Nationals Baseball: Monday Quickie - on target

Monday, August 06, 2012

Monday Quickie - on target

The Nats are doing exactly what I thought they should and would, so kudos all around. It shouldn't have been much a series but ZNN decided to have his worst game of the year on Sautrday and that almost cost the Nats a game. No blame to Jordan though. He'd given the Nats 10 straight outings of quality baseball or better.  They can't all be winners.

So now the Nats move onto the Astros.  Same things as I said Friday. 3-1 20+ runs for the series.


It was supposed to be next year.  The pennant contending, World Series dreaming Nationals team was suppsed to come through in 2013. 2012 was about being a real playoff contender and getting to enjoy an actual playoff race for the first time (unless you count the slow death of the horribly overachieving 2005 Nats).  But surprisingly to most, it all worked out a year early. The Nats started hot, kept winning, and by the All-Star break there could be no denying that the Nats were one of the best teams in baseball.

This quick jump up though, is messing with Nats fans expectations. I would say that for most what was the hope in the pre-season, and the goal in early Spring, is now the undesirable fall-back position.
It's interesting, though, to see how individual fans react to such a crazy quick sea change. Some choose to remain thinking the same "just happy to be here" as if the Nats were 3 games out of the Wild Card. They wanted a playoff race and they got it. What's to complain about? Others though have adjusted expectations so that a pennant is the only satisfactory response and likely, if the Nats keep winning at their current pace and the NL races don't significantly change, they'll need that ALDS win, too, to be satisfied.

There isn't a right and wrong here. It's a crazy season and being happy at being good, being upset at not winning the East or in the playoffs, or both, all make sense. Next year though, Nats fans are going to be united and they are going to know the "fun" of having a team with WS expectations. There is far more room for failure with a good team, and since only two teams can make the Series and only one team can win it all you'll likely be disappointed most every year.  Of course who would prefer it the other way?


We bandied about a lot about Kurt Suzuki Friday afternoon.  The crux of it boils down to this :

Suzuki can't hit any worse that Flores was hitting. He's going to be a better defensive catcher than Flores. Therefore it makes it worthwhile to bring him in.

That being said, Rizzo calling Kurt Suzuki a #1 catcher is ridiculous. OK OK it's technically true that if you lined up all the catchers currently playing in the majors, you'd probably put Suzuki in the Top 30.  If that's your definition than fine. But to me a legit #1 starter is a guy, who if you replaced him with a minor league nobody, would be sorely missed.  Kurt hasn't been that type of catcher since 2009. He was a middling major league catcher in 2010 and 2011, and a terrible one this year. 

Can he be a legit #1 again? Well on the plus side he's only 28. The bad news is everything else. The average has gone down. This year the mid-level power has been lost. He's never had great patience.  I don't know what exactly the hope is. I guess the best case the power loss is a bit of a fluke and he's got a couple good pop years in him, but it's still going to be a couple years hitting in the low 200s.  While catcher may peak a few years later than other players 28+ is still the vast majority of catchers's decline phase. It would take prime Molina defense to make up for the offense Suzuki might put up.

My guess is Rizzo doesn't buy Suzuki as a #1 any more than I do. This year he could be a slight improvement at the plate and will be a slight one behind it and that's what matters right now. Next year, well... if he talks him up and Suzuki happens to catch fire these last few months, maybe Rizzo can flip him for something of interest over the off-season. Or maybe he just deals him for whatever he can get. If he doesn't, and really truly wants him for the long haul, well if Ramos is ok than he's got a slightly more expensive back-up than he'd like.  For good teams that's the type of player you have. Someone slightly better than the alternative but way more expensive. The only bad scenario is if Ramos is hurt and Rizzo goes to battle with Suzuki as the #1 for the Nats. We'll worry about that in the offseason.


Chris Needham said...

On expectations, I think all anyone should reasonably expect is division title. Expecting a WS win (or even appearance) is crazy because of all the things that could go wrong at any stage of the playoffs.

