Nationals Baseball: February 2012

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

So... now what

Spring Training right now boils down to two topics.  Let's discuss them now so we can concentrate on watching basketball for the next month.

1.  Who will be the 5th starter?  - Strasburg will start. Zimmermann will start. Gonzalez will start. Jackson will start. The first two are simply the best pitchers the Nats have. Gonzalez is a step behind them, but better than the rest. Jackson, in theory, should be in the "next best" group with Gio, but in practice he hasn't quite made that happen. Still you don't pay 10 million for a guy to middle relieve.  So it comes down to Wang, Lannan, and Detwiler.

You all know how I feel. (Lannan, Lannan, Lannan).  Now what do I think? 

Well I don't think it should be Wang. As a Yankees fan, I can tell you that the love of Chien-Ming is built on a house of cards. He was never truly a special pitcher, more a guy that got the breaks for a couple years when he was surrounded by starters either underperforming, unlucky, or unloved. It was the comparison to those guys, added to the win total in that market, that makes people a bit too fond of this guy.  But the like of Wang is reasonable. He was a good pitcher prior to injury. If healthy he should be on a major league rotation. His age though (32 next season), injury history, and type of pitcher he is makes him the least appealing to me.

Lannan is fine. He's objectively the least talented of the three but you can't argue with the results. Yes, eventually he won't be able to keep this up but that's true of all pitchers. With 3 1/2 seasons telling us one thing, it's far more likely to me that there is something about Lannan that we haven't been able to tease out in the stats. Not grit or heart or anything like that, something concrete, but still something that we don't know. In this new era of baseball when nearly everything is explainable, it can be hard to accept that there is something knowable out there that hasn't been quantified but to me it seems apparent there is. But here's the kicker, in my head I still don't pick Lannan for the rotation.  For all that he is, Lannan is still at best a #3 rotation type guy and probably more a 4/5.  We know the ceiling, and we know with the number of guys on the way with higher ones that Lannan is not long for the Nationals. With an option left he seems to be a fair starter but great insurance.

Detwiler is my "head" pick. He's the youngest and the potential maybe to be something special.  Oh, it's unlikely, true, but Wang wasn't special when he was thought to be (5 years ago), and Lannan has a mound of data saying the same. Detwiler, under control through 2016, though may in fact be. So why not find out now?  If he was substantially worse than Lannan or Wang, I'd feel differently, but he wasn't last year. The Nats haven't gone all in on 2012. It still seems to be a year of finding out where the last pieces for the run are going to need to go.  Starting Wang or Lannan, doesn't answer a question.  Starting Detwiler might.

If Lannan gets the nod, I'll be happy.  If Detwiler gets the nod, I'll understand.  If Wang gets the nod, well it's not the worst thing in the world and he may be the choice for those dying to make the playoffs in 2012.*

2. Will Bryce Harper start with the team?  This is a little simpler. No. No is the answer.  Not unless you are wanting desperately to win this year.  The money cost by the clock starting likely isn't worth the extra win that may or may not make the difference. Nor is a good idea to jury-rig an OF together for one year to do it.

Yes he was very good in the AFL.  He was also very mediocre in AA.  He fits so much better into 2013 that I'd love to see him kept down for a whole year (though I doubt that'll happen). If he forces the issue, so be it, but we aren't going to be able to tell that from silly Spring Training stats.

Let's do the annual dance, shall we? Who led the Nats in hitting last ST?  Jeff Fisher.  What about among players, who, you know, play in the majors?  Adam LaRoche.  Ok but who was 2nd?  Alberto Gonzalez.  Well who led the team in ERA? A few with 0.00 but the one with the most IP was Sean Burnett. What about Clip and Storen?  7.73 and 11.12, respectively.

SPRING TRAINING STATS ARE MEANINGLESS.  They should know right now what they are going to do with Bryce and they should announce it. It should be minor leagues, but if it's majors so be it.  Just don't let it be because he has 4 homers in Viera.

