Nationals Baseball: Reading what's there

Thursday, February 15, 2018

Reading what's there

Last week I expressed some pessimism that what the Nats have planned for the OF is a good plan. I didn't necessarily think it was a bad one, but because I couldn't bring myself to call it good, for lack of a better place I settled on poor. Really I'd call it more of a gamble than a poor solution. They are bundling risks with the hopes that enough pay off that it'll work out. If two of these four things work out they'll be fine until the trade deadline.
  • Eaton is healthy and near regular form
  • MAT's 2017 was not a fluke and he can hit at a major league level
  • Robles is ready to contribute in an above average way from Opening Day
  • Kendrick stays productive and isn't called into duty in other positions, leaving him open to play the OF.
For any single one of those I'd probably put the odds of the good outcome at under 50% (you might vary) and because they need two or more of them to hit, that gives them higher odds than I would like to see of this plan not working out*.

You may disagree but I think today's Eaton column should highlight that the worries are the same for the team and for the guys covering the team. Eaton MAY be ready by Opening Day. Eaton admits he will probably be a different player. I read this and think - yeah better chance than not that Eaton is not healthy or not near regular form. He could still be decent, worthy of playing. He could still work himself into more regular form by year's end and should play anyway because he's your long term OF answer and you want him to be good in the future. If he has to work out kinks, he has to work out kinks. But the key is - bad things are certainly possible here.

Of course there's a reason I put the trade deadline in there and not 2018 as a whole. If the Nats' plan does fail there is always a chance to correct it later. That's a big reason why I don't like labeling it a poor solution even though I think the chance it fails is unreasonably high for a playoff team. Getting a Kendrick type is not as hard as getting a catcher or a starter you like for the playoffs.

But again - I'm very mildly down on the OF, but I normally would let it slide. The Nats have to see if Eaton is recovered. The Nats want to see if MAT is real. The timing is right to give Robles some more games. Individually these things make sense at a high-level. Even if all are more likely to come up empty in 2018, this is about more than 2018. They shouldn't all come up empty and how they come up will shape the Nats decisions down the line.

The problem is more that this issue exists at the same time as the Nats need a catcher, and could use a 5th starter. If those issues continue like we think they will and the Nats have the usual injury issues teams have then the OF situation, if it does fail, could matter a lot.

I guess the solution is get a catcher and a starter so we can let this OF thing go as it should. 

*The math works out like this. What if you give every bad outcome (Eaton isn't right, MAT was a little fluky, etc.) a 60% chance of happening? Well the chances that you don't get two good outcomes is the same as chances you get three bad outcomes plus the chances you get all bad ones.  The chance you get all bad ones is easy - that's just (0.6*0.6*0.6*0.6) OR (0.6^4). If you give each one a 60% chance of happening that's about a 13% chance of all bads. Seen the other way an 87% chance of not having everything go wrong. 

The three bad things percentage is a little more complicated. It's the chance you get three specific bad things and one thing go right, in formula (.6)^3*(.4), multiplied by the number of different ways that can happen. In our case that would be 4. (Eaton is fine but nothing else works out.  MAT is fine but nothing else works out, etc.).  That ends up being about 34.5% chances of only getting one good thing. 

Now add them together and you get a 47.5% chance you don't get the two good things you need, or conversely a 52.5% you do. Of course this varies greatly with how you set up the odds. Give the bad things a 55% chance of happening and the chance the Nats plan fails is under 40%. Give one of those better odds of happening than not and you're going to drop things more. It's all up to how you choose those odds. Since I don't like any one of them separately I like there to be a decent chance the plan fails. Even at 51% bad / 49% good odds the chances are over 30% it fails. 


Anonymous said...

You also have goodwin who is primary 4th outfielder. small sample size from last year but he showed he can play at big league level

Mark said...

The goal is to win the NL East. Last year the Nationals won 97 games and we know what the outfields contribution was. Let say this year the Nationals need to win 92 to win the east. As long as the outfield contributes 94.84% of what they contributed last year, they will have done their part.

