Nationals Baseball: The big bet

Tuesday, August 01, 2017

The big bet

Make no mistake. Despite not trading any of their Top prospects the Nats were one of the biggest gamblers at the trade deadline. But instead of betting on a player coming in, or players developing, they bet on an arm. They bet the season on Strasburg's arm.

If Strasburg is healthy, the Nats had arguably their best trade deadline ever. After years of limiting themselves to that one piece* to make themselves better, the Nats brought in four pieces. They brought in three quality arms to shore up a bullpen that had blundered and injured itself to worst in the league. They brought in a quality bat to hopefully bolster the bench, but potentially play a starting role if injured players recover slowly. With the players returning from injury over the next few months the Nats could be the weakness free team they looked like they could be at the start of the year.

If Strasburg is not healthy, then despite doing all that, this trade deadline was woefully inadequate. Losing their #2 arm, they would need another starter for the playoffs and they didn't get one. What makes it worse is that Darvish, as a rental, was rather affordable and could have been had without losing Robles or Soto. Instead he goes to the best team in the National League, shoring up a potential playoff opponent.

Was it a good bet? Well there are actually two bets going on. On the first one, strictly on Stasburg's arm, we have no idea. We aren't talking to Strasburg in confidence. We aren't talking to his doctors. We aren't scouting his bullpen session. We have to assume it is a good bet. We have to assume with all that knowledge, they have a strong confidence (90%? 95%?) that Strasburg is fine**. Because if not, why would they roll with this gamble? If they think that there's like a 35% chance he's done for the year and they didn't make a move, I mean, that's fire-able right?  We don't know if it's a good bet or a bad one, but logic makes us assume it's a good bet.

The second bet is a larger one about the staff. The Nats would like to have four starters for the playoffs. Max is a given. Second best pitcher in the majors the past few years. Healthy. You assume he's one. The other three are all question marks though. You have to question, even before the injury, if Strasburg would make it to the playoffs given his limited innings in the past two years. You have to question if Gio, having his best season since 2012, is real in the face of the decline that his recent pitching history has shown. You have to question if Roark, having his worst season as a starter, is going to bounce back before the post-season starts. You have questions with 2-4 (and no real #5). That all three of them will go negatively is next to impossible. But that any one of them will is a good possibility.***

The last two are in direct opposition to eachother. If you like going with recent performance then you like Gio but hate Roark. If you like going with history then you like Roark but hate Gio. Either way there isn't a consistent train of thought - other than "good things happen to the Nats!"  - that would have you thinking both those will go the Nats way. Unlike the specific bet on Strasburg's current arm health, we can get a feel about whether this is a good bet or not. Is it smart to bet on Strasburg's general health, Gio's continued success, and Roark resurgance?  My take is no, it is not. I think it is the smarter move to bring someone in who you think could pitch in the playoffs. 

That's just off the last bet. Couple in the extra odds, whatever they may be (they ain't 0%), from the first bet and that just adds to this feeling. For me, by the time we hit the trade deadline, I felt pretty sure the Nats should have brought in another starting arm. They didn't. So the Nats roll with what they have.

I'll admit, even though I felt that way, I understand it still really comes down to that first bet. If Strasburg is good to go then it probably doesn't matter. The Nats will have a killer 1-2 and their #3 will likely be a "good all season" Gio or "strong finish" Roark. Either way you probably aren't going to write off the Nats because of the starting pitching just because the #4 starter doesn't look good. You just hope they don't NEED that G4 win.


Who is Brandon Kintzler? He's a proven closer! Sort of. He's saved games for the Twins the past season and a half so make that into whatever you want. He lives by inducing soft-contact ground balls for easy outs. He's pretty good at it, among the tops at both GB% and Soft%. The added benefit of being a good GB pitcher is that he doesn't give up a lot of home runs, either. Top it off with effective control and you have a very solid reliever. The downside is that he strikes no one out so in some respect success is up to the BABIP gods. Also we need to consider the defense behind him.  Looking at the past 3 years of D stats as a general guide - Mauer is passable at first, Dozier is ok at second, Polanco currently average at SS, Sano below average at third.  When Adrianza plays he's a very very good defender.  So it's an average bunch in general.  The Nats? Zimmerman and Murphy are among the worst fielders at their positions. On the flip side Turner/Difo has been good and Rendon is a gold glove candidate. It's a tale of two halves.  What that will mean for Kintzler I'm not sure but it's likely lefties will get a few more hits and righties maybe a couple more outs.

