Nationals Baseball: 2013

Monday, December 30, 2013

Monday Quickie - A range of problems

Hey everyone! Welcome back from the holidays! And welcome back to... well I guess Redskins news for most of you.  But for those looking for some baseball talk, Boz put out his usual off season "gotta wear shades" column. Nothing really wrong with it as he's right. Getting Fister was awesome for the Nats and Blevins and McClouth make the team better. But it wouldn't be written opinion if I couldn't find some fault in it.

As anyone who has read this blog for a while knows, I don't take kindly to teams saying "they can't afford" to do anything. For the vast majority of teams, yes, yes they can afford to do it. It's that the owners choose not to. Which is fine - their team, their choice, but let's call it what it is. The Nats are saying money is an issues in two different areas.

First they are saying they are out of the Tanaka bidding. This doesn't bother me as much because the outlay of money is quite large and the implication from Rizzo is that the large amount of money that would be spent here will be spent to sign some current young Nats to long term deals. If you aren't going to be luxury tax payers (and it is onerous) it would be hard to do all three, given the money already promised to Werth, Zimm, and Gio and other contracts (Stras, Bryce) coming up.

The second one though is a big penny-wise pound foolish to me. Boz writes :
But Rizzo had a tight budget for a lefty reliever and backup catcher. The Nats couldn’t — or wouldn’t — go for more than a one-year deal.  

Really? Of the names he mentioned some of the deals are very small. Molina signed a 2 year deal... for 2.5 million total. Matt Thornton signed a 2 year, 7 million dollar deal. No offense but 3.5 million? 1.25 million? This has to be considered throw away money for a team going all out to challenge for a playoff spot. If you don't think these guys make your team better that's fine, but if you didn't want to go 2 years 3 million for Molina because "what if I'm stuck with him for 1.5 million in 2015!" then you shouldn't be owning a major league team.

The second thing that causes a tiny bit of worry is the whole "Doug Fister will be great just like Zimmermann is great because of the range of our infielders" thing. That could be true. It also could be that the Nats are relying on something that will get worse over the next few years. Zimmerman's range was a horrendous -10.2 last year. Even if you think it was because he was hurt and he was better at the end of the year, he hasn't had good range since 2010. Adam LaRoche had a poor year in the field last year, and for someone getting old and never a great fielder that portends another subpar season. Anthony Rendon, while theoretically a plus a second base, is still a bit of a question mark. He was a very good fielder but one who based on scouting reports relied on quick action more than pure range. That's perfect for thirds but not quite as good for 2nd base. Add in the fact that his ankles are made of chicken bones and I worry about him as well. Finally, while range has never been an issue for Desmond, he continues to have issues with errors.

Add it all together and you had an infield D that was fairly average last year. It has potential to be worse if Rendon's good year was a mirage and LaRoche continues to slide (I expect Zimm to bounce back a little bit) I'm not saying DOOOM! or anything like that. This won't make ZNN or Fister or anyone else bad pitchers, but if you are counting on great infield D to make them superior pitchers... well I wouldn't count on that.

Friday, December 20, 2013

Out of Blogfice

Some random notes before checking out for XMAS (well maybe - you never know when inspiration will hit)

On the whole bench thing, overall this should be a good offense. The talent of the offensive starters 1-8 should be Top 5 in the league* but injuries can kill those expectations. We saw that last year. Injuries took out Ramos, Werth and Bryce for various time frames. Add in a regression from LaRoche and a collapse from Espinosa and you get a offense that took 2/3rds of the year to get back together.

There is no reason for the Nats to be sure that can't happen again. So you can either plan for it now, with the best bench possible or adapt to it later, with trades. Since Rizzo seems to be more of a "set it and forget it" guy when it comes to rosters, I think it's important we set the bench to be as good as possible.

I don't think they have to replace Espy, Moore & Solano/Leon, you can take a gamble here or there, but if they don't replace at least two I'll be disappointed.  If I were to bet I'd say most likely to be here is Solano/Leon, then Moore, then Espy. Why Solano/Leon? Way I see it, if Ramos does go down again then trade, but hope it doesn't come to that.

Yes, there can't be a perfect roster (or more accurately it's really hard and expensive to do it and no one  does it so don't blame the Nats for that) but there are holes and it'd be silly not to try to address it. It might not be the best plan for the future, but constantly planning for the long haul can cause you to miss the opportunities in front of you. The Strasburg sit followed by the 2013 they had should be a blaring klaxon warning everyone of that.

JW - you're not offering enough for Belt, even if the Giants don't love him they'll see that.

z11/blovy8 - The Yanks will score runs (yes their gain is better than their loss.. at least from what those guys put up in 2013) but are in trouble if they don't find pitching (the Tanaka situation isn't looking good right now). With the talent out there I hope they don't break the cap for an arm (Arroyo for 2 is my hope). I expect the Rays to run away with the East. Stats-wise I don't like the Red Sox as much as everyone else. A lot of best / 2nd best years put up last season, pitching depth is an issue, Bogarts is real deal but no guarantee of great 2014 and Middlebrooks/Bradley Jr are question marks.

Anon - cass is right - if the Nats didn't up with Syracuse they would have had to find someplace else to play and Syracuse would have to find another team to use their facilities. Usually what you see is a major league team deciding to move on from a place for better facilities/location and teams shuffling around after that move.

*For those of you focusing on the great last couple of months the Nats put up as proof of a powerhouse 2014 team, I'll remind you that the team was together in July as well. Gotta factor that in.

Merry Christmas, everyone.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Monday Quickie - Not done yet

“We’re very happy with the group we have”

Even though you can't trust Rizzo to speak the honest truth to the media*, this quote from late last week can't help but make you a little bit nervous.

Zuckerman outlines the team roster at this point and there remain three big holes.  All three might not be filled but leave it the way it is and factor in Hairston's limited usefulness and you have the recipe for another bench disaster.

Danny Espinosa shouldn't be the middle infielder of choice. Did everyone forget 2013? He couldn't hit in the majors. He couldn't hit in the minors. I know they say he's healthy now. They said he was healthy then too. I suppose a whole nother offseason off might heal his shoulder up but who wants to go in with that being plan A. While Desmond can be considered a lock, Zimmerman is a perennial injury risk and Rendon has yet to prove himself. The Nats need more of a sure thing backing up these guys.

Tyler Moore shouldn't be the 1st base back-up of choice. Really? The Nats are doing this again? Third time's the charm?  Let's recap - Moore can't field, can't run, doesn't hit for average or get on base. He does one thing - hit for power - and he didn't do that last year. In his first 25 games Moore was great, in the 110+ that have followed he's hit .220 with a .260 OBP and slipping slugging numbers. Last year Adam LaRoche was pretty damn bad. Replaceable at the plate overall, useless versus lefties and continuing a downward trend in the field. I think he'll bounce back a bit but you can't look at the above for a 34 year old and bet on it. The Nats need more of a sure thing backing up this guy.

Jhonaton Solano and Sandy Leon combined (in very limited at bats) to hit something like .140 / .170 / .175. Solano in AAA hit .214 / .245 / .279. Leon in AA hit .177 / .291 / .252.  And you want these guys to be your latex salesmen? Wilson Ramos is the obvious everyday starter but he broke a finger and injured a hammy in 2009. In 2012 he tore his ACL. In 2013, he injured his hammy again and again again. In his healthy seasons he's played 113 games and 113 games. The Nats need  more of a sure thing backing up this guy.

I doubt Rizzo is done with his moves but just in case he might be thinking he is, let's keep his feet to the fire rather than say "hey this roster looks pretty good now" because on the bench it doesn't.

*This isn't a slight against Rizzo. Telling the honest truth to the media rarely serves to make the team better. You got to puff up the team sometimes. Make the players feel better. Make the players seem better to both potential trade partners and potential ticket buyers.  You don't want straight out lies from your team's management but if you're not getting a steady stream of half-truths they probably aren't doing their jobs right. 

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Why do I keep wanting to call him Jeremy Blevins?

Jerry Blevins for Billy Burns. Go!

Going back to our trade analysis method hashed out last week, the Nats easily won this trade on relative value. Blevins might not be worth all that much, relievers are just limited in that way, but Burns would not have likely helped the Nats next year. Both Eury Perez and Steven Souza are ahead of Burns on the "help us now" list for the OF and Brian Goodwin is ahead of him on the "help us later" list.  Not that three minor league guys can't fail to meet expectations but they are no more likely to do that than Burns himself.

Absolute value is for future scholars to debate but I'll take a guess that the A's end up on top. I can see Billy being a decent 3rd / 4th OF for a few years which will get you more value than a few years of a reliever. In this way it's a deal that makes sense for both sides, assuming the A's had replacements in line for Blevins (they think they do with Abad and Pomeranz). Nats get better for 2014. A's trade a fungible resource (relief pitching) for a potential bigger return down the road.

Anyway let's look at the stats. First thing to note is that Blevins is not a LOOGY.  Here are those splits I promised you

v R : .220 / .314 / .322
v L : .250 / .340 / .419

v R : .219 / .333 / .310
v L : .182 / .248 / .327

v R : .190 / .267 / .314
v L : .253 / .299 / .442

See? If anything he's been better against righties over the past 3 years. The take away though is that he's been effective against both sides. This is important because a LOOGY is like a Tyler Moore for the bullpen. Limited in such a way that if you're roster isn't well made around him, it can make a manager's life more difficult as opposed to easier.

Great! Any cause for concern? Isn't there always? Let's go to the fancy stats!

Blevins is an fly-ball pitcher with a FB-rate which will probably end up in the upper 40s. That's not great but it doesn't mean Blevins will immediately be a gopher-ball pitcher coming to a new park. Clippard is the biggest fly-ball pitcher on the Nats with a FB-rate over 55% last year. Soriano was third on the team (42%). Expect a couple more homers but it shouldn't be a career-destroyer. Shouldn't

Blevins BABIP has been pretty damn low the last couple of years .242 in 2013. .224 in 2012. But given that it was .278 in 2011 I think it's as much skill as luck. I don't think he'll get to a .220 level this year but .250? Completely reasonable.

LOB-rate high (77.3%) but not unreasonable in 2013, might have been so in 2012 (84.4%).  K-rate isn't great but BB-rate dropping along with it.  FB speed is steady. Age is fine.

