Nationals Baseball: October 2014

Friday, October 31, 2014

Actual baseball news - and review of 3B and OF

The Nats did something! It was exactly what was expected but still it's something to talk about.

They picked up Span's option. Completely makes sense. His defense fits the role the Nats need most in center and he just put up a good offensive year. He's worth 9 million typically and if he can put up those offensive numbers again he's a bargain.  Could they deal him? Sure but it's hard to see how they do that and make the team better in 2015.

They didn't pick up Soriano's option. While decent Soriano had lost his closer role and was due to make 14 million next year. That's a hefty chunk of change that doesn't have to go to someone who'd likely be pencilled in as the 7th inning guy next year. He's getting old, losing speed, and his 2nd half ERA is alarming (6.48).  He's still probably worth kicking the tires on for someone with a weak pen and an open closer role but that ain't the Nats.

They didn't pick up LaRoche's option. As we discussed they had no place for him and 15 million is a lot of money for a pinch hitter. Given that LaRoche has put together two very good offensive years in three seasons someone will sign him to a 2-3 year deal. The Nats could have gambled, picked up the option, with the expectation that Adam would decline and they'd get that draft compensation when another team signed him. But that would have been ruthless, potentially effecting future FA signings, and reckless, potentially setting up LaRoche taking the extension and effecting some signing plans. Better to let him walk.

Now on with the review show...

Rendon to 2nd, sign Sandoval!  - We covered this a little in the 2nd base stuff but to go over it again: Rendon can play 2nd. There are a lot of decent 3rd base options. There aren't a lot of decent 2nd base options. Therefore, move him back and get a 3rd baseman. It's a plan. You might not like it but it exists. Who's the best trade possibility (assuming availability)? For one year - Beltre. For multiple years... Longoria? Harder to tell who is available in this group. Who's the best FA? Hanley Ramirez.

Then why go for Sandoval? Well if you can look past the idea that he's big in big spots (possible but hard to prove and thus hard to base a contract on) he has one very big advantage. He's the youngest. Yep, even younger than Longoria (though less than a year). Where you fall depends on what you are looking for. If you are maximizing for 2015 only, it would be hard to beat trading for Beltre.  If you want to extend the window without killing the future, signing Sandoval makes some sense because it costs you only a draft pick not a up-and-comer who may be looked on to help in 2016 or 17. Really there's a ton of fluidity in this plan.

Rendon to 2nd, Souza plays 3b! - To quote commenter John C. "he made 92 errors and turned only 23 DPs in 249 games. That's a rate of about 60 errors per 162 games! Yuck. His career fielding percentage at 3b is .866. That means more than one of every eight balls hit at him resulted in an error." This is not an option.

If you move Rendon to 2nd, It's going to be expensive to get a FA. - Yes. For example Headley, probably the 3rd best FA out there whose value lies mainly with his glove, should get something like 4/48.

Then it's cheaper to get Cabrera back to play 2nd - Yep. But that's because he really isn't good.

What about Panik? - Well if he's available and you want to deal for him (to play 2nd) he's worth a decent prospect because he fields well and just hit over .300 in half a season. But it's going to be a better propsect, likely, then he's really worth, as he was recently scuttling a bit in the minors before this year. You're buying high here. There is a big question of whether he hits .260-.280 or .280-.300. Since his value is tied up completely in singles that difference is everything. If you really like him as a super sub, not a starter, I'd wait a year and try to see if the price drops. If you want him to start - it's a dice roll but one you can make this year that you couldn't next if he hits around .300 again.

Donaldson? Why are the A's trading him now?

Encarnacion? You're crazy!  He can't play third! - Yeah, you're probably right. I was just throwing things out there! And remember he's really my 1B OTB plan.

Ain't broke, don't fix - That's a fair view.

Carlos Gomez for Giolito? LOVE IT. MAKE IT HAPPEN - so many people liked this I think I'm going to ask a Brewers guy what their take would be. If one side likes it so much it's gotta be lopsidedly wrong, right?

Plus we don't need him if we sign ZNN and Fister! - That's right! Also if we sign Scherzer! And Lester! and Cueto next year! And Price! Not my money! I don't mean to joke - it's a viable option becoming a Top 3 payroll club BUT "Topped Out" makes me think that isn't going to happen.

Can Zimm move back to left? They did it this year! - Probably not. Moving him to LF opens up 3 questions (Zimm in LF, Zimm's arm in LF, Werth fielding grounders) and one non-question (with Span out the defense gets much worse). The answers to the questions are likely - better than Werth in RF, huge problem, should adjust - and it would likely not keep the Nats out of the playoffs for 2015, but it's more risk for not much more reward. Contenders need less variability, not more. They did do it in a crucial month but they also gave up on it when 1st place still wasn't given.

What about this Mookie Betts thing? - So non-reputable sources are basically click-baiting the idea the Red Sox could trade for Bryce. Mookie Betts and their top pitching prospect Henry Owens would be the return. It doesn't make sense. Thanks to his extremely young age of entry in to the majors, Bryce is still about potential. Think about this way. Take Bryce's first few years. Ask a Red Sox fan if they'd take that offense from Betts and they'd do it in a heartbeat. Ask a Nats fan what they think about it for Bryce and they are disappointed.  Betts & Owens is slightly better than Cole & Taylor as a package. You'd (hopefully) not consider for a second Cole and Taylor for Bryce so Betts & Owens should take only a cursory review before rejection.  Remember - Betts might look good and Owens might be a Top 20 level propect, but Bryce right now would still likely be #1. He's younger than 3 of the Top 10 OF prospects. Josh Bell is older, put up a worse line than Bryce this year while playing in the EASTERN league, and is still #3. These guys may be what Bryce is at least.

Now could the Sox put together a deal that the Nats should take? Sure. Betts and Swinhart and Owens would make me think - you are getting two very good position prospects that the Nats are one more Ramos injury from needing and a guy that would slot in at the Nats #2 pitching prospect. (Sox fans are probably laughing at this deal - but remember fans ALWAYS overestimate their own prospects. They (meaning any fans of any team) see these guys only for what they best case could be, not what they'll likely be) But I doubt the Red Sox would do it (losing multiple positional best prospects while trying to rebuild doesn't fit with how I see that team), nor does it fit a Nats team trying to win now. Maybe if the Nats were going to jettison Fister, ZNN and Desmond and go all in for a Giolito led squad in 2018...

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Thursday Quickie - How'd they do it

The Giants won 3 out of the last 5 World Series so obviously fans of other teams are looking at them and asking "How did they do that?" and "Can my team do that?".  Unfortunately I'm not sure you can.

It helps to have a dominating pitcher or two... - Obviously Bumgarner is the story of this playoffs. 1.03 ERA for the playoffs, 0.43 in the World Series. 4 hit shutout in WC game. 4 hit shutout in Game 5. It's hard to see the Giants winning it all without him

But it's no guarantee... The A's traded a key offensive player to get Jon Lester, who sported a 2.11 postseason ERA before this season, and specifically a 1.53 ERA last year in helping the Red Sox win a WS. They got him into a one and done game and staked him to a 2-0 1st inning lead, which he blew, then a 7-3 lead heading into the 8th, which he blew (He was only at 86 pitches going into the 8th)

The Dodgers had without question the best pitcher in the majors in Clayton Kershaw. In game 1 he was given a 6-1 lead heading into the 6th. Kerhsaw gave up one in the 6th, then couldn't get out of the 7th giving up 4 straight singles to start the inning (he was only at 81 pitches at the start of the inning). Given a chance at redemption in Game 4, and given another lead (this time a more modest 2-0), Kershaw again fell apart in the 7th giving up two singles and a homer to lose the lead and eventually the game

It helps to have been there before... The Giants had won the World Series in 2010 and 2012, and by the sake of not making the playoffs in the off years, haven't lost a playoff series since the Marlins beat them in 2003.  This likely gave the set of returning players a bit of pressure relief and a boost of confidence going into this postseason.

But it's no guarantee... Last year's Pirates team was also in the WC and won that game. They lost this year. The Cardinals had won the WS in 2011, won a WC and a DS in 2012, and reached the WS last year, yet went out fairly meekly to the Giants in the CS this year. The Tigers had won three straight DSs but got swept out this year. The A's were the only other AL team in the playoffs last year. They lost. The Royals hadn't been in the playoffs in 30 years and they were one game from winning it all.

It helps to have a killer bullpen... The Giants had the 3rd best pen in the NL (just the barest of margins behind #2). Romo, Lopez, Casilla, and Affeldt threw almost 30 innings during the playoffs and gave up all of 1 run, earned or otherwise. We all know what the Royals back end of Herrera, Davis, and Holland had done to end the year and in the playoffs.

But it's no guarantee... the 2nd best NL bullpen? The Nats. The Pirates pen was good. The Orioles pen was very good. The A's bullpen was great. Where did they all go?

I suppose you could say you need to combine all 3. The Dodgers and Tigers pens were bad. The A's had been here but never won a series. The Angels hadn't been here in several years. The Nats and Pirates and Orioles didn't have a winning series tradition or a long history of being in the playoffs. The Cardinals simply faced a team like themselves.

But what explains the Royals? No great starter, never been there before, should have lost right?

Here's what I say then are the take away from the 2014 playoffs

1) Be good - you have to be in it to win it
2) Hope to get lucky in one of your first times in the playoffs because that probably helps with the things we can't measure. You feel less pressure and more confidence because you have won it before.

