Nationals Baseball: Friday Mailbag

Friday, November 16, 2012

Friday Mailbag

Don't know what I'll put up next week so chew on this for a weekend or two. 

Can Ian Desmond repeat that performance? (Evan Slagle)

Ian Desmond had a great year last year.  His line .292 / .335 / .511 is such a jump over previous years that it does make you wonder if it was a fluke.  Remember his line actually got worse from 2010 to 2011.

What do the fancy stats say?

K-rate : 20.7% (20.3% career includes 2012) No improvement last year, but it's not a number to worry about at this age and given what we've seen.  This will just be what he does.

BB-rate : 5.5% (5.3%) Not good, but again no fluke.  Patience contributed nothing to Ian's year. 

BABIP : .332 (.320)  A little high . Sometimes this is explained by an increase in line drive rate, but we don't see that here. 17.5% last year, 17.9% this year.  So it's not like he's rapping laser beams more often than he did before. It's probably a little bit of luck. But we're not talking a lot here. Instead of .292 he should have hit.. .285? 

HR/FB :  18.2% (11.1%) Now that is a big jump and also helps explain the big jump in average. A lot more of his FB are landing in seats rather than gloves.

This is really the crux of the improved year that Ian had.  In 2010 and 2011 this number was 7.7% and 6.0% respectively.  Let's say Desmond hits that rate in 2012.  Instead of 25 homers he hits 9. That's 16 FBs that don't go out of the park. Let's say 14 of those end up being outs (about 15% of FBs end up being hits on average) Now he's hitting .265 and his line would look a hell of a lot like his line last year.

His whole improvement across the board is based on hitting the ball out of the park and a much higher rate.  Top 30 in the majors.  So the question has to be, is that sustainable? This is a completely player dependent stat, so while you would kind of think at first it would have to go back down, that's not necessarily how it has to be. He showed no particular slow down over the course of the year, which is good. There are explainable reasons for the increase (pop shown in the minors, maturity, batting approach changes) Personally I'd bet on it staying closer to 18% than 7%.

I will say that I don't think 2012 was Ian's stepping stone to super stardom.  I don't see .300 30 in his future. Ask me right now and I think you see some return toward the Ian we didn't like but not a big one. .280 with about 20 homers? I think we'd all be happy with that.

Will we see Anthony Rendon this season? If so, when and where? (Ty Bair, Kevin Harris, Brandon Roche, Robert Schiff)

To answer the first question - who knows?  He's doing well in the AFL but that doesn't mean all that much (Chris Marrero rocked it in 2009, Brendan Harris in 2005). What you can say is all the signs are pointing in the right direction. He's hitting and healthy, so the next step is to see what he does in AA after hitting .162 in limited play last year. I'd be shocked if he was competing for a position in the spring, though I'm sure he'll get an invite to camp.

Remember that everyone thought Bryce could handle it but he only got up to the majors because of injury AND the fact that you could put him somewhere when everyone got healthy. There isn't a similar place for Rendon. More likely the Nats projected best case scenario plays out like this ; play two months in AA, do very well, get 2 more months in AAA, do very well, then up as a bench player. Personally, I think that's optimistic.  He can certainly hit but AA is hard and he's injury prone so I'm going to say we don't see him in 2013.

After 2013 where does he play? If I were to guess - I think Rendon plays where there's a hole. If that's the OF then that's the OF, if it's first than it's first. If Zimm's injuries or Espy's play create a hole at their positions then he'd play there. Remember, Rendon's ankle could use a less demanding position as well. This is today though and today I don't think moving Zimm to first for Rendon is a goal.  Another injury filled mediocre fielding year at third though and maybe minds are changed.

Of course the wild card in this is if they would trade Rendon. I think they would. They've shown they could trade a major leauge catcher and two major league pitchers if they felt they had the pieces in place above them. But I will say the deal would have to be right, and given the way Rendon is hitting now, the price is only going up for him.

What are the Nats doing at Catcher? (David Leyva, Renard Sexton)

Ramos is will be 25 next year and is wrapped up until 2017.  Suzuki will be 29 next year and will be a free agent (unless the Nats pick up an option for 8.5 million that I can't imagine will happen).  Ramos has not had any years as bad as Suzuki's 2010 or 2011 or overall 2012.  Even Suzuki's time with the Nats wasn't all that great and was kind of a make up for the surprisingly bad year he was having with the A's.  So all signs point to Ramos being the starter and Suzuki being the necessary expensive back-up.

