Nationals Baseball: March 2019

Friday, March 29, 2019

First Game Talk

you don’t want to go overboard on using limited data to make judgements.  So 0-fers and a million SBs need to be taken in stride.  However seeing Davey make another manager error is a continuation of something we’ve seen that you can hang a hat on.

To set the scene the Nats were down and Max was up with two outs in the bottom of the seventh and no one on.  It probably made the most sense to pull him now and let Adams take a few cuts at tying the game up. Max’s spot may not come up again. You generally start pitchers a little light their first couple outings. DeGrom has already been pulled so the ace v ace game was off the table. The Nats pen only had to cover two innings (barring extras).  The Nats have a day off today so the pen can fully reset. But Max was cruising so there was some logic to letting him stay. Pitchers to me are far more often pulled too early rather than too late*.  This isn’t about getting a W for Max, but saying he gives us the best chance at a W in general.

So Max batted and got out.  In this scenario Max pitches the 8th unless he has to be pulled. And Max went K BB K. Then something very odd happened. Max was pulled for Justin Miller. The questions are immediate and the answers aren’t clear.  Why pull Max vs a righty batter he had held to 0-3 with two Ks?  Probably because of being up to 109 pitches but with Cano on deck this would have to be his last batter.  Do those last few pitches matter that much. And if they do - why Miller?  Why not Barraclough, who would likely be the “big moment not end of game” guy?  Or Rosenthal who would you know, come into the 8th in a big spot? Or Doolittle who is probably the best reliever right now?  The answer is probably bc Martinez has planned to bring in Grace to get the lefty and didn’t want to “waste” Rosenthal or Doolittle on one batter.  He also might have been thinking tie game which is why you save Bear Claw. You might want him to go one plus later.

But you see what happens if you plan to win later in a situation that demands a win now.  Alonso got a hit. Not a great one but a hit. Cano did the same against Grace and the Mets had their insurance

Davey has to understand very soon that you play to win the game in front of you in the situation you are in at the moment.  There can be leeway in this - you don’t need to use Doolittle in a big spot up 3 in the 5th against the Mariners when you have a 6 game division lead in August - but a big out in the 8th inning against a rival team with the heart of their order coming up?  Use the big guns Fake Davey!

Day off - relax reset.  Don’t get swept

*you don’t remember the too earlies but all the time. Trust me.

Thursday, March 28, 2019

Nats Prediction

The Nats were a 90 win team last year.  That was with significant offensive injuries, but also with the emergence of a ROY.  The starting pitching wasn’t great, but it was healthy.  The relief pitching wasn’t good but wasn’t as bad as you thought.  Looking back I’d say the Nats underperformed but not by much.

Did they get better? I would argue that even losing Bryce maybe they did but the pen and rotation depth remain shallow and the bench depth is starting shallow thanks to injury.  So I’m hesitant to give them more than a game more.  A 93 win team in a vacuum

But they don’t play in a vacuum.  Try play in the NL East where the Phillies and Mets got (much) better and the Braves won the division last year.  A 93 win team in say... the NL West is not a 93 win team in the NL East (but probably a near 100 win team in the AL Central)

I’ll peg the Nats then at 90 wins again.  Is it good enough to win the division?  Maybe.  But I’ll say one team squeaks by them, one team they squeak by and one team crashes.  I’ll say Mets, Phillies, Braves in that order. Do the Nats get the WC?   I’ll say yes to that.

And as always I don’t do playoffs.

Wednesday, March 27, 2019

Media Round-Up 2019

So last year 55 of 55 "experts" picked the Nats to win the NL East. They were also oddly confident in the Nats to move forward in the playoffs - which I attributed to not wanting to be the one that missed out when the Nats actually won. Of course we all know what happened so take all this to be what it is - wild guesses. For most teams, injuries and surprise breakouts and busts will be the final deciders of how the season goes. Those things can't be predicted.

NL East Champ : 13 of 31 (+9 WC)
NLDS winner : n/a
NLCS winner :  6
WS Champ : 3

NL East Champ :
NLDS winner :
NLCS winner : 
WS Champ :

NL East Champ : 4 of 5
NLDS winner : n/a
NLCS winner :   3
WS Champ : 0

NL East Champ : 3 of 7 (+2 WC)
NLDS winner : 4 of 7
NLCS winner : 3 of 7
WS Champ : 2 of 7

NL East Champ : 7 of 9
NLDS winner : n/a
NLCS winner : 4 of 9
WS Champ : 0

NL East Champ : 27 of 5# (over 50 experts) (+8 WCs)
NLDS winner : n/a
NLCS winner : 12 of 5#
WS Champ : ?

OK not a lot going on so far. I'll update as necessary

NL East Champ : 54 of let's say 106, that's gotta be close
NLDS winner : 4 of 7
NLCS winner : 28 of  106
WS Champ : 5+ of 106

Basically currently the Nats are about 50/50 to win the East (with it seems like the Phillies a close second and the Braves and their quiet offseason basically pushed out of the picture). From there again there is this oddly high confidence in the Nats winning the NL at about 25%.  That would be a fair percentage if EVERYONE picked the Nats to win the East, if you consider them about a 50% chance each series in the playoffs, but this has almost 50% of the guys picking the Nats to win the East also picking them to get to the series.

