Nationals Baseball: December 2012

Monday, December 31, 2012

LaRoche revisited

I looked at the potential LaRoche deal from the soulless automaton side and have pretty much endorsed the Nats line of thinking. It's not fiscally prudent to sign LaRoche to that 3rd year if you feel that you can replace his production this year (they feel they can) and he is not need long-term (they feel he isn't). Sure you will lose that fielding but saving that is probably not worth the cost hitching your wagon to Adam given the above.

Are they crazy to think the above?  The production part is fairly straight forward. If Morse is healthy his most likely line is going to be something like .290 / .330 / .500.  For all intents and purposes that is as good as LaRoche did last year, maybe a bit better. Sure Morse could collapse or face injury risk, but as a one-year gamble it's not a bad one.  The long term is a bit hazier.  The Nats don't have anyone who has produced in AA yet and while they like Rendon (and to a lesser extent Skole) this gamble is a bit bigger one to play. Even if one of these guys comes through to be the player LaRoche is, circumstance could force them into another position, or another team, or it could be 3 years until they are really ready.

This is all why the LaRoche signing doesn't seem clear. It isn't.  But overall it makes sense to worry about 2013 and maaaybe 2014, but not much further because too much could change to worry about 2015 and beyond. Losing LaRoche shouldn't hurt 2013 too much. So stick to your guns.

That's the non fan view of things.  When I try to look at it through the glasses of a hard core fan, I get kind of pissed.

Real teams spend money

No, you don't HAVE to spend money to win and if you can get away with not doing it than more power to you, but understand that you'd be getting away with it.  In general when you get to the level of winning 90+ games, there is precious little you can do to secure your team more wins.  Instead what you are doing is signing players that reduce your production variability. Instead of being a 93 win team that could conceivably win 88-96 games, you spend an extra 15-20 million and become a 94 win team that could conceivably win 91-97 games.

Does that matter? Yes, yes it does. First and foremost it shows your #1 concern is winning with no caveats. Not "winning, while spending smartly" or "winning, with an eye toward our future plans". No just "winning". How can get to the point that if something goes wrong we STILL win.
Signing LaRoche is a way to probably reduce that variability.  Morse may have a good shot at hitting as good or a little better than LaRoche, but he's also more of an injury risk, has that questionable approach, and is a defensive liability. There's a lot here that can go wrong.  For Adam it's likely either "he hits well" or "he hits ok". Sure, ride it out and see if you can't get Adam back at the deal that you want, but when push comes to shove, when either another team bites and offers the 3rd year or if the Nats are staring down the start of Spring Training, you make that deal.

This isn't a 6 year deal.  This isn't 20 million per season. It doesn't even cross into the "have to spend $$$ to sign our young guys" time frame (Both Ian and ZNN would hit that point after the 2015 season). This deal, if made, should not effect the team negatively in any appreciable way.

It's one thing for me to dismiss the above for the loving embrace of cold hard facts (the team is good enough that even without signing LaRoche, in this new 2-Wild Card format, they should be a near-lock for the playoffs and even with the Wild Card 1-game showdown that's still enough), but I'm a bit surprised more fans aren't saying the above. Full faith in Rizzo?  Blind optimism in this being a 100+ win team regardless?  

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Mailbag Monday Eve

A gift from me to you on Christmas Eve.  Merry Christmas!  (question wording was mine so don't blame the commenters)

What is the future of Tyler Moore? (Watts, Schiff)

I've said before that I don't think much of Tyler Moore's future. You just don't strike out that much and walk that little and find success in the majors very often. You might bring up that Mike Morse is our poster child for this line of thinking and he's had success but here's the thing

Moore: (age 21-25) 3.5 Ks per B
Morse: 2.7 Ks per BB

Morse in the majors - 3.9 Ks per BB

That doesn't bode well for Tyler. (not to mention the .225 / 283 / .494 line in the 2nd half) Now maybe he won't see his strikeout ratio increase, it didn't during his first time out. And maybe even at his normal high level of Ks to walks he can buck history and put up productive seasons, Morse has up until now. But even if you don't believe in history (even though it's proven right more often that not), even if you don't believe in fancy stats (ditto), even if you take the strict view that what you hit in the minors has no bearing on how you do in the majors (even though it's pretty standard thinking by nearly everyone involved in the game that it does). Even if you believe all that just look at how the Nats are treating Moore. He is not part of the first base plans right now. He's not considered the next big thing. If you don't believe everything above AND you don't believe the people that are seeing him and evaluating him everyday... well I don't know what to tell you.

