Nationals Baseball: July 2023

Monday, July 31, 2023

Today is the day (Maybe)

The trade deadline will come tomorrow. That means most deals should happen today or tomorrow. Everyone is still here and looking at what's been dealt are there any conflicts with the Nats goods?  Not really. There's been a lot of deals for bad relievers with promise and some for good relievers. The Nats don't really have either. They have a hurt reliever with promise and some ok relievers. It might be that teams either want to spend for something better (Graverman, Robertson, Hicks) or spend nothing on a mid-season lotto ticket (all the other trash). If so Harvey and Finnegan don't look good for deals. 

No 3B has been dealt yet and the SSs moved are underwhelming that you hope they aren't someone's 3B solution. That bodes well for a Candelario deal. 

Grichuk moving makes Thomas to the Angels unlikely but plenty of other teams could still use an OF bat and he's the only one to move so far. Shame Dickerson did absolutely nothing here.

A couple middling first basemen have gone in Cron and Santana, suggesting that the market there is looking for a little bit of pop more than anything. Unsurprising but that dings Meneses and buries Dom Smith. 

Overall the two biggest chips - Thomas and Candelario  - are in the same place they've always been.  It's hard to read relief because pens are so deep arms are always needed, but early returns suggest a strange willingness by teams to grab a live arm and hope, rather than a decent piece like Finnegan. We'll see if that holds.  If you were hoping for something for Meneses or Smith that didn't seem likely Friday and seems less likely now.  

Updates here today if anything happens.

Candelario is gone! To the Cubs for two guys 10-20 in their system. A toolsy SS and a live arm starter likely to be a reliever. 

Wednesday, July 26, 2023

Trade deadline coming

Can the Nats get worse? Definitely! And we'll probably test that theory in a week after the trade deadline.  Don't worry that not much has happened yet.  Trade deadline deals are really smashed into the last day or two.  There isn't much reason to rush. 

Let's take a roll through who's available and figure how likely they will be dealt and what they might get back 

Lane Thomas  - Lane hasn't slowed down. If anything he's made himself look better with a series of OF assists.  With his total defense no longer seen as a liability (which was always questionable based on small sample size this year) there isn't a good reason not to snap up a guy who'd be a very good 3rd OF for anyone and a decent 2nd/DH for contenders with trouble in those areas.  He's GONE. For what? Given the contract and the talent he's going to bring back the most. But in this environment think a low Top 100 prospect (hopefully a SP prospect) and some young throw-in.

Jeimer Candelario - With his rebound back to a solid offensive profile and stellar D Jeimer would improve nearly anyone's 3B situation. The Nats don't look like they care to sign him and as a FA at the end of the year that means he's done as a Nat. GONE. But as a FA at the end of the year he won't bring back much.  I'd guess around a teams 10th best prospect. But a good system's 10th if that means something. (note : it means very little)

Kyle Finnegan - boringly dependable but cheap and on his next team for 2 more years. You aren't going to get much more for him unless he surprisingly blossoms next year but I don't see that happening, do you?  Could get a guy back that projects to be Kyle Finnegan in a couple years, which is... ok! GONE for a teams best SP converted to a reliever using 3 pitches to get guys out instead of a 100MPH fastball and a hammer of another pitch. 

Hunter Harvey - hurt but also the most intriguing guy here. A team could think they could make him a star reliever IF he can stay healthy.  Which he isn't right now. Based on what we've seen he's on the mend but not quickly.  A lot depends on if a team feels he can pitch this year but I think that someone might even like the idea of picking him up for the next couple years. I think a savvy team makes a decent offer, think two guys on the low end between 10-20 from a good system, on the chance of a dominant cheap relief arm for 2 years, even if those two are 2024 and 2025 LIKELY GONE

Dom Smith - Dom bounced back to be ok but only ok and a 1B without power isn't in demand. I think the only contender that would be improved by Smith would be Houston with the aging overnight Jose Abreu but I can't see them make a deal for Smith.  I can't see anyone making that deal. He does serve a purpose for the Nats though as a decent fielder helping Abrams defensively. HERE

Joey Meneses - for a brief moment Joey looked like he was going to have a 2nd half like last year but he just hit his first homer in a while last night. I think Joey is fine and will draw some minor interest as a bench role filler but without a good spot I think other options will take up any worthy trade returns and the Nats won't bite on the one A-ball lottery ticket that would be the best thing they could get for him. Some fans will complain and never follow-up to see that A-ball guy topped out hitting .190 in High A in 2025 before going back home to sell cars. HERE 