My guess is that unless Ramos is healthy and does great in Spring, they'll let Suzuki start the season while Ramos slowly works his way into more playing time. If Suzuki is good then maybe Ramos lasts the whole season as back-up.  More likely though is Suzuki will be kinda bad and whenever Ramos is healthy the roles will flip. But they have to be careful here. There is not necessarily a big gap between these two and fans love calling for a back-up when they perceive that a starter is struggling. (see: Lombardozzi, Steve)

What about the pen? Trade Clippard? Sign someone? Are they really going to make Garcia a starter? (Kevin Costello, John Doerr, Wally, Kevin Roberts, Alan Wiecking)

Normally I'd be all for trading Clippard for a blah hitting prospect and a bag of magic Big League Chew.  That's how flippable I think relievers are, especially those that have been worked hard. The Nats, however, find themselves in a bit of a quandry.  With Burnett likely leaving and Garcia* almost certain to be made into a starter, the Nats have something like 70 of their important relief innings to fill. Lose Clippard and that number jumps to 140. Some of that will go to a healthy Storen, but only 30-40 or so, and you can't stretch out Stammen and Mattheus much more.  Where does the other 100 come from? Zech Zinicola?  I guess you could hope for the best. Mike Gonzalez? No thank you. Cross your fingers and hope for an H-Rod comeback? What did you say about Gonzo, again?

So it's tougher for the Nats to lose Clippard, than you might have thought given the bullpen depth of last season. You'd almost have to go out and replace him with a dependable arm and that costs money you'd rather spend elsewhere, money you wouldn't have to spend on Clip (under team control until 2017).  If a good deal is there you make it but you don't trade him just because you are afraid of dealing him a year late. Even if it feels like the right time, playoff teams need good pens and Clippard, despite late season issues, is part of a good pen.

As for the rest of the pen, I think the Nats like it a lot the way it is.  Storen, Clippard, Mattheus, Stammen, presumably Gonzo, and rehabilitating H-Rod.  So I'd be shocked by any major signings in the pen. But the Nats do need another lefty (their best lefty in the minors close to coming up had a WHIP of 1.423 in AA.  That doesn't project well) but I would guess RIzzo goes the route of signing a guy who had an off year last year that might still have some arm left (Randy Choate?)

* I believe the Garcia rotation move is going to happen and is a rare misstep for the Nats organization. You'll have to spend at least all next year stretching him out and the guy has already had 3 elbow surgeries, including two Tommy Johns. If all this works out you'll end up with an "old" 28-yr old trying for the first time to start in the majors sometime in 2014, if you're lucky.  Given the ticking time bomb that is his arm, I think you'd be best served riding it completely into the ground in a best guy out of the pen situation.

Should the Nats go after Bourn?  Wouldn't he leadoff better than Werth?  What about Hamilton? (David Goodman, Robert Schiff, Keith Watts)

The Nats should only worry about leadoff if they think Werth will make a stink about it. Leaving behind the whole "It doesn't really matter" argument, he's the most patient batter on the team, he sees the most pitches, he gets on base the most BY FAR. Other than his ability to drive in runners being wasted by batting after the pitcher, there is no argument. And what kind of argument is that right now? If you didn't notice he slugged .440 last year.  Pull out the singles and that was roughly what Kurt Suzuki slugged for the Nats (Werth isoSLG .140, Suzuki .137)  Yes, yes injury, but even before that he wasn't exactly distracting us from the terrible truths of MLB's satellite program.  At 34, things start to go.

So if you want to bring in Bourn just to leadoff, I think that's silly. If you want Bourn it's because you want his awesome defense in a hard position and an offense that's acceptable. It's all going to depend on the market for him. I might even be able to get behind a deal that skirts the 5 year 90 million that Torii Hunter got back in the day.  That's how good Bourn's D and baserunning are and a Nats OF of Bryce, Bourn, and Werth would look to be outstanding. I think Bryce has acquitted himself well but I'm still not sure I buy that he'll mature into the role.  I'd rather see him moved to another spot before we get into a "that's the only place Bryce will play" situation.  Plus, add a super-plus CF, and the Nats would have potentially an IF/OF as good as any we've seen. But if Boras (yes his agent is Scott Boras) pushes it to the 100 million range.  I just don't know. It's one thing to overpay. It's another to so grossly do it.

Hamilton? Love the guy but there is too much not to like to sign him for what he'd likely get.  Those strikeouts being way up?  The fielding being pretty bad this year? A HR number that will possibly end up being a career high?  A history of injury and external issues?  The Nats, being a team that is looking to win in the next couple of years, are one of the few teams that could justify making that kind of signing but I couldn't get behind it, not with the guy looking for 7 years (and likely to find someone willing to give him 6, I bet)

I'll finish up the remaining Qs, next time,  then put the email address back out there for another round.


BlueLoneWolf said...

At least the good thing is that these questions aren't 'Who's going to be our No. 1 Starter this year' or 'Why the hell are we giving Jeff Loria any more money' or 'What're we going to do with this ancient roster?'

I think that Rendon probably could use another year in the minors, just to be safe. Is there ANY chance we're resigning Burnett at all? Our odds on LaRoche? I think personally that after getting a silver slugger and a gold glove that his asking price might be a bit high for an aging first baseman. Stick Morse there for a year, play someone else in the outfield (Moore or Bernadina or someone), maybe flip Morse near the deadline for some extra help if you really want to push it then put Moore there. But you don't wnat to get rid of all the vets on the team so soon. I agree with the Christian Garcia thing, he looked really good out of the pen at the end of the year and we don't need to be waiting two or three years for a starter. Any way we can stick Lombo at second and flip Espinosa and maybe Brown or something for a fifth pitcher? Between Strasmas, The Gio Show, ZNN, and Det we've got a solid 1-4.

