Nationals Baseball: 2021

Wednesday, February 24, 2021

5th Spot, who ya got?

The Nats rotation 1-4 is set (as long as everyone makes it out of Spring). Max, Stras, Corbin, and Lester - though probably in a different order to take advantage of the R-L flips.  The 5th spot though, is wide open and the Nats have a lot of options. From one angle - you have 3 former fringe Top 100 level prospects who are trying to break through in the age range where it's possible. That's good. From another angle - you have 3 fringe Top 100 level prospects that who have tried and failed up to this point and now, at the end of the age range you'd give them are go, are taking one last shot probably to fail.

First up is Joe Ross. He gets first shot because he actually succeeded previously, putting up what was a combined very good full season in 2015-2016. But starting in 2016 the next few years would be marred by injury; first the shoulder, then Tommy John, and a lot of bad pitching. Theoretically fully healthy in 2019 Ross was decidedly unimpressive and then he sat out 2020. The recent issues each year he's tried to pitch have been something different.  First too many homers, then striking out nobody, then loss of control.

Next is Erick Fedde.  A super high draft pick with injury questions (his last college season ended with TJ), he healed up his first year and then moved up through the system though not super impressively. Dying for relief help in 2017 they moved him to the pen but decided to move him back to a starting role again. He got a chance at the end of 2017 to show his stuff and it was all bad. Since then he's had varying sizes of cups of coffee in the majors and his results have gotten better each time. Unfortunately he hasn't gotten good and his stats suggest the improvement is more smoke and mirrors than actual progression. While not a guy that gives up a lot of hits he walks too many and gives up too many homers while striking out too few. 

Then we have Austin Voth. Voth was a guy who worked himself into the starter conversation a few years ago by being the best guy available in the upper levels of an admittedly shallow system. His time in the majors has been a roller coaster, bad then good then bad again. The good year had some real improvement all around - more Ks, fewer walks, fewer homers - but it was only 43 IP and the regression back to "normal" in 2020 suggests small sample size more than anything.

The rest is a hodgepodge of worse choices.  Rogelio Armenteros is the name most often brought up. He is a slightly more interesting guy than the ones the Nats had coming into this year actually reaching double digits in K/9 in the minors. Jefry Rodriguez is a familiar name - he's not good. There are a couple "ok AAA starters" and a couple "interesting guys in college who didn't get drafted in the short draft". But anything other than the guys already named would be a shock looking at the talent, or lack thereof. Guys like Cavalli, Rutledge, Henry, and Cate have some talent but are here for the experience not to break into the rotation.  

My take is this is one of the rare instances where you go ahead and use Spring Training to make your decision for you. Usually Spring Training is too short and weird to put any stock in what you see stat-wise. Guys playing 1/3rd games trying to work on particular stuff isn't a major league petrie dish. For every one guy whose power surge or strikeouts look great and then they show it in the majors, there are 10 that don't. But here you have 3 guys you know very well who are about the same age and haven't been particularly good when looking at the whole of the last three years. You can make a case for each;  Ross the one with major league success, Fedde the guy with improving results, and Voth the guy with the most recent actual good major league stint. You can throw in Armenteros as the 4th option - the youngest by a year with almost no major league experience to push you one way or another. But these are all weak cases overwhelmed by everything else you see. There is no good choice here and more importantly, no obvious one. In that case - throw them out there and let the Spring decide. For once that's ok.

Monday, February 22, 2021

Monday Quickie - Strasburg seems fine

 Strasburg hit the mound on Friday. Not a word about anything wrong. All the stories this weekend (here's the Post) about it were about a guy who underwent successful surgery, recovered, started conditioning again, and now is on the last lap. From here what we need to see are 

1) A second ST stint on the mound  (makes sure the "I was doing this all along" isn't all a smoke screen)

2) A first start of the season

3) A second start of the season

Is this bar a little high? Maybe, but I'll remind you that Strasburg has pitched in all or part of 11 seasons. The number of seasons he hasn't missed a bit of time to injury is 2. Two. Out of 11. Sorry, but Strasburg doesn't get the benefit of the doubt here. 

The biggest FA move of recent days is the Mets signing Taijuan Walker.  He's probably not going to become an ace for the Mets.  Remember what we said about Strasburg? Well Walker is like 0 for 7. He's a mess, a talented mess, but a mess. If he can be healthy for a good chunk of the season though that gives the Mets another option when they were already 6 deep. The Mets have been plagued with good on paper staffs ruined by multiple injuries.  The more good arms they load up on, the better. 

Odorizzi is still out there and would immediately kick the Phillies up a half a step (and at a clear #4 they need that half-step) but it appears from all indications they are done.  Another 75% done job by the Phillies management and a likely finish that will represent that effort.

Friday, February 19, 2021

Kieboom & Strasburg. Oh and Max

 Some Spring Training updates... well not really. Some quotes from Rizzo about topics of interest

Max is hurt! He sprained his ankle.  That isn't good!  I mean yes there's the obvious reason - he's hurt, but also two other things I like to talk about when it comes to injury.  First is injuries beget more injuries. You hurt your landing ankle and you try to adjust not to stress it too much. So now you are putting more pressure on your arm to compensate for a lack of drive stepping through. Your arm starts to hurt so you try to add more torque and suddenly your torso is... well you get the picture. It's not a given these things happen but they definitely can.  Second is the fact that Max is old! I'm old! One of the things you notice about getting old is that it takes a lot longer to heal up, even doing things right. That's without the pressure of wanting to get back on the field and the incredible stress that an athlete will subject his body to immediately.  

Anyway - take your time Max. Heal it up right. 

