Nationals Baseball: January 2016

Friday, January 29, 2016

Around the league

Nothing's really going on is it?So I'm going to ramble a bit

Fister signs with the Astros.

When the Fister had his great 2014 a lot of us were thinking that he was incredibly lucky. His strikeouts dwindled down to nothing and while his walks followed that down it still took a big drop in BABIP and increase in LOB% to get him to where he was. While a few optimists thought "Maybe Fister suddenly started learning how to get guys to hit it where he wanted to AND started bearing down with men on base!" most understood that as a 30 year old if he could control that, he would have done it already. Perhaps he wasn't a ~4.00 ERA pitcher as xFIP suggested (Taking out the fielding of his team) but he certainly wasn't a sub 2.50 ERA pitcher either.  So we braced for a mediocre bad year and prayed it would take place after his time with the Nats was done. No such luck.

Injuries probably played a part but the main problem still exists with Fister. He doesn't strike anyone out. Given that he can't work out of trouble by himself. Even if he induces a GB when he needs one he has to get lucky in a sense that it's weak enough and doesn't find a hole. In short Fister has to keep his BB% down, GB% up, and HR/FB rate down to have any sort of quality season. His BB% rate was the highest it had been since his rookie season of 2009, but it's low in general so that's good. His GB% is going down since peaking in 2013 and he's spent more of his career as an middle of the road creator of grounders, so that doesn't bode well. His HR/FB rate is also up and that has varied, so that's a question mark.

So is Fister a bounce back candidate? Not in my mind. He should be very average and with a FB speed that was down to 86.4, I think there is a good chance he could be terrible. Other stats (like how many times he was hit hard) are trending the wrong way, the expected way for a guy at his age. Those that think Fister can bounceback look at 2014, but 2014 was an aberration. Unless he gets lucky again the best Fister should be is a 4.00 ERA type guy. Now is that worth what the Astros paid? Probably. And I guess that's the important part. Assuming you don't REALLY care about winning, just about plugging a hole.

Dickerson was dealt for McGee

Those are two guys some Nats fans wanted. Now of course getting them would mean trading or moving around some guys already here but both would be good pieces to have and maybe are available still. For Dickerson, who I think is least likely to be available given his control and the fact the Rays have wanted an OF for some time (say hi to Souza for me!), the "he plays in Colorado" thing is mostly overblown. As many noted yesterday for the 80 games where a player gets a Rockies bonus, there are like 40 where they get a San Diego, LA, SF problem. So you can't look at road splits and go "Oh that's how he'll play". Really I think what you'll get is roughly the same player but scaled back for what that means in a normal environment. That means the power and average will take a hit but he'll still work out to be roughly the same OPS+ type player.  So instead of .305 and 25 homers, expect him to hit .290 and 20 homers in Tampa. But that's not a drop, really. Relative to the team he retains the value he did in Colorado. That's my guess anyway. 

That would have been nice to have but the Nats were in no position to trade a good reliever to get him and that's what Jake McGee is. Other than a 2013 that looks like an aberration Jake has been damn well dominant; ERAs around 2.00, good against both sides of the plate, not old, cheapish. He's the player now the Nats hope Kelley or Rivero becomes.  Unfortunately the Nats didn't have a young OF to tra... wait. Yes they did. That is a question - would you have given Taylor up for McGee. The Nats do need Taylor. I've said this before but I don't see him being traded because right now he's the only + outfielder on the roster and he's cheap and in control for a long while still (until after 2020). But this is more about belief. As nice a 4th OF he may be, if he's never more than that than an impact reliever for two years could be worth more. I lean toward, no though. I wouldn't deal Taylor for McGee. It's not really about Taylor, who I'm pretty suspect about. Two injuries for McGee last year to me means I can't count on him next year for sure and with only two years of control I think I'd have to feel that way to pull the trigger on a deal like this.

Nats prospects

Last year a lot was made of the Nats pipeline with 6 prospects in the Top 100. I tried to tell you though "6 in 100" wasn't really fair. More like "one of the best, one good one and a bunch of ones that have promise" Now that Ross - who surprised - and Taylor - who was a needed graduate but shows you really how most ~50th best prospects may pan out -  are officially out things are bleaker. Giolito is still the best. Turner though is not - should be a useful everyday player, could be better than that (I think he will be) and everyone else... is gone from the lists.Victor Robles, impressive but not even out of low A yet, has generally passed the Difo, Lopez, Cole crowd who all had various levels of disappointing 2015s.

This isn't so much a big deal for the Nats OD rosters in 2016/7. The Nats have things pretty well in place for that time frame. It's more for the in-season acquisition. If no one steps up to become that mid-100 level prospect then you have to offer bulk. If the Nats offer bulk though it'll pretty much empty out the organization. It's not a problem today, but it could be a problem tomorrow. Just keep an eye on these guys and let's hope a few guys really start to impress.

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Toxic Amender

Are the Nats Toxic?

Briefly, no but the baseball off-season has drifted into the post-holiday funk where you dig for news when none is presented to you and the fact the Nats have been in on so many free agents and have landed only one, well that's something to talk about. But let's do it intelligently. Let's look at the facts and come to a conclusion, not start with a conclusion and try to work the facts around it.

Are the Nats toxic? The Nats lost out on O'Day, Zobrist, Heyward, Leake, Upton and Cespedes. Phillips chose not to waive his no trade to come here. Doesn't that say something? While admitting each decision made sense, is there something running through all of these situations that causes FAs to flinch?

O'Day - Nats deal was posted at 3/25. O'Day really wanted the 4th year and the O's caved and gave him 4/31 (4 mill deferred).

