Nationals Arm Race

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

If we’re waiving the white flag … what moves should we do?


Rendon; to trade or not to trade? Photo Nats Official via

Rendon; to trade or not to trade? Photo Nats Official via

Yeah, the team just won 3 of 4 from Miami.  They’re still almost guaranteed at this point not to make the playoffs.  As suggested in the comments from the previous post … Here’s a sweep through the 40-man roster as of today, to talk about possible trade chips and who may or may not be in the future of this team.

Outright Free Agents after 2019:

  • Anthony Rendon: who would also be the most likely to fetch prospects in trade mid-season, but who also is someone the Nats may very much want to sign to an extension.  Will the ownership group learn their lesson after dragging their feet last year with Bryce Harper, costing them the Houston trade that almost certainly would have brought back better stuff than a post 4th round pick (#139 overall, which is what we got instead thanks to criminal cap mismanagement over the past two years).  Is this leadership group going to keep him instead of trading him because they think trading him for half a season will damage their negotiations with him?  Trust me, Rendon WANTS to be traded; it removes the Qualifying Offer from burdening his off-season negotiations.   Frankly, getting moved to a contender shouldn’t preclude his returning to the Nats on a long term contract, but a bigger question is what is he worth?  Unlike other major 3B players who signed mega deals lately (Nolan ArenadoManny Machado), Rendon will be 30 upon signing, has injury history, and thus his value is limited.  This is a tangent conversation to the subject at hand, but factors in.
  • Brian Dozier; so far, he’s not only not earning his 2019 $9M salary, he’s putting his career in serious jeopardy.  If he is still hitting .210 at the end of the year, its hard to see him getting a guaranteed contract next year at age 33.
  • Howie Kendrick, who it should be noted was expected to be basically a 4th OF/utility guy and has been batting frigging cleanup for the team lately.  He continues to be a professional hitter even at advancing age (he’s in his age 35 season), and should be worthy of some halfway decent return in prospects in trade.
  • Jeremy Hellickson: for as good as he was in 2018, he’s been as bad in 2019.  He’s not going to fetch anything in trade, and is closer to a release than a trade.
  • Javy Guerrero: we’ll see if  he even makes it to July 1.  Fungible asset, trade if you can get anything.
  • Gerardo Parra: we’re paying him a pro-rated MLB min … as with Guerrero, trade if you can get anything for him.

If you waive the white flag on 2019, every one of these players should get moved for whatever you can get, if anything.  Rendon and Kendrick bring the most back at this point.

Players with 2020 Options

  • Ryan Zimmerman: boy, is he putting the team into a tough position.  Instead of producing in his possible walk year, he’s been awful at the plate and has gotten hurt with a typical “old guy” injury (Planter Fasciitis).  Yes he’s the Face of the Franchise, yes he’s the longest tenured player, yes he was the first player the team ever drafted, yes he’s the clubhouse leader, yes he means a ton to the community, yes he holds a massive fundraiser each year, yes he’s set down DC roots, yes he’s got a 5 year personal-services contract with the team (since deemed illegal in the CBA), and yes he wants to be with the team post playing career.  Yes to all of that.  However, there’s no way he’s worth his 2020 option of $18M.  that’s 10% of the payroll for a guy who is easily replaced with readily available mid-30s sluggers for a quarter of the price.  This is going to be ugly.  I don’t think you trade him (who would want him and who would give up prospects?), but I also don’t think you sign him at his option.  I privately suspect the team will renegotiate his $18M option to something like a 4-yr/$20M deal that pays him right around what Matt Adams is making, takes him to his late 30s, establishes him as a utility/bench bat for the duration, and keeps him in the fold til that point in his career where inarguably he is done playing.
  • Adam Eaton: his 2020 and 2021 options are ridiculously affordable ($9.5M and $10.5M).  The team gutted its top-end starting pitcher depth to acquire him (a decision that looks worse and worse as Lucas Giolito throws 4-hit shutouts and Reynaldo Lopez maintains 12 K/9 rates and Dane Dunning remains a viable future MLB starter even despite his TJ surgery).  But Eaton is now 30, and his 5-6 bWAR seasons seem past him.  If he’s a 1-2 win player, he’s worth the salary and picking up the options.  If he ends 2019 hitting a punchless .273 …. do you dare cut him or trade him?  Maybe not after 2019, but another season of this after 2020 and they may be cutting bait.
  • Yan Gomes: $9M 2020 option.  While the team didn’t trade as much for Gomes, catchers are difficult to come by in this sport.  So even despite his current BA, I can’t see the team cutting him loose after this year and declining his option.
  • Sean Doolittle has a ridiculously cheap $6.5M 2020 option and is the first stable closer we’ve had under longer term team control since Drew Storen.  He’s not going anywhere.
  • Trevor Rosenthal: $10M option on the table which increases to $15M player option if he pitches in 50 games (he’s appeared in 7 so far).  You may laugh right now at even considering this option; what if he comes back and pitches lights out in June and July?  I think you trade him for whatever you can get and let his options be someone else’s issue.  More likely, he’s going to come back from his “rehab” appearances, continue to struggle and the team will summarily cut him, and he’s exhibit 1A for the 2019 team’s issues.
  • Matt Adams: $4M 2020 mutual option; he’s not earning it right now.  Trade him for what you can get, and find some other middle 30s lefty slugger on the open market next year.
  • Tony Sipp: $2.5M 2020 option, that’s a steal.  But he’s got a 5.40 ERA in limited action; would you pick up this option?

