Nationals Baseball: Monday meaningful, Tuesday meaningless?

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Monday meaningful, Tuesday meaningless?

It's always funny how we pick out certain games or moments to be meaningful. The late inning comeback. The blown big lead. These are somehow turning points or defining games but the solid 5-2 win where you went up 3-0 early? Somehow just another game. It's all about the emotions we attach to the game.  On Monday the first game versus the Cubs had special meaning. The defending WS champs, come to DC and win a tight game where a few mistakes by the Nats make a big different. Suddenly this is telling about how the Nats may perform in October. Yet yesterday, same teams (different starters) Nats win easy behind Max Scherzer and... hmm nothing.  Why isn't yesterday about October as well?

Oh well, we humans are who we are.

Like how we take 60 games of MAT and fewer of Goodwin and decide that that's what they really are. Could it be? Sure! Is it far more likely that the 100s of games before that are more telling? Yes!

Is there a set of games you should get more excited about? How about the 70 games of Anthony Rendon? In Anthony's 2nd major league season he mixed an excellent defensive season with a very good offensive one to put him in the MVP argument. It wasn't a strong argument but it was his second season! First full! But Anthony is fragile and got hurt and the next two years were not nearly as good. Now finally healthy (see, here it makes more sense Ryan!) Rendon is performing better than ever, finally continuing that improvement you expect young batters to make in their mid 20s.

What's the big difference with Rendon this year? You could point to the power as "Tony Two Bags" becomes more "Two Four Bags". It's a lasting change likely (more FBs hit, reasonable HR/FB rate) but at the same time one or two ball drops in front of the fence and you aren't picking this out in the same way. No, what's really the change is a newer, more patient, Anthony Rendon.

Pitches seen per plate appearance are up at 4.50 which is a full half-pitch more than last year (that's a lot!).  It's a league leading P/PA change and only in line with his half-played injury year where the patience seemed like more of a reaction to not being able to hit. This seems different. It's leading to an increased walk rate near 15% and the highest of his major league career. But that doesn't seem fluky because he's been improving that every season.
And it's not the highest of his full career.  His minor league numbers often were around this high. Meaning it's even more likely this change is more permanent then temporary.  Add that to a set of contact/zone info is all tweaked in the right direction; making better contact in zone, swinging less out of zone, and Rendon looks exactly like you'd want a player to. Someone who seems to be tweaking himself in the major leagues to become a better hitter, back to the hitter he was in the minors. Remember Rendon was a Top 20/30 prospect in the majors.

So this brings it all back to MAT and Goodwin again. Rendon's improvement - a step up from his major league best, presumably continuing his natural improvement that was derailed a bit by injury, matching what he showed he could do consistently in the minors through basic and minor improvements, meeting expectations that outside sources had set for him. These all scream this is real.  Big jumps? Stats that seem to change out of the blue? Stats that seem way different than what you've ever done before? Defying the analysis and ratings of experts? These all scream that it's not. So while you can enjoy Goodwin and MAT, don't hang your hat on them. Hang it on Anthony Rendon becoming a true MVP candidate.


Rob Evans said...

Total buzz kill Harp :-)

Kevin Rusch said...

Well, I'll take MAT's performance, even if he can't repeat it for long. He's 26, so he's entering his very peak. And if his peak is "plus defense in CF and passable offense", you really could do worse if he's hitting 8th. And he's easily clearing that bar now, which also happens to be coming at a time when Werth and Eaton are out, so getting for an extended period that from your 4th OF is a good problem to have.

Anonymous said...

I don't think MAT is all smoke and mirrors. His HR/FB is up, but not wildly so. His BABIP is high (and he's shown to be a high-BABIP player), so some of his current success is clearly luck-driven. But on the other hand, he's hitting more flyballs (and therefore more dingers), and his contact has improved - more hard, less soft, same medium. It's at least plausible to me that a decent portion of the contact quality improvement (which also begets the improved HR/FB ratio) is sustainable. His best season in the minors (2014) doesn't look all that different from this season for him.

