Nationals Baseball: Decisions, decisions, decisions

Friday, September 19, 2014

Decisions, decisions, decisions

We've talked about these all before but since it's pretty much all we have to talk about (other than home filed advantage) let's go through where we are on the three questions facing the Nats for the postseason.

1- What's the rotation?

It should be a simple answer. You take your 1 through 4 pitcheres (or maybe even 1 through 3) and there's your playoff rotation.  The problem for the Nats is that their rotation is not easily defined. Let's not kid ourselves here.  As much as some may want to include Strasburg in the conversation and there is a legit "fancy stats" argument for including Fister in it too, the decision comes down to Gio vs Roark. Roark has pitched better, clearly so, but Gio hasn't pitched badly and is the Nats only LH starter.

Will the splits matter? I talked about it before but here they are in black and white. OPS totals

STL vs LHP  .712
STL vs RHP  .685

PIT vs LHP  .690
PIT vs RHP  .750

MIL vs LHP  .702
MIL vs RHP  .717

LAD vs LHP  .695
LAD vs RHP  .743

SFG vs LHP  .712
SFG vs RHP  .703

 There is no real case to be made for starting Gio because of splits for three opponents. The Pirates seem like an obvious choice but with Alvarez out for the year at this point the lefty-advantage mostly comes down to Neil Walker, who loses all his power when facing lefties (looking at it now Ike Davis / Gaby Sanchez washes out). The Dodgers are a possibility too as  Adrian Gonzalez, and strangely enough Puig, both are much better hitters versus righties. Gonzalez is basically completely nuetralized by a lefty.  (Ethier is as well but you figure he wouldn't start that game)

But do we even care about splits?  The idea is not just to make them face a lefty to hurt them in that game, but to make them face a lefty to throw off the batters for the series. Seeing righty after righty may allow the bats to get comfortable in a way that wouldn't happen if they have to adjust for a lefty.  Poppycock? Perhaps but it's a line of thinking.

The other big reason to start Gio would be relief experience. Gio hasn't appeared in relief since 2009 while Roark did so as recently as August of last year.  But that doesn't mean that Roark has a ton of relief experience. Tanner isn't a converted reliever and hasn't been used primarily out of the pen since 2009. (Gio never has) So whatever advantage Roark might have as a reliever - one has to believe it's minimal. In fact Gio's make up - relies on fewer pitches has the faster FB, would tend to be favored for relief in comparison. Of course if you delve into armchair psychology you can come up with other reasons (how will Gio react to demotion? Roark's been there just last year should be ok with it.)

If it's that tough why not use all 5? Well, that could be done but the days off built into the playoffs make it hard enough to keep four pitchers on a good rest schedule. Add in a 5th and you could easily have pitchers waiting a week between starts.

In the end I think Roark is the better call because he's the better pitcher right now, but Gio isn't a bad call. I expect the Nats to use Gio not Roark for the simple reason that Gio has been their starter for years and his use can be justified. A Gonzo-Roark combo is possible, but more likely is Roark being saved for any SP failure.

2 - Does Soriano make the postseason roster?

Soriano pitched a perfect 9th yesterday but  as we all know has been crashing since mid August putting up a 7.36 ERA and managing only 4 perfect outings in his last 16 trips to the mound. In fully half of them he's given up a run. It's not just a run of bad luck either. As we've discussed he's just not pitching well.

While Soriano has had past success in set-up roles, he's generally been unhappy in that position and at a time where you need guys to focus immediately because every game matters can you afford a guy like Soriano coming out of the pen?

Barrett (0.00 ERA in 7 appearences, with 1 walk and 5 Ks)  and Cedeno (1 HR to Ryan Howard, otherwise no hites or runs) have made cases. In the end I do think Barrett makes the roster... but not over Soriano.

Soriano was brought in not primarily to be a closer for the Nats, but to be a difference maker play-off closer. Storen, while looking much better in 2014, has had already a couple of shaky relief appearances. How would it look if you left Soriano off the roster & Storen blows saves in the first two games? What do you do then? Well you move Clippard to the closer roles but that's not the point. The point is you signed a guy specifically for this moment, you need him, and hey, he's sitting at home!

