Nationals Baseball: The formula and Danny v Trea

Wednesday, June 01, 2016

The formula and Danny v Trea

The 2012 Nationals had the best pitching staff in the NL, and a Top 5 offense in the league.
The 2013 Nationals had a good pitching staff and an offense just above average.
The 2014 Nationals had the best pitching staff in the NL, and a Top 3 offense in the league*.
The 2015 Nationals had good pitching staff and a Top 3 offense in the league.
The 2016 Nationals have the 2nd best pitching staff in the NL** and a below average offense.

If you can't tell the Nats fortunes have risen and fallen based not on the offense but on the arms. The offense was very good in 2015 and the Nats couldn't make the playoffs. The offense is so-so through 60 games this year and yet the Nats have one of the best records in the game. It's when the pitching staff fails to carry the team when they get into trouble.

This year the staff looks like it can carry, or more precisely it looks like the rotation does not have a weakness and as long as they stay healthy that can mitigate any bullpen issues. When in close games you can go from the starter to Rivero, hopefully one day Kelley, and then the competent Papelbon you will be fine.

I don't believe that the Nats can win it all without the offense performing better, but I do believe they can take the NL East in such a manner. It depends on what the Mets end up doing and currently their offense is worse than the Nats.

The above matters because it informs the Trea Turner vs Danny Espinosa argument. Danny hit a homer last night. Maybe he's heating up, but probably not. Regardless he's hitting around .200 which can be borderline useful assuming the player walks a lot and hits for power. Is he? Again borderline on both for May. In the meantime Trea Turner is doing well in AAA.  Now don't confuse that with "tearing up AAA" as some people who can't read stats like to say, but he is undeniably doing very well. He had a hot streak and a cold streak and has come back to hit again. What kind of hitter is he in AAA?  .300ish with a few walks and speed-based power. (more triples than HRs).  Might strike out a bit much.

The question on Trea vs Danny hinges on two things. What do you think of Danny's D vs Trea's D and how do you think Trea will do on offense.

The D question is hard to answer but I've heard many people say they didn't think Danny was doing that well at short this season, so replacing him isn't a big deal. What do the stats say? By overall D 5th best SS in the majors. UZR tie 4th.  Range 6th well above 7th. Error, DPR they all say the same thing. He's better than a Top 10 defensive SS, maybe as good as a top 5. Now of course we are dealing with a third of a season of defensive data which is like the batting equivalent of 3 weeks of hitting. In other words - not meaningless but far from meaningful.

But still you have to figure that the Nats think that he's doing well at defense considering they haven't worked in Drew more. And history tells us that Danny is not just an ok fielder but maybe a great one. So on one side you have the data, the team, and Danny's history telling us he's probably doing better than good. ON the other side you have John Q Fanboy tired of Danny striking out telling us he's not.  I know which side a soulless automaton will fall on.

Of course this doesn't mean that Trea can't do just as well and his minor league range numbers are similar to Danny's at similar ages and levels. That doesn't necessarily tells us much but for a novice poking at the numbers there is nothing here that immediately disqualifies Trea.  He could be Danny's equal. However, with limited data it's here though that we have to trust the scouts. And in that there is a general feeling Danny is better. How much and for how long? Those are good questions but in the scheme of 2016 they don't matter unless the answers are "tiny and for like a week".  It seems like a good bet Danny will be a better fielder than Trea this season.

Ok so that means Trea needs to hit better than Danny in order for bringing him up to make sense in a pure 2016 sense. Will he? That's a tough question. It's going to hinge on a MAT type of issue. Trea strikes out a fair amount for a modestly powered middle infielder. When he came up to the majors that, as expected, increased and killed his average. Given that he's not a greatly patient hitter and his power is based on stretching hits, he didn't look good in any aspect at the plate. If that happens again, well Trea won't be any better than Danny. This isn't a long run issue. While he strikes out a fair amount it is not a crazy number like MAT might put up.  It's high but in an area where if he improves a little bit - simply down to AAA levels - he'll be fine. Most people think that's a given. But that's for the future. For 2016 it's a legitimate worry.

What do I think? I think if you bring up Trea and let him play the full season he'll do slightly better than Danny. Not a lot better. Just slightly. A little worse defensively, but not as much as most people think. A little better offensively, but not as much as most people think. Is that worth it? For a team that's leading the East, its a question that has to be asked. And answering it honestly - probably not, no. The extra year of Trea down the line is worth more than winning the East by 5 games instead of 4.

Of course that assumes the Nats easily win the East and there's the issue. Bringing up Trea now is trying to maximize wins. There's no guarantee that will happen, he could even be bad enough to cost the Nats wins, but it's apparent that it's not a bad bet that Trea could be better than Danny, so if you want the most wins for 2016 you roll the dice with Trea. But is all that uncertainty - that Trea will add wins, that the wins are necessary, worth the cost of a possible extra year? You know me - all in 2016, but by now you also know the Nats as well.

*though as I've discussed a bunch before Top 3 here doesn't mean what you think it might as they were really no different from average than the Top 5 team from 2012. Both very good. Neither great.