*This may seem contrary to what I've said in earlier posts say... about being mad CF is still a mess, or Desmond might lead off, because it might cost the Nats a win.  But I don't see those things as questions. You aren't potentially solving anything keeping CF a mess.  Desmond has never shown himself to be decent as a lead-off hitter. This isn't taking a bad gamble, this is wasting time.  That's never a good idea.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Quick Branching Hits on Zimm's signing

I like the deal, alot.

You can make the argument that it is statistically an overpay dollar-wise BUT
  1. Good players are typically overpaid when they reach free agency and in a disproportionate way.  The cost difference between an B player and a B+, is smaller than the difference between a B+ player and an A- one, etc.etc. Ryan is an A player.  Even if by strict theory it shouldn't be, in reality this is a deal based on the market for the type of player he is.  
    1. of course that's if he's healthy. 
  2. Who cares? This is not about getting the best value, it's about getting the most wins.  If you can afford to overpay you do it because each win matters.  
    1. Unless you are think baseball teams should be run as businesses and not expensive hobbies
    2. Of course the loss of the no-trade clause could effect the Nats in a negative way down the road actually costing them wins
      1. In scenario 1, Zimmerman falls apart. Rendon is great. The Nats are hobbled with a veteran they have to pay that they likely could have gotten someone to bite on in a deal and possibly nowhere (and no will) to play him
        1. A possible scenario but I wouldn't call it likely 
          1. personally I think expectations for Rendon are way too high.
      2. In scenario 2, the team falls apart (Gio fails, Stras injured again, Werth 2011 not a fluke, Ramos/Espy get no better...).  The Nats are winning 70-75 games a year and then plan needs to be reset.  Moving Zimm would help do it. 
        1. Unlikely - and I don't think winning teams should plan for what may or may not happen 3-4 years down the road.  You should have 2 year tunnel vision.   Too much can change beyond that.  
          1. That doesn't excuse stupid overpays (Werth) though

This means the Nats though either
  1. Have to go all-in to winning by 2015/6 because they most likely won't have the cash to keep their best young players going into FA
    1. ZNN, Strasburg, Gio, Ramos, Espinosa will all hit big bucks from 2015-2017, some will be dealt before reaching FA. 
    2. By that point Werth will be done, Zimm will be declining.
    3. I won't be bothered if the Nats don't spend the money at this point assuming they have done so 2011-2014 to win.
  2. Have to become the Yankees/Sox of the NL and pay everyone a ton of money to play
  3. Get real lucky with the late round picks their farm system will now have to use and the trades they choose to make as the core hits FA.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Z... 2... 1...

Z-Day. No dice... So far. 

Supposedly hinging on the no-trade clause but outside of that room no one can be 100% sure.  Seems reasonable though.  If Zimmerman really wants to try to finish his career here the last thing he wants is to find out he's been shipped to Colorado in 3 years.  On the Nats side they have a potential replacement drafted and Zimmerman is an injury risk.  Two bad years in a row, with Rendon knocking at the door, and Rizzo could easily think the Nats are better off eating some of the contract to free up some more money.

Again, because of the strong feeling that both sides really want to come to terms, I don't see a deal happening right now.  There just ins't that pressure that can force those last hurdles to be overcome.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Z-minus 1 day

Zimmerman says no contract talks past Friday.  We're all acting like this is a big deal, but it isn't.  Zimmerman has 2 years left on his deal.  He'd like an extension now, but by all accounts is not holding it against the Nats if they don't sign him.  He's only said he'll test free agency if he doesn't have a deal in place by the start of NEXT year. So all this amounts to is a big gamble for both sides, not a do or die situation.

When Ryan is healthy his combination of defense & offense makes him one of the top players in the league. He was 7th in WAR in 2009, 6th in 2010.  Over those two years you could argue that only Albert Pujols and Evan Longoria were more valuable players. Don't gloss over that.  He was arguably the third best overall player in baseball over a two year stretch.  3rd best!  Third!