Strasburg should pitch today. Just a bullpen session.  It's gonna happen, since they can tailor this to what Strasburg needs exactly. The questions you should look to be answered - Is he on a mound throwing the normal amount? Does he pitch again in a couple of days.  Answer these in the positive and things are moving as they should for a healed Strasburg and that's great. 

Rizzo defended not moving on from Kieboom just yet with a "everyone thought he was good and some guys start real slow"  In another interview answer I saw him compare Kieboom to Robin Ventura. And it's true Ventura got off to a slow start.  It took him about 60 games not to suck at the plate.  Given that standard Kieboom gets another few weeks to warm up. Honestly I think you could give him half a year. Of course the problem is even if he couldn't hit Ventura was a top notch fielder.  Kieboom is not that. So he's giving you very little if he's not hitting. Ventura also would be about a year younger when he "got it".  It's not a terrible reach but it is a little one and if you are already starting to reach... well if Kieboom doesn't hit relatively soon into 2021 I don't see how you spin it. 


Speaking of defense. The Nats had some of the worst defense in baseball last year.  They did not get better. But they might not have gotten worse and if they can hit better... I guess that's better.

Thursday, February 18, 2021

Fernando Tati$

 Last night Fernando Tatis signed a long term deal with the Padres for 100 years and a billion dollars.Ok it could have been closer to 14/340.  Will he be making more or much less than he could have signing this deal now? It's hard to say.  If he's very good for most of those 14 years it'll come out right. If he's great for all 14 it'll be a huge bargain. If he gets injured tomorrow and limps through 8, it'll be a huge mistake. That's the thing with long term deals.

What does this mean for Soto? Well Soto, a few months older, is probably a better hitter than Tatis, and certainly a worse fielder than Fernando who trying to fake it at SS while Soto fakes it in the corner OF. That doesn't come out in the wash. Hitting is more important. BUT I did say probably (and italicized it, you really should have noticed that) and the fact is Soto gave us that clearly better year in 40 games in a pandemic season. How meaningful is that? If Soto is more 140+ OPS+ than 180+ OPS+ that's a big difference between All-Star and having "best hitter ever" conversations for the next decade and a half. 

My guess is that he leans more toward the 180+. There's no flukiness here to his patience or his power. All that I see as a question is where those levels end up being. 40 homers and 150 walks or 30 homers and 110? His average is more up in the air. .350 was quite a bump and definitely could be a small sample size fluke. If he's more a .300 guy than .330... well really that's all finishing touches. See we're arguing .300 30 vs .330 40. It's all good news for Nats fans. 

For Soto though .300 30 means a Tatis like deal. .330 40 means something more. Next year is going to be huge as Juan tries to prove it over the long haul. 

But don't expect something now. The Padres have an ideal situation to sign Tatis long term. They only have one big deal hanging out there with Machado. They have several mid-high deals, yes, but in two seasons that 66 million for Hosmer, Darvish, and Myers becomes 31 for just Darvish and Hosmer thanks to FA and deals that get smaller on the back end. In other words there's 30 million freed up.  They have the best pitching prospect in baseball and along with Darvish have Lamet for 3 more years and Paddack for 4 at arbitration prices and lower. That's a cheap likely good rotation. Cronenworth and Grisham are under control for longer than Tatis was. The wrap up is there is a cheap base here to work with so signing Tatis doesn't hem the Padres in. 

The Nats have three big deals this year (Max, Corbin, Stras) and two of those continue into the future three more years after that. A big deal for Soto make it really hard for the Nats to make additional moves. And they need to because their next most important player, Trea Turner, comes up for FA in two years and they have no real base of good young players, still hoping for Garcia and Kieboom and some pitcher PLEASE to come through. The wrap up here is that they almost can't do it this year because of the payroll they have and it's going to be tough to do it beyond that AND sign Turner. You can finagle the money but if you do you are saying these four - Stras Corbin Turner and Soto are the guys the Nats are paying in 2023 and 2024 and you have to pray that they all are good.

What does Tatis mean for Soto? Another bar is set. This year Soto will show if he's worth more than that bar. Then the Nats will have to make some decisions

Best case? Garcia and Kieboom both develop. Stras and Corbin pitch great. The Nats can sign Soto, say best wishes to Trea and move forward continuing to challenge for division titles and playoff spots

"Worst" case? Garcia and Kieboom both don't develop. Stras and Corbin aren't great. The Nats have to trade away assets hoping to get a set of good prospects to build around Soto and Trea.

Real worst case? The "worst" case but Stras is hurt and Corbin is mediocre. The Nats have next to nothing to deal other than Trea and they can't convince Soto to stick around if they deal him, forcing a catch-22 where they aren't going to get playoff good again without getting very lucky or spending a lot of money.

Wednesday, February 17, 2021

The Biggest Questions

Every year you enter Spring Training with questions. You like questions like "Which one of our phenoms will win the 5th starter role?" or "Will we have to successfully platoon our OF again or will someone break out?"  Those aren't the questions the Nats have though. The Nats have the questions of a good but not great team and those questions are going to make or break the season. 

The first, and most important, set have everything to do with starting pitching

1) Is Strasburg healthy?  You remember Strasburg didn't sit out last year, it just felt like it. He pitched, got hurt, went off and had surgery. The official word is for carpal tunnel. He's supposed to be ready for ST. We shall see

2) Which Corbin is the real Corbin? Last "year" Corbin threw to a 4.66 ERA and it was mostly deserved.  His history is a guy with as many ace years as middling ones. The Nats signed him for more than one ace year. 

3) Does Jon Lester have one more good year in him?  Lester is going to eat up innings. We should expect that. But if he does it like 2019/2020 that will be 4th/5th starter material.  That's not terrible - you NEED that. But it is not what the Nats were hoping for when they signed him. 