Of this group, i’d move Rosenthal, Adams and Sipp if you can get anything.

Signed for 2020/longer term:

  • Max Scherzer; signed through 2021, and  honestly if he wins another Cy Young he’ll be wearing a Nats cap in Cooperstown.  can’t move him.
  • Stephen Strasburg: signed through 2023, can’t move him.
  • Patrick Corbin; just signed new deal through 2024, why would we want to move him.
  • Anibal Sanchez: $9M for 2020 guaranteed … but he’s not really putting himself into position to get anything back in trade based on performance and injury so far.
  • Kurt Suzuki: $6M for 2020, and he’s playing great.  If you move him you just have to replace him and what has changed in terms of our ML catcher depth from last off-season to now?  We still don’t trust Spencer Kieboom with major league ABs, i’m not sure why Raudy Read continues to take up space on the 40-man, and our best prospect Israel Pineda is in Low-A.  So we need Suzuki for 2020.

I’d keep the big 3 starters and Suzuki; move Sanchez if you can (doubtful).  I just don’t see how you can justify moving any of our big 3 starters unless you’re planning a complete, 59 win season overhaul.

Arbitration eligible next year: 

  • Trea Turner
  • Michael Taylor
  • Kyle Barraclough
  • Justin Miller
  • Wilmer Difo
  • Matt Grace
  • Koda Glover
  • Joe Ross

An interesting set of players.  I’d say the team faces some interesting tender choices next off-season.   Right now looking at this list i’d clearly tender Turner, Barraclough and Ross, I’d probably take a hard look at Miller, Difo, Grace but eventually tender, and I’d probably cut loose Taylor and Glover.  Who of these guys are trade bait?  Honestly, everyone but Turner, Ross and Barraclough.

In terms of Trade deadline … i’m not sure i’d trade any of these guys … they’re all either untouchable or un-tradeable.

Pre-Arbitration players:

  • Juan Soto, Wander Suero, Andrew Stevenson, Victor Robles, Jake Noll, James Bourque, Erick Fedde, Spencer Kieboom, Kyle McGowin, Tanner Rainey, Raudy Read, Adrian Sanchez, Austin Voth, Austen Williams, Carter Kieboom.

No reason to part ways with anyone here; if they’re starters (Soto, Robles, Fedde, etc) they’re too valuable on their current $575k (or so) contracts, and if they’re role players they’re fungible assets who are probably not really trade-able.


Summary: there’s not really a ton of return value here.  Rendon, Kendrick, Adams seem to be the best trade chips.


added bonus: CBS sports did some similar analysis of Nats potential trade chips:  .  They came up with similar names here.


26 Responses to 'If we’re waiving the white flag … what moves should we do?'

Subscribe to comments with RSS or TrackBack to 'If we’re waiving the white flag … what moves should we do?'.

  1. Definitely trade Doolittle, probably Max and one of the catchers. I’d trade Eaton but I no longer think he has much value; its questionable whether his options will be exercised.

    if you add those guys, you’ll get back 5-7 prospects that could turn into 3 decent contributors.


