Nationals Baseball: December 2016

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Holiday Q&A 2 : The HoliDay After

Ok so the Nats related stuff is still going on over here. Any non-Nats or non-baseball stuff can be asked over here. I'll be checking this through Christmas and come back with something new the 26th or 27th barring some big move that I have to talk about so feel free to ask away.

Do you have any new terrible Christmas movie recommendations/reviews?

Oh god yes!  Since Thanksgiving I've added about 15-20 new XMas movies to the list of ones I've seen. Mostly new ones but some old ones, and of course I've watched some returning classics. I'll hold off on any reviews as that could take up pages and hours. Instead I might live-tweet a day and night of watching nothing but Holiday movies.

I'll recommend a few but note that these are recommendations based on knowing what you are getting into here. These movies aren't fighting for an Oscar here. In terms of new movies "Married by Christmas" on the UP channel, which my cable guide assures me is a real thing, is probably the best one I've seen this year. It is completely shoehorned into the Christmas movie genre as the plot doesn't need to revolve around it but that'll happen. What is enjoyable about it, and probably biases me toward it, is it goes for actual laughs rather than the "A reindeer ate my hat!" kind of laughs that usually pepper these types of movies. I'm not saying it's a laugh riot. It's a generic sitcom. But in a world of romance movies aimed toward 40 year old housewives that's a big difference.  The best generic one I watched this year, was actually a 2015 premiere I think "Sound of Christmas" on the Hallmark channel. If you want to just hit all the notes of this type of movie this is a fine example of the form. If you've seen that and want something new that fits the bill "My Christmas Dream" (not to be confused with the also new and also acceptable "A Dream of Christmas") with Danica McKellar would be my recommendation.  Sometimes people you recognize from other stuff are just cashing those checks, but the stalwarts of the genre, your Chaberts, your Witts, your Cameron-Bures aren't. McKellar falls in this latter category. 

To avoid? Assuming for you it's not "ALL OF THESE HARPER!" I've got a couple. Speaking of cashing checks, Eric McCormack and Kristin Davis do nothing for nobody in "Heavenly Christmas". The "Christmas with the Andersons" movie was unwatchable and coming from me, that's something. If you want to watch a BAD Christmas movie that's fun for being terrible, Haylie Duff's "Christmas Belle" is delightfully stilted, overacted, and filled with shirtless running.

Oh if you are into "movies normal people find watchable" here's a post I did a few years ago on what I watch of those.

Yankees were pretty good post trade deadline. Do they have a shot at second place in the division? 

The Yankees have two issues. They weren't all that good last year. There are three other teams in the division were. Let's talk about the latter.  The Red Sox have lost Ortiz but gained Sale and all those young guys have another year under their belt. It would be surprising if the Yankees can catch them given the gap in talent set up.  The Orioles are a mirage managed by a quality manager. Unless Dylan Bundy becomes an ace it's hard to see where they've improved on last year and Jones and Davis could easily be falling into oblivion.  They should be .500+, 81-84 range.  The Blue Jays will lose Encarnacion and Dickey but the latter wasn't that important last year and you get the feeling they can make up the former. It's hard to believe their pitching will be better though as they were best in the AL last year. They'll probably be in the 84-87 range.

That gives the Yankees one or two more games to win - if they are better. But are they? They got some 2nd half performances that won't be repeated (Sanchez and Billy Butler hitting like .350!) and lost Beltran but I'd still expect the offense to be a tick better as they introduce some young blood into the lineup, bring in Holliday to just hit, and hopefully have some better health. But they were 12th in RS in the AL last year so a tick means only maybe average at best. So the pitching will have to carry them. The bullpen should be great again - Chapman, Betances (not closing), MLBs greatest middle reliever every Tyler Clippard.  So the question comes down to the starting pitching. Tanaka is good enough to be your #1.  Sabathia has learned how to effectively eat innings now. If Pineda or Severino can make a star turn the Yankees have a shot. If not, I just don't see how they don't get stuck where the Os will probably be. That leaves 2nd place possible if the Jays falter or the Red Sox surprisingly fall but not likely and probably not enough wins for a WC in any case.

Didn't the wedding coincide with NatsFest? Do you think most or all Nats were invited to Bryce's wedding, or just his good friends?  

No he got married - seems like the 16th. Winterfest was the previous weekend. It interfered with a Duke UNLV game which is why Bryce wasn't there (and wedding planning - sure). I'd guess just good friends were invited out but not everyone. It's like giving out rings - where do you draw the line?

Recommend an introductory volume or two on baseball analytics for those, such as myself, who are stats curious, but not SAS programmer-types. Thanks? 

 OK I have an answer. People seem to like "Baseball Between the Numbers", "The Book:  Playing the Percentages" and I've seen a couple recommened "Understanding Sabermetrics" 

What is your favorite Christmas Carol?

Straight up "carol"... I do love the urgency of "Carol of the Bells" but the Trans-Siberian Orchestra version has kind of ruined it? I mean I kind of like that song while acknowledging it's too much. A well sung "O Holy Night" can be super powerful but it needs a great voice behind it. So I'll go with the jaunty "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen"

For songs... I mean there are so many good ones. The solid swing of "Let it Snow" (Vaughn Monroe version please) The joyous bombast of "The Most Wonderful Time of the Year". The longing soul of "Please Come Home for Christmas" The creepy fun of "Zat you Santa Claus". The Elvis-ness of "Blue Christmas" I could make a top 10 list - so I will. But I already know #1. The simple straight forward "Have a Holly Jolly Christmas" - Burl Ives version - album Burl Ives not shortened Rudolph Burl Ives.  There's just a touch of mischeviousness in it that appeals to me so much.

Can I pretend that Star Wars 7 and Rogue One are Christmas movies?


Have the Nationals been trying to sell the naming rights to Nats Park?

Yes. They kind of made on and off gestures early on probing the market but didn't like what they found. They made it known last year that they now were definitely looking to sell them again. What's the hold up? I assume what holds up all Nats deals. They have a set value in mind and aren't looking to go much under that. It may seem small but if you think you can get 10 mill a year and someone is offering you 7 - these are usually 10+ year deals. That's 30 million you cost yourself. So in theory you can wait 4 years before you'd start to "lose" money by have not taking that deal. (Sort of - it's all a rich tapestry of when the deal ends and other deals changing market etc)

My guess right now is too is that the digital billboard thing will have to be settled before they sell.  Right now the council approved them - but not as many or on as long as the Nats wanted. They may try again? Sue? Who knows? They really have to sell this year though because a big ad thing - the All-Star game - is set for 2018. Once that is past the deal loses value. So don't expect to be going to Nationals Park on Opening Day 2018.

Would you rather have a crazy, win at all costs owner of the Nats (think Dan Snyder) or an owner that tries to run the franchise in a more respectful/classy way (aka Lerner's)?

I'm going to choose the latter, but it's not a slam dunk.  I think the key word in the whole question is "crazy". This to me signifies, much like it has with Snyder, that the guy doesn't have a good idea on how to translate his money and effort into wins. He puts too much stock in his own opinions, doesn't hire the right people, etc. A guy like this is just as likely to drive the team into the ground for half a decade as he is to make a couple years of runs into the playoffs.

Throwing money around (in baseball*) IS very effective. In my opinion most of us could create a "winner" with just an unlimited payroll and a fair sense of the game. But that just means being over .500.  Getting to playoffs regularly takes some skill. Getting to the playoffs as a favorite even more. So unless I can confirm that the win at all costs guy isn't an idiot - give me the latter group

*Baseball's salary structure lends itself to being able to bludgeon your way to over .500 with money. NFL does not.  Instead money in the NFL seems to create a floor around 5 wins. It's hard to be truly terrible by spending a lot.

