Nationals Baseball: October 2021

Friday, October 29, 2021

Off-Season Position Discussion : Second Base

2nd base for the Nats in 2021 was the temporary fix of Josh Harrison with the hopes that eventually Luis Garcia would graduate to the role. Harrison played fine and hit well which made him a trade target and eventually saw him shipped to the A's.  Garcia was yo-yo'd up and down as the first injury replacement (or maybe initially the second but Kieboom was so bad) and never quite got the hang of the majors, sitting around a .200 average. After the trade deadline he was up for good and he flirted a couple time with looking like he was settling in only to slump again. However the last half of September provided some hope as Garcia hit .290+ in arguably his longest stretch of decent hitting of his career.

Jordy Mercer played 2B as well but he was a veteran stop-gap and there isn't much reason to talk about him. Well at least right now

Presumed Plan : Garcia first up with some sort of veteran stop gap back-up. 

Reasoning behind Presumed Plan : You can't fill every position with a FA, and the Nats only have so many (or really so few) prospects. Garcia is one of them, he hit in AAA last year, so he starts, much like Ruiz at catcher. While he never settled, he also never looked overwhelmed and given he'll be an old 21 next year that's perfectly fine. He should get all next year to try to make it work, and probably a year or two more after that depending. This not only is about hitting. Garcia's fielding wasn't all that great and if he can't play 2B and is able to hit but needs to be shifted to 3B that's something useful to know sooner rather than later. 

Since next year is a lost year it really shouldn't matter who they bring back to fill that role. For example if they do go out and sign a SS then Alcides Escobar can probably fill that role while also backing up SS.  I'd expect this person to start less than 20 games next year unless something goes terribly wrong with Garcia. That can happen (see, Kieboom, Carter) but most likely if he's not good that means he bottomed out at below average and you just let him play through it.

My take : Yes. Do this. Garcia may not be ready, but he's hit .254 over 110 major league games now so I don't see what sending him back down to the minors would help. He doesn't strike out much, especially in this day and age. His K rate was 17%, so he's not learning that. He hit for power in AAA in a way he didn't in the majors (or any time else in his career), so he's not working on that. Walks? Yeah he could definitely use some work there but are you going to really send him down for patience and fielding practice? Maybe if you were a manipulative GM and the clock hadn't started but Rizzo isn't that and it has. 

So he plays and he plays as often as possible. 4 out of every 5 days or so would work. Expectations for next year should be pretty low. Maybe a .260 average and 15 homers (and like 30 walks - seriously he does need to work on that)? And if he's there, great! That's real close to league average. You bump it up in 2023 to something like .275 and 20 and 40 walks and you have a useful major leaguer.  If he's not there, that's fine too. You mark 2023 as needing to see some improvement. Again he's 21/22 next year. Precious few players are Soto or Bryce types who can give you something even GOOD at that age. 

The only thing that derails this plan is if it's Memorial Day and he's hitting like .150 or .190 with 1 homer or hitting .210 with 3 homers but striking out a third of the time. You know, problems. He's gotta give you SOMETHING and you can't be worried about him getting messed up in the majors. That's all. There's the line. 

As for the back-up.  Doesn't matter much. If they don't sign a SS, Alcides gets penciled in there and you sign a bargain basement type for a million and forget about it. That's the "right now" part in the Mercer evaluation above. You need someone to stick in there if Garcia needs a day off. Mercer was fine in that role this year. Personally I see more value in someone that can teach Garcia some defense. Taking a quick glance Jason Kipnis, who spent all of 2021 in the minors for ATL even though he arguably could have been someones spot starter, isn't a bad choice. Seems perfect in the Nats "you used to be good, come here and have one more good year for us" strategy. But you get the point 

With Kieboom entering on-field bust territory, Garcia is the future of the Nats IF along with Brady House who could be here in 2023 or 2025 - we don't know.  What we do know is Garcia is here now and we should see all the Garcia we can possibly take next season. 

Wednesday, October 27, 2021

Off-Season Position Discussion : First Base

As we went over in "lucky/unlucky" the Nats, or more precisely Mike Rizzo, actually did quite well in offensive pick-ups last year, bringing in a number of players who performed near the top of expectations. One of those players was Josh Bell, who the Nats traded for right before Christmas*. Along with Ryan Zimmerman, Bell manned first base for pretty much the entire season and after a dreadfully slow start (bottomed out at .133 / .198 / .289 on May the 12th) he'd perform quite well in the remaining 75% of the season (.287 / .375 / .513) and end up with a season like you probably would have hoped from Josh; ok average, a few walks, some good power. Add in passable defense and a likeable personality and he's a steal for his price (likely around 10 million next year)

Zimmerman hit just ok and can't really move anymore. The splits show that there is still a future there for a LHP killer (.291 / .319 / .582 vs LHP) but all indications from the last home stand pointed to a LAST home stand.