Zobrist - Nats deal was at 4/60, as was Giants. Went with Cubs 4/56 claiming love of the weird wuss.

Heyward - Nats deal was presumably around 200 million. Cardinals also had a deal and were thought to have offered the most money. Years were not disclosed for either though. Went with Cubs 8/184 with opt out.

Leake - Nats deal wasn't disclosed and their interest seemed decidedly minimal. Would sign with Cardinals 5/80 presumed to be the best deal offered.

Upton - Nats interest was again tempered, only really coming out after Tigers deal disclosed. Nats apparently offered a shorter term deal for less money than the 6/132.75 Upton would get from the Tigers.

Cespedes - Nats offered 5/100 with an opt out after 2 but the money, if reports are to be believed, was to be paid out over 15 years, making the true value of the deal closer to 75-80 million. Signed with Mets for 3/75 and an opt out after 1.

Phillips - Wanted an extension to leave Cincinnati. Already being paid 27 million for next 2 years. Even reporters thought this was an unacceptable stipulation.

For the most part O'Day, Leake, Upton, and Cespedes, we see what we expect to see. The player takes the most money/best deal and runs with it. There isn't much more that needs to be read into this. If we look at pretty much every other FA signing this year, we see the same thing. This is standard and not telling of anything in particular.

The Phillips deal is also pretty clear. What he wanted was nonsense that no one backed and the deal fell apart. It wasn't about the Nats it was again about money, money he felt he left on the table to stay in Cincy that he now wanted back if he was to be traded. The Nats weren't going to pay for Cincy's deal and Cincy wasn't going to offer that money and lose the deal they got. Again read nothing into it.

So we're left with Heyward and Zobrist, the two guys who did take less. (Even if Heyward took more value per year it's still odd to leave 16 mill on the table so I think it's still relevant to look at him). Is the "toxicity" of the Nats the most logical reason for the rebuttal here? Easily you can see it's not. Heyward left even more on the table to snub the Cardinals and Zobrist left probably the same amount to snub the Giants. You can't extend the toxic argument to the Nats and not these clubs. Yet these are two beloved organizations reporters would chop off their own fingers first before even hinting that they may be toxic.

If it's not the enviroment what could it be? Zobrist claimed Maddon love. Heyward claimed the best chance at long term success. Both are probably partly true. However looking at two signings that did happen might be more telling. The Nats did land Max Scherzer last year but deferred half his contract until after it was over. The Nats did land Daniel Murphy but had to defer about 1/7th of the money over the course of 3 extra years. Given those were the last two big deals the Nats made and given the contract offered to Cespedes included even more deferred money, it's fair to believe the Zobrist and Heyward deals included large amounts of deferred money as well. This makes the "turned down more money" point that looking at these players hinged on moot. They likely went for contracts that offered more real value.

This is the thread that runs through all the Nats deals. They offered contracts that were less than these players got from other teams. The Nats looked at a loaded and slow-moving market and tried to snag some players at fair cost. This usually fails. Toxic has nothing to do with it.

I can't help but also comment on this column. Not to be rude but does this guy even know Span was terribly injured most of 2015? Zimm/Murphy/Werth is bleak? I mean, I can totally see the issues with it but even I, soulless automaton, knows there's a good chance one of the three guys will be good. (Plus I'd be more excited by any of these 3 than Revere.)  And the offense was fine last year and lost a bad hitter in 2015, so... it'll be bad now?

The Nats went into the off-season with minor goals and major questions. The minor goals were to get rid of Storen, shore up the bench, and shore up the pen. They completed all three. The major questions were what would become of Papelbon, would they replace Desmond or wait for Turner, and would they get one more big bat. They did replace Desmond...after trading Escobar made it necessary. Effectively they are waiting for Turner. They are keeping Papelbon probably not by choice, but under the understanding that he is good and hard to replace. So what they really didn't address was getting one more big bat. A disappointment sure, but "nothing going right"? Hardly. (granted that's the copy editor and not him - the column is far less hot takey than the headline in it's final point).

I've said this before but this is what happens when national writers pop in to write about teams. It's hard to get a full picture when you are just stopping by and poking around. There's some value to what amounts to an outside opinion, but you should use what you know to inform what is being said. In this case the views in this column are just too negative. The Nats off-season is a little disappointing from their view. They thought they could make a FA splash without spending the big FA bucks. They were wrong. But they were pretty much able to accomplish every hard and fast goal they needed to. Now if it's more than a little disappointing to the fans, that's up to the fans. 

Monday, January 25, 2016

Monday Quickie - Lesspedes

Nats didn't get Cespedes. He signed a deal with the new hotness - an opt out. For Yoenis it was after a year. You might think the money would have swayed him - the Nats had to have been offering more for 5 than the Mets gave for 3, but as some noted, given the back-loaded and deferred money the Nats put in there the "real" value of the contracts were probably very close. Add in the opt-out and the Mets deal just might top it. (Plus I do think he wanted to stay in NY - he had a very good experience there)

What does this do? It makes the Nats worse than they could have been, yes, but not all that much worse. Cespedes, unless he's year long a player like he was to end 2015, is not a difference maker by himself. He's a great piece. Revere is an ok one. The Nats should be fine.

Really though it makes the Mets better and probably keeps them ahead of the Nats in terms of favorites for the East. Losing Cespedes would have hurt. Losing Cespedes to the Nats would have put them behind the eight ball. They avoided that scenario. It doesn't mean anything for sure but it's preferable to the alternative that was staring them in the face. 

