Nationals Baseball: 2020

Thursday, March 26, 2020

Monday, March 23, 2020

AMA - Corona

So we don't want to talk about the corona virus a lot here BUT I figure I'd give you a chance to ask any questions you might have. Now you might say "Why would I ask you?" and that's a good question but first, consider it asking the entire group of people who may comment here, someone here may be an expert on what exactly your question is. Certainly a few here are going to be very well read on the subject.  As for specifically me, well my job is as a public health statistician. There are certainly people you bring in before someone like me if you want to interview, epidemiologists (who study how disease spreads), virologists (who study viruses), specific doctors or health professionals who have been through these things before. There are literally thousands of these, maybe tens of thousands, probably a couple in every minor city / major college, so there's no reason to go down to the C-Team if you are a TV or a paper. But I'm way more familiar with the topics at hand than Joe Schmo* out there, or even Dr. Jane Schmo* who has been very online during this. Given that I figured maybe I could help clear up a thing or two and if not - great. We move on to more fun stuff that doesn't involve possibly dying, unless it's Bobby Henley sending you home because then you are dead.


*Mr. Schmo got his degree in Communications with a minor in Portuguese

*Dr. Schmo (unrelated) is a Food Chemist who works in developing proper textures for crackers, chips, and other baked snacks. 

Friday, March 20, 2020

Books!

To round out the media triumvirate (sorry Fibber McGee & Molly we aren't doing ol' timey radio shows - but a trial of SiriusXM had me listening to too many of those) let's go with what you are reading. Now currently reading or reading last year will only work for voracious readers. For the rest of us just put out some of your favorite books.

I'll start - I'll note that I pretty much never read fiction. Well that's not true - sometimes I'll quickly read through some of my kids books (ask me about Diary of a Wimpy Kid) but adult fiction eh.  I keep saying I'll pick it up again but there's always a good non-fiction book right there. OK given that caveat and the caveat that I pretty much forget what I don't own. So this is pretty much limited to what I see on my shelves right now. 

Let's start with baseball

Of course there's the Nats Trilogy - Jesse's book, which I'm sure is fine. National Pastime, Barry's book on the honestly pretty crazy 2005 season, and The Grind which is an expanded verison of the collection of articles Barry wrote that year about... well the grind of the baseball season.  I'll recommend all.

The Soul of Baseball - Posnanski goes around with Buck O'Neill in exactly the type of book Joe Posnanski should be writing.

The Arm - now that you all love Daniel Hudson it's worth a read to find out how he got here. 


Not baseball

Battle Cry of Freedom - a big but not dense single volume tome on the Civil War.  I liked it so much it's the only book I've purchased multiple copies of (I have the illustrated hardcover)

Candace Millard's books are usually great - River of Doubt (Teddy Roosevelt stupidly goes dwn the Amazon), Destiny of the Republic (Dumb doctors basically kill a saveable James Garfield). Erik Larson's as well - there like a dozen here.

If you can handle tough subjects Killers of the Flower Moon and Devil in the Grove are great books and Columbine is fantasticly thorough and sensitive take on that incident.

Less harrowing - I enjoyed Rocket Men (about the flight to space before the moon landing), K Blows Top is fun (about Kruschev touring the US), Pictures of a Revolution (about the 5 best pic nods in 1969 and how they showed the end of the old guard and beginning of the 70s golden era)


Ok that's a start. 

Wednesday, March 18, 2020

Movies!

Hey sorry. I spent last night making a lemon blueberry loaf instead of typing a blog post.

BUt today we'll move on to movies, a subject I'm not well experienced in as I'll default to watching TV if given the choice. But occasionally I'm on a plane or want to do something different so i will pick up a movie or two. It would probably take forever to go over everyone's favorites, there's literally over 100 years of movie (for example the masterful Nosferatu is 98 years old this year) so how about we limit it to the past few years.

This way I can literally just list the movies I've seen

I've seen nothing that has come out this year

2019
I saw Harriet and Ready or Not on my last plane ride.  Ready or Not was fun. It could have been great but it was still good and that girl can scream.  Harriet was also good but with any historical story a little hard to get real drama going. I know she isn't dying.

I got kids - however the one that can watch movies isn't into them either so I've seen Frozen II (ok not better than the original) and Aladdin (eh)

ummm...  that is it. Like I said I don't watch movies


2018
Ant Man and the Wasp - It's good. This is the only series I've seen all (technically both) the movies. I pretty much have seen zero sequels. Part of it is bc I like my super hero movies to lean kiddie. They shoot beams out of their hands and fly around. I don't need that to be serious at all.
Crazy Rich Asians - also on a plane. It's really good. Not as funny as I thought it would be but nails what it is.
Halloween - not great. Part of what made the first great is ramping up the horror with a vaguely human antagonist that kills like 4 people. This is more like later horror movies with an unstoppable baddie that mows down a dozen plus.  Story is good but needed someone to tone down the killing and up the horror.
Rampage - plane movie. Honestly the best type of plane movie bc if I never saw the end it'd be ok.  But still I think this is the best Rock hero movie of the bunch.  He's overgrown in size and personality and he needs a backdrop that's similar. This gives it to him. It's not good but it's fun
The Spy who Dumped Me - look I prefer to be on my computer if I'm at home and so I want something on in the background. This was allright. Oddly violent. I mean watch it if you think you want to.
Three Identical Strangers - I also like documentaries.  This one is a trip that starts and ends in totally different places.

Kids - Ralph breaks the internet (see Frozen II)
Nutcracker and the Four Realms - there's a good movie in here somewhere but it didn't make the screen
Teen Titans GO! to the Movies - I really liked this. Sometimes I listen to the song for fun.


OK that's enough - so in the past 2+ years - give me your movies to watch. I probably won't get to them but someone here might.

Monday, March 16, 2020

Monday Quickie : What are you watching right now (or recently)

If you didn't see Friday's post go back to it and throw in your two cents.  We're all in this together (well unless you are in like rural Nevada - Contact looks nice) and if a little content everyday helps keep every a bit saner, well that's just the type of sacrifice I am willing to make.

First off something real simple for the Monday Quickie - what are you watching right now (or very recently passed) How do you spend the time when looking at your screens? It doesn't have to be good TV or movies, but if for some reason you watch things you hate don't mention those.  If it's something streaming be sure to note the service because oddly enough not everyone pays for every streaming service like some dummies (well I don't have the Apple one). 

So currently I'm watching

Better Call Saul (new episode tonight).  It's on season 5, seasons 1-4 on Netflix. 

Trapped - an Icelandic police show streaming on Amazon Prime. It's mostly in Icelandic (they speak English when talking to people from other places) so you have to read subtitles which is good if you want to put down your screens for an hour.

McMillions - HBO doc about people cheating the McDonald's Millionaire game. Like for every big prize. 

Will finish up Bletchey Circle - British mini-series about crime solving former code cracking WWII woimen - on PBS but I'm not sure it's streaming anywhere.  It wasn't before it came on here. 

Is that it? That might be it. With a baby free time is basically 9 on and it's a lot more vegging out than actively watching. Shows to veg out on

A lot of HGTV - part of the reason is when you have kids, HGTV is one of the few channels you can put the TV on and be sure you aren't going to put on something you don't want them to see or hear. But mostly because it's easy background noise when you aren't really paying attention to something. An hour to update a house? Yeah I don't need to see all that - I'll look at the beginning and then at the end.

Forged in Fire - I don't know why but even though every episode is basically the same there is something magical about turning metal into a blade then testing it against a bunch of object

Reruns of the Office - again easy background noise . And always on. Drunk History, when that is on.

I'm sure there's more.  Since I didn't get to movies, let's stick with series for now.

Friday, March 13, 2020

So now what?

No seriously. Now what?

There's little reason to keep doing what we'd normally be doing at this tim - popping in on the Nats Spring Training stats and stories, checking out the same for other teams, patiently waiting for real baseball to start.  Real baseball won't start (if we are very lucky) for another month.

So again, now what? 

I mean we'll keep our ear to the ground to monitor the baseball news, but I'm sure you'll hear about that elsewhere. And we'll keep a closer eye on the Nats health specifically and how that may effect things - though it's kind of a big mystery right now when you don't know exactly when the season will start and you REALLY don't know how bad the illness is striking people. God let's hope we're not here ever discussing the ripple effect of a death on the NL East race.

Shut it down? Deep dive into minutia for no reason? Ask Me Anythings? What would you like to see?

Thursday, March 12, 2020

Thursday - No baseball?

Say it ain't so, Joe!

Well it isn't so... yet.  But with sporting events being cancelled left and right to avoid unnecessary travel, close contact, and gatherings* it is easy to see a near future with no baseball. How long? Let's think about what we could see.

Low

Probably first we will see a end to ST crowds. That seems apparent. What this effects is nothing really. Not as far as the season goes

Next we may see a pausing on Spring Training games for two weeks. This wouldn't do too much of anything either. Practices would presumably continue

After that you'd escalate to no Spring Training at all. No practice, training, intrasquad scrimmages.  This might cause a delay as players would only have less than a week to get back into ST shape but they could still push it to get it started on nearly the same day

Mid

A complete cessation of activities for more than two weeks would likely cut into the season. They could do a month now and maybe fit in 154 games (early season schedule is a bit lighter for weather make-up possibilities). I'd say that currently this is the most likely lightest situation we'll end up with as two weeks probably won't clear everything up (we'll need at least a week just to get a sense on where we are disease wise)

As you go more than a month you start to get into needing a good amount of pre-season practice now that they've been sitting a while (I'd imagine 2 weeks or so of pre-season) and more games cut. So a month pause today might lead to 154 game season but a 6 week pause now wouldn't lead to 145 games but something like 120 or lower.