Trevor Williams - they desperately wanted Williams to have a good 2nd half to spark his value but it didn't happen.  I don't think anyone will trade for this guy rather than throw up a random AAA arm which might find something more long term of interest. The good new for Trevor is he'll start for the Nats next year and have another chance to make his dreams come true before heading back to the pen. I mean let's face it. The Nats rotation is the opposite of New York City. If he can't make it here, he can't make it anywhere.  HERE

Corey Dickerson - he got hurt and did nothing when healthy not even posting interesting splits.  While teams love their vets, Corey isn't bringing anything to the table.  I don't think he gets the Nats offers.  I don't think the Nats have a reason to keep him. WAIVED

Friday, July 21, 2023

Just let us try out

"Teams are feasting on the soft underbelly of the Nats pen"

I'm not even sure that's fair. 

"Societies are sustaining themselves on the nutritious ambrosia that makes up the exposed Nats flank."

That's a little better. 

The reliever ERA sits at 12.55 since the break and it's been 8.90 in July. Batters are hitting .339 / .416 / .574 against them in July! The Nats middle relief has been an ongoing issue

NL opponent OPS Rank by inning 

  1. 8th
  2. 13th
  3. 4th
  4. 14th
  5. 14th
  6. 14th
  7. 15th
  8. 9th
  9. 13th

The 13th in the 2nd is probably a bit of a fluke, just like the 4th place in the 3rd inning. But the consistent second to last from the 4th to the 7th? That's no fluke.

The Nats bullpen in shambles. Harvey who was good, is hurt. Edwards who was first lucky, then good, is hurt. Guys like Erasmo Ramirez, Andres Machado, and Paolo Espino didn't click this year and guys like Cory Abbott, Anthony Banda, and Thaddeus Ward didn't step up.  It's the perfect storm for a bullpen. The guys you can count on get hurt. The guys who did ok last year fall off. The guys you hoped might step up don't. 

I don't know if there's a good solution for the perfect storm at this point. You could have brought in more guys you felt you could count on or had more guys you reasonably hoped might step up but those are plans for the beginning of the year.  Right now for a normal team you'd have hoped (and honestly sort of expected) someone even lower might have surprised and you have a couple more bullets in the gun than you started the year with. 

The Nats really didn't have that happen. The closest thing to a new bullet was Amos Willingham, who shined in 10 outings in AA, but took a clear step back in AAA. He was still effective but he seemed to be riding a fine line with AAA talent who better ID'd his pitches, striking out far less and walking far more. He's not a bad prospect to click at some point, but he's a reach right now as you can see from his results, or lack there of. 

Of course it would help if they called up their better talent. Looking at minor league stats Gerson Moreno would be a decent arm to throw into the fray. But they called up Corey Abbott? He's not good. Jose Ferrer, for being lefty? Suddenly after acting like you don't need any lefties you have to have two for this guy? 

Looking at the pen Weems has been solid in AAA over the course of two seasons. The time there hasn't been long (40 IP last year, 24 this) but beggars can't be choosers. If you are going to bring in a lefty LaSorsa is the best choice the Nats have. He's not a good choice, mind you. After looking good in A and AA against kids younger than him, LaSorsa's stuff wasn't playing well in AAA for Tampa so they dropped him. The Nats are taking a flier on him but he's a better choice than Ferrer. I noted Willingham is probably your best reach. But I don't know what to do about Abbott and Ferrer.  Is Moreno a better choice right now? Yes. But Moreno isn't two arms. 

The Nats AA/AAA pen depth is not there. This is the reality. You are going with the best of not good choices and even after that pulling in guys just to fill out the pen. That's not where you should be. Good luck and more often than not, good night.

Tuesday, July 18, 2023

Quick on Abrams - a fancy stat primer

CJ Abrams has quickly made himself an average bat after languishing much of the year. He flirted with a little patience early, a little power after that but in general has been a subpar bat.  But in July he's putting up a .383 / .431 / .596 line. What changed? 

Fancy stats will tell you first to look to BABIP - batting average for balls in play.  Basically if you don't whiff (or walk or homer) you are putting balls in play and for the most part (we'll talk about the next level in a second) there's a range of values guys hit around, roughly .250 to .350 with the middle being around .290*.  If you are outside of that or even on the edges one can probably expect a fall back. Abrams over the first three months put up .277, .277, and .289 lines.  If you think he's a poor hitter then these are where you'd expect him to lie. His July number? .425

Ok so that's a warning sign that not only is the .383 not sustainable (duh) but very much not so. But there are reasons guys hit better. They hit the ball harder (faster hit balls tend to go for hits more) and hit more line drives (line drives tend to go for the most hits). And Abrams IS hitting more line drives, up to 30% from the high teens in other months. Going hand in hand with that (usually) he's hitting the ball harder or more precisely he's hitting nothing soft with a soft hit rate under 10%.  So these suggest he is hitting better. Not .383 better, but better. 

