Nationals Baseball

Wednesday, January 23, 2019

Unanimous

Color me surprised. (Is surprise a color? I see it as a bright yellow) I didn't think Mariano would get 100% but apparently the combination of

1) being the clear best at his position, like by leaps and bounds
and
2) having a heap of post-season success to point to

is enough to overcome the "closers aren't real players", "no one should be unanimous if Babe Ruth wasn't", "steroid protest vote" dumb voters. Good for Mariano

Of course this doesn't really matter in two ways. Getting voted in to the Hall of Fame doesn't mean you are better than some one else. It doesn't change - you know - the actual things that happened. Harold Baines isn't suddenly better than Fred McGriff. It's a popularity contest (as it should be - we're talking about opinions and feelings about players).  And how many votes you got to get in doesn't matter. Bert Blyleven is no less in than Mariano Rivera.  And if that bothers you I don't know what to say - the cut off has to be somewhere.

As for the players who got in

I always had a soft spot for Mussina. The consistently very good over a long period of time players tend to be underrated. Aging well is a skill too! I think Hallday and Mussina were obvious choices.

I've never been a fan of pure DHs getting in, and thrown in a limited time frame of success that was great but wasn't mindblowing, I never saw Edgar as a HOFers. But like I said before - whatever!  It's not important! I mean it's important to them so great! But there's no reason to get angry about it.

Even Baines, he's clearly not a HOF, but he's in. I'll joke about it. I'll talk about it. But get angry about it? Nah.

Who didn't get in? Bonds and Clemens - for reasons. As other people note there's more to this than steroids, or at least there should be. We are talking about a likely wife beater and a likely statutory rapist, respectively. But if you do the "don't care about character, we can't throw out Ty Cobb" thing they should both be in. Schilling as well. He's not a slam dunk case, because the way his career unfolded, but he's good enough. But then again - keep them out if you want! It's your vote! We're getting your opinions on who should be in and out! If not, a computer would just pick it.

Otherwise - In my mind - Walker is good enough. McGriff, Manny, and Scott Rolen who excelled at a position that apparently it's very hard to.  I'd listen to arguments about Kent or Sheffield . I think Berkman should have gotten a little more love but probably isn't a HOF.

Feel free to state your cases in the comments - this is the fun part. discussing without making it personal.  Unless one of you are one of these guys, in that case feel free to make your own very personal case.  

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

What if the Phillies got what they wanted?

Yesterday a rumor surfaced (from the less than reliable Bob Nightengale) that the Phillies had a plan to put that stupid money to work. Sign Bryce, then sign Kuechel and Kimbrel. Would that make them a super team? Would it even put them over the Nats... or Braves... or Me - ok yes easily over Mets.

As we discussed the Phillies were a sneakily mediocre team last year. Thanks to a strong start and some luck the Phillies maintained the sense of a team ready to make the next step. As late as the end of August they were relevant,sitting at 72-62 (though probably more of a 69-65 squad in talent - they had some luck) But in reality the offense was middling and the pitching staff slowly eroded as the season went on.  when the wheels came off in September and they plummeted to their below .500 finish. They made some minimal changes, trading for As Cab and Ramos but it wasn't enough to make a difference.

Could even a drastic overhaul be enough to turn the tide in 2019?

They've already traded for Jean Segura , signed McCutchen, and inked David Robertson. These are all improvements but mild ones. Segura is the biggest plus, as his above average bat and solid D replaces a position of true weakness for the Phillies with a plus. That could be a 2 game swing. McCutchen is far more average in what he brings but what he importantly does is allow the Phillies to move Hoskins to 1B, set a guy who isn't terrible in the corner, and cycle through fewer of their AAAA talent OFs. Those guys, Williams, Altherr, Herrera, all these guys right now look like decent 3/4s bats with a little issue in the field. That's fine to have as one guy. It's a mess to have as all your guys, which it pretty much was last year (with "I'm a better bat than that but really a first baseman" Hoskins pitching in). It will help but in a "we brought in this middling innings eater 3rd starter" sort of way.  Robertson helps strengthen the pen, giving it a depth that it never had last year as it basically seemed to always be relying on 1-2 guys, whoever that may have been. Robertson also helps out Kapler who didn't seem to handle the pen great last year and probably needs that "traditional closer" to anchor his decisions.

