Nationals Baseball: 2019

Friday, April 19, 2019

The National Way

Great Starting Pitching
Solid Offense
Questionable Bullpen
Kind of Shoddy Fundamentals

This is the Nationals Way. And what it basically comes down to is that first item. Here are the Nats ranks in SP ERA,  Runs Scored, and Reliever ERA*

2012: 2nd, 10th, 7th
2013: 7th, 15th, 17th
2014: 1st, 9th, 4th
2015: 7th, 10th, 10th
2016: 2nd, 8th, 2nd
2017: 4th, 5th, 23rd
2018: 13th, 8th, 15th.

The bolded teams are playoff teams and you'll note the Nats have made the playoffs with good, but not great offenses, and missed with the same (in fact they've been pretty consistent in producing good to very good offenses).  They have made the playoffs with great relief pitching and terrible relief pitching. But they have never made the playoffs with anything but great starting pitching. That's what this team is built on. That's why they spent money on Patrick Corbin. That's why they need him to perform more like yesterday.

The Nats way isn't the only way to win. You can certainly try bludgeoning the other team into submission, something the Nats have only really done once (remember these are MLB ranks not NL so 5th is very good without a DH. You can 6-7-8-9 and fundamentals your way to a good team and from there hope things break for you (hey 2015 Royals!).  You can just get both a dominant staff and offense. But starting pitching is like winning the line in football, or out rebounding in basketball, it's the base victory that can cover up your other mistakes if you are superior at it. Great starting pitching means fewer IP from relievers, mitigating bullpen issues. Close games go either way. With great starting pitching you make sure that when your team doesn't score they still have a chance and when they do, it's not close.

Where do the Nats stand currently in these?

2019: 8th, 9th, 30th.  Though it's still early. The Nats starting pitching ERA is good and within striking distance of the top.  It's more than fluky performances dominate the outer ends of the rankings.

How the Nats get to a good spot can differ but generally you have a couple guys under 3.00 ERA and a couple more under 3.50.  If you can get three under 3.00 you can have more leeway in the other spots but that might bite you in the playoffs**  Often when the rotation is "bad" it's still good. It's just that the number of great, under 3.00 ERA performances are limited to 1 or 2, and the number of good performances around 3.50 take up the bulk of the rotation. That's a very good rotation still - but it can't carry a team and demands the other parts of the equation - the offense and the relief - be good as well***

This is all just a way of saying - the Nats can't win like they have been playing this season and it's not just the pen. The Nats have had two great starter performances, one good one, and two poor ones. That's not a distribution that'll work for this team in any situation. Assuming Hellickson (currently great) and Max (currently good) swap they'll need Sanchez to step up or Stras to find himself. The offense is fine but is kind of walking a tightrope and shouldn't be relied on. The bullpen is what it is. These can bury the Nats but they can't save them. The rotation can save them.

*Yes imperfect measurements. 

** Like the 2017 Nats where Max, Stras, and Gio finished 1-3-6 in Cy Young voting and Roark 

*** that WAS the case in 2015 so what happened? The Nats got unlucky three times over. They lost a bunch more close games then they probably should, underperforming they Pythag record by 6 games. The Mets had a healthy season from their rotation getting 29 starts or more from 4 of them and 24 from Syndergaard. The Wild Card was won with record records of 98 and 97 wins.

Wednesday, April 17, 2019

Worry About Strasburg?

Stepehn Strasburg had another poor outing yesterday.  People had been worried about him, most noting a lack of velocity.  What exactly is going on?

Like any stat, velocity isn't something that is easy to judge off a few starts. It has an ebb and flow during a season often being lower during the first months of the season as the arm warms up and the last months of it as fatigue sets in.  So to really get a good judge of any velocity issues you do have to look by month.  The easiest place to do that (imo) is Brooks Baseball.  Here is Strasburg's page.

If we look at his April veolcity's in his career we get

2012 : 96.95
2013 : 96.53
2014 : 93.99
2015 : 95.24
2016 : 95.68
2017 : 96.21
2018 : 95.61
2019 : 93.93

Now there is at least one more start for him in the month so the number could pick up but we are seeing a velocity that we haven't seen in April since 2014. However, we have seen numbers this low before. In August and September of last season.  That suggests a bigger issue than may have been seen in 2014, but we'll dig into both.

First, for interests sake - how did he do in these three months?

April 2014:  4.24 ERA  1.412 WHIP 4.42 K/BB
August 2018 : 6.30 ERA  1.600 WHIP 2.50 K/BB
September 2018 : 2.60 ERA  1.212 WHIP  3.46 K/BB
April 2019 :  5.56 ERA, 1.279 WHIP, 4.00 K/BB

Not great news but interesting in that he seemed to learn to pitch around the velocity loss last year but this year, despite the relatively same WHIP and better K/BB he's having a worse season.  Why is that? Likely HRs...  Yep last Sept he gave up 4 homers - about one every 9 innings. This year already 5 in 22 innings.

That could be bad luck... or it could be more FBs or harder hit balls. Lets check it out.  FB%? Sept 41.2%  April  33.9%   Nope.   Hard hit %? Sept 27.6%   April 25.4% Nope. HR/FB? Sept 11.4% April 23.8%  Yep.

So bad luck is an option here. But this isn't definitive. It could just as easily be when he throws a bad pitch it gets WRECKED and he's throwing more bad pitches while around that pitching pretty much the same as last September. Well Brooks Baseball has a measurement for that as well with "grooved pitches" (off fastballs)

Sept 2018 :  9.13
April 2019 : 10.10

that isn't much of a difference and if you threw March into 2019 it'd be a wash.

I guess currently if I had to choose a reason, I would say a little bit of bad luck.  Yes his velocity is down but that didn't make him terribly less effective in September of last year, and peripheral stats suggest that if the homers go back down, he'll be perfectly fine.

But what causes Strasburg to have these velocity dips? In 2014 there wasn't anything telling. He had a lat strain in June of 2013 but came back to pitch fine after that.  Last year it was a shoulder/neck injury.  You could try to say it was a back related issue but he missed time in 2015 and 2016 with back issues. There's no pattern here to discern. In 2015 he hurt his back much earlier in the year but then injured his oblique. 2016 was a lot like last year - back injury, didn't miss much time, seemed fine going forward and it didn't effect his velocity at the start of 2017.  So... nothing? Well maybe or maybe not - the truth is as you get older injuries get harder to recover from and even two years might make a big difference given the wear and tear these guys go through. What he could bounce back from in the offseason of 2016 at 28 might be something he couldn't in the offseason of 2018 at 30.

My take away from this quick look through is cautious optimism. The early season struggles seem most likely related to a couple more balls going over the fence at inopportune times. As that even outs he should revert back to the pitcher he was at the end of last year.  That may not be the pitcher you want to see - his velocity is still down and it may not come back up much more than a MPH which would be low for him - but it's a good pitcher nonetheless. But this is cautious, as with each passing year there are greater chances for these changes to be real and lasting. 30 isn't old, but it isn't young and while I doubt he's a 5.50 ERA pitcher now, he could be inching closer to a 4.00 ERA guy

Monday, April 15, 2019

Monday Quickie

Almost there - almost to the point where I'll take a more critical look at the stats. Next week. But until then we are still dealing with a aingle 0-4, 2-4, 4-4 game being the difference between  a current batting average of .227, .273, or .318.  We need a little bit more time.

We can look at the team however and find why the Nats are .500.  Of course we all know the main issue - the relief pitching.  Worst ERA in the majors currently at 7.75. If there is a silver lining here (and there isn't - it's more like a possibly long term cancer causing BPA lining) its that the Nats aren't THAT bad.  They don't really have the worst pen in the league. But they aren't a good bullpen cursed with bad luck. They don't strike out a lot, they walk too many, give up too many hits, give up too many homers, don't induce a lot of easy out (not great in getting pop-outs, league low in GB rate). Take it all together and you have a mediocre bullpen at best, which is what you'd probably expect from Doolittle + 6 guys who are all ok guys to have as your last 1-2 men in the pen. Rosenthal being the complete failure is the biggest issue but Barraclough, who was hoped to be the next guy up, has traded his control issue for being hittable, and Tony Sipp, who may have been a great late pick-up has basically tossed batting practice out there. That's 0-3 in your first go around trying to figure out who could fill in that 7-8 roles. Rosenthal and Barraclough at least will have a few more chances, especially with no one beating down the door, but the failure to get a more secure very good reliever to fill in the pen is the biggest issue the Nats face.

The Nats starters have been very good, as you'd probably expect, but not exactly as it was written up.  It's limited starter Jeremy Hellickson who is doing well so far to counter a strugglinlg Strasburg.  At this point takes can be dominated by a single bad start so it's important not to take too much from this. Just know to make up for something like the reliever probelms above the rotation would have to be special, and they have not been that. Max has been merely good. Stras struggling.

That combination is kind of an average team but a great or terrible offense could swing the Nats record in either direction. The Nats offense has also been good, but it's a bit of a mirage. The Nats have the second best OPS with RISP leading them to score more runs than you might expect looking at their other stats ok batting average, pretty average batting across the board otherwise. This is likely due to the fact that the Nats offense is the haves and have nots.  Kendrick, Rendon, and Robles, all have been very hot to start the year.  Zimm, Dozier, Difo and the Cs have been cold.  The same guys are getting on and being driven in by the same guys. 

In the long run this makes me a bit worried. The relief pitching should get better, but there's no reason to think it will be good. The offense, I feel, has great potential for collapse as while I like Soto to pick it up past average, there isn't any reason for me to think the cold guys will rise up to take place of the production that the Nats will lose when the hot guys cool down. If the offense collapses then you don't have enough to take this team to the playoffs.  The path to victory though is there. Strasburg starts pitching better. The SP gets dominant and Turner coming back balances out the offensive issues I see happening down the like. Dominant SP, Good Offense, Poor Relief pitching. That can make the playoffs. Of course the easiest solution would be to clear up the relief pitching problem but I don't expect to see that happen.

OK Sweep the Giants, or at least really beat them up in a couple of these games. A lost series here would be a big problem if any of the other NL East teams make a push

Thursday, April 11, 2019

Exactly where they need to be

If we had done the whole "this set of games" outlook like we like to do here sometimes, and you had presented me with 11 games versus the Phillies and Mets, 5 home 6 away, I would have put the Nats goal at 6-5.  It's not dominant - but it shouldn't be if these teams are any good. But it is above expectations if all these teams were the same (that'd be 5-6). What it shows is that the Nats still have a leg up on these teams, a slight advantage that over the long haul could push the Nats to another division crown.

