Nationals Baseball: October 2015

Friday, October 30, 2015

Last year outfield discussion : revisited


Take : Unless something crazy happens this is an outfield that could carry the team offensively if Bryce takes off. It is suspect defensively, but I'm not worried about that. Souza and McLouth should make an ok 4 & 5 while Taylor gets ready, though I'd bail on McLouth and try to sign someone like DeJesus.

2015 Reality :Something kind of crazy did happen and Werth and Span both missed big chunks of the year. Werth missed half the year and Span over 100 games.  In the mean time the Nats traded away Souza (he'd have the pop & patience combo we all saw, but he'd have the low average we all saw as well) and McLouth didn't play the whole year thanks to his own injury. So instead of Bryce - Werth - Span backed up by Souza, the Nats spent part of the year with Bryce - Taylor - Robinson backed up by Moore. Ugh. 

It could have been awful and parts of it were. Taylor couldn't hit. Robinson was not good in the field.  Werth had some injury related troubles at the plate when he did play and very few balls were hit into the glove of what I assume was the Madame Tussaud's wax figure of him the Nats installed in left field. Tyler Moore was the same big ol' nothing he's been for 3 years now.

However, Bryce nearly single-handedly saved the offense by becoming BRYCE. He put up one of the best offensive seasons of the past generation and his defense was ok to boot. That alone makes the outfield not a loser. Other high points were MAT's stellar defense and Clint Robinson's effective bat.

Basically it was the best of times, it was the worst of times so on average it was the ok of times.

As for my DeJesus idea. Not a great year (slightly below ave in TB before dying in LA)but  at least he played.

Out of the box :Trading Giolito to the Brewers for Carlos Gomez would have not been enough to make the Nats a playoff team. He himself wasn't healthy either and when he did play he put up meh numbers. He was still good in the field and having him instead of Span/Taylor would have made the Nats better but not to any degree that they would have at some point run away with the East which was the goal.

That being said, if you like him he'd still be here in 2016 with a cheap contract, solving the whole "Span is hurt all the time, but Taylor can't hit" conundrum. However, all in all without that playoff in 2015 he'd have to spark a deep playoff run in 2016 not to rue that trade.

Thursday, October 29, 2015

It's Blackest before the Dawn

It's Bud Black! 

Sorry, I mistyped that.

It's Bud Black.

There that's better.

I've said things about Bud Black before. Here. And here's a better one. The gist? He's a fine hire. He's had 8 years of experience so he's not learning anything on the job. Based on all we know he won't make any more silly mistakes than your average manager and he won't have the team turn on him.

Anything more than that is us filling in the gaps. He's had no success, but was that bad talent (and it was bad) or lack of motivation? He's had good pens, but was that a kenn eye from the former pitcher and pitching coach or a function of Petco and some luck? Believe the most positive interpretation, because why not? But accept that the most negative interpretation is also perfectly valid.

So all we need now is Rizzo to bark at Black "Just do your job" and Werth to undermine him in the press and he'll be completely at home.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Offseason Position Discussion : Outfield

Presumed Plan : Werth in left. Bryce in right. While there's a small chance they offer a QO to Span, his injury situation and the cost (almost 16 mill) make it more likely that they don't. There's also a possibility they re-sign Span, but the deal would have to be cheap and short so again, more likely that they don't. That leaves Michael Taylor in center as the most likely scenario. Backing them up will be Clint Robinson and Matt denDekker probably has the inside track for the 5th OF spot.

Reasoning on Presumed Plan : Bryce plays. If I have to explain that to you I'm not sure why you are reading this.

Werth plays. Ignore the contract for a second. Werth hit well above average in 2012-2014. 2015 wasn't good but at the same time after returning from injury he hit for power and walked a fair amount. The former was a big worry as injuries can sap power pretty easily and had done it to Werth during his first comeback in 2015 and times before. So assuming he can boost that average back up he'll be a good hitter and worst case he'll be a prime Danny Espinosa, who was a useful piece. Also he's paid a ton to play. 

You would prefer if Werth, who is aging, didn't have to play outfield, but 1B is unavailable and there is no DH so you work with what you have.

Span was a key figure for the Nats the past 2 seasons, hitting better than anyone expected he could in 2014 and giving the Nats solid CF defense. However this past season was almost a complete wash as hip and core issues made him miss 100 games. A qualifying offer is tempting as it would only bind the Nats to Span for a single season. However that is a lot of money to throw at a guy who couldn't get on the field for a number of reasons. Also his defense is likely slipping a bit due to age so a lot of his value is going to be maintaining that offense. He was able to do it while playing in 2015, but that's still a gamble. A FA deal would produce a number more in line with what he'd get on the FA market but it would also almost certainly have to be multiple years, which the Nats don't want to give thinking Taylor at most needs one more year. So the easiest thing to do is let Span walk.

Michael Taylor played CF for most of the year and was excellent in the field. He struggled a fair amount at the plate but that was his first full season. Expectations are that he'll improve over time and he showed a nice tendency for hits in big situations. Whether that's repeatable or not (likely not) you'd still rather see that than the alternative.

Problems with Presumed Plan : Bryce is not a problem.  

When I say we'd rather have Werth not play outfield that isn't a minor concern. He's been flat out bad since 2012 and last year was bordering on terrible. Is it the jumps? The legs? I don't know. What I do know is that Werth in LF means more hits dropping in than should and a necessity that the CF be a very good fielder.  The other issue with Werth is the same as has been for a while. He's injury prone playing 81, 88, and 127 games in 3 of the last four years, and he's not getting any younger. Chances are very good another couple of nicks and bumps take away 40+ games from him in 2016 and the wrong nicks and bumps could severely effect his offense which is the only reason to play him.  Last year was bad, but there's legit potential for far worse.

It's quite possible that Michael Taylor will never really hit in the majors. He had that extremely high strikeout rate in the minors that serves as a red flag. It's common for guys like that to end up being AAAA players, who look good mashing minor league pitching but can't get over the hump to be consistent in the majors. And while he has nice power the guys who swing and miss like him tend to have great power. Will it develop? That's still a fair question, but Taylor isn't a young kid anymore. He'll be 25 to start next year and should be beginning to peak. The Nats can afford a question mark bat like his in the line-up if everyone is healthy, but if not he helps create a hole.

My take : Bryce plays

The rest of the OF is a puzzle that offers one reasonable solution. Werth pretty much has to play. I think that even ignoring the contract. If he didn't show power at the end of the year things might be different but he hit with pop all through August and September so the potential is still high that he can have a very good offensive season. As long as that potential is there and reasonable, you have to play him.

If you have to play Werth you need a CF who can compensate for him in the field and as of today Taylor is a better choice for that than Span. I think Span could do the job, but given the trajectory of his defensive stats, his age, and his injury status, I can't go beyond "I think". Taylor, on the other hand, young and healthy and with the experience of 2015 under his belt (and better stats) I feel strongly would be able to do it. His offense is a problem yes, but he was a real prospect in the minors and deserves a real shot. There were flashes last year and it's quite likely he just tired out at year's end. As late as the first week of September he was simply "below average" and only a three week collapse (.151 with 1 double to end year) dropped him to terrible. Plus the Nats don't have any other good CF options or really any good OF options in the minors, so it behooves them to find out sooner rather than later if Taylor is their guy. Another half-to-full season of starting would help clear that up.

If Taylor is the starter, than there is no reason to keep Span around. I find it really hard to commit either a ton of money or a couple years to Span given that he broke, then broke again, then broke again, and I think broke one more time in a 12 month time frame. I'd offer something team-favored (say 1 yr, 8-10 million with a team option for a 2nd year) and if he takes it great. Taylor can bench it for a year (or as long as everyone is healthy and hitting). If he doesn't, so be it.

Clint Robinson is a good hitter, bad outfielder but passable for most situations. The worst case would be Bryce moving to CF and Clint and Werth on the corners but you'd probably even take that if those three were all hitting. denDekker isn't the plus CF you really want as a 5th OF, but he's solid and hit ok to end the year. If it's him or if it's not it doesn't terribly matter... wait

See this is the trap we fell into last year. Lots of questions, but treating the bench the same. No. It has to be different in this year. If Span is here than Taylor and Robinson are a fine bench. They have complimentary skills and potential to do well in long stints. But if Span isn't here that puts more pressure on the bench and by going with denDekker you make your bench weaker. (Plus we haven't even considered the real possibility that Robinson will be playing first at some point for Zimm) No. The Nats either bring back Span, using the QO or getting him in a cheap deal, or they sign a guy who would be a 4th OF for their 5th OF. Byrd, De Aza, Rajai Davis. Or they do something the equivalent of getting Span, like signing Parra. That's gotta be the way.

Outside the Box Suggestion : Bryce wants to play CF. He is motivated to play CF. Oddly he doesn't seem to suffer when he's put in CF despite corner OF stats that suggest he would. So play Bryce in CF. Like name Bryce the CF and then go out and get a huge corner lefty-hitting OF bat. Take a chance on Jason Heyward, who's entering his prime and can field so Bryce can shift over near Werth.  Go out and get Cargo from the selling Rockies.

Remember Bryce is likely here for only 3 more years. There needs to be a plan to be playoff competitive over that time frame. You aren't going to have that type of player fall into your lap again.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

World Series Prediction

Just to do it : Royals in 5.

But the Mets could win in 5 too. I don't know. Want to pick something.

Back to analyzing the 2016 Nats a.k.a  "Bryce and the 99 Questions" tomorrow.

Monday, October 26, 2015

Monday Quickie : Experience

The Nats are narrowing down the field of potential managers and it appears that Bud Black and Dusty Baker are leading the pack. This is fine. I do wonder if the Nats are doubling down on experience (no DeMarlo Hale interview?) but if you are going to double down on something "experience" is better than "tough Marine-itude!"

But given that these are also ex-managers it is of interest to know why they were fired and why the Nats would be interested in them.

Dusty Baker

Dusty has been a successful manager over his career. His first job was way back in 1993in San Francisco at the youthful age of 44. After a bumpy start (3 seasons below .500) he guided the Giants to 6 straight winning seasons 4 of them 90 wins or better. He would make the playoffs three times. The Giants would be swept in the DS his first time out in 1997 by the Marlins. They'd lose another DS 3 games to 1 to the Mets in 2000. Finally he'd break through in 2002 making it all the way to the World Series before losing to the Angels in 7 games.