There you go.  That's all I got for you. You can still do that and not win. The Rangers bust out and got the the WS and lost to another upstart in the Giants. They got back and with all the confidence in the world... lost to the Cardinals who hadn't won a playoff series in the previous four years.

Looking for comparisons for the Nats is hard, but the most recent team to turn multiple post-season failures into success were probably the early 90s Blue Jays. Lost the CS in 89 and 91 but were able to win back to back titles before the strike

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Offseason Position Discussion : Outfield

Presumed Plan :  Jayson Werth in right, Bryce Harper in left, Span's option is picked up and he stays in center for 2015.  Nate McLouth will back-up along with Steve Souza most likely and Michael Taylor goes back to AAA for everyday at bats.

Reasoning on Presumed Plan : Despite being 35, Werth put up another great line offensively. He hits for average (.292), maintains decent power (16 homers, 37 doubles), and most importantly gets on base at an elite level (83 walks and a .394 OBP) which is a rarity in the Nats line-up.  While no longer a fast runner, he's still a smart one on the basepaths. His defensive range is shrinking (he hasn't been a good OF since coming to the Nats), but 1B is unavailable so sticking him in the corner that he's most accustomed to makes sense.

Despite being only 21, Bryce put up another decent offensive season, and expectations are still that when he finally has a year where he's healthy he will break out. Primarily the Nats expect that he'll mature into a 30+ HR hitter, though hitting around .300 or learning patience to get on base with an OBP near .400 remain hopes. Either way, even if he simply repeats the "disappointing" 2014 numbers over a full year, Bryce is an above average bat worth starting. Plus with LaRoche gone he's your only power lefty bat. On the basepaths Bryce was noticeably... less enthusiastic. That could be coaching, but is probably due more to his hip injury. Still he's far from an oaf. Defensively he has yet to fulfill the promise of his teen years when it was thought that his athleticism would carry him if his he didn't take to the position. He's passable in left, albeit with a cannon for an arm, nothing more.

Given that Werth and Bryce are primarily offensive players and CF is primarily a defensive position, it makes sense that a defense first guy would play that spot.  Despite a bit of disagreement on how good Span is, most observers think he remains an above average fielder. That alone would probably get him a starting role but Span busted out last year with the best year of his career hitting over .300. While it's unlikely to happen again there's no real sense Span is on a decline, meaning he's likely to provide no worse than average offense and likely slightly better. 

McLouth remains in the bench mix by default. He's a lefty bat when the Nats don't have many and more importantly he's getting paid 5 million next year.  Steven Souza dominated AAA pitching in ~100 games last year and at 26 in April, has reached an age where you either use it in the majors or lose it. Taylor is likely the future CF but given that he played only ~20 games in AAA last year and was unimpressive and that he's two years younger than Souza, he gets the everyday job in Syracuse.

Problems with Presumed Plan There are some issues here. I see the biggest one being Werth's fielding. His range has diminished to the point where he's got one of the smallest ranges of a regular RF in the majors. It's not going to get better either as this isn't an injury thing, it's an age thing. Span can help cover that issue but not as well as he could if he didn't have to help Bryce out too. The general consensus is that your worst OF plays LF meaning Bryce and Werth should flip.

Even in optimal position though the Nats probably won't increase from their position of the 23rd "rangiest" group which isn't good. They get a slight bump for having good arms in the corners and not making a lot of errors but it's still a below average group.

Offensively the biggest concern is health.  Werth did manage to play a full season, but missed a big chunk of 2013 and half of 2012. At his age you have to expect 120 games, not 150.  Meanwhile Bryce has played 118 and 100 games the past 2 years.  If both of these guys miss significant time again that may dramatically hurt the offense.

There are also individual concerns at the plate. Werth's power is dropping. What was once blamed on an injury is clearly now age related and while he can still bang out a double, the homers are getting fewer and farther between. His HR/FB rate goes 21.1% (2008), 19.3% (09), 14.3% (10), 12.3% (11), 9.4% (14) (Both 2012's 5.3% and 2013's 18.0% seem fluky and out of pattern).  We may be able to blame Bryce's decrease in power on his injuries, but Bryce's K rate spiked dramatically in 2014 up to 26.3% where it had been usually below 20% in most of his stops. If he can't adjust to whatever is going on now his ceiling drops. Lastly Span basically got a 20 point bump in everything due to a 20 point bump in BABIP. Expecting everything to fall back is the smart play.

On the bench you have no reliable hitters. Souza is a big talent but a big question mark. We've seen AAA killers be unable to produce in the majors before. McLouth was a big nothing last year and it's hard to see him as anything viable as a long term replacement if there are injuries. Michael Taylor, as noted, hasn't hit above AA and didn't look like a major league hitter in his cup of coffee.

My take :  There's no good reason to deviate from what was done in 2014. Even if you could with Bryce and Werth, they are good players. You play good players. The Nats could move on from Span, but Souza doesn't fit the "great defender covering for corner OF" description and Taylor isn't ready. At a reasonable cost, it'd be silly not to re-up him.

The biggest issue is the defense and yes the defense is suspect. But it isn't terrible and given that offensively the group should be Top 5 if healthy, you live with it. Should they flip Werth and Bryce? That is probably optimal but the whole RF over LF thing is mostly an arm issue and Werth's arm is still good. Flipping would hardly make a difference. Beyond 2015 it's only going to get more dicey as Werth calcifies completely and there is no place for him to go, but for next year, I'm not overly concerned. 

Offensively I don't see any issues. All those points above are valid, but unless something crazy happens it's still a good offensive outfield, with potential to be very good.  I expect Werth to hit about the same, maybe a homer or two less. I expect Span to drop back to his usual self. I expect Bryce to hit a bit better, primarily with a bit more power.  That would probably balance out. But if Werth has a minor bounce back and Span stays roughly the same? Or Bryce does take off?  That OF could carry a team. 

I think the bench is about as good as you are going to get - provided that the Nats use Souza as the 4th OF and not McLouth. (and for god's sake do not play Frandsen out there). I'd prefer a Eury Perez type (I know he's gone) as the 5th but McLouth is stuck in that position. Oh well. It's a 5th OF. As for the first in line in case of (likely) injury, I'm not worried about Souza providing some contribution if called upon. His AAA profile wasn't like the Tyler Moores of the world, where they K'd to the point you knew major league pitching would eat them up. Souza is a better hitter than that.I suppose if you want to eat McLouth's salary, going after DeJesus for a 4th/5th would be my play. I don't see the Nats doing that though.

Outside the Box Suggestion : You can't do anything with Werth. That contract, his age, and a lack of alternate position makes him an OF in 2015.  So you can do two things - challenge deal Bryce, or upgrade Span. Challenge dealing Bryce is hard because frankly there aren't many players worth what Bryce is even often injured and not hitting up to projections. Certainly no minor leaguers I can think of. So you have to look for older players, with at least a couple years of team control who aren't paid too much. Could you trade him for McCutchen? or Stanton? I suppose...

So that leaves upgrading Span. If you are going to do that a sign and trade of Span makes the most sense. So you sign Span and you deal him.  We've talked about this before but the Tigers may be the best fit. However if you could spin him to the Cardinals for a decent prospect arm, which they always seem to have, that makes the most sense. Why? Because you are probably about to lose your best one.  

You send Giolito to the Brewers for the Carlos Gomez.  Crazy? Sure, but sometimes you have to go all in and there isn't a better outfielder that you are going to get. He is a better defender than Span, a better baserunner than Span, younger than Span, and you know how Span could hit .285 with 30 doubles next season? Gomez will do that too except instead of hitting 5 homeruns he'll hit 25. 

If you are wondering why Giolito, by all means start with Taylor + Cole if you like, but I'm not touching that if I'm the Brewers. Gomez is paid a silly team-favoring amount (8 million in 2015, 9 million in 2016) over the next two years. An amount that lets the Nats do some long-term deals while getting better during that time. Still Giolito? You see a likely Top 10 prospect in all of baseball, probably Top 3 pitching one. I see a 20 year old that has already had Tommy John who hasn't progressed into High-A yet. If all goes on schedule he's in the rotation full-time 2017. IF ALL GOES WELL. In my head I think the likely story is he does get there, gets injured again, has another Tommy John and is back full-time in the rotation in 2019. He may be dominant then but hell that's FOREVER away. Let's win now.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Offseason Position Discussion : Third Base

Presumed Plan : Anthony Rendon will continue to start at 3rd base. Frandsen will likely back-up.
Reasoning on Presumed Plan : Anthony Rendon is an outside candidate for MVP. There is very little he can't do on a diamond. Along with some top-notch fielding at 3rd base (he's in the discussion for best defensive 3rd baseman in the NL), Anthony can : 

Hit for average :  His .287 average was 20th in the NL
Get on base :  His 8.5% walk rate may not seem great but in this new world it's good enough for 27th in the NL. That added to his average gave him the 20th best OBP in the league.
Hit for power : His .186 isoSLG was 14th in the NL
Run the bases : His 17 SBs was 17th in the NL. His baserunning ranked 2nd. His "speed" stat was 8th. 

It is difficult to find a flaw in his game and he'll only turn 25 next year meaning he's likely to be at least this good for another 5 years and he might get better. There is no question that Rendon starts on this team, or any team for that matter.

