Nationals Baseball: Monday Quickie : JT Real-ly Still Not Enough

Monday, February 11, 2019

Monday Quickie : JT Real-ly Still Not Enough

At the end of last week, while we were mourning Frank, the Phillies pulled off a big trade. They got JT Realmuto, arguably the best catcher in baseball right now to augment their offense.

First off, was it a good deal?
Is JT Realmuto that good? Yes! If we just look at last year offensively here is Realmuto's line
.277 / .340 / .484
And here are the next best offensive lines for "full-time" catcher
.259 / .378 / .431
.241 / .349 / .466

A step behind at least. Only a few catchers - Grandal, Gary Sanchez, Mike Zunino, Sal Perez, maybe Austin Hedges and Robnison Chirinos - showed the power Realmuto showed. Only a few catchers - Ramos, Elias Diaz, Posey, Oscar Narvaez, Suzuki - hit for average like Realmuto. Only a few catchers - Contreras, Lucroy, Grandal, Molina, Barnhart. James McCann, Martin Maldanado, Gomes, Zunino - caught as many innings as Realmuto.

Notice there aren't a lot of overlap here. You see Grandal - another top target this offseason. Zunino - who was targeted in a trade. But only Realmuto is tops in all three categories. This doesn't consider that Realmuto is considered a good defender (he is), that he's relatively young (will turn 28 just before the season starts), has a favorable contract (cheap for another 2 years) or mentioning his level of play has been high for three years now. He's produced 25% more fWAR than the 3rd best catcher, 20% more bWAR - although he's 2nd to Posey here. Don't get caught up in the mumbo jumbo here. Just know the fancy stats agree with what you would get from eyeballing catcher stats over the past few years. JT Realmuto is probably the best catcher in baseball, significantly better than even some guys that might sneak into a Top 5 list, and he's a huge value.

But you don't get that for nothing. The Phillies gave up...
Jorge Alfaro, who is a good athlete (pretty fast for a catcher) who has consistently improved defensively while offensively he is a huge free swinger (very few walks, lots of Ks) with good power. The combination of all that gets you a catcher who is fringy Top 10ish. That's both good (Top 10!) and bad (Top 10 catchers are very average players) but he's perfect for the Marlins giving them a dirt cheap answer at catcher for another two years and a cheap one until 2023. If he improves his approach even a little bit the Marlins will be very happy. If he doesn't, well at least C isn't a worry spot.

Sixto Sanchez, who is a pitching prospect who is battling his first set of questions as he goes into the real deal AA minors in 2019. The first part is being harsh, but such is the life of a prospect. At 18 in low A he had perfect control and was almost unhittable. In High A last year he still had good control, but it wasn't perfect, and still kept the hits down, but wasn't unhittable. High A batters got around on his stuff more often and as he's not a huge strikeout pitcher, there is concern that at the next step he'll begin to see some real obstacles to overcome. This isn't a huge deal, and he'd probably not even be dinged for these normal development questions except for the fact he got hurt last year, only started 8 games, and didn't pitch in the Fall League as expected.  If he's right, he should quickly get into the majors... probably 2020 being cautious. If he's not...

The last piece, Will Stewart, showed some solid promise in A ball last year but is not young (will be 22 in high A this year which is about on target) and is primarily a guy that depends on getting grounders. That can be tough to translate if he can't keep those Ks up above a certain level.

It's a big package but the Phillies  didn't derail their chances over the next two years by doing this trade. Alfaro is ok, but Realmuto is very good and playing the same position as Alfaro is a strict upgrade.  Sixto was supposed to be the next ace for the Phillies, but given his injuries it was probably 2021* at best. Will Stewart wasn't coming along any quicker. Does this effect the long term plan for the Phillies? Yes. But you know what started that effect? The fact that nothing they hoped for last year came to pass. No starting pitcher break out. No OF break out. Kingery was terrible. Crawford remained terrible. Alfaro regressed. Santana aged. They have some pieces in place for the now, but nothing outside of Nola and Hoskins that would reliably bridge the gap between now and when maybe a new batch of young players comes to help.  Maybe.

