nats tried to do that by not necessarily increasing talent but decreasing variability. Bring in guys with major league success who are likely to repeat that. I'm all for the plan. But before you get too excited losing Storen, who was very good for much of the year, matters, as does letting Matt Thornton go. It's kind of a repeat of what we said going into 2015 losing Clippard and Soriano. Who is going to make up those innings? Last year the answer was Storen and ?. Didn't work. This year it's Papelbon and ?, but I'll admit I like the ? better this year.

Despite what it felt like the pen wasn't terrible last year. It wasn't as overall ok as the ERA might suggest. They blew more games than they should have. But it wasn't terrible. What it was, was terrible when you were watching. It started off the season with blown saves. Then, it kept going just long enough between them to keep you from changing your opinion on the pen. Then it blew up in important games down the stretch. That means it it seemed terrible, but really for a big part of the season it was fine.

So matching the production isn't a given. Still I like the plan and I believe that the talent in the pen hasn't gotten any worse, and is probably better. Given that, I have to believe they'll at least hit the same level of production as the 2015 pen. So even? Not quite. Simply by virtue of not blowing the same amount of important games I think they'll be more helpful to the 2016 Nats. So I'll say a little better.

INTANGIBLES

I'm not going to really factor this in because I don't feel I can but Dusty can't be worse than Matt and the team chemsitry can't be worse than it was down the stretch last year. Well it can, but god help us all if it is.

OVERALL
So offense a little better, relief pitching a little better, defense same, starting pitching a little worse... that would get the team a couple more wins over last year. So 85-86 wins? No. The Nats got a little unlucky overall and by Pythag and adjusted standings were a better team, 89 winnish. Now I don't think playing under is ALL luck. So they may not be 83 wins but they aren't 89 either. 87/88 maybe? Then add the wins to that?  Ok. I said 91 earlier. I think I'll step that back one.

90 wins.

Now does 90 wins give them the NL East? Does it get them a WC? I'll go ahead and say... no and... no. I'll even go ahead and run with the scenario where the Mets take the division with 91 wins and the 2nd WC also has 91 wins. Meaning that the Nats attempts to save a buck with Giolito and in some ways Turner, will likely have made the difference between playoffs and not.

Of course the more optimistic way of looking at 90 wins is that if anything bad happens to the Mets (and nothing to the Nats, or really more bad to the Mets than the Nats) the Nats should have an easy time winning the division. I don't think the Mets are a clear step better. I think it's pretty even, meaning luck can easily drive who wins. So far in 2016 the Nats have gotten the luck. They got through spring unscathed and with everyone seemingly recovered. The Mets have not.

But there you go. My prediction for 2016 is 90 wins and just missing the playoffs two ways.  As a reminder even if I predicted them to make the playoffs I don't predict playoff results. That's silly.

FYI Past Predictions

2010: Predicted 73 wins. Actual 69 wins.
2011: Predicted 79 wins. Actual 80 wins. 
2012: Predicted 84 wins. Actual 98 wins. NL East crown. 
2013: Predicted 94 wins. NL East crown. Actual 86 wins.
2014: Predicted 94 wins. NL East crown. Actual 96 wins. NL East crown.
2015: Predicted 93 wins. NL East crown. Actual 83 wins.

Not terrible but not great. Given normal injuries pretty close, but big injuries in 2013 and 2015 lead to big misses, no surprise there.  That 2012 team really came out of nowhere to be incredible. 98 wins!

19 comments:

Donald said...

I think I will take slight issue with the starting pitching. Last year, even though we got starts from the starting 5, some of them were pretty bad until we discovered they were masking injuries. Strasburg was awful before his DL stint, Fister tanked, and Gio had a bad stint too before going on the DL. Hopefully that improves. Then you add in the likely addition of Giolitto some time later in the year and I think overall it will be better. I'm also hoping that Zimmerman brings better defense at 1b over Robinson and Moore, but Murphy may completely offset that.