High 

Once you get much more than two months you start to get to the half-season possibilities. You start with the exhibition All-Star Game and then go into the season. Understand they'll try to fit in some sort of season regardless.  Half a season and the all important playoffs is better than none

When do they bother cancelling the season fully?  Hmmm I'd say you'd have to start drifting into August for a start date. There really probably isn't a time when they can't squeeze some blood from this stone but you start to functionally get to a weather issue again. They might even be tempted to do an unofficial / official tournament thing Sept / October just to get something out of the year, but when you start drifting into playing in November you start to limit yourself geography wise and profits can't be that high to say - have a Tuscon tournament in December.


*Sports are basically the worst at this, being a job that requires close contact, asks for gatherings, and depends on travel. All for entertainment purposes.

Tuesday, March 10, 2020

Tuesday Quickie : Kieboom

How's Kieboom doing?  It's kind of the only question that matters this Spring and I've said earlier that unless he's complete garbage, I'd bet on him winning the 3B role to start the season.  How has he been? Not complete garbage!  .250 / .419 / .292.

Yes that's a .292 SLG (1 XBH in 30 PAs) but maybe he's working on patience?  I find working on patience in Spring a little bit odd, because the pitchers aren't necessarily concerned with throwing strikes, but hey, when are you going to work on it? To be honest his patience last year wasn't overly concerning. The big deal was the strikeout rate (37.2%!).  How is that going? 6 Ks in 30PAs... that's 20%. That's better!

Kieboom has started 7 games at 3B (Cabrera has started 5) and played twice as many inning there. All indications are as expected - Kieboom is your starter. We'll look back in another two weeks or so but don't expect it to change unless Carter strikes out 20 times in his next 30 PAs.


The other thing you might be interested in is 5th starter and Joe Ross , Erick Fedde, and Austin Voth have all looked ok.  An honest assessment of just the stats would put Voth ahead with his pinpoint control and Ross' lack of Ks, but again it's Spring and an honest assessment of the stats is like 40% of what's going on here. You might be able to pick out someone having issues (oh darn Barrett! oh no Doolittle! oh really no Hudson!) but two weeks in even those are just things to stick a pin in not to worry about. So far nothing about the 5th starter battle seems to be crazy good or crazy bad so you have to say that favors the incumbent, Joe Ross.


What to look for this week :
  • Does Harris pitch a real game?  
  • Let's see Strasburg back on the mound (terrible first outing, then a skipped start - pitching simulation)   
  • Let's see Robles back in CF full-time for several games. 

Thursday, March 05, 2020

Best Nats Pen ever?

The Nats have a history of putting together flawed bullpen. Sometimes they feel like they lack that shutdown arm, other times it's an important piece that's been overlooked, sometimes it's a 4-7 that seems more suited for a non-contender. But this year the Nats appear to have a solid bullpen to start the season. Nationals World Series hero Sean Doolittle in the closer spot has been backed by Nationals World Series hero Will Harris in the set-up role, and Nationals World Series Hero Daniel Hudson will cover other important at bats and innings. These are three relievers who were solid contributors last year and Doolittle and Harris were among the best in the game in recent years.

But is that good enough?  One way to try to figure that out is comparing it with other Nats pens of the past and seeing how those pens were structured and ended up

I took a look at the Opening Day bullpens** for the Nats from 2013 on* and here are the pens in a nutshell

2013 : Strengthening a strength: This is a pen that came about when a tired Storen ran into fate and the Nats faltered in the 2012 NLDS. Boras convinced the Lerners that they needed Soriano. This gave the Nats in theory a fantastic 1-3  and what looked like a solid pen overall with 2012 plus pitchers Stammen, Mattheus and Duke and a live arm in HROD

Result : Middling. The big thing was Storen having a mental breakdown at being replaced effectively screwing with the back-end of the pen. Mattheus had been effective but lucky, and stopped being lucky. Duke had a fluky bad start and was dropped and H-Rod didn't develop.


2014 : SaS Redux: With everyone still under contract the Nats did it again with Detwiler replacing Duke and unknown Barret replacing HROD.  Blevins came in to be a lefty specialist. There was a little more concern this season mainly because trying again with Storen seemed like more of a gamble. But it was again pretty solid top to bottom.

Result : They were great. Storen screwed his head back on and performed. Soriano faded at the end but was good far longer than not. Only Blevins disappointed.


2015 : Experience? We don't need no stinking experience:  Soriano walked, Detwiler was cast away, and the Nats traded Clippard for a needed part and Blevins for spite leaving them way short on innings. They brought in a veteran arm in Matt Thorton to help and hoped a transitioned Roark would shore it up along with newcomers Treinen, Janssen, and Xavier Cedeno.

Results : Bad at first but eventually. Janssen was terrible, Storen wasn't lights-out, Barrett broke, Xavier Cedeno failed, and Roark never gelled. But the Nats found a piece, Felipe Rivero, who did well and eventually added Papelbon who stabilized the bullpen, though not the clubhouse, at years end.


2016 :  We choose you Papelbon : The Nats were stuck with two relievers they didn't want in Papelbon and Storen and got rid of the latter. Only Treinen and Rivero survived as the overhaul included a bunch of solid but unspectacular names Matt Belisle, Yusmiero Petit, Oliver Perez and the best of the lot Shawn Kelley.

Results : Great! Even with Papelbon crapping out, Rivero being off, and Perez and Petit not contributing much Dusty worked the pen like a master, leaning on the guys that did work (Treinen and Kelley) and some young arms like Sammy Solis. Trading Rivero for Melancon in the end worked great honestly. Impressive job without impressive talent.


2017 :  Make chicken salad again Dusty : The Nats did add Joe Blanton late in the spring but otherwise were leaning on Kelley to lead a group with little experience (Treinen, Solis, Glover and Enny Romero, who replacied Belisle and Petit) or who did poorly the year before Ollie Perez. It was a bad set-up

Results : Pretty bad. Basically Rizzo would go 0-fer in the bullpen and they'd have to cobble together something workable from trades (Doolittle/Madson, Kintzler), free agents (Albers), and some young guys (Grace).


2018 : Don't peek behind the curtain : The Nats would keep Doolittle Madson and Kintzler giving them inarguably the best Top 3 going into a season since 2012... and that was it.  Treinen was gone, part of the deal for Doo & Mad. Kelley would still be around but was broken and bad in 2017. The rest repeated the issues of 2017 with Solis, Grace, and Romero leading the no experience brigade with newcomer Gott, as Perez left. It was extremely top heavy

Results : Average. Some thing worked, some didn't with Madson's failure being most important setting off a chain reaction of digging into that soft underbelly. The Nats would find Justin Miller and Wander Suero to eat innings and help not completely waste Doolittle's great year. But eventually would cut bait with effective arms in Kintzler and Kelley in an angry mid-season panic leaving a mess behind.


2019 : One and done : The Nats set up a nearly all new bullpen keeping only Doolittle from the previous Opening Day.  By Gott, Solis, Romero! Grace and Suero would make it, along with Justin Miller to fill out the back end of the pen. Tony Sipp would be thrown in there too and honestly it wasn't a terrible mix. But to make up for the loss of the 7-8 guys the Nats threw their lot in with Kyle Barraclough, who was bad in the previous year, and Trevor Rosenthal who was hurt.

Results : The completely untrustworthy back-end imploded fast repeating the chain reaction from 2018 only worse. The rest of the pen was ok, but not good enough to cover for that, leading to the throw at the wall see what stick plan for the rest of the season. What stuck for a while was Fernando Rodney and Tanner Rainey but really only Daniel Hudson stood out and when push came to shove the Nats went to a two-man pen to make the magic work.


What did we learn? Well I'd say that depth is probably the most important. You need guys in every position that are passable even if they aren't the best. Injuries and failures happen, but so do found pieces every year so you can cover some spots, you just can't cover a lot of spots and that's what happens if you lack depth. Also you can't effectively cover for back-end issues well so really you have to do your best getting those Top 3 in and set and hope for the best. 

In 2019 I'd say they did an ok job with that Top 3. Remember Doolittle's 2019 wasn't great and Hudsons was a little fluky.  It's strong (assuming Harris is ok) but I'd like 2013s or 2018s group better. The rest of the pen - Rainey, Suero, Elias likely and ?.  That's pretty dicey and looks a lot like the pens they've been having since 2018 where the rest of the pen is just a wing and a prayer. Maybe this is the year it works out but with the Top 3 having now three injury concerns, (Hudson's history, Doolittle's history and 2019, Harris being hurt now) I'm concerned. Not a terrible pen but a couple solid vet pen arms you could probably have cheap would have made it a good one.

Coming In to a Season
Best Top 3 : 2013 probably. Soriano, Storen, Clippard should have been dominant. Then the Doo, Mad, Kintzler group, then this years.

Worst Top 3 : No doubt 2017's  attempt with Treinen, Kelley, and Glover.  Doolittle saves last year's group.

Best Pen : 2013 probably, though I'll listen to arguments for 2016 given Papelbon should have been better, most everyone in it was good in 2015, and the couple that weren't had recent history of being good. I think the better Top 3 gives 2013 the edge though.