What does that mean for Moore?  Well he'll be exactly what he should be, a decent lefty off the bench that can play corner OF or first base and more importantly can hit a homer in a pinch hit situation. His power is real and because of that he's exactly the type of guy you want on the bench.  And because he's cheap he should be able to fill that role for the next few years so the Nats don't have to go out and get that guy.

Is he tradeable... right now not really. Pretty much all the majors see him as a bench guy so he's not getting much back. Now if he hits .270-.280 next year... that changes things.

What sort of progression do you see for BamBam with the bat and in the field? (watts)
I'm on the conservative side with Bryce.  A slash line like .285 / .370 / .500?  Around 30 homers?  I think I've said it before.  The closer we get to the start of the season the more serious other looks at him will be and the easier it will be to see if I'm way off, but that is my conservative estimate. The guy could hit .300+ and 40 homers, easy.  I think he will... just not next year.  Remember if he only hits like he did last year that's a Top 30 offensive season.

In the field, the question is different now. He won't be playing CF. Personally I didn't see much progression happening, but I'll admit I'm not an expert here.  Now that he's not in center though it won't matter.  Personally I would LOVE to see him in RF.  Werth has a nice arm but can you imagine the effect Bryce's gun would have on those first to third attempts?

Is Gio postseason worrying?  If not for the regular season than the postseason? (watts)

I can understand the concern.  Gio had terrible control last postseason, walking 11 in 10 innings and his control was one of the things people worried about coming into the season.  But personally I wouldn't worry about it for the regular season.  Even if he reverts to full A's mode wjen it comes to control he still would be a very good pitcher. He gave up fewer hits, struck out more, and more importantly gave up A LOT less homers.  A fwe more baserunners won't overcome all that. So if you want to watch something - watch that. Everyone expected that HR/FB% number to go up, instead it went down.  Can he keep THAT up?

Now will it matter next postseason?  Wellllll maybe.  His walks have seemed to go up a bit at the end of the season the last few years.  Is it indicative of a tired arm that'll be even more tired in the majors? Or is it just a fluke of the numbers? Personally I wouldn't worry about until it's time to worry about it. 207 innings as opposed to 200 innings shouldn't make a difference.  Now 220? Ok maybe but ""Will Gio still be effective in the World Series" is a worry I'm willing to have.

Who are the best trade chips for the Nats, you know, if they want to make a major deal.  Desmond and Espinosa seem like good candiates. Is anyone overvalued? Leave Strasburg and ZNN out of it  (wally)

I'd say the Nats best trade chips for a major deal would be as follows Desmond, Rendon, Espinosa, Zimmermann, Storen.
Desmond and Storen are the ones likely to be overrated.  Storen for the whole "closers aren't actually all that important, but people think they are" reason. Desmond because he was a kind of error-prone guy that didn't hit until last year. You'd be selling high if you sell on Desmond. Plus you'd be selling high on a position you think you could fill (with Espy and maybe Rendon at 2nd)  Then again, he's a short stop that hit .290 with 20+ homers last year. You better be pretty sure you are selling high if you are selling that. 

Rendon's AFL showing plus his age and contract situation makes him very desirable.

Despite Espinosa's weak season, the fact he's a position player, who fields a hard position to fill with skill, and he has an extra year of team control put his over Zimm. Given that is was a weak season though it's doubtful he'd be overvalued.  You'd be selling low on Danny.

Zimm being a starter puts him over Storen.

This all being said I don't see any (more?) major deals happening this off-season.  And anything after next year, even a year is too far in advance to guess.