Other things to note is where his K-rate is.  Is he putting more balls in play? Yes.  It's down from over 20% to 11%.  Meanwhile the walk rate, while not good, is in line with his expectations around 5%. 

All in all you have a guy who is hitting better and is also getting lucky and the combination has produced... well you've seen it. It's produced a two-week stretch that's taken a guy mired in below average world and made him an average bat in what feels like overnight. If this continues he won't hit to that July line but looking at these stats, you try to find a guy with a similar profile in 2022. Thing is that's very hard.  Guys who hit the ball this hard are more homer guys. Guys that make this much contact are more slap hitters.  You might see him as the best version of Jeff McNeil or Adam Frazier? Able to hit a few more homers and use his speed to get a few more hits and extra bases. That's a very useful player, bordering on All-Star. It's the player people thought Abrams could be.

But again that's if he keeps it up. Anyone can hit for two weeks.  The three months before this need to take precedence. He needs to do this not through the end of July but pretty much the end of the season.

Another note is he has about as many AB this year as last so if you want to compare 2022 to 2023 now is a decent time to do it.  Overall he's hitting for more power and better overall but trading some Ks for it. That's an ok trade-off. He appears to be learning to hit a variety of pitches better. He still doesn't walk.  Overall 2022 to 2023 would say a noticeable improvement. What the next 2 1/2 months is for is figuring if that's a clear step up (keeps his OPS+ around 100) or simply a half-step (more in the 85-90 range). You'd take either but the former suggests maybe something more* while the latter suggests a guy that will fill a role but maybe not much more.

 *guys who hit worse than .250 generally fall out of qualification which explains the discrepancy when you look at the spread for qualified batters where the average creeps up closer to .300

** but maybe not - see Luis Garcia

Monday, July 17, 2023

Monday Quickie - Harvey's battered

Harvey, my pick to click, the Nats best reliever and their current closer has gone down with an arm injury. It might be nothing, it might be a big deal but it does create a couple of issue. First, there's the hole that it creates in the pen where you are replacing your best arm with someone that couldn't even make the pen before. The change is huge and the Nats don't have enough good innings to spread around to cover for it. It's going to be a big problem in the middle innings before you get to the relative OK-ness of Finnegan and Thompson. 

Second, Harvey was one of the potential targets for teams at the trade deadline. He might have been the one that would bring back the most return. I will say Thomas is under the same control as Harvey, and probably would get more, but fancy stats are very wary of him so it depends a lot on which teams are wanting him and what they think of the fancy stats. Candelario will get back something but he's not controlled beyond this year making the return muted, very muted if we look at recent trades. Finnegan is under the same control time frame as Finnegan but isn't as good. Williams is an affordable 4th/5th starter but has limited value for a team making a playoff push since he wouldn't be starting in the playoffs and it's not clear if he can go back to relieving and if he could if he could repeat what he did over 20 games in 2022.

For a team looking to get quantity as much as quality it's a hit.

Such is the life of a team rebuilding. 

  • In other news - CJ Abrams is hot and up to an average bat at this moment.  I'd love to see a chart with Ruiz, Garcia, and Abrams' OPS+ over the year and see how it bounced around noting one of them as the "ok now this guy's got it" for a moment before he slipped and another guy bounced up. But for now  OK I think Abrams has got it! 
  • Meneses is hot but I'm not sure that's gonna matter unless he can stay hot right through the trade deadline.
  • Dickerson was hitless in St. Louis and is running out of time to look like something anyone wants. Including the Nats who if they can't deal him, might as well DFA him.
  • Gray had a tough outing but was kind of blase about it because he wants to pitch a certain way (more bad contact) and that can sometimes not work for you.  If it helps him avoid the homers I'm all for it though.  It limits his ceiling but also raises his floor and the Nats need guys who's floor is not "out of the rotation"

Thursday, July 13, 2023

Right/Wrong in the first half

The Nats didn't expect to challenge for a playoff spot this year.  That's good because they are not! But that doesn't mean they didn't have goals and the best way to judge the season so far is how they met those goals. Seasons can be successes for various reasons. Has the Nats season been a success for any? 

