Nationals Baseball: January 2013

Thursday, January 31, 2013

Braves or Nats : Whose OF is better?

The Braves.  OK see you tomorrow!

OK, ok. I guess I should explain.  The Braves and Nats both had very good OFs last year and yet both overhauled them over the offseason. The Nats shunted the poor fielding Michael Morse off, shifted Bryce Harper, who held his own in center field, to left, and brought in Denard Span. The Braves let Michael Bourn walk and brought in BJ Upton to replace him.  They then traded the underrated Martin Prado for Justin Upton. The question then arose who had the better OF?


Here are the OPS+ for each player over the past 3 years and ages for 2013
Justin Upton (25) : 110 141 107
BJ Upton (28) : 106 114 104
Jason Heyward (23) : 131 93 117

Bryce Harper (20) : 119
Denard Span (29) : 88 90 105
Jayson Werth (33) : 144 97 125

Let's pull out the two consistent guys.  Denard Span is an average hitter.  BJ Upton is slightly better than average. So the Braves start with an slight edge.  After this we're faced with a bunch of questions. Anyone of the remaining players could have a superstar like year in 2013 and it wouldn't be a shock.  So why do I like the Braves better here? Two completely opposite things that work against the Nats.

Bryce Harper, while blessed with all the talent in the world, is the only one here who hasn't yet had that big year in the majors.  Do we all think he could do it? Yes. But does it have to be in 2013? No, it doesn't. On the other hand Werth is older for a baseball player.  He's in the decline years of your average player. It doesn't mean that he has to decline, but it does mean at this point his body is really working against him. So while it's wide open on what could happen, I have to give the edge to the Braves here just because it's slightly more likely that it works out for them than the Nats.


Here is each players Spd number (which takes into account stuff like 1st to 3rd) from last year :
Justin Upton (25) : 6.0
BJ Upton (28) : 6.2
Jason Heyward (23) : 6.2

Bryce Harper (20) : 7.4
Denard Span (29) : 5.6
Jayson Werth (33) : 5.3

The short of it is, while Bryce Harper's gambling ways and young legs makes him  the biggest threat the whole rest of the Braves OF is arguably better than the Nats OF.  If we look at more years - Span looks more favorable, he's the equal of any of the Braves guys, but he's also older. Werth had a good year last year, but in general would look LESS favorable looking at multiple years.  It's not that he's slow or a bad baserunner or anything like that, just in comparison to the rest of these very talented guys he's clearly #6. 

I kind of feel again, ever so slight an edge for the Braves.


3 years of fangraphs FLD stat (another combo stat taking into account arm and range, etc.) coming up :

Justin Upton (25) : 5.5  7.7  -2.1
BJ Upton (28) : 1.4  1.4  -2.4
Jason Heyward (23) : 4.2  8.6  21.5

Bryce Harper (20) : 9.9
Denard Span (29) : 4.4  9.0  8.5
Jayson Werth (33) : -7.5  1.4  -12.6

Unlike with the hitting, where you are looking at three years for trends and historical notes, here you kind of have to look at 3 just to get a clear picture of a fielder.  Anyone can have a great single year because fo the vagaries of what goes into these stats (Adam Dunn was supposedly great at first base for the Nats one year).  Three tends to give a clearer picture of actual skills.  Here I tend to push the two teams for right now.  Bryce will be great where ever the Nats put him and Span is a very good CF and that's the most important position.  He's no Bourn, but the Braves don't have Bourn anymore they have BJ Upton who is merely doing the bare minimum in CF. Justin Upton is good in LF, Heyward is great in RF, but CF matters most.

Unfortunately for the Nats Jayson Werth hasn't played a good RF in years. Around 2007/2008 he was great but since then we've seen a slow decline. No matter what stat you look at UZR, Range Factor, the stats show he's not getting to the balls that he should anymore. That's an issue.  Span will help with that more than Bryce probably did simply by having experience covering for others but fielding isn't something that you just get back. For one year he might be ok, but it's more likely he won't.

Now if the Nats do what I think they should and move Werth to LF, shade Span in that direction and let Bryce's cannon sit in RF cutting down those 1st to 3rd guys I might move it over to giving the Nats a slight edge, but let's see them do it first.


If you push in one category and have the slight edge in two others, well you win. So the Braves win.  But don't take that to be a slam dunk or anything.  It's just slightly more likely that the combination of the Braves 3 OF will put up a slightly more worthwhile year than the combination of the Nats 3.  And even then the most likely scneario puts them at what? A half-game better? It's nothing influential, just bragging rights.  The Nats, with that killer rotation from top to bottom and no holes (well...maybe catcher), are still the better team and the favorites to win the East.

Also A LOT will come down to Bryce and Justin. While Werth had some big years, his usual ones were just a step below superstar.  Can he even get back to that for a whole season should be the thought, not if he can have a team carrying year. Heyward looked to have that big potential at the start, and is young enough to still pull it off, but it seems most likely that he'll be limited by striking out to a place just below the best hitters. Bryce and Justin though, feel like far more real threats to put up that .290 30+ homer year. If one of them does it while the other one doesn't that pretty much makes the team with the guy that did it the winner.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Gio 50 game impact

If you are just waking up Gio Gonzalez has been linked to a PED clinic. It might be nothing.  Then again, there aren't many other names included on this list and ones that are included Alex Rodriguez (admitted user), Bartolo Colon (suspended 2012), and Melky Cabrera (suspended 2012) so it doesn't look good. Still innocent until suspended.

What we want to know is if Gio is supsended how big an impact losing Gio for 50 games would mean for 2013.  50 games is roughly 30% of the season, meaning Gio would miss roughly 10 starts. That's a pretty big loss.

Of course he wouldn't be replaced by no one. With Gorzo gone, the thought might be that Zack Duke would take up this role, but that doesn't seem likely to me. He is scheduled to be the lone lefty in the pen. He hasn't been a starter since early in 2010.  It just seems like work.  Christian Garcia is an interesting idea, but just that, and idea.  We've talked about how a 2-time TJ surgery reliever shouldn't be pressed immediately into a starting role (probably shouldn't be pressed into a starting role at all).  Instead we'd likely have a Spring Training battle with Yunesky Maya being the strong favorite to win.

Maya pitched a lot better in AAA last year than in previous years.  1.186 WHIP, 40 walks in 167 IP. But he's still not that good.  20 homers. Only 89 Ks.  A crazy low BABIP .258 that's unlikely to be repeated.  But the thing is there isn't anyone after that.  Would you rather Tanner Roark? Jeff Mandel?  Until you get to A-ball it's a parade of never-weres.

If Maya does pitch and is bad, what does that cost the Nats? Since we are using last year as the baseline and last year Gio was awesome, that's going to be somewhere between 1-2 wins total. I know that doesn't seem like a lot but you have to look at the big picture.  There are some games the Nats aren't going to lose no matter who is on the mound.  They are that good. Gio might win them 8-2 while Maya gets a win 8-5 but it's still a win.  There are going to be a couple games too in those 10 that it doesn't matter who pitches, the Nats will lose.  They get shutout, Maya or Gio, they still lose that game. So it's only a handful of games where it actually matters who's the pitcher and to say the Nats win 1-2 more games with Gio than Maya in those handful, that's actually saying it's a big difference between the two.

