Nationals Baseball: Will the Nationals ever play baseball again?

Friday, May 18, 2018

Will the Nationals ever play baseball again?

The cries of "why did they even bother to try to play on Tuesday?" should have turned into "thank god they played a little on Tuesday" because with out those 6+ innings the Nats would be sitting on a 4 day layoff with more days off in sight. While I'd listen to arguments that such a long layoff is fine, I'm more inclined to believe it throws players off just a little bit. A little bit is enough to get into their heads and make a little bit a lot. But we'll see... once they actually play again.

The rain should knock out tonight's game and make doubleheaders on Saturday and Sunday unlikely.  They'll probably try anyway for one on Sunday but don't hold your breath.

With no game action to talk about and realistically not bothering to preview tonight's game let's go back to those points and cover the outfield ones.

Adam Eaton - Comeback Player of the Year 2019 
Eaton revealed that his injury last year also involved an injured ankle.  (And some of you acted like these guys would never hide stuff from us!  Ah, to be so innocent)  He got that surgered on and thinks he'll be back playing in 6 weeks, which would be the very end of June.  No one believes that.  After All-Star Game maybe? We'll see.

In the long run do we just stick Matt Adams in LF?
 Matt Adams is hitting better than he ever has.  That's almost not an exaggeration. He's hitting better than he ever has since Rookie ball where he was hitting .365 with modest power for 32 games. That tells you that this isn't going to last. That shouldn't suprise you that Matt Adams won't be an MVP candidate. However Adams can hit. Always has. So just hiding him away on the bench when Zimmerman returns would be silly.  No he doesn't hit lefties all that well, even this year, but he has shown patience against them and enough ability to hit them to change the dynamic from "never face lefties" to "sit against tough lefties". But where to you play him? Right now the answer is easy. He's at 1B. When Zimm comes back the answer gets a little tougher. Matt's not a great OF but still sticking him in LF makes sense. Neither Sierra or Stevenson are making a case to play over him. The next thing that could happen, though, will force a choice. If Murphy is back that means Kendrick can't play 2B. Do you stick him in the OF or Adams? (probably a strict platoon happens I bet).  If Eaton comes back then you have to consider sitting MAT (we'll check on that in a second) but the D would take a big hit with an Adams - recovering Eaton - Bryce OF.  I don't think I have an answer here other than if he's still hitting when the time comes you find a place for him until he's not. And sports has a way of answering these tough questions for you.

What IS up with MAT? 
I can't say I don't like to gloat because I do like to point out that I was wary about MAT having only a limited window of success (and Eaton staying healthy and Robles contributing) and everyone said I was crazy YET HERE WE ARE.  Three things have changed for MAT that are related but not necessarily joined at the hip. He's hitting more balls into the ground. He's hitting softer balls. He's seen a big drop in his BABIP.  I say they aren't joined at the hip because you can hit the ball hard into the ground (see Zimm 2016) and MAT's BABIP from 2017 was unsustainably high. It was coming down. But .264 is ahistorical, and very low for a speedy player who's not popping it up all the time (he's not).  So it's connected to the soft ground balls (obviously), but it's not the only reason for the drop. Is there a difference in how pitchers are going after him? In pitches - yes, the number of straight pitches is down (mostly fewer change-ups) and pitches with movement (sliders, cutters, curves) up. The location doesn't seem to change much but there may be something with offering up those movement pitches not only low, as they always have been, but catching a bit more of the plate. MAT never had much success with them and he's not having it now, turning these balls over into weak ground balls. Last year he made a stride by being able to hit the fastball and the change, but if he's not getting those he's going to have to learn to distinguish between balls and strikes with the movement pitches as they work them at his knees and his eye has never been his strong point. At 27 there may be time for one last adjustment but pretty soon the raw skills will start to diminish as well. It's kind of now or never for MAT.

