The Nats and PECOTA Projections

February 20, 2013

Oh poor Nats… they are just not as good as we all thought. At least that might be your first reaction if you look at the playoff odds report at Baseball Prospectus. They are projected to finish 87-75 (after rounding) despite winning 98 next year. And while they are projected to win the NL East, they have the lowest playoff percentage chance of any projected division leader at 67.9%, and the lowest chance of winning the World Series of any of them as well, at 7.6%. What gives?

Ok, before you go storm the offices of Baseball Prospectus (for which, I assume, you’d need some help from ENCOM) let’s keep a few things in mind. First of all, the Nats are forecast to win the NL East, not come in second. The Braves are forecast to be the second place team at only 82-80, which would give the Nats a comfortable lead. And all of this is based on PECOTA, which has some quirks that are worth noting. That doesn’t mean PECOTA is worth ignoring, its just important to know what the issues might be.

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Mike Morse’s Great Story

January 16, 2013

I don’t blame the Nats for trading somebody, and with the way contracts and defense worked out, Mike Morse made the most sense. I would have done the same thing if I was Rizzo, but he will definitely be missed. He is an exciting player to watch, and he has one of the best stories I can remember from any National.

In a little bit of a cheapy here, I just want to reprint what I wrote last week when LaRoche was signed and it was clear Morse might be on the way out. Here’s his story, from a scouting and performance perspective:

Because of this contract, it seemingly relegates Morse to the bench. It likely means that management will trade him, which makes sense in terms of building the best team. It is unfortunate to feel the need to trade such a good player who is a fan favorite, and count me as one of those fans who enjoys watching his enthusiastic play. His emergence as a true power hitter was more surprising than you may recall.

In one of the more lopsided trades this team has made (in hindsight), they gave up Ryan Langerhans to get Morse. Langerhans looked like the better player at the time – although he hadn’t had much success hitting, he was at least a lefty, had shown some power in the minors, and was a good fielder. Morse, on the other hand, hadn’t yet shown power in the majors, or the minors for that matter. He was also a converted infielder who couldn’t seem to field anywhere that well. Here is what Baseball Prospectus said about him before the 2008 season:

As utilitymen go, Michael Morse is a tweener-he doesn’t have the defensive skill to back up the middle infield positions or the power to hold down even the short-side of a platoon at one of the corners. What that leaves, particularly on a team that already has Willie Bloomquist, is not much

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The Response to the Soriano Response

January 16, 2013

It’s hard not to describe the signing of Rafael Soriano as a response to the last game of the NLDS. But, much like the Adam LaRoche deal, even if you don’t like the specifics and the fallout, it’s also hard to argue that it doesn’t make the team better in 2013. My initial reaction to the deal was that while it was a strong addition to the team, it wasn’t necessarily a move I’d make.

It’s alot of money for a reliever (money that the Nats have to burn, so who cares) and it costs their first round pick. But just because I wouldn’t have necessarily made the move doesn’t mean I dislike it, and I don’t dislike it. Soriano is a big name, and so it was the biggest baseball news of the day, but we’ll get into that later.

First, My Take

With Soriano, they get a dominant reliever for 2 years. I say two years because his option kicks in only if he finished 120 games. Doing some advanced mathematical calculations, I discovered that he would have to average 60 games finished per season to do that. If there is any sharing of the closing duties with Drew Storen at all, that aint gonna happen. Since 2006, MLB has averaged 4.57 players per year that hit the 60 GF mark, and Davey has shown that he likes multiple closers. So you’re really looking at a two year deal. And what you’re getting is one of the best relievers in baseball.

In his last 7 years, he has thrown 391 IP, with 415 K to only 128 BB and a 1.031 WHIP. His ERA is 2.65, which is a 160 ERA+, and while he’s done this in some pitcher’s parks, he was also dominant last year with the Yankees in New York. New York is probably considered the ultimate test thanks to the new ballpark – it was already considered a pressure/media meat grinder, and now it’s got RF stands that snack on popups. He’s been great (that WHIP, probably more important for relievers than ERA, is historically impressive, as you’ll see later), and I am excited for what he does to this bullpen.

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LaRoche Brings D, Likely Best Possible Lineup

January 8, 2013

The Nats re-signed Adam LaRoche today, getting him on a two year deal. Comparing LaRoche to the other first base options, Michael Morse and Tyler Moore, I think this is the scenario most likely to be the most successful.