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Holiday Q&A

I could keep posting original stuff but that's hard and vaguely sometimes time consuming. Q&As make more sense for the work week leading up to Christmas, at least for me. So ask away in the comments and I'll try to answer in the post at my earliest convenience. For the sake of  not mixing things for people that come here for baseball only thank you very much - I'll put another post up tomorrow for non-Nats / non-baseball Q&A if you are interested in non Nats questions. But what kind of freak isn't interested in Nats questions?

How does the replacement of Espinosa at SS by an inferior fielder --- and the knock-on effects on the rest of the positions --- effect the overall fielding of the Nationals. They seemed to be in the top quarter of fielding teams last year. How does this affect their overall competitiveness?

Well I guess the first question is how much of an inferior fielder will Turner be exactly. Danny had been one of the best fielding 2B during the 2012-2015 run, but as a SS he was merely very good last year. While that can be a fluke of single year fielding statistics, I can buy it. He's not young anymore and he's probably living on that cannon of an arm. Turner barely played SS in the majors so we have no fancy stats to go on there, but his 2B numbers (still on a very small number of innings mind you) were a tick worse than Danny's when he played there. I can see him matching Danny's range just with pure speed, but without the same arm. The end result my best guess is that Turner will be worse than Danny in the field but only slightly worse than Danny 2016/2017 which is the comparison that matters. 

I'd expect the Espy to Danny move  not to effect the defense and the Nats competitiveness all that much. Remember that Rendon at 3B is a top defender which gives Turner some cover in the hole if he needs it. No the left side of the infield should be pretty much the same. What I'd be more worried about is Murphy.  Historically he's not been a good defender but he worked hard and got himself to "not embarrassing" last year though was a step back and I don't see how he move forward anymore. Not only is age working against him, that butt injury is going to limit him in some way I'm sure. With Zimm's D not translating across the diamond that right side of the infield could be a big issue.

I'm convinced that if Rizzo gives out though minor league deals to has-been starters that at least one of them will pan out as an acceptable reliever. But exactly how viable is that in actuality?

Quick answer : I'm not sure. I'd imagine it's a combination of stuff, age, and effort that turns a former starter into an effective reliever. Looking at the top relievers (I just used fWAR - good as anything for something vague like this) it seems rare for someone to start until around 30 and then transition. A good handful transition very early or never were starters. The rest transition around 25-27. That seems to be the agreed upon "Give up on them starting" age range. So I'd say if you aim for guys around that age with one or two really good pitches you probably have a better shot. But I have no idea how many guys attempt to make this move. I imagine dozens every year. If that's true than the success rate is low. It's probably more viable than sheparding middling minor leaguer relievers, these guys had some sort of major league stuff to get there, but I certainly wouldn't bet the farm on it.

how do you think the current configuration of the Nats matches up against the Dodgers and Cubs (likely front runners in the other 2 NL divisions)?

The Cubs are a complete team and no one is going to match-up well against them. The Nats could match their offense but things would have to break right (Bryce MVP, Murphy MVP, Turner MVP type of thing). So give the Cubs the edge there. The Nats had the 2nd best starting staff and were more than a half-run worse than the Cubs. Cubs edge. Relief wise with the Cubs getting Davis and Nats doing nothing so far you'd give the Cubs a slight edge. They should win a bunch more games than Nats and while not overwhelm in a playoff series would be favored for sure.

I'm not sure why everyone is excited about the Dodgers though. They basically just recreated their team from last year which means their flaws (fragility, LHP) remain. You'd give them the clear pen edge right now but the Nats maintain an offensive edge and SP staff is up in the air with LA having more to worry about with getting innings. Assuming perfect health I guess you expect LA to win a couple more games? Maybe? Depends on how divisions develop honestly. I can see the Nats winning a few more just as easy. In a series - I see a toss-up just like this year. The Nats pen really didn't fail in the playoffs. In fact they didn't really fail just got beat by a slim margin. Play that series 10 times, Nats win 5. Now this year - without bullpen help - maybe Nats win 3-4? But it's a LONG way from here to a 2017 playoff series.

Any word on Tyson Ross from brother Joe?

I haven't seen anything.  Rumors currently have the Cubs hot on Tyson Ross and if you can join the Cubs...

Is the Wieters talk just Boras smoke and mirrors or would the Nats actually flip Norris??

I believe yes and yes.  The Nats situation makes too much sense (Nats need C, Weiters is right here, Boras client) for people not to think this but the money doesn't work (unless they'd flip Gio with no replacement in mind) I won't totally exclude it, Boras got the Nats to take in Soriano unecessarily, sign Max, but I don't see it. You can't clearly say Weiters is a star like you could for those two (at the time).  As for Norris - they'd flip him if they felt the return was good enough and they had a workable plan B in place. Maybe even not with a plan B if return was somehow well beyond expecations. He's a gamble that's cheap and controlled, but not so cheap and controlled for so long you can't let him go. He's not necessary to future plans.

What do you expect from Gio in the last year of his contract? Over perform expectations or under? 3+ or 4+ERA? LHP trade bait at the deadline? 

What's expectations? 4.00 ERA? Then I'd say under. I think he'll have a 4+ ERA though not necessarily worse than last year.  (so if your expectations are 4.50 ERA he might overperform that). Generally it's been a slow decline because as he's gotten hit more, he's better controlled his pitching (believe it or not). It's not a fair trade - a hit IS better than a walk, but it helps slow the decline. Why think it'll change this year? I don't think he'll be traded unless Nats are out of it. Assuming Dodgers in it they still can't hit LHP.

Did you read the WashPost article on MAT? Thoughts? How would you procede to give him a shot turning it around?

Yes! Pretty standard fare. You'd expect a guy who sees himself as a major leaguer not to defer to "I just don't have the talent to do this" when faced with failure. I wouldn't give him a shot to turn it around, though. Outside of one fluky AA season in 2014, MAT has never maintained a high average and has struck out way too much.  That was him in A ball, that was him in AAA, that's been him in the majors. Chances are - that's him. I'd make him 4th OF and if a shot happened to come to him via injury to Werth (or god forbid Bryce or Eaton) then so be it. If somehow he impresses in limited play in 2017 and you can fix 1B and C more easily, maybe he gets a shot in 2018. But I doubt that those circumstances arise. 

Is eaton going to replace BRYCE? 

So this question in full is more "Since they traded away Giolito and Lopez, won't the money saved with Eaton's cheap contract have to be used in the future to pay for starting pitching and not go to Bryce?"  Well there are two assumptions here we'd have to address first. (1) that Lito and/or Lopez would be starting pitchers worth having in your rotation and (2) that the Nats are serious about bringing Bryce back with a contract that likely starts at Stanton.  Both are decent gambles to be no, but let's assume they are both true. Does that mean no Bryce?

I don't think that's going to be the kicker. Even without Giolito and Lopez the Nats are in a great position SP wise. If all goes well the Nats don't have to really address the pitching staff until after 2019. At that point Roark goes into FA and Scherzer crosses 35. Chances are another strong arm will be needed. If they want to stay cheap that gives the Nats 3 more years to develop someone. That's not an unreasonable time frame. Could that someone had been Lito or Lopez? Sure but there wasn't a strong consensus anymore that it would happen, and certainly not a feeling that you could bet on them being #1/2 types. You lose something here, but not as much as you think.

So Bryce! Welll maybe. What's going to matter more, imo, is all the other issues that need to be solved between now and then. Catcher, if Severino doesn't develop. Replacing Werth and Zimm and Murphy. Looking to maybe re-sign Rendon (also a FA after 2019). There's a lot of outstanding issues on the offensive side of the ball that should come into play before SP is an issue. So to answer the question - I don't see Bryce's stay in DC linked directly to letting Giolito and Lopez go.

I just thought it was crazy to let Melancon get to one of your potential chief rivals in the NL, filling their biggest hole, simply because the Lerners/Rizzo believe you shouldn't spend beyond a certain amount for anyone. This, to me, was a special case. What say you?

