Nationals Arm Race

"… the reason you win or lose is darn near always the same – pitching.” — Earl Weaver

Archive for November, 2018

Ask Jamal from 11/9/18

8 comments

To Robles, or not to Robles, that is the Harper question. Photo via milb.com

To Robles, or not to Robles, that is the Harper question. Photo via milb.com

MLB Nats beat reporter Jamal Collier did another mailbag last friday … which came out before reports about what Nats turned down for Bryce Harper at the trade deadline.

Which was a lot.

According to Ken Rosenthal, the Nats turned down this offer:

  • RHP starter and 2017 1st rounder J.B. Bukauskas, who had matriculated to AA by the end of 2018 and is a DC-area native.
  • Catcher Garrett Stubbs, a 2015 8th rounder who was Round Rock (AAA)’s starting catcher in 2017 and 2018, hitting .310/.382/.836 last year
  • and another minor leaguer

So, let me get this straight.  The Nats could have gotten a much, much needed nearly MLB ready 1st round starter, a guy who looks like he could very well step into the 2019 starting Catcher conversation, and a third prospect instead of what they will eventually get for Harper (i.e., a pick between the 4th and 5th round in June 2019)?

You can call this revisionist history if you want.  But this report makes me sick.  It was clear in early July they were in trouble.  On July 26th their #2 starter Strasburg went back on the D/L and left an already struggling pitching staff relatively decimated.  They were 50-51 and thus needed to go 40-21 from that point to get to 90 wins (which, as it turned out, was precisely what they needed to win the division).  And the team turned down this package only to dump everybody just a couple weeks later.

I mean, Mike Rizzo still has a job, so to me this was an over-his-head decision.  Well fans, ask yourself how you feel now bout the entirely of 2018 at this point and the decisions they made from the first week of the season to the final trade of FAs to be in mid August.

Anyway, onto Collier’s questions:


Q: What are the odds the Nationals do the smart thing and sign everybody else they need before Bryce signs somewhere else rather than after?

A: Slim.  If the Nationals spend all their FA money before the Harper-bazaar gets going, then Scott Boras doesn’t have his baseline 10yr/$300M contract to use as leverage with other teams.  And as we’ve seen time and time again, the Nationals ownership seems to exist to enable Boras, hire his cast offs, give him his record-breaking contracts and generally serve to make sure Boras Corporation continues to gain new customers.

Here’s what’s going to happen: the Nats will hem-and-haw, miss out on all the top Starters, miss out on a Catcher, basically do nothing but acquire middle relievers (they’ve already got two there) and 1 year corner sluggers to provide cover for Ryan Zimmerman, all the while having daily breathless media reports about their negotiations with Harper.

What *I* want them to do is to be aggressive, assume Harper is going to Chicago or New York or Los Angeles liks we always though he would, and spend his salary fast and swiftly.  But this is not Rizzo’s team; this is Lerner’s team, and we’re beholden to that ownership group and their idiotic decisions.

Collier points at the Barraclough and Rosenthal signings as evidence that Rizzo will make moves.  I don’t buy it.  A $6M reliever coming off of injury is one thing; a $20M starter with significant competition from other teams is another.


 

Q: If Bryce is re-signed, how does the outfield shake out for next year? Or does he play first base?

A: If Harper signs, the team moves either Eaton or Robles (likely Robles since Eaton’s two injuries in two years has destroyed his value) to acquire a position of need (SP, C, 2B).

Will Harper play 1B??  What a dumb question.  This team has been bending over backwards for Ryan Zimmerman for years now; what makes you think anything changes for 2019?  Zimmerman isn’t riding the pine.

Harper, in theory, is a 26yr old athlete in his absolute prime of athletic ability.  As others have noted, he appeared to be “dogging it” in the outfield last year, which contributed to god-awful defensive stats.  But in years prior he’s proven himself to be more than elite defender, with one of the top outfield arms in the game.  Maybe the security of a long term contract enables him to return to form.  But he’s 10 years from being the kind of immobile player to waste at 1B.  I mean, Zimmerman is only there because he’s forgotten how to throw across the diamond; he’s still an excellent range defender.

Collier agrees.


Q: What’s a fair expectation for Victor Robles next season?

