Nationals Baseball: Now try to break this bundle of sticks, Hefty.

Tuesday, February 04, 2014

Now try to break this bundle of sticks, Hefty.

Jeff Baker signs with the Marlins. So what? The Nats like Tyler Moore and he's not going to be as bad as last year. Overall, what does Jeff Baker get you? A half a win? Maybe? Que sera, right?

No. No sera!

This matters. You are right. Any one player isn't going to make and break a bench.  But having those types of players, the ones that you have to caveat by saying "it won't make or break the bench", should be the end result of a off-season of trying very hard to get better. It should not be because you try to sign guys to what you consider fair-market deals for your team and then get outbid consistently. It should not be because you'd have to eat some dollars on players that shouldn't be around. It should not be because your hubris makes you believe your own players are better than they are showing themselves to be. It should not be because you aren't really trying at all because you'd rather not spend money on a very slight improvement.

One player doesn't matter, but a good bench as a whole can be a couple wins better than a bad bench, a good back of the pen a win better than a bad one. Three wins can be the difference between the playoffs and sitting at home, or the wild card game and an actual series. You can dismiss individual missed deals as you like but when the season starts, the sum of those missed deals isn't somewhere nebulous. It's sitting right there on your bench.

Of course I'm not saying this kills the team. It doesn't. First and foremost, the Nats, like all teams, wish for health. If that happens the bench's minimal impact grows even smaller. And there are always in season moves that can be made. But I want, when I talk about the Nats bench, to be able to finish the sentence "Well, I hope that the Nats are healthy... " with a "but if not, the bench should be able to handle some playing time" rather than a "because if not, they're screwed".


cass said...

They're saving all their money for Burnett!


Donald said...

I don't think not signing Baker means they are screwed if the starters aren't healthy. I think it's all a risk proposition and Rizzo is a risk taker. There's the risk of injury or not and there's the risk that a guy like Moore will under perform a guy like Baker. Then you add in the money. If you think there's a 40% chance a starter misses considerable time and you think there's a 60% chance Baker out performs Moore, then how many wins is that worth paying for? What's the zips difference between the two? You're the stats guy. Maybe for a mailbag question you can provide a chart that shows number of games played by a reserve verses WOR between Baker and Moore to show where is the tipping point.

Harper said...

minor league deal for former Twin Alex Burnett? I could buy that.

(Actually I could also buy them trying a one-year deal for AJ because that's how they roll - won't get him though. Pirates if 1, O's will offer more than 1)

Harper said...

Donald - I could do that. Maybe I will but what I'm saying here is that yes Moore instead of Baker in itself barely matters. But Moore instead of Baker AND going with Solano AND say... not cutting bait on Hairston to sign a DeJesus... even if the individual decisions seem to barely matter, the combination of all these can matter.

Even then its still not a lot but "not a lot" can still be "enough".

Anonymous said...

Have u tought the possiblity of Baker not wanting to play for the NATS? Sometimes, players choose where they can play more, AKA the marlins in this case.

cass said...

Why would anyone choose to play with the Marlins?

Chas R said...

Baker's deal was 2 years for $3.7m. Why in the world wouldn't Rizzo go for that deal? Baker could have platooned with LaRoche, so he would likely get plenty of playing time too. And who wouldn't rather play for the Nats than the Marlins?

Harper said...

Anon - possible but money usually is the difference maker.

cass / Chaz R - as Will Smith said "dominican women with cinnamon tans"

Anonymous said...

Jeff Baker to the Marlins. The Nats couldn't come up with $3.7/2 yrs?

John C. said...

The scuttlebutt (on MLBTR) is that the Nationals weren't willing to offer a second year. Baker was also swayed allegedly swayed by the chance to play more in Miami than he would be able to play in DC.

And I totally get why the Nationals didn't want to go to a second year/$3.7M on Baker. Baker is a classic "buy high" guy. Aging? Check - turns 33 in June. Coming off a wildly anomolous career year? Check. He was very good offensively last year for Texas, putting up a .279/.360/.545 split, an OPS+ of 147. WOW! In the six seasons before that he put up an OPS+ >100 ... once. In 2009.

And he's a crappy defensive player - his defense was bad enough that even an OPS+ of 143 only generated 0.4 fWAR (0.7 rWAR). And that's far and away the best he's ever done. In nine seasons he has managed a total of 1.1 rWAR/2.4 fWAR. Total over nine seasons.

