Nationals Baseball: June 2023

Friday, June 30, 2023

Season half-done or half-to-go?

 Depends on how much you are enjoying this glass of tepid metallic water that is the Nats 2023. They currently stand at 32-48 meaning that after tonight they will either be on pace for a 64-98 season or a 66-96 one. This was slightly above my predictions which pegged them as a 62-64 win team.  Basically they are doing as one would expect them to. That's honestly a slight win for Davey who as I'll continually shout, has consistently lead the team to fewer wins than most people had projected for them. 

How are my other predictions doing at this "almost half-way but the actual half-way is on the weekend so it's not like I'll blog then anyway" point? 

Baserunning would be better because it has to be 

The were worst in the Fangraphs BSR stat last year and that felt right. They weren't super slow or anything but they didn't run often and they made a lot of mistakes. This still seems to hold though maybe not as bad? 

What does the stat say this year? Slightly below average. If you look at 2022 they didn't steal, got caught too often, made too many outs on the basepaths especially at home, and didn't take enough extra bases. This year they are slightly better at not getting caught stealing, don't make as many outs at home (though make more at 2nd and 3rd), and are a little better taking extra bases. It's an improvement. I'll note that the best baserunner might have been Alex Call, who was very aggressive on the basepaths but didn't get caught too often, so we might see some fall back but we won't see them hit last. 

Fielding should be better

Really isn't better, surprisingly. I think this is vagaries of the half-season doing weird things with Robles and Thomas but it is true Abrams is unsettled and Ruiz is likely a below average catcher. I think it should look better by the end of the year. 

Starting Pitching can't be worse 

It isn't. Specifically I said Corbin couldn't be worse and is more of a 5.00 ERA guy DING DING, Williams is ok DING DING and Gore is better than Fedde DING DING. Also said 5th spot should be a nightmare. Ding ding? It's been bad overall but nightmare is a bit much.  I didn't know what Gray would do and honestly still don't know what he's doing. The stats suggest a middling 4 the ERA a solid 2/3. Either way this group isn't going to break any ignominious records

Hitting would be an issue 

Basically had the pieces right here as well. They'd miss Soto of course but Meneses wouldn't be as good and Smith would be a noticeable drop from Bell. The only big improvement chance I saw was with Candelario replacing Franco and that is what happened. The one surprise was Thomas upping his game.  But even with that and the fact no one has surprisingly tanked the offense is still a little worse.

So getting the record about right shouldn't be a surprise giving I kind of nailed how the team would be.

How about specifics? 

Win leader Gore with 9. Definitely possible and he probably should be the leader but completely up in the air. Corbin and Gray have 5. Gore and Williams have 4.

Meneses OPS+ : 122  Going to take some doing. He's at 97 now. But he's a 2nd half guy, right? The complete lack of power (still 2 homers) is doing him in

Breakout Player Harvey : Another one that's possible. If you haven't looked he does basically lead the pen in ERA and has the best stats* but it's hardly breakout numbers.  If you had to pick someone Thomas is the closest. A whole half is long enough for someone else to emerge but right now Gore, Gray, and Adams sit with potential as well. I think in that order. 

Bust : whoever ends up 5th starter but if I have to pick someone else Dom Smith.   Nailed this one I think.  Kuhl won the 5th spot and now is out of baseball. Hard to do worse than that. But after that obvious choice Smith IS probably the closest to a bust so far. He's fringy though. Stay like this and you'd probably say not a bust, just in the realm of expected bad. Plus, a good 2nd half could make him about average. And Dickerson, who gets a pass now bc of injury, Ruiz, Abrams, Williams, all have potential to 'bust' right past him.

Nats All-Star(s) : Meneses  Miss.  It'll be Thomas and/or Candelario. Harvey's been fine but you gotta figure there are an easy dozen middle/back-end relievers they could pick instead.

*Technically this is Weems but give Weems another 20 IP and let's see where he is.

Tuesday, June 27, 2023

Which lane do you take?

Lane Thomas is not the Nats best player.  That's probably Candelario who is hitting fairly well and fields great. He's not the most valuable Nats player. That's likely Gore who has as much team control as Gray but has better peripherals, a better scouting history, and is a year younger. But Lane Thomas is a productive player who has team control in 2024 and 2025 marking him as something that could be traded for something else. 

Why to trade Thomas? 

