Nationals Arm Race

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

Happy Holidays from NAR


Soto in his younger years.  Like the beginning of 2018.,   Photo via

Soto in his younger years. Like the beginning of 2018.
Photo via

Quick post to say thanks to everyone who contributes here and makes for a nice place to have a conversation about our favorite team that often drives us nuts.

As a Nats fan, i’m grateful this season for the furious work our GM has done to shore up the team for 2019.  Just thinking about his moves from a bWAR perspective:

  • Replacing 90+ innings from Ryan Madsen and Sammy Solis and A.J. Cole (combined 2018 bWAR: -1.7) with comparable innings from Trevor Rosenthal and Kyle Barraclough (combined bWAR for 2018: 0.4) is addition by subtraction, but we’ll call it 1 full win.
  • Replacing the black hole of production on both sides of the ball from our Catcher spot (combined 2018 bWAR: -0.1) with the production of our two new C signings Yan Gomes and Kurt Suzuki (combined 2018 bWAR: 4.7).  Call it 4 additional wins, since both catchers can’t play at the same time.
  • Replacing Tanner Roark and Gio Gonzalez in the rotation (combined 2018 bWAR: 4.5) with Patrick Corbin and Anibal Sanchez (combined 2018 bWAR: 7.6).   Call it 3 more wins.
  • Replacing Bryce Harper‘s abhorrent defense in the outfield this season (dWAR component of an astoundingly low -3.2 in 2018) with someone who actually plays the outfield competently in Victor Robles (a plus plus defender in center, allowing Adam Eaton to slide to RF, where he has posted dWARs in the 1.5 to 1.8 range.  I’ll call this at least 4 more wins.

That’s 1+4+3+4 more wins just based on the moves we’ve already made.  That’s 12 wins on last year’s 82-80 season.

And then there’s this: first year rookie manager Dave Martinez‘s learning on the job season contributed to an astounding -8 on the Nats pythagorean record, which just isn’t sustainable.  Between a better bullpen and better luck, the team should improve by this factor going forward.  Lets call it 4 additional wins.

Voila.  that’s 16 wins over last year’s 82-80 season, which equates to a 98 win season.  And that’s before we find out if Robles can put up a Juan Soto season, or if Soto improves on his 2018, or if we find a competent 2nd baseman to add more value, or if Ryan Zimmerman doesn’t blow off an entire season and puts up 2017-esque numbers, or if we find out that Joe Ross can return to his 2016 form (2 bWAR season in half a season starting).

So that’s some optimism heading into the new year.

Written by Todd Boss

December 25th, 2018 at 6:48 pm

13 Responses to 'Happy Holidays from NAR'

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  1. Merry Christmas to you Todd!

    I think Fangraphs has the Nats at 94-95 wins.
    One of the things that’s not being said nationally about Harper is how horrific he was in the field in 2018.
    One of the intangibles on Robles is how his swing gets him hit, a lot, with all the time off because of it.
    I agree the wild card here is Martinez. He improved to being bad in the 2nd half of the season. Will he continue learn or is this what we are stuck with? I don’t know the answer to this.

    Mark L

    25 Dec 18 at 7:09 pm

  2. If a projection system (notoriously conservative) already has the nats at 95 wins … well that’s something. Harper’s defense in 2018 was definitely noted, there was a massive fangraphs article with a bunch of embedded videos showing just how awful he was, as well as anecdotal evidence stated here from observers. The weird thing is, you just don’t go from a plus defender to the worst in the majors, and I suspect he’ll rebound next year.

    Robles hbp; will he get hit less in the majors b/c he’s facing better pitchers with better command?

    Todd Boss

    25 Dec 18 at 7:49 pm

  3. Merry Christmas to Todd, and all contributors. I hope the holiday season is a happy and healthy one.

    I’m thankful to have some new and hopefully better players to watch. Was getting tired of some of the same old ones like Gio, Roark etc. ready for some new blood, even though I know they’ll make mistakes.


    26 Dec 18 at 7:42 am

  4. Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to all. Here’s hoping for a better Nats’ New Year in 2019.

    As much as I’d like to see the Nats get back into the upper 90s in wins, I’m not sure that’s going to happen with the division improved. I do think the Nats have upgraded their roster to the point that they should expect to win at least 90 and make the playoffs. In the playoffs, their chances should be improved now that they have a legit option as the #3 starter. But they’ve got to get there first, which means staying healthy and playing/managing smarter.