MAT's problem - one that does not appear to be going away - is the K% and BB%. He's shown no improvement here. He's going to be a guy who strikes out 33% of the time and doesn't really walk. This means he has to hit the ball hard to be an average offensive player, and he has to play defense and run the bases well to be a good overall one. I don't think .260/.305/.475 is out of the question for him. The SLG is really crucial - he needs to keep hitting for power to be a league average offensive player.

DezoPenguin said...

I think that MAT and Goodwin's performance relates very strongly to one question and one question only: "Should the Nationals trade for a CF at the deadline?" If they continue to perform well (especially on the defensive end), we don't need to be moving Heaven and earth to pry, say, Lorenzo Cain away from the Royals. Next year Adam Eaton will be back, and we can worry about whether an Eaton-Taylor-Harper or Goodwin-Eaton-Harper outfield is something we can live with. Adequate performance over the medium-term from one or both of them means that Rizzo can focus his limited remaining resources on addressing the bullpen and, if necessary, the rotation.

If they both crater between now and the deadline, well, then we have an extra problem. But there's a major difference between "Taylor is a disaster; fix now" and "Taylor's not going to be reliably better than .250/.300/.450; upgrade please especially if Harper's going to leave after 2018."

(And honestly, if Taylor can continue to improve his defense to its potential, well, great D + medium power + above-average speed + no walks + high K% is basically Kevin Pillar, and that's a useful major league player.)

Robot said...

I like that MAT has been hot this year, but I think we all realize this goes against his career norms and Michael K. Taylor will be back sooner or later. Enjoy the ride as long as possible and trade him for a closer in July.

Fries said...

I'm excited about Rendon's patience. The other big thing about Rendon that I saw when digging through fangraphs is something that FP alludes to frequently, and that's his ability to spoil pitches. He's an average fastball hitter, but where Rendon excels is destroying offspeed pitches, particularly changeups (first in weighted runs created with Corey Dickerson right behind him and then a huge dropoff to 3rd. gap's even wider on a rate basis) and sliders (11th in weighted runs created, 19th on a rate basis). Watching his ABs, he's definitely taken the Daniel Murphy approach of searching for the pitch he wants, but being prepared for strikes that aren't what he wants and driving them the other way.

This is where Rendon has changed the most, and as you allude to Harper, it's been a steady improvement over his career with changeups (sliders, though, may be an anomaly), so don't expect this production to disappear as long as he stays healthy

Anonymous said...

Harp - what do the fancy stats say about K-Rod's downward trend this year and what do you think about the Nats signing him (even to a minor league deal)?

Anonymous said...

The thing his, he has been Michael K. Taylor this year. His K% is basically the same. The difference is that he's making better contact when he does hit the ball. Can that continue? It's probably not going to be as good as it has been, but I think there's a good chance he's made some sustainable contact-quality improvements.

And Dezo, I agree 100% that the question to focus on now is whether Taylor is good enough for the rest of the season, not whether he's good enough to pencil in as a starter in 2018.

BxJaycobb said...

@Dezo: Pillar has like a 15% K rate. MAT's is literally twice as high. They're not comparable, either on defense or batting.
This is sort of simple. To be good/valuable and really worth starting, MAT has to be either SPECIAL defensively---a la a game changer, top 5-6 defender in CF in MLB---or a guy who hits 25 bombs (slugs over .450) and 25 steals. Because he's not going to ever sustain a .300 OBP due to the Ks and non BB. He's a .250-.260/.280-.290 hitter when his BABIP normalizes. So you need either real power or phenomenal defense. Honestly if he can sustain this level of contact quality, maybe he can do that. I don't know. But brian Goodwin is more compelling to me. He's not the defender MAT is....but he walks MUCH* more and strikes out less. I might like him more if I'm another team. And actually, platooning Werth and Goodwin a bit even after he returns isn't the worst idea given how bad Werth is in the field and against RHP.

Anonymous said...

