Nationals Baseball: Offseason Position Discussion : Shortstop

Friday, November 04, 2016

Offseason Position Discussion : Shortstop

Last Year's Discussion

What? No link? Well, I didn't do one! Went 2nd to 3rd to OF. Huh.

From reading 2B and 3B the idea was Yunel Escobar would play SS because it got Rendon back where he should be and it would be easier to transition Turner to SS that way. Also with Danny at 2nd and Rendon at 3rd, Yuney's defensive issues would be hidden. It wasn't a good plan and I'd rather they sign Zobrist (Espy to SS) or trade for Frazier (Rendon to 2B, Espy to SS) and sell high on Yuney.

As we talked about the did sell Yuney, whether it was high or not is a question (Hey. It's Trover Gitts!) and ended up signing Murphy which worked out pretty well in my opinion. Going out on a limb there.

What happened with SS? It fell to Danny with Trea Turner set up to come in if needed later in the year. Danny was terrible to start ( a .199 / .300 / .281 line after May 25th) which prompted the fans to begin to push for Trea Turner early. But the Nats stuck to their guns and Danny would be literally one of the best hitters in baseball in June and would go .303 / .394 / .713 over like 6 weeks.  That's like an MVP performance. By then CF had emerged as a gaping hole and so Turner was brought up to fix that, not SS. While performing great there, Espy crashed back down to Earth going .169 / .266 / .270 over the remaining 74 games, but there was little the Nats could do at that point.

Presumed Plan 
Trea Turner is your starting SS. Danny Espinosa is back-up for 2B-SS-3B on the bench.

Reasoning on Presumed Plan 
Rizzo doesn't like to be put into situations where he is forced to do something. That's exactly where he will be after this year if the Nats don't make a change. Danny goes to FA. Either Trea shifts to SS, to which Rizzo has to get a CF, or Trea stays in CF, so Rizzo has to get a SS.  Unless you love Difo or MAT these are facts. To be pro-active you look at getting someone now, and CF/OF makes more sense. It's generally an easier position to fill and it gets Turner back in the infield where most think he belongs. Turner at SS is the future for the Nats and there isn't a good reason not to start that future now if you can.

As for Turner at SS itself, Turner did everything you wanted him to last year. He crushed it at the plate over almost half a season (.342 / .370 / .567) and in his fleeting moments in the infield looked perfectly acceptable. If he can play SS, and it's generally thought he can, then you play him there. This is the same reasoning as with Murphy. A SS that hits like Turner can be a big advantage.

Sitting Espinosa is not going to hurt the offense. He can hit at times, but he's a boom and bust type, with more bust than boom. His pop might be missed a little but his inability to make contact won't be.

Problems with Presumed Plan 
Turner's fielding prowess at SS is a great unknown. Like I said the general thought was that he can do it just fine, but talk of moving him to 2B isn't too far in the past. We know Espinosa is a plus fielder so that does matter. It especially is important given that Murphy is a minus fielder at 2B.  Not a big one, but still a minus. Danny helps cover for that. If Trea is merely ok, or even good, that still means more hits up the middle. And that's not going into the internal knowledge Danny might have manning the IF for this team for 4+ years. How do you work with Rendon, throw to Zimm, set up for various pitchers. The little things add-up.

Add to that while Turner did hit in his almost half a season, that's still only almost half a season. He likely won't match those numbers next year. The smaller the offensive gap is between Espinosa and Turner, the more the defensive one might tip the scales.

Getting someone this year just shifts that issue from next season to this season. You still have to do it.

My Take
I do think there will be a defensive gap. I think Danny's D is often underrated and overlooked by fans. But still Danny is Danny. He's going to hit like he did last year. Maybe a smidge better, like a .225 average instead of .209, but his K's are going to keep him from ever really breaking through to that over .250 area where everything else he does (meh patience, decent speed, fair bunter, good pop) can make him into an overall offensive plus.

Meanwhile I think Trea Turner will suffer a bit of a sophomore slump. You generally don't move into the majors and immediately hit for higher average and more power than you ever did it the minors. I'd guess that the pitchers figure him out somewhat and the average and pop both take noticeable hits. But still look at that line up there. .300 with say 15 homers and 35 2B/3B would be noticeable hits. Sure, he didn't hit 2016 MLB well in the minors, but he hit in the minors. There's no fluke in the fact he can hit in the majors. It's just a matter of if he will be good, very good or All-Star level. As for his defense, I don't know. I have to go with what the team thinks and if they think he's fine, I assume he's fine. And if he's fine it's a drop.