Presumed Plan : Bell returns at first base. He's backed up by some player they are evaluating who has nowhere else to play. Maybe Yadiel Hernandez, Riley Adams, or even Carter Kieboom if they just want to give him at bats. Maybe someone they haven't acquired yet.

Reasoning Behind Presumed Plan: With 2021 Bell proved he was good, not bad, which was a question after a weak 2020 and only one season that was clearly better than average. You have a good player at a reasonable contract. You have no immediate alternatives. Sometimes it isn't hard.

With the Nats in rebuild mode, signing a veteran to back-up Bell doesn't make much sense. Better use would be getting ABs / playing time for guys you don't have other positions for. I won't argue that Zimm for his token salary wouldn't be a decent choice but that's up to him and he seems to be checking out. 

My take : To trade or not to trade? The only way Bell improves on his value is if he is red hot out of the gate and is one of the best 1B in baseball in the first half. Otherwise his value goes down with less playing time for the other team. That's not even considering the real possibility he hits something more middling. A little less power, maybe a dip in average and/or patience. So if they Nats are really rebuilding, sending Bell off now makes a decent amount of sense... unless you are going to extend him. 

At 29/30 for next year you probably have a few more good years left in Josh's bat and a couple more seasons before you have to pull him from first. The Nats have no good alternatives coming up so if they aim to be good again sooner (2023) rather than later (2025) then extending Josh makes a lot of sense too. 

So really a lot of light about the Nats future will be shed based on their decisions on Josh. Extend? They are likely aiming for a quick rebuild. Sit? Less sure about whether they can put together that next competitive team so quickly.  Trade? They probably are giving up for a few years.... unless they sign a big name FA. 

You can be a lot more certain at being good at 1B quickly if you sign Freddie Freeman or Anthony Rizzo. Add in a SS and you've kind of got an offense back already. But Freeman will be a hard pull from ATL and Rizzo is on the way down and questionably worth the difference in price from Bell. Gurriel? OLD. Belt? Hurt now and also likely to want to go back to SF.  This sounds good but is unlikely.

Why not sign a true back-up?  I suppose you might if there's a D first veteran out there. Travis Shaw? But I don't see much of a point.  Bell is good enough to play pretty much everyday and back-up first is a good place to stick a bat you are interested in but don't have a position for. The Nats should have someone like that or should pick-up guys like that. If they keep Bell this is the right path forward for a season that doesn't matter outside of setting up 2023 or beyond. 

As for Zimm, I think he either truly hasn't decided (might be waiting for a DH decision, having a desire to just get up and whack the ball for 150 games before going home for good) or he has but the org hasn't exactly decided what his role will be and they are waiting for that to make an announcement. Either way he won't be playing much 1B and almost certainly not after next year. He'd only be there if you need him or he's hitting so well he has to play (hard to see in what should be a lost season) 

So I think the presumed plan makes sense to me provided they make a decision on Bell now. Trade or extend. Long term rebuild or quick one. But don't sit and take a chance he loses value. You can get something back for him now.  A completely average Josh in July gets back a lot less.

*traded for Eddy Yean and Wil Crowe.  How'd they do?  Yean, a 20 pitcher, struggled mightily in A ball. Really bad start, decent middle, bad finish. My guess is he's a full time reliever next year. Crowe pitched in the majors (he did for the Nats too last year if you forgot) and pitched a lot. Started 25 games and pitched 120 innings. Not good. He's not as good as Ross/Fedde but he can eat innings at the back of a terrible rotation for Pittsburgh for another year or two hoping something clicks.

Thursday, October 21, 2021

Off-Season Position Discussion : Catcher

The beat goes on. The season is weeks over, nearly every team is done playing and the Nats are looking toward 2022 and what that means exactly we don't know yet.  For the first time since... the off-season of 2010 I guess, the Nats aren't gearing up for a potential playoff run. We can argue about 2010 even as the Nats went into that off-season with dreams of Cliff Lee and other FA signings (they ended up with pretty much just Werth) but I'd consider that set-up for 2012 and beyond, not a real belief they could compete in 2011. Anyway, we don't know for sure what the Nats are planning for in 2022.  A quick rebuild to compete seems very unlikely given the resources at hand. A continued tear-down also doesn't seem in the cards considering the trades made for upper minors talent and the elephant in the room of Prime Soto being wasted. That leaves a modest rebuild, where they gather a few pieces in this off-season to start the process with the eyes on finishing it next off-season and being back competing in 2023. 

But that's just a guess.

Keep that in mind as we discuss these things because that's the place my presumed Nats plans are coming from. If the Nats swerve in another direction these could be completely wrong. 