Almost any FA contract lost where you seemed to be the runner-up can be argued would have just cost you a few million more to get. If you think like that you'll go crazy. You have to take it at the full value spent and at the full value Melancon is just not worth it. There's a team to consider over the course of four years and unfortunately for whatever reason a pretty strict budget right now. That's the crux of it. If you accept the Nats payroll to be what it is - there are better places to spend that money in upcoming years than in a closer.

While we note that alot of winning teams have great closers, they don't have great EXPENSIVE ones. The last team to win it all with a great expensive closer they had all year? Arguably the Yankees in 2009. Last team to make it to series with said expensive closer? The 2012 Tigers with Papa Grande. It's hard to be really good all over if you are paying a lot for a closer and not spending a lot everywhere else too.

Is Greg Holland a viable possibility, or is no news bad news? (Rizzo asks why we think reporters should know who he's negotiating with?) Is Holland riskier than the other guys without his upside stinking up the pen? Who is the next friend of Dusty to sign?

Possibly? The market on Holland is hard to read. He's off TJ surgery and missing a year. The scouts had a showcase but don't seem to be jumping on him. Still closers are going for premium prices and he's a Boras client so he shouldn't be cheap. If he goes for the 2/18 incentive laden deal predicted by MLB trade rumors - (which looks a little cheap right now) I don't see the Nats being in on that, unless it's severely backloaded, like 5/13. Which I suppose is possible. Holland IS riskier because he hasn't pitched in a year so there's less of an idea of how he'll do in 2017 and he'll cost a lot more than most of those bullpen guys.

Next FOD?  Let's say Alfredo Simon gets a minor league deal with the team. Him or Ryan Hanigan.

Do you think actor Tom Holland might be available to close for the Nats?

No but maybe someone from Holland.

2017 will be a Werth-like return to form by Zim. Am I crazy for thinking this?

Depends on your definition of Werth like. Something like his injury below average to super star turn during the early years of the contract? No way. Something like a mild improvement from a terrible year - like Werth did last year?  Sure. In fact I'd bet on it. However that's betting on Zimm going from "maybe worst regular in baseball" to "among the worst first basemen in baseball".

Monday, December 19, 2016

Where the Nats stand today

We've spent a lot of the off-season mired in specific moves. Will they re-sign this guy? What trade will happen next? How are they going to get a closer? But now that we've hit the holiday home stretch, it's time to zoom out and look at the Nats as a whole. Do they project out in our heads to be better or worse than the 2016 Nats? By how much? This helps us get a feel for what needs to be done after the New Year when there is only a  month and a half (woo!) before actual players start doing actual things*

Likely Better

The Nats are replacing a full-season of Danny Espinosa, a half-season of Revere/MAT, and a half-season of Trea Turner with full-seasons of Trea Turner and Adam Eaton. 

Revere/MAT was a disaster and it's hard to imagine anything replacing that half-season that isn't a huge improvement. Danny was at best production-neutral meaning anything positive would be a noticeable change. Turner looks to be a positive player the only question is how much. Eaton should be a positive player even if his fielding in CF is more what we fear than what we hope.

Bryce should be better, right? 

The guy put up a season for the ages at 22 and then hit for his lowest average ever in the majors in the next season. Injuries make the most sense, especially given that he started the season almost exactly the way he finished 2015 and that was with a .228 BABIP.  So the offseason should improve that. At least we'd think so.

A full healthy season of Anthony Rendon is possible

He hit .254 / .341 / .406 in the first half. .291 / .357 / .508 in the second half. It's the difference between average and All-Star.

Likely worse 

The catching situation went from career year Wilson Ramos to hoping a Lobaton/Norris platoon will be successful. 

Best case Lobaton hits like his .737 OPS line vs RHP in 2016. Norris like his .810 OPS line vs LHP in 2015. That still won't match Ramos' .850 OPS overall for 2016. Worst case it's a giant sucking pit of despair. As usual expect the middle - a small pothole of disappointment.

The Nats bullpen has not yet made up for the dropping of the combined arm of a top-notch closer and the 50 IP of better than you think pitching that was traded for said closer. They also haven't replaced the 60 or so innings from Belisle and Rzepczynski.

This isn't quite the 2014 into 2015 idiocy of letting 200 IP of your bullpen walk and replacing it with hopes and dreams but it's getting closer. 137 innings of quality relief pitching is out the door, and while no one would ever want it back - 35 innings of sometimes effective relief pitching is gone too with Papelbon. Granted the 2014-15 situation broke when Stammen went down to injury but are you betting against a pitching injury to someone now important to the pen? With Glover and Kelley ending 2016 with issues? You have to make those innings up with quality somehow. Doesn't mean "top notch closer!" Just with quality somehow.

Right now the bench is a little worse

It wasn't great last year but it had one really good bat and one very useful one. The useful one, Heisey, is back. The really good one, Drew, is not yet. It may be tough to get him back as he's likely got a chance to start - or play a super utility role - somewhere else.

Hard to tell

How dead is Ryan Zimmerman? / Can Murphy repeat his 2016?

Murphy will be hard pressed to do better, Zimm hard pressed to do worse. But based on eyeballs and stats, repeats of last year are not out of the question. However, these are both singular seasons for these players which immediately prompts a "do it again before I believe it" response. There's a lot of variability here but also no strong reason to predict a likely better/worse swing. 

Can Werth squeeze out one more decent year at the plate?

I've written Werth off twice and twice he's come back though the last one was last year and the comeback was definitely muted. All the Nats need is 2016 again. It's not much but Werth is 38 and he hasn't played two full seasons back to back since joining the Nats.

How's Strasburg's arm? What about Joe Ross? 

Since they were both pitching at the very end of last year you have to go into 2017 thinking they are healthy and ready to go. If so there is room for improvement - mainly in IP but also in pitching. At the same time neither pitched full years and neither got back to full-time starting status by the time the season ended. So like Zimm/Murphy - a lot of variability here.


The Eaton/Turner/Bryce/Rendon should easily balance out the known drop at catcher. Even if Zimm doesn't bounce back, Murphy dips a little and Werth is more 2015 than 2016 (all slightly negative outcomes in coin flip scenarios) the Nats offense should be pretty similar to last year. Very good - not great. Enough to make playoffs. Enough to win division easily with a top notch pitching staff.

The pitching staff unfortunately is looking more down than up. The relief core is not gutted but has suffered a decent stomach stabbing and the injury question hangs over the rotation. If the Nats don't fix these issues the pitching staff will mirror the offense. Very good not great.

That's not terrible - but it sets the Nats up for another "odd year" situation. In those the bats and arms were both very good and the Nats had an 85-90 win team that was beat out for the division and kept out of the playoffs. There isn't a guarantee that would happen this time. The Braves were an obvious rival in 2013. The Nats had some bad luck in 2015. But it leaves the door open wider that it could.

So in the next two months I'd like the Nats to sign/trade for a couple decent bullpen arms. Doesn't half to be a closer, just something reliable. Boone Logan, Jhan Marinez, Liam Hendricks.  Since a reliable starter is almost certainly out of the question, both because of cost and because if Ross/Strasburg are healthy there isn't a place for them, I'd suggest a handful of minor league deals / 1 million dollar flyers for starters that make it to the end of FA unsigned and might have been good say 3 years ago? Henderson "shoulder surgery" Alvarez? Dillon Gee? Scott Feldman? Doesn't anyone else think there's a junkballing two-year decent stretch before Jered Weaver goes into retirement? You need to fill up AAA with major league ready guys, if not major league good guys because right now the Nats have a hole there with the current next up selections being Austin Voth and "The A stands for 'Are you sure Austin Voth didn't work out?" AJ Cole.

*Even if those things are best ignored for any real news

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Offseason Position Discussion : Relief Pitching

Man, I thought if I could just wait long enough this might take care of itself. No such luck.

Last Year's Discussion
I didn't do one! So there you go. I did say a bunch of times I thought Papelbon would end up being back assuming Bryce was ok with it because they pretty much had no other option. And that's exactly what happened. I'd take some credit but again - no other option.

