Nationals Baseball: July 2011

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Not quite all the right moves, but good enough

A few weeks ago I think I summed up the Nats strategy at the trade deadline as simply "Don't screw things up". Based on those low expectations the Nats passed with flying colors. They didn't trade anything of import to 2012 and beyond, and they used the opportunity to bring in some decent talent. True, they didn't get any "real" prospects, but they weren't offering up any "real" talent in return. The only failing was not getting a CF but that isn't something that has to be done now. All in all I think it was a successful, if uninspiring trade deadline.

Now because it's fun to put arbitrary, completely meaningless grades to theses things - let's grade the trades

Gomes deal - Days later the deal still is a head-scratcher. Gomes makes the Nats a better team at the plate vs left-handed pitchers. That's not worth giving up anything decent and the Nats gave up a couple of minor leaguers that were decent. Not more than decent but decent. It's not a terrible deal but only because it doesn't really matter. It's like going with Bud Light over Miller Light. C-

Marquis deal - this is exactly the "good" deal a Nats fan would reasonably expect when trading Marquis. The Nats get a young A-ball prospect with usable skills that could develop into something special, (although it's unlikely). Zach Walters isn't super young (he'll be 22 in a month) but he does seem to be developing both the power and patience you'd like a player to develop at his age. The thing likely to hold him back is a high strikeout rate (that's ok in the majors but when you K a lot in the minors it can mean you won't hit anything in the majors). Next year will be huge for Zach. B+

Hairston deal - this is exactly the type of great deal a Nats fans wouldn't think they could get when trading Hairston. For a 35 year old super sub you hope for whatever you don't expect a guy that has a good chance at making the majors but that seems to be what Erik Komatsu is. Granted he doesn't appear to making it as a good player - his so-so defense and lack of power likely make him a 4th OF - but that's still more than I thought Hairston could get and that's admitting that I misread Hairston this season. A

We could try to rate the non-deals but without knowing exactly what was on the table it's pointless. I will say that I would have done Storen and Bernadina for Span in a heartbeat. Storen and Lombardozzi would have taken a few more pumps of blood, but I would have also done that. Why? because here's what Span has done in the majors compared to Lombardozzi

Span : .289 BA, .361 OBP with plus fielding in center
Lombardozzi : . . .

Also the Nats would have control of Span through 2014. That's good enough for me and if Rizzo balked at these dealsm (or losing someone for the sake of a Desmond or Clippard) he's making classic mistakes of overestimating the worth of relievers and your own guys. But again - we don't know and like I said before these deals can go down in the offseason... or next year's deadline.

All in all I think you have to be happy with the way the deadline went down. A couple more deals (why is Nix still here?) would have been nice but the Nats are a better organization today then they were two weeks ago. That's the ultimate goal.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Last Place... Mission Accomplished?

The loss last night drops the Nats to last place in the NL East. While only 4 games under .500, it certainly feels like the Nats are drifting in the wrong direction. They may very well finish in the low-mid70s in wins, rather than challenge for .500. And you know what? I don't really care.

I don't care because of three things. Wilson Ramos. Jordan Zimmermann. Danny Espinosa.

The Nats needed young players to step up into holes at catcher, in the middle infield, and in the rotation and they have.

Wilson Ramos has lived up to his defensive reputation while providing average offense for a catcher. Recently he's shown that he can still be a power threat and earlier he had shown the ability to hit for good average. He may not ever combine both to become elite, but it's equally as doubtful he'll lose both abilities and become a liability at the plate. Wilson Ramos is 23 and under team control through 2015.

I was hoping Jordan Zimmermann would show himself to be a #3/#4 type pitcher in this recovery year, so he could possibly grow into something more. He's been doing much better than that. Ignore the last couple starts. That's just some hit and HR luck working against him, as it worked for him earlier in the year. He's still striking out a bunch and walking no one. (4th in K/BB ratio in the NL). Let's say he is the total pitcher he's shown up to this point. A 3.27 pitcher that's 5th in the league in WHIP? Who wouldn't take that right now? Jordan Zimmermann is 25 and under team control through 2015

Danny Espinosa is currently the 2nd best offensive 2nd baseman in the NL. Danny Espinosa is currently the second best defensive 2nd baseman in the NL. Danny Espinosa is 24 and under team control through 2016 I believe (it's hard for me to pin this one down)

Wilson Ramos has done exactly what Nats fans would have reasonably expected. Zimmermann and Espinosa have done better. Given that it's 2012, with Strasburg back in the rotation and Bryce in line for a call-up, that's the key season for making strides toward the playoffs, wins and losses this year are disappointing but not telling. They crossed their fingers and hoped for a young cheap core to come together in 2011 so they can build around it for the next few years. They've gotten it.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Nothing from nothing leaves nothing

Nats get Jonny "Lost my H" Gomes for Chris Manno "War" and Bill "The Anvil" Rhinehart.

