Nationals Baseball: What am I watching for?

Wednesday, April 08, 2015

What am I watching for?

Early season analysis is all about reining it in. Anyone can have a hot/cold couple of weeks and when that's all the data you have it gets magnified. The smart analysis looks at this early data and only tweaks the assumptions they had going in.  Plus, a lot of things don't matter in the long run.  Bryce or Zimm struggle? They still will be starters the rest of the year. Espy gets hot? Yuney is still option #1. The team will temper your excitement or worry if you can't do it yourself.

This leaves us with only a little to really be interested in the first few weeks of the season. There are things I care about (like a slow start for Ian meaning he's collapsing as a hitter, or a Werth return with no pop meaning it'll be another HR challenged season) that aren't going to change anything the Nats do. These you just have to ride out. And there are things that may happen (Cedeno can't get out lefties, Tyler Moore still can't hit) that I don't really care about.  These don't excite me. We have to hit that sweet spot. Things that I care about that might effect change. Where do I see that?

Ramos may not hit. Yuney may not hit. Yuney may not field.

In an healthy Nats lineup - these are the only two regulars who hit below average last year. They are also the presumed starters not only for 2015 but for 2016 as well. 

For Ramos, we assume that it's a health thing. It always feels like he hits well when healthy, he hit well just 2 years ago, and he's only 27. But last year Ramos looked beat after managing to play 20 healthy games in a row (with an All-Star break tucked in there). He finished the year hitting .230 / .254 / .391 in his last 45 games.  Was it a fluke? Was he figured out? Was he somehow not conditioned enough (that's terrible conditioning, if you believe that)? It's important because the Nats don't have a guy lined up to replace Ramos soon

For Yuney, we hope it's a fluke thing. He hit a little better in 2013 and more importantly he fielded great. Fielding stats are often wishy-washy and we assume an injury, that he's now over, affected both his bat and his glove. But history tells us that even decent Yuney at the plate, just below average, is probably the fluke, not the numbers he put up last year. He can, and has, done a lot worse. So it will come down to the glove. Yuney isn't a young player anymore and things you might get past at 25, you don't at 32. Plus the injury was a shoulder one which may explain the increase in errors, but it's hard to understand how exactly that would effect his range. Getting down on the ball? Well if that's the case his oblique injury in Spring is a ominous portent. The Nats do have a MI replacement in Turner lined up, but he's to take Ian's place. If Yuney goes bad then you need Turner AND Difo to get good in a hurry. Possible, but far from likely.

I trust Rizzo in a deal but there are only so many good C and MI around. Anyone playing fantasy baseball can tell you that.

Can Barrett or Treinen step up? 

You have to understand what the Nats were thinking when they traded Clippard and let Soriano walk. They looked at the rotation and thought "Middle relief isn't as important with these guys. We only really need two strong arms and our regular bunch of ok guys. So let's deal Clip, insert Barrett in the 8th. He'll be great. Storen will be great. The pen will be fine then we can deal Storen in the offseason and promote Aaron. SOLVED"

Of course Aaron Barrett is no sure thing. He had moments last year where he looked great but moments (in certain months beginning with O) where his wildness caught up with him. His minor league numbers are favorable, but the last step is the hardest.  Treinen is likely next in line to be the "controlled for a long time" reliever the Nats would want, but he's a former starter who's stuff isn't as electric as Barrett's. Both are 27 this year and relievers are brief candles. If neither develops and/or Storen doesn't perform, all of a sudden the Nats are left with nothing at the back end of their pen*

Relievers are easily found and acquired but trading for a reliever (even one with a couple years of control like Chapman) for a decent prospect? That doesn't feel like this team at all.

*If this happens and Yuney doesn't work out they would have effectively traded Clippard to turn one problem into two


sirc said...

I totally agree with your list of concerns. Ramos is my primary focus, and has been since he started hitting soft grounders to middle infielders in too many at bats in September and October.

As you say, replacing him is either a long term project or a very expensive reactionary decision. The Nats need Ramos to be most of what they projected him to be.

The bullpen isn't something we'll know much about for months. April bullpens are rarely the same as June bullpens, right? So we can expect adjustments and personnel changes. Except for KC, most teams are going to see the most turnover in that part of the team.

Although I wonder how patient the team will be with Storen.

Chas R said...