You can see though, other than being the first step down a slippery slope, a long suspension for Gio would not derail the Nats on it's own.  But if you are super scared there is a FA option. No, not Kyle Lohse.  If he was willing to walk from the Cardinals he's not coming to the Nats on some small deal. No, I mean Joe Saunders, who wants a multi-year deal, but is now sitting looking at a 1yr deal from Minnesota.  He's not great or anything but he's better than Maya. He's AL-> NL.  I'm not saying this is the best idea, but if you are desperate to get as many wins as possible it might be a way to go. 

Either way now we sit and wait and hope for nothing

Friday, January 25, 2013

The Nightmare Scenario : Missing the Playoffs

I assume you read the post from yesterday so we can get moving on this one with little explanation. What's the path of least resistance to the Nats doing the unthinkable and missing the playoffs entirely? 96 wins is the starting point remember and you have to get to the 85-87 range in wins to "feel good" about missing the playoffs completely with 2 wild cards. (though the Angels did miss it with 89 wins that's was kind of fluky given historical precedent)

OK first we do have to adjust the win total upwards. There's just no way to avoid it.  If Jayson Werth is healthy he will provide more to this team. But let's say he bounces back to a very mediocre year, something between last years showing and the injury plagued 2010. You're looking at maybe an extra 1.5 wins. So we're at 97.5 wins

Then there's Bryce Harper, even if you say he doesn't improve at all if we're lining up Span versus 2011 him and Bryce vs 2011 Morse + Bernie + other guys. He's still going to be better than that. Let's say a win better. 98.5 wins.

Ok now we can start going back down and the easiest way is through career year guys having more normal years.  Adam LaRoche -2 wins. 96.5 wins. Gio Gonzalez -0.5 win. 96 wins. Ian Desmond... let's not say all the way back down to the previous year but closer than not, -1.5 wins. 94.5 wins. Denard Span, this kid bounces around, -2 wins. 92.5 wins.

We're still not there yet, are we? I guess the bullpen could be a little worse, these guys do fluctuate a bit just because they don't pitch that often. -0.5 win. 92 wins? We're getting very close to necessitating injury.  I guess I'll pull out one more thing and say that catcher ends up being a complete failure with Suzuki hitting the wall and Ramos unable to recover properly.  That's only another -0.5 wins though because it wasn't good last year. 91.5 wins.

Gotta stretch even more.  Let's also say that Haren's bad performance was more him than injury and he somehow repeats it even though he's going to the NL.  -1 win.  90.5 wins.

That's it.  That's as low as I can bring the Nats without resorting to injury or a surprise crash of a season. That would likely cost them the division, but it would take some bad luck as well to miss the playoffs.  The Cards got in with 88 this year and could have done it with 87.

Ok so let's throw in an injury.  It doesn't have to be specific but let's say one of the big three starters go down and they are unable to pull a Detwiler out of their hat again. The replacement is terrible. -3 wins. 87.5 wins.  There you go. That's a pretty decent shot at missing the playoffs with just the tiniest of bad luck.

So all they need to miss the playoffs is for everyone who had a career year to revert back to a more normal year, have three little things go bad, and suffer a serious pitcher injury all while no one improves in any significant way over last year. This should tell you one thing. The Nats aren't missing the playoffs next year without serious injury problems or surprise flameouts. Basically it would all have to go bad in "expected" ways otherwise for them to fail.

That's why I call this season a 6-month long injury watch. Lose two pitchers early and the Nats would be staring at a major problem.  Throw in a major injury to a key player (Bryce, Zimm, Werth) and the Nats are probably floating around 90 wins as we see some stuff go up and some stuff go down for everyone else on the team. From there missing the playoffs isn't necessarily likely, but it could be a few bouncing balls away.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

The Dream Scenario : 110 wins

The Nats season should be pretty predictable.  They should win about 95 games and probably win the division, depending on if the Braves or Phillies have a remarkable season themselves. They should definitely make the playoffs.  The months of next season are basically a long injury watch.

But we must allow for anything to happen in any season, so I'm going to present two drastic scenarios and what it will take to get there.  Today we'll look at the dream scenario, a Nats team that wins 110+ games.  It challenges for the best record of all-time and runs basically wire to wire in first place*.  This is going to be similar to Dave Schoenfield's work at ESPN that shows if EVERYTHING goes right for the Nats they are actually better than that Seattle team that won 116 games. Of course EVERYTHING isn't going to go right so we're going to try to pick out the path of least resistance to this kind of remarkable season. 

*If you win 110 games, this kind of has to happen.  If you start slow (13-13 say) then you can only lose about 8 games a month the rest of the year. So you have to catch up to any leader very early in the season.

Last year the Nats won 98 games, but the pythag has them as a 96 win team so let's start there. We'll also make the BIG assumption that no one will get injured. I know it's not likely but to make a run at 110 you kind of need that kind of season.We're also assuming that no one decreases production in any noticeable way, so career years from LaRoche, Span and Desmond will have to be repeated.  A stretch for sure, but better than saying they need to do something they never did before.

OK based on the no-injury assumption we are going to get a big bump from Werth.  Let's assume he bounces all the way back to his banner times in Philly and puts up a 3.5-4.0 WAR.  That's about 3 more wins for the Nats. (a little more but you have to consider they'd lose some of that fine bench replacement time they got this year from the likes of Bernie and Moore. Trust me I'm being more than fair here).  99 wins.

Strasburg too would have an opportunity for a full season, and his potential is up there with the best in the league.  Let's say he meets it. That would be about a ~5.0 WAR or so or two more wins. 101 wins. 

What about Storen? The pen was very very good last year. So time gained for Storen is likely time lost from a pitcher who did ok, same with Soriano. Plus, it's the pen, it doesn't generate a lot of wins because in total it pitches maybe 40% of all innings. No one guy can make that big a difference. Just can't happen. I'll be generous though and say the Nats gain half a game in the pen. so 101.5 wins.

Haren?  He bounces back but he can't quite make it back to his old levels just because he's going to lose 15% of his innings to the Nats being safe. (A lot of his value is that he pitched SO many innings, look! You see the Nats doing that?)  Remember too that it's not from Haren's last year, it's Edwin's production he's replacing and Edwin was ok. Let's be generous again 1.5 more wins and the Nats are up to 103 wins.

Ok, we've kind of run out of non-developmental improvement.  Where can the Nats get that? Bryce Harper of course. Let's say he has that Mike Trout like 2nd year.  That's a big jump from Morse (we're taking Span to match 2012 Bryce based on last years production) but all that extra production from Bernie, Moore, has to go somewhere. I cut out a little from Werth but most falls here. STILL Bryce nets the team an extra 3.5 wins with a season for the ages. 106.5 wins.

