Nationals Baseball: Don't let it get away from you

Friday, March 23, 2018

Don't let it get away from you

A couple comments to the last post got me thinking that we need to make sure we keep proper perspective. It's harder than you think because we love information and Spring Training is giving us information. The problem is most of that information isn't relevant and what is relevant usually isn't the whole picture. Even I, yearly reminderer that Spring Training stats don't matter, spent an hour digging into Spring Training stats again to make sure of that. So let's take a step back

Right now, Zimmerman will play on Opening Day and that's all that matters

I don't want people coming away from my Zimm talk with the idea that he's hobbling around and may be done for the season. Here's my complete thought process:
  • He isn't playing. That's weird. Why isn't there a story?
  • Forced to speculate I suppose plantar fascitis worries fits what we are hearing the best
  • Oh they say it's nothing. That's also weird
  • OK well I want to see him play a regular game
Notice the last point isn't. "We'll find out he's injured" or even "We'll find out if he's injured" Just something is happening that is uncommon and they have an uncommon explanation for it.  Let us see something common because in a week we will need to see common.

Speculation on what did/is happen/ing is fine but understand it's just speculation and ultimately meaningless. What's meaningful is everything is set right on Opening Day.

The Nationals aren't in trouble 

Spring Training is a time for good teams to find problems and the Nats are no exception. Uh oh Benoit is hurt and Kelley still doesn't look right. Uh oh 5th starter is still an issue. Uh oh Murphy won't be ready and Difo may not be a satisfactory answer. All these are legit issues. But they don't mean the Nats are a hair's breadth from losing grip on the NL East.

The thing that you have to remember is that the other teams are finding problems too. The Mets? Rafael Montero needs Tommy John. Jason Vargas is expected to start year on the DL. Zach Wheeler looks bad. Michael Conforto isn't going to be ready by Opening Day. Adrian Gonzalez doesn't look to be the short-term answer at first and Dominic Smith doesn't seem to be ready to step in the role either. The Phillies? Jared Eickhoff is expected out until late May. Mark Leiter is on the DL as well. The rotation is going exactly as it was thought - maybe one of the non Nola guys is a good 3, maybe they can fill in the back... and maybe not for both.  Maikel Franco keeps on not hitting.

There's optimism with these teams but because it's easy enough to go up from seasons of 66 (Phillies) and 70 (Mets) wins.  But to catch the Nats (97) team virtually unchanged from last year will require a lot. The Nats are still such a high probability to win the NL East that many will consider it a lock.

Spring Training stats don't matter

Nats pitching has gotten shelled recently. Most of the Nats bench players havent' hit in Spring.  The team itself has been the worst hitting team this Spring. Doesn't matter.  Here's what I learned from looking around Spring Training info yet again.

If you want to ever-so-slightly use great/terrible Spring Training performance to subtlety adjust your previous expectations for the team that might be justifiable.  In other words if you had the Nats as a team hitting .265/ .330 / .450 as a team (which is basically last year's numbers) and you want to say... .263 / .328 / .445 now because of Spring Training, go right ahead!  The thing is - there still isn't enough data to say definitively a team thought to be bad or good will be different than expectations. There may be enough to say speculatively that a team thought to be bad or good will still be bad or good but maybe not as bad or good as originally thought.  By a little bit at least.

Terrible teams in Spring, and I mean TERRIBLE teams in Spring don't end up being great teams in the regular season and vice versa.  Does this mean anything for the Nats? Nope. 11-14 isn't bad enough that the Nats couldn't be great. What is terrible enough? Like below a .320 winning percentage. What's great enough? Like above a .750 winning percentage. So what does that tell you? It tells you Texas won't be a great team this year. That's it. Congratulations. If you can get good odds on the Rangers winning under 100 games I guess take it.

Both these seems to be the pattern with anything you hear about Spring Training stats being useful. Maybe, just in this particular case and looking at extremes, there might be a little predictive value. Of course the problem is, is that this is helpful most at the league level. "Here are 20 guys who mashed the ball in Spring each year. Hey 13 of them seem to do better each year! Correlation!" something like that. For you - who cares about the Nats - you can't rely on it.

So it's always best to just ignore Spring Training stats.  As hard as it may be - just let it go.


Josh Higham said...

I'd be curious to see if there's a lagged effect of good/bad spring performances. Say, a team that does really well in spring in year one has a good regular season in year 4 because the good young guys who got a lot of innings/at bats in spring1 but not season1 are finally in the majors in season4. Something like that.

I would be confident in that guess except that spring training also features a bunch of washed up guys on minor league deals who have zero bearing on future seasons unless they start incredible comebacks, and low effort peformances by a lot of established vets.

sirc said...

I am going to defy your reasoned argument in favor of a single unsupported projection based on spurious math:

Michael A. Taylor has absolutely raked in past spring trainings and then hit poorly in the regular season. This spring Michael A. Taylor has not hit well, ergo Michael A. Taylor will absolutely rake during the regular season.

So much for "spring training stats are meaningless," eh?

Harper said...

JH - I doubt it. There would be so much noise introduced over those years. Injuries, trades, the game itself maybe shifting, that would overwhelm any such effect of that.

sirc - your logic is flawless sir. I'll see you at the All-Star Game* cheering on starting CF Michael A. Taylor

*Note - I won't see you at the ASG because no one has given me a free ticket yet. The nerve!

Alan Wiecking said...

Personally, I've only been able to watch a couple of the games but haven't seen anything alarming or encouraging. Spring training with a team like the Nats at this stage is more about are injured players recovered? Eaton yes, Murphy no. With the amount of emphasis Murphy has on his lower half, I don't expect him to be 100% until probably June. Is anybody doing anything different? (like Strasburg pitching from the stretch last year) Can Long's lift affect somebody like Stevenson? He seems to have a little more power with a better launch angle. It would take 2 OF injuries for this to matter. Other than the minor stuff, they look ready to play games for real. Let's go win the East, take home field advantage and then roll the playoff dice. Again.

