Nationals Baseball

Tuesday, February 20, 2024

Worst Off-Season Ever?

There was some hope coming into this off-season that it would be an off-season like the one before 2011. Committing to a future that looked bright, that off-season the Nats signed Jayson Werth. The Nats had a definite hole to fill - a leader and an outfielder - and they filled it.  This season they have a definite hole to fill - starting pitcher - and they didn't fill it. 

It's disappointing and it got me thinking it was likely more like the 2010 off-season. But looking back... well let's compare

2011: Werth, Adam Laroche, Rick Ankiel, Matt Stairs, Lance Nix, Tom Gorzelanny

2010 : Pudge Rodriguez, Jason Maquis, Matt Capps, Miguel Batista 

2009 : Adam Dunn, Joe Beimel, Josh Willingham, Scott Olsen

Not all of these worked out and there are some other names I could throw in, but there's definitive moves to try to make the team better. I'd say all these years are better than this one. No you have to go back to 2008 when the signings were an aged Paul LoDuca, Aaron Boone, Willie Harris, Odalis Perez, to find an offseason clearly as inconsequential to the on field product for the upcoming year. 

Of course we've just had a set of pretty terrible off-seasons as well 

2023 : Candelario, Trevor Williams, Dom Smith 

2022: Cesar Hernandez, Maikel Franco, Carl Edwards Jr, Nelson Cruz

2021 : Brad Hand, Kyle Shwarber, Josh Bell 

I think 2021 is clearly better (not in results but in what it was attempting to do). So one question is whether this is the worst of the last 3 offseasons in terms of talent acquired. 

But we also must consider the circumstances.  2022 was a give up season and we knew it at the time.  2020 might have surprised everyone, but 2021 drove home the fact the team needed at least a couple seasons of re-tooling. In 2022 Strasburg officially broke for good and then Soto became expendable because there wasn't a quick way out of this hole without spending a ton. So into 2023 became another expected rebuild. But into 2024, I think we expected a bit more. Or at least I did. The rest of you at least hoped. 

So in talent this off-season might be the worst in what was brought in at least since the days where the Nats weren't trying. We can quibble over if say 2005 was better (it was) or 2006 (it was) or 2007 (it was) or 2008 (maybe).  In expectations of veteran talent acquired this was definitely the worst. The combination of the two make this the worst off-season the Nats fans have ever had. 

And yet... 

You can still hold out hope because the Nats have the largest group of close to major league ready talent than they ever have. Yes that speaks to a history of extremely shallow top-heavy minor leagues, but it's true. And if they work out this year and if the Nats commit to spend next year well then that's something. 

But if regardless of what happens the Nats don't commit to spend something next year well then into 2024 will have a short reign as worst off-season ever. 

Friday, February 16, 2024

Trying to make sense of this all

I replied to someone earlier that was 2024 is really about is "clarity" 

At the time I meant it to be about how the management felt about the team. They are evaluating the young players that were in hand. If they deem them to be a competitive core they will supplement in the off-season. If they don't, they will either cheap out and plod along or do a minor sell-off of some young talent OR they will commit some resources to buy the Nats into competitiveness, if only the fringes.

But now I'm thinking it's more than that. It's clarity for this organization as a whole. From 2005-2018 Ted Lerner ran the team, and although he had his penny-pinching ways, he was committed to making this team a winner. We saw when the core emerged, the Nats put money forth to maintain a level of realistic contention. The Nats were never all-in but they were willing to put forth reasonable deals in places that they needed and had the fortune of that judicious spending being complemented by a couple of generational draft picks and a lottery ticket of an international signing coming through. 

It's likely that in this juncture Ted would have run the team similar to what we've seen. That's how it was run 2005-2010. Nothing extraneous, just put a team on the field and wait. But the assumption that they'll put in money in a Werth like move - a pre-contention move to signify seriousness - we can't count on that and it didn't in fact happen. 

It could be it not working out with who's available or the money currently on the books or these kids not meriting that type of FA move. Or it could be that this management doesn't think that way anymore. 