And with that oddly low percentage of WS winners (probably more like 6 - the vote wasn't clear) it suggests the same thing as last year. These guys don't really believe in the Nats as a team, but instead don't really believe in anyone in the East and given that, picking the Nats to win is kind of the hot ticket. Don't want to miss out right? We'll see if this keeps up though as the rest of the picks come in.

Monday, March 25, 2019

Monday Quickie - ST round-up

Spring Training ends today for the Nats so we can take a look at the stats once more and see if anything can be gleaned. And remember, by that I mean - did anyone do particularly great or awful but mostly how are the injury guys doing.

Particularly well? No one mashed a ton of homers so I'd say no one. Eaton, Soto, Gomes all hit well for what it's worth which is nothing so forget I said anything. Again - it's like two weeks worth of at bats against minor league competition. Austen Williams maybe? Hellickson looked good but you know, "see above".

Particularly poor? No one worth caring about (sorry Marmalade guy!) Basically the deep bench (Difo, Reynolds, Stevenson) had bad Springs but again - not worth anything. You can throw in some pen guys in that list. Doolittle, Barraclough, Miller had off Springs but not so bad I'm worried about it. If there is anything to worry about performance wise it's Fedde who gave up 22 hits in 12 1/3 and walked 6 to 8 Ks. But if you were hanging big hopes on Fedde, I don't know what you were thinking.

Ok I think I made it through that without making you think about these results too much. In fact if you forget them right now you are probably better off.  It's just hard not to talk about something you are seeing in front of you.

Injury guys?
In terms of guys hurt last year. Eaton looks fine.  Zimmerman, who isn't injured but you can't leave him out here, played sparingly but enough that you don't assume something's wrong (See! Not Hard!). Hellickson and Strasburg looked fine. Doolittle was fine - one bad outing. Rosenthal was healthy. So everything here is as well as can be hoped for.

Looking more current : The Nats had a couple injuries in the first half of Spring but managed to ward off any more after that. 
  • Kendrick only had 10 ABs and none since March 5th. He is looking at more rehab. Thoughts currently are he'll be back mid April.
  • Taylor hasn't hit since going down for injury, spraining his left leg pretty badly. Although the MRIs showed nothing big, we've only gotten sporadic word that he's rehabbing so no time frame. Expect a month, right now I'd say
  • Glover hurt his forearm and is likely out of a while. Again no good time frame and honestly I wouldn't expect this season until I hear he's throwing off a mound again. 
  • Tony Sipp isn't hurt but needs a little more time to get ready and is probable, but not definite for Opening Day
All in all this was a good Spring then. You are going to suffer injuries but the Nats didn't lose anyone they absolutely needed. The MAT and Kendrick injuries will test their depth early, but early is when you want it tested. Guys are fresh and days off are plentiful to start the season. Glover hurts the pen a little but wasn't one of your Top 3 guys.  All the injury guys from last year seem healthy. All your players that you care about didn't have unusually bad Springs.  This is good.

Pack it up. Move it North. Time for some ball.

Wednesday, March 20, 2019

What's a Rendon Worth?

Yesterday the Astros signed Alex Bregman to an extension and Mike Trout signed THE extension, which as possibly the greatest baseball player ever*

What this leads to is the discussion of extensions for other young stars and youngish stars heading toward FA.  You hear Mookie Betts and Aaron Judge and for the Nats, you hear Anthony Rendon's name.  In fact we talked about this recently, though before Arenado's deal was made. A lot of people think that there was kind of a choice between Bryce and Rendon. That if the Nats spend money on the former they'd let the latter walk because maybe they couldn't afford it or maybe they just didn't want to commit too much money in payroll or whatever.  But Bryce is gone now so the focus can solely be on Tony.  What is he worth and what are the Nats going to give him?

Let's focus on the first for a second. Todd Dybas for NBC Sports Washington (where are the Nats WaPo beats on this? - turnover will get ya!) talked to Rendon about this.  Since Rendon is a pretty candid guy he gave a fair statement of how things are going. They had an offer out there, wasn't what Rendon wanted, that's about it.

His phrasing makes me think he's a little surprised there hasn't been more back and forth after the rejection of whatever the offer was. But also everything else he's ever said makes me think that's not a bother to him. I mean, I think it's rarely a bother to most guys. Either you get it's just business or you get over a little personal animosity when the big check is presented to you. But really for Rendon I think he doesn't care too much about the journey.  He probably has a value he thinks he's worth, a time frame he thinks he should get it by, and if the Nats meet that - great! If not he'll go on the market. I think his comments are less "if the Nats don't care about me I'll walk!" and more "if the Nats don't care about me, that's fine." They get to the same place but without the animosity.

What is the value? Well let's look at recent FA extensions and contracts
Manny Machado** - 10/300,  to be 26, 130+ OPS+, 6+ WAR player 3 of last 4 years
Alex Bregman - 6/100, to be 24, 137+ OPS+, 5+ WAR ave player to start career, bought out 4 controlled years
Nolan Arenado - 8/260, to be 28, 130 OPS+, High 5 WAR player past 3 years (GG defense), bought out one controlled year
Josh Donaldson - 1/23, to be 33, 150 OPS+ 3 of last 4 years, though 120 in injured part time last year, 5+ WAR player when healthy with potential for elite (7+)
Mike Moustakas - Last year - 1/5.5, to be 29, 115+ OPS player, 2ish WAR player. This year 1/10 to be 30, confirmation of rough above stats last year.

