Nationals Arm Race

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

Ask Collier 6/12/19


Victor Robles ... under performing expectations in 2019? Photo via nbcsports

Victor Robles … under performing expectations in 2019? Photo via nbcsports

Hey team.  A surprise mailbag from MLB Nats beat reporter Jamal Collier, dated  6/12/19.  A good time for a mailbag, we’re post draft, post subtle winning streak, and now the Nats are kind of in seasonal limbo.

Here’s the questions he took and how i’d have answered them.

Q: Feeling good here — this stretch will at least make the season respectable. Question 1: How are you feeling after this run? Some on Nats Twitter want a fire sale of the team, saying everyone must go (for good return). Your thoughts?

A: This has been a good stretch.   The Nats bottomed out after the 4-game sweep in NY, sitting at 19-31.  From there the team has gone 12-4 against Miami, Atlanta, Cincinnati, San Diego and the Chicago White Sox to now sit exactly at 31-36.   Not to sound cynical, but really only two of those games were impressive (the two game mini-sweep at division-leading Atlanta).  Miami is awful, Cincinnati is 6 games under .500, and San Diego/Chicago WS are basically treading water at .500.  But, good teams beat mediocre to bad teams, so 12-4 is a good sign.

Their next Eleven games are against better teams, all with winning records but all at home.  A massive 11-game home-stand against Arizona, Philadelphia and Atlanta.   Right out of the gate the Nats are getting Arizona’s 1-2 starters in Zack Greinke and Robbie Ray (who, lest we forget, was a Nats draft pick many years ago).  After that the Diamondbacks throw one Taylor Clarke, who just happened to grow up in the DC area and went to Broad Run HS in Ashburn.  So an interesting weekend series for sure.  From there, we’ll have two pretty important show-me series against the two divisional leaders, and we know the way the rotations line up that they’ll get Jake Arrieta in the opener.  Which means they’ll then get Zack Eflin, another former Nats hand in Nick Pivetta, and then Aaron Nola if the expected rotation holds.   That’s tough: Eflin has been good all season, Nola has shown some life lately, and Pivetta has been awesome since his return from the minors.

You tell me; this smells like a 6-5 home-stand; a split with Arizona, a split with Philly and then a series win against Atlanta.  Maybe worse if the Nats run into hot Philly pitchers and/or Keuchel with Atlanta.

BUT, but, after that, their next 12 games taking them to the all-star break are against three of the worst teams in the league: Miami, Detroit and Kansas City.  I think this team can and should go 9-3 or 10-2 in those games.

So, assuming the team goes 6-5 in the homestand against quality teams and then 9-3 heading into the all star break, that’d have them sitting at 46-44.   That’s probably a good enough record to convince management to hang in there to compete in 2019 and not have a sell-off … at least not yet.    If the team was sitting a 2 games over .500 right now, they’d still be several games behind in the WC standings, but certainly not out of it.

But that doens’t mean the team won’t eventually do a sell-off.  Their schedule post-all star games goes like this: At Philly, at Baltimore, at Atlanta, home to Colorado, home to LA Dodgers, and then home to Atlanta, taking us up to the trade deadline of 7/31/19.  There’s your season.  If the Nats come out of the ASG break and fall flat in those first 9 away games, mostly against tough divisional opponents, that could be it.

So my new stance is this: Its nice that they went 12-4.  Yay!  Call me in mid July b/c that’s when we’ll really now if its go time or sell time.

Collier mentions the weakness of our recent competition, and says he’s positive about the team … but thinks they may have dug themselves too much of a hole.  He also notes that Atlanta just added a former Cy Young winner in Dallas Keuchel, which significantly improves their rotation and makes them even harder to catch.

Q: What is going on with Patrick Corbin? After that complete game, he’s been struggling. Is he overworked? Injured?

A: I wonder if this isn’t just what we get with Corbin.  Here’s his 2018 game log: check out the end of May/early June.  Inside of four starts, he saw his seasonal ERA jump from 2.47 to 3.48.  A full point in four starts.  Now look at his 2019 game log:  he’s jumped from 2.85 to 4.11 in his last three starts.

Its notable that his last three mediocre starts followed … a 9-inning complete game 116-pitch outing.  Was that a factor?  Doesn’t seem like it; if you notice he got an additional day of rest after 116 pitches, which wasn’t even his season high.

He mentioned in interviews perhaps a slight mechanical issue was at hand; I suspect he’s just run into a rough patch that a couple starts against crummy opponents may very well fix up.

Collins says no injury, just missing locations.  We’ll see what happens next.

Q: Is it fair to say that Victor Robles is underperforming expectations?

A: Yes.   So far he’s slashing .236/.310/.413.   That’s 50 points of a BA below last year’s sample and more than 100 slugging points.   And compare to his career ML slash line of .300/.392/.457.