Aren't we really talking about the same situation with Ramos as with Bryce and Zim? -if Ramos struggles, he's still going to start (until he gets hurt!).

It would seem the biggest issue is how long will Rendon be out and what condition will he be in when he returns?

JWLumley said...

Thanks Harper for spreading the Christmas cheer. Unfortunately, I agree. Only caveats I would mention is that I haven't given up on Espinosa being the SS next year. If Escobar doesn't hit well, then you're better off with Danny who may be 2-3 WAR player on defense at SS, if he's just replacement level with the bat, that's a good SS.

As for the bullpen, I don't trust Barrett at all. To me, he's a 7th inning guy because of his control problems. That is to say, sometimes the bullpen coach needs to call down and say, "Not tonight." and move on. I like Treinen a ton as a reliever and also really like Rivero who I think will get called up if someone falters. Still, you can rebuild a bullpen on the fly for cheap.

The big concern for me as well is Ramos. Ramos' bat looks like he's swinging under water. Which is to say it looks slow.He doesn't have much patience, is a virtual logjam on the basepaths and a GIDP waiting to happen. He's never been a great receiver and is pretty average to a little below average in pitch framing. So he needs to hit and I don't think batting him 5th is a terribly good idea with his lack of speed. The more I think about Ramos the more concerned I get and the more I like Jose Lobaton. He doesn't hit a ton, but is a good receiver, good pitch framer and PBN won't be tempted to bat him 5th.

G Cracka X said...

Hi Harper, do you think Tanner Roark also belongs on the 'things to watch early in the season' list? Seems like he's an important person in the Nats' future. If he starts slow, does that mean anything like 'Looks like he could follow Ross Detwiler's path'?

Harper said...

sirc - for most of the pen I don't care but MW is going to use that one guy in the 8th all the time so that spot matters to me.

I think Storen has a long leash - half a season of failure at least

Chaz - I think if Ramos starts really bad they could end up platooning with Lobaton.

injuries are the biggest concern yes but I can't see them on the field. Daily on-field MRIs and evaluations seems to be the only solution. Make it happen.

JW - At some point Danny stops being that plus defender though he's not the 24 year old anymore.

See Chaz! JW would go with Lobaton. It wll swell I tells ya!

GBCX - Roark's spot is too iffy defined to get any feeling early. They aren't going to make him a true 1 inning guy because they want him to be ready in case of injury. But multiple inning guys pitch less often. It would take a bad full season before I'd worry about the Detwiler path.

JWLumley said...

@Harper At some point everyone stops being a plus defender, 27 is not that time.

blovy8 said...

I don't really think much is being invested in an Escobar revival. Trading Clippard when they did was desperation after not pulling the trigger on other acceptable options, to me if it was even somehow planned, it had to be about Plan D. Now sure, they were willing to do that to open up opportunities for some younger, cheaper, harder throwing pitchers and apparently made some space for the Scherzer deal. But they also signed a supposed replacement in Janssen.

I don't see Escobar's deal being all that hard to swallow if something better comes along really. Lots of people seem willing to shuffle Span off in a trade if Taylor does well. I don't see it, but that would mean you can upgrade the infield depth some if Taylor had taken a step forward in contact after 150 at bats. That's something I'll be looking at.

In the pen over the course of the year, there remains the possibility of developing oft-injured starters like Solis, or using some of Cole's innings in the pen to let his fastball velocity and command play up. Tiny sample size, but Treinen's stuff looked filthy on Saturday.
The fact is - no one has signed Soriano. Letting him walk was an incredibly easy decision, and taking the option would have been borderline malfeasance. I just hope Boras hasn't been pestering the Lerners again with some goofy deferred deal for him.

Chapman would be SCARY though. If things go south quickly for the Reds, why wouldn't they sell high on the guy? They might already be figuring on Cingrani for that job.

Anonymous said...

@JWLumley - the fact that you haven't lost faith in Espinosa makes me question the validity of anything you post on here. I assume you still think letting Henry Rodriguez go was a bad idea?

However, I would agree with you Treinen. He's a stud that we all should keep an eye on.

JWLumley said...

@Anon Well, you should question what you hear. But Espinosa has never stopped being very good defensively. Hasn't happened. Value for great defense is magnified at SS so value would be greater than it is at 2B. Problem is, he's been below replacement level offensively so what he would need to improve, which I believe will happen from only hitting right handed.