I see improvement. I see 4 maybe 5 games here. But that takes a Phillies squad out of the playoffs and makes them less out of the playoffs. What would these three do?

Bryce - Bryce would immediately replace a "hopefully average" bat with a "at worst above average" one. Defensively he was bad last year, but he probably pushes out the almost as bad Nick Williams. And if you take the 3 year look at it - as you probably should - it's likely he'd be an improvement over Williams.  Nothing mindblowing mind you but Bryce is probably meh in the corner and Nick is probably worse than that. So right off the bat you have a 2-3 win boost. Then there's the side benefit of now only having the best Phillies OF prospect playing. Is it a reborn Herrera - who's probably the best fielder, manning CF? An Altherr proving 2017 was the real him - maybe in a corner with Cutch over to CF? Either way the Phillies don't have to stick with someone not giving them nothing like they do now.  It's a 3-4 plus move easy. And note we're basically taking Bryce as a 130 OPS+ bat here. Consider a better bat and well sky's the limit.

Keuchel is a solid pitcher. He's not entirely reliable (145 & 168 IP in 2017 and 2016) but he's decent and the season he put up last year is about right. He's better than that middling 3rd. He's a solid #2 for nearly any team.  Pitching signings are particularly effective because you aren't knocking out one guy, but the worst of 5. In comes Keuchel out goes one of not Arrieta or Nola. It's a win and a half at least. Plus it gives the Phillies a lefty arm they don't have now.  It's a little harder finding that right pitcher to knock out but Eflin will likely get a chance to stick and there's a good chance legit prospect Sixto Sanchez could see the rotation for good toward the end of the year, so Pivetta/Velasquez will be pushed to prove they should stay.

Kimbrel will make Kapler's job even easier. The Phillies will have that set-up closer (and likely 7-8-9 assuming Seranthony's 2018 wasn't a fluke) and give Kapler the freedom to mess up in less crucial moments. Some managers thrive when trying to optimize pitching. I don't think Kapler is one of those guys. Give another win here.

So I have the Phillies 4.5-5.5 wins better at a minimum if these guys come in and are healthy. Now the 85 win-ish Phillies are 90-91 win team. That's right up there with the Braves and Nats. And again - if Bryce breaks out... forget it. So there's potential for this team to cruise to an East title.


I think looking at the above - if the Phillies are serious about competing this year they need Bryce (or Machado) and Keuchel (or a similar starter) The team was starting at a floor lower than you'd think and are facing two real threat to win 90+ games in the Nats and Braves. That's the minimum.   Add more, like a Kimbrel and they may nudge into favorite status. But do less than that and the Phillies remain on the outside, hoping for busts and breakouts to go their way.

Ok - now to check and make sure no one has signed... Nope ok post!

Monday, January 14, 2019

Monday Quickie - Close

It feels like we are close on a Bryce decision, and a Manny decision for that matter. How these play out could be huge season turners. If somehow Bryce and Manny end up both on the Phillies - the Nats, despite the good offseason so far, have a 4 team fight on their hands for the NL East where they might not be the favorite*. If Bryce ends up back in DC and Manny somewhere not the NL East then the Nats are WS favorites and likely only have to hold off what was a slightly overachieving Braves squad who maaaaaybe are better due to off-season moves?, to get to the playoffs.

The mystery team speculation is fun, but primarily it comes down to 4 teams (not counting the Nats). The Phillies, who have talked about spending stupid money and getting one of these guys for a couple of offseasons. The White Sox, who seem prepared to follow the new trend of trying to capture success as soon as it gets here by spending now** And two of the three forever teams in the mix, the Yankees and the Dodgers. Both these teams were playoff squads last year. Both should be around as good based on their off-seasons so far. But both remain "I'll believe it when I see it" situations, in regards to laying off these potential future HOFers. The Yankees are pushed by the success of the Red Sox and the Dodgers by 30 years of failure. Neither fanbase would be happy with the status quo.