Now let's start stretching.  Catcher was a bit of a problem, but not as much as you'd think. Suzuki was good at the end.  Ramos was good at the start.  Over all maybe a half a win more if they both can keep it up over the whole season? 107 wins.

We're still not there and there's not much room for more improvement.  What we need now is a break out year and the one place that we can get that is from Danny Espinosa.  I can't make him into a superstar, we are trying to be vaguely reasonable here, but he can improve a lot. Let's say 1.5 more wins than last year (he really was still good last year.  Fielding! Power!) that puts the Nats at 108.5 wins.

At this point I'll stop because there's one way to 110 wins from here that I think is more likely than 200 IP of Detwiler getting even better or Zimm returning to his best form. What is that way? Same way the 96 win-talented Nats won 98 wins last year. Luck. 1-2 wins is easily in the realm of error for this type of estimation.

There you have it. If the Nats don't get injured, don't see any drops from the career years their roster had last year, and have these 8 things happen in their favor they could get to 110 wins... if they get a little lucky. Take home lesson : getting to 110 wins is hard.  That's why only 6 teams have ever done it. 

But you see a couple of these 8 things should happen, so even if/when they do get injuries or regression on some of those best years, they should still be about a 95 win team. It all should even out.

Tomorrow : The nightmare scenario - missing the playoffs.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Mailbag Tuesday

Would a succesful Redskins effect Nats revenue? (Thomas Richman)

This is a tough question to effectively answer.  Thinking about it simply it should effect it as there is a finite amount of disposable revenue to go around, but I have a hard time believing it would do so to the level that it matters. In the end the Nats winning or losing is driving their revenue.

Looking at some numbers, ratings for Nats games overall increased over the season (53% up in June, 74% by season's end).  Do I think Sunday ratings probably dipped? Yes. But one day a week for a couple months isn't going to drive any contract deals.

The attendance figures are too few to draw any conclusions, but hey why not try anyway? They only had two home games up against the Skins. On Sept 9th they played Miami and drew 24,396 against the Skins season opener. That was their worst attendance on a Sunday all year. This suggests an effect. On Sept 23rd they played the Brewers and drew 33,111 against the Skins home opener vs the Bengals. Maybe that was a littlel low? It's hard to tell, the Nats were in control and playing a team that's not a draw. I'm not seeing much of an effect here.

If I had to guess I'd say BIG games for the Skins will demonstrably effect the Nats attendance, like the opener seemingly did. But how many BIG games will take place on a Sunday day when the Nats are at home? If the Skins are good more of those big games will be on Sunday and Monday nights, if not Thursdays. So it may matter once or twice a year.

As for jersey sales and other merchandise, I don't know how to judge where the Nats should be, so I can't really say if they are falling short. The biggest effect will probably be on sports talk radio coverage, but does it really bother you what those clowns are talking about?

Again - does it have some effect? Sure. Is it something to worry about? I don't think so.  Certainly not as long as the Nats keep winning.

Thoughts on the bullpen LH situation?  (Keith Watts)

The Nats have one lefty (Zack Duke) in the pen now, with Gonzo, Gorzo, and Burnett all going elsewhere.  Should they be worried? For now, no.  I think over the long haul of the season, a true LOOGY (ie a guy that can get lefties out and not much else) is a hinderance, not a help. You need flexibility in the pen and that's better served by a guy who can do well in all situations than a guy who's maybe a one or two batter pitcher a game.

Do the Nats have guys that do well in all situations? Yep. Career vs lefties:

Clippard .186 / .268 / .325
Stammen .266 / .310 / .407
Mattheus .214 / .294 / .343
Storen .229 / .287 / .297
Soriano .233 / .309 / .395

Except for Mattheus, who got hit, let's say "mildly hard" last year, all these guys were just as good or better in 2012 vs lefties. In other words - they can get everyone out.

Now what happens in the play-offs? Flexibility is less important there as you may ride the same 3-4 arms in important situations. In the playoffs a LOOGY could be more useful, but there aren't going to be many guys, even guys who are supposedly LOOGYs that can put up better numbers that what Clippard or Storen have done.So you either pay through the nose for an O'Flaherty type or you go with your pretty damn good second options. I think for now, it's better to see if plan A- works then to put out that money or talent.

Do you think Randy Knorr is going to be the next manager and do you think that it matters ? (Keith Watts)

Yes, I do think Knorr is lined up to be the manager.  Does it matter? There isn't really any strong evidence that it does. I'd say I believe with a common medium thought. The difference between a great manager and a good one or even an ok one is going to be hardly noticeable.  However a bad manager can cost you a few games through particularly bad decision making. Of course I have no proof of this.

There is some thought that a manager matters more in the playoffs but I tend to believe that the results make the manager more than vice versa. If Edwin Jackson gets through that 2nd inning somehow, the numbers of people saying Davey was dumb drops dramatically. "HE KNEW SOMETHING WE DIDN'T!!!!"

In the end it's going to be a Rizzo led team and I assume Knorr is lined up because he will follow Rizzo's lead. If it's not him it'll be someone else who Rizzo thinks will go along with his vision.

How do you see the Long-term money management working out for all those young players :  Stras, ZNN, Bryce, Ian... (Jonathan Doerr)

I think they will do the following in this order -
  • Try to get ZNN on a long-term deal that clearly favors the Nats
  • Sign Desmond to a fair long-term deal
  • Let Stras walk with only a token try at keeping him
  • Try to sign Bryce as hard as possible
After 2015 a lot of Nats are currently scheduled to hit FA.  Clippard, Desmond, Detwiler, Zimmermann, and Bernadina and possibly Span if they kept him in 2015 and still need him at that point. (I have a hard time seeing LaRoche or Soriano extended and re-signed).  Bernie is pretty replaceable and presumably the Nats will have another league min type guy who can fill his shoes. Same for the slightly less replaceable Clippard.  I think the Nats will see what kind of year Detwiler has and if he's ok, they'll try to get him (cheaper than ZNN presumably) and Desmond wrapped up.

Why not ZNN?  Because by that time the Nats will be paying Werth, Gio, and Zimm 45 mill combined for 2016. Desmond will likely cost over 10.  Strasburg should be making a bunch several years into arbitration and Bryce should be up for a big raise in his first arbitration year. Espy and Ramos will be well into arbitration figures as well... (that's assuming they haven't signed any of these guys long term which would be even more $$$ already designated) If they've signed anyone else of value you could be looking at something like  100+ million set for 9-10 players or so.  Unless they take want to scrape the luxury tax or have a ton of cheap guys doing well they need to make a cut somewhere. Zimmermann, turning 30, would be an easy place to start.

