Nationals Baseball: April 2014

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Tuesday also super duper quickie

I'm on a vacation so no real time to delve into issues but superficial judgments are what blogs are all about, right?

On Bryce

On head first sliding - I find it silly and unnecessary but I get the compulsion to do it.  Even if it isn't faster (I have no idea) it feels faster going from leaning sprint into dive rather than leaning back into slide and you feel better moving your hands around tag then legs.  I wouldn't do it (I'm not hurtling my face along dirt for 10 feet) but I get it. Should it be de-taught?  I don't know. I think you can suggest stopping but until the injury does your work for you, you are fighting a player's nature.

On Matt Williams culpability - hasn't Bryce over hustled on like 2/3rds of all his plays?  Unnecessary attempts at taking extra bases. Ill-advised throws home?  This wasn't a slide "for Matt" it was Bryce being Bryce. Could have happened with Frank dozing, Manny de-spiring the team, or Davey spinning a yarn to Knorr about some bass he caught.

On loss to the Nats - uh oh.  Now they are down a starting catcher, 3rd baseman, and OF, al with All-Starbtalent (hey catcher is a weak position). The Nats could still compete for that Wild Card (Fister should be here soon, Ramos could be) but it's going to be an uphill fight to get the offense going. I like Danny but best season ever?  You're not buying that are you?

On Taylor

Sending him down was the right move. Now do they use Detwiler (that's what I would do) or call-up a spot starter? It's not going to matter terribly but if Ross is your Gorzelanny/Olendorf then treat him as such. They would spot start

On next stand - 2 games at Astros, 3 at Phillies.  Pretty simple, they need to win more than they lose.  True these are away games but against a terrible team and a division rival they see themselves better than even with injuries 2-3 means they either didn't win either series or got swept by the Phillies.  Neither of those things are acceptable. Minimum win one series & don't get swept in other one. 4-1 is my actual goal as you go into every Astro series thinking sweep and the Nats should beat Phillies home or away.

Monday, April 28, 2014

Monday Super Duper Quickie

Not good enough. 

Not bad, just not good enough. Sure, it's
 all relative. .500 by end of May when the Braves go 35-15 wouldn't cut it. .500 in same time frame when the Braves go 29-21?  That's ok all things given. But 5-6 at home? That's not keeping the .500 goal. That's trouble. 

I can't believe I'm calling for Detwiler but I'm calling for Detwiler

Thursday, April 24, 2014


See how much better you feel?

It isn't "over".  Matt Williams made some very questionable decisions and if the Nats don't take at least 3 of 4 from the Padres the homestand will have been a disappointment, but, BUT...

It feels better, right?

Remember what we talked about. This is a flawed team that has a starting pitcher and two starting players out. If they can keep their head above water (say a couple games over .500) until all these guys are back then things look pretty good. If not, you worry. We should have a better idea of when everyone will be back soon. Hopefully by the end of the Padres series we'll have that info. 

If you are aiming for say 50 games in (which is my guess for Zimm back - game 51) and a record in the neighborhood of say... 27-23?... you are going to have ups and downs. You can't swing too wildly.

That being said the Gio, ZNN, Stras trio is supposed to keep the wild swings to a minimum.  Gio did his job last night. as much as Matt Williams tried to screw that up.  Hopefully ZNN and Stras will do the same in the next two. That's the plan. That three out of every five games, these guys are keeping you in it and you win 2 out of those 3. 

We'll complain about stuff another day. Right now enjoy the much needed win.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

The flip side

Yesterday I said I thought the Nats were in a good spot. I still do. But the fact remains they are one game over .500 and one game out of the cellar in the surprisingly competitive NL East. (You'd think at least one of the Mets/Marlins/Phillies would be a burning heap of rubble by now). How about a quick looksie at what's gone "wrong"*.

#1  - Ramos got injured Opening Day. Replacements have been terrible. 

Hard to fault anyone here. We all knew Ramos was an injury risk and that the Nats needed a quality back-up.  Rizzo went out and got one. What we didn't know is Ramos would be down before the first curly anything was in the book. Sandy Leon, as we all expected, has been useless (.172 / .226 / .310) but Lobaton hasn't done what he's needed to. (.238 / .333 / .310). It's not a gaping wound but its an empty lineup spot.

#2 - Bad defense

The 23 errors, most in the majors, stick out like a sore thumb that a ball just bounced off of. You might forgive Rendon his 3 being a 2nd year player shifted around, but Desmond has 8 already, more than 3 teams. They've seemingly come in a bunch lately with the Nats allowing 15 of their 18 unearned runs since April 13th. The Nats have allowed 4.29 runs per game, 3rd worst in the NL.  Take out the unearned runs and it would be 3.43 - 2nd best. You aren't going to get 0 unearned runs but even league average (10) would have them in Top 5 in NL (tied with ATL)

Of course it's more than just the errors. Last in defensive efficiency in the NL (turning balls in play into outs), near the bottom in range. They have old guys on the way down on the right side of the field, head cases on the left side of the infield, and young hitters who look like they'll end up being more "passable" than "plus" defensive players in Rendon and Bryce. Span back should help as he is honestly a good defender but that brings up another problem.

#3 - Denard Span has been terrible in the leadoff spot

I know Desmond hasn't been hitting and Bryce isn't doing what he should, but guys slump. This is usually countered by other guys hitting better than they should. Do you think LaRoche will hit .294 with 100 walks? Or that Rendon will finish the year in the Top 10 in XBH? But Span is special because he is doing so poorly and he's getting up so often.  A .208 / .283 / .302  shows no discernable offensive skill doing anything. Yet he bats first and is averaging almost 5 at bats per game when he starts, around a half an at bat more than any other National (thanks to Williams tinkering so much in the #2 hole)

#4 - The bench, again, has been mostly a failure

The rebirth of Danny Espinosa has been a very pleasant surprise, but as noted above Lobaton hasn't which kind of cancels out as far as the Nats' injury replacements go. As for everyone else who has gotten 10 PAs or more.

McLouth : .074 / .265 / .111 (welcome back to 2010)
Frandsen : .280 / 357 / .320 (Yes Lombo could have done this)
Moore : .188 / .235 / .438 (stop selling, we ain't buying)

Zack Walters, with one more PA would pop up here and look decent but the guy is all or nothing and those tend to drift toward "nothing" real fast in the majors.

Yes, yes small sample size, etc. And you can't fault anyone for McLouth's slow start. It's just funny how a half-measure once again looks to be a failure.

#5 - Taylor Jordan has failed

This isn't a big surprise. It could happen and then it did. But it did very conclusively and quickly. After a good first start scattering some Braves hits over 6 and a third, Jordan has delivered three awful games in a row. ERA of 8.22 in 3 games, players are hitting .338 / .388 / .554 against him. In all three games the Nats were down at least 3 before their second time at bat. First inning jitters? Perhaps, but the Nats offense** isn't able to handle those right now. They need a new 5th starter. If not Detwiler than someone else.