Yes the only way I can make this trade interesting is coming up with dumb nicknames for everyone (though I kind of like the Manno "War" one)

Chris is the best piece here. He's having a very nice year in A-ball and lefty arms are always of interest to major league teams. He's a little old for A-ball and relievers are a dime a dozen but still seems like a worthwhile guy to have in the organization.

Rhinehart is nothing special. He's having a good year true, but he's had a bunch of bad ones and is pretty old for AA. We're sitting here worrying if Ian Desmond can get it together now and Rhinehart is basically a year older. Maybe he shows something next year in AAA and can get to the show at 28... just when he should be slowing down. More likely he's an occasional fill-in call-up at best.

I like Gomes better than Rhinehart. Gomes is basically a proven lefty masher. He can't hit righties. He can't field. He's 30. He'd make a fine platoon for Nix but what of it?

Fangraphs speculates that the Nats are hoping to get a draft pick from this deal (by having Gomes decline arbitration and get signed) Ummm ok? I mean I see that but wouldn't you be satisfied with a guy like Manno coming from the level of pick you get from this? You won't be happy, but if Manno becomes a decent lefty reliever for 5+ years, which is entirely possible, I think you'd be satisfied with that.

It doesn't hurt the Nats but I don't see how it helps them either. Of course it could be step one in some other deal. I guess....

Added Value

A quick look at how the major league trade targets on the Nats changed their relative value for this last frenzied week since the break.

Pudge - DOWN - Supposedly killed his value with an injury that will sit him for weeks but in all honesty the guy was hitting an earned .214 / .276 / .325 this year. A solely defensive back-up catcher only has so much value to begin with.

Flores - DOWN - Wasn't hitting in the minors (.234 / .252 / .378) but got a chance in the majors anyway thanks to Pudge's injury. Now not hitting in the majors (.167 / .211 / .222)

Nix - DOWN - Achilles tendon and luck have combined for a bad 2nd half (.176 / .222 / .235 )

Desmond - STABLE - Actually average enough after the break thanks to some walks (.259 / .375 / .333) but not enough to turn around a terrible year. Plus some shaky games in the field

Bernadina - DOWN - Hard to be an enticing throw-in hitting .156 / .250 / .219 after the break.

Marquis - UP - Hit low point right before break since then 2 good games and one great one. Seemed to clear up any question if he can be a reliable innings eater.

Livan - STABLE - 2 down games, one up. Don't think it changed anyone's mind about Livan. That's who he is.

Clippard - UP - Blew one game but dominant in the others. Anyone looking hard to find flaws didn't see any.

Coffey - DOWN - Runs allowed in 3 of 4 appearances. Not hit hard so the decrease is slight but now just one of many when in Late June looked to be a top bargain hunt item for other teams.

Burnett - UP - Hard to believe but after the Braves outing Burnett has been solid and he hasn't given up a hit to a lefty which is what teams would be most interested in. But ERA makes it only a slight increase.

Slaten - STABLE - Hoped he could see some action by now, but still nothing. Still damaged goods.

This could be part of the reason things are so quiet around the Nats. Outside of a few guys their pieces haven't been making themselves more attractive. They didn't have impact players anyway so every step back means another handful of guys that are just as good and available. Clippard appears to be the most attractive chip but he's going to be played against the Padres relievers and Rizzo is apparently overvaluing Clippard (then again that kind of thinking did net him Ramos so what do I know).

I like Nix, Burnett, Marquis, and Clippard to go, but really it could go in any direction.

