Nationals Baseball: The "bust" potential of the offense

Thursday, February 12, 2015

The "bust" potential of the offense

A comment by Wally got me thinking about the offense. He was talking about the future and how the Nats are dependent on the success or failure of Rendon and Bryce (which is true given Span & Desi are likely gone, you can't count on Ramos, and ZNN, Yuney, & Werth should all be declining) but for this quick post I'll bring it back to 2015.

If you want to take prediction to it's simplest level you can make every call into "better", "worse", or "about the same".  If we take a look at the Nats offense on those terms the situation doesn't seem like it has big bust potential.
  • There are three players I'd expect to hit "worse" this season. Werth (old and injured), Span (career year) and Rendon (young player exceeding expectations). The amount of worse is different and what that actually means for the player is different but still this is what I think. 
  • There is one player I'd expect to hit "better" this season. That's Bryce Harper who is the flip side of Rendon, a young player who underachieved expectations. 
  • The remaining players, Zimm, Ramos, Desmond, and Escobar (and the bench as a whole if you care about that). I'd expect to be about the same. 
All in all that seems like the offense will take a step back, but Bryce, Zimm, and Ramos each should add dozens of games to their seasons, off-setting most, if not all of this drop.

That's the way it should work and the way you would normally project it.

But if I take it a step further and look at all those players that should hit "about the same" I come to the same conclusion for all of them. If forced to choose, I'd predict that they'd hit worse than better. Zimm and Escobar are in their very early 30s so they are heading into decline years. They haven't hit significantly better than they did in 2014 in a while. I can't predict better over worse. Desmond has been trending in the wrong direction for a couple years. While I think he'll stabilize, I can't see how he'll suddenly reverse the trend. Ramos, I'm the most wishy-washy on, as I've always been a big fan. But honestly he's a guy who also has trended the wrong way and has mutliple years of injuries on his body. You want me to pick "better" for this guy?  I can't.

This is important because how a season can turn is based on injuries and where expectations are not met. In general some guys will outperform and some will underperform the guesses we put out there.  If taken at the major league level it would come fairly close to 50/50. But this is never equally distributed through the teams. A lot of team roughly get 50/50 splits but a couple will have more outperformers than underperformers, and a couple will find themselves in the other boat. Looking at the Nats, I see them as decent bets to be one of those in the wrong boat.

Of course this doesn't mean DOOM. The offense was very good last year. If they find themselves being one of those teams where more goes wrong than right then they'd likely still be average. And as we saw yesterday, even if everything goes wrong hitting wise (excluding injury), the pitching should carry them into the playoffs. It's a 98 win type team when we don't think about injury, it takes a lot to get them to miss the playoffs.

No 2015 should be fine (and could be awesome as we'll see tomorrow), but don't be surprised if the Nats aren't a dominating all-around squad but a pitching led team with an unpredictable offense. 


cass said...

If not next year, then yes, the following years, the offense will be Harper & Rendon and then everybody else.

It's good to appreciate how many star players are on this team, though. Rendon, Harper, Scherzer, Zimmermann, and Strasburg could all contend for the MVP or Cy Young each year for the next few years. There should be something like 20 to 30 WAR between the five of them. I imagine the rest of the team washes out to average overall, but that's enough to win it all.

It's nice to be projected with both the best pitching WAR and the best batting WAR in the National League!

(Only includes Steamer for now):

ZiPS (except Scherzer, but you don't need ZiPS to tell you Scherzer is awesome):

Harper's health and Rendon retaining his breakout are the two most important pieces of the offense going forward, though, you're right.

I'd also like to see plenty of Taylor so that the old folks get more rest and hopefully don't collapse in the postseason again.

Harper said...

cass - I think that the O includes player D, which the Nats are ok at. I tried to be specific to saying the offense in this post.

Either way though I don't disagree - all goes as planned the Nats are probably 2nd/3rd in runs scored again. But I think they have a very small chance at being amazing while I think they have a puncher's chance at being average. Things vary

JWLumley said...

Why is Rendon going to be worse? Because of the big hole in his swing...oh yeah that doesn't exist. Perhaps because he'll be less used to the pitchers in the league, nope. While I realize that many young players see a decline after a big rookie or 2nd year, most of those guys don't have his swing. Most guys have a hole in there swing somewhere and have to adjust, those guys are not Rendon. I expect him to be even better this year with a greater knowledge of pitchers and more strike zone respect from umpires.

Wally said...

My expectation for 2015 (the most probable outcome, according to my brain) is 'a pitching led team with an unpredictable offense'. But the other thing helping to supplement 2015 is that they should again be a good baserunning team, and I'd bet on defensive improvement (the opposite of the way that I'd take the 'under' on their offensive projections). I come to the same conclusions as the rest of you: absent some tough injuries, they should be ok this year.

But the rest of it is a potential cause for concern post 2015, because the decline trends of Zim, Werth, Ramos should be more pronounced in addition to Rendon and Harper.

Maybe the way to address this concern is through pitching: extend JZ or Stras, so that you know that you have two aces, with pretty good options for 3-5, and deal with the line up holes as they become more certain.

I think that is counter to what Rizzo would prefer (lock up the position players) but it might be the way to go.

Harper said...

JWL - non-technical reason - we don't have a lot of data and he hit better last year than I thought.

technical reason - his K rate should go up (it's kind of oddly low for now discernable reason based on his swings taken and his history) which will drag everything down.

