Nationals Baseball

Monday, March 30, 2015

Monday : A Boz too far

I always want to open these types of posts with "Nobody loves Boz more than me", but of course that isn't close to true. I imagine thousands upon thousands of DC area residents have more affection toward the man and his writing. That said, I do think he's a very very good writer and much more willing to look at baseball in new ways than most of his generation. Still, there are times where his unofficial role as Nationals Cheerleader / Mouthpiece goes a bit too far and a couple examples popped up the last few days.

First was the column which can be summed up as "The Nats are awesome!"  The conceit of the article was as follows:
The Nats were basically an expansion team when they came to DC and the fact they got good so quickly is amazing. And they have a bright future which is even more amazing. 
It's true... mostly. But it's the "Where's the sunnyside? Here? You call this bright? Paint everything glossy white and bring in some mirrors!" take that Boz can put out there sometimes.

First off the Nats were not an expansion team. That seems like a silly distinction to make, but it isn't. (Boz himself makes it - then says "ehhhh best I can do" which really isn't the case but hey) Yes, the year before the Nats had middling major legaue talent and a terrible farm system. But an an expansion team has no major league talent and no farm system. They build it all from scratch. It's not fair to compare the Nats to that. For example, Baseball America ranked the Nats minor league talent at 26th coming into 2005. That's bad, but certainly not the worst. What were the Nats then? A bad team with a bad farm system. There are a handful of these types of teams out there each year. They had special circumstances with the gutting of minor league system guys, not players, but workers, but still not an expansion. Doesn't compare. Don't do it.

But let's say you can overcome the sanity that would keep you from making that comparison. What exactly does Boz say?

"14 expansion teams. Five took forever to get to 90 wins" PAUSE

That's true but is it a case of arbitrary endpoints? ... Nope! Took them all a long time to get to around a 90 win team. Now you can make the case that a team like the Angels were actually good very quickly but not 90 win good, more like .500 good, but that's not what Boz was saying so we'll give him this. You win this round Boz!

"Two were pretty much terrible for 7 years" PAUSE

Ok I'm sure that's true too. Where are the other 7 though? You can't say
"the history of expansion teams is, with few exceptions, an utter horror show" 
using only 50% of expansion teams. Let's look into the other 7

Washington Senators/Texas Rangers : Bad for a long time. Why not bring them up? Probably thinks it would be bad luck.
NY Mets : Suddenly became a very good team around year 8 and remained pretty good for 5+ years.
Milwaukee : 90 wins in year 10, were a pretty successful team for 6 years, and didn't crater again for about 15 years.
Royals : Gold Standard. decent by year 3, division challenging by year 7, dominant 5 year run, wouldn't really start to get bad until 20+ years after getting good.
Blue Jays : got decent around year 6/7, would go 11 years with 86+ wins (9 with 89+)
Marlins : would buy their way to a WS in year 7, luck into one in year 11 but mostly built up to middling around 2000 and stayed there for a decade
Diamondbacks : bought a decent team immediately. Would win their division in year 2, WS in year 4. Odd times in the 12 seasons since then. In six they had from 76-84 wins, three seasons 51-65 wins, two 90+, with little rhyme or reasons on where the good and bad appear.

What would this tell us? Well it would tell us that four TRUE expansion teams (Mets, Royals, Brewers, Blue Jays) got good and stayed good for a while within 10 years of appearing. Two more (Dbacks and Marlins) proved you could win quickly. So at the very least about 30% of all expansion teams did something like the Nats, who again are not an expansion team, have done.

What's the real take away then? What the Nats have done is impressive, but it's far from obliteratively remarkable.

The second column was about the inevitable departures of ZNN and Strasburg and why that's a good thing.  You see it's good because "some in baseball" believe that a TJ elbow lasts around 8 years. This would put ZNN and Strasburg done around 2017 and 2018 respectively, smack in the early part of their next contracts. Second Tommy Johns are also much less successful than firsts. Let them walk!

Of course this doesn't make that much sense if you think about their drafting plans.  Lucas Giolito and Erick Fedde underwent the surgery too. If you really believe in that rough 8 year time table than Giolito should be done around 2020, and he bounced back to elite levels quickly. Essentially you are drafting guys who will give you not 6-7 years but 3-4 years. The cost is cheap for three to four great years sure but you have to factor in the draft pick not made. What's the opportunity cost for not drafting another player who might give you that longer period of play under team control?