The main goal was the improved performance of the young players at the major league level. Garcia, Gray, and Ruiz, hell I'll throw in Mason Thompson had shown themselves to be passable major leaguers last year but the hope was they would become solid ones in 2023. Same for Abrams and Gore who had a little less experience but were about on the same track. This hasn't turned out well. Ruiz might be worse suffering a decline in defense. Abrams has worked hard to maybe get to passable. Garcia and Thompson are about the same. Gore might qualify here - it looked like he would but June was tough and he had his worst start of the year in July. We'll have to see his second half.  Only Gray is a no doubt improvement up to this point improving across the board as we've talked about recently. 

I would say this has not been a success although I would say if you are going to fail, having no real crashes (even Ruiz's season is influenced by some bad luck at the plate) and having the SP being the best looking is probably the best "failure" you can have here. They haven't made the next step but they haven't backtracked. 

Another idea of success is how the pipeline is doing. It's been a mixed bag. I noted earlier in the year the measures of success for the Top 100 guys. Based on these Wood is pretty much meeting expectations though beginning to struggle in AA. Hassell is failing albeit for understood reasons. Green is failing. Cavalli is a straight up injury failure. This isn't a good outcome. 

However it hasn't been all bad. Brady House, who had slipped a bit after a bad 2022 is back on the radar as a Top 100 type guy. Jarlin Susana has recovered from some injury concerns late last season to get back on track as an intriguing young pitcher. Unlike Green, talented young Cristhian Vaquero shows promise, if lacking power. Jake Bennett has outperformed expectations putting him on the radar. And of course the recent draft bringing in a #1 type bat in Dylan Crews. 

The Nats are building depth but are not quite finding success creating major leaguers. The latter is how the Nats had the success they had previously. They usually had more shallow systems than other good teams, but a system that would put out a constant trickle of very high quality major leaguers. That sustained the team through their long window because it gave the Nats cheap tentpoles to build around. Now quantity helps find quality, but in the end "creating major leaguers" is of most import. This isn't a failure but not a success...yet.

Another area that could be a success is turning FA and picked up players into solid chips for trades.  This has been decently successful considering the hit rate is going to be not great. Lane Thomas, picked up for a dead Jon Lester, is an interesting sell-high candidate.  Jeimer Candelario had his bounce back year and will be a nice short pick-up for a team. Hunter Harvey and Kyle Finnegan are solid pen arms for any squad.  Even Corbin has flashed some decent outings (though the Nats would likely have to eat a ton of money to get him out) There are misses - Dom Smith, various OFs, Meneses losing value, Williams not proving himself reliable enough - but there are going to be. These guys aren't available because they are sure things. 

This up to this point has been a success - not a rousing one but a decent one. If you doubt this look at last year and Hernandez, Franco, Cruz, Strange-Gordon, Aaron Sanchez. The Nats basically came up zero-for in guys they brought in that year. Now this is only a partial success and the second part, turning this into SOMETHING is the harder and more important part. But at least this year there is an opportunity to finish this off. 

Overall this season has not been a success so far. The young players in the majors have failed to develop as they would have liked. In a sense the team is on a holding pattern for another year while the minor leagues churn and separate out actual prospects. But the depth has increased and there's a chance to supplement that through late season trade.  Things look grimmer for a quick return to relevance but there remains hope beyond that. 

The problem now becomes one of timing. You need star production to be a contender. The Nats have a handful of young major league players. They do not seem like stars. They could have a handful coming in say 2025. If the ones coming in turn out to be stars great! If they turn out to be something else, even a bunch of decent players, that might not be enough. Stars are going to have to come from somewhere and it's looking more and more likely FA will be a necessary path to use in a greater way than before.

Wednesday, July 12, 2023

Expectations for 2nd half

First a couple notes from the comments

On the Dustin Ackley comparison.  I actually am very familiar with Ackley and he was great but there are a couple key differences. The primary one is power. Ackley developed power in his last college year that made people think he could have decent pop in the majors which was a question in his first two college years. Turns out though that that power development was a fluke that he never replicated. Crews has hit for good power every year at college. The lesser ones are Ackley's patience is there but his eye is not as good as Crews. Ackley was speedy and athletic but lacked a clear position because of a weak arm. That led people to say "he could play anywhere!" but also kept him from having security of set spot. He'd end up at 2nd and do ok, but was clearly more of a 1B. Crews can play OF just fine. No worries

So what happened to Ackley? In hindsight it appears that the power fluke mattered a ton. He was far more the guy who hit 7 homers in a college year instead of 22. It didn't develop beyond that and that meant major league pitchers would challenge him in the zone more, which cut the effectiveness of his good eye. The only way out of this predicament would be to hit .300 and prove they needed to respect your bat. I think though he (and the Ms) wanted him to be the guy they thought he could be. They spent time figuring out how to max his power instead of leaning into the average. By the time the Mariners gave up on him and he got to the Yankees who let him hit for average it was too late. He was entering an injury prone phase and never would see healthy reps in his prime again. 

