Nationals Baseball: Monday Quickie - impermanence

Monday, January 07, 2019

Monday Quickie - impermanence

Apparently according to the comments, I both wildly overestimated and mildly underestimated how good the Nats are. I'd say that means I'm probably right becuase both side are unhappy, but it actually doesn't work that way. I think pythag is a good quick reference to a teams talent level for projecting forward. Anything other than W-L though, looking at the past year in review, is pointless. They may have had the talent of a 90 win team but they won 82 and in the end that's all that matters.

It'll be curious how this Nats team goes down in history.  Generally you are made by playoffs and championships and nothing else. Think of all those great teams that might have been, crushed by the  Yankees.  From 1936-1964 (29 seasons) the Yankees won 16 World Series and lost 6 more.  Great AL teams were obliterated. Great NL dynasties never came to pass

The mid 60s early 70s Orioles were a powerhouse - the team that started the idea of "the Oriole Way". They won 97 or more games 6 times in 11 years. They won one AL title pre '69 expansion, 5 AL East titles in 6 years, and made four WS. But as someone outside the region I only have a vague idea of how good they are, because they only won two WSs, three years apart. Who do we remember? The Chuck Finley A's.  A great team, no doubt - 5 straight AL West titles. But not better than that Oriole run... except they won three WSs in a row.

The Big Red Machine almost got lost. They won the West in 72 (lost to A's in WS), in 73 (lost to Mets in playoffs), nosed out in 74 after winning 98 games, and nearly lost the epic 1975 WS to the Red Sox, before dominating that second title run.  If they don't win back to back series do we care as much about them?  Well, what's your feelings about the 70s Dodgers? They'd have a decade without a losing season from '69-'78. They'd tack on five more good seasons in the next 7. But we think as much about Gibson's HR, a blip season surrounded by mediocrity, as we do the Garvey-Lopes-Russell-Cey teams.

Did you know the Phillies had back to back 100 win seasons in 75 and 76 and won the East 6 times in 8 years from 76-83? Probably not. You may note the Royals WS win in 1985, but they had been a snake-bit winner since 76.  We don't really get how big 1980 really was when the Royals finally beat the Yankees to make a series and the Phillies finally be the NL West team (this time the Astros) to do the same. And even then the Royals didn't get the memory cement until 1985 when they won a series of their own.

This is all history to me. At this point I start remembering things because I lived it. I But that's not the point - I bet the younger fans in general don't have those impressions bourn from watching these seasons play out. Just like I don't have the impressions I probably should about some of the teams I noted above.

What do 30 year olds think of the always there early-mid 80s Cardinals, who got into the series three times but only managed to win back in 82? Or the dominant mid-late 80s Mets who had a run on 98-108-92-100 but only got to and won that one WS? What do they think of the Bash Brothers A's - another dominant Athletics team that got to three series in a row, but unlike the Finley A's only managed to win one? Or the great Bonds/Bonilla run for the Pirates?

A 20 year old might think decently of the 90s Braves because the run was just so impressive (and honestly didn't end until they were into the game) despite only winning 1. But do they know how good those mid-late  90s Indians teams were? Ever think about the offensive powerhouse Texas teams of the late 90s or high quality Twins teams of the 00s (both crushed by the Yankees in playoffs)? The Killer B's Astros? I doubt it.

My point is - teams are defined by winning, not just in the regular season, but in the playoffs. Sure, there are going to be guys like me (and probably you) who dig into the game and see how good these teams really are but the dominant "mind-share" that are associated with squads comes down to making, and preferably winning, championships. In the old days, with only one round of playoffs before the series, you could just keep winning and eventually break through. Nearly all those teams before 95 had their moments in the sun through persevering. But now it's different. Another round makes it that much harder. The Nats have been great the past 7+ seasons but these Nats will ultimately be forgotten by those outside DC as soon as they stop winning. They best they can hope for is to be looked at like those late 90s Pirates teams - maybe vague memories of a great team with some great players that didn't quite get over the hump. Worst case is they are the 00s Twins - a team that's barely thought of or talked about in terms of baseball history.

This doesn't probably matter to you, but maybe it will in 20 years when you are trying to explain to someone how good the Nats of this time really were.


Jimmy said...

I love this team, they've played fantastic baseball nearly everynight the last like 7 summers in a row but nobody will never remember how good these teams were outside of our areacode. Not a single NLCS appearance is the dagger, it's unforgivable.

Ole PBN said...