As far as catcher goes, this year Yan Gomes was elevated to "pretty much #1" and he was starting like 2 out of every three games before getting injured and then traded. He was doing pretty well, too showing that the terrible 2016 season was the fluke and while he can be up and down, the downs aren't unplayable and the ups are a relative steal. Avila was the primary back-up and was fine for a back-up. He was also down when Gomes got hurt, leaving catching duties to Tres Barrera who was also fine (a lot of walks mostly) and Rene Rivera (not good). But no one in the organization is high on Barrera anymore as a starter and the Nats traded for three catchers. First in play was the older, less prospecty Riley Adams, and after getting a bit more seasoning the Nats saw young, real prospect Keibert Ruiz. Riley would be surprisingly good. Ruiz decent, especially late. 

You might look at this and say "Hey this all sounds surprisingly good" It was! Without looking too much into defense one could argue the Nats had maybe the 2nd best catching situation in the majors behind Tampa. Granted that's almost certainly an overreach (Sal Perez in KC and Posey in SF come to mind even if Sal's D is gone and Posey can only play 60% of a season) but Top 5? Maybe. Top 10? Almost certainly. That's pretty good for 2/3rds a year of Yan Gomes and whatever.

Presumed Plan : Keibert Ruiz starts and Tres Barrera backs-up. Riley Adams either sits in AAA, shifts positions, or is traded

Reasoning behind Presumed Plan : Keibert as a starter is a no brainer. Ruiz worked his way through the minors quickly but not overly so. He had a minor "stumble" in AA in 2019 where he seemed to lose his power stroke, which caused him to drop back in the prospect rankings but he was also 20 at the time. As a 22 year old in AAA this year he bounced back and everything seemed to click. He was slashing .311 / .381 / .631 in Oklahoma City and was arguably the key piece in the Scherzer/Turner deal to LA.* The move from the more offensively minded used to be PCL to the used to be ECL didn't change anything and after getting all the constant ABs the Nats felt he needed, Ruiz debuted in the majors. It wasn't smooth sailing at first but a late rally had him finishing the season at .284 / .348 / .395. 

Ruiz is still a work in progress and while he'll likely be on ROY short lists, no one would be surprised if next year is a struggle. He has all the tools to be good but he can get a little lazy, particularly on defense. He's seen as the long term (re: through 2026) solution at catcher and that means only a real crash and burn next year would derail those plans. 

Shorter : You traded for this guy to be your catcher. You are playing him when he's ready to be in the majors and he's ready to be in the majors. 

Tres Barrera is a long term Nats prospect who is sort of a "catcher's catcher". He plays constantly - college, summer, fall, foreign - and is seen as a guy who studies his craft and looks to learn and improve constantly. A leader type with plus defense who presents the type of guy you'd like Ruiz to emulate... if you are to believe the failed PED test was an accident which maybe?** I mean he is suing MLB which is a funny tack to take if you were straight up juicing. What's holding Barrera back from being more is his hitting, which given his age (27) and minor league history - won't ever be great, or even good. But as shown this year he might be able to hold his own and for a back-up C that you like for every other reason that's good enough. 

Adams is a far more interesting hitting prospect than Barrera, as Nats fans caught a glimpse of in his month of playing, but he's a big guy whose fielding is a question. You might consider him as a bat-first backup of a defense first catcher but that's not what Ruiz is, so it's hard to see him ending up as his back-up instead of Barrera. You could also try shifting him over to another position, but as he's still capable, if not good, behind the plate, it seems like a waste to do that. So really your choices are stick him in AAA try to make him better (his K rate is very high and suggests a very low .200 BA ceiling in the majors) as a potential injury/failure replacement for Ruiz or as better trade bait, or just trade him now.  He was about as good as one could hope for in his month with the Nats, flashing a power/patience combo that he's rarely shown. He could very well be at his highest value now.

My take : This seems right. Ruiz IS the future at catcher, or at least the Nats hope so. All signs have been positive up until now. The only reason the Nats could get him is the Dodgers already have a very good young catcher in the majors (26yo Will Smith) and a very good prospect in the minors (barely 20yo Diego Cartaya who will be in the Top 50 prospects across the board before 2022). He makes FANTASTIC contact striking out only 183 times in almost 1900 minor league plate appearances, giving the Nats what could be a very special contact-heavy team with him, Soto, and Luis Garcia (if Garcia improves enough to stick). I'm not sure if the BA will be high enough or the power consistent enough to be a multi-year All-Star type but I'd be surprised if he's not at least average.  This goes as well for his defense which probably will never be great but seems fine relying more on talent than max effort. 