Given his contract and skill level, could they trade ZNN for a #1 type pitcher.  They haven't signed him to an extension yet so he's still super cheap. (wiekcing)

Zimmermann is an interesting case because he'll be a free agent before Stras and Gio and given his skill level he'll be earning a lot more than Detwiler. Assuming Gio and Stras are still moving along, you are looking at putting out a lot of money for a guy that's probably your third best pitcher

Thing is if they don't trade him this offseason I'm not sure when they would.  After this season you'd be trading one season of a great pitcher for two years of ZNN? Even with another prospect that doesn't seem like a great deal. And I'm not sure who would be traded for (David Price is great and potentially on the block. He's also a FA in 2016 so relatively cheap before then... relatively)

Personally, I'd expect an extension to be worked out here and them to let Strasburg walk when push comes to shove (to concentrate on re-signing Bryce)

Line-up order. please (jacquez)
My expectations would be


I think Davey would like to move Werth down but would hesitate to move Desmond out of the 6th hole. That hamstrings Davey a bit  Given that and the fact I think he'd more like to see what Bryce can do in a run-producing slot,Werth is kind of stuck.  Though I won't rule nother possibilty with more left right balance :


But it only works with LaRoche back and really if Bryce breaks out next year that's pretty much the end of this

OK that should be all the questions except for one from Hayes that really is less pertinent right now I think. so hit me up with more

Gmail: Natsoftheroundtable

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Such pretty birds in that bush

Three years for Adam LaRoche is not a lot. It's only a year more than you'd probably want for the guy, but in the past that wouldn't have stopped anyone from signing him. Even in the fancy stat era someone, oh I don't know, let's say Texas, would have said "Every success window is limited and ours may be passing by.  We lost our best hitter and a very good hitting catcher, which is harder to replace. We're going to be in a dogfight with the Angels and A's.  We can't afford to lose out on the playoffs by a game or two again and the blah fielding, mediocre hitting Mitch Moreland is about a game or two worse than Adam LaRoche. Let's bite the bullet and sign him" 

But they aren't saying that and a lot of people are saying it's because of the draft pick lost. The Nats offered Adam arbitration.  Adam is a top notch Type A player. If he signs elsewhere the Nats will get a first (or 2nd depending) round draft pick. And currently teams are terribly terribly overvaluing draft picks.

Seriously go look at some of the draft classes.  2004. 2005. 2006. 2007. 2008.  Look at the last 10 picks of the first round and the supplementals. What do you see? A hell of a lot more names you never heard of and never-wases than actual quality major leaguers.  Yet teams are now delusional, desperately holding onto long-odd chances of striking it rich instead of signing players that might help them, like a person holding 10 lottery tickets refusing to take $50 for them.

That's not to say this strategy is complete nonsense.  Take a look at the Nats. They among the most degenerate of these gamblers. Last year's draft was basically a high-schooler with a ruined elbow and minor league seat fillers. But the Nats can afford to do this right now. They have a team set up for success for the forseeable future. Like a venture capitalist flush with money, they can throw 10 million at something hoping it becomes the next big thing. If it fails, so what they still have a ton of money. They can't do this forever though, so it'll be interesting to see if in 2015/6, if the Nats haven't won anything yet, if the team is still in this mode. Then there is the flipside, 10 or so teams nowhere near competing that need a huge break to get competitive again. The right draft success can help immensely in that. Would you still be thinking the Nats are prohibitive World Series favorites if instead of Strasburg and Bryce they had Dustin Ackley and Drew Pomeranz? Not bad players but not game changers. So while it's nice to have a guy like LaRoche on the team, he's not going to make a big enough difference to justify taking away that lottery ticket when that's kind of your only chance of success.

But the 10-15 middle ground teams, all fighting for playoff spots in this new 2nd WC major leagues, what's their excuse? There really isn't any. For them it can't be about the prospect of future success lost so it comes down to a far simpler reason, one we all recognize well.  The prospect of future money spent.  Draft picks are cheaper.  Much much cheaper. So you don't sign good players and you hope to draft well. You squander legit chances at playoffs for future dynasties that may never come but dammit will be a lot cheaper if they do!

This is probably just a phase.  Things are cyclic and what's overvalued today might be undervalued tomorrow. But even if it is, it's killing LaRoche's chances of signing that 3 year deal he wants.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Dr. Denard at home, Mr. Span away

Browsing through Denard Span's stats I found something that was... well not troubling but certainly of interest.