The team was built to compete in 2019 and beyond and not buying into today means very possibly resetting for another rebuild. This trade helps buy into today.

But is it enough? Is it enough to generate a playoff caliber offense when combined with Segura AND McCutchen? Is it enough without bumping up the starting pitching?  Probably not.  The Phillies hitting was bad.  Not terrible mind you, but the worst of the rest. McCutchen and Segura help. Realmuto helps more. But the end result is still a line-up that you don't see being anything more than maybe above averge. This means the pitching needs to match that above average level to get the Phillies in playoff position** and they were below average in that last year as well.  While the improvements in the pen help, it probably only gets them to around average. This is a team a little over .500 (81-83 wins) as it stands, and probably on the lower end given the level of competition in the NL East.

At this point, signing Keuchel, and getting to two not quite Top 5 groups and around 85/86 projected wins, might work in a normal division but in the East? I don't see it. No they still need what we've talked about before Bryce or Machado AND Dallas.  Do they do it? I don't know. But I do know they still CAN do it after this move, since Realmuto is not expensive. And I also know right now they are a healthy Mets rotation from still being projected 4th in the division despite all their moves.

*Phillies might have pushed it if he looked healthy this year and dominated AA because they really need that last starter. 

**Generally playoff teams excel at both areas (Top 5ish hitting and pitching), sometimes they are the best at one area and get carried by that, and every once in a while sneak in while being just above average in both.


Josh Higham said...

The goons reading MLB Trade Rumors voted for Atlanta and Philly (29% and 28%) as the teams "best positioned to win the NL East" in the immediate aftermath of the JT trade. Nats 25% and Mets 16%.

It's really hard for me to buy any argument that relies on the weak rotations in Atlanta and Philly both being likely to be better than the rotations in NY and DC, or the offenses so dominant as to make up for a weak rotation.

Ole PBN said...

Back when Miami was asking us for Robles AND Soto+... they settle for this package? This seems way less than what they were asking the Nats for last season...

sirc said...

The guys on the catchers top 10 list show on MLB Network weren't bullish on Realmuto. Even the sabermetrics guys were claiming Realmuto was default best catcher in baseball, or that him being #1 indicates a down period for the position.

Realmuto is good not great.

Robot said...

Yeah, this is definitely a lot less than Robles + Soto...

blovy8 said...

I am with OBN - this, THIS is what they accepted? How did the Red Sox et al not give them a better offer?

blovy8 said...

Sirc, I was thinking that too, but my second thought was when you look at what recent top catching prospects like Mejia have not done, and how seldom a good, all-around/durable catcher comes along. Alfaro was one of those guys, and his K rate has really held him back. He probably has the best arm back there, which doesn't means much anymore, it'll be tough on him trying to hit for power in Miami.

Anonymous said...

Despite the tone of this post by Harper, I think this means we need to sign Bryce back, even if it means being hamstrung 5 years down the line. Where are we going to replace his power in the lineup? This is shaping up to be the most competitive NL east we have had in years, and I think we're fooling ourselves if we EXPECT Robles to have an above-average year, Soto to repeat his 2018 campaign, Zim to do anything other than continue to decline, Dozier to bounce back, and Strasburg to pitch the 170 innings you mentioned. I think the only reasonable expectations are for Rendon to be Rendon and Trea to hit 270 with 40 bags swiped. Matt Adams will not go on the tear he went on while stepping in in 2018.

Now imagine how opposing pitchers attack the rest of our lineup, without the threat of Bryce? We are already going to have money issues in a few years, with the Lerners' obsession with deferred money. I don't see us being in our current position (one move away from a WS run) in 2022-2025.

With a Bryce signing now we extend the window a couple more years. I'm sorry, but with this lineup and our shaky pitching staff, I could easily see us coming in third in the division. Yes, if all the chips fell into place exactly as we want, we could run away with the division without Bryce - but this is baseball, and that won't happen, and re-signing Bryce is the most clear option in front of us to improve our team right now.

billyhacker said...