Now we get a non SP question

4) What is Carter Kieboom? He's had a decent amount of time in the majors and has shown nothing. He's shown so little he was offered up as trade bait from a team loathe to trade anyone young and good because they don't have many of those. It's not time to give up on him but the clock is ticking. 

And back to SP 

5) Does Max have a CY year in him?  In 2019 Max got a little hurt and threw a ton of innings.  Last year he put up a good year. But for Max good is off. It was his worst year since at least 2012. The Nats need an ace. With Stras coming back from injury and Corbin a question, Max is the one they are looking to for it. 

And back away

6) Are Schwarber and Bell going to be any good? They both have generally the same profile - potential mashers who are defensive liabilities that have seen better years. If they don't hit, and they haven't in their most recent time playing, things get ugly fast. Presumably their other skill (a little patience) is based off them being able to hit. 

7) Can Trea have another year like last? This hasn't been talked about enough but a big reason the Nats weren't complete garbage last year is that Trea put up MVP type numbers. That'd be nice. A season like he normally puts up would be fine but would leave a big hole behind Soto in guys to be afraid of. 

8) Can Robles hit? Asking because they need him out there to field (we presume last year's dip was the vagaries of small samples) and he really hasn't for most of his time in the majors 

 and finally a fun one

9) Can Soto do what he did last year for a full season? Last year Soto, in about 80% of a season that itself was about 40% a real one so... about 30% a real season was AWESOME. Like "mark this year in the annals of the great ones" type of hitting. Bryce in 2015*. If he does that for a full year... you can carry a team a long way like that.  


Lesser Questions

Who wins the 5th starter role? 

Will Yan Gomes be good or below average? 

How will the bullpen shake out in terms of roles?

Castro for the full year? or will Garcia show enough to knock him out? 


*Imagine seeing two of the best hitting displays of the past generation and neither leading to a playoff spot.

Tuesday, February 16, 2021

Tuesday Quickie - no news is good news

The NL East has changed very little in the last big moves of FA.  Justin Turner went back to the Dodgers. Paxton back to the Mariners. Mark Melancon over to San Diego. These impactful and potentially impactful players will be doing their work elsewhere. 

The biggest name still on the list is Jackie Bradley Jr, but the teams who could use him aren't interested. The Phillies - with Adam Haseley and Roman Quinn and Scott Kingery maybe? Fighting for the last OF spot have never been in on him. The Mets - with Albert Almora - made a move signing Kevin Pillar signifying they are going with the "throw things at wall" strategy for CF. 

Trevor Rosenthal is another name that could help but once again the team that made the most sense - the Mets have defaulted to signing two AAAA depth arms in Mike Montgomery and Tommy Hunter - despite losing Lugo to injury for at least a little while. Although these are minor league deals they seem to signify the same "We're done, any place else we'll try 5 guys to see if one works out" strategy which almost never works. In theory the Mets and Phllies are still in it but I'm not sure I see it. Kela also went to Padres. Shane Greene? Jeffress? These guys can't be done

 That leaves Jake Odorizzi (and maybe Taijuan Walker if you must) and at least the Mets and Phillies are interested in these guys - however neither is the top suitor. I think it'd be fun if the Nats swooped in and grabbed Walker - who if he can stay healthy would be a great 5 but my guess is he wants a multi-year commitment and the Nats aren't doing that. 

This leaves the NL East as it was - a mess of four teams that talent wise probably sorts out Mets-Braves-Nats-Phillies but could fall any way. Let's see if either the Mets or Phillies try something*

Pitchers and catchers and an abnormal spring with things getting more normal every day.

*If the Phillies signed Odorizzi AND Rosenthal (or a good pitcher I overlooked) I'd have to see if they pass the Nats. They are a pretty solid 4th so I doubt it unless we find out Stras is not ready. The Mets are a pretty solid 1st on paper - but you just have to doubt the Mets.

Thursday, February 11, 2021

Reworking "Future Hall of Famer" list

MLB.com put out a future Hall of Famer list that generated some interested conversation. Everyone felt the list was far too deep in that there aren't 40 guys with a legit shot at the Hall active today. Others felt that it was FAR FAR FAR too deep and the list ended with maybe 7-8 guys.  So as a public service I'm going to rework the list. First the no-work part

The absolute no-doubt tier

Albert Pujols, Mike Trout

These are the guys that if they retired today they are in first ballot and no one is thinking about it. There would be a couple snide remarks about Pujols' falling off a cliff and Trout's lack of post-season success but what's there is there and can't be denied 

The gonna get in but enough will vote against 

Miggy, Kershaw, Scherzer, VERLANDER

These guys all have had runs of dominance which spell HoF.  Miggy and Kershaw will probably end up with close to the numbers people like to see (3000 hits for Miggy, Kershaw at 250+ wins). Max won't get there but a 3 Cy Youngs and a Top 5 vote seven years in a row is definitely worthy. Still someone will poke holes - Miggy with the terrible back end. Kershaw with his post-season travails. Max with no career numbers. But they'll get in. Maybe first, likely first, depends on the rest of their careers. Also Verlander fits here (who I forgot to add initially)

The eventually he'll have to 

Greinke

Stats are there and he feels like the type of pitcher that could go another 7 years on guile alone. If he does that he'll move up. Otherwise it'll be a situation where anyone you compare falls short of him and you got to let him in.

