Nationals Baseball: January 2023

Tuesday, January 31, 2023

More more rankings and the boring offseason

 Keith Law put his out and just to post the numbers (pay him if you want the analysis) Wood (16), Green (35), Hassell (43), Cavalli (71), House (85).  I'll reiterate my thoughts that ranking prospects is primarily about not missing the next superstar and secondarily about figuring out who will do what in the majors so expect young guys with raw talent to be overrated. Nothing particularly new, other than a stronger belief in House than others. 

This has been a dreadfully boring off-season.  Last year was also fairly boring but it brought us the aftermath of the Scherzer/Turner deal which gave the team a couple young players to immediately stick in the majors and more importantly it put a clock on Soto.  That was the dominant conversation and shaped our feelings about some of the signings.  Maybe there is a long term plan around keeping Soto?  What fools we were. 

This year Soto is gone and there isn't anyone good around you care about that makes sense being dealt. No one wants Stras (contract, broken arm) or Corbin (contract, terrible arm). There are some guys with more interesting upsides than last year, like Trevor Williams and Dom Smith and Jeimer Candelario, rather than the guys you knew in 2022 but even if they fit a mold of who the Nats should go after they don't spur interest. 

Also - unlike past years there aren't a lot of good players waiting to get signed. D-first Elvis Andrus? Disappointing one-note Gary Sanchez? Aging fast David Peralta? Yawn.  I guess the Correa journey was interesting but that's over now. Vague interest in if the Rangers did enough to make some moves? I suppose. The Mets are spending to get over the top, but because they did that last year it feels less exciting.

But really it comes down to your local team and the Nats are in a holding pattern. 2023 is about seeing what the young guys do all across the organization and how that may shape the next few years. Its about selling the team or not. It's about if there is anything left to squeeze from Strasburg or if they can get something back for a smarter signing like Williams than they did for their 2022 one-offs that came up empty.  

It's about a lot of stuff but what it is not about is winning on the field.

Friday, January 20, 2023

More rankings - insanity follows

 I don't get to see a list of names but little birdies tweeting tell me Baseball Prospectus has put out their list and it has 

3 - James Wood

66 - Robert Hassell 

68 - Elijah Green 

71 - Cade Cavalli 

Given last post rankings, it's almost as if they have an idea of how well an organization is overall and then hand out rankings based on that. Make Wood a future star and you got to kick everyone else down a notch.  But that would undermine the "deep serious science" behind these things. And at some point, despite them saying it doesn't, these things effect each other. Maybe not in the same year but there's probably some of that.

Nothing in particular changes from last time other than Baseball Pro is trying to tell you Wood is a can't miss guy (Jo Adell would like a word with your rankings) and they feel the other guys are drifting out of "sure major leaguer" into more "cup of coffee and breakfast" territory. 

But really no single prospect list should be taken as gospel.  Look at them all and get a feel for where your guy is and what they have to do (within reasonable expectation) this year to meet, exceed or fail according to these expectations set up. 


Meet - Start in High A, hit incredibly well, move to AA and not struggle.  ETA late 2024 if all goes right.

Exceed- At some point this year hit extremely well in AA too setting up a clear start of 2024 debut with ROY expectations. 

Fail - At some point getting to AA and struggling.

Wood has the patience and likely the power, so it comes down mainly to if the K-rate can avoid jumping up and causing a problem.


Meet - Make it to AAA, hitting for same overall power as last year and holding his own

Exceed - Make it to AAA hitting for power more like he did in San Diego's minors. He'd likely be hitting well enough to for the Nats to consider if they need to call him up this year.

Fail - Continue to struggle in AA with power issues as he did in Nats minors

Had the same bump in K-rate Wood did but with a bit more history seems unlikely to stick. However the drop in power with the Nats is concerning and another year might cause him to be considered more of a slap hitter in the majors.


Meet - Hit well in single A

Exceed - Hit great in single A

Fail - Hit poorly in single A

It's pretty simple given what I said yesterday. They don't want to miss Green taking it to the next level so they put him in. But it's at a spot where solid work in low minors is enough to meet expectations given his age.


