Nationals Arm Race

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

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Ask Collier 1/11/18

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how successful will Martinez be here? Photo via wtop.com

how successful will Martinez be here? Photo via wtop.com

Another week, another slow news week.  So lets see what questions MLB Nats beat reporter Jamal Collier took.

Q: How will the Nats respond to the new coaching staff? They won so many games with the previous one, why wouldn’t management try and retain more of those coaches (besides Bob Henley)?

A: Well, lets take the 2nd question first.  Because its a good one: why the heck didn’t the ownership group give Dusty Baker and his staff another shot?  We have talked this to death of course, but to review: My opinion is that the ownership made an over-reaction/rookie mistake and and under-valued what Baker brought to the table.  I don’t put the 2017 play off loss on Baker.  Baker completely turned around the clubhouse after the Matt Williams debacle, and it made more sense from a roster transition stand point to make a staff change after 2018, not after 2017.  But whatever.

I can’t see how a veteran team of professionals would respond badly to Dave Martinez in particular though; he was a player, he had accomplishments on the field that will speak to the vets, and he comes from a well respected staff in Chicago.  But, sometimes you never know.  Maybe Martinez comes in and is totally rah-rah and turns off the vets like Murphy and Zimmerman, which sends the clubhouse into a death spiral.  Maybe he makes some bone-headed mistakes early with the pitching staff and turns off the two aces Scherzer and Strasburg.  I don’t know if anyone can predict what will happen here.  It isn’t like there was a huge obvious problem with the previous manager that they immediately get respite from; the prior staff by all accounts was respected and successful.

Collier mirrors what I said; we just don’t know what will happen.

Q: What are the most realistic options to improve at catcher or do you see us sticking with Matt Wieters all season?

A: I’m going to ask a different question, because it relates here.  Is the team willing to blow past the luxury tax threshold or not in 2018?  Because if they’re not … then people need to stop asking about upgrading at catcher.

That being said … my take on his ownership group is that they still cling to the notion that you run a team like a business to a certain extent.  And as a business owner, if you were in the hole for $10M in salary would you continue to throw good money after bad or would you just stand pat with what you have?  Furthermore … Wieters is a Boras client and i’m sure Boras has already bent their ear about layering his client and effectively destroying his FA value.   Plus, in case you’re clamoring for a trade for J.T. Realmuto, the Nats have already emptied the farm system, so any further prospect trades will be cutting deep.  Would you give up Soto or Robles for a mediocre catcher?  I wouldn’t.  I’d just suck it up, play out 2018 with Wieters hitting 8th and learn from my mistake (and this is no hindsight is 20/20 statement; everyone knew Wieters was a bad signing when it happened).

So, for me, i’m guessing they stand pat.

Collier notes that Wieters is in better shape , but also notes the team is pursuing a better backup catcher option than the untested Pedro Severino.

Q: For years we’ve seen Joe Maddon hit players such as Addison Russell ninth in the order behind a pitcher. With how dense the middle of our lineup is, could you see Martinez taking this approach with Michael A. Taylor or Trea Turner?

A: Well, the numbers are definitely there: batting the pitcher 8th definitely makes a difference over the course of a whole season.  But it isn’t much of a difference.  And you need a contact guy at the 9-hole to take advantage.  Is Michael A. Taylor that guy?  I don’t think so; I think Taylor is hitting 7th and Wieters hitting 8th all year, forcing the pitcher to the 9-spot with Eaton/Turner 1-2 in some combination.  This lineup kind of writes itself.

Collier disagrees, thinking Taylor could be that “second leadoff” guy in the 9-hole behind a pitcher.  Uh … have you seen how much he strikes out?  He lowered his rate year over year and was still striking out 31.7% of the time in 2017.  

Q: Do the Nats have genuine interest in bringing Howie Kendrick back?

A: I’m sure they do; Kendrick filled a bunch of nice holes and hit so well that many were clamoring for him to play over Werth last post-season.   But there’s no starting position for him, this team when healthy is stacked and he’d be riding the pine.  So i’m sure he’s holding out for a starting role, trying to parlay his excellent 2017 into a full time gig.  Maybe he fails and the Nats get him on a one-year pillow contract … but I doubt it, since he’s got more than just corner defensive capabilities.

Collier basically says the same thing I did, but with better quotes from Mike Rizzo.

Q: At this point, what other offseason moves do you think would be necessary? More bench players? Adding another to the rotation? Bullpen help?

A: Rotation.  Its all about the 5th starter at this point honestly.  We can live with this bench: Severino, Matt Adams, Wilmer Difo, Brian Goodwin and a RH corner bat to be signed or discovered in spring training.  I also think any additions to the bullpen mean difficult decisions given the options status of players this coming spring; the bullpen has basically has 4 guys signed to guaranteed contracts plus 3 guys who have no options left.  Not much room for wiggling there.

So that really means two more moves at most.  Do you want your 5th starter to be A.J. Cole?  If not, we need an arm.  Do you want your last bat off the bench to be Andrew Stevenson?  If not, we need a Chris Heisey like character.

Collier agrees.

Operation Nats Off-Season; progress Report

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Is Adams our savior?   photo via ksdk.com/Mandatory Credit: Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

Is Adams our savior?
photo via ksdk.com/Mandatory Credit: Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

On the heels of the Matt Adams signing, lets get a status update on the “needs” of the team and what they’ve done so far now that we’re past the Winter Meetings.

Needs/Off-season todo list: Here’s what I listed as the team’s “pressing needs” in a 10/16/17 post.

  1. Resolve Dusty Baker situationStatus Update: they whacked him and hired Dave Martinez to replace him.
  2. Should we bring back Jayson WerthStatus update: no update here, in that Werth has not signed elsewhere but the tea leaves definitely seem to indicate he’s moving on.
  3. What do we do at Catcher? Status Update:  Nothing yet; our former backup Jose Lobaton has already signed, penning  minor league deal with the Mets.  Not that he was going to really be an option for us.  We’ve seen some rumblings about how the team is going to manage Matt Wieters‘ playing time, and there’s a couple more options out there at catcher (not the least of which is J.T. Realmuto, who has expressed publicly his desire to be traded now that the new Marlins ownership group has gutted the roster.  I still don’t see any change here in direction; I think the team will stay with internal options.
  4. Will they pursue FA extensions with key players?  Status Update: there were brief rumors of extension talks with Harper/Boras, same with Rendon.  Nothing with Murphy.  So not much.
  5. Do they need to pursue a Starting Pitcher?  Status Updatenot much news here yet; they’ve gotten Tommy Milone to return to the fold, signing a ML deal that I would think includes an opt-out if he doesn’t make the team (but that’s an assumption).  Right now the 5th starter is the winner of an A.J. Cole/Erick Fedde/Milone spring training run-off.  I would expect to see something happen here at some point this off-season.  One complicating factor: Cole is out of options…
  6. What is the Nats 2018 outfield?  Status Update: no news and no trades from depth, so its still looking like Eaton/Taylor/Harper with Goodwin and Stevenson as backups.  They did intimate that Victor Robles will be starting in AAA so that he can play full-time, a decision I fully endorse.  Goodwin in particular got some mention from John Sickels in his prep post for the Nationals farm system, wondering aloud what Goodwin’s numbers would look like with a full season of ABs.  I don’t see that happening here … so I still think there’s a trade coming.  Another complicating factor here: Goodwin is now out of options.
  7. Do the Nats leverage their sudden depth of position players in trade this off-seasonStatus Update: nothing yet here … maybe Billy Beane has been on vacation and he just hasn’t returned Mike Rizzo‘s phone calls for the next big Oakland-Washington trade.
  8. What do we do with the benchStatus Update: so far we’re starting next year with Severino as the backup catcher, we just signed Adams to replace Adam Lind as the lefty PH bench bat.  I still think we need a RH bat to replace the Chris Heisey role, a guy who could play a corner in a pinch.  Otherwise we’re on track here.  Keep in mind; Murphy may not be ready for opening day so right now we’re looking at Wilmer Difo in the starting lineup.
  9. What do we do with the bullpen Status Update: the team re-signed Brandon Knitzler, which I think is a quality move but may also complicate the bullpen.  We now have three relievers who are out of options (Grace, Solis and Romero), all of whom were utilized last year.  If you keep the four guys now signed for big money FA deals along with the 3 out-of-option guys … then you’re leaving in particular Koda Glover in the minors.  Or on the D/L.