The defense gets a boost with LaRoche over the other guys. On offense, it allows them to have a better lefty-righty mix, and is the most probable candidate for best lineup. Morse has the potential to hit better than either of the other guys, but he also has the potential to turn in a .320 or lower OPS, and even with more power than LaRoche, this is a hindrance to his value. Moore is still unproven as a full timer, and while I’m excited to see what he can do, I doubt its the .840 OPS he showed this year.

I’ve heard that 2012 was a career year for LaRoche, but it really wasn’t. I wrote about it at length here in October, but suffice to say it wasn’t so much better than his 2006, and slightly better than 2008 and 2009. He’ll probably end up with another strong but non-spectacular offensive 1B season. Rizzo went with best probable lineup rather than best potential lineup, and I can’t blame him for that. All that coupled with strong defense made him the best choice for this team.

The Morse Surprise

Because of this contract, it seemingly relegates Morse to the bench. It likely means that management will trade him, which makes sense in terms of building the best team. It is unfortunate to feel the need to trade such a good player who is a fan favorite, and count me as one of those fans who enjoys watching his enthusiastic play. His emergence as a true power hitter was more surprising than you may recall.

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It’s All About the Hamilton, Baby

November 5, 2012

If the title of this post doesn’t mean anything to you, stop everything that you are doing and watch one of the first (and for my money, probably the best) of the SNL Digital Shorts music videos right now. I’m serious, I’ll wait. (If you’ve already seen it, then enjoy your journey back to December 2005):

I will take your word that you’ve gone and done that. Hard to believe that’s almost 7 years old. On to the actual subject of the post – the best hitting free agent this offseason, Josh Hamilton. Keith Law called him the #3 available FA, behind a pitcher (Grienke) and B.J. Upton, a younger, faster, better defensive player who can still play a premium defensive position. It can certainly be argued that Hamilton deserves to be #2 or even first, because it’s hard to argue that there is a better offensive player available than Hamilton. So let’s start by taking a look at this offensive force, first the pros and then the cons:

I Told You that I’m Crazy Bout These Cupcakes Cousin

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The LaRoche Saga

October 23, 2012

When we discuss the construction of the 2013 Nationals, the linchpin player is Adam LaRoche. It’s hard to figure out what other moves will be made until his situation is finalized. It’s widely assumed that he’ll opt out of his contract. The $10M option was good security for him at the time, but he can certainly command more now, and he can get multiple years with at least that much per year. For the Nats, he was certainly the most consistent offensive player, and possibly the best. He was #2 in PAs and led the team in HRs and OPS. People tend to think this was a “career” year, but that is colored by his hot start. In terms of OPS+, it was his 2nd best, and right around his numbers in 2006, 2008, and 2009.

What this year did show, however, was that he can still hit. After a somewhat disappointing 2010 season in where he did hit 25 HRs and have 100 RBI, but only had a .788 OPS (9th best among NL 1Bs), he sat out the majority of 2011 on the DL. Someone will offer him multiple years, and while he does profess that he wants to stay in DC, at 32 years old he would be wise to go with the best offer. It’s hard to imagine the Nats could low ball him and hold on. I figure most people who want him back would prefer 2 years or less, so anything longer than that would be considered “long term.” I seriously doubt he’d get any more than 4 years from anyone.

In terms of finding a replacement for LaRoche, there are some in house options with Tyler Moore and Michael Morse. There are also a few free agent possibilities, and while there aren’t any 28 year old superstars waiting on a big deal, realistic options for full time players include Mike Napoli, Lance Berkman (who may retire), Carlos Pena (who probably should retire),  and Nick Swisher (who could also play OF). One possibility is to go with a Tyler Moore platoon, and sign a lefty who can hit righties like Aubrey Huff or James Loney (who actually has a .792 OPS vs RHP playing in that huge LAD stadium). My thought on that is they wouldn’t sign a guy to make a full time platoon, more as a bailout option in case Moore struggles.


Dr. StrangeUpton

September 20, 2012

…or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bombs.

As an aside from the playoff race and the fun that the Nationals are having looking forward to October, I’m always speculating about how they’ll structure next year’s lineup (the biggie: will LaRoche still be here?). If they’re happy with Harper in CF they could just keep LaRoche, but that might not be up to them. And if it’s not, they’ll might have to find a free agent. Except that the corner outfield and 1B free agent market is sparse. So maybe get a real CF, move Harper to a corner OF spot and Morse to 1B.