Problem is Ryan isn't always healthy. Since 2007 he's only had one full season, missing minor time in 2010 and major time in 2008 and last year. He may still be a great player but if he can only play 60% of the season, he deserves 60% of the pay, right?  Injuries tend to haunt players. Not only can that same area get injured, but once they get an injury sometimes a player tends to compensate in ways that make other injuries more likely.  All the while they are aging and the body just can't heal like it used to.*  The player might become a less productive hitter.  It might all pile up so they just can't play full season anymore. At the same time the Nats are most likely looking at an extension that takes Ryan into his mid 30s.  His body isn't that old. He could easily give the Nats 5 great full years before he hits 35.  Is he Scott Rolen or is he Eric Chavez?

By not working out a deal with Ryan the Nats are taking a risk.  If he puts up a season like 2009 or 2010 then the Nats will have to compensate him as one of the best players in the league, because for 3 out of the last 4 years he would have been just that.   We're talking 6 years at 20 million per as the starting point. I'd be shocked if he didn't get more than 150 million.  However if he gets injured again, or somehow doesn't play up to the same level he had in the past then the Nats can negotiate that down a lot. What was 7 years, 160 mill might now be 5 years, 70 mill.

What makes this gamble is what Ryan is asking for right now.  My guess is that it's gotta be close to Tulo's 6/120.  Assuming that, I'd say the gamble of not signing him is probably worth it.  The only way you pay a lot more is if he is healthy and great. If he's healthy but more average he probably gets about the same.  If he has minor injuries (say around 130 games played)  but plays great he probably gets the same. Anything else (minor+average, major+great, etc. ) and he gets a a lot less. It's a bet that's in the Nats favor. 

So I don't expect a signing before Friday.  Since its not a bad gamble for the Nats to wait, they are probably trying to get a minor discount right now (think 6/108) and might actually stick to that.  Ryan will then have a chance to literally make them pay. I think most players would be fine with that.

*I hate the "Nick Johnson" comparisons.  Nick had a ball bounce up and hit him in the face.  He broke his leg in a collision with another player.  He may have been injury prone but really his career was derailed by bad luck, more than a frail body

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

How are they back here again?

Honestly.  Just go read the first paragraph from last year.

It's gotten to the point that this is so bad that Nats fans are seemingly happy that Mike Cameron is gone because for some reason that clears things up, I guess?  Try Ian Desmond? Maybe they bring up Bryce early and Werth can play CF? I think the fans have been beaten down so much that they've come to accept this annual failure.  "Thank you sir! Can we have another inning of Roger Bernadina?!"  

(Yes, yes if Bryce Harper can play CF this is a moot point but think about it; as a team they believe in Bryce's ability to play center so much they are probably going to take a 33 year old who last split time at the position in 2005 and use him there instead. That should tell us something.)

It doesn't make sense that it has taken the Nats so long to address this successfully.  It's even more confusing since Rizzo has built this team into a pitching and defense first squad.  If you are trying to perfect your defense after finding the right SS (which they haven't really done either), comes finding the right CF.  Part of me wants to believe it's just really hard to fill that position and in a certain way it is.  Centerfielders are highly valued and young ones especially are being hoarded even if they can't hit (I'm looking at you Dexter Fowler).  But what if they lower their standards just a little bit?  Take a look at last year. Here are guys that manned CF and had more than 400 ABs.  There are two former Nats there (Byrd, Morgan) and they both can field! There are two guys that were traded for (Bourn, Rasmus) years younger than Ankiel. There's a guy that was had for a song last season in FA (Melky).  Hell, Emilio Bonaficio played some games at center (not great) last year. Why didn't the Nats think about that? There have been options that would have made the Nats a better team overall without impacting whatever long range plans they have. It's hard to use that "hard to fill" excuse knowing that. 

If they are so worried about defense, then Ankiel is ok but he can't be the best choice.  I have to believe there is some true no-hit great glove guy somewhere. (Endy was available)  If they are worried about trying to help the team win in combination, well I just noted there were better choices than Ankiel last year, I'm sure there will be this year. Only if they are looking for "Mr. Right CF" does this constant failure make any sense, and if that's the case the Nats are reaching a point where continuing the search rather than settling for "Mr. Good Enough CF" could be the difference between playoffs and not playoffs, between division crowns and wild cards.