That sounds pretty successful. What went wrong? Baker didn't get along with the ownership. He wanted more respect, meaning he didn't like the owner talking about replacing him (as he did early on), or about how the team failed (as he did after Mets series), or setting him up with the highest expectations (as he did before 2002).  The owner, Magowan, didn't like how Baker himself used the media to note that he was interested in other jobs and unhappy with the ownership and also how the media fawned over and sided with Dusty.

So Dusty and the Giants basically agreed he would not come back and off to Chicago he went. He would take a young but talented squad and immediately make them winners, getting them to their first NLCS since 1984 and steps away from their first World Series since 1954. But it was not to be. Baker presided over a fantastic game 6 meltdown from which the Cubs would never recover. Over the rest of his short time in the Windy City, the Sosa era would end badly, the Cubs players would revolt against a broadcaster who they felt were too critical of the team and more importantly the Cubs went back to being terrible. They stumbled late in 2004 and missed the playoffs and wouldn't be good again. Certainly injuries to a questionable roster were the main reason the Cubs quickly became irrelevant again, but at the very least it was clear Dusty was not working in Chicago.

He would also at this time become a favorite target of the sabrmetrically minded. Dusty seemingly overused his young pitchers and broke them down and didn't appreciate the necessity of getting on base. The latter is almost certainly true. His teams don't take a lot of walks mirroring his own aggressive approach as a player. The former though is what sticks in most people's minds and is more of a half truth. He did use young arms for a lot of 100+ pitch games, but how much of their future was ruined because of that? Wood was driven hard before Dusty ever got there and already missed a season due to injury. Zambrano was ridden hardest and didn't break down until turning 30. Prior broke down nearly immediately and never recovered suggesting rather than overuse it was something inherent to his mechanics.  Dusty probably didn't help the situation but wasn't likely the cause, and has since shown less proclivity for pushing the pitch count envelope. The league has changed, in some part thanks to the Wood/Prior issues, and Dusty adapted.

Dusty would go on to one more stop, managing Cincinnati from 2008 through 2013. The team would be generally successful during his tenure going from 74 wins in year one to a high of 97 wins in 2012.  He would lose 2 division series and a Wild Card game during his time in Cincinnati. But again Baker didn't mesh with someone or something. This time it was new GM Walt Jocketty. They didn't quite see eye to eye. Jocketty looking for someone more in the LaRussa role of the tactician, and Baker looking for roster help that didn't come. When Baker basically said there was no reason to fire the hitting coach and put himself on the line out he went.

Bud Black

Bud Black is a much easier cover. He was hired to manage the Padres in 2007 and in 8+ seasons had two winning years and no playoff appearances. For the most part though, the Padres have been a competitive team under Black only twice winning under 76 games. Most analysts believe that he's done the best he could with a organization that produced few decent players under his watch.

There is some thought that that Black didn't help with that, as notable players such as Anthony Rizzo and Edison Volquez have developed stronger in other places after trials in San Diego. However, he did seem to have a knack for finding and using his bullpen arms and it's not like there are a flood of former Padres hitting stars out there. They did try to compensate for Black's apparent weakness in developing young hitters at the major league level, by furnishing him with a truck load of free agent bats this past winter. However they immediately failed and seeing the writing on the wall, which included either getting this current roster to immediately perform or failing that another rebuild, the Padres decided to go in a different direction. They failed to get any better with Pat Murphy helming the team.

The other knock on Black would be those 0 playoff appearances. He not only failed to get the Padres to the post-season, in two seasons he captained collapses. in 2007 they went 4-7 to end the season (0-3 in last three) to miss the playoffs outright and would lose a one-gamer to the Rockies to make the wild card. In 2010 they finished 14-23, losing 10 in a row at one point, and would lose the division by 2 games. But 2007 was marred by Hoffman blowing two of the last games of the year something no one hangs on Black. 

My thoughts today

Reading through this, Dusty Baker seems like a solid motivator who might be overly sensitive to negativity. It can be the owner, the media, or the GM, but he clearly does not handle it well, in part because he does succeed. If he wins, why are people on his back? He has some notions about strategy that don't work all that well, but he's unlikely to abuse these arms (especially with Rizzo looking over his shoulder) and this franchise has never been one to care about OBP. He kind of fits in, in a way. He is as strictly regimental as Williams was (during his Reds days a complaint was underusing Chapman) but given his general success he probably has better intuition on who to use, and when to use them, although this has bit him in the playoffs. He does favor "his guys" a bit too much but he's going to work with what's given and let's face it, in 4 years of Nats have you ever seen a bench player that's been good enough to be wasted sitting there?

Bud Black seems like a prefectly vanilla choice. On the plus side he's very likely to be able to sort through the mess of relief arms to find a workable bullpen. Given the Nats overall strategy of "we don't spend on middle relief arms" that would work well here. He'd also almost certainly get along with everyone, having few player, management or media tiffs in his time in San Diego. That may be important following a manager that lost the clubhouse. On the flip side he doesn't seem to light a fire under any team. If he's relying on that to happen internally he may have to look elsewhere as the Nats don't really have boisterous clubhouse motivators. And while you can point to playoff collapses with Dusty, at least he got his teams there. Over the long haul of a season, Black may lack that necessary next level switch that many teams find necessary to turn on in September.

Friday, October 23, 2015

Last year third base discussion : revisited

Third Base

Take : Rendon is really good. Rendon is a third baseman. Ryan Zimmerman can no longer play third base. Rendon will play third base.

That's about as long as I can drag out the reasoning. Rendon's 2014 was MVP vote worthy. There was nothing he didn't do well and he hadn't gotten injured in two seasons so we put that behind us. He would start. The decision was simple.

I had Frandsen as the back-up at that point. Really didn't matter too much. You aren't sitting Rendon, right?

2015 Reality : Rendon got injured in Spring Training. What the Nats training staff (now fired) first claimed was a "day to day" injury lasted two and a half months. Ok ok. To be fair that initial knee injury (MCL sprain) only lasted a month and a half, so day to day was only ridiculously wrong, I guess. He would strain his oblique in returning which would cost him another month. By the time Rendon was healthy, Yunel Escobar had ensconced himself at third and the Nats, wanting to keep Yuney hitting and not push him to another position he'd have to learn mid-season, decided to keep him there and moved Rendon to 2nd. Rendon played 2nd in 2013 and 2014 so he was fine at it.

Rendon hit ok for that first month he was back. No power but decent patience and average ( .290 / . 375 / .362) so it wasn't a problem waiting the return of his pop out. Problem is he would get injured again. This time straining his quadriceps* and sitting out for another month. Rendon came back again, playing second again, and would have an down and up rest of the season.

23 games : .200 / .274 /.271
24 games : .364 / .442 / .525
15 games : .155 / .239 / .224

The way I look at that is that he got his swing back after a while but being out of shape/practice he just got tired at the end of the year.  Werth would follow a very similar pattern. Another possible interpretation is after they started hitting, pitchers, who will try to get you out the easiest way possible to start, adjusted and Rendon couldn't keep up. I don't really believe that as a possibility for Rendon as much as I do for the aging Werth but felt I should put it out there.

At third actually Yunel never stopped hitting. He'd have a poor July, but not an awful one, and then he'd follow that up with his best month ever in August. He'd have his most power in August. His best OBP in September. His highest average in June. Simply put he hit pretty much all year long. If it was a fluke (and it might be) it was a season long fluke, not one powered by a month or two of incredibly hot hitting.

Why do I say it might be a fluke? Because that BABIP was so much higher than other years. .347 in 2015 when he had been more of a .285 type.  On the pro-Yuney side he did hit more GBs than he had in the past couple of years, that should help the BABIP, and he did hit more LD then ever, which also helps the BABIP. Basically, he stopped hitting flyballs. The lowest percentage since his rookie year when he had his highest BABIP of .364. So maybe he's found his groove?  I don't know. Still seems high to me for someone who is slowing down and hasn't exactly improved his contact percentages.

Meanwhile though Yunel gives you nothing else. I noted before that his fielding woes of 2014 turned out to be a trend not an anomaly. He can't move in the field anymore. He is slow on the basepaths. He's doesn't hit for power or walk much (though he's not the worst at either). All in all if he can't hit for average he's not a good player and even hitting .315 he's more "ok" than "good".

I guess what I'm saying is that you look at his average in 2015 and think "Oh, this guy really helped the Nats out" but every layer you peel off beyond that shows him hurting the Nats in this little way or that little way. When you get to the core you now realize he helped the Nats, but not a lot and there's big potential for him to be a negative next year

Out of the box : It was mostly reaching for something but I suggested moving Rendon to 1B to avoid injuries (with Zimm becoming a super sub). Completely by accident that would have totally worked for the Nats. Rendon wouldn't have been diving for a ball in ST meaning he wouldn't have gotten hurt. Zimm couldn't have worked around his foot issues while playing OF forcing him to take time off much earlier than he did. All in all the Nats would have been better off, possibly much better off in this out of the box idea. And if that led them to trading for Donaldson, woo boy. All these out of the box ideas are just throwing stuff at a wall usually they end up being impossible or wouldn't have worked, but throw enough out there and a couple are bound to look good.

*Apologies if I got Rendon's injuries and timeline a little wrong before. It's hard to keep up with! Insert sad emoticon. 

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Offseason Position Discussion : Third Base

Presumed Plan : Probably Rendon. At least that's what they said.  Who's backing up?  We assume Yuney will definitely be starting (as of today). If Danny isn't starting he would back-up. If he is starting then the Nats need to find a guy

Reasoning on Presumed Plan : Rendon is a third baseman by trade playing second because that is what is needed. He wants to be at third, the Nats want him to be there so the sooner he slots back in the better. When Rendon is healthy he has proven to be one of the better hitting 3B in the league putting up a .287 / .351 / .473 line in 2014 and showing that kind of offensive skill in spurts during a lost 2015 campaign.  He was also a superior defender at third. Assuming his injuries haven't taken that from him (and there's no good reason to think so - he was solid at 2B) Everything works out pretty nicely.

Escobar shifts back into SS, where he's played most of his career but couldn't last year with Desmond still around. This was the plan all along, we assume. A cost-effective SS replacement for the bridge year between Desmond and Turner.

If 2nd is Danny's, and we assume as much, then the Nats will have to find a bench player to be the MI/3B back-up.  There isn't an internal solution unless you want to bring up Turner to sit at first and transition to a starting role. Only Espinosa, Rendon and Escobar played 3rd base last year. Uggla shouldn't be in the majors. Difo needs more time in the minors.

