Nationals Baseball: Robertson to Phillies - still not better than Mets who aren't better than Braves who I'm not sure

Friday, January 04, 2019

Robertson to Phillies - still not better than Mets who aren't better than Braves who I'm not sure

Let's understand again how last year ended

ATL 90-72
WSH 82-80
PHI 80-82
NYM 77-85

(we will ignore MIA because they are ignorable)

This paints a picture that suggests the Braves are a good team and the rest of the NL East is middling .500 types. But not only doesn't that feel right based on what we saw, we know this is not the best way to capture team talent. We know now, for example, that one-run losses tend to be random and occasionally teams lose a handful more than they should affecting their record.* What if we look at Pythag standings? This goes by runs scored and runs allowed to try to get a better picture of team quality.

ATL 92-70
WSH 90-72
NYM 78-84
PHI 76-86

This feels a little more right up top to me. The Braves and Nats were both good - though the Braves were a half-step better. The other two were noticeably less talented. But the Mets above the Phillies might feel wrong to you.  If it does, I encourage you to look at the 2018 Phillies again.  Not a single star on offesne and player after player ranging from below average to bad. Kingery got nearly 500 PAs and he was TERRIBLE. No one beyond Nola was good of the starters and there were a ton of bad innings there. The bullpen falls apart after 3-4 guys. It was not a good team.

Baseball Prospectus does an "Adjusted Standings" that tries even harder to pull luck out (though I'm unaware if it correlates any better with the next year standings than the pythag numbers - my guess would be not just because the variability of year to year rosters and performance)

ATL 94-68
WSH 91-72
NYM 79-83
PHI 79-83

The Mets are actually a half-win better than the Phillies but they both round the same way.

Lost : Suzuki, Markakis, Anibal Sanchez - some limited good production from Duda, Brach (RP)
Gained : Donaldson, McCann

They lost some noticeable production. Even if it was unlikely to be kept up it needs to be replaced. But Donaldson could alone cover for Markakis, Suzuki, and Duda. The Braves have plenty of young arms to replace Sanchez. Kind of a push

Lost : Bryce, Hellickson, Reynolds, Roark, Gio, Murphy, Kintzler, Holland, Herrera (I'm just sort of listing productive players for teams)
Gained : Corbin, Sanchez, Suzuki, Gomes, Barraclough, Rosenthal

There's a lot of change isn't there? Corbin and Sanchez should make up for Gio and Roark and Hellickson (if not do more) the bullpen might be ok. They aren't likely gaining much but they aren't losing much either. But there's a offense gap with no Bryce and Murphy that hasn't been filled. Sure that's a bump from catcher and some injury helpbut you'd probably give them a game less at least?

Lost : Mesoraco, Blevins, Flores, Cabrera, CESPEDES**
Gained : Cano, Edwin Diaz, Ramos

The Mets don't have a lot of decent players and they lost 3 solid bats (though one they only had for a limited time), but they replaced them with two guys who should be as good, if not better - at least in 2019. The pen got a lot better. They are likely better with the same injury status and if they get healthier maybe much? Still they were a below .500 team so they need definitely much to get into the playoffs picture. ** Someone reminded me Cespedes is unlikely to play this year - that's would be huge but he only played a quarter of the season. Still it's the equivalent of a very good back-up being gone, so I knocked the Mets down a peg across the board below...

Lost : Cabrera, Ramos,Crawford, Santana, Luis Garcia
Gained : McCuthchen, Robertson, Segura, Nicasio, Jose Alvarez

The Phillies didn't have many FAs so the guys they lost were guys traded for or traded away. There are gains offensively, and noticeable gains in the pen but I can't say they maybe much better unless something happens that we can't predict - like a break out star performance.

Right now I'd have the records at something like
ATL 92-70
WSH 90-72
NYM 86-76 85-77 (healthy)
PHI 82-80

Maybe I'm putting the Mets a game or two high? Phillies a game or two low? Mets 85-77 84-78 Phillies 83-79?  The Nats have lost so much that even though they gained a lot they are treading water, so the also treading water Braves stay ahead. The Mets get alot better (again if healthy) but they still need something else to make the playoffs be a realistic goal and not a "if things go right" situation. The Phillies are looking like the odd man out.

What would a Bryce or Machado signing do? I'd move the Phillies to like 86-88. In the realm of the Mets "if things go right", fringy WC but also with less worry about health. Kuechel probably wouldn't be enough for me... maybe 85-86.  But both? Then they are a 90 win team and right there with Nats and Braves. That would be fun (for me, not as much for you probably)

*Could it be something psychological? Sure! But we also have seen teams that are basically the same - same rosters, same coach - wildly swing in this.  It's one of those things that certainly could exist, probably does for some teams over the years, but isn't reliably measurable and thus better put on a backburner for any projection analysis.


cass said...

According to Fangraphs playing time estimates and steamer projections for 2019, the NL East projects as follows:

WSH 91-71
NYM 85-77
ATL 82-80
PHI 80-82

I think you're overestimating the Braves based on last year's run, to be honest. Everything else is fine.

