Nationals Baseball: The offense - Part 1

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

The offense - Part 1

Great win this morning! First place!

But I said I would get on the hitting and dammit if I won't just do that.

As I said before the season, this offense was built with the idea that you had potentially 7 above average bats, with only Denard Span not fitting that definition. There wasn't exactly a proven star among these players, some were too injury-prone to count on, others too young, but that's ok. Chances are with that many above average bats, that someone would have a big year and even if they didn't an offense without any real holes can still be potent. That is a perfectly good line-up plan... assuming everyone stays healthy. Of course they didn't and hence the Nats are at a point where they are scoring 3 or 4 runs on a good day and that's probably not good enough to win it all.

(Yes, it will change - we'll get to that though) First, let's just mention the obvious issues.

Denard Span hits first - We can argue how good a hitter Denard Span is. Is he bad? Is he average? (No and No - something in between) but what we can't argue about is that having Denard hit first, especially when the team is mostly healthy, is sub optimal. At best he's the 7th most potent bat in the line-up, he does not get on base (58th out of 83 qualified NL batters), he does not take pitches (75th). He does nothing but give the Nats an extra out or two a week than they might not have had if he was batting at the bottom of the order. 

Danny Espinosa is no longer a major league hitter - Some people think Danny's defense makes it worthwhile for him to play everyday. I'd love to believe that. But since a quick first 20 games, Danny has hit an ice-cold .201 / .262 / .324 in his next 51. That's an OPS of .586 which is basically the bottom of the NL. That's just not good enough to play every day. Can he hit better? I don't know and I certainly can't depend on it. The numbers I just mentioned are actually better than last year.

Jose Lobaton is not a starter - It's not his fault. He's just not. But he wasn't meant to be. What he is, is someone that shouldn't embarrass you at the plate in case your catcher has to miss some time. That worked out at first, but not so much now. His line as a starter is down to .211 / .284 / .305.  Should it get better with more time? I'd think so, but it could still be well below average. So it goes when you are depending on bench players.

Right now, the Nats are rocking a 7-8-9-1 that is among the worst in the NL. There's not too much the Nats can do about the latter two. Injuries have forced their hand. Moving Span will help, but very little, and it's certainly not a cure-all. It would be hard to cover this with great bats 2-6.  And the Nats don't have that.

The good news is that Rendon and LaRoche look fine, even better than that at times, but Rendon is not quite great yet and LaRoche is falling back to his level in fits and starts. I wouldn't expect them to carry the team. We all know Zimmerman is struggling coming back from injury and there are two more "secret" issues that the Nats are dealing with.

One is Jayson Werth's lack of power. Jayson Werth hitting .271 with an OBP at .352 is only very mildly disappointing to anyone that looks at his history. He never was a .320 type hitter and last year stood out as an anomaly. No, .270s is more his style - maybe into the .290s in a good year, years which at 35 most assume are coming to an end relatively soon. He always could take a walk but that skill is fading too as pitchers realize they don't have to walk him. His isoOBP (how much he gets on base taking out the hits) has trended down for a while now and at .081 is almost the lowest he's posted in his career. It's still a good number though and it's a slow decline.

What's really the issue with Werth is his lack of power. The HR issue is obvious as he's on pace for under 15 homers for the year. But he's also hitting doubles at a lower rate than he has since that terrible first year in DC. Combined he has the lowest isoSLG (slugging taking out the singles) in his career.  More disturbing though is the trend.

2010  0.236
2011  0.157
2012  0.140
2013  0.214
2014  0.110

Nats fans wanted to believe that his power issues were all injury related and that once the wrist healed he'd be slugging again. Maybe they even were mostly that. But some part of it is simply the aging process and you can't look at the above and not think 2013 stands out as a fluke. As Werth has gotten older he's having trouble slugging. 

You could blame a big drop in HR/FB rate (at 6.1% now) but that could be explained by getting older. You see the same general downward trend in that stat when you exclude 2013. You could blame it on big drop in LD% leading to fewer gap hits, but last year's 26% was high for him and this year's 19% is right on target with most of his career. BABIP is fine. He's hitting like he always has hit - he just isn't getting the same results off the bat.

You may be able to look positively at his HR distance (401). That's in line with LaRoche and Rendon. But I can explain that away (Rendon is less a HR hitter than a LD masher - LaRoche has a 336 ft HR that drags his numbers way down) and Werth has yet to crush one (414 is his longest which struggles to make the Top 20% of homers in distance). If I were to guess I would say he should hit a homers at a slightly better pace, but only slightly better. 

This is an issue that injury returns won't help. Jayson is still a guy you want out there. He does a lot of things right and overall should still be better than average this year. But he's 35. Anyone in your mid 30s can tell you it's hard to do things you could do with ease in your mid 20s. Don't expect a big comeback, instead hope for a small bump in power, enough to keep his head above water.