*A bounce here and there and the Nats could be 13-8 and no one is batting an eyelash. Of course that goes the other way too. 9-12 PANIC could also have happened. In fact pythag has the Nats at 10-11 so it's unlikely they've been unlucky once play has started. Now off the field, sure.

**Zimmerman's last full game was April 11th. In that time the Nats have played 11 games. They've scored: 
0 runs : 1 time
2 : 4 times
3 : 4 times
6 : 1 time
9 : 1 time
That averages out to be 3.2 runs a game. That's bad.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

E is for Eighth Inning

The Nats are 11-9 with 5 home games against beatable opponents directly in front of them. Things could be worse. At the same time, they lost a game last night and it felt like it was all their fault. It felt like errors in the field and in the dugout were the cause rather than where the balls happened to drop in or not. Not quite as bad as an implosion game but one that leaves a bad feeling in the gut, like the team isn't ready to win. Of course that's nonsense, but hey, people have their ideas and are going to fit what happens into what they already believe to be true. That's even the case with me saying it's nonsense.

So what are the stories from last night? The 8th inning decision making is one. Taking out Storen after getting one batter out is kind of iffy. I probably wouldn't do it given that Storen has been the Nats most effective reliever (that they've decided to keep in the majors) this year, but I understand the want to pinch hit late in the game. I can't kill Matt for this.

What I can kill Matt for is letting Clippard face Ibanez. Normally, I don't mind Clip facing a lefty in a big spot. Clippard has always been tough versus lefties (.184 / .268 / .320 for his career which is pretty amazing). In this specific occasion, Ibanez hits righties better but over the past few years he hasn't been an automatic out vs lefties (this year yes but it's early).  So if say Ibanez was leading off the inning, I'd say fine. But at this point Clippard had thrown 19 ptiches. The last two batters got a single and a walk. He was starting to struggle and that should be accounted for. If that means burning through another pitcher so be it.

Matt's explanation is even worse, hinging on the idea that Clippard is his "8th inning guy".  If you are still a believer in the closer role, I'd hope the idiocy of this idea expanding to earlier innings will bring you around. The relief staff is the only place, outside of pinch hitters, where things are not set before the game. This means the manager can use his players where they are most needed, rather than where they happened to be slotted. To assign roles like "8th inning guy" is to forcibly limit your options. It's ridiculous. In this situation it lead to a struggling Clippard both being saved for the 8th inning and being kept in the 8th inning, because that's "his" inning. It's a terrible way of directing a ballgame, one that requires no thinking and in fact aggressively wants you NOT to use judgement. It's a coward's way to manage. (which is why it's gained popularity - job security is first and foremost)

Other notes :

What's up with Clippard? He's walking more and everyone is scoring when they get on base but why? I noted last night that he has pitched in more games in the past 5 years than all but one pitcher (Matt Belisle) so it could be just wear and tear. There's nothing immediately telling in the fancy stats. This requires more digging.

Ian Desmond could use a night off. He has nine errors in his last 12 games and he's not hitting (.234 / .268 / .416).

Mike Trout's existence is one of the bigger problems Bryce faces. Everyone had Bryce pegged as a generational talent and he's actually not far off pace of that (if he even is off it). But there's a guy now who not only is that good, he might be better. At the plate, only two guys have been as good as Trout in their first 4 seasons in the last 50 years (Pujols and Frank Thomas) and both of those guys were a few years older when they did it. No one has been this good and this much a threat on the basepaths in 100 years.  And this isn't mentioning that he's at least a good fielder.  Trout has had 4 seasons that keep him in the argument for the best player in the history of the game. How does Bryce compete on that level? He doesn't.

Monday, April 21, 2014

Monday Quickie - Boz and Bryce

Back to the Boz.

What he gets right.

In the "Matt Williams Managin' Moment of the Weekend" (sponsored by the Greater Phoenix Convention and Vistors Bureau - Visit Phoenix. It's Rising!) Bryce Harper was benched for failing to run out a ground ball back to the mound. And by "failing to run out" I mean he literally stopped 30 feet down the line and went back to the dugout. I think most everyone agrees Matt Williams was right in doing what he did. Baseball forgives a lot for the injured and the special, but there is a minimum level of effort expected and a moderate jog to first base on balls where you are going to be out 99.9% of the time is one of these benchmarks. This is pretty much "show up, punch clock" territory. It's the least you are expected to do, and if you can't even do that, you need to be told you do.

Did Matt Williams have to show him up? Maybe not, but it was public lollygagging so I have nothing against public shaming. As Boz says, it should have been done and Bryce should have been started the next game and he was so all is well here.

What he may or may not get.

Lines like "But authority must be asserted toward Harper to get his attention, not just assumed" and "And that notoriety, that constant spotlight, leads him into believing — or perhaps unconsciously acting out the part of — someone who should never fail, whose outs didn’t quite really happen." are nonsense lines. Boswell doesn't know Bryce. We certainly don't know him.  It's armchair psychology at it's worst.

The team could be feeding Boz these lines and this impression, but if that's the case (and let's face it, it likely is) it doesn't make it better. It makes it worse. Boz should be a reporter, not a mouthpiece. What is the purpose of this then? To shame Bryce again? To turn the fans against him? The situation was done on the field and was dealt with on the field. Leave it at that. 

What he gets wrong.

Boz wants to make Bryce look bad, or at least silly for getting all this attention without really doing anything yet. There's a problem though. He HAS been doing stuff. He's been having seasons at 19 and 20 that are among the best seasons anyone that age has had in baseball history.  How, in that scenario, do you make Bryce seem lesser than he is? You quote stats based heavily on playing time.
Harper has not driven in 60 runs in either of his two seasons. He has only five RBI this year. He’s never had more than 157 runs-plus-RBI. Ryan Zimmerman has had between 163 and 216 six times. Adam LaRoche, no big star, has had 175 or more three times. Fourth outfielder Nate McLouth once had 207.
If the point was "hmm Byrce isn't staying healthy" these would be fine stats to use but that's not the point he's trying to make. He's trying to make it seem like Bryce is not as good, on some level, as these players. Of course runs and RBI are, like I said, based heavily on playing time and a month+ in the minors in 2012 and an injury in 2013 have cut into those numbers.  How does it look instead if we look at R+RBI per PA? We'll scale them all back to the most PAs of these numbers.

Bryce: 190, 187
Zimmerman's best years : 205, 190, 224, 203, 211, 185
LaRoche's best years: 232, 205, 196
McLouth's best year: 218

So there is something to the idea that Bryce's years so far aren't as good as these years above. But it's not as big a difference as the raw numbers would suggest (McLouth was never 33% better than Bryce) and think about what you are saying. Bryce's rookie year and second year in the majors at 19 and 20 aren't as good as the handpicked best years from veteran players. Gomer Pyle is not surprised by this. Plus there are a number of things we didn't factor into this, like how the players in front and behind you drastically effect these numbers (part of the reason LaRoche and Zimm have their last big number year is because THEY WERE DRIVING IN BRYCE). I remember 2006 like it was yesterday and you know what? Ryan Zimmerman had 110 RBI that year in large part because he had at least 10% more at bats with RISP than all but two other guys in the majors.  Yes Bryce only has 5 RBI. He also has only 15 ABs with RISP. He's 4-15 with a triple and HR. That's fine.