Plug in Rendon's numbers after this year- to be 30, 135+ OPS player, 6+ WAR player.

He doesn't compare to Machado (4 years younger at estimated signing) or Bregman (6 with 4 years of control bought out). Nor does he compare well to Donaldson (3 years older) or Moustakas (just not as good).  His closest comparison is Arenado but as people note Arenado is a couple years younger and more durable and GG D makes him slightly more a player who could provide value if bat slumps (not that Rendon is a slouch here).  I've said before I like Rendon better but let's for argument sake go with common standing. Rendon is not as good as Arenado, but only a little.

So less than 8/260.   I think something you see here is a common thread on long term deals to end at 35 at the latest.  Let's make that the goal and give Rendon 6 years. The terms for Machado and Arenado give you the idea of what these kinds of years are valued at (30+ million but depreciation puts long contracts in 30 mill range). Donaldson's deal confirms that - 23 million for a hopeful similar year. You'd have to then put a Rendon deal center at around 6/150. It could be as "little" as 5/125 or as much as 6/180.  For an extension buying out this year (18.8 mill) look for something between 6/120+ and 7/175+.

That's a pretty wide gap and I'm going to go out on a limb that the Nats offer, as it tends to be, was the bottom of the market. so probably something a little more $ than 6/120.  Like 6/150 with money deferred . That pays him 25 million a year, basically making him the 3rd highest paid 3rd baseman behind Arenado and Machado, while buying out his last year of control. I'd expect Rendon's contract demands to be more toward the high end. Probably asking for 7/200 ish right now.

Of course this is just spitballying but that's kind of where I'm landing on what Rendon is looking at. 7/200 to get it done this year, 6/180 next year if they want to wait it out and see what he does. If he gets it he gets it. If not, no hard feelings, see you around.

The question is - is he worth it and what do the Lerners think. To the former, I answered in the previous column - yes, but it's a health gamble. To the latter - who knows.

Would I do 7/200 right now? Yes.

*It's true! At this point in his career he is completely on track for it. You can't say that for Bryce, a likely HoF, or for Betts, a comparative late bloomer, or Judge, a late starter in general. I'm not being crazy calling Trout this. 

** He's a 3rd baseman for me and on the depth chart

Monday, March 18, 2019

Monday Quickie - MAT down

Michael A Taylor got hurt last week and it was serious. You know it was serious because the Nats didn't try to "day-to-day" the public but said he would miss significant time. What exactly that means is up to debate but even with him beginning light work over the weekend the consensus seems to be "not ready for Opening Day".

Having MAT out isn't a huge deal, in fact it may helpfully squash any thoughts the Nats had at playing with Robles' service time. However, it does leave the Nats OF thin.  They have three starters - Soto, Robles, Eaton and one 3 position back-up in MAT. Then they have two guys, in Kendrick and Adams, that they'll stick in the OF if need be.  While Adams is a true "Put him in RF - hope nothing gets hit to him" guy, Kendrick is actually a decent corner OF replacement... usually. Kendrick played a lot of OF the past few years and was perfectly acceptable. However, now Kendrick himself is working off a mild hamstring injury and given his age and the fact he was already coming back from an injury means you have a hard time believing he'll be healthy AND able to push it in the OF (nor would you want him to)

So what should the Nats do? They could bring in a name with a good bat and simply replace MAT as the 4th OF.  But none of the name guys with maybe good bats, say Austin Jackson or Denard Span, want to be 4th OF or can actually play CF. It's a bad fit for what the Nats want. But on the flip side guys who can play CF, even those that can't hit, are not available. Or more honestly guys hanging on as not bad enough offensively to totally take away from their defense, like JaCoby Jones, Li'l Delino Deshields, and Marcel Margot, probably should be 4th OF but are instead starting which means their cost is too high to pick up for what you hope is a part time situation.

But the final alternative is you sit with Andrew Stevenson as the 4th, lean a little more heavily on Robles than planned, and pray nothing goes awry.  Is that the the best plan for a contender? I don't think so.

There isn't a perfect answer here. The Nats can't bring in a good MAT replacement for a price that represents the expected value to the Nats. Maybe they can hunt an peck around for someone slightly better than Stevenson and get that person for nothing. Maybe. But more likely they are forced into another gamble. Wait it out or make an imperfect signing. Given that I expect the Nats to do the former. Let's hope Robles can avoid leaning into one and breaking a hand in April. 

Friday, March 15, 2019

Annual Spring Training Reminder

I don't want to do this.

I don't feel I should have to do this.

However, once again it appears that people need reminding that Spring Training stats are basically meaningless.

This was not spurred on by any of you guys but former Nats beat James Wagner putting out a "Sure it's Spring but..." tweet. I thought we were better than that! We are all better than that!

So to whit - the best hitter on the Nats last Spring with any type of ABs? Chris Dominguez.  Who? A career AAA guy (since 2013!) who went on to hit .243 / .293 / .406 in Syracuse in a typical year. Third best? Moises Sierra. Doolittle had a 0.00 ERA - did that foreshadow his great year? Maybe. But then again Travis Gott had a 1.54 ERA and Sammy Solis a 1.80.  Solis had 15 Ks to 1 BB! Strag had a middling 4.70 ERA. Scherzer 4.15.


