Nationals Arm Race

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

Bill Ladson’s inbox, 11/7/11 edition.


Espinosa making another OOZ play. Photo AP via

Here’s the latest Bill Ladson inbox, 11/7/11 edition.

Q: Knowing how much you praise Danny Espinosa’s defense, I’m sure you think he should have won the Gold Glove Award. But he made more errors than Brandon Phillips and his fielding percentage was lower. Do you really think Espinosa deserved it?

A: Espinosa didn’t “deserve” the Gold Glove for two reasons.  1) He’s too young to really register in the minds of the voters of this award (supposedly Managers but often delegated to a minion) just yet, as the Gold Glove in some ways is an award of “reputation” rather than accomplishment.  2) Espinosa is no where near the best defensive 2nd baseman in the NL.  Brandon Phillips is a pretty good selection but himself isn’t the best NL 2nd-baseman using UZR/150 as a measureChase Utley was the best in 2011 and has been the best defensive 2nd baseman in the NL for a while now.  Espinosa’s 0.9 uzr/150 for the 2011 season puts him barely at league average.  Ladson says that Espinosa has more range than Phillips and deserves more credit.

A quick look at the UZR link above does show something interesting, in response to Ladson’s comment.  His “OOZ” (out of Zone, or balls hit out of his normal fielding zone) count of 51 for the year far eclipses either Phillips or Utley, meaning that Espinosa is making a ton of plays on balls a normal fielder wouldn’t get to.  However his “RZR” (Revised Zone Rating, basically a percentage of balls IN the zone that are converted to outs) is significantly lower than Utley.  What does this mean?  It means Espinosa is making a ton of high-light plays (things that stick into the mind of beat reporters like Ladson who see him day in and day out) but is missing a bunch of plays that he should be making, in comparison to someone like Utley.  My guess is that Espinosa is really still learning the positioning of 2nd base and will see this rise as he gets more comfortable in the position.

Q: If the Nats are serious about being contenders next season, they need to open up the piggy bank. They need to pick up left-hander C.J. Wilson. What do you think?

A: Are the Nats going to be contenders?  Or is 2012 just one more year in the “master plan” that we’ve heard so much about?  Because if you don’t follow “the plan,” then suddenly you’re the NY Mets with a bunch of expensive and under-performing FAs.  The Nats don’t seem to have an owner ready to jump payroll into the $125-$150M range (if you noticed, our payroll has been almost identical year to year since the Lerners took over, right in the mid $60M range), so that means the team needs to focus on building from within, through the draft, keeping payroll low by using more min-salary guys and not depending on the FA market to build.

In that context, I think Wilson is not worth pursuing.  I also believe that Wilson is not nearly the “ace starter” that he’s being made out to be (at best, he’s a #2 starter but showed significant holes in his game this past off-season).  Is that level of a pitcher going to be worth the $80M contract he’s going to command in a pitcher-weak market?  To me, the answer is no.  I’d rather work a trade and cash in some prospects to get someone under club control (trading for pitchers from Tampa Bay, Atlanta or Oakland), or wait til 2012 when the FA crop is better.  Ladson says the team “scouted” Wilson but won’t sign him; Rizzo wants an innings eater.  That sounds like Mark Buehrle to me frankly.  But that’s a topic for another blog post.

Q: What if the Nats fail to land Wilson, Mark Buehrle or Roy Oswalt? Do you think Rizzo would have any interest in right-hander Edwin Jackson? I realize Jackson’s performance has been erratic year to year, but he has proven to be durable, plus he’s only 28 years old and has loads of playoff experience.

A: I predicted previously that the Nats would sign Edwin Jackson and not one of these other candidates this off-season.  Yes Rizzo has said he wants an innings eater (that would seem to indicate Buehrle), or a veteran presence (Oswalt), or a “top of the rotation” starter (Wilson), but each of these candidates has potential issues.  Wilson may not be worth the money, Oswalt may be too injury prone and home-sick for the deep south, and Buehrle not enough of a power-arm (not to mention asking yourself why he’d want to leave Chicago at this point?).  But Rizzo scouted and signed Jackson, likes his power arm, and he could be a decent alternative to the question marks we’d have at the back-end of the rotation.  Ladson points out what I didn’t; that Jackson is erratic and isn’t that good a pitcher.  I agree; but the answer to the questions “should we sign Jackson” and “do I think we’ll sign Jackson” seem to be different for this team.

