Nationals Baseball: 2023

Monday, December 18, 2023

Monday Quickie - Not much going on

Who here likes Spencer Watkins and Bellinger rumors to nowhere? 

Hmm, no one. I see.

As we round the corner into 2024 but the Nats FA play was always likely to be like this. Patience first, grab needs late for better prices. Since the options for the Nats are rather large they can't be shut out. They merely lose 1st or 2nd choices and have to go with 5th or 6th.  It's not dumpster diving.  Well Watkins was, but that's not what I see these other FAs to be.  It's bargain store shopping. Antiquing.

Currently still available (that's a possible get)

1B/DH : Carlos Santana, JD Martinez, Brandon Belt, Jorge Soler, Donovan Solano, Garrett Cooper, Cutch

Others with DH potential :  Mitch Garver, Justin Turner, Tommy Pham, Adam Duvall, Aaron Hicks

Starters : Stroman, Martin Perez, Giolito, Lorenzen, Clevinger, Kluber, Carrasco, Manaea, Montas, Wood

and like 20 guys who can throw to an average RP level.

What none of these really are are guys that say "Ok cornerstone for 2024-X" but they are players that would make the team better. Guys who signed late (after like mid Feb when camps open) last year include Donovan Solano, Matt Moore, Michael Wacha, and Micahel Fulmer. It's possible. 

But on the flipside most of the guys that did sign late were bad.  Talent will be there but the Nats need to ID it. Last year the Nats' late signings were Chad Kuhl and org depth that never made it to the majors.  The year before that they were far more aggressive and nailed several RP :  Carl Edwards Jr,  Sean Doolittle (in theory), Erasmo Ramirez, event Steve Cishek wasn't terrible; but coming up blank on bargain SP and big time FA, Anibal Sanchez, Aaron Sanchez, Nelson Cruz.

We'll keep these above lists as running tallies. Guys are still out there. They will still be out there after the holidays. They may still be out there into February. If the Nats are going to try to be smart, we can hold it against them if they are not.

Wednesday, December 13, 2023

Off-Season Position Discussion : Relief Pitching

Was the Nats bullpen good or bad last year?  Quick. Guess. 

It was bad posting the 4th worst ERA in baseball.

The Nats best relievers put up some ok ERAs.  Hunter Harvey (MY BOY!) was clearly the best of the lot throwing to a 2.82 ERA, but Kyle Finnegan and Jordan Weems had perfectly ok ERAs in the high mid 3.00s. And Carl Edwards Jr was doing around the same before his injury limited him to 30 innings this year.  But outside of this there was almost nothing to look to. The Nats had a lot of bad relievers pitch for them last year. Mason Thompson, Andres Machado, and Cory Abbott threw the 4th, 5th, and 6th most innings for relievers and had 5.50, 5.22, and 6.64 ERAs respectively. Ten other guys were given innings in relief and only 1 (Robert Garcia) had an ERA under 4.76.  Only three were under 6.33.

The good news is the rotation didn't ask for that many innings. so this was no worse than it had to be, but this lack of depth presents a problem to fix for 2024.  You expect your pen to have issues. That's true for every team.  You don't expect to get into questionable areas on your 4th best arm and stock 2-3 unusable arms at any time.

The Nats have started to bridge this gap by signing Dylan Floro.  He's a guy whose stats (good control, never gives up homers, decent K rate, but does get hit) suggest a better ERA than he had last year. Yes, he gives up hits and it's not that fluky. He doesn't induce a lot of soft contact. But he does keep the ball on the ground and a .401 BABIP like he had last year is kind of crazy and unlikely to be repeated. The takeaway is the contact makes him a questionable mid-inning reliever to stop the bleeding but a decent arm to start a frame. It's not a bad gamble that he'll be something like a mid 3.00s ERA guy.

Presumed Plan : The Nats sign Dylan Floro.  NAILED IT! 

The Nats sign some cheaper guys to fill in that gap, but don't commit to that back end stopper.  Floro is one. There will probably be a number two. Anything beyond that is likely to be chaff. Minor league contract guys that they bring in because they are available for org depth.

Reasoning behind Presumed Plan : Relief pitching is usually the last thing a team addresses. This is because the cost for value is bad here and it's not that hard to find a decent arm that can throw one inning from a teams stockpile.  If you aren't competing or just about to, you let it slide and hope cheap internal alternatives show themselves. 

The Nats are not competing in 2024. 

But they won't do nothing because the bullpen was really half-terrible leaving them one injury away from disaster. Rainey coming back is good. Floro coming in is good. But the way they are talking they need at least one more Floro type. 

My Take :  Finnegan and Weems were not ok. I think they know this but they don't care. Hell they are selling Zuckerman on the fact that Machado was good when you have to parse it like "from August through mid September" to actually see that.  So this is why I have them only making one more signing even though it leaves them with a pen that is:

Harvey : Good! 

Rainey : Maybe Good but coming back from injury

Floro : Maybe good / Maybe Not good

Finnegan : Maybe good but a sneaky bad last year.

Weems : Probably Not Good

Machado : Probably Not Good


If their next signing slotted in above or after Harvey then fine, but you know it's going to be either a guy that might be good but has something against him or a guy that probably won't be good but not as terrible as the guys here.

So I think they are going to end up one arm short of a serviceable pen which leaves them at the mercy of injuries and crashes. If they had a deeper organizational depth at the position I might understand it but they don't - at least not for 2024.

But I guess I did say it would be the last thing a team looks to fix and the Nats aren't there yet so this is pretty much on schedule if a bit disappointing. 

And that's probably a take away from this entire position by position review. The Nats aren't there yet. They know it. Their moves for 2024 will reflect that and what they think about their chances for 2025. So far these still aren't moves to set up a winner, which means they are not bullish on 2025. Which means YOU shouldn't be bullish on 2025. At least right now.

The off-season is young though. Maybe they'll surprise us. And really it's not the Nats organization now that you should really want to surprise you, it's the Nats young players in the summer of 2025.

Thursday, December 07, 2023

Nick Senzel - Quick Thoughts

Not good but cheap so whatever.

The Good: 

Nick was a extremely well-thought of player coming out of college and ended up being drafted 2nd.  He was able to hit for high average through the minors before his final promotion

Nick was able to handle CF in his youth and seems to be an ok corner OF. 

The Bad : 

Nick never developed the power it was thought he would. Because they had no fear of the big hit major league pitchers didn't have to pitch around him and his decent eye was made useless.  He was left with only his contact skills but he can't make it translate into high average. 

Nick doesn't seem to be able to handle CF anymore and was always a questionable IF.  

Basically it's kicking the tires on a player to see if he really just didn't mesh with the Reds.  He's a high contact guy but the Nats are oddly full of such players and really need power. I don't like the signing but again it's cheap so as long as the Nats don't feel committed to him it's a nothing move.

Monday, December 04, 2023

Off-Season Position Discussion : Starting Pitching

In 2023 the Nats went ahead with a four pronged pitching plan

Prong 1 : Let Corbin cook. He's getting paid too much to get rid of. The Nats need innings.  Just throw him out there every 5th day. As far as the goals were set, this worked.  Corbin was bad, but not bad enough to be too bad for a bad team's rotation. He threw 30 more innings that last year and pitched to a less horrific ERA than either 2021 or 2022. 

Prong 2 : Give Trevor Williams the chance to start and trade him if he's any good. This is where the two-year deal was supposed to help bring dividends enticing other teams with another cheap year of good pitching. This one totally didn't work as Williams took the mantle as the Nats worst everyday starter - not an easy thing to do when everyone is throwing to an FIP close to 5.00.  

Prong 3 : Let the kids loose. Gray and Gore were allowed to be basically full time starters with the hope they would blossom.  They did not. Gray looked like he might and he really did cut down on the homers this season. Unfortunately at the cost of everything else. It would sort of catch up with him at the end of the year but good luck got him an AS appearance and a lower than deserved ERA.  Gore pitched better but it's hard to say the Nats were happy with the results which were firmly middle of the road. No aces here yet. 

Prong 4 : ???? The Nats originally went with Chad Kuhl who was too terrible to stick around.  Joan Adon was also given his 19th try at being a starter only to fail again*. They ended up landing on Jake Irvin who was usable.  He was a throw back to the bad old days when you'd see Tim Redding or Jason Bergmann and say "that wasn't too bad" and accept it because there were bigger problems. But he was perfectly ok for a bad team's rotation.

The Nats had one big loss, Williams' disappointment leading to no trade, and no big surprises. Young teams hope for big surprises so overall this was a bad season for the starting staff, even if it was pretty much as expected given the talent

Presumed Plan : 

Same prongs, different season. The big difference will be that there is a line of "ok, I'd like to see that guy get some time" types in the minors who should (will?) be given chances if they shine in the lower ranks.  Rutledge, Henry, Parker, Herz, Saenz.   

Reasoning behind Presumed Plan : The contracts say Corbin and Williams are here. The plan says Gore and Gray are here. The fifth spot will remain a ? with Jake Irvin given the first shot but the goal of 2024 is setting up 2025 and Irvin, William, maybe even Corbin should be on short leashes because they need to find good pitchers fast. If they don't find them internally they'll have to pay for them. 

Why won't they pay for them?  Because they are still working out if 2025 is going to be a run at bigger and better things or if this rebuild is a washout.

My Take : Sign a good pitcher. Let Williams and Corbin go. 

This is about the future clear and simple now.  Neither of these two guys is about that.  So why are they here?  To eat innings? To save relievers?  If you bring in a guy to take their place and he isn't managing to do those things, replace him with another.  It might be tough. You might find no one. But it makes more sense than sending these two out for 40% of the games through the end of July. 

As for the good pitcher.  There are a couple top notch guys they won't get in Yamamoto and Snell. I'd totally make a sell the farm run at Yamomoto but chances are everyone else will.  So what's the other choice?  I suppose Jordan Mongomery and security.  He'll still cost a pretty penny but he'll give you the performance you need. Will it be another Corbin contract? Yeah something like that but because he's not coming off his best year he'll cost a little cheaper. Look you have to take chances. The Corbin deal didn't work out long term but it did give them a title.  With no playoffs to stretch Jordan's arm he could expect to be a little more durable. 

As for Gore and Gray - they start. You hope they get better. There isn't much more than that to say. For each guy I mentioned as an up and comer, these two had more impressive resumes.  If they can from a solid 2-3-4 combo the Nats can work around that, finding/signing an ace and another mid-rotation guy from what's at hand. They are more in the 3-4-5 range. I'm more of a Gore fan than Gray (better stats and prospect evaluation) but always willing to give Gray the benefit of turning the corner when he looks good. I'm a sucker. What happens if they don't get any better?  I'm not sure. They probably still both remain in the rotation but it's hard to envision a playoff rotation forming in this situation. It will take a big commitment (re: $$$$)

*To be fair to Joan he really isn't much worse that any of the guys that started but with bad luck and no pedigree. 