And please note when I say he'll be "worse" I mean the I see him as a .275 / .345 guy with 15-20 homers. Just off enough to move him out of "about the same" Still probably an All-Star given his D and 3rd base in general.

Could I be wrong? Sure. When you are dealing with players without a lot of minor league time they are going to have a ton of variability in what could happen. Zimm is unlikely to break out and have another .300+ 25+ season. Rendon could and it wouldn't shock me. But I have to make some guess and I choose the most likely scenario to me (even if it in itself isn't very likely)

I'll also note the whole "don't have his swing" thing was the reason given in 2013 for why he wouldn't slump in the 2nd half. He slumped in the 2nd half.

Harper said...

Wally - I worry about the OF D too much to do anything but keep the D stable. If Span has an off year...

You're right that the baserunning is very good. All the little things go the Nats way this post is specific to bat on ball.

Wally said...

Also, consider this on Rendon: he put up 6.6 WAR last year, tied for 3rd. That would have been a top 10 position player season in each of the last 5 years. The probability that someone will consistently put up better seasons than that isn't high, even if the player is very good. You are betting that he will be the best player in baseball, essentially, and stay healthy.

I think best case with Rendon is that he has established his talent level and he'll continue to produce in a band around this level through his peak years.

JWLumley said...

@Harper He did have a hole in his swing, he had a problem with hard stuff inside, but he seems to have fixed it. That doesn't mean he can't develop another hole in his swing, but I doubt it. I still believe people undervalue and underestimate Rendon. I think he's going to win the MVP this year and I think the power is going to tick up. I wouldn't be surprised by 25 dingerz this year.

Harper said...

JW - MVP!?! That's... well it's not CRAZY he was 5th last year. I do have a hard time seeing it as long as Stanton is healthy. The guy almost doubled Rendon's walks and homers and had fewer PAs.

cass said...

The simple answer on Rendon is regression to the mean. He put up a great year so his true talent level is probably below that.

I do think Rendon could contend for an MVP if he continues to improve and has a great year. I wouldn't bet on it, but I can see it. His problem is that he does everything well, though, and those players have an easier time accumulating WAR than convincing writers to give them the MVP award. See Trout vs. Cabrera.

I can definitely see Rendon becoming the next Sabr darling, if he isn't already.

Anonymous said...

These last few years it seems like the nats offense was built on putting 7 or 8 quality hitters in the lineup. Other than the 9 spot, opponent pitchers couldn't take a hitter off.

While that is still true for this season, it seems like the lineup is moing towards a 'Harper and Rendon carry a bunch of ok hitters' in the next ~2 years.

JWLumley said...

@Harper I love Stanton, one of my favorite non-Nationals, but he got hit in the face and not everyone comes back from that. Don't get me wrong, I hope he comes back better than ever, but it's not a certainty. I'd also expect his walks to tick down a bit hitting in a better lineup. Still, I expect Rendon to be a lot better with regards to his BA and consequently his OBP. It might be completely anecdotal, but he seemed to hit into more loud outs than just about anyone last year. Also, I think the defensive value of playing on the infield and playing well may push him over the top.

Chinatown Express said...

cass- "He put up a great year so his true talent level is probably below that." In this context regression toward the mean is toward that individual player's true talent level, not toward the mean of all players. Rendon is great and it's not surprising he put up a great season. We don't know how great because of his short history. But I'm not sure we can say with confidence that his 2014 results were better than his true talent.

JW- Great point about the loud outs. It felt that way to me too. But note that his 2014 BABIP was very slightly ahead of his 2013 BABIP, and both are slightly higher than league average.

Harper said...

CXP/cass/JW - I'd say this - there are a few little stats plus the general thoughts about him before coming out of the minors that make you think he just slightly overachieved last year. But he's young enough that he could be this good. We'll find out if he's merely on and off All-Star (boo hoo!) or MVP worthy. I'd be surprised if he's anything less.

Harper said...

Oh I wanted to add that at DRAFT time the thoughts were there's a chance he could hit this well. It was tempered because he didn't necessarily TEAR UP the minors (hiccupped in AA to end 2012, in AAA to end 2013) so it went down to "he'll be good but probably not special" But hey - last year was special. This is about putting a stamp on that if true.

JWLumley said...

@CXP - I don't buy into BABiP normalizing for everyone, that is to say, I don't see any issue with someone having a higher than normal BABiP if they're good. Ted Williams had a BABIP over .350 5 times, Barry Bonds had a BABIP of .266 the year he hit 73. Point being, I think the type of hitter someone is has a lot to do with their BABIPs. Rendon is a guy who I think can put up BABIP's of .320-.330 if his power stays the same and probably around .310-.315 if his power increases dramatically.

Chinatown Express said...

JW- I totally agree. In fact, in 2013 this stats article used him as an example of a player with an unusual high LD%, which usually correlates with an above-average BABIP. But that result was after about three months in the majors. He finished 2013 with a mere 25.5% LD%. And 2014's full-season figure was even lower, at 20.4%.

So, gosh, I have no idea what to make of that. Is he due for a positive regression to his 2013 LD%? Or was the first half of 2013 the outlier and we should expect stats more in line with 2014? His fly ball % and HR% went up significantly in 2014, and he said a bunch of stuff about trying to develop more power (and he sure looked bigger). So maybe the quasi-slap-hitting kid from 2013 was just a phase?

John C. said...

I do have a hard time seeing it as long as Stanton is healthy.

Ah, there's the rub. For a guy his age, Stanton is almost never healthy.

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