How did it turn out? Not as bad as you thought it would or think it did, but still not good. Papelbon would actually start the season fine. Near the end of May he'd have 13 saves to only 2 blown saves, be sporting a 2.75 ERA.  A respectable 1.22 WHIP and opponents line of .260 / .308 / .356.  There were warning signs though - he wasn't missing bats (6.4 K/9), his FB speed was down and hitters were hitting them hard.  The ERA would jump to 3.28 as the hits would start falling, but he still had luck on his side and was finishing games successfully. In mid June though Papelbon was pulled for a rib injury. There was some hope that the shaky start was linked to this injury and at first we though that might be the case. He was fairly dominant - which he hadn't been all year -  over the next 7 games.  Then the wheels, spinning wildly and moving in directions they shouldn't for most of the season, came off.

On July 23rd Papelbon would shakily hold onto a tie against the Padres.
On July 24th (3rd day in a row pitching) Papelbon would blow up against the Padres turning 6-6 to 10-6.
On July 26th Papelbon would blow a 6-4 lead to the Indians (an error was also involved).
On July 28th Papelbon handed a 4-1 lead would put two batters on getting one out before being pulled.

His ERA ballooned from 2.56 to 4.41. Just as the trade deadline was coming the answer became crystal clear. Papelbon couldn't be the closer for this team in the playoffs. Melancon was traded for, Papelbon was demoted then released in short order. Melancon filled the role admirably (1.82 ERA, 17 SV, 0.809 WHIP) for the rest of the year.

The rest of the pen?  The first half of the year it was a mixed bag.  Guys like Belisle, Treinen and Solis weren't pitching all that well but were getting results. Felipe Rivero had pitched well, but a couple of big run outings made him look bad. Shawn Kelley was good. In the second half of the year, it came together. Treinen and Belisle started pitching more in line with their effective stats. Rivero was traded but Marc Rzepczynski was brought in and perform strongly. Shawn Kelley was very good. The expensive fringes of the pen, Perez, Petit, had issues but Dusty seemed to be able to pull the right switches. Overall it felt like it was a good pen that just needed a good closer to set everything in place.

Presumed Plan 
Earlier I would have probably said the Nats would trade for a closer, but I'm not sure what they have left to trade if Robles is untouchable. They could get a decent set-up man with the right package, a guy that could easily close but fans and the team aren't looking for someone without a track record. At this point I'm going to guess nothing happens in terms of getting a proven closer. Treinen or Kelley is handed the closer role to start the year.

Reasoning on the presumed plan 
The Nats did want a closer but they also have assumed budgetary contstrictions. The Nats payroll was set to increase by 15 million or so just from increasing contracts and arbitration awards - dumping Revere, Espinosa, letting some relief arms walk - only balances that out. The Lerners continue to cry poverty over the MASN deal and are determined to not put money into the payroll that may influence that opinion. That doesn't mean they weren't interested in making a big play for a closer, they seemed to be in on both Melancon and Jansen, but it means they were more interested in sticking to their convictions on what these guys were worth because other moves would probably have to be made to balance that out (Bye Gio!). Failing on getting either of those guys though, and I think they really thought they could re-sign Melancon to something like 4/50 million, has left the Nats in a bind. They'd still like a closer but the good options are limited, especially now that they spent their prospects on Eaton.

At this point I think the Nats are almost out of trade partners. The White Sox will want more for Robertson and he's way too expensive for the Nats. The Rays will want more for Colome. The Padres will want more for Maurer. Both will probably wait and see if they can't get more at the trade deadline, certainly than what the Nats can offer with certainty today. The Nats won't see the point of bringing in a Madson at his monetary cost. The last possibility is the oft injured Sean Doolittle; a good arm, cheap with closing experience. It's the best chance but I don't think it's a good one

Really what the Nats are doing now is sitting on the Greg Holland market, hoping they can get a deal for him. He may not be healthy coming off TJ but with his experience makes him an easy sell on a cheap deal. If they fail with him, and I think they will, the pickings become slimmer. Brad Zeigler is probably the next best option but indications are that he's going to price out for what the Nats are willing to pay him (he'll go above what he probably should is what I'm saying).  In the end I think the Nats will sign whoever shakes out of this that they can get for something like 1yr 3 mill or cheaper. Casilla maybe? But they won't make him a closer. They'll leave it open and either Kelley, who probably deserves it if healthy, or Treinen, who they've tried to tell us is just around the corner from being a dominant closer for three years now, will start the year in the 9th spot.

Problems with the Presumed Plan
The biggest problem is probably the psychological reaction from the fans and the team. The team will say they are ok, but will look at the obvious hole and wonder why management won't fix it. The fans will say "GET A DAMN CLOSER" . What happens though is that this snowballs if whoever is named closer fails early at the job, and it disappears (for a while) if he excels. It's a gamble on something you can't really measure. And while it will disappear for a while, it'll come back with a vengeance if the Nats make the playoffs and say Treinen is expected to close.

As for the actual performance the biggest gamble is how it sets up everything else. Things sort of worked wtih Papelbon as closer and a big reason for that was Dusty figuring out how to use everyone else effectively in those earlier innings. But as soon as Pap went down the pen struggled with everyone up a step. Kelley was now in the 9th, Treinen saved to lead into him and the pen just wasn't deep enough to have what had been the 4th and 5th guys pitching big innings, at least not before the trades brought in some fresh arms. Those arms are all gone again so the Nats are essentially in a similar place as last year without Papelbon.

That could still work out fine. Glover might recover from injury. Solis or Grace might develop into reliable pen arms. Perez could be an effective LOOGY. That would be enough with Treinen and Kelley at the end, especially so if they sign one cheap effective arm like I think they will. BUT it does leave the Nats with Kelley in an important role and Kelley's arm is a big question mark given him multiple issues and leaving the playoffs as he did. If Papelbon, a not good but effective at the time arm, going out created issues, imagine what losing actually good Kelley will do. If no one has stepped up into that 3rd best role and Kelley goes down there's a lot of innings going to question marks.

My Take
You don't trade the farm for a closer. You don't have to spend a ton of money on a closer. That and snake handling was just how I was raised. I still believe it. The Nats have been a very successful franchise over the past few years without ever feeling like closer was locked down for a whole season. They've had some big moment blow-ups in the playoffs but in general the bullpen has been effective enough to win these series and it's other failings that doom the Nats.

So basically I'm fine with the Nats doing this as long as they treat 2017 like 2016. If a dominant arm doesn't emerge - go out and get the closest thing you can to it for the playoffs. The playoffs are not the regular season and they demand a lot of match-up work, which means a lot of arms. If you don't have that - you get that. The Nats did that work in 2016 - Rep, Melancon - and the Nats pen was very good in the Dodgers series and the whole thing came down to the wire.

Would I rather the Nats have gone out and spent money on  Melancon / Chapman / Jansen? Yes, of course. But that's my view of teams and spending. These are rich men's hobbies. Throw money at it.  But that's me and knowing what I know of the Nats situation regarding payroll I'd rather see money, which they'll have next year, put elsewhere than relief pitching. Win a goddamn series with the bats that hit every inning and the arms that should throw at least 2/3rds of your innings.

Out of Box Idea 
The Drew Storen idea, draft a very successful D1 college closer -sign him - move him pretty much immediately to that role in majors, almost worked out. In fact I'd argue it did... until set up for failure he became the goat of the 2012 NLDS, then had management be convinced to free agent sign over him, and then couldn't handle it mentally. Why not try again hoping this time to not have the manager set the guy up for failure, not to have the organization show zero faith in the player despite a dominant season, and not to have the player have such a fragile mental make-up that a couple year demotion doesn't essentially break him?

Who's the lucky Nats 2nd half closer currently toiling away in college? I don't know. Maybe Bryan Young of Missouri State? Someone will show.