Home : .273 / .348 / .375
Away : .252 / .309 / .314

Home : .286 / .344 / .384
Away : .250 / .317 / .343

Home : .332 / .404 / .477
Away : .235 / .278 / .315

Last year was pretty crazy. At home he was Tony Gwynn.  Away he was Tony Gwynn Jr. The other years aren't as dramatic, but as you can see he's been consistently much better at home.

Was this something to worry about?  Would moving away from the friendly confines of Target Field (I just made that up!) kill Span's offense?

Or at least, I can't find any good reason to think that. There's nothing about Target Field that would explain that difference. There's no sign that it inflates offense.  It doesn't favor lefty hitters (it actually seems to favor righties but then again Span is kind of a slap-hitting lefty).  It doesn't have crazy dimensions or a strange surface that maybe he's taking advantage of.* I can't find anything about Minnesota that explains this. Sometimes you dig and find nothing and it's kind of important to accept that.

* Though I'll note here the Metrodome DID have that fast artificial turf.  Combine that and young legs and that's really why Span was a .300 hitter early on.  So if you think a return to a .290+ hitter is in the cards...I wouldn't bet on it. 

What's the reasoning? Simple. It happens. In general players hit better at home than on the road. They are comfortable there. They're not living out of a hotel. They both see the backdrop more regularly and have more than a couple games to get used to it since they are in one place during a homestand. For some guys this helps a little, for others it helps a lot and Span is one of those guys it seems to help alot. He hit better at the Metrodome as well.

Like look at a Cody Ross. In 2010 he hit alot better at Marlins Park than away. In 2011 he hit a little bit better overall at AT&T than away (and that's a tough place to hit). In 2012, he hit tons better in Fenway than away (an easy place for a righty to hit).  He's just one of these guys.

So what? So expect this next year.  I wouldn't expect the dramatic shift we saw last year from Span.  For some reason Target Field was great for hitting last year. Nationals Park is routinely very average. But I wouldn't be surprised by a difference in stats (though not same stats) a lot like 2010. Noticeably better across the board at home than away.  It's not going to make him any more or less useful for the season than the Nats expect him to be, it'll just bunch up his usefulness a bit.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Things to "worry" about

A couple days ago it was talked about in the comments how the Nats really don't have much to worry about. Even all the fretting about LaRoche vs Morse is worrying about what probably amounts to a single win for a team looking to have about 95 of them (yes they won 98 last year but the pythag had them at 95 and I think they were a little more on the lucky side than unlucky so figure they were more of a 93 win type team, but they have improved with Span and Harden so up the count goes again...ANYWAY)  They'll be fine if LaRoche signs or if he doesn't.

So what do the Nats have to worry about? Every position except catcher is now manned by someone who probably ranks as above average overall at the spot, and even catcher isn't an obvious failure given how dismal catcher stats tend to be. The rotation is stacked. The bullpen has at least 4 dependable arms, including the unecessary but completely expected 8th inning and closer roles. The bench has some youngish guys that can produce at the major league level at least for short periods of time. So what is there? You don't like Zack Duke as the mop-up long-relief guy? Worried Rizzo will bring in another terrible DeRosa-esque veteran for the last spot on the bench?  "Sure I'm rich, healthy, and have everything I need, but my fourth car could really use a tune-up"

There is nothing on the field that is concerning right now. But fans aren't fans unless they can fret over something, so I give you these off the field topics to satisfy your inner worry-wart.  Some are real concerns, others are... let's say a bit more frivolous.  

MASN - Nats Enquirer nicely sums up where we stand currently. MLB made a terrible deal with Angelos to get baseball to DC. Now it doesn't want to deal with the consequences. But even sports backed by millions of dollars can't buy themselves way out of every terrible deal (Hello, St. Louis Spirits!) and Angelos is a good enough lawyer to not have left MLB any loop hole to take advantage of.

What does this mean for the Nats? While I don't think Angelos will get away with completely shortchanging the Nats, I do think it means a revenue stream from TV that isn't what it could be. That's money that can't be spent on draft picks, organizational improvement, players, stadium improvements, etc. etc. In the worst case scenario, the whole "we need money to sign all our young guys" scenario may be based on the idea that the Nats were going to get a bigger windfall from TV than they will. That means this really is the Nats window to win and 2015-2017 will be marked by a great exodus. That's probably overselling the situation but this isn't something that can just be ignored.