It used to be that you'd hope for a playoff appearance bc of the safety net of the Wild Card. But with the disadvantages that slot has now, it's division or bust.

blovy8 said...

Screw that, I wanna see some playoff games. I don't expect .600 mostly because of the schedule and Strasburg shutdown, but I don't expect .500 either. I think it's legitimate to expect to win the division at his point. The team is as good as the Braves when Desmond comes back, and has a 3 game lead.

Suzuki just costs them money. But it's a LOT of money for a meh insurance policy. Now the murmurs about Flores' game calling come out, which bother me a bit more than trading for a possible hasbeen. The game is a business, but the guy jumped through all the necessary hoops to get back despite how the team dealt with his injury, and after all, pitchers have control over what they throw. I think this "pitch framing" thing is BS, in any case, look a the friggin strike out rates for the staff. I hope Gio isn't comfortable enough with Suzuki to start walking 5 guys a game again.

Anonymous said...

I expect a good showing in the playoffs. Meaning that they don't get sweep in the first round, unless of course that first round is 1 game. Then it's a little more forgivable.

I'm only dreaming of a pennant and a WS appearance, but won't be disappointed if they fall short.

Jeff Hayes said...

Success, to me, is winning the NL East. I'll admit this is more ambitious than my expectations back in March, when I'd have been happy with winning 90 games and a wild card spot. Afterall, we'd essentially improved our win total by 10 games a year between 2009 and 2011. So winning 90 games seemed realistic to me. But not anymore. I expect we will win the NL East and will be disappointed if we don't.

As for Suzuki, I'm happy to give Rizzo and company the benefit of the doubt. I have low expectations from the cather's position, at least offensively. If Suzuki can do at least as well as the Flores-led platoon at the plate, but improves on our caught stealing percentage, then it will be worth it to me, even if we only end up using him this year.

Baseball Playoff Schedule said...

They are playing well as i expected and is making game more interested.I am a big fan and i thought that Nat is not taking a good decision to shutdown the strasburg.

Donald said...

For me, it boils down to how they finish. If they play well down the stretch and get passed by Atlanta I'll be okay with it. If they choke and Atlanta backs into winning the NL East, I'll be disappointed. For them not to make the playoffs at all would take a huge slump. If they just finish .500 from here on out, St. Louis or LA would need to play over .610 in this stretch to take the second WC. So if the Nats miss the playoffs it's because they finished horribly, which I don't expect.

With Rizzo on Suzuki, I think he said what he had to say. For him to replace Flores with someone he proclaims to be a back-up caliber catcher wouldn't be popular or prudent.

JonQuest said...

Flores was overworked because our prospects weren't quite ready. We now of 2 decent catches for the rest of the season and into the playoffs.

It'll be interesting to see what happens in the offseason, but I'd guess we'll see Suzuki as a rental and go into next year with Ramos/Flores as our dynamic duo once again.

Essentially, Flores is back to where he started the season, as a quality backup catcher. That's not a knock on him because I think he's handled the #1 job well.

Kenny B. said...

For my part, my expectation is NL East title, my hope is NL title, and my dream is WS title.

However, my identity as a sour DC sports fan would suggest that I need the Nats to fail to make the playoffs. This air of competence, chemistry, and successful team-building is confusing my sensibilities.

Harper said...

Chris - You say that then watch a WC team win it all the next two years and we'll have to move to like WC teams only get 18 men per team or something.

Is it reasonable to expect a WS title (or even appearance) in a certain time frame? Like for this generation of Nats? I would probably argue yes but then again I'd probaby say you shouldn't be disappointed if it doesn't happen. The odds will be if you show up enough times something good will happen but it doesn't HAVE to.

blovy8 - I agree with you but it's not a terrible move. the hope is seeing something like this means more spending of $$$ for small but real gains.

Anon - and next year?

Jeff - it's a shift most fans have made but does it effect enjoyment? Like based on your spring feelings you should be LOVING it right now letting losses roll off you but instead are you watching the Braves with dread because now the expectations are shifted. That's sort of my overall theory - that we (as sports fans) should enjoy more but we tend to shift to where we reach the spot where real enjoyment is questionably obtained.