Why let Strasburg walk?  If things go as we think they could he'll be looking for a deal that's the richest pitching contract in the majors. 25 mill a year for 7 years? It could be that high EASY. They could do that but if they do that AND sign Bryce they'd be looking at maybe 50+ million for these two combined for the back end of the 2010s. You're still paying Zimm at this point. Did Desmond re-sign? Espy? Ramos? It's going to be near impossible to keep all these guys if they are good. You make your choices.  Say Ramos and Desmond and free agent X instead of Strasburg. I think that instead of Strasburg they bet hard on the bat that's younger (Bryce will hit FA at 26), probably trying to sign him to a LONG deal (like 10 yr or so) a couple of years prior to hitting FA.

Best walk-up songs (Froggy)

I must admit I don't follow walk up songs.  I couldn't name more than 5 probably and no other Nats.  Chipper has 'Crazy Train'.  Paul O'Neill used 'Baba O'Reilly'*.  Does Mariano's 'Enter Sandman' count? So as Froggy suggested I'll leave it up to the commenters to give their opinions. 

I can tell you that if I were a baseball player I would like to take a live mic and sing a song as I walked to the box.  Assuming they wouldn't allow that (Oh the sportswriter angst that would cause!) I would use dogs barking 'Jingle Bells'. As you see, I don't really take the whole mental buildup thing seriously.

*I rarely wax poetic but Baba O'Reilly on a crisp fall night will always feel like playoff baseball to me, and I don't even like the Who. 

About Strasburg, Rizzo said "I think the other four or five starters will piggyback off of his success." Any chance this means a 6-man rotation? (Mick Sutter)

I don't think he meant anything by it. The Nats will have more than four starters, but that's because of injury or the fluke double header, or maybe a rest day in a long stretch.  I don't think he's going full 6-man (and I think it would dumb of the team to do so)

A 6-man rotation is something that teams have flirted with once or twice but in reality it makes little sense.  Your rotation should be determined in a way to maximize the number of times your best pitchers pitch while limiting injury.  I think in the near future, next 10 years or so, you may actually see a return to a 4-man rotation with limited pitch counts. There is some evidence (though not striking in my estimation) that pitch counts, not innings pitched necessarily are what drives injury. With an older rotation I would totally do this.

Of course the problem is injuries are going to happen regardless and if you do this plan and someone gets injured you WILL get blamed. So it'll take GM who is willing to risk his job.

What's it like to root for a team expected to win (cass)

A normal Yankee fan would have trouble answering this question, given that they've usually seen mutliple World Series titles before they hit puberty, but I am a member of a select Yankee fan group, those precious few born at a time where they were able to spend their whole adolescence rooting for a team that was alternately good, mediocre, and bad and most importantly never made the playoffs. So I remember the transition from rooting for a non-playoff team to a playoff team, which I think is applicable here. (Both off a crushing DS loss in their first playoffs)

This year a sense of urgency will be all over the place.  On one hand, since the playoffs is not old hat, you'll still be worried about making it.  Start 10-15 and you won't be thinking "oh maybe we can turn it around, I guess" but instead "WHAT THE HELL IS WRONG!?!?" Of course this is also a positive, no longer do you have to be resigned to a slow dirge of a season if they start slow. Instead you know the talent is there to still make it in. Now if the Nats are as good as everyone thinks they are this won't be an issue for long, but it could be something that hangs over your head. Who knows if maybe the Phillies have that combeack year? Likewise, the Wild Card position too will be a thorn in your side as well, thanks to the new playoff rules, and that's not likely to go away, though it's not the door slamming shut like missing the playoffs entirely.   

On the other hand, once you are in the playoffs you will also NEED to win.  Last year was terrible and all but heading into this year the feeling around the Nationals seems to be "OK, Now let's do this".  Lose in the first round again and that "OK" disappears and is replaced with the aformentioned "WHAT THE HELL IS WRONG?!?" Even a NLDS victory is probably not be enough to satisfy most.

Ok so let's say the Nats do win the World Series, the urgency goes away right?  Nope, at least for me it didn't until the 2nd World Series was won. The first is more a relief.  You saw your team win it all. You can check that off your life goals.  But the same feeling of dread, like your window has closed, will follow the next playoff loss. That was it! Hope you enjoyed it! So the second one is almost as needed and almost as special. After two I'll say this some situations (like facing the Mets in 2000) bring back that level of urgency that might be missing if they were in another situation, and for some fans situation won't matter, they'll want to win no matter what.

After that it becomes hard for me to say because the Yankee scenario diverges into the bizarre.  What's it like after winning FOUR World Series in five years? You do become a little non-chalant about a title... for a little while (It was 2007 before I was back up to the "NEED TO WIN" level - and honestly a lot of that was because the Red Sox has won two more recently than the Yanks and the Sports Talk radio people would not let up about the Yanks not being able to win with A-Rod.  If I was going to keep reading about baseball and listening to baseball I needed the Red Sox off the "best team" lists and the A-Rod talk over). What's it like to make the playoffs nearly every year?  You don't become blase about it, but missing it is no big deal and slow starts no longer provoke "WHAT THE HELL"s, instead you feel like they'll certainly get there somehow because they always have. It's a nice place to be though, and I hope you guys manage to get there.

Friday, January 18, 2013

Closer by committee of one

If you've paid even a small bit of attention to the talk around the signing of Soriano you might have heard people mention Davey's "A" and "B" bullpen plan. There seems to be some confusion about what that means, with a lot of people thinking that Storen may still get a decent amount of chances to close as the "B" closer.

According to Baseball Prospectus though, Davey had never meant that the closer was part of the A and B designations, rather everyone else that pitched before the closer would tend to fit in one group or the other so he could easily keep track of guys getting enough off days for rest. While I can't tell you if that in itself is true(sounds like a fun correlation exercise though!), a simple look at last season will tell you Davey doesn't usually rotate closers. When H-Rod lost the job to Clippard, Clippard took all the save opportunities. When Storen came back from injury he was first not the closer, and then he won the job back. At no point was there a committee where Clippard got a chance, then Storen, and repeat.  So why do some people think of it as something else? Two reasons.

At the beginning of last year remember, the Nats had NO closer. Davey was determined to keep Clippard pitching the 8th (for some reason), so both Lidge and H-Rod were put in as closers. In this scenario, Davey did indeed rotate save chances... for about a month until Lidge proved completely unworthy.  So it certainly seemed that this new coach that talked about A and B pens meant it as rotating closers if he felt he had the talent.  Adding to the confusion was Rizzo sort of saying as much, when talking about the Nats situation.
Just as a for instance, Davey has what we call an A/B bullpen. Instead of being locked into one guy as your closer, or your seventh- or eighth-inning guy, he makes sure he has a B guy who can step into that role in case the A guy can't go.
Now really you shouldn't interpret that as being a committee but rather a secondary guy who gets closing scraps if the closer has worked too many games. But if you were already inclined to think of  the A/B plan as a "one then the other" situation, you could read this in a way to back you up.