Jimmy is right, and the postseason failures (because they should be called that) are indeed gut wrenching and unforgivable. But I would never in a million years blow it up and go "all-in" to win it one year. What if you miss? Then you're not remembered and you're a doormat going through a rebuild for years headed toward a questionable future. There are teams that win the WS who don't go "all-in." I much prefer watching a continually competitive franchise take the field every summer, because it means we always have a chance. I loath the days of 2005-2011 where we knew going into the season, that there is no way we'd contend. I don't ever want to go back there. Ever. The postseason heartbreak is better than not getting excited at all.

Jimmy said...

I second Ole PBN, although going all in doesn't necessarily mean total doom. The Caps won the year after going all in and have made a ton of shrewd moves to stay competitive. If you have a competent front office who can hit on drafting and finding value going unused on other teams you can stay above water. Rizzo has been pretty good at drafting and trading for value.

W. Patterson said...

Third PBN. Grew up with the Dodgers and, as with the Nats, I look for a good, well-played game.

Post season losses suck but at lesst they dontd suck playing most of the regular season.

sirc said...

Herrera just signed for 2 years 18 million. The price for quality relief is rising.

Johnny Callison said...

I'm still concerned about the Nats' BP and now the price for quality is getting a bit too steep. At these prices, I can't imagine they'll add anyone of quality. I always like Robertson. They almost got him, I believe the year they traded for Eaton, and now he's on the Phillies, in the division. I get why we had no interest in Herrera after this dreadful stint here in 2018, but I am doubtful that Barraclough and Rosenthal and Glover will all come through, and worry about Doo's injury history. But you never know, it might all work out fine.

If we get Harper back, maybe we trade Eaton for some BP help? Risky, since we don't know what we have in Robles, but it's a risk I'd take, I think. Maybe wait for the deadline when you know more about Robles...

DezoPenguin said...

@Johnny Callison: I feel you about not wanting to put all eggs in the Robles basket, but Harper vs. Eaton is a question of who plays RF, not anything about Robles. Neither one of those two is a center fielder any more (last year showed us all too well the truth of that with regard to Harper's ability to play CF), so if Harper is brought back then Eaton is left as a backup for Harp and Soto only.

Matt said...

Not clear why we shouldn't worry about how the team is remembered. I mean, the average person pays little attention to baseball and would not have a good conception of how good the various teams are during the current season. And I just don't care very much about what people (don't) know about the Nats.

As many have pointed out, at least they play plenty of good, interesting baseball which is where all my enjoyment comes from. Not that I'd mind if they stopped puking on their boots in the postseason...

BxJaycobb said...

@Harper. This is all sort of fair. That said I think actually you’re not totally right that winning is the main prominent factor. I’m 31 and I’m a big baseball fan but not a lunatic fan....and I know about the Bonds pirates bc of Bonds and via the Cabrera single to LF, and of course everybody who likes baseball knows about the Doc Gooden/Strawberry/Keith Hernandez Mets...Buckner (and cocaine/clubhouse/amusing personalities) is one big gateway to that team’s remembrance, and the Bash Brother A’s are one of the more famous teams from that decade...MaGuire/LaRussa/Canseco/and especially the earthquake Bay WS, the Cards bc of the big Ozzie Smith homer and the terrible call at 1st w pitcher covering, the Indians team bc it was such an insanely memorable offense/epic lineup, and u remember them via Braves one ring, etc..... it’s not the number of championships and winning per se determines how famous a team ends up being. I think it actually has a lot to do with star players and big moments we remember in the way I just described. Everybody will remember the 86 Red Sox team that lost because of Buckner and the curse, etc; narratives are written based on many things. E.g. I think the Nats will have far more staying power in consciousness because of Harper than the 2000s Twins, bc who cares about those players. The Nats had the most famous player in baseball on their team. If it ends now, they’ll probably be vaguely remembered as “the team that couldn’t win anything in October even though they had Bryce Harper.” As for how important this all is, sure I would love to have a legacy of a team that won rings. But we all (most of us?) get tremendous enjoyment out of watching a team that is compelling for a long period of time...and for some people that may be better than a long period of hideous baseball and a fluke WS win sort of like one of those Marlins teams or the meh WC Cardinals team that somehow won in 2011. Hard to say. But #of titles isn’t the main determinative factor. Because honestly the 90s Braves team is I think almost as famous as the Jeter Yankees teams and they only won once (maybe that’s only among baseball fans not public writ large).

Froggy said...