Gah - I'm going back to my alternate universe, where the Nats are wondering if a never-traded, never-concussed Ryan Church's defense can hold out just a couple more years.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Headline writing comes to the fore!

As you know if you've read this blog for... well for a while, I guess, I have a thing for good and bad headline writing. So I couldn't let this Jeremy Lin thing pass without comment. Besides it's pitchers and catchers which is slightly more meaningless than regular Spring Training which itself is slightly more meaningless than this blog.  (and you know what I think of this blog) Here's my annual quick take on the time in Florida: "Yay baseball is starting!  Now call me back when a Bryce Harper decision has been definitively made and when the rotation has been decided on and please don't use ST stats to decide either one of these things."

Anyway there is absolutely NO chance that the headline written was just coincidence. There just isn't. You either go bland or you try for something clever.  If you were going for a bland headline "chink in the armor" is an odd one to use for a basketball player.Any copy editor with a bit of experience would equate "armor" with defense or possibly reference to knights and that time period.  You'd be far more likely to use the phrase when taking about a stout run stopping line getting a key injury, or describing a great goalie that seemed to feel the pressure in big games. And that's what you see if you browse the "3000" references made by ESPN, more football than anything else.  It's also a phrase used far more to talk about a team, group, or idea than an individual, especially an individual in a team sport. Even if you get past this point and believe that he slapped down a weak headline in general, he's then supposed to look at it in context. That's his job. That's why a "Ruby Tuesday for Dmitri" or the "ooh-ooh that smell" Strawberry Shortcake headlines bother me so much. It takes no effort in this day and age to check that the reference you are making makes sense beyond "it sounds good".  This Lin headline is at best a guy that can't do his job properly, and at worst (and far far far more likely) someone making a stupid joke in a position that allows for no tolerance of such things.

There you go, more baseball tomorrow.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Gary Carter

Let's be serious.  Despite this being a blog about the franchise that Gary Carter was once a part of, I'm not going to have much to add to the conversation. As a Yankees fan growing up in NY in the 80s - Carter was a Met.  As a guy that started casually following then blogging about the Expos in the early/mid 2000s, Carter was already long gone. As a guy that blogs about the Nationals after the team moved to DC, Carter is less of a hero to the people reading this than Frank Howard or Walter Johnson (really?  Baseball was that bad in DC we have to go back to Walter Johnson for Hero #2?) You're going to get better reads about Carter from someone else.   That being said here are your better reads:

From the Montreal Gazette
Column #1


Kurkijan (for ESPN where Carter's death is almost as important as the Bulls winning a regular season game over the now 15-14 Celtics)


and last but not least Bill Ladson

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Ian Desmond - 20th century leadoff man

In his latest Q&A session, the hardest working man in Nat business, Bill Ladson, notes somewhat offhandedly:
The Nationals still believe in Desmond, who is projected to become the leadoff hitter...
Hmm maybe that didn't need a block quote... anyway, I hadn't really thought about it much but that seems about right.  Desmond was the leadoff hitter for the last month and a half of the year.  He seemed to be doing pretty well in that spot, and it sort of feels like he fits that spot.  Here's the thing, though - Ian Desmond doesn't get on base very well.

Ian's career OBP is .304.  His OBP last year was .298.  This isn't a fluke.  His career minor league OBP is .326 and that includes the 2009 year that seems more and more out of place the longer we see Desmond play.

Now it is true that Desmond did better in the leadoff spot, but he still wasn't good at getting on base.  He had an OBP of .318 while batting first. You could parse it further and say he did even better than that the second time around as a leadoff hitter  - He did have an OBP of .342 after being set in that role in mid-August - but it was a batting average driven .342 (not to mention only 40 games).  He only had 8 walks during those 41 games.  If he hits say... .280, a completely respectable batting average that's about 20 points over his career average, that OBP is more like .317.  That's terrible, somewhere around 75th if we look at the 100 NL batters with the most at bats. Unless you believe he will be a .300 hitter, Ian isn't the type of guy you want leading off.