I think if I were to guess I'd say that 2012 was a bit of a mirage. He had everything go his way, probably in part because he changed into a different pitcher that year. He had been a guy throwing 60%+ FBs and move to throwing under 50% and more junk. So if you are expecting a deserved* say 2.50 ERA season I don't see it happening. In fact, I'd expect a bit of a ERA bump, something closer to 3.50. That's not great but it's good enough to eat up some innings and give Williams a solid lefty option out of the pen, more reliable than the young Krol or Abad (who really tanked after a super fast start)

*relief pitchers pitch relatively few innings so they are more likely to luck into good/bad ERAs despite what they deserve.

What about Billy Burns?

Well you first have to understand he's not that great a prospect. Didn't make Sickels' Top 20 for last year or Baseball America's Top 10 for this year. These aren't end-all, be-all lists but they give you an idea of where he stands. Why so "low"?  Because he's been on the old-side for the leagues he's been in and he has ZERO power and power matters. Literally he's hit one home run in 1000+ plate appearances in the minor leagues. He had 21 XBH total last year. To put that in perspective Lombo had just 3 fewer XBH in 150 fewer at bats. (or if that doesn't register - if Lombo had the amount of at bats Burns did he would have had about 25% more XBH, in the major leagues). ZERO power.

He does have a good eye and is super fast so if he can hit .250+ there might be some use for him as a 5th OF type. One thing I will note is that I can't find anything saying he was a good fielder, which is odd given his superior speed. Not that he's a bad one, just that usually if you are a super fast you are noted as a superior fielder, as well. That's not the case with Burns. That cuts down his value a bit more.

Can he hit .250+ in the majors?  He did hit .325 in AA but it was just 30 games so we'll see him try again and thus he probably won't get a good look until later in the year. That's even considering the A's will probably try to fast track him because of his age, the fact his value is in having all that speed, and the A's mediocre OF prospects. My guess is that he can, but can never generate power so lines like .280 / .360 / .370 will be seen. A little tough to start a guy like that but as a pinch-runner, bunter, contact just-get-on-base or move-the-runner-over pinch hitter? He could work.

This year will really be telling though - put up another .average well over .300 into the summer and the Nats lost a useful but replaceable piece, fall to under .300 and the Nats gave up nothing, hit well over .300 and add some power and the Nats will rue the deal. (but I really don't see the latter happening)

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Quickie on Blevins for Burns

Win now.

Burns is a decent little prospect but he's 24, he hits for no power, & the Nats have a few decent OF prospects. Might be what, 15th next year in Nats prospects?

Blevins is a good LH reliever. I'll bring up splits tomorrow but pitched well vs righties in his career. He was specifically good in 2013. (and specificallly not so good versus left-handed batters). All in all better versus lefties in career though as you'd expect.

It's a good deal for a Nats team that wants to win in 2014 not wait around and see if Billy Burns might be a cheap 3rd-4th OF for 2016-2020.

Bench work

Last year's bench wasn't poorly construtcted in theory. Rizzo had all the pieces in place.You had every position covered. You had a lefty righty balance. You had a fair defensive replacement and pinch runner. Maybe there was a lack of pop and a true 3 position OF defensive replacement would have been nice, but if it all worked out it would have been great.  It was just that Rizzo was relying on a lot of hope and dreams and unsustainable 2012s.

This year the Nats needed to get better and they have so far upgrading twice. Nate McLouth is a better Roger Bernadina. Scott Hairston is a better Tyler Moore. That sounds good, but looking at it critically we see some issues. Overall they've upgraded the OF without managing to cover CF. Is it because of faith in Bryce to cover that position? Or someone in the minors? Perhaps but that issue sits out there if Span goes down. Worse is that Tyler Moore wasn't actually a good bench player to have. He provided you with one, and only one, attribute. Right-handed power. He couldn't play defense. He couldn't run. He didn't get on base. Scott Hairston being a better Tyler Moore is not really all that helpful. It made complete sense for the bench the Nats had, being as awful and power-lacking as it was, but it makes less sense for this year.

Of course if the Nats can upgrade with a better Chad Tracy and Steve Lombardozzi that will help cover up carrying a one-note player. Is there a better Chad Tracy out there? Yep. Eric Chavez. Problem is Chavez wants to play and there isn't a good place for him. Zimm isn't going to sit that much and Chavez is also a lefty making platooning with LaRoche very unlikely. After him the only lefty bats better than Tracy would be Lind and Loney, both who should find starting roles somewhere. That makes the most likely corner guy signing Jeff Baker, but he is a righty bat and really only should face lefties. This would give the Nats two players like that limiting the bench severely for late game hitting.

A better Steve Lombardozzi is also an issue. You're not going to find guys that can hit and field in the middle infield. If they exist they are starting. Instead your best bet is finding decent gloves who aren't terrible at the plate. Mark Ellis might work but he hasn't really played 3B or SS. Brian Roberts wants to start, is a gamble and is only a 2nd baseman. Ramon Santiago is terrible at the plate but he can play all the infield well. Given the Nats have pretty decent defense in the infield I guess I'd default to Ellis but it's an imperfect match.

Let's think about some scenarios:

McLouth, Baker, Chavez, Ellis - need to trade Hairston in this scenario and assumes you can get Eric Chavez, but that's a very solid bench, ignoring CF coverage. 

Likely all FA
McLouth, Hairston, Baker, Santiago - only one LH bat hurts balance (Santiago is a better lefty bat than right but that doesn't mean he's a good lefty bat).

The all gamble bench (well not McLouth but he's set)
McLouth, Youkilis, Gutierrez, Espinosa  - hey if it all came together that's a hell of a bench

Most likely right now it seems 
McLouth, Hairston, Baker, Espinosa - a lot like the one above except making a huge gamble that Espinosa can hit at all.  If he can it's much better than Santiago but who has faith?

There are other options. Somehow get rid of LaRoche. Sign Infante and make Rendon your MI bench guy. But I don't see anything crazy happening unless part of a larger deal.

If the discussion above sounds too negative to you, you're right. The question isn't whether the Nats will have a better bench, it's a question of how much better it will be. That can't be hammered out until the work is done. Until then though, we'll have fun arguing about the margins.

Monday, December 09, 2013

Monday Quickie - stupid answers to snappy questions

From DAM magaizine?

On Fister and pitching staff

Trade Detwiler rather than pen him!

I think Detwiler's injury issues make him a sell low right now. So might not get a good relief pitcher let alone one AND a prospect.

Best rotation guess

Do think it will be Stras Gio ZNN Fister Detwiler to start. Jordan first up. Pen  Soriano, Clippard, Storen, Stammen, Ohlendorf, Cedeno, new lefty.

Will they trade anyone in the pen?

Doubt it unless for something real good. Pen is good, trade of Clip or Storen would weaken it significantly.

What about Stammen for a LHRP? 

You know... that isn't crazy. If the LHRP wasn't a LOOGY it would keep pen on even ground. If I were a team out of contention with a LHRP due up for FA soon, Stammen (not a FA until after 2016), and maybe a throw in prospect, isn't a bad return but they might hold out for more seeing what LHRP are getting.

Braves rotation is set? 

Sorry - right looking for another arm. Thing is they have 5 starters right now, just all young so want a more reliable arm.Could get by without it, though

Sean Burnett? 

You could get him for a song, but no. Injured pitchers are not the low variance type this team needs (which is why I'm cool on O'Flaherty)

Fister worse tha Porcello and Scherzer? 

Mainly age related. Porcello trending right and much younger. Scherzer and Fister same age and Scherzer (with some luck yes) pitched better. FIP and xFIP both have Fister "last" (but still decent). Again just a guess and one I don't like all that much but still way I lean if forced.

Storen closer by July?

No. Soriano is a baby and can't handle pitching in non closer role. Hate to coddle him but have to get what you can out of assets on hand.

Targetting Oliver Perez?

I don't think they are. I mean not more than anyone else.

LaRoche & Zimmerman >>> Cabrera & Fielder = Fister the great!

Ehhhh. I believe LaRoche's drop off is real and Zimmerman is not elite anymore so I'm a bit hesitant on the 0.25ERA reduction just from fielding. But it will be something noticeable.

On Offense side

Can Zach Walters be Lombo? 

Sure. But if the point is to minimize variance bringing in a minor leaguer with little MLB experience (who K's like crazy) isn't best bet. Rather use Espy if he ever decides to get surgery.


It's not that he's THAT much better than McLouth and I'm sick over losing him. But he can play CF and McLouth can't and that gives the Nats more flexibility which is kind of what a bench is for since you can't 1:1 replace your regulars. I'd expect roughly the same sort of offensive production from them, with McLouth the better bet to tank (though not likely). Take all that and since DeJesus signed for the same I'd rather have DeJesus.

But I'm not unhappy with McLouth.  He fills in the good enough base runner spot that the Nats lost when they had to cut Bernadina. (though I liked Eury Perez in that spot personally) It's a good, necessary move. McLouth & Hairston are worlds better than Moore and Bernadina. Though we didn't for sure know that going into 2013. Which is an important lesson. Given Hairston's terrible 2013 and McLouth's bad years, the leash on these guys should not be season-long. All-Star break fixes if these guys are looking dead.

Bring up a young guy for CF or move Bryce over if Span goes down? 

Move Bryce over.

But if they don't do that then who for CF?

Goodwin if he's hitting well in AA because he's most likely the future. If he's not, or if it's early in the year, if Souza is raking in AAA you have to give him a shot.  If not, I'd do Perez because I like the minor league consistency and better speed potential. I see him as a 4th OF for a while so let's get him some time now for later.

Who's hurt the most - Corey Brown? Tyler Moore? 

Brown the worst. Given age and performance he needed to be up now. Kobernus too. Not sure why he'd be up if not now. Souza, Perez, Goodwin all should get those mid-season call-up ahead of him. Moore can be slated for 1B and I think if he has that job by ST he'll keep it at least till Sept. Skole's gotta prove it in AA and AAA.

Backup catcher? 

At this point I'd try real hard to get Suzuki back. While personally I like Ramon Hernandez for a true back-up I don't like him for more than a game a week and with Ramos' history you need a guy that could play everyday (at least for a while until you find a true replacement) Everyone was ok with Suzuki, right? If they know he's just a back up?

Friday, December 06, 2013

Two questions to answer, one to ignore

Question #1 : Is Nate McLouth good enough? 