Where are the Nats now?  6-5. Right on target.

But we also see the flaw in this.  The Nats are 6-5 and still in 4th place in the East.  They only trail the other teams by one game - they aren't significantly better, at least not right now, but they are there.  The Nats may have an advantage but they can't expect the advantage alone to get them to the finish line. They can't slip. They may need some luck, too.

The bullpen had a couple of good games in a row and that will happen. The bullpen is still an issue but the bullpen shouldn't be a season ending thing. Grace, Miller, Barraclough, Suero - these guys are all fine.  The problem isn't with any of them individually, but that if Doolittle is stuck in the closer role and Rosenthal doesn't shape up to be lights-out (smart money is on no for that) that important situations are going to be coin flips for this pen.  Sometimes it'll work out fine. Other times it won't.  You like to have a little more assurance than that - but don't expect that to come for the Nats before the trade deadline.  This pen is "good enough" and the Nats love "good enough"

We'll still let the numbers stew until around game 20 so let's take a look at the schedule. The Nats will be home for 6 games starting tomorrow 3 v PIT and 3 v SFG. Pittsburgh is a solid team relying on a really quite good starting staff to carry a less impressive offense. The Nats will get their best three (Taillion, Archer, and Williams) making this a tough series to win, but one you still have to expect the Nats to pull out.  The Giants are as mediocre as expected with a pretty hideous looking offense but a good enough pen to maybe keep things above disaster.  The rotation actually might be ok, but still it's hard to worry about it. The Nats should miss Bumgarner but he might sneak in there in the last game if the Giants are trying to maximize his outings. This is a 4-2 home stand at least.  Maybe 5-1.

In the meantime the Mets take on the Braves then the Phillies, so someone is going to lose ground to the Nats unless the Nats blow it.  The other team the Phillies face is the Marlins and the Braves will take on the D-Backs early next week.  Given these match-ups I think in a week the Nats should be hoping to be in 2nd by themselves, a game behind the Phillies

Tuesday, April 09, 2019

Early numbers

It's hard not to look at these numbers. Unlike Spring Training, these numbers mean something. Everyone is really trying now. What happens here goes on the "permanent record" of the season. We have no other information so this, while limited, is what we have to go on.

However it is still just 9 games. In any 9 game stretch you can have Matt Wieters hit like an MVP (From Aug 5th - Aug 15th Wieters hit .345 / .394 / .517) and you can have an MVP hit like... well Matt Wieters. (From May 9th - May 17th  Mike Trout hit .111 / .333 / .111) So we really have to back off from looking at these numbers. Except...

Except we can start to look at them to see if any preconceived notions/worries are playing out. We aren't coming in fresh and trying to say something just based on 9 games. We have something we are thinking about and want to see how it's coming along.  That's fair right?

Yan Gomes should be starting more than Kurt Suzuki - Defensive stats heavily favor Gomes. His age makes him the one with potential.  Technically this has been the way it's been with Gomes starting 5 games to Suzuki's 4.  That's probably a little more even then I'd like right now but it's a bit hard to judge with this few games.

Is Dozier done? In the fall Dozier looked old, hitting .111 in the NLCS, and going hitless in the World Series while providing pretty terrible defense. This Spring? Arguably more of the same .103, 9Ks to 1 BB, just one homer, with uninspiring D. If you want to look on the bright side -  that homer was just last game so maybe things are turning around now. If you want to be more honest - at lesat Howie is healthy now.

How will Rendon hit in his walk year? Rendon has put together MVP vote worthy seasons before but predicated on a plus bat mixed with plus defense. There's still a sense peak Rendon could hit .320 with 30 home runs in a couple seasons if healthy.  .412 with 4 homers suggests this may be the year which is both good news (good Rendon!) and bad ($$$$)

How will Robles hit long term in the majors? Last year's 20 game trial was very positive but it was just 20 games. Minor league numbers suggested high average with questionable power and patience. Last years suggested more power.  This year? Power seems to still be there as well as patience. K's are way up though and the average could take an unexpected dip. Where this all balances out will be interesting

Sophomore Slump for Soto? Last year was a revelation as Soto had the greatest teenage season of all-time. Hidden in that though was "trouble with the curve" so to speak. Soto couldn't hit off-speed pitches but it didn't matter because he had a great sense of strike zone and no one threw him off-speed pitches in the zone. This year they've upped the off-speed stuff and Soto has suffered. His walk rate is about the same but the K-rate is way up.  He's 20 so this isn't a "He can't hit this stuff! He's done for!" situation but how does he adjust this year, will be very important as his bat was supposed to help cover for the loss of Bryce's  

Corbin : Max2, as advertised, or bought high?  Only two starts but seems like as advertised. Starters are hardest to judge this early though.

Can Rosenthal rebound to dominance? HAHAHAHAHHAHAHA

There you go.  Things look like a mix of good news (Robles could be better, Rendon could be an MVP) and bad (Dozier and Rosenthal could both be big fat zeros) which is what teams expect to have.  That might be a problem since luck isn't evenly distributed there may be a team in the East that gets all the luck.*  But that's all you can expect.

*Right now   I'd say Philly is looking pretty good here.  Hoskins is rebounding to STAR with Bryce in the lineup. Franco is showing improved patience which makes him a very good overall player as opposed to the up and down player he has been. Eflin may be taking a step up.  The only bad news based on pre-season questions for them right now is Kingey doesn't look any better.

Monday, April 08, 2019

Monday Quickie - Don't get swept

The Nats have set themselves mostly right after a stumbling start. They took the 2nd game of a two game homestand against the Phillies and won an away series against the Mets, making up for a series lost to the Mets to start the year.

But it hasn't been a clear turnaround. While the team has started scoring runs and winning games, the pitching has continued to struggle. The bullpen is the main issue, most notably the fact that Trevor Rosenthal still hasn't gotten a single batter out, but things get even more scarier when you think a little bit more. The Nats have been able to use the early season plethora of off days to their advantage. The breakdown of these 8 games includes only 1 game not started by Max, Stras, or Corbin. Only one pitcher (Matt Grace) has been forced to throw three days in a row. There's a couple more break days coming up which means a little more manipulation is possible but starting April 16th the Nationals will get into the meat of the season. They'll be forced to use their fourth and fifth starters, and forced to use a tired pen. What happens then?

This series against the Phillies is a pop quiz of sorts for that question. This is the first stretch of 5 games in a row where the Nats will have to dig into their 5th starter. Davey managed to only use one relief pitcher twice in the past two days (Suero) giving him as deep a bullpen as possible but still a bullpen where no one has more than one day of rest.  This series will test how bad this thing, that already looks bad, can get.

What I have as a goal going forward is simple. Don't get swept. If the Nats get swept they'd be 5 games behind the Phillies with 5 H2H games in the past. It's a big gap with decidedly less opportunity to make that up (compared to say 19 full games left to even any gaps they may have with the Braves). Even a series loss (the most likely scenario) only puts the Nats 3 games out.  So don't get swept. 

Wednesday, April 03, 2019

A night to boo

Yesterday was supposed to be a moral reckoning for the Nationals fans. Logically Bryce Harper did nothing wrong. He played (mostly) hard in DC for 7 seasons, then grabbed the largest contract he could in free agency. 99% if us would do the same thing.  But fandom isn't supposed to be rational, and Bryce also always had a foot out the door and never quite connected with fans because of that. He turned down what could be taken as a fair contract and signed with a direct rival instead.  It was easy enough to turn "nothing wrong" into "Benedict Harper"

And so the Nats fans rained down the Boos with unexpected force, the "fake fan base filled with half-hearted transient fans" proving they could be just as crazily passionate as fans anywhere else.

And that should have been it. Boos. Bryce vs Max. A K or a hit and the game moves on.  But after the cathartic K in an otherwise shaky top half of the first things started to unravel. Trea took a pitch off the hand on a strange bunt attempt.  Max gave up a bomb and couldn't close out innings fast enough. Matt Adams tumbled over the railing. Max struck out Bryce again for another pop but rather than a rising crescendo it was a muted saving grace at that point.

In his third and final Max AB, Bryce would double, putting an end to hope of complete humiliation for Bryce. Then Max had to come out and the bullpen burned the park down. Suero and Grace were almost out of it. 2 on but 2 out. McCutchen walks to load the bases and the Nats face a do or die situation. Segura up, Bryce just missing out on the huge AB on deck. In hindsight it's clear Doolittle should have been brought in here. A hit blows the game open, likely losing it. It is time for a good reliever and frankly the Nats only have one of those right now. But Fake Davey stuck with Grace, Grace grooved on down the middle, and Segura cleared the bases. Bryce's follow-up single, scoring Segura was anti-climatic at that point. The game was pretty much lost as no one thought the Nats could score 7 in 4 AND the bullpen could hold the Phillies where they were.

But even then the indignities didn't end. With one last at bat against "We don't have a real long man so you are it" Hellickson, Bryce crushed a homer into deep right center putting an exclamation point on this disaster. The game could have hardly gone worse.

It's a game that you feel can send a team reeling, but as we've noted before this is more fiction than fact. The truth is win tonight and the season feels a lot better. Win tomorrow too and while the slow start isn't forgotten (Trea is still hurt) it's seen for a minor overcome able stumble. That's all it takes - two wins.

What to do about Trea?

Difo has to play SS right now. Dozier can't. Kendrick is still out and also can't.  Young Kieboom should be up even if unready because the Nats shouldn't try to carry Difo's bat for any longer than they have to.  Kieboom may be no good, but the Nats have to take that gamble and start this clock.

Tuesday, April 02, 2019

Five- Alarm Philly

Bryce is back!  Barry had a sitdown with Bryce and we get what is likely final clarity on the timeline Bryce and the Nationals had this off-season.

Sept 26th - Last Home Game of Season - Nats offer Bryce the 10/300 with deferred money deal we all heard about. Bryce offers more specifics here but I'm gonna leave it out for now bc it may be wrong or misremembered. Suffice to say - it a lot.