Goodwin has a much higher floor as a hitter than Taylor. Goodwin's still a relatively high-K guy (though what counts as high-K is changing), but much better than Taylor (~25% to ~33%). Goodwin walks a lot more though, which gives him a lot more room for error than Taylor has. Goodwin's success isn't being driven by BABIP the way Taylor's is (a .318 BABIP is in line with what he's projected to have), but Goodwin is hitting for way more power than he has since A-ball. Can it continue? There's less of a track record to rely on with Goodwin than there is with Taylor, but this power spike looks unsustainable (his HR/FB is high, but, like everybody else, he's hitting more FB, so he keeps some of the power gains if his HR/FB comes back to earth). On the other hand, there are a lot of guys whose power spiked from minors to majors in the past 1+ seasons (e.g., Trea Turner). Some have theorized that the ball is different in the majors.

Between Taylor and Goodwin, it's tough to say who's likely to be a better hitter going forward. Both are projected for around 80 WRC+ rest of season (terrible - Danny Espinosa is a career 84 WRC+ hitter). Taylor certainly has a better defensive pedigree. Goodwin has shown a good arm, but I don't know if we've seen enough of him to know whether he can handle CF. It seems clear the organization prefers Taylor over Goodwin though.

Anonymous said...

I say we need to trade for a catcher a lot more than we need to trade for a center fielder, given that Livaton has no business being on a 25 man roster, and since his fluky got April Wieters has been... how can I put this? Kind of atrocious.

Anonymous said...

Lobaton, not "Livaton" damn autocorrect.

PhthePhillies said...

To me, the best part of the recent improved play of MAT and Goodwin is that they may start to look attractive to other teams, especially those willing to give up reliable relievers.
Goodwin seems tome the most obvious trade piece as Taylor has been playing his position very well and there really isn't anyone else in the organization who can do that right now.
Anon, Re Wieters. If it makes you feel any better, Derek Norris is batting one point over the Mendoza line right now.

Donald said...

Harper -- did you see Boswell's take on MAT in his chat the other day? He said a bit more than this, but here's the meat of what he said. What's your take?

BOSWELL: Taylor is a major development. I could take the chicken approach and wait a few months more. But I have an opinion now. His career resembles two players so closing at the same age -- and his talents, physique, strengths, weaknesses are so similar to theirs -- that I am ready to “call the race.”

Tony Armas and Mike Cameron.

Of course, early predictions can look very silly.

But I think he’ll turn out to be Armas, Cameron or, these days, maybe Aaron Hicks.

At, the player MOST like Armas at age 25 -- out of everybody who ever played -- is Taylor. The same with Cameron -- Taylor is his No. 1 comp ever.

Both Armas and Cameron broke out at age 26, just like Taylor now.

Here's Armas slash after age 25 in 886 at bats with 26 homers and 101 RBI: .236/.273/.363 for a .636 OPS and OPS+ of 77 (lousy). Plus MANY strikeouts.

The next FIVE years, Armas barely missed a game, average 33 homers and 101 RBI a year while hitting .252/.287/.481 for a .769 OPS. Armas won TWO home run titles, was No. 4, 7 and 12 for MVP and had a powerful arm in CF and RF. He was a mid-order hitter, but would have been even better, maybe, as no. 6 or 7.

At 25 Cameron, in 824 at bats, 23 homers, 100 RBI, had a slash of .229/.315/.376 for an OPS of .691. He ALSO broke out at 26. For the next 11 years, through 2009, he averaged 22 homers, 75 RBI with a .253/.344/.459 slash and .802 OPS. Cameron won 3 gold gloves in CF, ended career with 278 homers, 297 steals and an amazing career WAR of 46.5 -- which is more than half the average career WAR of a Hall of Fame CFer (71.2 WAR).

Aaron Hicks, Yanks, also a stat similar, appears to have broken out this year (.913 OPS in 200 ABs).

For reference, starting this year, Taylor, in 732 ABs w 22 HRs and 84 RBI, had a slash of .228/.281/.363 for OPS of .644.

What the Nats HOPE they are looking at with MAT is a .255-hitting above-average CF with 25 homer, 20 steal power-speed combo, who strikes out a lot (as Armas and Cameron ALWAYS did) but, as a No. 7 or No. 8 hitter, is a BIG plus player for an already strong team.