Alan Wiecking said...

.........but my personal mojo is sorely in need of some more games. Turned on last night's game, it's 5-0 Nats. By the time I made dinner, 5-5. By the time I finished eating it, 9-5....and the METS ARE STILL BATTING.

My bad; I'm clearly not ready.

G Cracka X said...

Here's an interesting stat: Fangraphs projects Matt Wieters to accumulate more WAR this year than Zimm. Anybody buy that? Anyone influenced by Matt's 'good' spring training vs. Zimm's 'uncommon' one?

Andrew said...

@GCX Zim netted a total of 0.5 fWAR from 2014 to 2016. In 2016 he was one of the very worst position players in baseball. Wieters finished with a higher WAR than Zim in 2015 and 2016, and finished only 0.3 less than Zim in 2014 in few than half as many games. So sure, it's completely plausible that Wieters could end up higher.

G Cracka X said...

@Andrew Yes, that is a good analysis, thank you.

Here's another thought: Matt Adams projects for more WAR (on a per-AB basis) than Zimm. Why not platoon them, which would have the added benefit of preserving Zimm's health throughout the season?

Donald said...

I have a different theory about Ryan Zimmerman, though it's obviously very speculative. We all know he's got a significant throwing issue. He says it's shoulder related, but seems more like the yips. Say that's gotten worse, like he's even having trouble throwing the ball back to the pitcher on throw-overs. That isn't something you'd want to discuss in the press, but it's also something that you wouldn't want to have exposed in a spring training game. If this were the case, they'd still want him to get his at-bats in while he works through the issue in private, which may be what we are seeing. Have people seen him actually throwing the ball this spring? Did he have any issues in the one game he did play? If he were super tentative then, or walking the ball back to the mound, that might be a reason why he hasn't been out there again.

Andrew said...

@GCX Yes, using Adams a lot would be an excellent idea. I'd probably soft platoon them, i.e. have Adams play roughly half the time against RHPs. A full platoon and Zim would only play a couple times a week or so.

W. Patterson said...

I actually caught about two seconds of Roark pitching last night as my wife switched channels and happened to hit whatever channels the game was on. That's about two seconds more Spring Training than I've seen since about 1986.

Can't wait for opening day.

And Harper, if I get an extra ticket to the ASG, I'll let you know. It has a better than zero chance of happening this year.

Ole PBN said...

Cole has been named the 5th starter (not that any of us are surprised). Because he's out of options, this makes sense, I get it. But don't get it twisted, this kid has not earned this spot. Same reason why the headline "5th Spot In Nats Rotation Belongs to Cole" irks me. Like he already had it out of the gate? Garnering such support from Martinez like "he's had a good camp, good spring training. I liked the way he threw all spring." Really Dave? Which guy were you watching? The guy I saw put up these numbers in his starts:

2/26 v. MIN: 1.2IP, 4H, 4R, 1BB, 1K
3/3 v. MIA: 3IP, 6H, 4R, 1BB, 0K
3/9 v. MIA: 4IP, 0H, 0R, 1BB, 2K
3/15 v. HOU: 3.2IP, 6H, 7R, 3BB, 0K
3/23 v. HOU: 4IP, 5H, 3R, 5BB, 3K

Pretty uninspiring. But hey, if he sucks once the season starts then we dump him and bring up Hellickson, or else we lose Cole for nothing. But why go through all of that and lose winnable games, just to come to the same conclusion that we already know? Because we can afford to lose winnable games? Look, I get that our division is garbage and that anything over 85 wins means the Nats probably will have locked up the East. But its that mehhh attitude that I don't condone is the game. Playing not to lose, rather than playing to win. What would I do? I say Cole already had his audition last year and this spring. Actually over the past few seasons (hence the reason he's out of options!) Not impressed in the least and I'd let him walk for a bag of potato chips. Truthfully, the team that keeps him can also keep the bag of potato chips.

It's frustrating because in truth, none of this matters really. The Nets will coast to the division with Cole flaming out and losing 7 or 8 games for us before he wins 4, and it won't even matter. Who cares I guess? But for a team who wants to be on the top of the mountain when the last game is played, I'd like to see them to pummel this cellar of a division to the tune of 100 wins because they CAN. Not just barely getting by. So goes our motto since being relevant. "Play the game, roll the dice in October and 'flip the switch' and get lucky." No thanks.

blovy8 said...

I agree with the dread, but we all know Cole is Rizzo's baby, and he's not going away until he REALLY fails or gets something mild they can DL him over. His stuff is probably what they are looking at, and while the spring results have been crappy, I don't really know what he has been told to work on. The velocity has been good without command from the little I saw. When it was the other way around the fastball was straight and got hit, so he might as well see how hard he can throw it. Of course, when he can't command it, he still might have to throw a fat, faster one and THAT gets hit. Slider is his money pitch, but that is probably only good enough to make him a reliever. Seems like until he finds an off-speed pitch he can use sometimes, he's just a place holder. I suspect they are going to have so many off days that it'll be difficult to figure out what he really has until May, unless he puts up a Guthrie start.

Anonymous said...

You be suckinnnnnnnnnn your team off and their beautiful 0-4 NLDS glory

Jay said...

I think Cole is just the 5th starter until Hellickson is ready. Rizzo made a comment that last year they used pitchers without a complete spring training and it affected them the rest of the year. Said he wasn't making the same mistake twice. You don't sign Hellickson unless you are planning on making him the 5th starter at some point.

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