    28 May 19 at 5:38 pm

  2. There are several issues in play here. The first is that there is an ownership group that hates to show the white flag and that we know torpedoed a Harper deal last summer that would have brought a top prospect and gotten the Nats under the tax line.

    Another issue is that the Nats still have the bones to be good next year, albeit probably not championship-level good, but possibly wild-card-good. They’ve got three of the top starting pitchers in baseball and a good young core in Soto, Robles, Turner, and Kieboom. So it’s going to be hard to find anyone completely on board with blowing up everything.

    There are a lot of folks out there who still want to make a push to re-sign Rendon. A good bit of money will be coming off the books, so they have the cash to do it. The team is certainly better with him. However, the Nats can’t afford a Harper-like situation here. They either need to re-sign him now or move him before the deadline. There’s no gray area here, no wait-until-the-offseason stuff, all the more with a Boras client. It’s black and white — re-sign him now or move him.

    Everyone who is wanting to trade the house for all the “top prospects” we’re going to get in return needs to take a deep breath, though. “Top prospects” rarely move in such deals. Lottery tickets do.


    29 May 19 at 10:10 am

  3. I know it’s sort of heracy, but Svrluga made an interesting case last week for trading Max. Yes, we want him the Hall of Fame in a Nats hat. But he turns 35 in July, and he’s still owed $84M (gulp) for the next two season. As Svrluga pointed out, Max will have 10/5 rights after this year so will be harder to move. What would 2.5 seasons of one of the top pitchers in baseball be worth in return?

    There would also be considerable market for 1.5 (cheap) seasons of Doolittle. I’d hate to see him leave, but you better be darn sure you think you can contend next year if you keep him.

    I’d be on board with trading Eaton . . . if the Nats had ANY OF options close to ready. They don’t, unless you count Yadiel Hernandez, who they refuse to promote for some reason. They could play Taylor for the rest of this season (so he can challenge Bryce for the strikeout crown), but there’s no way he’s worth the arb price for next year.

    Probably would be worth it to trade Gomes and alternate Suzuki and S. Kieboom.

    Those are probably the only guys who have any value, aside from Rendon. Well, Kendrick would, a little, but you’re still not going to get much in return for half a season of a 35-year-old utility guy.


    29 May 19 at 10:35 am

  4. “Almost guaranteed not to make the playoffs.” Todd, Fangraphs has the Nats at 27.9% to make the playoffs. These are not good odds, or where you’d want the Nats to be after Memorial Day, and maybe you think they’re way too high. But even if you cut the odds in half – a big adjustment you’d need to defend – 14% is still a very far cry from “almost guaranteed not to make it.”

    I am absolutely 100% in favor of selling if the situation warrants it. In 2018 at the deadline, the team was too far back, had played too poorly, and was behind a team that had played well (and therefore could be expected to continue playing well) to expect to have a reasonable shot to win the division. They should have sold off pieces then (including Bryce, though I understand why they didn’t).

    We are now roughly equidistant between the beginning of the season and the trade deadline. A lot can happen in two months, and the teams ahead of the Nats in the NL East range from slightly above average to barely mediocre.

    The Phillies are not good. They are SIX wins better than their BaseRuns. In fact, the Mets, Phillies, and Nats all have IDENTICAL BaseRuns (-10). The Braves are the only team in the division that deserves to be above .500 and it’s not like they’re setting the world on fire. Of course, the Nats have to play better than they’ve played to get back into the race, but they’re very lucky in that they don’t have to catch good teams or even teams that are playing particularly well.

    If the Nats do not make up significant ground, then Doolittle and Scherzer are the tough choices because these are the only guys that have the potential to get you franchise-altering prospects in return. Rendon is a rental, and he is a great player, but you don’t see big deadline deals for position players because they don’t help in the postseason the way pitchers do. Still, I’d happily sell him to the highest bidder. Doolittle and Scherzer would have tremendous trade value. Prices for pitchers go way up at the deadline because of how much they help in the playoffs (and teams at the deadline have good information about whether they are likely to make the playoffs). Doo has a very affordable contract, so any team can trade for him. Scherzer is more expensive (which limits his suitors), but he would absolutely transform any team’s playoff rotation.

    For me, if they’re out of it on 7/31, I’d trade Rendon and Doolittle but not Scherzer. The rest of the guys either aren’t worth much or aren’t going to be traded.


