Nationals Baseball: The Thousand Cuts Philosophy and More on Streaks

Friday, April 08, 2011

The Thousand Cuts Philosophy and More on Streaks

The Nats are not a poorly built team. At least it feels that way. There are issues here and there but overall there isn't one thing that stands out. There isn't a starter who is so bad they couldn't be someones's fifth, or a regular who couldn't fill in the gaps for another team if they had a hole at that position. Ok, there is Alex Cora on the bench, but the rest of it is constructed adequately enough for a team of this caliber. This is a team that feels like they have no single glaring weakness.

Yesterday in the comments I even said
The Nats have moved from losing lots of games because they were bad, to losing not as many games because they have a bunch of little problems. Death by a thousand cuts (and misses)
Well, I'm an idiot.

That's not to say there aren't a bunch of little things wrong, there are: the bench isn't good, the lineup is kind of wonky, Pudge plays too much, the most likely scenario for the young players this season is mediocrity... But resolve these issues and you would still have a team struggling for .500. It isn't these minor issues that is driving the Nats bus off the cliff into another season of wins in the 70s, the major issues are. Somehow recently I've lost sight of the forest for the trees. (or is it the other way around?)

The Nats have two big problems looming this year - they don't have proven top of the rotation starters and as Chris pointed out they don't get on base.

I responded to the OBP issue by saying basically "well the power will be better", which I still believe, but even then I thought the end result was an offense that can't crack the top half of the league. You just can't have that many guys on the team who don't get on base.

As for the former, what the Nats have historically had starter ERAs 0.60 or so worse than the NL average. That's terrible. This season is no different. We like to casually think (ok I like to casually think) that a rotation full of #3 and #4s would be average but that's not the case. When you think about it some more it would be bad.

The Nats do have minor issues and they are annoying because they would generally be easy to fix, but clean them all up and you still have a team built with two big holes. Until the Nats can fix those two this team isn't going to surprise anyone.

More on streaks -

I know this only interests me, but suck it. My blog. I mentioned the other day that the reason an 0-5 start was more predicitive than an 5-0 is because more teams miss the playoffs then make them. But I realize there is a second question that is raised in that article. Why do we see long losing streaks for playoff teams, but a long losing streak at the beginning of the season means no playoffs? Why is an 0-5 start more predictive than 0-5 runs at other times in the year? Answer : I don't think it is.

People have thought about it and said things like "an 0-5 start gives you the chance of more streaks later" but I don't think that's the right way of looking at it. I think that if you took any single 5 game segment out of the season and looked at all the teams in history that went 0-5 from, say game 61-65 or 127-131, you'd find something similar to what you find looking at the 0-5 start. A lot of bad teams that don't make the playoffs and one or two good ones that do.

It's the chance of a streak for that specific stretch matching up with a playoff appearence, NOT the chance of a streak at all matching up with playoffs. Trying to look at playoff teams that had similar loss streaks is looking at it sideways.


Donald said...

I agree about the major issues. Question -- how far away are we? Add Strasburg and maybe Harper in 2012. Does 1 additional front line starter, a high OBP lead-off centerfielder and Ramos primarily full-time solve those issues?

Harper said...

Because the Nats are relying on 5 very inexperienced players in their long range plans its very hard to say. It could be that 2012 is reasonable even without an additional #1. It could be that they need to fix every position but Werth and Zimmerman (and I'll say probably catcher because Norris or Ramos should be able to climb over the low bar there) and they'll have to start looking past 2013 and start worrying about Strasburg's last year as the end point. We'll know a lot more as the season progresses.

My guess woudl be if they can add a #1 and a good CF that 2013 would be the earliest they could compete assuming they can fix the one or two other holes that may pop up (say LaRoche crashes, Desmond or Espinosa fails out). That looks to be the all-in year.

Hoo said...

I think we're most accepting of the major issues. We know the rotation doesn't have a front-end guy but we're hopeful Stras returns. We're bummed about Greinke but that can change. So I think we're ok on the rotation.

It's the OBP/batting where things get dicey. Letting W'ham and Morgan walk is crazy risky beyond the return. Why trade a cheap starter W'ham for a reliever and org filler. That's just a bad trade. And Morgan is trading a cheap MLB guy for nothing. Sure Morgan isn't that good but he's a real MLB outfielder, something that the Nats don't have. Morgan is something the Nats had control over. And now he's contributing for a team that everyone picks has a real playoff contender while the Nats deal with a Hairston/Nix/Ankiel platoon. That's not bad luck; that's poor planning that the team had control over.

I think Rizzo is to blame pretty much for the run scoring offense. He gave Pudge the contract, tossed younger better players for character guys. Those are frustrating moves that are self-inflicted.

And then the minor decisions are simply some salt. Whether it's starting Cora at all or watching baserunning blunders (Sidebar: Espinosa's steal was crazy dumb last night. But it's par for the course for the Nats. Do other teams have this many stupid mental mistakes? Or is the selection bias where Nats fans remember Nook, Morgan and now Espi's just dumb mental errors. Two horrendous baserunning gaffes in a 3 game series that was making the out at third with the meat of the order up. Normal or symbolic of a poor organization).