Sept 27th - Boras calls Nats to open negotiations. Lerners say there is nothing to negotiate. That's the offer and they need an answer by FA so they can plan going forward with or without him

No discussions for a month

Oct 29th - Free Agency Opens - Bryce enters FA

Dec 23rd - Bryce flies to Palm Springs and meets with the Lerners. In the intervening time the Nats sign Patrick Corbin. Bryce only officially meets with the White Sox.

Jan 3rd - Lerners offer Bryce a new offer. While it has more years (12) it has substantially less money (250 million) and a longer deferral period. Bryce rejects deal and begins looking elsewhere.

It is clear, as it was at the time, that the Lerners offered Bryce what was considered a low market deal (10 years for under 300 mill taking into accoutn deferrals) to start. It's clear they never offered him another deal until January in which, as I suspected, they took advantage of more clarity in the market to bump the offer down to the "new low market" The sticking point on how you feel about this is how you feel about that month with no discussions. 

If you hate Bryce now, as many Nats fans do, you could see that time frame as when Bryce could have made a hard push to stay.  That doesn't necessarily mean taking less than what was offered, or exactly what was offered, but instead countering with an offer that seems more fair. But no counter came. Bryce wanted to be blown out of the water. He was not. He then decided to test the market.

If you don't hate Bryce though, or are a soulless collection of bolts and fuses, that's a harsh take. You don't know how clear the Lerners made their "this is all we can do" statement to Boras that day after. And given the offers here the Lerners clearly were never going to give Bryce a fair market deal. So the question really is - would Bryce sell himself short to stay in DC. I don't believe he should of.

Tonight should be fun. My guess is Max strikes Bryce out in first inning, but Bryce takes him deep when once again Max stays in a few batters too long.

Monday, April 01, 2019

Monday Quickie - the regression to the mean talk

The Nats salvaged the last game of the series with Trea Turner heroics but the issues which we thought might come up with the pen, seemingly have. Tony Sipp and Matt Grace both have had issues leaving the question of "who's our go-to lefty" open, as well as the question of "which Sipp did we get?" Trevor Rosenthal has been a mitigated disaster, only saved from unmitigated by the fact it has been 2 appearances not 10. If the pen is this bad - which is terrible - yes the Nats will really struggle. But for now you have to suck it up, say small sample size, and see what happens in the next series.

Three games are just three games. Trea Turner is unlikely to be a Triple Crown threat with 100+ steals. Juan Soto is probably not going to be outslugged by Victor Robles. Dozier will get a hit. I swear.

But while we can try to wait on players we can't ignore that these games matter. I say it every year. I'll say it every year. A game in April counts the same as a game in September.  Games the Nats lose here, ground the Nats lose here, has to be made up. Some people rely on the idea of regression to the mean to make that happen but don't quite understand what it means. It does not mean everything that has happened before will be wiped out.

Take a coin flip. Fair odds so 50/50 heads/tails. You expect to see 50% heads. You flip it four times. You get four tails. You see 0% heads.  Regression to the mean means that we should see as we move forward, that 0% get closer to 50%, but it doesn't mean we HAVE to get to 50%. In fact you wouldn't expect it to for a very long time.

What you expect is every flipped group after this to be at 50% and that to drag up your heads percentage.  Flip 6 more. Expect 3H/3T. Total becomes 3H/7T.  30% Heads, much closer to 50% than 0%.  Flip 96 more. Expect 48H/48T.  Total becomes 48H/52T.  48% Heads.  Almost there!  But still not.

Anyway this doesn't quite work in the same way for baseball because we don't know the "real" win percentage like we know 50% for H/T, and the win percentage changes in baseball, which doesn't for your flipped coin. But the general idea holds.

If you think the Nats are a 94 win team say - then you expect them to play like it for the next 159 games and get to 93 or 94 wins because of the lost series. If you expect the Phillies to get to 90 wins - they you expect them to play like it for the next 159 games and end up with 91 to 92 wins after that sweep. So right now if those were your preconceptions, they were correct, and they play out that way for the rest of the year - the Nats are still good.

What happens if the Phillies get too far ahead? Well then things change and you might like the Phillies better.  But even then, when you have one team you liked less quickly get out ahead, hope is far from lost. Look at last year. The Mets started hot. So hot, that I bet the odds favored them coming out of those first few weeks. But all the Nats needed to pass them was the Mets to play a little worse than expected and the Nats to play as expected.  The Nats didn't hold up their end, playing middling baseball, but the Mets played like one of the worst teams in the game. Voila! The Nats passed them.

Now they didn't do well - they also dug a hole in comparison with the Phillies and Braves. Much smaller holes, but still holes and when the Braves played well and the Nats middling, that was enough.  And that's really the lesson - If you like the Nats and they start slow it's nothing to be worried about. It's probably nothing to be worried about even if someone else starts pretty hot. BUT if the Nats dig enough holes, there's a decent chance they can't play well enough the rest of the year to climb out of every hole. Now, with the above analysis, this early things almost have to be out of whack. Three coin flips, for example, can only give you 66%/33% which is off anyway you look at it. So don't focus too much on this now, this is more for a week down the road at least

And that brings us to the next few series. The Nats play the Phillies twice, Mets three times, and Phillies three times. Can a season be over by April 10th? Not officially, but if the Nats do REALLY poorly and the Phillies and Mets do REALLY well.  Well then that's two holes to dig out of.  What would that look like? Something like 2-9 / 3-8 at the end of this stretch for the Nats while both these teams are around 8-3/ 9-2.  Let that happen and let the worries flow.  Anything else - like the more likely coming out of this 5-6 and maybe the Phillies 8-3 at the time, that's fine.

Friday, March 29, 2019

First Game Talk

you don’t want to go overboard on using limited data to make judgements.  So 0-fers and a million SBs need to be taken in stride.  However seeing Davey make another manager error is a continuation of something we’ve seen that you can hang a hat on.

To set the scene the Nats were down and Max was up with two outs in the bottom of the seventh and no one on.  It probably made the most sense to pull him now and let Adams take a few cuts at tying the game up. Max’s spot may not come up again. You generally start pitchers a little light their first couple outings. DeGrom has already been pulled so the ace v ace game was off the table. The Nats pen only had to cover two innings (barring extras).  The Nats have a day off today so the pen can fully reset. But Max was cruising so there was some logic to letting him stay. Pitchers to me are far more often pulled too early rather than too late*.  This isn’t about getting a W for Max, but saying he gives us the best chance at a W in general.

So Max batted and got out.  In this scenario Max pitches the 8th unless he has to be pulled. And Max went K BB K. Then something very odd happened. Max was pulled for Justin Miller. The questions are immediate and the answers aren’t clear.  Why pull Max vs a righty batter he had held to 0-3 with two Ks?  Probably because of being up to 109 pitches but with Cano on deck this would have to be his last batter.  Do those last few pitches matter that much. And if they do - why Miller?  Why not Barraclough, who would likely be the “big moment not end of game” guy?  Or Rosenthal who would you know, come into the 8th in a big spot? Or Doolittle who is probably the best reliever right now?  The answer is probably bc Martinez has planned to bring in Grace to get the lefty and didn’t want to “waste” Rosenthal or Doolittle on one batter.  He also might have been thinking tie game which is why you save Bear Claw. You might want him to go one plus later.

But you see what happens if you plan to win later in a situation that demands a win now.  Alonso got a hit. Not a great one but a hit. Cano did the same against Grace and the Mets had their insurance

Davey has to understand very soon that you play to win the game in front of you in the situation you are in at the moment.  There can be leeway in this - you don’t need to use Doolittle in a big spot up 3 in the 5th against the Mariners when you have a 6 game division lead in August - but a big out in the 8th inning against a rival team with the heart of their order coming up?  Use the big guns Fake Davey!

Day off - relax reset.  Don’t get swept

*you don’t remember the too earlies but all the time. Trust me.

Thursday, March 28, 2019

Nats Prediction

The Nats were a 90 win team last year.  That was with significant offensive injuries, but also with the emergence of a ROY.  The starting pitching wasn’t great, but it was healthy.  The relief pitching wasn’t good but wasn’t as bad as you thought.  Looking back I’d say the Nats underperformed but not by much.

Did they get better? I would argue that even losing Bryce maybe they did but the pen and rotation depth remain shallow and the bench depth is starting shallow thanks to injury.  So I’m hesitant to give them more than a game more.  A 93 win team in a vacuum

But they don’t play in a vacuum.  Try play in the NL East where the Phillies and Mets got (much) better and the Braves won the division last year.  A 93 win team in say... the NL West is not a 93 win team in the NL East (but probably a near 100 win team in the AL Central)

I’ll peg the Nats then at 90 wins again.  Is it good enough to win the division?  Maybe.  But I’ll say one team squeaks by them, one team they squeak by and one team crashes.  I’ll say Mets, Phillies, Braves in that order. Do the Nats get the WC?   I’ll say yes to that.

And as always I don’t do playoffs.

Wednesday, March 27, 2019

Media Round-Up 2019

So last year 55 of 55 "experts" picked the Nats to win the NL East. They were also oddly confident in the Nats to move forward in the playoffs - which I attributed to not wanting to be the one that missed out when the Nats actually won. Of course we all know what happened so take all this to be what it is - wild guesses. For most teams, injuries and surprise breakouts and busts will be the final deciders of how the season goes. Those things can't be predicted.

NL East Champ : 13 of 31 (+9 WC)
NLDS winner : n/a
NLCS winner :  6
WS Champ : 3

NL East Champ :
NLDS winner :
NLCS winner : 
WS Champ :

NL East Champ : 4 of 5
NLDS winner : n/a
NLCS winner :   3
WS Champ : 0

NL East Champ : 3 of 7 (+2 WC)
NLDS winner : 4 of 7
NLCS winner : 3 of 7
WS Champ : 2 of 7

NL East Champ : 7 of 9
NLDS winner : n/a
NLCS winner : 4 of 9
WS Champ : 0

NL East Champ : 27 of 5# (over 50 experts) (+8 WCs)
NLDS winner : n/a
NLCS winner : 12 of 5#
WS Champ : ?

OK not a lot going on so far. I'll update as necessary

NL East Champ : 54 of let's say 106, that's gotta be close
NLDS winner : 4 of 7
NLCS winner : 28 of  106
WS Champ : 5+ of 106

Basically currently the Nats are about 50/50 to win the East (with it seems like the Phillies a close second and the Braves and their quiet offseason basically pushed out of the picture). From there again there is this oddly high confidence in the Nats winning the NL at about 25%.  That would be a fair percentage if EVERYONE picked the Nats to win the East, if you consider them about a 50% chance each series in the playoffs, but this has almost 50% of the guys picking the Nats to win the East also picking them to get to the series.