Again what may matter - someone hitting a whole bunch, like a whole bunch, of homers who you are hoping develops power. But whole bunch. Like last year four guys hit 7 and they didn't amount to anything. So it's kind of a very very weak correlation thing. Someone hitting like .000 who you are worried may fall off a cliff, be injured, or is coming back from injury, you might look at.  But it has to be that extreme. Hitting .150? Nothing. 6 homers in Spring. Nothing.

And that's hitting. Hitting, you generally can assume guys are trying to get hits. Granted they may be working on things, which is why even the situations above call for cautious incorporation into your opinions, but hitting is something more you just get back into the swing of, pun intended. Pitching gets you nothing. They really do work on things. Maybe they'll try a new pitch, or throw their curve 50% of the time, or spend all Spring working only on hitting the outer corner over the first 5 pitches. Meanwhile they are all facing DHs. There's nothing to find here other than shattered dreams and Jeanne Dixon-like "This time it came true so I'm going to ignore the other 20 times it didn't and keep looking at Spring Training stats" foolings of yourself.


So is there anything extreme in hitting or extreme in pitching tied to injury?

Hitting - how much do you care about Jose Marmelejos? A lot? I have bad news for you he's 0-17.  I suppose if Carter Kieboom hits another 5 homers you can get excited but no one has gone off yet. Pitching - yes, but you know about it. Glover pitched an inning got one out, walked three, walked off the mound and never came back.

There's your takeaways so far. Glover is hurt, which you knew. Jose Marmelejos is likely not a major leaguer, which I hope you knew.

Wednesday, March 13, 2019

When I Sipp, You Sipp, We Sipp

The Nats signed Tony Sipp to help fill in the gaps in their "You're really going with just those guys... huh." bullpen.  He's not Craig Kimbrel and probably means there will be no Craig Kimbrel but who is he?

Sipp is a 35 year old (36 in July) who has had crazy variation in his pitching over the past few years. From a 4.78 ERA in ARI in 2013 he's gone 3.38, 1.99, 4.95, 5.79, and 1.86 last year. That's a lot of variation even for a reliever.  More wild is the FIP backs it up. He was bad in 2013, very good in 2014 and 2015, very bad in 2016 and 2017 and very good again last year. This isn't a fluke of small sample size, it's Tony.

And there really isn't too much of a pattern to follow. It's not just the BB-rate (2.5, 3, 3, in good yrs, 3.7, 3.9, 5.3 in bad) or the K-rate (11.2, 10.3, 9.8 vs 10.0, 9.4, 8.2) or how easy he is to hit (5 H/9, 6.3, 6.8 vs 8.4, 8.7, 10.7) or how easy he is to homer off of (0.2, 0.8, 0.9 vs 1.4, 1.9, 2.5) It's all of those things. He's very simply been, after a fairly consistent first few years of his career, a guy who is good or bad with no inbetween. It's pretty odd really. Projections for him - which split the difference - seem silly.

You can see though why no one wanted to sign him.  With no consistency you can't rely on the guy. The Nats might get an impressive back end guy to match up with Rosenthal and Doolittle. Or the guy might be out by May.  Who wants to spend a lot on a guy like that, especially 35 going on 36? It's more the type of guy a bad team takes in as a lottery ticket that they hope to cash in at the trade deadline.

The biggest thing though about Sipp is he barely pitches.  He's thrown 43, 37, and 38 innings the last three years. That's not what'd you'd hope for from that "other guy" paired with Doolittle and Rosenthal.  You'd want that guy to be a workhorse. (Barraclough who's thrown 72, 66, 55 is more that guy). Then a LOOGY type? Nope. Tony's a little better against lefties the last few years but really when he's bad he's bad versus lefties and when he's good he's good vs righties.

Has he been oddly luck or unlucky?  It's hard to read anything from the BABIP or LOB% that is definitive, though that's part. The type of pitches he throws? Again I don't see anything. Maybe it's all about locating that first strike? Maybe. Probably not.

 Look I don't know what to tell you.  Sipp is clearly worth a shot because when he's on he's great. Sipp is clearly not someone to depend on because when he's off he's terrible. There's a better chance that he's on because he was on last year. There's a better chance he's off because he's getting older and has been off 2 of the last three years. He's bad. He's good. He's the missing piece. He's a waste of money. He's whatever you want him to be.  

Except Craig Kimbrel.

Monday, March 11, 2019

Monday Quickie - MAT or Robles, why is it a question?

Michael Allan? Adrian? Arthur?... Anthony! Taylor shone brightly for one brief moment.  In the 2017 NLDS versus the Cubs MAT, who had a solid part-time season hitting .270 with 19 homers, had 5 hits in 15 at bats with 2 homers. He was the best guy at the plate for the Nats and earned himself with the whole season a chance to start in 2018.

Then 2018 happened.

Nothing was wrong with 2018. It was just like 2016 and 2015 and the little he played in 2014.  (OPS+s 69, 70, 73, and 75 respectively).  He has a low average (.205-.231) and decent power (.129-.154) with a high strikeout rate (30.1%-39.5%!!! - ok that's the limited 2014 time) and low but not disqualifying walk rate (5.9%-7.5%) with some speed (SB 14-24 not counting 2014 here - not fair for a counting stat).  That's not good enough by itself to keep a guy around but given his work in centerfield being above average for a team carrying at least one questionable corner the past few years you can see where you can fit that guy in.  Defensive replacement, late-inning pinch runner, pinch-hitter when you are looking for a homer. He has his value. But last year should have made it clear his value is not as an everyday player if you can help it.