Who is Tyler Watson? HS late round draft pick. Looked very good in rookie/low A with control and strikeout stuff. It got people thinking there could be something more here. However his brief stint in A-ball last year and continuing this year show a guy a little too hittable. Why did the Twins take him then? Beacuase he's young and he's got good stuff and good control. That's not necessarily a combination you see every day. It's kind of the basis for a good pitcher though really he's not a prospect and a longshot at best.

*Now last year that did mean one expensive piece so the money put up this trade deadline was similar to at least last year. About 4 million this year to 3 million last.  I'm not going to argue if you want to say that this deadline actually had the same driving approach (spend $X) but just went at it a different way. 

**personally I don't see how they could feel this way given his history but I'm not a professional. 

*** Math time! If you give each a 10% chance of negative then the chance all three happen is .10*.10*.10 or .001 or one in a thousand.  Not good. Don't worry about it. The chances any of the three happen? It's the opposite of the chance that none of three happen so it's 1 - (.90*.90*.90) or 1-.73 or .27 or 27%. Add in the chance that any two happen and you have about a 30% chance of needing another arm. And that's with 10% negative odds which I think are kind of low.


cass said...

Is Gio really having his best season?

He's putting up the lowest strikeout rate of any year he's been in a Nats uniform.
He's putting up the highest walk rate of any year he's been in a Nats uniform.
He's giving up home runs at a higher rater than any year he's been in a Nats uniform.

This is actually his worst season as a Nat but everyone loves him now cause he's running a .241 BABIP.

Oh and he's running his second highest Hard hit % since becoming a National, so I don't see how this is anything but smoke and mirrors.

I'm a big fan of Gio and last night was magical. Genuine guy. Wears his heart on his sleeve. Pitched his heart out. Love watching him pitch. He even reminds me more of my brother than any other baseball player I've ever seen.

But let's please put to rest the idea that this is a return to form. He is nothing like the pitcher he was in 2012.

cass said...

As to the topic at hand, I cannot fathom why the Nats didn't at least bid the Dodgers up more for Darvish. If Kershaw is really healthy the rest of the season feels superfluous as the Dodgers are gonna steamroll to the title.

NatsVA said...

A month ago if you would have told me that the Nats would trade for three reliable pen arms and a good 4th OF'er by the deadline, I would have been more than happy with that, and I am. I have to think they must be pretty confident that Stras is ok. I say rest him as long as he needs-we're 14 games up and don't need to rush it. Same with Trea and Werth. I'm not that disappointed in not getting Gray or Darvish. For one thing Darvish wanted to go to the LAD so hard to argue with that. The Nats did everything I hoped. Would LOVE to get Eaton back, though. But probably not happening...

Anonymous said...

Same thing was said about the 2001 Mariners.

Anonymous said...

Yeah, I'm not happy about the Nats not getting a SP. It's not even the question mark around Stras (though that is a point of concern). It's the fact that the Nats' two likely opponents in the postseason (Cubs and Dodgers) both went out and got solid SPs. The Dodgers now far and away have the best rotation in baseball, and they already had the best rotation before Darvish by fWAR.

Now I know that baseball is random and anything can happen in the postseason, but you can't like anybody's odds against that Dodger rotation, particularly when you then couple that with their offense. So let's assume the Nats make the NLCS and face the Dodgers. The Nats are betting on pulling out at least 1 win at LA against Kershaw or Darvish, then trading that for a Game 4 loss at home, then winning the series back out in LA. I just don't see that happening.

I don't think the Nats needed to go out and get Darvish or Gray necessarily, but a pitcher like Lynn would have been a solid choice to bolster the rotation that wouldn't come at too steep a cost.

DezoPenguin said...

I think Harper hit the nail on the head here, in that either the Lerners have completely cut Rizzo off from adding money, or Rizzo is absolutely satisfied that Strasburg is fine. Frankly, the fact that the Nats didn't add a starter and made no significant noise about adding a starter is the best argument that they really do believe there is no problem there. Nonetheless, I worry about Roark. If you think that Gio is all smoke and mirrors, then you have to think Roark is even worse, right? Even worse K/9, comparable BB/9, worse K-BB%, worse FIP, similar hard contact % but lower soft contact, higher LD% resulting in a higher BABIP... Gio's getting sterling results with shaky peripherals but Roark's peripherals are even worse and he's getting results that match them.

von_bluff said...