The second reason is that he DID do this.  Back in the mid 80s with the Mets, Davey did use two closers fairly regularly.  Take a look at the 1st and 2nd guys in save opportunities over his first five years managing :

1984 : 39, 18
1985 : 25, 23
1986 : 29, 28
1987 : 32, 22
1988 : 29, 20
(Another thing - most of this was a lefty/righty thing which doesn't apply to the 2013 Nats)

But by early in 1989 McDowell and Orosco, who were big parts of these scenarios would be gone and for the rest of his managerial career Davey clearly favored one guy and only in 1994 would he come close to trying to mix it up again

1989 : 29, 11
1990 : 39, 5
1993 : 28, 12*
1994 : 21, 11, 8
1995 : 32, 9
1996 : 38, 8
1997 : 46, 10
1999 : 39, 5
2000 : 34, 7
2011 : 48, 11

*If this looks a little fishy to you Dibble got injured in 1993 and missed time and that's when Jeff Reardon got 8 of his 12 save opportunities.  Otherwise Dibble was it

This is all just a roundabout way of saying that you shouldn't expect Storen to get more than a handful of opportunities to close if Soriano is healthy and effective.  I would probably bet on something in the single digits.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Win now! Wait... not NOW now.

Mike Morse is gone. He was traded overnight to the Mariners in a 3-team deal that has so far brought back the Nats AJ Cole and Blake Treinen.  It will also include a player to be named later.

It's a fair deal, in my opinion. We've discussed why Mike Morse, a guy who could hit .300 with 30 HR is not a big trade target. They weren't going to get back any really good major league talent or even a good prospect close to being in the major leagues, outside of maybe relief arms. Instead they've gotten two guys who are at least a couple of years away who add some organizational pitching depth to a team who's current minor league pitching can be described as 40 guys with arms held together with fishing wire now that Meyer has been dealt and they let Rosenbaum walk.

AJ Cole, who you may remember as being a Nats not so long ago, is still a legit prospect. While he didn't do well in Advanced A ball (ok he outright stunk it up), he will still be only 21 this year.  I can't even call that a step back at that age.  More like, he didn't step forward.  He's still got all his talent and he'll have another two years to figure out A+ ball before anyone starts pondering other plans for Mr. Cole.

Blake Treinen is kind of a throw-in.  He's got a ton of talent too, but was pretty hittable in A+ ball last year. Still it's a hitting friendly league so he was about average, but at 24 in that league you are kind of done with starters if what you see is just average. The most likely turn of events for Blake is a move to the pen but I'd expect the Nats to mess around with him starting for one more year at least. The Nats literally had no starter last year have a good year at a young age for his league. High-A and AA, where most of the studs usually sit, was a wasteland. Maybe the PTBNL will help, maybe not.

The more important side of this is it makes the Nats worse in 2013, right after they made kind of a silly move that seemed only concerned with making them better in 2013.  Morse was going to get some at bats, and he was fine insurance for an OF / 1B situation that includes one guy with concussion issues and two old guys one year removed from season-killing injuries. Now the responsibility for covering for these guys falls onto Bernadina and Moore.

Bernie had a great year off the bench last year, but also sported a BABIP much higher than he ever had before.  On the plus side he IS hitting the ball better (LD% is up) so I don't think he'll hit in the .240s this year, but the .290s is also unlikely.  High .260s and no power seems fair.  Really though Bernie isn't on the bench for long term solutions.  He's there to be a fair defensive replacement and pinch runner.

Moore on the other hand is ALL about hitting and when most people think of his 2012 they think of happiness.  I agree, as in it was a season that was just an illusion, full of sadness and confusion.  If you look at Moore's monthly splits you see this:


That one month - where everything went right for Moore really skewed the season.  He had a .481 BABIP.  That's crazy. He walked 8 times.  He walked 6 times the rest of the year combined. And it's not in like those other months things broke wrong for him.  That "very bad" and "below average" months were very fair for him luck-wise.

What does this mean? Well it mainly means you shouldn't consider Moore a viable long-term replacement at any position.  He's a one trick pony - a masher of LHP you bring up to put one over the fence when you need it. He's no Morse, who at least had two tricks.

In the end, if there are no big injuries, this isn't going to be a big deal. It may not even cost the Nats a win overall.  Morse wasn't going to get a ton of at bats and 6.75 mill is a lot of cash for insurance. Now, if there is a big injury then you're could feel the effects of Morse being gone.  It's still not going to be enough to knock the Nats into any trouble, but it does make them a tiny bit worse. 

On Tuesday it looked like the Nats were going all in.  On Wednesday they showed that they actually palmed a few chips because, you know, let's not be crazy about this.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Terrible execution but they stuck the landing

I'm the parent of a toddler. As any parent can tell you feeding time can be difficult. You only want them to eat right for their own good but all the pleading and prodding in the world can go nowhere if the child's mood isn't right. Other times though, you have almost the opposite problem. You'll tell them over and over to eat their broccoli and suddenly they'll shove three pieces in their mouth. You want to stop them and tell them we don't eat that way, that they could choke. Then again they are eating broccoli. Three pieces! So maybe you just shut up.

This is kind of how I feel about the Nats deal. I've been saying for a while that the Nats are going to have to spend more money. At the level of winning the Nats are at you start spending more for each subsequent win. A lot of times it's not even for better results necessarily but a smaller chance at bad results. Since the Nats needed bullpen help I noted that they would have to spend the money necessary for a Burnett. If they were a "real contender" they'd have to pony up a few million for a veteran middle reliever who's only real advantage over the cheap young arm is the higher certainty he won't blow up. You watch Burnett leave, Howell sign, and you keep saying, you are going to have to do something like that. It's just what healthy competitive teams do. Then the Nats go ahead and shove three pieces of broccoli in their mouths by signing Soriano.  

It's not a bad deal. A bad deal makes a team worse now or effects their chances at being good later. This deal doesn't make the team worse now, it makes them better. At only 2 years it shouldn't effect any long term planning either.  So I have a hard time calling it a bad deal.

It's not a smart deal, though. They are way overpaying for what Soriano brings to the table. After seeing the Nats make deal after deal that were at fair market value or actually underpaid for talent, its a bit of a shock. But it's what we were saying they'd have to do anyway, overpay for veteran talent to make the Nats better. It's just bigger and splashier than we would have expected.

Is this unfair to Storen (assuming Soriano will close)? I think so. Sure he blew that last game but it was one game.  If you are using that as proof the Nats need a "veteran" closer you've spent the last 40 years asleep in a cave like Rumplestilksin Rip Van Winkle.  But whatever.  So it's unfair. Sometimes things happen that aren't fair. Buck up, Drew.  It's a job.

In the end how does one react to the right thing being done in a stupid silly way? The Nats way overpaid for a reliever who didn't exactly fit their needs. They brought in a guy who's not a great clubhouse guy. They lost a draft pick in the deal. But they made the team better and addressed the hole in the bullpen. So what do you do?

You shut up and hope they don't choke on it.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013



Is a secondary deal is coming and that most likely involves Storen?  Storen and Morse and Goodwin for Price? Or is this just making the bullpen a big strength?