Recently watched a review of all the balls Harper dropped last year - it was scary, like he was hurt. He dropped more balls that were in the high probability catch basket than any other outfielder, also in the next basket. Harper hurt the defense (and pitching). Even if Robles can't hit, making the pitchers pitch less by catching everything should have a big impact. Eaton will also probably finally be back - his injury was bad enough that you can't expect last year to have been a real return. The combination of Nats pitching with a *functional outfield should be a really substantial defensive upgrade. *Maybe Soto just becomes slightly below average...

Also, Soto was a better hitter in his age 19 season than Bryce was. Soto was also a better hitter than Bryce was last year. Why would you think Bryce would be better than Soto next year? Baseball Reference has Bryce in 2018 at 1.3 bWAR and Soto at 3 bWAR in 2/3 as many at bats. I know who I want playing.

Harper's 2018 OPS+: 133. Soto's: 142. It's not even really close.

DezoPenguin said...

@Anon: Seriously, I do not understand how your prediction is that EVERY question mark in the Nats lineup will fail. The last player who hit like Soto at Soto's age was...Bryce Harper, the guy you're advocating be brought back. Yes, Robles might not be an immediate star (it's more likely he's simply a quality player, 2017 Michael Taylor with more upside and not so dependent on getting lucky at the plate), Eaton might get hurt, etc. Adams has been Adams for several years now; he's highly predictable. Zim, similarly--he's probably not going to hit like 2017 but even when he's hitting poorly he still rakes against lefties and hey, we have a bench guy who rakes against righties.

Our projected power output without Bryce is something like:

LF (Soto): 20-30
CF (Robles): c. 15
1B (Zim+Adams): c.30
2B (Dozier): c. 20 (assuming some regression)
SS (Turner): c. 15
3B (Rendon): 20-25
C (Gomes+Suzuki): 15-20

No, we don't have that one guy who can mash 40 HR unless Dozier makes a complete comeback to his 2016-7 self, but every spot in the lineup except Eaton is actually a legitimate source of power (and Eaton's a textbook leadoff hitter, who puts up an OBP north of .380 when healthy).

Yes, Bryce would make the lineup better than Eaton, that's unquestioned. But unless we get a perfect storm of injuries and failure, the kind of disaster than we'd need two or three Bryces to insulate against (and let's face it, Bryce himself isn't immune to variance), the lineup we have is going to be more than adequate.

The pitching staff is much more likely to be the source of problems: Hellickson requires solid bullpen work behind him, making him more suited for a team like the Brewers; we're counting that Sanchez is actually good again and that Corbin is great instead of good after the changes they've made to their pitching ; Strasburg is less of an injury risk than an injury inevitability; Max has to get old sometime and we're just hoping it's four years from now; and the depth behind these five is at best shaky. Meanwhile the bullpen currently features three guys with injury questions (Doolittle, Rosenthal, Glover), four guys with quality questions (Barraclough, Miller, Grace, Suero), and one guy who's just not good (Solis). There are a lot more questions with the pitching than with the lineup and the bad outcomes are a lot more likely.

(Actually, the best impact for 2019 of signing Bryce Harper is that he turns Eaton into a trade chip that could bring back some quality help: the Giants, for example, would surely give us Will Smith + further parts to shore up the 'pen.)

Anonymous said...

same anon here -

billy: it is not an either/or scenario re: bryce and soto - eaton is the one that would get bumped, and presumably traded for bullpen relief, which would help the pitching staff a lot more than bryce in RF (and bryce driving in 100 runs, hitting to the tune of .850 OPS at WORST)

dezo:i didn't mean to say that every question mark will fail, just highlighting that we have a lot of big IFs in our lineup. after being a bryce skeptic for a long time, i have really come to value that his floor really does seem to be above average.

blovy8 said...

Dozier has hit more homers and stolen more bases than Harper in the last three years. Not saying they're the same level of scary, but it's not easy hitting 42 homers in Minnesota, that's a big park. If there's one guy you might think our launch angle guru coach could revive, it's him. You pick up 20 extra homers at 2nd and catcher, you can live with Eaton hitting 15.

sirc said...