Ehhhhhhh. Good enough for what? To be the 4th OF? 2013 Nate McLouth is, I guess. Overall the hitting was weak but if you plan for him to primarily hit  him versus righties (with Hairston and his .270  isoSLG vs lefties) you'd be looking at a  .272 / .342 / .411 line. That's fine. Plus he fielded... well he wasn't bad.

Ok so what's the problem?  His offense and fielding were better last season than they had been in years. The defense is explainable. McLouth is not a CF. He played a lot of CF in 2010 and 2011 and he looked bad. The played nearly none in 2012 and 2013 and looked fair. As long as the Nats don't see him as a CFer he's fine (and why would they, with Span a lefty hitter too?)

His offense is more of a question. He really was worse in those years before 2013, but if you do the platoon thing he should be ok.

2012 vs righties : .255 / .321 / .410
2011 vs righties : .251 / .372 / .372

You see... ok. I mean 4th OF wise. The potential is still there for a big collapse here though.

The way I see it is that he isn't someone who can play everyday, but if a corner OF goes down (like this year) then McLouth + Hairston will work for a contender.

Question #2 - Was there anything better out there? 

You do see a problem though. McLouth and Hairston don't give the Nats a true CFer in case Span gets injured. You can say "HA! MISTAKE!" but the truth is on the FA market there wasn't really anyone who was. Andres Torres I guess, but he's rehabbing. Frankling Gutierrez like I said, but he's not exactly Mr. Reliable.  Everyone else either couldn't hit at all, or hit well enough that they should, and will, start.

Ok that isn't 100% true. There WAS a better option than McLouth and he was the greatest Nat ever, one David DeJesus. He can play center and I'd bet on him hitting better than McLouth (though also best used in a platoon situation). The Rays ended up paying him a little less than McLouth (like 250K less) for 2 years so I guess you can jump on Rizzo for a little lack of foresight. Once he was signed though McLouth kind of sat out there as the best of what was left, even considering he can't play center.

So who does play center? They can't have a 6th OF on the roster can they? Well, no so it looks like they might go down the very questionable road of having Scott Hairston be the 1st base platoon, with Tyler Moore gone, and have someone else (Eury Perez? Souza?) be the slick fielding 5th OF. Or if they are committed to Tyler Moore for some reason than the decision on a CF injury would probably be to move Bryce to CF and let McLouth and Hairston platoon in the corner. At least I hope that's what they would think to do.

I don't really like either of those plans, but the latter is a little better overall. It becomes much better if they replace Moore with an actual good 1B platoon player.

Ignorable question - "Are the Nats paying too much to for Nate McLouth"?

Honestly, if it's not enough to affect future signings, and it isn't, you shouldn't care. (and if it is enough to affect future signings you should be mad that that is the case - the Lerners should just spend. Good teams, contending teams, overpay for a decrease in variability of outcomes.

Overall I can't complain much about the deal. McLouth was clearly the best guy left on the market. He's not the perfect answer for the Nats bench, but the perfect answer no longer existed. And when you're talking 4th OF perfect doesn't matter enough. Good enough works ok.

Jamey Carroll > Steve Lombardozzi

I'm just saying.

It's true. Better fielder, better hitter. He was even smaller than Lombo. 175 pounds on baseball reference? That's like 160 in the real world right? Still in the majors and likely to sign for 2014.

Carroll's story always amazes me. He didn't look like he'd be long for the majors in 2005, maybe a couple more bench years then back home to coach community college ball or something. But then he turned himself into a fairly decent little player. Ignore 2007 and from 2006-2012 he was about a 2 win a year WAR player. Or look at in another way, from 2006-2012 he was about the 20th most valuable 2nd baseman. That's not much but it says - worth starting for somebody.

He's one of the last inaugural Nats out there. There's Zimm of course. He'll almost certainly be the last. And Marlon Byrd who became a good player pretty much the minute the Nats let him go. He'll at least play out his newly minted contract. There's Endy who after the Nats didn't understand his (admittedly limited) value plied his slap-hitting good D trade across several teams (along with possibly the best HR robbing catch in playoff history. Oops I might be slighting Jayson Werth. OK Endy has possibly the best legitimate HR robbing catch in playoff history) He might be done though as time has taken away his defence. There's Luis Ayala, who almost pitched himself out of the game, then came back in 2011 to give a few teams good enough bullpen innings. There's Jon Rauch who was pretty solid before last year, but couldn't hook up with another team after a decent AAA stint with the O's caused him to opt-out.  Both of these guys could and probably should end up in some organization, at least as AAA filler.

Then there's Brendan Harris. How crazy is that? The guy had one decent year in 2007, which convinced the Twins they could use him as a super-sub (they couldn't). Got a chance to be organizational depth for the Orioles (failed). Got same chance to be that for the Rockies and performed so well that the Angels thought... he might be worth starting? Based on PCL-inflated stats? No wonder that team is failing. After crashing out of the majors there he was tried as org depth for the Yankees (failed) and Rangers (failed) and yet he will be invited to Spring Training for the Dodgers. Crazy.

Maybe it's because he's scrappy and white? 

Wednesday, December 04, 2013

Random Fister thoughts

Just some random thoughts bouncing around my head
  • If you made me bet on which pitcher would have the worst 2014, Fister, Porcello, or Scherzer, after much hemming and hawing I'd probably go with Fister. If you made me bet. If you didn't I wouldn't because I don't feel that strongly about it and the "worst" season of the three will still probably be a good one. 
  • One one hand you can see the Tigers' reasoning as they checked off a number of to-do list items with one trade. But it feels so much like they did C- jobs on those things.  Why not try to do an B+ job on two of them? (or more realistically do an A job on getting a pitching prospect). I wonder if Detroit painted themselves into a corner by ruling out an AL trade all-together. In the NL the Braves, Cardinals, Reds, and Dodgers all have pretty set rotations, leaving the Nats and Pirates as definite playoff caliber teams that might need a pitcher. 
  • Something that is kind of implicit in Fister's WAR stats, but understated? The guy is healthy. He's missed ~6 starts in 3 years. Given that Gio has missed none in that time period, ZNN has missed none he wasn't forced to miss in same, and Stras has only 2 games missed he wasn't sat for since coming back from TJ, this is a remarkably healthy front 4. 
  • If you think signing Ellsbury makes Cano a better target because the Yanks don't have the money anymore, you don't know the Yankees. All contract are seen as "what needs to be done to get the 5 years we want". They WANT to get under the cap, but they don't need to. Also I don't think Jay Z wants his first major outcome as a sports agent to be pulling his guy out of NY for what figures to be maybe slightly more money. (This is why the Yankees made their offer known). So either someone is going to blow 7 years 170 million out of the water or he'll be back. 
  •  If you're thinking that's not fair, well it is and it isn't. It isn't fair that the Yankees can generate so much revenue that they can outspend other teams while barely dipping in to their owner's pockets. It IS fair in the sense that these teams are all just multi-millionaire's toys. The Lerners are worth 4 BILLION. Dipping into their pockets for millions is a perfectly reasonable thing to ask. Let's say you have a small house, a car, a decent job, a little savings and a net worth of 400K. You like to travel and you decide you are going to save up 5K for a nice long vacation in Europe. Good for you, if you can do it. That's the equivalent of the Lerners spending 50 million of their own money to sign Cano. (And that's not even true because of the decreasing marginal utility of each dollar but we're not here for economics lessons)
  • I do think Detwiler ends up in the pen. He's a better choice to be given the starting role (stuff, pedigree, longer major league track record) but there are starting to be questions if his body can handle a full-season of pitching. Look for the next injury to send him permenantly into the bullpen. 
  • I put the Nats ahead of the Braves now. We'll see what I think in March though. 

Tuesday, December 03, 2013

Fister Pump

Last night the Nats traded for Doug Fister. On the surface it looks like a confounding deal that leans way toward the Nats. Are we missing anything?

Talking about it in the terms we laid out yesterday the Nats, in absolute value this will take a while to shake out. Fister, a 200IP 3.25 ERA starter (say 3-4 WAR) under control for two years, is obviously worth more than a young, maybe lefty specialist relief pitcher and a utility infielder (roughly a 1 WAR let's say), no matter how long they have them. The question in play is what does Robbie Ray become? That's going to be the absolute value tipping point. In relative value the Nats add 2-3 WAR and lose probably nothing from next year. Lombo and Krol will be replaced and Ray wouldn't play.

It's an easy win in the relative (make your team better) value and an early lead in the absolute (what each team ends up getting from the deal) value. It's not an huge steal just yet (because of Ray being a question mark) but it sure looks like it'll end up being one. 

We're not missing anything in terms of the deal.  Are we evaluating the players right?

Is Doug Fister really a "Top 10" pitcher? 

Well... what they are really saying is "over the past 3 years fWAR (Fangraphs WAR) has Doug Fister as the 9th most valuable starting pitcher in the majors" Is that really the same thing as a Top 10 pitcher? No it isn't. Let's say we look at the past 2 years - 14th, or just last year - 12th. Or we look at rWAR (Baseball-Reference's WAR) last year - 21st. Or if you are a gut guy, are there only 9 guys you'd want on the mound before you'd call Doug Fister's name?

Of course who cares if he's not a Top 10 pitcher? His xFIP has been consistenly around 3.40 the past 2 years. His ERA just a bit higher. Toss in the AL-> NL move and he should give you a season like Gio or ZNN did last year. That's what Fister is, a Gio/ZNN like pitcher. A #2 who could pitch at times like a #1 or like a #3. Maybe since he's 30 you lean more toward the #3 side than the #1 but he's the Nats #4.

But he's a GB pitcher coming to the Nats great defense from the Tigers terrible one! That'll make him the bestestest!

No and Yes. Yes, the Tigers D was terrible. No, the Nats D isn't great. I'll remind you that the whole idea of the Nats as a GB vacuuming team was based around the gold glove caliber defense of Danny Espinosa. Desmond has stepped up his game, but Zimm has had his issues, LaRoche is fading, and Rendon is no Danny. It'll help but it won't be a revelation for Fister.

Is there something wrong with Fister you see in the stats? 

As I noted above his ERA and xFIP are pretty close in line, meaning he's pitching as he should, no crazy drops should be expected. That's because everything has been pretty consistent. You're not seeing any big increases in LD rate or big drops in velocity. There's nothing out of line with his LOB% or HR% or BABIP.  His GB rate is improving. His BB-rate is very good. He's a very good consistent pitcher.