Backing up with Barrera instead of Adams is not directly utilizing a strength but it also is hitting probably the average back-up catcher offense in baseball. It's a tough position to fill. Everyone seems to like his defense. Everyone seems to like his attitude. He brings the "veteran catcher" to the team without having to go out and grab... let's say an Austin Romine... who probably wouldn't be any better. As long as Barrera isn't useless at the plate it's ok. It's only if Ruiz goes down, and really for like a couple years because 2022 doesn't matter much, where back-up Barrera looks like a mistake. 

If you don't stick Adams behind Ruiz, then how to best utilize this "two young catcher advantage"? Frankly I prefer trading him. I don't think his stock will ever be higher. There are just so many Ks and Adams isn't particularly young (he'll be 26 in June) meaning I don't see much improvement there. His cup of coffee with TOR was dreadful, his AAA time was here and there. If you can get a young relief arm of any interest - the Nats need as many of those as they can get. But BUT the Nats C situation in the minors beyond Adams isn't that great. Drew Millas - another trade get - is supposed to be sparkling behind the plate, but bat is a big question. Israel Pineda - a int'l signee - is super young, but also flailing and could easily top out in AA. If Ruiz doesn't pan out do you really want to let a potential starter go? 

In the end though I think Adams likelihood to end up a good major league starter is slim enough that dealing him makes more sense.  Get something with a little more major league certainty back and let another team see if they can get lucky.  

*I'd call Grey 1a. The consensus at the trade time seemed to be Ruiz could very well be a star, while Gray is likely just a solid contributor. 

** I'm not the type to be soft on people who fail PED tests but the story on Barrera and his particular group is that they are failing for EXTREMELY small amounts of a steroid not used regularly in a couple generations of athletes. Very questionable that it's actually a performance-enhancing amount rather than some relic number set years ago that doesn't stand up to scrutiny for the spirit of what they are trying to do.

Monday, October 18, 2021

Lucky or Unlucky : 2021

After a one year COVID hiatus, Lucky or Unlucky is back. This is where I go over the performances in the Nats season looking for where the Nats... well got lucky or unlucky. Mainly I do this because I think this is what drives a successful season as much as talent. 


Strasburg is hurt and barely pitches.  The second part of that statement is necessary because "Strasburg is hurt" is not unlucky. It's expected. The man has pitched in 12 seasons and had a full healthy season twice. You expect him to throw anywhere from 22 to 28 games (re: miss two months or miss a month). Outside of that is where luck comes in. Yes Strasburg was hurt in 2020 but all indications is he was a go for 2021. He really wasn't. He only had two starts before going on the IL and then three more starts before needing surgery.  Now he could be really hurt, like dunzo hurt. But that's for unlucky 2022. 

Corbin was terrible. Again something hinted at in 2020 but a performance like 2020, where he probably deserved an ERA closer to 4.00, was never out of the question. 2018/2019 could be a peak and the rest of his Nationals time could be spent eating innings as a 3/4.  If only.  Corbin lost the ability to locate the fastball, making it useless setting up the slider. Worst yet he'd lose it more over the plate and that meant a lot more homers at a time homers were coming back down. It was a unexpectedly terrible year. 

Robles crash.  The last of the "we saw this coming in 2020" Victor hit terribly last year but that seemed like an aberration. He may not be good, but historically he's around average and with better than average fielding and speed you take that.  You can't take .203 / .310 /.295.  It wouldn't have been so bad if not for the fact the Nats really wanted him to leadoff which accentuated the failure.

Castro is a ass who is out of baseball now. There was some indication of this in his past but almost a decade had passed with no public incident. It was fair to think of that as something he had learned from and thankfully moved past. Nope. Bye jerk.  On a less important but relevant for this discussion baseball level the Nats had to fill an unexpected hole.  

Brad Hand hit the wall.  The Nats finally spent on very good relief pitching. A guy who had pitched to an under 3.00 ERA in 4 of the previous 5 seasons and deserved those numbers. But something broke and he couldn't K anyone anymore, especially as the season wore on. The Nats were super lucky that they were able to get something for this guy but also super unlucky that he broke on their watch because a Hand at the level he should have been could have kept the Nats in the hunt and then who knows what they do down the stretch and how the season ends?*


Schwarber refound his star stroke.  You know back around 2016 Schwarber was so coveted the Yanks wanted him for Chapman? And the Cubs said no? He rewarded the Cubs confidence in him by mucking around for a few years hitting homers, walking some but looking like he was half-trying.  Maybe FA lit a fire under him but he once again looked like a player you'd want to build a team around. A pure 40+ homer slugger who could hit and walk enough otherwise to be a star.

Nats veteran bats do well. Harrison? Bell? Escobar? Avila? Yes even Jordy Mercer had seasons at the plate for the Nats that ranged from a little better to a lot better than they did the previous year.  Hell even 5 game stop gap Jon Lucroy did too.  And the one that didn't? Parra? Well he didn't perform much worse than expected. This is important to remember when looking at the Nats offense and projecting it out to next year. They really did hit on pick-ups over and over again, even if for someone like Mercer that was getting a usable month from a guy that should have retired in 2019. 