If they do go that way, there are 3 big name center fielders that are available. One is Shane Victorino, but I have my doubts that he’s the right answer. Another is Michael Bourn, and he’s a good player, but he might want a big long term deal, and maybe they don’t want to do that. Another guy who might be had a little cheaper, and maybe they could sign him shorter term is B.J. Upton (maybe they couldn’t, but at least he’s two years younger than Bourn).

And I like the idea of Upton, but is he the answer for this team? He’s a low AVG, relatively low OBP (bad year this year, but .337 career aint awful) and decent power guy. In other words, he reminds me of Ian Desmond. Desi’s had a much better than year than Upton, but the similarities are there in my mind. I just keep thinking they’re OBP low and power high and maybe they need more OBP and they’re great but streaky… well, I went ahead and worked myself into a frenzy, so I submitted this basic premise to Colin Wyers at Baseball Prospectus during his chat yeseterday:

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Needling the Nats MVP Race

September 13, 2012

The Nationals have a clear cut and deserving MVP candidate. It’s not Gio Gonzalez – I think pitchers have their own award and shouldn’t win MVPs. It’s not Adam LaRoche, in part because I believe Ian Desmond has been more valuable this year (and fangraphs agrees). But it’s not Desi either. No, it’s this guy:

No, that isn’t B12, steroids or even monkey gonad juice. That’s right, the MVP award goes to… Mr Cortisone!

Alright, alright, that’s being a bit ridiculous, but hear me out. Everyone knows that the shot helped Ryan Zimmerman, it was talked about quite a bit at the time. But it’s been almost 3 months and he just keeps killing the ball. Check out his numbers before and after his cortisone shot on the afternoon of June 24, right before a game against the Orioles:

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Feast or Famine? Blame the OBP

August 30, 2012

We have seen this season that the Nats offense has its moments, and then has games where it doesn’t really show up at all. Or in the case of the recent road trip, 5 days in a row where it doesn’t show up at all. This feast or famine aspect of the offense is frustrating, but it doesn’t mean they can’t score. They’re ranked 7th in the league in runs scored, so they aren’t slouches. But their OBP is ranked 10th, and some of that is buoyed by guys who haven’t been starters all year, which may go a long way to explaining why it seems like when they’re not scoring, they’re really not scoring.

There are 222 players in MLB this year with 300 or more plate appearances. Ranking by OBP, the Nats highest ranking player on that list is Ryan Zimmerman, who ranks 63rd with a .349 mark. The next guy is Adam LaRoche, who’s .333 ranks him 109th, just above the halfway mark. It looks worse as you keep going, here are the rest of the guy’s who qualify:

These aren’t horrible numbers, but there’s nobody great at getting on base this year on the list, including the guys mentioned up top. And while nobody’s in that bottom quartile, 5 of the 7 guys with enough PAs are in the bottom half. That goes a long way to explaining why this team is so feast or famine.

And this may be an indicator of what they need to look for in the offseason. The talk that you usually hear about this team is that they’re missing a true CF and a true leadoff man, and they could probably get one guy to fill both roles. If that is the case, they better get a guy with a high OBP, and avoid the talented but OBP-free BJ Upton’s of the world.

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Nationals Have alot of Options at the Deadline

July 18, 2012

Yesterday, I made the case for the Nats holding on to their stock of players, rather than trying to cash in this season. No major trade for another top line starter (if they even have the prospects to do that) and keep with Strasburg‘s innings limit. So that’s that, right? Well, not really, there are other options that people might be interested in going after.

What about other positions the team may need help with? Maybe you don’t like the idea of Danny Espinosa as a starter on a championship caliber team. Myself, I think his .262/.324/.442 since May 4 (when he hit his low water OPS mark), or 72% of his PAs this year, is plenty from him.

What about CF? Do you like Bryce Harper there? Because Jayson Werth is supposedly coming back in less than a month, and whether you like Werth or not, he’s probably going to RF. So CF is where Bryce would presumably go. Maybe you’d like to trade Adam LaRoche, move Mike Morse (or Werth) over to first, or play Tyler Moore full time, and not have Harper in a corner spot.

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