If you are looking for problems you can point to some things. His K-rate did drop a bit. His contact rate on the high-side.. but that's not always telling. He does rely on a low HR/FB rate... but that's typical for a GB pitcher. Velocity IS down just a tick. Comerica and Nationals Park are both fairly average HR parks, but maybe taking into account that move and the NL East vs the AL Central, he'll give up a couple more homers than he would have. Like 2 more maybe? Nothing earth shattering (and remember they all expected Gio to crash HR wise and it never happened - guys adapt)

Stats-wise it's hard to make a case for anything to worry about. The worst thing you could say is Doug Fister is at the very beginning of his aging curve and has likely peaked. He might be in the 20-30 range for pitchers next year, 25-35 the year after that. This is the worst I can put out right now. Simply stated, for the next two years there is nothing sitting out stats-wise there to be worried about. Not in the basic fancy stats. If there's a crash coming here I don't see it.

What about  injury wise? 

Pretty healthy with one minor injury over the past 3 seasons. He will be 30 in February and is 6'8" tall so there's that but you worry about history first. So, no nothing here.

Fister sounds great! Is there anything we are underrating about Krol or Lombo? 

There is one thing. Lombo is under team control for four more seasons. Krol is under team control for six more. That's a lot of time. Krol is also very young (he'll turn 23 next May) and Lombo is young enough that they should be at least as effective as they are now for the entirity of the Tiger's control.

That being said Lombo is Lombo. He has his positives which we talked about before so I'll just cut and paste : No patience, no power, not all that fast, average at best in the field. That's not a starter. But he can do other things. He plays adequately at SS and 3B, hits for .265 or so, and rarely strikes out. He's not all that slow so he can pinch run and he can bunt. Not quite a "jack of all trades", maybe an "8 of clubs of all trades", a smart manager can use a player like Lombo.

Use Lombo right and he could be worth something on a major league bench. Over rely on him though and you're hurting your team. 

Krol is more interesting. A lot of places are writing him off as a lefty specialist since righties hit him hard last year. But the kid is 22 and improved his RHB stats in the minors from 2012 (.282 / .321 / .455) to 2013 (.245 / .320 / .464). I think he's better than a LOOGY, but I don't think he's a future lights-out reliever. More a solid piece.

So not much there. What about Robbie Ray? 

I can see what's appealing about Ray. He improved in nearly every way you'd want him to (Ks up, BBs down, HRs down, hits down) while moving up to AA. At 22 he does look to be on track to pitch in the majors. But what kind of pitcher? And could a second season in AA derail him?  He was dismissingly bad just two years ago.

And that's part of the problem with trying to evaluate him. Was 2013 a fluke or is he showing serious consistent improvement? We don't have enough data to be sure. 2014 will probably give us a clearer picture of the type of pitcher Robbie Ray will be going forward. It could be he continues to improve, gets most of the year in AAA and looks like a mid-rotation guy with upside or it could be he struggles and looks like he might end up organizational depth. There's no certainty here.

I guess I'd say I wouldn't worry about it. The Nats gave up a guy who may be their 3rd best pitching prospect but really they only care about their first best one, Lucas Giolito. Everyone else down there is a question mark.

So... did the Nats win the trade? 

With the caveat of "evaluating it right now". Yes. They did. Big time.

On a side note, why did the Tigers make this deal?

Oh, well near as I can figure they want Drew Smyly, who looks like he could be a very good starter, in the rotation. Verlander and Sanchez are set in the rotation for years. So that leaves kicking out Scherzer, Porcello, or Fister. Scherzer was better last year that Fister and is a little younger. Porcello is a lot younger. So you could see how Fister was the odd man out. (I guess. Really Scherzer should be, with his big contract coming up. You'd get a hell of a lot more value keeping Fister and Porcello, moving up Smyly and giving that Scherzer money to someone else... Cano? But then why trade for Kinsl... i'm getting off track here)

Ok with Smyly in the rotation they needed a LHP in the pen because Drew was their only good one there. That's why they wanted Ian Krol. As for Lombo, their current back-up infielders, Ramon Santiago (.224 / .298 / .288) and Hernan Perez (.197 .217 / .227) make Lombo look like an All-Star. If as he should Lombo hits .260 and walks a little bit more, he'll be a improvement. (You can aruge Santiago overall would match Lombo but Lombo is 9 years younger. I'd bet on Lombo)

Robbie Ray - who doesn't want a decent pitching prospect? Plus the Tigers prospect pitchers in general took a nose dive this year so he helps fill a gap that exists there.

Hmmm but couldn't they have gotten those minor improvements somewhere else for less than Fister?

Shhh. I'm not sure the ink is dry yet!

Monday, December 02, 2013

Monday Quickie - Trading Desmond (or really NOT trading Desmond)

So we're back from Thanksgiving! Everyone have a great time? Feeling good? Ok well let's ease into what will hopefully be an active December Nats wise with some foolishness, trading Ian Desmond

Why is it foolishness? Well when you make a trade you have two goals. The lesser, but sill important one, is to make a trade where you get back equal (or possibly) more in value. You want to "win" the trade. The greater one is that you want to make your team better. You want to win, period.

The former can be tricky to estimate at first because you are usually trading talent for prospects. Overall you might get more back, but it may take 5 years before you can prove that. The Nats aren't in that position though. They aren't trading for prospects (at least not from SS where they have no immediate back-up).  They are trading for talent straight up. That's easier to measure.

Well sort of. Fangraphs would tell you Desmond was about the 18th most valuable player in the majors the past two years. Baseball Ref would tell you he's the 75th.  But the important thing is not the difference but the general sense, so I think splitting the difference is fine. Let's say he's around the 45th. That means around 45 players in the league are going to get you equal or more value back in a trade for Ian. Of course that's real real rough. You have to consider age and trends and injuries, etc. etc. but Desmond is only 27 and has consistent value over the past 2 full years. Assuming his defense doesn't suddenly revert to 2011 levels, I think about 45 players outperforming him in the next 2-3 years is about right. If it was split up evenly that's not quite the 2 best players on every team. It's hard to get that back in value.

But it can be done! Let's say you want a David Price (since that's really the point here, isn't it?). Straight up it's a pretty fair deal. Of course that is in terms of absolute value, or "winning" the trade. What about winning games? What matters in the end for that is relative value, or how much better will this player perform than the player that would replace him. Ian Desmond plays SS. That's a difficult position to fill. You may get matching production from Price over the next couple of years, but right now Desmond would be replaced by Danny Espinosa, one way or another.  Last year Danny was useless and he does not look to be improved*. If that were to continue Desmond to Espinosa, even with Danny's fielding, would be a net loss of like 4-5 WAR.  David Price would replace the Nats 5th starter. For arguements sake let's say the Nats 5th starter ended up being worth 1 WAR (it usually shakes out something like that). So David Price at a 5 WAR level or so, is going to end up making you 4 WAR better. In other words, overall the team is +4 adding Price but -4-5 losing Desmond. The team is overall in a little worse shape.

There's a ton of variance and looking at things within ranges, etc. etc. so don't take any numbers above as gospel or anything. This is all just a fancy way of saying that because the drop from Desmond to whoever is behind Desmond is so huge, it's going to be nearly impossible to bring someone in, straight up, who you'd feel confident would improve the team overall. At best you'd be gambling that you'd end up the winner on a 50/50 like ticket.

So what about a package? Well sure, but considering the Nats want to win now you are going to have to add someone considerably better than who the Nats use right now. On the Rays who would fit that bill?  Evan Longoria would. Zobrist. Myers likely. You have to notice though that it makes the Rays way worse to do something like that. The Nats are pretty average around the field with a couple bright spots meaning another player would have to be at least good to make you feel secure they would make a difference. Who is going to deal a great player and a good player for Desmond? You'd have to have a hell of a deep bench to even consider it (which is why I brought up the Cardinals - who didn't make sense themselves) or else you are going to get appreciably worse. Either that or you have to be rebuilding and have the Nats throw in prospects but then why are you taking in Desmond?

The only option that is forseeable is something that has multiple parts, like a trade and sign. Desmond for Price and sign Brandon Phillips as Rendon slides over? The team is probably better...probably... for 2014. Desmond for Price and sign Cano as Rendon slides over? The team is definitely better.  Damn well better make sure you are going to sign that other guy though. 

In the end a trade using Desmond just doesn't make sense. It's too hard to replace his value in a deal because his relative value to the Nats is so high. In order to make it worthwhile for the Nats, it would almost certainly be too costly for the other team. 


Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Carving up the lefties

Before you take off for the best holiday of the year let's be clear in the fact that while the Nats would love to get a reliable lefty for the pen, it may not happen. Why is that the case?

This is why.

Javier Lopez hasn't been worth 4.3 million in any year in his career (although you could probably argue it for last year - which good for him on the timing!) He's old. Older than me! And yet he gets a nice fat contract. What will the more reliable and younger Boone Logan get? At least that. What do the Nats want to pay? Not that.

They'll look. They'll kick the tires. They'll offer fair deals. Problem is fair deals are not going to get it done. They need to overpay for lefties and they may not do it. That's why they are talking about Solis so much. As we talked about in the comments, it's not really about leverage on deals. Lefty reliever will get theirs. It's about getting you fans ready for what might happen when Rizzo can't pull the trigger on an overpay. Are you ready?

Thanksgiving Menu - for those interested.

Turkey, sour cream mashed potatoes, glazed root vegetables, cranberry sauce, sweet potato casserole, dill rolls, sausage stuffing with sage and dried cherries, pumpkin pie, cranberry handpies

Monday, November 25, 2013

Monday Quickie - the Haren the Hound

Dan Haren is off to LA. Good for him. The Nats really couldn't re-sign him even if his 2nd half was decent. Bad contracts are like bad relationships. You get a pass on it once, but if you go back to him/her and it's bad again your friends start thinking "well you brought it on yourself". With a contract you get a pass on an injury riddled under-expectation season as part of the game. Bring him back and he fails again, fans start thinking "this GM doesn't know what he's doing, does he"?