Overall though that difference - between say .300 / .335 / .480 and .225 / .310 / .400 that's too much to overcome with some nice glove work. Trea's a better choice to start at SS at a baseline and because of his potential could be an much much better choice to start. The only argument is if you think he's better off in CF next year but I don't see that unless you want him in CF going forward not SS. Given the general mild question of his SS fielding I want Trea either learning the position at the major league level, or proving he can't, now.

The thing about shifting the "have to" makes sense, but the key is Rizzo doesn't "have to" this year. Turner in CF and Danny at SS worked to get this team to 95 wins and that's with Turner playing 70+ games. This gives Rizzo flexibility he doesn't have next year in dealing with FAs and trade partners. He can walk away from deals. Next year it'll be a lot harder because a plan that worked wont' be there and an internal plan that might work is unlikely to show up.

I like Danny. I think he can start for some teams as SS can be a hard position to fill. I like his bat as the worst one in the line-up. He has a lot of plusses to go along with those big minuses. (and I think he can walk more if asked to - it's not the Nats way though) I think in part fans are hard on him because of his position. A SS traditionally should be a slap hitting contact guy. Danny isn't. If Danny was a slick fielding RF, I think there'd be more forgiveness for his all or nothing approach. And SS if far more important to have a good fielder at! But the Nats have better options and other issues that may end up being holes that make starting Danny at SS a fallback plan, not something to start out with.

Out of the Box Idea
Stick with your slick fielding SS with pop.

Oh you think I mean Danny? No, I mean Stephen Drew. He's a gamble but unlike Danny he's a gamble that pays off at the plate sometimes. Meanwhile trade Danny for whatever you can get. The key here is there is not going to be a higher market for Danny than now. That doesn't mean it's a good market, but it does mean you are maximizing what you get back, which is something, rather than watch him walk away for nothing. So trade him now. That would normally mean then moving Trea to SS, but you don't have a player that played decent CF last year after him. You do have a player that played decent SS though. He'll have to be re-signed but you could probably get a nice bargain on a two year deal and if things go awry, he proved this year he's a fine bench player. You can always trade for a OF later in the year and shift things around. Trading for a SS is harder.

*What about C? Yeah well C is the hardest position to get ahead of. What about Werth in the OF? Hoping Robles suprises or something comes up. What about rotation post Gio? Lots of ptoential 5th starters there


Tony said...

No discussion of Trea to SS and Ben Revere in CF? (Maybe that's waiting for the CF discussion.) Do the Nationals think 2016 is his new level? Or did he just never get over that early oblique strain, and it dogged him all season? It was such a precipitous drop from his previous level that, if I had to bet, I'd bet on the Nationals taking a gamble that the latter scenario is the correct one, and 2017 Revere will be a lot closer to 2013-2015 Revere than 2016 Revere.

DezoPenguin said...

I think Turner-SS, Revere-CF is not going to be anyone's presumed plan. That hurts the defense at two positions and at least last year Revere was truly awful compared to Danny's merely bad. Plan A should never be "start the guy who was worth -1 WAR and hope he bounces back." Especially if you're not leashed to the guy for the next three years at $17M+ per year, unlike our presumed first baseman.

Harper's analysis is spot-on. Danny Espinosa is not Plan A material either, just a better Plan B than Revere/Taylor in CF. Rizzo will attempt to plug either SS or CF in the offseason, whether it's by trade or through free agency, by getting the best player at the lowest cost that he can. Once he works through that cost-benefit analysis and secures a player, he'll plug Turner into whichever hole in the lineup remains.

I will suggest one thing: I think that if Turner plays CF full-time next year (either because Rizzo secures a good SS to replace Danny, or because he can't get either a SS or CF at an acceptable cost and has to fall back on this year's lineup), he's going to spend the rest of his career as an outfielder. It's not quite the same as, say, Robin Yount or Desmond, but generally players go IF->OF, not the other way around, and he'd basically be relearning the middle infield after working a full major league season exclusively on his CF defense. (Plus, if you move him back to the infield after 2017, the Nats would then have two OF holes to fill for 2018 with Werth leaving as well. Robles can only play one position.)

mike k said...

I had this crazy thought the other day of platooning Revere and right-side Danny in the lineup, and shifting Turner back and forth between SS and CF (Revere would most likely bat 8th in this acenario for consistency). This allows you to cover both the CF and SS positions in house and without adding salary/losing players in a trade, as hopefully a RSD + RHP-only Revere would combine to a decent player. Plus, by keeping both you can put both in at the same time as a defensive replacement for Werth late in games. Unfortunately, a quick look at Espy's splits last year ended that thought. He really struggled from both sides of the plate.

