Nationals Baseball: Lucky or Unlucky : 2012

Friday, November 09, 2012

Lucky or Unlucky : 2012

As I talked about last year in talking about seasons before that, seasons are usually made or broken by things you didn't plan for.  Injuries of course, but also performances that skew a large distance from expectations. It works in both directions, both surprisingly good performances and sudden collapses. If your team manages to get more of the former than the latter you should have a better than expected year, and vice versa.

ZNN and Zimmerman pretty much played to expectations after starting fast and slow respectively.  Also pretty much doing as he does after a slow start was Espinosa. Lombardozzi gave you the empty average you would have projected.  Bryce gave you the everything, but just not quite at star level yet, you would have projected.

The bullpen, which began filling up with good arms in 2010, put together another very good year as a whole with some surprises (Stammen, Garcia) matched with some failures (Lidge, H-Rod). Lannan was Lannan when given the chance. Strasburg was STRASBURG when, you know, still in the rotation. Injury hampered Wang was terrible.

All those offensive injuries - Nicks and bumps happen so even something like Desmond's 30 missed games you can write off as kind of typical.  But Morse missed 60 games, Werth half the season, Ramos pretty much the whole thing. That's a lot for an offense to overcome.

Morse's injury saps his power a bit - Mike is supposed to be an imposing presense in the middle of the lineup.  He still had a good year but post-injury he didn't quite have the pop fans were hoping for.

Storen's injury - One single notable bullpen injury isn't a big deal*, even if it's the closer, but it's kind of unlucky it happened anyway.

*well it shouldn't be a big deal because you should just plug in your 8th inning guy, who's likely your 1st, 2nd, or 3rd best reliever. The Nats didn't do that at first, instead putting in the unreliable because of age Brad Lidge and unreliable because of talent H-Rod. That worked as well as you might expect. But that's not bad luck, that's bad roster management.

Ummmm...  Xavier Nady should have really been not so terrible for the Nats.  I guess you didn't expect Flores to be that bad.

Desmond broke out - Ian Desmond went from a liability at the plate to a huge plus in a single year.

A lot of bit players overperformed - Bernadina had the best year of his career.  Tyler Moore hit for a higher average than anyone could have hoped.  Suzuki and Tracy both performed better than they had in years. While the injuries hurt, these performances helped to ease that pain a good deal.

Gio, Detwiler and Jackson all pitched really well - You probably would have expected Gio to do better in the NL then the AL but almost no one predicted him to be Cy Young worthy (almost noone).  You probably would have expected Detwiler to hold his own but he pitched like a #3 or better. You possibly would have expected that Jackson would be a nice pickup but he put together arguably the 2nd best season of his career.  Any one of these things would have been nice to have.

Complete injury bounce backs from LaRoche and Werth - We were pretty sure neither could hit as badly as they did the year before but given injury returns are never sure things, were hoping for a nice medium between the terrible and what we had expected going into 2011. Instead they got all the way back

The starter health - The Nats basically had 5 good and healthy starters all year long.  Only two other teams managed that, the Reds and the Giants. Sound familiar? What about teams with 4 healthy guys you want to throw out there? Angels, Tigers, Cardinals, Yankees, Rays.  See the pattern? This is HUGE.

What's the final verdict?  Well it's hard to say the Nats weren't lucky this year.  They had a big negative with all those injuries but that was the only big negative.  On the positive side the Werth/LaRoche bounceback and the bench player's performances really helped directly overcome that big negative and they also had big positives including a break-out season, nearly complete pitching health, and having no starter underperform.

Does this mean that the Nats are doomed to fall back next year? Not at all, mainly because the Nats are a young team. Overperformance by older players is generally a fluke, just a guy having a year where everything seems to go right. The next year though, you expect a return to normal production.  For example Chad Tracy isn't going to hit that well again next year.  For young players, though it shifts expectations. Maybe they are this good.  You don't necessarily go and predict something as good, but you believe a bit more in what you saw recently than what you had previously expected. Ian may not be able to carry an offense again, but he should be in the All-Star discussion. Gio might not be a Cy Young candidate in 2013, but he's probably still a top 15 type pitcher. The Nats weren't an old team catching lightning in a bottle. They were a young team that combined took a big step foward last year. Maybe that means a settling of feet a game or two back, but a full return is not in the cards.

No, the only thing derailing the Nats next season would be injury or an awful case of bad luck.


blovy8 said...