Lane Thomas and Riley Adams Superstars?  No, they aren't. But for their brief Nats tenures so far they hit like it. So when the original vet pick-ups were traded away guys like this kept it going. Along with Soto of course.

Hudson quietly was very good... for the Nats.  In 2020 Hudson looked bad. That kind of made karmic sense as in 2019 he got real lucky. He's a 4-5 ERA guy, except for another half-season he wasn't for the Nats letting them trade him off for something. Then he fell apart. Thanks for the memories and the timing.  


Max was Max... and Ross was Ross and Fedde was Fedde (and Lester didn't have one more good year in him).  The rest of the rotation went as expected. Two pitchers failing and none overperforming is bad enough. That it was your 1A and your 2? Yeah that was a problem 

Soto was Soto.  Well to be fair he wasn't Soto early and then we was SOTO late, but that's sometimes how seasons are.  Soto is one of the best hitters in baseball, and quite possibly THE best hitter of his generation and he's in his prime. 

Yan Gomes did well. Trea Turner was a star. Zimm hit. All these had a spread of possible outcomes. Gomes was at the top of his, Turner near the top, Zimm about on target. Almost everything good, but also not too far out of line. The Nats didn't build a bad team on offense it just started SO slow and then the pitching was so bad we didn't notice when it got back to normal. 

Homegrown strikes out Stevenson? Bad. Kieboom? Worse. Garcia? Not there yet. There were some decent performances. Tres Barrera, Yadiel Hernandez late, but there was also AAA replacements like Adrian Sanchez and Hernan Perez giving nothing and taking something away.  Overall the Nats internal replacements were not good. But this isn't a surprise. The Nats system was ranked low. It's not good. This is what you get. 

Other trades were in line Adams and Thomas overshot their expectations, but Ruiz didn't (although he looked good in that last week) and Gray and Thompson struggled. It happens. 

The rest of the relief pitching stunk But yeah look at it, that isn't a shock. I guess that  Rainey was so bad and Harris wasn't usable was a little on the unlucky side but you could have seen it coming. They put together a 2 man pen, hoped the rest would come together. One man failed and everything else fell apart. Maybe it was a domino effect of the starting pitching and Davey's tendency to overwarm? I don't know but I'm not going to claim this garbage pen was a surprise even if it was the literal worst.

Overall one can argue the Nats were almost as lucky and they were unlucky but the quality matters as much as the quantity.  The Nats hitting was mostly a bunch of little victories. Guys overall doing better than expected but only one having a star run, and the one that had a star run was for a limited time with a slow start and a a mid-season injury. It arguably was almost countered by the crash of another bat. Meanwhile while the bulk of pitching - back end of the rotation, back of the pen - mirror imaged the bats with a bunch of minor failures. Except there were big failures here, too and no big positives to match these big crashes. 

To put it another way - the veteran bats and the couple trade surprises matched the Ross/Fedde/bulk of pen disappointments. The Schwarber run and Hudson performance was mostly matched by the Robles crash and Hand's issue  But there was no matching for the Strasburg and Corbin issues and those were HUGE issues. Like -6 game issues at the time of the trade deadline. Add in a little general baseball season bad luck and a 55-49 team is 48-56. A 55 win team at that point is an 85-86 win team in general. 

It's probably not enough to get the Nats back in, even under the best of circumstances. The Strasburg and Corbin issues didn't resolve, a lot of those veteran bats who hit better for the Nats didn't as the season winded down and without luck this is only an 87+ win team to start with. The Nats system wasn't good enough to add impact players (no way I see Rizzo trading ANYone with actual talent) so they probably fall a game or two short even adding a couple guys. Even if they do sneak in and win that WC game with Max on the mound - There is just no way to see this rotation and bullpen winning anything beyond that. This was a team that needed to be lucky to get in and win, and got unlucky instead which lead to the teardown. Probably necessary. Still painful I bet

*presumably they trade no one, add a little and end up falling short of the hard charging Braves to end the year with a win total in the low-mid 80s.

Friday, October 15, 2021

Why they lost - San Fran

The checked swing.




Ok you want some more.