** to the Cubs, not the Mets.


markus said...

one thing worth noting is the whole "Danny walks a decent click because he is in the 8 hole". I think if were operating under the assumption that Trea would be in the 8 hole, he would see a fair number of walks as well, which is where i think his speed would be a legitimate threat. If we are looking at a situation where trea is walked, pitcher bunts, and revere slaps a single, I think that is an easily manufacturable run. Danny does not present nearly the same threat - he hasn't stolen bases since 2012. Agree that the fanboying of "call up trea" is often hasty, but ignoring the speed component is a bit much. I would argue its worth more wins than a couple DRS. Call him up.

Josh Higham said...

I feel vindicated. I got a whole lot of flak (to the tune of "certainly at least 2 more wins with Turner, and no we don't think he's that great") the time I said it seemed like we were a little overexcited for this unproven but very promising minor leaguer.

If he comes up and gets up to speed in just a couple of weeks, he's probably a substantial difference maker compared to Danny, but if he comes up and takes until mid-July or August to start hitting like we expect him to, I think it's probably just about a wash.

Now, that assumes that Rizzo has to cut or option someone (likely cut Drew) to make room on the roster. There's a definite cost to calling someone up, because you have to clear a roster spot. If Rizzo can find some way to trade for an big bat or even just a few decent prospects and clears a roster spot in the move, by all means get Trea in the bigs immediately and start doing whatever weird gestures the bullpen guys do in hopes he hits like a champ.

Bryceroni said...

Espinosa's best position is as a really nice utility infielder with power as a pinch hitter. Once the clock is up, TT should be starting most games and Danny should be getting in whether offensively or defensively.

Other question is: what about playing TT at 2B and getting murph some time in LF?

BxJaycobb said...

Harper: I'm a little confused. Here's why. Everything I've heard from scouts (and from looking at stats) is in agreement with you re Danny vs TT defense. Danny is probably a tad better (although scouts seem to think TT has better glove but worse arm, but let's say Danny's a bit better on D). On offense I simply haven't heard that TT is somebody who is likely to have a MAT type first year in big leagues striking out a ton. Most people--and here I will cite Keith Law for example--expect TT to be at least a .245/.320 type hitter with moderate pop immediately and enormous base stealing ability (like literally 30 over first full year...he's been measured as just as fast as Billy Hamilton, I.e. he's basically the fastest player in MLB). I don't really get why last year is indicative of anything. He had 40 AB. Look at Trouts first 40 ABs in majors (not comparing....just saying its a sample that doesn't indicate anything, including even K rate which takes longer to stabilize). Anyway, Danny has been about replacement level as a major leaguer over majority of career--albeit a bit better last year. I have yet to encounter a scout who doesn't think TT would reach around 2-3 WAR over first full year in majors if he's given the chance. So I'm a bit puzzled by your doubt that he'd be an obvious upgrade. Of course there is always SOME level of uncertainty with a prospect before he is called up (look at Buxton for example), but I think we can safely say based on consensus appraisal that turner is likely to be an appreciably better baseball player than Danny over next 100 games.

Bjd1207 said...

Joe Q fanboy...people who can't read a lot of digs in there for a soulless automaton eh? :)

But it seems you've made the case for Trea not being an immediate upgrade over Danny. So I'm going to put aside that argument for a second and first say that I think you're missing a huge piece of the puzzle, which is what Trea has left to learn/develop in AAA. Say what you want about removing hot/cold streaks, but the fact remains that he's hitting over .300 with almost a third of the season under his belt with a 10% BB rate and a 19% K rate (I'd take issue with your characterization of "a few walks" as the league leader is 13.5%). Also left out is the fact that he's leading the league in steals. So to get back to my first point, what exactly are we waiting for? If you think that Trea will be slightly better over the course of this season, and he's maxed out his development in AAA, then get him in the big leagues to start all those adjustments you're talking about. Leaving him in AAA just bumps this conversation back, and we're talking about the same kind of stuff in May next year. At best you've made the case for the Super-2 deadline, but nothing more. Trea's our shortstop of the future, so if he's wasting time in AAA (tell me where he needs to improve if he's not) then let him start facing big league pitching.

Now back to the immediacy of the improvement. Whether you put stock in them or not (and I"m skeptical after watching Danny's really good D over the past 5 years) there ARE scouts who put him equal/better than Danny with the glove (Keith Law being the most prominent). Like you said we're working with small sample sizes, but his numbers match up similarly to Danny's over the course of the minors and if you think saying that his bat will be a huge improvement is a homer bias, then I think the same charge can be made against his glove being a huge downgrade. Maybe you've correctly diagnosed my bias, but yea I'm going to take the bet on his offense being a bigger + than his defense is a - given the characteristics of this team's offense so far. And all of that leaves out the possibility that he comes up and KILLS IT, which is still there. No matter how small it may be, it's much bigger than the chance that Danny turns into a .300 hitter for the remainder of the year. And given what you wrote about needing a top offense to win in the postseason, that's another check in the Trea column. If the pitching is there this season, we owe it to our team to put the best offense out there (and this avoids the whole ALL IN argument that we talk about here, because he's already in our organization!)

Lastly, your point at the bottom about "an extra year of service" is incorrect unless you're arguing for leaving him in AAA for the rest of the year AND a couple of months next year. We're past the service deadline, and coming up on super 2. The only thing gained by leaving him in AAA is money in 2023. And if we get bumped in the first round of the playoffs scoring 2 runs per game with Danny K'ing in the 8 hole I'm going to light myself on fire in a Turner jersey in the middle of half street.