That doesn't mean you have to make Soriano your closer, but it does mean you are taking a risk by leaving him at home. If you lose because you had to rely on him as Plan Band he doesn't come through - that's on him. If you lose because he wasn't even around, even if it can be justified, that's on you.

So how does Barrett make the roster? Because Detwiler or Blevins doesn't, most likely Detwiler. With Roark or whoever moving into that long relief role Detwiler, who is seemingly not a favorite of this organization anymore, loses his specific role. Blevins, for all his failings, is better versus lefties, so can be the "other" lefty in the pen now that Thorton has taken his spot. Stammen can handle an emergency long outings.  Kilgore has Blevins out and I can see that. Neither Blevins or Detwiler has been pitching well though so it could be either, but Soriano is definitely in.

Stras, Gio, ZNN, Fister
Storen, Clippard, Stammen, Soriano, Barrett, Thorton, Roark, Blevins

Ramos, LaRoche, Cabrera, Desmond, Rendon, Werth, Span, Bryce
Frandsen, Hairston, Zimm, Lobaton, Espinosa

That's what I expect the 25 man active playoff roster to be. But what about a LHB on the bench?  What about it?  Schierholtz is BAD. Are you really messing with your roster to make sure you have a lefty bat that has hit .188 / .236 / .310 versus righties this year is kept? Frandsen vs RHP - .238 / .296 / .308.  I don't like Frandsen but unless there is a submariner reliever out there you are scary afraid of having righties face it makes no sense to keep Schierholtz who does nothing for the team.  The Nats might end up with the best record in the NL and they haven't had a good LHB on the bench all year. (really if you are that concerned with having a LHB the way to go is 3rd catcher - use Lobaton as the LHB but thats not great either.  Just keep Frandsen)

3- So Zimmerman makes it.  Does he start?

Zimm with the Nats this season : .282 / .345 / .456
Cabrera with the Nats this season : .230 / .314 / .399

If Zimm can hit it isn't even a question. You want that bat in the line-up. But how to get him in?  The easy answer is he takes over for LaRoche or Bryce versus tough lefties. OK. What about the other 80% of the time?

This question has no good answer. If Zimm plays third you'd worry about every ball hit there and if Rendon happened to slump you know everyone would blame the move back to second. If Zimm doesn't play third than you run the real risk of Cabrera bringing down the line-up (there's a reason CLE traded him). Not a lot, but if a couple other guys slump and with the pitching better in the playoffs it could matter alot.

I don't have an answer here. How I expect the Nats to use him is as a LF versus tough lefties. (Which as we've noted before is silly because LaRoche is really the one that needs to sit but hey, it is what it is) If Cabrera goes 0 for his first 3 games or something, then I expect to see Zimmerman back starting at 3B.  If Cabrera is ok or better Zimm stays on the bench.


Jeff Hayes said...

All good points. But, I'd add that they'll probably have close to a week to see if Zimmerman can't get up to speed quickly (perhaps starting this weekend). If Zim comes out of the gate and hits better than Cabera in the last week of the season, then he starts in the DS.

Anonymous said...

i think something the Nats should factor in is home vs. road performance of the starting pitchers. Gio gives up a quarter less runs per 9 on the road and has a 0.10 lower ERA, with 21 more IP. Ks are basically 1 an IP in both, hit rate is comparable as well. His K-rate is slightly better on the road. All in all, I think he should be the Game 3 guy, the first road game. Factor in that Stras gives up almost 1.5 more ER per 9 on the road, Roark is almost .75, and Fister's ERA and WHIP go from 1.95 to 3.08 and .89 to 1.33 respectively. It seems clear, to me at least, that Gio and, to a lesser extent Zimmerman, have the smallest ill-affect, and in Gio's case is arguably better, on the road. Sorry for so many commas. So with all that in mind IMO it should be:

1. Stras
2. Fister
3. Gio
4. Zimmerman

Keep a REAL short hook for all of 'em, knowing Roark is there waiting. It shouldn't be minimized that he's effectively a rookie, and potentially more prone to wilt under high pressure (speculative I know), so he may benefit from coming in relief than starting. Just my two cents here

Anonymous said...

sorry I meant 0.10 lower WHIP, not ERA, for Gio in the above post. As I stated ERA is 0.25 lower. And BTW, ZMM's stats are a wash home vs. road

Anonymous said...

