Nationals Baseball: Looks like a real team to me

Thursday, June 07, 2018

Looks like a real team to me

Giants are slightly better? I don't know. Win at least 2 of 3 and start the next part of the season on a high note.

The comments erupted into a Michael A Taylor discussion so I figured I'd take that on as he has been hot basically ever since Brian Goodwin became available to replace him.

First off, regardless of how you feel about his bat, understand that MAT, or someone that fields like him, is necessary. Let's look at right now. Bryce who is manning RF doesn't seem to put defense as a priority. He's never been flat out bad but he never repeated what looked like a decent OF performance when he first came up. Now he is playing at a lower level. Is it age? Injury? Contract? Who knows but right now he's a negative. Juan Soto appears to be the rare prospect who maybe actually should have been kept down to work on his fielding*. There was talk about him playing solid defense as he got more time in the OF, but that appears to be wishful thinking based on raw talent, as opposed to anything actually seen. At best he might mature into an average fielding LF with an average arm. At worst he might age into some weird fast DH role. Today though he's not good. Matt Adams, who was manning the OF a lot before Ryan Zimmerman went down, and could do so in the future, is not an OF.

The future could be brighter but there's a lot of questions about that too. Adam Eaton, who you expect to play in the Nats OF the next couple years if he doesn't fall apart, has shown he's not a CF. He has been as could still be a pretty good corner OF, though it remains to be seen what the injuries do to him. It's better to project him as average and let him surprise. Brian Goodwin, who presumably has defensive talent, has never shown it consistently at the major league level and is well into his late 20s. Victor Robles is a real defensive talent but it remains to be seen what his major injury, incurred while fielding, does to his approach.

The Nats have one plus outfielder in hand. It's MAT. And if you are going to potentially have two negative fielders in the corners with 2018 Soto and 2018 Bryce, a third negative fielder would create some real problems.**

So it would be real helpful if MAT hit but here is the problem

2014: 75
2015: 73
2016: 70
2017: 105
2018: 76

One of these things is not like the other. One of these things seems like a fluke.If we look deeper

2014: .154
2015: .129
2016: .145
2017: .216
2018: .163

2014: 7.0%
2015: 6.8%
2016: 5.9%
2017: 6.7%
2018: 8.3%

2014: 39.5%
2015: 30.9%
2016: 32.5%
2017: 31.7%
2018: 29.3%

2014: .333
2015: .311
2016: .319
2017: .363
2018: .292

You see a a lot of consistency. I could show you hard hitting percentages  and contact percentages and swing percentages and they'd all show the same sort of thing, especially ignoring some things in that abbreviated 2014 campaign. MAT is this.

So what happened in 2017? We were hoping it was something learned but I'm starting to think it was a perfect storm. He hit the ball a little harder. He hit a lot more balls in the air*** A few more balls went out then usual. A LOT more balls went for hits than usual. It should have been his best year regardless but what should have been a season that projected to .230 25 HR season became a .270 25 HR projected season as everything found holes.

We are kind of hoping MAT would be like Ian Desmond, who found himself at 26. But Ian Desmond added one thing to his arsenal that didn't seem to be luck related. He hit he ball for a lot more power.  He went from a punch and judy hitter to a 25+ homer guy. Then he backed it up immediately. MAT already had the power, he added average and for the most part that seemed to be BABIP related. Then he showed it was probably a fluke. I'm afraid that MAT won't end up being much more than what we've seen for years now. He might luck into a season where more balls go out of the park and he's close to an average bat, but a season like last will require another perfect storm. There's only so many of those in a career.

Still I play him in CF for the foreseeable future. His bat is just dangerous enough that he can't be ignored, especially when he's hot (see now or NLDS last year) and his fielding is a true asset to the team. Get a better bat at catcher and 2B. CF isn't a problem as-is. It's a problem because other positions are problems. What does that mean for the future roster though? Well it means I want Bryce or Soto to pick up a first baseman's mitt. (or more likely it means they will watch Bryce go and it resolves itself that way). And it means he has his position until Robles can take it away, which could be early next season.
*Actually no - he hits too good to care.  

**We may actually get to see this in action though when Eaton comes back because how do you send Soto back right now? You can't. If he doesn't cool off the Nats may try this "all gaps" OF. 

*** his LD/GB/FB is something that has not been as consistent. Still it hasn't been inconsistent or changed dramatically enough to say something shifted last year. At least imo.


G Cracka X said...

Excellent analysis, Harper, thanks!

Just one question though: if you don't like starting Eaton in CF (which is understandable), and you don't want to bench or send Soto down (also understandable), what would you recommend Davey do when Eaton is back? Maybe a three-man-for-two-positions round robin/platoonish sort of thing? Only play MAT vs. lefties and hope for the best in the OF when he's not there?