This is a faulty stat designed not to illuminate but to mislead and Boz should be ashamed of himself for using it.
Counting their three top starting pitchers, Harper may be the Nats’ seventh-best player. 
He might be. But that's pretty unlikely.  Desmond is the only one who's clearly been better in the past  years. You can argue a starter (any of the three will do) but most baseball people will agree an everyday player is just going to be more valuable. Werth maybe if you give him health and a full season. Then again if you give Bryce health and a full season he's likely to be easily better than everyone but Desmond. I'm at a loss for who the other one would be. I guess Rendon. 
If forced to choose whether Harper or Anthony Rendon would have the better career, I’d think twice
I suppose. I wouldn't think twice but it's certainly isn't a crazy thought. Then again it's not like Rendon is chopped liver. He was pretty much considered a very special hitter coming out of college who's major concern was injuries.  If he could stay healthy people liked him as an All-Star level player. It's like comparing Bryce to Zimmerman in the R+RBI thing above. Zimmerman was a Top 5 player for a few years there. An injury free back-half of his career might put him in the conversation for the Hall. (probably not but you can't say I'm completely out of line here). Not quite hitting Zimmerman's best seasons before you are old enough to drink isn't some how a mark of failure.

Anyway this is a long-winded way to say this: Bryce should have run out the ball to first. Matt Williams was right in pulling him. All this other nonsense? Embarrassing-level blame shifting.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Homestand / Homeland joke

Sorry - never watched the show.

The Nats have a very important homestand coming up. They are roughly a 1/10th into the baseball season (I know!) and have played all of three teams. They've dominated the Marlins and the Mets, who are fighting to prove they are .500 teams and they've been dominated by the Braves, who are fighting for division and league titles. Seems pretty cut and dried, but the Nats are also very familiar with these teams and vice versa so facing some outsiders helps to really figure out the course of the team. This homestand features three teams not in the NL East and by the end we should have a good idea of who the Nats (minus all those injured guys) are. We should also have a much better idea of when all those injured guys are coming back. All in all we'll know by the end of the month if it's time to panic, if the Nats have got this, or likely if the team is somewhere inbetween.

The Nats themselves are dealing with some difficult injury issues.  They've managed to hang on but there are a lot of questions with how they are doing it. Is Danny Espinosa really back? (not sure) Is Zach Walters this good? (no of course not) When is Ian Desmond going to start hitting? (soon I hope) It doesn't look good - but it doesn't have to be good for long. A couple days hopefully for Bryce. Maybe a week for Span. Just get lucky and get a hot bunch for a week and things are ok. The pitching is more of a concern but it's more an "watch it" than "panic" thing. We'll be watching each start fearing another crash, most notably with Strasburg, but the talent still seems to be there. The bad starts are probably flukes... probably.

The first opponent is the toughest one. Four games versus the defending NL champs, the patron saints of constant competition (for those not willing to break the bank), the St.  Louis Cardinals.They come in at 9-6 and playing pretty well, taking 4 of their last 5 and 2 of their last 3 versus the division leading Brewers. Offensively, the team was ice cold but the bats are coming around, hitting .285 / .338 / .425 in the last 7 days. Jhonny Peralta, who was particularly terrible to start the year is now particularly red hot, along with Molina.  The remaining issues are when will Allen Craig come around and is Kolten Wong ever going to show he belongs at the major league level.

Pitching wise the team doesn't really have any issues. Shelby Miller is the only starter with bad stats but he's been improving each time out. Rosenthal has been a bit shaky but everyone still believes in him.  If either of these guys falters Carlos Martinez is there to be awesome and stuff.

The short of it is - they are good and they are playing well so this could be a tough series.

The Angels are the next appointment and they are mired in expected mediocrity. The offense is clicking enough but they lost another cog in Kole Calhoun. Adding that to Hamilton eventually that's gotta catch up with them, especially since the early success is in part because of freaky good bench perfromance. Meanwhile the pitching is struggling.  The bullpen is kind of a mess, they don't have a 5th starter, and Jered Weaver is getting killed by the long ball.  This has all the looks of a team about to bottom out.

The Padres are the polar opposite of the Angels - they can pitch but can't hit. You'd expect the hitting to get better. It's a lot of guys way underperforming and the good performances aren't crazy.  On the flip side you'd expect the pitching, well at least the starting pitching, to get worse. Cashner could be a very good pitcher but the rest don't scare anyone. They are certainly capable but I see them as also capable of being killed. The pen is full of talent though.  Doesn't that always seem to be the case for SD?

The Nats face the Cardinals and could be out Zimm, Ramos, Span and Bryce? Good luck with all that. I'm going to go ahead and predict 1 win in four games.  Hey, this team is kind of reeling and was a couple of Saltalamacchia brain freezes from losing two of three to Miami. I see the Angels though as ripe for the picking, injured themselves and starting from a lower point. Sweep? The Padres pitching should keep them in the games but the Nats are better. 2 of 3 3 of 4 there. So I'm thinking 6-4 7-4.

Best (likely) case : 7-3 8-3 for the homestand.  Nats split with Cardinals, sweep one of the Angels or Padres and win the series versus the other.

Worst (likely) case : 4-6 4-7. Cards take 3 of 4, Angels take 2 of 3, Padres split. (or what I actually like better Cards win 3, Nats win series v Angels 2 games to 1, but Padres win 3)

As long as Bryce and Span are back by the end of the Cards series I think they'll be fine. 6-4 7-4for the stand 15-10 16-10 for the season and we can evaluate what the future looks like as dates for Fister, Zimm and Ramos' returns all get clearer.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

What samatta with Strasburg?

No one has pitched particularly well this season for the Nats. Not ZNN. Not Gio. Not Roark or Jordan. But it's still early and bad games happen to good pitchers every year. It may just be a touch of bad luck that both Gio and ZNN both had one of their 5 or so bad games in their first 3 outings. Jordan and Roark, well who knows about them? Could be the same bad luck or it could be that they aren't all that good to begin with (I know where I lean).

Strasburg though is different. He's had 4 starts so far with one mediocre outing and two certified stinkers. Strasburg started 30 games last year. If you use Game Score (a rough way of ranking game performance based on various things) these 2014 games would have ranked 21st, 28th and 29th last year. In other words he's thrown out a whole lotta bad in a short period of time. The million dollar question is why?

Of course the problem with trying to diagnose the problem this early is that you have enough variation in stats that things can change dramatically in one start. Broad, macro level ideas are just coming into focus while micro-details still are fuzzy. Add to that there are thousands of ways to attack pitching data. Is his velocity down? Is his location off? Is one particular pitch less effective? Is it a certain type of batter that's causing the problem? Is it a certain type of situation?

Is it both velocity and location for a certain type of pitch to a certain type of batter in a certain type of situation?