Worst Pen : 2017 without a doubt. 2019 was set-up to fail but had a great closer and a reasonable 4-7.  2017 had nothing.  YOU KILLED DUSTY DAMMIT. 



*I don't consider 2012 a planned competitive season

** Big thanks to Federal Baseball for making these things a cinch to find

Friday, February 28, 2020

Will Harris be healthy?

The Nats have put together a pretty impressive pen, or at least on paper. Sean Doolittle has been a very good pitcher out of the pen for years. Same with Will Harris. Sitting in the 7th inning spot Daniel Hudson was a key pitcher for the Nats last year and may have found himself. Roenis Elias seemed to have made the transition to reliever just fine (though with an odd split) and should be a decent middle inning pitcher if healthy. Tanner Rainey showed promise in flashes last year. Wander Suero is a decent innings filler in the last man in the pen role. To me that fills 6 of your 7 bullpen roles just fine. Yeah, ideally you'd like someone more lights out in 8/9 but those aren't easy to come by.

Compare to last year - Doolittle was in the same position, but Rosenthal was an huge question mark at 8th, Miller/Barraclough ok 7th/middle inning impt out guys you'd think. Sipp a pretty solid lefty. Grace and Suero both innings eaters which means one would be asked to do to much. That's not a bad pen on theory but by putting the question mark all the way up at set-up and not having an plus pitcher for the role anywhere else you put all the pressure on Rosenthal. He fails and the system breaks down. He failed. Also there wasn't a young arm with promise here to pin some hopes on. Bullpens have variability (see Barraclough also failing). Which is why you want to lock down as many places as possible and ideally have a bunch of 7th/impt out guys to try out to see if someone ascends or can at least fill a great role if the closer or set-up guy go down.  Someone WILL get hurt. Praying it's not at Top 3/4 bullpen guy isn't a plan.

I'd say the current pen missing that one piece inbetween Hudson and Elias*. Strickland is nominally it but stinks. Ryne Harper could be it, but then again could not be. Finnegan? Someone else? A lefty specialist would be nice but the rules make the usefulness of such a player unclear going forward. It's a hole but a hole that shouldn't be a big deal if everyone is healthy.

Everyone is not healthy. Will Harris is hurt! And if he's out and everything shifts then well... Hudson, even though he managed it last year, is an iffy set-up. Elias/Rainey iffy that both can fit the 7th inning / main middle innings firefighter guys. Suero iffy that he can have a bigger role than innings eater. And then TWO holes at the back end that is much harder to work around than last year. It's a lot like how the Nats pen ended up last year after Rosenthal failed.

Now in theory I like this years pen better. Sure it's missing a 7th/impt out guy in that bunch but Hudson is a pretty solid choice to lead that group. Rainey is probably the best young arm the Nats have had in a pen since Glover and Treinen were there in 2017.** There's more cushion here I think for things to not collapse. But there's also that caveat... if there's another Barraclough type unexpected failure you have chaos. Harris goes out and Hudson underperforms and there's big trouble. Of course saying if your 2nd and 3rd most important relievers go out it's bad isn't news but some teams can handle that better than other. Their pen is deep in solid arms. Their organization has some interesting AAA guys to try out. The Nats aren't that team. They need Harris back. If he doesn't come back then they NEED everything else to work out in the late innings of the pen.





*If I were building a pen I think the reasonable ideal would be - lights out closer, good set-up, 3 other good pitchers to fill 7th/impt out roles, one young arm with promise, one decent long relief arm 

**best doesn't mean it will work out.

Monday, February 24, 2020

Monday Quickie - Baseball is back!

And with it the uselessness of Spring Training as anything other than a marker to start the countdown to the regular season.  Oh there are position battles (usually the last few spots and up for constant change during the year), new guys introduced, old guys trying to get back to old form saying they are in the best shape of their lives, and of course Ryan Zimmerman not playing. With Ryan, who spent 2018 hiding from the press with a foot injury to triumphantly appear for Opening Day, only to aggravate said injury and quickly spend 2 1/2 months on the DL, every Spring is an adventure and you shouldn't believe anything you hear about him.  Strasburg and Corbin just resting? Believe it until given reason otherwise. "Noted Spring Training Hater" Zimmerman will play when he feels like it? Doubt it as much as you doubt anything.

For this Spring really you want to see what Kieboom does and really unless he's god awful he's going to start with the team. Otherwise remember Spring Training stats are meaningless. Don't make me drag out the numbers for the last 15 years to prove it. Like Fedde didn't look good.  Doesn't matter we have no idea what his actual goals were for that outing other than it wasn't "get the other team out at all costs we need to win this game" which is what it is come April.

The Nats/Astros affair went off mostly without a hitch, the rivalry that might have been superceded by the Astros being dirty dirty cheaters. Dusty is back and we all somehow wish him well while wishing the Astros nothing but defeat.

Friday, February 21, 2020

Snow Day Friday

Hard to watch kids and work and blog so talk about this Mets thing

It goes along with something I was twittering about yesterday, how 2019 Rendon is a HUGE loss and the idea that the Nats can make that up is close to wishful thinking. He was better than Soto at the plate last year (I was having a discussion on whether it was slightly or significantly better) and of course, if you use the idea of 3 years of data, much better in the field. Even if Soto takes his place with a step forward offensively (not crazy given his age and progression so far which is great because we're talking about MVP levels) he won't replace the fielding and oh yeah - who fills that spot Soto just left?

The general answer is - well Kieboom/Cabrera will be good and the bullpen will be better and the Nats won't be as unlucky as last year, which possibly, probably (it could hardly not be), and actually the Nats had pretty even luck for the season as a whole.

This, of course, doesn't mean the Nats are bad and won't make the playoffs. They are good.  They'll be a game or two worse if all goes as planned. That's good enough to make the playoffs as is and if they get some good luck (or no other NL East team gets good luck) they could take the division. But still the possibility of a stalled offense around a constantly walked Soto isn't out of the question.

But back to the Mets. Why do the Mets rate favorably? Same reason past Nats teams have - projections are conservative when it comes to injuries so if you set up an injury prone but talented team you'll tend to get a pretty nice projection. If the Mets can stay healthy that rotation is a beast - better than the Nats 1-5 (though not as good 1-3) and the offense is fine. Basically healthy they are of similar talent to the Nats. Unfortunately starting pitching health is tough to bet on and the Mets have only made it work one year in this window (where as the Nats with more reliable SP has pretty much only had side issues most years).  So can the Mets win? Yep. Will they? That's up to the injury gods. 

Wednesday, February 19, 2020

What to do about the Astros?

I haven't really addressed it here but if you only get your news from Natsbaseball (good choice I'll add) then the Astros are cheaters! No need to link anything but the problem isn't going away despite that being the initial goal of major league baseball. Do an investigation, punish a few people that were in management roles at the time, and move on. Fans would be upset, but let's face it they are going to be upset regardless. The end.

But it wasn't because other players were really pissed off at the lack of player punishment and the seeming shrug of shoulders at what the league could do about what already happened.

I think though the problem wasn't the punishment but the messaging. In terms of the punishment - what can major league baseball can do?  Here are some of my thoughts...

Vacate the 2017 World Series title - Man, I hate when the NCAA does this. Even though it makes sense in a way "You wouldn't have won if you didn't do this wrong thing" it still feels like trying to deny what we saw. The Astros won and vacating just changes the story to "that's dumb - we can't pretend it didn't happen". The focus should remain on the cheating. 

Alternative - Note everywhere the Astros cheated.  Any sort of official write-up of the history of baseball will note that the Astros were later punished for cheating during this time frame.

Alternative - Don't let the Astros celebrate the title. Allow no official team sponsored celebratory event. Banners come down. Decorations packed up. No merch related to it. No bobbleheads or anniversary special nights or anything. It's nothing to celebrate. It's something to be ashamed of. 


Ban the Astros from playing in the playoffs for X years - this is tough because it could change the nature of competition. If the Astros can't play in the playoffs all of a sudden they have no impetus to win. Things like "not signing free agents" or "looking for trades" would ultimately be spread among the other 29 teams as they decide to try to benefit, but the end product, a garbage Houston Astros team, would create unequal benefit. The AL West teams would be more likely to get more wins out of it, leading to an imbalance in chance to make the playoffs or get home field.  It could be said this is fine. It makes up for the fact they were hurt by the Astros cheating more than other teams. However, two wrongs don't make a right. MLB can't be in the business of creating winners and losers.

Alternative - Astros get no money from post-season appearances - whatever the TV split is or the revenue from games, the Astros have to give that to some charity somewhere.  Sure it could have the same effect but try selling that to your fanbase. "We aren't winning because we can't make the extra money that comes with it"


Suspend the players involved for X games  - talk about a can of worms. Who gets suspended and for how long? Everyone on the 2017 team, or 2017-2019?  Pitchers as well as hitters? What about guys who got called up and played like a game? What about guys who got traded?  On an extreme end you could have a minor league pitcher traded to the Astros in late 2018, a season they weren't officially pegged as cheaters in, called up for a game, traded away in the off-season suspended for multiple games. That seems completely unfair. Oh - "he knew about it"?  Sure. But apparently probably less than like the majority of other major league players. Why does he get punished when say some Mariner who heard about it from his friend on the Astros in 2017 played against them 57 times noting the cheating to his teammates, but not the league, gets off?

