Nationals Baseball: Monday Mailbag

Monday, February 10, 2014

Monday Mailbag

Which will continue with Tuesday and probably Wednesday knowing how slow I am. 

Commenter d28's Questions:
What should we fans look for in the first few months to evaluate whether or not Matt Williams is doing a good job as manager? This seems to me like something no one is thinking about for the team to have a good season. What criteria should we use?

Really I'm more concerned that he doesn't do a BAD job than if he's going to do a good one. I think a good manager is probably only worth a couple of wins, but a bad one can screw up a team for years. He could blow out an arm, anger a key player, etc.  Either way though we need to be looking at something here. What exactly should that be? I break it down to a few key areas.

Lineup construction : Does he go the traditional route (Span) or try something that may help score a bit more runs (say... Bryce leading off)? Hard really to mess this up as it's not like Ramos is going to lead off for anyone.
Pitch Counts : Right now 100-110 with special circumstances allowing more is the standard. Does he follow that or is he more strict with no big pitch counts. Or if he does allow big pitch counts does he justify it by "effort" exerted in a way that can be measured? Or does he just let these hosses ride! Woooeeee!
Relief Usage : Standard use has an 8th and 9th inning guy set and everyone else moved around them. Does he go along with this or does he use his best pitchers in important times prior to the 8th? Does he stretch them out a bit for 4 or 5 outs? Or does he make it worse and make the 7th a set inning for one guy?
Bunting :  Too much, too little, or just right?
Defensive shifts : Just for strong lefties, or more usage as it appears to be something that can help. We hope not less. 

Now it's not that out of the box managers are better. Acta was one. He couldn't turn knowledge into wins. But I'd like to see potential there for trying new things that could help the team. Still if he ends up "modern traditional" I'm not going to fuss over it. Really I'm just looking to avoid any head slapping moments, like Mattheus on in the 7th to face a bases loaded situation because Clippard has to be saved for the 8th or a first inning bunt for Bryce Harper to try to score that first run. 

Does it seem to you that our players are downplaying their failures of last season because they ended on a “good run”? 

Yes, but it's not any different than what every team would do. Players look at the positive, for themselves and their team, from the previous year and assume that was the "truth". It's part of how they think. Every players is a potential all-star to himself, every team he's on a potential contender. I can't really fault them for that. As long as the GM recognizes what really happened and makes moves to correct that, that's what important. Now does Rizzo? I think so. He doesn't seem to want to truly put money into the bench but that doesn't mean he won't accept that as a problem. We won't really know until mid-season when/if injuries force the bench into a bigger role.

Is Blevins any better than Fernando Abad? He seems funny and I like him, but is he any good?

This actually isn't a terrible question. If you take the names away and... well let me just show you.
K/9         BB/9          HR/9
7.80        2.55           1.05
7.65        2.39           0.72

In the key aspects of pitching (as far as I'm concerned) who would you rather have? Probably #2 eeks out a victory right? That's 2013 Abad.

Of course there is more to pitching than these stats and importantly Blevins seems harder to hit (consistently lower BABIPs and LD rates) and has a better split vs lefties. (Abad is not a lefty stopper) Given Abad's pretty mediocre showings prior to 2013, I'm pretty confident in saying Blevins is better. Doesn't mean Blevins 2014 will definitely be better than Abad 2014, but the smart money is on him.

Now is Blevins any good? I wouldn't say good.  How about fine? I think if you look at the ERAs he's put up the past few years and expect that you'll be disappointed. Those BABIPs might trend low for him but I'm not buying it'll stay THIS low. He's no Gio, I don't see him improving his HR-rate and if he doesn't that alone will bump up his ERA a half a run or so. So a mid 3.00 ERAs is probably a better bet.  I think if he throws something like 3.40 and is good versus lefties we'll consider him "good".  If it's more like 3.75 and he's mediocre versus lefties than "fair". But to me that's the level he's at. Good to fair, leaning toward good, rather than the very good to good, leaning toward very good, you might expect from his ERAs.

Commenter Wally's Questions : 
Nats question: how much does signing Morales and pushing ALR to the bench improve the 2014 Nats?

A win or so? First we have to think about how much better the Nats would be at Morales at first. This depends a lot on what you think of the wildly erratic performance of Adam LaRoche. Morales is a decent hitter who may be losing some pop (before you blame Safeco he had more power at home). He also is increasingly bad in the field. He's pretty predictable. LaRoche though - if you buy into last year, when he couldn't field or hit, Morales is an easy upgrade.  If instead you think LaRoche has some of 2012 left in him, it's more of a toss up. Personally I think given that 2013, 2011 and 2010 all point to a worse bat and mediocre fielding for LaRoche I'll buy into that. So Morales is an improvement. But he's not crazy good or anything so a half win or so.