It could be that if the players do seem to form a competitive core the Nats won't get those extra players in the off-season.   

We don't know anymore. 

We have a ownership group where at least the bulk of them seem like they want to sell. It could be the goal is keeping this team cheap for that purpose, only waiting until the MASN rights are re-aligned from the Orioles sale. 

Add to this we have a GM who's telling a beloved player who is broken to get down to Florida most likely because that's what the owners want. It was rumored it was about settling that contract. Trying not to pay him all and get it off the books. We've heard words suggesting different, but all the actions seem to say that is what it is.  What does that say about the GM? That he knows this is the last stop so don't anger the bosses? That he simply wants the money free as well? What FA is going to look at this and not at least think about it (even if $$$ win out 9 out of 10 times) 

What we are getting now is clarity. We will continue to get this clarity in all aspects of this team. Is this team a mess? Is it simply spinning wheels until a sale? Or is it all just a matter of a single bad PR move and some bad timing making things internally look worse than they really are?

Thursday, February 15, 2024

The can't pitch (physical) leading the can't pitch (ability)

The Nats are starting to become an embarrassment. 

I'll pass off the cheap motivation signs and the usual "here come the kids!". The latter is par for course for any bad team looking to rebuild, the former par for course for nearly everyone. Spring Training is kind of embarrassing for stories. You just get used to the "best shape" and "new approach" and "learned a lot" and "really like what we got"s. 

But beyond that the Nats said two things yesterday that made me cringe. 

For the on-the-field product Rizzo said he wasn't looking for any major league pitchers. For those that somehow forgot the Nats had a terrible pitching staff last year, not quite the worst (leaving out the Rockies and their home field issues, the A's were clearly worse) but among 3-4 other teams clearly worse than the merely bad teams. 

Gray had a good ERA but bad peripherals. Gore had a mediocre ERA and bad peripherals. Those are your best arms. 

People fell over themselves to praise the work Jake Irvin did... which was have a bad ERA and bad peripherals. Granted I'll agree to the praise, we expected nothing from Jake and he delivered a typical MLB 5th starter performance for 120 innings. Good for you! That's also probably the best the now 27 year old can do. They also gave Corbin some props for his even worse ERA and peripherals simply because it was not OMG TERRIBLE as it had been.  Finally no one could even fake liking what Trevor Williams did, one of the worst starters in the game in 2023. 

But to take a macro look 127 pitchers pitched 100 innings or more. That's about 4 per team.  The Nats had 5.  That's good! But their five rank in xFIP 63, 101, 114, 118, 121.  That's bad! really bad! 

All of this is to say we all knew the Nats needed help in here and if they could bring in an arm that just sat in that middle of everyone range, it would be a BIG help to the team. But they said no to that and now they are saying no to anyone else, including a arms who didn't pitch well in 2023 but have middle of that range potential. They are going with what they got and what they got could easily be worse next year. 

Now, we can say they expect Cavalli to jump in an (1) replace the worst pitcher and (2) be ok. And yes that will help but wouldn't it be more exciting if he were coming in and things were going well and you were thinking "Maybe they Nats have an almost competitive Top 4" rather than if he were coming in and things are going as expected and you were thinking "Ok if he's a solid 3 he's our best pitcher"?

But at least this is standard baseball. Teams cheap out all the time. Saying we have crap at home, why spend money on something that also might be crap just because it might also be good? Why not save that money for... the future*? But the Nats also went potentially above and beyond this in saying they want Strasburg to be down at Spring Training. 

On a base level that does make sense. Even if you can't pitch, maybe you can give us some value for that contract. We know it's not the job you signed for but it would be a nice gesture. And I'd be inclined to... well maybe not agree with the Nats, again this isn't the job you were paying Strasburg for, but at least accept their prodding as understandable. But Strasburg isn't just unable to dial up high 90s heater anymore. He can't really use his arm like a normal person. When a person gives up his arm for the team and a championship, personally I think that's enough.  As I responded in a tweet yesterday I think saying "Hey while you are laying down on the ground trying to get feeling back in your hand, can you go over the Phillies line-up" is kind of terrible. But this is they way the Nats seem to be leaning now. Kind of terrible. 