Its been a quiet month for the Nats. Promotions and Minor league signings have been pretty much it.  And that's ok. Rizzo doesn't usually move a light speed. I can't think of any big pre-Thanksgiving moves. The Span trade (Nov 29th) was the earliest that I see. Haren and Werth were both signed in the first week in December. Gio deal was near Christmas. LaRoche - Jan 7th then the 8th. Soriano was signed mid January, about when Morse was traded in his time frame. Edwin Jackson - February. Honestly signing Chein-Ming Wang might be his biggest move before the holiday season starts.

While no news isn't good news, it's expected news. Just the way Rizzo seems to operate and honestly what has it cost him? Not much.

Anything else we should remember about Rizzo?

He's loathe to give out extra years for the sake of signing someone (Werth excluded). FA pitching signings (Jackson, Haren) were both one year dealies. Didn't want to give LaRoche a third year when that would have cleared up 1st base super early in the FA process. Didn't give in to Prince's demands. What it could mean: Moves might be late in the contract period where he can get a deal. (Burnett for a year + option?) Expect him to stick to his evaluation on any FA signings. Which in my mind makes the Cano dream unlikely, also makes guys looking to be overpaid like Choo & Ellsbury very unlikely for whatever crazy "he moves here" domino game you had in mind. Hasn't yet given a long term pitching deal out so guys like Jimenez, Santana, Garza are extremely unlikely unless they fall into that deal zone mentioned above.

He has been willing to deal. Dealt for Gio and Span giving up decent prospects to begin with. That's a good sign now that the minors have a few decent arms that could bring something back. The Gio deal wasn't with his guys, though, nor top-notch propects either. The Span deal wasn't a slam dunk win. And while the minors have a few decent arms, that's pretty much all it has so to deal means to empty out the minors again. Will it make him gun-shy on another deal? Might not know for a couple years because one deal-less off season isn't exactly telling. What it could mean: SP trade could be coming. Don't give up on the Price dream just yet. However don't bet on it because that is really a minor league system dumping for the Nats. Scherzer, if still on the market might be more possible. Are there any dark horse candidates? Yovani Gallardo. If the Brewers realize they aren't winning now he sort of fits what the Nats like. Jhoulys Chacin is also an interesting case. Gio like contract left, but not as good a pitcher so potentially not as costly a deal.

He can surprise you. Signed Soriano to "strengthen a strength".  You can say it didn't work out or you can imagine if Storen pitched the same way and Soriano wasn't here. So what kind of similar move could he make? What it could mean :  I don't see a big splash deal, just because I don't see any of the BIGGEST position player names falling into 2-3 year contract territory like Soriano did as a closer. But if people shy away from a Nelson Cruz? Or if Granderson finds himself with no home and it's closing in on February? With a deep middle in the class, I could see him making a deal for an OF and letting Matt Williams figure out how to use that talent.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Middle of the Pack Nats

Commenter Cass brought up something interesting the other day. On the current fangraphs projections for the 2014 season the Nats are decidedly middle of the road, 18th in the majors. Yes, understanding that it's WAY early and this does not factor in free agency that hasn't happened yet (so all free agents are nowhere right now) is there some underlying truth here? Are the Nats not very good?

Well, first of all there is a lot of things that will help you assuage your fears. While the Nats are figured to be 18th overall right now, that's still 8th in the NL and decidely closer to the best NL team (6 games) than the best AL team. In other words, the NL itself has no standout teams in projection so it's not like the Nats have lost before the season even started. Even better they are just a smidgen behind the Braves in this projection. Given the current talent levels that sounds about right to me. The Braves are better, but not by more than a couple games. A couple games can easily be undone over the course of the season by random luck (although you'd much rather have it undone in the offseason by savvy signings).

Also projections like this are notoriously... flattening. Look the best team in the NL last year won 96 games, the worst won 62, but in the projections for next year the spread is 88 to 72.  A 34 game spread is now 16 games. This doesn't mean that the projections are wrong, just that the idea of projecting has a fundamental flaw. This is something we've discussed before. Seasons are often decided by injuries, break-outs, and crashes. These are things that can't be projected with any accuracy. You know they are going to happen. You can sort of pinpoint teams that may have an edge (young talent with room to improve) or a big flaw (35+  talent, or relying on guys who may have had fluke seasons) but that only gets you part of the way there. The rest is unknowable but it happens every year. (Doesn't mean you don't try to put yourself in the best position though. It's easier to get to 95 wins if you are starting from an expected 90)

Ok so the above says - don't worry the Nats are in the playoff hunt and given their general reliance on young talent would be a better bet to overperform on that win total than underperform. Where exactly do I think the projections are guessing low?

Ian Desmond : Projection 3.0 WAR.  (2013: 5.0, 2012: 5.0)
You can tell this is at least a 3 year projection by the fact that they've pretty much discounted Ian's defensive improvements over the past 2 seasons. Also they only have him playing 130 games, which he has beaten by at least 20 in 3 of the last 4 years.

Jordan Zimmermann; Projection 2.5 WAR (2013: 3.6, 2012, 3.4)
Projections seem to hate ZNN. It's a much milder way than the way they hated Lannan, but it turns someone who has been a #2 type pitcher the past 3 years into a #3. I can't see the reasoning behind this one.

Where do I FEEL they are guessing low?

The Pen (Soriano, Clip, Storen):  Projection 1.0 WAR  (2013: 1.1)
Ok that's not a big drop and it can be entirely explained by a drop in IP projected but still last year was the least valubale year for Clippard and Storen since 2009 and Soriano's least valuable closer year ever. One of these guys alone might get 1.0 WAR next year.

Jayson Werth: Projection 2.2 WAR (2013 : 4.6)
Ok I don't think he'll hit like he did last year and I do agree his fielding will still suffer but a big part of their projection is him playing only 118 games.Factor in 30 or so games and better hitting and that's a whole win they are underselling him.

Bryce Harper: Projection 3.9 WAR (2013 : 3.8)
This is all just gut feeling. If Bryce is going to be that special talent he should break out sooner rather than later. I think he is that special so I'm feeling breakout.

Is there anyone I think they are too optimistic on?

Adam LaRoche : Projection 1.2 WAR (2013 0.6)
In fewer plate appearances! No I think last years LaRoche is where he stands now.  That's not good, but over the course of the season you can swallow it. For one more year.

The top of the rotation - not that they will pitch worse but they have Stras, Gio and ZNN pegged for over 550 IP, which means no major injuries. I always assume a major injury when it comes to pitching, but I guess it'd be unfair in this exercise to predict that for the Nats.

All in all, like I said before I like the Nats chances to beat what they are projected for here, more than go under it and if you factor in what I think are under estimates and over estimates, I have them*better than the Braves and in the thick of the WC hunt.

*Caveat being that I haven't look at every NL team. Might be if I look at the Braves I think they are underselling some guys there too. Or overselling a couple. Really all I'm saying is that the Nats aren't a base .500 team - more a base 85 win team right now, with strong potential to beat that.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Great Expectations

In the 2+ years since coming back from injury Stephen Strasburg has been one of the 10 best pitchers in baseball. Even ignoring the strong finish from 2011 only bumps him down to a Top 15 and he's at least two years younger than all but 2 names above him (and there are only 2 in that range in the next 14 below him).  He's a clear #1 pitcher in his prime with likely a half-decade minimum of All-Star level performance ahead of him. 

And Nats fans don't like him.

What Bryce Harper has done in this first two years in the game is amazing. Before the age of 21, when the vast majority of players are still in the minors or college, he's put up a .272 / .353 / .481 line. Only four players in the history of the game have done better in a comparable number of PAs by that age. Even expanding out to age 21, the numbers that produced at that level are miniscule and the list is overrun with Hall of Famers. Ted Williams, Eddie Mathews, Mickey Mantle, Frank Robinson, Hanke Aaron, Ken Griffey.

And Nats fans are ready to turn on him unless he puts up a MVP type year in 2014.

I really hate fans sometimes.

Expectations are a tricky thing. If either Bryce or Strasburg had failed, or at least slowed down their ascent, in their minor league stints, it's likely that we would have written off those "generational talents" evaluations as wishful thinking. It happens all the time. Guys look good in HS or college, but they hit some hitch on their way up and either need some time to work on it or worse, can't overcome it at all. Neither Stras or Bryce really hit a hitch though. They were able to breeze through the minors and make it to the majors on schedule, if not before. Because of that they carried their whole "future Hall of Famers" expectations with them.

The kicker is they haven't even failed to live up to those lofty goals just yet. Bryce, because of his young age is still arguably on target for greatness. Strasburg, when looking at age, isn't that far off either, thanks in large part to the fickleness of pitching. Yet fans hate. 

In large part I think it's because they not only have failed to live up to the outsized expectations, but we're, kind of amazingly, seeing others players reach those levels. There hasn't been anyone this young and phenomenal as Bryce since A-Rod... except for Mike Trout.  In the decade since Mark Prior teased everyone with his ability, only King Felix and the burning out Tim Lincecum had shown themselves to pitch as well as Strasburg has at this young an age... but right at this instant Clayton Kershaw is doing it, Chris Sale and Madison Bumgarner are a "better than Stasburg 2014" from separating themselves from him, and guys like Matt Harvey and Jose Fernandez have that potential.

Bryce and Strasburg are no longer just fighting to reach expectations that have only been met by a select few in 100+ years, they are now fighting to match someone who is looking like one of the great young players of all time, and possibly the best group of young pitchers we've seen since before the War, the first one. (we'll see - pitching has lots of ways of disappointing you)

This is all amusing and infuriating to me at the same time. The Nats have two of the best players under the age of 25 in baseball today and yet it feels like because it's not THE two best players under the age of 25 that it's some sort of failure. Really? Is that how some people look at the game?*.

Arrrrr. This is frustrating. I think this way of thinking is just so stupid and really kills any enjoyment from the game. It's "World Series or Bust" on a career level. But maybe you like viewing the world like this so I'm in a quandry. I guess we'll agree to disagree, and I'll agree to call you stupid every few months.

*Of course it is. There are like 80 college football programs that think that they can compete for a national championship like every 4 years with the right coach and support.  That's not to mention the ones that feel they should compete on that level MORE OFTEN. Fans are stupid and unreasonable. It's part of the fun for some.  

Monday, November 18, 2013

Monday Quickie - really quick

Could Span be traded? Could Rendon?


There you go. The Nats don't seem to be actively looking to deal anyone. They like the team as is BUT they may want to acquire a big time bat or a big time pitcher. If that's the case they know someone might have to be dealt. And they are ok with that.