Joe Q Fanboy

JC said...

Clearly on this board there are two camps about Danny. Which one you are in depends on how much you value his defense. I understand that there are attempts at quantifying defensive metrics but that does not mean that these metrics fully capture the value of defense to a team. Last night is a great example. I would argue that most SS in the league could not make the play at home last night. Danny did. Not only did that save a run but it gets an out and changes the nature of how Joe Ross pitches the rest of the inning. That run saved can be quantified. How do you measure the value of the extra out leading to fewer pitches by Ross? Last year Desmond at SS extended so many innings with errors in the beginning of the year. Not only do we have far fewer errors this year but Danny has created extra outs.

In theory with enough data it might be possible to model the impact of an elite SS on how a pitcher performs. In know in basketball there are metrics looking at how one player can positively/negatively impact the results of another on the court.

My guess is that Rizzo is for the time being not willing to gamble that the Trea upside is worth the risk at this time.

Chaz R said...

Great analysis Harper. I have been saying the same thing in my less than soulless automaton way. Most of Danny's value is in the field (he's 5th in defensive WAR) vs. at the plate (he's 22nd in offensive WAR). The Nats can live with a bad offensive shortstop who hits eighth in this lineup (as long as the others are hitting Ok) in exchange for solid and consistent defense. That's what Danny is giving them.
As long as the Nats continue to play well overall, there is no reason to do a major move like this.

That sounds like I'm not a TT fan, but that's not true at all. I really look forward to him as part of Nats future. It just doesn't make sense right now. Maybe that would change if the Nats start floundering or if the offense gets worst.

Harper said...

BX - well the confusion stems from me changing the evaluation. For D I lean heavily on scouts - the data is harder to trust. For O I lean heavily on me. I think Trea might have a K issue in the majors. Not like MAT where it kills him for a career, but like last year where it cuts the average to the point where he is less useful. Do I think he can't get over that in a year? No, I think he could. But he's not going to get a full year in the majors. If he came up immediately he'd get 2/3rds. He's going to face a lot of guys once, go to a lot of places once.

I don't think he's an obvious upgrade, no. I think he has obvious potential. Danny is going to be right around average. Trea could be better. but obvious to me implies will and I can't say a guy with very good but not great AAA numbers getting 2/3rds a season is a "will" situation.

Gr8day4Bsbll said...

Stats aside (yeah, SOMEBODY has to present the JQF position), there are two other intangibles to also consider in the Danny/TT debate. First, it's been said here and in plenty of other places that Danny isn't a good bench player -- if he ain't the man in the starting lineup routinely, he gets ornery and moody and his performance deteriorates even further. Granted, a lot of that is anecdotal, but we've seen it happen before -- like when Rendon first came up and was slotted at 2B by the Marine, leaving Danny to platoon, and there were grumblings in the clubhouse attributed to Danny and his buddies not being happy about the move. Of course, I'd expect Dusty would handle this situation better than the Marine did, but it bears discussion about whether or not bringing up TT and platooning Danny might lead to similar results, which is the last thing the team needs right now.

The second intangible: how would TT look in a mountain man beard or a Fu Manchu for his official team photo? Not NEARLY as good as Danny, I'd venture to guess... /snark

Harper said...

BJD - hey! I said bring him up! I said "all in"! I don't think he'll definitely be better, true. We can argue those points if you like. But I think he definitely COULD be better so I said I'd bring him up. I just get the other side.

Anonymous said...

Sonny Said..

Why don't we try TT in outfield for BR. I hope BR shows up after a month of batting practice.

Harper said...

I guess to clarify

1) I WOULD bring Trea up. He is a good bet to at least be a little better and why not get a little better in a year that looks like you'll be in the playoff hunt?

2) I don't think it's obvious though which is a reason the Nats may not bring him up. If you value... well "value", you can save money and potentially service years (depends on how late you do call him up and whether he goes back down) by keeping Trea down. So if you are still winning and can gain value, that's going to be appealing.

Anonymous said...

Harper, BJD really did point out a flaw in your analysis. The uncertainty surrounding Turner runs in both directions. You're right that his K% might present some issues at the major league level (though I disagree that his 40 scattered PA last year provide any reliable evidence) and that a reasonable projection takes this into account. Steamer has him at .285/.332/.403 with a 101 WRC+ and ~22% K rate. He could underperform that projection and still be a better hitter than Danny, which is why views about defense matter so much.

But, of course, the probability that Turner beats those projections is the same as the probability that he goes under. I think modern Danny Espinosa's ceiling is last year - .240/.311/.409 - 94 WRC+. You need to account for the possibility that Turner performs better than his projections.

You may end up being right that Turner v. Espinosa ends up in a wash even if they call up Turner now. But the downside risk seems low, and the upside benefit seems high. Unless there are real chemistry issues, this seems like a no brainer upgrade even if you can't promise Turner is definitely going to be better.

Anonymous said...

Since when do we call hitting .199 average?

Jay said...