Just a few other thinking points-

Roark has thrown 192 and 1/3 innings so far and will be over 200 by the start of the playoffs; he hasn't thrown more than 159 and 1/3 in a season before. I don't think it's significant enough to make the decision about that, but I'm sure it's at least a partial factor.

Schierholtz had an OPS of .799 last year vs RHP and .718 career. Not great, but his .546 number this year looks like an aberration. He also is somewhat of a power threat (21 HR in 2013, 6 more than Frandsen has in his entire career). Frandsen may have a little bit higher of a floor in terms of playoff production, but Schierholtz's ceiling is much higher. I'd go with the higher ceiling over higher floor.

Anonymous said...

I love how people say Gio has pitched poorly, we are so spoiled with the staff.

Section 220 said...

It won't happen, but I'd much rather see them go with only seven guys in the bullpen. Eight just seems silly to me.

Donald said...

I would rather they go with Frandsen than Schierholtz too, partially because Frandsen has been here all year and has been a great team mate. I think he deserves it more, not that that really matters. But as many games are won by the Pete Kozma's of the world. Power alone isn't everything.

cass said...

I think, given LaRoche's back, that Zimmerman will play first against lefties and will play third against righties, assuming he's back into his hitting groove by the end of the season.

You can't bench Harper, Span, or Werth. You can bench LaRoche against a lefty (and his back needs rest) and you can bench Cabrera. So that's that.

I agree about Soriano on the postseason roster, unless he has some bad appearances between now and the end of the season. If he pitchers okay, he'll be there.

I'm all about Gonzoark. But I too think they'll just keep Roark around and give the starter's a quick hook. Not a bad plan. But If you used Gonzoark for 9 innings, the rest of the bullpen would be rested enough to fill in in case of starter failure elsewise. And Gonzoark has the great L/R switch-up.

I think it'll be Stras-Z'nn or Stras-Fister. Z'nn's been the best pitcher overall, but Stras is the ace and is hot. Fister's the veteran. Mix and match, really. They're all so good it hardly matters.

I think Stras definitely starts game 1, though, unless he has a couple meltdowns. He touched 99 with his fastball and 92 with his change-up the last start. That's who you want pitching twice.

Anonymous said...

I agree with Donald. In playoffs, a clutch hit is more important than the HR threat. Go with Frandsen.

BooyahSuckah! said...

You guys are really missing the boat on this nickname thing. Roarzalez is clearly the only option.

Yes, I know it's Ro-ark, but I believe common law name-mash-up poetic license allows us, in this case, to pronounce it "roar".

Tannio Roarzalez or bust.

Anonymous said...

I would start Stras-Fister-Zimmerman-Gio-Stras. As for Ryan Zimmerman, I want to see how he does in last 8-9 games we have left. Marc Zuckerman from CSN said, Nats plan to have in lineup this tomorrow against Marlins.

Jimmy said...

Espinosa has to start vs lefties in the playoffs right?

Donald said...

I absolutely don't think they will keep Zimmerman out of the lineup if he's healthy. My guess is they do what they did the last time and start him at 3rd with Rendon at 2nd. No platooning with LaRoche or Harper who will both want to be in every game if they can be. Zimm will start and Cabrara will come in as a late defensive replacement if the Nats are ahead. And if they do make the WS, Zimm will be the DH for half the games.

But you're right that if they do that, every single grounder to third will be heart stopping.

JWLumley said...

Harper, great stuff because after days of agreeing with everything you've written I finally have some places to quibble.

As for the rotation, the one thing you don't mention is innings, Gio got to take some time off this year and Roark has never thrown this many innings in his life. To me, if Gio keeps pitching like he has, that's the difference. Roark, while still good, hasn't been as good over the last month or so, while Gio has been getting better. I'd roll the dice on Gio, but can understand going with Roark too given the things you mentioned, but really the innings to me is the difference.