So how do to reconcile this? It's is probably one part "these guys are younger maybe they'll give us more years after the first surgery" and eighty hundred parts "we really have little idea how long an elbow lasts after TJ, but we'll say 8 years because that fits with our plans of not re-signing these guys"

Both these columns, when you get down to it, are coming from the same place. "Don't worry about the Nats and the decisions they make, and potentially the drop in wins to come. They are in good hands and know what they are doing." Perhaps that's true. It feels true, even to a doubter like me. But it's also possible that they've reached the end point with the money they are willing to spend and are now trying to justify not signing guys. They are also trying to keep costs down by gambling on injury prone type players who may spend their careers failing to live up to expectations. Matt Purke isn't walking through that door and right now Anthony Rendon is limping through it.

We don't know. We won't know until it happens. To be positive is fine. To be only positive is sort of delusional.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

If you're not worried, you're not paying attention

Everything else is coming along as planned. Yuney has had his at bats and seems to be on track for Opening Day.  Werth has just started to take BP. The recovery taking longer than he wants, but that's because he wants to be ready for Opening Day. He's still on track even if that means a week or so past Opening Day. Storen, who no one cares about, got his stitches out so we really should see him pitch in a day or two. I've been bothered that he hasn't but I can't figure how this particular injury would hold him back. So I expect him ready for Opening Day. Denard Span is still dead.

But Anthony Rendon, Rendon the key to this year and the future, he's not coming along as planned. They tell you they aren't worried in the long term because they can't find anything severe about the injury. Two MRIs haven't shown a tear (we've been told). It's just a bruise. He'll be fine.  Someday.

Here's the short of it though.  Rendon is injured, it's not getting better like they think it should, and they don't know why. That's worrisome.

It could work out. It probably will work out. But don't tell me you aren't worried about an injury that isn't healing and you don't have a reason why. Even if it turns out to be "guess he's a slow healer" THAT matters too.

Anyway - still division champs and all but worry all you want. You're concerns are valid.

Monday, March 23, 2015

It's Scherzer

Does it matter who starts Opening Day. Nah. But let's be honest here, Max starts because Max can do it again next year. You know who can't? Jordan Zimmermann. Because he won't be here. And Max could do it in 2017.  You know who can't? Stephen Strasburg.  Because he won't be here.

Just saying

Yuney starts today - will most likely play OD barring setback.  
Werth is a question mark. If he bats Wednesday I'd bet on him for Opening Day. If not, I'd bet not. 
Rendon is still not right, with no timetable for return. I'm saying no for OD
Storen still has pitched one inning and no one cares. 

Friday, March 20, 2015

Friday Updates

Escobar is going to try to take some BP over the weekend. Start playing on Monday.  That would probably put Opening Day as a possibility if he feels good but that might be pushing it.

Jayson Werth should play in the field today. Won't hit. I still think he'll push for Opening Day but he seems pretty adamant about "if I'm not ready I'm not ready" and letting that be a Werth decision. So basically we're at the whims of how he feels, which is fine, but it makes predicting when he'll play harder.

Denard Span played catch. At least he's verifiably not dead.

Still no word on Rendon. He hasn't played since the 9th which means we are closing in on two weeks on the injury that was initially going to be a "day or so" and then a "few days".  Over two weeks moves into "a few weeks" territory. The lack of news is never a good sign but the Nats are basically have the same... let's call it "prickly" attitude toward injury information that say the Patriots have. Which is even more stupid in baseball and even more stupid that that in Spring Training, but let it never be said that Mike Rizzo doesn't have a huge ego (and results that back it up... so far).

Just a reminder that Storen has thrown 1 inning so far.

More updates! . I think Matt is being optimistic - then again OD is a whole week into April. If you don't care about live ABs then the time to get healthy is there.

Spring Training Stats notes (only looking at (1) power, (2) crazy bad numbers that may indicate injury, or (3) crazy good numbers that may screw up bench make-up because you get hypnotized by these things)

  • No one is having a particularly powerful spring so no surprises there. 
  • Tony Gwynn Jr is hitting .407 and making a play for the OF bench role that will be there with Span out. Loads of major league info to tell you that's not a good idea. 
  • Skole is thing .421 with 2 homers and a double. but he is likely to go to the minors to get at bats. Tyler Moore has cooled down a bit (.357 with .714 SLG currently) but if they like him, they like him
  • No regular is hitting so bad that I'd worry about it. 
  • Xavier Cedeno is putting up a 0.21 WHIP while Blevins sports a 6.23 ERA. Shouldn't matter (Blevins WHIP is a decent 1.38) but you never know.  
  • Tanner Roark has looked terrible. I mean like crazy bad. There's Spring Training bad (say Stammen or Blevins this year) then there is 13 hits and 2 walks in 7.2 IP in cluding 3 homers. If you're looking for a possible injured Nats arm this is the one I'd keep an eye on.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015


Good news and bad news on the injury front over the weekend. The good news is Jayson Werth appears to be pretty much on schedule for his return. He may even play in some minor league games this upcoming weekend. If so, consider him a good bet for Opening Day.

