Nationals Baseball: Hudson's back - so no Donaldson?

Tuesday, January 07, 2020

Hudson's back - so no Donaldson?

The Nats have officially brought back Daniel Hudson.  It was clear that Hudson wanted a longer deal, but it's now clear that no one wanted to give him one. So two years 11 million and he's back in the Nats pen where he thrived in the back half of 2019.

Personally I don't believe this sets the Nats pen or makes it "imposing".  This is a less impressive trio than Doo, Hudson, Kintzler and we all know how that worked out. Is it reasonably contructed? Yes! and Nats pens aren't always so. Could it be great? Sure.  I mean any reasonably constructed pen can - look at the Nats in 2016. Could it be below average? Yep. That too. I wouldn't bet on it but I wouldn't be surprised either. When I'd be surprised though is if this pen was bad.

In short : I think the bullpen should be expected to be above average but there's a lot of variability in pens.

How do I feel about the Hudson deal in general... I kind of don't love it. He wasn't all that good in 2018 or 2017 or 2016.  He was merely ok in 2019 before joining the Nats. His arm is injury prone, he missed time as recently as 2018 and last years 83 IP were the most innings he's thrown since 2011. We're talking Obama's first term here, Miley Cyrus was still Hannah Montana! His 2019 was helped by an unrepeatable LOB% (81.8) and a HR/FB rate not likely to be repeated (8.6%). Somehow this happened while giving up fewer GBs and more hard hit balls. Basically remember that Dodgers catcher almost hitting it out? That was Daniel Hudson in a nutshell last year. Can he repeat getting guys to almost hit it out? I doubt it

It doesn't mean he can't be a useful bullpen piece, but for about a million more you could have signed Clippard and Stammen and gotten two useful pieces, with less injury risk.

Still it's hard to fault the Nats for doing something where they usually do nothing. This is a big improvement over the option of whoever would fill the last spot in the pen that now gets bumped out. The real problem is though that the Nats now seem out of the running for Donaldson. They say the contract is still out there and I believe them, in part because I think the deferments make them money to cover the cap hit. But it's hard to see him coming to a team paying him less when the other offers are also from contending teams.

The Nats had a very good offense last year but a big chunk of that was Rendon. Losing him hurts.  There's also the fact that Kendrick had a career year that he's unlikely to repeat. Eaton's trending wrong as is Suzuki. The Nats have some decent options out there in Thames and Castro but all these guys are more likely to be average than good. Can Turner step up? I don't know he's been playing long enough to kind of accept he's a good but not great bat. Can Robles? Possibly - he is young. But I'm not enthused by what I saw last year. Maybe average.  Can Soto? I think he can get even better... if they are bothering to pitch to him. I don't think it'll be a bad offense if they don't replace Rendon with Donaldson (or someone in trade) but it'll be one that's likely to be around average, meaning the pitching has to be great to compensate.

And the pitching can be great. It has been. It's got three aces and a pen that should be good. But that's a lot of pressure on a rotation that features a lot of age and went through a lot of wear and tear last year.


Mr. T said...

Soto is going to set a record for walks next year.

DezoPenguin said...

No argument with you on the pitching. Hudson's 2019 was well above average and a little fluky (that 5.08 xFIP shows that keeping the ball in the park somehow was his best skill, and that's not really repeatable), and his projections are for "meh" rather than "great." (On the other hand, Suero pitched much better than his results, so yeah, baseball...) But yeah, useful piece.

On Donaldson: The situation does seem confusing. He's publicly announced a price (4/$110), and it seems that nobody's willing to pay it. The Twins were already reported out on him. I have a feeling that what's going on is that the offer Rizzo has already put out there is the current highest offer, and Donaldson either wants somebody to meet his price or for the Braves to step up and match the Nats (I think if the Braves had already matched the Nats, he'd have signed, 'cause the Mystery Team isn't going to be swooping in--we know who needs a 3B and who doesn't.)

(As a side note, this offseason has had a really weird narrative about the Dodgers "needing" to sign this superstar or trade for that one. It's like the entire baseball world somehow forgot that they won 106 games last year and only got bounced from the playoffs in a down-to-the-wire series against the eventual WS champions because, frankly, Dave Roberts made some boneheaded bullpen moves that allowed the Nats' star players to do star player things. AND they have Gavin Lux ready to come in, and their rotation runs something like 8 deep even without Ryu and Hill because they've been stockpiling #3 starters precisely because Ryu and Hill are great but hella brittle. I have them as the NL favorites yet again, especially since only the Diamondbacks are making substantial moves in the West.)