I agree, Soriano needs to be on the postseason roster, but to me the only choice here is Blevins. Detwiler has been used sporadically throughout the year, but he's been outhouse or castle, which is fine in the playoffs as long as you recognize it and give him a short hook. Sure, he's not as tough on lefties, but he could be used as a long reliever for one of the righties, if the other team stacked their lineup with lefties that day. Perhaps a short hook if Strasburg comes out flat, but a change of pace guy who is really there in case of emergency because YOU DO NOT WANT TO RISK YOUR SEASON IN THE HANDS OF JERRY BLEVINS.

As for Zim, he plays 3rd, unless Fister pitches and still maybe then. I'm no huge fan of defensive metrics, but apparently according to ESPN, Cabrera has been horrible at 2B since being acquired. Like Adam Dunn/Michael Morse bad, except at a position up the middle. Sure Zim might chuck it into the stands, but at least he'll catch it. Also, I think that Matt Williams and company have finally been inundated with enough hate mail to understand that Bryce Harper can hit lefties. Also, since MW loves him some SSS ownage stats, he'll probably remember what Harper did to Kershaw's fastball. So I highly doubt that Harper will sit, but if he does the national media may spontaneously combust. Given the way Harper's been hitting, I actually think Keith Law's head might explode if that happened.

Anonymous said...

Maybe I'm crazy, but I'd leave Danny off the playoff roster. We've got a ton of guys who can play across the infield, so defensive flexibility isn't an issue, even if someone goes down. And his bat? Ummmm... But who to put on the roster if he was left off: Souza?

Also, I'd take Trienen over Soriano. Better stuff, better results. Reasons for signing Soriano be damned.

Froggy said...

Blevins is a LOOGY and has only gotten in trouble when MW forgets that. Interestingly, Detwiler's numbers are only a bit higher in BAA lefties at .229 so, I think you leave Blevins off as Det can go long and eat innings if you need him to. As much as I don't like Soriano, I can't ignore that he did pitch well for the first half of the season, but unless he changes his attitude and doesn't give up a hit for the rest of the year, I leave him off as I just don't see what advantage he brings.

Regardless, I'm sure somewhere in his contract fine print it says he has to make the playoff roster because he is getting paid $12mil this season.

Wally said...

I am with Cass on Zim and Stras. Barring another injury, I'd be very surprised if they do it differently.

I'll also be surprised if Harper sits against anyone, and we may even see him moved up in the lineup. I've had my issues with Matty, but it now appears to me he managed old school style during the long season, and threw it out the window down the stretch. Pulling Clip and Sori were examples of something he wouldn't have done in May. I think he forgets all about this sending messages stuff and goes with the best lineup come Oct.

John C. said...

I find myself in complete agreement with JWL. This will probably lead both of us to change our minds. :)

Strasburg is going to start the first game, likely followed by JZim, Fister and Gio. Roark will be in the 'pen. I think Detwiler makes it over Blevins. I do think that if Soriano is tentatively on the roster, but one more meltdown may well keep him off of it.

IF (and it's a big if) Zim is healthy, he plays. And he plays third while Cabrera sits. They're just not going to platoon LaRoche, Harper or Span at this point. The team was fine during the three weeks that Zim was healthy after coming back.

Anonymous said...

if you have roark and stammen to eat innings out of the bullpen, i find myself wanting cedeno over both det and blevins...

also, give me souza over espinosa

Donald said...

Harper -- when can we call the top seed for the Nats? I'm just about ready to do that. If the Nats finish the season out at 5-4, the Dodgers would need to go 7-1 to get the top spot. I don't see that happening. Even if the Nats go 4-5, the Dodgers have to finish 6-2.

So when do we start focusing that first game in D.C. against the Pirates or Giants?

KW said...

If Cabrera is on the bench, Espinosa is redundant. Or is Cabrera redundant? Danny is certainly the better defender, and better RH, but useless LH. He also has barely played down the stretch, so it's pretty clear whom the staff prefers. Souza over Espy? Probably only if Souza gets a few more ABs. But the 450-foot bomb certainly showed what he can do.

I'd love to see Souza over the very limited Hairston, or over the mightily struggling Schierholtz, but MW seems to prefer having those vets around for late-inning strikeouts.