I agree with JC. Last night's game was the perfect example of why Espinosa is still playing. He makes a great throw to nail speedy guy at the plate and then hits a 2 run homer to give some cushion. I think Turner would be an upgrade. I think his speed would help. I also think part of my frustration is the fact that I can hit as well as Ben Revere right now. If he were hitting and the Nats had a legitimate leadoff guy, then I think a lot of the Turner noise dies down. Unfortunately, you have two guys in our line up that are being out hit by pitchers. Not hitting like pitchers, being out hit by our pitchers. Somebody get Danny to an eye surgeon. If Lasik can fix Ramos...

Any thoughts on going to get another outfield bat or do we keep waiting on Revere to come around?

Fries said...

@Jay - I think you have to wait on Revere. He's still only what, a month in? His K% is only slightly up, his BB% is in line with his career averages, literally everything is in line with how he's played the last few years EXCEPT his BABIP. It'll turn around

theNATural said...

Nats are up 2 games in the East and hold the 4th best* win percentage in the majors with that "less than average" offense. After listening to both sides I'm leaning towards not doing anything hasty and let TT continue to work in AAA. Danny may be pulling his average up a bit, we'll see.

*Where did SF come from? I'd written them off. Nuts.

BxJaycobb said...

Harper (and everyone):
Let me try to lay this out one more time, and then folks can tell me why I'm wrong. Remember how we all think of Turner's 40 ABs were so bad last year? He was STILL in that tiny sample size a better offensive player than Danny in 2016 (72 wRC+ vs 64). I cite that not to say that that shows was Turner is (the sample size is absurd), but to emphasize how horrendous Danny is offensively. Steamer, ZIPS, and Depth Charts all taking into account the stats and minor league record of hitters to project major league performance---yes, including K rates, Harper--and they project Turner as a 101, 101, and 105 wRC+ offensive player, as in above average major leaguer (this takes into account a moderately high K rate at 21% and a lower BB rate at 6%). Over 100 games, these systems all project him to swipe at least 20 bags and hit about .280/.330/.400 compared to what we can reasonably expect from Danny (lets be generous and say he improves to .230/.300/.380). This works out to 2 additional wins over 100 games than Danny, even taking into account defense.

I am not an expert in baseball projections, scouting, and statistical interpretation. So I rely on said experts. The scouts (like Keith Law) and the projection models which assiduously comb through all minor league data an extrapolate based on similar players project a shortstop who creates the amount of runs as an average major leaguer. I understand that these types of statistical modeling is not foolproof and cannot tell the future (really I do), but when Harper or anybody else analyzes the minor league stats and says something vague like "he has good not great AAA stats" or "look at his Ks in the minors" this is basically seat of the pants opinions based on quick glance scanning of players stat lines in the minor leagues vs literally projections systems with mathetmatical algorithms comparing every detail of player performance to past major leaguers and how they have fared.

Respectfully (and I do mean respectfully because I love harper and his blog AND ALL OF YOU), I would like to ask Harper and everyone else why they think their ability to scout and project player performance based on AAA stats is as accurate or worthwhile as Steamer, Depth Charts, ZIPS, and professional scouts like Keith Law. Because so far, I haven't heard anything that suggests we know anything they don't. In such situations, I tend to rely on what the experts, and mathematical projections tend to suggest (not religiously mind you....but they get more weight).

BxJaycobb said...

ps Harper: I get that nothing in my above post addresses things like intangibles and the effect on team morale and turner's development and cost-benefit analysis with his salary (although...they may not even be competing in 2022 when this would make a difference)...but I honestly think that there is no sensible argument here that Treat Turner is not a large offensive upgrade over Danny over 2/3 season besides "well you never know in baseball..random variation!" Unless you think you are have information/insight that projection systems and pro scouts don't. Again, this is all probability, not telling the future. But that's how all baseball decisions are you best chance of performing at max potential.

Jay said...

I have to agree with Bx that Turner is likely to be an overall net gain for the Nats. I still think he will be up in the next week or two as well. The thing to keep in mind on Turner is that the kid has hit .320+ at every level. I tend to think of .270-.280 as being fairly conservative. It is possible that he might be borderline .300+ with speed. Now people will say that Danny is great defensively - and point to the play last night. However, they tend to not mention all of the times his lack of a bat has killed rallies for the Nats. That is why WAR tends weight offensive stats more heavily. Finally, I agree that many scouts think pretty highly of Turner. Keith Law, who has been brought up several times over the last few days, has been fairly lukewarm on Turner. He has consistently rated him lower than Baseball America. Even taking that into account, Law thinks Turner will be an upgrade over Espinosa and has him in the top 20 prospects in the minors.

Anyway, hopefully Danny keeps proving us wrong and hits a couple of homers tonight. I still think Turner is worth bringing up and playing.
And I agree that Revere should come around eventually.

BornInDC said...

I think Dusty will be especially hesitant to Espinoza with Turner unless the Nats start falling significantly behind the Mets. Beyond the individual fielding statistics for Espinoza, there is the fact that the Nats appear to be a very decent fielding team and have the fewest errors in the league. With Werth in left field and Murphy at 2nd, how many people foresaw that happening before the start of the season?

As a manager, would you want to risk disrupting this defense for the possibility of .20 to .30 of additional average from the SS position, with no guarantee you will even get that much of bump?