Gah - so teasing out information that's meaningful just from data points is hard at this point.  Here's what I feel ok with saying.
  • There really hasn't been a change in overall mix of pitches thrown... factoring in the slider. 
  • He is missing more bats (contact rate both in and out of the zone are way down) - but he's missing for two reasons; his strikeout rate is up 14.1 K/9 vs his career 10.6(good), his walk rate is up 3.9 BB/9 vs career 2.6 (bad). The bad here is worse than the good.
  • His velocity is down but he's still very fast. 
What this tells the novice pitch stat analyzer is that it's not his stuff. Even with the very mild (and still early in the year) velocity drop, it's still fast enough to strike people out and he's doing just that. Instead it's the location. He's wild and that's causing him to get hit.  If that's the case then we should see a difference in location of pitches thrown, especially the pitches he's getting hit hard by.  Righties are killing his fastball for example. What do we see there?

Last year (thanks to F/X by Texas Leaguers)

You're looking from the catcher's POV.  There's a distinct grouping a little bit on the outer half of the plate when throwing low. (up high it mattered less) This year?

Way less data but you can see he's missing that outer half of the plate spotting he had last year. What about the curve? That's getting hit hard too.  Last year

He was in the zone alot but mostly nailing low and away off the plate. This year

It's not getting off the plate enough.

Now I can't say anything for certain. Look at the number of pitches we're dealing with for this year.  It's tiny. Plus I don't even know if the above include last nights game. (I think so) But given the things I feel good about saying - this makes sense and honestly it's nothing special in terms of analysis. He's wilder than he's ever been so far this year. That means he's not hitting his spots. Part of that is leading to more walks. Part of that is leading to balls left over the plate.

This is the easy part. The hard part is figuring out why he's wilder and fixing that. Good luck with that one, McCatty.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Low on health but the enemies here are weak.

The Nats are in a bit of a sticky wicket right now, with three starters and an starting pitcher out.  Span, with a concussion, should be back soon, but concussions are tricky. We'll assume he's back in the lineup up sometime this week and move onto the big three. When will they be back? What do the Nats face during this time? What are reasonable expectations?

Let's look at the schedule. The Nats will play two more games away against the reeling Marlins. Strasburg vs Koehler and Roark vs Fernandez both look like obvious wins - so let's say split for those two (giving the Nats 2 of 3 away - a good outcome) and move on.  We'll do quick looks here - save the real analysis for the actual start of the stands.

Homestand 11 games, 4 vs STL, 3 vs LAA, 4 vs SDP

Pretty standard homestand but it starts on the 17th which is way too early for anyone to comeback. By the end we're at the 27th and Fister becomes a remote possibility as would a super fast healing Ramos but this is a weird part of the schedule, you'll see.

Away Trip 5 games; 2 @ HOU, 3 @ PHI
Homestand 3 games;  3 vs LA
Away 6 games; 3 @ OAK, 3 @ ARI

See? Home on the 27th of April, then Houston on the 29th, Philly on the 2nd of May, DC on the 5th, Oakland on the 9th. It's a ton of travel, but it's not too bad on the team as there are days off right now on either side of the Houston trip, before heading to Oakland, and after the last game. Still, it seems unlikely they'd bring guys in to be bounced around like that especially with Syracuse on a homestand from the 1st through the 8th.

The way I see it Fister (and Ramos if healthy - I'll guess not, but if) will be in Syracuse for that homestand then join the Nats out West. Makes sense for Fister to start vs Oakland sometime during that May 9th series. He's familiar with stadium and team, and the late West Coast start time could ease him into the rotation, as opposed to a prime time DC start. Ramos, it makes more sense in my mind, to wait until the next homestand which starts on the 16th. Syracuse does not travel far (Columbus, then Toledo) so a short rehab stint with them is possible. Given his slow healing history I think that's more than fair. (6 weeks would be about the 14th). 

Homestand 6 games; 3 vs NYM, 3 vs CIN
Away 4 games; 4 @ PIT
Homestand 9 games; 3 vs MIA, 3 vs TEX, 3 vs PHI

It's a nice long time in the area, basically 3 weeks interrupted with a short jaunt to Pittsburgh from May 16th through June 5th. A good time to acclimate players. Zimm in theory could join the team when I think Ramos will at the start, (4 weeks would be about May 11th) but I'd bet on him being back with the later homestand, which kicks off on the 26th.

What about expectations? The stretch they face before Fister would come back vs Oakland has some tough teams, but they get them at home. I think if they can go 11-10 during that time (tonight through Oakland) I think that's fair. Won't put them in first, but they won't be out of it. (unless ATL pulls one of those 15 game winning streaks) I know I said .500 till these guys are back may not cut it, but I was saying till they ALL come back which would be the very end of May or into June.  .500 for the next couple weeks would be ok.

Post-Fister the schedule looks pretty soft. Split the games away then Ramos is back for easy teams and easy travel for 3 weeks.  You have to like the Nats to start moving up here 6-4 w/Ramos, before Zimm? 6-3 in that homestand with everyone?  Now we're looking way far ahead but 34-25 at that point would feel pretty good. 

Boiling this rambling down - we're looking for the Nats to go basically .500 from now until that easy stretch begins (hopefully with Ramos returning).  That's 27 games so something like 14-13. Then something like 12-7 during that long stretch when by the end of it, everyone should be back and healthy. Two separate goals. Maintain over the next month. Impress over the 3 weeks after that. Neither goal seems unattainable.

The injuries matter but the Nats catch somewhat of a break with a schedule that's toughest section looks to be months from now during the stretch run. Right now they might be able to muddle through a perfectly average stretch then dominate an easy one as guys start coming back.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Monday Quickie - I love Mondays!

because the Nats are not playing the Braves anymore!  (and the Yankees took 3 of 4 from Boston but I doubt that concerns you)

The Nats have been terrible vs the Braves. Going back to late 2012 that makes the Nats 7-22 in their last 29 games vs Atlanta. Why? Well, the big part of it is Atlanta is good, in particular was really good last year, while at the same time the Nats were off last year. It's pretty simple.You can have an off year versus a good team and get slaughtered. (Hell you can have an off year versus a mediocre team and get slaughtered if the chips fall the wrong way) 

Of course this would be easier to take if the Nats weren't also 0-6 vs the Cardinals last year and 1-5 versus the Dodgers (3-4 vs Pirates, but hey! 4-3 vs Cincinnati!) Like I said at the end of last column, with the Nats sitting at 1-5 against Atlanta the question becomes -  Can the Nats beat good teams? Unfortunately for the Nats, the question is asked at a time when the answer is most likely "No". Fister, Ramos, and  Zimmerman out. Span potentially out. This is an ailing team that has passed the point of its preparation.  At that point perceptions change.

Did we like the Nats better than the Braves? Yes.
Do we like the Nats better than the Braves? No.
Will we like the Nats better than the Braves? I don't know.