The Nats can help it. They have Victor Robles, a legit prospect, who hit .288 / .348 / .525 in his 20 games last year. Victor gets injured pretty regularly is coming off of injury but his minor league numbers, when healthy, are great .300 /.392 / .457.  This is pretty well distributed with like 40-60 games in each level except High A where he put in double that. HIs last stretch in AAA last year had him  hit .278 / .356 / . 386, so maybe you question his power there but his time in the majors suggest that's not an issue. Plus that isn't really a thing you work on in the minors.

When guys are held down in the minors it's generally to work on D but Victor is scouted out to have superior defense and is fairly fast as well.  You can sort of think of him as MAT swapping average and contact (K rates around 20% in majors, under 15% mostly in minors) for power and six years younger. He projects to be just as good, if not slightly better than MAT in 2019 and has the chance to be much better.

So why is MAT playing with the big boys and Robles with the back-ups?  There are two theories.The first one is that they are going to keep Robles down in the minors long enough to get another year of control out of him. The second is that they are trying to showcase MAT for a trade.

I'm all for the second, less likely, theory.  Sure they need MAT.  It's a step down from him to Stevenson or Bautista as your 4th OF. But really they are only the 4th OF for CF.  Soto or Eaton would likely have Adams or Kendrick back them up. So you can afford to lose MAT and if you can trade him for a good relief arm, it seems like you should because the Nats need a good relief arm right now. MAT is a more important player in potential scenarios, but a good reliever is more important in the scenario as it stands right now.

I hate the first, more likely, theory. Teams have done this for a long while but as we talk more about the players market seeing a correction on the 30+ side, we focus more as well on the 20-25 side, where the players are vastly underpaid. There's a distaste for this sort of thing on some level which feels like not only cheating the player out of a year of money, but cheating your fans out of the best team today for a cheaper team down the road.  Notice I don't say a "better team down the road" because 6 years down the road is too far to project that out. You'd like to believe that's ultimately the point, that saving money on that year of a contract means a better team, but the only guarantee is it will be cheaper if they want it to.

This plan fits in with the Nats' strategy since 2014*, which I would describe as serving dual masters. They have put together the best team they could for the current year while at the same time trying not to distrub their plans for any future year. Win now and win later. This was helped by a NL East that only put out a couple of decent teams, the 2015-16 Mets and the Braves last year. They could do it and let the lack of competition keep their head above water. Still even with a division that produced only 3 potential rivals in 5 years, the Nats fell to two of those and only managed 3 division titles. This year they have been afforded no luxury with 3 potential rivals in 2019 alone. Can the same strategy work? Can they afford to potentially give up a game or two** saving Robles for a year where no one knows how good the Nats can be?

I'd like to see Robles start day one. This isn't all-in. You aren't sacrificing a known, you are sacrificing an unknown - making it a bit harder for the 2023 Nats to be good, not knowing if that means you are hurting a pennant winner or a 65 win team. You can argue not signing a big contract making it harder to win in the next few years but betting on an unknown team a half-decade off instead of the known very good team in front of you? That's grabbing for two in the bush with one in your hand. That's dumb baseball. 

*Why 2014? Becuase I see 2012 as a surprise year during their rebuilding plan phase and 2013 as a complete lack of an attempt to win now. They went into the season with Bernadina, Tracy, Moore, and Lombo as the bench for God's sake. They won the previous year and thought maybe they could just do nothing, except replace a closer who was actually pretty good at the time. Of course they couldn't do nothing else and it blew up and after that wouldn't be so casual about building the roster out. 

**I know I know - Robles isn't like 6 games better than MAT but the point is they are worse and they have more a chance to catch a bad run when they are worse that they can't make up during that time. 

Thursday, March 07, 2019

3rd Level Nats Take - Rotation

So last post I came away pretty unconvinced that the Nats would suddenly find themselves with a much improved defense. I do think it's possible that Soto just had an off year / single years aren't reliable and Robles is better than MAT and it works out, but I think it's more possible that the combination of starters and defense we see doesn't move the needle more than a smidge.  But what about the other cursory glance analysis  - that Corbin and Anibal Sanchez make the starting staff that much better?

Well first let's talk about who is returning. Max does everything well and while he is aging, he's also proved to be a singular talent. You can't really say he's going to be worse in 2019 with any confidence.  Strasburg has pretty consistently been a low 3.00 ERA type who misses a month for one reason or another. You hate that injury risk but you can't predict more time missed than usual. He's not quite at an age where you feel good about knocking him down a peg, and there's no real statistical sign to do it either.  Hellickson is back for another round. His pitching was as he usually does but the results were better than would be expected from that, giving us a little out of whack picture of what he's likely to do.  While a full season from him is doubtful, more innings is very likely, but it's likely more innings of mediocre results not good ones. However, we are comparing it to last year and last year the rest of the 5 slot innings were filled by pretty bad results. In the end the mix of Hellickson pitching more innings but getting more in line (re: blah) results should be pretty close to what happened in 2018 at that rotation spot.