    29 May 19 at 10:45 am

  5. Derek — I agree with a lot of what you say. However, I would have already replaced Martinez to see if someone different can change the trajectory.

    I completely agree that there are no sure things ahead of them in the standings. The Phils don’t have the pitching, #3 is really struggling, and they just lost Herrera, probably for a long time. They fell apart at the end of last season. (People forget that the Phils, not the Braves, were actually leading the division at the time the Nats didn’t make the Harper trade.)

    I think the Nats basically have the month of June to really get straightened out, or start dealing in July. They’ve got a favorable schedule. Nearly everyone is healthy. But the bullpen still sucks. (And it makes NO sense to go over the tax line to get Kimbrel.)

    Potential game-changers in divisional race — no FA compensation is required after Sunday, so look for the bidding on Kimbrel and Keuchel to intensify.


    29 May 19 at 11:05 am

  6. I also agree that Max and Doo would be the only trade chips that would be guaranteed to bring the return of prospects who would be expected to make the majors and contribute. Folks who think Rendon would bring significant prospects haven’t been paying attention to similar trades over the last few years. It’s possible a quality guy gets included, but it would be someone with some risk involved.


    29 May 19 at 11:10 am

  7. I agree with the caveat that they have to be out of it, which is a judgment call. But Rendon is a little different – I’d like to re-sign him and if he re-signs then I wouldn’t trade him even if they’re out of it (obviously). I’d set Jul 1 as the deadline for an extension not Jul 31. And as for what he’d return, Machado got a good package, and Bryce’s rumored one was good, so I think Rendon would be in that ballpark. Plus he’s in the midst of a good year, which helps.

    I love Max, I really do. But they have to use their head. What would SD, NYY or HOU give up for him? SD especially, where his home run issue should be lessened. A stud pitcher (not whitley tho) plus 1-2 other top 100 guys, plus another lottery ticket? That has to be seriously considered in a reload.

    No one is talking about Stras, and I’m not either, because I think his opt outs will hinder his trade value and he’s young enough to be part of the next good team.


    29 May 19 at 11:18 am

  8. To be clear about Rendon: I want them to re-sign him, but if they don’t do it by the deadline and they’re out of the race, then they should trade him and get what they can.

    I agree with Wally that trading Stras presents a lot of the same issues as trading Max. But Max’s trade value is higher because (1) he’s much more durable; (2) he’s better, though the gap isn’t large; (3) he doesn’t have the opt-outs. So I’d expect the Max-haul to be substantially higher.


    29 May 19 at 11:43 am

  9. The Nats are currently -9.5 in the division, -7 in the wild card. Only four teams in the NL wild card standings are over .500, and only the two currently holding the wild card slots are more than three games over .500. In short, the “competition” is pretty mediocre.

    So . . . where do the Nats have to be by early-to-mid-July before they truly sell (or buy)? Let’s see, in 2018, they were -6 starting play on July 31. They were also -6 on July 1. Of course they actually led the division as late as June 10, so the current situation isn’t comparable. In fact, they didn’t get as bad as -9.5 until Sept. 14.

    The greatest likelihood would also be the most frustrating — that the Nats make a bit of a surge in June, but that it only gets them to around -6 by July, and they stall out at that level. Then what? If they were to slide down to around -12, though, it’s over, for both them and Martinez. Time to back up the truck.


    29 May 19 at 12:10 pm

  10. I would like to see them re-sign Rendon, but with the strong caveat that they can’t play it like they did with Harper. Make him your best offer now, not in January.


    29 May 19 at 12:12 pm

  11. Meanwhile, the draft is sneaking up on us:

    Let’s be blunt: the Nats have only one pick in the first two rounds, so someone should be shot if they take another high school pitcher. Their last two first rounders won’t be anywhere near Nats Park anytime soon.

    Langeliers certainly plays to a position of need, but his bat is concerning. I’d also be fine with Jung or any of the other college infielders lurking in the middle of the first round.


    29 May 19 at 1:13 pm

  12. “Almost guaranteed not to make the playoffs”

    In the history of the sport, just 5 teams who started with a record as bad as the Nats at 16-25 have turned around the season and made the playoffs. Five teams in more than 100 years of playing this sport.