And with that oddly low percentage of WS winners (probably more like 6 - the vote wasn't clear) it suggests the same thing as last year. These guys don't really believe in the Nats as a team, but instead don't really believe in anyone in the East and given that, picking the Nats to win is kind of the hot ticket. Don't want to miss out right? We'll see if this keeps up though as the rest of the picks come in.

Monday, March 25, 2019

Monday Quickie - ST round-up

Spring Training ends today for the Nats so we can take a look at the stats once more and see if anything can be gleaned. And remember, by that I mean - did anyone do particularly great or awful but mostly how are the injury guys doing.

Particularly well? No one mashed a ton of homers so I'd say no one. Eaton, Soto, Gomes all hit well for what it's worth which is nothing so forget I said anything. Again - it's like two weeks worth of at bats against minor league competition. Austen Williams maybe? Hellickson looked good but you know, "see above".

Particularly poor? No one worth caring about (sorry Marmalade guy!) Basically the deep bench (Difo, Reynolds, Stevenson) had bad Springs but again - not worth anything. You can throw in some pen guys in that list. Doolittle, Barraclough, Miller had off Springs but not so bad I'm worried about it. If there is anything to worry about performance wise it's Fedde who gave up 22 hits in 12 1/3 and walked 6 to 8 Ks. But if you were hanging big hopes on Fedde, I don't know what you were thinking.

Ok I think I made it through that without making you think about these results too much. In fact if you forget them right now you are probably better off.  It's just hard not to talk about something you are seeing in front of you.

Injury guys?
In terms of guys hurt last year. Eaton looks fine.  Zimmerman, who isn't injured but you can't leave him out here, played sparingly but enough that you don't assume something's wrong (See! Not Hard!). Hellickson and Strasburg looked fine. Doolittle was fine - one bad outing. Rosenthal was healthy. So everything here is as well as can be hoped for.

Looking more current : The Nats had a couple injuries in the first half of Spring but managed to ward off any more after that. 
  • Kendrick only had 10 ABs and none since March 5th. He is looking at more rehab. Thoughts currently are he'll be back mid April.
  • Taylor hasn't hit since going down for injury, spraining his left leg pretty badly. Although the MRIs showed nothing big, we've only gotten sporadic word that he's rehabbing so no time frame. Expect a month, right now I'd say
  • Glover hurt his forearm and is likely out of a while. Again no good time frame and honestly I wouldn't expect this season until I hear he's throwing off a mound again. 
  • Tony Sipp isn't hurt but needs a little more time to get ready and is probable, but not definite for Opening Day
All in all this was a good Spring then. You are going to suffer injuries but the Nats didn't lose anyone they absolutely needed. The MAT and Kendrick injuries will test their depth early, but early is when you want it tested. Guys are fresh and days off are plentiful to start the season. Glover hurts the pen a little but wasn't one of your Top 3 guys.  All the injury guys from last year seem healthy. All your players that you care about didn't have unusually bad Springs.  This is good.

Pack it up. Move it North. Time for some ball.

Wednesday, March 20, 2019

What's a Rendon Worth?

Yesterday the Astros signed Alex Bregman to an extension and Mike Trout signed THE extension, which as possibly the greatest baseball player ever*

What this leads to is the discussion of extensions for other young stars and youngish stars heading toward FA.  You hear Mookie Betts and Aaron Judge and for the Nats, you hear Anthony Rendon's name.  In fact we talked about this recently, though before Arenado's deal was made. A lot of people think that there was kind of a choice between Bryce and Rendon. That if the Nats spend money on the former they'd let the latter walk because maybe they couldn't afford it or maybe they just didn't want to commit too much money in payroll or whatever.  But Bryce is gone now so the focus can solely be on Tony.  What is he worth and what are the Nats going to give him?

Let's focus on the first for a second. Todd Dybas for NBC Sports Washington (where are the Nats WaPo beats on this? - turnover will get ya!) talked to Rendon about this.  Since Rendon is a pretty candid guy he gave a fair statement of how things are going. They had an offer out there, wasn't what Rendon wanted, that's about it.

His phrasing makes me think he's a little surprised there hasn't been more back and forth after the rejection of whatever the offer was. But also everything else he's ever said makes me think that's not a bother to him. I mean, I think it's rarely a bother to most guys. Either you get it's just business or you get over a little personal animosity when the big check is presented to you. But really for Rendon I think he doesn't care too much about the journey.  He probably has a value he thinks he's worth, a time frame he thinks he should get it by, and if the Nats meet that - great! If not he'll go on the market. I think his comments are less "if the Nats don't care about me I'll walk!" and more "if the Nats don't care about me, that's fine." They get to the same place but without the animosity.

What is the value? Well let's look at recent FA extensions and contracts
Manny Machado** - 10/300,  to be 26, 130+ OPS+, 6+ WAR player 3 of last 4 years
Alex Bregman - 6/100, to be 24, 137+ OPS+, 5+ WAR ave player to start career, bought out 4 controlled years
Nolan Arenado - 8/260, to be 28, 130 OPS+, High 5 WAR player past 3 years (GG defense), bought out one controlled year
Josh Donaldson - 1/23, to be 33, 150 OPS+ 3 of last 4 years, though 120 in injured part time last year, 5+ WAR player when healthy with potential for elite (7+)
Mike Moustakas - Last year - 1/5.5, to be 29, 115+ OPS player, 2ish WAR player. This year 1/10 to be 30, confirmation of rough above stats last year.

Plug in Rendon's numbers after this year- to be 30, 135+ OPS player, 6+ WAR player.

He doesn't compare to Machado (4 years younger at estimated signing) or Bregman (6 with 4 years of control bought out). Nor does he compare well to Donaldson (3 years older) or Moustakas (just not as good).  His closest comparison is Arenado but as people note Arenado is a couple years younger and more durable and GG D makes him slightly more a player who could provide value if bat slumps (not that Rendon is a slouch here).  I've said before I like Rendon better but let's for argument sake go with common standing. Rendon is not as good as Arenado, but only a little.

So less than 8/260.   I think something you see here is a common thread on long term deals to end at 35 at the latest.  Let's make that the goal and give Rendon 6 years. The terms for Machado and Arenado give you the idea of what these kinds of years are valued at (30+ million but depreciation puts long contracts in 30 mill range). Donaldson's deal confirms that - 23 million for a hopeful similar year. You'd have to then put a Rendon deal center at around 6/150. It could be as "little" as 5/125 or as much as 6/180.  For an extension buying out this year (18.8 mill) look for something between 6/120+ and 7/175+.

That's a pretty wide gap and I'm going to go out on a limb that the Nats offer, as it tends to be, was the bottom of the market. so probably something a little more $ than 6/120.  Like 6/150 with money deferred . That pays him 25 million a year, basically making him the 3rd highest paid 3rd baseman behind Arenado and Machado, while buying out his last year of control. I'd expect Rendon's contract demands to be more toward the high end. Probably asking for 7/200 ish right now.

Of course this is just spitballying but that's kind of where I'm landing on what Rendon is looking at. 7/200 to get it done this year, 6/180 next year if they want to wait it out and see what he does. If he gets it he gets it. If not, no hard feelings, see you around.

The question is - is he worth it and what do the Lerners think. To the former, I answered in the previous column - yes, but it's a health gamble. To the latter - who knows.

Would I do 7/200 right now? Yes.

*It's true! At this point in his career he is completely on track for it. You can't say that for Bryce, a likely HoF, or for Betts, a comparative late bloomer, or Judge, a late starter in general. I'm not being crazy calling Trout this. 

** He's a 3rd baseman for me and on the depth chart

Monday, March 18, 2019

Monday Quickie - MAT down

Michael A Taylor got hurt last week and it was serious. You know it was serious because the Nats didn't try to "day-to-day" the public but said he would miss significant time. What exactly that means is up to debate but even with him beginning light work over the weekend the consensus seems to be "not ready for Opening Day".

Having MAT out isn't a huge deal, in fact it may helpfully squash any thoughts the Nats had at playing with Robles' service time. However, it does leave the Nats OF thin.  They have three starters - Soto, Robles, Eaton and one 3 position back-up in MAT. Then they have two guys, in Kendrick and Adams, that they'll stick in the OF if need be.  While Adams is a true "Put him in RF - hope nothing gets hit to him" guy, Kendrick is actually a decent corner OF replacement... usually. Kendrick played a lot of OF the past few years and was perfectly acceptable. However, now Kendrick himself is working off a mild hamstring injury and given his age and the fact he was already coming back from an injury means you have a hard time believing he'll be healthy AND able to push it in the OF (nor would you want him to)

So what should the Nats do? They could bring in a name with a good bat and simply replace MAT as the 4th OF.  But none of the name guys with maybe good bats, say Austin Jackson or Denard Span, want to be 4th OF or can actually play CF. It's a bad fit for what the Nats want. But on the flip side guys who can play CF, even those that can't hit, are not available. Or more honestly guys hanging on as not bad enough offensively to totally take away from their defense, like JaCoby Jones, Li'l Delino Deshields, and Marcel Margot, probably should be 4th OF but are instead starting which means their cost is too high to pick up for what you hope is a part time situation.

But the final alternative is you sit with Andrew Stevenson as the 4th, lean a little more heavily on Robles than planned, and pray nothing goes awry.  Is that the the best plan for a contender? I don't think so.

There isn't a perfect answer here. The Nats can't bring in a good MAT replacement for a price that represents the expected value to the Nats. Maybe they can hunt an peck around for someone slightly better than Stevenson and get that person for nothing. Maybe. But more likely they are forced into another gamble. Wait it out or make an imperfect signing. Given that I expect the Nats to do the former. Let's hope Robles can avoid leaning into one and breaking a hand in April. 

Friday, March 15, 2019

Annual Spring Training Reminder

I don't want to do this.

I don't feel I should have to do this.

However, once again it appears that people need reminding that Spring Training stats are basically meaningless.

This was not spurred on by any of you guys but former Nats beat James Wagner putting out a "Sure it's Spring but..." tweet. I thought we were better than that! We are all better than that!