In short I think Ackley's junior year got him that #2 pick but I think his junior year wasn't who he was. I don't think this applies to Crews who's freshman year would have made him a possible #1 and whose sophomore and junior years just solidified that thinking. 


On Blake Rutherford. I have NO IDEA why it isn't a bigger deal that the Nats have a young 26 yo former 1st round pick hitting .346 / .404 / .616 across AA and AAA. I get why Wood gets more interest. He isn't doing as good but he's a teenager. He looked so good in High A! He has legit power. He could be a superstar! I sort of understand why a guy like Hassell gets more interest. He was a highly thought of prospect who is just about 22 and was probably the biggest name in the return for Soto. That sort of thing sticks even if this year will have to be a pass for him because of injury. But why do I hear more about Elijah Green? A guy who I noted pre-season was a "don't want to miss out" pick who showed nothing and has shown himself at best to be a guy who needs A LOT of work making contact. Or about Alex Call for gods sake? Hell I've heard more about guys that wish they were Call like Stone Garrett and Derek Hill. And this isn't even talking about the weird Cult of Alu. 

My guess is Blake is ignored because he wasn't ever part of the plan. Not at the beginning of the year, when major league cups of coffee were seen as the guys they want to try. Nor for the future, where it's all about the Soto return and a couple other real young talent. He came in as a guy they eyed not for potential improvement but long term organization filler. A decent AA / AAA bat that could round out those rosters. You don't want to say the Nats find what he's doing unwelcome, but the truth is they don't have a good idea what to do with it in the context of what they were planning. It shows a lack of flexibility though when you commit to talent that's not any greater the Calls, Garretts, Hills, just because that's what you planned going in and ignore what the numbers say. If he was being sit while a prospect got their licks - ok then but Rutherford needs to be up soon or let a better org give him his reps to see what's real. 

I went on a little long with these but expectations - or more precisely a quick rundown of things that should even out over the course of the 2nd half. 



Unsustainable BABIPs : 

    High End : Lane Thomas, Riley Adams, Victor Robles. Joey Meneses probably too but that's likely ok

    Low End :  Ruiz, Call maybe.

Unsustainable HR/FB : 

    High End : None. Not surprising on a team that's been terrible at homering.

    Low End : Meneses. The guy should be hitting a lot fewer singles and a few more homers. The trade-off should be fine.  Smith/Dickerson could get better but it might just be who they are now.  I'm leaning toward the latter


Unsustainable BABIPs : 

    High End : LaSorsa if he gets a chance. Gore should improve.

    Low End :  Weems assuming he's not unhittable. Maybe Harvey but just a touch

Unsustainable LOBs* : 

    High End : Gray, Weems. Maybe Gore, Finnegan, Willams

    Low End :  La Sorsa again. He might be terrible but 18.00 ERA has to have a good chunk of bad luck. Maybe Thompson. Honestly everyone unlucky they cut.

Unsustainable HR/FB : 

    High End : No one really

    Low End : Edwards Jr when he gets back. Thompson maybe.

Short of this would suggest the offense is probably going to dip a little but Ruiz should make you feel less bad about that extension and Meneses will probably have a more fun 2nd half. You guys love that guy. The pitching should be about the same. I'd expect Weems to come to Earth and Gore and Gray to meet somewhere in the middle which would be about 3.80 - 4.00 ERA. This would suggest a tough 2nd half where close wins become close losses. That would probably put them back on the 62-64 win track as projected. But honestly only a couple and luck could break the Nats way. Having decent pitching keeps you in games and if you are in games things can happen. 

Now if they bring up Rutherford they are the team of the 2nd half.

*of less interest for hitters because it's an RBI stat but for pitchers it works into ERA and well everything.

Monday, July 10, 2023

Crews Cut

 Let's get in all the bad headlines now.

The nats drafted Dylan "DC" Crews with the first pick in the draft and everyone is pretty happy about it.  This was an unusually deep draft and people felt the first 2-3 picks in particular were very good. Not Strasburg/Bryce generational, but only a step below that. Some were hoping for Paul Skenes, the pitcher, to drop to the Nats, as a great starting pitcher brings the most value back but the Pirates didn't flinch and they took him. That made the Nats job pretty easy. 

