Nationals Baseball: Endpoints

Monday, January 27, 2014

Endpoints

The problem with using endpoints is that they are often arbitrarily chosen to illustrate a point. For example being the the winningest pitcher of the 80's is nice, but there's no reason those 10 seasons are more special than any other. You can hopefully quickly understand that being the winningnest pitcher from 1980-1989 (Jack Morris) in itself means as much as being the winningnest pitcher from 1984-1993 (Frank Viola) or 1977 -1986 (Ron Guidry). 

To illustrate the point closer to home, take the 2007 Nats (PLEASE!). As some reporter who will go unnamed noted often as that season progressed, the Nats played much better baseball after May 9th. They ended up 9-25 before that date and 64-64 after. Problem is nothing changed on that date. No one came back from injury. No one was fired. No big trade was made. The team that existed before that date was the same as the one that existed after. The decision to use May 9th was made simply because that's when they stopped losing a bunch and started winning. But with no major change what happened after May 9th was only slightly more indicative than what happened before (because of more games played). The full season was the most telling and the story that told was of a team that wasn't very good (73-89). We all know that was more in line with the seasons that would follow than was this idea of a .500 team.

That's an example of making up an endpoint when none exists. Last year we saw something a bit less heinous. When trying to illustrate how good a healthy Nats team could be you'd hear people note that in August and September, when everyone was back and healthy, the Nats were one of the best teams in the NL going 34-20. "Whne everyone was back and healthy" is a good endpoint to use. It means something. The problem here is that the whole team was back and healthy on July 4th, not August 1st. I understand using months, just like I understand using decades. It's how we break up time in our heads so it makes a convenient shorthand to use. But there existed a real life endpoint that could be used, doesn't it make more sense to use it? The Nats went 44-34 with all hands on deck. What seems more reasonable to you? A healthy '13 Nats were a 111 win team, as predicted by their August & September record, or that these Nats were a 91 win team? I know how I lean.

Anyway this weekend gave us another chance to look at endpoints. This time with injury and Danny Espinosa. Danny claims that his problem last year was trying to play through a broken wrist. Now that the wrist has had time to heal he should be in competition for the 2nd place job. That sounds pretty good on the surface. But how does that play out against the theory I like to put forward - that it was the shoulder injury that did him in?

2011:  .236 / .323 / .414
2012 to shoulder injury (9/8/12) : .258 / .323 / .421
Shoulder injury to wrist injury (4/14/13) : .162 / 231 / .271
Wrist injury in majors :  .153 / .185 / .246
Wrist injury in minors :  .216 / .280 / .286

Now we have to take all this with a grain of salt because we are talking about some very minor time frames here. The shoulder injury to wrist injury time frame was only 38 games (including postseason) and the wrist injury time in the majors was only 46 games. But still look at these numbers and what do you see? You see someone who was dramatically affected by a shoulder injury. At least that's what I see.

Of course like a magic eye puzzle, cross your eyes enough and you can see something different.The wrist injury could have compounded the problem. Maybe he could have gotten healthy otherwise and had a better 2nd half of the season. Maybe. If you want you can hang your hat on the pre-wrist injury 2013 numbers (though only 11 games) where he did hit for decent power (.175ISO) with a presumably unlucky BABIP (.185) and a Spring Training before that where his power wasn't terrible (.140 ISO). You can hope for a Jayson Werth like recovery, where only time was needed to get the power back.

I don't know enough about injuries to tell you whether he should be fully healed from either injury right now. At this point, two offseasons from the shoulder injury I don't feel confident saying he won't hit in 2014 because of it. I can say I wouldn't bet on it, but that's all. What I do know enough about are teams fighting for the playoffs. The Nats aren't going to give him a long leash to find his swing, so for his sake he better hope the speculation of the paragraph above not only turns out to be fact, but is proven very quickly. Otherwise Danny is bound to spend the next few years bouncing between a bench spot and organizational depth as the Nats try to convince some team he's worth dealing for.

17 comments:

Anonymous said...