Frandsen? He is capable of playing 3rd base and hitting a baseball occasionally. He is also signed next year and a scrappy vet.

Problems with Presumed Plan : Ok, we got to be picky here. But I suppose you could say the Nats are relying a lot on one season of stats.  Sure he did well in the minors but in a big chunk of season in 2013 he was merely ok. So perhaps we caught his best year in 2014. While he fields well at 3rd he isn't the defensive whiz that Zimmerman was during his prime. And while he does everything very well, he hasn't yet shown himself to do anything great and quite possibly won't ever reach that level. Is he going to hit .325+ or 35+ homers? I can see it happening but I'd bet on "no".
Really though the biggest problem is the one noted previously.  Rendon can play other positions and there are actually some decent 3rd base options out there which doesn't always happen, so it might be better to shift Rendon over. 
Frandsen. Eh. Where Rendon does everything very well Frandsen does nothing very well. Actually, that's not entirely fair. He does make contact well. But he doesn't get on base, he doesn't hit for power, he's not a good fielder, he's not a good baserunner. Bench players are inherently flawed but you like someone who's major strength is more than "Might not strike out and by putting the ball in play could get a single"

My take : This really isn't something to mull over. Could it be a fluke year? I guess. But even if you split the difference between his first two seasons he's a good starter. No he's not a great 3rd baseman with the glove, but he could be the best currently in the senior circuit. How is that an issue? And the fact that he may not reach superstardom? That's ok. I think we'll all take 5 more years of plain old regular stardom. Rendon is a cornerstone of this franchise in his 2nd year and projects to be straight into the next playoff cycle. At worst he's a good dependable starter at typically a difficult position to fill. At best he's a perennial All-Star and wins at least one MVP.

I don't like Frandsen but who better is out there? If Rizzo is smart he makes a courtesy call to Eric Chavez to see if he's reconsidering retirement, otherwise shrug your shoulders, I guess. See if you can't draft someone? Really I don't know. 

Outside the Box Suggestion : We've already covered a shift to 2nd so let's think of a different OTB suggestion. Rendon is a cornerstone for the Nats right? A guy you desperately need to keep healthy and happy over the next 5 years and maybe beyond. While he hasn't had a major injury in a couple years he did have them in 2009 and 2010 and 2011 and 2012 (ankle, ankle, shoulder, ankle). The shoulder one in particular forced him to DH most of his last year at Rice. The last thing the Nats need is another guy they are looking to move around to accommodate because of injury. So why not move Rendon to first right now while there is a hole?  Make him your first baseman and never worry again about where he might play if he gets injured. Set him and forget him. If you think it's stupid because he's such a good third baseman, lets remind you again that Zimm was a GREAT 3rd baseman, fair to make comparisons to the best ever. Seriously. That good. One injury later and he's stuck at first.

Filling 3rd won't be that much of an issue. We've noted there is a rare... well I wouldn't say glut... but multiple decent FA and trade possibilities at 3rd this year. Rizzo would find a way. The real issue would be what to do with Zimm. My plan would be to super sub him around the diamond. LF, 2B, occasionally 3B. Really the goal would be to make sure he gets consistent at bats because you are showcasing him for a trade to the AL where he can DH. Then do that when you have a chance. 

Friday, October 24, 2014

2B & SS Revisited

So if you haven't noticed we're doing our usual scale back to 3 columns a week in the offseason (roughly).  On with the show :

HEY! At 2nd base what about...

Gordon Beckham
Wrong partner for Danny. Bats RH, has a little pop and decent field. He's basically Bad Espinosa (and Espinosa isn't good)

The guy hit .341 last year. .341! He'll turn 25 next year and they don't have to pay him any real money until 2020. He's not going anywhere unless you're prepared to go Giolito, Cole, Taylor, maybe more. You're buying high.

Not a bad idea but he's kind of the Indians' Desmond. Him being good makes competing a hell of a lot easier.  Young, decent contract, even with last year being off he was worth playing... I suspect the Indians value him at a level higher than inquiring teams.

A more likely move in that SD does not appear close to being good, Gyorko was AWFUL last year, and he's got years of money coming. Unlike Kipnis who was still worth playing and had a couple years of being good, Gyorko was replaceable last year and had 125 games of being able to hit enough homers to be ok before that. If the Padres don't trade him they take the chance 2015 is no better and they are stuck with an albatross of a deal. Of course the same goes for anyone who trades for him.  Something to note - the guy is really a 3B who was at 2B because Headley was at 3B.

The Mariners have offensive problems, but Ackley finally wasn't one last year. Not that he was good, but he was playable and trading away Dustin would only create another hole to fill. A guy like Souza is a nice idea but as the Mariners are trying to make the next step they'd want more certainty that a minor leaguer.

Angels are about as win-now as you can be and traded away the closest thing to a Kendrick replacement. Not going to happen unless it's Kendrick for Desmond and what's the point of that?

If he's healthy he might hit enough to be ok because he still plays good D. If not healthy, he's worthless at the plate. Low reward player and if the Nats gamble I'd rather they do it on a high reward one.

I like Prado, alot. I think he's legitimitely versatile, at least right now, and likes to play when it matters and he's worth his contract. But the Yanks need him and they won't trade him unless the deal is good because they are always win-now.

I like the idea actually... if the Nats decide to be a Yankee/Dodger/Sox like team, who could bury him on the bench at 12 million per for the next 2 if it doesn't work out.  This guy is the ultimate lottery ticket completely and utterly unpredictable. Could just as easily hit .300 for 20+ homers as hit .240 and hit 10.

Zimmermann (+ cash) for Zobrist
Rays need hitting not pitching.

Roark and Cole for Mookie Betts?
That's not enough.  He's 22 next year and already has hit in the majors. Could be a star getting better over the next 4-5 years. Roark is at his peak and Cole is a question mark. Sox aren't desperate for pitching.

Kinsler for Span?
You know...  It's probably too much of a gamble considering the OF defense but if you like Taylor/Souza better than Espinosa it would make the line-up better. It's not a crazy idea. I can see it. I'd have to look more into it to see if I like it though. And I'm not sure if the Tigers are getting enough back for their win-now needs. 

HEY! At SS base what about...

Taylor/Miller from Seattle?
The Mariners have a two-headed beast right now at SS. They seem to prefer Miller but he hasn't been able to come through in the majors yet like Taylor has. Both guys are not due to get paid for a while so it makes the most sense for them to let it play out in 2015 and then deal. But now is the time to get one because if both are ok next year the price on the trade will go up. They need OF help so I think there's something here. Could be one of those things where Nats offer Souza and the Ms want Taylor.

Gregorious/Ahmed/Owings from Arizona?
D-backs are likely to go Gregorious/Owings up the middle leaving Ahmed to be dealt.  Ahmed is a utility type guy, not a starter.

Profar/Odor/Sardinas/Andrus from Texas?
A glut of talent here. Odor/Profar/Sardinas are all young and all are good. That means the Rangers would LOVE to deal Andrus. Great! We'll take Andrus, right? Obviously you haven't looked at his contract.  ~15 mill a year for the next 8 seasons. Hasn't hit for the last 2 years so unless you think he's going to be Ozzie Smith in the field you don't want this guy.

What about one of the three? Well they are still a very young so the value is going to be higher and having all 3 basically gives them "when Beltre leaves" insurance. It'll take a good deal with pitching to make something happen, but it's possible. 

Odds are he will be dealt but it's not necessary that he goes this offseason. Baez needs a little time to figure things out so the Cubs are going to get the best deal for Casto, likely pricing the Nats out.

No. Tulo is awesome when healthy but he's been healthy one season in last 5 and is due 20 mill a year for next 6. If the Nats do this they better sign ZNN and Fister too because they have become that sort of team - which is good but I don't see it happening so no.

Other stuff

Do you think Desmond will re-sign? What kind of "Market" will the Nats be?
I do. But prior to last year's negotiations I would have given it better odds. The Nats tried to underbid for his services, something like 7/90 when if he were a FA he could have gotten 6/90 easy. (Peralta 3 years older and coming off a bad year then an injury year got 13.25 a year for 4 years) If they offer 6/90 this year though based on last year's performance, I think that's fair and he goes for it. If they try to get him for say 5/60 or 6/78 or something I think he walks.

This is a telling off-season in terms of what type of team the Nats will be. They've proven that they are not cheap but fair questions remain. Are they willing to join the big boys closing in on 200 million to keep all this young talent? Or is this a temporary situation where the Nats Top 10 level payroll was ok'd for this window but not longer? Or, the most likely scenario in my mind, is this the level they remain; competitive but not win at all costs?  There are 3 different tracks the Nats can go from here.

Don't forget about the compensatory pick!
Yes if the Nats let Desmond walk (or Zimm or Fister) that's a lot of picks for an organization who's drafting philosophy (take big risks on big talent) lends itself better to having a bunch of picks. Of course birds in hand and all. Let three guys walk that will likely keep you in contention through 2018? Or try to rebuild this kind of 4 year, multiple division winning, window starting around 2018? 

Don't undervalue durability.
It's true. One of the Nats biggest issues is durability on offense. Ramos can't play a full year. Zimm is an injury risk. Werth is getting older. Bryce has had his issues, as has Rendon in the past. Desmond though is a rock.

We'll save the Rendon to 2nd someone else at 3rd for next week.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Offseason Position Discussion : Shortstop

Presumed Plan : Ian Desmond starts at SS. Danny Espinosa, starting or backing-up 2B, backs him up.