So, to sum up, his glove is likely to be lousy, and his bat is extremely unlikely to be close to what it was last year.Betting on him repeating his age 32 career year (in a notorious hitter's park) is a sucker's bet. It's Chad Tracy II, only for more money and more years. Investing two years and $3.7M in Baker is exactly the kind of move that fans would be crushing Rizzo for in June and July as Jeff Baker turns back into Jeff Baker. And they would have been right to do so.

John C. said...

And BTW that cost isn't even considering the need to cut someone to make room for Jeff Baker.

Up thread Donald said that Rizzo is a risk taker. I think it's more accurate to say he's a risk manager. And it's completely plausible to say that the number crunchers (and I met one of them at Nats Fest - interesting conversation there) convinced him that, on balance, keeping Moore + whoever would have been cut + not committing $3.7M to another mid-30's player for two years (and keeping more roster flexibility going into 2015) gives the team a better long term chance/lower risk than signing Baker.

Anonymous said...

I agree with the logic John C. presents for not wanting to sign Baker. However, they've still got to do something about the bench. It is extremely weak compared to the rest of the team. If Baker is on a slippery slope, then Hairston is already sliding - fast. He can't hit RHP at all. Moore, meanwhile, can't hit LHP, not good for the prime option against same. He also shouldn't be playing anywhere but 1B. Snyder isn't a MLB option right now. He's a AAA catcher at best. And Espinoza may not be able to hit his weight. That leaves McLouth, who is serviceable, but was way overpriced for just serviceable.

For all the chatter about bullpen lefties and fifth starters, the bench is the real area of concern - still.

blovy8 said...

Naturally, I like John C.'s ah the hell with him analysis after the fact. There was a very specific fit for Baker which implied that LaRoche might not play against LH pitching. Even at his 2013 best, can Baker really help you as anything more than a platoon guy? If you do have to play him a lot, he hurts your team against righties and by playing more crappy defense. He can be easily neutralized as a pinch hitter by pulling the lefty pitcher. For better or mostly worse, at least Moore doesn't have those splits.
Hairston has demonstrated pretty good power off the bench against LH pitching already. And it's an even year, maybe LaRoche's splits will be even again...

While I don't think Moore is well-suited to a bench role, it's not like we've had a huge sample of ML at-bats to start making solid projections. The two seasons for him have been really different. If you only expect the career rates going forward, it's not great, but it's also not much different than Baker. Lifetime 94 OPS vs. 97 OPS, with Baker being a below-average player for five straight years until 2013. You can also argue that Baker has benefited a little by playing for the Rockies, Cubs, and Rangers. Those are good places to hit. While he didn't spend much time there, Detroit and Atlanta probably have different opinions about Baker's worth. His 2013 looks a little like Moore's 2012 with a couple more walks. So even if Moore costs you maybe a run or two over Baker at first, he's got more power than Baker and its not limited to facing lefites. The bigger problem is the lack of flexibility Moore gives you, where Baker could fake it at several spots as a plan C for a couple of days. Just like we Nats fans probably overrate McLaugh's abilities because of last year, the same thing happens if Baker had signed.

Given the ZIPS projections, I wonder if it wouldn't be a good idea to buy Zach Walters a few new mitts to become Mr. Superutility.

Harper said...

Anon - You would think, but they make stands. Look at Clippard. Totally trying to undersell him.

John C - Here's what matters about Jeff Baker : sOPS+ v LHP

2012 : 187
2011 : 76 (ok, bad year)
2010 : 115
2009 : 153

He's not an every day player. He can't hit righties. But he's a very useful batter. Yes his defense is bad, but if you don't use him in the OF and instead focus at first it looks... passable.

Also you dismiss that Tyler Moore is TERRIBLE. Basically this is a gamble on Moore. He has a (tiny tiny tiny) chance of being a very good player. Baker is what he is. Rizzo likes that gamble. And if not Moore than Skole, and if not Skole than Souza in the OF and Werth at first. He wants the big money not slightly better. You are right about it being better in the long run but the Nats might be in a closing window (depends on how young players develop)

Anon #2 - That's another issue. Not cutting bait with Hairston. Baker is out there. Baker is likely better than Hairston. But keeping both is not optimal. The Nats act like they don't have a choice but they do - they can eat that money.

I don't disagree with anything you say. It is an issue. Nats either have to hope it doesn't matter or Rizzo will have to do some nice in season GMing.

Harper said...

blovy8 - is that your attempt at McLouth?

Zimmerman11 said...

Who has a good bench? At what options does Rizzo have to add an impactful player to said bench? We can hope Espinosa has a bounceback or Moore or Walters break out, but who has starters on the bench, really?