I don't know if there are any stats that support it, but my experience of watching baseball over the decades that a good defense also helps the pitching staff as well. For example, compare the situation this year to last year when Desmond was generating all of those errors at shortstop. I find it hard to believe that regularly having to get extra outs does not have an effect on a pitcher.

Chaz R said...

@Bx- I don't think anyone is disagreeing that TT is likely to be a net plus on offense for the Nats vs Danny. The main issue IMO is Danny has been solid at SS and the Nats are a great defensive team in 2016. TT is unlikely to be as good defensively as Danny. Why do we want to mess with what's working right now when the Nats are one of the nest teams in the NL and in 1st?

For me, it's not a TT offense upgrade for Danny question. It's a question of how the other Nats are hitting. We can live with low BA/some pop Defensive Danny at SS as long as everyone else is doing ok. Now if others offensive production doesn't round into form (I'm looking at you Zim, Tony, Revere, and JW), then perhaps we will need the additional offense from a TT for Danny move. I just don't see it right now.

G Cracka X said...

I'm surprised no one has referenced yesterday's Boswell chat on this topic. He made the case that GMs often wait until a certain number of minor-league ABs for prized prospect middle infielders before bringing them up. The hypothesis is that even if TT is excelling in AAA, he still could benefit from extra time down there. He cites Derek Jeter as an example. Obviously, its just a hypothesis and nothing even remotely close to being 'proven', but at the very least its an interesting take on the situation.

Clip&Store said...

Aren't we past the date of holding him down for an extra year of team control ? If not, what is the date?

Donald said...

While I agree with BxJaycobb and would call Turner up sooner rather than later, I suspect the Nats are going to wait a bit before coming to that decision. If they wait until the All-Star break, they pass the super 2 deadline. Since the Nats are in first right now, waiting for a month and a half might not make that much of a difference vs. the extra seasoning he will be getting in AAA. If TT is worth 2 additional wins now, waiting until 7/15 would cost them .67 wins and might soften the economic blow to the Lerners for cutting Drew. Also, a lot could happen between now and then to change things, so sitting tight might make some sense. If someone gets injured a week after you cut Drew, you might wish you still had that depth.

Another option, which I hope they don't choose, is to bring Turner up now, but to replace Drew on the bench rather than Espinosa at short. Whatever argument you can make to choose Danny over Trea, there's pretty much zero argument that Drew would add more value. I have to think it would be better for Turner's development, though, to play every day than to spot start or pinch hit/run occassionally.

Donald said...

@Clip&Store -- I think the date for another year of control isn't set in stone, but it's been quoted as roughly June 1st, which is today. Assuming they don't want to miss it by a day or so, they'd probably wait a few more days to be safe. Also, it looks a bit bad to call up a prospect right at that deadline, like the Cubs did with Bryant. You get a lot of flak from their agent and the players union. My guess is that if the Nats are just waiting for the control date to pass, they'll bring him up for the start of the next homestand on June 10th.

BornInDC said...

Chaz R,

I agree with all of your comments. As long as the pitching and defense continues to be solid, I would be very hesitant to switch shortstops, particularly when the potential offensive upside is probably small and uncertain.

I would rather trade for a veteran "rental" to replace Werth where the increase in offensive production (and defensive production) would be more certain.

Anonymous said...

GCX - Boswell's point in the chat yesterday was nonsensical. Most (maybe even all) of the comps he cited were shortshops drafted out of high school. OF COURSE those guys are going to get more minor league ABs than a shortstop drafted out of college like Turner. Maybe Turner needs more seasoning, but because Derek Jeter got a few hundred more ABs in the minor leagues in 1995 has absolutely no bearing whatsoever on that question. Nor does it relate at all to the relevant question, which is whether Turner is likely to provide more value than Espinosa.

To the "it aint broke crowd": Yes the Nats are winning, and yes they are in first place. That they are doing so despite not playing their best players is wonderful. But it's not a reason to keep not playing their best players! I'd like the Nats to be winning more frequently, and to have a larger lead over the Mets!

Kenny B. said...

As a Nats fan and alumnus of NC State University, I can't really overemphasize the degree to which I am excited to see Turner come to the majors. But still, like Harper, I understand the arguments for keeping Danny up. That great defense is a huge boon to the Nats' great pitching, which is carrying the team. That is the point of the first half of the article. Pitching decides whether we end up playing in October. Defense supports pitching, so let's keep the defense as good as it can be.

I also like the idea of getting a little unorthodox and sticking Murphy in LF, Espinosa at 2B, and Turner at SS, though barring injury I don't see that happening, because it would be kind of insulting to Werth (I know that shouldn't matter, but I think in reality it does, especially for a guy like Werth who is supposedly a captain of the clubhouse). And I don't really want to do anything that would disrupt Murphy in any way, since he basically is the entire Nats offense.

I know the organization cares about value and control and all that, but unless you're scoping dump trucks to carry the money needed to keep Bryce Harper on the team, we don't need to be that worried about the value of a prospect that far down the line. There are way too many variables for some marginal level of control in several years to make that big a difference. This should absolutely be about how we make the team as good as it can be *right now*.

Anyway, these are all very good problems to have.

BxJaycobb said...