 

Also two other no-thought tiers

The catcher tier 

Posey, Molina

Catchers are a different species of player. These are two guys with different skill sets, Posey more the hitter, Molina more the defender, who were arguably the most important player through multiple titles. I'd bet they both get in 

The reliever tier

Chapman, Jansen

Who knows? The voters don't seem to have a good grasp on this yet - maybe in a decade when these guys come up they will 


OK for everyone else this list misses the important point of age. WAR is nice but age at current WAR is a better indicator.  Also pitchers and hitters are different.  So what I did was create an index that lists a low end and high end WAR guess for the age and compared it to each batter and pitcher. These indexes (the Dawson-Pujols and Mussina-Kershaw indeces to be precise) give us an idea of who is on track, who is technically close and who is a joke. 

On track batters

Everyone young (up to 25): Correa, Bellinger (surprised me but he did win an MVP last year at 23), Acuna, Soto and Tatis Jr.  Correa has his own issues with the cheating - we'll find out soon if that's what puts him on here.  There are some Nats fans I know that think the Acuna to Soto comparison is a joke. Soto is a much better hitter, Acuna is a better all around player but not enough to account for the bat difference as of now.  Ultimately though think of this as a Frank vs Mays type thing going on. Acuna may not be Soto but he's no joke so far. 

Lindor - and at his position this bodes well. 

Machado, Bryce, and Betts - Bryce and Manny aren't slouches but Mookie has blown by these guys in the last few years and he has the rings.  He has a real good chance.  Bryce and Manny though are solidly in line and if they stay healthy there is no reason to think they won't have favorable career numbers that get them in. 

On track pitchers

Cole - Being on the Yankees should help him rack up Ws. Some award and some titles though will go a long way or else he's got to keep doing what he's been doing for another whole decade

Technically close batters (within a couple great years of getting into the range)

Votto, Goldschmidt, Freeman, Rendon, Altuve, Stanton, Yelich, Ramirez, Bogaerts, Bregman, Seager

Some of these surprised me - Yelich really crushed it in 18-19 and never has had a bad year. And some are closer (Stanton) than others (Goldschmidt) but all have a chance.  Obviously the older you are the worse your chance. Sorry Votto. You might be the greatest walk machine of this generation but another couple years with your weakening bat and you won't have .400/.500 to fall back on. 

Technically close pitchers

Sale, Bieber, Buehler

Anyone young (Beiber and Buehler) and Sale who was on track until his 2019 Tommy John

Joke batters

Rizzo, Bryant, Story, Arenado

Come up Trevor Story? That's INSANE.  Rizzo and Bryant are two guys who have been good to very good consistently but little more. They'd need to have surprising career changes.  Trevor Story would have to bribe the voters. Trevor Story... HAHAHAHAHAH

 Arenado may be a different case because of his defense, but his offense isn't dominant. 

Joke pitchers? 

deGrom, Strasburg

I put the question mark there because you can in your head easily make a case for these guys being amont the best pitchers in baseball over the last 5 years. The problem is not quality but quantity. deGrom, who's 2 Cy Youngs are probably one away from forcing the issue, didn't have his first full season until he was 27.  Strasburg who has been a very good to great pitcher since showing up - W totals be damned, and who's post-season success demand he stay in the conversation - has two full seasons in his entire career. The back ends are going to make or break these cases.  If they fall apart now they just don't have enough to get in. If they can throw another full half-decade there will probably be too much great pitching to offset not enough good. This is not a good omen for Stras though currently out with an injury. 


Anyone they are leaving out? 

Bumgarner is the only one that definitely should be on this list. Wins are bad but has individual stats and post season heroics

Hamels has late career compiling potential (but he's not on a roster now so that may be it). Nola has a sneaky good start to his career. Maybe he turns a corner. 

Longoria is in that 3rd base hole where positionally he'll rank well but overall the numbers aren't great. He's never been bad though in 13 years. McCutchen needs to stay healthy and rack up numbers - but also has never been bad in a dozen year (and had some great years). I don't like either really but they aren't any worse list choices than Rizzo and Bryant. So I guess I'm saying leave them out)

Matt Chapman is better than Story. Not that he should be in here but he'd be a better choice


Conclusion

This list isn't TERRIBLE.  It could be pared down by cutting out Bieber, Buehler, Tatis Jr (too early) and Story, Rizzo and Bryant at least. 

Out of the remaining, really I'd say Betts, Bryce, Machado, and Lindor are solid bets and the starts from Acuna and Soto are so impressive you have to keep him in. Pitching wise it's like four coin flips in Cole, Sale, deGrom and Stras.

Wednesday, February 10, 2021

Zimmermann and the unknowable long term deal

As you all know, I'm generally 100% right on everything I say. It's spooky really.  However, a signing yesterday points out that generally isn't always.  Jordan Zimmermann, his deal with the Tigers up, has signed a minor league deal with his hometown Brewers. At the same time Max hopes to rebound and have another close to Cy Young-ish type season to end his contract with the Nats. If Max were a FA while he wouldn't get a huge deal - he is going to be 36 next season - would clearly get a well paid major league deal of multiple years. My personal error in judgement? Six or so years ago when I said I would rather have Jordan Zimmermann than Max Scherzer.  

Now this wasn't based on the idea of ZNN being a better pitcher than Max.  I thought Max was (slightly) better*.  It was based on my feelings that ZNN was a better bet to be healthy for the entirity of the contract. After having Tommy John surgery, ZNN had basically not missed a game in 5 years, seemingly unbreakable in a way that the Nats other ace pitcher - Strasburg - was not. On the other side Max had also been a rock - basically not missing a start for 6 years.  But age, Max is nearly two years older than ZNN, and use, Max had an extra 350 IP on his arm, suggested the safer bet would be ZNN. 

You all know the Nats basically passed on ZNN. They offered him a low-end market deal and he walked to Detroit. You also know that he didn't amount to anything with the Tigers disappearing into the ether. But how did that happen?  Well here is his 2016. 