Crews is a fantastic hitter, as a junior last year he hit .426 / .567 / .713.   He has average, patience, and power. Everything you could want as a hitter.  In the field he's good, possibly very good. He mans CF for LSU but in a more competitive talent pool probably shifts over to corner OF. A good corner OF mind you, but a corner OF. His defense is not elite. The one thing he hasn't really done in run, but the Nats don't run either and there really isn't good reason to ask your best hitter to try to steal bases unless he's great at it. 

To me this is the best pic for a Nats team still looking for quantity as much as quality.  They have some young guys in the majors now that can be part of the next great team. What they need are stars though, and quick. Crews fit that bill the best.  Like all draft picks he could fail to live up to expecations, but the way I see him he's such a sure thing that a non-injury related "failure" would be something like Justin Upton - a very good 15 year multiple All-Star major leaguer who never made the jump to be really special. 

A quick look back at first college hitters taken since the Nats took Rendon in 2011: 

2022 Jacob Berry (6th pick - MIA) : Struggling in high A

2021 Henry Davis (1st - PIT debut 2023) : Flew through minors (incredible eye), not impressive start in majors this year

2020 Spencer Torkelson (1st - DET d2022) : Rushed through minors showing power and patience, lack of average is hurting him in majors

2019 Adley Rustchman (1st - BAL d2022) :  Looked ready, Nearly won ROY in 2022, a star at C.

2018 Joey Bart (2nd - SFG d2020) : steady minor league rise having trouble with the last step of hitting in the majors

2017 Brendan McKay (4th - TBR d 2019) : a Shohei Ohtani type who couldn't hack doing both in minors, hitting was harder so he's a full time pitcher now.

2016 Nick Senzel (2nd - CIN d2019) : He did look ready quickly but hasn't hit in the majors.

2015 Dansby Swanson (1st - ARI d2016) : Rushed, solid if unspectacular bat at SS

2014 Kyle Schwarber (4th - CHC d2015) : Crushed minors, in majors has the power but also Ks a ton more than you would have expected.

2013 Kris Bryant (2nd - CHC d2015) :  Great in minors, injury issues have held back what could/should have been a great first half of his career.

2012 Mike Zunino (3rd - SEA d2013) : Rushed up, journeyman catcher with some surprisingly good years.

What does this tell us? It's possible that we'll see Crews next year but likely will first see him in 2025. This is regardless of how well he does in the minors. There is a base belief in a guy drafted this high that as long as he doesn't look overwhelmed you are going to push him up as fast as you can. 

It also says he's almost certain to be a major league player as none of these guys are complete washout. Senzel has disappointed, but he's also hurt his hand, ankle, shoulder, knee and maybe something else.  Bart is the only true miss but he's also a competent catcher who works hard and if he can get to average in D and bat there's good value there. I'll say it's too early for Torkelson. 

On the downside though I'll note that even crushing runs through the minors like Schwarber had doesn't tell us what kind of major leaguer the guy will be. The last step is the hardest because great major leaguers don't get pushed up to Super Major League. The majors is a top heavy league in a way that the minors are not. 

If we simply make Crews a Lane Thomas 2023 with good defense. That's one more piece. It still means stars have to be found but you also have to piece together the rest of the team and Crews looks almost certain to be a piece.

Friday, July 07, 2023

Who is Josiah Gray?

Josiah Gray is the Nats All-Star and as explained a couple posts ago, it's deserving. Even if he isn't the best choice from the Nats, he's a good one as the innings thrown and the results garnered play as an All-Star selection. But I keep hedging my best on Gray. Why is that? Because the fancy stats tell me so. 

The first fancy stat we tend to look at is FIP. It's fielding independent pitching and it's supposed to remove things out of a pitchers control - like how good his fielders are - from the equation. Looking at this can tell you how good a pitcher is really doing. In Gray's case his FIP sits at 4.79 which suggests quite the drop off from his ERA of 3.41.

Now of course Gray is pitching here and now so if the defense is helping him that shouldn't be dismissed. But we've noted the defense isn't good, it's bad. And guys like Gore, Corbin, and Irvin, show greater agreement. What is going on here exactly if it's not a defense thing?

Well FIP focuses on Ks, BBs, HBPs, and HRs and assumes kind of a base BABIP. Gray's BABIP, agreeing with our "it's not the defense!" theory, is a perfectly ok .297.  In fact that could be a little better. His HR/FB rate is down but it isn't too low. At 13% or so that's normal and great for a guy who's biggest problem before now was giving up too many homers (HR/FB sat around 18%). Coupled with a lot fewer FBs to begin with (from about 50% to under 40%) that explains why Gray has pitched better. But by that I mean that explains why Gray's FIP went from a "maybe out of baseball 5.86 to a workable back of the rotation 4.79.*  It doesn't explain the 3.41. 