Your comment made me curious so I looked up home runs by ballpark. Nats Park was a launching pad in 2018.

5th most!

BxJaycobb said...

@billyhacker. Check out fWAR. Bryce is twice as valuable as his bWAR and basically same as Soto. Regarding their age 19 years, Bryce was easily more valuable at age 19 (5+ WAR) because until like last year (suspiciously) he was something resembling an all around player, which Soto never will be. It’s possible Soto is a generational hitting beast. But he’s a bad fielder and can’t really run even at 19. Which was not the case with Bryce. He’s still a better overall athlete than Soto if you look at arm and Statcast spring speed, despite whatever went on in the field last year. And he’s demonstrated a higher ceiling. Folks can look at last year and say “Bryce instantly became the worst outfielder in baseball at age 25). I need to see one more year of that. It seemed he was trying to not injure himself.

BxJaycobb said...

@Harper. Needed to just supplement one thing on Realmuto. He grades out very poorly as a framer, which teams value a ton these days but isn’t accounted for in WAR. (Mentioned by Keith Law, fangraphs folks in their write up of the trade). Which, if you believe in that as a key factor, makes him no better than Grandal, who by contrast, is great. But yes he is a solid defensive catcher at the other stuff. Just FYI.

Anonymous said...

I agree that Bryce's last year was likely somewhat outlier-y in terms of bad defense, but I do think you go to far assuming Soto can't improve. From what I've read, he came to baseball kind of late and had pretty bad fundamentals as an amateur (which is partly why he "only" got a ~$1.5 million dollar signing bonus.)

I remember reading a story about how they literally changed his gait and made him an above average runner from a below average runner. Given that, and his obviously extremely cerebral approach at the plate, I wouldn't be at all surprised that he learns to run much better routes. He's never going to be a defensive star, but I expect him to probably get to "average corner OF" by 2020.

Johnny Callison said...

I think if it weren't for Philly, Bryce would have already re-signed with the Nats after making a few noises about the Yankees, Padres, and Giants. Both players have problems--Machado plays SS/3B which should be a huge asset, but he turned a lot of people off with his "attitude." Bryce's streakiness scares people and his apparent attempt to stave off injury in 2018 made him a terrible defender; plus, outfielders are relatively abundant.

Both players have smaller than anticipated markets during an era of market correction and many of the teams they hoped to go to are set. If Soto hadn't bloomed, Harper would be a necessity for the Nats. NYY has outfielders and no room at first. The Dodgers are also stocked. SF has need but is doomed by age and money. Philly has room but Bryce apparently hates the city. So...will he live in a city he hates for a few extra bucks?

SD is interesting just because they are the anti-SF--their window may be just opening. I get the feeling that unless Philly pulls the trigger and maxes out for Bryce, this will run into early spring training. Or Bryce has an epiphany and realizes being the second highest paid is okay, and comes back to DC. This "highest paid" thing is ridiculous. With Trout coming on the market, Harper will not be the highest paid for long, nor should he be.

ssln said...

Spring training is about to begin and I see we are having the debate that goes on every spring. We are just one player away from winning it all and if we just sign X, we have a playoff spot (world series victory) rapped up. X is needed because he is the missing link to ultimate victory. This guy is going to fail, that guy is going to fail but the signing of X is going to save the club and bring us glory so just sign the SOB regardless of the cost.
There are a couple of things I find interesting. First, this plea is being made by fans in ten cities who all believe the same thing, that X (often a different X) is the key to post season victory. Second, the GM of all the contenders seem to be guilty of gross baseball malpractice because none of them see X as the final piece to a WS victory or X would have been signed long ago. Third, while each team's fans can see the question marks in his team's players and assumes that they will all have down years, the same fan takes for granted that the oposition's question marks will all perform at a high level which makes the signing of X a matter of life and death.
A few weeks ago we had a discussion of what is really important in baseball and what you remember. I was roundly criticized for saying the only thing that matters is championships. Some of the more fanciful ideas out there were "watching star perform on a daily basis". Good answer, we should have some fun with some of the other gems as the season progresses.
Bryce is a piece, not the answer. If he was the answer, we wouldn't have missed the playoffs last year. Baseball is an odd game. If he signs with the Phils, they will not be favored to win the WS series, if he signs with us, we won't be favored to win the series. There is no one player that will insure victory for us or any other team out there.
You want me to change my mind. Give me a 100% guarantee that Robles or Eaton won't have a better season than Harper. No one can do that so sometimes you just have to play the hand you are dealt and roll with it.