The key to the season will be injuries, which is probably the key every year. The question for 2016 will be who between the Nats and Mets has more injuries. I can see them both having issues in that regard.

SM said...

Why is it that win predictions for bad teams are frequently more accurate than win predictions for mediocre teams and good teams?

(I'm curious, by the way, how you arrived at 91 wins for the Mets?)

Jay said...

I'm hoping for 95 wins. I think Dusty helps. I am hopeful that Zim and Rendon are mostly healthy.

Also, I think the Mets come back to earth this year. I'll admit they could be the new KC and be just getting started on a bid dynasty run anchored by those young starting pitchers. But I don't think their offense holds up. Part of why the Nats didn't do anything last year at the deadline is bc pretty much everyone was saying - oh it's just Mets. Their offense was pretty bad - I think they had a stretch of like 5-7 games where they lost each game and scored like 0 or 1 run. Cespedes might be second half Cespedes, but he has never been that guy on a consistent basis. Grandson also had a great year last year, and in my mind won't do it again. At times he is a strikeout machine.

Also, at some point I think there has to be some disappointing stretches or injuries from their starters. The Nats rotation just last year is a good example. Strasburg was hurt at times. Zimmermann regressed a touch. Foster bombed and was hurt. Gio's best year with the Nats was his first one. Anyway, maybe the Mets will be a juggernaut, and I freely admit I may be very wrong - but I don't see it.

Finally, I am hopeful that some new voices in the coaches will help. Dusty has to be better than MW. Also, Dusty's teams have always hit well, so I am hopeful that Nats will follow form. I think Maddox helps as well. McCatty was a nice guy, but I'm not sure any of our pitchers progressed or got a lot better once they were in the Bigs. Maddox has already taught Treinen a new grip on his change up and is working with Gio to pick up his target and be more relaxed on the mound. Maybe it won't matter. Jay Gruden looked like a "smarter" coach after he benched RG3, but really it was likely he was the same guy and having RG3 on the sidelines was the difference.

Anyway, it will be fun to watch. It could be worse, I could be a Wizards fan.

Scherzer's Blue Eye said...

I'm going the over, mostly because I am a homer and I hate the Mets. Here are my thoughts on the Mets:

Pitching:

deGrom is good. Syndergaard is better. Harvey regresses (because he just strikes me as a complete moron), Matz gets hurt, Colon realizes he's a colossal, 42-year-old fatass, Wheeler has control issues coming back from TJ (he had control issues before).

Bullpen, outside of Bastardo, struggle to get to Familia, who has a great year again.

Lineup:

Injury bug strikes, and Cespedes goes big, buys a $14,000 prize-winning giraffe. Wright has spinal stenosis--which caused Skins great Chris Samules to retire, Granderson has a wrist issue and is 35, d'Aurnad is as fragile as any of our guys, Walker had a bad back last year.

Harper said...

Donald - perhaps. note though I'm assume Giolito does not start this year.

SM - because when bad teams are struck by injury the replacements aren't as far off as for good teams, and usually one break-out performance is not enough to change fortunes of team bc how they relate to other teams. Still worse, still expected to lose.

Mets - I like the offense to be a lot better. Walker even with Murphy. Conforto at least even with slipping Cuddyer. Wright/d'Arnaud healthier (big bc replacements were terrible). Cespedes there all year. That'll more than cover Grandy coming back down. We don't realize how bad their O was pre Uribe/Johnson/Cespedes.

Matz/Wheeler should nicely replace Neise and Colon (both not good last year) given that Wheeler won't get there until All-Star and some regression from top guys (given youth & history could go either way. I'll say slightly worse), can't say better but at least overall as good.

Relief about same as last year. D maybe a little worse (Lagares is very very good) I give them the same couple win bump but since they were on target with adjusted record they end up about a win or two better.


Jay - hope for injuries. They were starting Kevin Plawecki, Eric Campbell and Juan Lagares for good parts of last year. make that Wright/ d'Arnaud/ and Cespedes and the difference is huge. They don't have to be August/September good to make a big impact on full year bc they were SO bad March-July

SBE - if Matz Wright Grandy D'Arnaud and Walker all have injury issues I can't disagree with you going over

Mythra said...