So to whit - the best hitter on the Nats last Spring with any type of ABs? Chris Dominguez.  Who? A career AAA guy (since 2013!) who went on to hit .243 / .293 / .406 in Syracuse in a typical year. Third best? Moises Sierra. Doolittle had a 0.00 ERA - did that foreshadow his great year? Maybe. But then again Travis Gott had a 1.54 ERA and Sammy Solis a 1.80.  Solis had 15 Ks to 1 BB! Strag had a middling 4.70 ERA. Scherzer 4.15.


Again what may matter - someone hitting a whole bunch, like a whole bunch, of homers who you are hoping develops power. But whole bunch. Like last year four guys hit 7 and they didn't amount to anything. So it's kind of a very very weak correlation thing. Someone hitting like .000 who you are worried may fall off a cliff, be injured, or is coming back from injury, you might look at.  But it has to be that extreme. Hitting .150? Nothing. 6 homers in Spring. Nothing.

And that's hitting. Hitting, you generally can assume guys are trying to get hits. Granted they may be working on things, which is why even the situations above call for cautious incorporation into your opinions, but hitting is something more you just get back into the swing of, pun intended. Pitching gets you nothing. They really do work on things. Maybe they'll try a new pitch, or throw their curve 50% of the time, or spend all Spring working only on hitting the outer corner over the first 5 pitches. Meanwhile they are all facing DHs. There's nothing to find here other than shattered dreams and Jeanne Dixon-like "This time it came true so I'm going to ignore the other 20 times it didn't and keep looking at Spring Training stats" foolings of yourself.


So is there anything extreme in hitting or extreme in pitching tied to injury?

Hitting - how much do you care about Jose Marmelejos? A lot? I have bad news for you he's 0-17.  I suppose if Carter Kieboom hits another 5 homers you can get excited but no one has gone off yet. Pitching - yes, but you know about it. Glover pitched an inning got one out, walked three, walked off the mound and never came back.

There's your takeaways so far. Glover is hurt, which you knew. Jose Marmelejos is likely not a major leaguer, which I hope you knew.

Wednesday, March 13, 2019

When I Sipp, You Sipp, We Sipp

The Nats signed Tony Sipp to help fill in the gaps in their "You're really going with just those guys... huh." bullpen.  He's not Craig Kimbrel and probably means there will be no Craig Kimbrel but who is he?

Sipp is a 35 year old (36 in July) who has had crazy variation in his pitching over the past few years. From a 4.78 ERA in ARI in 2013 he's gone 3.38, 1.99, 4.95, 5.79, and 1.86 last year. That's a lot of variation even for a reliever.  More wild is the FIP backs it up. He was bad in 2013, very good in 2014 and 2015, very bad in 2016 and 2017 and very good again last year. This isn't a fluke of small sample size, it's Tony.

And there really isn't too much of a pattern to follow. It's not just the BB-rate (2.5, 3, 3, in good yrs, 3.7, 3.9, 5.3 in bad) or the K-rate (11.2, 10.3, 9.8 vs 10.0, 9.4, 8.2) or how easy he is to hit (5 H/9, 6.3, 6.8 vs 8.4, 8.7, 10.7) or how easy he is to homer off of (0.2, 0.8, 0.9 vs 1.4, 1.9, 2.5) It's all of those things. He's very simply been, after a fairly consistent first few years of his career, a guy who is good or bad with no inbetween. It's pretty odd really. Projections for him - which split the difference - seem silly.

You can see though why no one wanted to sign him.  With no consistency you can't rely on the guy. The Nats might get an impressive back end guy to match up with Rosenthal and Doolittle. Or the guy might be out by May.  Who wants to spend a lot on a guy like that, especially 35 going on 36? It's more the type of guy a bad team takes in as a lottery ticket that they hope to cash in at the trade deadline.

The biggest thing though about Sipp is he barely pitches.  He's thrown 43, 37, and 38 innings the last three years. That's not what'd you'd hope for from that "other guy" paired with Doolittle and Rosenthal.  You'd want that guy to be a workhorse. (Barraclough who's thrown 72, 66, 55 is more that guy). Then a LOOGY type? Nope. Tony's a little better against lefties the last few years but really when he's bad he's bad versus lefties and when he's good he's good vs righties.

Has he been oddly luck or unlucky?  It's hard to read anything from the BABIP or LOB% that is definitive, though that's part. The type of pitches he throws? Again I don't see anything. Maybe it's all about locating that first strike? Maybe. Probably not.

 Look I don't know what to tell you.  Sipp is clearly worth a shot because when he's on he's great. Sipp is clearly not someone to depend on because when he's off he's terrible. There's a better chance that he's on because he was on last year. There's a better chance he's off because he's getting older and has been off 2 of the last three years. He's bad. He's good. He's the missing piece. He's a waste of money. He's whatever you want him to be.  

Except Craig Kimbrel.

Monday, March 11, 2019

Monday Quickie - MAT or Robles, why is it a question?

Michael Allan? Adrian? Arthur?... Anthony! Taylor shone brightly for one brief moment.  In the 2017 NLDS versus the Cubs MAT, who had a solid part-time season hitting .270 with 19 homers, had 5 hits in 15 at bats with 2 homers. He was the best guy at the plate for the Nats and earned himself with the whole season a chance to start in 2018.

Then 2018 happened.

Nothing was wrong with 2018. It was just like 2016 and 2015 and the little he played in 2014.  (OPS+s 69, 70, 73, and 75 respectively).  He has a low average (.205-.231) and decent power (.129-.154) with a high strikeout rate (30.1%-39.5%!!! - ok that's the limited 2014 time) and low but not disqualifying walk rate (5.9%-7.5%) with some speed (SB 14-24 not counting 2014 here - not fair for a counting stat).  That's not good enough by itself to keep a guy around but given his work in centerfield being above average for a team carrying at least one questionable corner the past few years you can see where you can fit that guy in.  Defensive replacement, late-inning pinch runner, pinch-hitter when you are looking for a homer. He has his value. But last year should have made it clear his value is not as an everyday player if you can help it.

The Nats can help it. They have Victor Robles, a legit prospect, who hit .288 / .348 / .525 in his 20 games last year. Victor gets injured pretty regularly is coming off of injury but his minor league numbers, when healthy, are great .300 /.392 / .457.  This is pretty well distributed with like 40-60 games in each level except High A where he put in double that. HIs last stretch in AAA last year had him  hit .278 / .356 / . 386, so maybe you question his power there but his time in the majors suggest that's not an issue. Plus that isn't really a thing you work on in the minors.

When guys are held down in the minors it's generally to work on D but Victor is scouted out to have superior defense and is fairly fast as well.  You can sort of think of him as MAT swapping average and contact (K rates around 20% in majors, under 15% mostly in minors) for power and six years younger. He projects to be just as good, if not slightly better than MAT in 2019 and has the chance to be much better.

So why is MAT playing with the big boys and Robles with the back-ups?  There are two theories.The first one is that they are going to keep Robles down in the minors long enough to get another year of control out of him. The second is that they are trying to showcase MAT for a trade.

I'm all for the second, less likely, theory.  Sure they need MAT.  It's a step down from him to Stevenson or Bautista as your 4th OF. But really they are only the 4th OF for CF.  Soto or Eaton would likely have Adams or Kendrick back them up. So you can afford to lose MAT and if you can trade him for a good relief arm, it seems like you should because the Nats need a good relief arm right now. MAT is a more important player in potential scenarios, but a good reliever is more important in the scenario as it stands right now.

I hate the first, more likely, theory. Teams have done this for a long while but as we talk more about the players market seeing a correction on the 30+ side, we focus more as well on the 20-25 side, where the players are vastly underpaid. There's a distaste for this sort of thing on some level which feels like not only cheating the player out of a year of money, but cheating your fans out of the best team today for a cheaper team down the road.  Notice I don't say a "better team down the road" because 6 years down the road is too far to project that out. You'd like to believe that's ultimately the point, that saving money on that year of a contract means a better team, but the only guarantee is it will be cheaper if they want it to.

This plan fits in with the Nats' strategy since 2014*, which I would describe as serving dual masters. They have put together the best team they could for the current year while at the same time trying not to distrub their plans for any future year. Win now and win later. This was helped by a NL East that only put out a couple of decent teams, the 2015-16 Mets and the Braves last year. They could do it and let the lack of competition keep their head above water. Still even with a division that produced only 3 potential rivals in 5 years, the Nats fell to two of those and only managed 3 division titles. This year they have been afforded no luxury with 3 potential rivals in 2019 alone. Can the same strategy work? Can they afford to potentially give up a game or two** saving Robles for a year where no one knows how good the Nats can be?

I'd like to see Robles start day one. This isn't all-in. You aren't sacrificing a known, you are sacrificing an unknown - making it a bit harder for the 2023 Nats to be good, not knowing if that means you are hurting a pennant winner or a 65 win team. You can argue not signing a big contract making it harder to win in the next few years but betting on an unknown team a half-decade off instead of the known very good team in front of you? That's grabbing for two in the bush with one in your hand. That's dumb baseball. 

*Why 2014? Becuase I see 2012 as a surprise year during their rebuilding plan phase and 2013 as a complete lack of an attempt to win now. They went into the season with Bernadina, Tracy, Moore, and Lombo as the bench for God's sake. They won the previous year and thought maybe they could just do nothing, except replace a closer who was actually pretty good at the time. Of course they couldn't do nothing else and it blew up and after that wouldn't be so casual about building the roster out. 

**I know I know - Robles isn't like 6 games better than MAT but the point is they are worse and they have more a chance to catch a bad run when they are worse that they can't make up during that time. 

Thursday, March 07, 2019

3rd Level Nats Take - Rotation

So last post I came away pretty unconvinced that the Nats would suddenly find themselves with a much improved defense. I do think it's possible that Soto just had an off year / single years aren't reliable and Robles is better than MAT and it works out, but I think it's more possible that the combination of starters and defense we see doesn't move the needle more than a smidge.  But what about the other cursory glance analysis  - that Corbin and Anibal Sanchez make the starting staff that much better?