The lineup seems interesting, because while it lacks any stars other than Soto, there's a real possibility that with platooning it could run out a team where everybody but Soto and the pitcher has a wRC+ in the 100-120 range (obviously on days where Suzuki is catching rather than Gomes). That does assume some marginal improvement from Robles, but that's hardly out of line with expectations. Obviously, having a second star hitter in the Donaldson-Bryant-Arenado class would be a significant upgrade (and indeed, would also assist in massaging the platoon situation for the rest of the lineup), but I still think it's going to be above-average.

G Cracka X said...

You mean Doo, Madson, and Kintzler right?

I think Hudson may be good next year. The ball may die down from the 2019 juiciness, which could help him keep FBs in the park. We'll see.

G Cracka X said...

On the lineup construction, it seems weaker, but deeper this year. I'm thinking that we see a less streaky Nats team. They're less likely to catch fire, but also less likely to have injury-based 19-31 runs.

Harper said...

GCX - what did I say? Dammit!

That's true - last year it was dependent on the 2nd tier (turner, eaton, kendricks) health and the third tiers streakiness. With all the choices you'll cut out the health issue. At least for most spots. Shield your eyes if Soto gets a big time injury.

Dezo - On Donaldson, I think he's playing chicken with the Braves. They need him but don't NEED him. He can take their contract but he could make the same somewhere else. So they stare down until there's no more choices to be made (if the Twins move on)

On the Nats - I can see it being above average in the way you say, but part of the reason you have all these pieces is because all these platoon areas are occupied by older guys. Someone(s) is going to get hurt forcing someone(s) to play everyday breaking that platoon plan and knocking the team down.

On Dodgers - if your goal is win the WS every time you don't you should look to get better somewhere. Harsh? Yep. But what are you shooting for? To be in the mix and hope it works out for you? Fans don't like that even if it makes sense. Win it all.

Sammy Kent said...

So once again we've got a bunch of starters and a bunch of closers and not a thing to fill the middle. More frustration awaits.

Anonymous said...

Once again, Sammy?

Re-read the comments from last May.

Anonymous said...


I wouldn't have a problem with a bullpen that was exclusively closer types if the Lerners were willing to shell out for all the best relievers. Those are generally the best pitchers outside of ace starters. Last year there were no 7th or 8th inning guys at the beginning of last season, just Doolittle (having just an okay season for him) and some schmoes. The problem wasn't that the talent was unevenly distributed, it's that there was an overall dearth of talent.

Still, let's look at what they have: a few okay relievers from last year and a group of 6th starter types who can eat innings in sure losses or sure wins. Then they have Hudson, Doolittle, and Harris, all quality late-inning guys. With the rotation they have, quality starts are the expectation. A 7-8-9 bullpen should be all that is needed most of the time in tight games, hopefully an 8-9 or even just a closer. It's a weird complaint that they aren't out there signing crappy pitchers to pad the pen when those are the easiest to find in-season and pretty much matter the least.

The offense is the big worry. I anticipate a big move from Rizzo at some point. Maybe it will be one of the things Harper has discussed, but Rizzo's MO has been to do something we don't see coming. Maybe he'll decide one of the three closer-quality relievers is expendable during the season and pull off a Capps-for-Ramos style heist.

Ric said...

DezoPenguin said: "As a side note, this offseason has had a really weird narrative about the Dodgers "needing" to sign this superstar or trade for that one. It's like the entire baseball world somehow forgot that they won 106 games last year... I have them as the NL favorites yet again, especially since only the Diamondbacks are making substantial moves in the West.

Agreed! I just read what I think was an opinion piece in the LATimes concerning a "defensive" interview with Stan Katsen. It claims the fan base is unhappy with ownership for not making a move.

They've been the best team in the NL for a decade. They are just as good now as they were last season. They will be the best team in the NL this season.

(It's like when DC fans call the Lerner's "cheap". Top five payroll the last three seasons. Big contracts to Werth, Scherzer, Corbin, Strasburg. But yeah, the Lerners are cheap.

two cents said...

I'd argue that the Lerners are cheap, but that they also like to buy nice things from time to time.

two cents said...

I believe that Adam Eaton is our highest paid player in the field right now.

mike k said...

"On Dodgers - if your goal is win the WS every time you don't you should look to get better somewhere. Harsh? Yep. But what are you shooting for? To be in the mix and hope it works out for you? Fans don't like that even if it makes sense. Win it all."

Where have I seen that strategy before....Harper help me out here.....dang this strategy seems so darn familiar but I can't put my finger on it........

Besides, I have it on good authority that this strategy works exactly 12.5% of the time if your goal is winning a world series, not counting rebuild years.


Lerners are average owners spending wise if you take into account their high wealth and the Nats' success (meaning "open window"). They have a quirk where they will give out more big contracts than the average owner but also demand more deferments.

mike k said...

oops, meant to say this above - I don't think the Nats were top 5 in payroll in 2019. Maybe in cap hit, which uses AAV, but I think their actual payroll was like 9 or something.