BxJaycobb said...

@Anon. Could be! I doubt it, just because defense and speed tends to get worse with age. But I mean it’s obviously possible. I think my “hot take”/unusual opinion is less on Soto and more on Bryce. There are just so few players in baseball history who have ages 19-25 seasons like he has had and then become mediocrities. So I am firmly in the “Bryce will win multiple other MVPs and go to Hall of Fame” camp, not the “he’ll be unplayable in outfield rarely be among top 5 hitters in MLB” camp, which seems to be the growing opinion.
@SSLN: If there are no injuries, I will give you a 100% guarantee that Bryce has a better year than Eaton. Robles obviously I can’t say that because maybe he hits .280/.350/.470 with 40 SB and his defense and is worth 5-6 WAR. Entirely possible. But I would be utterly and completely shocked if a healthy Eaton was more valuable than a healthy Bryce. It’s just inconceivable to me. People seem to still be thinking of Eaton as a guy who will play 140 games and have plus speed and defense and be worth 5 WAR maybe. That dude is gone. Unfortunately the injury snapped him of what made him dynamic. What we’re hoping for (or what I am hoping for) is a guy who gets on base a lot has some moderate pop—less than he did probably— and is an average corner defender and can stay on the field for like 110-120+ games. The gold glove defender who steals 25 isn’t returning I don’t think.

BxJaycobb said...

@SSLN: I shouldn’t say 100%. Your point that we can’t tell the future stands. But I can’t see any reason Eaton would be a more valuable player than Bryce if they’re healthy.

Anonymous said...

@ssln -

didn't see anyone saying that we are one player away from wrapping up the WS, and you're right, Bryce is just a piece, but add up enough pieces and you have a good team. i'm worried about winning the division and making the playoffs, and I think that bryce's variance has a much higher floor than Adam Eaton's variance. Bryce is not the answer, but the answer is also not "let's hope everyone keeps improving and no one gets injured."

Anonymous said...

MLBTR just said Bryce was not considering short term deals and the 10/$300 was off the table. Do we think this means hes likely to sign for less or more? Seems like $400 is never gonna happen but I'd be surprised if the Nats didn't keep the deal open if he was going to take it since they already felt comfortable enough paying that much

Harper said...

Anon - I see two paths

1) Machado gets over his "Yankee or WS contender or BUST" stigma - signs with Phillies (let's say 8/200), Bryce goes to San Fran for 10/330, with opt-outs and options.

2) Machado signs elsewhere and Bryce signs with Phillies for like 10/330

First one seems crazy - why go to San Fran for just a little more? - but I've always been skeptical on what exactly the Nats offer was (both teams had reasons to push a 10/300 that might have never really existed or might have been deferred until kingdom come)

Second one - is natural extension of having Phillies over a barrel and them having a ton of money and staring a 4th place finish in the face. I assume they have an offer out to Bryce now that's like the 8/200 I have pencilled in for Machado.

Anonymous said...

So basically we're waiting Machado to get over himself?!? Man, that guy lollygags at making up his mind as much as he does on the basepaths!

sirc said...

I don't understand.

The Nats offered Bryce 10/300, he declined and the Nats withdrew. Still, the Nats believed Bryce is worth 10/300.

And if Philly offers Bryce 10/330, the Nats wouldn't match the offer? The Nats would really let Bryce sign with a rival over $3 million per year? That's backup 1b money.

DezoPenguin said...