Not to mention we're punishing other teams who may have picked up Astros. You want Will Harris suspended for 30 games? What happens to their contract money? They still get paid for not playing as they normally would? So now teams are paying twice for the Astros cheating?

Alternative - all Astros in 2017 play for the minimum in 2020, difference in salary goes to same place fines go - Take the money. Almost all you can do is take the money. That's what it comes down to. This way teams that signed guys don't get punished (unless these guys are real jerks and stop trying because they aren't getting paid millions) but they also don't get some sort of competitive balance advantage. I'm sure you'd agree the Yankees don't need an extra few tens of millions of found money to spend.


To get back to the messaging, all this could have been conveyed originally. "We want to punish the team and the players with suspensions but we see no way of doing that without disturbing the competitive balance in the league and hurting other, uninvolved teams, in the process." Make everyone understand this was a goal but an unobtainable one.

Of course they didn't do this in part because that never was a goal and it's clear. The goal was to make it go away as quickly as possible. People are going hard after Manfred but Manfred is little more than the mouthpiece of owners. The question is why do the owners want it to go away as soon as possible. The answer, like always, is probably money. Make it a big deal and maybe people turn away from the game. Have it go away quickly and the money train keeps rolling. At least that's my guess.

Monday, February 17, 2020

Monday Quickie - Other Kiebooms

The Nats Carter Kieboom is going to be an important piece in the Nats plans and a good year by him would go quite a ways to covering for the loss of Rendon. You can imagine in your head a break out year by Carter leading to an easy Nats division title. But every team has their Kiebooms and how they do could also throw the balance of the NL East.


Braves

The Braves are in "this is when the plan comes together" time. Last year it took them to a division title (and another early round exit). This year it could take them even further as the minor league cupboard is far from bare. Specifically the Braves have two guys, Kyle Wright and Bryse Wilson, looking to make the OD rotation, and one other, Ian Anderson who is looking to come up later in the year that's arguably better than both of them.  A breakout starter is worth his weight in gold and because a rotation is five deep there isn't much standing in the way of these guys sticking if they deserve it.

(They also have two top OF propects that could play in 2020 but with Ozuna, Acuna, and Inciarte backed up by Markakis and Duvall they don't feel the need to rush them and their impact this year should be muted call-up impact. Keep the name Cristian Pache in the back of your head if there are some OF injuries. Think Robles - a little less speed a little more power. Now imagine Robles actually clicked right away like you hoped he would. It could happen!)


Mets

Andres Gimenez is the player that could fit the bill of a Kieboom but that's a stretch. He doesn't have a place right now given there's a perfectly competent young SS in Amed Rosario in front of him, the bat of Jeff McNeil at 3b, and the contract of Robinson Cano at 2b. Gimenez also had a pretty poor 2019 lacking the doubles power he showed in 2018. Normally this type of player wouldn't even register here. However he may be pushed because the Mets have a new SS they like better in Ronny Mauricio coming up behind him. They might as well see what they have in Gimenez to evaluate him for trade purposes. Also Cano was bad and he's old so maybe he'll crash out.  The combination of those two forces could mean a fair amount of Gimenez playing time. The chances are slim but but if a couple disparate things comes together this fringy 100 prospect might make a differece.


Phillies 

Bryce mentioned not wanting to give up Alec Bohm for Kris Bryant and if you look at this guys rise you can see wise. He's not as good as say a Rendon or a Zimm - certainly not in the field where he could be moved - but you could argue he's better at the plate than Kieboom. He's a beast who doesn't miss the ball (very low K rate) and has real power when he hits it. If they can find a place for him there's real breakout potential here. The same can be said for SP prospect Spencer Howard who looked just as good in AA as rookie ball coming back from injury.  He's projected to have top of the rotation stuff... if he can stay healthy.  He's a little less likely to impact 2020 because he'll probably be on an innings limit, but I can see the Phillies pulling something like a very slow start to the year - maybe starting once a week, then coming in for May on to try to maximize his impact on this season for a rotation that sorely needs an impact arm.



Kieboom is probably the most likely player to have an impact. He's the consistently highest ranked and he has the spot laid out for him. After that I'd say a Brave pitcher, though it's hard to bet on a single choice. Bohm should come in third here, above the chance of a 2nd Braves pitcher.  It's that depth of the Braves minors that makes them scary and while they project a little low in their win totals, they should be able to counter the inevitable injuries better than any other NL East team. That's why they remain the Nats main threat - best other team in NL East with the most security.  The Phillies probably aren't even as good as the Mets but there are several players on the team that could have big jumps in 2020 and then these two who could have impact.  The Mets might be the 3rd best team in the East but they are a what you see is what you get squad. Pitching injuries would decimate them but line-up injuries too would be hard to overcome. It's a team with a razor thin margin for error and if you bet on chaos you could do worse than bet on the Mets doing terribly 

Thursday, February 13, 2020

Friday Quickie?

It's been a while and I don't even have a good excuse like vacation or something. I mean I do have a baby but it's not like a NEW baby and I powered through that in the playoffs. And yes I'm away for work which is actually surprisingly harder to find free time but still I'm just getting to old for this blogging world, time to shuffle off to Facebook or something...

Eh ok I'll give it another year. 

We're at pitchers and catchers now which is great but when you win a Championship... I don't want to say you don't want the next season to start but the next season means you have to defend the championship and you realize you likely won't and can't we just give out rings (4/4) and raise a banner (4/2) then have another parade and a month of realizing we are champions?

The Nats come into Spring with one real question - will Carter Kieboom start at 3rd or not? If not, it will presumably be Asdrubal Cabrera but really if not, what does that mean for Kieboom long term? Are there bullpen battles? 5th starter battles? Last man on bench battles? Yep yep yep. But these are things every team faces every year. It's this question - what is Carter Kieboom for 2020 and beyond - that is THE question of spring.

Why should the Nats start Cabrera? He's been an above average hitter every year since 2015... ok every year but  last year but last year he was great for the Nats. His fielding has dropped off but as that has happened he's shifted around the diamond and 3B seems like a decent fit for the 34 year old Asdrubal. In short, he's likely to be a good major league player. That can't be said of Carter Kieboom, who's trial in 2019 was terrible - hitting under .200 while striking out 40% of the time and having only 2 XBH.

Why should the Nats start Kieboom? There's little for him to get out of AAA. He played 109 games there last year and hit .303 / .409 / .493.  That's good enough to warrant a full trial. For all that Cabrera brings, he doesn't bring it beyond 2020. He's only signed through this season and Kieboom is set up to be the future at some point.  Why not give him this year, a post championship "Who really cares if we win*" year, to figure things out?

We have too little about Kieboom to speculate as outsiders. We have to watch him in Spring, like the Nats will, and see what he does. Twist my arm and I'll say he starts in AAA because he can.

Back to MWF next week until the daily work of the regular season because that's what we do here.

*You'll be surprised how much you do care come October.

Tuesday, February 04, 2020

Quick NL East feelings

The off-season is now pretty much over. There are potential trades left. Mookie Betts is a forgone conclusion at this point, but isn't going to anywhere in the NL East.  Kris Bryant is less likely, and given he's not a FA after this season after losing his grievance case, most people think the Cubs will sit on a high price no one will meet this off-season, compete this year, and trade him next possibly as part of a mini-tear down.

That leaves the NL East pretty much set now and I have opinions on the teams going into next season

Quick takes :

Braves - Should have went for it, but instead testing out SP. I get it but still, when the doors open to take the division, take it

Nationals - Ditto, but instead of testing out SP, being the Nats with smart moves to build a playoff competitor. Could have passed Braves, chose not to. But hey - Champs!

Mets - Continue to frustrate fans by trying to do a Nationals without the Nationals talent or health history. It can work (see 2015) but it's an uphill battle for them in this divison

Phillies - I don't get it. Clearly looking for a bounce back seasons. From the offense that's understandable. From the pitching that's confusing and should fail.

Marlins - Get too much flack probably but sorry Jeter. Team hasn't had a history of ownership doing what they should so despite things coming along you'll have to lump it (then prove you will do what you should when it's tim)


Atlanta Braves - Gambling on Youth.

Josh Donaldson is a Twin. Julio Teheran is an Angel. Dallas Keuchel is a White Sock. Brian McCann is retired. Jerry Blevins is a Giant. Josh Tomlin, Anthony Swarzak are still looking. Most of these guys weren't particularly good, but none were bad and they ate up a lot of innings and at bats for the Braves.  They were replaced with a different set of veterans, Cole Hamels, Will Smith, Marcell Ozuna, but really what the Braves are doing is gambling that youth will step up.

Primarily how the youth does will matter in the rotation where nearly 300 IP of 120+ ERA are gone. They have a half-dozen legit prospects or guys with good AAA stats to throw out there but the last jump can be the hardest and they have to contend with possible dropping off of other starters (look at Folty 2018 to 2019).  But it's also true that they are looking for someone to join Freeman as a star bat.  Acuna was just off that last year, a little too impatient, a little too much all or nothing. Will it be him? Albies? Riley? Dansby or Carmago pulling a Ian Desmond? The Braves should be good next year and their off-season plan understood they could probably give all these guys chances and still stay in the division hunt. But rather than go big and run and hide from the NL East they let themselves likely slip back into the pack.