So, just 3 of the 9 categories really addressed at this point, though not all 9 categories were really Mandatory to do this off-season.

What does our 25-man opening day roster look like right now?

  • SP: Scherzer, Strasburg, Roark, Gonzalez, Cole
  • RP: Doolittle, Madsen, Knitzler, Kelley, Grace, Solis, Romero.  (4 of these guys have guaranteed contracts, the other 3 are out of options)
  • C: Wieters, Severino
  • Inf: Zimmerman, Murphy, Rendon, Turner, Adams, Difo (likely one more here with Murphy on the 10-day D/L to start the season)
  • OF: Eaton, Taylor, Harper, Goodwin, Stevenson

Does that look like a World Series winning team?

Nats Non-News: Non-tender deadline, FA (lack of) market and Ohtani

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Are the Nats really in the mix for Japanese superstar Ohtani? Photo via cbssports.com

Are the Nats really in the mix for Japanese superstar Ohtani? Photo via cbssports.com

As many others have noticed … there isn’t a heck of a lot going on right now in the “hot stove” season.  But given where we are in the regular off-season calendar, lets bang out a couple of topics.

First: the Non-tender deadline.

For the first time in an awful long time, the Nats have no real obvious non-tender candidates on their roster.  They entered the off-season with just four arbitration-eligible players and they are all set to be crucial pieces for 2018:

  • Bryce Harper technically would have been arb-eligible but signed away his 4th year for north of $21M.
  • Anthony Rendon comes off easily his finest season as a pro (his numbers across the board eclipse his 2014 5th place MVP season) and he should be in line to more than double his $5.8M 2017 salary.
  • Tanner Roark struggled in 2017 (… perhaps caused/aided by the frequently-seen WBC hangover?) but is still slated to be our 4th starter on a rotation that doesn’t currently have a fifth and should be in line for about an $8M payday.
  • Michael Taylor has established himself as one of the premier defensive center fielders in the game, will be set to start in 2018, and faces arbitration for the first time (likely to get around a $2.5M check).

Compare this to previous non-tender years (with links to non-tender specific posts from years past):

  • 2016: we non-tendered Ben Revere, waived Aaron Barrett before having to make the NT decision, and declined Yusmeiro Petit‘s option as a way of “non-tendering” him.
  • 2015: we non-tendered Craig Stammen, but kept NT candidates Jose Lobaton and Tyler Moore (eventually trading Moore after waiving him at the end of spring training).
  • 2014: we did not non-tender anyone, though a couple weeks later traded NT candidate Ross Detwiler to Texas for two guys who never really panned out for us (Chris Bostick and Abel de los Santos).
  • 2013: we did not non-tender anyone, only Ross Ohlendorf was a candidate, and in retrospect he probably should have been NT’d since he didn’t throw a pitch for the Nationals in 2014.
  • 2012: we non-tendered three guys (Jesus FloresTom Gorzelanny, John Lannan) in the face of a huge amount of arbitration players (10).
  • 2011: we non-tendered Doug Slaten deservedly, but tendered candidate Gorzellany.
  • 2010: we non-tendered Chien-Ming WangWil Nieves, Joel Peralta.  We also outrighted 5 guys prior to the NT deadline, DFA’d two more in December, and DFA/dreleased four more guys prior to Spring training in a very busy off-season.
  • 2009: we non-tendered Scott Olsen, Mike MacDougal
  • 2008: we non-tendered Tim Redding, now the Pitching coach for our Auburn Short-A team, so I guess there was no hard feelings there :-)
  • 2007: we non-tendered Nook LoganMike O’Conner.
  • 2006: we non-tendered or declined options for Ryan Drese, Brian Lawrence, Zach Day (it might have only been Day who was officially non-tendered)
  • 2005: we non-tendered Carlos BaergaPreston WilsonJunior Spivey.

That’s a long trip down random memory lane for marginal Nationals players from yesteryear.

Post-publish edit: as expected, the team formally tendered contracts to the 3 arb-eligible players on 12/1/17.



The FA market in general seems to be held up by two major names: Giancarlo Stanton and Shohei Ohtani.  Jeff Passan argues there’s other reasons (see this link) for the lack of movement, but one has to think the big names are a big part of it.  I also believe that this year’s “crop” of FAs is … well kind of underwhelming.  Here’s Passan’s ranking of FAs: his biggest names past Ohtani are Yu Darvish (who just sucked in the post-season, is coming off TJ surgery and doesn’t rate as the “Ace” he once was), J.D. Martinez (who blew up in 2017 but who has normally gotten a lot of his value from defense and he’s not getting any younger), Eric Hosmer (a 1B only guy, even if he’s really good, who seems like a safe bet to get over-pad and age badly) and Jake Arrieta (who has taken a step backwards from his Cy Young win and has already entered his decline years).  Plus, the “price” for signing some of these QO-attached guys (Hosmer, Arrieta plus other top-10 FAs like Lorenzo Cain, Mike Moustakas and Wade Davis) will be quite steep for big-market and/or Luxury tax teams like our own Washington Nationals.

Frankly, between the higher price of forced loss of picks due to our over-spending last season, our current payroll tightness (we seem to only have about $17M to spend to stay under the tax for all of next year) and the underwhelming lot of available players … i don’t see us really participating in this year’s sweepstakes.    Do we want to pony up for a middling 5th starter type like Jaime Garcia at the likely going price of $10M/year?  Or roll the dice with a MLFA like we did with some success last year (Edwin JacksonJacob Taylor).  Or just stay inhouse and let Erick Fedde continue to mature every 5th day on the mound?

Stanton, according to the tea-leaves i’m reading this week, seems like he’s heading to San Francisco, who is in desperate need for offense, outfielders and a franchise makeover after last year’s debacle.  Stanton could fit all three.  Which is great for him (he’s born and raised in California and would be joining a franchise that, despite its 2017 season, still has 3 WS titles in the last decade and a slew of marquee players to build around), great for the Nats (getting him out of the division), great for the “franchise” of Miami (who rids themselves of perhaps the 2nd worst contract in baseball behind Albert Pujols‘ and lets them get a relatively clean slate to start over for the new franchise ownership group), and of course awful for the “fans” of Miami, who thought they were finally getting rid of one of the worst owners in professional sports only to get slapped in the face with comical missteps by the new Derek Jeter-led ownership group, who managed to embarrass themselves in the most ridiculous way (by firing ceremonial Marlins legends for no good reason) early and then put themselves on the defensive needlessly by immediately crying poor and saying that they needed to pare payroll within a few days of taking over.  If i was a Miami fan I wouldn’t know whether to laugh or cry.

I also think its notable that the first ex-Nat ranked on Passan’s list comes in at #43; the “ripe for regression” Matt Albers.  Brandon Knitzler comes soon after him (who could be a re-signing candidate frankly for us, to put the “law firm” back together), then you have to get all the way down to #62 to find Jayson Werth.  As compared to next off-season, when the Nats will have the #1 guy on the list.


Coming back to Ohtani (I’m going with the h in the name since after much research that’s what seems like the right way to spell it) ….

First things first: I desperately hope the Nats get him.  Anyone who thinks that they’re better off without Ohtani is a fool; he’s set to become one of the biggest bargains in baseball.  For the small price of a $20M posting fee, you get a guy who throws 100, is an 80 runner, and hits the crap out of the ball.  For a miniscule bonus figure (the max any team has seems to be about $3.5M; the Nats only have $300k) and then a MLB min contract.  Its just amazing.  His presence could literally change the face of a franchise for a decade for about the same amount of money we will have paid Gio Gonzalez this year and next.  I doubt he picks us though; it seems more likely he picks either a major market team (NY, Boston) on the east coast or (more likely) one of the west coast teams for better proximity to Japan and a larger Asian native market (LA, SF, Seattle).  But its all speculation.