Strasburg, media punching bag - It always surprises me but there is a fair amount of Strasburg dislike out there. "He's doesn't seem to enjoy the game!" "He's too fragile!" "He didn't fight enough to pitch!"  Slowly over the course of 2 1/2 years he's gone from the center of Nats world to recalcitrant diva without ever changing who he was. Now, with the media-loving and media-savvy Bryce Harper around, there is a glaring example of the type of presense that the media and fans love right in his own backyard. It hasn't been an issue yet and it won't as long as the Nats are winning and he's doing well.  But if Strasburg has a couple of bad starts, the Braves are in first, and he tosses out some boiler-plate unemotional interviews? It doesn't take much for something like this to spiral into something that takes over Strasburg's season.

Attendance / attendance talk - The Nats did not draw great last year BUT they drew a hell of a lot better and, as everyone should know, these things take time. It's rare that attendance goes from the bottom to the top in one season.  So right now it's a non-issue. However, it should improve again this year and if the Nats are winning big, it really should be among the tops in the National league, if not baseball.  If it's not, the Lerners, investment guys at heart, could start to wonder what they have to do to get DC into baseball.  If people aren't showing up to see a winning team backed by a decent payroll and big minorleague investments, why keep that up? 

Even if you don't worry about that, (it's a pretty speculative worry and frankly I think the Lerners view of this is more than a single year) you do have to worry about guys like me, who are completely fascinated by attendance and what drives it, talking about it occasionally.

The attention over the President's Race - The whole stupid "Teddy doesn't win" thing got so much play that his first win actually overshadowed the Nats team for a day or two. Playoff baseball back for the first time in decades, a team fighting for home field and possibly 100 wins and everyone is talking about a guy in a suit winning a meaningless race. That's pretty terrible. Maybe it settles back into it's nice little pattern with Teddy losing all the time until the playoffs are set. That'd be fine. But something tells me that all that attention made the Nats marketing guys want to kick it up a notch. There's a chance that could work out in a fun and interesting way but I'm not giving them the benefit of the doubt (see: Screech, Clint, etc.)

The next slogan - "Ignite your Natitude" Seriously? I know that it got accepted but let's admit it, that's only because the Nats were winning.  If the Nats went 80-82 whoever came up with that is now making up slogans for the Fargo-Moorehead RedHawks. Are they going to roll it out again? Can they come up with something even sillier sounding?  Will I go crazy seeing it hashtagged over and over again?

SI curse - I hate this thing, but I'm pretty sure the Nats will be on that baseball preview cover and someone will say something about it. This is what I worry about.

Thursday, December 13, 2012


I've always thought that the Rangers losing out on Hamilton means they'd give LaRoche his 3 year deal (I've also thought the KS plains boy would prefer to be in Texas).  Let's see if I'm right.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

The Dog Days of Winter

Pickings are slim this time of year. Do you really want to read another "Just waiting on LaRoche" article? Here is Boz's Q&A and some points I thought were interesting.
Revere has been a terror in the minors, hitting .326 at all stops, but he has now had MORE than 1,000 plate appearances in the majors. That is a LOT. He's not raw. He has 0 homers (!) and an OPS 100 points lower than Span. No reason, at this point, that at 25, he's suddenly going to hit in MLB the way he did in the minors
Ian Desmond had 1302 PAs before last year. Then last year, at 26, he hit in the MLB the way he did in the minors (some of the time). I'm not saying Boz is completely wrong here. The better bet is on it not happening. But you can't dismiss the possibility that someone gets it at a decently young age, after a couple of poor years in the majors, especially when he's moving to a more hitter friendly ballpark and especially especially WHEN YOU SAW IT HAPPEN IN FRONT OF YOU IN A SEASON THAT ENDED 2 MONTHS AGO.

