Nationals Baseball: I thought this was supposed to be better

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


Anonymous said...

To be a fan of this terrible team, one must look to the future. And this is where Abrams is most interesting. He sometimes reminds me of Ozzie Smith, with astonishing athleticism. And then he goes "clank," or does a gozzlehead play. But he's very young, and shortstops tend to become more reliable with time. So who is the real CJ Abrams of 2025?

Cautiously Pessimistic said...

Abrams reminds me of Robles. Clearly has the talent, needs to make the mental side of the game click some more. Robles never really got there, hopefully Abrams does

Anonymous said...

Is there more to the story about why the Nats immediately pushed him to Washington?

The Padres were trying to fit him into their competitive timing, but he was below replacement during his 50 games with them in the majors.

He's very young and he clearly needs work on both offense and defense. He could plausibly benefit from a year at AAA, no? (I mean, rather, he could have benefited -- I think at this point you'd have some serious motivational and confidence risks if you send him down.)

Hopeful Fan said...

I just continue to wonder whether this coaching staff can actually do what it takes to improve a young team like this. They seem to understand baseball and how to teach it and are great if the player needs constant positive reinforcement. But for the players that need tough love, like Robles for example seems to need? I don't see it. And I suspect younger players need it sometimes.

In yesterday's post-game after the Nats basically gave away a sparkling start by Irvin, Davy was asked about whether there is a line the players cross that cause him to abandon his constant positive posture. His response was "we've already crossed it." And then when asked what he does about it he said (among other things) that he gathers the team "and wants to hear from them...what is going on with them." Doesn't sound like tough teaching to me.