Real quick. It's not true the defense has been great. Lack of errors means virtually nothing when it comes to team defensive value. The Nats are ranked 21st in MLB (below average) in defensive runs saved (-5) and fWAR. (See Fangraphs). Yes, it's good to make routine plays, but mostly defensive value in the major leagues comes from the ability to make as many non routine/difficult plays as possible and convert as high a percentage of balls in play into outs as possible. When Jaysen Werth or Daniel Murphy can't get to a ball and it drops that's not an error, but it's below average defense. According to the metrics (and the eye test), the Nats have 4 above average defenders (Bryce, Ramos, Rendon, and Danny) and 4 below average ones (Werth, revere, Murphy, Zim). They are a slightly below average major league team on defense. Sorry to burst everybody's bubble re the "fielding percentage is the most relevant stat!" myth.

BxJaycobb said...

If people care, the best defensive teams in the majors by defensive WAR and def runs saved have been: Cubs, Rangers, DBacks, Giants, Red Sox, Indians, Royals.

Chaz R said...

No doubt defensive metrics leave a lot to be desired, but the Nats are ranked at the top of NL by many measures. Despite that, we can all see the Nats are playing great defense, clearly much better than I can remember.

What's the doctor's oath or creed or whatever it is?- "First do no harm"- ? There's no guarantee any tinkering with the team by moving folks around is going to result in more Ws, and there is no reason to tinker right now. Why take the risk right now? Maybe at some point, but they're playing well together and there seems to be some offensive lights coming on (Zim and Rendon).

Ok, I'm done... lol. Whew, I need to go back to work!

Dmitri Young said...

@Bx Fair point about trusting the experts. To temper that trust a little, remember that Matt Williams was paid money to manage last year. In fact, he was hired by at least a handful of experts. For most of history, baseball's insider experts managed baseball in a way we now mostly agree is wrong. Outside observers and bloggers knew better than the people hired to run teams (and manage teams of scouts).

John C. said...

A few notes:
(1) At this point Turner can be called up without losing the extra year of control. To keep him from being a "Super 2" the Nats would have to wait until sometime around mid-August to call him up.
(2) To attack the Nats' defense by pointing out that fielding percentage is a flawed metric is ironic, given that the proposed other metrics (UZR, DRS, etc) are far from perfect. You know what the Nats are good at? Turning balls in play into outs. By Defensive Efficiency (and park-adjusted DE) the Nats are #5 in MLB. That's the best they've been since 2012 (2015: 21st; 2014: 15th; 2013: 11th).
(3) We can all cherrypick our own data and reach our own conclusions about the timing of the Turner/Espinosa swap. You know who has better data than all of us? The Nationals. They have their own internal metrics, they have scouts, they have coaches who watch not only the games but also the practices and workouts.

I was firmly on the #openingdaytrea bandwagon, and look forward to getting to see him play. That said, I can easily understand the other side of the argument; it's not a frivolous/silly position to think that the Nationals are best served by staying the course for now (Byron Buxton, anyone?). So I cheerfully defer to the judgment of Rizzo and his colleagues on this.

Have today's lineups been posted yet?

BxJaycobb said...

Dmitri: Sure I take your point. And again, not saying experts are gods or something. But your point can also be applied to anything: our understanding of physics and anatomy and medicine has changed over time, but that hardly is a reason to trust one's own reasoning and theories over what a doctor tells you about an illness because "at one time the experts were wrong". We're not comparing experts across time periods. We're comparing fans and amateurs in this field (myself included) with folks who spend all day constructing algorithms or scouting players...I just think it's weird to disagree based on....not much.

Chaz: What measures are they ranked at the top in besides fielding percentage?(lack of errors). When you say "we can all see they're playing great defense" to the naked eye, I think we're mostly able to consciously notice the absence of bloopers and booted balls and BAD plays and mistakes. You don't really notice when a ball drops in because of the speed of your outfielder or the range of your second baseman. So I don't really think much of the eye test vs. the advanced metrics (even admitting the advanced metrics are hardly foolproof when it comes to defense). But again....we need to stop saying the Nats are a fantastic defensive team this year as presently constituted. They're not. They've been a low-mistake team that is otherwise extremely ordinary when it comes to turning balls in play into outs.

Anonymous said...

I think "first do no harm" is probably a bad creed for a doctor, but it's absolutely a terrible creed for running a baseball team. Why? It places far too much significance on the status quo. That may make sense in the case of a human patient - when the status quo is being alive - but it certainly doesn't make sense with a baseball team.

If the Nats had the best record in baseball with Espinosa hitting .000 would that justify not making a change? What if they had the best record in baseball but the Mets had the second best record and were just one game back?

The point I'm trying to make is simple: wins matter, regardless of whether you have a lot of them or only a few of them already in the bank. And not just wins, but wins relative to your closest competition. It's coherent (but wrong) to say that Espinosa at SS gives the Nats a better chance to win going forward than Turner does. It's incoherent to say that we should stick with Espinosa because the Nats have been winning with him (or in spite of him).

I'll give the Nats a few days grace period to make sure Turner's service time issues are resolved. But if he's not on the 25 man roster and in the lineup every day by this time next week, the Nats are CHOOSING to field a worse team than they could. Given that there's no objective reason to think the Nats are better than the Mets by more than a game or two, not calling up Turner is playing with fire.