With both Gray and Darvish, the Dodgers and Yankees gave up more than the Nats could give.

Willie Calhoun has pop and as LA's 4th best prospect, it makes him better than the Nats 4th best prospect (Kieboom/Stevenson).

James Kaprielan is out with TJ, but scouts rave about him and is probably a top of the rotation guy in the future if he can stay healthy. IOW higher ceiling than Fedde and a year younger.

If Rizzo wanted to keep his top guys, (which I commend him for,) his secondary guys weren't going to outbid deeper farm systems in LA and NY.

Jay said...

I would have liked Trevor Rosenthal. He's a closer but was a starter at one time and could go multiple innings if needed. He does have issues with walks though and he is not really trusted as a closer in StL. I would have liked a starter, but I'm not bothered either.

I know it has been stated before, but the Giants beat the Nats with Bumgarner, Hudson, Peavy, and Vogelsong. First, the Nats likely have to get past the Cubs. That won't be easy. They need to make sure they have home field for the NLDS. They are 7 games up on Cubs and 10.5 games back of LA. LA will have to play either Colorado or Arizona in the NLDS. Sorry, but I don't think that is a push over for LA. In fact, until the Brewers fell back recently I preferred playing the Brewers to either of those teams.

Finally, the Nats were a couple of Danny Espinosa K's from beating Kershaw in game 1 last year. The Cubs were possibly a rain delay from one of the most epic WS meltdowns ever when Chapman (the big trade piece) and Maddon choked in the 9th inning. The playoffs are unpredictable. Hopefully, the Nats get everyone but Eaton back healthy and playing well by the NLDS. Their offense this year is special. Their bullpen is much improved. Hopefully, they can make some noise. We'll see.

Anonymous said...

1) Gio's performance is smoke and mirrors to an extent. He's not a sub 3.00 ERA guy, but he's good enough to be a playoff caliber starter. Gio's FIP in 2017 is 4.07, which is comparable to Darvish's (3.98) and better than Arrieta's (4.23). If those guys are good enough to start a playoff game, so is Gio. Gio is not a problem.

2) We spend so much time on here reading the tea leaves about Strasburg. If the Nats didn't get a starter, they must think Stras is healthy, right? But wait, they originally said he wouldn't miss a start and now he might miss two? Strasburg must not be as healthy as they thought. I prefer the simplest explanation: Strasburg has some minor discomfort, and they're being extra-cautious about bringing him back because any innings he pitches in July and August are meaningless because the Nats are winning the NL East, no matter what. Strasburg is fragile and maybe this minor issue portends something more serious. It's a gamble, but whether it's a good gamble depends on information we don't really have (the extent of the injury).

What I want to emphasize here, though, is: why don't we do the same thing with Kershaw? He gets hurt and the Dodgers immediately say he's out 4-6 weeks. That suggests a more serious injury than Strasburg's, right? The arm is a more worrisome issue because of what may come down the road, but 4-6 weeks is undeniably more concerning for THIS SEASON than 1-2 starts. And the Dodgers getting Darvish might tell you something about the severity of Kershaw's injury (I read Kershaw was playing catch though not throwing bullpens, so it's somewhat likely his injury is not that serious and the Dodgers are being cautious).

Last year with the same injury, Kershaw was out from the end of June to the beginning of September. He came back and was good but clearly was not KERSHAW. He's a month behind that schedule this year.

Not only is Kershaw's injury more serious than Strasburg's (evidenced by actual statements and behavior by their respective teams), but Kershaw is much more important to the Dodgers' success than Strasburg is to the Nats' (for the record, I don't think either team wins the World Series without each guy), because the Nats have Max.

TLDR: if you're even a little worried about Strasburg, you should be a lot more worried about Kershaw.

Josh Higham said...

I don't understand the "Gio is all smoke and mirrors and actually sucks" argument. Gio's ERA is smoke and mirrors, sure. He's not a 2.66 guy, and BABIP is low, so look for regression.

But Gio is not declining. K%/BB%/(HR/FB)% for several salient years.

