Nationals Baseball: February 2020

Friday, February 28, 2020

Will Harris be healthy?

The Nats have put together a pretty impressive pen, or at least on paper. Sean Doolittle has been a very good pitcher out of the pen for years. Same with Will Harris. Sitting in the 7th inning spot Daniel Hudson was a key pitcher for the Nats last year and may have found himself. Roenis Elias seemed to have made the transition to reliever just fine (though with an odd split) and should be a decent middle inning pitcher if healthy. Tanner Rainey showed promise in flashes last year. Wander Suero is a decent innings filler in the last man in the pen role. To me that fills 6 of your 7 bullpen roles just fine. Yeah, ideally you'd like someone more lights out in 8/9 but those aren't easy to come by.

Compare to last year - Doolittle was in the same position, but Rosenthal was an huge question mark at 8th, Miller/Barraclough ok 7th/middle inning impt out guys you'd think. Sipp a pretty solid lefty. Grace and Suero both innings eaters which means one would be asked to do to much. That's not a bad pen on theory but by putting the question mark all the way up at set-up and not having an plus pitcher for the role anywhere else you put all the pressure on Rosenthal. He fails and the system breaks down. He failed. Also there wasn't a young arm with promise here to pin some hopes on. Bullpens have variability (see Barraclough also failing). Which is why you want to lock down as many places as possible and ideally have a bunch of 7th/impt out guys to try out to see if someone ascends or can at least fill a great role if the closer or set-up guy go down.  Someone WILL get hurt. Praying it's not at Top 3/4 bullpen guy isn't a plan.

I'd say the current pen missing that one piece inbetween Hudson and Elias*. Strickland is nominally it but stinks. Ryne Harper could be it, but then again could not be. Finnegan? Someone else? A lefty specialist would be nice but the rules make the usefulness of such a player unclear going forward. It's a hole but a hole that shouldn't be a big deal if everyone is healthy.

Everyone is not healthy. Will Harris is hurt! And if he's out and everything shifts then well... Hudson, even though he managed it last year, is an iffy set-up. Elias/Rainey iffy that both can fit the 7th inning / main middle innings firefighter guys. Suero iffy that he can have a bigger role than innings eater. And then TWO holes at the back end that is much harder to work around than last year. It's a lot like how the Nats pen ended up last year after Rosenthal failed.

Now in theory I like this years pen better. Sure it's missing a 7th/impt out guy in that bunch but Hudson is a pretty solid choice to lead that group. Rainey is probably the best young arm the Nats have had in a pen since Glover and Treinen were there in 2017.** There's more cushion here I think for things to not collapse. But there's also that caveat... if there's another Barraclough type unexpected failure you have chaos. Harris goes out and Hudson underperforms and there's big trouble. Of course saying if your 2nd and 3rd most important relievers go out it's bad isn't news but some teams can handle that better than other. Their pen is deep in solid arms. Their organization has some interesting AAA guys to try out. The Nats aren't that team. They need Harris back. If he doesn't come back then they NEED everything else to work out in the late innings of the pen.

*If I were building a pen I think the reasonable ideal would be - lights out closer, good set-up, 3 other good pitchers to fill 7th/impt out roles, one young arm with promise, one decent long relief arm 

**best doesn't mean it will work out.

Monday, February 24, 2020

Monday Quickie - Baseball is back!

And with it the uselessness of Spring Training as anything other than a marker to start the countdown to the regular season.  Oh there are position battles (usually the last few spots and up for constant change during the year), new guys introduced, old guys trying to get back to old form saying they are in the best shape of their lives, and of course Ryan Zimmerman not playing. With Ryan, who spent 2018 hiding from the press with a foot injury to triumphantly appear for Opening Day, only to aggravate said injury and quickly spend 2 1/2 months on the DL, every Spring is an adventure and you shouldn't believe anything you hear about him.  Strasburg and Corbin just resting? Believe it until given reason otherwise. "Noted Spring Training Hater" Zimmerman will play when he feels like it? Doubt it as much as you doubt anything.