Meet - Spend most of the season in the majors, with a reasonable ERA that would keep him in the rotation next season. (say 5.50 or below)

Exceed - Spend basically all year in the majors and pitch at least ok (ERA closer to 4.00)

Fail - Spend most of the season in AAA failing in the majors to a point where he can't be kept there

Cavalli is at an age where it's almost put up or shut up time.  He'll get his major league shot if he's even ok in AAA and they'll want to see him set himself up to be a safe rotation guy. There's plenty of room for improvement (fewer hits, more Ks, less BBs) but this last step is the hardest. 


Again this is meeting the expectations set up by the rankings. But the rankings are just guesses. These guys will find their level.  

One of the hard things about this is things can break "fairly" in a number of ways with wildly different results.  Let's say one exceeds expectations, two meet, and one fail.  If it's Exceed - Green, Meet - Hassell and Cavalli, Fail - Wood, the Nats aren't in great shape. Wood and Hassell both look like major leaguers but maybe not impact guys and with no specific rush to be called up. They get to see Green bump up to a Wood like level in next years rankings but as seen by Wood that only means so much. Let's say it's Exceed - Wood, Meet - Green, Cavalli, Fail - Hassell.  The Nats quite possibly have a future star on their hands in Wood, and Green is gaining momentum as at least a solid major leaguer,  which makes Hassell becoming more of a 4th OF guy far more palatable. The 2025-6 major league OF is one year of expectations met from being set.

Wednesday, January 18, 2023

Prospects Rankings!

 Baseball America says the Nats have actual prospects! 

  • Wood 11 
  • Hassell 57
  • Green 58
  • Cavalli 61

There are kind of two things to judge... ok THREE things to judge here. 

1) What happens to guys around this level? Obviously baseball isn't introducing 100 new stars every year. Not 50, not 20, not even 10. Just a couple of great players come into the league each year.  If you think about a 60 man All-Star game and 15 year careers, it would be about 4 a year. So consider that before getting too excited. 

2)  Are guys going up or down? The level is the level but you prefer guys exceeding expectations or at least maintaining it, than losing momentum.

3) Age/level. How much of this is possibility and how much is reality? They bake these things in a little bit but you still have to think about it a little.Especially when you think about 1.  A 24 year old at 50 and a 19 year old at 50 might in theory have the same general expectation but they have much different variances. (IOW the 19 year old could break out in the minors over the next 2+ years, the 24 year old is likely to enter the majors now and be ok).

James Wood - 20 in 2023 - Low A - unranked last year :  Around this level you are looking at guys they like to be impact players, but it's still a gamble. In 2020 you had Pache and Kelenic at that level. Robles sat around there for a couple years. It's not a bad spot to be in, but if you want Wood to be a star, you'd like to see him tick up closer to Top 5 before he's ready for a call up. The age and level and immediate bump up from nowhere to nearly Top 10 suggest people think it's possible. At this level you are setting Wood's floor as "major leaguer".

Robert Hassell - 21 in 2023 - AA - 30 last year : the middle of the Top 100 is filled a big mix, everything from the occasional All-Star to guys that never made it.  But the general sense is a competent baseball player with youth and level giving the player a bit more potential of something more.  Hassell is young and at a nice level so the possibility lies of a bump up. He did drop presumably for two reasons. He didn't develop another power level as hoped and he struggled in the Nats org after hitting for the Padres.  One assumes that if either of those changes he'd be back around where he was last year. But if he doesn't, he could fall to the bottom.

Elijah Green -  19 in 2023 - Rookie - unranked last year (not in minors yet) : The most complete guessing game. He has the physical talent. He did very well in rookie ball. People like to bet on these types.  Me I'm looking at 21Ks in 52 PAs and getting worried. But who knows? Let's get him a full year in Low A and see.  Complete guess work ranking you make because you don't like it when a guy like Wood hits great in a handful of rookie league games you DON'T rank him and then all of a sudden he rocks Low A too. Better to put a guy at 60 and let him go up to 10 or off the ranking than, keep him off because you haven't seen enough and then want him in your Top 20. So yeah I'm saying this ranking is a complete coin flip cover your butt ranking.