The best scenario for the Nationals, outside of Bryce back, would be both guys ending up in the AL. The worst is both in the NL East. I still like Bryce to the Phillies, but I'll shift Manny to the White Sox. I think he wants to be a Yankee, and the Yankees want him, but they seem to be pennywise, pound foolish here, hoping that Manny's heart outweighs his brain.  I'l say the brain, and more dump trucks full of money, win out.

Personally I think the "Werth hates the Phillies" to be way overrated and I think the main thing Werth will tell Bryce is the same thing that drove him to DC in the first place.  Follow the money.

*probably would still be but it's early. Will need to think about it more. Think there is a reflexive turn to the Nats that might pull away again by season's start.

**in general keeping costs down though for the window.

Friday, January 11, 2019

Why isn't it Dozy-er?

Just wondering. "Dozsher" is no fun.  Brian "Dozy-er" - now that's a name I can get behind.

There are times when being a fan is better than being a souless automaton and the Nats recent signings is one of those times. I can look at Anibal Sanchez and Brian Dozier and see two players with pretty decent sized flaws, who are bigger risks than the Nats should be taking, who nonetheless should be projected to be pretty average in 2019.  The number are the numbers. A fan can sit there and say with a straight face "You are judging Anibal Sanchez too much on past years. You gotta look what he did last year!" and "You are judging Brian Dozier too much on last year. You gotta look what he did in past years!", not see what you are doing, and come up with a super Nats team. (also a pessimist is fun for opposite reasons)

And it goes beyond these two. Yan Gomes could bust. Trevor Rosenthal could bust.  And this is not in the "well anyone can bust" way but the "we just saw them bust over the past couple of years" way. I prefer a Gio - committing to the Nats motto of "be good enough to make the playoffs - then crapshoot" than this. It's kind of like trying to sneak into, rather than pay into, a super team. Give me more Suzukis and Barracloughs and a team that is expected to win 89-93 wins then these guys and a team that's expected to win 81-101 games. (Actually check that. Give me more Corbins)

Anyway Dozier. .235 25 HR decent defense. That was my take and that's what the projections say .  Why am I so worried about a bust? Usually, for offensive players, that worry follows an increased K rate, decreased BB rate. He might not be able to hit certain pitches in the zone. He may be chasing off-speed pitches because he can't get around on the fastball.  The eyesight and recognition might be gone just enough that he can't ID what's coming fast enough. The end result is the guy just isn't able to hit the ball anymore and there's no coming back from that. Dozier's numbers don't suggest this though. BB-rate and K-rate are stable.

What we do see is a drop in BABIP which usually indicates some bad luck. However it's coupled with a decrease in HR/FB rate which suggests a chunk of this is FBs staying in the park adding to the BABIP denominator not just hitting them where they are. That can also be fluky but it comes down a lot to what you believe. Dozier 2012-15 had BABIPs of .267 .278 .269 and .261.  His .240 is low but not too much off that. It only looks bad in comparison to the 2016-17 combo of .280 ad .300.  Dozier's HR/FB rate increased steadily 6.3% 9.9% 11.3% 13.1% 18.4%. In 2017 it took a little dip to 16.8% and last year down to 11.2%.  Look at all this and you can see a player with a bad year if you like. But you can also see a player who got kind of lucky the past two years and is really a low average, mild homer guy. Peak Danny Espinosa with worse fielding, more power.

So right away I don't like the trends. I also don't like what I see from his pull numbers (2015 - 60.2% then 56.4% 50.4% 49.9%)  His hard percentage has gone up... in fangraphs stats. But it's down on statcast and his exit velocity is down as well. It's just a MPH - which matters but isn't big. But as fangraphs notes - it's down much more on his FBs. This strikes me the way as a player who simply can't get around on the FB like he used to. The numbers from last year back that up.  He used to crush FBs to the point you'd wonder why'd he get any. Last year he was only noticeably positive on changes. This is screaming that he can't generate that down the line power and thus can't do what made him the very productive MVP vote getting player - bash homers and pair them with kind of good defense.

