Nationals Baseball: Will Harris is good. Will Harris be good?

Friday, January 03, 2020

Will Harris is good. Will Harris be good?

The Nats made a move to shore up the pen which by the end of the season was Doolittle, Hudson, and that's it.  Hudson wanted to come back but the Nats were reluctant to bet more than two years on his oft-injured usually not too good arm.  Instead they went with Will Harris who you may remember from such pitches as the one to Howie Kendrick that he hit for a home run in game 7. Harris was probably the second best reliever available in free agency* and the Nats gave him a contract that looks today to be on market. Three years / 24 million.  So a good deal or not?

Why it may be a good deal:

Harris has been nothing if not consistent. Since breaking out late in life (28) for the D-backs in 2013, Will has put together an annual performance that I'd call just short of dominance. (His ERA doesn't reflect his performance as happens at times with relievers - he is more of a 2.50 - 3.00 ERA guy) He does everything you want a pitcher to do - keeps guys off base with low hit rate and low walk rates, strikes out a bunch, doesn't give up a lot of homeruns. Nothing is special - even the combination of all of them - but while a lot of those special guys flash briefly then go out, he's right there as one of the best relievers of the past 5+ years.

He's also been healthy appearing in 60+ games in 4 of the last 5 years and the other year appearing in 46. It's really hard to fault this as a move for 2020, and if you are looking "beyond Doolittle" he could easily slip into that same "not dominant but very good and will get the job done" role in 2021

Why it may not be a good deal:

Harris was the 2nd best reliever on the market because of his age.  He's 35, and will turn 36 during next season. Take that for what it is. There was a drop in his K rate despite a league wide increase in Ks and fancy stat digging shows fewer chases, swings and misses, and more overall contact. That worked out in 2019 as that contact seemed to turn into GBs but Harris isn't consistently an overwhelming GB pitcher and those numbers coupled with a less dominant GB/FB split like 2015 or 2017 may spell trouble.

While a key piece to the playoff runs of the Astros in previous years, this year they really leaned on him more, 10 IP pitched in the playoffs in 12 appearances, compared to previous highs of 4 IP in 6 appearances in 2017.  That marks his most work in a season outside of 2015. That didn't seem to bother him then, but he was also 30, not 34 carrying 4 more years of wear and tear.

My thoughts :

It's a necessary and good deal and I'm glad the Nats made it. There is a very good chance Harris is good next year and worth the money he's being paid, even if he slightly regresses. There is a chance at his age of a sharp and quick decline but the Nats are playing a "win now" game** using veterans to supplement an older rotation that's still performing at a high level. This fits in with that plan.  Where does it leave the Nats in year 3? Worry about that in year 2.


*to Will Smith who signed with the Braves.  You maybe could argue Betances (Mets) is better on talent but he's been hurt so much.  

** by that I mean going with older talent, not spending a ton of money. It's the Nats

23 comments:

coolsny said...

Betances is almost assuredly going to be a disaster for the Mets. He will either go the Edwin Diaz route or spend 75% of the season on IL. Mets will be a very good .500 team next year!

Chas R said...

This is a great move and while surprised about the money and years, pleased the Nats took the risk!

G Cracka X said...

Bullpen looks mostly set now. If they are even league average in WPA in 2020, what an improvement that would be! Now get some infielders....

Anonymous said...

G Cracka's point about WPA is an important one. Rendon tied Trout for the 3rd best WPA in baseball last year with 5.62. Our combined bullpen was the worst in baseball at -10.82.

(That was also the second worst of any team of all time, though since it's a cumulative stat, so we're really only looking at the era of modern bullpen usage. The 97-loss 1999 Royals edged us at -10.94. The only other team worse than -9 wins added was the 97-loss 1990 Braves at -10.25. Not bad company for the 2019 World Series Champs!)

Anyway, if we can replace Rendon with a league average bat and roll out a league average bullpen, that would net us 5 wins -- the equivalent of adding a Rendon/Soto level player to last year's lineup. And lookie here at who had a league average bat last year (combining Texas and DC stats) and is projected for a league average bat next year -- why it's our good friend Asdrubal Cabrera!