This gives a good comparison of where teams stand at various positions:

Harper said...

I could see the Nats being rated above the Braves (especially in a system that just mutes the best and worst then adjusts for reasonable health - which is kind of what they do) but they are being harsh on the Braves. Other than oddly hating Freeman (there's been one season in his career starting in 2013 where he's had that many PAs and produced that little) they can't really adjust for good young players well. The estimate performance and playing time separately but they are linked. The best will play and likely get to play more - but since they can't predict who that will be it washes out. For a team like the Braves - looking to run through a half-dozen young pitchers, that puts them at a disadvantage.

That's to say - yes if they lose Anibal and replace him with Touki and for some reason 3 guys pitching better than him that only get 20 inning a piece but don't replace him and also same thing with Teheran letting him pitch a full season while better guys don't get that chance for some reason - yes they could be a lot worse. But seasons don't work like that.

(It's kind of a fluke of the system - in the Nats case bc Ross and Fedde both didn't pitch much - and they don't have good guys in hand - it all looks more understandable)

Jimmy said...

I think the play here is we sign Harper, bargain bin dive for 2nd baseman and trade Eaton for pitching. I honestly think we are all in for Harper at this point.

Jimmy said...

All these recent rumors is Boras desperately trying to find another suitor(phillies) to bid at or higher than our best offer. I don't see the Lerners letting Harper go to the phillies.

cass said...

I'm not saying the Fangraphs/Steamer numbers are gospel - I'd take the over on them as well. But not by 10 wins. Without further signings, I think the Nats are pretty clearly the favorites but there are a lot of free agents still out there and trades that could be made.

Dustin M. Smith said...

Doesn't it seem like every season we're talking about how the Pythag standings (or whatever) show the Nats were ACTUALLY a lot better than their record? Sure does to me...

Johnny Callison said...

Just hoping, with the new Harper met with Lerner rumors, that Boras isn't tricking the Nats into bidding against themselves, and upping an offer that has not even been passed by anyone. He did that with the O's on Chris Davis. 300 for 10 is still a good offer.

Josh Higham said...

Hey hey hey, AJ Cole's been DFA'd. I hear the Nats could use a long man! Great K and swinging strike rates!

Harper said...

Jimmy/cass - I think I can be convinced of Nats over Braves by season start. I'm not looking that closely now because it's all subject to change.

DMS - well it's only happened two times during this window (last year and 2015) but I think I get what you are talking about. What happens is when the team plays suspiciously poorly we look for reasons to excuse that (because we expect them to be good) but when they play suspiciously well we don't (same reason). So every 12-14 month since... well probably 2014 got a look to see if they were underperforming the pythag but every 19-7 month got put away as a team just dominating because they are great, have great chemistry, etc. etc.

Johnny Callison said...

Pythagorean projection differentials last eight years for Nats (from Basebal Ref--please correct me if I got any seasons wrong--did this quickly):

2018: 8 under (Martinez)
2017: 1 over (Baker)
2016: 2 under(Baker)
2015: 6 under (Williams)
2014: 1 under (Williams)
2013: 2 over(Johnson)
2012: 2 over (Johnson)
2011: 2 over (Riggleman, McLaren, Johnson)

So, six out of eight seasons, the Nats were within 2 wins of the projection. Both times they missed it by a wide margin they had less experienced guys at the helm. Williams was just under in year one and quite a bit under year two. Johnson and Baker were pretty much right on it each time.

My doubts about the Pythagorean estimates is that they are seen by some as a measure of the manager's effectiveness, as if the stats produced by hitters, fielders, and pitchers would be the same no matter who managed. But my impression, growing up watching Earl Weaver, was that the manager's earlier decisions help create those numbers in the first place. I don't know how the effect of managerial decisions on actually producing the numbers can be measured, but ever since I saw the Orioles have some amazing platoon numbers with outfielders like Roenicke-Ayala-Lowenstein (6.3 WAR as a platoon in 1979) or the way the O's rotated Rettenmund into their Buford-Blair-F Robinson outfield (those four generated 37.2 WAR in 1970-71 combined!) made me think the initial decisions on WHO to play WHEN were even more important than in-game decisions.

Still, if Martinez being 8 under is just statistical noise, the Nats should improve almost automatically next year as a sort of correction.

Dustin M. Smith said...

Wow, yeah... that's surprising but looks like you're right. Guess I'm just remembering the two "unlucky" seasons and forgetting the rest. Maybe I've been living in DC too long now... all the crappy sports moments are finally getting to me. Haha.

CardinalX said...

Eaton for a full season fairly healthy at the top of the lineup can have a tremendous impact

PotomacFan said...

The Pythag numbers for 2018 are misleading. I reviewed the stats. The Nats scored 10 runs or more in 15 games (including games with 17, 18 and 25 runs). In blow-outs (5+ runs), the Nats won 26 and lost 17, with a positive run differential of 89. Take out those blow-out games (including the losses) and the Nats run differential for 2018 was ZERO. These were the same Nats that were shut out 15 times. That's nearly 10% of their games. So, runs scored v. runs against is rather misleading. Likewise with some inflated batting averages from these blow-out games. Why the blow-outs? The most likely reason is that the Nats hit really well when they got to the bottom of the other team's bullpen. Another possible explanation is that the Nats hitters relaxed and hit better when there was nothing on the line. Probably a combination of the two.

