Nationals Arm Race

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

My answers to Boswell’s chat questions 8/15/11 edition


Tom Boswell must have been on vacation; he hasn’t done a chat in weeks.  Well, he caught up and more on August 15th’s version.  Here’s how i’d have answered the questions he took.  As always, the “questions” posed are edited here for levity and clarity, and I write my “answer” before reading his.

Q: Why is Espinosa struggling at the plate?

A: Probably because the league’s pitchers are adjusting to him the 2nd time around.  Plus, there’s a lot of at-bats for advance scouts to learn from and formulate plans of attack.  This is a constant adjustment cycle that hitters and pitchers do throughout the year and throughout their careers.  There could also be a normal rookie fatigue factor; you play 30 games in a HS season, 60-or so games in a college season, around 70 games in a short-season minor league, and around 140 games in a full-season minor league.  To say nothing of the incredible jump in talent from even AAA to the majors.  So, some regression is to be expected as the season winds down.  Boswell agrees with the adjustments angle and gives some tips for Espinosa to follow.  I hope he was reading the chat 🙂

Q: Will the Nats get to 77 victories?

A: With a .479 winning percentage as of 8/15/11, that puts them on a pace for 77 wins (rounding down since they’re one game ahead of their pythagorean won-loss record).  I would say that the team will likely fail to reach that threshold though; September is going to see debut starts given to guys who have never seen the majors, and the transition is usually pretty tough.  I see a few extra losses thrown in there to bring down our win totals to the 73-74 range.   Boswell sticks by his pre-season prediction of 75.  Its looking like a good prediction.

Q: How has Davey Johnson performed so far?

A: I’d say he’s been awful.  Even given that Riggleman’s record was improved by a winning streak, the numbers are clear.  Riggleman was .500 with this team, Johnson is 17-24 (as of 8/15/11).  I think he’s poorly managed the bullpen and is poorly handling his starters.  On more than one occasion he’s let a starting pitcher make the 3rd out in the 6th, only to yank him one walk or one hit into the 7th.  This makes no sense to me!  Why give away that at-bat and that out (remember; you only get 27 outs in a game) especially if there’s runners on base and you still have hitters off the bench.  What was the point of “strengthening the bench” if you never use those hitters?  Grr.   Boswell agrees with me somewhat, and notes that Johnson quickly ended the lineup manipulations under Riggleman.  I’m not going to kill Riggleman for trying those lineup mods; they did lead to a very hot streak for this team.  Another interesting fact; the team has given up 10+ runs 6 times so far under Johnson but only twice before that under Riggleman; why is that?  The implication seemed to be that Riggleman was over-using Storen and Clippard.

Q: Will Purke sign by the deadline?

A: I didn’t think so: I was wrongBoswell had no answer, just said he’d be watching at midnight on 8/15/11.

Q: Should MLB allow close/controversial plays to be replayed on the scoreboard?

A: Good question: right now presumably these plays are NOT shown on scoreboards to prevent further fan-distress and histronics from the argumentative players and managers.  So, clearly when a play is not shown on the board the tacit message sent to all who are watching is, “oh they’re not showing the play so the umps must have blown it.”  It doesn’t seem to really cause that much grief in the NFL, which plays replays instantly (since they have 35 seconds to kill after every play).  So I think MLB should just show replays of all plays and not editorialize.  Boswell seems to agree.

Q: In 2013, what are the chances that this is the lineup we see every day: Ramos, Morse, Rendon, Espinosa, Zimmerman, Harper, CF, Werth?

A: Pretty close in my estimation.  We don’t have positions listed but the implication is that Harper is playing LF, Morse 1B and Rendon 2nd.  2013 may be a tad too early for Rendon; it may be a safer bet to put Lombardozzi at leadoff/2nd.  I think Harper should be trained as a center fielder.  Rendon should be able to transition to LF if need be, but it may be a waste of his abilities.  Otherwise this looks pretty close.  Boswell says there’s a pretty good chance, talks about Rendon a bit then gets more digs into Desmond despite his not being named here.

Q: Is there any significant relationship between payroll outlay (Nats 9th from bottom) and w/l record (14th from bottom)?

A: (links to use here: list of payroll by team, and the current MLB standings 1-30.   Nats are, as of 8/16/11 18th in W/L and22nd in total payroll.

There is definitely a relationship in general between payroll and won/loss records; I don’t think its a coincidence that the 3 highest payrolls (NYY, Boston, Philadelphia) are also the 3 best teams.  However that middle ground is where the direct correlation breaks down.  The Chicago Cubs have the 6th highest payroll and are 27th in won/losses.  Meanwhile the Tampa Bay Rays are 29th in payroll but have the 9th best record playing in the AL East.  This middle ground is where teams can use superior General Managers, superior scouting and overall organizational improvements to be better than they appear.  With respect to the Nationals current positions, I’ll say two things.

  1. Yes we’re clearly doing “better” than our payroll would indicate, a sign that Rizzo is getting good value for his contract dollars.
  2. Its despicable that a team with owners as wealthy as the Lerners, playing in a $600M stadium that was given to the team, and playing in the wealthiest per-capita area with a top 8 population center in the country isn’t spending more on this team.