Washington Nationals - Keeping on keeping on

The Nats spent the past 8 seasons putting together good teams, 90 type win teams, and seeing the season play out figuring getting to the playoffs is all that can be promised. For 7 seasons that led to heartbreak but in the 8th quantity finally paid off.  How did they respond to finally getting a run of luck? By doing nothing different. They made the sensible decision to keep Strasburg while letting Rendon go. They picked up a fair number of decent RP to cover the terribleness of last year, and a fair number of decent vet MIs to try to luck into someone having a career year while maintaining a good shot of nothing terrible happening.

The Nats have always been a team lead by their starting pitching and keeping Strasburg allows the Nats to once again have perhaps the best 1-2-3 in baseball. As long as they stay healthy that's enough to be in the playoff mix.  There's a sense that the offense has to take a step back but it's hard to see a massive drop off from the team. The biggest question may be health. There are some age questions here - Suzuki, Kendrick, Sanchez 36, Max, Zimm, acquired Will Harris 35 and the starters and key relievers got pushed extra hard last year. But the Nats are not in the same position as other years. If things fall apart this year and they have to rebuild it's ok. They won. Much like the Braves they could have went big and go for a second title, but instead they are content to be in it and see what happens and this plan let's them reasonably do that.


New York Mets -  In for a penny

The Mets can't ever really commit. Every off-season they seem to make one or two moves that portend a larger one but the larger one never comes. This off-season was no different. They loaded up on SP options, bringing in Porcello, Wacha to go along with the guys they have (DeGrom, Thor, Matz) and the late season acquired Stroman.  They tried again to fix the pen bringing in Betances. But there wasn't the corresponding offensive move. There's a chance that the Braves and Nats both take half-steps back to meet the Mets half-step forward but you have to wonder why they didn't take a full-step forward and really make themselves a contender.

Perhaps it's because ultimately the Mets season depends on starting pitching health which is a hard thing to depend on especially when your track record isn't great. So now the Mets hopes depend on two gambles. The first being the SP is healthy, which they tried to cover for a little with depth. The second is that something clicks in an offense that is just a little lacking and is just a likely to take a step back after some career seasons than another step forward.


Philadelphia Phillies - It's gotta be the manager

I don't know what the Phillies are doing. Offensively you can squint and see what they see. It was an offense built for 2019 that had the wheels come off for reasons we don't really understand. Across the board hitters like Realmuto, Hoskins, Bryce, Segura, Bruce were at least a half-step worse than they should have been for no explainable reason. So add another good bat in Gregorious change the manager and coaching staff and try again. This shouldn't be a middling offense and we should see improvement just by change in 2020 and there could be a big jump.

But the pitching, last year you could look at the rotation and based on the line-up justify it by saying you were trying to see what you had in mid20s+ guys like Eflin, Velasquez, Pivetta, Eickhoff, and you'd make adjustments in the off-season if necessary. Well the season showed that they didn't have much with these guys. It's likely one or maybe two would be back of the rotation filler (likely Eflin) but the rest were replaceable.  You also saw an Arrieta aging before your eyes.  The Phillies really needed a second ace or two reliable 2-3 starters to go along with Nola who they hoped to rebound. They got Wheeler the off-seasons cheap "maybe he'll be an ace" option and nothing else. So now the Phillies have to have everything go right starting pitching wise. Nola or Wheeler have to be an ace and the other one a worthy companion. Arrieta or Eflin has to be a good #3. Two of the others have to be decent filler. It's a stretch and it's more likely that even if the offense improves as is likely they'll be a big bat no pitch team trying to bash their way into the playoffs. That may work in other divisions but the NL East has three teams with better plans.


Miami Marlins - Quietly amassing pitching and guys to trade for pitching

The Marlins aren't winning in 2020, or 2021 for that matter. So the middling signings they made make sense. If a Dickerson or Cervelli or Joyce or Kintzler break out they deal them and get something back to add to the system.  Meanwhile Sandy Alcantara is joined by three other pitchers 24 or younger to see if they can uncover a gem, while better shots like Sixto Sanchez and Edward Cabrera start to appear. Depending on the Nats health and the Braves development they could have a top rotation in the NL East come 2022/2023.

Of course that's only half the game and while they have a lot of guys in the pipeline the current offensive prospects haven't quite worked out. They hope Alfaro develops beyond a usable catcher, which is something but not a cornerstone. Brinson is a washout. Isan Diaz's tryout went poorly. Someone will develop out of the guys they have but they are only adding to the likes of Alfaro and Brian Anderson which leaves a lot of holes and no stars. Come 2022/2023 the question will be if the Marlins pay out for the bats they need to take the next step. Just two years ago they had the offense set with Stanton, Realmuto, Yelich, Ozuna, but realized they had no pitching and bailed on the team rather than pay out. To prove anything is different they'll have to buy in when it's time. But that's for a later.  2020 will just to be seeing if they can finish 4th over whichever NL East team has the worst luck. 

Thursday, January 30, 2020

Harper on the Nats!

Roll call news

The Nats brought back Emilio Bonifacio.  No shame if you don't remember his first time in DC. It was over a decade ago, short (41 games) and unremarkable. Bonifacio is organizational depth only.  He was last a usable major league player WAY back in 2014. Since then he's dropped out of the major and filled only AAA roles. Chances of him getting a million dollar salary to play in the majors are exceedingly slim. Nothing to see here.


The Nats trade for Ryne Harper. Ryne Harper... is not bad. He worked his way up through the ATL minors as a "this guys seems pretty good - oh he's how old? Not interested" guy.  He eventually got pushed to Seattle who dumped him after a mediocre trial in AAA for them.  Minnesota picked him up and he kept on being pretty good, got into the majors and was still pretty good.  Thing is - teams like their upside in the bullpen. They'd rather have 4 arms where 3 could be terrible, if one could turn into a stud, than one meh arm.  Ryne is a meh arm. He gives up too many hits, too many homers, and doesn't strike out enough to be an impact arm. He's also getting up in age meaning you can't really rely on that meh (see: Barraclough, Kyle). But he showed decent control and he doesn't give up too many hits, homers, or strike out too few to be usable and if you are to try to guess a decent 50 IP is probable and there isn't anything wrong with that. 

Who'd they give up? Hunter McMahon, who if you look at the stats might worry you. A 0.71 ERA, 1.4 BB/9, 12.8 K/9?!?  But Hunter was an older rookie league and low A player and pitched all of 12 innings last year (he was drafted last year too) meaning one bad outing and he's a 3.00 ERA guy with more reasonable numbers.  He's the type that came in with no hype so isn't on even the Nats internal top prospects lists, not even as a guy to keep an eye on. But he is a guy that probably would be on there somewhere with a good 2020 in A and A+ ball. But still that's a NATS top prospect list not an overall one. He's not passing Cronin and a number of failed starters with just a good 2020.*

 For people excited about the Ryne pick-up or thinking Bonifacio will make a great AAA vet to have around, the Mets signed Eduardo Nunez, Rene Rivera, and Erasmo Ramirez.  So what? Exactly.  Now you know how other teams fans view these Nats moves. 


The Astros sign Dusty to manage.  Good for him.  I hope he doesn't get his ring because that would mean the Yankees didn't make the series but I hope that he does well and if he does well isn't immediately replaced. He's proven himself more than a capable manager leaving the questions about starter usage back over 15 years ago and several managerial stops. Any team looking to make the playoffs should be fighting over this guy and it's a shame that untested nothings get first crack nowadays. Go get them, Dusty.


 *Of course given the Nats luck with RP say hello to the 2021 AL ROY.

Monday, January 27, 2020

Monday Quickie : Ozuna talk

Ozuna was signed by the Braves last week. Nats fans remember Ozuna from the NLCS, where like every Cardinal, he was embarrassingly bad at the plate*, and like some Cardinals, embarrassingly bad in the field. But that's not Ozuna. The question is who IS Ozuna.

For most the question is settled. He's an above average bat and a decent fielder. Solid power, little patience, enough skill to be a decent baserunner when he puts his mind to it. This has been a fair genearal description of Ozuna over the past few years. But what to make of 2017? Ozuna hit .312 that year and got some MVP votes. Was that just a fluke?

I think it kind of was but he might be able to repeat it.  If you look at Ozuna's fancy stats he was remarkably consistent as a Marlin in the type of hits he got (LD/FB/GB), where he hit them (PULL/CF/OPPO) and how hard he hit them. What changed in 2017 was some BABIP luck and a bunch of homers going over the fence. The former took a dip in St. Louis, first back to normal and then what appears to be oddly low. But Ozuna became a straight pull hitter in St. Louis, so even though he was hitting the ball a lot harder, he could have been shifted out of several hits. There is thought that this change was because of his shoulder injury though, and a rehabbed and healthy Ozuna could go back to his old ways.

This sets up a scenario where Ozuna goes back to his all fields hitting and the ball remains juiced and the Braves have indeed found a fringy MVP candidate. I suppose it's possible. But it's going to take both some work and some luck for this to happen.

What's more likely is a little less pulling and little better BABIP luck and an average closer to the .270 range.  If the ball remains juiced he's still the type of player that can take advantage of that and 30+ homers remains a possibility for a full season. If not, 20+.  Not a bad player, but only a touch better than Markakis, who'd you'd expect to hit in the .280s but with less power, who'd he'd be replacing.