Well first let's talk about who is returning. Max does everything well and while he is aging, he's also proved to be a singular talent. You can't really say he's going to be worse in 2019 with any confidence.  Strasburg has pretty consistently been a low 3.00 ERA type who misses a month for one reason or another. You hate that injury risk but you can't predict more time missed than usual. He's not quite at an age where you feel good about knocking him down a peg, and there's no real statistical sign to do it either.  Hellickson is back for another round. His pitching was as he usually does but the results were better than would be expected from that, giving us a little out of whack picture of what he's likely to do.  While a full season from him is doubtful, more innings is very likely, but it's likely more innings of mediocre results not good ones. However, we are comparing it to last year and last year the rest of the 5 slot innings were filled by pretty bad results. In the end the mix of Hellickson pitching more innings but getting more in line (re: blah) results should be pretty close to what happened in 2018 at that rotation spot.

As a whole that probably leaves the Nats rotation at a little bit worse than last year taking just these three slots. Now we come to the changes. And while maybe one can make a argument for the Nats being better off with Roark and Gio vs Corbin and Sanchez this year* we aren't comparing theoretical Roark and Gio in 2019 here. We are looking at real 2018 Roark and Gio.  Doing that it should be pretty obvious that the Nats will be better off. These guys weren't good and Corbin was the best pitcher in the FA class. But are the Nats a lot better off or a little? Is it enough to counter the little downgrading I feel will happen at the #5 slot?

Both these guys kind of pitched the same overall for all of 2018, 180 IP of 4.25 ERA stuff. But while that covers Roark's time with the Nats in total, Gio pitched worse with the Nats, more like a 4.50 guy and with the Nats is what we care about.

Corbin is most likely to be a Strasburg type in terms of production on the mound, not a dominant Max but very good. But he also will be expected, unlike Strasburg, to pitch a full season. That means he lines up with same innings Roark threw last year.  That's great because it makes the comparison easy. That's going to be like 2 wins better or something. That would easily eclipse the small drop I think is coming from the 5 slot (I wouldn't even say half a game worse if you are wondering). So at this point for the Nats to get no improvement Anibal vs Gio would have to somehow be like 1.5 games worse. Looking at it, Gio's 150 IP of 4.50 ball is pretty much in line with what people project from Anibal this year.  That's a little disappointing. I'm inclined to like Sanchez just a touch better than that, but I also think Anibal won't quite get to the IP others think so for me it's a push on worth. With 150 innings though you have to consider who fills in those other 8+ starts.  The fill-in starters - worse than last year? I can't say that. Better? Can't say that either. So this comparison becomes a push.

All in all that means the rotation should make the Nats better. Not quite a lot better but more than a little I think, a couple games or so. It's hard to get a lot better because the value of the IP from Roark and Gio is real, even with middling performance. The Nats may have gotten a stud with Corbin but they had two reliable full season arms and that matters.  I will also say here that while I have the replacements, guys like Ross and Fedde, being the same this year, I think it's far more likely that they are better than last year than worse. So I see 1.5 to 2 wins better to kind of be a floor with a decent chance at 3+ - and don't look down your nose at that. It's a pretty big change from one area.

So this time the cursory analysis comes mostly through. The Nats rotation should be noticeably better than last year. There's no good reason to expect a dramatic dip from what's remaining. They have basically replaced 2018 Gio, et al. with Anibal Sanchez, et al. and they have improved over 2018 Roark with Patrick Corbin. Last season the Nats had a disappointing, middle of the road, rotation. This year I'd expect one that's Top 5 in the NL. 

*I'm not saying I'd make it. I wouldn't. But I think there's a way it could be made.

Tuesday, March 05, 2019

3rd level Nats Take - Fielding

Every fanbase suffers through cursory glances from talking heads and fans of other teams that don't know what's going on. The Nationals primary cursory glance is the expected "Bryce Harper is gone! Oh no! Panic!" But the Nationals also have a secondary cursory glance, probably in part because the first one is so prevalent, that goes "They've improved their defense and rotation so much!"  This is because they lost Bryce and Murphy and added Corbin.

But are these things true? Today we'll talk about defense.  Defense stats are funny things. No matter how often we are told that it takes at least a couple years of defensive data to really fairly portray the skill, we are still given annual data. Because of that we can't help but try to interpret data in that manner and if something happens that is out of sorts with the general knowledge we try to fill that in.  Sometimes it makes sense - an injury or a rapidly aging player showing much worse defense. But sometimes there isn't rhyme or reason as we try to fill in the gaps.  In the Nats case you had Bryce become one of the worst outfielders in baseball while Trea Turner became an elite defender. While I didn't see any obvious signs of such drastic change, I have heard from other fans "oh yes, Bryce was terrible. Trea really worked on things".  Maybe that's the case but from here on out in this analysis we're working with both the 3 year averages and last year's numbers to present what is probably a fairer picture of what's going on.

The Nats did do poorly on defense but not terribly. They were a below average team, heading up the bottom third of defense. Fangraphs' D stat, UZR, Total Zone all think this.  Their defensive efficiency was pretty good though an artifact of having the fewest errors in the National League. In short - they fielded well when they got to the ball, but they didn't get to the ball often enough.

The infield should be pretty similar to last year.  Rendon, at third, is a perennial gold glove candidate, (elite 3yr ave, top 5 last year). Turner, at short (blah 3yr, Top 10 last year) still is a question. Is he average or good for the position? Regardless he's not a defensive liability. Zimmerman, at first (terrible, terrible), with his injury limited mobility and dead arm is possibly the worst regular first baseman in the game. What's changing is 2nd base. Murphy (terrible, terrible) is admittedly a terrible defender but most of the innings last year were actually played by Difo (Top 10, Top 10) who is a very good defender. All in all 2nd wasn't a hole for most of the season and would grade out pretty average. Dozier (below average, terrible), was a pretty solid defender in his youth but has taken a sharp downturn as he has aged. Kendrick is a hard read. He's been good in the past but has spent most of the last 3 years in the OF. Last year he did play a little more 2B early on and the stats aren't good but now we're talking a piece of a piece. It's likely he's still ok, but after three years of aging and lack of regular practice at the position, I have a hard time believing he's a plus.  The end results in the IF is likely no improvement taking the season as a whole.

The outfield is a little more complicated because it was a mix that is now going to have a new mix with some of the same pieces.

Bryce (below average, terrible) after showing the bare minimum at corner OF, played a third of last season in CF and proved what we all thought - he can't play CF.  Most of the year at center was taken up by MAT (Top 5, Top 10) who is an elite fielder though not in the conversation for best in the game in a competitive position. Juan Soto (?, terrible) in the corner was legit awful but one season of stats and his young age leaves us with a big question mark for actual skill. Adam Eaton (above average, bad) started his career as a mediocre CF but when he started to falter he got pushed to the corner and shone for a year. However the last couple of years have not been kind and show Eaton as not a good fielder.  This year the Nats will lose Bryce (good!) and MAT (bad!) to get more Eaton (probably bad!) and more Soto (also probably bad!). They also lost more of those other guys, who except for Stevenson weren't any good.

There's one name I haven't mentioned yet and he's frankly the key here because everything I said above? It's not good!  The question is what is Robles as a fielder.  If he is elite, the OF defense likely improves. If he is MAT level Top 5/10 ish, the defense likely stays around the same. If he is not that good, the OF defense actually likely gets worse.  The good news is the preliminary stats agree with the scouting reports that suggest Robles is the MAT or better fielder we've been thinking he is. Still it's questionable data so hold off getting excited but it's better than the alternative.

We haven't talked catcher yet. The Nats split time between Wieters (Top 10, top half), Pedro Severino (?, Top 10) and Kieboom (?, Top 10), accepting those Severino and Kieboom numbers are very tentative (though Severino seems to consistently grade well in limited exposure). Next year it'll be between Yan Gomes (Top 10, Top 10) and Kurt Suzuki (average, top half). We also have to at least look at framing. Wieters is a pretty lousy framer, Severino a pretty good one, Kieboom we lack enough data for to say.  Gomes has been pretty average but had a good season last year. Suzuki has been pretty bad and was one of the worst last year. If the catcher situation ends up being Gomes, with Suzuki as a back-up I'd say you can expect slighty better catcher defense. If we see more of a 50/50 split the Nats are probably actually taking a little step back.

So while the gut says - "No lackadaisical, out of position Bryce, No flat footed, injured Murphy - Nats defense must get better!" the analysis doesn't agree.  Second base had a lot of Difo last year who was really good, and neither Dozier or Kendrick will be any better than average. Corner OF will still likely be an issue. Catcher, despite the memories of NLDS Wieters, wasn't actually bad and won't likely improve.

I suppose you can figure out a way this cursory thought ends up being true. Turner is that good again. Soto gets better. Robles is one of the best CF of recent times. That would do it. But are we really going to say that's the likely scenario? 

This doesn't mean the Nats aren't better but are the Nats better because their defense is much improved? No.

Monday, March 04, 2019

Monday Quickie - Last words on Bryce

Now this won't be the last time we ever talk about Bryce. Going to the Phillies makes sure of that. However, there really isn't a reason to talk about him more than any other NL East opponent going forward. So I'll wrap up some final thoughts today and we can move forward picking apart the Nats pen or celebrating the arrival of Craig Kimbrel.  There is no inbetween.

There are some pundits who I think are engaging in some wishful thinking when it comes to Bryce and Philadelphia. We like, for whatever reason, to exaggerate the toughness of sports towns, but in general they follow the same rules as any other place.  If you meet expectations - you are treated well. If you meet expectations and win, and by that I mean championship appearances and victories - you are treated very well. If you do not meet expectations - you are treated poorly. 

The latter might differ by town, sure. But pretty much any sports crazy, media heavy town will be "tough". Boston, NY, Philly, Chicago. It also depends on the sport too. There are a lot of tough media markets for football because people care about that. Where I am now is a killer market for college basketball if you fail. So if Bryce really wanted a market that cared dearly about baseball he was going to find himself in this sort of potential situation.

I think it'll matter also what happens this year, first impressions are hard to shake. David Price, just helped the Red Sox win a World Series. They love him. There is also a lingering resentment toward him though - his attitude and performance those first two years.  A-Rod eventually helped the Yankees get a title, but it was almost a "thank god we don't have to talk about this loser anymore" situation with the fanbase because it was 7 seasons after arrival. Meanwhile guys like JD Martinez, one assumes, and Sabathia, I can vouch for, have basically passes for coming in and delivering.

Yes, yes attitude matters, but production matters more.  No one is talking about Bryce's hair tosses if he delivered 4 straight seasons like 2015. In the end that's what's going to make him loved or hated. He can't "effort" his way to their hearts. That's for guys with low expectations. Guys like Bryce need to perform. If he does it'll be great. If not it will be rough

Friday, March 01, 2019

Once Smitten, Bryce Bye

Trying too hard? Probably trying too hard.