Monday, December 12, 2016


Danny Espinosa has been traded. This is a minor tragedy as the thought of singing "Danny Espinosa" to the tune of "Gary, Indiana" will go through my head far fewer times now that he's on the west coast. It's also a shame because as I noted earlier - Danny ain't problem #1. The Nats had the 2nd worst 1B situation last year in all of baseball.  In case you think that's an aberration, the year before that they were in the lower third of baseball. This is a pattern that isn't changing as Zimm and Robinson keep getting further from their primes. And catcher - well there is good reason to believe it won't just be worse next year (how could it not - it was nearly best this year) but potentially terrible.

But still Danny occupied a spot that the future of the Nats franchise is penciled into. His secondary and tertiary positions were occupied by players more productive than him. To keep him playing someone had to be out of position, with one exception which we'll get to in a second. And he wasn't a good enough player to start moving things around for.* He's a speed and defense guy with the added skill of HR power. But he can't hit for average at all and he strikes out all the time. That's good enough to start somewhere, but expendable on a contending team. Much easier than accommodating him would be solving the CF issue, shifting Turner to where he belongs, and pushing Danny to the bench or out the door. And that's what happened.

I guess Danny could have been kept around on the bench but he supposedly is not a happy camper when sitting, everyone seems to love (former D-back!) Stephen Drew, and you might even get Drew for cheaper than what Danny would cost (5+ mill).  In the end it just wasn't a difficult choice to send him on his way.

Who'd they get for him? Two nobodies.  Kyle McGoohan is a starter with stuff that's not particularly missable and with pretty bad control. But he's not old! Austin "Don't call me Kearns. Don't call me Amy" Adams is a reliver with no control who's worked himself through the minors by... inertia I guess. Maybe they figure out what's up with one of these and come up with a good player.  I'm not betting on it. This was a dump trade. But I do believe Rizzo when he says this was in the works for a while. This was a planned dump trade.   Like Gio to the Yankees that's on hold as they decide if they want to spend that money on Jansen or not.

The Nats aren't better today then they were Friday but they aren't significantly worse and a Drew signing would make it a wash.  Now if they go with Difo instead... that would be a mistake. It would also be telling.  I've said how the Nats are around budget this year.  Well what I mean is that they are very slightly over, just a few million more than last year. Going with Difo instead of Drew, assuming nothing else happens this off-season would suggest that even that small increase is too much. It doesn't mean the Nats won't spend money in the future - when MASN is figured out, when Werth's contract gets off the books - but it means we know where the Nats will be for the near future and it's not payroll competitive.  Doesn't mean they aren't team competitive, but it keeps the job harder for Rizzo.

Oh that's right - the one exception.  Move Murphy to first. Play Danny at second. That's the optimal solution. But the Nats didn't/don't have the guts to do that. (and the fans don't want it either)

*of course neither was Yunel Escobar but they did that anyway.

Friday, December 09, 2016

How do I like them

I like Adam Eaton as much as people who generally like Adam Eaton

I like the fact that he's an all-around player. He basically does everything well... except hit for power. Now, if you ask me what's the most important thing a player can do "hit for power" is probably #1, which is why he's not a quiet superstar in my opinion. But an All-Star caliber player? One with enough skills that if something isn't working he can contribute in other ways? All at an age where severe drop offs in talent would be surprising? Yes. The only way you can think otherwise is if you still evaluate players mainly on the AVG HR RBI set of stats.

I think the Nats have solved their CF problem in a good way, allowing them the ability, after this year to go for either a CF or a corner OF, depending on what they see as the best fit. I think they've found their Werth replacement, a productive outfielder who will help the team for half a decade.

I like Lucas Giolito less than most with casual knowledge in the Nats but apparently more than most that follow the Nats and their stats at a hardcore level

A lot of people with casual knowledge remember the hype for Lucas Giolito and see his rankings in the minor league Top 100 lists and think he may still be an ace sooner rather than later. I don't. I think the ship of "dominant early 20s starter" has sailed. Oh it's certainly not impossible for later blossoming to occur but 1) typically aces have at least untouchable stuff (if not be completely dominant) throughout development, and 2) the Nats see Giolito as a ticking clock. The TJ arm will go at some point around year 8. If he's more of a Lester (some touchy minor league seasons, took a couple major league seasons to settle in - Ace at 24) well you are now 7 years in on that arm before you get any significant return, if any.

On the other hand a lot of people have just given up on Giolito.  The velocity went and he got hit hard in the majors so he stinks.  I don't go that far. Here's a guy that undeniably has all the stuff you could want. He did fairly dominate the low minors at an age that was young for that and had swing and miss stuff in High-A ball just 18 months ago. The transition to AA did cause some issues. More hittable, less swing and missable in 2015. He improved on those a little in 2016 but at the same time became wilder negating those marginal improvements. But if you look more closely he got better as the year went on. In his first 7 games in AA he had four games where he walked 3 or more and 2 games where he walked one. Only one outing giving up a run or less, despite being held to shorter outings (no more than 4 IP) to start the year.  Only one outing striking out more batters than IP. In his second 7 he had two games where he walked 3 or more and 4 games where he walked only 1. Only one outing giving up more than 2 earned runs, despite now pitching 6 innings regularly. He struck out more batters than IP 3 times. He would spend most of the rest of the season bouncing between AAA and the majors but we saw something similar in his longest AA stint of 4 games. The first two games were rough, the next two were very good.

I think Lucas Giolito could be thrown in the majors and be a back of the rotation starter today. I think with time (or AAA seasoning) he's going to be a fine middle of the rotation pitcher, maybe a #2. Assuming his arm holds up.

I like Reynaldo Lopez less than most.

Most seem to think that Lopez could be a decent back of the rotation pitcher and failing that would be a strong reliever. I'm not sure where that is coming from.  Lopez' minor league success has come from being unhittable but not in the "strike everyone out" way. Instead it's in a weird, incredibly low BABIP way. Perhaps there is something to this, an ability to get the worst contact but I have my doubts. Mainly because he didn't get that in 2012 or 2013 or 2015 or his 2016 stints in AA or the majors. In all these places he was hit just normally and that led to expected ERAs from the below average to the "what I would put up if I were pitching". He did seem to strike out a lot of guys in AA this year.  However much like the BABIP thing it's an isolated incident. He didn't strike out a lot of guys at any other time at any other level. So if you like Lopez a lot you have basically convinced yourself that these two blips that are something like 33% and 25%  of his career are what is going to happen for him down the road at the same time. Call me crazy but I'd rather bet on the things that happened during 67% and 75% of career, including parts of last year, continuing forward. Maybe one gets solved (I'd bet on him striking out guys before maintaining crazy BABIPs) but it will definitely cap his expectations.

For those who say "Well I watched him in the majors last year and I liked what I saw" let's remember something. He pitched 44 innings in the majors last year. 23.2 of those innings, more than half, were against the 2nd, 3rd and 4th worst offense in the NL*. He still posted an ERA of 4.90.  In the other 21.1 innings when he wasn't facing the dregs of the league he gave up 15 earned runs. He was unusable.

I think Reynaldo Lopez won't ever amount to much in the major leagues

*All in the NL East! Adnd the worst? THE PHILLIES. The NL East had crazy bad offenses last year. 

Wednesday, December 07, 2016

Eaton Back and Forth

The Nats traded for Adam Eaton. The gave up Lucas Giolito, Reynaldo Lopez, and ... let me check... Dane Dunning.  Good, Bad? Let's go over it

OK so how good is Adam Eaton? Pretty good. He's a good average hitter (high .280s) with good patience (top 3rd type walk rate) who makes good contact. He has excellent speed on the base paths. He's a plus corner outfielder who has shown a very good arm following shoulder surgery.

He's not old (Turned 28 on Tuesday! Happy Birthday!) so you can reasonably expect him to continue to perform for several years and he's making a crazy low salary for someone performing at his level. Only 4 million this year and very reasonable numbers for 4 years after that*.

So what's the downside? Well, he has below average power, which can be a tough sell for a corner outfielder. Of course he'll play CF for the Nats so that lessens the power issue but that also lessens his defensive impact. He's likely only an average CF.