Bjd1207 said...

Last Anon said it best. Preach on!

Froggy said...

Some great arguments being made on both sides of the Danny v. Trea question. Personally, I'm an 'eye test' guy first then default to metrics to either confirm or deny my perception. Probably not a good way of going about things, but it works for this J.Q. F'anbouy who sees about 30 games a year.

BUT, I would caution those that think our 2 game lead is any indicator of how things could trend by saying that I think the Mets are all around a better team except for one factor so far: Harvey.

If he wins 2 or 3 of his 7 losses we are likely 2-3 games BEHIND the Mets right now and having a completely different 'who's head should be rolling right now' conversation.

BxJaycobb said...

John C.: Of course none of these stats is perfect. Defensive metrics are way less ideal at reflecting skill and success than offensive stats. But fielding percentage is utterly useless at showing anything other than how you perform on routine plays. Because there are so few errors in the major leagues, it really isn't a difference whether your non error rate is .965 or .981. The difference comes from making outs out of balls that could easily be hits. UZR and especially DRS at least try to reflect this. Similarly, defensive efficiency is useful only insofar as you ignore luck (a team that has mostly had batted balls hit near fielders as opposed to batted balls hit in marginal areas or open areas where it could be a hit....Defensive efficiency is incredibly flawed over small sample sizes for the same reason BABIP fluctuates). So if you think over 1/3 a season, that Fielding Percentage and Defensive Efficiency (which IS helpful over a full year) are equivalent indicators defensive performance to DRS and UZR, I mean...I just enthusiastically disagree. Make no mistake: the Nats have been fine/good on defense. I just think that "don't call up Turner because he could destroy our extraordinary defense" really is a genuinely silly argument.

Regarding your deference to Rizzo: Agreed. They have as much access to stats and data as we do AND way more when it comes to knowing the player dynamics and a million other things. Here's the problem, and it's a large one. MONEY. These interests are not symmetrical to ours. That's why their decision-making process isn't immune to questioning. If you knew the Nats would win an extra game with Turner instead of Danny but Turner would cost a few more million dollars in the future, would you sit Turner? Rizzo would.

UZR and especially DRS at least approach how well a team is performing at the main task of defense, while taking out of the equation luck (balls mostly hit near fielders

BxJaycobb said...

Oh. And Anon is RIGHT on target. What if we were trailing the Mets by 3 games right now despite us having same record. Would we be saying "everything is fantastic! Don't try to improve the team!" Of course not. I'd wager that even if we were TIED with the Mets right now, people would be slightly more aggressive about trying to improve. Folks need to realize that the Nats are a flawed team. Mostly a terrible closer and fairly anemic offense, particularly against good pitching. You can't just say "we can tolerate this lineup hole because we're in first place." Seriously?

John C. said...

Bx, I'm right there with you on fielding percentage. It's even silly for trying to measure "routine" plays, because "routine" is in the eye of the official scorers - a wavering standard. And that's not including that it ignores range (see, e.g., those who tried to boost Yunel Escobar as a "great" third baseman for most of last year because of his fielding percentage). And yes, we will have to agree to disagree over the relative merits of UZR, DRS and DE for assessing overall team defense.

Yes, DE (like BABIP) can vary with small sample sizes. But remember that DE is based on every single ball in play. So while at this point the BABIP of individual players are based on (at most) about 200 plate appearances, the DE of the Nationals as a team at this point is based on over 1300 balls in play (essentially plate appearances minus strikeouts and walks).

If you knew the Nats would win an extra game with Turner instead of Danny but Turner would cost a few more million dollars in the future, would you sit Turner? Rizzo would.

Assumes many facts not in evidence. Simply put, it expresses as certainties things that are not. A reason that I defer to Rizzo is simply that he knows the likelihood of each of these (how likely is it that Trea is an upgrade of one extra game? how likely is it that this will cost more money down the road, and if so, how much is that money likely to be? And most importantly, if money is the consideration, if you assume that one extra game, how much money is that worth to the team?) better than I do. Because not only does Rizzo have a variety of baseball sources and resources to place the likelihood of the performance variables, I am sure that he also has a phalanx of accountants giving the future potential cashflow of the organization versus the relative value of the benefit in today's terms.

Jay said...

I don't think Rizzo would keep Turner down strictly bc of money. They guy called up Harper, Rendon, Stroren, and others that became "super 2". What he won't do, and most other GMs won't do it either, is call Turner up a few weeks early and lose an entire year of control. We are now past that date, so theoretically he could be up any day now. I trust Rizzo to make the right call. I agree that just being in first isn't a valid reason to stick with Espinosa. As long as we aren't sticking with him bc of "moxie and will to win" we'll be ok. I still think Turner has hit everywhere he has been. I think he will hit in the big leagues. But he is still a young guy that could use some more time in the minor leagues (arguably). I'm hoping he's up by next week. Finally, his playing time last year was fairly sporadic with mostly pinch hitting and pinch running late in games.

JE34 said...

Our current and former every-day shortstops do/did not alter their approach to hitting when they have 2 strikes on them... big Paul Bunyan axe-wielding swings-and-misses, regardless of situation. Will Trea break that trend by shortening up and making contact to protect the plate? If so, bring him up and play him.