Overall getting Revere is the better play, but for the Nats specifically, a team wanting to win in 2013 and with a potential CF in the minors, Span makes more sense.
Look at LaRoche's 10 "most comparable" players at age 33. Plenty were useful at 33. But, of the 10, only Joe Adcock was good enough at 33-34-35 to be worth the kind of 3-yr deal LaRoche would want in B'more.  
Fed Baseball looked at this a bit and found that Boz wasn't that far off. Most of those guys did peter out quickly.  Here's the thing.  I'd argue that 7 of those 10 guys had one of their least productive (if not flat out worst) seasons at age 32.  Adam had one of his best. You can't look at the totality alone.  Recency counts.  Out of the remaining 3 you have to dismiss Wally Post, who was an injury issue since age 28 and retired with presumably another injury riddled season at age 33.  The other two are Joe Adcock and JT Snow who both had good seasons at least through age 36.  Rather than work against him, I'd say the comparables work for Adam.
(They did the decent thing letting Lannan free.)
I've read this, or stuff like it, in other places and it's complete and utter nonsense.Rizzo isn't Gandhi for not keeping Lannan around, ok?  Lannan had a contract they considered way too expensive and this year, as opposed to last year, they have more confidence in their rotation to give them the innings they need. Last year circumstances and a dull trade market made the decision for them. This isn't about honor. For god's sake you just said they cut Gorzo to save 3 million bucks even though he'd be useful. You think they want to spend 5+ million on Lannan but set him free so he could find success elsewhere? Honestly?
Morse is consistently underrated as a hitter. In 1246 at bats as a Nat his slash line is .294/.343/.514 or an .857 OPS. That can bat cleanup, or certainly fifth, in almost any lineup. The guy is a Beast. No, Nats offense wouldn't suffer much, or at all, with Morse, not LaRoche.
I wouldn't call Morse a "Beast" and I wouldn't personally expect that slash line, but he's completely right that the Nats offense won't suffer much if LaRoche comes back.  Right now, with LaRoche at first I think the Nats have improved a couple games with their moves. If it's Morse at first maybe one game. There's only so much you can do to improve when you've won 98 games. Not signing LaRoche, by sticking to a 2 year deal, will not be a tragedy.
Plus it gives the Nats something interesting in the next offseason.  Imagine, LaRoche resigns and one young pitcher develops enough to look deserving at a shot at the 5th spot in the rotation. A Gorzo type move would be the HIGHLIGHT of next offseason then. That's good for the team, bad for guys like me. Let LaRoche walk - then you have all sorts of interesting possibilities. Resign Morse? Let Rendon play 1st? Moore? FA? Trade Espy for a 1B, let Rendon play 2nd?  That's a lot more fun. 

Monday, December 10, 2012

Haren thoughts of the less quick variety

Hey coming through with something I promised, good for me.

One of the things I said in my quick thoughts on Friday was that Haren "earned" his 2012.  He pitched as poorly as he every had, getting worse on a bunch of little things and it was reflected in his ERA. A deeper look confirms this.

BB-rate went way up from 1.25 in 2011 to 1.94 in 2012
HR/9 went way up from 0.76 to 1.43
HR/FB % up from 7.5% to 12.8%
LD% up from 19.5% to 20.7%

Combine that with a little bad luck (BABIP up from .272 to .302) and you get your bad (for-him) season. The fancy way of saying that is with xFIP. Unlike 2010, where some crazy bad luck with the D-backs caused a spike in his ERA even th ugh he pitched well (xFIP 3.49), Haren had an xFIP of 4.00 last year to go along with his 4.33 ERA. 

Optimists will point to 2011 and say that's as good as Haren can be. I would agree. That IS as good as Haren can be.  In fact, that was probably his career year.  Look at his career numbers.  BB-rate: 1.89.   HR/9: 1.05.  HR/FB: 10.5%. LD% : 19.9%  BABIP: .301  While his numbers were a bit up in 2012 here and there, some were pretty much on target.  In 2011, they were ALL down. That's what makes a special year. Congratulations 2011 Angels on your luck. Haren will likely never be that good again.

Am I being too rash?  Alone none of the "bad" numbers I've shown is all that concerning (in fact a 1.94 BB-rate is still good enough for Top 10 in the majors) .  Together though... together you have to start to wonder about the trend.  You start to look for explanations.