Wednesday, November 29, 2023

Off-Season Position Discussion : Outfield

There was no area of the Nats team more unsettled than OF last year, specifically CF and LF.  (Oh ok, middle relief pitching but that's par for course for any baseball team.) While Thomas manned RF for 148 games* doing both better at the plate and worse in the field than expected, the others had no stability.  

Oh they tried in CF, forcing Alex Call into the position for almost half the season after Robles got hurt. But Call was so bad with the bat (.200/ .307 / .307) that the Nats couldn't keep doing that. So they played Jacob Young (not good), Derek Hill (very bad) and even Lane Thomas (shouldn't be there) but found no answers.  

LF was even harder though there they might have found something in Stone Garrett.  Hitting .269 / .343 / .457 with decent defense it seemed like the Nats found themselves another dia... well tasteful piece of jewelry in the rough. But Garrett broke his leg and much like CF the other options tried all year; Dickerson, Call, Alu, Rutherford, Blakenhorn, and Vargas, didn't stick.

 But that's ok right? Because if the Nats have anything it's young OFers in the minors . Draft pick Dylan Crews, traded for players James Wood and Robert Hassell, random guys they liked before like Jeremy De La Rosa, or like more now like Daylen Lile.  The solution wasn't expected to be found in 2023.

Presumed Plan : 

Huh. Well Thomas will play RF. That's given. If we assume his poor D was more a fluke of yearly defensive stats (more likely) than a downward trend (less likely) he will be fine if not the Werth like figure they'd love to make him into. They've brought back Robles so he will probably be in CF, if only to play out the string on his Nats career. LF will be Stone Garrett if he's healthy. If not... I guess a random OF FA would be the choice. Something meh usually shakes out for cheap. 

Alex Call, who they love more than life itself, can play defense so probably sticks on the roster as the 4th OF.   

Reasoning behind Presumed Plan : 

OF is the Nats position of the future and they fully expect to have at least one young guy if not two starting on OD 2025, so they aren't going to pony up for a long term OF signing. Thomas is fine. Garrett would be fine. Robles seems to be the guy they can't quit but also can't fix.  As I noted they love Call and a defense first 4th OF makes sense as Thomas didn't look very good and Robles is probably the shakiest of the guys to hold their position.  

That's, of course, if Garrett is healthy. He may not be and if that's the case look for the Nats in late January early February to scour the OF market for the best cheapest option because, like I said, there isn't much reason to put money here when your prayers are you are starting a rookie here in July. This is a spot to save money for the team where fans can't really go after them because the plan is clear. They are going to take advantage of that.

My Take :  

Another holding pattern year isn't exciting but it's what the team needs to do. Of course they could go big but doing that at 1B or DH makes more sense than OF and as we keep saying SP is the one they really should do this for. I would have released Robles, better for him and the Nats, but GMs hate to lose and if someone else got Robles to be good (a distinct possibility in my eyes) Rizzo would flip. With Robles here you play him and you of course play Thomas who isn't as good as he's made out to be but he's a perfectly cromulent 3rd OF. 

LF is a question that Garrett answers well enough.  If he doesn't heal fast enough though I worry that the Nats will slap Call in there and "call it a day" (Ha!) and that will be bad. They should at least take a chance on someone else at this point. Because it would be very cheap to do so, I have them doing just that and there are going to be guys out there that won't hurt the team. Get a win or two better for a million bucks. It'll be worth it 

 *second most? Garrett and Call each played RF for 5 games. 

Monday, November 20, 2023

Off-Season Position Discussion : Third Base

Third base worked exactly as the Nats wanted last year. They brought in a (probably) good player who had an off 2022 in the offseason in Jeimer Candelario on a short term deal. He performed very well, bordering on an All-Star season, and at the trade deadline brought back something of interest in a young live arm DJ Herz. 

Meanwhile with the arrival of CJ Abrams Brady House shifted over to 3B and had a renaissance at the plate after a disappointing injury marred 2022*. His AA work doesn't demand an immediate promotion and he's likely to start there in 2024, but AAA is also possible and the understanding is if he's as good this year, he'll start getting major league reps later in 2024. 

So the past was fine, but it's past. The future looks set up, but it's the future.  What is the now?

Presumed Plan : Your guess is as good as mine but I'll say Vargas and Alu and maybe Kieboom or Darren Baker later, spinning tires waiting on House to arrive and if not House than a rocketing Yohandy or a surprise again Lipscomb.

Reasoning behind Presumed Plan : Vargas and Alu are on the 40 man still. There's my reasoning. I think the Nats are looking to spend some money but FA SP has to be goal 1 and 1B or maybe a big bat DH/OF would make more sense than a 3B when really what they want for 2024 is House to be great in AA/AAA and force their hand to bring him up. 

Their remains a possibility of signing a 3B guy I guess as the guys available (Candelario, Chapman, Urshela) combine D and O in a way that makes them more valuable then what they'll probably get. But I think it's a long shot because of the needs noted.  Nats aren't really in "get cute to try to get value" mode, or at least shouldn't be. 

My Take :  


If the Nats have made a commitment to try something at 1B (which the DFA of Smith suggests) then trying something at 3B doesn't make much sense. I suppose you could shift any of those guys to 1B, the Cubs did that to Candelario, if House is ready quick or even if he isn't and you just want to, but then that value you got at 3B that took into account their defense is lessened. 

So you do nothing. 

Well maybe not. You could try to recreate 2023 in that you sign a guy with comeback potential and turn that into another live arm type.  Is there another target like this? Brian Anderson or Joey Wendle, two decent defenders with offensive success in the past might work but the offensive success is futher off and not as high as Jeimer's was. In fact when we look for just offense really no one has that potential sitting out there. They are all mostly several years older.  Man, what a smart move signing Candelario was. 

Out of what's out there - utility man Donovan Solano is a guy who doesn't need to come back as he's been hitting enough to stay good. Maybe the Nats can offer him a starting role that he can't get elsewhere.

Another vaugely interesting move could be signing Evan Longoria. You've got the "veteran leadership" GMs and coaches love and there's some sense he can still hit the lefties, so you could move him to DH. But he seems to be very much a Nelson Cruz risk a guy that will age out in 2024. 

There are no good moves here. Let it ride and focus on the SP and getting someone up here after the trade deadline to take their first stab at the majors.   

*In the sense they wanted House to rocket to the majors and he did not

Wednesday, November 15, 2023

Dom Smith gone but what's the plan

The Nats made a bunch of roster moves yesterday. 

Robles and Rainey were re-signed.  Rainey was pretty much a given. He doesn't cost much. The Nats have always really liked him. If he's really recovered from TJ (and most guys do) then he'll add to a decent back-end of the bullpen, a necessity for a team whose rotation is still a question mark. Robles was more of a question as the team and him have had a rocky relationship and he showed pretty well last year when healthy. But that last part is the key as Victor didn't play a game in the last 3 months of the year. While teams may have been interested it's unlikely they would have offered more than a minor league deal for Robles if he was out there. He probably could have had his pick of which team to end up with but the money was going to be better here. For the Nats he's a placeholder until the prospects are ready and even if he hits his potential he's likely done in DC after this season. 

In Alphabetical order Zach Brzykcy, Cole Henry, D.J. Herz, and Mitchell Parker were added to the 40-man to protect them from the Rule V.  These moves mostly make sense. Except for Henry these are all guys with really live arms and the Nats don't have a lot of those types. Herz and Parker are technically starters now but could be shifted to the pen at any point, especially for a year if selected in Rule V. Cole was a decently well thought of SP prospect and those guys always draw interest from pitching poor teams. Zach was probably the biggest stretch protecting - a pure reliever recovering from TJ who looked good in 2023 but in fairly limited innings - but you can still see it especially given the corresponding moves. 

Matt Cronin was move #1 a week or so ago. DFA'd because he's down with back surgery after being added himself to the 40man last year for Rule V protection.  He should be back in the minors as he works back. But the Nats needed three more spots.

Cory Abbott was one. At 28 and with a few tries in the majors showing little there isn't much reason to keep him around, although he might come back as AAA starter filler. Was one of those guys derailed by the pandemic. Not that he was going to be a star but he was asked to jump from AA where he was ok to AAA after the off-year because he was aging out of minors and couldn't do it. Probably too late for the guy to get the year of AA reset he needs especially given he wasn't thought of that highly to begin with. 

Andres Machado is just a guy. From the release he's looking at Japan where he can probably do ok and make a little more money than he would as a journeyman last man in the pen he'd be over here for a couple years. Nats need arms but arms like Machado are replaceable.

Now to the biggy -  Dominic Smith was designated for assignment. One one hand - this is good because Dom Smith was not really a positive player here. He wasn't the negative he seemed to be because he didn't hit homers. Overall he was meh. So the Nats can improve here. But as I noted in my post a while ago - the market for 1B isn't strong. The Nats can spend money here or they can get worse and I'm not 100% sure what the plan actually is. 

What I don't get is the interaction here with Meneses and presumably Riley Adams. Neither is good enough that they can't be pushed out of a position, even DH.  Neither is reliable enough that you can say you are going to get above average hitting from them in 2024. So forcing out Smith to go with some sort of Meneses/Adams/? rotation at 1B DH or even worse a set Meneses Adams duo would be asking for trouble. You are accepting worse defense, maybe terrible defense, for unclear gains at the plate from non-prospects. If this is the plan after Smith it's a terrible one. 

So that means looking at FA and if they are great. But as noted the market is Bellinger and Hoskins, with Santana and Candelario as back-up plans and then a lot of questions. The Nats don't need to commit to a question.

Dom is not a contending 1B in most scenarios. The Nats would have had to move on from him at some point. But if they move on from him laterally in 2024 I don't see the point. Do you really like Adams? Well then you let him DH! Joey is a 31 year old with questionable defense that had a below average bat this year. I don't know. This suggest something bigger and better but it also sets us up for a let down if they don't go for that.

Friday, November 10, 2023

Off-Season Position Discussion : Shortstop

The Nats have their shortstop of the future!

Of course last year we said the Nats have their second baseman of the future and that didn't exactly turn out as expected. While people are treating CJ Abrams as the answer, it's better said that he's a question that after 2023 you want to see played fully out. He has all the talent in the world and we saw it on display.  He was one of the major league leaders in stealing bases, swiping 47 bases while only being caught 4 times. He had one of the best ranges at SS in the game. He showed a nice increase in power hitting 11 homers after the All-Star Break among the leaders at his position.