That's another thing - what had been a good, not great, defender last year showed real decrease. He'll be an upgrade, simply because post-injury Murphy should not have been at second. But it may be that he won't offer a good fielding alternative, he'll just be better than the worst. His speed went down and he tied his career low in SB. Not a big deal, but it takes away from something else you say he can offer. There's injuries here, yes, and the 'back spin" on injuries is now he's an injury risk and as he went into the off-season suffering from them who knows how long it will take him to recover?

What's the positive spin? Well, if you want to blame it all on injury then I guess you can say he'll get better (this is the "forward spin" from injury) then repeat 2016 and 2017. That can certainly explain the fielding issues, and can be thrown into the power argument in a way all injuries can be. He'll be 32 which is on the cusp of "probably not coming back from that" but I'd say not there yet. Some guys can't do it, some guys can keep coming back until they get into their later 30s. If he is facing a true decline, which is what I think, he does have a keen eye that hasn't left him and he could make himself into more of a patient hitter. In 2014 he was very valuable at the plate because he walked 90 times even though he hit only .242 with a moderate number (23) of  homers. That could be a plan 2019 Dozier. And of course there's Kendrick backing him up who should be fine. And he's better than Difo which was the alternative.

In the end you have to stick with the numbers and like I said .235 25 average-ish D is probably your best bet and that's fine. But ask me where I'd put my money between .215 18 poor D and .270 35 good D and I'm mortgaging the house to put it on the former.

The Nats are a good team. A very good team. They have been for years. In my mind you either do what they have been doing at different levels since 2014 - secure winning records by shoring up the bench and pen with decent players; or you go all in and try to secure, as much as one can, an even better expected record.  This type of variability to try to get those extra wins, to me, just adds uneeded possibility of another missed playoff run season. All those guys could completely fail, Gomes, Rosenthal, Dozier, Sanchez, and it wouldn't be that surprising and the Nats could go down with them. Why go at it that way?

The off-season isn't over though. Another good starter, another good pen arm, a Bryce, and then the Nats have made themselves better enough with more of an all-in strategy and this all becomes window dressing. So I'll hold off judging the off-season, as we should, until the off-season is actually over.  I don't like the current trend in signings but all it takes is one to break it.

Thursday, January 10, 2019

Dozier

There's a couple ways of looking at it. My take boils down to this :

I think there's a fair chance at a complete bust with Dozier. Therefore I think there's more risk here than a contending team needs to take on for that money. Also I think the cost is a little high. Therefore, I think there is more value for that money that the Nats could have come away with. At the same time if I project what I think Dozier will do in 2019 I'd say around .235 and 25 homers and slightly below average defense which would be perfectly acceptable.

This all needs the context of time. If the Nats close up shop today, I'll see it worse than if the Nats keep spending money or make smart trades. Get a reliever and a starter then who cares if I think Dozier was a risk worth 4-5 million. They got the pieces they needed anyway. Get Bryce and I'll see a commitment to going for it that includes overpaying to get best team, and Dozier fits into that in some way. If the 2nd base market remains high and LeMahieu and Lowrie and Asdrubal all go for noteicably more, and even the middling guys like Harrison and Walker get 3-4-5 million. I'll admit I misread the market and Dozier's contract was perfectly fine.

So it's a deal in limbo. It's not bad in itself. But in context it might be.

(and of course YOU CAN MAKE A BAD DEAL THAT MAKES YOUR TEAM BETTER. Those are two separate evaluations) 

I'll have more tomorrow on why I feel the way I do about the risk.

Monday, January 07, 2019

Monday Quickie - impermanence

Apparently according to the comments, I both wildly overestimated and mildly underestimated how good the Nats are. I'd say that means I'm probably right becuase both side are unhappy, but it actually doesn't work that way. I think pythag is a good quick reference to a teams talent level for projecting forward. Anything other than W-L though, looking at the past year in review, is pointless. They may have had the talent of a 90 win team but they won 82 and in the end that's all that matters.