I'm not going to be able to relate to you on a base level here. I thought Bryce was fun. I still think Bryce is fun*. That he's not on the Nats kind of sucks, but I harbor no ill will to the Phillies so this doesn't mean the same to me as it does to you. So in lieu of that I'm not going to try to tell you how to react or how to feel.  Anything right now is fine. You're venting. Anything in April that falls short of "I hope he gets injured" is fine. Fans aren't supposed to be rational.

But me, my automaton circuits are functioning just fine. Time for some analysis, first starting with what this isn't.

This isn't Bryce vs every other FA the Nats have signed.

Some people (like Mike O'Connor?) are trying to break down the analysis as if it's Bryce vs every free agent the Nats brought in.  This is silly presupposing the Nats would have signed no one if Bryce stayed. I mean Hellickson and Adams were literally here with Bryce last year. And Bryce isn't the only guy who isn't on the team from last year and thus is part of the "gone" side of the equation. The measurement should be

Corbin, Suzuki, Rosenthal, Barraclough, Gomes, Dozier, Sanchez
Bryce, Murphy, Gio, Roark, Kintzler, Madson, Wieters, Kelley (some can be addition by subtraction)

This is not about money balance (below would have cost more to keep than above cost to procure), it'a about team evaluation. The team is better off with what group? Personally, I think the latter is better, no doubt. 

Of course this is a vacuum question. Along with the money, we also need to see how these guys fit into the team. Bryce is far better than "no Bryce" but Bryce is also presumably needed less because the Nats have OFs. Anyway - just don't do what O'Connor did as an evaluation is all I'm saying. 

This isn't We don't need Bryce we have Juan Soto. 

Soto may very well be a generational hitter, replacing Bryce, who when healthy was a generational hitter. He certainly put up numbers his rookie year that suggest that. The thing is 2019 isn't about Soto replacing Bryce in the lineup. Why? Because Soto was already in the lineup. For like 120 games. With Bryce.

The Nats are going to get more Soto next year but it's not that he steps in to replace Bryce. It'd be more accurate to say Eaton does (he only played 95 games) or Robles does (21). But regardless of how you put this together - where some combination of Eaton, Soto, Robles, replace some combination of MAT & Bryce & etc. from last year - the point I want to make is the Nats had Bryce and Soto together for 3/4 of last year. It wasn't enough. Soto can't just replicate last year in this equation and the Nats be fine. He needs to be better and/or Eaton needs to at least as good as he was for a full season and/or Robles needs to be better than MAT.

None of this is in itself outside the bounds of possibilities, but note you are asking for several things to fall into place and even if they are likely things, stack enough together and the odds of them all happening are slim. (this was my "watch out for the OF" point from last off-season which came true although Soto saved it from being THE massive problem that killed the team. Instead it was just a problem mainly early in the year)

Ok - but we know what the Nats are without Bryce as we have wrapped our heads around it for a while. Well at least in part. We know offensively they are a team with few holes, who might not be better without Bryce but have put together a 1-8 offense that makes you doubt they'll be much worse, if at all this year. So Top 5ish. We THINK they'll be better defensively because there has been a lot of talk about how bad the fancy stats had Bryce last year but guess what? Soto was almost as bad, as a rookie, playing exclusively corner OF. And while Robles is supposed to be great. MAT IS great. so let's hold off on the better D talk until we see if Robles can match MAT and if Soto can improve.

The question is more what are the Phillies with Bryce? Well here's the offensive changes from last year and their 2018 OPS+ (as best we can - guys like Hoskins and Kingery will move around but no need to have them in both replace and replaced positions)

Realmuto (131) for Alfaro (95)
McCutchen (118) for Santana (105)
Bryce (133) for Nick Williams (99)
Segura (112) for Hernandez (94) / Kingery (61)**

One can quibble that maybe Realmuto had a career year or Bryce could do much better, but on face value you are taking 4 very average bats and replacing them with two above average bats and two very good bats. If you assume Hoskins (125), Franco (106), and Odubel (94) remain the same that's a lineup that's just as deep as the Nats, meaning a Top 5ish squad with potential for more.

But is that enough? The Phillies had a pitching staff that was just as unimpressive as the batting order last year and their work so far is - sign David Roberston. Roberston is good, and I'd listen to anyone who wants to say the Phillies pen grades out better than the Nats*** but that still leaves the starting staff. That still leaves

Nola, old Arrieta, Pivetta, Velasquez, Eflin
Max, Stras, Corbin, Sanchez Vasquez, part-time Hellickson

Nola is great. Max is better. Maybe age makes you consider that a push. Fine. Stras is better than Arrieta. Corbin is leaps and bounds better than Pivetta. VasquezSanchez is better than whatever guy you line up at 4. Hellickson part time is no worse than whoever you line up at 5.

There's no comparison here. Nats starting staff is better and gives the Nats the edge still, even with Bryce switching sides.

There are certainly paths to the Phillies beating the Nats this season. There's not more than a few games difference now between the two and injuries and surprise performances can easily make those things up (and probably should be expected to) but today looking at the teams - Bryce makes Philly a division threat and a likely playoff team in my mind, but he doesn't make them an NL East favorite.

*Some people have tried to play Bryce up as one of those types that you love on your team but hate everywhere else. I think that's mostly projecting. Bryce is a showboat yes, but he's never been a jerk. To put it in NY Giants terms - he's Odell Beckham, not Jeremy Shockey. You can certainly hate him, but it's not because he's THAT guy.

** Hernandez is pencilled in as the starter at 2nd but is both hurt and you KNOW they want Kingery to win that position. Of course if he wins it he's likely to be much better than a 61 OPS+

***First one to average wins! 

Thursday, February 28, 2019

Bryce to Phillies

Demands a new locations. Have at it for now

Update :

Now free to talk about details, Barry notes the Nats deal may have up to 100 MILLION in deferred money.  

Wednesday, February 27, 2019

Happy Zimm Day - we think


According to reports we should see Zimm today.  This is good, not because Zimm really needs to play in a lot of Spring Training games but because of last year's nonsense. If you are 1 year old and reading this blog, first off - EVERYBODY BE SCARED OF SUPER SMART BABY, second - a recap.

Last year Zimm skipped out on Spring Training. He and the team told everyone it was a new take on Spring, a veteran trying to rest up and a team willing to let him. Meanwhile, everyone with a brain said "Hmmm, that doesn't seem right considering no one has chosen to do that in the history of the game.  Perhaps he is injured?" For questioning the team, Chelsea Janes got real snarky with fans about it basically saying "I know and you don't", while Boz wrote "Sounds like an interesting plan" columns.  Turns out the fans weren't stupid. He was injured.

Today should be a nice little come-uppance day but Chelsea (who half apologized with a "that's what they told me!") has since moved on to a political beat, and Boz (who ignored it) continues to ignore it, framing last years No Zimm in Spring still as a choice they made, as opposed to the reality of being an injury avoidance/recovery measure. Oh well. I guess we'll just have to be happy about being correct.

One thing Boz noted in his Q&A yesterday, or maybe it was the column last year was that Zimm was tired of hitting so well in the Spring and feeling like that was being wasted. Of course that's a stupid thing to think but did he even hit well in the Spring? Turns out - he totally did! I didn't do any math but it's like he's a lifetime .320 hitter with 40 homers in 180 Spring games.  I only saw like one Spring where you'd say he didn't hit well. Guy loves to hit off mediocre pitchers trying out things.

 The other talk of yesterday was Rendon's contract desires and how that will be adjusted compared to Arenado's extension. Rendon is a weird cat, who actively talks about not really liking baseball and not making this his whole life, so there's no real telling what will happen.  The numbers would put his contract between Altuve's effective 7/168 and Arenado's 8/260.  8/210? 7/200?  But for all we know he could take a 5/100 deal to go back to Houston. Or quit the game. Or demand top dollar and a NY team.  Seriously I can't read this guy.

Monday, February 25, 2019

Monday Quickie - Let us be free

Is today the day (like I was saying last week, as it is probably the best day marketing wise) or perhaps tomorrow (as I'm hearing more buzz around)? Regardless, please let it happen. Let us be free of the Bryce Harper story, and let the other chips fall where they may so we can really start figuring out the lay of the land going into the season.

The Nats continue to sell Bryce as the reason they didn't win anything, which I guess is as good as anything they are going to come up with that's not "It's Davey's fault and we're sorry we didn't keep Dusty around basically wasting a year to take this shot"

The big news from the weekend, in case you were off doing other things, is that Koda Glover couldn't make it through his first appearance, leaving with elbow tightness. Koda was always supposed to be the next big thing in the Nats bullpen, which especially matters for a team like the Rizzo-led Nats, who tend to put all their pitching hopes into one young basket. But performance has lagged and injuries have dogged and we stand today no real idea of if Koda will ever be an effective pitcher.

The Nats bullpen is the one glaring question mark for a team otherwise deep (line-up contstruction) or top heavy and no worse than any other team at the bottom (rotation). 

Assuming the Nats start with 8 men in the pen (reasonable - especially at year's start). Here are the men you can expect will be there and their stats from last year

The Given
Doolittle  1.60 ERA, 0.600 WHIP, 1.89 FIP,  45IP
Rosenthal DNP
Barraclough 4.20 ERA, 1.329 WHIP, 4.98 FIP, 55.2 IP

The Likely
Miller  3.61 ERA, 1.127 WHIP, 4.44 FIP,  52 IP
Grace 2.87 ERA, 1.140 WHIP, 3.40 FIP, 59.2 ERA

The Probable
Glover  3.31 ERA, 1.408 WHIP, 4.69 FIP, 16.1 IP
Suero 3.59 ERA, 1.217 WHIP, 3.48 FIP, 47.2 IP

That's... ok? Doolittle can be a dominant closer but his health is in constant question. 2017, when he threw 51.1 IP was the closest he's been to a full season since 2014.  Rosenthal has to be considered an unknown. The rest is a mish-mash. There's potential to be decent but also potential to be lousy and you split the difference and you get the uninspiring likely situation.