Monday, July 25, 2011

NOW it's over

  • 3 games under .500, a half game out of last place.
  • 7th in the Wild Card standings, closer to 2nd to last than first. (thanks Astros for being you!)
  • 2-4 against the not-so-soft underbelly of the NL.
  • A tearful Tom Boswell staring wistfully at his "Washington Nationals 2011 Wild Card Champions" macaroni poster. (unconfirmed)

I suppose there is still technically a chance. If the Nats were to go something like 39-20 (107 win pace) to end the season that could do it. That's not going to happen though. The best Nats fans can hope for right now is a solid couple weeks of play before the killer part of the 2nd half schedule kicks in. Maybe they can set themselves up still for a .500 season. It'll take some work though.

From August 12th through September 1st the Nats play PHI(a) - CIN - PHI - ARI - CIN(a) - ATL (a). While I've said a few times the good of the NL isn't that good (just like the bad isn't that bad... except for the Astros... who beat the Nats 2 out of 3) it's hard to see the Nats getting through that stretch at .500 or better.

Given that, it would be good if the Nats could get to the 12th with their heads above water. That means 10-6 in their next 16 games. Can they do it? Sure. Will they do it? You know what? I'll say yes. What the hell. It's a different team right? I'm sure it'll all collapse come late August but for now, let's say they can do it. They do have John Lannan right? The guy can win at least 3 of those all by himself.

Other notes:

Not to harp on a subject but Ian Desmond is officially the worst (qualified) hitter in the NL this year. (Alex Rios is worst in the majors, Ian 2nd, Dunn 3rd worst.)

Tom Gorzelanny has the exact same WHIP as John Lannan. He strikes out a bunch more. Why is he struggling and John Lannan dancing on a printout of his Fangraphs page? Slugging. Gorzo has given up 5 more homers and only one less XBH in 40 less innings pitched.

Since leaving Baltimore in 2004 here are JHJ's OPS+ : 82 - 36 -41 - 125 -85 -83 -104. I still think he'll crash a bit in the 2nd half, but looking at his career stats, what exactly happened in 2006 and 2007?

For all those thinking Danny can win the ROY - Freddie Freeman didn't get early mention because of a terrible April but he has put up a .303 / .362 / .506 line since May 4th. For a team that's going to make the playoffs. All the slick fielding in the world (and it is slick... and Freddie's is pretty terrible) isn't going to put Danny over that. Sorry. The new world we live in isn't THAT new.

Friday, July 22, 2011

No Mo Chico!

Oh no! You'll always live on in our memories. And here.

All is still quiet on the trading front. I'm not too concerned. Other than Beltran talk and what's going on with the Astros, things are relatively quiet all around. Still would rather hear something than nothing. We'll see.

As for the weekend, I think it's vaguely important the Nats take 2 of 3. Take less and the Nats will have their worst record since mid-June. It wouldn't be an insurmountable hole or anything, but you want to keep moving foward and that would be a step back.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Paging Ryan Zimmerman

It's pretty easy to find the flaws in the Nats lineup because they are mostly gaping holes. Ian Desmond can't hit. Sorry Desmond fans/relatives it's true. His last three months of splits are as follows

.218 /. 255 /.287
.217 /.255 /.228
.232 /.283 / .304

In the past two years if you state that an OPS+ of >110 is good and <90 is bad, he's had 1 good month and 5 bad ones. I will say "give him time" but really I mean "be 100% sure he can't hit because when you bring someone else in you don't want to jerk him around to bring Desmond back".

Jayson Werth is struggling mightily. After a couple months of being sneakily useful he crashed in June and July : .170 / .301 / .281. He still walks a fair amount. He easily leads the team with 50 which is 8th in the NL. (In fact outside of Danny Espinosa he's the ONLY guy on the team that walks. As much as the fans may want a slappy leadoff hitter - how about someone else on the team that can take a pitch?) He still hits for power. He's second on the team in doubles, somehow. He just doesn't hit enough for some reason. Bad luck is a part of it, but not all.

CF is at best passable (Bernadina) and at worst laughable (Ankiel)

But there maybe another issue in the lineup. The guy manning third base, the face of the franchise (well to all but Past Needham and Eric Young). Ryan Zimmerman.

It probably isn't a problem. Ryan's been great for a couple years now and he was great for a couple weeks before getting injured. Those early stats carried Zimm for a while but his June was so hideous that Ryan had a line of .219 / .303 / .362 on July 2nd. Give him time we all said and that seemd to be all he needed. He went on a tear having a 2 week stretch of .350 / 447 / .575 offense. Just when you were ready to file that worry away, though, here comes an 0-9 with 3 Ks. Dammit.