Quick Update

As a Yankee fan I'll tell you that Soriano spent 2011 in the 8th inning role, pitched poorly and constantly blamed it on the fact that he wasn't closing.  So let's think of some facts here
  • Rizzo doesn't like overpaying
  • Rizzo doesn't like overpaying even a little bit for relief pitchers
  • Rizzo likes having those draft picks
  • Rizzo wants only great clubhouse guys
Why is Soriano here then? If he's not closing it makes little sense to me as a "Rizzo move".  Kilgore mentioned that Lerner might have been involved.  Could he have pressed the issue after last year's meltdown (that was really more the fault of Davey using Jackson unecessarily and letting Storen pitch to Kozma)?  I guess but Rizzo to me doesn't seem the type that would go along with it.  He's been all Dalton ("my way or the highway") since Day 1.  Was he simply overruled?

If it is a Rizzo move then it's about dealing Storen. HAS to be. Storen is bringing back more in a trade than Clippard, occupies the role Soriano wants. If someone told Rizzo, "If you want X, we want Storen" he might have seen there was a very good closer available still and thought he could maintain the pen after trading Drew if he signed Rafeal.  That makes more sense to me.

Ponder, Muse, Question....

Monday, January 14, 2013

Mike Morse still a Nat

Mike Morses unite in support!

Party Tent Sales Manager!
Professor of Photojournalism!
Red Wolf Biologist! (that does sound pretty cool)
Michigan Car Accident Attorney!

Here's a question to you. It's my belief that Mike Morse won't fetch all that much in return.  While it's completely true that a healthy Mike Morse will probably hit really well there are just too many questions / problems with him.

He does not field well. Yes, he was drafted as a short stop but that was a body type ago, and frankly it doesn't look like he was a good SS anyway. He's among the lowest players in value on the basepaths. Although the past couple years have quieted the fears, his strikeout to walk ratio still is going to give pause to teams. He's only signed for one more year so you are looking at a guy that could be a single season rental. And most of all - he's injury prone. He's played more than 122 games in a season (minors + majors) twice in his career, 2009 and 2011.  Even ignoring the early minor league years with fewer games played that is still the sign of a guy that gets a lot of nicks and bumps.

Are you willing to trade for a guy who may give you 110 games of decent at bats and nothing else then walk at the end of the season?

That's why I think the best the Nats could do is someone like Clay Rapada. Decent lefty arm, good LOOGY, not a free agent until 2017, but with his own performance issues and not young. Assuming Rapada reamains decent he could hold down the lefty in the pen role for the duration of the Nats initial playoff run. Unless Mike Morse has a full healthy season its likely you get more total value from Rapada at a fraction of the cost. However, for 2013, it would take a downer of a Morse year at the plate (like last year) for Rapada to match up to Morse (and if an injury happens to LaRoche or Werth...) 

Would you make that deal?

The Nats probably want a decent young starter who could give them rotation depth and might develop into something more.  Like a Ross Detwiler prior to 2012.   Don't count on it.  You might be able to get Jeff Neimann without having to pass a physical. He's got some years left before FA.  He's also spent most of 2012 on the DL and at 29 isn't going to surprise anyone.

If you don't like that you might be looking at a pure pitching prospect. Anything from a "maybe this year" relief prospect who did OK in AA last year, to a long shot talent who may still be starting in A-ball. Forget Jake McGee, would a Nick Sawyer  plus some other throw-ins do it for you?

If not, what type of player are you expecting?

Friday, January 11, 2013

You can't just say things - FOOTBALL TALK

Sorry I couldn't ignore what has to be one of the most blatant - I'm just saying something without even concerning myself it it's true or not - things I've read in a long while.

This jabroni over at SI penned a little thing saying that the Patriots might be better suited to win a championship this year because they have a good running back.  He notes that the Patriots have only been Top 5 in rushing attempts once since 2005 while passing a ton more (even though they've been sitting on some big leads).  The problem is NOTHING HERE PASSES EVEN A MONKEY'S REVIEW OF THE STATS. (Ignoring the idiotic notion that two Super Bowl losses and a AFC Championship loss in seven years is somehow seen as having a fatal flaw)

Let's think about what he's implying : The Patriots won before because they ran more and they aren't winning now because they run less. Running = Winning*.  Is any of that true?

*well actually he's saying "Balance = Winning" but you need to run in the Top 5 to have balance according to the premise of the article

The Patriots won before because they ran more

The Patriots won the Super Bowl in 2001, 2003, and 2004.  They ranked 8th, 12th and 5th in rushing attempts.  So only one year did they meet the criteria set up by this guy.

"But Harper" you say "8th and 12th are still pretty good".  Ok I agree but is it true that the Pats

aren't winning now because they run less

so they must have run a lot less in the last few years, right? Let's look in where they rank in rushing attempts since 2005.

18th, 7th, 9th, 4th, 10th, 10th, 17th

Hmmm 2006-2010 look as good as their Super Bowl years don't they? And they made the Super Bowl last year when they actually didn't run that much.

"Harper" you plead "you're missing the big picture. Winners RUN. Maybe the Pats ran ok but they still weren't Top 5.  That's where the Champions are!"  Well let's see, is it true? Does

Running = Winning.

Let's look at how the SB Champs rank in rushing attempts since 2005



 18th, 8th, 9th, 7th, 20th, 22nd

"Oh, I'll be quiet now"

In fact in four out of the last seven years the Patriots RAN MORE THAN THE EVENTUAL CHAMPION. (and in the year of the first loss to the Giants they were 9th and the Giants were 8th - hardly compelling evidence.

The end result is that NOTHING HE SAID HOLDS ANY TRUTH. He thought of an idea "Steven Ridley makes the Pats a better title contender" but then didn't bother to figure out how exactly to prove that. Thing is there might be something there. He gives a sentence noting Ridley gained the most yards since Dillon 2004. Right behind Ridley is 2001's Antowain Smith.  All Super Bowl years.  He says balance but he doesn't look at rushing attempts to passing attempts or rush yards to pass yards.  Maybe that would show something. Instead he just lead with some nonsense about rushing attempt rankings, which doesn't hold up to the scrutiny of a guy at lunch spending 15 minutes looking at

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Now you're just projecting

Zuckerman recently had a couple columns where he looked at player projections and the comments showed that people still don't quite understand how these things work.

The whole point of these fancy (and less fancy in the case of Marcel) projections is that they do a better job OVERALL than just some schlub guessing at the MLB next year. That's pretty much a given at this point.  But we're talking projecting out hundreds of players and looking how far off you were on all combined. It does not mean they get every single person right or even close.  It can never be that.

In some very specific areas it'll fall short.  It can't predict break out seasons or surprise failures. It's not all that great projecting rookies.  And coming back from injury is also a difficult and obviously an injury mid-season can't be predicted. 

The latter two have a ton of variability. The first one literally comes out of nowhere. How can you project something that has no backing? "Oh I felt it coming" maybe, but like astrologers, you tend to remember the one feeling you got right and dismiss the 10 you didn't. Thing is, ask any of the people who do these projections and they'll admit this. They know the areas where they can't do a good job.  All they are saying is that they do a better job projecting across the league than a person's guess.