I know it's ST and stats don't count, but I'd sure rather start off the season with the Nats' winning ways than the Mets, who were winless in something like 17 straight. I think the Mets are going to miss Murphy a lot more than the Nats miss Desmond. That Cespedes and Granderson had 0 HRs all ST would be a concern. I think the Nats get a good jump starting in April.

I am most worried about Gio in the rotation. I believe Maddux is a brilliant, very under-rated pitching coach. While I liked McCatty, I found myself screaming at the TV when he stood there as Gio imploded. Gio gets on himself in games and it snowballs. Hopefully Maddux's calm message to Gio brings him back to 2012 form. I think Roark does well, and Ross pitches above average for a #4 starter. Remember, most teams don't have a 4 or 5 with Roark and Ross' upside/talent. It's guys like Colon filling those spots on lots of rosters.

If Rendon, Zim and Werth play 100+ games each, this team likely has 2, maybe 3 guys at close to 100+ RBIs. Teams will pitch around Bryce, and then what? Pitch to Zim? Pitch to Murphy? Werth? A trio of 3 guys, when healthy, hit 280-300 and make pretty good contact with power. If Ramos is back with the bat as well, look out. Not to make too big a deal of it, but if the "outs' in the lineup are Danny and the pitcher, Danny is going to get some fastballs to hit, which can only help his hitting.

I'm still setting on 87-90 wins. I'd love to be surprised by more. Just the health issue for Rendon, Zim and Werth bothers me.

Strasburger said...

Im with Jay. 95 Wins. I'm also heartbroken to see that prediction by you Harp. ST means nothing, but wow were they swinging the bat. It was scary. Rendon for 120 games will be a 95 win team for sure. I see this as another 2012 - except this time we're underrated because people are tired of us.

Also - there was a good article on relating ST success to regular season crows and WS crowns in ESPN, which im sure you saw? Not saying it means anything but there is a trend, that's for sure.

SM said...

Your converging possibilities make a fairly persuasive argument for a 91-win Met squad.

My only caveat would be your assessment that their relief corps would be about the same. What I'll be watching is 1) the performance of Familia. (He was ridden pretty hard for a young closer last season [76 Games, 78 IP]).

And 2) their transition from starter to closer. Last year's NL Saves leader, Pirate Mark Melancon, appeared in 78 games. Pittsburgh, though, had three other guys who appeared in over 70 games. (Antonio Bastardo, the Mets' new transition man, was not one of them.) In 2015, no other Met pitcher made even 60 appearances.

I'm not even waist-deep in this mud yet, so I'll stop here. I'll only note that the Mets' starting rotation has captivated baseball's chattering classes to such a degree that the team's reliance on Familia has been largely ignored or taken for granted. More than Harvey or deGrom or Syndergaard, Jeurys Familia is the guy I'll be watching.

Donald said...

The thing about the Mets this year is that they seem a lot like the Nats at the start of last year. All the talk was about the Nats having one of the great rotations of all time. A few injuries to their starters, coupled with the fact that some of their key players are injury prone (Wright, D'Arnaud)and the 2016 Mets could be the 2015 Nats. Not saying it's definitely going to happen or anything, but I wouldn't get too cocky if I were them just yet.

Anonymous said...

I think you're overestimating what Span/Taylor did last year in comparison to what Revere will do this year. Span played 60 games? That's only a third of the year. The best way to look at it is we are replacing two super high K players with two super low K, contact guys. These two are some of the most consistent hitters in the game, it's really remarkable. Full seasons of Revere and Murphy are MASSIVE lineup upgrades over MAT and Desi last year. And hey, if MAT turns into a star and sends Revere/Werth to the bench that works, too. Either way we have tremendous OF depth, esp with DenDekker in there hopefully too. The rotation has to be better, think Scherzer is close to last year w maybe a bit of a drop, think Ross and Tanner will be at least competent and Stras will really shine. it's clear his issues last year were health, and when healthy he destroyed. I look for him to do that all year in 2016. I think yo uare also underestimating how bad some of the pitching was last year, with Fister being absolutley terrible and Stras just as bad when he was hurt for half the year. Even mediocre results from tanner and Ross will be a sizable upgrade over what we had last year with those guys floundering for various reqasons.