The weird thing is I would have predicted the Nats were better set up for pitching injuries because they had 3 viable guys for the 5th spot, and were going to carry two long relievers. Yes, the way Wang had pitched in September 2011 DID make him seem viable, c'mon.

I thought Flores would perform better as insurance for Ramos than he did, something like 260/310/410 with lousy CS numbers seemd possible. Don't forget that they went through some below-replacement guys like Nady, DeRosa, and Carroll before the bench shook out properly. I'm sure they would rather have kept Harper in AAA longer in a development sense.

Harper said...

blovy - yeah last year I had the Nats set up for pitching regression... then they go out and trade for Gio and sign Edwin so all this only matters if everything stays the same.

the fact that guys like DeRosa and Carroll didn't pan out is not really a luck issue so I didn't mention it. Like H-Rod and Lidge, it was an issue of bad roster management. But thanks to some good luck (Moore, Bernadina) and some non-bad luck (Lombo, Bryce) the weak bench was a complete non-issue.

Chas R said...

Good stuff, Harper. I think given the premium on good hitting catchers, we were very lucky that Rizzo went out and got Suzuki, and that Suzuki performed as well as he did in place of Ramos.

The Nats have ALOT of returning young players that, absent injuries, are more likley to continue to improve. Can't wait to see Bryce, Lombo, Tyler Moore, Storen, Detwiler, ZNN, and Clippard, and Ian next year.

blovy8 said...

Well, maybe it's Nady's who's lucky since he ended up on San Francisco.

CvilleNatsFan said...

Harper - what do you think of the murmurings that Ellsbury could end up in DC? Do you think there is something to it? What do you think the odds are of it happening? Is it the best possible outcome for the team? How much would Jacoby cost? Should Rizzo do it?

Wally said...

Good article. At superficial level, my first reaction would be that all the offensive injuries more than offset the lack of pitching injuries, and tip the scale towards slightly unlucky.

But I don't think the impact was uniform, and then I realized that 'luck' includes randomness of performance on top of injuries, and it seems like almost the entire pitching staff performed to within 10% of the maximum performance that could reasonably be expected.

So I think that they were a little lucky, and the pitching will regress some.

skinny said...

If you place Gio in the number one slot and Stras as the number two. The Nats got 21-15-12-10-10...(wins by the rotation)

Thats what every team aims for. The Nats having the rotation was THE key for success in 2012, and will be in 2013. Offense will be there..

Look at the success the Giants staff had. They got 16-16-15-14-10 from a healthy staff all year.

Froggy said...

Enjoyed the post and think it was a good assessment. I might disagree a bit with Desmond, since he really showed improvement in his defensive decisions I think he wasn't as lucky as much as he was confident and that showed at the plate. I think that carries over to 2013 and beyond.

So, question regarding pitching, I realize we have two possibly three guys who, barring injury, could have 20 win seasons. But, as a GM do you shoot for 5 guys who could win 15 verses 3 at 18 and 2 at 10-ish? How does that change your outlook for FA's verses growing a talent?

Froggy said...

...or were you talking that the Team was 'lucky' because Desmond had a breakout year?

Sorry, I might have misread your setup.

Nattydread said...

Good post as usual.

How do you separate the "rising-tide" phenomenon from "good luck"?

Just as a rising tide lifts all boats, improving young players lifts the team and is not necessarily luck. Nats have a rising tide of young players, a few of whom got lucky, but most were just on upward trends. Harper, Desmond, Gio, Bernadina, Detweiler, SS and half the bullpen are all on upward trends.

Anonymous said...

Not sure if you made a projection before Bryce came up, but I don't see how you could classify him under "non-bad" luck. Unless of course you projected him to have close to if not the best season by a 19 year old in baseball history.

Section 222 said...

Great post, and an interesting way to look at the season. Consistently very good starting pitching was definitely the key to our success. No one can argue with that.

I'd disagree about Harper. It's really hard to say that he was projected to contribute as much as he did when most people thought he'd stay in AAA until at least June and maybe to mid-summer. Plus, he hit 22 HR, had an OPS over .800, played a very good CF and tore up the basepaths. And now he's won ROY. I'd definitely put him in the Lucky column.

I also think more was expected of Espi than he delivered. Maybe his season wasn't a collapse, but it was a big disappointment. When a guy starts the year hitting 2nd and finishes as a K machine in the No.
7 spot that's Unlucky.