There's talent there for it to all come together and him to actually replace Donaldson in a meaningful way. There's history there to suggest it can happen too. That would be bad as the Braves have an edge on the Nats and a surprise MVP would likely seal the division for them. But there is more history and a more recent look at performance that both suggest that's a reach. Ozuna should help the Braves but it shouldn't be enough to put them out of reach.



Zimm is back! Healthy Zimm should hit. Is he healthy? Probably not! But it's good to have him back for a curtain call season.

*Except for you Jose Martinez!

Tuesday, January 21, 2020

Monday Quickie : NL East could be full of Arenado respect

Not really much going on in baseball now that we're down to musical chairs with those RH OFs. The Hall of Fame announcement is tonight. I did a piece a decade ago (REALLY? a DECADE? I'm so old) about the psychology behind voting and it mostly still stands though "Be really good for a really long time and hit those magic numbers" is being replaced by "Be really good for a really long time and hit sabrmetric targets".  My feelings over time have moved firmly into the "whatever" group.  This is a popularity contest and it's subjective (you don't ask for votes if you aren't looking for opinions) so vote however you want, call people stupid for voting how they want, and in general try to have fun with it.  Nothing we do here changes what actually happened on the field. Harold Baines being in doesn't change the fact that there are like 50 offensive guys better than Harold Baines at baseball that aren't in. There are. They still exist.

 My ballot Jeter, Rolen, maybe Sheffield (one of those better than Baines guys!).  My gut wants to say Abreu for some reason. I can go either way on Clemens / Bonds.  Fine with them in - they were great. Fine with them out - they were cheaters who are also terrible people (Bonds likely beat his wife, Clemens likely slept with a 15 year old).

Given Zimm's mid career injury killed any HOF chance for him, Nats fans now just sit and wait patiently for 5 years after Max retires and wonder if a plaque can capture two different colored eyes.


In non HOF news Nolan Arenado isn't happy. Nats could use him. Braves could use him. Phillies could use him. Mets could use him though they'd have to move some guys around. The Braves would be an ideal location but if they didn't want to commit to Donaldson for 4 years would they commit to Arenado for 7 for more money?  Hard to see it even committing to Nolan for one "age year" less (36 for him vs 37 for Donaldson's demand).  The Nats would love to but seem committed to Kieboom and hard to see the Rockies settling for just Carter and any more guts the Nats system and seems very un-Nats like, also cap issues. Phillies? Are they still around? I see him somewhere other than Colorado by the end of 2020 but I don't see him in the East right now.  Mid-season might change that up once these teams who all hope they can just cruise to the playoffs and not have to commit much, (or miss the playoffs by a lot and not have to commit much) find themselves in a troublesome middle ground.

The Braves did bring in King Felix to kick the tires on him. Felix is not old - 34 in 2020, but he was bad last year and hasn't had even an ok season since 2016. While we generally think of successful guys as big K guys Felix wasn't really was that. He was a GB control master who never gave up the long ball and ate up tons of innings. From 2008-2014 his HR9 was 0.6 and 7 IP average. He was like Maddux more than anyone. But those skills are gone. He give up the flyballs now, the homers, and he's not compensating by walking fewer (he's walking more) or striking out more (he's striking out fewer).  He's also not eating innings.  This is a hail mary.

Friday, January 17, 2020

Buzzkill

Who knows how the weekend will unfold. Yesterday Carlos Beltran was fired, Jessica Mendoza made a fool of herself with a "snitches get stitches" take and the internet descended into chaos as players, player's kids, and fake player relations all weighed in on the scandal. Everyone starts looking for more like scanning video and picutres for evidence of buzzers, jumping on anything because the Astros have no benefit of the doubt anymore.

As we dig deeper expect to find more.  Every team tries to get an advantage and it's not like the Astros were the only team doing this. I don't say this to say any of this is ok. It's not. They know this type of watching monitors and signalling players is outside the scope of the game as desired. But that isn't going to stop some teams, especially knowing one team is succeeding doing it.

Could the Nats be cheats? Possibly! Any team can. Not hearing whispers from the local media is good, but unlike the bottles of sort of steroids sitting in lockers that the media just pretended they didn't see, the teams did seem to hide this from people outside the organization, so you can't rely on it. Better we haven't heard anything anecdotally yet.

Someone asked why the players are getting off scott-free.  It's because they have to. Not only would it be very hard to figure out who did what, but then meting out the punishment would cause competitive imbalances over the course of the season. Do you catch the Astros without Correa and Bregman or without Reddick and Max Stassi? You do have this kind of random luck during the season but MLB shouldn't be creating it.

Is there more to come just from the Astros side? There are two coaches still hanging out with ties to the 2017 team, one in Toronto and one in Boston that will probably end up being let go I imagine. After that we'll have to see what shakes out. If nothing comes up soon, it's possible that MLB could put it's head down, hide behind the Super Bowl, and get to Spring.

Wednesday, January 15, 2020

Baseball news dump

Josh Donaldson is a Twin.  4/92 with a possible option putting it over 100 million. The first thing this means is Donaldson - a very good player, is not on the Braves anymore. That's good for the Nats! This would have made the Braves a clear favorite for the division. Instead they remain a minor one with a lot of solid players but lacking that one more big bat to complement Freeman and Acuna*.  Will Albies step up? Austin Riley? Maybe but that's the same thing as guessing that Robles will. Right now they have no real weakness but nothing that can carry the team forward, and an offense that should be a little worse, matching the Nats own situation.

The second thing is Donaldson is not a Nat which means if the Nats really did have a 4/100 million deal out there as was told - that it was so heavily deferred to be comical. There doesn't seem to be an end to the Nats trying this game so expect to fall short on a good number of free agents. But as we've talked about before, this hasn't come back to bite them yet so why not keep moving forward with the plan? The still have enough talent to win and gaps that can be filled. Rendon is another big gap and we'll have to see if what they've done will work, but at this point, not really 8 seasons in because the first two didn't involve much front office work, but 6 seasons in of it working why doubt it?

Also yesterday the cheating scandal punishments came down and ultimately Hinch, Luhnow, and Cora were all let go.  Cora was a Nat in 2011, right before the Nats got good, but there's like a dozen things in between then and now with a bunch of teams, plus a whole different Nats squad so I'm not worried about anything he may or may not have done in DC.  Was it a fair punishment? I think so. Rules are rules, you know not to do that even if it's not explicitly spelled out. I think Hinch, with his anger but no action reaction to others doing this, ends up on a bench somewhere. I think Luhnow is done forever, because if we believe Hinch then either you have rogue coaches and players (doubtful) or direction from on high (sounds like the Astros to me), then he directed it and is lying now. Cora? I don't know. He was deep into it so it's a hard sell getting him back in.

Do I think other teams were trying or exploring similar things. I do.  Success breeds imitation and it's just in the nature of the game. But I think these are the warning shots over the bow (taking out a few sailors) to say "cut it out".  

Sadly all that's left in FA is the righty OF/DH shuffle between Ozuna (best OF), Castellanos (best bat), and Puig (most fun) of which the Nats and no one in the NL East should be a part of ** Yawn.  I suppose the trade market is still there but I doubt that Arenado is coming to the NL East (it's either the Cardinals with their amassing of prospects or no one).  Bryant is a more interesting case. The Braves should do a trade given their surplus of minor league talent. The Phillies should do a trade because they need one more big bat. The Nats should do a trade because the same. But likely no one will.

So we're probably where we are at for the season and I like the Braves and Nats to fight for the division and the WC with a slight edge to the Braves. Not a bad place to be with a WS title in pocket



*The Nats only had two big bats last year but the Nats also had three aces. The Braves do not have three aces. 

**both the Phillies and Marlins could use an OF but a CF specifically. You aren't putting any of these guys in CF.

Monday, January 13, 2020

Monday Quickie : No Donaldson

Fun fact reading the Carter Kieboom articles - just because you play a position doesn't make you a "natural".  Kieboom has played a bunch of short. But he's not better than Trea. Trea is good, but Trea isn't special. So that means Carter is maybe ok? Rizzo admitted last year Kieboom was a bat first guy. It's ok to admit while he CAN play SS maybe he shouldn't or at least you shouldn't plan this for the future? I know I'm nitpicking here but if you say a guy is a "natural shortstop" then I think "oh he can easily play 2B or 3B" as opposed to if you say "he's played SS most of his minor league career" which is a lot less committal on his defensive skills.  Basically he should be fine, even good, at 2B or 3B eventually but he not might be. It's still up in the air.

Which is important because Kieboom is now part of Plan A. Basically confirming any hope of getting Donaldson is over, Rizzo pushed Kieboom and the recent moves as easily good enough to cover the infield holes. And it might be.  You are almost certainly not going to replace 2019 Rendon. But can the Nats get like 80% of it? He's the idea on how that happens with my percent chances attached.

Asdrubal Cabrera has a great season (10%). He was amazing to end the year but has bounced all over the place mainly being around average for full seasons. At 34+ he may have a good full year left but he's probably more likely to crash. His defense was solid last year but in part that's him degrading down the defensive ladder. The former SS aged out of that position, then aged out of 2B.

Carter Kieboom breaks out. (15%) All minor league signs suggest Kieboom will hit at an acceptable level in the majors but there's also not an overwhelming track record of dominance. His best partial season was probably a .296 / .400 / .497 line in Single A back in 2017 which is good but it wouldn't make you excited if he wasn't 19/20 at the time. His short stint last year was so bad that it seems unlikely he'll impress on offense or defense. But again he's young so you are hoping he grows into the role. With that out there I can't expect more from him than say Robles who just three months older than Carter was putting up a basically the same line you see there but in AA in 2017.  So I'm hoping for average this year and will be happy if I see that. Better than that will probably have to wait.