Hey, did I mention that the Nats need both another starter AND a lefty-bat off the bench, right now??  Ohtani would be perfect!

Side Note: why the heck is he coming over now and subjecting himself to MLB minimum contracts and arbitration??  He’s literally leaving $100M on the table by not waiting just two years and coming over un-restricted.  I just cannot believe he’s doing this and costing himself so much money.  I get the lip service comments about wanting to challenge himself, yadda yadda, but when there’s literally 9 figures of money on the table, I just don’t understand the decision.  He’s projected to be better than Daisuke Matsuzaka, better than Darvish, both of whom got many times more money (Dice-K got $52M to him, $103M in total cost plus his posting fee), while Darvish got $60M to him and cost the Rangers $111M total with posting fee).  It seems crazy.

Can’t wait to see where he goes, and I can’t wait to see if he’s the real deal.

Ask Collier & Happy Thanksgiving

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Why do so many people think TRADING Harper is the way to win the 2018 World Series? Photo via fanragsports.com

Why do so many people think TRADING Harper is the way to win the 2018 World Series? Photo via fanragsports.com

A nice little surprise just before the Turkey day weekend: an ask Jamal Collier post on mlb.com.


Q: Would you consider trading Harper? I am one of his biggest fans, and I know the desire to win next year, but would the return be worth it in the long run?

A: Forensicane; don’t bother reading this next answer, because you’re not going to like it.

Teams attempting to WIN THE WORLD SERIES in the coming year do not trade their marquee players.  Not only that, but teams attempting to win don’t trade one of the best players in the league.  \

Not only that, but lets say for the sake of argument that the Nats WERE willing to trade Harper.  He’s got one  year of control left.  He’s set to make north of $20M in 2018.  He’s an injury risk.  And he’s absolutely going to Free Agency.  How much does anyone really think he’ll realistically fetch in trade right now?  If he were cost controlled or had multiple years of control left (like an Adam Eaton or a Jonathan Lucroy when he fetched a lot a couple years back) he’d get a kings ransom.  But he’s not; he’ll cost a significant portion of a team’s payroll in 2018 and gets just one year of service.

And then there’s this: why does anyone think this ownership group will trade him??  For many years, we’ve asked why the Angels hold on to Mike Trout and “waste” his talents on a sub-.500 team.  The answer is always the same: the owner in Los Angeles doesn’t want to move his marquee asset.  Why does anyone think that the Lerner group isn’t thinking the same thing?  Baseball is still relatively “new” in this town, still fighting it out for the casual sports fan.  What kind of message does it send to the casual fan base if you move your most marketable asset?  Who else on the Nats is getting goofy TV spots with national telecom companies?

So, no, the team isn’t trading Harper, nor should they.  Instead they should be doing *everything* they can to win in 2018 before he (and many others) walk out the door.  And (lets not forget), while I think its a certainty that Harper is in NY or LA in 2019 … we also were pretty sure Stephen Strasburg was heading out the door too, so you just never know.

Collier also expresses similar exasperation at the number of these questions he’s getting, then re-iterates many of the arguments above.


Q: You don’t list Adam Lind as a possible signee. Why not? Is it that Brian Goodwin can fill that role … but who is the backup first baseman?

A: I think Lind could resign … similarly to the way that Stephen Drew thought he could parlay his successful 2016 into a starting gig for 2017, Lind probably thinks the same.  Finding veteran bat-only beefy 1B/PH types on the open market is not tough; the Nats have specialized in this for years.  So they’ll do what they always have done; wait out the market, sign someone on the cheap later in the off-season if they get desperate, or otherwise have a cattle call in spring training for the backup bench bat.

Its worth noting that, much like one-year relievers, sometimes you catch lightning in a bottle with your pinch hitters and its worth cutting bat early, not later.  Consider some of the year over  year stat lines for our primary bench bats recently:

  • Adam Lind: great in 2017 (.303/.362/.513): can he repeat that in 2018?
  • Clint Robinson: awesome in 2015 (.272/.358/.424), then awful in 2016 (.235/.305/.332)
  • Chris Heisey: adequate in 2016 (.216/.290/.446), then fell off a cliff in 2017 (.162/.215/.270)
  • Tyler Moore: fantastic in 2012 (.263/.327/.513), then a combined .216/.264/.362 over PT roles the next three seasons before finally getting cut loose.
  • Chad Tracy: good in 2012 (.269/.343/.441), then not so good in 2013 (.202/.243/.326)

And some of these guys never even had a “good” season (ahem, Matt Stairs).

So, perhaps the smart thing to do is to let Lind go (as well as Albers for similar reasons) and try some one new.

Goodwin as a backup 1B??   No, that doesn’t make a ton of sense (he’s only 6’0″ and is an outfielder by trade), but he could feature as a backup outfielder easily enough.  Honestly, the “backup 1B” if Ryan Zimmerman goes down for any length of time probably is Daniel Murphy, with his position getting covered by Wilmer Difo.

Collier notes that it was the Nats who declined their part of the $5M mutual option, which somewhat surprised me honestly.  I would have thought it would have been the player to decline that and shoot for something more.  Nonetheless, it makes the odds of a reunion a bit lower. 


Q: Can you do a bit of an explainer about the new luxury tax rules, where Nats are with respect to threshold right now, and how that’ll inform Rizzo’s offseason (speculating anyway)?

A: Without going into it in great detail (I have a post about Nats payroll coming soon), right now as we stand I have the Nats 2018 payroll at about $170M in “real dollars” (counting arb estimates and deferred payments), but about $10M  higher in the eyes of MLB’s luxury tax calculators thanks to the Strasburg and Scherzer deals.  The team broached $190m with last season’s mid-season transactions and thus became a luxury tax spender for the first time (which will cost them significantly if they were to go after a QO-attached free agent, not that I think they will).

The luxury tax threshold for 2018 is $197M (see this wikipedia page for the link and figures).  So, I suppose the team has about $17M or so of “wiggle room” for transactions this off-season plus next mid-season.  That isn’t a lot, and all the high-priced players on our payroll are either key pieces or immovable (thanks Matt Wieters).   So unless they swing a huge salary, or trade some young assets in payroll-offsetting moves, I think the team will do very little this off-season.

Collier notes similar sentiments.


 

Q: Last year, the four top outfielders were out due to injuries for extensive periods of time. Shouldn’t they have six top-notch outfielders to draw from next year?

A: Easy to say in theory, harder in practice.   You generally only care 4 or perhaps 5 outfielders on a 25-man roster … so how do you make an argument to your 5th and 6th “top-notch” outfielders that they have to hang out in Syracuse for half the season until they’re needed?  Not to mention options statuses, 5-year veteran limitations and other things that get in the way of stuff like this.  This isn’t the 1950s when you could just stash players all over without regard to service time issues.

No, the better way to go is to have your named starters, then depend on your prospect depth to cover things.  And honestly, that’s kinda where the Nats are.  Going into 2018 without any moves, you’re looking at:

  • Starting OF of Eaton, Taylor and Harper.
  • 4th and 5th outfielders Goodwin and Stevenson, both prospects that we developed and being paid the MLB min.
  • 6th outfielder in the name of Victor Robles, who is just one of the best prospects in the game.
  • 7th and further depth still with the likes of Bautista or perhaps the Cuban Yadiel Hernandez who is 30 and could be closer than we think.  We have Jose Marmolejos on the roster still; couldn’t he fill in at LF even if he’s primarily a 1B?  And then there’s further-away prospects like Daniel Johnson, who hit pretty well between Low-A and High-A, seems like he’ll start in AA in 2018 and might push his way up.