Half the offense checked out - San Fran scored the second most runs in the NL this year mostly through a "no-one be bad" offensive strategy. Not that you'd get above average performance from everyone every week, but when someone was bad, some one else was great, and most everyone else was still ok. There wasn't a 3 or 4 or 5 guys all slumping at the same time.  Well in this series there were.  Solano (0-8) Yaz (0-13) Flores (1-12). Wade (1-10) Longoria (2-17) Ruf (1-11 yes the homer was his only hit)  Dickerson and Duggar a combined 0-7 all had rough series and it showed with the Giants scoring 6 runs in the last 4 games.  The whole replacement part theory doesn't work in these instances. Only Bryant was above a .900 OPS for the series.  A lot of bad, very little great.  Compare this to SF vs LA in the regular series. Crawford, Flores, Posey, Wade, Slater all OPS'd over .900 so Yaz, Belt, Rug , Dickerson could all OPS under .650.  That's the way the team worked all year, players picking up players, until this series 

Power outage while standing still - You can maybe survive getting no hits, which LA's staff was the best at keeping you from, if you can walk and/or homer. The LA staff was good at keeping you from those too, just not as much. The Giants had the most homers in the NL this year and the second most walks.  After G1 where they hit 3 homers, it looked like they'd slug their way to the series win. They hit two more the entire series. They only walked 6 times. The Dodgers pitching won the battle against the Giants hitting. With ease. 

Not pitcher perfect With the offense not performing the Giants were gonna have to pitch like crazy and let fate help them win the close games. They did not all pitch like crazy. Gausman had second half issues and DeSclafini showed some inconsistency during the year. Both had bad outings. That was bad but it wasn't a surprise. Leone - lights out since coming back in June and sort of the "next guy up" after Rogers, Doval, and McGee - being terrible was. The Giants had a little margin for error with Webb being so good, but they couldn't take advantage of it.

Taint funny McGee - Jake McGee was the Giants closer all year long, but he sputtered a little late and missed a couple weeks in September putting his post-season use in question. Kapler decided to use Doval, a guy with lights-out stuff, as the closer and McGee as another arm. Looking at the ERAs it's hard to argue but Doval looked pressured in his one "have to win or the season is over" chance in a way a vet like McGee might not have been. Of course use McGee and fail and the complaints are even more obvious. Still we can only know what did happen and Doval was wild and left pitches up.

If you want it in short - this was a world class battle between the best hitters and pitchers in the NL and the Dodgers pitchers bullied the Giants bats. The other battle being more even (Dodgers bats were alive in 2 games, absolutely dead in 3) meant the Dodgers would take this series.

Wednesday, October 13, 2021

Why they lost - Brewers and White Sox

 You got it from the headline - let's dig in

Brewers didn't do anything to the offense. The Brewers offense was decent this season but it was kind of an illusion. The didn't get hits, they didn't hit for power.  All they did was walk and get timely hits and guess what? Getting timely hits isn't a dependable repeatable skill beyond getting hits in general. Rather than a big move to allow the offense a chance to compliment the pitching the Brewers only brought in perfectly decent Eduardo Escobar. Unsurprisingly they didn't get hits and they didn't hit for power (5 XBH in 4 games) and they couldn't walk enough against a good pitching staff to make up for that. 21 straight innings without a run is going to be pretty much a series killer 

Counsell got too antsy. Dying for some sort of offense in Game 3 Counsell pulled Freddy Peralta, who was doing perfectly well shutting down the Braves, pinch hitting for him in a 2nd and 3rd and one-out situation.  The PH didn't come through and the Braves pounced on Houser who they had seen for two innings in game 1.  Never pull a working pitcher early, I say. 

RP injuries - Suter one of the Brewers perfectly good middle relievers got an oblique strain right before the playoffs. Williams, probably the Brewers 2nd best reliever, punched something in anger and hurt his hand. The combo meant the Brewers would carry a guy they wouldn't even use in the series (he's ok but really on there to eat innings in a blowout - a scenario that never came in this series).  This meant even though they didn't have a lot of relief work early they did use everyone they liked by the time G3 rolled around. So Counsell's early pull was even more problematic. But it all stems from the offense, if the offense had hit better they could have stretched pitchers more.  

White Sox starters went wild. If there was one thing the White Sox pitching staff did only well, not great, it was limiting walks. The Astros were pretty good at getting walks. all in all you'd expect some walks here but nothing crazy. But in 34 innings the White Sox gave up 18 free passes, including 12 in 12.1 IP by the starters. The Astros were going to get hits, that's what they do. They don't have to get walks or hit homers, that's how you might stop them. By giving them walks the White Sox gave them a way to turn those singles and doubles into a lot of runs and a lot of runs early. It also made these games bullpen games for the White Sox. No team is well prepared for 3-4 bullpen games

The White Sox batters didn't wear out the Astros enough.  The Sox were second best at taking walks and the Astros are a wild throwing bunch. The combo should lead to a lot of White Sox baserunners. But they couldn't quite pull it off. No particular villain here. 

Lance McCullers was really good OK OK while I said usually players don't go above and beyond Lance McCullers did. He pitched more innings than anyone in a CS so far (but a very good chance Webb will pass him) and his pitched better than anyone even close, giving up 12 baserunners yes, but only two XBH both to Gavin Sheets, while striking out 9. 