You know, this is getting long so we'll tackle Ian Desmond and the injury returnees tomorrow.

31 comments:

Chaz R said...

It's just crazy that they keep Span at the top of the order. He doesn't K much and is fast, so I guess they want to make him a leadoff hitter. It's just not possible, but yet they keep him that role. It's really hard to figure.

Danny was never intended to play everyday this year. He really has value as a late innings defensive sub or back-up SS for Desi. I wonder though if he just hit right handed all the time if his numbers would be better? He's slashing .286 .357 .476 .833 as a RHB.

Donald said...

He may not realize it, but Werth is clearly auditioning for the lead-off spot.

Anonymous said...

Rendon (R)
Harper (L)
Zimmerman (R)
Ramos (R)
LaRoche (L)
Werth (R)
Desmond (R)
Span (L)

How does that look? I first had LaRoche in the 4-spot, but Ramos, Werth, and Desmond in a row would get chewed up by righties.

They're both prone to slumps, but how good is Rendon and Harper at the top of the lineup going to look like in 3 years?

Kevin Rusch said...

Two things:
1) Agree with Donald - I love Werth at #1. He really thrived there in 2012.

2) What puzzles me about Espinosa is that for a month, it wasn't just BABIP -- he had really cut down on the Ks and was making good contact. That leads me to believe his problems are repairable. Whether they will or not remains to be seen, but that's so much different than Lobaton who just isn't that good a hitter.

Jimmy said...

Donald Werth def. should be lead-off move him:
Werth (R)
Harper (L)
Rendon (R)
Laroche (L)
Zimmerman (R)
Ramos (R)
Desmond (R)
Span (L)

Nick said...

This offense really needs Harper and Ramos, plain and simple. Get healthy and stay healthy please

TClippardsSpecs said...

It doesn't account for all of the drop in power, but Werth spent most of the first two-plus months of the season leading MLB in lineouts. He's still in the top-10 (currently 8th). His BABIP is sitting slightly below career average and roughly 30 points lower than last season's .350ish BABIP, so you wouldn't expect the power numbers to rise too precipitously if some of the lineouts found their way to being linedrives, which Werth had a lot of success with in 2013.

It's still age and injury-related decline in action, but you have wonder if he'll pull out of this nosedive soon. That being said, wrist injuries are always scary and a 20 HR, .425+ SLG season aren't a reality anymore, I feel. It will never happen, but he'd make a good leadoff man these days.

Bjd1207 said...

Yea I'd agree with Donald/Kevin that I'd put Werth at the top. He's an above average baserunner and if his power has left him for good then his batting profile makes a great leadoff hitter. ALmost always tops in the league in P/PA.

I haven't seen anything that convinces me his power outage is temporary either. Pitch selection and batted ball profile all match career averages save for XBH and HR. Anyone know if there's a reliable resource for hitspeed dating back at least a couple of years? That might tell us if indeed he's just hitting everything slightly weaker

JWLumley said...

Okay, so, I don't know how I turned into a Danny Espinosa apologist other than the fact that I love great defense. I think Danny is a big league SS and a good big league SS, but he needs to quit switch hitting. The bat speed from the left side, where your left arm provides the power, isn't there. Even if his average from the right side dropped 40 points, he'd still be a .250 hitter who'd be one of the top 2-3 SS's in baseball with regards to defense and hit 15 homers a year. IMHO.

Sadly, that probably won't happen and Zim can't play 3B, just can't. Watching him throw reminds me of trying to run after crushing two discs in my back, it's painful for you and it's painful for others to watch. If the Nats were bold, they'd explore the 2B trade market and perhaps trade for...Chase Utley. They could include Span because Amaro doesn't care about your fancy stats and possibly Detwiler or Moore because Amaro likes old guys. Probably won't happen, but I think the best fix is a trade for 2B because the outfield is getting crowded. If Zim's in LF, Span isn't one the top 3 OFers anymore.

Next year Zim can move to 1st and Souza can play LF. Werth is a good leadoff guy, but with his diminished power batting 3rd is probably the right spot for him since it's less important than the #2, #1 and #4 slot. I'd leadoff Rendon and bat Harper 2nd, also helps cut down on the effectiveness of LOOGY's late in games.

JWLumley said...

@Everyone who thinks Werth should lead off

If you bat Werth first, that means either Harper or Rendon hits 3rd and consequently will come up with the bases empty more often than if they batted 2nd or 4th. Conventional wisdom is that the best hitter bats 3rd, but Tom Tango and others have shown that the 4th or even 5th best hitter should bat 3rd depending on power. IMO Werth is probably the 5th best hitter on the Nats behind Rendon, LaRoche, Harper and Zim, so 3rd is probably the best spot for him. Sure, you waste a little power from Rendon if he hits first, but if you're bold enough to bat Desmond or Espinosa 9th that can be negated.