Anyway, I'm ok with the pitching top to bottom. It's the deliberate creation of the batting lineup with zippo options behind them which is baffling.

Donald: Need a good hitting 1B

Wally said...

I am not sure if I understand your point on big issues - is it simply that our players aren't good enough? If yes, I agree.

Let me make the case through WAR, since that at least tries to include all aspects, without focusing on something as narrow as OBP. And I am going to ignore pitching, only because you have covered it well in the past.

2010 playoff teams - all had at least (2) 5+ WAR position players, and a total of 6-8 players with at least 2 WAR. Most of them also had 2-3 guys at 3-4 WAR. The Braves were the lowest, but presumably compensated with above average pitching.

Looking at us, we actually have the high end covered - Zimm and Werth should maintain 5+ WAR for the next few years, but it is the rest of the lineup that is the worry. Who is 3.5-4 WAR? Right now, no one falls into that category. Maybe no one else even gets to 2 WAR. There is a huge falloff after Zimm/Werth.

But the hope for 2011 is that 2 of Ramos, Espy, Desmond and Morse, I guess, become those players. Let's say Ramos and Espy become 3.5 WAR players. Think Yadier Molina, Victor Martinez, Carlos Ruiz, and Brandon Phillips, Martin Prado. That would be bigger for the Nats that maybe people realize. Then we are probably one big FA addition from contention (at least from a lineup perspective) - Prince, BJ Upton, the wet dream of Albert. At that point, you could get by with a 2010 Desi at SS, or a platoon in CF (but it probably needs to be better than Ankiel/hairston). Note: because I don't see the pitching getting to the overall playoff level quality too soon, they probably need to be better than playoff-average at the lineup side.

If two of those guys don't take the next step, the smart thing would be to recognize that it isn't going to happen within Werth's productive cycle, and try to trade him. Can't see it happening, but it would be the smart thing. Otherwise, try to buy a few 3 WAR players and hope to get lucky.

DezoPenguin said...

Note also that even for post-2013 planning, it's not necessarily a great idea to dump Zimm or Werth for value just because they've passed their peak period. Mind you, Werth especially would be far overpaid but if he really does get to his decline phase you'd need a Vernon Wells-type miracle to move him anyway. But even in decline, rather than be stars they could end up being those 3-ish WAR guys while players like Harper step up to be the new Zimmerman types.

I also have to agree with the fundamental point of this blog post, which is that the minor problems aren't going to matter. Sure, it's silly to give Cora and Hairston starts in 2011 and expect to get value for that, but considering what they're replacing it's a question of comparing a decapitation to a crushed skull--there's really no positive scenario for the Nats in CF this season, for example, either before or after the Morgan deal, unless he somehow establishes that one month of 2009 as his new performance baseline. Somehow, I don't think that's likely.

Harper's right: what we need is a legit #1/#2 starting pitcher to go with Stras so we can let Lannan be the #3 he genuinely is and fill in the last two slots with the best of the remaining folks. Maybe Znn can be that guy, maybe not. And ideally, we pick up a legit leadoff hitter who plays CF or one of the middle infield positions.

Wally said...

Desi - that is a good point about Werth. Zimm, on the other hand, I can see maintaining a 5+ WAR rate for another 6 seasons or so, barring injury. Definitely a keeper in all scenarios.

Harper said...

Hoo - if you forgive Rizzo the pitching because Strasburg's on his way and Greinke didn't work out, why not forgive the hitting because Harper is on his way and various other first basemen (Lee, Pena) didn't work out? I guess you could say he then actively made the offense worse with other moves but I don't know - it's still a transition year, I can't get too upset until I know they can win and Rizzo can't come through.

Wally - point was really about me. Prior to the season the big pic was obvious but since the start I was getting bogges down in minutia. Not that I don't do that anyway but I was starting to think the minutia was the reason the Nats were bad.

I agree thought that this season is all about those 3 young guys (and maybe Morse). How good they look this year is going to make or break the Nats slim 201x playoff hopes (or force them to go in a different - more $$$ direction)

Dezo - here's the task for Rizzo - find that CF. Harper is a bad idea, Werth is a less bad one, but still not good. Can be through trade of FA but find him.

Hoo said...

Harper: B/c extremely rich Harper is still a bit in the future. And failing to get Lee/Pena means that your plan included Lee/Pena in the first place.

It's ok for me to have dreams of Morse hitting 30+ out. Not so much for the GM when you're tossing a proven corner starter for an unproven reliever (who is killing it in the minors. Maybe he'll be great in the pen after all, and I'll look sillier than usual).

Harper said...

So the young players are closer to the majors and the off season plans involved players who were actually good? Is that what is needed to impress you? Impossible to do that with hitters! Impossible!