Baseball Press had an article that noted that Haren's velocity has been continuously dropping. This is perfectly in line with a guy who is starting to enter the down side of his career.  His fastball is becoming less and less effective as the years go on. In 2011 he was able to compensate for that with a phenomenal cutter and he threw it all the time. But for whatever reason (injury? overuse?) his cutter was far less effective in 2012.  While Haren still had his control, without that cutter he didn't have a single pitch he could use as an "out" pitch.  His fastball is now hittable, his curveball has never been great, and his decent split finger is less effective without the fastball to set it up.

Yes but what about the Nats defense! The Nats defense could possibly make him much better right? Well sure, the Nats had a great BABIP from their defense.  .282 was one of the best in the league. The Angels had a team BABIP of .277.  Meaning their defense was even better at turning hit balls into outs.  Now there are vagaries and all to that - how many fly balls were hit, foul ground, etc. etc. but the point is the Nats defense isn't going to be much better than the Angels.  And even if it were Haren is not a ground ball pitcher. Only 39.6% of his hits were ground balls (that's near the low end for qualifying starters) and his 43.2% lifetime percentage was lower than what every Nats starter did last year.

Also - I never like pitchers that are injury risks.  After maybe missing a start or two over 7 seasons, Haren finally missed some significant time with an injury that's big enough to make some teams turn away, and make the Nats make sure he passed that physical (anyone here trust the Nats staff doing a physical? Me neither)

Hmmm, the above sounds a lot bleaker than it needs to be. Basically if you take everything above and boil it down I'm saying this : Dan Haren is a pitcher on the down side of his career.

But just because I don't think he's going to roll into DC and pitch like a #1 pitcher doesn't mean the outlook on him is bleak. Dan Haren was a pitcher who at his peak was one of the better pitchers in the league.  I'd hesitate to call him elite, but certainly a deserving #1 for some team.  Therefore a Dan Haren early into the down side of his career is still a good pitcher to have in your rotation. Haren still has fantastic control and enough savvy to make it work for him.  I think something like last year's ERA is probably likely and have a hard time seeing a healthy Haren do much worse that that.  There is nothing here saying "collapse".  A 2012 Haren gives the Nats exactly the results EJax did. That was good enough for 95 wins with 80% of Strasburg and Wang pitching a month worth of games. And hell, you never know if there is one more lucky BABIP year out there for the guy.

All in all I still like the deal. 

Friday, December 07, 2012

Quick thoughts on the Haren deal

Sorry kids - I was out of town on business like a big person so I didn't have any time to put a longer post together.  I'll try to have something up soon, but as anyone who's ever gone out of town on business knows today will be filled with furiously answering the emails that have piled up. So Monday probably.

Some quick thoughts that I'm sure you've heard by now and maybe even put in the last set of comments.

Outside of dramatic overpays, any 1 yr deal (and really 2 year deals, I think) for a veteran player is good one. It doesn't lock you in to multiple years if things go wrong - injury, decline phase, personality clash. It doesn't hurt your future flexibility, if you're running up against whatever budget you may have set. If things go right, the Nats have other options when Dan likely explores a longer-term deal after the season.

AL->NL is always good.  Dan's pitched in both so it's not like he'll be a surprise to the players in the senior circuit, but for any pitcher going back to a league where you can dial things down every 9th batter is a boon.

Last year wasn't one big thing for Dan, it was a bunch of little things.  Walks picked up. Homers picked up. BABIP was up. Gave up more line drives. He did get a little unlucky but he also pitched as badly as he did in a long time. You can blame the injury if you like, right now. He did pitch to better results after his DL stint

It's a bigger gamble than Edwin, but the reward is potentially higher.  Injuries for pitchers rightfully scare people. A tweak here or there can screw up the delivery honed over years and turn a great pitcher into a bad one pretty quickly.  IF Haren is healthy and IF he's not entering a decline phase of his career, than he should be a better pitcher than Jackson would be, which sets the Nationals up to have a rotation with four pitchers who would be no worse than a #2 on pretty much every other MLB staff.  It's a risk sure, but the Nats can risk those "IF"s this year, when they couldn't last year, when they had ZNN trying to pitch his first full year after TJ, Strasburg on an innings limit and they had no idea how the #5 slot was going to work out.