Problems with Presumed Plan : Relying on Rendon, who has now been injured in 2009, 2010, 2012 and 2014 2015, has to be seen as a huge gamble. If he is healthy and plays he is a superior player. However the chances of him being healthy and playing are no better than a coin flip.

Yunel Escobar is known to be temperamental and they kept him at third because he was hitting well. He may throw a fit about being moved. Or not. We'll see. The real problem though is the Nats were hoping for a return to form from Yunel defensively after a terrible 2014. Instead they saw that 2014 wasn't a fluke and he can't hack it in the field. Moving him back to a more demanding defensive position would be questionable to say the least.

My take : You have to go with Rendon somewhere. He's young, cheap, and when healthy, very very good. He's the type of player you accomodate, not Escobar. True, I think it makes more sense to stick him at 2B. Yuney can remain as hidden as possible at 3B. Meanwhile, Rendon would be possibly the best at 2B, and the good players only run about 5-10 deep. At 3B he's more Top 5 and the good players run around 15 deep. But that only matters if you assume the Nats will try to get one of those good players. Just getting a healthy Rendon in the lineup is the most important thing. I'm not revolting at Rendon playing 3B.

Escobar playing short is unfortunate but the necessary move to accomodate Rendon. It's not optimal but that's pretty much as bad as I can put it. Yuney playing defense anywhere is going to be bad and he can't be hidden completely at 1B or a DH so it's going to be an issue. Yuney 3B, Danny SS, Rendon 2B is probably ok. Rendon 3B, Yuney SS, Danny 2B is probably slightly worse. The first one doesn't solve a problem though, and the second one doesn't create one.

If you actually want to solve the problem (problem being Yuney and Danny are both ok players who might be negatives in 2016 and Rendon can't be relied on) you need to do something more than shift to the optimal positions. How about trading for Todd Frazier? That seems like a popular idea. He's good offensively and defensively and under a reasonable contract for two more seasons. Of course that means he won't come cheap and if the Nats won't deal Giolito or Turner or Ross the Nats really don't have anything of value to offer other than bulk.

Oh and I've said it before but I think Stephen Drew will end up being the bench guy. Juan Uribe would be the ideal one for me, but could get starters money somewhere. Given his last few years, "Old Espy" as I'll call Drew for his power/D/nothing else combination, should be cheap. The Nats could do worse (and just did with Uggla!)

Outside the Box Suggestion : Trade Giolito for Arenendo. Pitching prospects are generally questionable. First on whether they can make it, and second on whether they can make an impact. Strasburg was more highly regarded than Giolito and he's been really really good but has gotten the Nats all of home field advantage in one playoff series. So even if Giolito manages to make the majors without suffering another injury and is really good, he's only able to impact the season so much. A great young power hitter though? That's more of a game changer.

Stupid? I'm trying to go outside the box here and there are a couple of things about Giolito that should be addressed. One is that in AA he didn't dominate. In 8 starts he merely did well. Now as a 21 year old in AA "well" translates to "really good" and no one thinks he isn't on a path to a major league rotation, but it does start to question whether he'll be top of the rotation and if so how long it might take for him to get there. Also he's only up to 117 IP. It's likely next year the Nats top him off at 140ish meaning that it's very unlikely he's an impact player for next year's Nats either. The most likely scenario at this instance puts him at having an #3 type season with less than 180 IP in 2017, not even 2016. If you think the Nats fortunes over the next few years are going to be driven by Bryce Harper, understand he could be gone after 2018. Meaning the overlap for great Giolito and prime Bryce might only be a single season. Is that enough to not go all in now for?

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Last year second base discussion : revisited

Second Base

Take : Right at the moment we were discussing it Danny Espinosa looked to be the starter with who the hell knows as the back-up, maybe Frandsen. But it didn't feel like the Nats were committed to this, nor should they be based on how Espinosa had hit in 2014, and how mediocre overall Frandsen was.  Maybe Difo would play a role, maybe not.

2015 Reality : The take coming in was shown to be completely spot on. The Nats didn't trust Danny as a full-time starter, trading for Yunel Escobar. However, the never ending injury to Anthony Rendon forced a move by Escobar to the less demanding third base and Danny into an everyday role at second. He actually did suprisingly well, certainly to start the year.

Like I talked about in discussing next season, Danny was really good for the first half of the year, but couldn't sustain it and was, well, really bad in the second half - at least at the plate. You might blame the fact that Rendon came back and pushed him out of his role, but in reality he had over a month of bad starts before Rendon was back for good. For a guy in Danny's position (re: deemed not starter worthy in offseason) hitting .198 / .245 / .297 for over a month, will, and should, lose you your spot. So, as often as certain people said "Danny deserves to play! He's been so good!" they were basing that off the memories of Spring, not the realities of Summer.

When Rendon came back initially in early June (from the knee issues) he was ok but then he went out again with a strained quad. When he came back from that in late July, he struggled terribly. He hit .200 / .274 / .271  for almost a month. Then he turned it on again for an equal amount of time (.364 / .442 / .525) before limping to the finish line over the last 2 weeks plus (.151 / .242 / .226).

In totality 2B ended up being a slight negative for the Nats. Danny gave the Nats 60 games of solid play, and Rendon another 40 good to great, but the remaining 60 or so combined were god awful at the plate.  Defensively, Danny was good but a hampered Rendon was not and he played like 35% of the innings there (Danny played like 45%) so the Nats couldn't make up the offensive issues with great D.

Hmmm that doesn't seem right. It still seems like the Nats should be around average at secon... Oh I nearly forgot! Coming into the year the didn't like Frandsen and they did let him go. Difo didn't play a role. Instead Mike Rizzo made arguably his biggest mistake* and brought in Dan Uggla for a last man on the bench role that grew to a starting role for a week, and a spot starting role through mid May. All in all he'd end up playing about 15% of the time at 2nd base. Dan Uggla is a garbage fielder and couldn't hit. That dragged the position down like an anchor.

I noted I wanted Zobrist. I was not alone in this want and frankly we were all right again. He would have been perfect. Que era, era.

Out of the box : Move Rendon back was the idea and get a third baseman. In practice this ended up happening but the theory would have had them grabbing a real 3B in the offseason. Would it have worked? Depends on the 3B they got. I wasn't picky, but to summarize quickly based on last year's performance -

Trade for Beltre : Couldn't happen, Texas wasn't selling. Would have been good though
Sign Sandoval : Could have happened, FA. Would have been huge mistake and an albatross contract
Trade for Donaldson : Could have happened, A's did sell. Would have been awesome, perhaps season changing.
Sign Headley super cheap: Couldn't have happened, Yanks paid him. Would have maybe made things a tiny bit better, mostly by dominoing Uggla out of the picture.
Sign Ramirez cheap : Couldn't have happened, Brewers and him picked up mutual option. Would have changed nothing.

So the Nats could have either saved the season or plunged it into even worse chaos. Good to know.

*did other things not work out and have more impact? Sure. But come on Uggla was and is terrible and was only picked up to rub it in the Braves face while helping a friend out. You know why players should be on rosters? Because they can play? You know why players shouldn't be on rosters? To rub it in other team's faces or to help out friends

Monday, October 19, 2015

Offseason Position Discussion : Second Base

Presumed Plan : It's not 100% clear but the likelihood right now is the Danny Espinosa will play second.

Reasoning on Presumed Plan : To break it down, the Nats have three guys for three positions.  Yunel is sneaky bad in the field, with quickly disappearing range. He played SS before last year, but covered 3B this year when Rendon went down. Rendon is a natural 3B and prefers to play there, but can play 2B and has for most of his young career. Espinosa went through the minors as a SS, but has played 2B for most of his career, and as the best fielder of the three, is good enough to play 3B.

You could stick Yunel at 3B again, but they'd really prefer to get Rendon back there since that is where they expect him to play into the future. Give his range issues you'd think that SS would be the worst place for Yunel but with Danny over at 2B and Rendon at 3B Yunel would have some help on either side of him. Plus, Yunel played SS for a long time so he wouldn't have to learn anything new, something that he would have to do at 2B. So SS may actually the the best option.

Another reason to stick Yunel at SS is that he is only going to be here for a season more (he's a FA after next year) and there is a SS waiting in the wings in Trea Turner. Turner could conceivably force his way into the line-up in Spring, but more likely they will put him in AAA to get everyday at bats and let his performance there dictate when he gets called up. By putting Yuney at short you set up 2017's infield.

So Yunel plays shortstop, which means Danny plays second. Probably.

With the bat, Danny had a minor renaissance last year, getting back to his low average, fair patience,  decent pop days from 2010-2012. That combination, along with his good defense, makes him a fringy starter and a good deal given he's still in arbitration. If he puts up a year like 2015 he's going to help the Nats more than he would hurt them. Plus Danny has been a healthy player, reliable to play a full season which is something the Nats need. "Securely ok" has more value for a team with a lot of "hopefully very good" on it.

Problems with Presumed Plan : In the field, you put your best fielder at SS. That's the position that gets the most work. So putting Danny at 2B is wasting him. And if Zimmerman's foot is better you'd probably have the same good defense on either side of Yunel as you'd have with him at SS, at a less critical position. Putting Yunel at SS might be overthinking it. You'd normally stick him at 3B or failing that 2B so maybe you should just do that?

As for Danny playing everyday, last season was really a tale of two halves. For the first half of the year Danny was resurgent. He was hitting as well as .272 / .356 / .471 on June 19th. That's Top 5 2B material. But he did nothing the rest of the year putting up a .205 / .259 / .341 line that's like worst 2B material and similar to what he did in 2013-2014. If he's that Danny, then he's a net negative for this team regardless of how he fields.

Also, while Trea Turner struggled initially he hit ok down the stretch and he fielded well. He hit .314 / .353 / .431 in 48 games in Syracuse last year. Is there really a point to putting him back in the minors?  Do we really think Espinosa/Escobar is that much better?

My take : This is a tough situation and will roll into our SS discussion. If you are committed to playing Danny and Yunel to start the year there is a question : are the Nats better off with Danny at SS and Yuney at 2B or vice versa? The arguments can be made either way. Frankly I don't think it'll matter too much so stick Yunel where he feels comfortable so maybe you can get another good offensive year out of him, because if you don't he has no value. Plus I don't know what'll happen to Ryan and Clint will certainly not have good range at 1B so Danny can help with that too. That way you aren't gambling with a million singles through the 1B hole.