I would be happy if the Nats became the NL version of the A's. Billy Bean is always adapting, trading and surprising the game. The A's are never out of it for more than a season and have been left for dead and risen up to contend almost every year and usually without going over luxury tax. They play fun, exciting baseball and fans love them.

What the Nats need are greased pig chasing contests in the outfield insteadi of stealing second base, and free admission for hot pants night type of promotions.

*Full disclosure: I grew up in the Charlie O era and split my summers going to A's and Dodgers games.

cass said...

I think BxJaycobb has it right. Was going to make pretty much all those points, but I grew up as a Braves fan, so the Pirates are gonna be larger in my memory, but I think they were pretty well known cause of Bonds anyway, even for people who were not in attendance at the Francisco Cabrera game as a kid like I was.

Jayson Werth's home run feels pretty similar but I wonder how famous it is outside of DC? Obviously it didn't even lead to the Nats making the NLCS, no less the World Series, but the Nats were a team that made the playoffs for the first time after many years of losing, much like the 1980s Braves.

ssln said...

Reality sucks but you are stuck with it. Good teams win in the regular season, great teams win in the post season. That is the way it is and your memories and thoughts are unimportant in the grand scheme of things.
Let's look at the Caps. They probably won the President's trophy four or five times since 2000. Remember the Boudreau years of fast break hockey? All good and interesting but in the hockey world all that matters is the Stanley Cup. Remember how it was repeated over and over, they haven't won a Cup in their 44 year existence. People even questioned whether Ovie was worthy of the Hall of Fame even though he is the best goal scorer of his generation. All of that noise disappeared when Ovie led the team to the Cup. Now he is assured of a first ballot induction.
Remember the Nats anyway your heart desires. The reality in the baseball world is that they will be remembered as the team that couldn't stand up to playoff pressure and woefully under performed in the postseason. Reality sucks but I have a hunch that is the way the rest of baseball looks at our home team.

Will said...

Really great post. I often wonder about this. Thanks, Harper. I hope the boys break through one day.

Mr. T said...

Overlord ssln hath spoken, silly humans! Your thoughts and memories mean nothing! NOTHING!

sirc said...

Comparing the value of getting into the playoffs in hockey to getting into the playoffs in baseball is not a fair comparison.

50% of the NHL goes to the playoffs every year. 26% of MLB teams get into the playoffs every year. It is, by definition, more valuable to reach the playoffs in baseball.

There are further degrees of unfair comparisons to be made between playoff results in the 2 sports as well. Suffice it to say that reaching the playoffs in baseball is still a great accomplishment, whatever results occur once there.

Kevin Rusch said...

The whole nature of this discussion drives me crazy. It's all Sports-Illustrated/ESPN narrative crap about "they never won the big one." As if Chuck Knoblauch is better than Barry Bonds because Knoblauch has more rings.

I mean, maybe nobody outside the beltway will remember the Nats, but nobody outside the beltway remembers the 1982 NFC championship game, which was a MUCH better game than the Super Bowl that was a week later (regardless of the Riggins run) So, okay.

But the argument here is essentially "If you can't convince some random dude from Illinois that the Nats were a good team, then they weren't a good team." You're never going to convince that guy, because he thinks the 58-104 Cubs were a great team who didn't get the lucky bounces, or that the 83-79 Giants who won all those trophies this decade were a true dynasty who just lost 79x a year to keep it interesting. And ESPN/SI will tell you that, because they get money from having stupid people scream stupid things, and dudes with too much free time arguing over it. ssln will say the Bills sucked, and that winning the AFC 4x in a row was a testament to their incompetence.

Anyway, I'm really frustrated that the Nats don't get past the first round. I don't think it's structural, however - you can trace most of those losses to individual meltdowns. But I'm not going to worry about changing the opinion of an idiot. Life's too short.

DezoPenguin said...

@Kevin Rusch:

Hear hear!

I get some of the opposite argument. It can be frustrating to watch ESPN and national writers dismiss the team we love without any appreciation of reality. I mean, how many times are we going to hear about the 2012 Nats and the Strasburg innings limit, despite the fact that we actually WON the game that Detweiler started for us in the playoffs in Stras's place and it would have been Storen melting down on the mound no matter what starters we had brought? The Narrative is in place, and for the masses outside of the actual Nationals fandom, the Narrative is all that matters because they're too busy remembering the true facts about their own teams.