Unless Soriano blows up this week, he's on the playoff roster. If he can actually turn things around, all the better. It is what it is. We need to be pulling for him to get out of his funk because he's going to be there, like it or not.

Starters: I'm definitely in the Roark-is-better-right-now camp, but who are we kidding? Gio is going to be one of the playoff starters. He just is. Plus Roark has the better bulldog makeup to come in from the 'pen in a tough situation. I'd certainly trust him over Soriano right now, possibly over Clippard.

Filling out the 'pen, Barrett makes it, and Det over Blevins seems like an easy call, unless you take Cedeno over both of them. Det's advantages are that he can go long, and--lest anyone forget--he's one of the few on the staff who was rock solid in the playoffs in '12.

I guess another possible permutation would be to keep Det and also keep Cedeno over Barrett, if you want that extra LOOGY. As much as I like Barrett, I could see that, as there would be a lot of 6th-7th inning guys with Roark, Stammen, Soriano, and Det. Does that make Barrett redundant? (Treinen is.)

All in all, these are good decisions to have. The only true weakness is the bench, particularly from the left side.

Bryce 2014 vs. RHP: 271/338/421. Vs. LHP: 272/343/446, plus bomb off of Kershaw. That's right, boys and girls, he's actually hit LHP better. Let's hope MW can read splits.

Froggy said...

I think Booyahsuckah! has got the solution...Tannio Roarzalez!!

KW- I think you nailed it across the board especially regarding Sori...(even though I have my reservations) we need to pull for him to turn it around and be a hero in the post season. For the reasons you mention its Det over Blevins as well.

Agree that Espinosa is the best 2b on the team period. He is also a journeyman who hits decent RH. And unlike Souza (regardless of perceived potential) he has been there day in and day out and has EARNED a spot on the post season roster IMO so I think you take Espinosa to the dance.

Jay said...

Do you even put Roark on the post season roster? I think he's great. And I get the arguments of him over Gio. But if they have Stammen and maybe Det, do you need a third guy that can go more than 1-2 innings?

Also, Soriano is done in my book. Closed today, but gave up 4 very hard hit balls. In a smaller park at least one if not more are HR.

I'd take Blevins over Det who is still up and down. I'd take both and Roark over Soriano.

I agree Espinosa and Cabrera are redundant on the bench.

JE34 said...

@Jay - completely agreed re Soriano. I think hitters look forward to facing him at this point... but MW will almost certainly keep him for the reasons Harper pointed out.

If I were Soriano, I would (a) make MW stop calling me "Sori", which sounds like a Canadian apology, (b) grow some menacing facial hair, like a long FuManchu, (c) refer to myself only in the 3rd person, and roll the R in Rafael for a good 2 seconds every time, (d) adopt some Al Hrabosky style antics... perhaps taking the field with shirt untucked, then tuck in, then throw the first pitch of the inning right under the hitter's chin. If the league thinks Rrrrrafael has a screw loose, they might not be so comfortable in the batters box.

Also, I believe 2014 will mark Frandsen's and Hairston's first postseason appearances, so MW will include them both.

Froggy said...

@JE34, and Jay,
Couldn't agree more...Sori is a Freudian slip for Sorryano. And he is done. Stick a fork in him. No mas benefico! No way does he make the post season roster over Det or Barrett.

And that will be my recommendation when MW calls and asks for it. I know he has my number on speed dial.

blovy8 said...

Sori is just applying the Canadian pronunciation of the the word that describes the regret after using him.

Donald said...

Hey, Soriano just got a save! He's back as closer now, right?

Anonymous said...

Am I the only one who give Blevins a pass because Matt Williams uses him against Righties?

Dude has a .155/.208/.224 slash line against lefties. William's uses him wrong. I know we thought with the trade he could be used against both, but that is not the case.

Not saying the loogy position doesn't become redundant with Thorton, but Blevin's slash line against lefties is better (.235/.302/.265). I need to think about it more.

Soriano - If I'm Matty, I give him ever chance I can to see if he can work himself off the list.

On Offense I don't include Hairston - although I haven't quite figured out who I would take - doubtful that Hairston would ever see playing time as I would pinch hit Fister/Zimmermann before him.