Reasoning on Presumed Plan : In 2012 & 2013 Ian Desmond was arguably the most valuable SS in the major leagues. In 2014, he dipped noticeably and is probably now... the third or fourth most valuable SS in the major leagues.  

Ian corrected his error prone ways of a few years ago and plays consistently good defense. He has always hit for power and still does especially for a SS. Specifically he has HR power something rare for the position. (Ian's 24 homers led all SS and were 7 more than 4th place on that list, 9 more than 5th). He might have lost something average wise but he has brought his patience up from OMG NO to barely acceptable to help compensate for that. All in all he's a good player in a position where it has become easy to find an ok player but is still hard to find good ones. It's an easy call.

Ian also plays all the time upping his value. He's missed 12 games in the past 2 years, and has played at least 154 games in 4 of the last 5 seasons. His back-up hardly matters but Espinosa, who came up the ranks as a SS, still plays the position well enough to cover on the rare off days for Ian.

Problems with Presumed Plan :  As you can tell from the above there aren't many problems with the plan here. I can think of two. The minor one is that Ian appears to be slipping offensively. His strikeout percentage went way up from say ~21% during his 2012-2013 peak to over 28%. It's not an issue of judgment. His swing percentage for pitches outside the zone is consistent with last year. He's just not making contact on those pitches. In fact contact on pitches outside the zone has dropped every year since 2011 from 65.5% now down to 53.5%.  We'll have a specific Ian post sometime later in the off-season but the gist of the problem is the size of the zone where Ian can hit a ball has shrunk. It's not a big problem right now. His zone was rather large before so the shrinkage hasn't made him a bad hitter just no longer a good one. But if it shrinks further then we might have a problem. And it will shrink - time gets to all men - the question is when.

The major problem is that Ian is up for free agency after next year. Ian is the type of player (high value at an important position, but heading into his 30's and ready for a big payday) that you LOVE to trade, but the Nats can't really do that. They have no acceptable back-up plan. They are a win-now team that needs a successful Desmond to be as good as they can be. Given that, the Nats are forced into a very difficult position of having to decide on a re-signing a player whose potential value over the next 5 years swings wildly. You love to avoid those type of coin flips. The Nats can't do that.

My take : Starting Desmond is a no-brainer. There's not only is no better option internally, it's hard to find a better option externally. As down as we may have been on Ian, his combination of power and defense makes him one of the best SSs in the majors. Plus, most of his competition is older. Peralta? Older. Aybar? Older. Rollins? Way older. Hardy? Hanley? Alexi Ramirez? Reyes? All older. Outside of Alcides Escobar, who as a true singles hitter has a value very dependent on his BABIP, Ian is a good year and a half younger than anyone close to his value. (And he's closer in age to the younger Escobar than any of the others, I think). Do I think he's slipping? Yes. Do I think it matters for 2015? Not even close to enough to question starting him.

The long-term deal is an issue and a tough one but that's neither here nor there when it comes to what to do at SS this year. The Nats can't deal Desmond without getting a good SS back. That isn't going to happen so he plays and they either work it out or they don't. 

As for Danny as the back-up, Ian plays so many games that it hardly matters who backs him up. Yes it is an issue if Danny is your starting 2B and Ian goes down with an injury. The drop off will be devastating. But there are bigger fish to fry when it comes to finding a good back-up for a Nats player who might get injured.

Outside the Box Suggestion : You know who doesn't have a SS and is desparate to win now? Detroit. The Tigers are facing a big offseason where they could start to rebuild. They very well may lose Martinez, Scherzer, Hunter, and some pen pieces. But really 2016 looks like the better rebuilding year. You still have Price, Porcello, Nathan, Davis, Soria, and Avila now but maybe not after 2015. So it makes sense that they make another last gasp attempt in 2015 before trying a quick rebuild. How best to do that? Well trading for a contract that expires after 2015 and giving up a contract that lasts until 2017 helps. A challenge trade of sorts; Desmond for Kinsler. Ian for Ian. Sure that gives DET an issue at 2B but that's an easier position for them to fill as they were already shifting their best minor league hitter from 2B to OF to get him up to the majors. Now they don't have to. 

Why would the Nats do this? Well Kinsler's contract fits the Nats window better. The Nats face the Tigers 2014 and 2015 offseasons a year later. They could look to do a quick rebuild after next year (ZNN, Fister, Desmond, Span, and Clippard can walk after 2015), or they could hold it off until after 2016 (when Stras, Ramos, & Storen might leave and the Nats can let Gio go if they want). With Kinsler instead of Desmond you make it an easier decision to try to keep that window open, removing one of those 2015 FAs.  Plus Ian has a nice deal where the back end actually drops in price. He's paid 16 million next year, but 14 in 2016 and 11 in 2017. This gives the Nats more flexibility payroll wise than a re-signed Ian.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Offseason Position Discussion : Second Base

Presumed Plan : Ummm.  Well.   Hmmm.

I guess if the season were to start again on November 1st, Danny Espinosa would be the second baseman. Backing him up would be... I don't know. Frandsen? Kobernus? Probably Frandsen.

Reasoning on Presumed Plan : It's hard to figure what the Nats want to do at 2nd base. It's tough to believe that they really want Danny Espinosa to be the starter. They didn't want him to be the starter at the beginning of 2014. Rendon was at 2nd base then and was forced over to third by Zimm's injury. They didn't want him to be the starter at the end of 2014. Cabrera was brought in by trade to play 2nd base for the stretch run.

At the same time right now Danny Espinosa is the best 2nd baseman on the Nats roster. Cabrera is a free agent. Rendon is not going to be moved back. Danny is clearly better in the field than Frandsen and Kobernus and as bad as he was at the plate, he was better there too. He's super cheap, thanks to the minor league re-visit he won't be a FA until after 2017. Therefore right now he's the presumed starter.

As for the back-ups, the Nats love Frandsen. He doesn't cost much and... did I mention they love him? The Nats are pretty devoid of upper level minor league MI talent so Kobernus is mentioned as an alternative by default. If you want to push for the seasoned failure Emmanuel Burriss or the walking organizational filler, Cutter Dykstra, be my guest. The Nats are big on Wilmer Difo who looks to be at least an acceptable level major leaguer in the making so you could say they will let Espy play this year with the hopes that Difo will come into play during 2016.

Problems with Presumed Plan : Danny can't hit.  Or more precisely he can't hit left-handed.  His splits are telling

LHB : .183 / .241 / .291
RHB : .301 / .374 / .485

Now Danny isn't .300 good, but he has always been better hitting righty. He does lose his homer pop, but the increase in average is dramatic enough to make that up and then some. So why not just platoon Danny? Well, it's easy enough to say "Oh well then Danny only bats versus LHP" but if you are going for a platoon here you just made Danny the smaller part of the platoon and forced yourself to go out and get the better part.  Maybe you can find a lefty-masher but a righty-masher? Those usually are called "starters" because there are a lot more RHP out there.

Danny also has a big strikeout problem.  It's an issue right-handed (22% K). It's a career-killer left-handed (39%)  If you are forced to start Danny and he bats as normal - you are looking at a below average bat. At 28 in April there's little chance he will get back to the level he was. 

The back-ups meanwhile, not only can't unseat the below average Danny, but you don't even consider it. They are bad back-ups creating a "true hole" for the Nats positionally. Frandsen is a contact hitter but that's it and he can't field. You can't trust any minor leaguer to hit even to Frandsen/Danny level.

The Difo plan is interesting but you'd be throwing away 2015 as there is little chance he'd see the light of day this next season. I'll remind you that this is a win now team. Plus he is a SS, making him Desmond insurance in case the Nats let Ian walk. He can't replace both. (I'll add I'm not nearly as high on this guy as other people). 

My take : Danny Danny Danny.  Should have gotten that surgery.

It wouldn't be the worst thing if Danny started for the Nats. He can field and he can hit lefties. The issues is what to do with a righty on the mound. On that I agree with the Red Porch Report. Force Danny to give up switch-hitting. It may not work, but he hits so poorly from the left side of the plate that it's difficult to imagine it being worse. If it is worse - if he puts up a completely empty .120 or something - he can always go back to hitting .180 with pop. But you have to try.

Still I have the Nats in win-now mode and in that mode you don't settle for "wouldn't be the worst thing".  To me, Danny starting with no switch hitting, that's the barely acceptable back-up plan. Plan A should be going after Ben Zobrist.  Zobrist is old, but he's a good fielder, has patience (his 75 walks would easily rank 3rd on the Nats), and is a better contact hitter than almost every Nats hitter. He's old (34 in May) and his power is going fast but the Nats are only concerned with 2015 and given his performance has been down from his peak for two years and he's close to FA the deal shouldn't be overly costly for the Nats unless competition forces it up.

Why no one else? As per usual in this modern age of locking everyone up young (why the youngsters are going for this is beyond me - you're selling yourselves short boys for security) there isn't much out there for the Nats to go after. Free agent wise there REALLY isn't anything (unless the Rays just don't sign Zobrist and that would be stupid). Trade wise the Nats are in a bit of a disadvantage. There are 3 decent targets who will be up for FA after next year, but two are in the Nats own division. Assuming Murphy and Utley won't be traded to the Nats that leaves Zobrist.