Then you have to realize that LaRoche on the bench pushes Moore out. Is that a good thing? Well you know how I fell about Moore. Terrible in the field, and bat is more than questionable. Another rough half-win improvement here. That's how I get to about a win better. 0.5 to 1.5 if you want a range. Kind of disappointing but that tells you more about Morales. He is an ok DH-bat now. 2009 was the last year he was special at the plate.

Yankee three parter: (1) Do you think that they are better or worse than last year; (2) should they sign the Bald one, assuming the 3/$39m numbers hold true, and (3) what % likelihood of making playoffs as is v. with Ubaldo (WC or Div).

(1) I think they are better. Big losses, but bigger gains. Similar gambles with injured old players to last years but now those are complimentary to other moves. Little chance health will be worse (though pretty good chance it'll be the same injury riddled type of season) (2) Sure. Nothing is as overvalued now in baseball more than the draft pick and the Yanks are unlikely to get under any salary cap until 2017 or 2018. Might as well suck it up and spend until then. (3) Probably right around 50%. I think the injury issues puts them all over the place in terms of wins and there is a good top level of competition in the AL right now that keeps the odds down. With Jimenez? Jumps up a bit maybe to 60% but again it's the competition that matters. Rays, Red Sox, Tigers, A's, and Rangers are all very good. Someone else is bound to pop up too. That's pretty much all WC% as I believe the Rays will run away with the East.

Commenter Lee West's Question
So it's not Nats related, but I'm curious what your thoughts are on the Aussie D-Backs/Dodgers series a full week before the actual season starts.  I'd imagine it a logistical nightmare for the teams involved.  Travel, early roster decisions, etc...  But perhaps more specifically, if you were Don Mattingly do you trot out Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke for games 1-4?  How do you not?  And if you don't, are you kicking yourself at the end of the season if you are adversely affected in the playoff hunt by a game or two?  Or do you just convince yourself it's a long season where all sorts of things could have happened differently?

The question, to me, is an easy one, Yes, you start them because these are real games and you need to win them. What's the other option? Not send them to Australia at all? Because obviously if you send them you might as well pitch them. So that's simple.

What do I feel about these real games played in far away places? I think they are garbage. I don't think it's fair to make 2 teams play an entirely different type of series than everyone else in the league. I don't think you can ever prove it has detrimental effects on these teams (what are you going to base it on, preseason predictions?) but I'm hard pressed to think it wouldn't.  Plus I don't think it's the best way to promote the game abroad.

For example, I know some of you out there, god save your black, shriveled, traitorous, Un-American hearts, follow the English Premier League. If they held a real game in the US (do they already? I don't know) that would get you to show up but if... looking up... if next year Arsenal and Hull City played a match in my backyard I don't know if I, the casually interested person, would bother to show. Now, if there was a match, even an exhibition one, and you said it was an All-Star squad of players from the EPL, that would catch my interest much more.

I guess MLB can't force the players right now to do such a thing, but I'd be surprised if the players wouldn't agree to that as an option. An all-star team of 30 guys head to Australia this year right after the season ends or maybe right before Spring Training?  A different 30 next year to South Korea? Maybe rotate it so you can only go at most once every 3 years? I don't know, I think that sounds like a better plan that messing up the schedule for two teams in games that matter desperately to the teams playing and little to anyone else. 

(Also on a side note I also think it's totally fine that MLB opens up the season with a special game Sunday night, but would it kill them to let the first pitch on the day for everyone else be in Cincinnati as a hat tip to the past?)


Froggy said...

Fun mailbag of questions Harper, and I enjoyed most off of your analysis, particularly the Morales / ALR upside to bumping Moore off the bench (puhleaze God). Only exception would be to say LaRoche couldn't field last year, unless you are factoring his range into the equation.

But more importantly, it was good to see you finally getting some love from Schoenfield at the Sweet Spot for a change!

Mythical Monkey said...

Wait, has anybody other than this blog mentioned the possibility of signing Morales? Considering they'd have to give up a draft pick, presumably sign Morales to multiple years, pay LaRoche his multi-millions to sit on the bench, commit themselves to playing Zimmerman at third for the foreseeable future and give up on Tyler Moore, it seems to me Rizzo is more likely to conjure the ghost of Jimmie Foxx to play first than sign Morales.

But I'm open to the idea ...

Especially signing Jimmie Foxx -- he was a beast!

Harper said...

Froggy - I am factoring range as that matters even more with Rendon at 2nd than Espinosa. LaRoche actually has never been all that good. Just a good scooping year in a season where he hit like crazy.

I don't do this for the love. I do it for the money. Which is nothing. So wait, why am I doing this?

MM - No one seriously, tossed off in "well if the Nats were to give up on LaRoche..." think pieces. I agree, the upside on Morales isn't worth it... unless it was a sweetheart deal, which it might just be. Of course I also say get better to get better so sign EVERYONE! Burnett, Ubaldo AND Arroyo. DEPTH!

I'm also for signing anyone with more than one X in their name

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