If the Nats all come back healthy in 6 weeks than sure. That would be the same team to start the year. Or perhaps if the Braves, who have reached their own limit in preparation, lose another starter. But I don't want to say it looks good for the Nats right now. Have they ever had guys come back exactly on time and perform up to expectations? I'm seriously asking. It at least feels like everyone comes back late and comes back hurt. A Nats team with a third of the team guarnteed to underperform is not a playoff competitive team unless Bryce and Rendon become Mantle and Hornsby overnight.

The ball is now in Rizzo's court then.  The easy solution, the one Rizzo has taken mid-season in the past, is to do nothing. Sit, wait and assume everything will go according to plan. The Nats will hold court going in the neighborhood of .500. Zimmerman, Ramos and Fister will all be back by about June 1st and the Nats will play the next 100 games as they should have played 162 if healthy. Seems like an ok plan. Of course that assumption - that everyone will be back healthy on June 1st is a big one. Then there is the assumption that no one else will get injured. That's a big one, too. Then there is the biggest problem :

That scenario doesn't guarantee playoffs

62 games at a .500 pace is 31-31
100 games at "original" pace* is 58-42

That's a 89-73 team. 89-73 did not make the playoffs last year. Used to be 89 would at least give you a shot and the thought was that in the expanded playoffs it could be a lock. Turns out though the competition steps up and tries harder with a goal in reach. Water finds its level. 90 wins is needed for a good shot. 92 for a lock. 

If Rizzo does nothing again - the Nats are probably in for a dogfight just to make the playoffs. 2014 has turned into 2013 alarmingly quickly.

*Using 94 wins pace

Other notes
  • The sweep will bring out the idiots shouting "SEE! YOU OVERRATED THE NATS!!!!" These are probably the same people that would act like you were stupid if you didn't pick the Rockies to finish at least 2nd in the NL West in a season where they only managed that when California fell into the ocean because of a massive earthquake.  Ignore them.
  • The injuries matter far more than the losses do.  The worst part about the losses is that the Braves now have a one-game lead and the Nats have "only" 13 H2H games to make that up.  That's not bad - that's fine. Then there are the 137 other games still left too. As the season wears down you like to have H2H because you are only hoping for one event, not two. That matters, but this far out it doesn't matter a lot.
  • Bryce is heating up. Danny looked ok.  Maybe the Nats can do this? 
  • Rendon is cooling down. So is LaRoche. Desmond didn't look good either. Maybe not?
  • The Nats SP ERA sits at 4.81.  Clippard and Blevins both have ERAs over 5.  That's not going to get it done. (It will get better though)

Friday, April 11, 2014

Braves Preview

First - since I haven't mentioned it for a year - if you are so inclined I am on twitter - mostly baseball stuff, more than I originally thought it would be, but not all.

The Nats are killing relievers. They are hitting them at a .315 / .397 / .519 clip by far the best in the National League. (Nats OPS is .915, next best is .835, then .774 - the AL has a couple teams a little closer but the Nats are still easily #1).  Is it that the Nats have just faced lousy bullpens? It didn't seem that way going into the Marlins series, but that is certainly a possibility. But so what? You want to kill lousy bullpens and the Nats have at the very least done that, if not beat up on ok ones.

I do believe though that the starter/reliever splits (Nats are about mid-MLB vs starters) gel with my idea of the Nats offense. It is not a murderer's row. It is good, and with Rendon and LaRoche, arguably the two biggest question marks coming into the year, both hot, there are no easy outs. (well maybe Lobaton right now but back-up catcher isn't a field flooded with talent. Honestly this guy was the best the Nats could do.) It doesn't have a guy yet who you feel you just have to pitch around. Yet.

Atlanta's relief staff has not been great. Kimbrel is Kimbrel, but getting to him has not been easy. Can the Nats take advantage of that? Speaking of Atlanta - there's a series this weekend!

The Braves come in on a bit of a slide, losing 3 of their last 4. They haven't played poorly over that time but it did highlight some flaws. The biggest overall issue is the fact their offense can go ice-cold seemingly at the drop of a hat. Nine games into the season and they already have 4 games where they've scored 1 or 0 runs. Freeman is still killing it (.419 / .514 / .677) but no one else is. Justin Upton is doing ok and Simmons, who may be limited in the series, can get singles but nothing else.  So forget Blevins pitching to Freeman. Pitch around Freeman would be the better plan versus this bunch.

The starting pitching is the biggest strength.  I'm not sure any starter has had a bad game, the worst one likely being David Hale's outing in the last game where he gave up 3 ER but in only 4 1/3 innings thanks to 5 walks. That's not good, but when it qualifies as your worst that gives you a sense of how good their starters have been. The Nats could likely be caught in a series of games that remain tense and low-scoring until the later innings. If the Nats could knock a pitcher out early their is a soft underbelly here. Of course the Nats scored all of 1 run off that underbelly last series so take that for what it's worth.

The Nats, as you know, are red hot. They did throw out their 3 best pitchers versus the Marlins though. Got two great starts from Gio and Stras, and one terrible one from ZNN.  The pen has looked good, though with a shaky moment or two.  Of course what does that all matter when you score 22 runs in 3 games? Desmond, Werth. LaRoche and Rendon have all hit exceptionally well the past week. Bryce looks to be heating up. Zimm has been a little off, and Span, you know the guy who leads off all the time and is probably the one hitter in the lineup you can't even say "well he used to be good" isn't hitting well. Surprise. Lobaton is also struggling in his role, but you have an endpoint with him. This doesn't matter when 4 guys are killing it but something to keep an eye on.

Pitching Match-Ups
Roark v Teheran
Teheran is a good pitcher. The Nats just faced him, presumably not at his best (4 walks and 111 pitches), and managed 3 hits and 2 runs over 7. Like I said - he's good. When he's on he's among the best in baseball with great control and strikeout stuff. A bit susceptible to the long ball perhaps. In theory Roark "owns" the Braves but I think that's a little bit good timing for him and wishful thinking.  Still this offense looks like it could be owned by anyone right now.

Jordan v Wood
This was the match-up last week too. In that one both guys pitched well. You could argue Wood actually pitched a bit better than Jordan but Taylor gave up 1 run to Alex's 2 and that was all either team would score. Alex could be wild, but doesn't give up the long ball. Jordan also "owns" the Braves. Like I said - I don't know if that can be disproved this time with the Braves collectively hitting so poorly.

Gio v Harang
Harang has done very well in his first two starts, almost no-hitting the Brewers and handling the Mets. But it's smoke and mirrors. His BABIP is .133 (which means he's getting lucky with GBs NOT finding holes)  His LOB% 88.9% (which means he's getting lucky with said GBs NOT finding holes at the right time). and his GB% is 27.6% which means those aren't acutally GBs he's getting lucky with - more like FBs not going out of the park. 0 HRs so far this year. He's pretty good at keeping guys in the park, but not that good.

The first two games should be toss-ups. The Nats could be held down just enough for the Braves to squeak across a couple runs, get to Kimbrel and get the win. OR the Braves could continue to be punchless, the Nats could scratch a run or two off the starter, a run or two more off relievers, and win 4-1, 5-0.  Either way I think through 7 these games are going to be close. Given that I don't feel good either way, I'll go with the split. As for the third game - Harang is a time bomb. I think the Nats win in a blow out.