He's 27 and he's having a terrible year in the field. If this isn't a fluke than he's likely to be a DH / 1B guy going forward and those guys tend to be easier to find. Meaning while you could have a DH/1B cheap if you can turn that into almost anything else cheap it would be a good idea. 

He clearly can hit but there isn't a lot of history saying he can hit this well.  The BABIP is too high (.369 compared to a usual number around .300) and only some of that can be explained by stats (he's not hitting it different, but he is hitting it harder).  Sell high is the idea and it's hard to think he's going to be higher than looking like a .300 / 30 type hitter with two more years of control

If the Nats have one thing it's young OFs. Of their Top 10 prospects 6 are OFs.  You trade from a strength to fill out an issue which for the Nats... well could be anything. 

Why not to trade Thomas? 

He's 27 and having a great year at the plate. If this isn't a fluke he could be a multi-year All-Star at the plate. Even if he's not that if they power is real he gives something the Nats don't really have from anyone else. Power. Candelario is ok, but it's unclear what the Nats plans are for him.  Ruiz and Abrams have shown flashes but don't hit well enough to make it count. Teams need power.

He's not fielding well but his history clearly shows a guy that is... well he's ok. Serviceable in the corner. There hasn't been much talk either about him working on fielding so maybe telling him to do better and having him try will make a real impact. But anyway history says he's not this bad and he should be a corner OF and those guys are not hard to find but you do need two of them and if you have one on hand that's cheap, hits well, and fields ok you should keep them. 

The Nats have a lot of young OFs and a history of having development issues. Wood looks good and on target but both Hassell and Green are having issues to the point they may drop out of the Top 100 by the ASB reviews. The other 3 are high skill guys who are very young but also having issues turning talent into production in High A. There's not guarantee three of them work out or even two. So if one does then you definitely do need Thomas filling in another role. Or someone but Thomas is right here right now. He's Jesus Jones. 

My take today - I don't trust the Nats to develop talent. But they might find something in a trade that is undeniably good from someone deep and desperate (hey Dodgers!).  I'd float Thomas out there to teams that might need him that have guys I definitely like that are like Top 20/30/40 guys.  You'll probably get a no, but you won't know until you try.  Sometimes Capps does get you Ramos.  If no one bites, try to sign him until he's 32/33 eating up some control years for a favorable deals in 2026/2027/2028. If he does have to go to 1B/DH it's not like the Nats have a bunch of guys blocking those paths either.  There's a lot of space for Thomas, if he can hit ok.

Wednesday, June 21, 2023

I thought this was supposed to be better

At the beginning of the year I made some predictions about the Nats season and they have been pretty decent but one thing in factoring the "big jump" to 64 wins was the fact that the defense would be much better. By simply losing Soto, who was great at everything else but quickly becoming a liability in the field, and moving Garcia to 2B they'd be not terrible. 

Turns out I was wrong. They are terrible again. 

But... how? 

Well I've run through the defensive stats and I'm still not 100% clear on it as defensive stats aren't really meant for half-season analysis but I would say it comes down to two surprises and one non-surprise (1) Keibert Ruiz got worse not better, (2) Robles and Thomas are putting together their worst defensive years of their careers, (3) no one is having a surprisingly good year

(1) Overall no one really questioned Ruiz's defense as a prospect outside of maybe an inaccurate arm. Each evaluator didn't like one thing, but tended to think the other stuff would play leading to an overall picture of an at least serviceable catcher. Last year Ruiz was no great shakes but he was at least a mediocre blocker and a got up to fire throws to 2nd at an acceptable speed. With some minor improvement he'd be around average. But this year those both are running much worse and combine with his consistently poor arm and framing stats to make him baseball's worst fielding catcher. In other words if 4 evaluators didn't like 1 thing and thought 3 were ok, so far we're not seeing the likely scenario of him having 4 ok things, but the unlikely one of him having 4 bad ones. This is almost shocking.

(2) In the past Thomas has had a middling arm and not much range but has been good enough to be out there while Robles hasn't been as good as he could be in recent years but always managed to compensate with something positive, like a strong arm or good range. But this year both are outright bad.  For Robles injuries might be to blame but regardless they have two bad OFs and almost no one else is anything special. The one exception is Alex Call who IS very good in the OF. Problem is they gave him two plus months to make it work at the plate and it didn't. So he's out and an average (Garrett) or below average (Dickerson) guy is out there instead and the total effect is really that the Nats don't make special plays. 