Usually the Nats might eye a decent cheap player with more than just a year left but there isn't any.  Altuve and Dozier fit the bill but have contracts too reasonable to imagine they'd be dealt for anything but a big return. Everyone else is either on a team that can't afford to give them away or too expensive to think the Nats would deal for them. I suppose that maybe Howie Kendrick could be dealt. The Angels are looking for young pitching and he is a FA after 2015 but I'll hold off on believing that until I hear something about that because it would be an odd move for the win-now Angels.

So I say trade for Zobrist. Make Danny the Back-up.

Outside the Box Suggestion

Move Rendon back. I could come up with several different scenarios involving trades and position switching and the like but let's get down to brass tacks here. It is harder to find a decent 2B than a decent 3B. This is true in FA. It's true in the minor leagues. Anthony Rendon played 2B just fine. There's no way around it. What's best for the Nats is that Rendon moves back to 2nd base.

What happens at third? I don't know this is a 2nd base post.  Trade for Beltre. Sign Sandoval.  Throw a (small) busload of stuff at the A's for Donaldson. See if you can get Ramirez cheap, if he goes to market, or Headley super cheap. All I know is you have a great hitter who can play 2nd base and you're moving him to third because that's his 'natural position'. That's all well and good but it's not giving you the best team on the field.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Friday Quickie - C & 1B revisited

Answering some comments

Explain more about your Wild Card tweet

So I said that the modern relief usage undercut the theory behind the introduction of the Wild Card game. The move to a WC playoff game happened for several reasons (never forget $$$) but primarily because it didn't seem like disadvantage to be a Wild Card or an advantage to play one. In order to correct that they added an extra team and a one-game playoff, the theory being that

1) teams would want to win the division rather than leave their playoff fate to a single game
2) WC teams that won that single game would have exhausted their best pitchers giving the #1 seed a decided advantage in their playoff series.

The first point holds absolutely true. No one wants to be the WC if the division is winnable. But the second point grows less meaningful every year. Teams have grown very successful at cultivating the 5-6 IP starter and the strong bullpen as a way to succeed lessening the need for a strong Johnson/Schilling like 1-2 punch. You may have noticed many teams in this years playoff lacked that #1 guy. Even if they do have a true ace, it matters less than you would think. If they do run them out in that WC game, that's fine because as described above they no longer lean on that ace as they did even 5 years ago. They lean on the pen. And as was pointed out to me, when you are battling for the WC you often aren't thinking about setting up the WC game. That means you might have used your ace at the end of the year making them unlikely to pitch in the WC game and thus ready to pitch twice in that DS.

All in all the new playoff format does give wild card teams a significant disadvantage. No one wants to play a single-game elimination to start the playoffs. But as for giving division winners that play the Wild Card a significant advantage, that hasn't happened and I'm not sure it can be done. If you are in the playoffs, you are good and in a short series against a good team, even the best can go down.

Maybe Ramos overswung to compensate for lost power and that led to a bad September.

Maybe but in August he had by far his best slugging month. 6 homers, a .241 isoSLG (which is really good). So then you are saying he overswung in August it worked but pitchers caught on and got to him in Sept? Or even less likely he was swinging regularly in August and then said "I want to hit 10 homers in September! I'm King of the Homers!" and started overswinging... I don't see it. I'm sticking to getting tired.

Trade for Blake Swihart! 

The Red Sox have two very good catching prospects and have given first crack at the position to the defensively superior Christian Vazquez, so Swihart may be available (maybe - they are most likely going to see if Vazquez hits ok this season before doing anything and they could try to move Swihart to another position if he hits like crazy). Can the Nats deal for him? Sure. But it's going to take a lot. Like Cole or Taylor + something a lot. That's the going rate. I don't think it's worth it.

We should be ready to trade for a mid-season catching replacement 

Agree. If Ramos goes down again you can't rely on Lobaton to catch 100 games. Now if Ramos is simply struggling I think you have to wait it out until at least the trade deadline.

Sucks to be having this discussion now


Sign Martin, make Ramos back-up, trade Lobaton. 

Sure. It's not my money.

Wait, what is your 1B plan again? 

Ok MY 1B plan would be Zimmerman with Daric Barton as a back-up (plays against tough RHP and comes in for D if Zimm doesn't adapt like we think he will). With the contingency plan that if Zimm gets injured again, Barton doesn't play 1B regularly, Werth does and one of the young OFs (Souza/Taylor) come in to replace him.

In the comments I've inferred that some (most?) want it to be Zimm with Werth as the defacto back-up, and when he gives Zimm a day off a young guy comes in for Werth. That's fine by me too, but I like the Barton idea because the lefty bat and good defense is a good foil for Ryan. It makes sense for your back-ups to have complementary skills.

What about Souza at 1B? 

Seems like a waste of his skills as he's a better OF than Werth or Bryce.

Will Werth except the move?  Does the fact he's still in RF rather than LF prove he's stubborn about it?

No idea. I'd like to think the guy will be receptive to moving and even if he's not at first, can be shown that he's not a good OF anymore. I don't know. As for the LF thing, they put Bryce in LF because Werth was set at the time in RF and now LF is what Bryce knows so they probably don't want to move him. Werth also thought at the time, take this for what you will, that LF being the easier position was the better position for Bryce to learn to play the OF. He didn't seem against moving at some point. It's all a funny confidence guessing game at times.

Daric Barton? He stinks! And he hits lefties better historically.

True (on the last point) but that hasn't been true the last few years. He's become a more typical lefty bat hitting righties better than lefties. I give heavy weight to the recent history especially when it covers more than just the last year.

Werth might just be awful in the IF, you ever think about that? 

Sure maybe. It's worth a look I think but you're right. He may be terrible at fielding grounders quickly. If so, I want to hear that, though. (not that I expect to, but I'd want to)

Stephen Vogt! He hits left-handed can catch and play first.

Good idea, but your latter thought, that the A's would want to keep him, is on point. He not a FA until 2020 and isn't arb eligible for a few years. He's not just cheap he's super cheap. Now Jaso is a possibility... if you like terrible catching.

Doesn't the first baseman have to make throws? 

Ummm... yes. But it's the position where that's the least important so you stick Zimm there and hope over the course of the season he adapts and is ok by the end. No, it's not perfect but it's the best decision.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Offseason Position Discussion : First Base

Presumed Plan : Ryan Zimmerman will shift over to first base as the mutual option year for current starter Adam LaRoche will not be picked up and he will become a free agent. The back-up will likely be Tyler Moore, though a cheap FA acquisition is probably not out of the question

Reasoning on Presumed Plan : Injuries and contracts have forced the Nats hand. Ryan Zimmerman was signed to a long-term deal prior to the 2012 season and was expected to play 3B for the majority of that deal. But a shoulder injury in the same year led to a series of adjustments that has left him, at best, an erratic thrower and a liability at the hot corner.

Despite Adam's excellent year at the plate, letting him walk rather than paying him 15 million for 2015 on an mutual option, and letting Zimmerman take over at first seems preferable to any of the other options.  You neither want to upset Rendon's growth or risk the errors that would come with Zimmerman back at 3rd and Rendon back at 2nd. Bryce is still only 22 and a good presence at the plate, which works against any sort of LF platoon idea. Span, who also has an option for 2015, helps cover for the lacking corner outfielders and just had a very good season offensively, making a more permanent move to LF with Bryce taking over center unpalatable. Adam wasn't great defensively and at 35 is likely to slide at the plate, if just a little. With no good options, this one feels like the least worst.

The Nats have always been high on Tyler Moore who has spent several years tearing up AAA. At an age (28 in January) and with the experience that indicates more time at AAA would likely serve no purpose, a full-time move to the major league bench makes sense. Matt Skole, who the Nats were high on going into 2014, had a rough year in AA and is unlikely to work his way onto the Nats.  Of course as I noted the Nats may in fact go the FA route given these choices.

Problems with Presumed Plan : The biggest problem with Ryan Zimmerman is that he's an injury risk who couldn't get his body together make a meaningful playoff contribution. This goes beyond 2013 as he missed meaningful time in both 2008 and 2011. As age catches up with him (he just turned 30) it's more and more likely that these injuries linger. The Nats are currently ill-prepared if Zimmerman goes down for any extended period of time.

Meanwhile LaRoche has been far more reliable when it comes to playing time. And while LaRoche had very much lost his range (in part due to injury) he was reliable with the glove and we have no idea if Ryan will be the same.

Another issue is the loss of the left-handed bat as LaRoche was one of only 3 decent lefties in the line-up for the majority of the season (switch hitting Asdrubal would make it 4 by years end). Losing LaRoche leaves the Nats with only Bryce and Span hitting from the left-side of the plate, with Danny Espinosa, who really shouldn't hit left-handed, being a potential 3rd. While right-handed hitters tend to be less vulnerable to splits a balanced line-up does help make the opponents bullpen usage more difficult. 

Since I said the Nats were ill-prepared for a Zimmerman injury you can imagine that I am not high on Tyler Moore. A AAAA batter who gets hot for short stretches and cold for longer ones, Tyler Moore's strikeouts suggest there is no big improvement coming. He also is no great shakes when it comes to defense and hits right-handed just like Zimmerman.  His use as a back-up for Adam could be argued given LaRoche's splits. His use as a back-up for Zimmerman would make no sense. Unfortunately the FA 1B pickings are slim with no one you'd even consider a meh bat and good glove guy that you might look to get.