So Danny at 2B is the starting point for me. Then the concerns about the offense kick in. Is Danny capable of a full season of good hitting now several years removed from his injury? Is he really 2010-2012 Danny? Or is he 2013-2014 Danny?  The difference is between a hidden gem, a nice player to have around, and an lineup anchor.  Given that the totality of 2015 was "2010-2012 Danny" you do start there as well, but with far less certainty in that than that he'll be a good fielding 2B. The Nats have to have a plan in place in case Danny starts out the year struggling to hit .200 and striking out every 3rd at bat.

What is that plan B? Probably Trea Turner. I don't think they'll have him start the year in the majors and I think he'll hit in AAA enough that he'd be ready for a call-up any time. (We'll talk about it more in a few days but I think the Nats best bet is to sell high on Yuney and let Turner start, but that has no bearing on 2B as it is expected to play out).  That does leave a question of who will be the bench 2B. Difo was unimpressive and then got injured, it won't be him.  The Nats don't really have any one to bring up. Dan Uggla is a non-starter and Mike Rizzo should be run out of town on a rail if Uggla is back. I don't know, it feels pretty fait accompli to me that Stephen Drew will be on this team as a back up, Rizzo draft pick from the Diamondbacks and all. He has legit power and can still field so the Nats could do worse.

Oh, what would I do? I'd sign Zobrist. Just like I would have traded for him before 2014 and before 2015. He admittedly had an off-year defensively and a slow start but he still ended up hitting like he has his entire career and his positional flexibility makes him a perfect fit for a team that's likely to go into 2016 with a injury risk late 30s LF and a CF that couldn't hit in 2015. But at this point saying "get Zobrist" is like screaming into an abyss. No one is hearing that.

Outside the Box Suggestion : I'd say gambling on a year of Howie Kendrick wouldn't be an interesting take but chances are at 32 he'll get a decent multi-year contract from someone. It might be just 2 years but it'll be something. And Daniel Murphy is going to get something more than that. As much as it would be fun to screw with the Mets like that, he really is only a good player who's having a great series.

So FA is pretty much out, those 2 and Zobrist are easily the best, so now we're talking trade. An obvious trade target would be Ian Kinsler, who would labor for one-year a Tigers team that probably won't compete in 2016 but would be looking for a fast re-tool to make something out Miggy's contract before he either starts to decline or can't get on the field anymore. While the Nats should be an ideal trade partner - they should be trying to win in 2016 before the rest of the exodus happens and the Nats potentially revert to a .500 type team - trading away actual good talent has never been Rizzo's way so I can't see them making a deal with the Tigers, who'd probably want Turner or Ross.

So how about we stick Rendon at 2B and trade for a 3B? That makes the most sense to me. Rendon can play 2B, has played 2B, and if he hits he's an All-Star at the position. At 3B he's very good but far less impactful given the number of 3B that can hit. Tell Rendon he's a 2B from now on so get used to it and trade for a 3B instead. Todd Frazier is an interesting name - like Kinsler he'll be a FA after next year and plays for a team that will be out of the playoffs. Unlike Frazier though his team is in more of a long-term rebuild so might match up with the Nats. But that's not out of the box.

Trade for Evan Longoria. His contract is long and high but actually reasonable for a guy that hits ok and fields ok. He's played every game for 3 straight years, giving the Nats needed security and just might have a few years like his better ones left in him. Perhaps being on a team that's not looking at a big uphill climb every year and plays infront of some fans would rejuvenate him. The Nats may have to give up a lot in the deal but he would immediately make the Nats line-up better and provide a 3rd core bat going forward for the next wave of competitive Nats teams. That's something we can't rely on from Zimmerman, Werth, Espinosa, or Taylor - starters likely to be here in 2017. Even Turner is a rookie who may or may not catch on right away. The Nats need another reliable bat heading beyond 2016. Hell they need another reliable bat IN 2016. This would work.

Friday, October 16, 2015

Last year first base discussion : revisited

First Base:

Take: Gotta use Zimm but based on what we saw at the end of 2014, train Werth/Bryce to back him up. Sign Daric Barton and let Moore go. 

2015 Reality : I actually wasn't betting on Zimm being that injured. He had missed significant time before but had always bounced back to play nearly a full season the year after. I was worried he wouldn't play well. Well it turned out to be the exact opposite. He played fine when healthy but wasn't healthy much of the year. He was playing with a bad foot for the first two plus months hitting .209 / .265 / .346, then sat out six weeks to get healthy. 
Not that him being injured was that much of a surprise, though. It just wasn't my first worry. I still thought planning for "Zimm can't play" should have been a priority and it wasn't. However the Nats got kind of lucky as Clint Robinson blossomed and provided the Nats with a passable first baseman when Zimm was out. The Nats gambled with Zimm and lost but found $20 on the floor walking away froim the table. 
But don't kid yourself - I do mean passable. For a first baseman Clint didn't hit all that well and the Nats had a below average first base situation this year. This could have been if not expected, then at least seen as a possible outcome. If this were the only failed back-up plan then the Nats might have done ok this season but we'll see it wasn't. 
Tyler Moore did fail again in his trials but  Daric Barton couldn't hit in AAA. So it's not like I can identify talent any better. 

Out of Box : Trade for Edwin Encarnacion!

2015 Reality : Yeah, the Blue Jays weren't going to trade Edwin Encarnacion. They decided to stick it out in an AL East that seemed winnable and after going all in at the trade deadline - they won it. So good for them. 
Still he would have been awesome. 

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Offseason Position Discussion : First Base

Presumed Plan : Ryan Zimmerman will play 1B backed up by Clint Robinson

Reasoning on Presumed Plan : When healthy Ryan Zimmerman can hit. He put up a .249 / .308 / .465 line this year, which in the ever declining offensive climate was above average. Assuming that was at least partly injury related it's fair expect a minor bounce back to his normal numbers. Say around .270 with 20ish homers in the baseball of today. That's good enough to play everyday on pretty much any team.

Because of various injuries Ryan Zimmerman can't play 3B anymore and given that the injuries are primarily throwing related, it makes the most sense to play him at 1B. He flashed some D, reminding us of his 2007-2010 heyday, but wasn't as adept as we probably hoped. Though that was almost certainly injury related.

Possibly most importantly Ryan stands to make 14 mill for the next 3 years and 18 mill after that. Those types of players play unless they are so bad you start to talk about sunk costs. Ryan isn't bad at all.

Clint Robinson, one of those career minor leaguers who hit well but for various reasons get blocked from getting a chance in the majors (calling Mr. Short, calling Mr. Rick Short), finally got his chance and hit in the majors as you'd expect. .272 / .358 / .424. Perfectly acceptable number for a full time player and a boon to be able to have on your bench.  He's nothing special at first, but he can play the position and his lefty bat makes a good back-up for Ryan Zimmerman.

Other options are limited. Tyler Moore once again put up a terrible year in a bench role. Even if you believe he can hit, it's clear that he cannot be a bench player. As of today he can't push out either Ryan or Clint so unless both Zimm and an OF get injured he won't see consistent playing time. In other words, the place for him here no longer exists.

In the minors, they were keen on slugger Matt Skole, but an injury set back his career. As of last year he was putting up numbers in AAA that suggested at least another year there was probably the best course of action. If that doesn't excite you, I've got bad news for you. He's probably the best 1B prospect in the Nats system (they do have some players! Just not C & 1B)

Problems with Presumed Plan : Ryan Zimmerman can't stay healthy. He played 95 games this year, 61 last year, which combined isn't even a full season. His shoulder forced him off of third and along with that he fractured his thumb, strained his right hamstring, suffered from plantar fascitis, and strained his oblique. That's just in the past 2 years and doesn't cover the injuries that caused him to miss 60 games in 2008, or 60 games in 2011. Relying on Ryan Zimmerman at age 27 off of his second season with big time missed to injury was risky. Relying on Ryan Zimmerman at age 31 off of his fourth, the last two which were back to back is close to insane.

Plus while Ryan has been hitting when in the line-up he has been trending down, as you'd expect from a player his age. The trend doesn't suggest a bottoming out but he could easily just be average this year and a first baseman hitting average isn't a positive. His decent numbers this year ranked 13th in OPS for NL first basemen with at lesat 350 PAs. 

Clint Robinson is a good back-up but since last year was his first full year in the majors we really don't have any security that he can repeat it. He is also going to be 31 next year (he's only 6 months younger than Ryan) so he too should be starting the downside of his career. And again - for a 1B his numbers are below average (he ranked 12th)

Still most of us have liked what we've seen from Clint, but his overall usefulness creates another problem. If the Nats lose an OF, it's likely that Clint would be first one in line to replace them as well leaving less security behind Zimm.

My take : What are you going to do? (I hope not to say that again). The Nats problems are ones of uncertainty. As I talked about during the trade deadline, if all these guys, or even most, come back healthy and hit, then the Nats are fine. But if they don't, the Nats need help. The question is, do you want to potentially waste money/talent, or potentially waste a season? The Nats chose to potentially waste a season and successfully wasted it.  The same issues face them going into next season though right now at a lesser degree than to start 2015.

Unlike Werth or Rendon, Zimmerman ended the season injured and has missed a ton of time for two straight years. He's simply unreliable. The Nats should move on... but they can't. Even though his contract isn't onerous, they can't deal him because of the injury history. He has to stay. If he has to stay, he's good enough when healthy to have to play, and he can only play first so end of story. At least the offense isn't as bad as you might think from the raw rankings. (which is why I tell you to never rely on rankings without looking at the numbers) Zimmerman (and Robinson) are really 4th tier firstbaseman, below average but not so terrible.

Robinson makes sense as a back-up both in handedness and skill.

Unlike catcher, there is a potential FA that could make a big difference here in Chris Davis. The sheer power that he represents makes him a likely upgrade even if Zimmerman is healthy. He'd also represent a big lefty bat to protect Bryce. But he'll be costly and at some point his inability to make contact (3rd worst in majors last year) is going to catch up with him. Will it be at age 30 or age 34? That's the question. And if you do sign him, then what happens to Zimm? Super sub? Then what happens to Clint?

The Nats are in a bad position. They almost have to go with Zimm and Robinson and it's almost sure not to work in a way that the position will be a plus for the Nats. 

Outside the Box Suggestion :

Unless the Blue Jays for some reason want to part with Encarnacion (who will be a FA after 2016) there isn't much available in trade. Votto is great but that contract is crazy and the rest that are noticeably better than Zimm aren't going to be traded.  Hosmer maybe? I don't know. I don't see a good trade here that makes the Nats better at first.