I'll say the Nats take 2 of 3 and extend their lead in the NL East to 3 games. If that happens... well I'm not going to say wire to wire just yet. The Nats do have to finish an away set vs the Marlins then play STL for 4 games, but you start to think that maybe the Braves don't have what it takes to hang.

I think either way both teams have the same goal. Don't get swept. For the Braves that would really put them in a hole. With no common games until June 19th, they wouldn't have a good opportunity to close what would then be a 5 game gap until then.  It could be setting them up for trailing all the way until that 4 game set which would be the only time the play before the break. That would make that series huge... if the Nats hadn't already gotten too far ahead. If the Nats get swept "the Braves own the Nats / The Nats can't beat good teams" idea starts to get play. It could get wiped out as soon as they play the Cardinals, but then again - they Cardinals are really good.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

We now return you to your previously scheduled program

The Nats are good.

The Nats won last night. They now have the best record in baseball.  Early? Sure. 8 games is only 5% of a baseball season, but what have you seen that actually bothers you? The tendency to have issues hitting good pitching? Guess what. Everyone has that problem and on a usual night the Nats have the arms to make it a battle. The injuries? OK the injuries are an issue already sapping the Nats depth but at least the Nats had the depth this year, right?

Last year the Nats would have already been staring at a black hole in the 8th spot in the lineup with Solano likely replacing Ramos. Zimmerman's issues would have them staring at a whole lot of Lombo.  Lombo is ok used very sporadically but is a scary proposition when used every day*. Last year the first non-Top 5 start was Zach Duke. The next one was Nate Karns. Karns might be a better "prospect" than Jordan or Roark (might - he's getting killed in AAA this year), but Jordan and Roark are better "pitchers right now" and the Nats are a team to win right now.

This is the team Nats fans thought they were getting last year before the wrong injuries and poor back-up planning brought the team down.  Enjoy it. (seriously enjoy it now - one more injury and I can't promise such a rosy outlook)

Last night notes

Williams makes stupid lineups but this team is too good for it to matter. But don't just laugh it off. A stupide lineup in the playoffs can matter.

Williams also over manages but he doesn't do it badly if that makes any sense. He does too much but everything he does seems defensible. In other words, if he runs into a scenario where "If you do X, things might get better", he does X. It's like the "might" doesn't matter to him. Still because it's defensible he will run himself into some decisions that make sense to do early, like pulling ZNN a few batters before he may have done conventionally. ZNN didn't have it and it was very close to being a throw in the towel game.

Speaking of ZNN, that was a stinker wasn't it? He does have these sort of games. He had about 4 last year. What's really rare is the fact he threw less than 60% of his pitches for strikes. (He averages around 68%) The last time he did that was May 6th, 2012. One game fluke? We certainly hope so.

A twitter follower wanted me to comment on how ZNN was so hot in Spring Training and everyone was like "he's the best" but he's thrown out one good, but short, outing and one terrible one. But I'm way too classy to say, once again, Spring Training stats don't matter. Really why would I bother harping on the fact that Spring Training stats don't matter at this point anyway? It just wouldn't make sense to say Spring Training stats don't matter two weeks into the season when that's in the past. So I'm not going to say Spring Training stats don't matter. Sorry.

Ok one time SPRING TRAINING STATS DON'T MATTER**. Not even just a couple weeks into the season.

*Lombo is hitting .321 for the O's.  That sounds good but he's getting on base at a .321 clip. That's not good. He's slugging .321. That's bad. He's actually below average (#140 or so out of 205) in OPS right now. With a .321 batting average.

**OK, that's a simplification but since the things that do matter, like pitch velocity and slugging, only might matter in some cases it's far better just to take the above to heart.

Wednesday, April 09, 2014

My usual call to be nicer to Strasburg (now with added Bryce!)

The Nats won last night.  Henderson Alvarez did pitch well enough to make it a fight but was done in by some non-pitching mistakes (some his own) and the Marlins bullpen indeed wasn't perfect. None of that really mattered though as Gio and the pen dominated the Marlins lineup with relative ease. This sets up nicely for a sweep given the pitching match-ups upcoming. The only question being if this aggressive plate approach (nats averaged 3 1/3 pitches per plate appearance vs Alvarez) will work against a guy who's had trouble hitting the zone. Probably well enough given that he misses high too.

One of the things from last night is how well Rendon is hitting right now. It reminds me a lot of when he first was called up. A lot of line drives. Now of course I told people that couldn't last and that he would likely end up hitting in the .280 range, and could drop to .260 with some bad luck. I proceeded to get yelled at by at least one commentor to which I now say I WAS RIGHT! YOU WERE WRONG! IN YOUR FACE! to whoever that was that I'm too lazy to look up now. Same thing holds true this year as his .476 BABIP isn't going to hold up. Not that he'll hit .260, just don't take a .300+ average as a given because of a hot 7 games.

As hot as he is, Bryce is that cold. He did manage a hit last night, but also struck out again and we wait patiently for him to warm up.  The reason I bring Rendon up is to highlight how young Bryce still is. You like Rendon. Think he's got a great future right? Bryce will be the age Rendon currently is sometime during the early stretch run in 2016. (around August 18th or so). If you like what you see of Rendon for his future and for the Nats, you've got a good long leash to give Bryce before he fails to provide something similar. Are you really going to hold it against Bryce that he's not already set on a Hall of Fame career track (even though he kind of is?) That he's not Mike Trout? You are? 

Meanwhile Strasburg struggles as well. "Generational talent" you scoff.  Would you be happier with Strasburg if he went the way of the last consensus "oh this is the next Hall of Famer" pitching talent? That guy, Mark Prior, at Strasburg's current age was 2 months from throwing his last pitch ever. Where's your beloved Kershaw? Harvey? Oh you've moved on to Jose Fernandez? How convenient. When he goes down in 2016 will you move on to "Why can't Strasburg be like Carlos Martinez?" Strasburg has to get better this season, obviously, but he's been arguably as good as ZNN or Gio the past two seasons.  He's younger that either of those two neither of who put together complete seasons before 25. (Gio would get wins, but pitch only good until his first Nats year at age 26. ZNN would pitch great at 25 but not get the wins until last season at 27. Remember that?) Let him have a couple bad starts.

Consider this an early season intervention if these guys keep struggling. Other people set the bars for Strasburg and Bryce, and while both these guys would love to jump over it and made that a goal, they still didn't set them. Don't be too harsh on them if they don't make it over, especially because they are likely to still be moving the Nats toward the ultimate prize while making their attempts. 

Tuesday, April 08, 2014

Marlins preview

Part of me wanted to go deep into Bryce and Strasburg's issues today but I had to remind myself. Two starts. Twenty at bats. When you start talking about stuff today with too much importance you end up with silly stuff like this. Nothing technically incorrect here but when you rely on current information to make adjustments and you have very limited current information, the conclusions you reach are going to have to be viewed as extremely preliminary.  I guarantee (and if I had the actual pre-season numbers, I could do it), that we would see these changes in odds swing in wild and crazy ways between this date (before Friday's games) and today. What seems so sure today can seem like nonsense three days from now.