As a whole that probably leaves the Nats rotation at a little bit worse than last year taking just these three slots. Now we come to the changes. And while maybe one can make a argument for the Nats being better off with Roark and Gio vs Corbin and Sanchez this year* we aren't comparing theoretical Roark and Gio in 2019 here. We are looking at real 2018 Roark and Gio.  Doing that it should be pretty obvious that the Nats will be better off. These guys weren't good and Corbin was the best pitcher in the FA class. But are the Nats a lot better off or a little? Is it enough to counter the little downgrading I feel will happen at the #5 slot?

Both these guys kind of pitched the same overall for all of 2018, 180 IP of 4.25 ERA stuff. But while that covers Roark's time with the Nats in total, Gio pitched worse with the Nats, more like a 4.50 guy and with the Nats is what we care about.

Corbin is most likely to be a Strasburg type in terms of production on the mound, not a dominant Max but very good. But he also will be expected, unlike Strasburg, to pitch a full season. That means he lines up with same innings Roark threw last year.  That's great because it makes the comparison easy. That's going to be like 2 wins better or something. That would easily eclipse the small drop I think is coming from the 5 slot (I wouldn't even say half a game worse if you are wondering). So at this point for the Nats to get no improvement Anibal vs Gio would have to somehow be like 1.5 games worse. Looking at it, Gio's 150 IP of 4.50 ball is pretty much in line with what people project from Anibal this year.  That's a little disappointing. I'm inclined to like Sanchez just a touch better than that, but I also think Anibal won't quite get to the IP others think so for me it's a push on worth. With 150 innings though you have to consider who fills in those other 8+ starts.  The fill-in starters - worse than last year? I can't say that. Better? Can't say that either. So this comparison becomes a push.

All in all that means the rotation should make the Nats better. Not quite a lot better but more than a little I think, a couple games or so. It's hard to get a lot better because the value of the IP from Roark and Gio is real, even with middling performance. The Nats may have gotten a stud with Corbin but they had two reliable full season arms and that matters.  I will also say here that while I have the replacements, guys like Ross and Fedde, being the same this year, I think it's far more likely that they are better than last year than worse. So I see 1.5 to 2 wins better to kind of be a floor with a decent chance at 3+ - and don't look down your nose at that. It's a pretty big change from one area.

So this time the cursory analysis comes mostly through. The Nats rotation should be noticeably better than last year. There's no good reason to expect a dramatic dip from what's remaining. They have basically replaced 2018 Gio, et al. with Anibal Sanchez, et al. and they have improved over 2018 Roark with Patrick Corbin. Last season the Nats had a disappointing, middle of the road, rotation. This year I'd expect one that's Top 5 in the NL. 

*I'm not saying I'd make it. I wouldn't. But I think there's a way it could be made.

Tuesday, March 05, 2019

3rd level Nats Take - Fielding

Every fanbase suffers through cursory glances from talking heads and fans of other teams that don't know what's going on. The Nationals primary cursory glance is the expected "Bryce Harper is gone! Oh no! Panic!" But the Nationals also have a secondary cursory glance, probably in part because the first one is so prevalent, that goes "They've improved their defense and rotation so much!"  This is because they lost Bryce and Murphy and added Corbin.

But are these things true? Today we'll talk about defense.  Defense stats are funny things. No matter how often we are told that it takes at least a couple years of defensive data to really fairly portray the skill, we are still given annual data. Because of that we can't help but try to interpret data in that manner and if something happens that is out of sorts with the general knowledge we try to fill that in.  Sometimes it makes sense - an injury or a rapidly aging player showing much worse defense. But sometimes there isn't rhyme or reason as we try to fill in the gaps.  In the Nats case you had Bryce become one of the worst outfielders in baseball while Trea Turner became an elite defender. While I didn't see any obvious signs of such drastic change, I have heard from other fans "oh yes, Bryce was terrible. Trea really worked on things".  Maybe that's the case but from here on out in this analysis we're working with both the 3 year averages and last year's numbers to present what is probably a fairer picture of what's going on.

The Nats did do poorly on defense but not terribly. They were a below average team, heading up the bottom third of defense. Fangraphs' D stat, UZR, Total Zone all think this.  Their defensive efficiency was pretty good though an artifact of having the fewest errors in the National League. In short - they fielded well when they got to the ball, but they didn't get to the ball often enough.

The infield should be pretty similar to last year.  Rendon, at third, is a perennial gold glove candidate, (elite 3yr ave, top 5 last year). Turner, at short (blah 3yr, Top 10 last year) still is a question. Is he average or good for the position? Regardless he's not a defensive liability. Zimmerman, at first (terrible, terrible), with his injury limited mobility and dead arm is possibly the worst regular first baseman in the game. What's changing is 2nd base. Murphy (terrible, terrible) is admittedly a terrible defender but most of the innings last year were actually played by Difo (Top 10, Top 10) who is a very good defender. All in all 2nd wasn't a hole for most of the season and would grade out pretty average. Dozier (below average, terrible), was a pretty solid defender in his youth but has taken a sharp downturn as he has aged. Kendrick is a hard read. He's been good in the past but has spent most of the last 3 years in the OF. Last year he did play a little more 2B early on and the stats aren't good but now we're talking a piece of a piece. It's likely he's still ok, but after three years of aging and lack of regular practice at the position, I have a hard time believing he's a plus.  The end results in the IF is likely no improvement taking the season as a whole.