Harper said...

Someone will like Burnett enough to give him a deal the Nats won't (something like Affeldt's 3yr 18 million).

LaRoche coming back odds - I'd say they are pretty good. 60%? I think the Rangers would like him and would give him a 3-4 yr deal he craves but will wait to see how Hamilton will shake out. If he comes back it's likely only Boston would be a suitor and they may be on the verge of "rebuilding".

I usually go with "make him a starter" but given he's 27 and had 3 arm surgeries, I don't see it as a worthwhile venture. Espy and Brown for a 5th pitcher? Would that get you something that much better than Lannan/Maya? I think the Nats either need to go big or settle for what they got.

BlueLoneWolf said...

Well, you can always tack more onto that trade idea I suppose. Maybe dangle Rendon or Goodwin, too, though I'm not a farm-system gutting fan myself. And if you get LaRoche on board, maybe that deal turns into Morse, Espy, and Brown for something.

I'm thinking it might be worth kicking the tires on Sanchez or Lohse, but that's just me. I think we should stay out of the Grienke market, unless the Lerners get a hole in their pocket.

BlueLoneWolf said...

Oh, and can we get anything for tacking Flores onto the deal? Between Solano, Leon, Ramos, and Suzuki, isn't he a tad expendable?

Pumpkin Escobar said...

Any thoughts on giving Bernadina a full year in the OF/ as a leadoff? Also, what kind of trade value does Morse have? Lastly, what's your aversion to keeping Gonzo, he had less innings but I remember Stammen and Clip giving up more first pitch HR's and he seems like a solid vet lefty.

DezoPenguin said...

I like the idea of signing Bourn, myself; that Bryce/Bourn/Werth OF defense is staggeringly attractive, and then it makes the LaRoche/Morse decision a simpler one (LaRoche's D makes me want him back, I admit). That Bourn is a traditional leadoff hitter with speed on the basepaths is a nice bonus, but no more than that.

Bullpen...gah, where did all the pieces go, though! Keep losing players and those starters are going to have to start going 7+ more often than they did.

Nattydread said...

You said nothing about Flores when answering the catcher question.

Has his value fallen so much that he is an expendable AAAA player who is, at best, a small piece in a larger trade?

It was just a short time ago that he was touted as a "cornerstone franchise piece".

Were we oversold? Has he regressed?

Anonymous said...

I think Bourn is a good player and his skills do fit the Nats' needs, but I really worry about him aging badly. Almost 100% of his value is tied to his speed. He's not an on-base machine - to the extent his OBP numbers are good, it's because he uses his speed to get on base. And he strikes out a ton with negligible power. If his speed goes down just a tick, he's worse in the field, worse on the basepaths, and worse at getting on base.

Guys like Bourn just don't age well. My guess is that he won't be good enough to play at all at 35 and there's a decent chance he declines very rapidly.

Even though I think Upton is a worse player right now, I'd much rather be paying Upton to be my CF in 5 years than Bourn.

Anonymous said...

One of the benefits of a good team is no more Elijah Dukes Vs Lastings Milledge offseason discussions.

Anonymous said...

Keep Ramos..we love he has power.. trade Suzuki for a dozen donuts.. trade Flores for a box of balls.. and maybe a bat.. call up a backup.. and get a catcher midseason.. and get a 5th starter for a year and keep developing

Harper said...

BLW - Sanchez and Lohse will go for more than the Nats would like to pay is my guess.

Flores is expendable but given his performance last year, he's a throw in now.

Pumpkin - Bernie a full year? There are worse ideas (see Moore full year) It be a last ditch effort history and the Nats evaluators seems to agree he's not a starter type of guy, but if you have to given his performance last year you might hope to catch a good 2-3 yr stretch here. I wouldn't bat him as leadoff, though. Doesn't get on enough.

Morse has blah trade value. Contract is ok, but he'll still be a FA post this year and he doesn't field well and has been injured. More value in AL where he could DH.

Oh, I say keep Gonzo, I just don't think he has a expanded Burnett type role in him.

Dezo - Bullpen worries are just typical of major league teams. It's a testament to the team that the Nats have been pretty set there for a couple years.

ND - yep. Basically he hasn't looked good since 2009. I don't think anyone sold him as a corner stone. More likely a solid average type catcher you could stick there and worry about other positions. Injury changed that and now age is keeping it there.

Anon #1 - people say that alot "speed players age worse" but some early looks I've seen at stats suggest differently. At least through the first half of the 30s they age about the same as everyone else, maybe better. Anyone in their late 30s wanna tell us when their legs went. Anecdotal evidence, people

Anon #2 - no disagreements but what about the biggest Q - LaRoche and Morse?