FWIW: 265/329/396, Rendon's MLB line last year, is pretty similar to Espy's pre-injuries, with a higher BA but lower SLG. Rendon, however, does have a MiLB/college track record to indicate the chance for a significant improvement in OBP (408 across his short MiLB career).

Danny has been notorious for a lot of Ks even when he was going well. We all have in our mind's eye those swinging third strikes at balls in the dirt. The league has his number. It's not just a matter of health; he will also have to change his approach to hitting to really get back in the game.

I'm glad he's still talking like he's got his confidence, but he's got a lot to prove.

Harper said...

If Rendon hits like that - Espy should start because he's a superior fielder. But yeah - Rendon has an upside Danny doesn't look like he'll get to at this point. Given the fans dislike of Danny (all those Ks) I don't see how Danny wins a spot unless something strange happens.

Anonymous said...

I guess the idea/ideal is still out there of Espy taking back over at 2B so Rendon can move to 3B, with Zim to 1B. For that to happen, though, Danny first has to prove that he can consistently hit MLB pitching. Also, Rendon has to increase his SLG to play a corner position. And while Zim hits with enough power for 3B, one wonders if it is enough for 1B.

Another part of this question, and perhaps the one that might force the issue, is whether Zim's shoulder is well enough for him to play back at normal depth at 3B. He can't keep playing so close to cover for his shoulder, and one would think that a veteran 3B in the dugout will make that clear.

Sirc said...

I agree that unless Rendon's hitting numbers improve that Danny's still the more valuable starter at second base for a contender.

Danny's streaky hitting wasn't as much of an issue in 2012 because the team was winning when he wasn't hitting. His defense is good enough to counter the Ks in my opinion, so long as he's getting on base at around 32% so his speed remains an asset.

In 2013 the Nats needed punch from anywhere it could, and couldn't ignore offensive holes as easily. That's why Danny's and Suzuki's problems were magnified.

I keep reading "if Rendon's defense improves..." which worries me. There is no guarantee that it will. His walk rate plummeted in his second stint with the big club last season. His history indicates that his walk rate will go up and his K rate down, but again there are no guarantees.

Since there are so many "ifs" involved with the team already, I will throw mine into the pot:

If Danny is the 2012 Danny, and if Rendon's offensive numbers do improve, then RZim should be moved to first ASAP, Danny should be reinstalled at 2nd and Rendon should take over 3rd permanently.

My point is that, in my opinion, the debate shouldn't be Rendon versus Espinosa. It should be Espinosa versus LaRoche in total value. The 2012 Danny is more valuable to a contender than the 2013 LaRoche. Danny is still young. LaRoche is running right into his age-impact years and might never come close to career averages.

cass said...

Harper:

Do you really think the fans opinions of Danny will be a significant factor in his playing time? I do think he'll be more of a backup, but really, the entire infield has to be healthy for him not to be needed. No matter which infielder gets injured, if Espinosa is able to hit okay, he can be subbed in and make the infield whole since he can play both SS and 2B. He's a bit more versatile than Lombo that way - when healthy.

I'm also not sure we can distinguish between the two scenarios outlined. It's perfectly plausible that his shoulder destroyed his numbers at the end of 2012 and that his wrist destroyed them in 2013. He has said he wasn't able to lift weights in the offseason due to his shoulder injury, so that could explain the subpar numbers before the wrist injury. But, really, it's too small a sample size.

The part I don't understand is why the Nats let him come back from his wrist injury so soon if he was still hurt. He blames the doctors for misdiagnosing, but by the time he came back from the DL, everyone knew he had a wrist injury. So why did he play?

The article about Espinosa's shoulder cited a few players that were able to play well through minor rotator cuff tears, so I'll accept that it's okay for now. Espinosa talks about not being able to lift his bat and it sure seems like if his shoulder was the problem, he'd know about it.

Of course, left unsaid is the fact that Espinosa is partially responsible for his wrist injury. He was tied for 5th in 2012 for most HBP's with 13. In 2011, he was tied for first with 19. As I recall, he tends to stick his hands out in the zone or close to it, so he was kind of asking for a wrist injury.



Anonymous said...

