Nationals Baseball: Let's talk about... *gasp*... baseball!

Friday, February 22, 2019

Let's talk about... *gasp*... baseball!

Could it be? Baseball is really back! I mean meaningless Spring Training games but still, real baseball players, doing real baseball things. More importantly - not contract talk!

Ok, yes, we are just biding time between now and my annual "pay no attention to Spring Training stats" post and then between that and the first game, but still, baseball!

So what baseball things do we have to talk about? For one, we can talk about what we need to be watching for from the Nats this spring. The Nats are mostly set - you can probably guess all the starters and 24 of the 25 man roster right now. However that doesn't mean spring will be entirely without interest.

How does the bullpen shake out?

We know how it's supposed to shake out. Doolittle closes. Rosenthal sets up. Then someone steps up to be that "7th inning guy" - or if you hate that term "next in line, who comes in during important times". Then the rest fills in.  BUT...

  • Doolittle spent most of the 2nd half of 2018 injured, putting in normal use during a scant two week period from Sept 8th through Sept 20th.  He did look fine and the low use finish to the season was the usual "why push our guys" tapering that'll happen with a non-playoff team, but still that's only 6 real inning of pitching after around July 4th. 
  • Rosenthal spent ALL of ALL of 2018 injured, having last pitched in a major league game in August of 2017.  I hope I don't need to tell you why this might be concerning. 
  • The rest of the Nats pen didn't step up last year.  Solis had a moment, then flopped. Miller had a moment, then cooled. Glover is still waiting for his moment. Suero is just fine and unlikely to have a moment. Grace... I can't be snarky, he was good. Out of the Nats "other" relievers last year the most effective by FIP were Greg Holland (gone) and Brandon Kintzler (gone).  It's not that there isn't a decent pen here, it's just that it's the usual mess that once every three years gives the Nats a 2016 bullpen, and the other two years gives them something less than that. 

So there is something to watch here - are Doolittle and more so Rosenthal ok? Is anyone stepping up in Spring, if only to get the first shot at that 3rd best man role in April?

What's on second?

Howie Kendrick was another Nats injury from 2018, rupturing his Achilles in mid May and missing the rest of the year. Supposedly he's fine, but the Nats weren't so sure themselves bringing in Brian Dozier to help man second. Dozier has a stronger history at the base, but has seen his production taper in recent years and at the end of 2018 looked unplayable in the field.

If Howie is ok, and all early indications is he is, who starts? Dozier is a righty so there is no natural platoon and Howie can play anywhere, so the strong likelihood is that Kendrick starts off on the bench as a super-utility player. But how long can you not start a guy who when healthy has hit to a tune of .311 with solid pop? What if I tell you Dozier - who hit .215 last year - struggles all through spring?

Is 5th starter up for grabs?

The 5th starter position seems like it is a secret battle. Sure they did sign Hellickson to fill that role, but at 32 and spending half of 2018 out, everyone recognizes he is merely a stop gap until they find something better. They have two pitchers who might be that. Joe Ross, the other guy in the Trea Turner trade that was supposed to make that a "best trades of all-time" dealie, and a guy with 3 more seasons of control, finally is healthy and looks ready to see if he can get back to 2016 form. Erick Fedde, the guy they gambled on being the best of their AAA bunch when they traded away their starting pitching depth, is still here and is almost certainly their preferred winner of this battle.

Most likely it will be Hellickson. Fedde has looked bad in the majors and it is easy enough to send him back down to AAA under the guise of getting more work.  Ross, while harder to justify sending down to AAA (what are you going to say you are doing - stretching him out? He started 3 games at the end of last year.) can be shifted to the pen to be the 2-3 inning long man the Nats are currently without. However, I don't take this to be given since I think the Nats prefer Fedde, Ross, then Hellickson in a perfect world.

Is it really Victor or bust? 

Robles is penciled in as the Nats starter in CF. He can play the position well and hit well in his major league time at the end of last year.  But if he struggles in the Spring and MAT, who plays the position great, is on fire - do the Nats stick to their guns?  You have to hope they do, MAT has had his chances and Robles has little more to prove he deserves a shot at starting, but spring stats make teams do funny things sometimes.


There you go - real baseball talk! I had an idea to jibber-jabber about Bryce at the end, but let's leave this nice and pure for the weekend.

22 comments:

Treaples69 said...

I appreciate you cynicism but i dont think its fair to say rosenthal is a risk of not reaching his former self while taking the nats at their word that howie is fine also. they are both "healthy" at the start of camp so you cant say rosenthal is a risk without saying the same of howie. i actually think rosenthal is more fine than howie as he has 18-24 month rather than less than 12 to get ready for the season

Unknown said...

I'm concerned that this may be one of those seasons where you routinely get a strong effort from the SP only to have the bullpen poop the bed and lose the game.

Harper said...

GR - I'm not necessarily taking the Nats at their word on Howie. I'm just noting that if they are being truthful - it presents a possible problem. (If he's hurt it's not good - but you easily see how the Nats team breaks down) With Rosenthal it's the opposite, the problem comes if he's not healthy. That's why those pieces are different. Coming from different directions.

KS - Nats haven't had a full crash and burn of the pen ever. Maybe this will be the year? (of course - big part why that hasn't happened is bc of the decent pen set-ups to start year. I'd say this is mildly more possible than previous years, but bc of that injury risk)

NavyYardSteve said...