G Cracka X said...

Good post and good comments, keep up the good work everyone.

If we traded Goodwin at the deadline, what could we reasonably expect in return? Should we pair him with Soto or Stevenson? Though, BxJ, I do like your idea of platooning Goodwin and Werth

PhthePhillies said...

@G Cracka I don't think we could get a closer for Goodwin but a reliable bullpen arm, even a rental, would be worth considering at this point. Not sure how available that is though.
We probably aren't giving up a perennial all-star and we'll have pretty good OF depth for 2018 when Eaton returns and possibly Robles debuts.
@Donald How many guys have had the same numbers at 26 and didn't end up being Tony Armas or Mike Cameron?

mike k said...

Errr saying Taylor looks like a good player who struck out a lot early in his career because Taylor also struck out a lot early in his career is like saying your son is the next Albert Einstein because they both got yelled at by their teachers in the third grade.

I agree with the general sentiment in the comments of Taylor's ceiling as a low avg/obp guy with 25-ish HR and superior speed and defense. I agree this gives the Nats time to find a replacement instead of panicking. I do think his ceiling slg is lower, even with the HR, because a) you need A LOT of power to slug .470-.490 when hitting .250-.260, and b) I don't think he's a .250-.260 hitter. Lower that avg by 10-20 points.

I think the Nats prefered Taylor over Goodwin in the past because he was a better player in the past. I think they prefer him now because they need/prefer a CF.

Excited about Rendon. Given his D, if he can maintain his slash line longterm, this really is an MVP calibur player in certain years.

Harper I want a K Rod post.

blovy8 said...

Comps are interesting but those two guys did that in a totally different environment. While I've always thought the upside of Taylor is Cameron-y, he's never displayed the patience, nor given his recent comments, is ever really likely to develop it. He's swinging at better pitches, but teams will probably adjust to him again. I think he's a better CF and has more speed than Armas, but having 40HR power to support the rest of his skill set is asking a lot - not to mention that 40HR in Armas' day is like 50 now. Let's not get too enamored of hot streaks by both guys. If someone wants to give the Nats value, I'm all for it, but I doubt any team thinks either Goodwin or Taylor are going to be difference-makers.

Ric said...

BxJaycobb said: "Because [MAT]'s not going to ever sustain a .300 OBP due to the Ks and non BB."

Respectfully disagree with all (including Harper) who says MAT is due to crash. His career OBP is .325 (minors and MLB). His career MLB OBP is .288. So his current OBP of .311 isn't far from his MLB career, and actually below his minors/MLB OBP. By many standards, he isn't over-performing.

The observations about his ridiculous BABIP are valid, but as Anonymous pointed out, it's always been so to a degree.

If Mikey had enough ABs to qualify (he's 24 ABs short), he ranks fourth in WAR among NL CFs. Ranks third in OPS. The sample size is getting large. We are four games short of the halfway mark of the season. I do agree with Harper's comment earlier in the week about Bernadina/Moore 2012. I'm not saying Taylor is great. But I'd hazard to say he is the best fourth OF in all baseball. And as a starting OF this year, he's doing BETTER than adequate. In fact, he's doing better than the majority of CF's in baseball today.

At some point we need to stop assuming 2017 is an aberration, and start looking for signs why 2017 'might' be closer to his potential.

Trea Turner has 635 MLB ABs. Michael Taylor has 949 MLB ABs. This season the two have similiar AVG and OBP. Taylor has a much better SLG and OPS. But the narrative is "Turner is having a down-season and will revert up. Taylor is over-performing and will crash to earth." There's a major discrepancy in these lines of thinking.

Jay said...

I agree with Ric. The thing to keep in mind with MAT is that he is young and still learning. The mantra has always been if the guy could perform to capability as seen in the minors before coming up when Span got hurt. He now seems to be performing up to that potential. Will he revert to 2015 and 2016 MAT? Maybe. IMO he has earned the starting job in CF next year unless he craters at some point this year.