A: Great question.  Things go one of two ways:

  • Harper signs elsewhere and Robles plays a full season of CF for this team, hits 6th in the order right after Anthony Rendon, posts an .830 OPS figure, threatens 20/20, puts up nearly 4 bWAR or perhaps more if he’s really as good defensively as advertised and is a Rookie of the Year finalist.  All for about $575k in salary.
  • Harper signs here for $30M/year and the team has to move Robles.   They can’t move Eaton b/c they’d be selling low, and they’d be completely morons to move Juan Soto.  So its Robles out; he goes onto star for some other team (Miami?) and becomes a force of nature for 6 years for some other franchise while we get like 2 years of some veteran player and play a different “what if” game related to a hamstrung payroll and an aging team.

Can you tell which way I want this to go?

Collier kinda says, well he could be good, no idea which team.


Q: Should the Nats be looking at a second baseman/utility man (a Josh Harrison type) given the lack of production at second and the unknowns of Howie Kendrick‘s rehab?

A: I think Josh Harrison might be an excellent piece.  I’m more confident of a Kendrick return than others.  So my answer is kinda like this: there’s a slew of good 2B on the market and I woouldn’t mind getting one of them … but for me its priority 3 of 3 in terms of major acquisitions for this off-season.  I’m ok going to war with Kendrick as my starting 2B and 7th hitter.  HE had a 112 OPS+ in 2017, 110 in 2018 before getting hurt.  That’s fantastic for a 7th or 8th hitter (depending on what we get for a C).

Collier notes that Rizzo has been on record saying he’s ok with 2B too.  So we’re in line.  Collier also notes that there’s two significantly good prospects coming up soon in Carter Kieboom and Luis Garcia, both of whom could play 2B and one of whom (Kieboom) was in the AFL getting some time at 2B, perhaps in preparation for a mid-season callup to do just this.


Q: Do you feel it’s more realistic for the Nats to address an everyday catcher via the free-agent market or via a trade?

A: Usually the answer here is trade, since the FA market will bid up services of good players and thus you overpay for what you get.  If you can even get them.

FA signings just cost money.  Trades cost players.  This team has been shedding players for a long time in pursuit of playoff glory … and this off-season are in a great position to use MONEY to get players and not shred their depth any further.  I think they should go after Yasmani Grandal hard and make him their starter for the next 3 years, and then should focus heavily on developing a catcher from within from the draft or from somewhere.

Collier says FA is more likely.

 

Another Year … another set of crummy Gold Glove picks

10 comments

I guess we should just pencil in Molina's name every year until he retires. Photo via wikipedia

I guess we should just pencil in Molina’s name every year until he retires. Photo via wikipedia

The winners of the 2018 Gold Gloves were announced on 11/4/18 … and once again, there’s a slew of poor selections among the winners when you look at the league leaders of defensive metrics.

Here’s the 2018 Gold Glove Winners:

PosAL GG WinnerNL GG Winner
CSalvador PerezYadier Molina
1BMatt OlsonAntony Rizzo/Freddie Freeman
2BIan KinslerDJ LeMahieu
SSAndrelton SimmonsNick Ahmed
3BMatt ChapmanNolan Arenado
LFAlex GordonCorey Dickerson
CFJackie Bradley Jr.Ender Inciarte
RFMookie BettsNick Markakis
PDallas KeuchelZack Greinke

Of these 18 winners, I’ve got problems with at least 5 of them.