So onto the series preview

The Marlins are hot winning 5 of their first 7 games. They haven't exactly faced the cream of the crop in competition, beating up on the Rockies and Padres in Miami, but you win the games presented to you.  Some early things look good for the long run. Jarrod Saltalamacchia looks like he will solve their issues at catcher. Stanton might be back on track after a mildly disappointing 2013. Marcell Ozuna looks to be a quality OF. Jose Fernandez is the stud everyone thought he was. Other successes are probably fleeting. Adeiny Haechavarria isn't going to hit well into the .300s, let alone close to .400. Casey McGehee isn't the best power hitter in the NL. The bullpen is going to allow more than a single run this season. Of course what matters to the Nats is that this fleeting takes place sooner rather than later, as after this 9 game, 6 vs Nats stretch they have a 3 game Mariner set then a 9 game, 6 vs Braves stretch. No one wants to see the Marlins remain hot against the Nats and cool down vs the Braves.

Speaking of the bullpen, that seems like the key to the season for the Marlins to me. The offense should settle down into a roughly average squad. The starters should be at least 4 deep in quality (either Turner or Alvarez should settle down) with a stud at the top. If the relievers can hold their own the team would be an outside playoff threat. If they can't then it's a maybe .500 squad in my eyes.

You know the Nats, injuries have taken out two big righty bats in Ramos and perhaps Zimm. Everyone but Bryce looks pretty hot out of the remaining starters but a lot of that is the Mets series, as they cooled down a bunch versus the Braves. Strasburg is struggling but the rest of the rotation looked pretty good, the pen has been fairly solid too.

Pitching matchups
Henderson Alvarez vs Gio Gonzalez
Henderson is wildly erratic in the performances he brings. He's not a strikeout guy, and thus his outing is going to be highly dependent on how much sink he's getting on his fastballs. He's rarely killed by a lot of home runs even when off and can eat up less patient hitters like Ian and Rendon. Still the Nats do have patience in Werth, new LaRoche, and Bryce. Gio on the mound should be fine though everyone that is hot for the Marlins is a RHB.

Jacob Turner vs Tanner Roark
Jacob Turner is a back of the rotation guy who has some limited potential. If he can spot his fastball, his curve works as a nice out pitch but usually he's too wild to make that happen. Roark looked shaky in the first inning vs the Mets, but the Mets being the Mets, they didn't capitalize or try to stretch him out. The Marlins aren't big on walks either.

Tom Koehler vs Jordan Zimmermann.
Koehler's like Turner but the fastball and curveball seem to have better life to them than what Turner has put out in the majors. Solid innings eater type.

The Nats should win the last two. Turner should be the cure to what ails the Nats bats and ZNN is enough better than Koehler that you can't predict the Nats losing that one. Of course that's a should. This first game sets the stage and it's the hardest to call. Gio is better than Alvarez, no question. But Alvarez pulls out gems everyonce in a while. Plus with the Marlins righty bats hot, I can see the Nats losing this game. If things go completely wrong and it's a Miami blowout, say 10-2 then there might be enough momentum to carry through to the next game. I like Roark and I don't like Turner but still. Conversely if Alvarez is off and Gio quiets the bats there no reason a sweep couldn't be in the cards.  For the sake of doing it, I'll say Miami squeaks out tonight, but the Nats win the last 2 pretty easily.

Monday, April 07, 2014

Was it the Mets? Was it the Braves? Yes! No! Both! Neither!

Coming into the Braves series, the Nats' bats looked like all-stars. Some cheerleader or another said "where are the outs in this lineup?" and it was hard to disagree with him at the time. However, a lot of that damage came against the Mets bullpen, which might end up being the worst pen in the NL this year. The Nats weren't really hitting good pitching. To illustrate, here is how the Nats have done versus starting pitching this year.

Game 1 : 6.2 IP, 4 runs
Game 2 : 6 IP, 3 runs
Game 3 : 6 IP, 3 runs
Game 4 : 5 IP, 0 runs
Game 5 : 7 IP, 2 runs
Game 6 :7 IP, 2 runs.

All in all that's 14 runs in 37 2/3 innings, or about 3.34 runs per game. That's not good. Of course it's really a tale of two series. Versus the Mets, while not eye-popping like the Nats destruction of the relief pitching, the offense versus the starters was at the very least what you'd like to see. Versus the Braves it dried up to next to nothing. Did the Mets just really suck? Is the Braves pitching just that good?

This is the frustrating part about the early season. There isn't an answer. The Mets pen looked better versus the Reds, but the Reds are among the worst offenses so far in the NL. So was it that the Nats bats were that much better than the Reds bats? Did the Mets just figure out their pen rotation? Did the Nats just get lucky? Is it just 3 games and thus hard to draw any real conclusion from it?  DING DING DING

Six games in you can say nothing definitive. I know, I know, "cop out", but it's the truth. We need a couple weeks in before saying anything about the team. A good month before drawing conclusions about players. Before that just enjoy the ride (as much as you can) and look for trends that you want to keep an eye on, but not necessarily buy into. What are some of these trends?
  • The aforementioned difficulties versus starting pitching.
  • Bryce not just not hitting, but missing the ball entriely. 10 strikeouts while seeing more fastballs then ever. 
  • Desmond, Rendon, Bryce, & Zimm combining for 1 walk in 6 games. Might have something to do with that first bullet.
  • Meanwhile LaRoche has 6? Two years ago he had 67 for the season. An increase in OBP would be a great help.
  • The pen looks to be as strong as expected. Barrett is fitting in very nicely. 
  • Strasburg not looking like Strasburg. BB/9 up well over 4, usually in high 2s. Getting hit, not particularly hard (2 XBH) but hit. Stuff is there but control isn't?
  • Matt Williams having a hard time leaving well enough alone. Five lineups in 6 games, jerking Bryce around. Possibly overly aggressive base-running. Team scheduled days off before real days off for guys that aren't nursing injuries. Feels like a guy sprinting at the start of a marathon.
4-2 ain't bad but 1-2 at home versus your likely competitor is not a good start. They need to even that out during the upcoming away series. Meanwhile the Marlins, which pretty much everyone including me had said something to the effect of "you know what - these guys will be better, probably 3rd in the East" are playing even better than that and the Nats catch them in 6 of the 9 next games. Tough important week ahead where which of those trends are real and which are small sample size illusions will loom large.

Thursday, April 03, 2014

The future, Wilson?

When he was traded for Wilson Ramos immediately became the Nats' "catcher of the future". And by "the future" they really meant "from this point forward". Their highly touted minor league catcher Derek Norris was used as part of the deal for Gio Gonzalez (no complaints) and Wilson was handed the reins. The trade was four years ago. Since then the Nats have gotten 239 games from Ramos, or a season and a half. Is he still the catcher of "the future" or has his time come and gone?