So don't get better. Stay neutral. Trade Zimmerman for parts and insert Robinson in at first.  I said Zimm was untradeable but that just meant no one was going to eat his full contract. The Nats will have to pay for some of it. But if they do eat some of it, they'll free up room in general. Where do you trade Zimm? To a team in the AL that's unhappy with their 1B/DH situation and is looking to win sooner rather than later. Houston is an interesting case, full of young talent and iffy in those positions. But I think the best fit would actually be our old friends in Seattle.  Logan Morrison and Mark Trumbo are both meh at best and they don't necessarily have a lot of near-ready talent in the pipeline. So Zimm fits the bill for a team trying to get something out of the Cruz signing and Cano before he might fade into nothingness.

What can the Nats get for Ryan? Whoever the Nats want to take a gamble on. The Mariners have a lot of "should have been good"s that haven't panned out yet. While I don't see then getting a pitcher from the Mariners, Seattle does have a depth of seemingly failing power hitting OFs that the Nats could probably snag a couple of and kind of need. If you believe that Seattle is flawed in developing hitting talent (and it's not a crazy belief) then maybe you get a currently disappointing duo and hope the Nats can do something with these guys. (and maybe Rizzo mind controls them into giving up Tijuan Walker)

At this point you have to think because of injuries and now age Zimmerman could be a big nothing for the rest of his contract. As painful as it might be, you could argue it's time to cut bait. It may be he can't get back much this offseason, but another 70 game season in 2016 and you might not be able to get anything.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Last year catcher discussion : revisited

Last year I did this all at once, but I'll try something different this year, keeping the positions together and going a tad bit more in depth.

My Take: Ramos, Lobaton and pray for health.

2015 Reality : Even with the benefit of hindsight it's hard to see this as a bad plan. Ramos had, for the most part, been a good offensive player prior to 2015 when healthy enough to play. Sure he dipped in 2014, but only to below average and you never could rule out injury being the cause. Plus he was only 26 and the thought was that it was simply him wearing down. He hadn't played that many games at C since 2011. Finally get him healthy and everything will be fine.

But it wasn't. Everything kept moving in the wrong direction even though he was healthy. That might have been ok but the second assumption, that Lobaton would bounce back a little, didn't happen either. He had been below average but passable for 2012-13, and honestly bad in 2014. But some of that had to do with being forced to hit lefties when Ramos went down. If Ramos stays healthy the domino effect would mean Lobaton could rarely come up against a LHP and thus would produce at a usable level again. Well that did happen, Ramos was healthy, Lobaton didn't face LHP (22 PA in 2015) but he still got worse.

Does Rizzo get blame here? Not really. If this was going to fall apart you assumed it would be because Ramos would get injured and Lobaton couldn't handle an every day job. That was the iffy part that Rizzo was gambling on. Unlike every other position, he actually won this bet. Ramos stayed healthy. But it didn't matter. Ramos hit significantly worse, and that Lobaton, given the chance to face only RHP, also hit worse. A surprise crash and a disappointment? Hard to plan around that.

Out of Box : Since a trade for Lucroy would likely be too rich for the Nats blood, what about a challenge deal for Hank Conger or Tony Sanchez?

2015 Reality :Neither of these guys would have been much of an upgrade over Ramos. Conger did show some impressive pop, but almost entirely at home in Houston. So he might have been more of a threat at the plate, but not that much more.  Defensively he seems to be a hell of a pitch framer but meh otherwise. Tony Sanchez is more of a question mark as he never really made it out of AAA, thanks to Cervelli. But in AAA he did nothing to force the issue, and I have to think that would be unlikely to change at the major league level.

So Conger would have made the Nats better but it's not a slam dunk. Sanchez probably wouldn't have. 

Monday, October 12, 2015

Offseason Position Discussion : Catcher

And so it begins. We go position by position, just like last year and the year before. What we assume the plan is and why, potential issues, my opinion, and finally an outside the box suggestion (if I can come up with one)

Presumed Plan :  Ramos and Lobaton, right? I don't see anything else happening right now.

Reasoning on Presumed Plan :  Catcher is primarily seen as a defensive position and despite being pretty bad at the plate, both Lobaton and Ramos were good defenders behind it last year. They lie somewhere between solid and very good defenders depending on what flawed catcher defense statistic you choose to use. Ramos is better in the typical way; blocking balls, throwing out runners. Lobaton is the better pitch framer.

Along with the defense, all the other incidentals are favorable. The two are still under arbitration and relatively cheap. Ramos should make about 5 million next year, Lobaton under 2.  Both made it through 2015 unscathed.  Both are on the younger side for catchers with Lobaton turning 31 in a week and Ramos a couple months into being 28.

You still might want to consider a replacement, but the Nats don't have an internal option. They like Pedro Severino's defense but the kid (turned 22 in July) has yet to put up a good offensive season in the minors. That's not a mark against him. Like I said, he's young. But it does mean he's doubtful to contribute in 2016. The Nats preseason favorite, Spencer Kieboom, went Kiebust in High-A hitting .248 / . 344 / .346 after impressive showing in rookie and A-ball last year. Don't like Kieboom's year? It was the 5th best offensive season by a catcher in the Nats organizaion in 2015 (20 catchers). Remove a couple of under 40 PA guys and it's 3rd best. If Severino doesn't start hitting it's a wasteland.

Free agency is a little better but not much. Matt Wieters is considered the prize but he can't stay on the field (100 games played since 2013) and has only flashed offensive skill. Arguably the best reliable offensive catcher available is AJ Pierzynski who will be 39 next year. Geovany Soto is ok in a pinch but at so-so defensively is he worth replacing Ramos for?

Problems with Presumed Plan :  Man, they were terrible offensively last year. Ramos wasn't the worst regular catcher in the league but he was down there. His fair power was completely undermined by his inability to take a walk (21 in 504 PA this year), his issues hitting for average (.229), and his terrible slowness (another 16 GIDP this year). As bad as Wilson was Jose was worse, hitting .199 / .279 / .294 last year. These aren't isolated odd years but trends as both guys have been going in the wrong direction now for 2 seasons.

What do the fancy stats say? They say it's mostly deserved. Lobaton might get a few more singles but that's about it. Ramos is swinging and missing more and getting slower. Lobaton has likely aged to the point where he is not finding that modest pop that gave him an average offensive year back in 2013.

So if you stick with these guys you'll have one guy who might hit a homer, and a back-up who might take a walk. In other words you have a hole in your line-up. The only consolation being that about a third of the league has the same sort of hole.

My take : What are you going to do? As noted above the Nats minor leagues is barren when it comes to catcher. A normal team doesn't bring up a Pedro Severino but he was literally the best the Nats had at the time. Free agency is only slightly better. Signing Weiters is a fool's move. He can't stay healthy and he's only really had one impressive offensive season. 80-90 games of average offense is far more likely with him, yet he'll get paid on promise. No one else makes much sense to replace Ramos, either as a one-year signing or a long-term deal. AJ, who was good last year at the plate but bad the year before that and will turn 39 in December? No thank you. Dioner Navarro, with defense so mediocre the Blue Jays spent a fortune on Russell Martin? No thank you again. Geovany Soto, the 9 of clubs of all trades? I suppose, if you deal Ramos for something and need a couple year stop gap.

But really with Ramos developing into an actually good defender behind the plate I don't see how any of that is a better bet than giving Wilson one more go at it. He doesn't have to be good, merely average and he was average just a year ago. Maybe you give him more rest? He was pretty wretched in July and September. If that's your goal then you might look to replace Lobaton. AJ or a Brayan Pena as a solely lefty hitter would be interesting. But AJ will probably get a 1yr starting job somewhere and signing Pena is a tradeoff with terrible defense for a guy that's never actually been a good hitter, just recently better than terrible.

No by default Ramos and Lobaton wins out. Cross your fingers everybody.

Outside the Box Suggestion : This isn't really outside of the box, but let's explore trades. There are probably two good targets. One is John Lucroy, a fine catcher offensively and defensively making peanuts, who might be available because the Brewers should be rebuilding, because a slow start and an injury caused a dip in production this year, and because he's had concussion issues.  However, it's still very likely it'll take an arm and a leg to pry Lucroy from the Brewers and the Nats aren't inclined to do that. So that leaves Derek Norris. He's not a particularly adept defensive catcher but has improved over time and despite an off-year last year, he's a much better bet to perform offensively than Ramos at this point. The Padres have a young catcher, in Austin Hedges, who is a fantastic defender and should hit so Norris will likely be available, if not this offseason then soon. So why not force the issue?

Ship the Padres Yunel Escobar (they were terrible at 3B), Wilson Ramos (they'll need a back-up C) and Storen (they were terrible in relief) for Norris and Melvin Upton. Why Melvin Upton? Well, you can't expect the Padres to eat all that salary (like 20 million or so) for nothing? Melvin brings back a hefty 15 mill for this year (and 16 mill for next) but he fills that need for an real live 4th OF that could play everyday if needed. If you can just assume the Braves time was some sort of self-induced fluke he'd be a perfect, albeit expensive, fit. The only other big salary guys are Kimbrel, who makes no sense for the Pads to trade if they are going to try to compete; Kemp, who should be a DH and is owed a ton; and Sheilds, who is older and has a ton of innings on that arm. So you suck it up, take on Melvin for more than he's wroth and take away the ultra cheap Norris (paid ~500K last year going into his first arb year) for the next 3 seasons.

You can actually see the Padres doing a deal like this if they want to sell on Melvin when they have the chance rather than risk a bad year next year and be stuck with 3 albatross contracts for 2017. This arguably would make them better, and if it doesn't this gives them 3 guys who will be FA after next year. The question would be - could they get something young and good for Norris by himself?

Friday, October 09, 2015

Did we miss anything?