Cade Cavalli - 24 in 2023 - AAA - 27 last year : He looked ok in AAA last year. Hard to hit and kept the ball in the park, but walked a couple more than he should and didn't K quite as many as you like. It makes you wonder if he can keep enough major leaguers off the bases. He's dropping as last year's ranking was in part about a fast rise and holding his own and by some continued flashing of impressive K numbers. He couldn't repeat the former last year and didn't repeat the latter. They'll be wanting to see K/9 numbers well over 10 and a drop in BB9, if only modest, in AAA to feel better about Cavalli. He's got this year really to do it because at 25 you want him in the majors full time.

TLDR : They like Wood as a player and maybe a star. They like Hassell as a player but not as a star. They think Green has all the potential to be like Wood. They are souring on Cavalli.

Some other updates from last year :

Keibert Ruiz 11 - He's now an official major leaguer.  If you want to see what an 11 means.

Brady House 59 - hurt last year and off this year. He was essentially the Green of last year. Hit in rookie, put in middle of the pack to cover the chance he could do well. Didn't. Dropped off and no one says anything about the ranking last year. 

CJ Abrams 9 - Everyone really did like Abrams to be a star and he flirted with that "we're saying as close to a sure thing as we can" but didn't quite get there. Was everyone wrong? It happens. But there's potential for more here still.

Wednesday, January 11, 2023

Walk, Don't Run. Wait, don't walk either

 First off listen to "Walk, Don't Run"  

 OK done? 

Based of the signing of never-walker Corey Dickerson, Commenter Anagramsci made an off-handed comment that the Nats are trying to set a record for the fewest walks ever for a team. Now of course that can't be true - baseball has been around for too long and has too many weird periods for this to work. A lot of those early seasons were not even 154 games and played under different rules. But is it possible. 

First let's look at the Nats. The Nats finished 14th in the NL in walks taken last year but the two biggest walkers were Juan Soto (91 in 101 games) and Josh Bell (49 in 103).  By rate you can imagine they even more dominate the team if they were the leaders despite only playing 60% of the season in DC.  Soto is one of the premier patient bats in baseball today, walking 20.9% of the time last year and Bell walked 11.2%.  Next best for the Nats was Nelson Cruz (9.7%) also gone.  They also traded Ehire Adrianza (8.5%) and have since dropped Cesar Hernandez (7.3%) and Luke Voit (7.1%) who were all in the Nats Top 10 in rate

So who's left?  Well if you don't care about small sample size Alex Call (9.6%) is ok, but he might not play much. Then it's Riley Adams (7.7%) but he might not play at all. The first real starter for 2023 is Lane Thomas at 7.5%.  

We'll stop here for some context.  What is the average walk rate in the MLB? 8.2%  Is the NL any different, possibly with a lingering pre DH approach? Slightly higher at 8.4%. The short of that is that the most patient returning starter bat for the Nats is below average. 

Ok but the Nats don't have a lot of full-time returning bats. Thomas, Ruiz (6.9%), Robles (4.3%!), Garcia (2.9%!!!!) and these guys are young. Maybe there is a newcomer who will walk? Or a young guy who might had an off year? Let's go around the diamond :

  • Ruiz - no he's never walked
  • Meneses - (6.3% in 2022) - not a walker
  • Garcia - nope
  • Abrams - (1.7%!!!!!!!!!!!! - he walked 2 times for the Nats last year) very limited stats even considering minor leagues but early indications are hahahahahah
  • Candelario - (6.0%) maybe.  He had been an above average walker, say in the 10% range, for his career until last year and patient in the minors. If he's right he's a decently patient hitter likely to be above average.
  • Smith - (7.9%) this was one of his better years. He's probably more likely to be around where Thomas was last year. 7-7.5. Below average but not terrible 
  • Thomas - another maybe. historically he's walked more with more ABs until last year. One might think he was trying to prove something last year and he'll settle down this year into an above average spot? Or maybe teams just figured out how to pitch to him
  • Robles -  there are other things the guy might get back to doing well, walking is not one of those. 
  • Dickerson - (4.0%) nope

This is alarming.  You have one good bet to be above average in Candelario and one I'd call coin flip in Thomas and 7 guys who should range from below average to will never walk.