(3) I won't say there hasn't been nice surprises. Garcia at 2B is perfectly average, a nice upgrade from end of career Hernandez and what Garcia did at SS. But it's still average. Candelario is good, in fact the only good fielder starting now. But that was sort of expected. He's good with the glove. But no one is surprising with unexpected great play and usually in brief bursts of defense you can see that. 

Abrams is an upgrade from Garcia at SS, but his errors mean he's still not good leaving the Nats running terrible-bad-bad in the important C-SS-CF up the middle defense. Smith is Smith. Meh and a downgrade from Bell. The alternatives are worse. The pitching staff is somehow fielding worse. And like I mentioned the OF platoon of Garrett and Dickerson is fine, but that's it.

This is kind of the problem. Candelario is good and that's it. That's what's good. Call would be but can't stay in the lineup. Defense is something where a bad player can be compensated for by a great one but outside of Candelario there is no one that can do that currently. Garcia and LF can hold their own but can't help SS, 1B, CF, and RF. And catcher is an island.

I don't know who's to blame here only what is happening. The Nats were supposed to make a couple easy changes and become at least a mediocre or middling defense. Instead they find themselves only a half-step better than last year when they were terrible

Monday, June 19, 2023

Monday Quickie -

The Nats are about to play an oddly interesting series.  They are not the worst team in baseball. The A's and Royals are fighting it out for that and you might say given the competition the Royals have the advantage which is shocking but either way - both much worse than the Nats.  The Nats currently sit at third worst two games behind the Rockies and one behind their next opponent, the St. Louis Cardinals. 

While the Nats are mildly disappointing, no one expected anything from them, the Cardinals are MASSIVE disappointments expected to win the division after doing just that with 93 wins in 2022. What happened? Offensively there have been some steps down from no-doubt All-Star hitting from Goldschmidt and Arenado to merely very good, and some injuries to OFers turning a couple average bats into below average bats. But the big issue has been pitching wise where deep starting and bullpens are now shallow. Everyone in the rotation looks mediocre from the aged Wainwright, to the returning Flaherty, to the brought in Matz. And everyone in the pen is just average. They aren't getting many leads and if they do there's not a good chance they can hold them

Still that doesn't explain it all and the Cardinals have also been massively unlucky, a .500 team in a vacuum that's gone 8-16 in one-run games. They likely have a run in them but given the hole they've dug, it's not likely that run will get them back to a wild card spot. 

Anyway the Nats play them and if they lose the series they will be fairly cemented in that "3rd worst" spot for a while since they don't face another clearly bad team until after the All-Star break. After STL they play their lost game with the surprising D-backs, then get the Padres, now with their head-on straight, three straight .500 type teams in the Marines, Phillies, and Reds, and finally the powerful Rangers. 17 more games where the Nats to go... 6-11 maybe 7-10 at best. So the Nats lose to the Cardinals at home and it's 34-56 or so at the break? Someone else shut off the lights to Nats Park when they leave because the fans won't be there to do it. 

The early season excitement of watching the young players play is gone. Ruiz and Garcia seem to have settled into average-ish seasons which is what they did last year. Abrams is fighting to stay in the majors. None of the call-ups clicked. Meneses hasn't reproduced his magic. And while Thomas and Candelario are fighting to be the lone All-Star rep neither's solid season is bringing fans to the yard. Gray has developed into a steady reliable starter - a great feat and super important - but hasn't thrown an impressive game since April. Gore has the impressive stuff but isn't as steady. Beyond that a couple relief arms are pretty good but no one that can make you excited they get called in in the 9th. 

For the most part if you go to a Nats game you are hoping they get a couple rare XBHs following their singles, build up like a 5-3 lead through 5 and you start hoping that the one bad reliever does ok and you don't run into a bad day from one of the other three good, but not great ones. 

Right now, if I were not just a fan of baseball I'd be interested in going to a Gore game against a bad team that Ks a lot. A's, Mariners, Brewers, Rockies, Mariners. The good news is that the Nats play four of these guys at home between July 21st and August 15th (they already played the Mariners in Seattle for that matchup this year) and three in four series from the 21st through August 2nd.  One starter is likely to catch all three. Maybe it'll be Gore.

Thursday, June 15, 2023