Do you buy the argument that defense is less important these days because of the increase in walks/Ks/HRs?

Mainelaker said...

If Eaton actually comes back Friday, I think you start Soto in CF, Eaton in left. Then around the 6-7th inning, Eaton gets tired/can't walk any more and goes to the bench, with MAT to CF and Soto to left. Harper also gets some days off if he continues to strikeout and pout.

Bgsmitty43 said...

I think it would it would be a loss to take MAT out of CF. Not only is he an elite CF, but he is an elite baserunner. He makes catches look routine that are actually quite difficult. MAT is definitely a base stealing threat which puts pressure on the defense. His maturity in CF helps him direct the OF defense, often giving advice to Soto. Harper's respect for his ability is evident. Pitchers feel very confident with MAT in CF and are assured they have a quality OF defense behind them. I have a feeling MAT is a good clubhouse guy who is humble and encouraging. A great TEAM player. Keep MAT in CF!

DezoPenguin said...

As much as I'm loving this outbreak by Soto, the one thing about it that's annoying is that it's only happening because Kendrick (also good!) got hurt. If Kendrick hadn't gotten hurt, Soto would still be working on his fielding and making AA pitchers wet the bed the night before their starts.

Then, when Eaton returned, he'd take LF back and Kendrick would return to 2B and Difo would return to the bench. LF defense goes up significantly, 2B defense goes down marginally, offense goes up significantly, everybody wins.

Meanwhile, Soto doesn't play second base. He doesn't play it well like Difo, he doesn't play it adequately like Kendrick, he doesn't play it poorly like Murphy, he just doesn't play it at all. He might be able to play 1B, but that's irrelevant, because an Adams/Reynolds-or-Zim platoon is one of our strengths at the position (Nats 1Bs: by fWAR, 8th in the majors; by wRC+ 7th, as opposed to 2B--18/16). So when Eaton returns, there's a genuine problem of how much he would make the team better, because (assuming that Soto doesn't regress and Eaton isn't injury-hampered) , it's replacing a good player with a good player.

...Looking at those Fangraphs charts for CF made me cringe in another way: in CF, we're 18th by fWAR and 26th by wRC+...and the team's aggregate numbers are *WORSE* than Taylor's individual numbers for both overall WAR and for wRC+. (Think about that for a second: we're arguing over whether Taylor's awful bat is justified by his defense...and the non-Taylor hitters have somehow been worse than he is. Victor Robles can't come too soon.)

Fries said...

I completely agree with this analysis. MAT is a solid major leaguer. Gold glove caliber defense and power should give you a starting job pretty much anywhere, I just wish he'd put more balls in play (that K% is hard to look at).

But I worry about what Rizzo does this season. Difo is NOT a starting major leaguer, he is a bench player that should get spot starts. And at least at this point, so is Severino. The Nats are going to lose Bryce and Murphy at the end of the year and Zimm's never going to put up the season he did last year again. It's not that the window is closing necessarily, but the window will be significantly harder to squeeze through. This is the last best chance for the Nats to win the WS, and it really should be time for Rizzo to go all in.

But what does all in even look like at this point...? There's nobody left in the farm...

Harper said...

Dezo sums up the issue pretty well in that there is an actual problem coming. You can either play Eaton and push Soto to CF and damn the defense. (You don't want Eaton in CF playing a tougher position right after a major lower body injury) or you can play MAT in CF and move Soto to more of a bench role (or back to AAA) and damn the offense. These are both assuming Eaton is ok, too. He could struggle hitting coming back meaning you are both damning offense and defense in either decision.

Still if Eaton is ok the overall effect should be negligible - so if the Nats are ok now (and they seem like it) then they should be regardless of the choice

I think FIRST (like for a week or two) they'll cycle Eaton in every third game or so and Soto and MAT will cycle out every third game as well under the plan of working Eaton in slowly. Question will be - what happens if everything is going well at that point, but sometimes if you can reasonably put off a hard decision it'll get made for you.

Harper said...

I mean Eaton OUT. Eaton/MAT/Soto "platoon" where one sits every third game.

Jon Quimby said...

I don't really understand the rules about the "clock" but with the assumption that Eaton/Soto may be a bit of a wash, don't we want to send Soto down so as not to start his clock early - or has that moment already passed?

Anonymous said...

I think you put Eaton in CF when Scherzer and Strasburg pitch, play MAT whenever Hellickson pitches, and mix and match when Roark or Gio goes. Scherzer and Strasburg strike so many guys out that defense just isn't as important for them and you can hide someone in the OF. Hopefully, Eaton surprises everyone and plays a passable enough CF to just bench MAT, but if not, you mix and match.