Up until May 22nd : A health ZNN puts up a 7-2 2.52 ERA line. His K's are down a tiny bit (6.67 K/9) but his control is lights-out (~1.5 BB/9) and he's keeping the ball in the park (0.8 HR/9)

May 22nd : Hurts groin. Misses a start, comes back to put up a series of mediocre performances in June

July 4th : Hurts neck. Put on DL. Misses a month 

Aug 6th : Comes back for a start. Is terrible. Hurts lat. Back to the DL 

Sept 10th : Comes back. Is terrible. Pitches a few more random times before end of the year.  Looking slightly better.

It's a nightmare scenario where one injury leads to another leads to another. He would power through and pitch 29 games in 2017 (bad), 25 in 2018 (ok) and 23 in 2019 (bad) but he clearly wasn't the same pitcher. That pinpoint control that led to his dominant years was gone. Walks ticked up, hits even more so, and the homers nearly doubled.

Meanwhile Max stayed injury free through 2018 and only had a minor one in 2019. It's possible that leads to a cascade like ZNN had. Max's 2020 showed that same progression in losing the strike zone and being more wild, hittable, and able to be crushed, though not as terrible. But having it come in the last year of a long contract, instead of the first year makes ALL the difference. Max's is going to the Hal of Fame. ZNN is going to be a name in a book. 

This is a warning though for the Nats who harbor two long pitching contracts. Corbin signed through 2024 and Stras through 2026.  Corbin had a 2020 more like his pre-FA year in Arizona. Strasburg in 2020 got hurt after his ultra-rare healthy year in 2019.**  The Nats are counting on both these guys being aces for the next few years. Max is aging out. There is no one in the immediate pipeline. They are eating up contract money. If one (or god forbid both) pull a Zimmermann and have 2020 be the first year in a series of years that don't measure up due to injury or whatever, the Nats are going to have a tough time being the team they have been - the consistent winner and playoff presence.

What do the Nats do then? If Stras and Corbin aren't good in 2021? A long term deal for Max is not going to happen - but he could be back for 2-3 years. He could also bolt for somewhere that will give him 3-4. Do the Nats tear down, hoping to rebuild with young pitching before the giant outlay that will likely be needed to keep Juan Soto? Or do they push on with the guys they have - hoping to puzzle things together? Well, I guess we hope there is no question, that Stras and Corbin are great in 2021 and the Nats can move on as planned.

*Say what you want to say - memory is often clouded by desire to make yourself look good - but no one had Max being the best pitcher in baseball from age 31-34. In the three years leading up to the Max signing their ERA+ were nearly identical - ZNN's control matching up nicely against Max's Ks.

** basically his second full season of his career in 10 years in the game

Monday, February 08, 2021

Monday Quickie - Bauer to the Me....Dodgers!

 A quiet weekend for once.  Although not really. The Braves did sign Ozuna on Friday. 

It's been a wild 30 days for the NL East. We have seen 

January 7th - Mets trade for Lindor/Carrasco

January 9th - Nats sign Schwarber

January 18th - Phillies sign Archie Bradley

January 26th - Nats sign Brad Hand

January 27th - Nats sign Jon Lester

January 29th - Phillies re-sign Realmuto

January 30th - Phillies re-sign Gregorious

February 5th - Braves sign Marcell Ozuna 

This isn't mentioning more minor deals. The Nats solidified their back-up catcher spot with Avila. The Mets signed Aaron Loup who will be a decent pen arm and traded for Joey Lucchesi a solid 4-5 who will give them rotation depth. The Phillies gambled on Sam Coonrod and Matt Moore. 

The end result to this is nearly all the holes in these teams are filled. I think the Mets could use one more reliable bullpen arm - after Diaz* it's a mess - and they could get one.  I think the Phillies really need a 1-2-3 type starter and they probably won't get that.

Who's left to make a difference? 

Jake Odorizzi - I can't see anyone but the Phillies making this move (and they really should) T

Justin Turner - Nats are the ones with the room for him but they'd have to deal Kieboom first. Phillies and Braves have young guys they'd like to try who have looked better than Kieboom. Mets have solid major leaguers already so the bump wouldn't be much.

Jackie Bradley Jr - an intriguing one for the Phillies. Quinn needs to be pushed out and Haseley is a question. Mets kicking the tires as currently they have settled with Almora - a bad settle.

James Paxton / Taijuan Walker - could help anyone. Tough to rely on though so would be a fun gamble for a Nats or Braves who could use a little more depth if gotten cheap - which is unlikely. Would be in rotation for Phillies which would be iffy. Mets full.

Trevor Rosenthal - everyone can use an arm but the Nats have to be gun shy and the Braves are pretty full. Mets make sense

Yadier Molina - no one needs a starter and he's not going to back-up

Cole Hamels - Phillies here too. Braves you could say "we need a great vet to teach" but they probably don't actually need that. The Nats would be fun if only because a rotation of Max Stras Corbin Lester and Hamels would sound unbeatble even though that's only true in a world where you can pick the ages of your pitchers.

Mark Melancon - Mets or Phillies should jump on this reliable arm if they can get a 1-2 yr deal (which they should) .   Not the same guy but until you stop producing... 


There's a world here where the NL East gets even better.  The Nats sign Turner (and trade Kieboom for something interesting). The Phillies sign JBJ, Odorizzi, and one of the relievers**.  The Mets sign the other one.  the Braves bring in Paxton or Walker to try to luck out into another 1-2. Make it happen guys!


*Hey I like Diaz! Everything points to 2019 being the fluke. 