Who is not on the trading block? Bryce, maybe Strasburg. There's probably a bunch of other guys they prefer not to deal (ZNN, Gio, Desmond, Giolito, Ramos) and guys they probably can't deal (Zimm, Werth) but you never know. The last thing you want to do is say "This guy is not on the trading block" then have an offer come in that you want that sends that guy out the door. So, like the Nats are doing, you don't commit to anything.

If that deal comes, I'm want you to understand something. It's extremely easy to overrate your own talent.  Here's your November warning.

"With Adam LaRoche having a bad season at the plate, do you think the Nationals will end up trading him along with possibly Danny Espinosa and others to the Rays for Price?"

HAHAHAHAHAHAHA.  Who are the "others"? Rendon, Ramos, and Giolito? HAHAHAHAHAHHA

Friday, November 15, 2013

Sammy Solis in a few moments

Just yesterday I said Sammy Solis isn't a real threat to pitch in relief for the Nats. Today Zuckerman says "IN YOUR FACE!" 

So which is it? Ignoring for a moment the elephant in the room that is the fact that Zuckerman actually talks to people on the team, what do all we know in cold hard facts lead us to believe?

He pitched well in Single A.  He was limited a little bit coming back from injury, which is why he only logged 60 innings in 13 starts (14 appearances) but he did throw up some decent numbers - 3.32 ERA, 1.307 WHIP, 3 homers.

But he didn't pitch great or anything. 1.307 is good, but it's nothing special. Ian Krol put up a 1.317 in the majors last year. That walk number is too high (2.9) considering he struck no one out (6.2). It's enough to move him up to AA but to expect him to be in the majors soon?

Plus he's old. He turned 25 in August, a couple weeks after Strasburg did.  How would you expect Strasburg to pitch in Potomac? Solis should be doing well in Single A where you are looking for 22/23 year olds to shine.

Of course, because he is old the Nats might want to push it. There is no reason to wait on Sammy to see what develops because in two more years he'll be 27 going on 28. That's not prospect age anymore and for the majority of players, it's the point where you start to decline.

And he is left-handed. We don't need to go over why the Nats want a lefty in the pen, do we?

But he didn't show any proclivity toward getting lefties out last year. Again, Single A lefties hit .284 / .333 / .432 off him. Not that that means anything definitive in the majors but it's something.

Of course he pitched much more impressively in the AFL. 29 IP, 2.17 ERA. His K/9 number was up to 9.0 and his BB/9 was down to 2.1. Those are the numbers you want to see.

Grain of salt though - guys strike out more often in the AFL than in Single A. At least this year, once every 4.16 AB to once every 4.61 AB. That's could explain a bit of the K increase.

Though they also walk more too.  So that control increase is impressive.

Still AFL stats are so limited does it really say anything for a pitcher? It was only 30IP, which is just a good month. Pitchers with 19+ IP and ERAs under 3.00 the past few years:

2012 : Kyle Kaminski, TJ House, Justin Marks, Robbie Erlin, Seth Blair.
2011:  Terry Doyle, Steve Johnson, Danny Hultzen.
2010: Marc Rzepczynski, Eric Hurley, Ryan Verdugo.

The guys in bold are the guys that would pitch in the majors the following year. Two notes : RZ pitched in the majors before the AFL, so I wouldn't count him, but Hultzen really could have gotten called up by now. He's legit. So let's say 3 out of 10?

This is all pretty pointless, to be true. All that matters is that when Solis starts pitching in AA does he do well or not.  If he does, he gets moved up. If not, he doesn't. But if you want me to bet on it, I'm thinking Sammy doesn't help the major league team in 2014. And if the Nats are thinking about it as anything other than Plan D, well I don't know that I trust what they are doing.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Do the Nats see what I see?

So we've reached the end of the positional review and what did we learn? Just like going into 2013 the issues are at the fringes. With the exception of maybe platooning LaRoche, it's all bench, bullpen and back of the rotation. Does it seem like the Nats agree?

Pen : The talk right now is all LHRP.  Javier Lopez is the hot guy right now, the team and Lopez expressing mutual interest. Boone Logan has also been named. I'd be fine with Logan. I'd hate Lopez. Allow me to explain.

In the relief discussion a few commenters mentioned that the LHRP is not only just "getting out lefties" but taking advantage of batters with really bad split numbers. If Ryan Howard hits .300 vs RHP and .100 with no power vs LHP then it would be silly to NOT bring in a lefty to face him. I can't disagree. My issue comes with the idea of the LOOGY though. Having a guy in your pen that only exists for the situation above, who cannot get out righties, is limiting. He can't really be used in trash time. He can't really be used to give you an inning. If the pen gets stretched during a couple of days, he's not really any help.

Enter Javy Lopez :
2013 RHB v Javy : .296 / .361 / .444
2012 RHB v Javy : .417 / .500 / .479

Yikes. That's a one-trick pony right there.

It's not that you can't carry a guy like that. You can. But you better be super confident in the rest of your pen because this is a two batters over 3 nights kind of guy. Are you that confident that Storen has cleared up his issues? That Soriano isn't on the way down? I'm not and thus would prefer someone that isn't as limited

An intriguing suggestion has been floated around that Sammy Solis, minor league SP prospect, could spend some time in the pen as a lefty specialist a la what the Cardinals might do.  I'm thinking that's just tossed out there for negotiating with real targets. Sammy's LHB stats against last year was .284 / .333 / .432. In single A. That's not someone you want in your major league pen.

Bench : There will be a replacement for Tracy and Hairston will be back. Assuming the Tracy replacement is good then the Nats are already in better shape than they entered 2013. A new back-up catcher has at least been discussed. Given Ramos' injury history I think this is critical and Jhonatan Solano isn't going to cut it. Lombo and Moore will also be back. The question of course is why the hell Moore is back. Yes he hit .344 / .375 / .459 after coming back but like usual it was a hot start into a cold nothing, .250 / .308 / .417 over the last 15 games. The history with Moore is that his hot streaks are very hot but they are not sustainable and over the long haul he just can't compete at the major league level at the plate. Given that he contributes in no other way, and the plan of using Moore utterly failed last year, it's baffling to me why Moore would be back. I'll guess we'll have to see how much truth there is to this assumption

Starting Pitching : This bothers me more because I really get the vibe that the Nats are looking at not adding anyone to this staff. They probably will add somone, but going into 2014 thinking Roark and Jordan and Detwiler, etc. etc. is going to cut it... I just don't see how a team that has WS aspirations would believe that was a good strategy.

Their has been talk of Price (YES!) or Scherzer (OK!) or others but really those sound more like "If there's a favorable deal out there of course we do it" which isn't how a team should think during its window. With the WC situation changed the way it has, it's no longer enough to sneak in and let luck carry you to a title. You need that window wide open, even if it's briefly rather than open a crack for a long time.

Of course, again, all conjecture. I like that the Nats are looking to make changes where they are necessary in the pen and the bench. I don't like how in SP (which is more important) they seem pretty amibvalent.


Trade Span? Nope. Just Scott "Sherry Lewis" Boras speaking through John "LambChop" Heyman trying to drum up interest or apparent interest in Ellsbury. Nats deny this rumor straight up. I don't see it being true at all.

Tanner Roark & Taylor Jordan are not Tommy Milone & Brad Peacock.

Friday, November 08, 2013

If I ain't closing, I ain't posing... as a decent relief pitcher.

Rafael Soriano will start next season as the Nats closer. He is not their best reliever. Taken together this is actually a GOOD thing, because it allows better relievers to be freed up to pitch in higher leverage situations (one would hope) while Rafael, a good arm but no longer a great one, can handle any pressure that may develop in the 9th.

Except what happens if/when Rafael struggles? It's coming, you know. His fastball speed is on a strict downward slope. From 93.4 to 92.8 to 92.3 to 91.4 last year, and that's because he's getting older. He'll turn 34 in about a month and he can no longer dial it up to the levels he had in the past. The K numbers show a stark drop from 2012; 9.18 K/9 down to 6.89 last year. There's a word for  fastball heavy pitchers that can't dial it up past 90. Retired. 

So far he's been able to weather this issue. He's been able to give out fewer base on balls. 4.12 BB/9 to 3.19 to 2.30. That's a massive improvement. In 2012 he was a slider / fastball pitcher, using the former to set-up the latter. In 2013, in part because the slider was not in itself an effective pitch for him, he started using his cutter again, a pitch that he could make effective. The results however were not the as good as 2012. Two years ago the slider (82.9 MPH) provided a sharp contrast to his waning fastball (92.3). The cutter (~91) does not. As we talked about with Dan Haren early in the year, velocity differences can help keep a hitter off balance. Not having them can be an important aspect to a decline in performance.

Another thing to note is that his contact rate went up to 81.5%. For the most part he's not making hitters swing and miss. That would be ok if he had now become a GB pitcher, but no, he actually gave up slightly fewer GBs than he did last year. Even with the drastic decrease in BB, he's seeing more baserunners because he's giving up more hits. The WHIP is up from a great 1.167 to a still very good 1.230.

The picture being painted here is pretty clear. Soriano is getting older. As he does he's losing his fastball and he's trying to compensate in a number of ways. He's a decent enough pitcher that he's held on across 2-3 years of decline, but it looks like it's starting to catch up with him. Unlike in 2012, he didn't really have an answer last year and he was a bit of bad luck away from being rocked. His improved control has allowed him to keep enough baserunners off the paths so the hits he gives up won't matter as much but there is only so much more room for improvement there. Soon, perhaps very soon, this is going to blow up.