But the point is to play good baseball, to build a good team from the ground up and maximize the number of bites you get at the apple by paying attention to the present and the future, not to chase headlines. As a Nationals fan, I'm invested in the Nationals right now. Next year, I will be invested in the 2020 Nats. And so on. What I won't be concerned with is what some yahoo who doesn't even remember that there used to be something called "the Expos" thinks about the 2015-ish Nats. And there's no "magic formula" in the playoffs. This year's Red Sox and, say, the 2015 Royals couldn't be more different.

Jay said...

You make good points. I agree that most of the talking heads on national shows are exactly that. I've watched national broadcasts of the Nats and it becomes readily apparent that I know more about what is going on with the Nats in that game than the announcers. The points they make and various comments are often off the mark regarding the players and trends for the Nats at that point in the season. I guess I write all of that to say that I don't care what people across the country think of the Nats. However, I do wonder if I will look back on the Nats of the last 7 years as underachieving and ultimately a missed opportunity. I agreed with the Stras shut down then and now. However, the Nats of 2014 flat choked after Tim Hudson stated they lacked gumption (to put it nicely). Also, they choked against the Cubs. I'd say the Dodgers series was a coin flip. Anyway, we'll see what lies ahead. Rizzo continues to do a great job. Hopefully, the Nats will break through at some point and make a long run like the Caps did.

BornInDC said...

I'm actually old enough to remember how big it was to remember how big it was for the Royals to finally get past the Yankees and make it to the World Series, My own thoughts about the 1985 Royals both at the time and today is that it was a shame that the 1985 Royals were their first World Series winner, because I remember several Royals teams in the 1970s that were better.

As someone who also follows the NFL, I have somewhat similar feelings about Super Bowl Champions that were not noteworthy teams during the season. For example, I think the America's Game documentary on the 2017-18 Philadelphia Eagles does a better job of encapsulating the 2017-18 NFL season for me than the America's Game Documentary for the 2007-08 Giants does. The Eagles unexpected success was big story throughout the 2017-18 season. In contrast, the big story during the 2007-08 NFL season was the Patriots undefeated regular season. The Giants were an afterthought during the season until they upset the Patriots in the Super Bowl.

For similar reasons, I am big fan of the NFL's Missing Rings documentaries on great teams that missed winning the Super Bowl. I can still remember how much the following Missing Rings teams dominated during the regular season in their respective years: The 1969 Minnesota Vikings, the 1990 Buffalo Bills and the 1998 Minnesota Vikings. When I think about the 1969, 1990 and 1998 NFL seasons, those are the teams that first come to mind for me.

Ole PBN said...

"Heroes get remembered, but legends never die." The teams that we good, but never made it all the way will hold a special place in the hearts of that teams fans, because its only those fans that suffer and celebrate the ebb and flow of each regular season game. But to win when the whole country is watching only you and the opponent, to be in a position to win the last game of the season... and deliver... that is the stuff of legends. If you don't care what other people think about your team (which most seem in agreement on - that it doesn't matter), then the regular season wins are enough. To always have a bite at the apple, as Dezo said. But championships put you in rarefied air.

I'm not going to use various sports analogies, as I think it distracts from the overall point. None of this isn't to take away the importance of regular season success and piling up the wins, but championships are a different feeling.

BxJaycobb said...

Am I the only one that sees most of MLB media suggesting Harper is on the brink of re-signing with the Nats? It’s almost like the DC Nats beat world is stuck in early winter mode where it looked like Bryce was gone and Lerner went on that radio show etc. hell the last thing we heard from Boswell was Bryce was gone, full stop, and mark Lerner always is a straight shooter lol. Meanwhile every reporter on earth and MLB Network person gives the impression the Nats are like wrapping up a deal with Bryce, or are in pole position. It’s a bizarre situation right now. Like it may be about to happen but still nobody expects it?

Zimmerman11 said...

Grandal on a one-year deal? I haz a sad. Still like that we're two injuries away from "bad"... but Grandal >> Suzuki+Gomes

Froggy said...

And .215 hitting Brian Dozier does what for us that Difo couldn't?

Froggy said...

I wouldn't be surprised if Bryce (we still call him Bryce, right?) Signed with the Angels on a short term high AAV deal. You imaguni the marketing value of Trout, Bryce, and Ohtani in the same lineup?

Anonymous said...

@ Froggy

he hits at least 20 home runs, thats what Dozier does for us that Difo couldn't.

that being said, with the dozier signing, it's funny that the right sight of our infield has a chance to be the worst in baseball and the left side one of the best.

Harper - will teams take advantage of this strategy-wise?

JE34 said...

Dozier has pop. He'll give you 20+ dingers.

Josh Higham said...