I dunno; he is trending to a 20/20 season (currently sitting at 9 homers, 9 SBs).  And so far in 2019 he’s showing *really* bad range stats in CF (-17.4 UZR/150 so far after positive figures last year) to go along with a slightly positive DRS figure and negative arm values.   but, as Collier notes, he’s in the 89th percentile for a Stat-cast centric defensive measure.  So who knows (defensive stats are tough).

This for a prospect rated well ahead of compatriot Juan Soto, who has slightly cooled off from last year’s debut numbers, but is still rock-solid in the 128 OPS+ range right now for 2019.

Collier says he started hot, has cooled off significantly and perhaps we were all expecting too much from him.  All true.

Q: What is a realistic timetable for Ryan Zimmerman’s return?

A: Great question.  Planter Fasciitis (speaking as someone who once had it) can be a pretty bedeviling injury to overcome.  You can’t really “rest” a foot.  You kind of have to run on it.  So you’re constantly re-injuring it.  My cynical feeling is that, if  Ryan Zimmerman had been hitting .290 instead of .213 he’d still be starting, with shots of cortisone in his foot to help.

Collier says he traveled with the team to Chicago and is hitting in cages … just not running.  He’s guessing its still weeks away, and will have to include some rehab appearances in the minors.  Certainly his 2020 option decision is not looking good for the team.

Q: What is Koda Glover’s status? Haven’t heard anything about him in a long time.

A: wow, doesn’t this kind of feel like Christian Garcia redux?  What is Koda Glover doing?   Officially the injury is “Strained forearm” and the date was 2/24/19.  So we’re now nearly at 4 months onwards for a forearm injury for a former TJ guy.  Not good; if I had to guess (since that’s all we have) i’d say he probably re-tore the UCL and the team is rehabbing in lieu of a second TJ.

Side note: also with zero updates is Austen Williams, who struggled through one appearance, hit the D/L with a “Sprained shoulder” (notice the slightly more dangerous diagnosis sprain versus strain) … and yet still sits on the 10-day DL (now approaching two months), when clearly to me he could have also gone to the 60-day DL and the team could have then kept Austin Adams or maybe Jimmy Cordero …both of whom immediately got claimed by other teams and/or have had some success this year.

Collier says he’s playing catch and doing long toss.  That’s … not much for 4-months onward.  No pitching from flat ground, no mound work, no sim games, no XST competition.  

Q: What is your favorite HR celebration right now — Eaton/Kendrick going for a drive, Suzuki catching some waves, or a DJ Parra dance party?

A: I have no opinion here 🙂

Collier says its the dance party.  You have to hand it to Gerardo Parra, he has definitely brought some intangibles to this team.  Its Narrative bs … but you can see it with your eyes.

15 Responses to 'Ask Collier 6/12/19'

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  1. Welp, that was an inspiring start to the big homestand — NOT. Flat as a pancake. Now -8.5 behind the Braves.

    There was also news on Glover, BAD news, shut down for six more weeks, trying PRP injections, more surgery still not out of the question.


    14 Jun 19 at 8:05 am

  2. Sometimes you get a great performance from a pitcher and it’s nothing more than that.
    Let’s see if the bats wake up tonight.

    Mark L

    14 Jun 19 at 8:11 am

  3. Robles: he’s a little behind where I hoped he would be, but not by much. I expected a somewhat erratic rookie season. His HR pace is ahead of what should be expected; his doubles pace is about as should be expected. I didn’t think he could be a 20 HR guy right off the bat, so if he is, that’s a plus.

    The league has adjusted to him, so he needs to show that he can make counter adjustments. That’s always the real “tell” of how good of a major-leaguer a player will be.

    Hitting comparisons with Soto are unfair. Soto may be a generational talent at the plate and posted one of the top-five best seasons all time by a teenager. Robles isn’t that kind of a hitter, but then neither are most of the other players in the league.

    Robles’s BABIP is a low .282, so he’s due more “luck.” In what he can control, he needs to reduce his 25% K rate and put more balls in play. Based on his K rates in the minors, he should be below 20%.


    14 Jun 19 at 8:22 am

  4. Robles comparisons to Soto are absolutely fair: how many years were we told that Robles was the superior prospect? Soto signed in July 2015, Robles signed in July 2014. But the team knew what they had in both by the end of each player’s respective 2nd pro season (with both jumping quickly to the top 5 of the system). No, they’re not the same players at the plate, but culling their performance down to one specific number (whether it be OPS+ or wRC+) shows that Soto drastically exceeded expectations, while Robles has underperformed.

    speaking of adjusting … Soto in particular started off really slow this year. He was hitting .228 in mid-May. Now a month onwards, he’s got his BA back to the .290 range. Good adjustments shown so far.

    Todd Boss

    14 Jun 19 at 12:27 pm

  5. First, let me say that Robles will be fine. He’ll adjust. But sometimes adjustments take months, or even a season. He’s never going to be Acuna, though, and those who tried to claim that he was were setting themselves up for disappointment.