The outfield is a little more complicated because it was a mix that is now going to have a new mix with some of the same pieces.

Bryce (below average, terrible) after showing the bare minimum at corner OF, played a third of last season in CF and proved what we all thought - he can't play CF.  Most of the year at center was taken up by MAT (Top 5, Top 10) who is an elite fielder though not in the conversation for best in the game in a competitive position. Juan Soto (?, terrible) in the corner was legit awful but one season of stats and his young age leaves us with a big question mark for actual skill. Adam Eaton (above average, bad) started his career as a mediocre CF but when he started to falter he got pushed to the corner and shone for a year. However the last couple of years have not been kind and show Eaton as not a good fielder.  This year the Nats will lose Bryce (good!) and MAT (bad!) to get more Eaton (probably bad!) and more Soto (also probably bad!). They also lost more of those other guys, who except for Stevenson weren't any good.

There's one name I haven't mentioned yet and he's frankly the key here because everything I said above? It's not good!  The question is what is Robles as a fielder.  If he is elite, the OF defense likely improves. If he is MAT level Top 5/10 ish, the defense likely stays around the same. If he is not that good, the OF defense actually likely gets worse.  The good news is the preliminary stats agree with the scouting reports that suggest Robles is the MAT or better fielder we've been thinking he is. Still it's questionable data so hold off getting excited but it's better than the alternative.

We haven't talked catcher yet. The Nats split time between Wieters (Top 10, top half), Pedro Severino (?, Top 10) and Kieboom (?, Top 10), accepting those Severino and Kieboom numbers are very tentative (though Severino seems to consistently grade well in limited exposure). Next year it'll be between Yan Gomes (Top 10, Top 10) and Kurt Suzuki (average, top half). We also have to at least look at framing. Wieters is a pretty lousy framer, Severino a pretty good one, Kieboom we lack enough data for to say.  Gomes has been pretty average but had a good season last year. Suzuki has been pretty bad and was one of the worst last year. If the catcher situation ends up being Gomes, with Suzuki as a back-up I'd say you can expect slighty better catcher defense. If we see more of a 50/50 split the Nats are probably actually taking a little step back.

So while the gut says - "No lackadaisical, out of position Bryce, No flat footed, injured Murphy - Nats defense must get better!" the analysis doesn't agree.  Second base had a lot of Difo last year who was really good, and neither Dozier or Kendrick will be any better than average. Corner OF will still likely be an issue. Catcher, despite the memories of NLDS Wieters, wasn't actually bad and won't likely improve.

I suppose you can figure out a way this cursory thought ends up being true. Turner is that good again. Soto gets better. Robles is one of the best CF of recent times. That would do it. But are we really going to say that's the likely scenario? 

This doesn't mean the Nats aren't better but are the Nats better because their defense is much improved? No.

Monday, March 04, 2019

Monday Quickie - Last words on Bryce

Now this won't be the last time we ever talk about Bryce. Going to the Phillies makes sure of that. However, there really isn't a reason to talk about him more than any other NL East opponent going forward. So I'll wrap up some final thoughts today and we can move forward picking apart the Nats pen or celebrating the arrival of Craig Kimbrel.  There is no inbetween.

There are some pundits who I think are engaging in some wishful thinking when it comes to Bryce and Philadelphia. We like, for whatever reason, to exaggerate the toughness of sports towns, but in general they follow the same rules as any other place.  If you meet expectations - you are treated well. If you meet expectations and win, and by that I mean championship appearances and victories - you are treated very well. If you do not meet expectations - you are treated poorly. 

The latter might differ by town, sure. But pretty much any sports crazy, media heavy town will be "tough". Boston, NY, Philly, Chicago. It also depends on the sport too. There are a lot of tough media markets for football because people care about that. Where I am now is a killer market for college basketball if you fail. So if Bryce really wanted a market that cared dearly about baseball he was going to find himself in this sort of potential situation.

I think it'll matter also what happens this year, first impressions are hard to shake. David Price, just helped the Red Sox win a World Series. They love him. There is also a lingering resentment toward him though - his attitude and performance those first two years.  A-Rod eventually helped the Yankees get a title, but it was almost a "thank god we don't have to talk about this loser anymore" situation with the fanbase because it was 7 seasons after arrival. Meanwhile guys like JD Martinez, one assumes, and Sabathia, I can vouch for, have basically passes for coming in and delivering.

Yes, yes attitude matters, but production matters more.  No one is talking about Bryce's hair tosses if he delivered 4 straight seasons like 2015. In the end that's what's going to make him loved or hated. He can't "effort" his way to their hearts. That's for guys with low expectations. Guys like Bryce need to perform. If he does it'll be great. If not it will be rough

Friday, March 01, 2019

Once Smitten, Bryce Bye

Trying too hard? Probably trying too hard.

I'm not going to be able to relate to you on a base level here. I thought Bryce was fun. I still think Bryce is fun*. That he's not on the Nats kind of sucks, but I harbor no ill will to the Phillies so this doesn't mean the same to me as it does to you. So in lieu of that I'm not going to try to tell you how to react or how to feel.  Anything right now is fine. You're venting. Anything in April that falls short of "I hope he gets injured" is fine. Fans aren't supposed to be rational.