For this Spring really you want to see what Kieboom does and really unless he's god awful he's going to start with the team. Otherwise remember Spring Training stats are meaningless. Don't make me drag out the numbers for the last 15 years to prove it. Like Fedde didn't look good.  Doesn't matter we have no idea what his actual goals were for that outing other than it wasn't "get the other team out at all costs we need to win this game" which is what it is come April.

The Nats/Astros affair went off mostly without a hitch, the rivalry that might have been superceded by the Astros being dirty dirty cheaters. Dusty is back and we all somehow wish him well while wishing the Astros nothing but defeat.

Friday, February 21, 2020

Snow Day Friday

Hard to watch kids and work and blog so talk about this Mets thing

It goes along with something I was twittering about yesterday, how 2019 Rendon is a HUGE loss and the idea that the Nats can make that up is close to wishful thinking. He was better than Soto at the plate last year (I was having a discussion on whether it was slightly or significantly better) and of course, if you use the idea of 3 years of data, much better in the field. Even if Soto takes his place with a step forward offensively (not crazy given his age and progression so far which is great because we're talking about MVP levels) he won't replace the fielding and oh yeah - who fills that spot Soto just left?

The general answer is - well Kieboom/Cabrera will be good and the bullpen will be better and the Nats won't be as unlucky as last year, which possibly, probably (it could hardly not be), and actually the Nats had pretty even luck for the season as a whole.

This, of course, doesn't mean the Nats are bad and won't make the playoffs. They are good.  They'll be a game or two worse if all goes as planned. That's good enough to make the playoffs as is and if they get some good luck (or no other NL East team gets good luck) they could take the division. But still the possibility of a stalled offense around a constantly walked Soto isn't out of the question.

But back to the Mets. Why do the Mets rate favorably? Same reason past Nats teams have - projections are conservative when it comes to injuries so if you set up an injury prone but talented team you'll tend to get a pretty nice projection. If the Mets can stay healthy that rotation is a beast - better than the Nats 1-5 (though not as good 1-3) and the offense is fine. Basically healthy they are of similar talent to the Nats. Unfortunately starting pitching health is tough to bet on and the Mets have only made it work one year in this window (where as the Nats with more reliable SP has pretty much only had side issues most years).  So can the Mets win? Yep. Will they? That's up to the injury gods. 

Wednesday, February 19, 2020

What to do about the Astros?

I haven't really addressed it here but if you only get your news from Natsbaseball (good choice I'll add) then the Astros are cheaters! No need to link anything but the problem isn't going away despite that being the initial goal of major league baseball. Do an investigation, punish a few people that were in management roles at the time, and move on. Fans would be upset, but let's face it they are going to be upset regardless. The end.

But it wasn't because other players were really pissed off at the lack of player punishment and the seeming shrug of shoulders at what the league could do about what already happened.

I think though the problem wasn't the punishment but the messaging. In terms of the punishment - what can major league baseball can do?  Here are some of my thoughts...

Vacate the 2017 World Series title - Man, I hate when the NCAA does this. Even though it makes sense in a way "You wouldn't have won if you didn't do this wrong thing" it still feels like trying to deny what we saw. The Astros won and vacating just changes the story to "that's dumb - we can't pretend it didn't happen". The focus should remain on the cheating. 

Alternative - Note everywhere the Astros cheated.  Any sort of official write-up of the history of baseball will note that the Astros were later punished for cheating during this time frame.

Alternative - Don't let the Astros celebrate the title. Allow no official team sponsored celebratory event. Banners come down. Decorations packed up. No merch related to it. No bobbleheads or anniversary special nights or anything. It's nothing to celebrate. It's something to be ashamed of. 