    As most regular readers know, I’ve had a little fun over the last three years, both here and on Luke’s site, floating the idea that Soto might end up being better than Robles. This talk was treated as something between heresy and treason. Most told me that of course Robles was going to be better because he was “five tool” (or at least they had been told he was), so he would earn more “value” across the tools than Soto would. My counter was that Soto’s elite hit tool (and his subsequently developed power tool) were more of a lock to be reliable than counting on Robles to regularly be good at all of his tools. (Just look at the diminished value of Eaton when he’s no longer getting a big bump for defense.)

    All of that said, and taking into account the general disappointment in Robles thus far, Robles actually lead Soto in bWAR right now, 0.9 to 0.7. fWAR, presumably docking Robles more for his defense, has Soto leading 0.8 to 0.1.

    They will both be fine, and the Nats won’t be trading either of them.


    14 Jun 19 at 1:42 pm

  6. I am content with Robles season so far. I’ve expected the erratic batting as he adjusts (I’m pleased that HBPs aren’t at minor league levels), and prepared for the more than occasional TOOTBLAN. As KW said, power is up, quality contact is down (each relative to expectations) but that’s a swing within the range of expectations. I’d expect to see quality contact rise, as well as BBs, wihtout sacrificing power in the second half of this year.

    The only thing that is unexpected for me about Robles so far is his defense. All reports had him being plus D in CF, which should goose his WAR substantially. He’s actually negative, although not significantly. IF he doesn’t revert to prior expectations on D, I’d lower my view of him going forward.

    Soto, OTOH, is significantly negative in D for the second year in a row, so that even though he is OPSing .900, he isn’t quite at 1 WAR for the season. That discrepancy, more than any other, is why people including myself felt like Robles would be the more valuable major leaguer over time.

    I don’t get why Soto isn’t better defensively, tbh, since he is kind of fast and a hard worker. I wish he’d improve himself there.

    I’m still not optimistic on the season, but agree they should not make any decisions for another 4 weeks or so. But I am anxious about the Rendon situation – they really should extend him.


    14 Jun 19 at 2:47 pm

  7. why is Robles not batting 9th with Turner back in the lineup???


    14 Jun 19 at 3:24 pm

  8. i had to see the fWAR/bWAR figures for myself to believe them. Fangraphs’ defensive stats do not like what Robles has been doing this year at all.

    Todd Boss

    15 Jun 19 at 12:00 am

  9. You have to think at some point Soto heads to 1st base. It’s not his fault he’s bowlegged.
    As the great Dick Allen said.. “you know how you play 1st base, you hit”.

    Mark L

    15 Jun 19 at 4:28 pm

  10. OK, here we go. If they want us to think of the Nats as contenders, it’s put-up-or-shut-up week. The Phils are reeling, so it’s time to kick ’em around a little.


    17 Jun 19 at 10:12 am

  11. Mark, I agree that Soto is probably ticketed for 1B (and who knows how the Nats are going to deal with the very tricky Zim issue; they’re certainly not going to pick up his $18M option). That said, the Nats have NO OF options in the pipeline, unless you count the old and heretofore ignored Yadiel Hernandez, who is posting an amazing season at Fresno. I guess they could keep Taylor and move Robles to LF, but, um, no. Taylor looks well on his way to a non-tender.

    The only good OF FA on the horizon next offseason is Ozuna. Internally, if they were to re-sign Rendon, what about trying Kieboom in LF, at least for a little while?


    17 Jun 19 at 10:39 am

  12. Related OF question: the Nats have pending options on Eaton for the next two seasons. Is he worth $9.5M, then $10.5M? Again, the biggest issue is that they’ve got no viable options in the pipeline. (FWIW, Daniel Johnson has been promoted to AAA with CLE and has found his HR stroke, with 12 across AA and AAA thus far. He’s looking a lot more like a major-leaguer now than he did while posting a .731 in AA for the Nats last year.)


    17 Jun 19 at 11:19 am

  13. Consider the ramifications of the Eaton trade if his option were to be declined. No way Rizzo admits defeat there.

    Todd Boss

    17 Jun 19 at 1:34 pm

  14. Rutledge has signed; no terms released yet. Also, Dyson signed, for $153K over slot. Um, well, . . . Cronin now available to sign with ARK eliminated. He pitched one clean inning against FSU.

    Only saw one Mendoza AB against Isaiah Campbell. Mendoza seemed to struggle to turn on 93-94, which was concerning.


    17 Jun 19 at 8:53 pm

  15. Eaton will probably still be “worth” the 2/$20M he’s owed in the option years. We’ll see. As noted, the Nats don’t really have other OF options . . . unless they want to trade more pitching prospects . . .


    17 Jun 19 at 8:55 pm

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