And yet... 

He wasn't as effective a total baserunner, not showing great ability going from 1st to 3rd or scoring from 2nd.  He wasn't able to turn that range into more outs, still ending up in the lower ranks of fielders for his position. He didn't end up with a positive offensive year, unable to get that average up high enough and not currently capable of getting on base consistently through walks.

Behind him Vargas played some decent SS and wasn't awful at the plate. Mostly though he covered other positions as Adams covered the vast majority of playing time at short.

Presumed Plan : Abrams backed up by Vargas, with possibly House/Lipscomb/? getting playing time if there's an injury

Reasoning behind Presumed Plan : CJ Abrams is one of the main prospects gotten in the Soto trade. He can play SS.  He was ok last year overall and brought some excitement when he flashed the complete package in July. He gets another full year obviously with the idea being unless he tanks he's going to be playing SS for the Nats for a while.  

The Nats high minors situation at SS isn't very good. You've seen the Jeter Downseses and Lucius Foxeses. Vargas is here and capable and shouldn't be pushed as a back-up.  If something happens, as a 31yo journeyman, he also is easy enough to keep as a back-up and try something different over him, as noted in the presumed plan.

My Take :  

In Abrams, you have a player with the tools to be great. That's why he was a Top 10 prospect at one point. 

You also have a player with the reality of improving merely to be maybe average. That's why the Padres could part with him. 

But he did improve.  He cut down on his errors that made him a clear liability at SS. He increased his power taking his batting profile away from "does nothing good". He got more aggressive on the base paths utilizing that plus speed effectively. 

If he can improve just a little bit more in the field and at the plate, with his speed he'll be an above average player. If he can improve more than that he has star potential.  He probably won't ever be a complete player.  He's just not a natural fielder and he will likely never hit for average, but he could easily be a Lindor lite, hitting almost like Francisco and trading plus base-stealing for plus defense. That's worth less but still worth a fair amount.

Behind him Vargas played some decent SS and wasn't awful at the plate. A team looking to win it all would probably want something better. They'd want a player that could step in if there was an injury and overall be average.  Vargas isn't that. But he's going to play solid D, be able to be used at all the infield positions, and he shouldn't be an automatic out at the plate. That probably won't be the case much longer but for this level of team,  Vargas is a decent bench guy. 

So all in all I'm fine with the plan here too. The Nats are in "give young guys a lot of playing time" mode and Abrams is a perfect example of a guy you want to give more playing time to, without being an obvious good player. 

Wednesday, November 08, 2023

Off-Season Position Discussion : Second Base

2023 at second base did not go as the Nats wanted it to and yet it went exactly as should have been expected which makes the Nats reactions this year extremely curious.  After 2022, Luis Garcia had a lock on the position. He was average at the plate and while a disaster at SS, seemingly average in the field at 2B. He provided a cheap combo to not worry about moving forward. Just do that again and the Nats would be fine. Grow into a better player, a distinct possibility for a 22 year old, and the Nats would be very happy. 

Instead Garcia sort of floundered taking a step back both offensively and defensively. Instead of an average position it was a negative. To try to shake things up Garcia was sent down where he promptly didn't do much better. But the Nats talked about him trying harder and focusing and they brought him up again after a month. He didn't immediately do anything either but finished with a flourish, maybe being the Nats best hitter in the last two weeks. Motivation? Randomness? 

Another reason he was brought back up were the replacements for Garcia in his time off did little. Chavis and Vargas could field but neither could hit and Alu, in his limited time did neither. There were no quick solutions. 

But perhaps is there a long term one? Abrams took a step forward this year to a viable player and was once one of the top prospects in the game. He should hang onto SS. That means Brady House, who had a rebound year, moves to 3rd. If not guaranteed it seems likely that duo will be seen from the end of 2024 through 2025 as the Nats test the youth movement to its fullest. That means any other FA or minor leaguer now looks at 2B as their way in. Trey Lipscomb, hot for 2/3rds of 2023 then ice-cold? Fan favorite Not my favorite Jake Alu who made the least of two short major league opportunities? Super young riser Yohandy Morales? Try to force it one more time Carter Keiboom?  All have to be eyeing 2B.

Presumed Plan : 

Garcia starts at 2B. If he plays well he stays. If he doesn't the Nats start to rotate in anyone good on the 40 man

Reasoning behind Presumed Plan : 

A FA is pretty much out. 2B manned by a flawed 24 year old who was perfectly OK in 2022 is not where this team should focus. 

That leaves the minors to push Luis and while there are several players knocking on the door it's a soft knock a couple rooms away. There's no immediate push to Luis. With no one forcing the situation giving him another go at it makes sense. If someone suddenly bursts through the doors the Nats can re-evaluate then. 2024 is not a competitive year in the plans. 

My Take :  

Garcia seems like the next Robles. A guy with talent that's probably underperforming but who also is made a scapegoat by the Nats.  He should be allowed to make his large amount of contact and field ok letting age and development add a little power to it. But the Nats seem to want to make him a more selective hitter. It's not producing more walks or better hit balls instead making him more vulnerable to lower pitches in the zone that he now feels he needs to go after since he can't chase higher pitches out wide.

If the Nats leave him alone I think Garcia holds off the competition. If the Nats keep forcing him to go away from what probably is a 100-110 OPS+ major league bat on the small chance of making him something greater, I think he fails. 

Whether or not that failure leads to replacement is anyone's guess. You all know that I am not high on Alu.  I am low. Very low. He stinks.  Lipscomb got everyone excited but just died at the end of the year. Probably that's the grind getting to him but hitting .136 / .174 / .185 for a fifth of the season can't be ignored completely. Yohandy is probably the most exciting one - a guy that just hit in college who continued to do just that in the minors albeit with strangely limited power.  Do the Nats try the former SS at 2B? It's possible. But it's probably more likely they start using him at 1B. He's a big unknown only playing 18 g in A, 18 in A+ and 4 in AA and it's hard to project anything for him just yet. 

Given all that Garcia likely plays 2B for most of, if not all the year. This is what I would do so... good! After that I don't know. He seems to be on Rizzo's bad side but he probably slots in as the perfectly acceptable 4th in an all-young all-cheap infield in 2025, or in a young infield with a 1B FA.

Monday, November 06, 2023

Off-Season Position Discussion : First Base

The Nats 1B situation feels bad. Dom Smith, who manned the bag in 2023 couldn't hit and only fielded ok. The Nats were fine with that this past season because they wanted to provide their young infielders with a decent defensive target and they wanted someone young enough that they could maybe get a surprise improvement.  Dom checked both of those boxes.  But going into 2024 it's hard to say he checks the second box now four years removed from his brief moment of pandemic season stardom. 

It seems pretty obvious that the Nats should upgrade here, that first base is an easily place to upgrade with a big bat even if they can't field well. But the Nats don't seem inclined to put money into the team right now and even if they did pitching seems like more of a necessity.  Also, sneakily, maybe Dom isn't so bad after all? 

Here are 1/3 of the MLB's 1B situations in 2023

SEA :  Ty France - barely average hitter and a stiff in the field

SDP : Jake Croneneworth mostly - barely average hitter and mediocre in the field

DET : Spencer Torkleson - ok hitter should get better, fielding wise... let's generously say waiting for Miggy to clear out of DH 

MIL : Rowdy Tellez - bad hitter, bad fielder. Replaced mid-season with Carlos Santana - a good hitter and good fielder who also will be 38 next year

CHC : A lot of Bellinger who was pretty good but you'd rather have in the OF. Forced to play there bc Mancini and Mervis were terrible with the bat

MIA : Yuri Gurriel got old and Garret Cooper was never special, not particularly good in the field

HOU : Jose Abreu got old and is also not particularly good in the field

COL : Montero, Cron - a bunch of awful bats with no real redeeming fielding.

KC : Pasquatino can hit but is a butcher in the field.  A big improvement over Nick Pratto though who was awful in every way. Still might end up as Sal Perez's landing spot so maybe that works

LAA : After trying 3-4 guys that couldn't hit or field, would use Drury but he was kind of wasted at first, until they got to Schanuel a prospect that should hit ok and should field ok. 

 Anyway the point is this is the state of first base in baseball today. There is not a bunch of guys that can hit ok and field ok out there.  There aren't bunch of good bats needing a place to land even if it's not ideal. No, about half the league would love to upgrade their first base and they can't. This includes competitive teams.

Presumed Plan : Dom Smith returns, Joey backs up while they keep fiddling around with Riley Adams and maybe start fiddling around with Lane Thomas.

Reasoning behind Presumed Plan : See above. There aren't a lot of options and there will be a fair amount of competition to the options that do exist.  Bellinger will probably get the big money and Hoskins will likely get the follow-up with anyone else worth getting having to be a position shift. The Nats might be interested in spending money but it's doubtful they will reach for anything when what they have isn't broken. Instead expect a SP focus as the market there has some depth and the Nats need something decent and reliable, if not great. 

They like Dom. Dom seems to like it here. He serves his purpose and will likely take another 1 year contract so the Nats don't have to commit to him past this upcoming season. They like Joey and Joey is very cheap.  Value wise the Nats are actually doing pretty well here.

My Take :  We've come a long way from the roid days when you couldn't lift a first base without finding a guy hitting .270 with 30 homers. With the pharmaceutical propping up of bats no longer happening, there is no longer a surplus. The ones that can play a position are doing so, and with the expansion of the DH the ones that can't play a position aren't. That leaves 1B a no-man's land full of 2nd/3rd best non-fielding bats and slick fielding 1B prospects whose bats never developed. Dom sort of fits the latter.

Not that there isn't big potential issues here. Dom's mediocre 2023 was better than either of his previous two seasons and an upset Dom in the past has been flat out terrible. If his situation here gets murky and he gets unhappy history says he'll tank hard. 

There isn't much better behind him either. Joey showed his true nature last year which is a guy that can hit ok. That's also fine I guess. Riley Adams might get more of a shot but given his glove work I can't imagine it working out unless he puts everything together at the plate and we just forget about it. Although at that point you'd probably want him at DH.  

I do think Lane Thomas at 1B is an interesting possibility. He's worse in the OF than he looks and even if he bounces back he was never a plus guy out there. But he does seem athletic to a degree and if that translates to decent 1B defense it can solve that issue of where to put his bat which is decent but not really want you imagine a DH to be.