    In order for this Nats team, right now, to get to 90 wins, sitting at 23-32, they’ll have to go 67-40. That’s 27 games OVER .500 for a team that needed the Marlins to come to town just to get out from being more than 10 games UNDER .500.

    So, yeah, i’ll say it again. This team is almost guaranteed not to make the playoffs.

    And even if you wanted to support that 27% figure from Fangraphs … what about this team makes you think they can suddenly turn this around? In a division where Philly is already 10 games better than us with Harper being like their 14th best player …. and Philly has like $60M of payroll room. Why wouldn’t Philly just go sign both Keuchel and Kimbrel the moment the draft is over? They could sign both to one year $20M prorated deals and they’d STILL have $20M of room at the trade deadline. Meanwhile this team has NO payroll room to make acquisitions

    Todd Boss

    29 May 19 at 4:54 pm

  13. Todd, I don’t think the conclusions you draw from Barry’s article are supportable. For one thing, until 1969 each league had only one team make the playoffs, making the first 70 years useless (similarly, we’ve had three divisions in each league since the mid-90s, and an extra wild card for the last seven seasons). Why on earth does it matter in 2019 that a team in 1936 or 1972 started poorly didn’t make the playoffs when the conditions for making the playoffs are totally different today?

    You can crap on the Fangraphs percentages all you want, but they’re at least trying to get at the right question, which is the probability that THIS Nats team is good enough to win THIS year’s NL East, with THESE teams in the division. Five teams in 120 years blah blah doesn’t really do it for me.

    Second, why do you think 90 wins is the magic number for THIS NL East, which has four teams that have played like .500 teams and one that has played slightly better? I’d probably agree with your conclusion if the Nats played in any other division in baseball, which has either a team with a really good record, or a team that has played really well.

    Third, I don’t know what “suddenly turn this around” means, but there are two significant reasons to think the Nats will be substantially better through the all-star break than they have been far: (1) health, (2) schedule. Will this be enough? I don’t know. It depends a lot on how the teams ahead of the Nats play. There are good reasons to think those teams are not going to play any better than .500 ball. And even if none of the other teams in the NL East play well, the Nats could still screw it up by continuing to play poorly and/or getting injured. But the Nats’ chance is way better than “almost guaranteed not to.”

    Finally, if Philly signs Kimbrel and Keuchel, that would change things dramatically. Even signing one of them might be significant enough. But that hasn’t happened yet.


    29 May 19 at 5:22 pm

  14. Derek. do you really believe this team has any chance whatsoever of making the playoffs? Really?

    Frankly, I find 28% figure in Fangraphs absolutely laughable. . They project the team to finish 82-80. 82 wins! Really? That’s a 28% chance of making the playoffs?

    What evidence do you see that supports this team rebounding in a significant way?
    – Is our bullpen suddenly going to throw 40 straight scoreless innings? Yes they have a high BABIP/luck factor going against them, but the collective bullpen FIP is still above 5.00.
    – Is our abhorrent defense suddenly turning into a slew of Ozzie Smiths?
    – We have yet to have our annual Stephen Strasburg injury … what happens when our best starter is out for a month and we have 4-5 starts from Kyle McGowin?
    – Is the team suddenly going to bash its way offensively to the title? The Nats have (as a team) a .303 BABIP; is that sustainable? If anything the middle of the road offense seems set to regress.

    90 wins. . Take a look at how many sub-90 win teams have made the playoffs in the divisional/wild card era. Many years the entire playoff field is > 90 win teams, including WCs. And now we’re in the era of tanking, with 1/3rd of the league actively trying not to win, meaning there’s more sub 70 win teams and thus more plus 90 win teams. Heck, you can almost call the entire AL playoff race right now. So yeah, 90 wins is my threshold. How much do you want to bet it takes 90 wins to get into the NL playoffs this year?

    Todd Boss

    29 May 19 at 5:44 pm

  15. The next time the Nats show life late in a season after digging any kind of hole will be the first time. Sure, there’s a first time for everything, but nothing in this team’s history should have you believing that they will suddenly play to their potential when they haven’t for two months no matter what the reasons. It may not be a data based opinion but I’m tired of giving this team the benefit of the doubt. 2013, 2015 and 2018 were all very similar to this year and I expect a similar result.