If not... well probably the worst case would be the 16th of April but I would simply say "not Opening Day".  The problem would be just not getting enough at bats. The Florida segment of the minor leagues ends in two weeks from today, with two extra Yankees exhibitions before the start of the season. If he plays this weekend he could play in 10+ games. If not, then with the bye day on Tuesday, he probably plays in only 7 or so. He might not feel ready at that point. Still, whether it's April 6th, 8th, 10th or whenever it's still going to be on target with what was planned barring a setback. The rare Nats recovery that takes the time you were told it would.

The bad news is everything else. No news is not good news on the Span front. He's still expected to be out for a long time. Yuney Escobar did come back after his oblique strain. However it was at the full 10 days given as the max before hand and it wasn't right back into the swing of things. He merely resumed "baseball activities" which means he did some light tossing and exercised with the team. He still isn't taking any sort of batting practice. If the team is worried Werth might not get enough ABs to make Opening Day, well Yunel is clearly not. I'd peg him for a mid-April return.

The worst news is Rendon's "miss a few days" bruise that grew into a "miss a week" mild sprain, has progressed to a "no timetable" worrying situation. He's still sore, they won't let him play while he's sore, so he sits and waits and we all pray he doesn't get sent back for more tests.  Right now it's still a mild sprain - the MRI (which they did have - shhh don't listen other teams! Rizzo thinks you not knowing this is a strategic advantage!) showed that. Of course I'm sure those aren't 100% right and the last thing we want to find out is that the mild strain was misread and it's actually a small tear. The difference with Rendon is he's had some playing time in the Spring so he'll need less time to get ready.  Still given the Nats precautionary tendencies (correct in this case) I'd expect a slow return for Rendon and I'd peg him right now for a mid-April return too.  That's probably conservative (we could hear news today that would peg him for Opening Day) but I'd rather be conservative.

These players have to be replaced so what are the drop-offs between the starters and the replacements?

Jayson Werth to Nate McLouth.  Huge. Despite fielding like his beard has weaved itself into the grass below, Werth's bat is still incredibly strong. If you love McLouth he's probably a 1 win type player. Werth is probably a 4.5 win player. So it's something like a 3+ win difference over a season. (Moore would likely be an even bigger predicted gap) The good news is over the course of say 1-7 games that's a pretty meaningless distinction.

Yunel Escobar to Danny Espinosa. This depends on what kind of Yuney you think the Nats got. If you think it's 2014 Yuney (a fair guess seeing that it's the closest time-wise and he's coming off injury) it's a wash. If you think it's 2012/13 Yuney than the loss is a couple games or so.  Let's split the difference and say half a game? Again it's not going to amount to anything significant assuming Yuney misses ~9 games or so

Anthony Rendon to Kevin Frandsen. HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHHA. Ok You want to bet on Ian Stewart because he hit a few Spring home runs? Fine. I'll continue HAHAHAHAHHHAHAAHA.  We're talking a Grand Canyon esque gap between great and barely in the league. Hell even 2015 Rendon probably won't match 2014 Rendon and he's the same guy. 6.5 wins? 5.5? The gap is so large that even a small amount of missed time, say the ~9 games I predict, is around enough to lose a third a win.

All in all a half-win from the three combined injuries is a good guess up to this point. Then there's the big one.

Denard Span to Michael Taylor. The hardest one to judge but let's get something straight off the bat. Span was great last year. Taylor might match up to Span ok, but he doesn't match up to 2014-name-bandied-about-for-MVP-votes Span. Understand that.  People love Taylor's fielding and assume that'll be fine. I'm not as sure. Fielding can fail to translate as well. Remember, the "Harper can play CF" thoughts when he was in the minors? Yeah. Never happened. There's a lot more upside in those scout rankings than you think or else we'd have 20 guys fighting for rookie of the year each season.  But let's just say he can match the fielding for the sake of argument. Even acknowledging the issues with D-stats, we can admit 31 year old Span is probably slowing down. The bat is the real issue. Span was a force last year. Taylor struck out almost 40% of the time and that's not an outlier given his minor league tendencies. Through bat alone I'd expect a 3 win loss. If you want to say 2 that's fine, because we didn't predict Span himself to do as well, but that's still significant. Assuming Span is out half the year (a good guess) that's a win to a win and a half.