  • Yadier Molina: wins his 9th Gold Glove, yet he was not the NL leader by any C statistical measure, nor was he the Fielding Bible catcher selection for 2018.   Wilson Contreras was the NL leader in Fangraphs total defense stat and in Baseball-Reference’s Total Zone, while Jeff Mathis was the NL leader in DRS and FRAA.  Molina actually posted a NEGATIVE DRS, and was ranked 11th in the NL among catchers with more than 500 innings (i.e. basically full time catchers).   He posted the DRS figure as the Nationals’ Matt Wieters, who nobody in the majors is claiming to be a fine defensive catcher.  This was clearly a “reputation selection” for a guy who yes at one time was inarguably the best defensive catcher in the sport, but who just played his age 35 year and has no business winning a Gold Glove over other more deserving candidates.
  • DJ LeMahieu wins his third Gold Glove, yet was flatly outshined by the Cardinals’ Kolten Wong, who nearly swept the defensive metrics.  Wong was the NL leader in Fangraphs total defense, UZR/150, and DRS, LeMahieu was the league leader in FRAA and Baseball Reference’s total Zone, which honestly are the two weakest defensive metrics.  It isn’t that LeMahieu isn’t good: he was 2nd to Wong in the three categories Wong led … but the award should go to the winner.  Wong was the Fielding Bible award winner for good reason.
  • Jackie Bradley, Jr: wins his first Gold Glove, but was selected over an obvious candidate.  Kevin Kiermaier may have only played 88 games this year, but in those 88 games he put up league-leading numbers in DRS. UZR/150 and Fangraphs total defense; imagine what he would have done in a full season.  In fact, this seems to be the one thing working against Kiermaier (the 2016 Gold Glove winner): he missed out in both 2017 and 2018 thanks to not qualifying for the batting title (an odd statement for a fielding award).  Bradley Jr. showed great range (he was near the league leaders in UZR) but actually had negative DRS.   In the end, Bradley
  • was probably the deserving choice of players who didn’t miss half the season, so my nits are slight here.
  • Ender Inciarte: wins his 3rd GG, and this might also be a “reputation award” because the NL had at least two more deserving candidates.  Lorenzo Cain was the Fielding Bible award winner, and led the NL in Fangraphs total Defense and DRS.  Harrison Bader led the league in UZR/150 and FRAA.  Inciarte was second to Cain across the board among qualified CFs … so why wasn’t he the winner?
  • Nick Markakis wins his third GG … in somewhat of a “down year” for NL right fielders.  Its hard to say who the deserving winner here was: Yasiel Puig led qualified (and all) RFs in DRS, Jason Heyward led in the two iffy stats FRAA and B-R’s total zone.  Markakis posted just barely positive figures for both DRS and UZR/150, and there’s only 6 “qualified” RFs on the list … so I guess Markakis isn’t the worst possible choice.  Bryce Harper, coincidentally, had an abhorrent year defensively.  Which is really weird, because last year he posted BETTER numbers across the board than those that just won Markakis a Gold Glove.  It almost makes you wonder if Harper wasn’t nursing yet another hidden injury all year.  Or maybe he was just 100% disgruntled and not trying (he certainly hit like it)  But I digress.

Here’s a series of tables showing the league leaders by various other fielding measures:

PosFielding Bible Winner
CJeff Mathis
1BMatt Olson
2BKolten Wong
SSAndrelton Simmons
3BMatt Chapman
LFAlex Gordon
CFLorenzo Cain
RFMookie Betts
PZack Greinke
UtilJavier Baez

The Fielding Bible awards are a part stat, part committee-led selection process spearheaded by Bill James (yes the same Bill James who said that all players were replaceable. Great take for an employee of a MLB ball-club).  And the Gold Glove awards managed to miss fully 1/3rd of the FB awardees this year.

PosAL Fangraphs Stat Avg (Def)NL Fangraphs Stat Avg (Def)
CSalvador PerezWilson Contreras
1BMatt OlsonFreddie Freeman
2BIan KinslerKolton Wong
SSAndrelton SimmonsPaul deJong
3BMatt ChapmanNolan Arenado
LFAlex GordonKyle Schwarber
CFKevin KiermaierLorenzo Cain
RFMookie BettsIsaac Galloway
Pn/an/a

This table is the Fangraphs Defense Runs Above Average stat, a combination of DRS and UZR that attempts to get the best of both worlds of the individual defense stats.  DEF aligned the best with the GG Winners, matching up 56% of the time.

PosAL UZR/150NL UZR/150
Cn/an/a
1BMatt OlsonBrandon Belt
2BJoey WendleKolton Wong
SSAndrelton SimmonsMiguel Rojas
3BMatt ChapmanJohan Camargo
LFAlex GordonKyle Schwarber
CFKevin KiermaierHarrison Bader
RFMookie BettsChristian Yelich
Pn/an/a

This table is the UZR/150 leaders.  UZR is a range factor stat,normalized to 150 games to take out small sample sizes, and I’ve limited the leaders to those who played at least 500 innings this year at the position in question.  Its not a counting stat so it can be skewed if a fleet-of-foot player makes a ton of flashy plays.  Interestingly, UZR/150 did a great job predicting the AL gold glove winners … but did not align with a SINGLE NL winner.  I also found it fascinating that the NL leader for left fielders was none other than Kyle Schwarber who has been frequently denigrated for his lack of defensive prowness.  Well, stats don’t lie; maybe its time to re-think the Chicago slugger’s contributions.