Hmmm what about Ildemaro Vargas?  Definitely not. Does not walk. Alex Call? Yes. If he plays he will probably walk above average.

I don't know Jeter Downs? Actually pretty possible, if he can hit. Minors are good. Jake Alu? No. Adams or Pineda if Ruiz gets hurt? A yes on Adams, presuming same as Downs. A no on Pineda.

So it's bleak. The Nats should be WELL below average with an off chance of just being below average if the right guys make it into the lineup and can hit ok enough that they get pitched to in a way that will allow them to walk.  (remember the goal here is just walking. A Call/Downs/Adams lineup would likely be terrible for other reasons) 

Ok so let's throw out a guess of rate - say 6.5% that's probably the high bar.  And of PA. They had almost 6000 last year. Let's just say that for now.  That would be 390 walks. Where would that put them all time for 161/162 game seasons? 

Pretty solid - 25th worst! Tied with the 2017 Royals. 

What do they need to be the worst? Technically the record is held by the 1904 Tigers and 344 wlaks who played 162 games thanks to 10 ties? Look it was strange times. Let's go with the 1966 Cardinals and 345 walks. That's a 5.75% walk rate for the year with 6K PA*  Can the Nats do it?

Without Soto, Bell and Cruz their walk rate was .... 5.47%.  Signing Candelario was a bad move but guys... there's a real chance here. 

(oh the post title - the Nats don't steal either but no one does)

*They had 5964.  It's very consistent around 6K, with more likely slightly over than under.  The Nats will either have to really stink or walk a little less.

Tuesday, January 10, 2023

Corey Dickersonamania

 Reports are the Nats are bringing Corey Dickerson.  He's a name you've heard of so maybe he's good? Let's see. 

At his peak Dickerson was guy you could stick in LF and accept it. He's not at his peak anymore. He's also not fast. 

His value comes entirely from his bat. How is that? Well he's not patient (and OBP of .324 with an average of .281) but luckily somewhere in the past few years he realized that he couldn't just grip it and rip it and cut way down on his strikeouts. He's a contact guy. He had pop in the past but since turning 30 that's mostly gone and he's a 15 homer guy maybe. 

He had been holding pretty steady in the type of hits he'd have but last year he had a big drop in hard hits. That's ok as long as those hard hits become medium hits and no medium hits become soft hits. That's what happened last year so he maintained an average offensive profile. Can he repeat it another year? Or have a little bounce back?

He's a lefty bat who is seeing the most rapid drop against lefty pitching. He very clearly shouldn't be facing and LHP which means he's not an everyday starter. 

In short : He's a "professional hitter". A guy who spent his life putting good contact on the ball and hitting all types of hits to all types of places in the field.  When he was younger it could all come together into some pretty decent seasons at the plate but those days are probably gone. He's not a bad option for a 4th OF or a platoon player with a righty masher.  But given his splits, his poor defense, and his lack of speed, he can't be an everyday player in the majors.

I'll have to see how the Nats use him to judge it, but the real problem isn't that the Nats signed Dickerson, who could be a usable player on most teams, but the fact he might be one of their better bats.

Friday, January 06, 2023

Dom Smith and Company

 Since I last wrote the Nats picked up Dominic Smith. Out of everyone signed so far Dom Smith is the most interesting because Dom Smith (1) has all the bonafides of once being a top prospect and (2) performed in the major leagues. 

Jeter Downs was simply the best the Red Sox had at the time (and probably slightly over inflated because of that) and was terrible in his first delayed cup of coffee. 

Michael Chavis wasn't Jeter Downs but scraped the idea of a top prospect before being eaten alive by major league pitching once he had more than a half-season up here

Derek Hill (I bring him up because he was in the Jesse column on a similar topic) only made the very bottom of a top prospect list on the strength of his pre-minors work alone and his claim to fame is almost being average in a quarter of a season a couple years ago. 