    It will be interesting to see how the lineup jells without Harper and Murphy. As it was, the ’18 team scored 48 fewer runs than the ’17 team did. (The ’18 staff only gave up 10 more runs than the ’17 staff, but a lot more of the offseason resources have gone into pitching upgrades rather than hitting.) The catching spot has been improved, but there’s still a significant question mark at 2B and for 3/5th of the bench. I also think they’re banking pretty heavily on Robles. He plays with a lot of abandon (not just the HBPs) much like the young Bryce and may have trouble staying healthy. Also, the league will adjust to him, just as it did to Soto. Soto adjusted back, but not all young players do so, and Robles isn’t as disciplined a hitter as Soto (few are).

    Another concern that several have raised is whether they can get enough starts and innings out of their starters. Sanchez hasn’t made 30+ starts since 2012(!). Ross is coming off TJ and likely will be done in August. Stras is notorious for his summer vacations. It’s a now-or-never season for Fedde as the #6 guy in reserve. At least he shouldn’t be fazed by the PCL since he pitched at altitude growing up and in college. It’s tricky to see the Nats picking up a starter at the trade deadline since they’re going to be pretty close to the tax line already.

    We’ll see. Call me cautiously optimistic. We’ve still got to see what Rizzo does with getting another bullpen arm, 2B, and bench upgrading. The Braves and Phils haven’t done much yet, particularly about pitching, but the offseason isn’t over yet.


    26 Dec 18 at 1:39 pm

  5. It strikes me that they could have added 4 more wins just by firing Martinez and replacing him with a competent manager. Eight more wins last year would have tied them with the Braves and forced a one game playoff. How does a manager THAT incompetent keep his job?

    Anyway, hope everyone has a great New Year.

    Karl Kolchak

    26 Dec 18 at 2:02 pm

  6. The Pythagorean projection says they “should” have won 90 games in ’18 based on runs scored and runs allowed. They finished with only 82. If they had even gone .500 in one-run games, they would have won 88. Neither of those stats has anything to do with injuries. They’re based on what they actually did with the guys on hand at the time. Both reflect negatively on the managing.


    26 Dec 18 at 2:49 pm

  7. I think that is exactly right about Robles. I am confident in his skillset being good, but less confident in his ability to stay on the field for 600 PAs and think the team would benefit from a better 4th OF. I wish MAT was that guy, but have doubts.

    I’m not worried about 2B. While I would probably sign Neil Walker for $1m +, I’d even be ok if they didn’t sign anyone


    26 Dec 18 at 2:49 pm

  8. I’m not that worried about 2B, either, but some folks at NatsTalk are tripping over themselves wanting to give Lowrie 2/$20M or so. (I’m betting he ends up with the Dodgers, as he has a stated preference to stay on the West Coast.) Anyway, if they truly believe in Kieboom, they just need a bridge to him, maybe one that will hold just until May, although I’m sure they’d prefer to make it to moving target of the Super 2 date in June. That would be a big bet on young talent with Soto, Robles, and Kieboom as 3/8ths of the lineup, but they need affordable talent somewhere to offset the zillion-dollar rotation.

    I don’t know enough about Walker to know why he took such a nosedive over the last couple of seasons. He’s not that old, relatively speaking (will turn 34 next Sept.). The 2B market has several guys who really fell off a cliff, including Dozier and LeMaheiu. If they want someone primarily for their bat, they’d do better to look at Dietrich or Cabrerra.

    I’m about equally concerned about MAT, Difo, and Stevenson on the bench, as none inspires much confidence offensively.


    26 Dec 18 at 3:25 pm

  9. I’m fine with MAT as a 4th OF. He has four good tools: excellent defense and throwing arm, good speed, and good power. You can’t expect your bench guys to be good overall players: if they were good overall players, they wouldn’t be bench guys. The main issue with MAT is whether you can get a player who’s roughly as good for less money. I think you probably can, but MAT’s salary is low enough that any savings will be small by definition.

    Stevenson, on the other hand, is simply not an MLB caliber player at this point. If the Nats suffer two injuries in the OF and need to play their #4 and #5 OFs, I’d rather have them trot out Matt Adams in LF every day than Stevenson (and, if he’s healthy, Kendrick is ahead of both of them on the OF depth chart). So they could stand to upgrade the #5 OF spot (Goodwin would have been fine for me in this role if he were still around). I’m just not sure who they could get and whether the cost difference between who they did get and Stevenson would be worth it.

    I think Difo is fine as a middle infielder bench piece. I would definitely take a flier on one of the older 2B free agents if the price is low enough. I would not touch Lowrie at 2/20.

    It’s clear the Nats are betting big on Robles. I’m confident he will prove to be a valuable player given his speed and defense and the reasonably high floor he appears to have as a batter. But I have no idea whether he’s going to be a star hitter, which is probably the single most important issue for the Nats going forward. If Robles is Andrew McCutchen or Lorenzo Cain, then the Nats are pretty well set up for the next half decade. If he’s closer to MAT than to either of those two, then times will be tougher.


