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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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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Nats Get a SS, Bat Not Included

August 6, 2012

The Nats picked up a backup SS today, Cesar Izturis, off of waivers. At least the thought is that he’d be a backup, because he certainly doesn’t hit like a starter. Although he did start for the Orioles in 2010 and for the Brewers this year, he is your traditional, old timey all-glove no-bat shortstop. And when I say no bat, I mean no bat.

His career line of .255/.294/.323 tantalizes you with hints of his lack of power and ability to get on base, but if we dig deeper, we can see it’s even worse than it looks. In his three seasons as Baltimore’s SS, he managed to slug .292, with an OBP of .283, in what is considered one of the best hitter’s parks in the league. And if you go back to 2008, he’s batting a “how-is-he-still-in-the-majors?” .246/.290/.302, with 6 HRs and 77 BBs in 1,581 PAs. But there is a reason he’s still in the majors, and that’s his defense.

Looking at his WARP (Baseball Prospectus’ Wins Above Replacement) he’s sitting at 0.1 for his career. That is with a career VORP (we’re talking only hitting with this) of -27.0 factored in. I’m actually surprised he’s offense value is considered that high (or that low negative), but it still highlights how much his defense adds to his value. His only years of positive offense where he had more than 207 PAs were in 2008 with St Louis and 2004 with LA. That’s it. So looking at WARP, we can see that this guy’s value is exclusively tied to his glove – it’s just barely positive despite having very bad hitting.

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A Shot and Some Time

July 3, 2012

You probably have noticed how much better Ryan Zimmerman has played he was given a cortizone shot in his ailing shoulder. I say ailing shoulder because although he didn’t have any pain, he realized he wasn’t catching up with fastballs, so he got the shot. The real proof that is was ailing, though, are the numbers.

Before getting the shot, Zim was hitting .218/.285/.305, but since then he’s managed to raise his OPS 78 points. He’s hit .378/.410/.730 in those 8 games, which goes above and beyond a typical Zimmerman hot streak. He has shown to be a streaky player throughout his career, and these numbers are so ridiculous that we know he can’t keep up this pace. But the Nats could really use a few more weeks of this kind of production. More importantly, though, is that when he does cool off, thanks to the cortizone, he hopefully won’t dip to the .590 OPS level.

Ryan isn’t the only one who’s gotten hot lately. Although Mike Morse didn’t get a cortizone shot, it almost looks like he did. Starting two days before the shot, when he was hitting .209/.236/.313, Morse has raised his OPS a whopping 188 points. Over the last 10 games, Morse is hitting .419/.432/.605, but he didn’t need any medical attention to do this. He had no spring training, and this trend started 72 PAs into his season. In other words, this is early April for Morse’s swing, and he’s finally playing like a guy who feels comfortable at bat.

The combination of a cortizone shot and a spring training in June finally has the middle of the Nats lineup hitting like it should. Adam LaRoche has been strong all season, with some ups and downs, but he isn’t enough to carry a team. Now he has two other guys to make the middle of this lineup fierce and competitive. It helps turn this team into a light hitting squad with good pitching and defense to a team that could be considered much more complete, and much stronger contenders.


Tweak the Offense

May 10, 2012

The Nationals’ offense is horrible, we all know that. But is the lineup? We all think we know what needs to be done to fix everything. But is there much that can or should actually be changed? Let’s take a look at the lineup, starting with the guys who are either hitting just fine already, or are set to improve

Ryan Zimmerman – Zim has hit only .224/.312/.343, truly appalling numbers. But he is streaky and was hurt, so basically they missed his offense when he went on the DL, and they missed it before. There is little doubt this will improve.

Adam LaRoche – He’s hitting .316/.406/.537, and he’ll likely regress. But there isn’t any reason to suspect even with a regression he’s better than any alternatives.

Bryce Harper – Another case for regression, if Harper kept up his .265/.381/.441 line all year, it would be incredible. But the OBP will probably slide, although he has a few homers in him, too. Either way, they’re fine with this, wherever he plays in the outfield.

Wilson Ramos – Hitting .260/.348/.364 so far, he’s basically been Wilson Ramos from last year without the power. This should appear at some point, as he’s shown decent power throughout his pro career, although the OBP may be a little high. Still, at only 24 he’s already a pretty good hitter for a catcher.

Alright so we’ve already gone through half the lineup, and are relatively satisified. This is good, this list includes 3 middle of the lineup types who are supposed to provide power. So if we just had some table setters, this team would be projected to score some runs. Speaking of table setters…

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Don’t Get Too Down on the Offense

April 26, 2012

Over and Ovi again, we have been hearing about the problems with the Nationals’ offense. And it’s justified in many ways. Their two best hitters are sitting on the bench right now, with Ryan Zimmerman possibly joining Mike Morse on the DL soon. Even when Zim was in, he wasn’t hitting like Zim. And that production out of LF has been a complete black hole – the team is hitting .103/.218/.132 from that position. Danny Espinosa isn’t hitting at 2B yet either, and although Ian Desmond has done well, he’s down to .280/.321/.413 from his super hot start. These are still very good numbers for a SS, but it’s not enough to carry Espinosa.