Tuesday, October 12, 2021

Why they lost - Rays Edition

I've talked about this several times but I'm a "teams don't win, they lose" type of guy.  Rare are performances where someone goes above and beyond to accomplish in games. Far more likely are the times when one team just does what they are supposed to and the other team fails to. This isn't an indictment on those teams - if it were easy to always do what you were supposed to then everyone would do it - but it is a different way of looking at things. In baseball that means looking at a game and seeing players mostly getting hits because of pitches missing spots as opposed to great approaches, or conversely Ks happening more on ill advised swings then a great pitch sequence followed by a killer out pitch. 

Playing this out all the way - here are the reasons the Rays lost the series

1)  Half the line-up went dead.   It's one thing to slump. It's another to watch 4 of your hitters go 8-65 with 2XBH and only 3BBs against a team who's pitching staff is merely ok and not at all top heavy (which can help them - see the Nats in 2019). This was highlighted by Brandon Lowe being especially awful going 0-18 with 9Ks.  The fact they consistently scored is pretty amazing but also they should have blown the doors off the Red Sox in the series. 

2) Cash accentuated the above problem.   In the playoffs there is no room for loyalty or wishy-washiness. If a guy is struggling and looks bad doing it you gotta drop them in the line-up and let them sit there until they figure things out.*  Ideally you drop everyone down but it was the Rays 3-4-5 (and 8) struggling so you can only do so much. Still Lowe should have been pulled from the 3 and dropped down to 6 or 7 and something new done in 3-4-5.  He WAS pulled from the 3 in Game 3... but Cash inexplicably moved him to the 1**. Lowe promptly went 0-6.

3) The Rays tried to sneak through using a prospect. Shane Baz should be great... at some point, but right now he's an unknown. The Rays were counting on him to give them some innings in game 2 but he stunk giving up 6 hits and a walk in 2 1/3 and setting in motion the big G2 loss that should have been a back breaking Sale failure. Why did they need to do this? Well Tyler Glasnow got hurt but also they traded their good veteran arm Rich Hill at the trade deadline because... well we can come up with a bunch of reasons but money probably does play into it in some way.  Hill might have not been any better but he obviously couldn't have lost more.

4) "Relief" pitching failures. But starters aren't what the Rays are about. They are about throwing out 6 guys in relief and getting the job done.  Unfortunately for the Rays a big part of relief success is the inexperience seeing a guy.  You bring in 5 guys a game in a 3 games series and one batter would be lucky to get 3 times at bat total against a guy.  But this starts to fall apart over the course of the season against a divisional opponent - which the Red Sox are. Pretty much each dependable relief arm - spot starter Rasmussen, McHugh, Wisler, McClanahan, had a straight up failure appearance. So something worse than a 1 inning 1 run disappointment but you'll take it type. In a short series where this is what your best guys are doing, you can't survive that.

5) Rays didn't exploit any advantage really. The Rays aren't adverse to a timely steal and the Red Sox aren't particularly good at stopping them, yet they only stole two bases - one of them the Randy steal of home. The Rays take walks and the Red Sox give them, yet the Rays didn't get many. The Rays pitchers strike out guys and the Red Sox can strike out some, yet the Rays couldn't strike out enough. There are certainly things the Red Sox could do to affect all of these but these weren't Sox strengths beating Rays strengths, places there were a question of who might excel, but instead places that were reasonably good bets for the Rays to succeed so the more likely scenario, to me, is the Rays failed. (confirmatory deep dive stats take a while to compile since most sites don't bother keeping them for short series)

*I'll add the caveat if it's THE guy for your team - like Juan Soto this year - this does not apply. You just gotta suck that up and hope he returns to form. 

** More insanely he moved Meadows, who was on the bench the first two to 3, and moved the spark plug Arozarena to 6.  SIX! If people cared about the Rays they'd be more mad at this awful managing decision.

Monday, October 11, 2021

Monday Quickie - Rules of Engagement

 But you know, funny. Or at least funnier. 

There were two rules things that went on last night that I want to talk to here.

Boston vs Tampa - Dumb rule, ruled right. 

In extra-innings, Kevin Kiermaier hit a ball to the wall that should have scored, would have scored Yandy Diaz to give Tampa a lead.  But the ball caromed off of Hunter Renfroe and went over the stupid short walls in the Boston OF. The umpires got together and sent Yandy back to third even though he was well on the way to scoring. 

The thing is the rule is clear. Much like a regular automatic double, where the ball bounces into the stands or gets stuck in a wall or goes under a tarp, etc., if the ball bounces off a player and goes into the stands it's two bases from the time of the pitch. That's what's implied in the MLB rules and explicitly spelled out apparently, in the umps manual. There are other occasions where the two bases awarded are from the time of the incident, like a throw into the stands, but this is not one of them. There isn't anything to argue here in terms of whether the rule was applied correctly.  Hate it? Fine. Wrong? Nope.