Certainly Rizzo's earned some slack. But I still don't see what he does.

Donald - fair enough. that is how we view things, even though April games count the same.

I suppose on Rizzo but he's not much of a word-mincer.

JonQuest - and I don't mind Flores as a back-up (or at least I didn't going into this year) but Suzuki the starter? Not feeling it.

Kenny B - DC fans are too dismissive of the Caps. Sure they've disappointed but they've been in the playoffs 5 straight years - only 5 other teams can say that.

Anonymous said...

A lot of people (Chris Needham, Anonymous #1, Jeff Hayes) must be stupid or crazy. If they make the playoffs, we NEED to expect a World Series title. Real opportunities to win the whole thing don't happen every year, so when there is a chance, you should expect it.

You better believe that every single player on the team expects to win the World Series this year, and we should be no different.

blovy8 : Exact quote about the deal-->"the A's are picking up most of Suzuki's 2012 salary and a bit of next year's salary". That's not a LOT of money, that's a LITTLE money for an established catcher who is better than everything we currently have.

Anonymous said...

Harper, you didnt think the Nats were going to be good this year after trading for Gio and signing Edwin Jackson? That speeded everything up not to mention getting back Strasburg and Laroche from injuries. This was a 500 team last year, so what did people think we were going to get worse.

Donald said...

I think a lot of the surprise this year stems from how bad the Marlins and Phillies have been. If they were as competative as many people expected, the Nats and Braves would have a lower winning % since those teams would have taken some more games. Then, we'd be in a 4 way mix with all the teams in a tight WC race. It's as much about those teams falling off as the Nats doing well that's shifted expectations. But expecting the WS because of a fall off by the Phillies and Marlins isn't fair.

Certainly the Nats are better than I expected this year, but a lot of teams are worse. I don't know to what degree one versus the other is responsible for expectations.

blovy8 said...

I'm not really knocking the deal because the situation back there defensively was looking a little porous, and you can't really be sure how long it will take Ramos to be back to normal. Clearly I'm speculating on Suzuki's worth, and I don't know what the "cash considerations" are for next year, but the guy is going to make 6.45 million in 2013, even if the A's ate half of that, if that's what they pay for the catching backup, I expect them to sign another ace and a leadoff center fielder in addition to keeping everyone currently on the club. Better offer Lannan arbitration too because we'll still need sixth stater.

blovy8 said...

To defend Harper a bit, coming into this year, Gio had significant control issues which have improved, Jackson was inconsistent and hadn't lived up to his potential, Strasburg was on an innings limit. I don't think anyone predicted Zimmerman pitching this well either, and we didn't know who would win the rotation spot, maybe Wang would have stunk for several starts and Detwiler not adjusted to his bullpen role or return to the rotation. Morse was out. Desmond had never hit for this kind of power and was misplaced as the leadoff guy. Espinosa was striking out a ton. Zim's shoulder was dinged up, LaRoche's reputation as a slow starter was still intact, Harper was supposed to be saved super-2 status by staying down, etc. A lot of iffy things have developed into chances to have depth, and for guys to step up at the right times.

Kenny B. said...

Right, the Caps. I suppose my real problem is not caring enough about hockey. DC United is traditionally a big winner as well. Still, I stand firm by my sourness, which has been solidified by years of bad baseball, shockingly incompetent football management, and a whole lot of whatever sport it is the Wizards think they're playing.

But all that sourness, warranted or not, hangs in the balance with this Nationals team. Even in the worst years the Nats have been my favorite DC sports team, because even when they were losers they were at least lovable losers. Now they're winners, and I still don't think I've adjusted to watching them that way. I still watch them as if no one else should know about them.

Mythical Monkey said...

My guess is Rizzo doesn't buy Suzuki as a #1 any more than I do.