Are the Nats not a desirable location? I think they are fine. Outside of the draw of Madden it's still about money and the Nats are offering fair deals, not great ones. That's smart business but more often than not someone will offer a deal that's great for the player and bad for the team so the Nats lose out. You think they would have learned from Werth and Scherzer, both of who they overpaid, but I guess not. 

Still time for stuff to happen. 

Quick enough for you? 

Friday, January 22, 2016

Snow day Cespedes thoughts

Quick bursts of thoughts on Cespedes

My biggest concern would be the league getting used to him. I feel like that might explain why he did great in 2012 and 2015 with the Mets but only good in between. The AL figured out how to pitch to him. If that's the case then sometime next year the NL will too and the Nats will be left with a decent hitting OF (with a power focus), on a team full of decent hitters. That's not a bad thing, but Clint Robinson is a decent hitting OF. You aren't paying Cespedes 20 million a year or so just because he has an arm.

Of course Bryce plays CF in this case, right? I mean Cespedes is proven to have his issue. You aren't sitting Werth (not for Revere to play CF) so Bryce, more of an unknown gets it. I'm not as high on Bryce in center as some are but it's better than the other options.

Does someone get traded? MAT is the obvious choice because (1) he's the worst so Nats won't play him, and (2) he's the "prospect" so other teams will want him but I'm not sure I see that. Revere is only on a one-year deal, Werth is a perennial injury risk, and MATs defense is something the Nats need. If I were Rizzo I would want MAT around if only because he'll be a cheap 4th OF for a while. Werth of course is untradeable. 40 million for a DH who may or may not play and if he does play may or may not hit? No thank you. Revere? That's probably the best bet.

Biggest thing that's being undersold with Murphy and Revere (and maybe Cespedes)? Health. They should play which means you can more rely on their projections than Werth/Zimm/Rendon. This was important in losing Desmond - a very reliable guy playing time wise.

How does he effect the clubhouse? Well I'll guess he's probably not great in the clubhouse - he has  been traded 3 times in 2 seasons and has surprisingly low FA interest. But it's the same in almost any situation. If the Nats win, which is more likely with him, they'll be fine with him (and fans will like him) if they don't win, that's when we see problems.

I don't mind 5 years covering the 30-34 seasons. That should be ok. The cost? Well we don't know 100 million would be too rich for me objectively. Subjectively of course - spend all your money.

We are mostly missing the second part of this as Donald noted - as a defensive move this matters too. Next year the competition for the NL East crown should be only the Mets, with an outside chance of the Marlins. If it's Nats or Mets then where Cespedes ends up counts double so to speak. Of course that should really only be figured as a set + for the team getting him in 2016 to be reviewed after every season.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Are you a Cesped-ophile?

Wait.  That phrasing may be problematic. Oh well.

The Nats are kicking all the tires on Yoenis Cespedes. He has been seeking a big-time deal in the range of what Justin Upton got (6 / 132, opt out after 2). The Nats didn't offer that. In fact, we have no idea what the Nats offered. If they really want him the deal has to be at least 3 years which is what the White Sox offered him. Other than that we have no idea. 3 / 75?  4 / 90? Guess away.

Does he fit? Not exactly. It would leave the Nats a bit defensively challenged and he's exactly the opposite of the contact driven team it seemed like the Nats were putting together.

But he can hit and honestly if Revere was manning centerfield and not MAT then the defense was going to take a hit anyway. It gives the Nats another power bat when it all it's righty bats (Zimm, Werth, Rendon) are in a state of flux. And this would have to free up someone - either Revere or MAT - for a deal.

I'll take it for 2016. It's the time to go all in.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

What would you give up for Lucroy?

John Lucroy wants to win. The Nats want to win, too.  They've talked about liking Lucroy. A perfect fit... if it was 2015 again.

We mentioned just yesterday again the Nats' less than ideal catcher situation. You can blame injuries or you can blame talent but Ramos has never developed as they thought he might. He has had continuous trouble staying on the field and last year, in his first healthy season in years, he was awful. He hangs on to average usefulness through his defense. He may be ok this year, if the Nats are lucky. Then he hits free agency meaning the Nats would have to pay for a catcher to replace him.*  Going into the offseason with an outright NEED is not the Nats way.

Lucroy should solve the production problem. Even in an off-year caused by concussion he was close to average. It's reasonable to expect some bounceback to an average season which would be a huge improvement over the last 2 years of Ramos/Lobaton. And it shouldn't be at the expense of defense. Lucroy's D has been good across the board for years and was above average again last year. So what's the problem?

The problem is which Lucroy do the Brewers think they are trading and which Lucroy do the other teams think they are trading for. From 2012-2014 Lucroy was an all-star level catcher. He could field and he could hit and combining that with his relatively young age (28 at the end of 2014), health (played full 2013 and 2014) and contract situation (2 more controlled years) made him arguably the second most valuable catcher in baseball going into 2015 behind Buster Posey. That Lucroy was worth your best prospect. Maybe not Giolito, but a Ross+ or a Turner+ definitely. (at least to those of us that don't overvalue prospects). That Lucroy was never on the table.  

2015 Lucroy got injured and put up a much worse offensive season than he had in the past. He was barely average with more than half the league providing more offense than him. He also saw some major defensive declines biting into his other value. He seems like he could be a one year rental if he wants to test FA and he could be a coin flip on playing a full season.This Lucroy is worth a decent prospect but nothing more. Something sitting at the bottom of the Top 100, something like pre-2015 AJ Cole straight up.