But Dom Smith was drafted high in the first round (11). He broke into some Top Prospect lists early and managed to raise his profile into the middle of them before making the majors.  Once there after a few disappointing starts, he clicked and hit very well over the course of about a full season of games across 2019-2020. That's... kind of real.  

Kind of.

The problem with Dominic is at his core he's a high average hitter... and nothing else. OK, that's not entirely fair. He did hit for some power in that 19-20 stretch. But that was an anomaly when compared to his other hitting. This includes looking at his days in the minors. Could he have developed power? Sure, there is always some expectation of that. But would you expect that from someone who's career minor league ISOSLG was .130? I don't see it.

He does not walk but he is not a contact hitter. He strikes out a fair amount at least at the major league level. He is not a good fielder. He's probably naturally a fit for 1B or even DH. But those are positions you give your best hitters. If Dom was hitting .300 consistently, ok it's fine even if he has no power but he's not and it's hard to put a guy trying to figure things out there and wasting those at bats. 

Even so with all that I'm ok with this move because Dom's situation hasn't been great. He's been injured and had better guys signed over him and wasn't in a good spot at the end with the Mets. I don't think he's the .200 nothing hitter he ended at with the Mets. My guess is he's better than the .240 line put up before that too. It seems like the question is - is he be a .280+ guy with some pop that he might have matured into or is he a .250-.260 doubles hitter that the minor league stats and a lot of his major league career would suggest.  But really the question is - how long do the Nats take to find out? It's fun to amass guys who might be something. But to figure out if a guy is something he should probably play a fair amount.  A third a season? A half? and it's very tempting when you have a bucket of stuff to throw one away and try something new.  

Dom Smith is a guy they should commit to. They should give him half a year, not Hello my name is Alex Call or Jake Alu. Can they do it? Rebuilding is not about finding the hot hand. It's about taking the best prospects giving them real chances and seeing if they stick.  Let's see if they can do it. 

As for the other guys - yes they are first round picks but we've noted before - there's a big difference in top 7ish first round picks and after that. The Top picks are usually very good bets to be good major leaguers. Maybe not great ones, though some will be, but good ones. After that historical performance shows quick drop off.  The end of the first round where Hill (23), Downs (32) and Chavis (26) were taken are guys that have 2-3 WAR careers. Fill in players are the expectations.  If that doesn't make sense to you think of it this way.  There are 30 teams with players roughly from 20-34. That's 15 years of drafts.  If lower first round picks were usually very good every team would have like 10 very good or better players. The league would be swimming in great players. It isn't.

While Downs, Chavis, and Hill are better bets than a 3rd, or 10th, or 18th rounder at having the natural talent to be a great player, history tells us that the best bet to lay on them is that they are just guys that float in and out of the majors.  The Nats have been drafting at the back of the draft for a few years now. That's part of the reason they are where they are. Getting other teams guys from there, ones that aren't connecting. Well it's better than random minor leaguers or old major leaguers on their way out, but it's still not a winning strategy, at least not if it's the Nats best move, which it appears to be.  Give me a few more Dom Smith type moves though and I'll change my mind.

Tuesday, January 03, 2023

New Year, New You, Same Nats

 The Nats did nothing over the holidays.  Most teams did very little but the Nats did extra little, or at least they did very little of impact.They did

Avoided arbitration with Tanner Rainey - the pen was ok.  Rainey was an ok part of it.  He may even be good - though if he is he should show that for a full season soon. Good results and good stats. 

Claimed Jeter Downs - he was a big prospect in a kind of weak Boston system, basically the only one people really liked. If he could manage to rein in a swing that had a tendency to get kind of wild he should hit for power and average. But he didn't and failed spectacularly at trying to do so in fact. That's how he ended up here.  A not a SS SS he's definitely worth a look but also very likely nothing. It's dumpster diving in the dumpsters of fine establishments.

DFA's Reed Garrett to make room for Downs - who's Reed Garrett? An arm. 

Signed Michael Chavis - he's a middle infielder with some power who WILL NOT WALK and thus has to have more power to be worth player. But a former Red Sox first round draft pick <looks at Red Sox> Hmmmm maybe these aren't the guys to emulate.

Anyone want to talk about any of these guys? No? Didn't think so.