I'll admit my attention to the Nats wasn't as strong once it was pretty clear they weren't going to win it the division. Obviously things like Max's resurgence weren't overlooked because they were stamped with no-hitters to get your attention, and we follow Strasburg enough that his awesome end wasn't missed either but I went back to see if there was anything else in the past month or so that deserves a minute or two of thought.
  • Felipe Rivero did a pretty good job in the closer role and relieving in general.  Remember how the question about good relief arms isn't if you can find them but how long it will take? Well thanks to a couple of untimely failures, it took most of the season to confirm but Felipe Rivero is pretty good. The five walks in 15 IP in Sept is a little high, but he was basically unhittable (0.533 WHIP) and got 14 Ks. Given his age and that he was mostly solid during the year too I think, yes, the Nats have a decent relief arm here
  • No other non-vet really stood out at year's end in the pen. You are dealing with very brief outings here - about half the amount of innings Rivero pitched. Solis and Grace got good results but weren't necessarily impressive. Martin pitched well but is 31 so I'm not betting on him. Not that these guys are bad, but you enter the 2016 season with no security that they will be any good. 
  • The pre-supposed "next-in-line" guys were terrible. Treinen and Janssen both finished the year in a bad way. Neither is a problem specifically but if Storen is going and Papelbon is going you kind of wanted these guys to be good to at least give you a starting point for next year. This is why it's not impossible Papelbon (who is good) or Storen (who is cheap) will be back next year. Right now the Nats are staring at a pen that's a 23yr old with one good year and that's it.
  • Roark didn't pitch all that well as a starter in Sept but it was mostly one bad start. He did seem to improve as he got back in the groove. This is important because it looks like the Nats will need two starters. Ross and Roark are projected to be the two. The question for Roark is how much of 2014 was a one-season wonder and how much was it that Roark is actually good? We can't take much of anything out of this season, but at least we are ending on somewhat of a good note with back to back solid starts. 
  • Gio also had a nice finish to the year. True there was a lot of terrible offenses in those games but if he pitches like he did this year stopping his sliding tendencies he'll be a fine 3/4. 
  • Trea Turner finally got a hit, and then got some more. .290 / .371 / .419 in Sept. He'll probably start 2016 in AAA but it's good to see him adjust. 
  • Matt denDekker hit pretty well too. .298 / .353 / .596. What does that mean? Well it means if he's your 5th OF to start the year and your 4th OF is a legitimate starter replacement, well, it's not a bad thing. It could become one quickly and he still probably shouldn't be in a situation where starting a bunch of games is possible but he gives the Nats an option at a cheap bench all around OF that they've lacked. 
  • Michael Taylor really tailed off at the end of the year. .180 with no power in September. Maybe he was tired after a full season? But looking at the whole year - he hit .222 / .278 / .340 from May 1st on so arguing that pitchers figured him out pretty quickly is reasonable as well. If he's going to be a low .200s batter with some streaky power, that's probably not enough. He might be the easiest player to bump from the line-up for a FA or trade acquisition. We'll see. 
  • Ramos and Lobaton both never got it going. I don't see the catcher situation improving without a move.  
  • Rendon and Werth both stopped hitting the last two weeks of the year. They followed the same pattern. Took about 2-3 weeks to get going, hit well for 2-3 weeks, then crashed the last 2-3 weeks. What exactly do we take from that? I don't know. One thought was that they were able to hit well because they began cheating on pitches, looking FB swinging early, and then the pitchers adjusted. Then again it might just be the aspect of barely playing for nearly 4 months. I think it leaves us, unfortunately, with no answers on whether these guys will hit next year. I'd bet on yes, but I wouldn't build a team around the assumption that they will.

Thursday, October 08, 2015

See wither Tyler Moore

For all I know Tyler Moore is a great person and as far as the complete universe of baseball from Little League to the Majors he is extraordinarily accomplished. Millions have played at all, only a few thousand out there have made the majors. Not only has Tyler Moore made the majors but he's played for 4 years, hit multiple home runs, and even drove in the deciding run in a playoff game. He's the 1% of the 1% of baseball. Tyler Moore should be exceptionally proud of what he has accomplished.

Now get him off the team

I've often said that at the major league level Moore is a one trick pony. He can give you some RH power if need be. That's a very limited skill set, but it does accurately describe Moore. He doesn't hit for average. He's not patient. He doesn't make good contact. He's not a good fielder. He does not run well. Given all that he could be the slugger from that Bugs Bunny cartoon opponent and you still might not carry him on your team.

Yet despite me saying you can't very well keep a player like that on your team for very long, the Nats have given Tyler Moore 650 PAs over 4 years. He's never quite made it to part-time player, but looking at his at bats he's been a key bench piece over that entire time. Not only that, he had his most PAs in this season. It's mind-boggling.

If you don't believe me I did a little check to see if in fact Tyler Moore was the most inexplicable hitter to play that much baseball in the past 3 years. I checked how many players have been given 300+ PA in the past 3 years and have not contributed positively offensively or defensively. (Moore has 478 PA but I figured I'd widen the field) I used baseball-reference offense and defense WAR to figure this out, but don't worry Fangraphs' stats think he's equally as worthless.

Turns out there are only 32 players (so very very few) but even that is too misleading in a positive direction for Tyler. When looking at these players you notice that there are a lot of C and MI in there. These are positions where offense can be hard to find. Tyler Moore is a 1B/OF. a place where sluggers roam free. What if we cut it to 1B, corner OF and DH? 

There are 18. 

So only 18 guys have given as little as Tyler Moore has in the past 3 years and played as much. Can we dig a little deeper? Sure, to try to add in speed let's cut this to only guys who stole 5 bases or fewer (Moore has 0 - indicating his complete lack of speed, but I'm feeling generous)

OK we're at 14 now. Now we can try to figure out the why these guys played if they were so completely terrible.  A bunch of them were players who were former starters that still had full time gigs in 2013 or 2014 because of past competence. It can take a while for baseball to give up on you if you were once good, well-liked, and not terribly old. This definitely covers Lyle Overbay, Paul Konerko, Ryan Ludwick, Jason Kubel, Carlos Pena, and Corey Hart. They were probably given a year more than they should have but you could understand why. Despite never having continued good play, Jeff Francoeur probably fits here too. That 2011 season gave teams desperate for players something to hold onto. Nolan Reimold too should be here. He was only briefly good but it was injuries that brought him down so you can understand why teams gave him at bats.

Ok we're down to 6. Yunesky Betancourt is an interesting case we should discuss. He was briefly a defensive whiz who quickly became a burden all over the field. The Brewers picked him up as a last man on bench type and when injuries struck in 2013 (three separate season ending injuries to first baseman before the season!) he played a ton at first base. It was pretty much insane after say mid May when his hot April descended into expected terribleness. But I actually checked when I was looking into Roenicke yesterday and Betancourt was arguably the best player left. Juan Francisco could hit better but was so incredibly bad fielding that he just couldn't be used there. The other choices were no better. So you can understand why he ended up playing but you can't understand why Doug Melvin didn't bring in anyone better (unless, like me, you think he was flying under everyone's radar as one of the worst GMs in baseball).  Of course the question is - does he fit in this group? Betancourt was primarily a MI (though a bad one) and only deviates from that because of an extraordinary situation, and then he never played again. While it's inexplicable he got that many ABs at 1B in 2013, it's not like he was playing a slugging position for a couple years while giving no offense. For that reason I'm knocking him out. Down to 5.

One is Jon Singleton. A young (23 this year) true prospect (ranked on top halves of Top 100 lists), he was given a bunch of at bats last year to try to catch on to this youthful Astros squad. It didn't take. But still you see why he got them. Down to 4.

Michael Choice was also a true prospect, though on the outskirts of Top 100 lists. He also received his ABs in one big burst trying to catch on. Plus he barely makes the list with exactly 300 PAs. I can explain his ABs and he had almost 200 fewer. No not worse than Moore. Down to 3.

Ok we're now at the real challengers Chris Parmalee and Marc Krauss. Never big time prospects (ok Parmalee was very breifly but far enough removed from when he actually played to be ignored right now) not particularly young, a fair number of appearances in multiple seasons. They all fit the "What the hell? Him again?" profile I'm looking for.

Marc Krauss was about as bad as Tyler Moore but has a couple things going for him to not be the most inexplicable. One is that he played 2013 and 2014 with some terrible offensive Astros teams. In 2013 Nine different Astros OF/1B types had over 100 at bats not including "All I do is homer" Chris Carter.  You just heard Singleton got a ton in 2014, and another 6 got 100+ at bats. Just by virture of being there you got ~300 PAs. Alex Pressley, Robbie Grossman, Jake Marisnick, LJ Hoes... A terrible team trying to throw pieces at a wall to see what works? I have to say that makes more sense to me than using Tyler Moore as a key bench piece for 3 years. Plus he was a 2nd round pick so there was some consensus he was good. I'm going to drop him.

Chris Parmalee... Ok this one is tougher. Arguing for him being the most inexplicable, Parmalee has a bunch more at bats than Moore. Like 700 to Tyler's 480 in past 3 years. That can't be dismissed. And... well that's all I can think of. Aruging for Tyler Moore, despite playing that much less his WAR stats (which are cumulative and thus playing time based) are worse across the board. Parmalee was a former 1st round pick. Moore a 16th rounder. So even though neither were prospects, much like Krauss, Parmalee had cache. Chris Parmalee is also a lefty which makes him a tempting platoon player - though that's more in the mind as his splits were never that good.

The real key here is Moore did well in a brief stint 2012 justifying the time he saw in 2013, and Parmalee crushed in a briefer one in 2011 making a more enticing prize so you can see him playing in 2013 as well. But neither played well enough in 2013 to justify playing in 2014 and repeat for 2014 to 2015. 

Hmmm Hmmm. Tough one.

I'm going to do it. I'm going to officially declare Tyler Moore the winner of "Most Inexplicable Player to get as many plate apperances as he did from 2013-2015" I think what it comes down to is Parmalee was bad in 2014 improved only to below average in 2014 and that netted him 100 ABs in 2015. Moore was terrible in 2013 and improved only to bad in 2014, yet that somehow netted him twice as many PAs in 2015. I don't get it. I don't get it.

Ok this was probably too much work to tell you what you already know. Tyler Moore should not be on the bench for the Nats (or really any team) next year. He has proven himself not to be a player you stick on the bench for 100ABs, especially for an injury riddled team where he may be called on to play more. Maybe you stick him in AAA and maybe if he's awesome there and you have a need you give him 50 ABs to see what's what, and re-assess after that. That's it.

The end and the end of Tyler Moore one hopes.

Wednesday, October 07, 2015

Did you hear Matt Williams was fired?

It's true! On Monday the Nats held true to their word and didn't dawdle, firing Matt Williams before lunch on the first day after the season ended. I think Mike Rizzo and the Lerners actually really wanted to keep Williams but were put into an impossible position. Matt Williams helmed the teamed to a disappointing season which alienated fans. Bring him back and you risk the bottom line. Matt Williams apparently lost the respect of the clubhouse. Bring him back and you risk a mutiny.

You can lose games or lose the clubhouse and keep your job if management likes you. You can't do both. Not unless you are a living legend. Matt Williams is not that.