Donald said...

I may be old school, but I still like a bit of pop in the 3-5 hitters. At the moment, Rendon is the best hitter and has been doing fine at #2, so I'd leave him there. Against lefties, I'd sit Span and let Danny hit from the right side. My line-up for lefties would be:

Werth
Rendon
Zimmerman
LaRoche
Ramos
Harper
Desmond
Espinosa

Against righties, I'd sit Espinosa, assuming Zimm can play 3rd. My righties line-up would be:

Werth
Rendon
Harper
LaRoche
Zimmerman
Ramos
Desmond
Span

Chaz R said...

Good grief, look at today's lineup with Span first and Frandsen second and Rendon fifth!

Span CF
Frandsen 2B
Zimmerman LF
LaRoche 1B
Rendon 3B
Desmond SS
McLouth RF
Leon C
Strasburg P

Jimmy said...

@chazz the line up today is bad but look at the brewers line-up:
https://fbcdn-sphotos-f-a.akamaihd.net/hphotos-ak-xfp1/t1.0-9/10492539_10152234439925003_6297658766959287327_n.jpg

Alex said...

Jeez who the hell writes their lineup cards? A 16th century monk?

Kenny B. said...

Werth cannot possibly hit leadoff. He's a tall, old guy who plays corner outfield. Everybody knows your leadoff is a small fast guy who plays centerfield!

Everyone knows this is the only logic supporting the decision. And it's so bizarre given Williams's propensity for wacky lineups. He insists on continuity in the only place where it makes no statistical sense.

I think former players are much more invested in the mythos of baseball tradition than those who just observe the game. Players have never had reason to evaluate the game objectively in this way. There may be some value added of a former player in the coaching aspect of the manager position, but they are probably never going to be statistically inclined in designing lineups.

The point of all this is that Span is and will always be treated as a leadoff hitter on just about any team (except maybe the A's) barring some fundamental shift in the game of baseball. We can complain all day long, and with good cause, but it's just not going to change before Span's career is over.

Jay said...

The problem is also the players themselves. Span was very unhappy when Davey moved him down in the order last year. He stated several times in interviews that he is a "leadoff hitter". Also, Jayson Werth has stated several times in the past that he hated leading off back in 2012 and does not feel he should have to do it again.

Jayson also complained of a mysterious stinging in his wrist several weeks ago in one of the Washington Post blogs. He said it went away, but that it was weird. His power has dropped since then. He needs more rest, and I think he likely stays at the 3 spot for now. It should be Rendon 1 and Harper 2. Please don't bat Harper 6th or 7th when he comes back.

Anonymous said...

Harper, I respect what you say but when you have injuries to your regular players, you have to play your other guys like Werth, Desmond, Espinosa, Span, etc. every day and that wears them down. Just my thoughts.

JWLumley said...

Rendon is hitting 5th? Sorry, it's hard to type considering my head just exploded. WTF? Seriously MW? Seriously? New school and old school agree you don't bat your best hitter 5th. Does MW think it's special because that's where Roger Craig hit him? Dusty Baker is managing the Nationals from his living room, I'm sure of it.

Donald said...

@Kenny -- I think you are right about Span staying at leadoff, though I think there's more to it than that. On June 3rd, Span went 3-5 and scored 3 times. The Nats went on to win 7-0 over the Phillies. This is the type of game that epitomizes what Span can do on any given day as the leadoff guy. The issue is that he has those days once a week or less. But it's the hope day in and day out that he's going to have one of those games that keeps him where he is.

JWLumley said...

@Jimmy, Wow the Brewers lineup was actually literally written by a 16th century monk. calligraphy and everything.

DezoPenguin said...

@JW: Part of what gets me is that "new school" and "old school" lineups don't actually disagree all that much on what actually should be there. Basically, other than what to do with your #2 hitter (batting the best guy there instead of #3), they're pretty similar.

What's more of a problem is that managers, regardless of lineup style, don't recognize what the players actually are. This is not helped at all by the egos of the players themselves.

Span is a fast guy, but he is not a leadoff hitter because he is not a good hitter. The "old school" leadoff hitter should be both fast and good. (Span is a guy who the old school would bat 6th, a second fast guy who's not good enough to bat higher in the orde.) This franchise, for example, had probably the second-best old-school leadoff hitter ever, Tim Raines, for a number of years. The "new school" would rather have high OBP without speed than high speed without OBP, but guys like Raines and Rickey Henderson fit the model for both.

2012 Werth actually was the best leadoff hitter on the roster--he had OBP *and* some reasonable speed. But he thinks of himself as a power hitter and Williams thinks of him as a power hitter, which he just is not.