Anyone remember Brian Goodwin?
Former prospect, turned has-been prospect, turned prospect again Brian Goodwin was providing some OF stability until he hurt his wrist in mid April. The jury is still out on how much he can contribute.  I'm skeptical. His good 2017 seemed real but his K-rate exploded this year. This is to be expected as pitchers learn how to pitch to him. His decent stats are all due to a .385 BABIP and a 25% HR/FB rate which will not last. (well I mean come on he has only 32 PA this year) That doesn't mean he can't be useful. I just don't see him as an above average bat. I'm digressing though. We'd all like to see him back just to see who's right and wrong. So where is he? We don't know. On May 9th he resumed swinging after being shutdown on May 1st while trying to get back and Janes said he was closer to returning than Murphy.  Well Murphy might be starting some minor league games by month's end.  Time for a re-evaluation?  I'll end with this though - pinning any OF hope on a returning from injury Brian Goodwin is not where you want to be.

(Ed Note - The WaPo crew takes on some Qs and the first one is about Goodwin! Their answer isn't all that more informative than the above though. They do add in more injury news and a take on Turner's walk rate)


The Nats OF has been middling this year. Bryce hasn't been BRYCE and the other two positions have flopped around. The good news is that they haven't been BAD yet and so haven't cost the Nats anything. However, how long that lasts is up in the air. Yes, the Nats are 5th in runs/game but I warned you about rankings. They are closer to 8th than 4th. They are more average than good. That's impressive for a team that's had so many injuries. It's also indicative of a team that has to rely on it's pitching.

If you want it framed in a good way though - the Nats weak stretch is here. So if there is anytime a suspect line-up can be carried over the line by a great rotation and solid back of the pen, it's now. Do that and then you could have a healthy team ready to hold off any challengers as we head deep into the season.

31 comments:

ocw5000 said...

I will accept finder's fee payments for your MAT analysis via Venmo or Paypal
https://www.blogger.com/comment.g?blogID=9207681&postID=6628237445961061715

Dusty's Toothpick said...

Man, spot on with the vibe of Eaton, MAT and Robles. Side note: Bring Jayson Werth back as a player-coach, then we have a quasi-reliable OF bench piece and clubhouse wisdom.

DezoPenguin said...

It really is kind of amazing, when you consider what's happening with our lineup from an injury perspective:

LF (Eaton) -- Played very little before getting injured.
2B (Murphy) -- Hasn't played at all this year
1B (Zimmerman) -- Played most of the year, currently injured
C (Wieters) -- Missed some time with injury early on, now injured again

That's literally half of the starting lineup. Then consider the performance of the remaining players:

SS (Turner) -- Basically has been excellent, no serious concerns
RF (Harper) -- Very good, but low batting average and bad defense make him sub-MVP
3B (Rendon) -- Slow start, and missed significant time with injury earlier on
CF (Taylor) -- Defense and baserunning are the only things keeping him above replacement level

Really, the fact that we're in third place with a winning record (even despite our excellent starting rotation) is because nearly every part of our depth has been playing out of their minds. Adams has been hitting like Murphy. Kendrick has been very good. Severino has provided a league-average bat and excellent defense. Difo has slumped in May, but ran a .380 OBP for most of the year. Only the outfield depth has been awful (which is why we keep seeing Adams and Kendrick out there).

To answer Harper's question, I think if and when Murphy comes back, Kendrick basically needs to be the primary LF. Adams and Zim should be in a straight platoon at 1B (Adams is still bad, though not hopeless against lefties, while Zim even though stinking it up against righties has been quite good against lefties). Difo acts as the primary backup infielder, giving Murphy and Rendon (and when necessary Turner) days off. OF depth will remain a problem until Eaton gets back, and even after that because we'd need guys like Stevenson to backup CF (I can't imagine that Eaton would ever be shifted to CF coming off a leg injury, so that's not going to be an option this season) until or unless Robles is healthy enough to take over.

So, barring further injuries (gah, baseball), that makes Rizzo's midseason priorities:

1) Bullpen. Doolittle is great. Madson is rounding into form. But Kintzler has been up-and-down, Solis is who he is, Suero is unproven, Grace is hurt, and God help us if we have to rely on anyone else.

2) Catcher. Severino is at least a fine backup. He may or may not be a fine starter. But he can't do it alone, and Kieboom was no better than fifth on the org depth chart at the start of this season, which tells me that he isn't ready.

3) OF depth. And by that I mean specifically a player who would be a genuine alternative to MAT if MAT keeps up with the 50-60-ish wRC+, not just a guy who hits slightly better but gives back whatever he gains with the bat in in the field. Somebody who, if starting for a full season, would be a legitimate two-win CF.