    26 Dec 18 at 4:57 pm

  10. 2018 stats:

    Stevenson — OPS+ of 66, .212 BA as PH, 26.7 K%
    Difo — OPS+ of 71, .125 BA as PH (ouch), 18.0 K%
    Taylor — OPS+ of 69, .200 BA as PH, 30.1 K% (ouch)


    Span — OPS+ of 112, .333 BA as PH, 15.8 K%
    Maybin — OPS+ of 89, .259 BA as PH, 19.5 K%
    Jay — OPS+ of 83, .235 BA as PH, 16.2 K%
    Dietrich — OPS+ of 112, .111 BA as PH (ouch), 25.4 K%
    A. Cabrerra — OPS+ of 112, .273 BA as PH, 20.1 K%

    Yes, there are some upgrades available out there, if they can be finagled into the budget. I know Taylor is an elite defender, but so was Espinosa. I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry when I saw a recent quote from Rizzo saying that Taylor has great tools but is still working on improving his contact. Um, he’s played pro baseball for nine seasons. If he hasn’t figured it out by now . . .

    I’ve noted on other posts that I’ve gone back and forth on Taylor. I do think there are legit injury concerns for both Eaton and Robles, and some slight extended slump concerns for Robles. They’re going to need a CF-capable reserve on the roster. But I don’t want Taylor starting for any extended period, and I’m still not convinced that Stevenson is more than AAAA. He doesn’t have the arm to play RF, and frankly probably not for CF either.


    27 Dec 18 at 9:54 am

  11. Speaking of laughing or crying, I see that MLBTR lists the Nats’ three remaining needs as 1) 2B, 2) a fifth starter, and 3) monitoring the Harper situation. Um . . . where to begin with disagreeing.

    I’ll start with #3. Just “no.” Let’s move on.

    On #2, why? Ross and Fedde are both capable major-leaguers. OK, so we’re still not completely sure about Fedde, but Ross was pretty darn good at times before the injury year. The Nats need him to be a solid part of their future.

    I agree with Wally that the #1 priority should be another bullpen arm or two. How elite that arm can be depends on how much they really have left to spend. If the Nats have one more big signing in them, I’d much rather it be Ottavino/Robertson/Britton than someone like Lowrie or LeMahieu, who would cost about the same. But would they be better off spending $10M per on one of those relievers, or $5M apiece for Sipp and Greg Holland?

    My second priority would be bench improvement, as noted above, which could overlap with more coverage at 2B. I don’t think there’s any rush at 2B, though. The longer they wait, the more they will know about Kendrick’s status, and the more the prices on the 2B glut will drop. Wally may be right that they can get someone like Neil Walker in Feb. for $1M. (But is Walker at this stage of his career any better than just starting Difo for a month until they can bring up Kieboom?)


    27 Dec 18 at 10:12 am

  12. I agree that improving the bullpen is a higher priority than improving 2B or the rotation (having Ross/Fedde as the #5 is far better than what we had last year going into the season, which was AJ Cole/Hellickson). The question for me regarding the bullpen is whether it makes sense to spend resources on it now vs. in season. Relievers are so volatile and get hurt so frequently. If you bump up against your budget now by buying another reliever, you could potentially buy someone who turns out to be not so good or hurt. If you buy in season, maybe that risk goes down? Obviously the Nats experience with Herrera points in precisely the opposite direction (and suggests that there is substantial risk no matter when you buy). But I think the big question for the Nats is not whether to buy another reliever, but if now is the time to do it. It’s not clear to me what the answer is.


    27 Dec 18 at 10:29 am

  13. Derek — That’s a good point. The Nats seem to trade for relievers every season, although so do most other contenders. The Nats have a truckload of bullpen arms, far more than can make the 25-man. I guess the flipside of that question is what happens if some of the borderline-good guys they’re counting on at the front end turn into pumpkins early in the season?

    Let’s see, traditionally, there are seven bullpen slots.

    Locks: Doolittle*, Rosenthal, Barraclough, Grace*
    (I’m still not convinced about Grace in the long run, but he was very solid in ’18.)

    Likely: Miller (one-year flash, or figured something out?)

    Top candidates for last two spots: Suero, Solis*, Glover

    Other contenders: Cordero, Gott, Austen Williams, Rainey, Adams, Andrew Istler

    Guys who could possibly be kept as swingmen: Fedde, McGowin, Voth

    That’s 17 guys for seven slots, 16 of whom (except Istler) are on the 40-man, a few of whom are out of options.

    One who intrigues me for the front of the ‘pen, if he can step up and match his minor-league numbers, is Austen Williams, who was a true multi-inning guy (68 IP in the minors in 2018 in 32 games, including two starts).

    Noticeably missing is a match-up lefty other than Grace, as Solis had notoriously bad splits against LHB.


    27 Dec 18 at 10:58 am

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