Ban the Astros from playing in the playoffs for X years - this is tough because it could change the nature of competition. If the Astros can't play in the playoffs all of a sudden they have no impetus to win. Things like "not signing free agents" or "looking for trades" would ultimately be spread among the other 29 teams as they decide to try to benefit, but the end product, a garbage Houston Astros team, would create unequal benefit. The AL West teams would be more likely to get more wins out of it, leading to an imbalance in chance to make the playoffs or get home field.  It could be said this is fine. It makes up for the fact they were hurt by the Astros cheating more than other teams. However, two wrongs don't make a right. MLB can't be in the business of creating winners and losers.

Alternative - Astros get no money from post-season appearances - whatever the TV split is or the revenue from games, the Astros have to give that to some charity somewhere.  Sure it could have the same effect but try selling that to your fanbase. "We aren't winning because we can't make the extra money that comes with it"

Suspend the players involved for X games  - talk about a can of worms. Who gets suspended and for how long? Everyone on the 2017 team, or 2017-2019?  Pitchers as well as hitters? What about guys who got called up and played like a game? What about guys who got traded?  On an extreme end you could have a minor league pitcher traded to the Astros in late 2018, a season they weren't officially pegged as cheaters in, called up for a game, traded away in the off-season suspended for multiple games. That seems completely unfair. Oh - "he knew about it"?  Sure. But apparently probably less than like the majority of other major league players. Why does he get punished when say some Mariner who heard about it from his friend on the Astros in 2017 played against them 57 times noting the cheating to his teammates, but not the league, gets off?

Not to mention we're punishing other teams who may have picked up Astros. You want Will Harris suspended for 30 games? What happens to their contract money? They still get paid for not playing as they normally would? So now teams are paying twice for the Astros cheating?

Alternative - all Astros in 2017 play for the minimum in 2020, difference in salary goes to same place fines go - Take the money. Almost all you can do is take the money. That's what it comes down to. This way teams that signed guys don't get punished (unless these guys are real jerks and stop trying because they aren't getting paid millions) but they also don't get some sort of competitive balance advantage. I'm sure you'd agree the Yankees don't need an extra few tens of millions of found money to spend.

To get back to the messaging, all this could have been conveyed originally. "We want to punish the team and the players with suspensions but we see no way of doing that without disturbing the competitive balance in the league and hurting other, uninvolved teams, in the process." Make everyone understand this was a goal but an unobtainable one.

Of course they didn't do this in part because that never was a goal and it's clear. The goal was to make it go away as quickly as possible. People are going hard after Manfred but Manfred is little more than the mouthpiece of owners. The question is why do the owners want it to go away as soon as possible. The answer, like always, is probably money. Make it a big deal and maybe people turn away from the game. Have it go away quickly and the money train keeps rolling. At least that's my guess.

Monday, February 17, 2020

Monday Quickie - Other Kiebooms

The Nats Carter Kieboom is going to be an important piece in the Nats plans and a good year by him would go quite a ways to covering for the loss of Rendon. You can imagine in your head a break out year by Carter leading to an easy Nats division title. But every team has their Kiebooms and how they do could also throw the balance of the NL East.


The Braves are in "this is when the plan comes together" time. Last year it took them to a division title (and another early round exit). This year it could take them even further as the minor league cupboard is far from bare. Specifically the Braves have two guys, Kyle Wright and Bryse Wilson, looking to make the OD rotation, and one other, Ian Anderson who is looking to come up later in the year that's arguably better than both of them.  A breakout starter is worth his weight in gold and because a rotation is five deep there isn't much standing in the way of these guys sticking if they deserve it.

(They also have two top OF propects that could play in 2020 but with Ozuna, Acuna, and Inciarte backed up by Markakis and Duvall they don't feel the need to rush them and their impact this year should be muted call-up impact. Keep the name Cristian Pache in the back of your head if there are some OF injuries. Think Robles - a little less speed a little more power. Now imagine Robles actually clicked right away like you hoped he would. It could happen!)


