Nationals Baseball: 3rd Level Nats Take - Rotation

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.


Zimmerman11 said...
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Zimmerman11 said...

RP next? Wiping away the improvements from D and SP? :( Make it hurt, soulless automaton!

DezoPenguin said...

@Zimmerman11: Remember, though, he's comparing the 2019 bullpen projection to the actual 2018 bullpen performance, and the 2018 bullpen was...not good. Doolittle was great, as expected, but also missed time. Madson's peripherals were OK but his actual performance was bad. Guys like Kintzler, Miller, Suero, Grace, were adequate, but not anything special. So while the bullpen is clearly the biggest weakness on the team going into 2019, barring injury, it doesn't look to be a significantly worse unit than what we got from it in 2018.

Commenting on the actual article, I think that with Hellickson and Sanchez we're basically weighing and trying to predict the effects of the changes they made in 2018. Sanchez, after several years of being actually bad at pitching, pretty well reinvented himself into a totally different pitcher last year, and we're betting that this sticks (I have a feeling that Suzuki's input helped to convince Rizzo of this). So I think that the projection systems are underrating him simply because they don't know the reasons why his 2018 performance improved drastically from 2015-2017. All they know is that he was crud for three years before suddenly getting good, so 2018 looks like a random outlier to the computers. Meanwhile, Hellickson was carefully controlled, because the first couple of times through the order he was quite good and the third time he was Sammy Solis. If these trends are reliable and predictable, then Hellickson will probably pitch well while he's out there, but be subject to a very quick hook. (Of course, there's also the possibility that for both of them the changes they made weren't actually responsible for their success, and that instead they just had overall lucky 2018s, in which case, oops.)

G Cracka X said...

Good stuff Harper. Any thoughts on Hellickson developing a slider, especially since Corbin, who allegedly has one of the best sliders in the game, is now on the team and theoretically could train him?

Josh Higham said...

I think Dezo's right. While this bullpen doesn't look to be very good, last year's bullpen was just a little shy of awful. By ERA the Nats bullpen was close to league average Only the Mets and Marlins had worse relief work than the Nats by FIP, and by xFIP only the Mets, Marlins, and Cardinals were worse. The bullpen didn't destroy the Nats as completely as they could have, thanks to dumb luck and a few really strong player-months.

If you're a strong glass half empty type, you can say that the Nats had a decent bullpen and project to have a slightly lousy one, a small fall off. If you're really optimistic, you can say Nats relievers were awful last year and should be pretty good this year. For my part, I think this is a totally standard Rizzo pen--could be pretty good, but potentially awful.

Harper said...

Z11 / Dezo - I think the bullpen would come out right now to be similar to last year so it won't wipe out anything. But still don't take that to be good. Last year they expected more, but had an off year and only managed to be average ish overall. This year has lower expectations to start so if it's off it could be a huge issue. Outside of Rosenthal potentially being himself again I don't see where the huge upside is here, while I can see the crash and burn potential.

But basically it's like the Mets rotation - projecting you have to take it one way even if you feel it will play out another.

GCX - no opinion till I see it in a real game. I'm never against things like this though.

Jimmy said...

There is no upside in the BP at all outside of Rosenthal. Barraclough is and will be solid. The rest upside is meh to serviceable. The only outside candidate for upside would be if they shifted Ross to the BP in a Stammen like capacity which isn't happening based on our lack of SP depth.

Jimmy said...

I actually think we have more depth at SP than last year though. Our 6-7 Sp options were Tommy Milone and Fedde going into the year. Having Ross is worth like .5 to whole win better than last year imho.

Mark said...

Gio was lights out in April and May and then he was mostly terrible after that. Say what you want about blaming losses on the pitcher but he was something like 2-12 after June 13... and over the course of his time with the Nats his walks per 9 were 4.3, almost a HR per 9 and a 1.53 WHIP. In my opinion, having watched most of the games, he was very lucky to not give up more runs than he did.

BxJaycobb said...

To me Joe Ross is a wildcard. If he perhaps after a month-plus in minors is able to get his sea legs back and is his former self or something approaching it by the second half (I think that’s neither unreasonably over optimistic nor pessimistic), then you’re talking about a big plus, this year and beyond. If he instantly gets hurt or can’t recover, then we’re super super thin.

BxJaycobb said...

@Harper Didn’t quite get a chance to comment on the defensive assessment. I guess I disagree with the take the D will be the same. Every change from last year is a defensive upgrade. I don’t see any changes that are downgrades. If you play Gomes as the starter and Suzuki as the decently high volume backup....that’s at minimum a push, and probably an upgrade from last year, since weiters is self evidently much worse than Gomes on D (maybe the backups make the improvement nullified or small). At second, Dozier is better than Murphy by a good amount, as is everybody on earth. But even if u r gonna go the route of “Difo actually played a lot”, that’s fine, but we’re going into the year with a superior defensive arrangement, so u can hardly call it a downgrade. Then in the outfield it’s clearly an improvement. A Robles Eaton Soto Taylor group of 4 OFs is better defensively than a group of Harper Eaton Soto Taylor.....I don’t see the argument for how this isn’t leaps and bounds better, besides “maybe against the scouting and results so far Robles is a bad defender”. Last year when an out fielder was hurt we were subbing in folks like Adams and Kendrick for a while, and then when Soto came up we were playing Harper in CF to get his bat in the lineup. Now, our fourth outfielder is a defensive beast. It’s therefore more of a big deal than “is Taylor or Robles better”? In terms of playing time it’s closer to comparing Harper to Robles. We now have 2 elite CF defenders, one of whom can be a defensive sub late in games or when Soto/Eaton have day off. Yeah Soto isn’t great. But he was there last year. So seems to me Catcher is an improvement, maybe slight, outfield is an improvement, possibly by a lot, and infield probably is close to the same.