Similarly, Williams clearly does not think of Anthony Rendon as one of his team's best hitters (as evidenced by him batting 5th, which in "old school" is a big power guy without the overall hitting ability of the 3-4 hitters...Tony Armas, say). Likewise, he kept batting Bryce down in the lineup early in the year.

Ignoring lefty-righty issues, I would say that the ideal Nats lineups per old and new school with their current lineup (no Harper, since we still haven't worked out who plays where in the field with him) would be:

OLD:

Werth
Rendon
LaRoche
Zimmerman
Desmond
Span
Ramos
Espinosa

NEW:

Werth
Rendon
Zimmerman
LaRoche
Ramos
Desmond
Span
Espinosa

It's not THAT much different: good hitters at the front, bad hitters at the end. Ultimately, the problem doesn't really lie so much in what system of lineup construction the manager uses, but in the manager's refusal to look at a player's actual capability as a hitter and plug their actual selves into the system instead of some illusory concept of what a player is.

DezoPenguin said...

...Forgot to insert that I was going to reference Jay's comment above when I mentioned the egos of the players.

Clip&Store said...

Did they really have Noone better to drop in the organization than to drop Garcia? Find that incredibly hard to believe

JWLumley said...

@Dezo I think you make a good point, old school and new school aren't that far apart as far as lineup construction goes, but I think how players are evaluated is. Who knows Williams could very well be using statistics like runs and RBI's to evaluate players, hell, he could even be using OPSBI's. Still, I'm not sure that Werth's high OBP is likely to continue. As Harper mentioned, pitchers are beginning to realize he's a singles hitter and you don't walk singles hitters. Also, I wouldn't want to bat Harper 3rd. he's too valuable and batting 3rd--statistically speaking--means he'll have less opportunity to drive in runs and get on in front of other players.

MY LOLineup

Pre-Harper
Werth
Rendon
Zimmerman
LaRoche
Ramos
Desmond
Span
Pitcher
Espinosa

Post Harper
Rendon
Harper
Werth
LaRoche
Zim
Ramos
Desmond
Pitcher
Espinosa

JWLumley said...

Watching this game on MLB gameday has confirmed my theory about Strasburg, he doesn't locate his fastball. Lots of fastball down the pipe. Maybe the control isn't there, but he also doesn't miss many bats with that pitch either. You just can't throw fastballs down the middle against big league hitters and hope to be successful, I don't care how hard you throw. Maybe it's just today, maybe he's tired, but lots of pitches in the hit-me zone.

Wally said...

Hey, can I be the first to go with the 'Stras struggled because he gave up dip' theme? I didn't do a a Twitter search to see if it is already taken.

Anonymous said...

@Wally - agreed. he was obviously suffering a total nic-fit

Also, dipping makes you better at baseball and looks cool, too

Kenny B. said...

@Wally: I;m pretty sure you're being facetious, but I don't think it's that ridiculous a theory. When I saw the headline that he planned to quit, I said "well I hope he waits until the season's over."

I was sort of kidding, because obviously it's unhealthy and he should quit. But pitching is a delicate thing requiring some pretty incredible bodily calibration. Nicotine withdrawal cannot be helpful in that. Hell, if I don't get my coffee in the morning I can't tie my freaking shoes.

Wally said...

I was and I wasn't being facetious. I remember Hamilton going through this a few years ago with Texas (didn't Ryan say that he should wait until the offseason and then have to retract it?), and so when I read that he was going to give it up, it did cross my mind that it could have an effect on his performance. so that wasn't facetious and probably disqualifies me for the Albert Schweitzer Humanitarian award, but it is honest, at least.

But I was poking fun at all the drama that follows Stras, and jokingly throwing a new one into the ring. He is such a polarizing guy around these parts, and make no mistake, I am squarely on the side of being his fan and supporter. But even I admit that some of the drama that follows him is self inflicted, and I was having a little fun with it. Sometimes good players play badly, and it isn't any more complicated.

JWLumley said...

On the dip front, believe it or not, it can really affect your motor skills. When I was in the Marine Corps, snipers in my battalion who dipped were not allowed to quit during certain periods of time because it affected their motor skills, heart rate and other things necessary to complete a physically demanding job under intense stress. No one As someone who used to dip, quitting is pretty rough. There's a lot more nicotine in dip than there is in cigarettes, like more than 2x depending on how much you dip, so the withdrawals and the shakes are not fun and you never know when they're going to come. That being said, Strasburg's command issues predate his most recent start. There was a Grantland column that someone shared here that talked about his fastball and how hittable it is. It's not bad, it's just not a pitch that can be thrown in the middle of the plate without consequences, he needs to locate.

blovy8 said...

I think you can't overstate the importance of fastball command.