My take : The Nats are in a bad place... sort of. Keeping LaRoche on the team makes a lot of sense given his performance last year and the fact you'd only have to keep him for a year if he agrees on the option. But you do that and there's no room for Zimmerman. He can't play third. He can't play left. Either he becomes a super sub or LaRoche does. It would be 29 million put into a platoon. There are better ways to spend that 15 million. You almost have to let LaRoche walk.

Luckily for the Nats (and why I said "sort of") is that really the only bad thing for the Nats is the possibility Zimmerman isn't healthy. If he is, he can still hit and he is a little more patient than your average Nat, and you could argue their aggressiveness got exploited in the playoffs. As for the defense, Zimm's issues appear to be completely arm-based. Given that he was a plus-fielder before that it's doubtful that mastering 1B will be a big issue. Will he be great? Maybe not. Will he be as good as LaRoch? Probably so. I can easily see Zimm replacing LaRoche's contributions and it's not hard to envision him surpassing them.

As for the back-up... here's the problem. You do have to plan for a back-up for Zimmerman. It's not as much because of age or injury history as it is how he looked at the end of the season. The Nats were desperate for help and yet they wouldn't put Zimm out there on the field. That doesn't bode well. He'll have the off-season to recover but going into 2015 without a clear back-up is a big risk. That means Tyler Moore or possibly the best sensible free agent back-up you can sign Daric Barton (excellent fielder, pre 2014 injury was a LHB that hit righties well) can't really be your long-term injury plan. Unfortunately like I said there isn't a good pure back-up 1B out there. There are guys who will get paid and there are guys who are close to terrible. There are not even really DHs you can stick there in case (maybe Delmon Young but if he goes AL he'll get more playing time so that's what I expect)

So what do I think? I think you give Bryce or Werth a 1B mitt and have them get ready. The Nats have a couple of outfield prospects in Souza and Taylor that they'd like to give playing time. Werth is becoming a statue out there and Bryce is living off the fact he's 21. Rather than force a true 1B back-up into this team with an overpay or bringing in a terrible hitter, let Werth be the de facto injury replacement. That makes the most sense.

Oh and definitely sign Barton and let Moore go. That guy stinks. 

Outside the Box Suggestion :

Any outside the box suggestion can't deal in a trade because Ryan's combination of contract and injury status makes him currently untradeable (unlike Ramos who just has less worth than you would want from him). So any outside the box suggestion would be making Ryan a supersub or dealing Span to make room for Ryan (because you aren't dealing Rendon or Bryce and no one is sticking him back at third). I bet the A's would love Span.

But I don't like dealing Span because I'm in "WIN NOW" mode and Span helps you win now. Plus he has a win-now deal which means he'll have to be traded to a team that wants to win now which means you aren't likely going to get something win-now back. So who can the Nats deal for good enough to force Zimm into super sub mode? While I'm intrigued by Carlos Santana, he is a big true outcome guy who the Nats kind of don't have in their line-up, I think a better get would be Edwin Encarnacion. He's a truly elite slugger, can man 1st base and is getting paid relative peanuts ($10 mill for 2015, 10 mill option for 2016)  The Blue Jays could possibly be in rebuilding mode. Trade for Edwin.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Offseason Position Discussion : Catcher

Presumed Plan : Can I just say "See last year"? The Nats will pencil Wilson Ramos in, make that "lightly pencil Wilson Ramos in", as the full-time starter. Jose Lobaton will be the back-up .

Reasoning on Presumed Plan : Wilson Ramos in 2011-2013 put up good offensive numbers when in the lineup. They may not be that impressive in comparison to the league as a whole, but in comparison to other catchers they put Wilson in the #5-#10 range. It's that talent, particularly the 20+  home run power, that the Nats want to keep in the line-up. Wilson is still on the right side of 30 (will turn 28 next August), and is cheap and won't be a free agent for 2 more seasons. Wilson's defense is debated but it's certainly not terrible. He's decent behind the dish, and has got a good enough arm to throw guys out. His biggest issue is the hot stat for 2014 "pitch framing" but even though he's below average he's not close to the worst in the league.

Lobaton makes a good back-up for Ramos. He's slightly better defensively with better pitch framing skills being his biggest draw. He bats both, but is better from the left side.  He's played 235 games in the last 3 years, so he's able to play a lot of games and it not be an issue for him. He's cheap, not being a free agent until after 2017, and he'll be 30 next season which isn't an age you'd expect a break-down of skills, even for a demanding position like catcher.

As for any other internal options. Jhonatan "Don't call me Johnathon" Solano finally hit a bit in AAA but showed nothing in the majors and at 29 next season is too old to be any sort of prospect. Sandy Leon is still kind of young, but hasn't hit in the minors yet (relying on patience to get the OPS up) and is more of a defensive presence. The Nats have an intriguing catcher prospect or two (kieBOOM!) but they are in the lower minors and not ready to make an impact, even as a back-up.

Problems with Presumed Plan : Going with Wilson Ramos is iffy. The guy eeked out a half-season last year and that was the most he had played since 2011. You can't expect more than 100 games from the guy and you have to accept the real possibility the guy misses 2/3rds of the season. These injuries have a ripple effect on the line-up where Lobaton, a lesser bat, is forced into every day service and a complete black hole of a hitter like Solano or Leon kills the 8th spot in the order every 4 or 5 days.

Of course that's assuming Ramos' hitting holds up. His offense took a bit nosedive this year as his power dropped down to the lowest levels of his career and he's stopped taking any sort of walk. Scale up the homers to 140 games and it's 17-18 where he hit 16 in just 78 games in 2012. Eventually injuries do take their tole and at a spot like catcher those nicks and dings can be magnified. If the power goes the Nats are left with a .270 singles hitter. A SLOW .270 singles hitter which means they can expect a lot of double playes (his 17 this year were good enough for 13th in the league despite playing only 88 games)

As for Lobaton it seems likely that the average 2012 season he put up for Tampa was the peak of his career. Nothing else that he has done in the majors suggest a good hitter of any sort and he's at an age where things may not collapse, but they are probably trending down.

My take : What can you do? There is one good catcher on the FA market this year in Russell Martin. He can hit and he can field.  He's going to cost someone alot with a contract that'll extend right through his decline years. After that it's Geovany Soto (ok hitter, bad defender) or taking an flyer on Nick Hundley (a couple bad offensive years, good defender). In other words there isn't an easily available better option than Wilson Ramos. There also isn't a cheaper younger FA back-up you like more than Lobaton unless you are trying to find a pitch framing star. The Nats are basically stuck with what they have unless they want to trade.

What they have isn't terrible, though. You can still hold out hope for Ramos, at least for one more year. It's quite possible his bad year overall was because of not being 88-game ready thanks to all those recent injuries. He really tanked in Sept (.203 / .221 / .297) but was hitting as well as .292 / .329 / .438 deep into August. I'd expect next year he can give you a decent 100 games. Of course the Nats want him to play 120-130 so there may be another late-season swoon on the way but I'd take a good hitting catcher for 5/6ths of the season. Lobaton may be on the downside of his career now, but I'd expect a mild bounce back from last year's performance if someone can get him to just pay a bit more attention to getting on base.

Ramos and Lobaton and pray for health. Not great, but probably better than more than half the league. 

Outside the Box Suggestion :

Ramos' trade value is shot so trading for a good player in return and then signing Martin is not an option. And good catchers are an even rarer commodity so a straight up catcher deal for a decent catcher is again not going to happen. Even looking at it a round about way - say trading from a Nats strength like the rotation, it would be tough to find a decent catcher that could get dealt.  Posey won't. Gomes and Mesoraco are too cheap to deal even for a good pitcher. After that you get into guys you shrug at. Probably better, but probably not that much better than healthy Ramos.

An interesting possibility could be Lucroy who's got two more years before FA probably takes him away from Milwaukee.  That's the kind of contract the Nats like. But to get him would probably take more than a good pitcher (like Wisconsin native ZNN) because of the impending FA. Would you be willing to give up say ZNN and Cole for Lucroy?  I don't think so.

You're best bet for an outside the box idea then is trying to deal him straight up for another catching prospect that hasn't panned out yet.  A challenge deal of sorts. The two best bets there are Hank Conger (Chris Iannetta is the #1 there) or Tony Sanchez if Russell Martin returns to the Pirates. Not a great plan I know but unless you are insane and think Bryce can move back to catcher, it's the best I got.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Tuesday Quickie : I got nothing.

It started with a simple question. How did the Giants manage to neutralize the Nationals bats? The Giants' pitching was good but not THAT good and the Nats' bats weren't great but they were very good. It shouldn't happen at least not for four straight games.

The initial look seemed to make the reason obvious. As many noted, the Giants pitched the Nats outside and particularly low and outside. Simple really. Except then you have the follow-up questions. Did the Nats really fail to adjust? and was this unusual for the Nats?

On the latter the answer is no, the Giants weren't particularly clever. Everyone did this all year long.

For example:
Pitches to  Adam LaRoche during the playoffs
Pitches to Adam LaRoche during the year

See! And you can go player by player and see that. That's not to say the Giants pitching like that wasn't a reason for their success. They were certainly very committed to it, and perhaps with more defined analysis of the pitching we would show that SF worked further outside, or with a focus on certain pitches, or certain counts. But even if we couldn't, what about the first question? It takes two to tango and every at bat is a combination of hitting and pitching. Could we say something about the hitting that failed? Well you can look at the spray charts and make some assumptions.