Harper said...

ocw5000 - yes, but mine used far more words. Therefore it was superior analysis.

I think the interesting thing is that it's almost entirely change-up loss. He's getting the same amount of FBs as last year. So they aren't just feeding him junk. They have learned to pitch to him (again). Set him up with FBs and then give something else. But as opposed to previous years where that might have change-ups last year he was able to hit those. now the change-ups are there only to keep him honest. I THINK the adjustment would be to swing earlier. He's seeing more pitches this year than ever but it's not meaning more walks. He just doesn't have that in him I don't think. So jump on the first fastball you see.



cass said...

If you're going to have someone like Kendrick or Adams in left, you gotta play MAT in center. Hope he turns it around with the bat a little. He's an elite defender and players like that don't have to hit a ton. He can shade towards left and help a poor fielder with a good bat stay on the field.

Meanwhile, Soto is still mashing in AA. His wRC+ for AA is in the 160s instead of being well over 200 as it was in low and high A, so he's now hitting like a star rather than "best hitter in the minors", but if he keeps pulverizing at one of the highest levels in the minors, do we need to call him up?

I agreed with Harper about trading him for Realmuto over the offseason (and wow do we need catching help), but now we're seeing why the Nats wouldn't give up Soto. I think Harper analyzed him as young and only played at the lowest levels so who knows how good he'll be? Well, now he's mashed real minor league pitching for two months and he is soaring up the prospect lists. How long can we keep him down if he keeps hitting like this? If he mashes for a couple more months in AA, what more does he have to prove?

Robot said...

The answer to "Where do we put Adams when Zim returns?" is also easy, but management won't do it.

Gabe Roark said...

In reference to outfield depth at deadline. As long as Robles is back by Julyish, they will give him a chance in centerfield if MAT continues to struggle. Cheap option and is MAT level defender with a better bat. I see no reason to go buy a Center fielder when they can get a starter or Kelvin Herrera. On another note, Catcher has become a offensive black hole across the MLB so if we only have one hole in the lineup but he provides contact and above average defense it will be hard to improve other than Realmuto who is going to cost an arm and a leg

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Flapjack said...

Harper, I've been waiting for "told you so" on the outfielders. You certainly were right last year regarding Wieters possibly being the team's weakest link in the playoffs. But we had such shallow depth at that position (we should have picked up Suzuki). Can't recall what you've said about catcher this year, but your willingness to take credit for an improbable string of OF injuries -- such as Goodwin and Robles each injured on diving catches (no wonder Bryce is a statue) -- is still exasperating.

MAT's predictable travails are irritating because the two guys who should be replacing him are stuck on IR. If they get off IR and still can't replace MAT, then you've got a told-ya.

Anonymous said...

+1 to flapjack. Eaton's injury and MAT's struggles were foreseeable, and Harper pointed them out at the beginning of the season.

But it was not foreseeable that Eaton's injury would occur at the same time Robles and Goodwin would get injured, nor was it foreseeable that all three of these injuries would occur at the same time Kendrick is unavailable to play LF because he's busy replacing Murphy. Timing matters, and Harper's crystal ball could not have reasonable predicted this all would have happened at the same time (in fact, his crystal ball was worried about whether Robles would hit well enough).

Ole PBN said...

Is there a reason why players/managers/medical staff always have to overestimate the return date for an injured player? If they say 6 weeks for Eaton to return, do they mean "as early as 6 weeks?" If not, then 4-5 is possible? Please, what hogwash. Why not say 10-12 weeks, and if he's back by then: great! These "assumptions" are so unbelievably inaccurate so very often - why even put such a ridiculous time frame out there? Kind of like Murphy making it for Opening Day. Kind of like Rendon day-to-day for that toe... fans once again are getting the run-around. I agree with you Harper: All-Star break... maybe. Ignore the noise.

Anonymous said...

I think we're doing just fine that cancer Jayson Werth dicking around in the Mariner's AAA affiliate.

Harper said...

By "told you so" I mean I talked about how I thought it was LIKELY MAT wasn't that good, and LIKELY that Eaton would be slow to recover or be an injury risk, and LIKELY Robles wouldn't be a big help this year and LIKELY that Goodwin wouldn't be a real 3rd OF or better all while Kendrick would LIKELY be stuck at 2B for a while.