His K's have gone down and his walks remain high. He should be giving up more runs. We dig further and we find a LOB% that is up among the best in the league.  Not unsustainable but you have to figure out why Gray might be here.  Guys here generally induce a ton of GBs (think Bryce Elder, Gray does not) or get a ton of Ks (Kershaw, Snell, again Gray does not) Occasionally they don't walk anyone (George Kirby, Gray does not). This shouldn't work this way.

Now one thing that DOES seem to be a "thing" for Gray, something that explains part of this and also has been so repeatable over his career that you can start to think of it as reasonable to continue - he doesn't give up homers with men on base. He's already given up 71 homers in his short career. 50 of them are solo shots. Only 5 have been for three or more runs. That's on the very low side for a starter and extremely low for a guy that doesn't keep guys off base. This year he's given up a quite reasonable 14 homers and only 2 have been with men on. Gray seems to be a different pitcher with men on base, focused on not making the big mistake. He'll be less likely to walk a guy, less likely to strike one out as well, and guys can still hit Gray but they won't get that homer they might have gotten with no one on. 

That doesn't cover everything though so there is some regression to happen but I'd bet it's to more of a low 4.00s ERA than a high one. And that doesn't mean he's stuck there. He improved from 2022 to 2023. That lets us consider the possibility that he does it so more in the future. He learns to use the mix more effectively getting even more ground balls or Ks, or gains better command of his pitches. He's a mid rotation guy now who is getting a little lucky but there is hope for something better that will stay.


*We can go into this as well - a better mix of pitches going from basically a 3 pitch guy to someone that can break out 5 pitches. Especially useful is the cutter which fills in a speed gap between FB and the CB and slider so it's harder to recognize the FB. It used to be a negative pitch for him and it's hard to be good without a good fastball. Now it's even.

Wednesday, July 05, 2023

Good Nats Bad Nats

The Nats went on a road trip. They played solid ball, caught some break, and against 3 .500ish teams the Nats went 6-3 raising their record to 34-49.  They then promptly played some sloppy ball and lost the first two to the Reds at home. 

For whatever reason the Nats are FAR better on the road than home. The 6-3 stretch brought them all the way up to 21-22 just a game under .500 away from home where as the 0-2 dropped their DC record to 13-29, similar to the home records of the two teams fighting for a place in the "worst teams ever" record books, the A's and the Royals. I can't explain it. Nats park holds no special dimensions that would work against the team. There isn't any heavy or awkward situation hanging over the team that would effect play at home. So it must be your fault. Sorry. Be better fans. Cheer harder. 

The MLB draft (starts the 9th) and the trade deadline (Aug 1) is coming up and the stories are coming out. The draft ones aren't so pretty. Baseball America today noted the Nats are the WORST team when it comes to drafting hitters in the past decade. They didn't do pitchers but looking at the Nats roster and knowing the guys sent out into the baseball world I'm going to guess the Nats aren't first there to make up for it. For those prepared with the "Yes but the Nats draft so low!" excuse/reason the Astros were the best. The Dodgers were 3rd best. 

The Nats though are now in "can't miss" range so if they happen to get the best hitter in the draft (Dylan Crews) it should work out. But even then recent top hitter picks include Spencer Torkleson, Joey Bart, the oft injured Royce Lewis, and Mickey Moniak. Of course the other two in this time frame were Swanson and Rutschman. You can be sure Crews will get to the majors, just not sure what he might be and that specifically might not be the Nats fault. 

As for trades Barry talks about it today and wonders if they will trade Thomas (or Harvey or Finnegan), can they trade Corbin (or Smith), and if they would NOT trade Candelario (or Vargas).  This goes to an little discussion this weekend about what does it mean to be in a rebuild and where are the Nats in it?  The idea was started when talking about Candelario you wondered if they should sign him. He's good, plays a position the Nats need, and might be able to be grabbed for less money right now. But others thought you have to trade him not sign him because... ummm... rebuild?

And there comes the question. What is a rebuild and when does it turn into a try?  In my mind the Nats are done with the big rebuild portion. They traded away some guys starting in 2018 and last year traded away the last big chip.  Any trade right now is marginal in terms of what you could expect the impact would be.  They've also identified four younger players who will be part of the team for the next few years in Ruiz*, Garcia*, Gray and Gore. You can throw in Thompson in this group as well as he might not be a lockdown reliever but could give some late inning stability for a while. Well right now all of these guys but Ruiz are slated to hit FA after 2027.  The Nats are on a four year clock to get things done. 