For example:
For Span you can say he was pitched outside...
But pulled the ball playing right into the Giants hands.

Great!  Let's wrap this up early and go for lunch. But again follow-ups. Did Span get pitched like this all year? Did he hit like this all year?

In fact, yes, he was getting pitched outside
And yes he did hit sorta like this all year.

So instead of having a neat little column, now you have a mess. You could say Span didn't adjust, (and Rendon did, and LaRoche and Werth kind of did but hit too many flyballs, and Bryce hit mistakes, and Desmond isn't any good anymore, and Ramos might never have really been good) but based on the above I don't feel comfortable saying it without more analysis. So then I need pitch f/x data and maybe another data base (it depends on if the pitch fx data has hit location) and if I can get both and I can get both up to date through the playoffs then then I can do some analysis to see if Span was really pulling outside low pitches at a different rate in the playoffs than in the regular season. And if he was hitting them for more GBs than LDs. And I'm sure other things I'll think of between then and now. And that's just Span.

 This is the rabbit hole of analysis. With so much data is possible to say nearly anything. If you go in with a preconceived notion there's a good chance you'll find some way to support it.  So the follow-ups become very important but that's more time.

Is this just a long-winded way of saying I've got no post? Kinda. But occasionally I do like to explain what I'm thinking because sometimes you can come up with nothing (or rather don't get to the point you want) even with work. That's why teams pay people to do this stuff. There are plenty of blind alleys and dead ends in exploratory analysis. To do it right sometimes you need someone else paying you to do this 8 hours a day.  At least if you want it done expediently.

So maybe I get back to it later in the offseason. Until then this show ain't stopping. Post-season analysis like last year starts tomorrow.

Friday, October 10, 2014

Who ya got

I got a nice long piece on the Nats playoffs coming up (hopefully Monday).  It starts in the same place that the first part of this piece over at Citizens of Natstown does, the same place we ended up on Twitter the day after with Chris Needham. But it's a long one so you'll have to wait. In the meantime - who ya got?

I'll say that my rooting interest is pretty light at this point. I didn't want Cardinals Giants. I didn't want the Royals. I preferred the Tigers over the Orioles as well but with the caveat the NL didn't end up Cards/Giants, and it did. So I would have wanted the O's. Not a great post-season for the ol' Harper.

My rooting interests would probably go O's, Giants, Royals. The O's mainly because of Buck who's been a very good manager that took 20 years to get his due. Plus the O's have been good recently but not for a long enough time to become a stabbing thorn in the Yankees side. The Giants... I got nothing against the Giants post-Bonds other than a general tiredness of seeing them win.

Why do the Royals fall so low? I'm not an underdog guy. I'm a reward the teams that do the best over 162 game guy. We've discussed this before but really I'm not a playoff guy. I think they are wildly entertaining but at the same time they usually work against what should be the goal - rewarding the team that was best over the season. That's what I think. So the Royals - a slightly better than average team that caught some breaks during the regular season to get into the playoffs and then got hot at the right time - is close to the exact opposite of who I'd want to win a championship.

Still - better than the Cardinals. And that completely is because they've won a lot recently, I won't deny that. And it also is a fan thing. I really don't hate the players all that much outside of one or two who's names won't be mentioned here. But the fans, and everyone except them understands this, love to project a "best fans" attitude, which is barely passable in bad times and completely and utterly among the most insufferable things you've ever dealt with in good times. Sure all teams have that same sense of "we're special", but St. Louis has happily used that as THE defining trait for the franchise. I can get past team bravado - the "we do things the right way" is annoying but at least it's team focused - but FAN bravado? That always gets me. 

So I guess I'm going with the perfect Halloween series - Giants and O's (alternatively "The Jon Miller series") with maybe the O's winning?

Thursday, October 09, 2014

We were warned

Short post today as I take a little break.

But something "fun",  someone asked if the Nats had ever hit this bad. Using the baselines of 9 runs in 5 games (since that is essentially what the Nats played) and a .480 OPS, my perusing of the batting gamelogs for this season found that the answer is no. The Nats never hit that poorly.

However they did come really close. These things are shifty (you can usually move a game or few in either direction and it still doesn't look great) but here are some bad 5 game streaks they did go though.
  • April 17th-21st :  11 runs, .533 OPS
  • May 6th-11th : 10 runs, .539 OPS
  • May 21st-26th (6G) : 14 runs, .588 OPS
  • June 11th-15th : 10 runs, .469 OPS
Those are some pretty lousy stretches but there are some line-up explanations. In the same order : 
  • No Zimm or Ramos and Span was out a couple games. 
  • Zimm still out, Bryce out, Ramos comes back but not everyday yet, LaRoche goes out
  • Zimm still out, Bryce still out, LaRoche comes back a few games in
  • Zimm back!, Bryce still out, Ramos out again,
So none of these times had the line-up that the Nats had at the end of the season and even if you say "Hey missing Zimm it pretty important!", most of these have him missing too.  In terms of full line-ups or at least in terms of the line-ups the Nats put out versus the Giants the playoff series was an anamoly.

Ok but you titled this "We were warned" - what the hell does that mean? A little schedule look please
  • LAD,@OAK
  • CIN(1), @PIT, MIA(1)
  • @SFG,@STL
Except for 2 games around that Pittsburgh series all these bouts of terrible hitting came against playoff teams. The Nats had a .714 OPS for the season. They hit roughly that versus the Dodgers and much worse versus the Pirates and Cards. They faced 3 AL playoff teams and hit worse than their average against all 3. (terribly vs LAA and OAK). The only team they hit well? San Francisco.  In games Vogelsong started. HAHAHA. Seven of their 17 wins versus these teams were one-run affairs.

I don't want you to take away "THE NATS CAN'T HIT GOOD TEAMS!!!" because we run into a problem if you try to do that. The Nats played 37 games against playoff teams but only 10 after the All-Star game and only 13 after the 15th of June. It's a chicken and the egg type of argument. Did the Nats hit poorly versus these teams because they were good or because they happened to play them when they hurt?  Did they hit better in the 2nd half of the year because they were healthy or because they started to play more bad teams? It's hard to tease out. They didn't hit badly versus these teams in the 2nd half, which would tend to suggest injuries mattered more.

I can tell you this :

WAS: .736  .660  .076
STL: .695 .682 .013
PIT: .737 .730 .007
LAD: .758 .704 .054
SFG: .715 .670 .045

The first number is the team OPS versus teams under .500. The second number is the team OPS versus teams over .500. The third number is the difference. As expected every team's production drops, but no team had a great a drop in production as the Nats did. Of course to add the usual shaker of salt - the only teams this adds to the analysis is MIL and SEA.

Was it bad luck? Or was it something else? Regardless of what we think and what can be proven, at the very least this was a warning sign that the offensive outage of the playoffs was a possibility.

Wednesday, October 08, 2014

NLDS Game #4 Pitching Decision Review

The series was lost because the Nats couldn't score runs. That's the simple reason but it's also the most true. There are ways to win despite not scoring runs, but it's still despite. There's a implicit admission that the Nats would be winning even though they'd been put in a hole by their offense. I don't think anyone is forgetting that, but considering we're going to spend most of today lambasting Matt Williams, it's important to keep that in the back of your mind. Matt Williams failed to lead the Nats to victory after his bats failed him first.

But still he did fail in one of the most epic tempting of fates that I've ever seen during a playoff game. Decision after decision it seemed like Matt was eschewing the optimal for the familiar, and daring the game to get out of hand. It never did but eventually he made enough bone-headed moves that one finally cost the Nats. It cost them but a single run, but with the offense the way it was the Nats couldn't afford that.

Decision #1 : Letting Gio bat in the Top of the 3rd

This is probably his 2nd most defensible decision. If he pinch hits for Gio here he is starting the dominoes of PH and relief matching very early and likely leaving himself with few pieces to play at the end of the game. The problem is Gio had a very rough Bottom 2 and thus you were betting that Gio, known for his blow-ups, would calm down enough to give you another 2-3 innings of shutout ball. With two top notch starters able to go tonight in Roark and Stras you have to be sure he's going to perform and I just don't see how Matt Williams could have been.  It's a toss-up and in hindsight the lack of offense probably tells you he should have done it, but Gonzalez wasn't beat up in the 2nd with hard hits. Gut deicion but I can't blame Williams here.

Decision #2 : Roark instead of Strasburg

As excited as we were for the prospect of Strasburg unleashed for 2+ innings of "just strike them all out" ball in retrospect this should have told us all we needed to know about the rest of the game. We wanted Matt to maximize the arms available to him, which was essentially everyone but Game 5 starter Zimmermann. By using Roark though, it should have been apparent that the plan simply went as far as those arms were available if needed. Using Strasburg, or Clippard/Storen before "their inning" were "break in case of glass" options. Knowing that the choice of Roark is obvious.

Decision #3 : Roark stays in instead of Thornton.

This is the first real "prove me wrong, normal person thinking" move he made last night. The key comes down to understanding Blevins splits and Sandoval's splits. Sandoval is a much better hitter lefty so you want to turn him around. Blevins who you like to face LHB, however, was terrible against righties all year long, so you don't want him facing a RHB. The obvious solution, with lefties coming up after Sandoval, was to use Thornton, who didn't have those splits.  Matt opted to let Roark, who had given up two hits early in the inning to LHB and stay in and face Sandoval. Fate tempted. Pop up. Matt Wins.