Before we welcome Ryan back to being an offensive leader he has to do more than hit well for a couple weeks. Anyone can do that (seriously - anyone can - I just looked at Ankiel and was able to pick out a .394 / .444 / .576 period) His line in July is still not good (.233 / 343 / .383). Anyone can have a bad month but the Nats can ill afford for Ryan Zimmerman to have much more than that. Ryan needs to hit not just well, but like a star for this team to work. And I mean that not just in "so the lineup can work in 2011" way. For this whole thing to work. The push to the playoffs. The relevancy.

It's something to keep an eye on in these last two months. A bad performance doesn't necessarily spell doom for the team, but it will mean that it's one less thing that can be counted on for next season. This team doesn't have many guarantees in 2012. ZNN has won me over. I think we can pencil him in to be at least a #2/#3 type if not better. Lannan should be usable at least. But Espinosa and Ramos could regress. Morse could too. The multiple full year consistency isn't there yet. LaRoche and Strasburg will be coming back from injury. Livan, if back, is 92. This team doesn't need another question mark.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Short and sweet

Back from vacation day so no time for my usual nighttime routine of drafting up a post. So another 5 minute blast of thoughts.

Moving Desmond up in the lineup probably wasn't warranted by a "swinging the bat well the past couple of weeks" (really he swung it well last week and is not so hot this one AND Bernadina basically followed the same pattern) but Bernadina is terrible (.190 / .227 /.238) vs lefties this year so even a bad Desmond is going to be better than that.

I have zero faith Wang will pitch well in the majors. Well... I guess it depends on what you mean by "well". I think at best the Nats will get a 4.25-4.50 ERA guy out of it. That has some value but Wang rides the same "no-strikeout, have to do everything else right" train as John Lannan. That's ok for a lefty at 26 with some minor injury history. It's not ok for a 31-year old righty just coming back from major surgery. I think he's far more likely to get tweaked and that's all that's needed to make him worthless again.

Honestly I don't see what the endgame here is for the Nats. No one will trade for a guy with basically 1-2 starts under his belt in the past 3 years and who is a FA at year's end as part of a run for the playoffs. Pitching Wang is eating up innings better used by a prospect, like Milone or Peacock. It seems to me more of an effort to get some value from the sunk cost of paying for Wang's rehab for 2 seasons.

Take a good long look at Todd Coffey because if he's in a Nats uniform in August I'll be shocked. But don't expect anything great in return. Teams are showing interest in him in part because he's good but also because he should be cheap. A Shairon Martis (Mike Stanton trade #2) would be a high-end return.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Monday - you know how it goes

I was actually at Turner Field for the game so maybe some pictures will get up here later. Or maybe not.

Some stray thoughts

Davey Johnson had an up and down day with relievers. Bringing in H-Rod? Inspired. Letting him pitch a third inning? Not so much. Bringing in Burnett to face McCann? Good decision gone bad. Letting Burnett bat for himself? Bad decision gone good. Saving Storen for the save situation that never came? Terrible.

Excited about seeing Jurrjens live - man did he not have anything at all. The Nats were a few feet from making this a homer fest early.

I can see why Roger Bernadina has his fans. He's an impressive athelete in person. Still those impressions only make looking at the numbers more important.

Gorzelanny's injury was more his fault than anyone elses. McCann gave him the baseline. You can't expect more than that.

Morse looked super uncomfortable handling any grounder at first. Probably just a phase, right?

Can the Nats trade now?

Thursday, July 14, 2011

What to expect in the second half

Who's gonna fall?
Laynce Nix is hitting way more balls out of the park than you'd expect and on the ones he's not hitting out he's getting on base at a rate that's probably unsustainable.

Also watch out
Jerry Hairston who's putting up his second highest BABIP since 2004 while striking out more than usual. Given his age it could be a real rough crash.

Who looks like he might crash but probably won't?
While Mike Morse may seem like an easy target, his numbers aren't terribly out of line with his career ones, sample sizes being what they are. A slight dip is more expected.

Who's gonna rise?
Werth and Zimmerman are both well under expectations for BABIP and HR% rates. Now Zimm could be injured and Werth could be broken, but I'd bet on big second halves for both.