The Brewers want to deal the 2012-2014 under the assumption the 2015 Lucroy was an anomaly. The teams want to give up talent equal to what the 2015 Lucroy is worth, acting like 2012-2014 is mostly ancient history. Can they meet in the middle?

The easy thing would be for the Nats to offer something in the middle, like a Cole+ deal. But the Nats have a particular problem with trades like this, because of an issue that has dogged them for years now. They have no "2nd tier" to their minor league. Rizzo bets big on his picks, often going for guys who should be great if they are healthy. Occasionally he hits and the Nats have a big time prospect on their hands (Rendon, Giolito) occasionally he misses and the Nats have nothing (Purke). Overall this works pretty good but it leaves the Nats devoid of those "next best" minor leaguers, the ones made for deals like this. You might have been tricked into thinking they did last year but that was only because Rizzo dealt for them, bringing in Ross and Turner. The rest of those touted propects were probably overrated as evidenced by the fact they are going to fall off the list. Cole's timed out not making that next step in 2 years. Difo hasn't put up a good AA year. Lopez was bad. Unfortunately no one is joining them. Any previous Fedde ranking was all hope and he didn't justify it last year. Victor Robles has potential but hasn't played a game outside of low A. Andrew Stevenson, the Nats highest pick last draft, is just a guy in A ball right now.

So there is no "Cole+" available to the Nats. They could step it up, but a Turner or a Ross straight up now seems like an overpay for a potential one-year rental who didn't perform last year**. They'd love to step it down but a Difo plus a couple whatevers seems like an underpay for a potential all-star at a bargain price.

The middle point then is in a group of these other guys Difo and Cole and Lopez or At least two and something not terrible. But that guts the farm. It's a tough call.

This would all be easier if Lucroy had just had another very good year or if he wasn't that good to begin with. We'd all have a good idea on what the price should be. Then it's just a do they want to do it. With the price fluctuating it becomes harder.  I'm saying it should be around Difo/Cole/+ but the Brewers may not agree, or the Nats may not agree. That's even before getting into the "should" part.

What do I think? I think you do offer Difo/Cole/+ and you do try to sign Lucroy to an extension because we're at the end of something here. There may be a new beginning, there may not be but I don't see Difo/Cole as keystones to any new beginning and we know there is a chance in 2016. Take it.

*Lobaton is no better and is older. Nats catching prospects are not good or close. 

**Yes, I said Lucroy was worth these guys PLUS other stuff going into 2015. Things change. Lucroy was unexpectedly injured/bad. Ross went well past expectations skyrocketing his value and Turner kept on his, raising his value as he got closer to majors. It happens. Works the other way too. You might have said Lucroy was worth Cole, Difo, Lopez going into last year.  Let's say Lucroy had a 2015 like 2014. Even with one less year of control it'd be hard to say he was worth the same as those guys this year given they've all disappointed in one way or another.

Monday, January 18, 2016

Monday Quickie

There isn't much to talk about today news wise. Why post then? Good question. I suppose it's to keep the comment threads fresh. New week, start anew.

I suppose the biggest news not covered is that the Nats reached contracts with all their arbitration eligible players. The Nats seemingly HATE arbitration. While that may be overblown it doesn't help the Nats management that the first guy to take them to arbitration (John Lannan) was summarily demoted and the second guy (Jerry Blevins) was given the boot in favor of Matt denDekker and a depleted pen. (No on said the Nats were sensible about it). Luckily no worries for this year and everyone has signed their fair contracts offered.

With those in place the payroll is more in focus, the Nats currently sitting at 145 million. Basically the halfway point between those hoping the Nats would keep it up near 160 and those fearing the Nats would drop it down to 130. Of course the off-season isn't over yet. The Nats have been rumored partners in trade or as a team interested in an FA OF. This makes sense if they are willing to give up on MAT, shifting Revere to be a fantastic 4th OF. Papelbon (11M) is still on the roster out of necessity, as is the the hinted guy they would potentially trade to replace, Wilson Ramos. Remember, we've talked about it a couple times but the catcher situation sets the Nats up having to go into next off-season looking for a catcher in FA or trade. The Nats don't usually play the game that way so a trade for a catcher still might be in the cards.

What do I think? (and since I nailed the Storen deal timing I must have some super powers) I think the Nats are pretty much done. I think they sit on everyone and try to get a rehabbing pitcher (Lincecum, Josh Johnson) for peanuts to stick in AAA for depth and potential. That's pretty much it. I don't think they bother for an OF now. The free agents are going to be too expensive or will lack game-changing ability. I can't see the Nats spending a bunch, even just for a year, to get slightly better. Trades won't happen unless a team doesn't ask for much in return. The Nats are very much like a fan when it comes to their prospects (I think it's a combo of Lerner loving the long-term cheap investment aspect and Rizzo over-trusting his own judgments). Deals have to be pretty damn good for them to give up a minor leaguer that they even remotely care about. Other teams are more reasonable (though these numbers are dwindling) and will end up with the Cargos of the world. I don't think they deal Papelbon because teams are only going to pay 80 cents on the dollar for him and Rizzo wants a fair trade based on talent.

But we'll see. As I keep saying - plenty of time left. Things happen.

Side note here on Ian Desmond. Yes, he made the wrong decision not taking the Nats extension. But that's a total hindsight thing. At the time he was poised to make a lot more and it took a season where he was batting .214 / .261 with 11 homers a week into August to kill that. There was nothing telling anyone he'd suddenly become the worst offensive SS in the league for 75% of 2015. If there was, forget the extension, the Nats would have probably traded him rather than have him drag the team down. No one saw it coming, but it came and here we are.