That’s not too bad.  Btw, how good defensively is our OF projected to be in 2018?  Eaton at a corner in 2016 was one of the best in the majors, Harper has consistently been a positive-metric fielding RF with one of the best arms in the game, and Taylor just showed how statistically he rivaled the best defensive center fielders in the game.  You can’t discount this fact, and it will show itself next year as more fly balls are turned into outs.

Collier likes where our OF depth is.


Q: Why should we believe in Dave Martinez? What makes him different ?

A: I have not weighed in on the manager selection yet.  I thought firing Dusty Baker was a mistake, and that the team did not need to break in a new manager in the critical transition year of 2018.

Nonetheless, Martinez does click some boxes for me; he was a successful player with a long career and can command respect from even the veterans on this team.  He may not have direct managerial experience, but 10 years as Joe Maddon‘s bench coach is nothing to shake a stick at.  He had interviewed for vacancies for years, and deserved a shot.  Details of his contract show that he’s severely under-paid and this probably factored into the team’s decision to hire him (for whatever reason, this team remains “cheap” at the manager’s position), but I think he can do the job.

What makes him different?  Well, he’s clearly learned the “ropes” of managing underneath the game’s best, and in that position he would have had many opportunities to evaluate Maddon’s decisions, privately decide what he would have done, and then seen how things play out.  So he should be able to take the best of what the Cubs are doing and augment those experiences with those opinions he had that were not necessarily taken but which he believed were right.   I’m hopeful that his regime will go well.

Collier notes the points above, but also very fairly says that in reality we have no idea how he’ll manage here since he’s never done so before.  

 

Nationals Screw Job: Rendon and Taylor miss out on Gold Gloves

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If you don't know just how good an OF Taylor is ... check out the stats below. (AP Photo/Nick Wass via nbcsports.com)

If you don’t know just how good an OF Taylor is … check out the stats below. (AP Photo/Nick Wass via nbcsports.com)

(Note: this is the 2017 version of the “Gold Glove Awards versus Defensive Metrics Review” recurring post that I do each year, even if I havn’t titled it as such thanks to the tie-in to our players).

In Keith Law‘s chat yesterday, someone asked him about his reaction to Gold Glove awards being announced and he said something along the lines of “I have no more Fs to give.”

(btw: someone named “Wally” asked a Nats question at the very beginning … same as our own Wally?)

Anyway, its not hard to understand Law’s stance on the awards: they’re often given more based on reputation than accomplishment on the field, they’re often tied to a player’s offense (inexplicably, since its a defensive award), and we’ve had more than a few ridiculous awards in years past (see Derek Jeter in his waning SS years, or the year Rafael Palmeiro got one for “playing” 1B when he mostly DH’d).

However; the voting has gotten much better the past few years; last year there wasn’t a single Gold Glove award that I thought was “fishy.”  Every guy who got an award last year was a deserving winner and you could make a compelling argument for them.

Not this year.

Here’s your 2017 Gold Glove award winners:

PosAL GG WinnerNL GG Winner
CMartin MaldonadoTucker Barnhart
1BEric HosmerPaul Goldschmidt
2BBrian DozierD.J. LeMahieu
SSAndrelton SimmonsBrandon Crawford
3BEvan LongoriaNolan Arenado
LFAlex GordonMarcell Ozuna
CFByron BuxtonEnder Inciarte
RFMookie BettsJason Heyward
PMarcus StromanZack Greinke

In my estimation,  more than 50% of these awards went to the wrong player this year.  Here’s the guys who I had a problem with:

  • Hosmer was actively BAD in the field this year, posting negative range factor and negative DRS figures.  Meanwhile Joe Mauer led several defensive metrics for his position.
  • Goldschmidt was a deserving winner, but Votto rated better than him across the board in nearly every defensive metric.
  • Dozier was behind Kinsler in most every defensive metric as well.
  • Longoria was only a slightly bad choice; clearly Todd Frazier was the better AL 3B in totality.  I wonder if his mid-season trade hurt him in this regard.
  • As we have discussed, Rendon rated 2nd in all of baseball in Fangraphs’ total defense figure, but lost out on reputation to the multi-time award winner Arenado (who did lead the league in DRS fwiw)
  • Ozuna also led NL left fielders in DRS … while Adam Duvall led in most every other stat category.
  • Our own Michael Taylor nearly had a clean sweep of NL statistical leads … yet lost out to Inciarte on reputation.
  • Heyward wasn’t a “bad” pick … but Yasiel Puig outshined him in the statistical category over and over.
  • Both Pitchers (not that its that easy to pick them) seemed rather indefensible versus the same two names that kept popping up on leader boards: Dallas Keuchel and R.A. Dickey.

Here’s some quick tables showing all the leading defensive metrics by position for reference:

Fielding Bible 2017:

PosFielding Bible Winner
CMartin Maldonado
1BPaul Goldschmidt
2BD.J. LeMahieu
SSAndrelton Simmons
3BNolan Arenado
LFBrett Gardner
CFByron Buxton
RFMookie Betts
Dallas Keuchel
UtilJavier Baez

7 of the 9  non-utility Fielding Bible winners also got Gold Gloves.  They gave the P to Keuchel as I thought the gold glove should have gone, and they gave LF to Brett Gardner over Alex Gordon in what was probably a toss-up.  But otherwise well done here.

Fangraphs Total Defense 2017:

PosAL Fangraphs Stat Avg (Def)NL Fangraphs Stat Avg (Def)
CMartin MaldonadoTucker Barnhart
1BJoe MauerJoey Votto
2BIan KinslerDee Gordon
SSAndrelton SimmonsBrandon Crawford
3BTodd FrazierAnthony Rendon
LFAlex GordonAdam Duvall
CFByron BuxtonMichael Taylor
RFMookie BettsYasiel Puig
Pn/an/a

This is the stat that shows that Rendon is the 2nd best defensive player in the game, by the way.   And that Taylor was the best CF in the National League, barely trailing Byron Buxton by a tenth of a point.

Just 7 of the 16 GG winners were leaders by this metric, which is either an indictment of the metric or the gold glove selections this year.  In case you couldn’t tell, you can guess which picks I trust more.

UZR/150 for 2017:

PosAL UZR/150NL UZR/150
Cn/an/a
1BJoe MauerJoey Votto
2BIan KinslerDee Gordon
SSAndrelton SimmonsBrandon Crawford
3BTodd FrazierAnthony Rendon
LFAlex GordonAdam Duvall
CFByron BuxtonMichael Taylor
RFMookie BettsYasiel Puig
Pn/an/a

I like UZR/150; it is the defensive stat I most frequently mention because it is mostly about a player’s range.  Generally speaking everyone can hit a ball hit right to them; i want a guy who can make plays out of their “zone.”   UZR/150 this year predicted just 5 of the 14 GG winners … but in my estimation identified fully 13 of the 14 most deserving winners.  So perhaps my bias shows through here.

DRS for 2017:

PosAL DRSNL DRS
CMartin MaldonadoTucker Barnhart
1BCarlos SantanaJoey Votto
2BIan KinslerD.J. LeMahieu
SSAndrelton SimmonsTrevor Story
3BEvan LongoriaNolan Arenado
LFBrett GardnerMarcell Ozuna
CFByron BuxtonMichael Taylor
RFMookie BettsYasiel Puig
PAlex CobbR.A. Dickey

DRS did the best job of predicting Gold Glove winners, and predicted 15 of the 18 guys who I “thougth” should have won.

FRAA for 2017:

PosAL FRAANL FRAA
CMartin MaldonadoAustin Hedges
1BMatt OlsenAnthony Rizzo
2BBrian DozierD.J. LeMahieu
SSAndrelton SimmonsOdubel Herrera
3BMatt ChapmanDavid Freese
LFBrett GardnerStarling Marte
CFByron BuxtonMichael Taylor
RFMookie BettsJason Heyward
PDallas KeuchelR.A. Dickey

FRAA is Baseball Prospectus’ Fielding Runs Above Average metric and was the worst performing predictor of both actual GG awards and those that I thought should have won.  Furthermore it spit out some truly random names (David Freese as leading NL 3B??).  So i’d probably put it as the least reliable defensive metric right now.