Are you suggesting this years outfield plan has a greater than 50% chance of under performing last years outfield by ~5%? When Bryce missed 51 games, Jason Werth played 70, Brian Goodwin, Howie Kendrick, Ryan Rayburn, Chris Heisey, Wilmer Difo, Alejandro De Aza, Andrew Stephenson, Raphael Bautista combined to play (I'm Guessing) 150 games?

PotomacFan said...

Harper: I'm still not with you on the outfield. I think the Nats are fine (and yes, I'll eat my word later in the season if appropriate). Harper is a constant. MAT stays -- his defense will be rock solid; his offense may slip. The big change is that Eaton replaces Werth. How can that be a negative? Eaton is a better hitter, better runner and much better fielder. Even if it takes him some time to get back into full playing condition. Kendrick and Goodwin are also constants -- although Goodwin could definitely revert.

Robles is the wild card. But he can only be upside. If he's good, he'll play. If he's not good, he'll spend most of his time in the minors.

Mark does a fine job of listing some of the non-productive players who filled in last year. And the Nats still won 97 games.

Rob said...

Yea....I'm way more worried about starting pitching, catching and 1B. OF is probably 4th or 5th on my worry list.

sirc said...

@ Rob

Why are you worried about 1b? I'd argue that it's their deepest position, with Ryan, Adams, Murphy and Kendrick factoring into the team depth. I can't imagine a situation in which the Nats aren't top 10 in production from 1b.

Josh Higham said...

@sirc, in a vacuum that's plenty of 1B depth, but in the real world there's a team that has historically been extremely devoted to Zim. Martinez might be braver about platooning him than Dusty or Williams ever were, but I still think Zim would have to be astoundingly bad or very hurt to not get the lion's share of starts at first. So if he has regular regression and is a hole in the lineup before Wieters-MAT-pitcher, that could be a pretty notable problem.

Anonymous said...

I wonder if Werth got invited to that unemployed free agents’ training camp down in Bradenton that Bo Porter is running. I think he’s screwed because there are so many of them, and he’s pretty much at the very bottom of that totem pole.

Crazy that they’re not allowing any media access though. That makes absolutely no sense to me at all.

Bjd1207 said...

I think there's a ton of nuance lost in the probability analysis. For one, these events aren't simultaneous. It'll take time at least to see if the first 2 pan out, maybe anywhere between 2 weeks and a month? So then Robles almost certainly doesn't need to be MLB productive from opening day. And it would take an injury to TWO players (kendrick filling wherever the first hole pops up, and then an OF injury) to see him at all.

Secondly there's weights to them. If #1 comes out great the rest are all much much less impactful. MAT could be carried by his defense alone, we could afford to wait to season Robles more, Eaton could move to CF and Kendrick to left if MAT really craters.

I dunno if you can really evaluate them as some real life parley

blovy8 said...

I'd worry more about Murphy than Eaton. Eaton wanted to be on the playoff roster and was running in late September. Maybe he was kidding himself, but I suspect they'll be ginger with him more because the new manager and coaches have plenty of OF to evaluate.

I think there's a better than 50 percent chance that Robles is better than Taylor right now.

Harper said...

BJD - 100% right. What I'm doing equates everything. It's the simplest way to do it. But you're right in that they aren't all necessarily happening at the same time (in fact it's impossible unless Bryce is out) and the degrees of success or failure also matter a lot. MAT becomes an All-Star then it doesn't matter if Eaton is below average this year. Eaton can't get back on the field consistently, then MAT hitting like pre-2017 MAT would kill the team.

Ideally you'd have distribution spreads of production, etc. But you do what you can. I'm more trying to capture "the OF other than Bryce has a good chance of disappointing you" then trying to quantify what exactly that disappointment means beyond below the expectations I'm reading from you guys. If you want you can substitute WAR projections in there, which have MAT around a 1.0 and Eaton around a 2.5 in general. Those are both probably "fail"s for the fans. At the same time assuming Bryce is great - the combined OF is fine.

dc rl said...