Where does he end up now? Tampa is an interesting place. If he was willing to take less money he could find himself situated very close to where he lives full-time (Sarasota) something that has to have great appeal. And the only guy standing in his way is the "He's really good!... I mean he's a great bargain!... I mean he's at value, that's something!" sabrmetric favorite Brad Miller.  Other teams may want him at a different position. Detroit in the OF. Houston at 3rd. 

How did Ian end up in this bad spot? Just in general who had a SS situations in 2015 that even 2015 Desmond might have improved? 

Padres - signed Alexi Ramirez because I assume they don't care about winning.
Baltimore - locked into JJ Hardy unfortunately for them
White Sox - waiting on Tim Anderson, probably for 2017, don't want a long term FA blocking him
Brewers - tanking with a new GM
Dodgers - Corey Seager taking over
Rangers - locked into Elvis Andrus worse than Baltimore is locked into Hardy
Pirates - ummm oddly secure sticking with Jordy Mercer for some reason. Good luck with that
Reds - tanking
Cubs - traded erratic Castro, Russell taking over.
Indians - Lindor taking over
Mariners - Ketel Marte taking over
Angels - traded for Andrelton Simmons
Mets - signed Asdrubal
Phillies - tanking

and a couple other trade/FA created issues
Rays - fine in 2015 but let Asdrubal walk, see above
Rockies - fine in 2015 but traded Tulo, have Reyes now but he could be in legal trouble
Braves - fine in 2015 but traded Simmons, tanking

At this point it becomes more of a coin flip whether Ian, staying as he was - bad hitting with power, decent D, would be helpful. These unnamed teams signing him would be really expecting that he would get better.

Fully half the league could have used Ian. But four tanking teams and five rookies coming up this year (or next) really cut down the demand pool. Ian went from 14 potential suitors (taking out locked ins and Colorado which didn't start FA needing a SS) to 5. At that point you can be boxed out and Ian was by a couple trades (Miller, Simmons), a commitment to bad player (Mercer), and a FA on the market who would be much cheaper and not much worse (Cabrera). At that point it comes down to one team either deciding to pay you or not. The Padres didn't. (The lost draft pick here isn't helping now that "winning the prospect lotto" is a praised rebuilding strategy) Now Ian is left hoping that either Reyes can't play most of the season (and the Rockies care about winning enough to sign Ian) or the Rays are willing to give him something fair while being able to see Miller is nothing but a bench player. Or else we're looking at a one-year challenge deal somewhere, at a good deal less than his qualifying offer.

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Pulling on the comment thread

Some stuff on things I saw in the comment thread on the Drew Storen/Ben Revere's

Ben Revere doesn't just single - he steals bases! 
True and we had a little back and forth in the comments about it. Some think we should try to incorporate his SB into his SLG. I prefer to just take his hitting as is and add a "speed" adjustment during discussions. Why? Doing the former ignores a big chunk of why SLG is important. It drives in runners from non-scoring position. My guess is that WAR (at least the offensive part) does a pretty good job of factoring in SBs.

for example here is Nick Markakis' 2015 line
.296 / .370 / .376
and Ben Revere
.306 / .342 / .377

Nick walked more and had a tiny bit more pop (might I add "Ha ha Braves"). So Nick should probably have more offensive value despite the small disadvantage in average. However, according to fangraphs Nick's offensive stat was 4.2. Revere's was 6.2.  Baseball Reference's difference isn't that big (2.5 to 2.7) but also shows an advantage for Revere. That difference is all about the speed.

Of course our question is more about Revere vs MAT. So what was MATs offensive contribution last year? Both Fangraphs and BRef had him in the negative values. So the short of it is Revere should be a nice line-up improvement over 2015 MAT. The questions that linger are does the defensive difference (Great vs surprisngly bleh) combined with the potential improvement of MAT (and probably very slight age-related drop for Revere) make MAT the better bet for 2016? Also there's the question of "disruptive baserunning" but I can't answer that.

MAT can't possibly match Revere offensively!
I said upping his average to ~.240 and taking some more walks should make them a wash offensively.  Let's see how right that may be.

If he were to hit let's say .243 -  his OBP would be up to let's say .295. If he takes a few more walks - 5 to 10 - let's say 8 more. His OBP is around .308. That's not that close to where Revere should be in the .330-.335 range.* But he doesn't have to match Revere's OBP because he slugs a lot better. So let's say he also hits a couple more doubles and homers. Fair, right? Hits 3 more 2B, another 3B, and 2 more homers... his SLG is around .395.  Revere should be around .365 in my guess. What's a .243 / .308 / .395 line worth? My best guess is that it put him around the 0 line for offensive contribution. So Revere, even though he's expected to be a little worse overall than he was in 2015, should be a step better.

Ok so looks like I was wrong. Very minor improvements across the board will not make it a wash. However any single major step up assuming very minor improvements elsewhere probably would. If MAT can hit .260, that probably does it. If he can take 20+ more walks, that probaby would do it. If he can hit 25 doubles and 20 homers, that definitely does it. And if he can make a step up across the board - forget about it - Revere is in the dust.

The gamble the Nats could be taking is against the chance that MAT won't just simply have a very slightly better "used to it now" season, but will actively improve.

How about the move to contact hitting. It did wonders for the Royals!
Yes the Royals led the league in contact (81.9%) and they were dead last in K% (15.9%) But they didn't exactly dominate offensively (6th in RS in AL) and there isn't much evidence that over a season this matters much. Who was 2nd best in both? The A's, a decidedly mediocre offensive team. Who was also up there? The Braves the worst team offensively in baseball. Who swung and missed the most? The Cubs and Astros. You might have seen them in the playoffs.