Q: Is Batting Average not that good of a stat to use to judge hitters?  (in the context of Jayson Werth’s .226 value)

A: Batting Average needs context, yes.  A well-hit line drive directly at a 3rd baseman is really a better hit ball than a weak tweener ground ball that gets through for a hit.   If looking at the BA, you really should look at the BABIP (which for Werth is now .281 on the season, decent and closer to league norms than earlier, but still below his career .314) and his breakdowns of line drives, grounders and flyballs.  Here we see that Werth’s LD% is about on a par with his season last year, but his fly balls are way down.  Makes sense; more of his flyballs were turning into homers at the cozy Philadelphia park.  The stat I really use the most is OPS+, which normalizes the OPS (on base percentage plus slugging) to the league averages and is read more or less as a percentage value as compared to MLB average.  Werth’s number there is currently 98, meaning his OPS is about 2% worse than the league norm.  Now, this isn’t great (he’s being paid like on of the top 10 players in the league and was 5th in the NL in OPS+ last year), but it isn’t Adam Dunn.  Boswell points out that Werth’s slugging % is down and that he’ll be here til the next president is in office.

Q: Was Strasburg an injury waiting to happen?

A: Unknown; the injury he suffered (to his elbow) was NOT the injury that all these inverted-W and/or shoulder loading freaks drone on and on about.  So, until Strasburg’s shoulder blows out (as Prior’s did), we won’t know.   Boswell agrees

Q: What is going on with Zimmerman’s throwing motion?

A: Looks to me like the team has tried to address his biggest problem; making the un-pressured throw accurately.  It happens; you get a ball, have all the time in the world, and fire a ball over your first baseman’s head.  Then it gets into your head and you’re in trouble.  If this weird motion works (and it certainly seems to) then more power to him.  You’ll notice, by the way, that he never makes a throwing error when pressured or on the run.  At least not that I can remember.  Boswell Agrees.

Q: Should/Will the Nats go after Jose Reyes this off season?

A: Should they?  I don’t think so; depends on if they think Desmond has any future or if they can move over Espinosa and call up Lombardozzi.  It’d be foolish to spend $12M/year on a leadoff hitter who is only slightly better than your $440k/year in-house options.  Will they?  We’ll see.   Boswell thinks they shouldn’t and lists a few more good reasons.

Q: Would you trade all the National’s young pitchers for the Orioles’?

A: No.  Way.  Baltimore has a habit of destroying young arms lately.  And I like the upside of our slew of prospects versus theirs.  Boswell says no way.

Q: Zimm/Morse/Werth in 2012 vs Zimm/Dunn/Willingham in 2010?

A: Offense only?  You take the latter.  That was three guys with OPS’s in the 140s back to back to back.  Werth did it in his contract year but not before or since really.  Morse is a breakout guy this year; can he continue?  Can Zimmerman stay healthy?

2 Responses to 'My answers to Boswell’s chat questions 8/15/11 edition'

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  1. Re:Davey’s managing, I have tried this on a few blogs without any success, but I’ll give it one more shot.

    1. No doubt many of his pitching decisions have been sub optimal for right now, but don’t you think that he is experimenting quite a bit for 2012, at the expense of wins right now? And also making a more concerted effort to protect Clip and Storen from overwork? I mean, The one consistent praise of Davey’s previous managerial jobs is his bullpen management. Is it reasonable to think that he went from one of the best to one of the worst?

    2. Just assume for a moment that I am right about #1. Don’t you want that kind of manager right now for the Nats, instead of one pulling out all stops to win now, and damn the consequences?


    19 Aug 11 at 12:00 pm

  2. 1. I feel like it took Johnson a bit of time to get settled back into the swing of managing. 11 years is an awful long time. What his overall “plan” is for the staff in particular is something we’ll probably not know. Is the team taking the approach that 2011 is a lost cause and they’ll win what they can but in reality this is still an evaluation year? If so you still have to question what’s happened. He basically buried Gorzelanny; he didn’t pitch for 13 days. Has the team already made up its mind about him? Why not just cut him now then?

    I feel like Clippard and Storen are still pitching as much as before. Clippard had more innings in july than in june, though he’s on pace for fewer in august. Storen pitched one inning
    less in july than in june and is on pace to match that in August. So I don’t see much difference there.

    2. Yeah actually, my theory as a realistic nats fan is that we’re not going to win in 2011, so why do we still give innings to Livan or Marquis when we know they won’t be with us next year. Experimentation time started the second we lost any hope in the WC race. And we’re doing that for the most part; Wang and Detwiler replacing two guys that aren’t featuring for us next year. Next up; replacing Livan with someone from AAA and replacing Zimmermann with Strasburg when the innings limit is reached. Problem is that our bullpen has struggled and there’s nobody to replace them. Coffey, Rodriguez and Burnett havn’t really been reliable. The bullpen needs some overhauling this offseason.

    Todd Boss

    23 Aug 11 at 11:19 am

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