Total Zone for 2017

PosAL Total Zone rTOTNL Total Zone rTOT
CMartin MaldonadoTucker Barnhart
1BCarlos SantanaPaul Goldschmidt
2BJose AltuveD.J. LeMahieu
SSElvis AndrusOrlando Arcia
3BAdrian BeltreAnthony Rendon
LFAlex GordonBrandon Nimmo
CFByron BuxtonManuel Margot
RFMookie BettsJason Heyward
Pn/an/a

Technically “Total Zone Total Fielding runs above average” or the “rTOT” Baseball-reference.com stat.   It did a decent job predicting the GGs (50%) but also spit out some really random names (Elvis Andrus over Andrelton Simmons??) that make it a bit squirrelly to trust.


So, another year passes of Gold Gloves.  None of these defensive metrics are infallible, which is kind of why the three major flavors of WAR often disagree on positional players (each uses a different one of these defensive stats to measure value).  But looking across the landscape of the measurements it isn’t hard to see trends and patterns for who was the most deserving at each position.

 

 

My 2017 End-of-Season Awards Predictions

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Stanton may have solidified his NL MVP. Photo unk via rantsports.com

Stanton may have solidified his NL MVP.
Photo unk via rantsports.com

Hi there.  Its time to write about the “silly season” of baseball, now that they’ve announced the finalists for each of the major awards.

This year, I changed the way I have traditionally written this post and did not bother to check the pulse of the awards (or look at Players of the Month) until season’s end, since they’re generally useless for predicting these major awards.  So no running narrative of who was “in the lead” for the MVP at the all-star break.

Here’s my predictions for how the awards will go.  Important note: This is not necessarily how I believe the awards should go, it is how I think the current electorate will vote …  though I do tend to believe that the MVP award in particular is not just about naming the WAR leader in the league.

The writers have to submit their ballots at the end of the season; I finished this post in early October but waited until the awards season to arrive to publish it.  Thus, it contains no inclusion of any post-season accolades or accomplishments since the votes were already in before the playoffs started.   Therefore, I’ve left in my gross errors once the 3 finalists were announced.

How do I think the voting will go?

  • AL MVP: Altuve, Judge, Ramirez, Betts, Simmons (perhaps Kluber/Sale as 5th place vote-getters instead of their teammates)
  • NL MVP: Stanton, Arenado, Goldschmidt, Bryant, Rendon
  • AL Cy Young: Kluber, Sale, Severino, Carrasco, Verlander
  • NL Cy Young: Scherzer, Kershaw, Strasburg, Greinke, Jansen
  • AL Rookie: Judge unanimously, then Benintendi, Gurriel
  • NL Rookie: Bellinger unanimously, then DeJong, Kyle Freeman
  • AL Manager: Molitor (Minn), Francona (Cle), Girardi (NYY)
  • NL Manager: Baker (Wash), Lovullo (Ariz), Counsell (Mil)

Actual Award Results added as they were awarded (updated post-publishing)

My prediction results: 7 or 8, missing badly on NL Mgr of the year.

Links to other awards that I didn’t predict this year (again, updated post-publishing as they’re announced)

Other links to awards worth noting


Discussion:

  • AL MVP : I’ve got Altuve over Judge in a race that shouldn’t be that close.  Altuve was dominant all year, holds a sizeable advantage in bWAR (more than a win) over any other AL hitter and is the heart of the best team in the league.  Judge would be the winner had he had a 2nd half similar to his 1st half, and was the clear winner of the “Narrative” conversation.   However, Altuve’s defensive additions and Judge’s distinct lack of “clutchness” (he was dead last or close to it in terms of clutch hitting).  Judge just loses out at doing what just a couple of players have ever done; win the RoY and MVP in the seam season (Fred Lynn, .  Outside the top two, I think it could be any one of a slew of guys.  I think Trout‘s injury costs him in the race but he still is named on a bunch of ballots, but not enough to overcome Betts (who gets votes as Boston’s best player).  I think Jose Ramierez should be in the discussion as Cleveland’s best hitter, but he toils in anonymity for the most part and I wouldn’t be surprised to see Sale/Kluber slide into 5th.  Also, don’t sleep on Andrelton Simmons, who has become a force on both sides of the ball this year.  With the finalists announced; I did get the top 3 correct at least and feel like i’ve got the right order.
  • NL MVP: I think Stanton‘s monstrous season (he has nearly 30 more homers than the next best NL hitter) puts him over the top in a year when the best NL teams (Washington, Los Angeles in particular) do not have dominant offensive players leading the way and making their case.  Washington’s best WAR position player is Rendon, who wasn’t even named an All-Star, and the Dodger’s best position player by bWAR is Justin Turner, who isn’t exactly mentioned in the MVP talks.  I think the 2nd and 3rd place votes go to the clear leaders of the two surprise wild card teams (Arenado and Goldschmidt), then 4th and 5th go to Rendon and Kris Bryant in some order.  Bryant has been amazingly quiet despite continuing to be a top player and being the defending MVP; perhaps its Cubs fatigue after their amazing win last fall.  Joey Votto fails to get mentioned despite his amazing season toiling for the last place Reds.   With the finalists announced; I was shocked that the voters gave Votto the votes to get into the top 3; again, more evidence of the electorate getting “smarter” and appreciating the best performances.  I still think it goes Stanton 1st, Goldschmidt 2nd, Votto 3rd.
  • AL Cy Young: Despite Sale‘s 300 strikeout season, Kluber leads the league in most every pitching statistical category and should win this award.  Sale got blasted in one of his last starts of the season, possibly changing some voter’s impression of him at the death of the season.  I wouldn’t be surprised if the voting is really close though.  Past the top two it could be anyone: Verlander stayed in the same league and caught on fire upon his trade to Houston, Luis Severino will get the attention of the many NE-focused voters.  I have no idea who might come in 5th; Carrasco has been great, but it could also be some random closer.  With the finalists announced; I did get the top 3 right at least but feel like its going to be really, really close between Sale/Kluber.
  • NL Cy Young: Both the leading candidates missed time due to injury, but Scherzer only missed a couple of starts and has sizeable lead on Kershaw in both bWAR and in total Ks.  I could see either guy eventually winning though; you can make arguments for either.  Kershaw will have many more innings than he has last year, when he still managed to come in 5th in the vote, and he’ll have a significant lead in ERA.  Past these two, there’s a slew of good hurlers who deserve recognition.  Strasburg has put his name firmly in the argument with his scoreless inning streak, and ironically as of mid-September neither Stras or Scherzer was the bWAR pitching leader on his own *team* (Gio Gonzalez was).  Former Nat Farmhand Robbie Ray has had a great season, as has Greinke, as has Alex Wood and his gaudy W/L record.  3/4/5 could go a number of ways.  And don’t forget Kenley Jansen, who gave up about as many earned runs this year as he did unintentional walks.  Some even mention Jacob deGrom as a back of the ballot guy, but I think there’s enough voters impressed by Jansen’s season that he’ll make it in there.  With the finalists announced; I got the top 3 right and think i’ve got the right order too.
  • AL Rookie: No surprise here; if Judge doesn’t win unanimously then someone needs their vote revoked.  More interesting will be predicting the 2nd and 3rd place guys.  Did Benintendi (the pre-season favorite) do enough?  Did Gurriel and his Rookie of the Month award lift him?  Are there any pitchers worth mentioning?  Keith Law mentioned Oakland’s Matt Olsen as a good 3rd place player but he didn’t play nearly as much as these others.  Rafael Devers?  Who knows.  With the finalists announced; I missed on Mancini versus Gurriel, but again that’s your 3rd place winner in this one-horse race.
  • NL Rookie: As with Judge, this should be unanimous as well, with Bellinger setting a rookie HR record for the Dodgers (who are easily the most illustrious of teams when it comes to rookie history).  Does pre-season RoY favorite Dansby Swanson even get mentioned on ballots after his struggle of a 2017 season?  Who comes in third in the NL?  With the finalists announced; I missed on Bell versus Freeman but either way they’re playing for 2nd place.
  • AL Manager: The Twins went from 100 losses to the playoffs; I think Molitor wins this narrative-driven award thanks to this feat.  Franconia might get it b/c of Cleveland’s amazing winning streak.  With the finalists announced; Missed on Hinch versus Girardi, but does not change my prediction.
  • NL Manager: I can’t see how Baker does NOT win this award,given the ridiculous injury issues he worked around and the whole-sale bullpen change at mid-season.  With the finalists announced; Baker does not even make the top 3.  I guess my homer-ism missed out here.  I got just one of the 3 finalists right, with the voters picking Dave Roberts and Bud Black instead of Baker and Counsell.  Re-guessing now that I see the finalists I think Bud Black is the new favorite, with Arizona’s Lovullo 2nd and Roberts third.