Anyone else?
Nope. Pudge or Desmond have a chance but I think Pudge has fallen off his cliff and Desmond's previous numbers were the ones not to be trusted.

Espinosa and Ramos?
Well we don't really know what those guys are gonna do. You're talking 3 months of data here.

What about pitching? Who's cruising for a bruising?
Clippard, Storen, Kimball, Mattheus all have out of whack BABIPs, and Clippard's LOB % is crazy.

That sounds like the whole bullpen
Pretty much. Maybe Sean Burnett will pitch better. But then again, that's 50/50 to be for someone else.

And the starters?
They are pretty much right on-line. Twist my arm and I'd expect ZNN (more HRs) and Gorzelanny (more hits and more runners scoring... for as long as he's out there) to get slightly worse and Marquis (fewer hits) to get slightly better. Livan is right on target and I never ever bet against John "Brow's he do it?" Lannan.

So overall?
I'd expect a slight increase in offense with a big dip in relief pitching. So... about the same wins and losses as in the first half but more blowout wins and late losses than in the first half. 70 games left so.. 33-37? 79-83 overall? Pending deals and call-ups of course.

Monday, July 11, 2011

At the half-way (well not really) mark

Quick post today - that's just the way Mondays roll.

Nailed the weekend series and the Nats look at a .500 record as they head into the break. It's pretty exciting but it's not the stuff of dreams. Sorry. The Nats should still look at this season as they probably were looking at it in March. The last rebuilding year. One more chance to send out some veterans for some young talent. Next off season you start signing guys with the idea "can they help us make the playoffs" Those guys and those deals aren't these guys with these deals. For those still doubting it let's recap :
  • The Braves are running away with the WC. They are playing at a 95 win pace. The Nats are not going to win 95 games.
  • Let's say the Braves collapse. The Nats still sit 8 games behind the Braves. Are they going to play 9 games better than them?
  • Let's say next week Freddie Freeman takes off his Braves jersey to reveal a Phillies one underneath and proceeds to bash the starting staff with a folding chair. The Nats are still 7th in the WC. Playing 3 games better than the Pirates and a game better than the Mets is reasonable but they have to play 4 games better than the D-backs... and the Brewers.. and the Cardinals. Do you want to bet on that?
  • To put it a final way, what wins the WC if the Braves collapse? Let's be kind and say 87 games. The Nats would have to go 41-29 the rest of the way to win 87 games. That's a 95 win pace for a season. Is this a 95 win club to you? And this is a low-end estimate of what they would have to do.
The facts are simple. It's a "not this year" situation for the Nats. It doesn't mean they can't make any deal. Bringing in a CF that is locked down through 2013 or beyond makes some sense. If a top of the rotation guy is available somehow, that's fair game. Other than that though, the Nats should not waver from their aims because they've managed 3 more wins then they probably were planning on. Trade who you were gonna trade. Sit who you were gonna sit. Take time with who you were going to take time with. Don't screw things up.

Friday, July 08, 2011

Hey. At least Desmond got a hit, right?

These games happen. Once a year they happen, but they happen. Nothing to see - move on.

The Nats could have moved 3-games over for the first time all year. That's a nice number but not a big one historically thanks to last years hot start (20-15 in mid-May). Now 6 games over. That's the big hurdle. The Nats haven't had that two series cushion since Sept 16th 2005. Kids in Kindergarten weren't even born yet! (At least in the old days when parents didn't hold back every child until they were 6 because of "developmental" reasons. Pretty soon we'll hold them back until puberty. That kid will rock JV baseball then get leagally drunk after the game.)

Next up is the Rockies. Can the Nats keep their heads above .500 until the All-Star break ? I'm thinking not (I like 1 of 3 going to the Nats) but if I were to have given you .500 at the All-Star break at the beginning of the year you would have been stupid not to take it. Then we can get into fun trade talk! Let's all pray for a good Marquis start tonight so the Nats can clear up that spot for Peacock!

Thursday, July 07, 2011

Trying to get Jayson Werth's struggles

Players struggle. It's a fact of baseball. Players get into slumps that often last weeks, sometimes months. But when it happens to the guy that just got a 72 year 1.4 billion dollar contract, it draws more attention. Despite the Nats winning again (back to two games over .500, but still only 6th in the WC standings) the story from last night, and the story from every night until it isn't a story anymore, is Jayson Werth's struggles.