Q: Please tell me catcher Ivan Rodriguez will be back with the Nats next season. He is a class act and is so close to career hit No. 3,000. Any chance the club re-signs him?

A: Why would this team possibly want or need Rodriguez in 2012?  There’s a difference between sentimentality (all the points made here) and reality of production.  Rodriguez was *awful* in 2012, he’s getting to the point where he’s clearly just hanging around to reach a milestone, and while I don’t think he’s jeopardizing his legacy, there may eventually be comparisons to other vets (Willie Mays) who hung around one season too long.

Now, I’m writing this assuming that Wilson Ramos is returned safely, and with the plan of going into 2012 with both Ramos and Jesus Flores installed as 1-2 in the catching depth charts.  Personally I believe the eventual move for the Nats will be to trade Flores, bring up Norris and then use those two players going forward.  Ladson says its 50% that the team brings him back.  Why??  How does Pudge fit into Ramos-Flores without an injury or an off-the-field issue?  Ladson also says Pudge didn’t get at-bats b/c of injury.  Uh, seemed to me he was healthy most of the 2nd half.  He didn’t get at-bats because he had a god-awful 66 OPS+ in the at-bats he DID get.

Q: What is the status of Corey Brown? Will he be ready to compete for a job come Spring Training? If Jayson Werth is moved to center field next year, who would play right field for the Nats?

A: I don’t think Brown is going to pan out at all, frankly.  He hit .235 for the year in his 2nd year (first full time though) in AAA.  He had one good month, hitting .351 for August, but the rest of his monthly splits were pretty consistently weak.

If Werth plays some center, we could put someone like Laynce Nix in right (where he did play a bit in September).  But that’s not ideal.  Maybe the team just bites the bullet and plays Bryce Harper in the OF from day one of 2012 (doubtful b/c of super-2 status concerns, but Davey Johnson does have a history of playing very young rookies).

More likely the team signs another stop-gap CF option, signs a 4th outfielder and waits to see if Harper earns a call-up in June.  Ladson more or less agrees with what I said here.

Q: With center field being a concern, should the Nationals look at Juan Pierre?

A: No, on so many levels.  Pierre didn’t actually play CF this year (and hasn’t since 2009), he’s on the wrong side of 30, he’s clearly slowing down (he had half the steals this year compared to last), he’s got a horribly weak arm, and he can’t hit (80 ops+ for 2011).  Ladson concurs.

2 Responses to 'Bill Ladson’s inbox, 11/7/11 edition.'

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  1. The Nationals currently hold two ‘ultra-rangey’ players up the middle in Espinosa & Desmond, and a rock-solid defensive 2B in Lombardozzi. While Desmond will never be gold-glove quality at SS, Espinosa could be, as could Lombardozzi at 2B.

    If Lombardozzi gets the chance to prove his bat plays at the MLB level, I could easily see a keystone combo of Lombo / Espi with the Nats for a long time into the future.


    13 Nov 11 at 2:43 pm

  2. Lombardozzi *really* was unimpressive at the plate during his September call-up. I mean, when Espinosa first came up in his 2010 callup he may have hit .214 but he hit for power and nearly had a 100 ops+. Lombardozzi was too close to the plate, was consistently overpowered and hit mostly weak ground balls. I know his minor league numbers showed a ton more capability, but it was so bad that I hadn’t been considering him for the MLB team coming out of 2012 spring. Maybe it was just bad luck; i know Lombardozzi’s numbers are incredibly consistent at every level of the minors as he’s risen up, a great sign that he was making adjustments and wasn’t suddenly overpowered as he moved from (say) AA to AAA.

    That being said, I do agree that Espinosa could be a natural replacement for Desmond, with the hope that Lombardozzi has the promise of being the leadoff hitter we’ve been missing. But I doubt it happens in spring 2012. More likely is that the team does another year of Desmond/Espinosa as the DP combo and hopes that one or the other finds a more consistent batting stroke. Espinosa’s power is a great advantage, and means he’s far more valuable even when he’s hitting .220. Desmond hitting .220 is a bigger problem, and may be what eventually turns him into an Alex Cora/Brian Bixler utility infielder type.

    I guess my real hope is that Rendon really turns into the player we expect, rockets up the minors and turns into a realistic option in 2013 for the infield. I don’t buy those that think we should be thinking about moving Zimmerman to make way for Rendon. It should be the reverse until we see otherwise that Rendon is really a better option at 3rd than a gold-glove calibre defender.

    Todd Boss

    13 Nov 11 at 6:04 pm

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