I think the point about Rendon improving his defense has more to do with him learning 2B on the fly last year more than anything. He hadn't played it since grade school but was suddenly called to play it in the majors. Just a little bit of a learning curve there.

Another point in Rendon's defense is that in the very brief times that Desi got a break at short, Davey had Rendon at SS in his place. I think can all agree that Davey knows middle infielders.

All of that said, Rendon's natural position is 3B, and Espinoza is a terrific defensive middle infielder. But don't rush to put his cart back before the horse. He's got to re-prove that he can hit. The fact that Rizzo signed a bunch of stray INF types doesn't indicate a lot of confidence in the supposed leading candidate.

Anonymous said...

Rotator cuffs don't heal with time. The inflammation will subside so there isn't as much pain or soreness, but the joint stability and strength is still weakened.

I tore mine several years ago in a softball injury (fell on the shoulder) and the doctor specifically said if I was an athlete making money he could go in and clean it up so the joint would be stable again, but since I was just a weekend warrior is wasn't worth the trouble.

I wish I'd gone ahead with the surgery because I still can't lift my arm above my head.

blovy8 said...

Yeah, I think Rizzo's quote about Espinosa having a fair chance of regaining a starting spot is pretty much a lie. Espinosa isn't even actually healthy now. He'll always have the shoulder, and this year he'll be regaining strength in the wrist.

As for his offensive prowess, he's never shown any inclination to change his approach which leads to a lot of empty at-bats, yet he says he's a gap to gap contact hitter, have his numbers ever really indicated that has happened consistently? I think this guy is in a bit of denial, and for me, it would take hearing something different or seeing something new, to expect even a league average hitter. What I've seen from Rendon is that's probably his floor and if the collegiate numbers and approach are ever approximated, you'll have a very good hitter and reasonably competent fielder. I mean, I already see a much more professional approach from Rendon, and he's the guy with only one year in the league.

We have to consider a healthy Espinosa to be only a 90 ops+ guy. That's a ok if you have enough offense, but probably not a good starting fit for this club, except if you're dead set on platooning LaRoche. The other thing is he kicked up his OBP with getting hit 10-12 times a year. He was bound to get hurt eventually. You can't be surprised when a guy like Utley gets hurt for instance.

Donald said...

My initial thought, much like Blovy, is that telling Danny he has a chance is just lip service. I don't know what he'd have to do to dislodge Rendon, who is likely to be competent at least, in spring training.

But there is a part of me that thinks that Rizzo is stubborn and had penciled in a 2015 infield of Rendon, Desmond, Espinoza and Zimmerman at the start of last year. Not sure if he's ready to give that up, quite yet. The other thing is that if Danny works his way back into the lineup, it gives Rizzo more leverage in extension talks with Desmond. And if Danny does hit, regardless of whether it's he or Rendon who starts, it makes the bench much stronger. So I think the Nats are really pulling for Danny at this point. But I too would be surprised if he actually got the starting position.

Nattydread said...

Compare B Harper's discussion of his knee injury with Espinosa's discussion of his wrist and shoulder. Though his injury was serious --- and completely mismanaged --- Bryce doesn't blame anyone and speaks of overcoming it in the next season. Espinosa vents, and doesn't come across as very professional.

In professional sports, injuries are part of the job. The player is ultimately responsible for healing and being in shape --- not the team. With very little knowledge of what is actually going on, I'm losing my sympathy for Danny. He needs to get himself together.

Harper said...

Anon - yep I think that was the plan. It's now evolved into "Maybe one of our B-level prospects can hold onto first for a year or two" or "Maybe Goodwin can push Werth to first base" Looks like a lot of uncertainty at 1st going into 2015 (though still a whole year to go).

Zimm supposedly looked at lot better at the end of last year (i'm not as convinced). Beat guys should know pretty early how he looks.

Sirc - now that's a gutsy call and one that would never happen. I just don't know how you can tell if Danny is '12 Danny given he won't be playing everyday. Can't rely on what you see in Spring can you?

cass - significant? No. But something more than zero influence.