Decision #4 : Blevins faces righties in the 6th

Historically Blevins is not bad versus RHB, but recently he had been. That's why I only had one firm rule : Blevins doesn't face righties. He faced righties. Fate tempted. Matt wins again as the admittedly weak Giant PHs fail to get a hit, though Duffy does rip one. Nice play by Desmond there.

Decision #5 : Thornton faces Posey

At this point - Bottom of the 7th - it's gotta be all hands on deck. If you have a RHP available to face Posey you use him. Matt didn't. Fate tempted. This time fate wins. Posey singles.

Decision  #6 : Barrett instead of Clippard

Matt's 2nd worst call of the night. As we discussed earlier Strasburg at this point is a no go. There are more conventional options available. At this point Matt's choices are Stammen, Barrett, Clippard and Storen.  Barrett may rank 4th among these choices. He's by far the wildest and the last time Barrett pitched he came in to face Hunter Pence and Pence promptly doubled. So you bring him in to face Pence again? Insanity. Perhaps over Stammen it does make sense. Stammen didn't really corrall RHP and despite his yeoman's work in the 18 inning affair, he doesn't inspire confidence. But both Clippard and Storen were better against RHB. While not the 8th inning, one out into the 7th has to be close enough that you consider Clippard and if you do consider him you come up with the obvious answer he should pitch. Fate tempted. Fate wins again as Barrett walks Pence.

Decision #7 : Barrett continues to pitch to Sandoval.

Matt's worst call of the night. See last entry. Add emphasis on Barrett being the wildest. Understand that the bases were now loaded by a walk issues by Barrett. See "Roark stays in" entry. Understand that while there are no lefties left in the pen, lefties hit Barrett much better than they hit Clippard (who they hit much better than they hit Storen). Storen would have been the best stat call here but based on his performance going with Clippard would have been understandable, maybe even preferable. Sticking with Barrett. Indefensible. Fate tempted. Fate kicks Matt in the face. Barrett throws two wild pitches and gives up the game

Decision #8 : Soriano in to pitch to Belt

Not as terrible as you'd think. Lefties didn't hit Soriano all that well and he'd been ok over his last few outings. He also never had an issue giving up homers, even during his collapse.  Considering it would take a triple to score Sandoval from first you can justify this move, especially thinking one step ahead and hoping that the Nats might have to PH for the pitcher in the next inning. I won't deny I had a bad gut reaction too but upon review not a terrible move

Decision #9 : Soriano keeps pitching the 8th

OK now this is bad. Based on what you know of Soriano you can't let him have a full inning when you need a shut out.  THIS IS EVEN CLIPPARD'S INNING! Fate tempted. Matt wins for the last time with big time help from the Giants though. Crawford would rap a LD single and the Giants would give an out moving him over. Then Bochy would give Ishikawa the green light on 3-0 for some reason and he'd ground out on a pitch that could have been Ball 4. Blanco would hit a hard GB but at LaRoche to end the inning.

Matt made 9 decisions pitching wise by my count, Maybe I missed one or two. Fully six of them were sub-optimal decisions that put the Nats in a worse position than they needed to be. The Nats pitching staff is good enough (implicit Rizzo praise here) that Matt's bad decisions didn't blow up the game, but in an elimination game with a struggling offense there is no room for bad decisions of any kind.

There's no call for a firing from me, but there is a sincere hope that sometime between now and the start of next season we hear a contrite Matt Williams express understanding of what he did wrong. The Nats will likely be in the playoffs next year and we don't need to spend it worrying that the team will be held back by the manager. 

Tuesday, October 07, 2014


Matt Williams makes about a dozen wrong calls. It only costs him a run but that ends up being enough.

Comeback Game #2

Survive, survive, survive and advance.

As much as we'd like to read into yesterday's win that the Nats turned a corner that's just not the truth. The Nats didn't win yesterday as much as survive. This was the big offensive outburst :

2-base error
10-bounce seeing eye single

They pecked away got a BIG error and thanks to Fister et al. that was enough. 

But the lineup remains cold. Werth, LaRoche, and Ramos all have a single in 3 games. Desmond has two singles. In terms of power the leaders go Bryce, then Asdrubal Cabrera, then Nate Schieholtz. That needs to be corrected if the Nats hope to take the next two.

Not that sneaking by with no offense is impossible. The Nats pitching has been excellent. Strasburg was ok, ZNN and Fister great. Thorton, Blevins, Clippard all look in top form. The Giants aren't exactly an offensive powerhouse and you'd have to say they to survived to win a game, too. But you have to figure in one of the next two the Giants will hit at least as well as they did in Game 1, which was simply "like a normal team" and the Nats will have to match them. Today's the best bet with the Gio on the mound.

Do I sound pessimistic? Well, the Nats are down 2-1 and have no margin for error. We're not exactly on the sunnyside of the street right now. Still, if you want a positive spin, yesterday's game was a game Giants fans really wanted. Bumgarner is their ace in the hole and they have no confidence in Vogelsong. Despite the odds being in their favor overall, having to only win one, it feels worse because they won't be favored again. They look ahead and see two games that if they go to form, they will lose. The momentum has turned... but only just so. A few scoreless innings for the Nats or an early run by the Giants and the weight of the world is right back on the Nats.

Other notes :

Even more than yesterday it's all hands on deck today. You designate one guy as the Game 5 starter (probably ZNN because he deserves it and because he'd be on normal rest for it) and everyone else is a viable option. Strasburg is the first long relief option, even Fister can pitch if it comes down to it. There's a day off after this so don't worry about wearing anyone out.

Is this enough to make Boz like Bryce Harper? After Game 1 he all but blamed Bryce for the loss for not backing up Span as well as he thought he should, something that registered to nearly no one else. After Game 2, he would continue to mention guys "swinging for fences in 10 innings of walk-off spots", something that easily reads as a veiled swipe at Bryce. There isn't anything he can pick at for Game 3 so do we read some actual unequivocal praise? (answer - Yes!)

You're going to miss Clippard when he's gone.

You know who didn't K yesterday? Desmond. How about that?

Monday, October 06, 2014

Comeback Game #1

A few things that people brought up in the comments.

First, should a lefty have been used versus Sandoval? I didn't even think about this at the time but it's an honest question. He's much worse from the right side. The immediate "Why don't you use Blevins" call is wrong. Once you turn him around and he gets to face Blevins as a righty - that's the one thing I've said needs to be avoided at all costs. Righties hit .298 / .398 / .423 this year, but what about Thornton?

Sandoval vs Lefites .199 / .244 / .319
Thorton vs Righties :  .236 / .306 / .327

Sandoval vs Righties : .317 / .363 / .461
Storen vs Lefties : .253 / 274 / .319

I think Thornton would have been the right call here in a perfect win-maximing world. Why wasn't it considered? I think two reasons. One is Storen is the closer, he faces lefties all the time, will have to get out lefties, blah blah blah. The other reason is that Posey crushed the first pitch. There wasn't extra time to think of that next move. Sure you should be thinking 2-3 moves ahead but you don't always especially when you are agonizing over the current decision.

This wasn't egregious, but it's there.

Second, you're right that "we're going to bring in our closer if one man gets on" is not a great line of thinking. It happened to match up to reality this night. ZNN had reached 100 pitches, looked winded vs Panik, and MVPosey was up. But what if he guy gets on because of a bloop hit, swigning bunt, or booted routine ball? It has to be case by case. I'm not exactly sure that they are super by-the-book about it though. The quote can be read with an implied "in this game" sense. Zimmermann was losing it therefore... type of thing. That's the hope anyway.

Third, the idea that SF was glad to see Zimm walk. There is truth here. If you feel you can't beat a guy it gets in your head. Until it doesn't. It's like going with the hot hitter. He's hot... until he isn't and you have no idea when that switch is going to be pulled. If you want to make decisions like that it's fine, but understand you are basically guessing, and game in and game out that's not a good way to manage. Also understand at that point it doesn't really matter how the Giants felt, it matters how Posey felt. The Posey as I noted, who hadn't missed a pitch ZNN had thrown all night and had lined out hard last at bat. I think he had a pretty good read on ZNN and wasn't jumping for joy when the guy was pulled. That's my guess.

What now? WIN goddammit. Win.

Do you put Zimm in? The optimal line-up is probably something like Espy at 2nd, Zimm in LF and Span and Cabrera sitting. That's unlikely. If its just Zimm, for LaRoche, makes the most sense (best position for Zimm worst hitter vs LHP. LF is most likely, as Bryce like everyone, isn't hitting, and is not a veteran.  As others have noted - with Fister on the mound you can probably get away with a worse OF defense (sitting Span who doesn't hit lefties well himself and lacks any indication that he might see Bumgarner ok which you can get from LaRoche's history if you don't mind small sample size judgments) but I can't see MW sitting his lead-off hitter and best OF defender. Especially given how apparently Lorenzo Cain has single-glovedly lead the Royals to the ALCS.

Fister should be there but Roark and/or Gio should be ready at the drop of a hat. And frankly I wouldn't mind seeing Strasburg up. I don't want to see any pitcher saved for tomorrow because there might not be one. Use the best bullets in your gun tonight early and often. Right now worry about winning the game, not the series.