 **  In this instance you have a funny situation where the Phillies probably have (1) the 8th-10th best rotation in baseball and (2) clearly the 4th best rotation in the NL East.

Wednesday, February 03, 2021

Better Red than Dead

Sean Doolittle is gone - signed with the Reds with his spot in the bullpen taken up by Brad Hand. I liked Doolittle. He was very very good in those first 70 games with the Nats, then not so good in the last 70 thanks in most part to injuries that have been his bugaboo throughout his career. Last year he was downright awful and Brad Hand is very very good and more importantly more reliably healthy. It's a pretty clear choice. Although at 1.5 million Doolittle could be a huge bargain.

Interestingly enough peak Doolittle is just as good, if not better than Hand 

Peak Doolittle years 

69 IP, 0.957 WHIP, 0.5 HR/9, 7.8 K/9

62.2 IP, 0.734 WHIP, 0.7 HR/9, 12.8 K/9

51.1 IP, 0.857 WHIP, 0.9 HR/9, 10.9 K/9

45.0 IP, 0.600 WHIP, 0.6 HR/9, 12.00 K/9

But you see I'm already looking at a 45 IP season and this is across 8 years from 2013-2020. Hand wasn't quite as dominant in his four years as a reliever (he was a part time starter for Miami before settling in full-time as a reliever) but pitched 89, 79, 72, innings in his first three relief seasons (2016-2018) He did have a "tired elbow" in 2019 which cost him about a month of time and reduced his IP to 57 but it didn't seem to effect his pitching and he was perfectly fine last year. If the Nats are to be competitive they need this kind of expected performance. 

Doolittle, while breaking down, was used pretty judiciously by Martinez in 2019s playoffs and he was very good in his performances throwing 10 innings of around a 2.00 ERA and he was almost perfect in 2017. 

 

The last point is of interest to me because I wonder how much Doolittle is liked by the Nats fanbase. There is certainly a bunch of online Nats fans who love him. He's an outspoken liberal in a sports world that is full of mostly quiet conservatives. He was also very fan forward in terms of interactions and getting out into the community.  Stats wise there's a lot more positive than negative. 

However that's also the case (the latter point) with Tyler Clippard. He's by far the best reliever in terms of career value that the Nats have ever had. He literally threw 450IP of 2.64 ERA ball He never had a bad season. And yet whenever I bring him up there are one or two guys (out of the few that comment here) that want to make it clear they didn't like him and didn't think he was good. If you don't think Clippard was good - can you think any non-dominant relief pitcher is good?

Good luck to Doolittle. I hope he gets healthy and if he does Cincy has a steal (which I'm sure they'll trade later in the season)

Monday, February 01, 2021

Monday Quickie - Arenado to the Cards

Monday update Nolan Arenando goes to the Cardinals? What does that mean for the Nats? For the NL? 


Arenado had a bad year last year but assuming that doesn't hold and it's COVID shenanigans he's a very good bat and a great glove. It probably doesn't give the Cardinals a good offense, but if they can get to average the defense and pitching would make them NL Central favorites. It's always worse to play better teams, but it doesn't directly effect the Nats.

The NL Central is weird.  The Pirates obviously are tanking. The Cubs had the making of a dynasty after 2016 and tried to make it happen but it didn't. They made the playoffs 3 of the next 4 years, but caught bad luck in 2019, and got edged out of a division in 2018.  Add a little playoff failure and you get a solid but unmemorable run after that magic moment. Now it seems like they want to pack it in but also realize that the division is so weak they really should put up some minimal effort.  The Brewers built up to a couple of magic seasons but really never went all in to do it and it seems like they have no intention of ever actually really trying beyond that moment. They've made almost no moves this offseason. The Reds are taking the Brewers plan a step further - building up a decent team but not even half-trying to get a couple contending seasons. It's not happening with just what they had on hand so now they are rebuilding yet again.

What does this all mean for the Nats?  One of these teams is going tank. Maybe two teams will.  Because these teams are decent and competitive in recent history that's a lot of talent that could be available as the playoff push starts. The Nats don't have a lot to offer. They might honestly have the worst minor league system in baseball and were almost shut out of every Top 100 list until Cavalli snuck in at 99 on one. But if there is a glut of teams selling and talent available? Maybe even the Nats can get something done.

The other thing this means is that The WC is probably coming down to an NL East team (or two - if expanded) and the Dodgers/Padres not division winner.* That is pretty good odds for the Nats.

 

 *Probably - you can see a way one NL Central team surprises and the other tanks and that gets them a lot of wins.

Wednesday, January 27, 2021

NL East - Where it stands

This is going to be a weird year. In part because COVID is going to impact at least the first half BUT also because we don't have a great idea on the quality of the teams, last year was only 60 games AND also because we don't know what the decreased (or completly missed) seasons will do for players.  Will they be rusty? Will they be rested? Will the old guys be too old to get back into the swing? Will the young guys feel the effect of missing necessary playing time? 

But we do what we can and what we can do it step back and look at the teams in the NL East, how they were the last two years and what they've done leading up to this year

Atlanta

2019: 97-65, 2020 : 35-25

Lost : Hamels, Melancon, Markakis, Ozuna, Greene, Flowers, Duvall, O'Day, Foltynewicz

Re-Signed : Tomlin

Signed : Smyly, Morton 

The Braves had a stupid deep pen last year so even though they lost three very good arms they still are probably ok there. The worst you can say is they introduced some chance of failure that wasn't there before. The rotation should be stronger (Hamels was just a one start rental, Folty a hit or miss 3-4-5 guy). Is the offense going to be an issue? Maybe. Ozuna was a beast last year and while Flowers wasn't great, he had a decent 2019 and you didn't feel too bad with him sneaking a game in there in relief for d'Arnaud. These losses could be made up by young guys stepping up : Riley, Albies, Pache but that's no guarantee. 