It'll be curious how this Nats team goes down in history.  Generally you are made by playoffs and championships and nothing else. Think of all those great teams that might have been, crushed by the  Yankees.  From 1936-1964 (29 seasons) the Yankees won 16 World Series and lost 6 more.  Great AL teams were obliterated. Great NL dynasties never came to pass

The mid 60s early 70s Orioles were a powerhouse - the team that started the idea of "the Oriole Way". They won 97 or more games 6 times in 11 years. They won one AL title pre '69 expansion, 5 AL East titles in 6 years, and made four WS. But as someone outside the region I only have a vague idea of how good they are, because they only won two WSs, three years apart. Who do we remember? The Chuck Finley A's.  A great team, no doubt - 5 straight AL West titles. But not better than that Oriole run... except they won three WSs in a row.

The Big Red Machine almost got lost. They won the West in 72 (lost to A's in WS), in 73 (lost to Mets in playoffs), nosed out in 74 after winning 98 games, and nearly lost the epic 1975 WS to the Red Sox, before dominating that second title run.  If they don't win back to back series do we care as much about them?  Well, what's your feelings about the 70s Dodgers? They'd have a decade without a losing season from '69-'78. They'd tack on five more good seasons in the next 7. But we think as much about Gibson's HR, a blip season surrounded by mediocrity, as we do the Garvey-Lopes-Russell-Cey teams.

Did you know the Phillies had back to back 100 win seasons in 75 and 76 and won the East 6 times in 8 years from 76-83? Probably not. You may note the Royals WS win in 1985, but they had been a snake-bit winner since 76.  We don't really get how big 1980 really was when the Royals finally beat the Yankees to make a series and the Phillies finally be the NL West team (this time the Astros) to do the same. And even then the Royals didn't get the memory cement until 1985 when they won a series of their own.

This is all history to me. At this point I start remembering things because I lived it. I But that's not the point - I bet the younger fans in general don't have those impressions bourn from watching these seasons play out. Just like I don't have the impressions I probably should about some of the teams I noted above.

What do 30 year olds think of the always there early-mid 80s Cardinals, who got into the series three times but only managed to win back in 82? Or the dominant mid-late 80s Mets who had a run on 98-108-92-100 but only got to and won that one WS? What do they think of the Bash Brothers A's - another dominant Athletics team that got to three series in a row, but unlike the Finley A's only managed to win one? Or the great Bonds/Bonilla run for the Pirates?

A 20 year old might think decently of the 90s Braves because the run was just so impressive (and honestly didn't end until they were into the game) despite only winning 1. But do they know how good those mid-late  90s Indians teams were? Ever think about the offensive powerhouse Texas teams of the late 90s or high quality Twins teams of the 00s (both crushed by the Yankees in playoffs)? The Killer B's Astros? I doubt it.

My point is - teams are defined by winning, not just in the regular season, but in the playoffs. Sure, there are going to be guys like me (and probably you) who dig into the game and see how good these teams really are but the dominant "mind-share" that are associated with squads comes down to making, and preferably winning, championships. In the old days, with only one round of playoffs before the series, you could just keep winning and eventually break through. Nearly all those teams before 95 had their moments in the sun through persevering. But now it's different. Another round makes it that much harder. The Nats have been great the past 7+ seasons but these Nats will ultimately be forgotten by those outside DC as soon as they stop winning. They best they can hope for is to be looked at like those late 90s Pirates teams - maybe vague memories of a great team with some great players that didn't quite get over the hump. Worst case is they are the 00s Twins - a team that's barely thought of or talked about in terms of baseball history.

This doesn't probably matter to you, but maybe it will in 20 years when you are trying to explain to someone how good the Nats of this time really were.

Friday, January 04, 2019

Robertson to Phillies - still not better than Mets who aren't better than Braves who I'm not sure

Let's understand again how last year ended

Standings
ATL 90-72
WSH 82-80
PHI 80-82
NYM 77-85

(we will ignore MIA because they are ignorable)

This paints a picture that suggests the Braves are a good team and the rest of the NL East is middling .500 types. But not only doesn't that feel right based on what we saw, we know this is not the best way to capture team talent. We know now, for example, that one-run losses tend to be random and occasionally teams lose a handful more than they should affecting their record.* What if we look at Pythag standings? This goes by runs scored and runs allowed to try to get a better picture of team quality.