So now we are left with the question of who? From Rizzo's remarks it seems obvious that Matt Williams was hired on gut instinct. He knew him. He felt like he'd be a good manager. They didn't really entertain other candidates. It was Matt Williams job to lose and, he didn't. Well he didn't at the interview stage. This time they are going to do a more thorough job.  I don't exactly buy that that means experience is really going to matter. I think they are going to hire whoever they think is best for the job. However I do think a total outsider, no coaching or managing experience, would have to wow them. In other words, they aren't going to just hand the job to Cal Ripken.

The other thing is I don't expect a new hire to happen real soon. It does have to happen relatively quickly, like by year's end since the whole staff needs to be put together by February. But I wouldn't expect anything to be named this month, because I'd expect the Nats are going to wait out until the playoffs are over or nearly over so they can visit with all the candidates.

Right now the Nats are in a good place, manager search wise. Ventura, Price, Ausmus, Mackanin, and Weiss; all potential fires, are all back. They just gutted the Brewers coaching staff, but kept Counsell, who had come on mid-season. Outside of maaaaaybe Don Mattingly or Terry Collins if there's an embarrassing sweep due to mismanagement, there isn't a playoff manager in danger of being fired. So it's only the Nats, the Marlins and the Padres with open spots, with one strong possibility to join in Lloyd McClendon in Seattle and one outside shot in Fredi. You do not want to go to Miami unless you have to, a place where the owner replaced the manager with the GM midseason. The Mariners haven't kept a manager for more than 3 years since Lou Pinella left in 2002 and reside in a strong division where the top 2 teams not only won more games than the Mariners but have much stronger farm systems. So there should be only a two way fight for any good manager based on organizations. If the Nats can't get their #1 choice, they should get their #2.

Who might that be?  You'll hear Bud Black floated around the most and he's a tempting hire. The Padres never really tanked under him and the Nats love pitching and he's a pitcher who was a pitching coach as well. Black however also never led San Diego to the playoffs and despite the issues with Seattle he is a Washington native who could be lured back there. After that the choices go in all different directions.

Rizzo mentioned winning a WS in the "very near future". So age may be forgiven this time around. Charlie Manuel (a Werth fav) or Jim Leyland?  They both seemed to get the most out of talented teams. Experience managing without a WS? Dusty Baker, Ron Gardenhire have years of experience and above .500 records. Not as long in the tooth? Ron Washington, Ozzie Guillen, and Ron Roenicke have years and above .500 records too.

If they are serious about major league experience that's probably the list of candidates there. Minor league managers with coaching experience? Randy Knorr is one, as is the always the bridesmaid DeMarlo Hale, and a current hot name being bandied about Roberto Kelly. Just minor league managing success? If you want to burn the Mets fans Wally Backman. Perhaps popular coaches who communicate well for a 360 from Matt Williams? Bo Porter would fit in here. Maybe Dave Martinez who did interview for the job in 2013.

Who do I want? Well honestly, if I were GM I'd take Davey back. Yes he blew that game in the playoffs but he blew A game in the playoffs. Hey, it happens. But they aren't bringing back Davey. So I'd go Leyland if he wants to do it, but he has indicated he doesn't. So Werth wins I guess. Charlie Manuel is the manager. He has an ability to let talented teams just play, which is what this talented team needs. It would end with an ugly divorce a year or two down the road when the team starts to turn over because Charlie doesn't seem to have interest in teaching or adapting. But if you want to win in 2016, and who doesn't. I think Charlie Manuel is your man. Ron Washington might be my next guy but you are gambling on an whole nother set of variables with him.

If you want to avoid an ugly divorce and want a long term guy? DeMarlo Hale is so interesting a pick that I'd wait on him. He's had plenty of good minor league years and is beloved and seems to be a continual almost hire. He is going to get a job somewhere soon.

Bud Black? He's fine. I'm sure he'll do ok, but I'd honestly rather have Ron Roenicke who fits the same "team did as expected based on talent on hand" bill. He at least has proven he could win with a talented team and his teams never really tanked. He took way too much blame for the Brewers mediocrity when really that's should have been expected given the pitching Melvin rostered for him year after year. That is a team primed for long losing streaks if the offense stops hitting because they have nothing like a stopper in the rotation. That's a fine strategy with Fielder and Braun in their prime. Not so much otherwise.

Anyway there you go. Depending on the Nats goals I'd go Manuel (extreme short term), Hale (long term), or Roenicke (a ship steadier who was successful enough in first stint that if he improves in 2nd he'd be really good)

Tuesday, October 06, 2015

Season in Review : In-season

So far, as a fanbase, Nats fans/media were one for two in setting expectations. When the Giants beat the Nats in the playoffs and they started to think "ok we'll be here next year, what do we have to do to make the NLCS or WS" that was actually fine. Objectively looking at the Nats did produce, at that moment, a favorite to return to the playoffs. When they were still thinking that at season's start though, that was a problem. The Nats offseason of injury and getting rid of nearly every bullpen arm had created a Nats team that still should win the NL East, but had much greater potential for losing it as well.

Now we get to the the third expectation point. This one actually is not confined to a single date but would end up encompassing the time from the start of the season until July 28th. This expectation was that "the Nats would put the Mets in the rearview mirror when everyone got back healthy".

Initially it didn't have to be the Mets, but initially the expectation didn't have to exist at all either. We understood the possibility of a slow start, but anything can happen in a couple weeks so the Nats might instead start out hot and never cool down. Didn't happen. The Nats minus Rendon/Werth/Span started out cold. Meanwhile, rather than the Mets and Marlins (and ok maybe the Braves but they went into rebuild mode in the offseason) fighting it out for the lead, the Mets took control from Game...ok not 1, Game 6.  At that point the Mets would start an 11-0 streak and set themselves up as the team for the Nats to catch in the NL East. (The Marlins would go 5-11 and never really be in the race).

At this point that expectation I noted kicked in, and to be honest the problem with it wasn't in the assumption of talent, but the assumption of health. It should have been phrased "the Nats would put the Mets in the rearview mirror IF everyone got back healthy".  The idea that in a couple weeks Rendon and Werth would be back and then Span, who was recovering quickly, would follow and everything would be fine turned out to be way off.

4/6 :  -Span, -Rendon, -Werth
4/13 : -Span, -Rendon
(4/15 : Stammen out for year)
4/19 : -Rendon
5/16 : -Rendon, -Werth
(5/19 : Fister goes out)
(6/3 : Strasburg goes out) 
6/10 :  -Rendon, -Werth, -Zimmerman
(6/18 : Fister back)
(6/23 : Strasburg back)
7/7 : -Rendon, -Werth, -Zimmerman, -Span
(7/9 : Strasburg out again)

Rendon's injury would linger seemingly forever, never allowing the Nats to have everyone back. They almost had it for about a month and that time would closely correspond with the Nats best run of the year. They'd go 18-10 with "all but Rendon" specifically and from 4/28 to 5/27 the Nats would go 21-6.

The injuries would keep the Nats from having a consistent line-up. Not only that, injuries would do the same to the rotation, and Stammen going out early meaning the Nats had almost a whole new bullpen to find. This inconsistency would show up in the Nats performances where they would alternate playing well and playing terribly : 7-13, 21-6, 6-14, 12-3

Still the expectation seemed fair based on the assumption of talent. Despite playing middling baseball for 90 games the Nats found themselves 49-41 heading into the Mets series on Jul 20th and holding a 2 game lead. They'd win 2 of 3 and it seemed very clear that this Mets team just couldn't catch this Nats team. Their offense was too anemic. Their bullpen had too many questions. Yes, the Mets would have a couple key players returning from injury in Wright and d'Arnaud, but the Nats had four key players returning all of who hit better than those two in 2014. It seemed pretty safe to assume the Nats would widen their lead.

Then something happened.

On July 24th the Mets traded for Kelly Johnson and Juan Uribe. Then on July 27th the Mets traded for Tyler Clippard. Then on Jul 31st the Mets traded for Yoenis Cespedes.

On offense, the conceit was all the Mets did was add players that were at best only as good as the ones coming back from injury for the Nats, and probably not even that. This might have been true, but this ignored the fact that the guys for the Nats were coming back from injury. You had no idea how they would perform. Johnson, Uribe, and Cespedes you could be fairly sure they would perform around as they performed up until this point in the season. But Werth, Rendon, Zimm, and Span? It was completely possible that they could give you nothing. Yet the fans, fed by the team (it's like we're making 3 deadline deals!), ignored that fact* and assumed they would play as they had in previous years. Based on those now flawed assumption, Nats fans still expected to go right by the Mets once everyone came back on July 28th.
So to recap - the expectation of putting distance between the Nats and the Mets made sense on July 22nd, was questionable on July 24th and even more so on the 27th as the Mets addressed their issues with fixes of more certainty than injury returnees. On July 30th Papelbon would join the Nats giving fans and that expectation a boost, but on July 31st the Mets added Cespedes and that expectation was arguably no longer valid. The next 62 games would be decided with teams who had roughly the same chances of performing well.  The Nats may have had the better on-paper talent, but the Mets had far more certainty in their talent. They did not have to rely on four bats (and one arm - Strasburg) performing when they returned, only two.

At that point the expectation should have switched to a dogfight to the end of the season. That would have been fair. Why didn't that actually happen? Well if two teams are of equal standing, anything unexpected could derail (or propel) one team's chances. We ended up getting three of those things.
  1. We can talk about this in more detail later but the Nats pitching unexpectedly blew up. The relief pitching, which had been pick and choose bad, became across the board bad. Gio and shockingly Max also threw up terrible game after terrible game.
  2. When the injury returnees for both teams started to hit again in late August, the Nats should have had an advantage, but the Mets had several players really outperform expectations and wiped out that expected advantage
  3. The Mets swept the Nats in two head to head series. Admittedly, the Mets played better than the Nats this season, especially down the stretch, but you'd expect even the worst team playing the best team to take 1 or 2 games of 6. The Nats go 2-4 in those series and it's a 3 game lead after Sept 9th, not 7.
Even the adjusted expectation is just an expectation. If something unexpected happens, it won't hold.

You ever hear about how people want to get rid of the college football pre-season poll because it sets an expectation that may not reflect reality? That it takes a few games into the season to really get an idea of who is the good and who is the bad but once set, voters are reluctant to really move these teams? How pre-conceived notions influence our thoughts all the way down the line? Yeah, that's kind of what happened here.