That it was possible, though admittedly not LIKELY, that all those things would hit and the OF would suffer. You know - the 60%*60%*60%*60% thing (that's like a 13% chance) - where as you guys were like "No Way that all happens!"

Or IOW - It's not like I said "Oh this is going to happen!" I was simply pointing out "Oh, this totally could happen!" And it did! But I would have taken credit regardless because the idea behind it - that OF problems were possible - was sound.

Harper said...

I also get your point - Robles and Goodwin aren't helping out bc of injury! And you cant say "Guys could get injured!" is analysis because that applies everywhere. Everywhere is a problem then. Prime Cal Ripken could be a problem if you didn't have a good back-up SS.

That's true but my belief was that these guys wouldn't be helping bc of current talent level. So I'm half right - on MAT and Eaton, but the other side is not half-right on Robles and Goodwin. That's undecided. So I think I win 0.5 to 0. I'll check with the official scorer

BxJaycobb said...

This was a scary good run down. Except to add this: basically....our rotation has been borderline looney tunes pseudo-historically great. If those 4 (now 5 with hellickson) pitch merely well as opposed to “wait....those 5 have a 2.6 ERA?” we would be below .500 and in a hole.

BxJaycobb said...

Unfortunately.....catcher has become a black hole for everybody EXCEPT the team we’re chasing. Somehow, the combo of Flowers and Suzuki is like peak Johnny Bench this year. Don’t ask me how.

BxJaycobb said...

Harper: i have two questions. Because I think the answer to them are key.
1. I ASSUME we won’t see Soto at the end of the year. Right? That would be the norm. Except insane talents like this who utterly make a mockery of levels with video game numbers like Vlad Guerrero, etc sometimes shoot up levels and end up in majors earlier than expected despite crazy youth (it happened with Bryce, it happened with Acuna, it will happen with Vlad.....so I suppose the question is, why wouldn’t you bring him up if you’re in a pennant race in the fall and he’s hitting like .330/.450/.650 AA?
2. Robles. When is he going to be back do you think? I’ve heard people say he’s done for the year. I’ve heard people say second half. I’ve heard September. because man is that a huge injury, given MAT playing like this and Eaton/Goodwin hurt. To me the ideal alignment, assuming Soto will spend the whole year in minors—is Eaton in LF, Robles in CF, Bryce in RF, MAT as defensive replacement/late inning preservation of eaton’s legs.

Harper said...

1. If he's hitting what you say he's hitting - he could easily be up. I have to imagine it depends on how the team is doing and how the position is doing. If they are comfortable and the 4th OF is doing fine, I don't think they'd move Soto up to take a 5th OF spot. If they are out of the race I doubt they'd bring him up to win a few more meaningless games. There's also a hierarchy though. Robles, if he's hitting, comes first.

2. No idea on Robles. Nothing I heard dismisses the initial talk of it being months but not the whole year. But that's still probably August back playing in the minors at the earliest.

So I think the most likely scenario has Robles back in August, September call-up, Soto does stay in minors BUT that's not a high probability. There's a lot of different things that can happen.

cass said...

Called it.

https://www.mlb.com/news/nationals-to-call-up-prospect-juan-soto/c-277498492

Fries said...

@Cass

yeah but not the reason I would have liked to see him called up

Ty Miller said...

Got to go to tomorrow’s game as a Braves fan. Love Soto.

JDBrew said...

@Ty Miller

I’m so confused. Why as a Braves fan would you have to go to a Nats-Dodgers game because you love a prospect in the Nats farm system? Seriously not trying to be insulting or anything, just trying to understand the relevance of the Braves fan part of your statement.

Kubla said...

If Hellickson is terrible the third time through a lineup, would a strategy similar to the Rays' use of a reliever for one inning before inserting the starter actually work to get more innings for him when it's his turn up? I like weird new strategies, and Martinez has embraced some forward-thinking approaches for the batting order.

Also since Kendrick is out and the best that can happen is hanging around the second wild-card slot, it's time to cut loose. Bring up everyone in the farm system who looks halfway decent. Work out a long-term deal with Bryce or trade him now. Trade Gio and the Law Firm. Add racing wheelchair FDR to the presidents race.