That said, I don't see them dumping Stephen Drew, and he would be the odd man out here, right?

steven hamilton said...

Keep up the reverse jinx talk on Danny! Another homer last night!!

Nattydread said...

There is no stat that tells how much "adjustment to change" affects wins and losses. Calling up Turner and starting him is a big change. If it took him ten games to adjust, his "adjustment period" might be a major factor in a loss or two. As well, because SS is such a key position (Do defensive metrics weigh the value of each position? I'm thinking SS is far more important than LF!), the adjustments of bringing in Turner to replace Danny would affect an infield that is in mid-season and used to each other and their limitations. This is to say nothing of the personal relationships and non-statistical leadership/personal dynamics that have real effects on game outcomes.

Turner is the SS of the future, so Rizzo will have to bite the bullet and make the adjustments at some point. A good GM chooses the right time. Often, the decision is made for the GM by an injury.

The team is winning. The fielding is good (eye-test!). Espinosa is a known quantity who does produce albeit at a low level. Making a major change to get one win? Seems kind of risky on a number of non-quantifiable levels.

Alex Freeman said...

Right on cue, the Washington Post tackles this issue:

I think at this moment it's difficult to make the switch considering Espinosa suddendly remembered how to hit homers. However, I think that with Espinosa, including his defense, you have a slightly below average SS because his offensive production is, at best, a homer and three strikeouts. With Turner, there's no doubt in my mind that he'd be, at worst, a slightly above average SS. Now that bringing him up doesn't matter in terms of service time, there's no reason not to (as soon as Espinosa stops hitting homers again). Why are we playing with fire when we fully expect a dogfight with the Mets all year for the division? Turner is a better player and bringing him up now will help him develop into an even better one. The Nats window of opportunity in terms of championships may be closing. Go all in.

Alex Freeman said...

I also have a new nickname for him: Espimendoza

DezoPenguin said...

Really, it's such an open question, because it depends on so many variables:

1) How good is Espinosa's defense? Fangraphs' numbers have it good enough that Danny is worth 0.7 wins even with his current 68 wRC+. He does that for the rest of the season and he's a two-win player. Baseball-Reference is less sanguine about it, having him at -0.2 WAR overall (though still of positive defensive value, just not enough to offset the offense).

2) Will Danny's bat improve? This is who he was in 2014, but in 2015 some hot streaks had him as a 94 wRC+ for the season, just a hair under average, plus stellar defense.

3) Will Turner hit in the majors? Who knows? He's a prospect, and until he comes up and does it we'll never know. He may require a period of adjustment, or he may get hot immediately.

4) Will Turner field in the majors? If not, how will this affect the game?

5) Will the change cause intangible effects in the clubhouse? Will the *lack* of change cause intangible effects in the clubhouse? Will Dusty Baker be able to do what the Nats are paying him for and make clubhouse intangibles into a net positive no matter what's going on?

It's easy for a fan to say "replace Espinosa with Turner!" because Espi's not hitting a lick except for the occasional home run, because defensive value is hard to judge with the eye test, and because we have a highly-regarded prospect ready to replace him already in the system. (As opposed to Revere/Taylor*, Werth, or Zim, all of whom who have put up less WAR than Danny, but don't have readily apparent solutions.)

*Think about this: by Fangraphs, Taylor has been -0.5, Revere -0.7. That means the CF spot has basically been two wins worse than Danny Espinosa through two months of the season. Can Turner pull an Ian Desmond and play center field?

Flapjack said...

A word in defense of Danny Espinosa. He is a very good shortstop who routinely makes tough plays, such as last night's running-all-out, over-the-shoulder grab of a blooper in center. Last year at this time his OPS was somewhere around 800. Maybe he is streaky, but the same can be said of other good players. He spent early season this year in a lull, but the hot streaks come, and they are worth something when they do -- as illustrated by his 4 homers in the last 7 games. He is still under team control until 2018. That's important, if you put a value on the prospects we might get in return for him.

Last year, Rizzo almost ruined Tanner Roark's trade value by exiling him to long relief, where he floundered. Williams did essentially the same thing to Danny when Rendon returned. It is in the team's long term interest to get the best out of Danny this year, and they are hoping Dusty can do that. The results are equivocal, but good enough to not warrant blowing things up.

Harper, I'd be interested in your statistical take on the Nats' injury luck this year. My impression is that, save for the still-not-quite-back Revere, it's been awfully good. What are the odds Turner might need to be called up as quality depth, rather than as a gamble on shaking things up?

Ric said...

"The 2016 Nationals have the 2nd best pitching staff in the NL** and a below average offense."

Whereas I tend to think this also, by most metrics (runs, OBP, OPS, etc), the 2016 Nationals have an average offense. They are middle of the pack in the NL, and middle of the pack MLB-wide.

Ric said...

Espinosa in 378 total ABs at Syracuse: .235, 6 HRs, 37 RBI, 11 SB
Turner in 385 total ABs at Syracuse: .385, 6 HR, 39 RBI, 31 SB

I originally searched this with the preconceived opinion that we should keep Espy. My theory being that success in AAA will be tempered at the MLB level. But when comparing apples to apples, I'm leaning towards Team Trea.