Wait a second, you might say, I remember you saying that batting order doesn't really matter. Well, you're right.  I did say that, and I believe it.  Putting the wrong guy in the wrong spot isn't going to dramatically change the prospects of a team.  But it might change it by one win and the Nats are in a position where that one win could really matter. If they were worse or better, maybe you can start Desmond as the leadoff hitter and hope he grows into that role. But lose one more game than they need to in 2012 and that may be the difference between being the 2nd WC and packing it up at season's end. This is a year where the Nats have to look toward optimizing everything to squeeze out as many wins as they can from day one.

Here's the dilemma though.  Who does leadoff then? The Nats don't get on base.  You aren't going to put Zimmerman or Morse as leadoff hitters.  Putting Werth at leadoff was possibly Riggleman's most inspired move, but Jayson's terrible season derailed that move before it could get started, and I don't see Davey making the same sort of move, unfortunately.  Ramos will get enough hits to get on base more, but he's a catcher and convention demands a base stealer at the top of the lineup. Espinosa will walk enough to get on base more and can steal a base, but has a natural power that people don't want "wasted" at the top of the lineup.  LaRoche and Ankiel would be terrible choices for a couple reasons. That's it - that's everyone.  Desmond gets to leadoff and not get on base... by default?  Because everyone is too good to get more at bats?  Because the improvement is minimal, even over the course of an entire season, so it's easier to go with the standard line-up than deal with the distraction of one that's probably better?

I'm not sure what the Nats are gonna do. They need every win they can get, but since they don't have a prototypical lead-off hitter any alternate player put in that spot will have to succeed immediately or else the 150 years of convention weighing down on the team will force a change. I'd honestly love to see Werth in that position again because he only needs to hit like .250 to lead this bunch in getting on base, but I don't see that happening, so I'm hoping for a Ramos/Espinosa at the top of the lineup in either order.  It's not typical, but it's not crazy either, and it has the built-in "trying to get my best young hitters as many at bats as possible" argument that can stand against most fans of convention. I think that's the best I can hope for.

Update - Nats Blog had a take on this too.  Just yesterday. Quick summary : "Yep, there are no good choices".  But worth a read just to see how badly in numbers the Nats failed at finding a leadoff hitter last year (and in general)

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Thank you Mark DeRosa

For being the age you are (in other words - older than me). 

This team is so young!  They are all babies! Literally the team can't play noon games on a weekend because it's nap time.  Lombardozzi hits a home run and Davey Johnson has to carry him in a Baby Bjorn around the bases. Chris Marrero is out indefinitely with a bad case of diaper rash.  (but seriously when/if Bryce makes the team - he IS so young.  He has no memory of the baseball strike. There has always been a wild card. He has no memory of the hideous awful time when the Yankees weren't good (I still love you Roberto Kelly!). Kristi Yamaguchi is like Peggy Fleming to him.  It's crazy!)

Monday, February 13, 2012

Cespedes an A?

That renders one point moot. What's next the Nats do sign Oswalt for the ultimate Spring Training split squad team?

I didn't expect that and a couple notes

So if you didn't read through the comments of Friday's post virtually everyone said start Bryce in the minors.  Is this just a savvy internet readership? An acceptance that 2012 might still be the year before the year that matters? A reaction to an attitude that fits a 19 yr old, but is not necessarily how most expect a major leaguer to act?  I don't know.  From the comments I would summarize the opinion as "He hasn't forced the issue yet, so why not keep him down in the minors and let him learn a bit more, all the while taking advantage of the extra year of arbitration and free agency you might get if he stays down there long enough."  Seems sound to me, but I'll say I expected a lot more "bring him up"s. 

The most interesting thing from the weekend in regards to the Nats actually had to do with the Marlins.  By all accounts they were in the driver's seat for landing Cespedes, and now they it looks like they are closing in on a signing. It will be very interesting if they land him because we'll have the whole "the Nats should have signed him / lucky they didn't sign him" drama play out with a rival team right in front of us.  If Cespedes makes an immediate impact, plays good CF, AND puts the Marlins ahead of the Nats in the standings, will the Nats brass feel the need to react? Should the Nats brass feel the need to react?