Ole PBN said...

Hellickson mixed with the pen is an interesting strategy - I'd be open to it. Except we don't have any arms that are worth pitching more than they have to. The rotation 1-5 is pretty solid, and anyone out of bullpen not named Doolittle or Madson just makes me hold my breath and pray we make it out of the inning alive.

A lot of these relief arms don't pass the eye test. You know, they inner voice that tells you "okay, Solis in the game... up 4-2, facing a lefty... hmm..." and you ask yourself: "what's the worst thing he could do... give up a homer?" AND HE DOES! It's truly amazing. There are certain guys on this team where you just anticipate failure, and they almost always justify your convictions. I understand you can't have 25 guys that you love and trust in any situation. But we certainly have a lot of the opposite. And I'm not including all of the Syracuse guys: Sanchez had an AB last night against Jansen that I would bet my mortgage MAT wasn't capable of. Are we absolutely certain that any minor league outfielder would do farrrr worse that 6 for your last 52 like Taylor does? I'd love to find out! Seriously! We were all having the debate about Adams platooning with Zimmerman... how about Reynolds/Adams full-time or a platoon of those two? Why does Zimm have to be included in the solution when .217/.280/.409 is clearly part of the problem?

PotomacFan said...

Well, Solis did his job today. Suero did not, and Kelley is hopeless. MAT just plain cannot hit. The starters pitched 3 very good games, and the Nats got swept. Yikes! And the Nats can't really do much at the trade deadline because they have no prospects to trade. Soto and Robles are keepers, and no one else is worth anything.

That said, a healthy Daniel Murphy would make a big difference in the batting order, assuming he can hit 0.300+. And Bryce needs to get back on track.

Robot said...

I think we can all agree that that was about as bad as the weekend could have gone. At least the starters all looked solid.

Ty Miller said...

I went to see Ian Anderson pitch in Hagerstown and saw Juan Soto tattoo him until he badly injured his ankle sliding into home plate. Preseason, I posted an article on the top 50 prospects and had placed Soto 9th. The industry once again, like Acuña Jr the year before, failed to recognize a great talent simply due to a non permanent injury. I ended up passing on going when I learned Soto wasn’t going to start. Just bizarre to bring him up as a pinch hitter for the day. He has got to play.

Ty Miller said...

Also, I enjoy going to historical baseball events. So, I had good seats to Strasburg ‘s debut and drive up to NY to catch Acuña Jr. big Apple debut and Soroka’s first start and Soto I believe is up there with Cabrera and Pujols as a dominant hitter of his generation so it was looking like something very big to go to.

Sammy Kent said...

Howie Kendrick out for the season.
Adam Eaton probably out for the season.
Ryan Zimmerman on the DL, and not hitting for squat when he does play.
Brian Goodwin still on the DL. No definite timetable for return.
Daniel Murphy hasn't played a game all season, and still on the DL. No definite timetable for return.
Matt Weiters on the DL after hamstring surgery...no definite timetable for return....and not sure he's any better than Severino anyway. MAT probably likes him, but that's just because Weiters throws him the ball a lot--when guys are stealing second.
Ryan Madson just added to the DL.
Bryce Harper is being walked at a record rate, and is scuffling when they do pitch to him.
Michael A. Taylor can't hit his hat size, but there's nobody else with his defensive skills to put in centerfield.
No long man in the bullpen.
All we got is starting pitching and a great closer, but now even Sean Doolittle is blowing saves.

We're in deep doodoo.

W. Patterson said...

Two unrelated comments on yesterday's game (was there for the last half). I got there in the 6th and people were leaving already. You'd think that this was Los Angeles.

Anyway:

Solis came in and I was going to wager on whether he'd give up a tater or a double. He surprised me. But I was just off until Kelley came in.

What's the longest half of a baseball game? The last two innings of a Dave Robert's managed game. The guy's a freakin' rain delay.

Mark said...

JDBrew, There are a lot of people who go to specific minor league games, regardless of the professional affiliation, to see potential future stars. The NH Fisher Cats (Vlad Jr.) are at Bowie in the beginning of August, but he will likely be long gone by then.