OK, it's easy to be down. They are bad. They are in team sale limbo. They did not try to get better for 2024. The baseball media has kind of picked up on the fact that the team hasn't done a good job developing players and is beginning to note that. There is a bad feeling about the team. But they don't have to help with more bad news!

Bring in puppies or something because this team needs a vibe turnaround if we're going to have any fun before the games start.

*"The Future" being the name of the solid gold jet-ski being purchased for the yacht

Wednesday, February 14, 2024

Could a prospect make the Nats Opening Day roster?

No. 

Sorry. Kind of a waste of a blog post.

But in all seriousness there isn't a compelling reason other than "because they are ready" to do this.  In the field all positions are covered either by guys they want there or guys they want to look at. While you and me would rather see Crews or Wood* as soon as they are ready, the team wants to maximize value and that means keeping any stars you create from making as much money as they can.  Potentially saving that 30 million on that last year is worth a bunch of lost production in a wasted year - who cares what exactly the circumstances will be when you get to that point.

But let's guess anyway on the bats at least. The arms... the less said the better.

Dylan Crews - likely not. While he crushed A-ball, AA humbled him a bit. He did get more hits toward the end but with little of his trademark power. I can't see Spring being compelling enough to overcome this. 

James Wood - it's not impossible he'd deserve it and on a contending team he'd get the call. While AA proved to be at least minor turbulence in his rocket to the majors, he also had a good finish including a 9-20 HR 2B last homestand. More importantly he checks off all the needs for the Nats (defense in OF, LH power). If he didn't have all those Ks - a worrying sign for a call up - I'd make him equal chance to the next guy.

Brady House - best chance of the top 10? Brady didn't have an issue with AA outside of a small power dip. 3rd base is pencilled in for Nick Senzel who is probably trash. If the Nats were at all trying he'd likely be up with a solid outing in Spring.

Cade Cavalli - Ok one pitcher. We'll see Cavalli as soon as he's healthy and looks ok but it's doubtful they'll ok an injury return straight to the majors

Elijah Green - No. 

Daylen Lile - Also no. He struggled a bit in High A. Struggling in AA but finishing strong? Maybe. Struggling in High A, shouldn't matter if you tear the cover off the ball in Spring.

Yohandy Morales -Another 3B contender and it would be real intersting but he barely played in the minors last year (42 games) and just a handful in AA.  I can't see him making it and Brady not regardless of the Spring.

Robert Hassell - A nightmare 2023 means no, even if he's healthy and looks good. They'll want to take it slow.

Are there any "non-propsects" that were both young and did well in AA or AAA.They seem to want Darren Baker to get his chance but I'm not even sure he's Jake Alu so how does he beat him out of spot? Can't carry both.  Jordy Barley was thrown to the AAA wolves last year and didn't drown but given how bad his minor league run has been I can't see them putting him in the majors. Jacob Young is already here, the question is if he'll stick (I say sure, why not).  Trey Lipscomb, the hotness for a month or so, cooled down a bit and is now in a waiting line behind House and Morales. He could get an early call just because he won't get a late one but I can't see him starting in the majors.

So I'd say there's a puncher's chance for House to make it and Wood could force the issue. I don't think anyone else has a real shot.  But I'd bet unless there is a OMG WE HAVE TO HAVE THIS GUY HERE NOW situation they put them all in AAA and try to build some excitement there early.

*Some of you are going to say "I'd rather wait" - I understand. I don't respect the opinion or agree, but I understand. It's years of baseball philosophy ground into you.  It's remembering that one time that one prospect was really good AND hit FA a year early AND left AND it mattered and not the tens of times that prospect wasn't any good, or didn't go into FA, or left and it didn't matter.