Is that it for downside? Yeah, probably. He's a very good player who does a lot well and nothing terribly for a minimal cost.

But what about the cost? Did the Nats give up too much?

Let's take the "no" side first. It is true Giolito was a prized prospect but Lucas had issues this year and apparently the league quickly soured him. The loss of velocity and the lack of dominance in the minors suggest a pitcher that won't develop into an ace and may be looking at another TJ surgery sooner rather than later. Reynaldo Lopez was everyone's new hotness when it comes to Nats minor league starters but the Nats themselves were inclined to see him as a future pen arm rather than a closer. Both pitchers struggled mightily in their first taste of the majors. Dunning is an interesting arm who had a good year in low A (a 1st round draft pick - as were the other two) but would need another good year in 2017 with improved peripherals to make anyones top lists.

The flip side is though that Giolito did have that high ranking, Top 7 across the board in back to back years. Scouts are not idiots and everyone was in agreement on his overall potential. While that ace potential may not be reached, it does seem likely that he still becomes an effective rotation pitcher. He was able to seemingly improve over the course of both his AA and AAA stints this year. Lopez didn't have the pedigree of Giolito but showed an ability to compete in AA and AAA, that at the very least suggests he deserves a longer look.  Both these guys are in their early 20s so performance improvements are certainly not out of the question.

So the most likely scenario is the Nats gave up two extremely cheap back of the rotation starters, coming into form over the next two seasons with one potentially morphing into an effective reliever for a very cheap more than solid CF, who will effectively help over 5. Seems fair when I think about it.

Of course Lito and Lopez have all the upside. It's unlikely Eaton busts out to be a 25 homer guy, but could either of these guys have it click and become special? Yes.  Of course they could also crap out. It's the story for all prop sects but with guys who made lists the idea of a special player isn't the pipe dream it is for most prospects traded.

The Nats did need a CF though and Eaton fills that gap cheaply for a long while. That not only potentially frees up money this year - but leaves money available in future years. For those that want to envision a Nationals future with Bryce rather than without that's important.

What I see coming next is a series of moves. I see Espinosa traded now that it's settled they don't need him. They can save money and avoid any problems he may have sitting. I see Drew being brought back.  I don't see a reliever signed. That's too much money unless... Perhaps they trade for Colome as has been bandied about. An interesting move would be to bring in Colome AND Smyly and then get rid of Gio which would free up money. That could be followed by a Jansen signing.  But that's just a thought though. I've heard nothing like that. And what do the Nats have to offer if Robles is not going anywhere?

And the questions abound on why the souring on Lito? Is it more performance or talent? There's the thought that his arm is ticking and with the slower development the Nats didn't see getting that much out of him before surgery #2.  Of course if he's injured - he won't pass a physical for a trade. So he's likely not injured but that makes his issues mechanical which means fixable.

And what about Cutch - rumors were they could have gotten him for just one of these guys. Cutch wouldn't have fit the money or control that Eaton had but he was an MVP type - a game changer - as recently as 2015. Would it have been better to gamble on him and save yourself one of these arms?

Because what happens to the depth? Voth is an ok guy in reserve, at least as competent as most guys getting a try, but if he fails? Do they love Fedde? And what if, god forbid, two guys go down - it just happened this year. Maybe there's another move for a SP coming?

Ok I'm tired - that's a lot of rambling. Discuss amongst yourselves

*since you are too lazy to look it up yourself 6m, 8.4m, 9.5m, 10.5m with the last two being team options) 

Where we are so far

The Nats lost out on Sale. This is not that unexpected. I twice almost said something like "Why aren't the Red Sox doing something? They need pitching and can afford to lose a couple prospects." but didn't. What a fool Past Harper was! Turns out the Red Sox were putting something together that featured what might be the consensus #1 prospect going into next year in Yoan Moncada.

The initial reaction was very much "The White Sox would want Moncada instead of Robles AND Giolito??!?!" This of course completely ignores the second part of the deal for the Red Sox, Michael Kopech who made as many pre-season Top 100 lists as Nats favorite Reynaldo Lopez. He's a legit prospect, not just a name added. So Moncada+ vs Robles, Giolito+ might draw question marks but Moncada, Kopech+ vs Robles, Giolio+ shouldn't.

And yet it still does with some of you doesn't it? You think "That's like two Top 20 guys at worst, Two Top 10 guys at best. Kopech isn't climbing THAT much" but you ignore a basic truth about rankings. The further you get from the middle the more distorted things tend to get. It's not hard picking the best and worst, it's hard distinguishing one middle from another. If you are ranking 100 things it's very likely that the difference between 1 and 2 and 99 and 100 are much greater than the difference between 49-50-51. Now the back end doesn't actually come into play when we're talking about minor league rankings since we're pulling 100 out of thousands. But the top part is there.

Think about minor league rankings the same way you think about the draft. The #1 guy almost everyone agrees on. The #2 and #3 are pretty clear, etc. etc. By the time you even get to #10 though fuzziness reigns. Your 10 might be someone else's 7 and another person's 19. And much like a draft I'd bet a lot of money that expected future performance drops off quickly when talking about these lists. This is all just a long winded way of saying if you have Moncada at 1 and Giolito at 5 and Robles at 15 you are likely saying you like Moncada A LOT more than Giolito who you like A LOT more than Robles. If Kopech was at like 50 in this scenario I'd bet his expectation would be a lot closer to Robles than Robles' expectation would be to Moncada's. And that's the reason the White Sox take the deal.

Now Barry noted this morning that Lopez might have also been thrown in. To me that does give the Nats the edge.. assuming there's still that "+" there. We've never heard of others though. And if you are going Moncada, Kopech+ vs Robles, Giolito, Lopez well I can see sticking with deal #1. Is that too much for the Nats to deal for Sale? Honestly probably not. If you get Sale you are assuming then your rotation is set for three seasons. Scherzer, Strasburg, Sale, Ross, Roark. None would have to go anywhere before Sale and Roark would be up for FA after 2019. What happens to Lopez and Giolito in the mean time there? Probably just get dealt for someone else. Yeah I know - they'd be great depth! But at some point being depth just serves to hurt their trade value, getting older and not getting any experience. Better to trade sooner rather than later. And if you are thinking "well Lopez moves to the pen!", congrats, you've likely decimated his value and put him in a new position where he may not succeed. I'm sure it would happen that way, him being shifted to relief, but you can't assume he'd just click become a dominant reliever. It doesn't work that way.

The other deal the Nats lost out on was for Melancon. He got a lot of money 4/62 from the Giants. It's too much money. The Nats don't ever spend too much money. That is great but it can also be a problem. We've noted before how it's super easy to go from terrible to bad, easy to go from bad to below average, hard to go from average to good, and very hard to go from good to great. All these changes may effect your teams success in the same way but the costs rise as you move up the scale. To gain a win at the bottom of the scale might be throwing in a decent minor leaguer contract player in place of one that should be out of the game. To gain a win at the top of the scale means bringing in the best at his position. This works individually but can also work at a team level as well. The Nats are looking to move to good to great. One place they could improve over pre-trade deadline Nats is at the closer position. They don't have control of every part of the market. The closer position is at a premium right now. So to improve here the Nats have to pay a lot.

I'm not saying they should have done the deal. I honestly am not sure they should have. I don't think I would have. But I do think that the reality of going from good to great as a team is that you are going to be looking at bringing in very good talent somewhere and it's likely in FA that talent will be overpriced. If you can't bring yourself to make that kind of deal then you limit yourself to waiting for a steal that may not come about, trying to make a trade that you may not be able to pull off, or hoping for a break-out that probably won't come. The surest method of improvement is throwing money at a good player. Don't committ to that and you are left with less sure ways of improvement and hence less sure improvement.