Explain to me again why the Nats would be better off with one year of Edwin Jackson as opposed to one-year Roy Oswalt? Not that he would have signed with the Nats, but Rizzo seemed to target Edwin Jackson rather than Oswalt.  It must be about the innings because if we're talking value here, a year of Oswalt at 10 million is almost certain to be a better value than a year of Edwin Jackson.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Do you want Bryce to start the season with the team?

He wants to.  Davey wants him to (mainly I assume because the team's lefty power is up to Ankiel, Espinosa's bad side, and LaRoche who slugged about .023 last year), Rizzo might not but seems to be warming to the idea.  But a year of Bryce now is likely a year less of Bryce down the road.

I'm sure you'd do it if you could have Jason Heyward's first year for Bryce, but I'm also sure you wouldn't do it if you'd follow up with Heyward's second. Jason had more impressive AA numbers than Bryce. Could another year of seasoning prevented the fall back and what was essentially a wasted year at best?

I don't think we can answer these questions, or at least we can't do it better than the guys watching him play everyday.  His minor league stats suggest he can hang in the majors, but do you want him just to hang or do you want him to thrive?  Rizzo seems to lean toward thrive.  He's the type that wants his young players to force the issue in each league before moving up.  Bryce hasn't done that just yet.

Looking from the other side, the Nats could certainly use Bryce and are on the cusp of being in the WC race wihtout needing luck.  A ROY type year from Bryce would surely put them square in WC contention, rather than the... not "outskirts"... maybe "suburbs",  where they are now.  It could also help him get acclimated for next season when we all expect one more big move to go from WC to division crown challengers.

And we still haven't talked about the elephant in the room, that just a couple months of minor league time now would ensure a whole season more before arbitration and save the Nationals millions of dollars.

Based on the situation and your gut, what say you?  If Bryce looks good, but not great, in Spring Training, do you want the Nats to bring him up to start the year?

Wednesday, February 08, 2012

The Bench

A good bench not only fills a teams simple positional needs but it covers the weaknesses in their starting lineup. Last year the Nats had a mediocre (at best) bench filled with guys that maybe could steal a base (Bernadina), or play decent D (Pudge, Cora, Ankiel in a pinch); but no one that could get a hit and especially no one that could hit a home run.  Expectedly, things got even worse after injuries. Is it going to be any different this year?

Well let's first see what arguably the Nats biggest starting lineup weaknesses are, from biggest to smallest.

AVG:  Usually you ignore average, but when it comes to the bench it matters.  Sometimes a walk isn't good enough.  Sometimes you need that hit.  The Nats regular lineup was pretty terrible at doing that simple task.  Morse, even with a slight slip, Zimmerman, and maybe Ramos can get a hit. I wouldn't bet on anyone else 

isoSLG:  Other times you need more than just a hit, you need a home run.  As a team the Nats were mediocre at hitting the long ball. Individually, Morse was the only one who was great at it but you have to worry about him keeping up a top 10 in the league level. The next best guy on the team just to get the big hit was Nix, who is gone now.  Zimmerman being healthy could pick this up, and Espinosa and Ramos aren't bad, but really LaRoche is the key here.  He was a decent power threat if he was anything but I'm not sure I want to bet on someone coming back from injury hitting for power especially one hitting so feebly before going out.

OF defense:  It all depends on the lineup.  If it were Bernadina-Ankiel-Werth , maybe you can live with that, but that seems an unlikely starting group. Something like Morse-Bernadina-Werth is far more likely, but it's also asking for trouble defensively. With Morse seemingly set in left and CF maybe manned by Werth (who is aging and had an offyear as a corner OF last year), or Bryce (who no one really likes as a CF, but he may be not terrible enough to start) having a great OF defensive player is that much more important.

OBP: Again pretty mediocre. Outside of Werth no one could take a walk, but Morse, Zimmerman and Ramos hit well enough that they are decent bets to get on. It's a little better bet that whoever is up for the Nats can get on base than can get a hit or slug a homer, in my mind.