I have no problem with a planning exercise that says "let's assume the worst, and see how we're prepared to deal with it." What I find most odd about your analysis here, Harper, is that to me (and it seems to many other commenters) the OF is the place where the Nats are BEST prepared to deal with issues that may come up with their starters. Kendrick is a solid lf option. Goodwin was a more than useful 4th outfielder last season. And Robles, according to the prospect mavens at Fangraphs, is probably the most major league ready prospect in the game. If these 3 guys represent a poor - or even a meh - contingency plan for the OF, then why shouldn't you be more worried about, say, second base,where it looks to me as if Murphy's readiness for opening day is more doubtful than Eaton's. Or what about First base, where Zim was great last year but has had only one good, healthy year out of the last four, and the contingency is a platoon guy who was cut by the Cardinals last year? Bottom line is that I agree that there's potential for disappointing production from the OF, but (a) that's basically true for every part of the team,, while (b) the OF is the place where the Nats have the most potential for coming up with quality alternatives.

Flapjack said...


If, for argument sake, at the beginning of the 2017 season, you had posited that every starter and their primary backups would be lost to injury at some point (the Nats ended up playing 17 different players in the OF, I believe), using the "analytics" you have adopted here, you might have been justified in concluding that the Nats would have the worst OF in baseball. That's not how it worked out, of course. If we're not assuming those injuries for 2018, you have no credible case. Which is to say that when you start concocting silly methodologies just to be provocative -- a fake controversy! -- it's the journalistic equivalent of a bad day at the office. Based on recent history and decline curves and such, I'm worried about your 2018 mojo.

Anonymous said...

I am not sure the blog writer understands that the most any of our projected starting OF played last year was 111 games (Harper). Werth played 70 games and Eaton played a mere 23 games and the Nats used 14 OF last season and the OF wasn't an issue. Eaton even if he's not 100% should be better than Werth. Taylor will get the opportunity to start in CF, if he fails before Robles is ready to get called up, Goodwin will get a chance. We even have Kendrick who could play LF, if Goodwin failed too and Eaton needed to be moved to CF for a short time. If all else fails, one of the top prospects in baseball, Robles, should be ready mid-season. The OF is VERY DEEP. Spending on the OF when you have little to no depth in SP and after having the worst catching in MLB last year is just plain silly.

Ryan DC said...

Well if you're concerned about the outfield, Dickerson just became available. But more to the point, I find it hard to believe we couldn't have done better than the Twins and gotten Jake Odorizzi

Chaos56 said...

I don't think Harper's advocating spending money here, just not sold on the quality of the "depth". It's entirely within the realm of possibility that Eaton is never the same player he once was, given how much of his game is in his legs. He could go from a good signing/potential steal to a replacement-level LF and a detriment in CF. Harper has shown no ability to stay healthy and can probably only be counted on for 120 games. How anybody rationally believes Taylor has turned a corner and is something beyond the Espinoza version of CF is beyond me. I had high hopes for Brian Goodwin.....four years ago. Kendrick is only a fill in for an outfielder.

Now. I am a fan. I believe by June that Eaton will be the best leadoff hitter in the majors and will win comeback player of the year. I believe Harper is money and history driven and is going to have another epic season and win the MVP. I believe Taylor will keep hitting the ball out of the park and take a gold glove but Robles is going to force his way into the starting lineup by the All Star break, winning the Rookie of the Year and Dave's biggest issue is going to be finding playing time for 4 outfielders.....but the souless automaton that writes this blog is absolutely right--there are reasons for concern. That's his job. Harper's scenario is a little more likely than mine, but mine isn't out of the realm of possibility, either.

I'll be stunned if the Nats actually do something to address that catcher black hole until a month or two into the season; likewise no big SP move until the trade deadline.

Ryan DC said...

FWIW Zips projects the Nats as having something like the fourth-best OF group in baseball, and that's also the position group with the most minor league depth, so even with a bunch of worst-case scenarios, the Nats are built to withstand problems in The OF waaaaay better than in the rotation or *gulp* at catcher.