Tuesday, February 13, 2024

A wink and a prayer

The Nats are bringing in Jesse Winkler and... that's fine? On the surface maybe but dig even a little bit and it becomes pretty questionable.

Winkler is a lefty that plays corner OF and has power. In a sense he's trying to fill in the same spot Gallo is trying.  The Nats are really doubling down trying to get a value lefty power bat. (I will presume it's because they plan to spend money on arms after 2024. Let's hope.) This is because most of their kids are RH - Crews, House, Morales. If Wood, the main power lefty, doesn't come in fast than this would be an obvious hole.

Winkler is an above average bat  (.270 / .374 / .463 career line before last year) but unlike the sneaky athletic Gallo, Winkler is a statue struggling on D and hurting you on the basepaths. He's also EXTREMELY prone to injury failing to play a full season... well ever. Topping out at 136 games with Seattle in 2022 he's played 113, 110 , 89, 61, and 54 major league games excluding his rookie season and the COVID year. Injuries include shoulder, neck, leg, and back problems. 

Last year was the 61 game season (though yes he did play 27 minor league games). He showed he was still good in AAA hitting over .300 but in the majors... well let's just go to his wiki page.

In the 2023 regular season, Winker batted .199/.320/.247 in 166 at bats with one home run, 23 RBIs, and 51 strikeouts with the Brewers, with isolated power of .048.[36] He was in the bottom 1% of all major league players in speed, had career lows in his exit velocity (86.8 mph) and hard hit percentage (31.9%), and had a career-high strikeout percentage (25.9%).[41]

Ouch. 

I suppose any minor league contract is whatever but for someone constantly injured to still be injured and to have a terrible season with the bat and to give you nothing else. Well I suppose that's why no one else signed him. It seems like a poor player for the Nats to bet on to be help for the future, if that's indeed what they are doing, simply because the injury history suggests you can't rely on that at all. For a team gambling on 2024 and trying to catch lightning in a bottle Winkler might make sense, but that's far from the Nats. He's best seen then as potential trade bait but again... anyone could have had him for nothing and didn't want him. The return on Winkler will be light. 

It's a minor league move. It can be bad and that is fine because it doesn't matter.  That's kind of where I put this. Betting a penny on the Nats winning the World Series in 2024. You are going to lose that penny but hey, it's a penny.

As long as Winkler doesn't somehow block the path of a kid ready to play in AAA or be moved up to the majors I can't really complain.

Friday, February 09, 2024

Still a chance

We're a mere week away from pitchers and catchers and the Nats need one of those. With Kluber retiring today, the total FA pool looks like this now : 

1B/DH : JD Martinez (Mets?), Brandon Belt (Rangers?), Jorge Soler (Giants/Red Sox?), Donovan Solano, Garrett Cooper (Red Sox?)

Others with DH potential :  Tommy Pham, Adam Duvall,

Starters : Lorenzen, Clevinger, 

So the FA bats will probably end up leaving Solano, Pham, and Duvall on the sidelines at the start of spring with one of them getting a Phillies deal with Marsh injured. These are all better choices than Gallo but not like that much better given the fit we talked about. We'll see if one of them gets picked up by a bad team on a nothing deal. 

I think the pitching FA pool didn't shift and you aren't hearing as much (probably here) talk because the big guys (Snell, Montgomery) are still jockeying for years and dollars and until they get there it makes sense for Lorenzen and Clevinger to wait. They'll have more leverage as the only guys left rather than an early grab cheap guy.  But... could either end up on the Nats? 

It's what they need. It would make sense. Hell even for a year.  Neither is repped by Boras if you are wondering, who the Nats have a history of working these kinds of "makes sense for both groups at the moment" deals (see Gallo, Joey), but that doesn't mean that much. Neither of these guys have won so you'd imagine that might matter. Clevinger has pitched well for competitive teams. Lorenzen really only having one shot, did not. 

Anyway - the door remains open, to a "fine ok you did the minimum" off-season. get that starter for 2024.

 


Wednesday, February 07, 2024

PECOTA hates the Nats, why?