Kilgore went over a lot of the important stats yesterday. There's a little bad luck involved, but basically Werth is struggling because he's pounding the ball into the ground and when he does manage to get under a ball, he's not hitting it with any power. But why is he doing that?

Usually you can point to something. Do we have too little historical information to go on? (we got plenty) Is this more in line with his career numbers? (certainly not) Are pitchers pitching him differently? (not really) Is he losing track of the strike zone? (no) Is he injured? (presumably not) Is he just getting too old? (doubtful)

If you can't point to something then you get into dangerous territory. You can either (1) chalk it up to luck / circumstance and move on hoping everything will even out over time (see what sabermetricians usually do with John Lannan) or (2) think about what, if anything has changed and make assumptions based on that. #1 usually works. With thousands of ballplayers over a hundred plus years you are going to get some anamolies, even at the half-season (or longer) long time-frame. But there are some compelling reasons to examine #2 for Jayson.

There were two big changes in Jayson's playing situation for 2011. He left Philadelphia for Washington. He moved up in the lineup to several different spots. We knew the first would have some effect, particularly on his power. We assumed the second wouldn't matter. But it is possible that both combined to drastically effect Jayson Werth.

You see for most players, I'd say nearly all players, things like batting order, what defensive position they are playing, when they come into pitch, it doesn't matter. There's a base talent level that is the driving force to the results they get. This is why we see things like good closers being relatively easy to find, or Alfonso Soriano doing perfectly fine when being forced out of second base. But nearly all isn't all. There are going to be a few that it does matter for. (and frankly ruin a lot for sound analysis and strategy because baseball people are frightened little mice and the loud noise of one out-of-the-traditional-box thinking failure can scare them back into their holes forever) There is going to be that 1 in 20 pitcher who gets wide-eyed coming into save a game. What if Werth is that guy?

This isn't totally blind speculation. Werth had his best month by far in May, when he was batting third. He got crushingly bad in June the same time he was moved to leadoff. Could it be that he was trying to hit the ball on the ground more? That he has been purposely doing that thinking it would help him get on base more and that was his new job? Or could it be a reaction to the park itself? Finding himself out of the bandbox that is Citizens Bank could he be thinking "Oh I can't go for homers anymore. Gotta hit more ground balls"?

The split information is going to have sample sizes that are too small and the counter examples abound. His power was fine batting 2nd to start the year. For every two pitcher parks he's been terrible in I can find one he was good in. But at this point, with nothing else to go on, I think that you have to try to go back from those changes and return Jayson to a comfort zone. The Nats can't start playing home games in Citizens Bank, so they need to do exactly what Davey has done. Move Jayson back to 5th in the lineup and let him work on things.

Hopefully people will understand that if he gets better it doesn't really prove anything. Remember #1 usually works. It's far more likely to be just a strange couple of months than anything. That's the "wear you seatbelt, don't speed, don't drive drunk" explanation for avoiding accidents. But given the money involved, removing anything else from the equation is the prudent move. Get the headlights cleaned and the brakes checked. If he's going to fail, make sure you've done all you can to prevent it.

Wednesday, July 06, 2011

Could have been better, could have been worse

This season has gone pretty well for Nats fans. Thanks to more positives (ZNN, pitchers 2-4, Morse, Nix, Espinosa, Ramos) than negatives (Werth, Desmond, LaRoche, Zimm's injury) the team is doing as well as could be expected sitting right around .500 with no obvious crash in sight. But seeing Carlos Pena (.344 OBP, 17 homers) on the other side of the diamond the last couple nights reminds me that things could have even been better with just one or two moves that could have easily happened in the last year. On the flip side, with another set of completely reasonable moves the Nats could be looking at another season where mid 70s looks like the best they can hope for. Color-coded here's how Nats fans could have been jumping for joy, or resigning themselves of another season of meaningless baseball.