Anonymous said...

A couple more to watch: can J-Z maintain the strikeouts from last year and does the regression monster get Doug Fister.

JWLumley said...

@Anon The "regression" monster has been after Fister for years with no success.

JWLumley said...

Yay, the old paint by numbers is at again. Same lineup that accounted for 1 hit and 1 walk outside of Bryce Harper again today. Because Tyler Moore raked in spring and in AAA suckerz.

JWLumley said...

Also, if Spring Training = A and AAA = 3A, then Spring Training + AAA = 4A.

Anonymous said...

Different anon here.

(1) The "regression monster" has not been after Fister for years. His ERA has been better than his FIP only in 2014 and 2011. If anything, the reverse has been true: the stats community has expected Fister's traditional stats to improve, i.e., regress positively (is this the "regression fairy"?). I think it's fairly reasonable to expect Fister to be worse than last year but still pretty good. In other words, he will regress to his career averages.

Also, Lumley's continued faith in Espinosa reminds me of the organization's continued faith in Tyler Moore. Neither can hit. Danny has value and should be on the team because he's a good defender at tough positions (aside: he's a plus defender at 2nd; we don't have nearly enough data to assume he's plus at SS; maybe he is, maybe he's not; there's a gigantic difference between plus, average, and serviceable and no layperson can accurately place Danny at one point on that spectrum as a SS, and where he falls there is enormously important for his value). It's certainly possible hitting RH full time will make Danny's bat closer to league average - doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results is the definition of insanity so we know Danny's not insane - but I view this as fairly low probability. Danny is far more likely to be the same hitter he has been for the past two seasons than to be appreciably better. Just like Tyler Moore.

Anonymous said...

Doug Fister .262 BABIP and 83.1% LOB in 2014 not sustainable; not saying they're going to crater and he's going to be useless.

also worth noting that his velocity and k's were down in 2014 as well.

JWLumley said...

@Anonwhydon'tyoupeopleloginsoIcantellthedifferencebetweenanons Defensive metrics suck, what data do you need on Espinosa? Minor league gold glove winner? A gillion scouting reports stating that he's a plus-plus defender with perhaps the strongest arm at SS in baseball (it would be close with Tulo). It's not blind faith, Espinosa is an excellent defensive SS where he played throughout college and in the minor leagues. His hitting may be blind faith, but he has power and in case you've missed it, the position is pretty thin right now. If--and I grant it's a big if--Espinosa can hit .240 with 15 homeruns, he's a top 10 SS. I think the power is there from the right side, he's not going to turn into Tony Gwynn, but he doesn't have to. Tyler Moore is a 4A hitter with limited range. Comparing him with Espinosa is like comparing apples and tire irons.

JWLumley said...

@Anon5000 Perhaps Fister had a lower BABIP because he didn't have the awful Detroit infield playing behind him last year. It may not explain all of the BABIP decrease, but it could explain a good chunk of it.

Anonymous said...

I've seen scouting reports that say Espinosa has a great arm but never one that says he's a "plus plus" defender at short. "Plus plus" means three standard deviations above the mean. There is one plus plus defender at SS in the majors today and that's Andrelton Simmons. If Danny were as good as Simmons in the fireld, he would be playing short for the Nats or we would have traded him because his poor bat would play if he was THAT good.

Show me ONE scouting report that says his defense is plus or plus plus AT SHORT. Like I said, the difference between avg, above average, plus, and plus plus makes an ENORMOUS difference for his value. I agree we need a lot of data - which we don't have for Danny at SS - to make defensive metrics useful. But we don't have your phantom scouting reports either.

Anonymous said...

John Sickels: "His best defensive tool is a strong throwing arm. His range at shortstop wasn't terrific, but looks at least average so far at second base, and he's not excessively error-prone."

Maybe all the other scouts said he's plus plus at SS.

Bjd1207 said...

"Espinosa certainly isn’t a leadoff hitter and his defense, while an improvement over Cristian Guzman and Adam Kennedy, isn’t Gold Glove quality.

In three minor league seasons, Espinosa had a .964 fielding percentage with a 4.42 range factor. His scouting report calls his defense “unpolished” and not good enough to play shortstop at the major league level.

Hence the move to second base."