Andres Gimenez is the player that could fit the bill of a Kieboom but that's a stretch. He doesn't have a place right now given there's a perfectly competent young SS in Amed Rosario in front of him, the bat of Jeff McNeil at 3b, and the contract of Robinson Cano at 2b. Gimenez also had a pretty poor 2019 lacking the doubles power he showed in 2018. Normally this type of player wouldn't even register here. However he may be pushed because the Mets have a new SS they like better in Ronny Mauricio coming up behind him. They might as well see what they have in Gimenez to evaluate him for trade purposes. Also Cano was bad and he's old so maybe he'll crash out.  The combination of those two forces could mean a fair amount of Gimenez playing time. The chances are slim but but if a couple disparate things comes together this fringy 100 prospect might make a differece.


Bryce mentioned not wanting to give up Alec Bohm for Kris Bryant and if you look at this guys rise you can see wise. He's not as good as say a Rendon or a Zimm - certainly not in the field where he could be moved - but you could argue he's better at the plate than Kieboom. He's a beast who doesn't miss the ball (very low K rate) and has real power when he hits it. If they can find a place for him there's real breakout potential here. The same can be said for SP prospect Spencer Howard who looked just as good in AA as rookie ball coming back from injury.  He's projected to have top of the rotation stuff... if he can stay healthy.  He's a little less likely to impact 2020 because he'll probably be on an innings limit, but I can see the Phillies pulling something like a very slow start to the year - maybe starting once a week, then coming in for May on to try to maximize his impact on this season for a rotation that sorely needs an impact arm.

Kieboom is probably the most likely player to have an impact. He's the consistently highest ranked and he has the spot laid out for him. After that I'd say a Brave pitcher, though it's hard to bet on a single choice. Bohm should come in third here, above the chance of a 2nd Braves pitcher.  It's that depth of the Braves minors that makes them scary and while they project a little low in their win totals, they should be able to counter the inevitable injuries better than any other NL East team. That's why they remain the Nats main threat - best other team in NL East with the most security.  The Phillies probably aren't even as good as the Mets but there are several players on the team that could have big jumps in 2020 and then these two who could have impact.  The Mets might be the 3rd best team in the East but they are a what you see is what you get squad. Pitching injuries would decimate them but line-up injuries too would be hard to overcome. It's a team with a razor thin margin for error and if you bet on chaos you could do worse than bet on the Mets doing terribly 

Thursday, February 13, 2020

Friday Quickie?

It's been a while and I don't even have a good excuse like vacation or something. I mean I do have a baby but it's not like a NEW baby and I powered through that in the playoffs. And yes I'm away for work which is actually surprisingly harder to find free time but still I'm just getting to old for this blogging world, time to shuffle off to Facebook or something...

Eh ok I'll give it another year. 

We're at pitchers and catchers now which is great but when you win a Championship... I don't want to say you don't want the next season to start but the next season means you have to defend the championship and you realize you likely won't and can't we just give out rings (4/4) and raise a banner (4/2) then have another parade and a month of realizing we are champions?

The Nats come into Spring with one real question - will Carter Kieboom start at 3rd or not? If not, it will presumably be Asdrubal Cabrera but really if not, what does that mean for Kieboom long term? Are there bullpen battles? 5th starter battles? Last man on bench battles? Yep yep yep. But these are things every team faces every year. It's this question - what is Carter Kieboom for 2020 and beyond - that is THE question of spring.

Why should the Nats start Cabrera? He's been an above average hitter every year since 2015... ok every year but  last year but last year he was great for the Nats. His fielding has dropped off but as that has happened he's shifted around the diamond and 3B seems like a decent fit for the 34 year old Asdrubal. In short, he's likely to be a good major league player. That can't be said of Carter Kieboom, who's trial in 2019 was terrible - hitting under .200 while striking out 40% of the time and having only 2 XBH.

Why should the Nats start Kieboom? There's little for him to get out of AAA. He played 109 games there last year and hit .303 / .409 / .493.  That's good enough to warrant a full trial. For all that Cabrera brings, he doesn't bring it beyond 2020. He's only signed through this season and Kieboom is set up to be the future at some point.  Why not give him this year, a post championship "Who really cares if we win*" year, to figure things out?