2011, which convinced the Nats Gio was worth a large haul of prospects:
22.8 % / 10.5 % / 8.9 %

2012, nearly won a Cy Young:
25.2 % / 9.3 % / 5.8 %

2016, OH NO THE SKY IS FALLING GIO IS TRASH, just kidding, we need a lefty in the rotation against the Dodgers and Gio is actually pretty good, and definitely worth picking up his option:
22.4 % / 7.7 % / 12.5 %

2017, Gio is all smoke and mirrors, he's not as good as you think he is. His peripherals are all trending the wrong way:
22.8 % / 10.0 % / 11.7 %

Gio's K rate and HR/FB are actually better than last year when he was a totally adequate 3/4 type. BABIP and LOB% say he should regress, which no one but Boswell would argue with. BB% is not good, but on par with 2011/2012 and his career (9.8 %).

In summary: Although Gio is overperforming his peripherals, his peripherals are not bad, and except for home runs, not a significant departure from his career norms, and he's on pace to throw 200+ innings. 200 innings of totally adequate pitching is nothing to complain about.

Anonymous said...

I feel almost as confident gambling our playoff run on Strasburg's durability and general toughness as I would putting my entire life savings on double zero.

Anonymous said...

Well said Harper.

Harper said...

There's a Gio column coming. Note when I say "Best season" I mean it in the results sense unless stated otherwise. How many runs are scoring. How many wins are you getting.

Anon @ 8:13 - well we don't do this with Kershaw because we're not talking about the Dodgers, I guess. I've heard several commentators express the exact concerns you state about him so it's out there.

The not knowing also plays a big part in it. When you say out 4-6 weeks even if you shouldn't buy into it you expect that at the end of 6 weeks they'll be back. There's no upside here - you don't expect them back in 3 weeks, but there's no downside either. You set 6 weeks in your head. If you keep saying "Maybe one start, or two. Could be more depending on how he feels" you basically allow the fanbase to run through the entire gamut of possibilities from : "He's perfectly fine, will pitch next game" to "He's out for the year" Do they care? Nah - and why should they? But that explains why you see what you see. The Nats way of reporting injuries lends itself to wild speculation.

Adam VB - The Darvish deal was beatable as is. Calhoun is better than Keiboom but the Nats could have offered better 2nd/3rd guys or more guys. The Gray deal.... that would have been tough. You couldn't have gotten him without Robles or Soto and maybe not even with Soto (he's got a big variation on current opinion). So I agree on Gray but think Rizzo could have made a play for Darvish. at least based on prospects.

KO said...

Was looking at fangraph projections for the rest of the season which has Nats ranked as 7th best for rest of season. But interestingly, it has Gio and Tanner at basically the same expected ERA (4.12 v 4.14) which suggests a gio fade and a tanner just ok finish.

Also of note, they didnt like yesterdays trade too much with Kintzler projected at a 3.82 ERA...

Jon Quimby said...

I love to watch the brilliance of Scherz or Stras when they are on their game. It's amazing. But, my favorite days to watch are the games where Gio pitches. You might get something like yesterday where he is dominant and nearly unhittable or you might get the stinkers where he struggling in every aspect. Regardless, I love the passion and the effort. I'm not saying Scherz or Stras aren't passionate or don't give max effort, but with Gio he's still pitching as if he's amazed to even have a shot to pitch in the majors. It helps to hear his post game interviews where he's willing to give everyone in the building credit before taking any for himself.

One of my favorite memories of Nats baseball was when Gio hit the homer and didn't realize it as he sprinted around the bases.

It's smoke and mirrors, grit, luck and a lot of fun. This season has been something special for Gio and he deserves it. Who cares about the stats. Enjoy it! I hope he finds himself in the midst of one of those brilliant games in the playoffs on the way defeating Darvish.

Karl Kolchak said...

I don't like the Strasburg bet one bit. He's only pitched more that 160 innings twice, and not since 2014. Even if he manages to be off the DL come playoff time, how much is he likely to have left in the tank? At the very least, they should skip him a start or two in September assuming the division is all wrapped up by then. But if he goes down like last year, they are looking at yet another first round playoff exit.

Fries said...

@Jon Quimby

despite the number of balled socks I've thrown at my TV during his starts, I very much agree with you. Gio's as humble as it gets and you can tell he just loves coming to the ballpark.

Favorite quote from last night: Q: "What was working for you tonight?" A: "My defense"

PhthePhillies said...