Now should the rule be like this? Why does it exist? Can we change it?  All good questions. 

Why does it exist?  Don't know.  I'm not a baseball rule historian. Twitter bandied about a few ideas.  My thought it probably came from a time where there weren't always full sets of umps and there were games in weird parks late in the evening with no lighting and there was a pretty good chance you couldn't see where the runners were at the moment the ball went out of bounds*. If that's the case, since these things happen quickly usually, you can see how two bases from the pitch seems the best bad solution.

Should the rule be like this? Like I said... it's probably the best of several bad solutions.  I think the less discretion given to the umpires the better. While you open up the ability for umpires to make a good decision, you do the reverse as well. Rules should be as objective as possible to maintain the necessary consistency. 

Can we change it? So in my mind to change it we would have to find a way to change it that isn't "well let the ump figure it out".  I can think of three ways it could be done. (1) change all automatic doubles always to two bases from time it goes out of bounds. There's a lot of umps now and good lighting and mostly normal park - they can see where players are... or can they? They already huddle up for any throw OOB. This would be a lot of ump huddles and they'd still get things incorrect at times. Do you want arguing if a guy was a foot before 2nd or a foot after 2nd when it crossed the plane of the OF fence? I don't, at least not on every automatic double. This kind of extra rule work is exactly what the game doesn't need. (2) If the ball hits the OF wall first before caroming off a player then it's from the location of the players on the basepaths.  I like this one, just because it satisfies the "rule must change crowd" makes a reasonable amount of sense (1-2 extra seconds means more chance runners have gotten around), and it would happen so rarely it wouldn't effect much of anything, or (3) like (1) but we use the guys in the booth to make these decisions. Is this better or worse than 1? I think worse. You'd get more calls right but you wouldn't get ALL calls right and if not what are we doing adding all this time and effort? 

Astros v  White Sox - It's hard to rely on their good intentions

In the 4th inning Yasmani Grandal hit a ground ball to a drawn in Yuri Gurriel at first, he decided to go home to try to catch Robert trying to score from third.  The throw glanced off Gurriel and went past the catcher, scoring the run and giving the White Sox a man on first. 

The rule here is NOT clear, or at least it is not black and white and in fact it goes into two separate grey parts of the baseball rule book, ending with a umpire subjective call. 

The first gray area of the rules is the idea of "basepaths". We think a runner has to run in a straight line from base to base, or at least as best they can. But there is actually nothing in the rules that states that to be the case. With one exception the only time that basepaths actually come into play is when a fielder has a ball in his hand and is trying to tag a runner.  The runners path is set at that time to be a rough straight line from where he is when this starts to the bag he is trying to go to.  As you can tell it's a little fuzzy here and a couple feet in either direction is usually given, but it's there to keep a runner from making fielders chase him out into the OF. 

 The one exception is the last half of the path a runner takes to first base.  He's supposed to be between the foul line and the line in foul territory. This is to stop the runner from trying to take the first baseman out with a body block to have him miss a throw. You've all seen this come into play if you remember the Trea Turner getting called out play in the Series. Trea did what a lot of RHB do and run kind of very close to (or on) the grass until more toward the last few steps when they peel off. This is technically against the rules but no one cares because they aren't trying to hit the fielder. It only comes into play in a play like Trea had where the throw for whatever reason is impacted by his location in the path.

Since there is no thing as a "basepath" a runner can literally run anywhere until a fielder wants to try to tag him, this includes the first 45 ft or so toward first base which Grandal was not in when the ball hit him. So he could not be called out simply for being where he was, which was both feet in the grass which he got to by sort of running toward the classic 1B/2B hole from the left-handed batting box. At this point the umpire must judge why the runner was where he was. If he was there to intentionally disrupt the play he can be called out.  For example on a suicide squeeze the bunter CAN run toward the ball and stand between the ball and home, that itself isn't illegal (imagine if the fielders were on strike and just sat on the ground and didn't move) but assuming the play goes as expected and he impedes the fielders throw home the umpire should rule him out for intentional interference. 

Here umpires have to determine intent and OH MY GOD IT WAS DAMN OBVIOUS HE WAS INTENTIONALLY GETTING IN THE WAY.  I mentioned before his path was not toward first it was toward getting in the way. I mean COME ON 


It's HIGHLY questionable coming from the RHB box, from the LHB box it's a joke. And yet the umpires said it wasn't intentional. They got this part of the call completely wrong. This isn't even close and any analyst or person trying to defend it is lying to either both themselves and you, or just you.

*In contrast to a throw where usually the throw is around the basepaths so you can tell where everyone was and award extra bases using that information.