 

 

Pressing issues for the Nats this off-season

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Will Dusty get another contract here? Photo via UPI

Will Dusty get another contract here? Photo via UPI

Since our season is over (but the hot-stove has not yet kicked in), i’ll piggy back on the recent posts to this same topic done by Mark Zuckerman at MASN and by Chelsea Janes at WP.

Their posts both touched on some of the same issues; i’ll take those issues and add in a few of my own.

Major issues for the Nats to address this coming off-season, how I would address them and what I think the team will do:

  1. Resolve Dusty Baker situation.  Many reports have noted that the team wants him back and that he wants to return.  I see little that he could have done differently in the 5-game NLDS loss to use as evidence that he’s not the right guy (you can’t lose when your pitchers throw 6 no-hit innings in playoff starts), and he’s so clearly a better man-manager than his predecessor Matt Williams that I see no reason not to extend him.   I know that the Lerner’s don’t like to do long term contracts, and lets just hope they offer Baker the raise he deserves for two straight division titles (and, in my opinion, the NL Manager of the Year in 2017 award that he should get for working around so many injuries this year).
  2. Should we bring back Jayson Werth?   Yes he’s the “club house leader,” yes he’s been here for seven years and has settled in the DC area.  But he struggled this year with both injuries and performance, is entering his age 39  year, posted a negative bWAR in 2017, and the team has a surplus of outfielders who are probably MLB “starters” heading into 2018, more than we can even field.  I think the team says to Werth something along the lines of the following: Go see if you can find a DH/part time OF job in the AL for a couple years until you’re done playing and then we’ll hire you back as a special assistant/hitting instructor/bench coach or something.  I’m not entirely convinced that Werth is a DC lifer though; he’s been kind of a nomad in his career.  Drafted by Baltimore, traded to Toronto (with whom he debuted), traded to the Los Angeles Dodgers, signed as a FA with Philly for four years, then with us for seven.  Yes he’s been with us the longest, but this isn’t a situation like Ryan Zimmerman where we’re the only org he’s known.  I think he heads off to the AL for a couple years then comes back to the fold with a front office job.
  3. What do we do at Catcher?  I’ll quickly repeat what we’ve been discussing in the comments of previous posts; yes I know Matt Wieters struggled badly at the plate this year, yes I know he botched the 5th inning of that fateful game 5.  But he’s not going to decline a $10M offer after this season, nor is the team going to swallow that amount of money.  Prepare yourselves for another season of Wieters, who we can only hope bounces back in his “contract year” and gets a bump in performance.  Meanwhile, as much as we love the Jose Lobaton cheerleader routine, we do need more production from the backup.  Even though Lobaton got just 158 ABs this year, he still managed to put up a -1.0 bWAR figure.  That’s hard to do.  If only we could just have him only play for us in the playoffs … (big hit in game 5 in 2017, the clutch 3-run homer in 2016).  I suspect the team will go with Wieters and Pedro Severino as his backup, getting Severino at least two starts a week to get him up to speed on MLB pitching, then making a 2019 decision based on whether Severino looks like he could hit enough to be a full time starter or if he remains the backup to some FA acquisition.  We have others in the pipeline who may prove themselves worthy soon (Raudy Read in AAA, Taylor Gushue in AA, Jakson Reetz in High-A, Tres Barrera in Low-A, plus long-serving minor leaguers Spencer Kieboom and Jhonatan Solano in the AAA fold who may or may not come back for 2018).
  4. Will they pursue FA extensions with key players?  Namely, Bryce Harper, Anthony Rendon and Daniel Murphy.  Lets take them one by one:
    1. Harper: lets face it, there’s NO WAY he’s not hitting free agency.  Scott Boras client with a chance to set the all time contract record?  Both guys have the ego required to pursue that avenue.  And yes, while some Boras clients (Stephen Strasburg) have taken pre-FA deals, very few do.  You hire Boras generally to get the biggest value deal and to leverage his relationships with owners so as to negotiate directly with them and that’s what Harper will do.
    2. Rendon: he’s still got two arb years: what I think the team will do is do a 2-year deal to buy out the Arb years and get cost containment.  MLBtraderumors projected Rendon’s arb salary for 2018 at $11.5M and they’re usually pretty accurate; I could see the nats offering Rendon a 2yr/$26M deal for $10M in 2018 then $16M in 2019 or something like that … maybe a little higher in his final year given his MVP-calibre season.  That’d be good for the team because Rendon might be a $20M/year player, and good for Rendon b/c he’s injury prone.  Past this though … Rendon is also a Boras client but he projects to me kind of like Strasburg in that he’s low-key and may want to commit to DC longer term.  Of course, Rendon is also a Houston lifer (born, high school and college there) so he could also want a return trip home to play for his home town team.  Probably an issue for the 2020 hot-stove season.
    3. Murphy: the Nats have gotten such a huge bargain with the Murphy signing.  He’ll only be 34 at the beginning of his next deal, and he plays a position (2B) that isn’t nearly as taxing as an OF or other infield position.  I would feel completely comfortable offering him another 3 year deal, increasing the dollars to maybe $16M/year (3yrs/$48M).
  5. Do they need to pursue a Starting Pitcher?  Absolutely, 100% yes.   Joe Ross is out for basically the whole of 2018, they traded away all their AAA depth last off-season, and the guys remaining in AAA (A.J. Cole and Erick Fedde) did not grab the 5th starter job like they had the chance to in 2017.  Edwin Jackson probably earned himself a shot elsewhere but was too inconsistent for my tastes.  I think the team splurges here, trying to get the best additional veteran starter they can find either on the free market or in trade.  The market for starters is intriguing: Yu DarvishJake Arrieta are Cy-Young quality arms available.  There’s some decent SPs like Masahiro Tanaka and Johnny Cueto who can opt out but who also may just stay put.  There’s #4 starter types like Lance Lynn and Jeremy Hellickson who are available and could be good 5th starters for us.  There’s guys who have put up good seasons but have struggled lately (Jaime GarciaFrancisco LirianoClay Buchholz) who could be intriguing.  So it’ll be interesting to see who they get.
  6. What is the Nats 2018 outfield?  Do they stick with Internal options or do they hit the FA/trade Markets?   I like a potential 2018 outfield of Taylor/Eaton/Harper.  I like Taylor in CF providing better defense than Eaton right now, given that ACL injuries really are 2-year recoveries.  Given Taylor’s big 2017 and his “Michael A Tater” NLDS, he’s more than earned a starting spot in 2018.  That leaves some surplus in the OF for 2018 … something we’ll talk about next.  There are some intriguing names out there on the FA market (J.D. Martinez, Justin Upton, Lorenzo Cain) who could slot into either LF or CF as needed and give a hopeful boost to the offense … but are any of those guys and their 8-figure salaries guarantees to be better than the cost-contained Taylor?  I don’t think so, and that’s why I think we stick with him.
  7. Do the Nats leverage their sudden depth of position players in trade this off-season?  In particular, i’m talking about Wilmer Difo and Brian Goodwin, both of whom played extremely well when given the opportunity and who both proved that they’re MLB starting quality.   If we stick with Taylor as a starter, then you have both Goodwin and Andrew Stevenson as able backups and that’s one too many.  If we (going back to the previous point) buy another outfielder, then that’s even more surplus.  I’m of the opinion that the team needs to sell high on both Difo and Goodwin and acquire needed assets (5th starter, bullpen help, near-to-the-majors pitching prospects).
  8. What do we do with the benchDrew, Lobaton, Kendrick, de Aza, Raburn all FAs, Lind has a player option but may want to try to parlay his excellent PH season into a FTE job.  So that leaves … not much.
    1. We have already talked about a backup catcher above
    2. We need a RH bench bat who can play corners (1B/LF): that was Chris Heisey to start the year .. but he’s long gone.  Kendrick ably filled this role … but he won’t sign back on as a utility guy given his excellent 2017.
    3. If Lind doesn’t exercise his $5M player option, we’ll need a big bopper lefty on the bench again.  We do have a guy like this on the farm and on our 40-man (Jose Marmolejos) but is he MLB ready?  He had a nice AA season, but AA to the majors is a jump.
    4. If we flip Difo, we’ll need a backup middle infielder.  Do we keep him assuming that Turner/Murphy will get hit with injuries (as they both are apt to do?)  Turner missed months, Murphy missed nearly 20 games in each of the past two years; is that enough to keep someone around versus flipping them?
    5. We do seem OK with backup outfielders right now, assuming that Andrew Stevenson is sufficient as a 4th OF/CF-capable defensive replacement/pinch runner type.