So if it doesn't translate into regular season success more than any other method, could contact hitting give you and advantage in the playoffs? Perhaps. It might. But the difference would be slight and just getting better hitters of any type is probably more impactful.

The Nats didn't "screw over" Drew Storen
This is about impressions, not facts. It's true other teams often add bullpen arms and displace guys who do perfectly well to strengthen the overall pen. It's also true that it doesn't seem like we hear about guys getting "screwed over" in those situations (though trust me - it is being said about Andrew Miller) For me I say it because I never bought into the Nats talk about "well this is how we can make our team better so we are doing it" To me it's always felt like "we don't trust you despite the fact that you probably earned some level of trust based on your performance". They could have dealt for a non-closers (Clippard, Soria, Jepsen and Lowe were all traded). They didn't. You might not feel this way. That's fine. Both are valid. But if I feel it, I can totally get Drew feeling it. Though again - he needs to work past that and he didn't.

What about Tyler Clippard? 
In theory it could happen. It seems like Tyler wants to go back to the Mets and the Mets want him but Sandy only wants to guarantee a year and Tyler is waiting him out to try to get two. If the Nats were to sweep in with a deal he likes for two then he probably goes. He does fit into the Nats pen nicely giving them that proven set-up arm. However, the Nats have already spent more than they ever have in FA for RP and Clippard isn't cheap.  I don't see it.

What happens to Tyler Moore?
He's got a paid contract. He's sitting on the bench unless he's traded. denDekker is the odd man out here.

Could this be a set-up for another trade? 
Sure it could be. I think the Nats would love to get a cost-controlled catcher or another cost-controlled starting pitcher. A cost controlled OF, while probably helpful in the playing field, is less a concern because they now have 4 paid OF through 2017.  Not that I think the Nats only think of cost control, but I do think it's a big deal for them as they like to work from a place of "can if we want to" rather than "have to", which is where they might be with Strasburg leaving, and where they definitely will be with Ramos coming to his FA year.

So in other words - I don't see a Cargo here. Maybe a Norris or a Matt Moore. But hey - I could be wrong. 

*MAT was 6th worst in qualifying batters in OBP. So he's got a lot of ground to make up. 10th worst was Desmond. Worst was Ramos. But Nats overall looked ok because Bryce was first and the difference between him and 7th best was the same as the difference between Ramos and 70th worst. Bryce is awesome.

Monday, January 11, 2016

The midnight trade for Ben Revere

The Nats traded Drew Storen for Ben Revere late on Friday night. Let's skip the formalities of a punchy little opening paragraph and get down to the analysis. 

Part 1 : The Nats lose Drew Storen.

Many, many fans are happy to see Drew Storen leave because the memories they have of Drew are among the worst in their Nats fandom. Game 5 in 2012. Game 2 in 2014. Pick a Mets game from this year. However let's put on our soulless automaton titanium outer shell for a moment and look at Drew Storen in his time with the Nats.

2010 : Good
2011 : Very Good
2012 : Great with an asterick
2013 : Bad
2014 : Phenomenal until...
2015 : Phenonenal until... (Part 2)

If we could separate it out you would see that the Nats got probably 250+ innings of great relief pitching from Storen. Like 270 innings of under 3.00 ERA pitching with a WHIP around 1.000. That is hard to replace as we all should have learned from last year's trade of Tyler Clippard. True, the Nats plan this year, bring in some intriguing veteran arms, is better than their plan last year, "it'll all work out somehow!", but it's still trading some level of stability for instability.

What level of stability? We don't know.  The only bad season Storen had is the season when he was unceremoniously replaced as closer, when it took him a good four months to get his head screwed back on straight about the demotion. This season would have a similar feel to that one. Given that he already started tanking to end last year it was fair to think that level of stability was not that high up there. I think you could expect Storen to be back to normal at some point next year, which is better than hoping you find a replacement arm as good as he has been, but it's not so much better that you can't deal him away and feel ok about it.

Really what should have happened is Drew should have been dealt and someone that was more much stable should have been brought in, but stability is expensive and hard to get. The Nats made a play for O'Day and fell short. They poked around at Chapman but didn't make a deal. They tried as much as they wanted to, but again the Nats fall to cheaper value question marks in the pen. I wish them luck.

As for Storen I wish him luck too. I've said a couple times that Drew really did get a raw deal from the Nats. He was a great closer in 2012 and Davey, in a rare misstep, set him up to fail.  You can try to argue that point but you'd be wrong. There was no reason to bring in someone else after that season but Boras needed a landing spot for a client and the Nats are always willing to help Boras out. That was a total screw job. Then after working his way back to the pen Drew found himself in the midst of a season where he had 29 saves in 31 chances with a 1.73 ERA and he got replaced again. I don't see how you can't think that's another screw job. He manned up and didn't let the 2014 mistakes mess with his head or the dealing away of one of his better friends and had an All-Star season. He deserved his shot at redemption.

This is not to say Drew is blameless. The 2013 and 2015 meltdowns were both inexcusable and while I cast nearly zero blame on him for 2012, he gets the full brunt of it for 2014. He was part of the problem. But it's clear to me that the organization did as much to make Drew's time here a mess, as he did. I hope he does great in Toronto and has a decent post-season performance. Perhaps saving a Wild Card game because of course the Yankees will have won the East in my hope.

Part 2 : The Nats get Ben Revere.