BxJaycobb said...

By the way. Speaking of defense, I would argue the Braves might be the best defensive team in the NL. They are crazy good in the field.

Harper said...

BX - I don't know it
C - You seem to be relying on "Wieters obv so much worse" but stats don't bear that out. Catcher D is the iffiest of them but still usually terrible ones show. That being said, I agree with the general sentiment of "the more they plan Gomes the better D they'll get" but at a 50/50 split, which is what I'm going with - I still say push

2B - I'm not sure what you're saying here. Because the starting point of 2019 is better than the starting point of 2018 things are better? I only care what actually happened in 2018 and that was a lot of Difo. If Dozier goes down Day 1 and they play Difo all year then sure, 2019 works out with better D (and terrible O), but as planned now you expect a lot of Dozier and hence no better D than last year's 2/3 Difo, 1/4 Murphy, + rest.

CF - That only works if MAT's playing time is pretty similar but I think the plan is for it to be way less. Time is lost from Bryce (bad) and MAT (good), replace by more time from Eaton (bad), Soto (likely bad), and Robles (good). We can quibble about the percentages here.

I THINK what you are trying to get at is the defense, in case of break glass, should be better than last year. Dozier+Difo better than Murphy+Difo. The Robles/MAT OF better than the OF from last year. This is true. There's a sounder structure in place. BUT I'm not going by potential D's vs potential Ds, I'm looking at actual D from last year vs planned D for this year. Those two should wash imo.

BxJaycobb said...

@Harper. I understand what you’re saying but I predict the Nats defense is clearly superior to last year’s. At catcher I’m looking at the stats and like....Weiters is bad by all of them. Not scary bad but bad. Gomes is a defensively excellent catcher. Suzuki would have to be frighteningly bad for it to be the same as last year—-particularly when you take framing into account.

Then i think the outfield is going to be the biggest gap from last year. The Nats outfield last year was horrible. I think the bats outfield defense this year should be average. Just a guess. Infield I’m sure will be sort of the same.

BxJaycobb said...

I think the Nats offense should be similar to last year, starters better, pen similar, defense better. The problem is I don’t think we’ve done quite enough to keep up with the division.

Kevin Rusch said...

I think it's fair to count the 6th and 7th starter in the "rotation depth", which should be better with Ross around.

I'm starting to get the impression the Nats don't want Kimbrel - he's too much of a DC Strangler type, and could cause big problems. I'd really rather they signed Sipp and someone else -- there are a handful of reliable-and-decent arms out there. (Holland and Sipp would do nicely, IMO)

Also, to get good performance of the #5 spot, here's your plan: A middle reliever pitches the first inning to get through the top of the order. Hellickson comes in the 2nd inning and stays through the 26th batter, whenever that happens. Then Ross finishes the game. That gives you several innings of Ross on regular rest, but should keep him below 160 innings for the season. Hellickson faces the top of the order twice and the bottom 3 times, giving you ~5 innings of his best work every 5 days. Most of the bullpen gets a day off, and you get pretty good pitching.

Johnny Callison said...

Sammy Solis released by Nats. I'm now waiting for the other shoe to drop--a signing of some sort, perhaps? Sipp? A trade of some sort? I think most of us agree that the BP as currently constituted is in a high-risk, high-reward situation and one more quality arm would really help. I'm guessing something's coming, but I doubt it's Kimbrel. He's probably still asking too much. I wonder when he'll realize he's probably only going to get 2 years, 3 tops. I'd do 2 on him, I think. No more.

Looks like releasing Solis frees up just a little bit of money, not all that much.

DezoPenguin said...

I'm 100% behind the cutting of Solis, though I don't really understand why we'd tendered him a contract in the first place (Rosenthal and Barraclough were our only additions; all the other guys--Doolittle, Glover, Miller, Grace, Suero--were already on the team).

I'm guessing that unless there's another move (Sipp?) coming, that Nuno starts the season with the team, as a third left-hander and designated "give us three innings in a blowout" guy. I still think Suero starts in the minors simply because he's the only one who CAN--unless, of course, Glover or Miller starts the season on the IL.

In any case, addition by subtraction. Good move, Nationals.

BxJaycobb said...

I would take Kimbrel on a 3 year deal. Even if that means one elite year, one good one, and one bad one, it’s worth it for that money (3/45m?). It transforms the Nats pen from “a little scary before the 9th and maybe the 9th if Doolittle gets hurt” to “9th is good all season and 7-8th you can match up with devastating LH, which would help when we play the um....Phillies.”