To me that means this off-season is the transition off-season. They can make some trades but they need to start bringing in guys that will be ready to step in immediately. If they don't they are hoping guys come up who can do this but to get that in time? Seems unlikely and they'd more likely find themselves under .500 staring at these guys hitting FA and looking to deal THEM and thus starting the cycle over again like we've seen with so many bottom dwelling teams over the years. 

There is one way they can hold off on making NOW deals and that's to sign more of these guys long term like Ruiz. If you are looking at a 5-6+ year window with these players then you do have a couple more years to gather and evaluate talent before a push. But you have to make those extensions and you have to be right about them. Ruiz looks just passable right now.  Are they going to gamble with some more? 

The Nats are going to have to decide soon. Try now, Try later, or put it off and hope for everything to go right in development for a team that hasn't had nearly anything go right for a decade. Given they can blame the sale for anything I'm fearing the third choice will be the one made.

*these two have had a real rough couple of weeks though

Monday, July 03, 2023

All-Star Gray(s)

Josiah Gray is the Nats All-Star. 

Is it deserved? Probably so. I've mentioned several times that Gray's stats don't entirely line-up. We can talk about it tomorrow or so but what he's doing in terms of hits/homers/walks matches up better with an ERA that sits closer to 4.50 than 3.50.  But in the case of the All-Star Game and selection to it, "what should be" doesn't really matter, "what is" is far more important.  And "what is" is that Gray has thrown almost 100 innings of 3.30 ERA ball. He's around 10th in ERA and just outside of it in IP. The combination puts him at 5th in pitcher bWAR. If he was clumped around the guys past 10 maybe that's not good enough but no, he's separated from the bottom of the Top 10.  

Of course bWAR isn't the only attempt to figure this out and in fWAR Gray ranks a less impressive 22nd.

Short of it - he's a worthy All-Star for what he's done 

Is he the MOST worthy Nats All-Star? 

Let's look at the two other candidates - Lane Thomas and Jeimer Candelario.

Lane Thomas is hitting basically .300 with 15 homers and some walks. He's playing questionable defense. If it were just about corner OFs we may be able to get away with that but in the OF for the All-Star it doesn't quite matter what OF position you are playing. His numbers put him at 8th in bWAR and 11th in fWAR

Jeimer Candelario is hitting about .265 with moderate patience and decent power. He's playing good defense. As far as NL 3B goes he's 3rd in bWAR and first in fWAR

Thinking about it another way, probably sits in the Top 10-15 pitchers in the NL, Thomas in the Top 10 of OFs, and Candelario in the Top 2/3 of 3B. From this it seems pretty obvious that Candelario is the choice. 

BUT the All-Star selection isn't that straight forward. It's a jigsaw puzzle of fan selection, picking one guy per team and making it all work. 

At 3B things are confusing. Nolan Arenado is the fan favorite. He's prefectly fine but not having an clear All-Star type year.  After that you are generally left with one spot for another 3B maaaaybe 2. The combination of offense and defense makes Candelario the should be choice but guys hitting better tend to win out. Is there anyone hitting really well but fielding like a lummox? No. So why isn't Candelario the choice? Because the Nats stink

Another thing about the ASG is they reward not only good player 1st half performances but good TEAM first half performances. The Braves have slowly passed the Rays as the team of the first half and that gets them a lot of guys here. including Austin Riley.  He's been good on a great team. Candelario has been slightly better on a bad one. 

In the OF Acuna, Betts, and Carroll are almost certainly the right 1, 2, 3. There can be 3-4 more OFs. Soto is an obvious choice - as good an offense and not terrible on D so far this year. Castellanos makes it as Philly's lone rep. (should be vazquez but as he's not the closer he's got a big hill to climb). And... ok look I have no idea why Gurriel is making it.  AZ is too good not to have 3 guys? It doesn't make sense. But other guys - Tatis, Yelich, Nimmo - could all make cases if Thomas got in.  Thomas is kind of a one-guy on team pick here and they decided he wouldn't be that guy when Gray was more worthy.

Is Gray more worthy?

At this point the jigsaw has completely confused me. The big problem is the NL starting lineup has 3 dodgers and 3 braves and Elder and Kershaw should definitely be All-Stars so you have 8 spots taken up by 2 teams and 13 fighting over the scraps. I think Candelario should have made it over Riley. If he's in though Gray probably loses out to someone.  Gray is a perfectly ok choice. Candelario is just a better one.