Nationals Baseball: Lucky or Unlucky : 2023

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


PotomacFan said...

Absent a significant free agent signing, or Dylan Crews being the next Juan Soto, I don't see the Nats winning more than 70 games next year. That's not progress.

Nattydread said...

My take would put Abrams a bit better than expected. His base running was stellar and he showed flashes of brilliance in the field and with the bat. Too lazy to compare what Trea was doing at the same age, but am thinking they are comparable.

Harper said...

PF - I think this is true, BUT if the minors produce a trio of very good looking prospects that would be progress (and it might be the no-cost progress the Nats are looking for) Of course you are putting a lot into that or into the hope that it produces 1-2 and you are able to go out before 2025 and get the pieces you need. Spreading the FA goals accross multiple years though make it easier to hit.

I think your point is mostly valid. Most of Trea's time before his breakout COVID year was spent hitting kind of average with good SB numbers and adequate fielding. So in general it was like Abrams. BUT I will say if you ranked seasons in a sense of "general performance" (as opposed to actual productivity which can be based on playing time) Abrams 23 would rank as Trea's second worst year ahead of his rookie stint.

Not going to make any calls though. Trea got hurt and took a while to get up to speed. Abrams is healthy so maybe he passes Trea. It's possible at least and that's something.