So what, you might say, just move him off of the closer spot if it happens. In fact, as I noted yesterday, the Nats would be glad to, because they are potentially in line for a big guaranteed 3rd year if Soriano finishes out enough games*. Sorry, but that's the other issue with Rafael. He's a petulant little brat who can only perform in certain situations. The last few years bear that out

SV SIT : 3.42 ERA, 1.215 WHIP
NS SIT : 5.54, 1.462

SV SIT : 1.82, 1.014
NS SIT : 3.44, 1.582

SV SIT : 3.31, 1.163
NS SIT : 2.55, 1.415

The numbers are pretty clear (2013 may look murky but the drastic difference in WHIP should tell you it's luck that he managed a 2.55 ERA in non-save situations) and they are backed up by any interview you might have seen with Soriano. He imagines himself a closer, nothing else. Put him in the game when he is not due for a save and as we all saw this year, watch him pitch with all the interest of a teenager watching a Biology filmstrip (do they still do film strips anymore? I'm 1000 years old)

This is a huge potentially unresolvable issue hanging over the Nats head going into 2014. Soriano will be the closer. He performed well enough to keep the job and he's getting paid a ton of money. But he could easily fail out of that spot and if he does that he could very well be completely useless as he pouts his way through one subpar outing after another. The Nats would then have an 11 million dollar millstone around their necks. The Lerners likely wouldn't let Rizzo cut him (nor would Rizzo's ego) so they'd basically be carrying one useless arm in a pen that may not be able to afford that luxury. 

Of course this is all conjecture. He could figure out a way to pitch better, or just repeat the mix-and-match, just good enough that you might not notice he's on the cliff year he put together in 2013. For Nats fans that's what you gotta hope for because the potential is here for a messy end to Soriano's tenure as a Nat.

*It would be tight regardless if we are just looking at regular season, but his vesting option might include postseason. I couldn't find anything on that.

Wednesday, November 06, 2013

Offseason Position Discussion : Relief Pitching

Presumed Plan : Soriano will pitch the 9th, Clippard the 8th, Storen in the 7th mostly. Stammen will be part of the mix as well. Beyond that it's a guessing game with Krol having a good shot and Ohlendorf in long relief if he doesn't secure a starters spot. It's likely that another, more experienced lefty will be brought in to round out the relief corps to give Matt Williams some flexibility.

Reasoning on Presumed Plan
Soriano gets the ninth more by default. He's not bad (3.11 ERA, 1.230 WHIP), he gets the job done (6 blown saves - perfectly average for closers). Plus he's making a ton of money to close. Clippard was one of the best relief pitchers in the game last year, so he gets the presumably next most important role. Storen struggled early in the season but sported a 1.40 ERA & 1.03 WHIP after coming back. Ohlendorf was a pleasant surprise, sporting a 2.86 ERA in relief before moving into a starters role. Stammen was quietly effective.

These guys are all righties so at least one other lefty is needed.  Krol, a decent prospect who pitched ok last year, would seemingly get the nod over Abad (pitched worse, older) and Xavier Cedeno (limited look last year and bad history). However one lefty is not enough, especially given that Krol struggled at times and may not be reliable. An important part of the 2012 pen was Sean Burnett. Since the pen did worse without that type of player, it seems logical enough to bring in another. They like JP Howell but he's in a good spot with the Dodgers and is likely to resign. Maybe Javier Lopez or taking a chance with Eric O'Flaherty?
As for the other names out there, Mattheus might have pitched himself out of a spot. Roark and Jordan, who got some relief play, would only figure in if Ohlendorf won the starter's role and left the long relief spot open. Otherwise back to AAA to get starter's innings. Erik Davis likely didn't impress enough to force himself in.

Problems with Presumed Plan :
The main issue is one that isn't going to be overcome. It's using your best pitchers in forced roles in the 8th and 9th innings, meaning they are going to miss out on a bunch of important spots in the 6th & 7th for important spots in later innings that never come. See Me.

Soriano, already a malcontent, is starting to slide in ability as he gets into his mid 30s. Storen is kind of a headcase. Ohlendorf's pitching was good last year but he was also lucky and pitched way better than he has in the recent past so it's tough to see that happening again. Clippard... well I can't find anything really wrong with him, though he could easily sport an ERA a whole run higher. Krol is at an unreliable age and no one else has stood out in terms of looking like they might be a lights out reliever that the Cardinals made it seem like every team needs.

The free agent pool is pretty deep but you will be paying a lot for a reliever, which given the amount of innings thrown, doesn't make pure sabrmetric sense.

My take :
While eventually it'll be done, it's a lot to ask to expect the Nats to be the ones to break from the accepted way of using bullpens cemented over the last 30 years. What's most important is that the pen is filled with decent arms that don't hamper the managers ability to do what he wants to. The Nats presumed plan covers this.

I don't like Soriano, but for one or two more years he might be ok. And don't worry, if he struggles he will lose that closer role, because the Nats can avoid a guaranteed option if he doesn't finish 62 games this year (he finished 58 in 2013). I like Storen and I think the Nats do too. He could be trade bait I guess, but the relief corps isn't that deep. Clippard may in fact pitch 3.50 but with a ton of innings that will still be valuable. Stammen is kind of an undercover hero.

After those 4 it's less clear to me. I think Ross is due for a collapse, but he pitched well enough last year to earn a chance and assuming they sign a SP, they now have long relief depth that I feel ok about with Jordan and Roark. Krol isn't great but he's 22, and as the last arm in the pen he makes me much happier than H-Rod did. The key will be getting that 2nd lefty. A bold manager could work around having one lefty.  Clippard has historically been very good vs lefties so you could use a LH early and still have Clip for lefty heavy lineup portions in the late innings. Unfortunately managers rarely see past "Lefty hitter coming up! I need a lefty pitcher!" so that 2nd lefty is needed. Off the top of my head I do like Boone Logan, but that's probably biased by the amount I've seen him pitch.

Sure it'll be costly to sign one of these guys but who cares about cost effective winning. Wouldn't you rather have 93 wins for 150 million than 90 for 100?  It's nice to prove you are smart but in the end winning is all that matters, no matter how it's achieved.

Outside the Box Suggestion :
No lefties if Krol doesn't make the team. Good pitchers should be expected to get everyone out. I don't know why it would be thought otherwise. Think about it this way, you want guys who can get lefties out. There are righties that can do that at the fraction of the cost of what it's going to take you to sign a lefty relief specialist. Sign Tim Stauffer (career .251 / .315 / 402 v lefties, .190 / .248 / .281 vs LHB last season as a full time reliever) and take a chance on Jesse Crain (just a good pitcher when healthy) and tell Matt Williams that you have 6-7 good arms in there, if you can't figure out how to get a couple lefties out then someone else should be managing.

Monday, November 04, 2013

Monday Quickie : Starting Pitching Comments

Let's get into it starting with one managing comment. (Side note : I have to admit I liked what I heard from Matt Williams. At least he's singing it. Now will he bring it? Again we're talking a month or so into the season before we can really know what type of manager he is for 2014)

Do you really think managers make little difference?

Yep. Even if I didn't, I think the effects of managing can be hard to pin down.  So better to say - since you can't show that you can rely on it, you can't expect managerial changes to make big differences. (obviously some terrible situation are exceptions). You just hope it seemingly works out.

Why did you say ZNN went back? He pitched better! 

My fault completely I guess I stopped paying attention to ZNN at the end of the year. I can admit my mistakes. He did pitch arguably better, though I'd argue more "he pitched within error to how he pitched the year before". Either way he certainly did not pitch worse.

One thing to note though is that my statement was predicated on the ERA bump. Of course ERA is a little wonky as a predictor, but his ERA last year was more in line with how he pitched than his luckier 2012. In other words, we're not likely to get a "runs given up" result much better than 2013. He pitched better AND the results matched up better. So 2013 is ZNN, 2012 is ZNN with some luck. (forget Wins and losses for this)

What about Haren? He came around.

No, and it's all about appearances really. Rizzo wouldn't actually be making the same mistake twice if it didn't work out again. In 2013 he made the mistake of paying 13 mill for a injured star hoping for one last great year. The 2014 mistake, if it happened, would be paying say 8 mill for a dependable veteran pitcher whose newspaper stats and bad start covered up a decent year. But still it would totally FEEL like he made the same mistake twice because the pitcher in question didn't change, just the situation around him. Gamble on a losing horse  once and your loss can be forgiven. Gamble on it again and people start really questioning your decision making. (If Haren was the only option maybe you do it, but he isnt so why bother?)

What about trading Strasburg? 

Yikes. Well ok, if you aren't going to sign him then I can see your point. Pitchers are fragile and his value could go down so deal him now when teams think they might be getting something really special instead of say a borderline #1. Ok, well do you think you are really going to get fair value for him? You'd have to get back value that would help now (no prospects) or you'd be hurting this team for a while.Yet you aren't going to trade Strasburg to a team that's a few years away because of his upcoming FA status. So you have to find a team in the hunt willing to deal key players away? Tough gig. Just for funsies here's my opinion on if the other guys would do it.

Trout, straight up - NO! AND DON'T COME BACK!!
Price and Myers - No. Only giving up a year of FA. (Price is a FA after 2 years, Stras 3). One year isn't worth Myers' future value for a team that has had offensive issues
Greinke and Kemp - Hmmm. If only to get that Kemp deal off the books (but then the Nats have it.). Do this deal, sign Tanaka. That's a hell of a staff to cover for a potentially anemic offense.
McCutchen and Liriano - Doubtful. The combination is right (the off player being one they probably don't need for the future) but Cutch is the face of the team, a Top 3 all around player, and on a reasonable deal. 
Votto and Chapman - In a heartbeat if they were smart. Votto's deal is loco and Chapman has been marginalized. They don't really need SP so they could then flip a SP to get a decent Votto replacement (or resign Choo move him to first and sign/get a decent CF), but teams are rarely this imaginative.
Goldschmidt and Miley - No. Goldschmidt is under a nice deal for longer than Stras. It'd be a tough call on a deal Goldy for Stras straight up. Ask for a decent young cheap SP as well and it's an easy no.

Side note : research shows Braves didn't balk on trade of Andres Thomas to Pirates for Barry Bonds. If it really took place seems like Pirates balked, as they should. They maybe wanted Blauser but Braves didn't want to deal him. But we're getting to 2nd level conjecture here.

What about Freddy Garcia on a minor league deal? 

Anyone on a minor league deal is a good sign (barring something like Simontacchi attempting a comeback) It's a super low risk move.


Too much money. He was better but only good and there's going to be a "remember when he was even better? Maybe he can do that again." cost to his contract.

If you can get 5 good starters why go with a 4 man? 

Well you wouldn't. Like you said - if the average of the 4 man is much better than that 5th it's worthwhile. Remember it's 7-8 starts you are keeping from Stras, Gio, & ZNN EACH. Even for the Nats, who have a glut of guys that look like decent 5ths, I'd say they get alot more from 21-24 more starts from this Top 3.