Why did the Nats let him play? I think they are not good at bringing guys back at the right time. See : Everybody.

And great point about the HBPs. Danny was bound to break/sprain/bruise something eventually. He doesn't have that Don Baylor body to absorb these hits.

Anon #2 - I think Rendon at SS was more about Lombo's deficiencies than Rendon's ability. But I would favor him getting (a little) better at 2nd rather than regress.

Anon #3 - You are taking softball way too seriously.

The real problem with Danny is that it doesn't have to be as severe a situation as you describe for yourself. If he's 90% of what he was that could matter when you are talking about playing at the major league level. Margin of error is slim.

blovy8 - "contact hitter" oh god no. Where did he say that? He IS league average though - but that's tied up in mostly power (some patience). I used to like Danny evolving into a 110+ guy but now... I think you have to gamble on Rendon's upside before Espys. And that means no starting spot for the Nats.

Donald - That's probably fair. Not an outright lie, but a statement of something with tiny odds without noting those odds. Tyler Moore could start at first. I mean it's not IMpossible.

And yeah I think Danny hitting like he did before opens up so many options for the Nats. It'd be great for them so they certainly are hoping for it.

NattyD - well to be fair to Danny no one took Bryce Harper's job away because of it. He got injured, was rushed back, played worse and maybe had a couple more days off. Danny got injured, was rushed back, played worse and loses his job. Look at it that way and you can see the anger.

Of course the honest view is that Bryce's "worse" >>>>>> Espy's "worse" and production is what matters. So Bryce has that built in cushion that comes with being awesome.

I guess... I don't blame Danny for being angry but I don't think he's right either.

cass said...

Danny said he was a contact hitter in college but that the Nats changed his approach for the worse. Seriously:

“I’m not just going to sit here and pull the ball the whole time,” Espinosa said. “That’s not the type of hitter I am. When I’m going my best, I’m hitting the ball gap-to-gap. I’m not going up there trying to kill the ball. I don’t want to be that way. I was never that type of hitter. I was a contact hitter coming up, and in the minor leagues, I had some strikeout issues. To me, that was more their adjusting of my swing, what they wanted me to become."

So yes, the K's aren't Danny's fault. They're the team's fault, you see. (I don't judge him too harshly, though. I fear I'd talk the same way if I were in his shoes.)

Source: http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/nationals-journal/wp/2014/01/25/danny-espinosa-says-he-will-compete-for-starting-second-base-spot/

Strasburger said...

Its been a few months since I posted on here - I usually wait till ST starts. But, like you Harper, I am sensitive to the subject of Danny. I believe he could be a huge asset in the field for us. Plus plus glove, plus plus speed. The guy is a solid player, and reading the recent comments from him, I sort of feel for him. If he really does have a serious shoulder issue that won't work itself out, then shame on him for not biting the bullet to get surgery and then hopefully come back 100 percent. If not, and it is primarily a wrist problem, then I hope that he can compete for his spot at 2B. I like him better than Rendon, and while Rendon may have more long term upside - he isn't half the defender that Danny is. Does no one remember the amount of errors the nats committed in the first half of '13?!

blovy8 said...

Hey Harper, if Carroll doesn't make the squad, at least you may be getting your wish with Jeff Baker according to Kilgore.

It's not really an either/or thing I suppose, but I also had figured Espinosa could make adjustments and cut down on the K rate, but he'll have to actually show that in extended atbats for me to believe it, and a good spring won't prove much.

cass said...

Just in case anyone wasn't aware, tomorrow is the Nationals turn for ZiPS projections. So we'll see what Dan Szymborski’s projection system says about the team and whether it's a little more optimistic than Steamer. It'll be on the front page of FanGraphs, before noon probably.

Of course, what I'm really waiting for is the home opener when we get to see the Nats face the Braves. Then we'll know something about the team. The season series vs. the Braves has just about decided the season the last two years.

cass said...

Or not. Szymborski said on Monday they'd be out today, but I see the Rangers are supposed to come before the Nats and after the Astros and they just did the Astros yesterday. So it seems they're behind.

Not really important, but there's not much else going on.

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