 The PECOTA projections, used by Baseball Prospectus are out and boy do they hate the Nats. So much so they have the Nats as the 2nd worst team in all of baseball. 

Projections are projections and you can buy into any one them if you like. For the most part you should look at a bunch and see if there is a pattern. Like for instance, Fangrpahs projections which... also have the Nats as the 2nd worst team in all of baseball albeit with about 8 more wins.  

For what it's worth fangraphs "smushes" more than PECOTA going for a more "closer to the truth" on any one team, while PECOTA allows for more tail length, going for a more "this is what a regular season would probably look like"

 So the Nats are probably more 66 than 58 but why are they so hated to begin with. What in the numbers says never bet on red? 

It has the Nats regressing both at the plate (40 fewer runs) and on the mound (40 more runs).  Offensively you can see it. The Nats are replacing 125 games of Jeimer Candelario (125 OPS+ with Nats in 2023) with Nick Senzel (85 OPS+ in 2023) that's a huge drop in production and last year was Senzel's best since 2019. You weight that more but also the other years were 55, 67, and 66.  There's no denying a HUGE step back is likely. 

 They also buy into an increase playing time for Carter Kieboom and his history of terribleness. Alex Call still being around for 200+PA) and increases in PA but my guess is understandable decreases in production from Stone Garrett and Victor Robles.  The former I bet washes out - slightly less productive but slightly more PAs. But Robles' history (66, 69 ,69 OPS+ 2020-2022) has to trump his 40 games of good play last year. 

On the positive side there is Joey Gallo replacing Dom Smith. Even I, someone that doesn't like Gallo, notes that it wouldn't take much for him to replace Dom's 92 OPS+.  Granted he's been up and down but put him just under 100 OPS+ and it's something. But it's also not enough to make up for the above. 

The hope that they are wrong comes from the youth and some decision making. No one particularly looks to be a break out candidate next year but there are a bunch that it's possible. Ruiz, Garcia, Abrams, all could or Wood or Crews or another minor leaguer could rocket. You can't really project that so none likely do for PECOTA but maybe one will? A more reasonable hope is if Kieboom is playing that much (420PA) he's better than he has been or else the slightly better Vargas would be playing. That would likely create a few more runs. 

Still I think I agree I'd bet on the Nats scoring fewer runs than more. So to keep up a 67 win rate statistically they need to pitch better. But here we have them pitching worse. Relief wise I imagine it is what it is. Finnegan should be worse by stats, Thompson better. They have some decent arms but no depth so I don't imagine much change. The added runs more likely come from the SP slot. You have an older Corbin who had his best season in years in 2023, a Trevor Williams who seemingly has confirmed he's not a starter, a wobbly Josiah Gray and a replacement level Jake Irvin. All outdid their FIP. That's unlikely to happen again. I'd bet on Corbin, Williams, and Irvin all being worse and with no one reliable to replace them with you have to rely on Gray and Gore to get a step better each (or Cavalli to be immediately ok). 

 I'm going to guess that Gray is not projected to get much better (improvement countered by the fact his ERA was beating what it probably should be) so the big thing here is probably Gore's performance. PECOTA looks at the last few years and has him throwing only 115 innings. If he gets better AND pitches more than last year that could be a solid improvement. But like the offense probably not enough to make up for the likely negatives. 

None of this is particularly unexpected but it's stark to see it laid out. The Nats were not good last year. They got rid of more talent then they brought in. No young player ready to start the year on the major league roster has a strong break out potential. The pitching depth at starter is extremely weak and the rotation is already among the worst in the majors. If you project that out as expected you have a team worse than last year. 

But the Nats aren't relying on "as expected" performances from late 20 year old vets. They are relying on highly variable performances from guys 25 and under. This allows for the potential for something much greater. Without any real FA moves it's a lottery season. It's a gamble. The Nats are at the craps table looking to roll 7s and that means it could be real fun but it's more likely to be pretty bad. The house usually wins. Hope that means Brady.