Look I don't know.  It's hard to shake off the memories of our youth but the facts are the 1B situation today resembles the 70s more than the 90s. In this environment Dom is... fine? He easily could drift back to an even worse place with his bat but if he's under the expected one year deal (or one year plus a team option - which is what I think is most likely) then you just cut bait in August/September and move on. There's no downside other than it hurting 2024 but there is no indication the Nats are in it for 2024.  Oh, I suppose it keeps the Nats from setting up the position for 2025 which they may actually care about but I just don't see them putting the money into getting one of the two guys who'd definitely be worth it. But if they do - great! I'd be all in for Hoskins, older but more reliable than the wild potential of Cody Bellinger. I just don't see it happening. 

The Nats need to make FA moves but only SP is a must especially in this environment. If they go for a bat, be it 1B, 3B, or OF then that should be a secondary move. It would be a strong one, showing real commitment to competing sooner rather than later but a gutsy one with the reliance on prospects to fill out holes.  I don't think the Nats are that gutsy.  So I expect Dom back. 

Tuesday, October 24, 2023

Off-Season Position Discussion : Catcher

The Nats catching situation is a matter of perspective. On one hand the Nats have a middling hitting catcher, with a unproven back-up, neither of which can field at all according to the limited stats.  On the other hand they have one of the youngest starting catchers in the league, wrapped up for a reasonable value, who is a top half offensive player for the position backed up by a player that mashed lefties in 2023.  

If you think the fielding is really that bad, and I mean you think it is easily worst in the majors bad, then the situation isn't great. The offense being merely ok can't overcome this deficiency and the Nats have a well below average position hurting them. If you think the fielding is not that bad and either this was just a fluke season, random variation, or bad stats, even if it is bottom 5, the offense balances it better and the Nats are left with a spot while not helping the squad doesn't hurt them.  Considering how easy it is for the C position to hurt a team a fair amount that's a win. 

But the Nats didn't want this to be a default win. They wanted catcher to be a plus.  Does the lack of movement here change anything going forward?

Presumed Plan : 

Ruiz with Adams as a back-up.

Reasoning behind Presumed Plan : 

Ruiz has been signed to that long term contract (through 2030 at least) and the Nats appear committed to giving him a good long try at making it.  Figure at the very least through 2025 as first choice starter, with another year of an aborted try even if things look grim. 

Adams platoons well with Ruiz if he can mash lefties because Ruiz has a big power issue from the right side. While he did hit for a much higher average from the right side this year, that wasn't the case last year, unlike the power imbalance. You can count on him NOT hitting homers batting righty. You can't count on him hitting .290.

Since Riley doesn't hit RHP that great and neither fields well there isn't anything more to look at here at the top. 

As for the minors there are some guys to look at, most notably Drew Millas. He hit very well in AA, ok in AAA, and pretty good in a brief stint in the majors.  He's also more well thought of defensively.

My Take :  

There really isn't a very good reason to abort this plan.  Adams hit lefties well but it was just one year, he hit rather poorly this year against righties, and he can't field the position well either. He doesn't look like a replacement. You signed him to have him be a cornerstone of your team. Now you play him.  I'd love it if the Nats showed they were going all out to help him and sign some very specific outside catcher help.  maybe they have? Make a show of it though. You committed millions to the guy, committing a few tens of thousands more for one on one defensive training should be an obvious move.

What about Millas?  Well Millas made himself a decent prospect and if he hits in AAA (where we presume he'll start to play everyday) that will cause a quandry. A good "too many startable young guys at catcher" quandry, but a quandry nonetheless. Since Millas can field (we assume) then if he can hit like Ruiz you'd want to play him.  But Ruiz has the contract so Millas will be far easier to deal and bring more back. Also Ruiz doesn't hit that well to shift him. Niether does Millas really. There's a lot of ways this works out fine. Most likely Ruiz is about average and Millas is about average in AAA and you sort of work Millas up as the back-up, letting Adams either go or work himself into a DH/1B platoon if he's still mashing lefties.  But if Millas hits good, not great but good, and Ruiz hits below average that sets up a "do you try to get better behind the plate with about the same offense you hope while kind of making a mess of that contract" situation.

I'll note here that Millas is 6 months OLDER than Ruiz so this isn't like Ruiz is blocking a phenom if Millas does well.

The Nats aren't in a bad situation here but they were really hoping it was going to be a good one. It still could be but in 2023 it wasn't.  Here's to Ruiz making it work and Millas also hitting ok to become nice trade bait.

Thursday, October 19, 2023

HOF Managers Yes or No

First off - YES!  Let them all in! Who really cares about which managers are in?! Do we even know how to judge these guys?! 

Anyway Managers up for the Hall and their stats

Cito Gaston : 894-837 (.516), 5 postseason appearances with 1 team in 12 years, Two World Series appearances with two titles (92/93 Blue Jays), first Black manager to win a World Series

Davey Johnson : 1372-1071 (.562), 6 postseason appearances with 4 different teams in 17 years, One World Series appearance with one title (86 Mets), above .500 record with every team managed

Jim Leyland : 1769-1728 (.506), 8 postseason appearances with 3 different teams in 22 years, Three World Series appearances with one title (97 Marlins), retired after three straight first place finishes

Lou Pinella : 1835-1713 (.517), 7 postseason appearances with 3 different teams in 23 years, One World Series appearance with one title (90 Reds), Managed team with most wins ever (116 win 2001 Mariners)

Pinella has the most wins of any non-active, non Gene Mauch* manager.  Leyland is right behind him. Davey has the highest winning percentage of any non-active standard manager with more than like 6 seasons managed** that's not in the Hall. Cito is one of the few multi title winners not in the Hall. They all

Post season records on another level are worth looking at Pinella won 5 series and lost 6, Leyland won 9 and lost 7, Johnson won 5 and lost 5, Gaston 4 and 4. 

You can make a good argument for any of them, but there are really three different Hall of Fame manager arguments and we're seeing two of them here.  The arguments are (1) how do we judge nulti-title managers, (2) how do we judge one title managers, and (3) how do we judge no title managers. 

Pinella, Leyland, & Johnson are all in the one title group and the decision to be made isn't clear. Davey is probably the best manager, and in my mind most deserving of the three. But he did managed like 1000 fewer games than either of the other two.  Pinella was probably a better regular season manager but ran into more disappointment in the playoffs than Leyland did. If you look outside of managing for some reaons, in terms of baseball feelings, people generally like Leyland the most. Pinella and Johnson both could be ornery. Pinella though was clearly the best player, kind of a Hall of Good type. Davey had a solid career. Leyland was a nothing.

My personal ranking would be Davey, Leyland, Pinella, with the only reason Davey isn't in already is the fact he was his own worst enemy keeping jobs, but I could see it going exactly the opposite way.

Gaston doesn't particularly compare well with these guys, almost 2000 games behind the most seasoned two and with a record overall that isn't special. But he is in the two title manager argument. While one title can be seen as a fluke, being at the right place at the right time, generally two titles are your ticket in. Gaston's problem is that Ralph Houk and Danny Murtaugh exist. Both of these guys are also two-title winners and haven't really come close to getting in the Hall. Houk has about the same winning percentage but a lot more games managed.  Murtaugh has about the same number of games managed but a higher winning percentage. It's hard on a just results to put Gaston in over either of these guys. BUT Gaston is historically important in a way Murtaugh and Houk are not an that should and does matter. When electing anyone, place in the game is important and Gaston inhabits a space Houk and Murtaugh do not. 

Personally I'd go Murtaugh, Gaston, Houk if I was ranking all three but we're only deciding on one and it's Gaston and I guess I'd go with no? But I'm not pitching a fit if he gets in. He's worthy. I will say though if he gets in then Murtaugh will almost be a given the next time he comes around.

There are also umpires (West is a shoo-in) and others (bet on the beloved Bill White) 

*Mauch managed a very long time and was considered someone that did well with lousy teams. But doing well with lousy teams doesn't translate to wins and he only made the playoffs twice, losing both series he managed. He's kind of become the "ok better than this gets in" line.

**there are two Negro League managers with higher percentages, one that managed 7 and one 11 years though the seasons noted are half as long if that. There's also a pre-1900 manager with 9 seasons. But the point stands that no one is really close given Davey managed far more games than all these guys. 

Tuesday, October 17, 2023

The Boz must be crazy

Tom Boswell is back, jack! And that's Jack Morris because it's time for takes as bad as Jack Morris being in the Hall of Fame. Boswell pens a piece for the Post that tries to envision a Nats' present that involves keeping Bryce, Trea, and Soto and letting Stras and Rendon go.  In a sense, it's making the best FA deals they could have made avoiding mistakes.

It's an interesting thought experiment that unfortunately Boz doesn't put much thought into.  In his world signing Bryce stops the Nats from winning the 2019 World Series and then the team fails to do any better in 2020-2023 and without the trades of Max & Trea & Soto and the terrible 2022 that gave them the Crews pick in 2023 they have a terrible farm. In his mind they become the Angels of the NL.  But is this really how it would go?  Let's just go with results. 

2019 : 100% signing Bryce likely means they don't sign Corbin and maybe they don't sign / trade for a couple other guys.  Which ones? Dozier? Ok yeah. Anibal. No, they need a starter. One of Gomes/Suzuki? Probably.  But also they maybe let Adams walk and Bryce plays 1B. And they probably don't give Rosenthal 7 million for the worst pitching you've ever seen. 

Do they make the playoffs? You'd have to think so. They'd have to be 7-8 games worse to miss. And they didn't win the division remember. In fact the most reasonable guess, that they are a couple games worse, which means they likely still host the WC. 

Now do they win the World Series? You'd have to guess not. In part because the special role Corbin and other guys played in that run. In part because winning the World Series takes a huge bit of luck. The Nats were a better use of Hader, a Will Smith fly ball going 5 feet deeper, and multiple shots off Max Scherzer going right at guys from not doing it. Chances of rolling sevens again are slim. So Boz is right about this

2020 : But in 2020 what happens? It's a COVID year so it's weird but the Nats OF and 1B situation was flat out awful. Bryce would have been a couple game improvement by himself even in a shortened season. And the Nats were counting on Stras who gave them nothing. With an average performance by anyone they get a couple games there. Corbin by this time was a tick below average. Easy enough to make up. I'll admit that's only 30-30 as a record maybe. But 29-31 made the playoffs. The Nats are in it and if they are in it, they can win it. 