As always, well stated, Harper.
Does anyone care to comment on the possibility and/or options of getting a SP off waivers?

G Cracka X said...

Dos cosas:

1) During Gio's time with the Nats (2012-present), he ranks 16th in MLB in fWAR, and 15th in RA9-WAR (ahead of Strasburg, notably). That is definitely not 'Smoke n' Mirrors' in the aggregate/big picture. And the Nats will likely be able to keep him next year for $12 mil. Nice!

2) If the Nats still need a SP, they can get one in August. Plenty of time to make a trade (like they did last year for Scrabble).

JE34 said...

@Fries @Quimby -- Gio's tendency to mutter to himself and come unraveled (which used to drive me nuts) seems to be getting better (comes with better results, of course). Even when he struggles with control, he looks like he's handling himself better mentally. I have also come to appreciate how he gives a nod of appreciation to the ump on his way out, he tips his cap to former teammates when they face each other for the first time... he operates as a first-class guy all the way.

Getting a standing-O on the road is awesome, btw.

@phils - I'm no expert, but doesn't the waiver-claim process usually involve eating a player's remaining salary? If so, Verlander, Samardjzia, etc are unlikely to head to DC.

PhthePhillies said...

Yes, G, but who do you think could be available?

BxJaycobb said...

Harper: I don't really see why Darvish deal was clearly beatable without giving up Soto or Robles. I know we all like to value Keiboom and Fedde, etc, but they're not top 100 prospects, at least according to Keith Law....and they're not top 50 accoding to anybody. Calhoun is. Even though he's not Buehler or Verdugo or the Cuban pitcher they have, that doesn't mean "oh well then he's not a big prospect." He is. And I don't think it's obvious at all that the Nats could have compensated by offering, say, Kieboom, Fedde, and Severino. Sometimes a GM wants a sure thing to headline the deal (I.e. A half dollar, and 5 dimes is preferable to them than 4 quarters). Also, it's not like just because they're not Robles or Soto those guys don't have near term value. You can use them to gain a key piece over winter or next year....(just pointing out that your post doesn't really take into account any cost whatsoever to dealing Non Soto/Robles people. So who knows. Maybe the rangers simply would had demanded Soto or Robles and rizzo knew it.

BxJaycobb said...

Harper: also. If the Nats were foolish to not get another starter due to worrisome persistent injury issues re Stras, then the Astros were mentally unstable to not get another. Agreed? Not like keuchel's shoulder and McCullers arm seems much more likely to keep them from effectiveness in October than Stras.

cass said...

@Josh Higham:

Yeah, my point was his line this year looks very similar to his line last year except for the ERA and the BABIP. If felt like there was this idea that this year is a big come back for him. I just don't see any evidence of that. Not saying he's trash, but, like, I don't think there's any resurgence there. Maybe some of it is real. But not nearly as much as his ERA is making it look like.

He's actually been a remarkably consistent pitcher for the last few years. I only was taking issue with the idea that this year as a return to form.

ssln said...

There you go, bashing my man again. "No real five." "Jackson stinks." This is getting old, Harper. Guy has been great two out of three games and you write him off like he is some old war horse who been with ten teams or is it eleven.
Guy wants to be loved by Dusty so he is going to work his tail off. Also, since he was released earlier this year he has the freshest arm on the staff.
I'm thinking about starting an Edwin Jackson fan club and leading a boycott of your blog.
One more great outing by my man and I'm going to demand a piece that justifies your claim that he stinks and we have no real five.
You have been forewarned, so take it seriously.

BxJaycobb said...

josh: Well if you went by his ERA you would consider him a third ace on the Nats. Nobody is doing that. Gio is what he has always been --a guy who is very hard to square up but also not great control. So a number 3-4 starter on a good team. That's what he has been throughout his time on the Nats, give or take a great year here or a terrible year there. I have evolved----I used to look at just ERA, then I would only look at peripherals....I think it's a mix, and I think there is some relevance to run prevention, getting soft contact in big situations, etc. So I don't think he's been especially bad this year or unusually great.

Froggy said...

$cherzer out.

Good thing Rizzo picked up Darvish, Gray, and Verlander at the deadline or the Nats would be in a world of hurt.


Fries said...

I blame Matz for Scherzer's injury. He straight up jinxed it

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