(sure this whole thing is based on a hell of a lot of assumptions, the first one being that everyone does exactly the same as they have done regardless of different lineups and locations. Completley erroneous? Yes. Way to pass the time? Yes. It also looks at this in a clear - better record in July 2010 kind of way. Some of these things I still think would be great moves even if they didn't work themselves out in 3 months time)

First off, Rizzo could have "lost" the Dunn deal. The Nats wanted to deal Adam Dunn. The White Sox wanted to acquire him. The Nats asked for Gordon Beckham. White Sox countered with "any one minor leaguer". Rizzo countered with "so I can get Daniel Hudson and who else?" Talks broke down. Hudson went to the D-Backs for Edwin Jackson. The Nats let Dunn walk for a pick couple of picks. But let's say that Rizzo flinches at the last minute and takes Hudson straight up for Dunn. Hudson, who has been great this year, becomes the second best starter on the Nats. Who's place does he take? Well given his age and inexperience I'd say it's likely that they still sign Livan and don't trade for Gorzelanny. Short of it is - the Nats pitching staff is even better right now with two young studs leading the way.

First off, Rizzo could have "won" the Dunn deal. The Nats wanted to deal Adam Dunn. The White Sox wanted to acquire him. The Nats asked for Gordon Beckham. In the real world the Sox say no way, but let's say Williams was desperate and didn't like the struggles he saw so far in Beckham. Always favoring experience over youth, Williams bites and Beckham is now the Nats property. He's pencilled in as the starting 2nd baseman and Nats fans rejoice at getting a former #1 pick who's still a young prospect at a hard to fill position. Except that Beckham struggles terribly this season. He and Desmond, by now, are creating a big gaping hole at the end of the lineup, and the Nats offense is even more stagnant than we've seen.

With Dunn gone the Nats need to sign a first-baseman and their primary target appears to be Carlos Pena. But the Cubs sweep in and snatch him for 10 million dollars and the Nats go with LaRoche. It doesn't seem like a bad consolation prize until LaRoche comes up lame. But what if the Nats managed to get Pena? The early part of the year is similar as Pena struggled just as much but in the past month he's really turned it up. The Nats are the hottest team in June thanks to Pena and the sweet Nix / Morse platoon that has developed in left field.

Of course there's always Espinosa to fill in for either, but given Desmond and Beckham's age and Lombardozzi's rise - Danny is expendable. In fact he was already seen that way this year when offered in a deal for Zach Greinke. But Greinke didn't want to come to DC. He vetoed the deal and shipped off to Milwuakee instead. In alternate world red though, Greinke oks the deal. Drew Storen, Danny Espinosa and a couple of other guys head off to KC and Grienke is a Nat. The Nats don't sign Livan (they have their innings eater), but still make the Gorzelanny deal to see what he can be. Then Zack injures himself during the off-season. The Nats struggle to fill that hole with Maya and Detwiler, trying desperately not to start the clock on a real prospect before they have too. They hold off with a few more Ls then they would like until Greinke comes back. Then he struggles upon return. Not to mention the closer problems. With Storen out of the mix the Nats tried to make Burnett work, and then Coffey (to pull another Capps-ification) but both failed. They've settled on Clippard now but it took longer than anyone would have liked.

Why don't Morse and Nix play at the same time? That's because CF is taken by Mr. Tony Plush. Instead of Rizzo throwing out another guy who he doesn't like for a bag of used baseballs, the two work it out like grown-ups. Morgan apologizes to the fans citing a year-long slump making him crazy. Rizzo doesn't see any viable CF alternatives out there and goes against his nature a bit to give Morgan a 2nd chance. After a rocky and injury-riddled start he now is giving the Nats plus D in centerfield and the fans have once again come around to his infectious drive (or is it his good stats?). Other teams may hate him but he's their guy.

But that mess pales in comparison to the OF where Laynce Nix was never signed. It didn't make a lot of sense to sign Nix. Rick Ankiel, lefty bopper decent D, has almost the same skill set and was already signed for a million. The Nats could have easily chosen to roll with Bernadina as their 4th OF. Without Nix though the team has no fall back when Morse slumps early on. Bernadina is forced into action in left while Morse sits and Hairston takes over center most of the time. Those are the good days. On the bad ones Bernadina takes over center and Stairs plays in left. It's a bad offensively, and bad defensively for a while. Eventually Morse hits his way back into a starting role at first when LaRoche goes down but the OF looks like an unsolveable mess with two positions needing to be filled the rest of the season and no prospects to do it.