2021 : The further we go into this the harder it is to gauge. Again Stras is a nothing and Corbin is now terrible so NOT relying on them is actually going to likely help the team by literal multiple wins. The offense wasn't bad but was unlucky and perhaps Bryce in there is what it needs to click into the top level offense it should have been. But we can't expect GOOD pitching and all this still probably only puts them around .500 at the trade deadline. If they don't sell Max and Trea there's a chance they make a run instead of collapse, and maybe they make some moves. The problem is this year it took 88 wins to win the NL East (90 to win the WC) and I'm not quite sure they make it. 

2022 : And now things probably do go off the rails. If Max leaves (which is the assumption if they are paying Trea and about to pay Soto) and Ross gets injured then there is no one left to pitch and even with the three stars and whatever budget pick-ups they make they are still probably slugging their way to about .500. A ton better than 55 wins but likely nowhere near enough to the 87 it would take to get the playoffs.

2023 : It might get interesting here.  It only took 84 wins to make the playoffs this year and if they did anything right with starters since 2021 they might have put together enough to get over this small hump.  But then again, maybe not. Finding pitching is hard. 

For the second part we need to imagine what would their minors look like. I must admit probably not this good. They didn't get much from any tear down trade before 2022 and let's just say Max gets then Ruiz or Grey.  Up until here that's not too different.  But Soto did give them a full handful of decent prospects. None of those guys; Wood, Susana, Gore, Abrams, Hassell, would be here and that's 3 of the Nats Top 12 prospects, including a Top 10ish overall guy gone. That's not even considering the two guys contributing in the majors also not here. 

The draft is big unknown. This is all just spitballing. 2020's middling season got them Brady House in 2021. A better record though could have gotten a comparable well thought of toolsy SS in later rounds. That draft was lousy with them. 2022 got them Elijah Green. A .500 ish record and the same aim of a toolsy OF couldn't help but get someone better than the faltering Green. The guys that fit that description at that point in the draft are actually pretty decent prospect. 2023 got them Crews and I'm not going to even look - around .500 doesn't get them something as good as Crews. But like I said there's a lot more unknowns here. Do they focus more on international signings if they don't have the draft picks? Do they go after more pitchers because of the hitters they signed? 

If I were to guess if they signed all three they definitely make the playoffs in 2020 and in one of the next three years things fall right and they make it again. If they make the playoffs twice more that's two more chances to win a World Series. Of course they probably don't - they did make it in 2012, 14, 16 and 17 and came up empty, but we just don't know. Also the seasons are just a lot more fun to watch. They would have a fairly barren farm system though and would not really have a good plan on how they are going to get that pitching to complement the hitting. Comparing this imaginary 2023 Bryce/Trea/Soto led Nats team to a team like the Angels isn't that far off. Not in 2020 or 2021 but for 2023... I think Boz is actually pretty on the nose. 


Boz misses one big point. What if the Nats signed Bryce and Trea and traded Soto? The minors are almost entirely the same. Sure they lack Grey or Ruiz and that matters, but one of them is here along with Abrams and Gore. They also don't have Crews but they likely lucked into an actual OF prospect when kept from selecting Green.  And importantly they do have is a lot of money that could go into signing a starter or two. What if that Soto money went into Verlander? Or if they got it exactly right and got Senga and Eflin? Then the 2023 Nats have the young players AND a decent enough 1-2-3 in the rotation have been playing a week ago.  

The Nats present isn't great but it could have been better. With the hindsight information we have now we can piece together a way the Nats are both competitive now AND have some hope for the future as well. This isn't magic! We know exactly how things have gone! One should be able to do this!  What it turns out the Nats needed to do was sign Bryce and Trea and trade Soto in a fleecing deal. Or really you could say they need to sign two of them and get a ton back in a deal for the trade they do make.

To say the Nats did everything exactly right is to excuse the terribleness of the past few years as necessary. It wasn't. With the right moves the Nats could have shifted from window to window with a minor drop to .500 ish for a year or two. Could the Nats have made those exact right moves? It would have been tough. I'm certainly not going to say yes, but I'll acknowledge it's possible. That they didn't "do the right thing" in an absolute sense. 

How about in a relative sense? Not knowing if you can make those right moves, is tearing down to build up the best move? I think an argument can be made that it is. I don't agree but again I have to acknowledge that it's possible. But now the onus is on the Nats to prove that is what they did. We know they tore down. Did they build up? 

If they didn't then the Nats didn't do the right things no matter how you look at it. They didn't make the absolute right moves, and they didn't make the right choices to make the relative right moves, if you believe that's what they were, work.  I'm not giving them credit for knowing the best path to take if they trip and fall down into a ravine while taking it. 

Thursday, October 12, 2023

The starting point for 2024

One thing before we get into off-season position discussions.  I've alluded to this a few times but the Nats weren't as good as their record suggests they were. 

I would think we all know by now about the "Pythagorean" record, but maybe some don't so a quick refresher that your W/L tend to scale along with the number of runs you score and runs you allow. It does so in a fairly regular way and has over the years. Given that when your actual record skews far off from your Pythagorean one, you can fairly safely attribute it to luck.  Attempts to suggest it was something else, don't seem to hold going forward or looking back*, nor do they necessarily match up with the best and worst teams in the league. 

Luck happens. We all know it does. Part of having a good year is actually minimizing that luck, but really you just hope it breaks for you. You don't get the one or two injuries you can't afford. You sneak out a couple more close wins than you probably should. Anyway the Nats won 71 games last year. Their Pythagorean record says they should have won around 67.  That's probably low enough to suggest the Nats were a little lucky. 

But some stats guys have even gone beyond that trying to adjust also for strength of schedule and the actual talent on the teams you faced when you faced them.  These "adjusted standings" try to get a more accurate picture of the team as it stands. The same ones I noted last year had the Nats as more of a 61 win team that had misfortune. This year they were more of a 63 win team. 

Now of course what does this matter? It certainly doesn't matter at all for this year. No one is going to "correct" the win totals of teams. They went out there, won those games and that's done with. What it does though, is give you a reasonable suggestion of where you should start your analysis for next years Nats team.  When it comes down to it they did not have the talent of a "in a vacuum" 71 win team. It was more like 67 or 63.  If you said 65 that would probably be fair. It's from that point the Nats are trying to improve.

That makes the jump to competitive that much harder, but you want to be realistic. The Nats don't need to add ~10 games to get in the conversation, they need to add ~16.  That's another superstar or two more good players. 

I think the Nats know this, if not directly in this manner. They know they aren't potentially a competitive team in 2024 without everything going their way. This is why the off-season FA talk is muted. It's not going to take 2 smart signings to make things work, it'll take 4 and they aren't ready to do that. When instead they can maybe wait another year and have developing players cover a couple of those spots.  My response is fine. Think this. But make two signings anyway. Set up needing less to make it work going into 2024. Guarantee a step forward even if the minors don't provide help. Commit to a run at the playoffs, if only a flawed one for a couple years. Prove you aren't going to pack it all back in, slow walk the guys in the minors and move your sights to 2027.

The Nats still need a lot of work, more than last season would have you believe.  But they are losing time to do that work. It's time to start with the understanding it may very well likely take even more next off-season.

*in other words, "espirit d' corps" if it exists for some reason only seems to last season.

Friday, October 06, 2023

Is the Nats 2023 rebuild in a better place than 2010

Zuckerman suggests yes, the Nats are, in a vacuum, in a better spot today than they were in in 2010.  The hitting talent is younger. The pitching talent is no older. The Nats have a set of young potential stars, where in 2010 the number was smaller (for example once past the few couple you were on Michael Burgess and Eury Perez).  So by those numbers it does seem like the future might be brighter now. And, he suggests, if the Nats are willing to make moves like they did back then (sign a Werth, trade for a Gio) than they might develop on the same time frame, giving the Nats a true contender in 2025 and maybe good enough to try for a playoff spot in these expanded times next season.   

One obvious thing that Zuckerman glosses over is that Strasburg was seen not just as a pitcher but as a generational ace. Neither Gore nor Gray nor anyone in the Nats system is assumed to be one. Bryce Harper, one of the few highlights in the minors, was seen as a generational hitter, something that Crews and Wood hold only outside chances of being by most pundits. You could argue that even with their performances Strasburg and Bryce didn't quite live up to the hype and they were still extremely impactful players.  If the Nats current crop slightly underperforms they won't be great.

But really the important thing here is the one number Zuckerman glosses over - the number of things that hit. In 2010 to 11 to 12 it was nearly all across the board, an insane break of timing and luck that any team would be hard pressed to repeat. 

Wilson Ramos graduated to the majors and was an above average hitter immediately. Ian Desmond graduated to the majors and became an above average hitter. Morse was like August Joey but for a full year in 2011 and still good in 2012. Jordan Zimmermann became an ace pitcher. Gio Gonzalez became an ace pitcher. Werth was good in 2011, reasonable, if hurt in 2012. LaRoche sort of the opposite, bad/hurt in 2011 but good in 2012. Stammen, Storen, Clippard became multi-year plus relievers supplemented with randoms guys that would be good for a season. The Nats would draft Rendon. 

None of this was apparent in the post-season after 2010, outside of Morse maybe being good, so yes it looked darker. But in hindsight it got immediately surprisingly much better. It wasn't a natural development forward. It was a unexpected leap. To expect the 2024 Nats to perhaps be better than the 2011 Nats would require both FA input like Werth and an equivalent unexpected leap, maybe more of one since as noted they lack the Strasburg and probably don't have the Bryce. 

It's not too hard to see the offense match what the Nats were in 2011/2012. Beyond the FA acquisitions to make up for Werth & LaRoche yet undefined the pieces are mostly there.  You need a prospect to play like early Bryce but early Bryce wasn't THAT good. Crews or Wood might do it. Someone would have to be good like Morse, but Thomas might be able to do that without Morse's peak, or maybe Garrett or Meneses. You'd need two guys to get good like Desmond and Ramos. Abrams seems to have that potential and there's a handful of guys - Ruiz, Garcia, the other of Crews/Wood, Hassell, Lipscomb, House - to be the other guy.  There's another big piece missing here - Ryan Zimmerman as the young star. I'm not sure what you do about that but maybe two of that handful work out fast? Regardless you can make out something for the 2025 Nats that isn't too far off the 2012 Nats assuming FAs are coming.

The pitching though. Can Gray/Gore/Cavalli/? have a good year where it all comes together like Detwiler? Probably. Can one blossom into an ace like ZNN did?  Maybe. But even so can the Nats trade for a guy who also aces out like Gio? And what about the missing Strasburg ace already in place if he heals (which he did)?  The bullpen might have two of the decent arms noted with Finnegan and Harvey, but both those guys are older than any of the three building blocks were in 2010.  From the looks of how the pen has performed it's hard to see enough of the annual surprise guys coming. You just can't make out the pitching to be like 2012 unless there are huge surprises.