I think he's just trying to pump a bit of positive energy into the deal. I suspect what he's really hoping is that Flores' hitting improves with more rest and that Wilson Ramos is ready to go next year. Then you trade either Suzuki or Flores, whichever brings you more on the market. Say, six bags of balls as opposed to five.

But a healthy Ramos is a big If.

Re: expectations. I went into the season hoping for 82 wins. Obviously we're way past that -- 82-80 would require a disaster, which I don't foresee. I'd still be happy making the playoffs, even happier to win the division, and thrilled to have the best record. Any wins in the post-season I'd treat as icing on this still very young cake -- it often takes a year of post-season experience to break on through to the other side.

On the other hand, Davey's '86 Mets won it all, and the '91 Braves, who this club reminds me of, made it to game seven of the World Series. So who knows?

Froggy said...

Expectations: Win the division especially with Werth back.

Suzuki: Agree with you that he 'can't' hit any worse than Flo is right now. If he does a journeyman job behind the plate (and in the clubhouse), and throws out 30 percent of runners attempting to steal = net positive for Nats. He is quicker on the bases and a good bunter also.

As to next season agree again with you, worry about that in the off-season. But I do have a question for you, what do you see in the 'who will be on the market at catcher' crystal ball?

Donald said...

Is it time to start officially worrying about Clippard yet? He seems to give up runs almost every time out for the past two weeks.

WiredHK said...

Donald - I agree, Clip is struggling, and it seems like there isn't much way to sugarcoat it. In his last 10 appearances, he has surrendered at least one run 4 times. Much of the trouble seems of his own command creation, too. He's walked 6 guys in those 10 appearances and also hit a guy or two. I wish he'd slow down on the pitching backwards thing (religiously starting with change-up then going to fastball only when the count is slipping away). He's missing with the change and getting in deep counts where guys can either sit on his ok fastball or just let him walk 'em...

Anonymous said...

Ramos sucked this year before he got hurt. Let's not forget that. Even if he is able to rehab from his injury, Rizzo's got to be thinking about looking elsewhere for a No. 1 catcher for 2013 to pair with his stellar pitching staff.

Anonymous said...

Just some numbers about the Nats offense and pitching:

2011, we scored 3.88 and allowed 3.99 for the year; league averages were 4.23 and 4.17. No news here, above average pitching, below average offense.

So far in 2012, 4.34 scored and 3.54 allowed; league 4.23 and 4.35.

Harper, you talked me down from a half run improvement in the offense back in January; I think the quarter run is pretty secure. As we each expected, the pitching is better (the defense is MUCH better). Watching LaRoche play first is awesome when you compare it to Dunn or even Morse.

In January, I wanted meaningful games in September and maybe a post season appearance--division next year. You're right, now I'd be disappointed if they don't take the division.


Donald said...

Definitely worried about Clippard. Last night's win could just as easily have been another blown save by him. What do the fancy stats say? Is he pitching worse or is the league just figuring him out finally?

Hoo said...

Harper: Believe Detwiler yet? Last seats on the bandwagon are filling up. He has really picked up the pace to help out for the fact that Gio has faltered a bit. He'll easily slide into a 4 spot.

Harper said...

Hoo - I've decided to wait till seasons end on evaluating Detwiler. I don't want a string of good or bad to keep swinging things back and forth.

Fool'sErrandBoy said...

You lost me at sentence two: Zimmermann had his worst game of the season and nearly cost them the game?

I think you need to watch the game again. The Marlins might have mustered one earned run that was actually earned -- the defense gave the Marlins the runs, they just count as "Earned Runs" because you can't assume the double play, no matter how ridiculously routine it would be to complete it. Both the runs in the second were wholly unearned, the runs in the fifth probably, but not certainly would have scored -- Reyes probably could have beaten out a good throw, but it wasn't a lock as I remember.

Espinosa owed the Nationals at least 2 and as many as 4 runs when he came up to the plate in the 8th, because that's how many he'd cost them defensively. But after Saturday's homer and yesterday, he's paid them back.