The injury

This time Wilson injured his wrist.  It's a troubling injury because we've seen wrist injuries sap the power from players for a season or two. Wilson relies on his power more than any aspect of his offense. However, there is some conflicting information about this specific wrist injury though as Espinosa, Zimmerman, and Desmond, all who have had hamate bone surgery before, claim it didn't effect their power. Let's check that.

isoSLG* year before :  .168 minors, .233 majors
Surgery off season 2010
year after : .178 majors

isoSLG* year before : .168 minors prev year, .152 minors year of surgery
Surgery during 2008
year after : .147 minors, .281 majors

isoSLG* year before : .192
Surgery off season 2007
year after : .159

Honestly we don't learn all that much. Ian and Danny were both still developing players straddling the line between the minors and the majors. Their high isoSLG numbers in the majors come with limited play. It's hard to draw any conclusions from those numbers.  Ryan's show a bit more clarity that power was lost for him. However, looking at other major leaguers who have had the surgery recently, Pedroia, Sandoval, Tulo, there is no real pattern that power is lost. Sandoval and Tulo had the surgery in-season and hit with more power after.

So the power question is unfortunately unresolved. It may effect Ramos, as it did seem to effect Zimm. Or it may not. The odds are leaning toward it not, but it IS surgery and I never would claim anything for sure after a surgical procedure.

The other injuries

As we all know, this isn't Wilson's first time at the rodeo.
2009 : Broken Finger, Hamstring injury
2012 : Tore ACL
2013 : Hamstring injury

The most obvious point is that you see, counting the injury this season, is he's had five injuries missing some significant time over the course of six seasons. It is difficult to believe you can rely on Ramos to play a full season. A smaller point is that's we see three leg injuries in 5 years. That's a bit worrying as it is hard for catchers to remain catchers forever because of the wear and tear. If he's already got significant "tear" on his legs, it probably won't take much more "wear" before he's forced to move to another position. Ramos' overall stats seem like a decent bet going forward - something like .270 / .325 / .450 (power depending on injury recovery of course). That's getting into the Top 10 for catchers, but only the Top 20 for first basemen. 

Age and Contract

The surgery is a wash right now, and the history of injuries work against him. What works for Ramos? His age. Wilson is still only 26 years old (27 in August) and thus is at his peak, rather than coming down. There is some thought that catchers peak later, but the evidence is not strong. The next few seasons are likely to be the best the Nats get from Ramos and by 2016 or 2017 injuries or performance may have changed his place on the team.

As for the contract he'll be a free agent after the 2016 season. That's both good news and bad news for the Nats.  The good news is that it doesn't force them to make a decision on Ramos during his peak years. The bad news is that it could hamper moving forward in a different direction with Ramos' talent, whenever it can play, available to them cheaply.  Either way right now Ramos on the Nats in 2017 and beyond looks unlikely.

Catchers in the minors? 

The Nats "catcher of the future" in the minors is most likely Sandy Leon. He had a great season 2012 in limited play (he would injure his ankle while blocking the plate) but hit terribly last season.  The team plays it off as a "season long slump" but looking at his minor league stats it's hard not to see 2012 as a fluke season, rather than a break out. Jhonathon Solano's age and performance at the plate makes him a non-starter. Adrian Nieto might be another name you've heard of and, yeah, he's kind of on the White Sox now. The Nats did like him as he did seem like he could hit (though admittedly at lower minor league levels) but with Ramos and Leon (and Solano for some reason) ahead of him he was depth, not a real prospect. He wasn't protected in Rule V, as the Nats gambled if a team did pick him up they wouldn't be able to keep him on their roster. The White Sox made him their back-up catcher. He scored a run yetserday!

Short of it - not really much here, as much as they'll try to tell you differently.

So is it time to move on or not? 

I was worried when I started looking at this that it would be. But the recent history of the hamate bone surgery looks pretty good, Ramos is still only 26, and they have him cheaply through 2016. He could very easily come back in mid-May play 110-120 games and hit .270 while slugging 20 homers. Since that remains a possibility with 2 whole more years where he is still not yet 30 in front of you, you have to continue on with the Ramos plan as is. It does have to be similar to the 2014 plan, which demands a major league ready back-up like Lobaton, but it is too early to move on. 

I will say that Ramos, for me, is on his last strike now.  Failure to hit the rest of the season when he comes back or another weeks long injury and I think the Nats do have to look in another direction. Maybe they don't find anything while looking but they'd need to.

*SLG-BA, a better read on power than SLG

Tuesday, April 01, 2014

A win but at what cost. AT WHAT COST?!?

Let's start with the most important thing - the Ramos injury. This is why I called him "hope to get 100 games out of him" Ramos. A lot (A LOT) about remaining injury free is luck. Some guys don't have it. Our favorite injury prone player, Nick Johnson, broke a leg colliding with another player going after a pop-up. He had a ball bounce up and hit him in the face. He had bad luck. So does Ramos. It doesn't mean you don't stick with them, because when they are healthy it's worthwhile (Nick Johnson was a Top 15 offensive player in 2006) but you have to plan for the injury that may not happen. That can be expensive but that's the deal you make.

What to do now?  Nothing really. Lobaton is a fine replacement and aren't we all glad Rizzo did that (though we all seemed to beg and plead for him to do that for a while before it got done). Solano is a pretty crappy back-up, but that's pretty much true of any back-up the Nats could bring in. Solano might be worse but if Ramos is really only going to be out five weeks, that's maybe 5 games (maybe not even that - there are a lot of off days early) for Solano. The team can handle that. If you are afraid the "not embarrassing" replacement catchers will be cheaper to get now than later, you're right, but why would the Nats need to get one of these? In case Lobaton goes down, too? Well if Lobaton goes down too I want to see Rizzo go out and get a real catcher, not Chris Snyder or Koyie Hill.

The game itself grew from a possible disappointing loss as Strasburg pitched just bad enough to lose and the Nats bats looked just quiet enough to make that happen, to one of those back and forth battles that would be deflating to lose, if just for a day. Thank the Mets for once again ignoring their bullpen. As if putting together a group where the 2nd best arm had a 3.71 ERA is going to work. That's in NL relief innings, someone other than your closer should be under 3.00, maybe two guys. Good to get the win. Now move on and get the next one Wednesday.

Other notes
  • Strasburg looked bad, then good. Needed time to warm up? Maybe. I'd be watching him with men on though. He's been working on holding runners on and that may have distracted him just enough to leave that meatball out there for Brown. 
  • Yes, Barrett looked good but I won't get excited about that just as I won't say Clippard's done. One game. 
  • The lineup was kind of strange wasn't it? I don't really care overall but Span 1st and Bryce 5th just doesn't work for me. It's not the world I want to live in. 
  • I do imagine with Lobaton in the C batting clean-up is over but I'd expect the change to be Desmond to 4th, Rendon to 6th, Lobaton 8th.
  • Funny how all the sportscasters started the day saying CitiField would play even bigger because of the wind. End results : five homers.
  • Storen is not bad. He is good.