Harper/KS - 2017 is the closest the Nats pen has come to crashing and burning before they traded for Doolittle, Madson, and Kintzler to right the ship. Trienen couldn't close, Glover got hurt, Shawn Kelley and Joe Blanton gave up HRs left and right. Of course, the rest of the team was good enough (and the rest of the NL East was bad enough) that a terrible pen didn't doom the team like it could this year.

John O'Connor said...

Not sure why you'd conclude the Nats want Fedde to win the 5th starter job unless it's a generic "guy with five years of control better than guy with three years of control." From what I've seen of Fedde, I hope we can do better.

Isn't the obvious solution that Hellickson and Ross "job share." They don't want Hellickson going more than twice through the order, and Ross is on an innings limit. So Ross starts out as the "long man" whose presumptive long-man day is the day Hellickson starts.

Harper said...

NYS - Yeah thats the worst it has been and even then it was bad but far from worst in baseball.

JOC - I think the control is part of it. I think the "he's still young - we saw a #1 starter here" is part of it. It's hard to shake those first impressions.

Robot said...

Ugh, we still have Solis? I thought he was shipped back to Syracuse, where he belongs

Jimmy said...

I'm not going to lie I'm excited about this batting lineup. We should steal a ton on the bases. And there is a ton of upside and a pretty decent floor.

DezoPenguin said...

Solis is out of options; he's either on the Nats or DFA'd. I'd prefer the latter, whether replaced by an internal option (Nuno?) or an external one.

sirc said...

I would like the Nats to get their own version of Mike Montgomery from the duo of Eric Fedde and Joe Ross. Montgomery is a valuable asset for the Cubs, starting 15 or more games and relieving another 20+ times. If Ross is chosen, it could help mitigate his innings limit. Fedde's recurring shoulder issues could also be helped by being the swing man.

Mythra said...

I like the idea of Hellickson going 5 innings, Ross going 2-3 and let the bullpen have a day off every 5th day. Maybe you get someone work if they need to pitch the 9th to close, and maybe it's that 3rd in line behind Doolittle and Rosenthal. As far as I know, only Colorado had tried the split-starter/long guy rotation days before. Might be interesting to see how it works over a season not at elevation.

Yep, I have spring fever even in merry old England! Go Nats!

Anonymous said...

Now that we are (finally) acknowledging that we are moving on from Bryce, do you think we will sign Keuchel or Kimbrel?

BxJaycobb said...

@All:
Over course of offseason we’ve been litigating Bryce’s defense and whether last year was a blip or sign of him becoming terrible. I’ve mentioned this article a few times but never posted it. In it Mike Petriello examines every Harper “misplay” and discusses how nothing about Harper’s underlying athleticism etc has declined at all, he just was being passive basically. Would recommend that everybody who has a strong opinion on Harper defensive liability etc check it out. As I’ve said before, I have no doubt he will go back to being a merely below average defender.
https://www.mlb.com/news/bryce-harpers-defense-a-free-agent-question/c-300919616

BxJaycobb said...

@Anon. Has there been any rumors whatsoever linking us to Keuchel or Kimbrel? Also if the Lerners won’t go above the tax they can’t afford either.

BxJaycobb said...

BTW Marwin Gonzalez 2/21 is a bargain. Less than I figured he would go for. And preferable to Dozier deal we made.

DezoPenguin said...

I'm not sure that I'd call Gonzalez at 2/21 "preferable" to Dozier at 1/9. Less risky, though, definitely. The Dozier deal relies on two things: that most of last year's bad performance was accountable to his bone bruise and that he'll regress positively, and that Carter Kieboom is ready and able to take over in 2020. (Since Gonzalez isn't--even if he hits like 2017--the power threat that Dozier is, I think if we'd signed him instead, Rizzo would have gone harder to bring back Harper. Indeed, the combination of Harper and Murphy leaving the lineup may well have been one reason why Dozier was a key target.)

Jay said...

I still go back to the Nats shouldn't let Harper sign with their division rival. It both hurts the Nats and immensely improves the Phillies. Just like when the Nats signed Daniel Murphy. I've see people argue that Harper isn't worth $30 million, but I disagree. The other half of that argument is that it is not like the Nats are going to spend that money on someone else. There have been zero indications that the Nats are interested in adding any other players. It looks like they are going to stay under the luxury tax. It would be more of an argument if the Nats were going to sign Harper or if they didn't get him sign Keuchel and Kimbrel instead. Then you could argue the money is better spent on two players. Buster Olney posted on twitter this morning that the Phillies line up in '21 could be Trout, Harper, Hoskins 2-4. By not signing Harper, the Nats are effectively making it a 4-way race for the NL East. Bad move in my opinion.

The Ghost of Ole Cole Henry (JDBrew) said...

Is it possible that the Nats ‘21 line up is Trout, Rendon, Soto?? I like that sound of that better.

BxJaycobb said...

@Jay: I agree. That’s been my argument all along. It’s not a choice between Bryce or other players. It’s bryce or no other players.
@JDB. Unlikely! I think we have to hope that Soto ends up as good a hitter as any of them. Tough expectation tho

Anonymous said...

I love how a sports columnist jumps in two years early on wild speculation of Trout going to Philadelphia and then writes and article assumptively as if he is already there... its ridiculous. It's exponentially more egregious than all of the "Imagine Harper, Judge and Stanton" BS articles from a year ago.

billyhacker said...

Jay, I'm not understanding what are you saying. The Nats signed a bunch of players with the money they would have spent on Bryce. They spent the most free agent money of any team this year, at least until the Padres signed Manny. And are now projected for the second highest spending of any team in baseball (again) (second to the Red Sox). Seems like it would be more fair to criticize the team for a lack of pitcher development than not spending money.

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