Starlin Casto has a great season (25%).  Boz points out his great half year but I am more interested in a couple seasons that he was almost there and him being a good 4 years younger than Asdrubal. I don't think there's a star turn at 29/30 here but can he put it together for one year? Give the Nats something like .300 with 25 homers? (He doesn't walk). Plus he aged out of SS but he's still a good 2b meaning he could be a very good 3B.  Get all that for one year and you might just give enough to, not replace, but cover for Rendon

Davey works platoon magic (5%). The splits aren't there to suggest this is a thing. Mainly it'd be more luck on getting someone's hot stretch then lucking into another one. Maybe having D not really matter all that much based on balls hit to 3B.  It can happen but don't rely on it.

Now this isn't cumulative.  You can't look at the above and say there is a 2/3 chance of replacing Rendon. If you start with say As Cab and he's not good for two months, well there's your chance at doing it, even if Castro comes in and give you what we say.  4 months of the above won't cover for Rendon. It'd have to be a - you get good AsCab then he gets hurt or something then you get good Castro. That's more like 5% chance.

How you should read the above is the likelihood things work out for the Nats given their OD choice. Maybe pump it up 5-10 based on things like I described above, a string of moves that happen to work. But I figure best case is 1/3rd chance and they can flub it up to be under 10% if say they start with a platoon idea.  That doesn't mean the Nats will have a bad 3B situation, just that they won't come close to replacing Rendon. The most likely scenario in fact is that it's ok to start and just stays ok and you feel the loss of Rendon but it isn't terrible.

The Nats made this bed. Now they have to lie in it (and for the next 4+ months tell us how comfortable they think it is)

Friday, January 10, 2020

Lucky or Unlucky : 2019

Last couple of years I did this but it felt a little out of place at the end during a WS celebration, when saying something like "I don't think Strasburg had the best postseason ever" got me crushed by Nats fans.  With some time between then and now and the bad taste of losing Rendon setting the palates a little back to normal, let's go over what went right (and wrong) for the Nats in 2019 that had nothing to do with skill. (regular season only - playoffs is too short really to fit in here)

UNLUCKY 

Zimm gets hurt real bad, can't hit and Adams hits a wall.  The idea that Zimm would miss time to injury is a given. You peg him for 100 games and hope he gets there.  But this year Zimm barely hit half of that (52) and didn't hit even average which he managed to do in most years despite injury. Matt Adams was replacement number one, kept on the team after a good 2018, but he too dropped below average leaving the Nats with a hole at first. Add to the fact neither could field and the Nats had a terrible 1B situation until they defaulted to Howie+

Rosenthal is a disaster  The Nats bet a lot on Rosenthal expecting him to either be good and get them a top notch reliever or be bad and just taken as a sunk cost eating up the last spot in the pen.  They weren't prepared though for Rosenthal to be completely unusable and one of the worst relief pitchers in baseball in 2019.  Sportin a deserved 22.74 ERA Rosenthal was given a couple chances to come back and never did leaving a hole in the Nats bullpen. This was made worse by...

Bullpen pieces take a step back  Bullpens are variable things. With a usual mix of inexperienced arms and arms with maybe too much experience pitching minimal innings, you get results bouncing all around the place. Spread this out among 32 teams and you'll get a couple teams get more than their fair share of luck and a couple teams that do not. Guess where the Nats were.  Matt Grace, a found piece in 2018 expected to step up, was terrible. Kyle Barraclough, signed aiming for an innings eatings decent arm, was terrible. Doolittle, hurt for much of the year, wasn't sharp.  The resulting issues caused a baby with the bathwater situation where the Nats released some guys that might have helped like Sipp and Miller for the sake of starting over. Meanwhile no one stepped up.

Hellickson 5th starter is a no-go  You can't expect 30 starts from Hellickson, but you do expect more than 8 and a 6.23 ERA.  This arm was going to go sometime, just like it did in 2017 but the Nats didn't have to catch this. They did

7-13 early in close games.  Some teams have things not go their way early, which has more impact than late just because it sets up your moves and mindset for the rest of the year. In 1 and 2 run games the Nats were getting crushed and they found themselves in a spot heading into late May where if things didn't turn around soon and consistently they'd have to come up with a new plan.


LUCKY 

Howie's best year ever.  We kind of think "Howie can hit. Last year was just him being him." No way.  Last year was a career high in batting average 30 points over anything recent and 50 over his career average. It was his career high in homers and he posted a isoSLG of .228  easily besting his previous career high of .179 back when he was 27.  The guy had been consistently an above average hitter. Last year he put up no-brainer All-Star numbers.

Rendon becomes RENDON.  Ok this isn't a big time luck swing but you can't say this is expected because in 6 previous years including the last two pretty healthy ones, Anthony never put up anything like this year. Career highs in BA, homers (by 9), tied for career high in doubles, nearly a career high in walks (4 off). This was the year he put it all together. Is it a sign of a step up or just that one special season? Not the Nats problem anymore and honestly the Angels will probably be happy if he puts up a bunch of years like 2017-18 if it's the latter.

Nearly perfect OF health.  Every team gets injuries but the Nats, with a little older team and some injury risks are probably a little more prone to them than other teams. The Nats did have a decent Plan B for the OF in Howie, but once 1B became a debacle they needed him there leaving it important that no OF miss major time, espeically Robles whose defense allows Soto and Eaton to stay in the corners.   Soto 150 games, Eaton 151 games, Robles 155 games.

Nearly perfect SP health.  Max had his issues at the year end but the big 4 started something like 93% of the games they would given perfect health. Most importantly given Max's short miss time, Strasburg, who seems to miss a month every season, didn't in 2019.  As the rotation gets older this is harder to keep up but as long as it does the Nats have a chance.

Super subs You bring in guys and hope they can fill spots.  If they are better than expected that's a nice bonus.  Hudson put up a 1.44 ERA with some LOB luck and nailed down the bullpen.  Asdrubal Cabrera put up a .323 / .404 /.565 line that he'd never be able to do over a season  Both these guys were integral to getting the Nats keeping their WC lead and getting into the playoffs.

Things turned around soon and consistently.  After the bad start the Nats would go like 36-15 to immediately put themselves back in it by the trade deadline.  If they had stumbled at all during this time - like the 3-7 stretch right at this point or the 6-10 run near the end of the year - the Nats are around .500 and might be looking to pack it in.


AS EXPECTED

Gomes/Suzuki platoon, Dozier, Turner, Soto, Robles Eaton all hit reasonable expectations. There were flirtations with major issues at C, 2B, and CF but all held that off.  Soto being Soto again rather than taking a clear step back was key to keeping the line-up dangerous enough.

Strasburg, Corbin, Max all pitched like aces.   That's why they make the big bucks and until they give you reason to doubt them you expect this.

Sanchez didn't waver. And this is why he got paid what he did.

Nats luck in games evened out in general. The Nats had lousy luck in 1-run games, but in 3 run games were almost unbeatable. Yeah I know 1 run games are closer to .500 splits and good teams make their living in the 3-8 range. Still 22-6 in three run games is out of whack. Basically over the course of the year things evened out and the talent than was mostly healthy was able to shine enough to get them into the playoffs. 


As in any good year for any team, the Nats were luckier than unlucky.* Howie's career year countered the 1B failings.  The nearly perfect SP health (and talent that the Nats put there) and Hudson's miracle stint countered the 5th starter issues and failures of the pen when it mattered.  Rendon's MVP worthy season, the OF health, As Cab's stint along with some timely Parra hits when he first arrived, gave the Nats an extra offensive boost needed after luck swung against them early.  It wasn't a big swing in their favor but it was enough.


*basic truth is that with 5 teams in direction competiton, and 10 more sort of, a couple teams are going to get really lucky, a couple more sort of lucky, etc. etc. Because some other good team will get lucky it's hard for a good team, unless set up to be REALLY good, to get a little unlucky and still make it through. You need luck. 

Tuesday, January 07, 2020

Hudson's back - so no Donaldson?

The Nats have officially brought back Daniel Hudson.  It was clear that Hudson wanted a longer deal, but it's now clear that no one wanted to give him one. So two years 11 million and he's back in the Nats pen where he thrived in the back half of 2019.

Personally I don't believe this sets the Nats pen or makes it "imposing".  This is a less impressive trio than Doo, Hudson, Kintzler and we all know how that worked out. Is it reasonably contructed? Yes! and Nats pens aren't always so. Could it be great? Sure.  I mean any reasonably constructed pen can - look at the Nats in 2016. Could it be below average? Yep. That too. I wouldn't bet on it but I wouldn't be surprised either. When I'd be surprised though is if this pen was bad.

In short : I think the bullpen should be expected to be above average but there's a lot of variability in pens.

How do I feel about the Hudson deal in general... I kind of don't love it. He wasn't all that good in 2018 or 2017 or 2016.  He was merely ok in 2019 before joining the Nats. His arm is injury prone, he missed time as recently as 2018 and last years 83 IP were the most innings he's thrown since 2011. We're talking Obama's first term here, Miley Cyrus was still Hannah Montana! His 2019 was helped by an unrepeatable LOB% (81.8) and a HR/FB rate not likely to be repeated (8.6%). Somehow this happened while giving up fewer GBs and more hard hit balls. Basically remember that Dodgers catcher almost hitting it out? That was Daniel Hudson in a nutshell last year. Can he repeat getting guys to almost hit it out? I doubt it

It doesn't mean he can't be a useful bullpen piece, but for about a million more you could have signed Clippard and Stammen and gotten two useful pieces, with less injury risk.