    All of which further highlights that Davey is not the man for the job and the team should move on sooner than later. What more do you need to learn about Davey to decide on whether or not he should be the manager st start next season when they will expect to contend and have a fresh start? The biggest reason I see is that the Lerners are loathe to pay out his remaining contract. But I’d argue that’s exactly the reason to ch age now and go with someone in house like Porter or Knorr which should be relatively low cost both for the rest of this season and potentially with a new contract as well. No one should hold out hope that the Lerners will suddenly pony up for Girardi or Showalter, or that either would take a low salary to come here.


    29 May 19 at 5:48 pm

  16. Todd, 82 wins is the Nats’ mean projection. The 28% playoff probability does not mean that 82 wins has a 28% chance of making the playoffs. It means that, given the current records of the other relevant teams, if you played the rest of the season thousands of times, the Nats would finish with enough wins to make the playoffs 28% of the time. That would almost certainly require the Nats to do better than their mean projection of 82 wins (which makes sense because 28% is less than 50%).

    You’re also setting up a few straw men. The bullpen just needs to be better, not to throw 40 consecutive scoreless innings. The defense needs to be better, which does not require our players to play defense like Ozzie Smith. There are good reasons to think both of those things will happen. Most of our relievers have underperformed their career numbers. Matt Grace, for example, is not a good pitcher, but he’s better than his current ERA. And our defense has suffered because the two best defenders – Rendon and Turner – were out and the replacements sucked ass. I also think it’s reasonable to think Robles will improve. But I agree in general that the defense is a problem, and it has a lot to do with why the Nats’ FIP is much better than its ERA. I expect that gap to close, but not completely.

    Re 90 wins, I don’t think any team in the NL East as currently constructed is getting there. The Braves have the best chance. If you could guarantee that the rosters won’t change (which you can’t, obviously), I would take a 50/50 bet that the NL East winner finishes with less than 90 wins.

    But, as you note, there are big pieces still out there to add and the Nats are the least likely team to add them. For that latter reason – something the projection systems wouldn’t pick up – I think 28% is too high. For me, it’s closer to 20%. If given 5:1 odds, I would bet on the Nats to make the playoffs.

    Things are not good (though they are looking up recently). And they have no margin for error. If Strasburg misses five starts, that could totally sink them. This is still a far cry from “almost guaranteed not to make the playoffs.”


    30 May 19 at 7:14 am

  17. I’m going to attempt to sorta agree with everyone here. I think this division can be won with 85-86 wins. The Phils/Braves/Mets just aren’t that great. I agree with Todd that it’s incredibly unlikely that the Nats can win 90, but Derek is right that it isn’t out of the realm of possibility that they could get to the 85-86 level and win the division. MG is spot-on, however, in observing that the Nats are much less likely to make a sustained run at that level with Martinez as the manager.

    Despite the recent mini-streak winning five of six (should have been six of six), there still isn’t a feel that the team has turned the corner. The bullpen nearly gave away the game on Tuesday. However, if the offense truly is heating up, and if Sanchez can pitch more regularly like he did on Wednesday, things could more generally move in a better direction. It would take a long and sustained hot streak to get the Nats truly in contention, though.


    30 May 19 at 8:49 am

  18. Derek Not sure what strawman arguments i’m setting up. I gave statistical and historical precedents backing my off-handed comment that this team was “Almost guaranteed not to make the playoffs.” You gave me some fangraphs projection that makes no sense and is based on running 10,000 simulations where, yeah, in some of those simulations some ridiculous set of circumstances (where the teams that are currently 9 games ahead of us collapse) comes into play and the best case for us/worst case for competitors allows this team to make the playoffs despite an 82-win mean projection. Great. As you note; it doens’t take into consideration any trade-deadline moves either team is capable of that instantly shores up whatever injury or performance issue may arise at the time.

    “Bullpen needs to throw 40 scoreless innings.” Yes this was a throwaway line that I did not investigate. So lets investigate it to see if it was bullsh*t: As of this writing, they’ve thrown 164.1 innings and given up 132 earned runs for an ERA of 7.23. If the bullpen collectively threw 40 more innings w/o giving up an Earned run … they’d only lower their ERA to 5.81! They’d at that point be the 29th worst bullpen. So if anything, my “strawman” argument related to the bullpen was actually being conservative (!!) as to how ridiculously bad this bullpen has been. The truth of the matter is this: this bullpen would basically have to pitch like Orel Herschiser AND Don Drysdale combined for the next two months just to get to be the 15th best bullpen in the league.

    last night. With a 14-0 lead, our reliever gave up 4 runs in 3 innings (and yet still got the frigging save .. for those of you who still cling to the belief that the “save” stat is meaningful). So the ERA got worse even in a blowout win. Yay.