The Nats, in Michael Taylor, had a question mark in CF.  In his first full season MAT played a great CF, ran the bases well, but only had flashes of belonging in the majors at the plate. Not quite young enough to be a true prospect anymore, the 158 Ks stood out as a big warning sign that perhaps he'd never be quite ready. So while the Nats were set basically everywhere else offensively* the Nats could do something in the OF. They could add a bat that they felt secure about and move MAT to a 4th OF slot. Maybe he forces his way back in, maybe he doesn't but the Nats in that scenario ensure themselves of starting 2016 with 3 major league outfielders.

Instead they got Ben Revere.

Ben Revere is just slightly more of a starter than Michael Taylor. His value is all in his offensive speed as he makes contact, smacks the ball into the ground, and creates base hits for himself. Singles, really. A lot of singles. 312 in the past two years, more than anyone in baseball. He then uses his speed on the basepaths to steal and score and otherwise create havoc. But he doesn't do much else.

His speed doesn't translate to great defense as you think it would making him merely a serviceable outfielder. He has no power (4th lowest isoSLG in the majors last year) and he doesn't take walks (in bottom 30 for BB%). If he's not singling to get on base he is giving you absolutely nothing.

The good news is that there isn't any reason to think he won't single to get on base.  He's not particularly old (28 in May). His various speed stats don't indicate any sharp declines. And his contact rate is still high. It is dropping so maybe he doesn't give you an empty .305 but an empty .295 instead but it will be enough to still be equal or better to the average expected season from MAT. Of course MAT has a greater spread of possibilities and is more likely to have a very good season than Revere who almost assuredly won't. Really all the Nats have done is replace one type of 3/4 OF (Power hitting, great fielding, strike-out machine) with another (super speedy singly Joe)

Of course that is what we thought with Span coming into DC at about the same age and he picked it up a notch. Maybe Revere will. Then again Denard had good offensive years, in other forms, before coming to the Nats.  Revere really hasn't.  Or maybe the Nats will platoon the two, although platoons can be risky as taking days off can have different effects on players.

In the end the problem the Nats solved here was not the one of making sure they have 3 like-to-have-them-starting major league OFs on the squad in 2016. It was the one of making sure they have proper OF depth. Matt denDekker is no longer a possible long term replacement option. Instead it's whichever of Ben Revere or Michael Taylor (or Clint Robinson if Zimm is healthy). That's a better space to be in. So even if the starting team isn't appreciably better the team as a whole is.

I think the Nats are done. I don't think they can deal for a C. I don't think they bother signing an OF. I think Papelbon is here unless someone makes what is essentially a fair deal for an All-Star talent closer. I think this puts the payroll at a middle ground between trying to be the best 160 and we are 2nd tier 130. Which is fine. But we'll see. There's still over a month till pitchers and catchers and nearly two until Spring Training. Plenty of time and a lot of assets out there. Let's see if 2016 can be the all-in season 2015 never got to be.

*Ramos, while set, is probably the only other place you could replace. SS is not set with an individual but it's clearly a set Danny to Trea plan

Friday, January 08, 2016

Some notes from yesterday's presser

That's what they call it in the biz. Pressers.

"When the lights are bright, this guy seems to put his best at bat"

The Post focused on Murphy's K-rate which was a MLB low 7.1% last year. Even if we buy the connection - there are two follow-up questions, is a low K-rate necessarily good and can Murphy keep up this low K-rate.

To answer the first...  eh. The next lower K-rate for a batter was held by Andrelton Simmons who was awful. After that though came Buster Posey, Michael Brantley, and Jose Altruve. So I looked at the past five years and found... nothing conclusive. Not striking out, even at an extreme level doesn't really seem to help you out.

Can he keep it up? As far as the K-rate goes I'd guess no. He pretty much was a 13.5% guy from 2012-2014. But I'm not sure that means anything either. Last year was an odd year for Murphy. He dropped his K-rate and his BB-rate dropped too. That's not unexpected assuming you think he's trying to put the ball in play more. However he bumped his power up, which is a bit strange. Well maybe he was hitting the ball harder? Well at the same time though his BABIP dropped considerably from past years. And let's not forget he became a much stronger pull hitter. Put it all together and you have a year that gets Murphy results but in a way he never got it before.

If you're asking me if he can keep up production. I would bet on Murphy not walking and not striking out. I'd bet on him hitting around .285 with 15 homers. However I don't know exactly how he'll do it. So if you're asking me if he can be that tough to strike out again, I guess I'd say no.

Oh, but what if we don't buy the connection in the article. What if we take it to mean hitting well in big spots. We all know he killed it in the playoffs... until he didn't.  When the bright lights were brightest - the World Series - he actually hit only .150 / .320 / .150.  Ouch. But before that he was a golden God and he overall had a great post-season.

Career wise it's a mixed bag. Late & Close - terrible. High Leverage - meh. 2 outs, RISP - great! There isn't any pattern here (which is what we usually expect to see - no pattern).

Basically if you take the comment to be he'll do well in big spots... I don't see how you can believe that. He'll do as he does. Fine.

"I’m most comfortable with, whichever one they plug me in that day, that’s my favorite position"

Nice to say but probably not true. He hasn't played a ton of innings anywhere outside of 2nd since 2011 so we can't say anything with a lot of confidence but it does seem he is not comfortable at all at 2nd. His range looks bad no matter which defensive measure you like and he makes a ton of errors. He seems a bit less error prone at 3rd base (and possibly ok in the OF but that's been years) so he's probably most comforatble there, despite what he likes to say.  Of course he did get better it appears at 2nd but it's still not good and he's not getting younger.