Unknown said...

I believe how the clock starts is that as soon as you put a minor leaguer on the 40 man roster, their clock starts. If you don't put a player on the 40 man roster for their first time until after a certain date (early May I believe), then their clock gets delayed a year. So it's too late for Soto, so moving him down doesn't give the team any additional years of control

sirc said...

It is days on the mlb 25 man roster.

They stop the clock when they option a player to the minor leagues.

Unknown said...

I stand corrected

cass said...

Soto ain't going back to the minors while he's hitting like this. He can work on his fielding here in the majors.

Having four good outfielders isn't really a big problem. Just sit one of them each day and get them more rest. You only sacrifice defense once every 3 or 4 days with MAT out but MAT needs to sit every once in awhile anyway. The outfielder not playing any given day is still available as a pinch hitter (Soto/Eaton), pinch runner (Taylor), or late innings defensive replacement (Taylor).

Really, you're not wasting anyone having four major league outfielders. Robles getting called up would be the only thing that'd create a logjam.

BxJaycobb said...

Harper: a few points that I feel like people are ignoring.
1. here’s the thing. Defense has never been less important than it is in 2018 relative to offense. Base running has never been as important. Never in the history of baseball. There just aren’t many balls put in play and the percentage of runs scored via hits strung together is minimal. What this means is there are fewer hard plays to be made. We can’t evalute the important of a good fielder bad hitter the way we did in the 80s 90s or even 2000s. The amount of strikeouts and walks and homers is insane. Taylor may have once been more valuable than he is. But right now he is an inadequate starter on a contender. Full stop (look at any all inclusive stat of value like WAR whatever).
2. You say that Taylor’s lack of a bat only matters because other bats aren’t in the lineup. Okay....well....this is the reality we’re in. Where the bats have a rotation that strikes out a ton of people and has dominant pitching and an iffy offense. We need offense. Murphy isn’t here and when he comes back it isn’t going to be 2016 Murphy, and Ramos isn’t here we have a hole at catcher. We can’t have a bottom 1/3-1/2 of the lineup full of sub .700 OPS types. Not if we want to win the division and be competitive with a team like the Cubs (who have been dominant this year, look at run diff, jusf had weird luck and sequencing).
3. There’s no real indication Soto is a bad defender in the corner. The idea of turning him into a 1B already is...insane. He’s incredibly fast and athletic and 19. Reads will improve but even if they’re not great now, speed and arm strength (both plus according to statcast make up for that for the moment.) Defensive metrics mean less than nothing in this sample size. They rarely mean anything even over half a season—sometimes they’re way off over a full season (Nolan arenado according to them has been average this year at 3B—anybody believe that?). He may not be plus. But evaluators think he is an average corner fielder and a below average CF who can play there and be adequate (according to Keith Law, asked in a chat this week what Nats should do; response: Obvious answer is Soto can handle CF and be fine.)
Finally, positioning seems to be a fairly large (not all of it) part of Bryce’s defensive issues this year. Actually, a big part of all corner outfielders issues for the Nats this year, if you look at fangraphs. The Nats are playing corner outfielders in the gaps consistently and balls in the corners and down the lines are dropping consistently (meanwhile none are going in gaps). Don’t ask me why this is. But it’s not the fielders’ fault.
Finally, people seems to think defensive value is somewhere vaguely near offensive value in the overall mix. It’s....not even close. It’s roughlt a 1:4 type ratio of importance. If you are raking, you can be valuable playing BAD defense, let along slightly below average defense. If you are a a great fielder, you can barely stick in the majors as a bench bat if you are horrific at hitting.

BxJaycobb said...

Sorry I meant “base running has never been less* important, not more important.”

BxJaycobb said...

But yeah. The idea that people are considering sending down Soto is remarkable to me. He has been their best hitter since he came up. And it’s not close. Maybe he won’t keep this up (I’m frankly bullish on him remaining a well above average hitter, as is projections like fangraphs, which has him projected as a 120 wRC+ player rest of season.)

Kevin Rusch said...

An interesting element of MAT's game - his strikeouts really plummeted about 2 weeks ago. He's only had 5 Ks in 11 games since May 26. He's putting the ball into play more, and he has a BABIP of .344, which is unsustainable, but .310 isn't a shock for someone with his feet. If he's finally putting the ball in play, he can be a near-average bat, which when added to his glove, is useful.

Mark said...