We have too little about Kieboom to speculate as outsiders. We have to watch him in Spring, like the Nats will, and see what he does. Twist my arm and I'll say he starts in AAA because he can.

Back to MWF next week until the daily work of the regular season because that's what we do here.

*You'll be surprised how much you do care come October.

Tuesday, February 04, 2020

Quick NL East feelings

The off-season is now pretty much over. There are potential trades left. Mookie Betts is a forgone conclusion at this point, but isn't going to anywhere in the NL East.  Kris Bryant is less likely, and given he's not a FA after this season after losing his grievance case, most people think the Cubs will sit on a high price no one will meet this off-season, compete this year, and trade him next possibly as part of a mini-tear down.

That leaves the NL East pretty much set now and I have opinions on the teams going into next season

Quick takes :

Braves - Should have went for it, but instead testing out SP. I get it but still, when the doors open to take the division, take it

Nationals - Ditto, but instead of testing out SP, being the Nats with smart moves to build a playoff competitor. Could have passed Braves, chose not to. But hey - Champs!

Mets - Continue to frustrate fans by trying to do a Nationals without the Nationals talent or health history. It can work (see 2015) but it's an uphill battle for them in this divison

Phillies - I don't get it. Clearly looking for a bounce back seasons. From the offense that's understandable. From the pitching that's confusing and should fail.

Marlins - Get too much flack probably but sorry Jeter. Team hasn't had a history of ownership doing what they should so despite things coming along you'll have to lump it (then prove you will do what you should when it's tim)

Atlanta Braves - Gambling on Youth.

Josh Donaldson is a Twin. Julio Teheran is an Angel. Dallas Keuchel is a White Sock. Brian McCann is retired. Jerry Blevins is a Giant. Josh Tomlin, Anthony Swarzak are still looking. Most of these guys weren't particularly good, but none were bad and they ate up a lot of innings and at bats for the Braves.  They were replaced with a different set of veterans, Cole Hamels, Will Smith, Marcell Ozuna, but really what the Braves are doing is gambling that youth will step up.

Primarily how the youth does will matter in the rotation where nearly 300 IP of 120+ ERA are gone. They have a half-dozen legit prospects or guys with good AAA stats to throw out there but the last jump can be the hardest and they have to contend with possible dropping off of other starters (look at Folty 2018 to 2019).  But it's also true that they are looking for someone to join Freeman as a star bat.  Acuna was just off that last year, a little too impatient, a little too much all or nothing. Will it be him? Albies? Riley? Dansby or Carmago pulling a Ian Desmond? The Braves should be good next year and their off-season plan understood they could probably give all these guys chances and still stay in the division hunt. But rather than go big and run and hide from the NL East they let themselves likely slip back into the pack.

Washington Nationals - Keeping on keeping on

The Nats spent the past 8 seasons putting together good teams, 90 type win teams, and seeing the season play out figuring getting to the playoffs is all that can be promised. For 7 seasons that led to heartbreak but in the 8th quantity finally paid off.  How did they respond to finally getting a run of luck? By doing nothing different. They made the sensible decision to keep Strasburg while letting Rendon go. They picked up a fair number of decent RP to cover the terribleness of last year, and a fair number of decent vet MIs to try to luck into someone having a career year while maintaining a good shot of nothing terrible happening.

The Nats have always been a team lead by their starting pitching and keeping Strasburg allows the Nats to once again have perhaps the best 1-2-3 in baseball. As long as they stay healthy that's enough to be in the playoff mix.  There's a sense that the offense has to take a step back but it's hard to see a massive drop off from the team. The biggest question may be health. There are some age questions here - Suzuki, Kendrick, Sanchez 36, Max, Zimm, acquired Will Harris 35 and the starters and key relievers got pushed extra hard last year. But the Nats are not in the same position as other years. If things fall apart this year and they have to rebuild it's ok. They won. Much like the Braves they could have went big and go for a second title, but instead they are content to be in it and see what happens and this plan let's them reasonably do that.