The 8th space is a wild card. Joe Ross (5.06, 1.313, 5.85, 16) as a long reliever makes the most sense. Especially given a repeat of the "Hellickson for 5" plan from last season. Solis (6.41, 1.551, 4.92, 39.1) would give them another lefty and also is up for his last chance. Cordero (5.68), Williams (5.59), Voth (6.57), and McGowin (5.87) are all also still on the 40 man.  You do see something in common though with these guys. They all kind of stink. It's a lot of small sample sizes, but still, no one is really fighting that impression. 

With Koda getting hurt you are already looking to dip two deep into these guys and frankly that's probably two deep too many. 

We'll see how this shakes out. I'm sure someone is going to look good in Spring, get fans excited, and win a job by that alone. And if Doolittle and Rosenthal look healthy and right - that's a strong back end. Still, if you are looking for an Achilles heel for the 2019 Nats, that isn't "injuries", this is it. It's a place where the Nats are walking into the season where an average performance would be welcome, and a poor performance unsurprising. 

Friday, February 22, 2019

Let's talk about... *gasp*... baseball!

Could it be? Baseball is really back! I mean meaningless Spring Training games but still, real baseball players, doing real baseball things. More importantly - not contract talk!

Ok, yes, we are just biding time between now and my annual "pay no attention to Spring Training stats" post and then between that and the first game, but still, baseball!

So what baseball things do we have to talk about? For one, we can talk about what we need to be watching for from the Nats this spring. The Nats are mostly set - you can probably guess all the starters and 24 of the 25 man roster right now. However that doesn't mean spring will be entirely without interest.

How does the bullpen shake out?

We know how it's supposed to shake out. Doolittle closes. Rosenthal sets up. Then someone steps up to be that "7th inning guy" - or if you hate that term "next in line, who comes in during important times". Then the rest fills in.  BUT...

  • Doolittle spent most of the 2nd half of 2018 injured, putting in normal use during a scant two week period from Sept 8th through Sept 20th.  He did look fine and the low use finish to the season was the usual "why push our guys" tapering that'll happen with a non-playoff team, but still that's only 6 real inning of pitching after around July 4th. 
  • Rosenthal spent ALL of ALL of 2018 injured, having last pitched in a major league game in August of 2017.  I hope I don't need to tell you why this might be concerning. 
  • The rest of the Nats pen didn't step up last year.  Solis had a moment, then flopped. Miller had a moment, then cooled. Glover is still waiting for his moment. Suero is just fine and unlikely to have a moment. Grace... I can't be snarky, he was good. Out of the Nats "other" relievers last year the most effective by FIP were Greg Holland (gone) and Brandon Kintzler (gone).  It's not that there isn't a decent pen here, it's just that it's the usual mess that once every three years gives the Nats a 2016 bullpen, and the other two years gives them something less than that. 

So there is something to watch here - are Doolittle and more so Rosenthal ok? Is anyone stepping up in Spring, if only to get the first shot at that 3rd best man role in April?

What's on second?

Howie Kendrick was another Nats injury from 2018, rupturing his Achilles in mid May and missing the rest of the year. Supposedly he's fine, but the Nats weren't so sure themselves bringing in Brian Dozier to help man second. Dozier has a stronger history at the base, but has seen his production taper in recent years and at the end of 2018 looked unplayable in the field.

If Howie is ok, and all early indications is he is, who starts? Dozier is a righty so there is no natural platoon and Howie can play anywhere, so the strong likelihood is that Kendrick starts off on the bench as a super-utility player. But how long can you not start a guy who when healthy has hit to a tune of .311 with solid pop? What if I tell you Dozier - who hit .215 last year - struggles all through spring?

Is 5th starter up for grabs?

The 5th starter position seems like it is a secret battle. Sure they did sign Hellickson to fill that role, but at 32 and spending half of 2018 out, everyone recognizes he is merely a stop gap until they find something better. They have two pitchers who might be that. Joe Ross, the other guy in the Trea Turner trade that was supposed to make that a "best trades of all-time" dealie, and a guy with 3 more seasons of control, finally is healthy and looks ready to see if he can get back to 2016 form. Erick Fedde, the guy they gambled on being the best of their AAA bunch when they traded away their starting pitching depth, is still here and is almost certainly their preferred winner of this battle.

Most likely it will be Hellickson. Fedde has looked bad in the majors and it is easy enough to send him back down to AAA under the guise of getting more work.  Ross, while harder to justify sending down to AAA (what are you going to say you are doing - stretching him out? He started 3 games at the end of last year.) can be shifted to the pen to be the 2-3 inning long man the Nats are currently without. However, I don't take this to be given since I think the Nats prefer Fedde, Ross, then Hellickson in a perfect world.

Is it really Victor or bust? 

Robles is penciled in as the Nats starter in CF. He can play the position well and hit well in his major league time at the end of last year.  But if he struggles in the Spring and MAT, who plays the position great, is on fire - do the Nats stick to their guns?  You have to hope they do, MAT has had his chances and Robles has little more to prove he deserves a shot at starting, but spring stats make teams do funny things sometimes.

There you go - real baseball talk! I had an idea to jibber-jabber about Bryce at the end, but let's leave this nice and pure for the weekend.

Wednesday, February 20, 2019

Manny dollars for Bryce?

Manny is a Padre!

Well he isn't really. Not yet. But it's in the "if this falls apart something has gone horribly wrong" stage. It's 10/300 which is right on target for what people were saying he would get, in October. We went on a wild ride to get there, but we got there. Is the same thing going to happen for Bryce?

On one hand the deal with the Padres forces the two known suitors for both (re: White Sox, Phillies) into a bad position. Bryce signs with the other guy and you'er left with an off-season that's probably unsatisfactory to your fanbase. On the other hand, another suitor is removed from Bryce's list meaning if the remaining three (throw in the Giants) aren't as serious about the money they want to give him, then his bargaining power drops.  How much do these guys want Bryce?

Are the Nats still in it? Maybe. It seems like the potential contract won't blow the Nats supposed 10/300 out of the water, and if it's 10/315 or the like would the Nationals let Bryce walk for that difference? But all indications from the Nationals, and Bryce, since the beginning of the off-season has been the same. Bryce is gone. Nothing about that has changed and in fact that take has only grown louder (see Boz's column and recent Rizzo interviews).

When it boils down to it, we want to know two things. Is Bryce coming back? If not, is Bryce ending up in the NL East? That's what matters. The first answer has been a no for a while, despite the attempts to talk it into yes. The second question has been "if the Phillies pay him" for the same amount of time. We continue to sit and wait that out because while contract talk is all well and good, what matters is how the 2019 season plays out.

Why'd the Padres do it? Plenty of reasons. Machado might be worth it on the field. It gives them a star to market around. They are trying to catch the moment the organizational depth develops, rather than be reactive to it. They still aren't good. Maybe they are .500. But the NL West looks pretty favorable for them in the near future. The Giants are presumably about to begin a rebuild. The Diamondbacks are in the midst of one already (for some reason). The Rockies are a good team, but also were lucky last year could lose Arenado which would put them on par with the Padres. If the guys they think will develop develop and maybe they sign one more big pitcher and you've got a high 80s win Padres team.  Now I haven't mentioned the Dodgers, who should remain very good in upcoming years, but it's a should. Things happen and if the Dodgers fall the Padres could find themselves with a nice little run. At the very least they should be a consistent 2nd place team in the 2020-2022 range assuming they keep doing what they are doing and grab a WC or two. 

The Bryce and Manny saga has blinded us to the other decent players still out there who could effect the NL East.  Where is Keuchel going, Marwin, Kimbrel. It's been so very quiet out there on those guys and they could be difference makers in what looks to be a tight race. We should be starting to set-up our predictions for the year, but with these guys still out there, you gotta hold off for now.

Monday, February 18, 2019

Monday Quickie - Maybe they listened?

Bryce talk got super-heated yesterday but at the same time until the pen hits the paper and the contracts are signed that's all it is. I've been kind of working with idea that the 300 million contract the Nats offered Bryce was more a "300 million" contract "offered" Bryce.  As in -  maybe the contract was deferred to the end of time, maybe the contract was filled with team options, maybe it was never really offered at all.  At the time it seemed like it served both the Nationals and Boras/Bryce to put it out there that the Nats would pay 300 million but Bryce wouldn't take it.  If that's the case - that this may not be real - who's to say any other contract we hear about is?

Meanwhile Boz wrote a mouthpiece column, speaking for whichever sources wanted to get the idea out that Bryce was a fundamentally bad player that was making the Nationals worse. Is it true? Well, no. That's not how it works. Bryce was too good at the plate (yes - dammit this is true, stop convincing yourself it is not) to hurt the team overall. However, he could still have been fundamentally flawed which hurt his value.

The rest of the column is classic Nats excuse making and sanctioned sniping. An unnamed player hilariously told Boz "Write it!" regarding an insult about Bryce but couldn't be bothered to attach his name. In the column it's noted that they have tried to be good fundamentally and last year it failed. Of course it's pretty easy to note that Bryce wasn't just on the team last year, although a certain skipper was. There are digs at Daniel Murphy's fielding, which is fair, but none for Ryan Zimmerman who couldn't field and faked being ok to start the year. There's digs on Bryce's fielding, playing a good deal of time out of position, but not a word of wunderkind Juan Soto who with the athleticism of a 19 year old couldn't put up even a blah season in the field. There's digs on Bryce as a leader, but then praise for Jayson Werth who, as I remind you constantly, also "led" the team to two missed playoffs season, no playoff series wins, back bit every manager he had, and couldn't be bothered to stay out of jail. There's talk of Howie Kendrick being a team leader (one playoff series wins since 2009) and Brian Dozier being a clubhouse leader (no playoff series wins until the Dodgers drug his body to the world series last year) and Yan Gomes being a clubhouse leader (remember the 2016 Indians playoff run? Yeah Gomes got hurt and barely played) and Suzuki being a clubhouse leader (nope).  Apparently finding a clubhouse leader who plays well in the playoffs leading to a team winning a series is impossible.

The Nats are good at looking at themselves and identifying flaws, but they aren't good at then accepting that the current team are the ones with them. It's always the guys who are gone. Be it the managers who get blamed and tossed at an alarming rate. Or the relievers traded away after they get mad at questionable usage patterns. Or, as we see now with Murphy and Bryce leaving, the star bats with bad fielding. The fix has always already happened it seems.

I don't know. It feels like we've heard this story all before. We have enough talent to win the East. Win the East and no one can control what happens in the playoffs. Rinse. Repeat.  I don't know what I'm after right now, but I know it's something different.