Now of course signing Harris doesn't fix the whole bullpen mess but remember that, though our bullpen was bad last year (5th worst FIP in the league last year with 4.94 and 2nd worst xFIP with 5.03), we were also historically unlucky. We had the 3rd worst bullpen clutch (-7!) since 1980 behind the 2016 Rockies and the 1988 Orioles. Clutch is not predictive year to year, so we should benefit from some progression towards the mean. Obviously the teams probably weren't identical, but the 2017 Rockies's bullpen's Clutch score led baseball that season (+5.6) and the 1989 Orioles were 5th in theirs (+1.6).

My point is just that we're going to be fine. We'll start the season with a 50%+ chance of making the playoffs, and while a lot can go wrong (and I think all of us would have preferred to have spent a bunch of Lerner dollars and kept Rendon), we'll have some fun baseball to watch next year. No need to rend our garments.

BxJaycobb said...

@Anon. I don’t think the Nats will have a 50% chance of making playoffs next year if they don’t add an impact bat (at 3rd, 2nd, 1st, or wherever). The NL next year is going to have a lot*** of very good teams and the Nats are simply not as good as the Braves right now and *especially if Braves get Donaldson as seems likely.

mike k said...

I like the move. The decrease in strikeouts and swing-and-miss percentage worries me that he's declining. But the Nats need someone good and all indications point to him being good. I still think they should add another piece. Hopefully Rainey can become that piece, and/or a surprise from the minors. Also, IIRC Voth and/or Fedde are out of options, so at least one, if not both, will be in the pen - maybe one of them can reinvent themselves and be an above average pen arm. I don't think another big pen contract is coming.

I do not agree with the conjecture involving WPA. I think it's cherry picking luck. I agree that a lot (not all) of the negative WPA was due to a low "clutch" score, but you can't just assume that reverts back to the mean (increasing WPA) but everything else remains the same. Kendrick isn't having another year like that. Injury luck from the top 4 starters likely isn't going to be the same, either. So it's not just "get the bullpen to 0 WPA and you just gained two Rendons." The Nats really need another impact bat. Then another above average one (aka average 1B).

Ryan said...

"Will Harris is good. Will Harris be good?"

yes

DezoPenguin said...

So, Starlin Castro for 2/$12M. This makes me nervous.

Castro is basically a second-tier Asdrubal Cabrera. Doesn't hit as well. Doesn't field as well. Has a little more positional flexibility. Younger and so not likely to have a harsh encounter with an aging curve.

Like Cabrera, Castro represents a good, viable Plan B. Kieboom doesn't make the breakout we want from him? 2B or 3B or, God forbid, Turner, gets injured? Castro gives us the opportunity to put a roughly average major-league starter into the lineup instead of seeing 144 PAs (or 300+ PAs) from Wilmer Difo. That's good! Castro is a straight upgrade over Difo and makes our bench better.

Except if he's not going to be on the bench to start the season.

My worry is obvious. Does this mean that Rizzo doesn't think we're going to get Donaldson? Does Rizzo think Bryant or Arenado would cost him far too much to pull those trades? That's not good. And Castro is another $6M of AAV to count against the luxury tax. Thankfully, we're not the Brewers or something, so we can reasonably expect that Rizzo will be allowed to go right up to that limit, but probably not over. And Castro as the starting 3B is...not a replacement for Rendon.

On the other hand, there's nothing wrong with signing him now as long as the money works out. This means that Rizzo gets his Plan B in place. After all, we can't just add Donaldson/Bryant/Arenado to the roster willy-nilly. Donaldson has to sign of his own free will. Epstein has to trade Bryant. Arenado requires both Colorado to make an acceptable trade AND the man himself to waive his no-trade clause. And if all that falls through, better to at least have the emergency fallback Rizzo wants than to get stuck with whatever dregs remain on the market if the Castros, Cabreras, and such of the world sign with other teams while the Nats worry about their Plan A.