Also, while this may be confirmation bias on my part, it seemed that he only hit well against poor pitching this year (moreso than other players). That's a problem come playoff time.

Ideally, you add a good CF and have both Espy and Revere as super-subs/injury replacements next year. Not sure if the Nats will have the money/trade chips to do that, especially since they need a catcher and closer more.

mike k said...

Dezo - good point. Yet another reason why I like Turner at SS next year.

Ole PBN said...

It seems that its a question, given the pieces that you do have now, of whether you like Revere or Danny more. Personally, I'm leaning towards Revere. Although defense is important, and I LOVE Danny's arm at short, I think the strikeouts outweigh his power potential. I don't need a guy who strikes out a ton, hits 20-30 bombs, and hits sub-.230. Should we get Chris Carter for 1B? Trumbo? Chris Davis? Hell no. Pass on the pop, I want OBP and higher contact rate. Revere has this more than Danny, regardless of how poor Revere's 2016 was (which is an outlier). Plus he has base-stealing speed, which Trea showed us was seriously lacking in past Nats teams.

Still looking for a first baseman though. Not sold on that Zimm guy...

Ole PBN said...

Dezo - its seems like starting a guy with -1.1 WAR at first base is the presumed plan... no problem with that??

Harper said...

Don't forget Revere will cost about 4 mill more next year than Danny, and they are not contractually obligated to pay him. If the Nats are looking to save money - trading or dropping Revere is an easy way to do it.

DezoPenguin said...

Ole PBN -- The last sentence of that paragraph where I talk about starting Zim is literally a sarcastic comment about the stupidity of continuing to run Zim out and pray (at least, like you say, Revere's been a functional player his whole career until last year, and doesn't have several years running of injuries and ineffectiveness tearing him down). See also my extended rants in the 1B discussion. The problem is, it's almost certain that Rizzo is going full Ruben Amaro Jr. about Zim the way the Phillies did about Ryan Howard.

I would rank the Nats problems:


Turner will replace one of those problems, and Harper, Murphy, and Rendon aren't problems (though if 2015 Harper would come back that would be nice).

Anonymous said...

About half of that "pop" you're hearing is the sound of Danny getting hit.

I like Espinosa. I agree that his D gets under-appreciated and I feel like every time he comes up to bat, it's going to be K, HR, or HBP. But i think you're right that trading him now is a smart approach

PotomacFan said...

One small note: Danny is a terrific bunter. Also, Danny takes a lot of HBPs. Still, he is a TERRIBLE contact hitter. Ideally, he should be a utility man.

Sammy Kent said...

I don't think any Nationals fan overlooks or underestimates Danny's defensive abilities. Maybe some national sportswriters or fans that don't follow the Nats that closely are unaware of his skills. Everybody that watches our games regularly knows Danny has great range, great speed, a great glove, and the best gun of an arm in baseball. The question is does all that justify keeping him as the starter when he is so unreliable at the plate and strikes out at a ridiculously high rate.

Like Harper, I am concerned about the dreaded sophomore jinx and the defensive drop-off vis a vis Trea Turner. Not that Trea at SS is a defensive liability; just that compared to Espy virtually anyone not named Ozzie Smith is going to be a notch below. I am not ready to crown Trea the heir apparent at short, but based on who is pursued and presumably signed from the free agent market we'll certainly know coming out of the winter meetings whether Rizzo/Baker intends to keep Trea in center or move him to short. Even if Trea stays in the outfield it's not a lead pipe cinch for Espy to remain the starter at shortstop.

Froggy said...

Rizzo can continue his Rizzo-ness and nibble around the edges in the FA / trade market and the Nats will continue to be what they are and nothing more.

Danny needs to be the left side IF replacement player that he is. Trea to SS. Drop Revere. Fill the two holes in the OF. And find a replacement for Zimmerman.

Essentially, he needs to take a page out of Theo Epstein's book and be aggressive ala the Corcoran and Jaffe article in Sports Illustrated: How the Cubs were built: Turning baseball's longest-running losers into winners

"... this year's current 25-man roster was assembled by Epstein and Co. thanks to 12 trades, eight free-agent signings that cost $495 million, one amateur draft pick and one Rule 5 draft pick. The result is the best team in baseball."