Handedness : The Nats lineup is righty heavy.  Espinosa switch-hits but is better from the right side and Ankiel lost the split advantage last year.  LaRoche will help, but a lefty bat on the bench is still a need.

MI/3B defense: This is the inflection point. Everything above here is definitely a weakness (sorry - but the offense could be kinda bad this year), everything below this I'd consider a strength or at least something not to worry about.  This one itself is a bit tricky.  Zimmerman had an off year, and Desmond has his issues, but fielding stats can be fickle. I trust that these guys can hold it down.  Then again that's two years now where Desmond hasn't become that great fielder the Nats think he should be. There probably is worth in carrying a slick-fielding SS.

Speed:  Not too bad. Werth, Espinosa, and Desmond are good baserunners and no starter last year was a big liability.  That won't be the case this year as LaRoche is a plodder, and post-injury Zimmerman will be a touch slower.  Still, a pinch runner isn't so big a need that you can't let it get filled as a side product of filling something else above (like OF defense)

1B defense: LaRoche is pretty good.  We'll see if that stays true but this is only an area of need if your first baseman is terrible defensively. LaRoche isn't. 

C defense: Ramos is very good defensively. The back-up need not be.

OK now let's see what the current bench bring to the table. Let's assume Flores, Bernadina, DeRosa, Teahen, and Cameron for now, and look at Lombardozzi.

  • Flores has to be there. He might be a bat with decent pop.  Hard to tell. 
  • Bernadina can give you speed, and play corner OF well. He also bats left. 
  • DeRosa is not really good at anything - maybe give you decent corner OF D? You can't say get on base given what he did in '09 and '10. 
  • Teahen is even worse - let's hope he doesn't break with the team. He does bat left. I can't deny that. 
  • Cameron probably can still play CF well. Offensively a black hole though. 
  • Lombardozzi by all accounts is a good 3B/MI fielder. I'll trust that, but the minor league stats say he's a singly Joe, and one that hasn't shown up in the majors yet.  Switch hits and not a bad baserunner. 

Ugh.  Well as you can see the Nats bench does nothing to address the biggest weaknesses in the Nats lineup.  There are no guys good at getting a hit, no one good at hitting the home run, and no one good at getting on base. Right now you'd have to hope Flores starts showing one of those skills, or maybe Lombardozzi starts rapping a few singles. Defensively though things look ok if Lombardozzi and Cameron are on the squad.  Honestly though, beyond Flores, the only guy I feel the Nats need to keep on the bench is Bernadina.  While you all know I don't like him as a starter at all, he makes a very nice bench guy for this team.

Is there anyone out there that can help the Nats? Probably no one that will take a bench role rather than retire. I think Derrek Lee could help with pop, and JD Drew has always had a good eye, but I imagine both will go home rather than ride the pine for the Nats. Ibanez could bring a lot, if you think 2011 was fluky, but most believe he's completely done. Vlad Guerrero or Magglio Ordonez could be decent "just a hit" guys but that's all they would bring and they are looking at AL teams for one last chance to DH.  Aaron Miles is probably the most interesting guy the Nats could get. He can get a hit and bats lefty. Maybe Jason Varitek as a slug only guy? But neither of these to is anything to get excited about. 

Truth is it's hard to get guys that are good, even at one thing, for your bench because if you are good enough at that one thing, some team will likely find a spot-starting role for you.  You have to move fast, take a chance or two and get a bit lucky. The Nats moved slowly on putting together a bench looking at character as much as skill.  Hopefully that won't cost them when they need a bit hit down the road. 

Monday, February 06, 2012

Plan K : sign Ankiel to play center

Actually not a terrible signing, as long as the role he plays is appropriate. It's a minor league deal, like the one for Cameron so if the Nats decide to go in another, more productive, direction they can let these guys go, or keep one for the bench or whatever.  But don't kid yourself about Ankiel, he's not the lefty bat off the bench Davey wants. He doesn't get on base, he doesn't hit for average, and he's living off reputation in terms of being a power hitter. He hasn't hit for good power in years.That had been, in no small part, to being absolutely useless versus lefty pitchers, but last year he didn't even slug righties well.