New York Mets -  In for a penny

The Mets can't ever really commit. Every off-season they seem to make one or two moves that portend a larger one but the larger one never comes. This off-season was no different. They loaded up on SP options, bringing in Porcello, Wacha to go along with the guys they have (DeGrom, Thor, Matz) and the late season acquired Stroman.  They tried again to fix the pen bringing in Betances. But there wasn't the corresponding offensive move. There's a chance that the Braves and Nats both take half-steps back to meet the Mets half-step forward but you have to wonder why they didn't take a full-step forward and really make themselves a contender.

Perhaps it's because ultimately the Mets season depends on starting pitching health which is a hard thing to depend on especially when your track record isn't great. So now the Mets hopes depend on two gambles. The first being the SP is healthy, which they tried to cover for a little with depth. The second is that something clicks in an offense that is just a little lacking and is just a likely to take a step back after some career seasons than another step forward.

Philadelphia Phillies - It's gotta be the manager

I don't know what the Phillies are doing. Offensively you can squint and see what they see. It was an offense built for 2019 that had the wheels come off for reasons we don't really understand. Across the board hitters like Realmuto, Hoskins, Bryce, Segura, Bruce were at least a half-step worse than they should have been for no explainable reason. So add another good bat in Gregorious change the manager and coaching staff and try again. This shouldn't be a middling offense and we should see improvement just by change in 2020 and there could be a big jump.

But the pitching, last year you could look at the rotation and based on the line-up justify it by saying you were trying to see what you had in mid20s+ guys like Eflin, Velasquez, Pivetta, Eickhoff, and you'd make adjustments in the off-season if necessary. Well the season showed that they didn't have much with these guys. It's likely one or maybe two would be back of the rotation filler (likely Eflin) but the rest were replaceable.  You also saw an Arrieta aging before your eyes.  The Phillies really needed a second ace or two reliable 2-3 starters to go along with Nola who they hoped to rebound. They got Wheeler the off-seasons cheap "maybe he'll be an ace" option and nothing else. So now the Phillies have to have everything go right starting pitching wise. Nola or Wheeler have to be an ace and the other one a worthy companion. Arrieta or Eflin has to be a good #3. Two of the others have to be decent filler. It's a stretch and it's more likely that even if the offense improves as is likely they'll be a big bat no pitch team trying to bash their way into the playoffs. That may work in other divisions but the NL East has three teams with better plans.

Miami Marlins - Quietly amassing pitching and guys to trade for pitching

The Marlins aren't winning in 2020, or 2021 for that matter. So the middling signings they made make sense. If a Dickerson or Cervelli or Joyce or Kintzler break out they deal them and get something back to add to the system.  Meanwhile Sandy Alcantara is joined by three other pitchers 24 or younger to see if they can uncover a gem, while better shots like Sixto Sanchez and Edward Cabrera start to appear. Depending on the Nats health and the Braves development they could have a top rotation in the NL East come 2022/2023.

Of course that's only half the game and while they have a lot of guys in the pipeline the current offensive prospects haven't quite worked out. They hope Alfaro develops beyond a usable catcher, which is something but not a cornerstone. Brinson is a washout. Isan Diaz's tryout went poorly. Someone will develop out of the guys they have but they are only adding to the likes of Alfaro and Brian Anderson which leaves a lot of holes and no stars. Come 2022/2023 the question will be if the Marlins pay out for the bats they need to take the next step. Just two years ago they had the offense set with Stanton, Realmuto, Yelich, Ozuna, but realized they had no pitching and bailed on the team rather than pay out. To prove anything is different they'll have to buy in when it's time. But that's for a later.  2020 will just to be seeing if they can finish 4th over whichever NL East team has the worst luck.