And if Dozier is healthy all year, he could plausibly give you 30+ homers. He's definitely at the end of his peak, even if you assume away the bad year in 2018, but he could be an absolute steal at $9m if just a few things break right.

BxJaycobb said...

@Froggy:do your homework.
1. Dozier walks a ton.
2. Based on Twitter, Harper seems to believe otherwise, but everything I’m seeing in underlying metrics suggests last year was almost entirely bad luck when it comes to AVG and bat-to-ball skills. To wit: Dozier’s K% and BB% remained exactly constant, which would be very rare for a player beginning a collapse. His BABIP utterly plummeted however.So is it rotten luck, or is he making contact that is nevertheless terrible contact? He is making fine contact. In fact his Hard Hit % went UP to 37% from his prior two excellent years. His soft and medium % were also pretty close to normal. What about his FB/GB spread? No big change either. What did drop a lot? His HR/FB ratio dropped. This suggests he may be losing pop from his 40 HR peak (he also hit fewer line drives although not many fewer). What does this all suggest on offense? It suggests to me there is virtually no chance of him hitting for such a low average again. I just don’t see it. Maybe it won’t be the .260/.270 he hit at his peak, but I bet it will easily be .235 or higher, with tons of walks. He will also hit I bet 20 or more homers. In all, the projections see him as a league average hitter. I think that’s probably a little light. I bet he ends up at 105-110 wRC+ or so. Something like .245/.340/.470. But nothing about his underlying batted ball profile suggests a hitter in total collapse.
DEFENSE: he went from an above average fielder (won gold glove) in 2017 to below average last year. Projections see him as about average defender next year, a bit below average. So....much more optimistic than Harper, who thinks he’s no better on D than Murphy. (Not even close IMO.)

BxJaycobb said...

@Anon. He also walks as much as basically anybody, which Difo doesn’t. In short, he’s at least a league average hitter. Difo is an absolute garbage hitter. Dozier is projected as 2.8 WAR (an above average starter.) if that’s accurate, 9m/1yr is a good deal for Nats.

DezoPenguin said...

So, Dozier on a one-year deal. Makes sense for all parties: Kieboom can theoretically take over in 2020 for us, and Dozier gets the chance to rebuild his market and get paid by someone next year. One thing this definitely tells us is that the FO believes in Kieboom.

Dozier's career has been weird. From 2013-2017 he put up 2.9, 4.5, 3.1, 6.2, and 5.0 fWAR. Then last year he utterly fell off a cliff, ending up sub-league-average at hitting, baserunning, AND fielding, with only 0.8 fWAR.

Depth Charts projections are for 2.5 fWAR and 24 HR next year. On an entirely unscientific basis, that feels to me more like an average of the possible outcomes. I figure he's either going to bounce back to being his normal levels (4+ WAR) or he's completely cooked.

(For those curious, note that Wilmer Difo was somehow a worse player than Dozier, worth only 0.4 fWAR in 456 PA. Dozier's wRC+ was 90, which is not good. Difo's was 71, which is absolutely bad.)

So, that leaves the Nats with a bench of:

C - Gomes/Suzuki
OF - Taylor
1B/PH/OF - Adams
2B/3B/OF - Kendrick
IF - Difo

CF and SS only have one legit backup, like C, with that bench, which isn't great, but we have ready replacements in the minors if needed for Taylor and Difo in Stevenson and Sanchez.

I think this is a pretty good move. It's a bit riskier than signing, say, Jed Lowrie, but if Dozier does recover his form he's nearly as good as Rendon, if he really is finished the time it takes to find that out is more time for Kendrick to heal up, and if Dozier really does put up 2.5 WAR then he's given us surplus value for the contract.

Now Rizzo just needs to address the 5th starter and perhaps a LH bullpen upgrade over Solis and the team will be set for the season regardless of any Bryce drama.

Anonymous said...

I love the move! Difo has no real upside as anything more than s bench guy. For a team that still has playoff aspirations to have him as an every day starter would be crazy.

With Dozier, you have at least some chance of a bounce-back year. And for relative peanuts I’ll take even a diminished Dozier over Difo every day of the week and twice on Sunday.

NotBobby said...

My understanding is that Dozier had a deep bone bruise on one of his knees all last season. That could easily explain the bad outcomes on his batted balls - he didn't have any pop in his bat with the injured lower half.

Mark said...

The Nationals legacy of the 2010's will also be defined by the careers of Max, Bryce, maybe Stephen and Anthony. Ryan's injuries diminished a potential superstar.