So while the counts and the ages suggest a brighter future looking ahead from 2023 than from 2010, the talent in place presents a more mixed view and hindsight tells us the 2010 to 2012 move was as much about what surprised the Nats as it was moving forward with a plan. 

To compete in 2025 the Nats need FAs and the Nats need surprises. At least as many offensively, which might happen, but more pitching wise, which likely won't. To limit the surprises need the Nats need to lean more into FA or have a couple great trades.

Wednesday, October 04, 2023

Lucky or Unlucky : 2023

As part of my annual series, it's time to review the Nats season to see where they got lucky, where they got unlucky, and where things broke as expected.  This is a player based evaluation, so we aren't diving into adjusted standings and things like schedule strength and hit sequencing. We're going on what we thought players would most likely do going into the year and what they did do?  This team won a few more games than expected but I'm not sure specific player luck played into that. Let's see!


Candelario - The Nats gambling on FAs has been noticeably poor. But Jeimer was a great pick-up who found his bat while fielding 3B at an elite level. In the brief time with the Nats he was the best player, so much so he arguably still had the most value for the 2023 team's season despite being traded at the deadline. He probably isn't as good with the bat as he showed for the Nats (as evident by his modest play over 40 games for the Cubs) so the Nats got maximum value here - getting a guy in DJ Herz who might be something someday. Hey, the bar these days for deadline deals is WAY lower.

Garrett - Bad teams roll the dice on other people's trash. You expect it to be trash, but you hope to find something useful among a half-dozen players.  Garrett was arguably more than that, playing decent OF and hitting pretty well for half a season. Over the course of a season the guy playing like this is more valuable than Lane.

Adams - Attempts to play Adams every day failed and he didn't look like he had particular use at the major league level, but this year he showed a big jump in platoon splits, mashing lefties in a way he hadn't previously. From a nothing to a guy who potentially fits in well as a rest day fill-in for Ruiz (who has NO power batting RH) that's a good break for the Nats


Adams / Garrett injuries - Of course the latter two lucky breaks broke, literally.  Garrett broke his leg in late August and Adams broke his hand in early September. Injuries happen but you want to happen to bad players more than good.

Robles injury - Speaking of injuries Robles, forever in the Nats doghouse for one reason or another, was finally hitting and it wasn't just luck. He was hitting the ball much harder, quite possibly in reaction to the "we were wrong on Robles bc we didn't consider how hard he hit the ball" pieces that came out. Maybe this was the year he put it all together... but no, back issues limited him to 36 games this year.

Williams - Signing a guy for one year limits his value in trade. Signing for two makes more sense and signing a SP is an even better way to get more value. Trevor Williams had failed as a starter in go around one but was good as a spot starter and longer reliever and wanted another try.  How bad could it be? Bad. Worse than Corbin. Possibly the worst full season starter in baseball in 2023. I mean bad is a possibility, but worst? That's bad luck. 


As Expected

Strasburg - it was unlikely Strasburg would ever come back to pitch. He didn't.

Ruiz, Abrams, Garcia - The most likely scenario for any one of the young guys was they remain major league players, of around average value. That is what happened. Abrams shows a bit of spark, Garcia might be faltering but here they are averageish players in 2023.

Smith - Dom isn't good at the plate and he wasn't good this year. He's ok in the field and he was ok this year.

Call - Outside half a year of AAA ball Call looked like "all field no hit". Hey! That's what he is!

Thomas - Lane is fine. A hitter who plays poor OF who is useful because 3 OF can be hard to find and he's still a better bat than like 1/3 of the DH starting. Oh and he's cheap.

Meneses - Joey not being JOEY but being ok had to be the most likely scenario after the end of last year got people excited in him.

Rest of the minors who reached majors outside Adams and Garrett - non prospects doing non prospect things 

Corbin - we know what Corbin is now and it's this. With the bad luck taken away he's not historically bad but he's still Top 10-15-20 worst in the majors.

Gray / Gore - Similar to Ruiz and Abrams. You plot outcomes and this is where these guys end up in projections and then in reality. Gray got a little lucky with ERA but he also seems to always which likely means he has some skill that isn't caught in the FIP stuff but it's not a lot of skill we're talking about and the FIP is bad so the end result isn't amazing. 

Irvin/Adon - 5th starter types pitching like a 5th starters.   Adon got some bad ERA breaks, Irvin good ones. That happens. Neither are anything surprising

Finnegan/Harvey - The good veteran relievers remained good. Neither broke out to be special or collapsed to be bad.

Rest of pen (Sorsa, Ferrer / Abbott Ward) - Thompsons collapse might have been a bit of bad luck but that was more personal to him. His pitching was still useful.  Other than that a mix of AAAA arms who in any year some guys will be ok and some will be bad. Edwards got hurt but he's old. 

The Nats season in a player luck sense played out almost TOO regular. They had some lucky finds but ended up with them for limited times evening that out. Otherwise everything basically went according to plan.  The thing is the plan was never to be good. 

Not much will change on the player level next year either. Ruiz/Gray/Gore/Abrams/Garcia will be expected to be around average. The call-ups will probably be expected late and not necessarily contribute much in 2024. Everything around these guys is mediocre to bad. If the plan happens again the Nats won't be good and it won't be a surprise. 

As we've said for the Nats to be good they need (1) the minors to produce multiple someones who we can expect to be good in 2025 (though as noted not 2024 that would be a surprise)  and (2) they need to get FA they can expect to be good. Because right now the expectations is a lot of average backed up by a lot of bad.  That's the recipe for a ~70 win season going forward and while that was a pleasant surprise in 2023, it won't be if you see it in 2024, 2025, and 2026

Monday, October 02, 2023

Monday - Year in Review - Overview P1 - Nothing fancy

The Nats season is over. Their final record stands at 71-91. They were still last place in the NL East, and were tied for the 5th worst record in baseball. However they were confidently better than the dregs of the game, 10 games clear of the 4th worst record in baseball, which is an improvement over last year. The Nats got some measure of clarity during the season with Davey and Rizzo returning and the team looking like they won't sell in the immediate future. It will be another full go around for the Lerner/Rizzo combo that was so successful the first time through, albeit the first time with some things set up for them coming in. 

The Nats goals for this year were modest and they hit them modestly. Going in this was a franchise looking toward 2025 so you simply wanted the young guys in the majors already to solidify those roles and the minors to look like there could be impact players coming to help by that time. You have to answer positively to both of these goals. The fear of failure, and the rebuild coming undone before it really got started, did not come to pass.  

But the realizations were not revelations. The young guys in the majors solidified useful roles, but not much more. The guys who could be impact players in the next few years looked good, but not penciled in favorites for ROY in the next two seasons. The Nats are probably ready to take the next step but will need external (re: Free Agent) help to get there. 

So we leave 2023 where you would have said you needed to be when the season started, but not likely where you hoped to be. Offensively there are a handful of guys that could be the next Nats star, but as of today there isn't a single spot just yet to hang your hat on and point to saying "That's what's going to carry the Nats forward". In 2024 you need someone to become that guy. On the mound there are a couple guys that will fill out a rotation but there isn't that potential ace that will be in the top of the rotation, eating innings and giving the Nats likely wins every fifth time out there. In 2024 you need to have clarity on where that guy is coming from. 

While 2023 could not serve to give early answers on where the 2025 competitive team was coming from, it should help provide clarity on who is not going to be helping that team. Older guys did get decent trials at the major league level and showed little. These guys need to be cast off in favor of better bets to be helpful down the road. This isn't a team just filling space anymore. Each spot needs a thoughtful choice who is either helping the team now or might do so over the next three years.  No more fill-in lottery tickets. No more other team's trash. 

2023 ends as a success, but a success in that it allows the opportunity for 2024 to set up 2025 and beyond. Let's see the Nats make that happen.  

Friday, September 29, 2023

Three to win 1

Well that didn't go well. 

The Braves three game set is the last chance to grab that elusive 70th win and an important symbolic number. It is getting more necessary as people are starting to come back to the realization that this team is not in fact good (sorry Kolko) and they are pretty much bottom of the barrel for September. On August 29th they sat at 62-71. They've gone 7-19 since and while you can't discount the wins that happened, everything else around THIS team says they aren't a 70 win team*. It deserves a hard look in terms of how it was built and what their plans are for 2024. A 70th win though can soften those looks a little. 

The other seasons are over and yesterday, in reaction to a team shill "the minors are filled with competitiveness!" column I posted the records of the minor league teams

  • AAA : 66-80 3rd worst in IL 
  • AA : 59-77 tied 2nd worst in EL 
  • A+ : 55-75 2nd worst in Sally 
  • A : 65-63! 
  • FCL : .500! 
  • DSL: historically bad

The Nats were not good anywhere and bad most places.  Now what this means for the MAJOR league team is up for debate. Most of what I found in a cursory examination is that it matters a little bit. Obviously it is better if your minor leagues look really strong. I can tell you as a Durham Bulls goer (Rays AAA affiliate) that they are usually very good and Hey! They major league team is usually very good! But far more important is how your organization is ranked. That's looking at the potential major league talent that exists not the totality of talent. The Nats are ok there. But in terms of having a competitive minor leagues... yeah they don't. They might have a bunch of OFers who compete against each other, but that would be about it. 

Seasons almost over and we could talk about anything now, but we'll leave it be. Let's watch Rutledge pitch Monday then we can get to the hard look because I'm not softening anything, 70 wins or not.

*A little clarity - what you are is X.  How you do is Y.  Y is more important than X because that is what matters in terms of a season. It's the reality.  No one is saying "We won 90 but should have won 70, we will skip the playoffs" But looking forward X is more important. You don't have to give wins back. You do have to understand what those wins mean - if they were luck or skill. 

Monday, September 25, 2023

Monday Quickie - 5 to win 1

The goal is to win 70 right now. With one week ahead of them this is a minor victory they can point at to say things like "we were in the 50s in wins and now we are in the 70s" all winter long. But they were better and were fun so give them 70 I guess. 

The Mets have made things interesting as far as last place goes, currently on a four game losing streak and holding a 3-7 record in the last 10 to keep the Nats in the race for 4th. Granted it was a lot of one-run losses in there and the Mets are better than the Nats but there's an opening. Plus the Mets take on the Marlins who are still in the thick of the WC hunt. Of course the Nats play the Orioles who still need wins to sew up the AL East so don't expect an easy game tomorrow. Maybe if the O's win and Rays lose on Tuesday, the O's will let up on Wednesday.