Is it Greinke? No. And I wonder about the wisdom of not making a long-term pitching deal when the Nats' minor leagues pitching situation can be best described as "pray for health". But Rizzo is not inclined to give long term deals to pitchers (Strasburg will be the best test case because he hits FA after his 27 yr old season), the current rotation is young and under contract long enough to find some other pitcher over the course of 3 seasons, and if not Greinke than something like this is the next best option.(and you could argue the best option period - I'm a Greink-ophile)

Monday, December 03, 2012

Mike Morse ^= big trading chip, Lombardozzi ^= Espinosa

As the Winter Meetings heat up there is talk of trading Mike Morse and Danny Espinosa to TB for James Shields.  While reading through some posts and comments I see two running themes that are just not true.

 #1 - Mike Morse is worth more than...

Of all the things that a team would want in a deal, Mike Morse is mainly one thing. Cheap. At 5 million dollars a year he's worth taking a flier one because if he's healthy the numbers he can put up at the plate will make him worth more than that. But here's the things you don't get :
  • Health - Mike Morse has missed 60 games twice in the past 3 years. 
  • Value away from the plate - Morse was terrible in the outfield, and not good at first. He is also is not a good baserunner. 
  • Youth - Mike turns 31 before next season starts
  • A long deal that's cheap - Mike will be a Free Agent after next season. 
You know all that.  You are thinking a team would deal for Morse for pretty much one reason. He hits ball good. A team dealing for Morse gets a big bat for the middle of their line-up that they don't have to commit a long-term deal to.  But can you even count on that? 

In 2011 Mike Morse was a BEAST. He hit .300 with 36 doubles and 31 home runs, but his walk number (36) kept him from being an elite offensive player.  In 2010 - if you expand it to 575 at bats he had in 2011 - he would have hit .291 with 29 homers but only 24 doubles (hence the large drop in SLG), with around 43 walks. Not quite as good as 2011 but pretty decent.  Last year, though, expand it out and he hits .289 with 23 doubles and 24 homers, and a miserable 21 walks. That may not seem like a big deal but the drop in average and the lack of walks means Mike is making like 20 more outs. That matters a good deal. It turns him from an guy knocking on the door of the house with the elite offensive players in the majors, to a guy sitting down the road in the condo with the bats that are just ok.

With 2011 Morse you can swallow the fact he gives you nothing else but a line of T-shirts.  With 2012 Morse you can't.  Oh he still has value. It is .290 with 24 homers. But overall he's maybe just barely worth 5 million to your team. Now if you can stick him at DH everyday that helps a good deal, but that still limits his worth because it limits your flexibility.

In the end Morse is an ok trading chip, but he's the type that might get you a good bullpen arm not the type that is the anchor player in a deal for a good starter.

#2 - It's ok to trade Espinosa because Lombardozzi is ready to step in.

For reasons you can obviously figure out people see this    
Danny : .247  189 Ks
Steve :  .273  73 Ks (stats expanded based on equal at bats)

But they ignore this
Danny : .155 isoSLG (37 2B, 17 HR), 20 SB, 4.1 range, 7.1 UZR
Steve :  .081 isoSLG (24 2B, 5 HR),  7 SB, 1.1 range, 1.6 UZR

What does this all mean?   Well let's look at one number first

Danny : .315 OBP
Steve : .317 OBP

What this means is that Danny and Steve make about the same number of outs (assuming you like them to repeat last year's performances). So what do they do when they aren't making outs? Danny hits for power.  Steve hits singles.  Danny is a good baserunner.  Steve is ok.  Danny is a great fielder.  Steve is ok.

A baseball player's job is not just to put bat on ball. It's to get XBH and drive in runs. It's to run the bases well and score runs. It's to field well. In every other aspect of baseball outside of simply making contact, Danny Espinosa is a superior player to Steve Lombardozzi. In overall value, Danny Espinosa is a much better player than Steve Lombardozzi.  You will make your team noticeably worse by playing Steve Lombardozzi instead of Danny Espinosa.

You CAN trade Danny and rely on Steve, if you want. You have to look at all deals in the sense of what you are giving up and what you are getting back, and maybe you can get back something that makes up for losing Danny.  But you WILL be losing something going from Espinosa to Lombardozzi.  Lombo can hold 2nd down well enough that he won't hurt the team like just starting any old schlub at 2nd might, but that's about it.