But me, my automaton circuits are functioning just fine. Time for some analysis, first starting with what this isn't.

This isn't Bryce vs every other FA the Nats have signed.

Some people (like Mike O'Connor?) are trying to break down the analysis as if it's Bryce vs every free agent the Nats brought in.  This is silly presupposing the Nats would have signed no one if Bryce stayed. I mean Hellickson and Adams were literally here with Bryce last year. And Bryce isn't the only guy who isn't on the team from last year and thus is part of the "gone" side of the equation. The measurement should be

Corbin, Suzuki, Rosenthal, Barraclough, Gomes, Dozier, Sanchez
Bryce, Murphy, Gio, Roark, Kintzler, Madson, Wieters, Kelley (some can be addition by subtraction)

This is not about money balance (below would have cost more to keep than above cost to procure), it'a about team evaluation. The team is better off with what group? Personally, I think the latter is better, no doubt. 

Of course this is a vacuum question. Along with the money, we also need to see how these guys fit into the team. Bryce is far better than "no Bryce" but Bryce is also presumably needed less because the Nats have OFs. Anyway - just don't do what O'Connor did as an evaluation is all I'm saying. 

This isn't We don't need Bryce we have Juan Soto. 

Soto may very well be a generational hitter, replacing Bryce, who when healthy was a generational hitter. He certainly put up numbers his rookie year that suggest that. The thing is 2019 isn't about Soto replacing Bryce in the lineup. Why? Because Soto was already in the lineup. For like 120 games. With Bryce.

The Nats are going to get more Soto next year but it's not that he steps in to replace Bryce. It'd be more accurate to say Eaton does (he only played 95 games) or Robles does (21). But regardless of how you put this together - where some combination of Eaton, Soto, Robles, replace some combination of MAT & Bryce & etc. from last year - the point I want to make is the Nats had Bryce and Soto together for 3/4 of last year. It wasn't enough. Soto can't just replicate last year in this equation and the Nats be fine. He needs to be better and/or Eaton needs to at least as good as he was for a full season and/or Robles needs to be better than MAT.

None of this is in itself outside the bounds of possibilities, but note you are asking for several things to fall into place and even if they are likely things, stack enough together and the odds of them all happening are slim. (this was my "watch out for the OF" point from last off-season which came true although Soto saved it from being THE massive problem that killed the team. Instead it was just a problem mainly early in the year)

Ok - but we know what the Nats are without Bryce as we have wrapped our heads around it for a while. Well at least in part. We know offensively they are a team with few holes, who might not be better without Bryce but have put together a 1-8 offense that makes you doubt they'll be much worse, if at all this year. So Top 5ish. We THINK they'll be better defensively because there has been a lot of talk about how bad the fancy stats had Bryce last year but guess what? Soto was almost as bad, as a rookie, playing exclusively corner OF. And while Robles is supposed to be great. MAT IS great. so let's hold off on the better D talk until we see if Robles can match MAT and if Soto can improve.

The question is more what are the Phillies with Bryce? Well here's the offensive changes from last year and their 2018 OPS+ (as best we can - guys like Hoskins and Kingery will move around but no need to have them in both replace and replaced positions)

Realmuto (131) for Alfaro (95)
McCutchen (118) for Santana (105)
Bryce (133) for Nick Williams (99)
Segura (112) for Hernandez (94) / Kingery (61)**

One can quibble that maybe Realmuto had a career year or Bryce could do much better, but on face value you are taking 4 very average bats and replacing them with two above average bats and two very good bats. If you assume Hoskins (125), Franco (106), and Odubel (94) remain the same that's a lineup that's just as deep as the Nats, meaning a Top 5ish squad with potential for more.

But is that enough? The Phillies had a pitching staff that was just as unimpressive as the batting order last year and their work so far is - sign David Roberston. Roberston is good, and I'd listen to anyone who wants to say the Phillies pen grades out better than the Nats*** but that still leaves the starting staff. That still leaves

Nola, old Arrieta, Pivetta, Velasquez, Eflin
Max, Stras, Corbin, Sanchez Vasquez, part-time Hellickson

Nola is great. Max is better. Maybe age makes you consider that a push. Fine. Stras is better than Arrieta. Corbin is leaps and bounds better than Pivetta. VasquezSanchez is better than whatever guy you line up at 4. Hellickson part time is no worse than whoever you line up at 5.

There's no comparison here. Nats starting staff is better and gives the Nats the edge still, even with Bryce switching sides.

There are certainly paths to the Phillies beating the Nats this season. There's not more than a few games difference now between the two and injuries and surprise performances can easily make those things up (and probably should be expected to) but today looking at the teams - Bryce makes Philly a division threat and a likely playoff team in my mind, but he doesn't make them an NL East favorite.

*Some people have tried to play Bryce up as one of those types that you love on your team but hate everywhere else. I think that's mostly projecting. Bryce is a showboat yes, but he's never been a jerk. To put it in NY Giants terms - he's Odell Beckham, not Jeremy Shockey. You can certainly hate him, but it's not because he's THAT guy.

** Hernandez is pencilled in as the starter at 2nd but is both hurt and you KNOW they want Kingery to win that position. Of course if he wins it he's likely to be much better than a 61 OPS+

***First one to average wins!