What we saw was Jackson Rutledge have a 2nd good game in a row without the "it's the White Sox" caveat.  Yeah the Braves kind of "split-squad" the double header, but the top of the line-up 1-5 were still good hitters and Rutledge handled them well. Honestly it was a game that made you think he could be a #5 here.  He struck out some guys! He didn't give up a homer! And I hope to see him once more before the year ends. 

 If you're up late tonight tune into the Padres/Giants and watch one dreamer get basically eliminated and Houston take on Seattle in an absolutely HUGE WC3 series in the AL. You guys I'm sure hate Houston more.  Hell, I probably do to. But I'm not shedding any tears for Seattle.

Thursday, September 21, 2023

See I did it

All I had to do was doubt the Nats and they'd run off a couple of wins.  Why if I just said they stunk every day they'd be 162-0.  Barring a complete 0-9 meltdown to end the season I'd have to say it was mildly successful in terms of what happened on the field. There are some sneaky bad things about this team that should give pause to what we expect in 2024, but again this isn't about 2024 it's about 2025. Eyes on the prize. 

 What should we focus on team wise in the last 9 games? 

Can Garcia show a spark of life? He had a .259 / .293 / .362 line when he was sent down for spite and he's hit .237 / .293 / .447 since being called up because the alternatives might have been worse. The mild spike in power is nice, but we'd like to see even more because he's going to be pencilled in as the starter to start 2024 but guys like House and Lipscomb might need a home. 

Can Abrams get to 20 homers? We like round numbers like that. 

Any last minute pushes by a call-up or wannabe 2024 player?  Alex Call has spent 3/4 a season proving he can't hit. Jake Alu only 1/4. Remember the brief "Ooooh Carter Kieboom" era? Yeah he stinks again. Can Blake Rutherford get some major league hits to make other teams interested in him because he's probably going to get passed like a Accord on the Autobahn at the only position in the Nats org where there appears to be a surplus of talent.

Can Gray keep pitching well? A couple of good outings against trash teams has got his ERA down to 4.00. He'll have two more starts and the competition is tougher. How much can he build on 2023 other than to say he can pitch a whole season?

Can Irvin hold the 5th starter role to start next year? Depends on the Nats really. Corbin is STILL here, Williams is also under contract, and they want to start Gore and Gray. That leaves one spot. Irvin has done enough that you'd stick him in there but if you want to try ANYONE else he's the guy kicked to the curb. A couple really good starts to finish the season and maybe you see if you can move Williams for trash.

Not that intersting but it's a team with it's eyes locked two years into the future. If we just let the Nats play out the strings before talking about them, what should we focus on instead in these last three series if not the team's performance? 

The NL divisions are all but over. The East (Braves) and West (Dodgers) are done and the Brewers have opened up an almost insurmountable lead on Chicago. Basically either they have to completely crash or the Cubs have to completely dominate. The Braves are in the HFA driver's seat so it comes down to the WC.  Right now the Phillies look in good position, but the last two spots are up for grabs. The Dbacks slightly ahead of the Cubs, Marlins, and Reds with outside chances for SF and SD if they do something special.  With the true balanced schedule though none of those teams play eachother this weekend and only one series is set up between any two - SD @ SF at the beginning of next week. 

In the AL there's a lot more to play for. The AL East is still up for grabs with Baltimore holding off Tampa Bay, and the AL West is even more contentious, the Astors only a half game up over the Mariner and Texas.  Of course the flip side of that is the Wild Card is much less interesting. The Orioles/Rays loser will have a spot and will be joined by two of the Blue Jays, and the losers in the AL West. One team out. Everyone else in. All the head to head excitement is limited to the Mariners who play the Rangers this weekend and then follow up with the Astros then the Rangers again. So those would be the games to watch. 

The postseason awards are lining up to be pretty low invitation affairs. Ohtani should get the AL MVP putting together 3/4 of a season of MVP hitting with 3/4 of a season of good pitching. There really isn't anyone close*. It's only a question of if enough voters choose to take "valuable" in the "get my team to the playoffs" sense.  The NL MVP is either Acuna or Betts. It'll probably be Acuna though because it's the fielding difference that makes it a toss-up and it's not like Betts is amazing or Acuna is a slug. Betts is just very good and Acuna below average so there isn't anything compelling "move the needle" there. 

Cy Youngs are in theory more open in these days of no one throwing innings or getting wins. Though Cole probably gets it in the AL - most IP, best ERA in league. Sonny Gray might have pitched just as well but at 8-7 there isn't a reason to fight for him. Luis Castillo of the Mariners and Zach Eflin of the Rays are probably 2/3 in some order. In the NL there's Snell with the ERA, Strider with the wins and the "in a vacuum" best stats, and Zac Gallen and Justin Steele who are in the mix. I think this is still up for grabs if someone wants to finish very strong, but Strider probably has the best path.

*Even full season Judge, who did deserve it last year - he didn't just hit homers -  wouldn't have been that much of a challenger this year, though he would have easily slotted in 2nd

Tuesday, September 19, 2023

Tuesday Quickie - Water finding it's level

While this is sure to make the Nats win a few games in a row, the Nats were never a 70+ win team but an extended stretch of good play and good luck put that modest goal in easy reach. Now an extended one of bad play and bad luck (unlike most of the year which was just bad play) has almost wiped that clean away.  A modest finish of 5-6 could still do it though the competition left makes 4-7 more likely. Still that is 70 wins. 


We want to talk about the year but there's plenty of time to do that later so a place holder to complain about the White Sox getting all worked up over Dom Smith celebrating one of his few homers

Thursday, September 14, 2023

Lotso Rizzo

Rizzo has been extended. It's "multi-year" though it's unclear what that actually means. Which means probably 2 years. 

You've been here enough to know my feelings on Rizzo. He trades well. He builds teams decently for the payroll levels afforded him. This includes building a team that could challenge (and eventually win) a title. The international free agency under him has seemed fine. His manager relationships and selections leave something to be desired as he seems to want managers who have old school tendencies but also bend to his will (Davey is ideal here which gives you an idea of why this pairing has lasted so long) He has struggled setting up a working drafting/development team and his own inclinations (bet big on talent underseeded for non-performance issues) hasn't worked out since picking up Rendon in 2012.  

The Nats could probably find someone to do better on the last point but overall would be a question mark.  In other words I think they could do worse pretty easily.

I also think he deserves a chance to see out this rebuild attempt. He successfully built a multi-year contender. Let him try again.  We should know by 2025 if this time worked out or not. If it did, great, extend him some more. If not you can move on if you want to. 

The 2023 Nats though keep stinking it up. They don't have to win today obviously for a number of reasons, but they are currently on a 4-12 run that is mostly deserved. The Brewers, who are up next, are trying to keep the Cubs away and likely view the Nats series going in as a needed sweep. The White Sox of course are trash and could roll over, getting the Nats close to 70.  After that you have a Braves team that has everything wrapped up but are too far out to rest and might have "best Braves team ever" on their mind. Then an Orioles team, who you hope is set. I say 4-8 for those games so win today and you get to 70.

Rutledge was bad yesterday but it's one start and also he probably is bad, at least at the major league level. Keep throwing him out there. Keep expecting losses but keep hoping for something more.  Because Adon and Irvin both have 20+ starts and you can start to feel pretty confident they are who their stats say they are and that is not really a 5 you want to have on a contending team. Now it's Rutledge's turn to confirm or surprise.

Monday, September 11, 2023

Monday Quickie - Not sure what's going on with Stras but sure Nats are losing.

I guess Stras is waiting for me to finish my series.  Smart guy.

There's been a lot thrown around the internet about Strasburg's aborted retirement press conference but I think you can boil everything down to just what we know for sure. 

  • Strasburg and the team were discussing his retirement. 
  • The team wanted to pay Strasburg in a way different and almost certainly in some way worse, than he was going to get paid. 

The latter can be "known" because it doesn't make sense for Strasburg and the team to decide he's going to retire and the team to say "ok we'll pay you as the contract stipulates" and Strasburg to balk at this. And even I can't see Strasburg trying to come at this using early retirement as leverage for more money. 

However it got to here and progressed, I'll leave it up to the media to find out but just the above two facts make the Nats look bad. Even if it was "we want to spread the same money over a longer time frame" or "we want to change the interest rates" or whatever, you don't use the end of a guy's career due to debilitating injury as a time to haggle. 

In other news the scouting purge continues as Kris Kline was bumped upstairs from his scouting role. Kline was holding the steering wheel when the Nats made their best draft picks in memory (though the assumption is Rizzo was a back seat driver). However both the draft of Strasburg and Bryce don't speak to Kline's skill. They were obvious picks you or I would have made.  From 2009 to 2012 the best pick made was Rendon (6th in 2011 first round) with other positive performance major leaguers drafted being : 

2009 : Storen, MAT, Nate Karns

2010 : Solis, Cole, Matt Grace*, Aaron Barrett, Robbie Ray

2011 : Alex Meyer, Brian Goodwin, Billy Burns**

2012 : Spencer Kieboom

Not bad I guess. But after being more of a head of scouting you can't say things have gone well. I'm not going to try to paint an overall narrative here because I don't have anything that makes sense and there might not even be one. 

On the field things keep going poorly but to be fair the Dodgers are really good.  The season is going to end with ATL / BAL and likely lost series so if they want to have any success in September it has to be with PIT, MIL and CHW.  They should be able to do that and if not... well that's gotta be a disappointment. 

As for Davey and the "good manager" question. I don't think managers are super impactful, but I do think they can affect W-L records maybe even up to a half-dozen games. But I also think there isn't a good way to measure that so we're really just guessing. For me I use a "how good did I and every other pundit think this team was to start the year and how did they finish" line.  If we apply that to Davey the team underperformed in 2018, 2020, 2021 and 2022. And it wasn't even a little underperformance. In 2018 they were a favorite to make a run and won 82 games. In 2020, understanding the weird circumstances, they were seen as a sure playoff team and went under .,500.  In 2021 a good team that might have too many problems won 65 games. In 2022 a team unlikely to contend had the worst record in baseball.  

On the pro Davey side they were a playoff team in 2019 but one with a big hump to get over. They were in line to do disappoint again early in 2019 but we can't judge partial seasons. That's not fair. And even me, who thinks a great deal of success that year was bc of a forced shortening of the pen by Rizzo, has to admit they don't get to the point where that matters without turning things around first. So 2019 has to be a success even without considering the series. Just a playoff win was enough. The title makes it a rousing success. But one success with 4 big failures? It doesn't offset. 

How is 2023? Shaping up to be a mild beating of expectations. They have to win say 4 more games or so but you have to think they'll do that right? Split the Pirates and win the White Sox series and that's 3 games right there.  We'll come back but I expect about 69/70 wins which again would be overperformance from a team expected to be in the low to mid 60s in wins. 