I don't see how you send Soto down while he is hitting like this. I've seen him make some nice plays in the OF... plays Adams likely would not have made. He seems to get the ball in to the right place. Maybe he's not getting great jumps but outside of maybe one or two plays it doesn't look like he is playing bad defense. With his talent, BB IQ and athletisicm, it is hard to believe he will be a bad left fielder. Certainly better the Werth the last couple of years.

Unknown said...

I think when Eaton is fully healthy they have to play Soto over MAT with Soto or Eaton in CF (doesn't really matter to me which plays center and which plays left). The thing is we know what MAT is, a terrible bat with a great glove. He's proven it time and again. We don't yet know what Soto is going to be. We believe he has a ton of potential due to how great he hit in the minors and how highly he's ranked on prospect lists, not to mention the fact that he's already raking in the majors at 19. I think at the very least Soto should get a very long (season long imo) tryout in the majors so we can get some data on how good he's gonna be because there's no way he's gonna be worse than Taylor and there's a very high chance in my opinion that he can be much better. Sending him down or benching him right now is insanity, especially for a team competing for a division title

Anonymous said...

What are the odds the Nats resign Gio? He's been a good #3, never an ace but could be a #2 on another team. Will the Nats spend the money to keep him or will that be too much $ in the rotation with Stras and Max already getting paid?

Kevin Rusch said...

What if you had to pick (Gio and Rendon) or Harper? Plus they'll need another 2b, since Murphy probably doesn't have much left in the tank, and Kendrick may never be right again. Oh, and who's catching? Put harper behind the plate? That solves a lot of problems.

BxJaycobb said...

He’d have to cut his Ks over 2 months to make me even blink. 2 weeks has no statistical significance. I bet he’s had low K 2 week periods 10-15 times in his career.

Anonymous said...

I agree with BxJ: when Eaton comes back, Soto HAS to start over MAT on a regular basis. The difference in the quality of their bats far outweighs the difference in their defense and baserunning.

I'd try Harper in CF. I think a lot of his defensive issues stem from problems he has at the wall. There are fewer walls in CF, and the wall is farther away, ergo fewer plays at the wall. Harper's speed is fine. I think he could do ok in CF. My starting OF would be Soto in Left, Bryce in Center, and Eaton in Right. MAT can start for Soto against tough lefties (pushing Bryce to right and Eaton to left) and to give Eaton a regular day off as he comes back.

The Nats need to play their best hitters. Soto is one. MAT is not.

BxJaycobb said...

One thing to note: Taylor is a passable bat (and always has been) against LHP. It makes total sense to start him every time there’s a LHP and otherwise have him be a defensive sub/bench player. In terms of who to platoon him with.....he can just rotate. Every other OF us a lefty. So mostly (because he needs them) give Eaton days off against LHP. Some days give Soto a day off. And very occasionally give Bryce a day off. And this is assuming perfect health. They don’t need Goodwin at all. When all 3 OFs are lefties you really don’t need ANOTHER lefty OF who isn’t as good (overall) as your other bench option.

BxJaycobb said...

Soto has never played a season this long. It makes sense to keep him fresh and energetic. And Eaton can’t play every single day as he recovers.

BxJaycobb said...

I would co-sign this approach. If Bryce looks bad in CF, let Soto and Eaton try. I’m just guessing (fresh young legs etc) that Soto will end up being most decent out there. CF in terms of reads and jumps is actually the easiest OF spot to learn—-that’s why Harper graded better there when he was raw and young than corner OF. And as I said above, it will be important to rest Soto. He’s never played this many games or this long a season and he plays hard and is intense. You don’t want to burn him out.

Anonymous said...

Might even make sense to try to move Bryce back to left field if Eaton is healthy based on his defense recently. The arm is good but he's rated as one of the worse outfielders and Eaton was a good RF before coming over. Preserves Bryce health with less to do in LF and upgrades our D a bit

JE34 said...

Small sample size... but Soto has been GREAT against lefties. Better than vs righties!

BxJaycobb said...

Not a bad idea....except the possible impact on Bryce’s psychology (moving the position of former MVP before ur trying to get him to want to stay possibly etc). Also the scoreboard in RF is a bit more complex to navigate so that too.

BxJaycobb said...

Yes Soto I don’t think has any problem with lefties whatsoever from watching his approach. I’m talking more about making sure Taylor never faces a RHP ever again. Lol

Anonymous said...

I think you let Taylor play until he reverts to crumminess. If it turns out that Soto, Eaton and Taylor are all hitting, and Bryce isn't, then sit Bryce. Regarding the latter, there has been some speculation that his eyes are betraying him. If so, the pitch recognition problem is not going to go away until you address the root cause. Maybe lasik and 10 days on the DL would help. If this works, IMO, it will put to rest growing concerns about his reliability in upcoming contract negotiations, maybe save him $100M.