We started at a place I'd argue was the right place. A Nats team primed to repeat as NL East champs. But rather than re-evaluate when injuries and bullpen issues came to the fore, both during the pre-season and in-season, we simply adjusted. Oh the Nats were a 95 win team before, so they'll just win a few fewer games. Oh the Nats were a 93 win team entering the season, clearly they'll be a 93 win team when everyone comes back. At any point in the season though we should really evaluate from the ground up. Take a fresh look at the team as it is and for god's sake understand the variability of injuries and old veterans/young players. If we did that we would have been more wary to start the year and we would have seen the coin-flip situation at the end of the year as it truly was. 

*I'll note I did try to warn you that things had changed both before and after the Mets series.

Monday, October 05, 2015

Season in review : The pre-season

Before we get into the nitty gritty of the clubhouse or the individual position reviews. I wanted to talk about expectations. The season was only a disappointment because expectations weren't met. That's how it works. But were these expectations fair to begin with? I'll look at two expectation points today and one tomorrow. 

The 2015 Nats season began on October 8th, 2014 and the Nats' immediate future looked rosy. Yes, they had just failed again to advance past the NLDS in heartbreaking fashion but in the past 3 years they had twice won the NL East with ease, and had twice lost competitive series to the eventual World Series winners the current standard bearers for the National League. Beyond that the Nats had nearly all the same pieces in place for 2015. The rotation was all returning. They would only lose one relief arm, one that fell out of favor as the season went on. They could have lost as many as three offensive starters but had a plan that limited the effective loss to only one. They only had two moderate injury concerns at season's end. And most impressive, out of the 20 or so active roster spots likely to return, only 2 were going to be older than 31 in the following season.

There was no reason, on October 8th, to believe there was anything to worry about. The question wasn't whether the Nats would make the playoffs, it would seemingly take a major change in fortune for that not to happen, or whether the Nats would win the NL East, a possibility of course, but fairly unlikely given the gap between the teams in 2014, but what the Nats could do to get over the playoff hump?  How could they find a 2nd baseman, improve the bench, and maybe get a solid relief arm while finding that missing something? 

At this point - this was a completely rational line of thinking. Re-read the above. 20 or or so returning players from a 96 win team, 18 or so 31 or younger, that won their division by 17 games. It would be silly to have a negative opinion of this team, at least as far as regular season record was assumed. Yes 2013 turned out badly, but there was a very good Braves team that year, a back of the rotation issue, no Anthony Rendon... no no, 2015 couldn't be 2013 again. And then... 

This created a minor worry among Nats fans. After a middling 2013, Span had blossomed into a big part of the team. But they said he'd be ready for Spring, and even if he wasn't the Nats had two guys they liked waiting in the wings. Steven Souza, an older prospect but one who crushed AAA the year before, and Michael A Taylor, the heir apparent for when Span left. They'd be fine

We underestimated the impact of Span, who put up a fringy MVP season in 2014 and as lead-off and CF occupied very important positions in the Nats offense and defense. Any assumption that his 2014 season could easily be replaced was misplaced.

Dec 12th - Ross Detwiler traded to the Rangers

Maybe this got a shrug. Detwiler had never recovered from his 2013 injury and had been passed by Roark in the rotation. He spent much of 2014 as a mediocre long man. Whatever.

It shouldn't have been completely dismissed. Detwiler did pitch the 3rd most innings in the pen and they had already let Soriano, who pitched the 4th most innings, go. The question of who would exactly replace those innings grew. It shouldn't be hard to find a mediocre or better arm to fill these innings but the more innings that needed to be filled the more time it would probably take.

Dec 19th - Steven Souza traded to the Rays

This caused a little bit of worry, but mainly in fans who liked Souza more than they should have. You make this deal 100 times out of 100, but it did leave the Nats with a little bit of a hole in the OF for 2015. If Span couldn't make it back or if another guy got injured mid-season or MAT failed miserably, the Nats could have an issue.

I think we had the right understanding here. With only Span out at the time and looking to be back in Spring, the loss of 1 of 2 4th/5th OF wasn't a big thing to worry about. At the time.

Dec 23rd / 26th - Signed Heath Bell, and Dan Uggla

The Nats made signings like this - cheap gambles on fixing the bench and pen. It was their way. Unless the Nats got injured though it shouldn't matter.

Again at the time these types of attempts to fill the roster with other team's trash weren't terrible. You can't sign good players to have them not play.

Jan 8th - Jayson Werth undergoes shoulder surgery

Now things get hairy, but fans remained optimistic. There was no word that Span wasn't progressing on schedule and Werth should be ready for the start of the season too. You didn't like to have two guys have surgery in the offseason but as long as they were back in the Spring there wasn't a big reason to be worried. Still a trade for Zobrist would go a long way to assuage our fears (and cover 2B - which was still in the hands of Espy as of this date)

Total underestimation of problem. We had too easily bought into the Nats party line that these guys would be back at this date and be pretty much ready to go, with maybe a couple weeks of at bats. Injuries are serious business. They can wipe out a season, either by keeping a player out or making them much worse than they were before. Werth was the best offensive player on the Nats in 2014. He could be gone. Span was maybe the best all around player on the team. He could be gone. Plus no one had a clue if MAT was really ready for a big time role. I think part of the reason though that we were not overly concerned was that Zobrist, who was the PERFECT fit, was still out there. Surely they'd get him now. I don't know why'd we'd believe that though. When have the Nats ever went out and got the perfect fit? Combine this with the Souza trade and the Nats FA tendencies to go cheap and a potential lurking problem should have been identified 

Jan 10th - Zobrist traded to the A's

Oops. We were concerned but again not all that concerned. Span and Werth should be back.  They'll get someone to fill in 2B or OF for 2015. It'll be fine.

See above. Injuries, especially core injuries or injuries to older players, need to be taken more seriously than we were taking them and the Nats rarely make acquisitions that would help a single year.  

Jan 14th - Tyler Clippard traded for Yunel Escobar

Finally some alarm bells started going off. I mean getting Yunel Escobar was good. It served a purpose (two actually assuming Desmond was leaving and Yuney would shift) but Clippard was huge in the pen in 2014 and had been so for years. But maybe they have a cheap pick-up or a trade in mind?

I think even though we were worried we weren't worried enough because of the totality of the relief issues. They lost now the 2nd, 3rd and 4th most IP from the pen. 200IP. That's so much to replace. You very well may not replace all that with even the slightly below average arm Detwiler was. It takes time to find one arm. To find three? Forget alarm bells, we needed klaxons going off.  

Jan 21st - Max Scherzer is signed.

Almost all our worries faded away as the prospect of a historic rotation came to be. In the back of our minds we could envision a rotation issue, Gio was trending the wrong way, Fister's fancy stats said he was overperforming, Roark had only been good for one year, we had no depth. Now in one fell swoop those fears were blown away. This could be a rotation they talk about throughout history.

This is a separate place where we failed to grasp the situation. Because the Nats had pretty much avoided major SP injuries and crashes since 2012, and had found replacements rather easily, we just assumed that would be the case forever. The reality is the opposite is the standard. Guys get injured. Guys get worse very quickly. A rotation should never be assumed to go through a season without issue and if ZNN, Scherzer or Stras was that issue, well then the back of our minds might have been right all along.

Feb 2nd - Casey Janssen signed.

OK, it was clear at this point that there was no real relief help coming. There would be just buy low players who could break out or could amount to nothing. But again - who cares if the rotation is as strong as we thought it could be.

I think we were wrapping our head around the pen issue rightly, but were also overwhelmed by the rotation, thinking then pen wouldn't matter with those guys starting games. It always matters. 

March 7th - Yunel Escobar gets an oblique strain

It'll be fine. He should be good to go in a couple weeks

What are we delusional? Another Nats player goes down and we wave it off? I mean sure Espy was probably roughly the same value but what the hell are we thinking here?

March 9th - Denard Span has a second surgery

Uh oh. He was now going to miss big time. Werth is still on track though and Escobar is only slightly behind schedule. It's going to come down to Taylor, yes, but with the team around him that we should see, it should be ok.

See my original hindsight take on Span. He was a huge loss that we just kind of assumed the team could absorb. Maybe it could have but with all else going on at the moment with the offense I don't know why we weren't more concerned.

March 10th - Anthony Rendon misses a game 
Roughly March 26th - Rendon injury healing time is clearly unknown

Surely he'll be healthy. It was just day to day a few days ago. This is all piling up true, but they just have to weather a few tough weeks to start the year (at most) and then everything will be right again.

WE ARE SO STUPID. Injuries can be huge and now the Nats other potentially best all around player, who is also an injury risk, goes down for who knows how long? We should have been very worried here. Panic in the streets.

March 30th - Jerry Blevins traded for Matt denDekker

Wait what? Now the 5th most IP from the pen was traded for a guy that couldn't be seen as anything more than organizational depth. What is going on here?

By this time we could feel the pen was going to be an issue. Hooray us. But still I don't think we grasped the totality now that the 5th most IP were added to the mix and 253 IP needed to be replaced! If Stammen or Storen went down that would be 300+ relief innings that needed to be taken up by someone.  Here's a funny thing - there are only like 450 relief innings in a year. So fully 2/3rd of the Nats pen innings could be gone just like that, if a pitcher went down to injury which is like a 1/3 chance every year. 

At this point we were at the beginning of the year, and what looked in the fall like it should clearly be an easy repeat had grown cloudy. But still... Yes the Nats had a lot of injuries coming into the year but outside of Span they seemed to be missing a couple weeks of the season at most. Besides look at that rotation! Yes the pen was an issue but how hard is it to find decent pen arms? And look at that rotation! The Nats will be fine. Maybe knock a win or two off what you thought in October but still likely NL East champs unless some team made a surprise turn for the better. Right?

Turns out this was demonstrably wrong. The win estimations might have been ok with the information at hand. I had the Nats at 93. BUT we really weren't getting how broad the range of wins could be. The Nats had absolutely gutted their pen, which had been pretty decent in 2014. Arms could be found but trying veterans other teams didn't want and young guys with no experience was adding a lot of variance. The injuries could easily go on like the Nats said they would, but they easily could go on longer and/or have lingering effects. Again more variability. The rotation should be strong, but starting rotations are among the hardest things to keep healthy and up to predictions. Injuries are commonplace, not rare.

We should have been prepared for a potential fall. While 93 or so might have been the right guess, we should have been more up in the air about it, understanding that 85 was probably more likely than 95 given the circumstance the Nats found themselves in at the start of the season. We should have understood that those things that weren't fair questions 6 months prior, winning the division, making the playoffs, were fair questions now. Distracted by the shiny bauble that was the Nats rotation, we didn't think like this though. Or at least I didn't.That was a mistake.