PosAL DRSNL DRS
CMike ZuninoJeff Mathis
1BMatt OlsonBrandon Belt
2BIan KinslerKolton Wong
SSAndrelton SimmonsNick Ahmed
3BMatt ChapmanTravis Shaw
LFAlex GordonAdam Duvall
CFKevin KiermaierLorenzo Cain
RFMookie BettsYasiel Puig
PZack GreinkeLuis Severino

This table shows league leaders in DRS; Defensive Runs Saved.  Its a counting stat, so the more innings you play the more you can accumulate.  And, its a contextually driven stat, which can result in some random skewing.  For example; lets say you reach over the fence and catch a potential home run with the bases loaded; this results in 4 DRS.  But all you did was make one fly ball catch of slight but not exceedingly extensive difficulty.  This leads to some wild variations in DRS for some players.  For example; Mike Trout (widely considered to be a fantastic CFer) has posted these full season DRS figures in his career: 21, -11, -12, 5, 6, -6 and 8 in 2018.  So, who is Mike Trout the center fielder?  Is he the guy who posted a 21 DRS in 2012 (an amazingly good figure), or the guy who posted consecutive seasons of -11 and -12 the next two years (pretty bad), or the guy who posted an 8 DRS in 2018 (good enough for 5th among qualified CFers, but just 12th in baseball among all CFers for the year and behind our own Michael A. Taylor, who put up 10 DRS in part time duty).  I dunno.  This is why you look at multiple defensive stats.

PosAL FRAANL FRAA
CMax StassiJeff Mathis
1BAlbert PujolsAnthony Rizzo
2BRougned OdorDJ LeMahieu
SSMarcus SemienBrandon Crawford
3BMatt ChapmanJustin Turner
LFJustin UptonCorey Dickerson
CFLeonys MartinHarrison Bader
RFAaron JudgeJason Heyward
PMarcus StromanClayton Richardson

This table shows the Baseball Prospectus Fielding Runs Above Average, which tries to roll all the metrics and defensive contextualization into one stat.  This stat routinely does the worst job predicting Gold Gloves; this year it matched up with just 4 of the 18 GG winners.

PosAL Total Zone rTOTNL Total Zone rTOT
CSalvador PerezWillson Contreras
1BMatt OlsonBrandon Belt
2BJoey WendleDJ LeMahieu
SSCarlos CorreaNick Ahmed
3BMatt ChapmanNolan Arenado
LFAndrew BenintendiCorey Dickerson
CFJackie Bradley Jr.Starling Marte
RFMookie BettsJason Heyward
Pn/an/a

The last table here shows Baseball-Reference.com’s attempt at a defensive stat; one called Total Zone.  They’re really hard to find on their main page, but they’re there.  This stat tries to create a “runs above average” based on plays made combining the output of several other defensive rate stats.  But something seems amiss with this stat: the three AL outfielder leaders for the FRAA defensive metric ALL played in Boston.   Andrew Benintendi, Bradley and Betts swept the lead.  Is there something weird about Fenway that lead FRAA to get skewed results or is this a coincidence?  Might be a coincidence since Bradley and Betts are both league-best calibre defensive players, but its also worth noting that two of the three FRAA leaders in the NL outfield play in Pittsburgh.   FRAA also wildly overrates Catcher defense; most of the guys in the top 20 are catchers.


I know defensive stats are not perfect.  Which makes WAR figures imperfect as well.  But they’re the best we have, and looking across all of them gives the best viewpoint into ranking and evaluating defenders.  I just wish the people voting on these awards did the same.

 

MLBTradeRumors FA prediction piece paints quite a rosy picture for the Nats…

27 comments

Could Keuchel look good in Nats colors too? photo via Houston Chronicle

Could Keuchel look good in Nats colors too? photo via Houston Chronicle

Baseball FA prediction pieces are, well, about worth the electrons they occupy in the interweb in terms of predictability.  But they’re off-season conversation starters, often good ones, and the first major publication of such a piece (from MLBtraderumors) seemed especially well thought out when it came to the Nats and their likely targets.  So I thought i’d pipe up.