The Nats offered Bryce 10/300 at the beginning of the offseason, before they had spent more in free agency than literally every other team in all of MLB. Before they'd signed Corbin, and Sanchez, and Hellickson, and Rosenthal, and Suzuki, and Dozier, and Adams (speaking of the cost of a backup 1B). And when there were lots of options for trading Adam Eaton to help shore up some of the other places.

When Harper turned them down, Rizzo went out and rebuilt the team with the assumption that Harper wouldn't be there. At this point, the only way Harper returns to the Nats is if Ted Lerner says, "screw money; I have billions" and blows the luxury tax threshold away.

And maybe Lerner does that. But if he does that, I definitely want it to be because Lerner and Rizzo want Bryce on the team and have plans for how he makes the Nats better. I don't want them to spend $30M+ annually out of a budget and start cost-cutting next year because we don't want to watch Harper hit home runs in Philadelphia.

I just can't help but think that if there was a 10/$350M offer on the table out there, Bryce would have inked a contract already.

As for Machado (very much not relevant to the Nats directly, but hey), what I'd be most interested in knowing is whether he's still insisting that he wants to be a shortstop like he was last year. Because Manny Machado, Third Baseman is a star player in the Arenado-Rendon-Bryant-Ramirez tier of great 3Bs. Manny Machado, Shortstop is a much different proposition.

ssln said...

Interesting take from everyone. I don't see anyone offering BRYCE anything like 10 years or north of 300M. If someone was willing to do that, they should have made the offer already and not risked losing the boy wonder to someone else. We will see what happens and you can remind me if i get it wrong.
As for the Nats offer. I'm fairly sure it is off the table as in adios and don't let the door hit you in the tail on your way out. I think Rizzo had two plans of action for the off season. The first was nailing down Bryce and adding pieces around him. The second was adding Corbin and building around a big three starting pitchers. Bryce's money is long gone and the L's aren't going over the tax threshold to sign the boy wonder. This isn't Boston.
Harper took a chance that the Dodgers, Cubs or Yankees would come calling. They didn't and aren't likely to do so at this point. Remind me if i'm wrong on this. Harper isn't the brightest bulb out there so it is Boras who should be sweating.
As for BX's comment. Sorry but you don't get to limit my 100% guarantee request. Injuries are part of the game and both players have had them. That was my point. On paper Harper is easily better than Eaton but if Harper gets injured and Eaton doesn't then who is the better player? Harper gets to keep the player and the fans get to play what could have been. Isn't that what happened in 2017? It's all a crap shoot.

BxJaycobb said...

@harper. Harper (and everybody): I had a thought. For those of you who think managers are incredible important (I think they are very important but i just don’t think we have any real basis to say how important)......just read a piece about his Joe Maddon may be kinda sorta wearing out his welcome in CHC and this might be his last year. If you’re the Nats and they have another disappointing year.....what about throwing a really overwhelming deal at Maddon to come manage the (increasingly young) Nats in 2020. I know I know, why would the Lerners shell out for a manger and why would a manager want to manage for the Lerners....

BxJaycobb said...

@Ssln. “Lerners aren’t going over the tax threshold. This isn’t Boston.” The Lerners and Boston were the only to teams to go over the tax threshold last year? (Also I don’t think there’s any indication Bryce is less sharp than your usual baseball player. I don’t see any downside to him waiting this late unless true suitors have been bowing out of bidding. I don’t know they any have. If anything there seem to be more teams interested. Who knows. We’ll see.

@Dezo: those 3B are very much not in the same category. Ramirez is by himself as a 8+ WAR guy (right now). Machado is a level below that. Arenado and Rendon are a level below that (if you buy into altitude hard as i do). Bregman and Bryant are sort of wild cards because it’s unclear what their ceiling is, but they’re probably around the Machado level too. I guess my main point is that Jose Ramirez is better than all the other names by a large amount.

@Harper: You really think Bryce is going to make 130m more than Machado and Machado’s only making 25/year? I really doubt it.

BxJaycobb said...

@Harper: totally curious. why do you think SF is the spot if Phillies sign Manny? Sounds like in wake of clarification that Bryce isn’t considering short term deals, that means Giants are basically out. (According to folks I’m following).