This team is stacked and ready to go. It probably still isn't ready to complete this year even though the Wild Card is right there. A lot of people think that with Morse doing pretty well and under a nice contract the Nats will still deal Nix and turn left field over to Morse full-time. They need to make some room anyway given that Bryce will be up sooner than later. The Nats have a killer young rotation in the works, have every position locked up, most cheaply, for the next few years. It's a team primed to explode next season. Enough so that Rizzo is thinking about trying to get the Lerners to eat year 2 of LaRoche's deal and make a play for Fielder. The future is now.

This team has promise for next year. Who wouldn't want a rotation led by Greinke, Strasburg, ZNN? But middle infield looks like an issue and at least this season the OF is one of the worst in the majors offensively and defensively. Morse will likely slide back to left in 2012, but given the hole the fans are desperate for Bryce to be moved up quickly. Next year does seem brighter but Nats fans have heard that before.

Tuesday, July 05, 2011

Marquis desperately wants to come back to the Nats

or else why is he killing his trade value? To be fair to the Nats, it's not like it was time to start dealing. Still this should be a lesson to you: when the numbers say "unsustainable hot streak" and your heart says "turned a corner into a great season" bet on the numbers. It's not as fun but you'll win more games.

Other Notes:

Why Detwiler? Because they don't mind jerking him up and down for a start. His clock has started. He's aged into being less of a prospect. When Milone or Peacock come up, it'll be for a good long stint, not one game.

Why not Espinosa? Because just like fans vote for who they want to see, players vote for who they know and like. They don't know Danny. He's a rookie. He needs to earn his stripes, right? Where's a Dibble pic when you need one?

Just to get it out of the way - a review of my All-Star feelings.
  • Don't care about who gets in.
  • They should keep one player per team because it matters to kids. (or at least it mattered to me as a kid)
  • WS home field advantage should go to the team with the best record.
  • Starters should go 3 if they can.
  • Don't worry about everyone getting in the game. Try to use one player per team though.

Friday, July 01, 2011

Holiday Weekend Question

First things first - since there appears to be a bit of confusion.

  • I think Ian Desmond is a terrible hitter that will never adjust to the majors
  • I also think Ian Desmond should start at least until September call-ups.

That may seem contradictory but the key word is "think". I think, I don't know. Because I don't know it makes more sense to me to let him keep playing and see if he can make it work. Three months more isn't going to kill anyone. Lombardozzi is young, Antonelli is a reclaim project, Rendon hasn't even signed. Three more months to see how it all shuffles out in AAA is fine. What I worry about in the long run is letting Desmond start NEXT year as the starter (assuming he doesn't start hitting much better). In my mind the Nats are eyeing 2013 for the serious run at the playoffs and I think it's better if they aren't dealing with a SS issue that season. They still could be even if they decided to roll with Lombardozzi in 2012, true, but I feel better about that than rolling with a Desmond who's failed in 2011.

But that's something to worry about in September.

Ok so here my question:

The Nats have dropped back under .500. It's pretty likely they won't be making a run at the Wild Card. (Sorry but that little slide has dropped them back to 8th in the WC hunt. Can they play better enough that they catch and pass all 8 of those teams in half a season? It's tough to think so.) They'll probably be minor sellers and end up with say... 75+ wins.

That's the most likely scenario. While most fans dream about the improbable 2nd half that pushes the team to the WC, there is another possibility. The team could crash and end up with closer to 70 wins. Again. ZNN will hit his innings limit. Strasburg might not make it back. Espinosa and Ramos could tire out. Morse and Nix could peter out. The pitching staff could fall back to having more average results.

If this happens, if the team doesn't build on the 1st half success, but instead falls slowly away from relevance again, who would you blame? Would you blame Rizzo for not making this team a winner when they looked better and for driving away Riggleman? Would you blame Riggleman for walking away when the team was at its best? Would you blame Davey for steering the ship into an iceberg? Or would you blame no one and just shrug your shoulders and say "That's baseball"?

I know it's more complex than that and could hinge on a lot of 2nd half happenings. Hard to blame anyone if Zimmerman goes down again, or conversely it would be easy to blame Rizzo if in two days he gets rid of Marquis and Nix for table scraps. But I think most of us have leanings one way or another (i'm a "That's baseball" kind of guy, but I'm also a soulless automaton who is just learning how... to... love... baseball. I'm like a D.A.R.Y.L Ward. ) Where do you think your anger will be directed?