Starting points: with the Trea Turner Super-2 fiasco and the Trevor Rosenthal signing, here’s a rough payroll figure for 2019:

  • $88M for 7 veteran players now under contract
  • $43M for the 7 arbitration eligible players we have (this assumes we re-sign everyone, including Sammy Solis and Michael Taylor and Tanner Roark even at $10M).
  • $8.75M for the remaining pre-arb players to fill out the 40-man (tangent: 26 players total $8.75M in salary outlay.  That’s less than what a 4th starter in Roark likely makes in arbitration.  While this has always been the case, I can’t help but think that this will become the defining issue of the next CBA negotiations).
  • $14.5M estimate for 2019 benefits
  • That totals $154.5M right now, leaving $51.5M or so for FA signings and moves.

So we have $51M to play with right now.  We primarily need a Starting Pitcher, a Catcher, and a 2b.  MLBtraderumors has us signing:

  • Dallas Keuchel for 4yrs/$82M for an AAV of $20.5M
  • Yasmani Grandal for 4yrs/$64M for an AAV of $16M
  • Brian Dozier, for 1yr/$10M.

So that’d be a total outlay of $46.5M on these three players, within the $51M budget but leaving precious little room for the “edge of the roster” kind of signings the team still needs (middle relief, loogy, corner infielder to platoon with Ryan Zimmerman, etc).

Its also notable that both Keuchel and Grandal would cost the Nats draft picks as Qualifying Offer extended players.  So if the team signed these two guys, they’d basically shred their 2019 draft.  Thanks to the idiocy of luxury tax management, if they signed one QO-assigned pick they’d lose their 2nd and 5th “highest picks” AND $1M from their international bonus pool.  If they signed a second QO assigned pick, they’d also give up their 3rd and 6th highest.  So, just so we’re on the same page, assuming the Nats lose Bryce Harper and sign both Keuchel and Grandal this is what their 2019 draft would look like:

  • 1st round: protected
  • 2nd round: forfeited
  • 3rd round: forfeited
  • 4th round: kept
  • post-4th round compensation pick for Harper: forfeited
  • 5th round: forfeited
  • 6th round and onwards; kept.

So we’d have just a 1st and 4th rounder, then 6th onward.  In other words … we’d be absolutely punting on the 2019 draft.

HOWEVER, here’s what your 25-man roster would look like with these 3 signings:

  • Rotation: Scherzer, Strasburg, Keuchel, Roark, Ross (with Fedde, Voth, JRodriguez as AAA backups prior to any Jeremy Hellickson-style reclamation signings)
  • Bullpen: Doolittle, Rosenthal, Barraclough, JMiller, Grace, Suero, Glober, Solis (pushing Adams, Gott, AWilliams and Cordero to AAA or to MLFA based on options issues).
  • Catching: Grandal, Kieboom with Severino/Read in competition (Severino has an options issue for 2019, complicating the situation).
  • Infield: Rendon, Turner, Dozier, Zimmerman (with Difo and Kendrick as backups)
  • Outfield: Soto, Eaton, Robles, with Taylor as a 4th outearning 2/3rds of the starting outfield.

I mean, that’s a heck of a rotation.  That’s 2 guys with Cy Youngs and a third in Strasburg who is clearly top 15 in the league.  Roark and Ross have both put up better-than-5th starter numbers.  I’d go to battle with that rotation.  The bullpen could use some bolstering, especially since Solis was so bad in 2018 and is out of options.  Kendrick backs up multiple spots when needed, Difo stays where he’s good ( a backup middle infielder).  We have a good starting C but will struggle during his off-days.

I’d be a-ok with this.

Now, lets say the team wanted to slightly vary its draft shredding.  They could replace Keuchel with Nathan Eovaldi or Charlie Morton both of whom have re-made their careers and wouldn’t have  QOs and would be cheaper.  Instead of Dozier they could go with someone like Jed Lawrie or DJ LeMahieu and get less production for less money and have a bit more for bullpen/backups.  There’s less on the Catcher market (would anyone trust Wilson Ramos and his two ACL injuries?), but there’s always the option to trade guys too.

thoughts?