So, that’s potentially a brand new bench.  Luckily its not too hard to find veteran big-hitting RH or LH bats; we seem to do this every year and have some luck.  Middle infielders?  Would you sign up for another year of Drew?  I don’t think I would at this point; he just seems to brittle to count on.   I suspect the team will be quite active in this area.

9. What do we do with the bullpen Right now, given the departing FA relievers (Perez, Kintzler, Blanton, Albers), our “standing pat” bullpen for 2018 looks something like this:

  1. Closer: Doolittle
  2. 7th/8th inning guys: Madsen, Kelley, Glover
  3. Lefties: Solis, Romero
  4. Long Man: Grace/Cole
  5. Minors options: Adams, Gott

So, that’s a pretty solid looking bullpen if two guys in particular are healthy: Kelley and Glover.  Our entire strategy in the off-season seems to hinge on the health of these two.  I have no guesses; so lets assume one of them is good and one of them has a significant all of 2018 injury.  That means we probably pursue another Matt Albers type in the off-season.  Meanwhile, there’s a difference of opinion on the value of both our current lefties: Romero’s ancillary numbers were barely adequate and lefties hit him for nearly a .300 BAA, so he’s not exactly an effective lefty.  Solis blew up this season, posting a seasonal ERA of nearly 6.00 (his FIP was much better) and getting demoted at one point.  But he gets lefties out, Baker trusts him, and I can’t see him not being a part of the solution.  If the team thought they could improve upon Romero, perhaps they also pursue a lefty reliever (or resign the swashbuckler Perez).  I’m ok with Grace as a long man (though his K/9 rates leave something to be desired) but I’d also like to see the team convert Cole to relief at this point.  There’s some options issues to consider; Solis, Romero, Cole, and Grace are all out of options for next year, so they all either make the team or get cut loose.

 


So Summary:

  1. Bring back Baker
  2. Say good bye to Werth
  3. Stand pat on catcher with internal options
  4. Buy out Rendon’s arb years this year, talk about Murphy next year
  5. Get a decent 5th starter
  6. Go with Taylor/Eaton/Harper with Stevenson as your backup in the OF
  7. Yes, trade Goodwin and Difo for stuff
  8. Get one middle RH reliever, one middle LF reliever, convert Cole to relief
  9. Cattle call for bench bats next spring.

Am I missing anything?  Lots of talking points here.

 

 

Missed opportunities result in a Short Series loss; Season over

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Werth ends his Nats career with a K. Photo via getty images

Werth ends his Nats career with a K in the 9th. Photo via getty images

It was a tough watch, to stay up til nearly 1am watching the inevitable.  And it seemed inevitable to watch this team fritter away another NLDS clinching win through another wild outing from Gio Gonzalez to a rather inexplicable “failed starter giving relief innings attempt” from Max Scherzer.  That was the shocking part to me honestly; how does he give up 4 runs?

Just like in 2012 and in 2016, reliable bullpen guys leaked runs to either cut into hard-earned leads or to drip drip and put the game just slightly out of reach in the end.

The Nats drop a series to Chicago where they hit better (both teams were god-awful at the plate but the Nats only slightly more so), where their team ERA was a full point better than Chicagos, and where they outscored the Cubs 20-17 over five games.  Just as in 2016 when the Nats similarly outscored the Dodgers but dropped the series 3-2.

It was tough watching Ryan Zimmerman flail at a very tough slider from Wade Davis to end the 7th with runners in scoring position.  It was ridiculous to watch the umpires call Jose Lobaton out despite zero “conclusive evidence” that showed that the tag stayed on, killing a rally that looked like it was about to turn the tide of the game.  And it was pretty tough watching both Werth and Harper get punched out by the same uber-reliever Davis to end the game.  All in all, the Nationals batters left an astounding NINETEEN runners on base in this game.  Nineteen.  I guess they left their “clutch” pants at home.

Baseball Playoffs rarely distill down the “right” champion.  In fact, the team that had the best regular season record has subsequently won the World Series just five times since 1990 (the 1998 Yankees super team, the dominant 2007 Boston team, the 2009 A-Rod Yankees team, again with the 2013 Boston team and last year’s Chicago Cubs).   The other 22 champions during that time were not the best teams in their leagues and in some cases weren’t even the best teams in their divisions.  Miami famously has two WS wins but zero divisional titles in their history, which seems kind of ridiculous.  I’m not saying the Nats were necessarily “better” than the Cubs … they were separated by 4 wins over 162 games, but they deserved to win this series.

End of the line for Werth most likely, also for a handful of bit players, but the core of this team gets another shot at it next year.

Shout out to Michael A. Taylor, who may have shared series MVP honors with Strasburg for his exploits in this series (he drove in 8 of the 20 runs we scored in five games).  Between his renaissance this season at the plate and his exploits this series, it has me rethinking what to do with him for next season: I was pro-trade of Taylor and going with FA/Eaton/Harper outfield … but now i’m thinking you put some combination of Eaton/Taylor/Harper in that OF and save your cash for a 5th starter and/or more bullpen help.  But we’ll get into off-season moves later on in depth.

As for the rest of the offense, tts telling that the only  other guys on this team who drove in runs were the “key men” in the lineup: Harper, Rendon, Murphy, Zimmerman.  So our key guys struggled at the plate but still drove in the runs to keep it close.  Turner finishes off a disappointing season with a disappointing series … lets hope an off-season of rest gets him back to his late 2015 days for next year.

One last series stat.  Strasburg’s line: 14 innings, 6 hits, 3 walks, 22 punch-outs, a 0.00 ERA … and a 1-1 record.  He took a loss for his efforts in game 1.  Bully for him for taking his game 4 start and shoving it down every pundit’s throat who questioned him.  He really turned the narrative on his career with this performance … do you believe there’s still people out there who don’t think he’s an “Ace” in this league?  Maybe that nonsense will end, given his dominance down the stretch and in this series.

Next up for me; i’ll do playoff predictions I guess, because i like looking at pitching match-ups and guessing who might win.  Quick predictions: Houston beats over-their-depth Yankees, LA crushes the exhausted Cubs, and LA fulfils their destiny by holding the Houston bats at bay in the WS.  But we’ll dig deeper into it later.

See you 2016.  Another playoff opportunity lost for this team.

 

Ask Chelsea – post-season/pre-playoffs mailbag

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Farewell Jayson Werth; its been a good 7 years. Photo via getty images

Farewell Jayson Werth; its been a good 7 years. Photo via getty images

Lets bang out a mailbag, this time with WP beat reporter Chelsea Janes at the WP.