ATL 92-70
WSH 90-72
NYM 78-84
PHI 76-86

This feels a little more right up top to me. The Braves and Nats were both good - though the Braves were a half-step better. The other two were noticeably less talented. But the Mets above the Phillies might feel wrong to you.  If it does, I encourage you to look at the 2018 Phillies again.  Not a single star on offesne and player after player ranging from below average to bad. Kingery got nearly 500 PAs and he was TERRIBLE. No one beyond Nola was good of the starters and there were a ton of bad innings there. The bullpen falls apart after 3-4 guys. It was not a good team.

Baseball Prospectus does an "Adjusted Standings" that tries even harder to pull luck out (though I'm unaware if it correlates any better with the next year standings than the pythag numbers - my guess would be not just because the variability of year to year rosters and performance)

ATL 94-68
WSH 91-72
NYM 79-83
PHI 79-83

The Mets are actually a half-win better than the Phillies but they both round the same way.

ATL :
Lost : Suzuki, Markakis, Anibal Sanchez - some limited good production from Duda, Brach (RP)
Gained : Donaldson, McCann

They lost some noticeable production. Even if it was unlikely to be kept up it needs to be replaced. But Donaldson could alone cover for Markakis, Suzuki, and Duda. The Braves have plenty of young arms to replace Sanchez. Kind of a push

WSN :
Lost : Bryce, Hellickson, Reynolds, Roark, Gio, Murphy, Kintzler, Holland, Herrera (I'm just sort of listing productive players for teams)
Gained : Corbin, Sanchez, Suzuki, Gomes, Barraclough, Rosenthal

There's a lot of change isn't there? Corbin and Sanchez should make up for Gio and Roark and Hellickson (if not do more) the bullpen might be ok. They aren't likely gaining much but they aren't losing much either. But there's a offense gap with no Bryce and Murphy that hasn't been filled. Sure that's a bump from catcher and some injury helpbut you'd probably give them a game less at least?

NYM
Lost : Mesoraco, Blevins, Flores, Cabrera, CESPEDES**
Gained : Cano, Edwin Diaz, Ramos

The Mets don't have a lot of decent players and they lost 3 solid bats (though one they only had for a limited time), but they replaced them with two guys who should be as good, if not better - at least in 2019. The pen got a lot better. They are likely better with the same injury status and if they get healthier maybe much? Still they were a below .500 team so they need definitely much to get into the playoffs picture. ** Someone reminded me Cespedes is unlikely to play this year - that's would be huge but he only played a quarter of the season. Still it's the equivalent of a very good back-up being gone, so I knocked the Mets down a peg across the board below...


PHI
Lost : Cabrera, Ramos,Crawford, Santana, Luis Garcia
Gained : McCuthchen, Robertson, Segura, Nicasio, Jose Alvarez

The Phillies didn't have many FAs so the guys they lost were guys traded for or traded away. There are gains offensively, and noticeable gains in the pen but I can't say they maybe much better unless something happens that we can't predict - like a break out star performance.

Right now I'd have the records at something like
ATL 92-70
WSH 90-72
NYM 86-76 85-77 (healthy)
PHI 82-80

Maybe I'm putting the Mets a game or two high? Phillies a game or two low? Mets 85-77 84-78 Phillies 83-79?  The Nats have lost so much that even though they gained a lot they are treading water, so the also treading water Braves stay ahead. The Mets get alot better (again if healthy) but they still need something else to make the playoffs be a realistic goal and not a "if things go right" situation. The Phillies are looking like the odd man out.

What would a Bryce or Machado signing do? I'd move the Phillies to like 86-88. In the realm of the Mets "if things go right", fringy WC but also with less worry about health. Kuechel probably wouldn't be enough for me... maybe 85-86.  But both? Then they are a 90 win team and right there with Nats and Braves. That would be fun (for me, not as much for you probably)


*Could it be something psychological? Sure! But we also have seen teams that are basically the same - same rosters, same coach - wildly swing in this.  It's one of those things that certainly could exist, probably does for some teams over the years, but isn't reliably measurable and thus better put on a backburner for any projection analysis.