For fun I took a look at the projections from 2012 to see how they compared to the results and see if anything can be learned.

SS Ian Desmond  .292 / .335 / .511  .362 OBA
James - .268/.317/.394
ZiPS - .256 / .304 / .378
Marcel - .303 OBA

Comments - Break-out season.  NO ONE saw it coming. If you say you did you are either probably lying or you've been saying "Ian will break out this year" every year for the last three and finally got it right. 

2B Danny Espinosa  .247 / .315 / .402  .313
James - .248/.329/.445
ZiPS - .229 / .309 / .400
Marcel - .329

Comments - A mixed bag, Zips underestimated the average, James overestimated the power, but combine them all and they pretty much have it right. 

3B Ryan Zimmerman  .282 / .346 / .478  .352
James - .291/.363/.486
ZiPS - .283 / .354 / .476
Marcel -.357

Comments - Zimmerman is who he is and everyone knows it.  Interesting to note his OBP was lower in real life than across the board.

LF Michael Morse .291 / .321 / .470  .340
James -.291/.347/.505
ZiPS - .273 / .331 / .475
Marcel - .363

Comments - The only one who really underperformed compared to projections.  His power was well down but as we know it was injury based.

1B Adam LaRoche  .271 / .343 / .510  .361
James -.255/.333/.445
ZiPS - .238 / .317 / .405
Marcel -  .317

Comments - WAY overperformed but how can you be surprised. When LaRoche last played he was injured and TERRIBLE.  No one thought he'd come back with close to his best year ever. I mean he hadn't hit with this power since 2006. That doesn't usually happen.

RF Jayson Werth  .300 / .387 / .440  .362
James -.259/.360/.451
ZiPS - .245 / .342 / .418
Marcel - .341

Comments - again an injury situation and again you can't blame the predictions. a 33 year old coming off an injury riddled year where he hit terribly wouldn't normally bounce all the way back. Werth did. But in an interesting way. It was ALL average-based. Usually its power that stays as you age and that's what the projections reflect.

C Wilson Ramos  .265 / .354 / .398  .326
James -.267/.317/.431
ZiPS - .266 / .338 / .453
Marcel - .333

Comments - given injury and limited at bats it's hard to say these were off in any significant way. Looks like Ramos was getting on base more but hitting for less power than projected.

CF Roger Bernadina .291 / .372 / .405  .341
James -.261/.327/.399
ZiPS - .240 / .302 / .374
Marcel - .303 OBA

Comments - another breakout-esque year. 

Stephen Strasburg 159 IP, 3.16 ERA
James -76, 2.78
ZiPS -  76, 2.85
Marcel -79, 3.02

Comments - big flaw in projections is IP in Tommy John comebacks. There aren't many and the IP varies wildly so you kind of have to ignore that. Otherwise not terribly off in my opinion.

Gio Gonzalez  199, 2.89
James -209, 3.89
ZiPS - 195, 3.55
Marcel -180, 3.60

Comments -  break out year. If you weren't KC in my comments you didn't see accross the board improvement coming.

Jordan Zimmermann  195, 2.94
James -175, 3.46
ZiPS - 121, 3.65
Marcel -144, 3.56

Comments - here the one I think you want to fault projections the most. They default to regression (you'll do the same as you did before) over progression (you are learning and improving) The numbers ZNN put up in 2009 and 2010 were pretty bad.  High 4.00s ERA.  Now if it was just an average it would have been probably closer to 4.00 ERA in projections, but they do weight the most recent year heavier and factor in that at his age he could be peaking. Even then though you see it couldn't reach 2011.  I think most Nats fans, while maybe not putting ZNN under 3.00, would have pegged him for a repeat performance (around 3.20 -a and yes I know the faults with ERA just bear with it for this exercise).

Edwin Jackson  189, 4.03
James -206, 3.98
ZiPS - 200,  3.79
Marcel - 180, 3.95

Comments - pretty close I think. Zips maybe liked him too much.

So what did we learn?  The things where projections were way off were where we know they can fail, either surprise break-outs (Desmond, Bernie, Gonzo), injury comebacks (Werth, Laroche), or young players (ZNN).  I think we have to ignore the first two and hope the Nats get what they want, a breakout from Danny and Ramos all the way back from injury. (Of course they are projecting Ramos all the way back so the surprise there is likely an underperformance)  Are there any young players where the projections by design, might be selling short?

Yes.  Desmond and Bryce.  I'm kind of inclined to agree with the Desmond projections of a slight regression. Unlike ZNN he didn't have a couple partial seasons behind him.  Ian's played a lot. But if you want to give him numbers close to last year, I think you can justify it.  As for Bryce I'm pretty sure if you ask any of the projection people they would say Bryce will out do what they put out there (Then why put it out there? It's about sticking with a system. The minute you put feeling in there, no matter how strong, you start to add a lot of bias to the system. So you take your lumps on guys like Bryce that you are 95% sure are going to do better than what your system says).  Everyone else stick with what they project.

Pitching wise Detwiler is the place to go for another ZNN performance. But understand that's a lot less likely for Ross than it was for ZNN. Det's 2012 was not as good as ZNNs 2011, and his starter ERA was actually close to 3.60. If he's truly learning he may only repeat that or beat it by a little.  Going under 3.40 just doesn't seem likely to me. Ignore the IP with Strasburg and ZNN and put in what you think.  With ZNN, given a full 2 seasons now in the books, his projections should be more spot on (if they look high it's because he got lucky a bit last year - we can get into that if you want). Haren is a total wild card.

I'm not sure were the projections will be wildly underestimating the Nats this year other than Bryce.  They don't have guys coming back from terrible injury plagued seasons, there's only a handful of players that are young enough or haven't played enough to break out (Danny... Span, maybe) and you can't just say that'll happen. I guess they could be selling both Detwiler and Desmond a little short like they did ZNN in 2012, but there was better reasons for ZNN to repeat his performance than Detwiler or Desmond. Mostly I think these projections are going to work out to be pretty accurate.

But that's ok.  You still have a pitching staff where your Top 3 guys are at least in the Top 15 in the NL. You still have an offense with no holes 1-7. It's still a division winning team they are projecting.

Tuesday, January 08, 2013

LaRoche Signs; Trade Morse?

LaRoche will presumably sign the deal the Nats wanted all along.  It's not what he wanted but interest in him was tepid for several reasons.
  • His 2010 was mediocre and his injury plagued 2011 was terrible
  • Repeat "Injury plagued 2011" 
  • He's 33, not a young chicken
  • He was tied to draft pick compensation
Really though the market SHOULD have been there, but this is how it can go some years. One of the right teams was at the wrong time (Red Sox), fans are still letting other teams get away with crying poverty, every team is overvaluing draft picks right now, and the perfect fit decided to roll with Mitch Moreland & Lance Berkman.*

* Fun fact - expand out Moreland to a full season, factor in fielding and Texas conditions, etc etc and the difference between Moreland and LaRoche is 1-2 wins or EXACTLY WHAT THE RANGERS NEEDED TO MISS THE WILD CARD GAME LAST YEAR. When/if the Rangers fail to make the playoffs or win the West by a game or two I will laugh and laugh and laugh

So what about Morse?  Presumably he'll be traded for a LH reliever or starting depth. Does he need to be?