Still it's hard to fault the Nats for doing something where they usually do nothing. This is a big improvement over the option of whoever would fill the last spot in the pen that now gets bumped out. The real problem is though that the Nats now seem out of the running for Donaldson. They say the contract is still out there and I believe them, in part because I think the deferments make them money to cover the cap hit. But it's hard to see him coming to a team paying him less when the other offers are also from contending teams.

The Nats had a very good offense last year but a big chunk of that was Rendon. Losing him hurts.  There's also the fact that Kendrick had a career year that he's unlikely to repeat. Eaton's trending wrong as is Suzuki. The Nats have some decent options out there in Thames and Castro but all these guys are more likely to be average than good. Can Turner step up? I don't know he's been playing long enough to kind of accept he's a good but not great bat. Can Robles? Possibly - he is young. But I'm not enthused by what I saw last year. Maybe average.  Can Soto? I think he can get even better... if they are bothering to pitch to him. I don't think it'll be a bad offense if they don't replace Rendon with Donaldson (or someone in trade) but it'll be one that's likely to be around average, meaning the pitching has to be great to compensate.

And the pitching can be great. It has been. It's got three aces and a pen that should be good. But that's a lot of pressure on a rotation that features a lot of age and went through a lot of wear and tear last year.

Monday, January 06, 2020

Monday Quickie - Lots of stuff

Remember last week when I noted nothing happened when we were gone? Well now stuff happened - a lot of stuff! Over the weekend the Nats signed both AsCab and Starlin Castro. The question is... what does this mean?

Option 1 : They hate Kieboom. This sets up 2B and the backup MI as they try to bring in Donaldson.

Option 2 : They trade Kieboom. This sets up 2B and the backup MI as they try to trade for maybe Kris Bryant.

Option 3 : They are out of the 3B market. This sets up 3B and the backup MI as they get ready to give Kieboom his long trial

Take your pick.  To me #1 is the least likely. Donaldson has seemingly set his asking price (like 4/110) and also presumably has a better deal on the table from the Twins than the Nats. Sure maybe "defending champs" speaks to him and he'll take whatever deferred heavy deal the Nats have out there, but if it wasn't about money he could have done that already.

#2 is more possible. Yes Byant will be a FA in a couple seasons, but he's also in that underpaid control period of this contract making him a value.

#3 is also possible though then you'd have to wonder what happens to the money the Nats would have, but didn't spend, as there aren't a lot of options out there on where to place it and "the Lerners bank account" is the one we want to see the least.

How are these guys?  I like Castro. He likes to play especially for winning teams. He's ok! Probably a little better than he was last year. Boz seems to think his 2nd half could portend a break out.  Oddly enough he doesn't say that for AsCab who had an equally crazy August and September. We know him. He is also ok. But older. And at times it looked like the Nats were lucky to get what they got because what were you swinging at Asdrubal?

My take is that this is a fine platoon or starter/back-up situation for the 7th or 8th man in your line-up.  You can get an average player from these two and for about 8-9 million that's a good deal. Much like Will Harris though these are the finishing touches around picking up someone to replace Rendon... or honestly to replace like 80% of Rendon.  If they get that - all is well - successful off-season, time to defend.  If they don't then this team is a step back from last year and while that probably means a similar end spot for the Nats (comfortably in the WC discussion with around 90 wins) it's not where they could have or should have been, imo.  But let's see

Friday, January 03, 2020

Will Harris is good. Will Harris be good?

The Nats made a move to shore up the pen which by the end of the season was Doolittle, Hudson, and that's it.  Hudson wanted to come back but the Nats were reluctant to bet more than two years on his oft-injured usually not too good arm.  Instead they went with Will Harris who you may remember from such pitches as the one to Howie Kendrick that he hit for a home run in game 7. Harris was probably the second best reliever available in free agency* and the Nats gave him a contract that looks today to be on market. Three years / 24 million.  So a good deal or not?

Why it may be a good deal:

Harris has been nothing if not consistent. Since breaking out late in life (28) for the D-backs in 2013, Will has put together an annual performance that I'd call just short of dominance. (His ERA doesn't reflect his performance as happens at times with relievers - he is more of a 2.50 - 3.00 ERA guy) He does everything you want a pitcher to do - keeps guys off base with low hit rate and low walk rates, strikes out a bunch, doesn't give up a lot of homeruns. Nothing is special - even the combination of all of them - but while a lot of those special guys flash briefly then go out, he's right there as one of the best relievers of the past 5+ years.

He's also been healthy appearing in 60+ games in 4 of the last 5 years and the other year appearing in 46. It's really hard to fault this as a move for 2020, and if you are looking "beyond Doolittle" he could easily slip into that same "not dominant but very good and will get the job done" role in 2021

Why it may not be a good deal:

Harris was the 2nd best reliever on the market because of his age.  He's 35, and will turn 36 during next season. Take that for what it is. There was a drop in his K rate despite a league wide increase in Ks and fancy stat digging shows fewer chases, swings and misses, and more overall contact. That worked out in 2019 as that contact seemed to turn into GBs but Harris isn't consistently an overwhelming GB pitcher and those numbers coupled with a less dominant GB/FB split like 2015 or 2017 may spell trouble.

While a key piece to the playoff runs of the Astros in previous years, this year they really leaned on him more, 10 IP pitched in the playoffs in 12 appearances, compared to previous highs of 4 IP in 6 appearances in 2017.  That marks his most work in a season outside of 2015. That didn't seem to bother him then, but he was also 30, not 34 carrying 4 more years of wear and tear.

My thoughts :

It's a necessary and good deal and I'm glad the Nats made it. There is a very good chance Harris is good next year and worth the money he's being paid, even if he slightly regresses. There is a chance at his age of a sharp and quick decline but the Nats are playing a "win now" game** using veterans to supplement an older rotation that's still performing at a high level. This fits in with that plan.  Where does it leave the Nats in year 3? Worry about that in year 2.


*to Will Smith who signed with the Braves.  You maybe could argue Betances (Mets) is better on talent but he's been hurt so much.  

** by that I mean going with older talent, not spending a ton of money. It's the Nats

Thursday, January 02, 2020

Some number of days until pitchers and catchers

You are all elementary school graduates.  you can figure out the number yourself.

Ok so I took the holiday season off and let's see what I missed - all the Nats transactions from Dec 17th until now...
  • 12/18/19  Washington Nationals signed free agent RHP Mario Sanchez to a minor league contract.
aaaand... end scene.

If you must know, Mario Sanchez, not to be confused with America's Latin Sweetheart, Mario Lopez, was in the Nats system last year.  He had a decent quick early stint in Harrisburg, was pushed up to AAA and got hammered, then spent the rest of the year in AA.  At 25, he's basically org filler.

What happened in the NL East?

Braves did nothing other than anger a fanbase waiting for them to do something else.

Mets, who had just signed Rick Porcello on the 16th giving them the deepest (though not best) rotation in the East if they choose to keep Wacha a starter, signed Dellin Betances.  If he's healthy it should be a really good move for the pen.  Of course Diaz should have been a great move and look how that turned out.

Phillies, signed a bunch of garbage to minor league deals.  The only one I care about is Josh Harrison, who was a decent major leaguer before last year.

What happened in the rest of the majors?

Ok the big moves were
  • Bumgarner, Calhoun to the D-backs
  • Avisail Garcia, Eric Sogard, and Justin Smoak to the Brewers 
  • Wade Miley to the Reds 
  • Tanner Roark, Hyun-Jin Ryu to the Blue Jays
  • Gerrit Cole to the Yankees 
  • Gio, Kuechel to the White Sox 
  • Clippard, Romo, Hill, Bailey to the Twins
  • Teheran to the Rangers
  • CJ Cron and John Schoop to the Tigers 
  • Martin Maldanado to the Astros 
  • Maikel Franco to the Royals
So what's that all mean?  It means that - good Cole is out of the NL (and with the Yankees). It means a lot of 5th starter depth is gone and also the good pitchers so chances of the Nats going with something rotation wise outside of a Hellickson like plan is unlikey.  Only a few more relievers have gone so there are still guys out there for the Nats to move on if they want to. Most notable is the name that's not on here; Josh Donaldson.  He hasn't signed and if the Nats are to trying to re-create the very good offense of 2019 in 2020 they need him. 

Donaldson seems to have a four year offer out there from the Twins and a "four"* year offer out there from the Nats as well.  Still unsigned but you have to think 4 years is what he was looking for so I'd imagine he'll take that Twins offer soon if the Braves or someone else don't counter it. After that the dominoes may fall in a trade direction with both Kris Bryant and Nolan Arenado rumored.  My guess is Bryant has a real chance to be dealt while Arenado is out there only to see what kind of haul they can get back. Everyone is always on the table.

Caught up?

Basically we're where we were when we left off. Nats looking to secure 3B with Donaldson and if not, then moving to relief help (evne though they could really use, and afford to, do both) neither situation is off the table yet.


*oh as if it doesn't have significant deferred money