Better, Worse or Push : I'll say push, and I like worse more than better. 

 

Washington

2019: 93-69, 2020 : 26-34

Lost : MAT, As Cab, Doolittle, Eaton, Kendrick, Suzuki, Sanchez, Thames

Re-Signed :  Zimmerman

Signed/Traded for : Bell, Schwarber, Wellington Castillo, Lester, Hand

The prevailing thought is that Nats rotation gets a little better with Lester eating up innings and their relief group gets a lot better with Hand replacing Doolittle (sorry Doo - you weren't bad but he's very very good). I'm not sure I agree or at least there's still a lot of variability here - Stras' injury being number one, but also Max and Corbin's steps back and relying on Finnegan and Rainey who looked pretty good but also don't have a long record and aren't young guns (29 and 28 next year respectively) so they aren't likely to blossom into something special. That's a long sentence to say the pen has some of it's usual "who knows" and now that's spread to the rotation, which is not good.

The offense however should be better than last year, where 1B and the OF other than Soto were dead zones. Bell and Schwarber are guaranteed to be better, maybe good, maybe not good but definitely better. If Kieboom and Garcia aren't terrible and if Trea is 80% of what he was last year which is a good bet... well that's not a great seven man offense but guess what? Juan Soto is GREAT and can carry that to a Top 5 offense*

Better, Worse or Push : Hmmm ok I think it's better but in part that's because I think last year broke much worse for the Nats than it should have. Can they be a 90+ win team again is what people want to know and the answer is yes BUT I don't think they are better than 2019 because there's just too many question marks in that rotation. Could be? Yes. Should be? Probably one of the Top 3 is going to disappoint a little and stop that from happening


Mets

2019: 86-76, 2020 : 26-34

Lost : Strickland, Cespedes, Chrinos, Frazier, Lowrie, Porcello, Ramos, Stroman, Wacha, Justin Wilson, Cano (suspend), Shreve

Re-Signed : Stroman

Signed/Traded :Aroldys Vizcaino, James McCann, Lindor, Carrasco, Trevor May, 

The Mets are better on paper, but they always are. Then something happens. Injuries, crashes, whatever. They are better because Carrasco fills the Porcello hole (crash), Stroman the Wacha role (crash). McCann picks up from Ramos and should be no worse. Lindor immediately makes the infield better and fills a lineup hole. If Guillorme can be just average, and he was surprisingly good last year, it's a lineup with no holes. The pen is a mess but it was a mess last year. May helps but Lugo and Betances need to get their heads on straight like Diaz did for the Mets to be complete

Better, Worse or Push : sigh... better but that's somehow not going to matter. If it does - they still sit at 3rd best in the East a half step behind the Nats.

 

Phillies

2019: 81-81, 2020 : 28-32

Lost : Arrieta, Gregorius, Bruce, Tommy Hunter, Adam Morgan, Blake Parker, David Phelps, David Robertson

Re-Signed :  Realmuto

Signed/Traded : Jose Alvarado, Coonrod, Bradley

The Phillies remade their pen which given last year is understandable. Not all the guys they let go were bad but most were and the three arms they brought in and the general back and forthness of pens should help that area improve. But the pitching staff and line-up are both spinning wheels. For the line-up that's not too bad. They'll miss Didi, but Kingery shouldn't be mind-numbingly bad again and JT, Bryce, Rhys, Segura and McCutchen is a core that can put up some runs, especially if Bohm can hit again (or if he can't if Kingery or Haseley hit). But for the rotation.. the Top 3 aren't bad but Howard is a question mark and the 5 spot is a prayer.

Better, Worse or Push : Talent wise it's a push. This is still a .500ish team, more leaning toward 82/83 wins than 79/80. This is a team that needs another big move to compete in a hard division, not some tinkering. Another starter or big bat would be that (preferably the starter). It's kind of like the whole season hinges on Spencer Howard emerging as a ROY candidate in the 4th spot. That's a bit much to say but just a bit.

 

Marlins

2019: 57-105, 2020 : 31-29

Lost :Villar, Cervelli, Joyce,  Boxberger, Vincent, Kintzler, Urena

Re-Signed

Signed : Detwiler, Sandy Leon

This is pretty easy. The Marlins let a lot of chaff go, veteran guys in there to eat up innings and at bats if necessary but also some useful relief pieces. They didn't do much of anything to replace them.  When your pick-up are guys not good enough for the Nats to keep 8 seasons ago, the talent on the team is not getting better through moves

Better, Worse or Push : They should be worse than last year in my opinion. They got lucky in performances Rojas isn't going to put up that line again. Neither probably is Berti. The offense will be terrible. They got lucky in how the wins broke.  How not bad they may be is up to the young starting pitching. This is a team way closer to 57-105 than 31-29. Don't worry about the Marlins.

 

 

*Don't think so? Look at 2015.  Bryce dragged that squad to #3. What an awful lineup. 

Monday, January 25, 2021

Yes yes yes

 Lester and now Hand.  Very quickly in lieu of the larger posts


Lester - meh.  1 year, 5 mill basically tells you what it is. He's here to fill in the 4-5 spot with innings and not terrible pitching. The former is very likely. they guy is a horse who hasn't missed time... well ever. You want 170+ innings you'll probably not have a better bet from someone who turned 37 a few weeks ago.the latter is less so. The guys stuff is on an inexorable slide last year striking out the fewest men of his career (6.2 per 9 last year) and by far the fewest since he was a pup of 24 (6.5 per 9).  Granted 2019 was more normal so who's to say? Still if you are worried he's improved his control to counter this decline. His numbers in the past couple years better than the couple before that, BUT he's getting hit like crazy Worst and 4th worst H/9 of his career and giving up homers too (worst and 2nd worst).  