    Yes, i’m more than a little cynical about this team, this GM, this manager and this ownership group right now.

    Todd Boss

    30 May 19 at 9:19 am

  19. Saw a comment by someone on NatsTalk yesterday to the effect that the next six weeks or so (during which the Nats either need to improve dramatically or start selling) may define the next three or four years of the franchise. That’s frighteningly true. Unless they start consistently playing better, they need to think seriously about making some of the deals we’ve discussed, which might change their contending trajectory for at least the next two or three years.

    How much? Hard to say. The current squad “should be” better than it is, but we kept saying that for most of last season, and it didn’t get any better. (Manager, anyone?)

    The Nats have a solid young core going forward, although probably not as good a core lineup-wise as the Braves and the Phils. The Nats would have the best top of the rotation, but they would completely have to rebuild a bullpen (again), particularly if Doolittle is gone. The Nats can probably sorta contend, but it does seem like the championship-contention window has closed.


    30 May 19 at 9:23 am

  20. Btw, there’s some draft chatter in this thread. I’ve got two draft-centric posts coming up.

    Todd Boss

    30 May 19 at 11:09 am

  21. Todd, your bullpen and Ozzie Smith arguments were the strawmen.

    And your last comment is a good example of the gambler’s fallacy: “If the bullpen collectively threw 40 more innings w/o giving up an Earned run … they’d only lower their ERA to 5.81! They’d at that point be the 29th worst bullpen. So if anything, my “strawman” argument related to the bullpen was actually being conservative (!!) as to how ridiculously bad this bullpen has been.”

    To be clear, I could not possibly agree with you more that the bullpen has been ridiculously bad. It’s absurd how bad the bullpen has been. But your argument is a strawman because the past bullpen performance is in the past. It happened and it cannot be changed. Bygones are bygones. If the question you’re trying to answer is what to expect from the team going forward (which is what you’re doing when you say they have no meaningful chance of making the playoffs), why on earth would you care what it would take to get the bullpen’s OVERALL 2019 performance to a certain level, e.g., 4.50 ERA or something else? It would be absurd to expect the bullpen to throw 40 consecutive scoreless innings, but who cares what they need to to get to some arbitrarily chosen level overall? It’s irrelevant.

    Team wins, on the other hand, are different from past bullpen performance notwithstanding that they also happened in the past and what happened in the past cannot be changed. This is because overall team wins (unlike overall bullpen performance) determines whether a team gets to the playoffs! So “what it would take to get to 90 wins” is at least in the neighborhood of the right question, even though I don’t think it’s the best way to think about it.

    Anyway, back to the bullpen and projecting performance: the question we (and the team) must address is what we should expect from the bullpen (and the team) GOING FORWARD. And a sub-question to that is what information we should use to think about how to project performance going forward. What do you think is the best way to do that? Is it to use just performance in the current year, i.e., the best predictor of the current bullpen’s performance from 5/31/18 onward is its current ERA in the 56 games that have occurred in 2019? I don’t think so (and I don’t think you do either).

    The best predictor (still not precisely accurate or even close!) is the projection systems because they try to compile all the relevant information. The developers of the projection systems – which use a model to weight various inputs for various types of players – like to say that these systems do a better job predicting FUTURE performance in-season than in-season stats do up through the final day of the season. There are different weights for different inputs, and we mostly don’t get to see what those weights are. But one model for a relief pitcher might weight K% in 2017 at .05, K% in 2018 at .1, K% in 2019 at .18 or something. The model might be different for starting pitchers (or it might not be). The predictions are tested against things that actually happened, and the models are adjusted if the predictions are systematically wrong (if your model predicts something will happen 28% of the time and it happens only 2% of the time and you have a large enough sample, your model is probably wrong). The player projections are put together to compile team projections. The different systems don’t always agree. Dan Szymborski’s (he does ZIPS) system last year was much more bullish on the Braves last year than Fangraphs was, and declared much earlier in the season that the Nats’ playoff hopes were less likely than we thought.