Zimm/Rendon/Werth, all healthy. Rendon should be good to go all year and Ive seen enough to know that when he's healthy he mashes, he'll return to form. Zimm will do the same, think he finally stays on the field. Werth isn't as washed up as everyone says, with our depth he'll get rest and will be fine. Harper will repeat last year and be even better. Book it. Ramos? All we need from you baby is mediocre. Just dont be TERRIBLE and we'll be fine. .255 w 14 homers would do just fine.

I'm telling you right now, so get ready. This team is going to mash. The lineup will be on fire all year. the Mutts? They went on a semi lucky hot streak for 2 months, and all of a sudden we cant even compete with them, and have no chance? Hogwash. 100% US Grade A horse$%#t.

As someone else said, what re the odds that all four of their big gun SPs are healthy and suffer no regression? I mean, how likely is that? I don't see it happening. And their lineup? Lucas Duda? Gradnerson? Regular Cespedes (not the lucky hot streak one)? No way, no how....those clowns are in for a RUDE AWAKENING. Remeber their scedule down the stretch? yeah, it wa s a joke.

This is going to be one of the best seasons in Nats history. We're going to storm back and reclaim the division after everyone left us for dead.

97 wins.

Mets, 92 wins.

We win the world series.

SM said...

Wow.

Zimmerman11 said...

HARPER SAID

SM - because when bad teams are struck by injury the replacements aren't as far off as for good teams, and usually one break-out performance is not enough to change fortunes of team bc how they relate to other teams. Still worse, still expected to lose.

AND I ADD

Also, because each additional win is less likely... nomatter HOW much money or talent you throw at it, so no one predicts 100 wins... or almost no one.


Nats win 100 this year and the WS. That's my prediction :)

SM said...

Double wow.

Zimmerman11 said...

I take it back. The Nats are going full-on Steph Curry this season. Warriors with a .910 win percentage? Bryce Harper says "I raise" and we win 146 games :)

Donald said...

So tonight's game wasn't a great outing by Roark. If he falters too early, we got nothing. I sure hope he has a bunch of decent outings followed by a late struggle that leaves room for Giolitto to come in and dominate down the stretch.

Flapjack said...

Can't argue with anything you say, Harper; perhaps just quibble a bit at the edges. Not worth doing here.

The chemistry thing has been on fire all spring. They're baring their teeth rather than gritting them. Long season, but a fast start and injury luck could get you to 95+. Mets don't seem as confident.

Re last night's game, it's not clear Roark would have faltered quite so obviously had Werth caught those two fly balls and made the correct cutoff throw in the Twins' comeback inning. A reminder that fielding matters... and that Werth could be a real liability this year. He could work himself into being a very expensive bench guy if they start subbing MAT who plays to his potential. But first he'd have to cost us some games.

I do think that even with injury luck, Ross hits an innings limit at some point and Lucas ends up starting in his spot (hopefully, into the playoffs).

Realistically, two guys who need to show improvement this year for the team to realize its potential are Treinen (long relief) and Cole (starter). Not optimistic about the latter. Maybe someone else will step up.

I'll go with 90+

Robot said...

My one quibble is that, yeah, BRYCE almost certainly won't repeat last year, but if someone faster than Yuni is on base ahead of him, and someone who is not a K machine is behind him, that will make a big difference.

Rob Evans said...

Whooohooo! Nats are in first place by a half game. Keep it up boys! lol

Opening Day! Finally

Kenny B. said...

I just want to thank Harper Gordek for the reverse jinx of this prediction.