I can't actually put down the quote. Maybe he really doesn't care. However, there's a good chance he should be playing 3rd. 

Boswell : Rizzo believes he completed the last essential part of the Nats’ offseason

I'm not sure that's true. Rizzo will say whatever he feels like is the best thing to say at the time. At best, I can take it to be 90% true. As Boswell writes - they got their pen arms. They got their lefty bat. They don't have any obvious holes to fill from a departing player from last year. They could go out there as is. What's the 10% then? Trading Storen. That has to happen and don't tell me it doesn't.  Papelbon we'll get to in a second, but Storen has to go. Boswell also catches the important caveat to what he's saying. The Nats don't have to act but can. They can fiddle for a new pitcher or another OF or something else.

Now personally I think they Nats still NEED to do more. There's that Storen piece and I'd argue given the injury history of this Nats team (Murphy missed 20 games 2 years ago 30 games last year) the Nats need another playable bat and preferably one in the OF since we don't know if MAT will turn the corner. But this is me. I can see Boz's take on what Rizzo's is saying here. I just hope it's not actually the truth of Rizzo's opinion.

“And I’ve talked to Pap.”... According to one person present, Rizzo spread his arms, looked to the heavens and said, “Thank you!”

Papelbon will be here next year. I've been saying this for a while. The Nats put themselves in a terrible spot where they have two guys on the team they don't really want and can't feel secure about. Given Storen's reaction again to pitching in the 8th, you can't keep both. But given you didn't trust him enough that you brought in a "real closer" twice now, you can't trade Papelbon and keep Storen. But given Papelbon choked Bryce, you can't keep Papelbon and trade Storen. But given Storen's reaction again to pitching the 8th...

The way out of this endless circle* is if you CAN keep Papelbon and trade Storen because Bryce says you can.  Short leash on Pap, no tolerance, and making it clear that he's only here on Bryce's good graces, but it can work. And that's what I think will happen unless someone makes a great offer for the guy.

*or trading both but then you have to bring in someone else completely reliable - tough to do. 

Wednesday, January 06, 2016

Maybe something? Maybe

Ladson says Murphy will take his physical today, maybe have a presser tomorrow.  I generally wait for the Post to confirm to really believe it but seems plausible enough. At the same time Heyman is back to tell us the Nats are looking to trade for a catcher. Does that still fit with the Harper Conspiracy That's Not Really A Conspiracy Theory More Like Just Boring Account Balancing Theory? That depends on the target.

For the most part catchers do not make a lot of money in baseball. Even Jon LuCroy is looking at a mere 4 million dollar payday in 2016 (before cashing in in FA presumably). So say the Nats bring in a Derek Norris type (should make around 3 mill this year) and pawn off Storen along with the requisite prospects. That would fit the bill of dumping salary to bring in Murphy.  Even if they go a little higher (say Devin Mesoraco territory of 5+ million) if you presume Ramos is part of the deal that's a few million leaving as well.

Really the only way this doesn't work is if somehow the Nats are bringing in Russel Martin or the trade for whoever didn't include Storen and/or Ramos. THAT would be something that should signal that the 2015 payroll was fine and is likely to be roughly repeated.

Why would the Nats go after a catcher? We talked earlier about how Ramos was a good enough defender, and just young enough and cheap enough, that you probably ride him out for 2016. But it is very unlike Rizzo / Lerners to not have a sense of the potential budget for an upcoming year. If the Nats do ride it out with Ramos, they are essentially saying they will delve into the FA market next year for a catcher. They will simply have to because there will be no starter available to them.  Jose Lobaton has drifted away from being a potential one-year stop gap and the catchers in the minors are a few years off if that. That presents an unknown and the Nats don't like unknowns.

What is the last FA signing that you felt "Oh the Nats need to get an X"?  Probably the first LaRoche signing right? They like to have a reasonable plan in place (say Espinosa at 2nd, Turner at SS; or before 2015 Roark as the 5th starter) and then build on that if necessary. Right now they have no reasonable plan for catcher in 2017 and no reason to think they will have one by the end of the year. They have a plan in place to replace Strasburg (Giolito) and I'm sure they think they can find someone to replace Papelbon/Storen (if either are still here - Kelley or Rivero are probably the two in their minds right now), but Ramos? Nothing. So the way the Nats are run they need to bring in someone they feel could start in 2017 for no reason other than a sense of cost certainty.

We're going to have a fun time soon seeing some signing break the dam that's holding back this glut of FA. Let's see how the Nats position themselves before then. 

Monday, January 04, 2016

Monday Quickie - nothings happening

I was going to say that I expect a lot of "Nats want to deal Papelbon" and "Teams still very interested in Storen" type stories right now. Why? Because under my conspiracy theory they can't close the Murphy deal until one of those things are done. That's the only way the money will work itself out. Here we are about 10 days since Daniel Murphy was "signed" and still no official word. Coincidence? Probably but I THINK NOT!

With Jon Heyman drifting in the wind, we don't have our usual Nats/Boras outlet so it's left to John Morosi to start us off with a Storen still to be dealt side note. Keep your eye out because at this point there is no holiday excuse anymore. Murphy should be gettting physicaled today and announced officially tomorrow and if not, then someone is dragging their feet. Could be Murphy just enjoying a long holiday, but where's the fun in thinking that.

Will there be another move for the Nats? There are so many FAs still left you'd have to think so, and with each passing day the chance for the Nats to grab a short term deal on a solid player goes up. Of course - that goes for every other team, too.



Happy new year!