    You wrote “You gave me some fangraphs projection that makes no sense and is based on running 10,000 simulations where, yeah, in some of those simulations some ridiculous set of circumstances (where the teams that are currently 9 games ahead of us collapse) comes into play and the best case for us/worst case for competitors allows this team to make the playoffs despite an 82-win mean projection.”

    Sorry man, but this is just incorrect. The “some” here is 28% of the time, slightly better than one in four. That 28% probably includes some ridiculous moonshot scenarios where the Nats go on a tear and win 95 games, but it also includes some scenarios where the Nats win the division by one game with 87 wins. The remaining 72% of the scenarios where the Nats don’t make the playoffs presumably include a number of different possibilities, such as the Phillies or the Braves winning 100 games, or one of THEM winning the division by one game with 87 wins.

    This is how probability works. The sum of all the various scenarios where the Nats make the playoffs is 28% of the total number of scenarios according to the Fangraphs system. I think that’s high. But if I had to choose between 28% and “almost guaranteed not to make the playoffs,” I choose 28% and it’s not a tough choice.

    On November 6, 2016, Nate Silver – who remember, got his start developing projection systems for baseball players – gave Donald Trump a 29% chance to win the presidential election, and his projection of Trump’s chances was dramatically higher than other projections:

    Footnote: the updated projections have the Nats at 31% after last night. A lot of this is because no one is running away with the wild cards, which is surprising to me.


    30 May 19 at 11:37 am

  22. Derek — to your last point, I’m NOT surprised that no one is running away with the wild cards because every team in the NL other than the Dodgers has some significant flaws. The Phils currently have the second-best record in the NL, and there’s no way their pitching holds up. The Braves are currently in the second wild card slot, and the Nats just embarrassed probably the #3 guy in their rotation.

    There are also several teams that strike me as significantly underperforming, the Cards and Rockies in particular (although not nearly as badly as the Nats, of course).

    So the door is open. But as bad as the Nats have been overall — just two games ahead of the Marlins in the loss column — I still have a hard time seeing how they right the ship in a manner to make a real playoff run. Yes, the lineup is basically healthy (except Zim), and most are starting to hit better. I just don’t see how the bullpen collectively can suddenly and substantially improve, though, particularly with no financial flexibility (and no earthly reason whatsoever to go over the tax line).


    30 May 19 at 12:45 pm

  23. Fun fact: The Phillies starters collectively have 2.4 WAR. Scherzer (2.8) and Strasburg (2.6) have each provided more value in their ~75 innings of pitching this year than the entire Phillies rotation has in 300. This is crazy.

    It is borderline criminal that the Phillies haven’t signed Keuchel yet.


    30 May 19 at 1:51 pm

  24. KW, I initially agreed with this: “I just don’t see how the bullpen collectively can suddenly and substantially improve, though, particularly with no financial flexibility (and no earthly reason whatsoever to go over the tax line).”

    But then I dug in to the stats. If you look at the Nats starters, their ERA is 3.69 and their FIP is 3.49. I don’t know if we can attribute that entire difference to poor defense, but it probably explains a lot of it. The Nats’ defense being bad certainly jibes with what I’ve seen. But if you look at the bullpen, the ERA is 7.23 and the FIP is 5.25. For the record, that FIP is terrible, there’s no way to sugarcoat it.

    But we would expect poor defense to affect starters and relievers identically, wouldn’t we? So something funky is going on with the relievers that’s causing this disparity. The culprit, I suspect, is a league-worst 61.3 left-on-base rate. The bullpen is not stranding runners the way you would expect (although you would probably expect a lower than average strand rate for a bullpen populated by bad pitchers). Still, the point of this is (a) the bullpen is giving up a lot of hits with runners on base and we shouldn’t expect it to continue at the same rate and (b) the bullpen doesn’t need to pitch better for the results to be better.


    30 May 19 at 2:05 pm

  25. […] posted in this space at the end of May a post called “If we’re waiving the white flag…” , which led to a rather spirited debate as to whether the team could even […]

  26. […] think, for me, this culminated in the 2019 season, where i posted on May 28th a big post discussing who we should be […]

Leave a Reply