So yeah. If we get the 3B issue plugged (or do some equivalent, such as trading for Lindor and moving Turner to 2B), then I like this move--a clear upgrade over Difo as the top backup infielder. If this means that Rizzo considers the Nats to have already failed at the "big move" and intends to stand pat, I am not happy.



G Cracka X said...

@Dezo yeah, i think this means Rizzo thinks Donaldson is a long shot at this point. Signing him would basically put them right at the tax number, so unless he has permission to go over, they don't have money for a 1B.

Now, maybe this leads to a trade for Bryant? SC can play 2B, so trade CK+?

BxJaycobb said...

I don’t understand this move if you believe what the Nats are saying (that he is signed to be full time 2B). He’s basically doing nothing but blocking Kieboom. We’re seriously going to play Castro, who is a worse player than Dozier or AsCab, rather than seeing what we have in our top prospect? And if we’re signing him to play 3B....um, that’s a disaster...we aren’t going to have enough offense. Full stop. We have one dude in the lineup who is a good bet to hit 25 homers. That’s less power than any contender by FAR. We’re really going to go into the season with Howie as the cleanup hitter? I just don’t like this. UNLESS....

The one way it makes sense to me. This is the prelude to trading Kieboom in a package for Bryant. And then we would need somebody to man 2B. Then it makes sense. Otherwise....waste of money that could’ve been spent more productively on, say, Hudson (who apparently wanted exactly this, and we held firm at 2/10).

blovy8 said...

I think the Castro signing indicates that Rizzo is not counting on Kieboom necessarily being ready yet.

JDBrew said...

I don’t get the Castro hate. He is actually not a bad player. Worse than AsCab or Dozier?? Who were you watching last year? Dozier is DONE. And AsCab is about the same as Castro, just older. Pretty close to even. No, he is not Rendon. But they didn’t hire him to be. They hired him to be AsCab (injury fill-in/back-up/part-time 2b/3b). In other words, plan b guy. Which is what he is. You need those guys. Remember watching Difo start? How about Stevenson? How about Adrian Sanchez? How about Kieboom? I’d rather not see all that again.

Anagramsci said...

Castro hit worse than "Done" Dozier last year.

blovy8 said...

Stevenson was probably the Nats best pinch hitter last year, I don’t get the hate for him.

Nattydread said...

Seems like a prelude to a bigger deal. I'll take Castro over Dozier any day.

Rizzo is having a good off-season. Harris, Strass and Howie are 3 great signings.

Whatever we think as fans, he knew his budget for 3B, set limits and then passed on Rendon. Castro is part of the infield plan. If he doesn't get Donaldson, expect a trade.

Aint over til its over.

DezoPenguin said...

MLBTR is reporting that the Nats are nearing a deal for Cabrera.

And that, I think, puts a nail in the coffin for the 3B situation. That means 2B-3B will be manned by two out of three of Cabrera, Castro, and Kieboom, with the third one replacing Difo on the bench (or going to the minors for more work if Kieboom). Unless Kieboom is going to be traded as per Bx's suggestion or AsCab is going to get heavy work at 1B, but those seem like longshots at this point.

JDBrew said...

Nats sign AsCab....

Oh shit. An infield of Turner, Kendrick, Castro, and Cabrera will scare very few pitchers. Oh boy. I hope Kieboom turns into Mookie Betts really fast.

DesoPenguin said...

Yeah, that infield only impressive if Kendrick and Cabrera hit like 2019 (meaning, of course, Cabrera in his stint with the Nats, not overall) and Kieboom becomes Keston Hiura with a glove.

Anagramsci said...

severely weakened lineup

JDBrew said...

Please be the beginning of a trade...

Kubla said...

roll safe meme: You can't blow a save if you never have the lead.

G Cracka X said...

Getting ACab for 1/2.5 seems like a nice team-friendly deal. Isn't he better than Castro? I guess the age is why only 1 year for such low money? He's a switch hitter projected to be a league-average hitter and defender, and slightly below league-average baserunning. Can play 2nd, 3rd, and even a little 1st.

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