So all in all the injuries right now peg the Nats with about 2 wins fewer than you'd expect a healthy team to put up. That's not what you want to hear. Lucky for the Nats you probably also pegged the team for say 95/96 wins or something like that. so they are down to 93/94 win territory. Still an easy pick for division champs. The only thing that really starts to be a question is best record in the NL. Of course you see what an important injury Rendon's is. That's a huge fall-off and one that by itself could put the Nats from easy division title to a potential fight. There are a lot of things that can pick the Nats right back up (most obviously a Bryce breakout) but let's just get Rendon back healthy and not worry about finding the silver linings.

Monday, March 16, 2015

Don't get injured - long term view

That last list was focused on 2015. That's what I prefer because a lot can happen between now and later, a surprise guy develops and one guy isn't as needed. A prospect crashes and the only other prospect at that position becomes more critical. But as we stand here today (and because what if anything happened of consequence over the weekend?) here's the quick take on how I'd change things up thinking beyond 2015

#1 Rendon - long control, MVP potential
#2 Bryce - not quite as long control, question marks but way too talented and part of two-man offensive core
#3 Sherzer - the defacto ace they are working around for the next several years
#4 Zimmerman - He's paid a lot for a long time so it's better if he can play
#5 Giolito - you can't build around prospects BUT Top 10 guys... well it's hard to keep yourself from doing that and if the Nats let everyone walk in the next 2 years, he's the reason why.

#6 Roark - very cheap effective starter in hand for years if last year wasn't fluke
#7 Werth - Still three more years of big money and don't see corner OF replacement in minors
#8 Taylor - Next closest ready minor leaguer, allows for Span to walk which looks like it has to happen at this point
#9 Strasburg - Healthy Stras matters, as a rotation anchor in 2016 before leaving, a potential keeper if Giolito flames out, or trade bait.
#10 Gio - has potential to be underpaid starter through 2018. Of course mostly healthy last year didn't look great.

#10.5 RAMOS - dammit I knew I left someone out. 

#11 Escobar - keeps team desperate from needing to resign Ian or form some other short term solution
#12 Storen - there are guys in line but it'd be best if Storen were healthy for roughly same reasons as Strasburg.
#12 Turner - keeps team from needing new long term Ian solution, though long term sometimes things just luck out for you.
#13 Barrett - They like him and he's under control for a long time.
#14 Lobaton - Could be a temporary starter if Ramos goes or goes down. Most likely a nice back-up for 3 more years.
#15 Difo - Could move up this list quickly with good showing in AA, a little too question-marky though to be higher. Makes list because Nats MI prospects are shallow.

There you go - discuss. 20 days now!

Thursday, March 12, 2015

The Don't Get Injured List

We said during this off-season that it would almost certainly take injuries to keep the Nationals from making the playoffs. Well the injuries are coming.
  • Rendon bangs his knee
  • Yuney Escobar gets shut down for 7-10 days
  • Werth has off-season surgery and likely won't be ready for Opening Day
  • Span had his second surgery of the off-season and will probably miss months. 
I wouldn't exactly say they are "piling up" and as of right now there's no reason to believe the season has come off the rails (or even had to slow down because a cow wandered on the track), but the more injuries that we see now, the closer the Nats come to the point where the next one will matter in terms of playoffs or not. They've lost some cushion. That's something.

Here is my completely official ranking of the players in terms of who they can and can't afford to lose to injury.

The Indispensibles

#1 Rendon - Rendon showed himself to be an MVP caliber player in 2014, but just as important he plays a position where the Nats have no clear back-up. Perhaps a Trea Turner or Wilmer Difo could shift positions but we're not sure when these guys will be ready to contribute, let alone hoping them to do it this year while learning a new position. An injury to Rendon would almost certainly mean then a lot more Kevin Frandsen and stupid questions about Zimmerman moving back. Shudder. 