The Nats can afford to keep him.  Five million isn't onerous, and a good back-up is always nice to have. But that's probably not enough. Morse can only play corner OF and 1B, you really don't want to rotate out any of those three (LaRoche, Werth, Bryce) for many games so you are looking at a pretty limited set of at bats for Morse. Even if there was a minor injury the Nats are ok with the much cheaper options of Bernadina (for ok fielding and speed and slap hits) or Moore (for lefty power) for a few games at least. As a bench player he'd be a nice guy to have in case you need a hit, but his power was falling last year (possibly injury related so it might bounce back) and he Ks alot so he's a very specific type of bench hitter. He doesn't field well or run well so that value is nill.

Simply in terms of production, would he be worth more to the Nats in 2013 than a 6th starter or a 7th inning LOOGY? Almost certainly. But that's not the question. The question is given their relative contracts, would he be worth more? The answer to that, assuming the guys that the Nats get back are cheap and are signed through more than next year, would be no.

Morse will likely be gone next year with no room for him at the DC Inn. The Nats can save some money and probably get a little more value over the course of the respective players "Nat time" by trading him now.  Rizzo tends to be an absolute value guy so I expect him to be dealt, screw the win in 2013 it may cost.

Hall of Fame vote

I still stand by what I wrote 3 years ago.

I hope the deserving players, in my opinion, get in and undeserving ones stay out but in the end it doesn't matter who makes this arbitrary list of the best players of all time, even if it's decided by a bunch of baseball writers and it has its own fancy building.

Friday, January 04, 2013

Friday Free For All (well free depending on how you view the cost of internet)

Wrapping up the week (Happy New Year!) with some random points
  • Nats are kicking the tires on Javy Vazquez.  I'll never put down a cheap deal, especially a cheap minor-league deal that doesn't necessarily eat up a roster spot for any time. Pitching depth can never hurt. 
  • Don't misread yesterday's column.  I'm not doubting Rendon will be a decent major leaguer, just that he'll be an impact bat for a fullish season in the next 2 years. And if he can't be an impact bat in 2014 that poses a bit of a problem for the Nats. Do you re-configure your whole team to get him in there and let him hit maybe average for a year? Do you sign someone in a pretty damn weak, not likely to do any better, 1B class? You are trying to win it all remember. Do you re-sign Morse to a nice deal since he'd probably do ok on the FA market if he has a good year this year? I don't think the Nats want to do that. LaRoche at 2 makes all these questions moot, which is why the Nats are trying to get that.
  • Also I'd say it's likely Rendon has at least a few good years if not a good career.  Take a look at the College Freshmen of the Year.  A few of them crapped out a bit in college, but for the 11 (not counting Ackley) that were drafted high, all of them managed to put up at least a couple decent full years.  Most became good to very good players, and there are a few stars in there. Still if you are looking for an impact year from Rendon in 2013 or 2014 only four of these guys managed to get to the majors and be good that quickly, and all of them had much better stats (albiet in more games) in their first stint in the upper minors. Given that he only played 43 games last year it's better to treat 2013 as Rendon's year 1. 
  • And its good to remember that all this is hardly anything to be worried about.  The Nats are 90+ win team next year (and for the forseeable future assuming there aren't any terrible injuries or surprise busts). That's playoff good in this 2-WC world. It's hard to predict the future but at least 3 playoff appearance in the next 4 seasons would be my guess.  
  • Hey, I finished my NCBBBQ blog! If you ever wondered to yourself "How did Harper waste away the summer of '09" you finally can find out in full. 
  • Reminder I'm taking questions again at natsoftheroundtable.  It's a gmail address. 

Thursday, January 03, 2013

Rendon is not Bryce

As part of this whole LaRoche saga, one of the underlying themes I'm picking up from some fans is "It doesn't matter if they sign LaRoche.  Morse is fine for next year and they need the infield space for Anthony Rendon when he comes up later this year".  The ascension of Rendon is taken as fait accompli. He will come up, possibly early this year, likely later this year, maaaybe next year at the latest. He will be good.  Bryce Harper was the Nats last hitting star and he's made the transition.  So will Anthony Rendon.

Thing is Anthony Rendon is not Bryce Harper.

Bryce was not just a #1 draft pick, but a consensus, "Bowden would have picked him" obvious choice. In the majors at 19. On the cover of Sports Illustrated in high school.  A player with all the tools who's compared to Hall of Famers. A player that, even though he didn't hit great last year, was a big plus for the Nats because what he did on defense at a tough position (based pretty much on pure athleticism) and what he did on the basepaths. Bryce Harper is a generational talent, meaning we see his like once every 20 years or so. 

Anthony Rendon also arguably could have been a #1 draft pick, even though he went later because of injury concern.  Possibly the best college hitter as a true freshman at 19.  A fine fielder to go along with his great hitting, but not a threat on the basepaths. If Rendon doesn't hit well, his value is going to take a hit, especially if he's playing a corner IF position. Anthony Rendon is a talent you don't see every year but you do see.

When I look at Anthony Rendon I don't see Bryce Harper.  I see Pat Burrell with a glove. (which isn't bad - Pat Burrell had a fine career and would get a lot more praise if he wasn't a DH disguised as an OF most of his career)

Yes yes Rendon rocked the Arizona Fall League in 2012.  But that doesn't mean he'll be rocking the majors in 2013 or even 2014.  Take a look at the AFL leaders in 2010. Which of those guys have had an impressive season in the majors so far heading into 2013? Answer : Maybe Brandon Belt last year.  Ackley had a good half-season in 2011 but struggled mightily last year. Norris never turned the corner at the plate last year. Kipnis looks on the verge with a nice finish to 2011 but was still only ok last year.  Only Belt has had a full season of above average hitting and it wasn't GREAT.

Now if you want to argue the Nats need to clear space for Rendon OR Moore OR Skole... well anytime you add more names to the argument it gets stronger.  But like Rendon isn't Bryce, those guys aren't Rendon. Chances are smaller that they are impact players at the majors.

And let's not forget that Rendon was thought of as an injury risk when he was drafted then he proceeded to get injured nearly immediately to start the season.
I'm not saying that Rendon couldn't be great as soon as the end of this year, but that thinking, or even thinking he'll be starting for the Nats next year, shouldn't be part of any serious plan. The chances are better that he won't be a serious hitter in the majors until a couple years from now, even if he stays healthy which is a big if, and for a team that wants to WIN NOW, you can't give guys 2-3 years to find themselves in the majors and you can't have a hole at first base. It's very likely that they will need to sign a first baseman for 2014.  Be it LaRoche on a deal starting this year, or Morse coming back on a new one, or someone else.