DezoPenguin said...

@mike K:

Weirdly, it seems hard to know who has what payroll. For example, the first two sources I looked at for the Nats' opening day 2019 payroll had different figures for us and one had us fourth and one fifth in MLB. Then, as you note, there's the difference between actual dollars paid out and AAV dollars for luxury tax purposes (notably, deferments are considered not deferred for luxury tax; they're included as if paid over the active baseball years. But seriously, anyone who calls the Lerners "cheap" or the Dodger ownership "cheap" or whines about Hal Steinbrenner spending Yankee money on his yachts instead isn't really complaining about their ownership, they're complaining about the entire payroll structure of Major League Baseball as a whole. Which, well, there's an argument to make there, but it's an economic, systemic argument, not that Owner X isn't spending enough on Team Y.

On the other hand, if you're complaining about, say, Tampa or Pittsburgh's ownership, then yeah, they're genuinely cheap.

mike k said...

Baseball-reference and baseball prospectus has the Nats at 4th in payroll for 2019. Spotrac has the Nats 4th in cap hit but 7th in payroll. I would say this implies they were 4th to start the year but ended in 7th, but there is a significant drop in the reported payroll figures between the sites and I can't account for it.

Regardless, the Lerners have shown a willingness to at least flirt with the cap and exceed on occasion when the Nats are WS contenders. They could be better (Rendon!) but absolutely could be worse. Whenever ownership doesn't get the player that the fans want, they are called cheap, usually unfairly. Rendon just feels different because he was homegrown and there was no in-roster justification for letting him walk.

SuburbanSteve said...

Hmmm, my ears are itching on this Carlos Tocci minor league deal. He is essentially a better OBP Michael A. I'm not saying it's happening, but it feels like a move to replace Michael A Taylor who might be part of a trade for someone like Kris Bryant...

Anonymous said...

Oh come on...If Hudson kept the ball in the park with last year's juiced orb he will keep the ball in the park this year. I love the tendency here to throw out good performances (Cabrera/Kendrick) as a fluke but expect the same output from the chosen ones (Rendon/Donaldson). If Cabrera matches his output with the Nationals last year then the offense will be fine. Some guys hit better the older they get, something the saber metrics crowd seem forget.

Ole PBN said...

@Anon 10:34 - I think people throw out one-year (or less) performances if they pale in comparison to their career norms. Cabrera hit .323 for us in 124 AB, but is a .268 career hitter (over 6,000 AB). Hudson had a 1.44 ERA for us in 25 innings, but is 3.83 for his career (nearly 700 IP).

I don't think the sabermetric folks "forget." They live in the data! The reason the don't assume some players will get better as they age, is because the overwhelming amount of data suggests they do not. Of course there will be outliers (Kendrick, Bonds, etc.), but they are so few compared to the larger set, For every guy you throw out like Cabrera or Kendrick, I could give you maybe 1,000 players in the inverse.

Career numbers are the safest bet when predicting what a player will do. If you drift too far in either direction of expectations, you either expecting way to much or being overly pessimistic.

blovy8 said...

Madson got old immediately in 2018 Harper, you're not doing anything but scaring us. Figuring out relievers is like predicting Trump's next tweet.

It's hard to know until the next year whether a player has made legitimate adjustments or had good luck unless you have more access to Statcast than I do. Such an example is Castro's half a year of power without the exit velocity to sustain it while playing in a tough ballpark to hit. I'm pretty sure I don't buy the extra homers, but the guy hits .336 at Nats Park and was a fan of the team in his teens so he wants to be here. His best attribute seems to be durability - it's hard to figure what infielder with any history could be a safer bet. He will probably be pesky and a lot more fun to watch hit than Dozier, but I would think they leverage his at-bats against lefties and give some time there to Howie against RH pitching, especially if Zim comes back, since you will want to get Howie in about half the games if you can.

Cabrera probably just hot for a good spell, but he sure knocked runs in somehow and is still a bit underrated. For 2.5 he can keep Kieboom's dirt warm until he's past super-2 status.

At least with the established guys they've brought in, they have a lot of data to assess where they can best be used. Whether we should believe Martinez will act on that efficiently is another thing. Also, I think Kieboom will probably fill a starting-level role in the event someone gets hurt, so the depth there is about as good as a team can make it - if you believe he can be an average player as he is projected to be by Steamer at the moment. They probably have enough moving pieces to leverage into something above average. The key is Turner and Soto staying healthy as the lynch pins as you say.

SM said...

I've detected what has become--and almost certain to remain--a recurring theme in your blog, Harper.

Carter Kieboom is 2020's Whipping Boy and Red-Headed Stepchild.

blovy8 said...

At the moment, I'm thinking outfield depth might be the worst problem. Nobody would expect Taylor or Stevenson to be adequate.

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