What about using more pitchers - let match-ups dictate the 5th guy? 

Like a pitcher platoon? I like it. Pitchers will probably balk at it - everyone loves routine. Plus if a guy does really well in a couple starts, even if it is match-up related, and his pitching platoon partner does not, you've created a distraction as everyone asks for pitcher A to pitch more. It could work. It might not be worth the issues that could come along with it. Love to see more of this thinking though.

What about Tanaka? 

Oh yeah I mentioned Masahiro Tanaka briefly in another answer but quickly - he's a 26 year old from Japan who is awesome in the Japan league (a little more normal in the admittedly brief WBC outings) that will likely sign somewhere. The cost will be astronomical for him as the bid (which is a huge part of the deal) isn't a salary cap issue and the contract signed after that is a relative bargain (Darvish is 10 mill a year, for example). Anyway expect that to make the Yankees and Dodgers etc. throw a ton of money, more than the Nats will.

Would I love to see the Nats do it? Absolutely. But again that's in a "no salary limit" world that the Nats should, but don't, live in.

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Offseason Position Discussion : Starting Pitching

Presumed Plan :  Strasburg, Gio, and ZNN are set in stone. The fourth and fifth spots are up in the air right now, with Detwiler, Roark, and Jordan presumably fighting it out for the last two spots.  Other potential starters would be the surprisingly decent Ross Ohlendorf and the organization's favorite upper minors pitching prospect, Nate Karns.

Reasoning on Presumed Plan : While Strasburg supposedly hasn't reached his potential, he's a top 10 pitcher in the majors, 6th in WHIP, 4th in Ks,11th xFIP.  Gio and ZNN both took a half step back this year, but that still leaves them as Top 25ish pitchers, with expected ERAs in the 3.25-3.50 range. They all pitched 180+ innings and ended the year seemingly healthy. 

The Nats really liked the way Detwiler pitched in  2012 and he started 2013 with an ERA under 3.00 before getting injured. Tanner Roark was remarkable to end 2013 sporting an ERA under 2.00 with fantastic control. Taylor Jordan wasn't as amazing (3.66 ERA) but pitched well enough to hold down a rotation spot. Ross Ohlendorf surprised the team with his equally decent performance (3.52 ERA as a starter). Nate Karns has the best raw stuff, unhittable in the minors with only one WHIP over 1.2 at any stop despite a bit of wildness. Among these 4 or 5 (depends on what they do with Ohlendorf who could get a big bump in arbitration) it seems like they could find 2 rotation worthy arms.

Problems with Presumed Plan :  Strasburg had surgery again, this time removing bone chips. Is he going to be ready to go at a high level to start the year?  There were questions about whether Gio and ZNN really were those #1 like pitchers they showed in 2012, and 2013 seemed to answer that question with a no. At 28 in 2014, they are getting to an age where they might start losing some zip on their fastballs.

All of the five other guys have issues. Detwiler will also be 28 next season, has had 2 major injuries, and what amounts to a little more than one full good season of pitching in his favor. Plus his pre-injury pitching in 2013 had luck going his way as much as skill. Both Roark and Jordan have a history of much more questionable pitching prior to 2013, with WHIPs over 1.30, suggesting that this past season could have been a fluke. Roark especially got a lot of breaks in his stint. Ohlendorf (31 next year) also got lucky and has a long history of major league stats (5.10 ERA) backing up the thought that he's a mediocre pitcher. Karns was unable to translate minor league success to the majors, with the guys at the top finding his pitching easy to whallop. Does he have a fastball that is fast enough to dominate AAA guys, but flat enough that major leaguers will kill it?
My take : You can't argue with Strasburg, Gio and ZNN. Even if Strasburg isn't STRASBURG he's still easily a legitimate #1 starter in the majors. Even if Gio and ZNN are regressing, they are still good pitchers and give the Nats a Top 3 that is among the best in the majors.

It's after this that the plan falls apart. The idea that the Nats can go into 2014 with this bunch and expect to win is scary to me. Sure you could find two guys out of this group but let's look at what you have here really. A middling major leaguer who pitched over his head (Ohlendorf), a former top prospect who looks like he will never be consistently healthy enough to even see if he can reach his potential (Detwiler), a never was prospect who very possibly had a miracle season at a somewhat advanced age (Roark), a never was prospect who very possibly had a miracle season, though admittedly at a younger age where it is more likely to be real (Jordan), and a B prospect who has great stuff but may not have the command to translate that into major league success which is about the most common thing you will hear about pitching prospects (Karns).

I think they could end up with two guys out of this group who were good enough to be #4/#5 pretty easily. Maybe even better than that (I like Karns' stuff as much as the Nats do and Jordan, given age & surgery & no big luck in the majors, could also be real) but it's a maybe situation. What if they pick the wrong guys out of the gate? What if it's July before they figure out who is good? What if, god forbid, one of the big three get injured? What these five guys give you is not two starters to rely on, but depth behind the Top 4 guys you really like.

I don't think there is any question they need a fourth reliable major league arm for this rotation. Ideally, with Gio and ZNN possibly slipping, Stras' surgery, and the spectre of "no major injuries to these guys in over 2 years" it would be someone of their caliber. A top 2 type of guy. With the Nats not looking for a long term solution (none of the FAs are better/younger than their own guys, and they got a couple low-minor arms that could be looking to break through in late 2014 or 2015) they need a short term deal. I see three ways to go. My preference would be for Hiroki Kuroda. Back to the NL, almost certain to take a 1 year deal, still incredibly effective. Also possible is taking a small chance on Tim Hudson. I'm not sure the Braves will give up on him, or that the GA boy wants out of Atlanta, but he's still good when healthy and even though he's been bit by the injury bug he's still pitching more than half the year. If the Nats want to go really crazy with gambles there's Josh Johnson. He has familiarity with the NL East and is just two years removed from being a special pitcher. At age 30 he's not so old that you give up on him completely. If you really like the "Detwiler, etc." group than this is a good bargain gamble to take.

Outside the Box Suggestion :
It's about damn time someone went back to a 4 man rotation. I'm serious. A lot has been made about pitching health these days but when it comes down to it there is a decent argument to be made that the pitches matter more than the innings, meaning the wear and tear is all about the individual outing rather than having only 4 days of rest. Sure, we've seen guys on 3 days fail in the playoffs, but that's a real questionable thing to base a decision on. You are talking about guys pitching differently come October, at their most worn down, than they did all year long and doing it against what is likely one of the better lineups that they could face. Pitchers went on 3 days rest for 50 years. Those guys weren't special. We weren't tougher back then.

I think the ideal situation would be to do it with guys in their late 20s-early 30s who have a history of lack of injury. Their bodies aren't growing anymore, but they aren't at the point where they are completely breaking down either. Keep them on a nice pitch count and let them go.  Strasburg doesn't quite fit the mold, but Gio and ZNN do in my mind. Add a say... Ricky Nolasco and run with it.

It's something that should really be trotted out by some team, but I doubt anyone has the guts to do it. 

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Matt Williams

It's the Diamondback in the room. Matt Williams will be the new manager of the Nationals next year. So what do I think?


Ok, see you tomorrow!

Fine, fine. But let's start at the beginning. How do I feel about letting Davey Johnson go? Necessary, but it's pretty lousy it got to the point where it was necessary. Davey Johnson is one of those rare managers that actually seem to make teams better. Is he an expert on picking the right jobs at the right time? Perhaps. But it felt like there was something there seeing him manage, something that other guys didn't have. He also wasn't a cliche machine, which at least makes the manager interesting for us following the team on a daily basis.

Of course he didn't show that something special in 2013. It was obvious his interest level was not there. For that you have to blame Rizzo. Rizzo had decided before the season started that Davey was out. And Rizzo again, just like with Riggleman, wanted Davey to just coach and thank him for the kick on the ass that sends him through the door. Davey isn't the petulant macho man-child that Riggleman is so he didn't quit, but the idea that the organization is going to fire you no matter what certainly affected his actions (or more precisely inactions this year). Alienate one manager, shame on him. Alienate two managers, shame on Rizzo.

With Davey out the door someone had to be hired. What do we know about Matt Williams the manager? Nothing. He's never managed. After retiring he did some radio and TV work, and some various odd coaching jobs with the D-backs before getting hired by them as a base coach in 2010. But he never managed during this time. The thoughts are he will be a hard driving bad-ass but who knows? Did I mention he's never managed?

I can say I don't like the fact that he was hired mainly because Rizzo liked him. I'd have rather seen a minor league manager with a proven record of winning. But I'm also of the school of thought that the manager doesn't matter too much. He may cost a team at most a handful of games. Does that mean 1-2 games or 4-5, I'm not sure.  Either way there are usually a dozen other things you can point to that matter more. Still, for the Nats, ~3 games could be the difference between the division crown and the wild card, or the wild card and sitting home. That's where they find themselves. I can't say it doesn't matter at all. 

I don't care that he used steroids. He doesn't have to be a leader on PED morality to control the clubhouse.* The rules are different in 2014. That should be enough.

What I want to see is what happens in the first month. Can he set a decent line-up (does he put Span on top)? Can he really work a bullpen (does he use the non-closer in impt 6th or 7th inning spots)? Does he get bunting (does he limit it to P ABs or times the team needs/wants only one run)? He could show us some heartening traits, or he could show himself a fool that coaches like a dumb manager from the 1980s. Or more likely he could just coach like everyone else does nowadays. (Mostly like that dumb 80s manager, with a whiff of insight here and there.)

Really the only bad thing would be an early obvious inability to do the right thing. Bunting all the time. Overly rigid bullpen roles. No shifting at all. Span and Rendon leading off because they fit the classic mold. I wouldn't blame him, as a rookie manager, for these mistakes. Sometimes you have to learn on the job. But learning on the job would likely cost the Nats those ~3 games next year and leave them in a bad spot.

But again, just to hammer this home, who knows? Matt Williams is a blank slate. He could be great. He could be terrible. He'll likely be average. Average is usually good enough for a manager, especially if he has a very good team behind him. The Nats are likely to be a very good team, so Williams is likely to be good enough.

*FRobby smiled at talk of using greenies. Davey was part of the "hush-hush, we don't want to talk about it, Hank was there" Tom House Braves of the early 70s. I believe this was the first year in a while no member of the Nats minor league organization was punished for PEDs. Williams' history is nothing new.