I’ll do a Playoffs prediction piece once tonight’s WC game is settled; no point in speculating until we know who the Dodgers are facing.


Q: Is any contract extension for Dusty contingent on getting the team past the first round?

A: I wouldn’t think so, honestly.  I think Dusty Baker has done an excellent job with this team, turning it around starkly from the Matt Williams regime.  Yes its curious that he hasn’t been extended … but then again, the inevitable extension for Mike Rizzo seemed to be a little late coming too.  Maybe this team has told him privately that they’ll get it done this off-season and just focus on winning for the time being.

Janes has reported several times that everyone plans on Baker being back, that Rizzo wanted to do it in ST but ownership did not, and that’s the Nationals MO.  


 

Q: Is Stephen Strasburg going to start Game 1?

A: As of the point of this writing, it definitely seems like it.  This gives Max Scherzer one more day to recover, and gives the team the choice of selecting either guy for Game 5 thanks to multiple off-days in the playoff schedule.  I’d be up for this scenario honestly; Scherzer may be the Ace but Strasburg has been the best pitcher in the last two months.

Janes does not know but pointed out Strasburg’s unbelievable numbers since returning from the D/L in August.  He definitely merits a 2-game NLDS if it comes to it.


 

Q: Chances Anthony Rendon gets an extension this off season?

A: Hmm.  Good question.  Rendon is going to be due a sizeable arbitration raise this off-season and still has another Arb year, so I could see the team doing a 2-year deal now to avoid the arguing.  Perhaps 2yrs/$25M or something (with salaries of $10 and $15M?).  I’d take that for cost certainty for a guy who doesn’t get near the credit he’s due but is putting up MVP numbers.  As far as longer-term extension?  I dunno; is Rendon a lifer in Washington?  What will it take to sign him long term?  In this respect, his under-ratedness works to the team’s benefit.  I see him kind of in the Adrian Beltre mold; good defensive player, not as flashy, solid offensive contributions.  Beltre is getting $18M per right now and just finished a 5yr/$80M deal before that, so that’s a good benchmark.  Maybe Rendon can be had for something like a 5yr/$90M deal which would take him through his age-32 year, so we’d get his best years but he’d get another shot at the FA market at 32.

Janes agrees with my assertion that they’ll likely buy out his Arb years, but notes that he’s a Scott Boras client and likely hits FA.  Fair point.  But our read on Rendon is not the hyper-aggressive big character/ego guy, so maybe in the asme vein as Strasburg (also Boras client) he’ll sign an extension to stay comfortable.  He’s also a Houston guy born and bred (HS and college) and would make a ton of sense heading back there.  Houston has a log-jam of good infielders right now … but a lot can change in a couple years.


Q: Would you start Jayson Werth or Adam Lind in LF for playoffs Game 1?

A: Werth absolutely.  Especially since Jon Lester is likely to go Game 1.  Maybe you could get more clever in games 2-4 when RHP starters go for Chicago… but I still doubt it.  Unless Werth is hurt, he’s  your starting LF.  And if he was hurt … i’m not sure I’d go with Lind out there in lieu of Howie Kendrick honestly, given the defensive liabilities.

Janes agrees, thinks it would take an injury to get someone besides Werth out there, and points out that Werth was a rock in the playoffs last year.


Q: How worried should we be about the recent performances of Gio Gonzalez and Tanner Roark? 

A: Slightly worried, but not overly so.  The Nats have really had so little to play for for weeks that its possible that these guys just mentally relaxed enough to have bad games, especially in the season finale (which was emotional for it being Werth’s likely final regular season game in a Nats uniform).

Janes thinks Gio was a bit under the weather, and that Roark admitted to not being totally focused during the grind of the final week.


Q: Will Victor Robles make the major league roster out of spring training in 2018?

A: Oh, that’s a good question.  Something tells me he will not for several reasons:

  1. Adam Eaton will be back and starting in CF
  2. Harper is in RF
  3. The team still has TaylorGoodwin and Stevenson all in the mix, all pre-arb, all with more service time than Robles
  4. We still could buy ourselves a bigger bat to play LF and have these guys all jockeying to be the 4th OF.
  5. We still could see a trade in the off-season, flipping some of this sudden OF depth (along with Wilmer Difo) for the answer.
  6. Robles needs to be playing every day, not sitting on the MLB bench, and makes sense to be in AAA against near-MLB quality guys
  7. Robles needs, in the same vein as Trea Turner, to have his service time managed a little bit.

Now, I could be wrong, and the team could find itself in a dogfight early in Harper’s last season.  They could get hit with injuries again and he’d be right back up.  But to start, i’d have him in AAA.

Janes repeats practically everything I wrote.


Q: Who will be the last man on the bench? What will the bullpen look like? Will Robles make the playoff roster? 

A: I think …. if it were me i’d put Robles on the roster.  But Mr, Baker probably wants a more veteran player, so don’t be surprised if the kid is left off in lieu of some .200 hitting last man.  We’ll see.

We talked about this in the last post so we won’t do it again, and Janes posted a whole 2,000 word article on it … so we’ll defer to those discussions.

 

 

 

 

 

So what did we learn from the LA series?

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Strasburg is the man. Photo allansgraphics.com

Strasburg is the man.
Photo allansgraphics.com

When you squinted at the possible pitching matchups for the big weekend series, I thought perhaps we’d at least get two decent match-ups.  Instead, We got the following thanks to the Nats “6-man rotation:”

  • Edwin Jackson vs Alex Wood
  • A.J. Cole vs Rich Hill
  • Stephen Strasburg vs Hyun-Jin Ryu

So, that’s certainly not LA’s best (we missed both Kershaw and Darvish, who you’d have to say are their #1/#2 right now), but we didn’t exactly throw our best either.  Jackson is a MLFA signing/substitute #5 starter and Cole had a nifty 5.88 ERA in AAA and is our notional “6th starter” right now.

Jackson got bombed, Cole leaked a couple of runs but the Nats could do nothing with Hill (one hit over five, a solo HR).  To their credit, there were no spring training split squad lineups this weekend, so maybe there’s a slight concern about “fatigue” in the offense as we wind down the season.

What the Dodgers did get was a lovely tour of our bullpen, thanks  in no small part to Jackson’s 2 1/3 inning outing friday.  So there’s that.  And to their credit the bullpen pitched amazingly.  6 2/3rds innings on friday giving up just 3 hits and 0 runs, 4-hitless innings on saturday,  Plus our standard 7/8/9 guys throwing three more shutout innings in the finale when our bats finally got going.

So, here’s what I think we learned this weekend:

  • Roark will be the 4th starter in the playoffs: I think Jackson’s outing clearly took him out of any 4th starter conversation that might have remained.  I still think he’s a threat for the last bullpen arm, unless they decide to go with one extra lefty who can throw lots of innings in the form of Matt Grace.  In the end it might just be matchup driven as we’ve discussed.
  • We need Harper back; we didn’t even face LA’s best and in a long series we get Kershaw twice plus whatever other shenanigans he does on short rest.  We scored 9 runs in 3 games … 7 of them against LA’s flailing bullpen.
  • Our offense struggles against good lefties: which is not good news, since we didn’t even face LA’s *best* lefty starter this past weekend.
  • Our bullpen is … solid: for all the angst it caused us in the first half of the year, this bullpen just *completely* shut down a stellar offense.  That’s great news for our chances in October.
  • Strasburg is better than Scherzer right now: great start last night; 3 hits and 1 run in 6 innings … and one of those “hits” was a ball that Taylor absolutely should have caught.  Not sure why that was not an E-8.  Nonetheless, you have to like the chances of a series where someone has to go against Scherzer/Strasburg 4 times out of 7 games.
  • A LA-DC series will be epic, if we can get there.  We took 2 of 3 in their house and they returned the favor, with both sides not really getting their optimal lineups or rotations going for either series.  No such excuses if both teams can get to the NLCS (which, I might say, is no given … LA has a losing record against both its potential WC opponents and the Nats have never won a post-season series and are set to face the Cubs).

What are your thoughts?