#2 Desmond - All that back-up stuff I just said about Rendon applies to Desmond too, but Turner wouldn't have to change positions and let's face it, Ian ain't Anthony with the bat. But while it's not as big a loss, Desmond down would take away a big power bat and would probably mean Espinosa at 2nd and Yuney at shortstop. Given Escobar's sudden aging in 2014, this is an iffy situation at best. 

#3 Span - Uh oh! Why does Span rank above his outfield compatriots? Because Span is the keystone here. It's his great defense that is needed to compensate for Bryce's lack of instincts and Werth's calcification. It's his decent offense that makes him a positive rather than a necessary neutral. It's his existence as a speedy CF that lets Matt put him at the top of the line-up, a spot that seemed to create constant unecessary headaches for managers and fans. Taylor might be able to get the defense down but they aren't high on him providing the offense, at least not in 2015. If he isn't hitting then he's not batting first which means... oh god, not this again. 

#4 Bryce - Losing either corner OF would be bad news as the back-up plans are questionable. The hope is Nate McLouth will bounce back but he's rehabbing from off-season surgery (you know how it is - one guy gets it they all have to) after him... Michael Taylor? Mike Carp? Tyler Moore? Jeff Kobernus? Or the most likely scenario... Frandsen. There are lots of solutions here so there are better chances of finding one that works but still there's likely a lot of crap to sort through. Why Bryce over Werth? I expect about the same total production from both so it comes down to Bryce being the lefty power bat in a line-up with no other lefty power bats (and with Span down for a while no other lefty)

#5 Werth - See the above. Werth may rank behind Span and Bryce but he could (should?) still be the best bat on the team so he's still indispensible, just not as indispensible to me. 

The Big Problems

#6 Storen - "What? I don't care about Storen! The guy's a choker and relief pitchers are a dime a dozen!" Sure I feel you. Now think about what would happen if Storen goes down.  I'll wait. 

Ugly ain't it? As much as we'd like to believe that the Nats are going to use a lack of guys in defined roles to maximize bullpen leverage the truth is they are going to fiddle with three or four guys until they find 7th and 8th innings guys because that's how baseball is. They should be able to do this but who knows how long it will take? Add one more hole to the mix and how won't it take up half the season at least. And the whole "closer" thing?  

#7 Zimmerman - We like to think a Zimm renaissance is just around the corner but more likely he'll hit like .275 and have 23 homers and play pretty good first base. That's good. But that's not indispensibly good especially at first. The same guys that could take over at corner OF could take over at first, and probably play it better. Plus you could also move Werth there. 

#8-#10 ZNN/Max/Stras - Any order you like. I don't love Roark as much as most guys but it's clear he's a pretty good guy to have sitting out there as your 6th man. So losing a pitcher isn't as big a deal to the Nats as it is for most teams. Still ZNN/Max/Stras aren't ordinary pitchers, they're among the best and losing them will hurt unless you have a Top 20 guy to replace him. Despite Roark's 2014 I don't see him as that.

The We'd Rather Nots

#11 Gio - Gio isn't in the ZNN/Max/Stras category, he seems to be getting a bit older and losing some stuff, but he is the only lefty arm on the staff and among the possible replacements as well. You lose an aspect of the team if Gio goes down that they can't replace. 

#12 Ramos - This is less about Ramos than the chain of events losing him would set off. I expect Ramos will get injured. And here's a secret - Ramos hasn't hit all that well either. He is kind of replaceable. But catchers are hard to come by and losing Ramos makes Lobaton the starter (don't want) and Leon/Solano the back-ups (really don't want). 

The Well Whatevers

#13 Fister - Roark is pretty much just as good in my eyes. Hey, my list. I don't think the Nats miss a beat if Fister goes down. The only reason I'd care is that it takes away the pitching safety net in case there is another injury. 

#14 Escobar - The last regular, I don't think much of Escobar. His shoulder might have been the reason he couldn't hit or field last year. Maybe. But why couldn't he run either? I mean he's never been great but he basically was a statue last year. I think he's a marginal player who at 31 can no longer get over nicks and dings which hey, he's still getting. He'll likely be below average but could be terrible. So if he goes down and slick fielding pop-master every third AB strikeout Espinosa takes over. Eh. Don't really care.

The Other One that Matters

#15 Lobaton - Even if Ramos is healthy he's not playing 154. So the back-up catcher will get a non ignorable amount of plate appearances. Do you remember how bad Leon and Solano were? Lobaton didn't have a good 2014 but you still rather have him in this position than those two.