The take away is the guy is getting worse. Far more hittable.  Even if he can K more and keep his walks down it's not like he's elite in either case. When you aren't doing those two great you need to keep the hits and homers in check and he's doing the opposite of that. Best case is he struggles along with a 4.50 ERA and does the job.  Worst case is he flames out and doesn't help the Nats at all. I can't see anything much better, sorry

 

Hand on the other... hand is great!  He's not old. He's been very good to fantastic for 5 seasons. Healthy too! Last years numbers were probably an aberration BABIP low, BB/9 way low for his career, LOB% low. But even if they all regress to his normal he's still going to be very good. This is a no downside move.  With Harris, who was good last year and historically is very good in recent years. The Nats should have a very good back end of the pen.  After that they only need one of the other guys to hit to have a real formidable back end and if two do - that's a deep pen.  

Hudson probably isn't as bad as last year's gopher ball pitcher but he's probably merely ok. 2019 is a fluke year. Tanner Rainey definitely has swing and miss stuff but a .129 BABIP last year is not going to be repeated. The question is how real the decrease in his walk rate is. If so I'd bet on him.  Finnegan I'm probably rank last just because he's a guy that relies on keeping the ball in the pack and little else. Decent Ks, bad walks, normal hits... yeah if he gives up just a couple more homers he's a guy that could see his ERA jump easy. But again - only one has to hit here. Or someone out of the blue! An Albers like FA signing. Some random rookie. Whatever. 

One thing to note here - even though these guys are new to the Nats they aren't young. Rainey is 28, Finnegan 29, Suero around that. So they've got a couple years left but not like a half-decade plus

Sunday, January 10, 2021

Schwarber

Just 4+ years after he was one of the hottest commodities in baseball, the Nats land Kyle Schwarber.  The contract itself isn't too important (7 million in 2021, 3 million in 2022 + a mutual option in 2022 for 11 million) as what it means. This is it. This is the decision for the OF next year.  No Springer. No Brantley. No Ozuna.  It's Schwarber. 

So what is Schwarber? He's a "three true outcome"ish player, who homers, strikes out and walks. His HR/FB is insanely consistent, not quite elite but close. His walk rate is a bit better but still not tops. What is? Well, his strikeout rate can get to "worst" levels. But still as a combo you'll take it if he's knocking enough balls over the fence and having enough other hits here and there.

That was the case in 2018 and 2019 but not the case in 2020.  What happened? Well as always with the "COVID year" caveat, he hit a bunch of balls into the ground and pulled them. There was also a little more chasing.  All these could be connected in either direction. He's not getting the hits he wants, gets frustrated and starts swinging at more pitches or he starts swinging at more pitches and his bad contact leads to bad hits.  Either way - that's what's needs to be fixed because a repeat of 2020, where he hit .188, would be disastrous, regardless of how many of those are going over the fence and how many walks he's taking. 

I kind of downplay 2020 in a way that I wouldn't normally do with recent years - especially if there are no trends leading into it (which there are none that I see here), so I'm fairly confident that he can get back to 2019 levels, at least for a year. 

Of course there's the other thing baseball players do - field, and Kyle is... ok look, he's not good. You can squint and cut his fielding data and manage to make him seem ok, but size, age, total history, recent history, eyeball test; he fails all those. He came in and was god awful, he tried really hard and got to average but time catches up to everyone and when you are roly poly it catches up with you a little earlier a lot of the time. I am very pessimistic he'll be any good in the field, playing in his first new stadium, with a CF that has to also help out on the other side*

What do I see in 2021? I see a bad fielder that's going to drive us, and especially Victor LF2/CF/RF2 Robles, crazy. This makes making sure he corrects his batting this year incredibly crucial. 

Anything else?

  • Is he a righty crusher?  Ehhhh, nah. He hits them better but he also sees them more. It's probably more honest to say he shouldn't see lefties. But it's probably MOST honest to say - look he's going to hit lefties worse but he'll still walk and hit homers so just keep sending him out because that's why you have him in the line-up. 
  • Last year he didn't hit FBs as well and he always could hit FBs so that's not a great sign.
  • He generally hits better in Wrigley but last year that didn't hold, so that's a good sign. Though H/A splits usually aren't super indicative unless the home park is wacky like Coors
  • For whatever reason Schwarber has had the fewest ABs in Nats Park than any other NL park that's been still open. Just 20. Hell he's had more PAs in Cleveland than Washington (he's been fine in DC but with 20 PAs- who knows)

I think the Nats got a bad fielder that will give the team fits. However, I think there's still a decent hitter in there. I think it will come out next year.  If he's GOOD at the plate - for one season it'll be fine and it'll be fun to watch him launch some bombs. If he's not good - even if he's ok - it probably won't be enough. He probably won't be as good as Ozuna, or Springer, or Brantley so if you are the type to dwell over that stuff (even though all of them will get multi year more expensive deals)...prepare now. 

Oh - another thing though is what is Kyle replacing? The Nats were terrible in the 3rd OF position last year. I have to believe unless it blows up Schwarber will make it better. Probably not good, but maybe average (which it was in 2019). 

The bar is kind of low for "better"  Schwarber makes the Nats better. He doesn't make them good (and neither does Bell) but they set up a situation where they could be... if the aces comes through.

*remember Juan Soto is not a good fielder. Despite how badly you want to believe it. He is good enough now to stick out there, but not good. Moving from LF to RF will be another issue