Is he learning? Getting better? Is it a fluke of one-run success? All I know is that it is but I still can't say that overcomes those four seasons where they fell 10 plus under my expectations. Of course you could say my expectations were the problem and maybe but from 05-17 they bounced around. I don't see any reason I'd suddenly turn into Mr. Positivity for the team a few years ago.

*look just going by bWAR here. Matt Grace has one good year, one average year, and one bad year in the pen. It rolled out to 0.2 rather than -0.2  But I drew the line at 0. 

**Billy Burns? He was 5th in  ALROY voting in 2015! Quickly disappearing garbage after that but still that was enough 

Thursday, September 07, 2023

Scouts Ahoy

Still working but now catching up on the other works so that's better. This should be good news for you guys as I would have been all over that losing streak proving me right that the Nats aren't some sort of special scrappy team. No time to gloat now though. They won and media were right back saying "see this is the specialness that won them those games" Sigh. 

There is big news in Nats town though as a bunch of scouts are getting the heave ho. It started with Johnny DiPuglia, who had been here basically since the start of Rizzo's time as GM, resigning. Maybe it was to avoid being fired, maybe it was because a bunch of scouts were going to be let go, because next a bunch of scouts were let go. 

Has the scouting been good? Well, no. At home, as most fans will tell you, it's been pretty bad with the Nats producing woefully little from the draft for years in comparison to other teams. Now you could argue it's a development issues not a scouting one but I definitely can't speak to that (and you probably can't either).  Internationally it's been ok generally though weaker recently hitting a nadir this year with the Nats Dominican Summer team being very very bad. 

The real question is though - what does this mean for Rizzo.  Are these things he has to do to stay on? Are these things that might cause him to leave? Do you care? 

I'll maintain that Rizzo is ok, a GM with positives that outweigh the negatives, and I'd be fine with him coming back. If he goes you open up the possibility of getting a bad GM and with a bad manager* already in place for another two years you could really set back the franchise even with Crews and Wood looking like true major league talent. But then again maybe not! If you feel like Rizzo is spinning wheels here maybe you need a change. I'll say they've brought in enough young offensive talent that with a little spending they should have a good offense in a couple year. Yeah there's draft luck timing involved there but that's just one guy. I'll also say they haven't brough in enough you pitching talent to expect a top of the rotation starter to appear any time soon so they'll need a lot of spending to fix that. 

*look he is. objectively so as of this point. I just noted a day ago by the end of his contract he'll almost certainly enter an elite club of managers of more than 1200 games with a WP less that .450. As much as you can judge a manager we can judge Davey to not be good. 



Thursday, August 31, 2023

Retrospective pause

Works been busy. That explains the gap. The Nats have been playing well... well up until the last series but here are two important numbers for you. 



The first is the number of runs they've scored in the past 12 games. The latter is the number of runs they have given up. This would indicate a team in the midst of a pretty substantial bad run. 4-8 or so. What is the Nats record? 7-5. They've done it by winning 6 one-run games to losing only one. That can't continue. Even the best teams can't justify that sort of record. 

Now, as I've said before, they don't have to give them back. There is no need for them to go 1-6 in their next set to make things "right".  If they are a bad team then they'll go slightly below .500 in 1-run games here on out as they should and they will have "banked" these wins. So a W-L record above expectations is likely to be hit. 

But it's going to be mostly luck. And if you think it's some sort of magical scrappiness, why now? Why not any other time this year? Why not any time in 2022... or 2021... or 2020? And likely we'll ask, why not in September. 

Teams have ups, teams have downs. The Nats are overall better so their ups are pretty good and the bads aren't as terrible and long. But don't read into this or listen to any of the talk about this team having something special. It's just the long season playing out. Enjoy the wins, but don't expect many more.

Monday, August 28, 2023

The Four Seasons of Strasburg - The wilting Summer

The end of 2012 changed what Strasburg meant for the Nationals fan. He came in as a gift, something for a weary fanbase to get excited about when little else qualified as that. But the end of 2012 brought Bryce Harper and the expectations of playoffs. Strasburg's mere existence was no longer was enough to get fans in the seats. To continue to be loved as he had been, Strasburg would have to produce. This fact was made even starker when he was shutdown to end 2012. 2013 would open with a singular question "Was it worth it?"*

Strasburg began 2013 with a shutout but the Nats would proceed to lose his next 5 starts. He didn't pitch poorly. In fact he pitched well. But Jordan Zimmermann and Gio Gonzalez pitched better and more importantly the "World Series or Bust" team floundered, getting off to a 13-14 start. Strasburg and his 1-4 record became emblematic of this disappointing team. He would pitch better as the season progressed, despite missing a few weeks to a lat strain, but the team wouldn't turn the corner and they'd miss the playoffs. He would finish with an 8-9 record in comparison to ZNN's 19-9. It didn't matter that Strasburg's stats were better than ZNN's. In fact that might have hurt him. A certain strain of fan emerged that saw Strasburg as soft, a pitcher with all the stuff but who was unable to compete and win games. He didn't help himself by visually getting annoyed when the defense muffed plays and candidly explaining to reporters things that bothered him like sweating in the heat. Other pitchers feel the same way but by speaking up about it when others didn't, some fans read it as him making excuses. He seemed to wilt when the heat was on. No playoffs, no ace; the immediate answer to "Was it worth it?" appeared to be "No".

It continued this way in 2014. Strasburg started slow, mixing in a couple stinkers early to sit with a 6.00 ERA after 4 games. The other starters weren't much better but Strasburg's start allowed the narrative to set in that Strasburg wasn't a guy you trade a playoff series for. He was somehow both a Top 20 pitcher in the league and a disappointment. In 2014, he'd have a rare fully healthy year and outside a small early summer stretch he'd be great but ZNN matched him this year. Even as Strasburg was finishing the season with 20 scoreless innings, ZNN finished it with a no-hitter. Then came the playoffs. If you were talking about saving Strasburg for something it was this moment. Strasburg pitched Game 1 and allowed only 2 runs (1 earned) but it was a battle giving up 8 hits and only going 5. On the other side Jake Peavy, starting for the Giants, shut down the Nats completely into the 6th. Without the hindsight of knowing the Nats offense would completely die, it seemed simple, Strasburg got outdueled. ZNN again would outdo Strasburg going 8 2/3rds of shut out ball in Game 2 before Matt Williams took the ball from him.Strasburg, despite the good performance, would end up giving up more runs than any Nats starter. If you wanted to believe ZNN was the Nats true #1 this year backed you up. If you wanted to lay blame on Strasburg for the team's failures, and people did, the opportunity was there. 

In 2015 the Nats brought in Max but instead of finding Bryce's lost ring the Nats had a repeat of 2013 in that they failed to make the playoffs. There was a repeat from Strasburg as well. Another slow start with a bad first two games and a real stinker in G7.  Meanwhile Max pitched amazingly. His ERA sat at 1.26 at the end of April, 1.51 at the end of May. Stras would also be injured, this time more seriously as a litany of ailments limited him to 23 starts. Again he fought through it to have a decent year but the fans were no longer excited about Strasburg. They were weary of him. It didn't help his erstwhile rival Matt Harvey came back from Tommy John and pitched the Mets into the World Series. Never did it seem more obvious to some that the shutdown was wrong. Heading into his final year of his rookie deal, it wasn't exactly clear if Strasburg would be back and it wasn't exactly clear if a large segment of the fanbase would miss him if he wasn't.

But in 2016 Strasburg finally got off to a good start and Max did not. A failure to sign ZNN long term at the end of 2015 and Strasburg's willingness to stick around found him signing an extension with the Nats in May. This combination of looking like an ace yet deciding to say with the Nationals led to a kind of a thawing of feeling. The pro-shutdown people had their thing to hang their hats on. The Nats saved his arm for the Nats, not another team. The anti-shutdown people weren't entirely satisfied but Strasburg was now the guy that wanted to be here, instead of the guy looking to return to the West Coast, which had been something people thought even if he never said anything about it. There was a more honest evaluation by fans of Strasburg's pitching (it had been very good!) and maybe even a sugar coating of his injury history (it wasn't good!) to play the deal as a big discount rather than what it was, a low market value gamble on a arm that may not make it to the end of the deal. Of course soon after Strasburg would get injured. He'd come back and be 12-0 and 15-1 at points in the year but would go off the rails late with a more serious injury in his elbow. Signs were inconclusive and a second TJ was worried about. Luckily it didn't come to that but he would miss the playoffs. 

Even with the missed playoff things had settled down for the most part by now. Max, who'd rebounded with a great middle of the season run in 2016 and won the Cy Young, was the guy. Stras was the other guy. Max was appointment watching. Stras was the steady followup. Strasburg would have a great year in 2017. Max would run away with his second Cy Young. Fans stopped worrying about Strasburg being the greatest and just let him be great, only worrying instead about injuries (which yes he'd again miss a few weeks) but before we could declare a new season for Strasburg fate would come up with one more moment that would make or break Strasburg's reputation in DC.  

The Nats won the division and faced the Cubs in the NLDS.  Strasburg, in his first chance at playoff pitching since the Peavy game was dominant, holding the Cubs hitless for 5 before a couple of errors and singles let the Cubs score twice. There were some minor anti-Strasburg rumblings, but the majority seemed able to focus on the Nats lack of offense. The Nats and Cubs would split the next two leading to a decisive G4 and the question of whether Stras would start on short rest. But then that question seemed to be answered by the weather gods as a rain out put Strasburg back on schedule... until it didn't.

Look at this point my thoughts diverge from the official narrative. I've explained several times that it doesn't make sense. You can read my take at the time here. Regardless of where you lie this was an inflection point. If Strasburg doesn't go in G4 and the Nats lose I'm not sure he stays in good graces with the fanbase. Guys that were all for Strasburg for years were turning on him. It could have been bad. Real bad. But Strasburg did go in G4 and he was once again fantastic. He won the game, saved the series** and saved his career as a National. I honestly believe this. 

After this game Strasburg the playoff bulldog was born and added to his new role as the 1b to Max's 1a. You'd see a new Strasburg narrative emerge, one of a solid loyal pitcher trying to win in DC who would battle to make it happen.  Two years later this narrative would find both it's peak and it's surprising ending in the Fall Classic.

*Look, it's a question that can't be answered because we simply can't know what happens if he isn't shut down. You can have your opinions but there are no facts here.  

**for one of the more bonkers G5s I've ever seen as both teams made inexplicable decisions on the field and in the dugout.