No, Ankiel would be a defensive replacement primarily, much like Cameron. Which is fine.  You can have that as the last guy on the bench, just not as the last guy in the regular batting order.

Thursday, February 02, 2012

Don't trade Lannan!

Don't do it! Don't! 

I'm not going to explain to you why Edwin Jackson, who the Nats are close to signing, is worse than John Lannan, because that would be hard to do objectively.  Lannan's success is based mostly on an ability to stop right-handed bats from slugging against him, even though they hit him just fine. It is an ability that no one has quite been able to pin down on WHY he can do it, so therefore most just ignore it and assume that it won't be repeated. Even though it has. For every healthy season he's been in the majors. I think that's fine for one season but for season after season after season I prefer to give in and find fault in my own analysis for being unable to match the world, not in the world for being unable to match my analysis.

Edwin Jackson is a fine pitcher, and in pretty much every other way, better than John Lannan. He gets hit harder against lefties now that Lannan has figured out how to pitch to them, but that's to be expected, since he is right handed.  He gets hit more often but not that much more often. He should be better than John and a more than fine #3 type pitcher. Why did the market seemingly dry up for him then? I'm not sure, but given the complete reluctance in giving him a multi-year deal, I would guess that the teams believe, despite 3 years to the contrary, that Jackson could suddenly lose control again and when he does, because he gives up so many hits, it will get ugly fast.  Do I know more than 30 teams closely scrutinizing each player?  I don't believe so, but then again I just said with Lannan we have to believe, first in foremost, in the results on the page, if they are repeated over and over again.  Jackson's been fine for 3 years and is not really in a decline phase of his career so there's no reason to believe he won't be at least a equal substitute for John.

But I don't believe that. And I'm not sure why.

Inevitable scenario - Lannan and a couple prospects are traded to the Mets for Angel Pagan Andres Torres. On Sept 14th, with the Nats 2 games out of the WC and needing a win Lannan pitches a 6 hit, 5 walk, no K, 2 run game to beat the Nats and put them out of reach of some other surging team.

This ain't the movies, kid.

Awards in sports always have always been a funny thing to me. I get the idea of awards in other fields, the arts especially. Actors want Oscars because the difference between a great performance and a good one can vary by person.  The Oscar serves as a necessary tangible validation of that great performance. Sports aren't subjective. There are already tangible results that can be objectively compared.  You did well or you did not do well. There is little room for debate. Things like "All-Star", "MVP", "Hall of Famer" are nice to have but are ultimately meaningless because they don't change the actual results on the field.  You were one of the best players that season or not.  You were one of the best players ever or not. It all seems so insecure to be taken so seriously. You play to do your best so your team can win games and hopefully, ultimately win a championship. You don't play to win an ESPY, even one with more history and prestige, which is all something like "Hall of Famer" really is. 

Which makes this whole fuss over the #1 ranking thing kind of funny. If the Nats were #2 or #3 they would still have a great farm system. Mike Rizzo and his staff would still have done a great job using the resources the Lerners gave them to repair a broken organization that was bereft of talent. But does Rizzo send the same email to his people if they aren't #1?  If this collection of individuals decides that team X is slightly better, do the Nats receive as much attention?  Probably not. As Kilgore says in his opening line, this is a "jolt of validation" but it's nothing more than that. Validation of good work in a field where there is an hard tangible goal out there (winning), shouldn't be a big deal.  It shouldn't be taken with more than a "that's nice, we're glad we're appreciated, but that's not our ultimate goal" type of attitude.  It feels that the team is taking this celebration way too seriously, like jumping up and down at mile 25 of a marathon when they found out they were voted "Most Improved Runner". 

Bah bah bah.  I'm a spoil sport, fine. There's nothing wrong with celebrating awards, fine.  I just hope Rizzo is sending out congratulatory emails when the team breaks .500, makes the playoffs, wins a playoffs series, etc. because those are the huge days that should be made big deals out of.