BxJaycobb said...

@Harper: Bradford Doolittle/ESPN has Nats at 93 wins and the biggest winners of offseason. (Although I think it’s complex because a lot of the net plus is from their Pythag luck).

John C. said...

It's fun to look and see where they are, with the obvious caveat that they're still a few weeks even from P&C reporting - much less Opening Day.

But putting that aside, one note that I'd like to point out that may surprise folks is that losing 2018 Murphy is not that big a deal. Yeah, he was terrible defensively but that was never his game anyway. But he didn't really hit, either. His OPS+ with the Nationals was 105 (down from 136 in 2017 and 155(!) in 2016). And even as he healed, he didn't get much better when he was with the Cubs (108 OPS+). As pointed out in a Fangraphs article after Murph signed with the Rockies, his peripherals were down across the board. His exit velocity (both aggregate and peak exit velocity) and pull rates tanked. His xwOBA (expected BABIP based on batted ball profile) fell to its lowest level in a few years. He essentially morphed back into what he used to be before becoming the poster boy for the launch angle movement - only slower and with worse defense. Losing 2016 or 2017 Murphy? Crippling blow. Losing 2018, who turns 34 at the beginning of the season? Cold heartedly, not such a loss.

sirc said...

@John C.:

Murphy's first month back from injury last season, which covered 15 games in June, was horrible, 33 ops+. From that point on his ops+ was 133, which is elite. If you take out his numbers after the trade his ops+ was 142 from July 1 with the Nats. Regression is a certainty but I wouldn't bet on a steep one from Murphy in Colorado, barring injury and acclimation issues.

I get what you're saying but the Nats' offense is not replacing those numbers. Not with a free agent at any position or with any internal options. Whatever gains they might make defensively won't come close to offsetting the loss in offense. They will miss Murphy, even the 2018 version.

BxJaycobb said...

@Harper, Everybody: I’ve been thinking about this a lot....why do so many teams fear going over the luxury tax? The penalties are so puny it’s insane. Literally going over even for the second time in a row will cost you utility infielder money. Are owners essentially using the luxury tax as a bogeyman excuse to the fans to simply not spend money?

BxJaycobb said...

It’s pretty wild. I’ve gone from thinking we are 0% keeping Harper to 75% getting him and are in pole position.

Johnny Callison said...

What do you all think about the Mets picking up Broxton? Is he just like MAT and probably won't do much for them? Or could they have found a gem that could possibly elevate their D and their overall outfield if he comes through?

NotBobby said...

He is a lottery ticket. When he makes contact he can be an all-star. When he does not make contact (which is way more) he is AAAA.

DezoPenguin said...

He basically *is* Taylor: great on defense, has speed and power, but strikes out way, way too much and rarely connects. He's had one good year (2016, much like Taylor's 2017) to tantalize a "what if he put it all together." In no way would you want to rely on him as a full-season regular, but he can be a useful asset in a limited context, and given that Cespedes may end up missing all of 2019 and Lagares can't stay healthy, he improves the Mets' roster.

Jay said...

The only way I think signing Harper is a good idea is if the Lerner family decides they don't care about the luxury tax. Sign Harper. Sign Rendon. Go for it by trading Eaton and maybe Carter Kieboom for another top starter. Sign DJ LeMahiue (spelling?) in Kieboom's spot.

Harper is worth the money if you don't care about the luxury tax. He is not worth it if we turn around trade away half the team to get under the cap.

ssln said...

When you start off with a false premise you wind up with crap. Maybe you go back and see what Bill Pacells said.
To help you out, it was you are what what your record says what you are. On the other hand, you never saw a stat that you didn't like and it is off season, so have some fun. It looks like another of your out of the box thoughts.

Mr. T said...

Bill Pacells, BOOM! Check and mate, Harper.

Harper said...

look ssln - like Teddy Rossevet said be the man in the arena then.

Screech said...

Great analysis, Harper. The upshot: fewer injuries should help, but on paper we have a team generally comparable to the one we fielded last year -- which was better than the actual results. 2018 was a year of vast underperformance, partly caused by a rash of injuries (why else would we have raided single-A for a 19 year-old outfielder?) To the physical improvement that comes from healing (Robles' elbow, Doolittle's toe, Howie's Achilles, Eaton's ankle, etc.) might be added the psychological boost of a new beginning. It's too soon to tell, but the team's aggressive initiative to fill holes from departing FAs and under-performers has changed its identity and possibly its attitude, which grew gloomier as the season progressed. Maybe we'll catch fire. This x-factor -- thankfully, not the hemorrhaging of talent -- will be the main story line for the Nats in 2019.

Josh Higham said...

@ssln legitimately, what are you trying to achieve with your weird and mean-spirited comments? If you're going for lighthearted I'd suggest reevaluating your jokes.