But again if this is all depressing to you the Nats won 95 games last year. Improvement means solidifying that mid 90s status as best they can with an eye toward winning a playoff series by maximizing talent in key places. No improvement means be expected to win in low 90s and compete for a NL East title as likely favorites (unless the Mets do something more) while understanding the most driving force in playoffs is beyond your control. We can rail against inactivity but we shouldn't get so wrapped up in it that we act like it's all or nothing. It's alot or more than alot.

Tuesday, December 06, 2016

Sale of the Century

You ever watch that game show? Jim Perry's greatest work. Don't bring none of that Card Sharks around here.

Anyway Nats have gone from being THIS CLOSE to getting Andrew McCutchen to being THIS CLOSE to getting Chris Sale. Why the movement? Well a couple reasons. First the Pirates wanted Robles for McCutchen but the Nats didn't want to give up Robles for McCutchen. I disagree but it is their right. They will give up Robles however, and potentially Giolito as well, for Sale.  What's the difference? Well with Sale you aren't hoping for a bounce back year. He was good last year. Cutch wasn't. Also Cutch has two bargain years left. Sale has three bigger bargain years left, when you factor in the premium on pitching. In short you are likely to get more from Sale, at a lower price, for longer. That's the difference.

"Great", you say "but we don't need another starting pitcher. At least not more than a CF or a closer or a catcher or let's be honest a 1B. Why trade for another starting pitcher and not one of those?" Well you could say Rizzo is just doing what Rizzo does - getting the best available rather than worry about what's out there. They did "strengthen a strength" getting Soriano. But then you think back and realize that wasn't a Rizzo move. That was a Lerner move. If you look back though you do see that Rizzo believes you can't have enough pitching.

The 2012 rotation only lost Edwin Jackson, but Rizzo didn't bargain hunt or let rookies try to fill in the 5th spot, he went out and signed a decent veteran arm in Dan Haren. Haren would be out after 2013 and Detwiler got hurt, but the Top 3 was still in place. Rizzo could have went with those guys and tried a mix of Roark, Ohelndorf, Jordan, maybe Karns in the back of the rotation. Nope. He went out and traded for Doug Fister leaving only one spot up for grabs. After 2014 there were actually no holes in the rotation, but Rizzo knew holes would be coming soon so he went out and along with Boras/Lerner signed Max Scherzer. Roark got pushed off for a year to come back in 2016 when ZNN left and opened up a spot. Now that injury and performance has made us doubt Strasburg, Ross, and Gio Rizzo looks to go out and trade for Sale. It fits a pattern.

But there's another reason you trade for Sale as a priority beyond talent, value, and preference. A reason that I hate to bring up but hangs over the team almost every year. You trade for Sale because of payroll. You see the Nats are basically at 150 million in payroll right now, factoring in arbitration salaries. That's about what the Nats would like to spend by all indications, maybe slightly too much.  They've kicked Revere to the curb and let Petit walk as expected. Still though, that just gets them down to their max. They can't take in a big contract without losing one. They don't have that many left they can afford to lose though. Danny Espinosa is one but he can't cover a Cutch or Sale himself. The one contract that can is Gio. But if you bring in Cutch and trade Gio you've got a more questionable rotation situation. Gio wasn't great anymore but he was fine for a back of the rotation pitcher and more importantly he was reliable. You have to replace that. Bring in Sale and trade Gio... well everything matches up fine then. This is cynical but after the Nats went through last season at 145 and didn't add serious payroll at trade deadline it was clear the drop from their 2015 peak wasn't strategic. It was a return to normal.

The White Sox would have liked Turner for Sale. This is ridiculous. The White Sox kind of know that. Their fans don't.  But it is! Sale is a unique commodity, an ace, still young, under very reasonable contract control for three seasons. That should fetch a lot. It should fetch a #1 prospect (like Moncada) or maybe a top prospect who's done well in a month of playing (like Swanson) or even two guys who will definitely be Top 25 guys, might both be Top 10 (like yes, Robles and Giolito) but Trea Turner is none of this. Trea Turner is not a prospect. He is not really a question mark. Trea Turner came in and performed at the highest level for basically half a season. He would have won the ROY for half a season if not for someone doing a tiny bit less than he did but for a full season, in Corey Seager. Oh yes, Seager was a legit MVP candidate. Turner is a guy you feel real strongly will be good next year and if he's good next year , he should be good for the next several. It's very likely he'll be better than just good. It's certainly possible he'll be great. All for dirt cheap prices. So the comparision is a good, potentially great position player for no money for 6 years vs a probably great pitcher for reasonable money for 3.  There is no deal here.

Should the Nats trade for Sale? I said yes just a few weeks ago. It does mean potentially a rebuild rather than an ebb. A trading of Roark, Rendon, and maybe last year Sale for prospects going into 2019 with an eye on a getting back up by 2021. But is that so bad? I'll let you know something. This will come tumbling down at some point. No team wins forever. At least not with a "draft, develop, smart signings" plan. Eventually you run into just enough bad luck or bad judgment to drop you out of contention, and once out of contention - well the temptation to blow it up rather than set it back becomes real strong.

One more thing before we go, if the Nats trade - great. Makes the off-season that more exciting, sets up the likely end of the "Bryce era" as a true WS chase. If they don't though, don't be depressed. They should address their holes but they lived with them most of last year and won 95 games. They could easily do something similar in 2017. There are things that look down but things that look up too.  They could do nothing and right now I'd still probably have them winning the East. This isn't a team teetering between success and failure in 2017. It's a team that should be a success in 2017 regardless of what they do in the offseason. 

Monday, December 05, 2016

Who is Victor Robles?

Many fans have responded to the news that the Nats are being asked for Victor Robles in exchange for Andrew McCutchen with knee-jerk predictability. "HE'S ONE OF OUR TOP PROSPECTS!!! UNTOUCHABLE!!!!" It's not just a Nats fans thing.  That is pretty much guaranteed to be said about any team's Top 1-3 guys in the system when brought up in trade talks. We overvalue our own and assume that because they are the top guys in our system that they are future major leaguers just waiting for their big break. It's usually not true.

But that doesn't mean it's always not true! Someone has to be the major leaguers of tomorrow. The question is - is Robles that? And if so, what kind of major leaguer is he likely to be?

Much like when we looked at Giolito about a year ago, I like to look at why exactly we are excited by Robles and how other players who hit same points turned out. So why are we excited by Robles? Sure he's got the tools, etc. but "tools, etc." doesn't get you talked about like you could be a Top 10 prospect. You need production to go along with it. We are excited because as a 19 year old Robles put up a .305 / .405 / .459 line in class A ball. That is a young age for class A, so being that good is basically a flashing sign saying "this kid might be special".  But how special? Well let's look at all the guys at age 19* who put up a .850 or higher OPS in the Sally** league and what happened to them

KJ Woods - terrible in A+ in 2016, but didn't hit before 2015 so not really comparable to Robles or almost everyone on this list
Austin Meadows - would hit immediately in A+ ball in 2015, then hit in AA at the end of same year. Hit in AA to start 2016. Not great in AAA but injured. Expected to be a major leaguer in 2017
Ryan McMahon - hit in A+ ball in 2015. Did not hit in AA in 2016.
Chance Sisco - 2015 hit a little worse in A+ ball, a little worse that that in AA ball. 2016 Hit well in AA. Catcher who should help part of 2017
Joey Gallo - What did happen to Joey Gallo? He CRUSHED in A ball at 19. 38 homers! 2014 - CRUSHED A+ ball. Powered through AA. 2015 CRUSHED AA, struggled mightily in AAA. Got ML time, didn't hit. 2016 Good in AAA. An unimpressive cup of coffee in Texas. Will probably get a big chuck of time in majors in 2017 to see where he's at. Fun prospect with ELITE power. 
Nick Williams - 2014 hit well enough in A+ ball to get a AA trial. Failed. 2015 AA went much better. 2016 did just ok in AAA. Not quite a KJ Woods type, but not with other real prospects here, either
Alen Hanson - KJ Woods type. Been moved up to do it but never really hit all that great. Looks like a AAA guy.
Trevor Story - Stepped back in 2013 but then got it in 2014... then struggled in AA. But then adapted in 2015 and was a good starter for Colorado in 2016.
Gary Sanchez - didn't hit like that again until 2015 but hit well enough to get moved along, given he's a catcher. Hit well in AAA in 2016. Performance upon call-up to majors shockingly good. Will see a lot of playing time in 2017 to see how fluky that was.
Johnathan Schoop - moved up and basically made an Oriole in 2014 just because, not because he earned it. Struggled terribly in 2014. A fair major leaguer in 2015/6.
Christian Yelich - never stopped hitting. Also reached majors in 2013 but deserved to. Hit fairly well in majors before breaking out in 2016.
Nolan Arenando - hit in 2011 but not in AA in 2012, but after an impressive Fall League got a AAA shot in 2013 was killing it so got a major league shot hasn't looked back. Not as good offensively as you might think (Coors you know) but a very good major leaguer

One thing should be flat out obvious. Victor Robles is not helping the 2017 Nats. Victor Robles is very very likely not helping the 2018 Nats either. That's the case across the board here. If he were an 18 year old maybe you look for immediate fast impact - the names there are Bryce, Stanton, Freeman, Machado, Heyward. But he's not so you don't. So we're looking at the 2019 Nats for the likely earliest time Robles will be up and helping the Nats offensively. And that's an optimistic projection. More likely is that it'll be 2020 or so before he really develops.

The second thing is that a lot of these guys are big power big K guys. Robles is an average and patience guy.  On one hand that's great. The strikeout issue is the sticking point for many a great minor leaguer who can't hack it in the majors. That shouldn't be an issue for Robles. On the other hand, that's not great. The power is what makes players special. If Robles can't develop it then his impact on the future Nats is limited.

Since we hit a lot of decent players right at the end there I went back and looked at a few more years and they were more like 2012 on than 2010/2011. A mixed bag at best. That's not to say Robles can't develop, just that a very good 19 year A-ball season doesn't mean all that much when it comes to major league success. I think what will be telling for Victor is what we see in 2017. The true flame-outs seemed to all quickly drop back into not hitting. If Victor does that - well then he might be a flameout. (might) If he keeps hitting then I'd seriously doubt that a flameout is in his future.

But still we're talking flameouts here. Guys that never make the majors or barely play. A guy good enough to just make the majors on the bench or to be a blah starter for a couple years shouldn't be enough to hold up a trade. Is that what Robles is likely to be? My guess, and I stress guess, is no. I think he's better than that. But I see him as a .280 slap hitter with patience in 2020. If he's got great speed and defense still at that point, then there's a lot of value there. A leadoff hitter, CF for cheap for 6 years. If he doesn't then he's just a line-up piece. A 3rd/4th OF who you play because he saves the ton of money you need to get much better at his position. Where you fall here matters, but also consider the time frame. Where will the Nats be in 2020? Do you think Max and Stras will still be dealing? That Rendon and Roark will still be here and good?

Keeping Robles is betting on 2020 being a time where Robles being a very good leadoff type matters.  I don't see myself making that bet. I'm sorry. Not because I think the Nats will be bad then, but because I understand I have no idea how the Nats will be by then and keeping a Robles type for the giant question mark fog of four years down the road seems silly to me. If you don't like Cutch fine. Don't trade for him. But don't let it be Robles that holds you up.

*Remember age is super impt here so 18 year olds and 20 year olds need not apply.

**Remember league is super impt here too. Some leagues are super hitter friendly. The Sally isn't one of those though.

Friday, December 02, 2016

McCutchen - what's your price

The talk around the Nats getting Andrew McCutchen from the Pirates is heating up.  Personally, I don't think anything will happen before the Winter Meetings.  Why? Because it doesn't really make sense for either team to get the deal done right this second.

The Pirates probably have several prices set in their mind for McCutchen. There's a price they'd love to get, a price they expect to get, and a minimum price they'd take if they had to. In order to get a price closer to the former rather than the latter, it makes sense for them to shop around McCutchen to the most teams possible and the Winter Meetings is a great place to feel out if they've completed that work. Of course the Nats can force the issue by giving the Pirates something close to that "love to get" price. But...

The Nats probably have ideas to about what they'd give up for Cutch. What they'd like to give up, what they will give up if necessary. Right now all they can do is offer roughly what they'd like to and keep ramping it up if it feels like the Pirates aren't going to take it. The Pirates have all the leverage. Go to the Winter Meetings and get a feeling that the market for Cutch isn't that hot and then you've got some leverage and can keep the price low. Sure you risk someone coming in with a better deal, but if you know the other people involved and feel you are very likely to be able to outbid them, waiting makes sense.

So I don't expect a deal to get done until Sunday or after. Sorry. But maybe I'm wrong!

What would I give up for Cutch? I'd go two good prospects deep.  I would go Robles and Giolito or Robles and Lopez. But I love Cutch. Something I wouldn't do? Robles and Ross. Do I think Lito and maybe Lopez will be better ML pitchers than Ross... I guess so. But I think with much higher certainty that I know what Ross' floor is and that's still a major league pitcher. I don't mind giving away potential. I do mind giving away actual. Ross himself? Sure. But not with your best offensive prospect.

What about Cutch himself? Contract wise it's a fine grab.  He's not super expensive (14 million) and the team has control over a second year (14.75 team option). He's normally worth so much more that even a big drop in stats would be still worth the price. And yet last year he wasn't worth it.

The average dropped but so did the patience. His speed isn't quite there anymore. It may have been a particularly bad defensive year but the general trend is yes, he's not below average in CF. (Which is completely understandable as a guy who at his peak was probably just a bit above average).  The only thing that's holding up is the power.

What do the fancy stats say? Is it bad luck? BABIP... a little low for him, even considering a speed drop. However the way he hits' the ball suggests more flyball and fewer hard hit balls. That's a good combination for lowering BABIP. The more flyballs thing has been a several year thing so it's the drop in hard hit balls (and increase in soft hit balls) that is driving this issue. So then we look at swings - is he swinging at worse pitches? Not really - swings on pitches outside the zone is down and contact on these pitches (usually bad contact) is down too. But that's another thing - He's making a lot less contact meaning the K-rate is up. Highest of his career - up four straight year. So if it's not the type of contact is it bat speed? That's not a bad guess.

The gamble on him is then, that he will improve. I'd say there's a pretty good chance he will. The pretty good chance though is not of back to MVP level, just a mild general improvement, the defense won't seem as bad (it bounces around and was particularly low last year), the BABIP might tick up, the K-rate and BB-rate can probably be worked on a little as it doesn't seem to be a recognition issue.  If that happen then it's a good chance he'll be worth his contract and that means a good chance he'll be a good player.

Can he be a great player again? That's more of a gamble but it is in the realm of the possibility.  Guys have off years for whatever reasons all the time. Some lingering injury, something psychological, some early bad luck rolling into a situation where you are pressing all year long. For example what happened to your own beloved Dusty Baker in 1978?(the 76 was clearly an injury thing) On the flipside can he be terrible? I suppose so. If he continues to decline - let's say more Ks fewer walks and no change elsewhere, then you are just repeating the problems of this year - a non-performing CF at a MUCH more expensive price plus below average defense (though I'd bet you anything that improves from this year).

The potential tipping point though is the fact it would probably be ok if he just stays the same for two more years. Again - let's say D "improves" and offense is same. That's an above average player.  This year was a disaster in CF before Turner and while Espinosa has a lot more going for him than people like to admit, he's not an above average player. This would improve the team a decent amount. Sure you can probably get this improvement more cheaply.  Sitting on Revere for a year might do it. But you would likely be gambling on that being as high as you get. No chance for the MVP season like you get from Cutch, while probably having the same "this could still be a disaster" floor.

So that's why I lean toward trading for him.  And I'd go ahead and do Lopez/Robles and not think twice.