But all is not despair in the batters box for this team. They are, in fact, ranked 9th in the NL in runs scored per game with 3.78, the first team under the league average of 3.96. Combined with the best pitching staff in the league right now, it has allowed them to win quite a few games so far. But even if the pitching drops off a bit, they’d still have a positive run differential. They’re pitching has allowed 2.67 R/G (against very poor competition) which means they could allow another entire run per game and still be on the winning side of the math with runs.

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The High OBP, Don’t Score Nationals

April 19, 2012

While the Nats keep winning, and their pitching has been spectacular, they are winning close games. It doesn’t take Bill James to figure out if your pitching is great and you’re winning close games, your hitting is sub-par. Starting out as the statistical voice of reason here, it’s important to note that their hitting actually has been good. They have the 7th best OBP in all of baseball, 3rd best in the NL. Getting on base is the most important step in scoring a run, so you know that this will eventually translate in to runs.

They haven’t hit that well when guys have been on base, but unless you believe that this team is a bunch of nervous nellies who are decidedly “un-clutch”, that should be more luck dependent than anything else. Eventually, the numbers even out, and these hits and walks will come with more people on base, and everything will be fine, right? Well, not so fast. I did a quick check of some OBP ranks versus runs per game ranks over the last 3 years, and teams have wide variations. In the 3 seasons prior to this one, there were 30 teams that had a differential between where their OBP ranks and their R/G over 3 (if they were #1 in OBP and #3 in runs/game, their differential would be 3-1=2).

That seemed like poor correlation, so I checked another very easy stat to find, OPS. The differential in OPS to R/G greater than 3 spots was a much more reasonable 16 teams over 3 seasons. And it’s not just the count that’s different, it’s the amount of differential. In 2009, only 3 teams had a OPS-R/G diff higher than 3, and two of them had it at 4, while one had it had 9. Whereas, the 11 teams with an OBP-R/G diff higher than 3 had a 14, a 12, two 10s and three 7s. Similar outcomes happened in 2010 and 2011.

This isn’t exactly robust statistical analysis – 3 years is a short time frame to look at team numbers in MLB, and I’m doing simple arithmetic not real regressions or anything to find correlation. But it hopefully gives us a good indication of what’s going on. And it’s not anything more than what should be obvious – getting on base is nice, but getting on base AND hitting for power is much more important. It’s completely intuitive – walking and singles are helpful, but you have to string a few of those together just to get a run. A couple of hits and a home run, or even a double, gets you more runs.

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10 Days Worth of Hitting

April 16, 2012

The Nats are sitting pretty at the top of the division after 10 games this season, at a very nice 7-3. And while you may think they’ve had some close games (and you’d be right) their run differential is the best in the division, and their Pythagorean W-L also puts them at 7-3. So they’re right where they should be. As far as stats go, in such a small sample it is still way too early to worry about specific numbers per se. Suffice it to say, we know Adam LaRoche and Ian Desmond are hitting the cover off the ball. But there are a couple of other hitters that are doing things you might not have noticed, so let’s start with the good

Jayson Werth

A few games into the season, Werth looks very comfortable. He’s already got two doubles and a triple, which is good to see. In case you remembered him starting out strong last year as well, you are correct. But last year’s strong start only lasted 4 games before he had issues. A slight mid-May surge brought him back up to an .800 OPS, but an awful 2 month stint from the end of May through the beginning of July did him in. To add some perspective on how easily these numbers can change, he’s hitting .350/.447/.450 right now. If he goes 0 for 5 tonight, he’ll be hitting .311/.404/.400, a .093 OPS drop in one night. Then again, if he goes 2 for 5 with a HR, he’s hitting .356/.462/.511, a .076 rise. So let’s take all these numbers with a grain of salt…

Steve Lombardozzi

…except for when we talk about Steve Lombardozzi. Not because I think his .286/.500/.286 will hold up, I certainly don’t expect that OBP to finish even in  that vicinity. But, for a guy who has no power, a couple of singles early on in the year is a good sign, and a couple of walks from major league pitching shows that he hasn’t lost his patience. I think, though, his 10 PAs is a troubling number. I know Davey likes him and wants to use him, but if he’s getting the equivalent of a start per week, he needs to be sent back down to the minors. At 23 years old, daily ABs are the most important thing, and he’s clearly not getting them. Either Davey’s use of him needs to change, or they need to demote him.

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2012 NL East Rankings Part 1: Position Players

March 27, 2012

It’s time for the annual rankings of the NL East, position by position! This is the very same method to determine playoff odds that some analytic website uses in an alternative universe. The rules: If a team has the #1 player at a position, they get 5 points for it. If they have the worst, they get 1 point. At some point I have to make judgments about who is there (for example, with the Nats 1B/OF), so I used the roster I expect to see for at least the early part of the season, on top of assessing their abilities.

Starting with the position players, aided and abetted by Britpop and post-Britpop (in links only slightly hidden in the paragraphs), because nothing says “baseball” like British rock:

CATCHER (The Libertines)

1. Braves – Brian McCann
2. Nationals – Wilson Ramos
3. Phillies – Carlos Ruiz
4. Mets – Josh Thole
5. Marlins – John Buck

McCann is just a great player and showed it again last year – his second year in a row with a 124 OPS+ makes him one of the best hitting catchers in baseball. Ramos surprised many last year not just with his ability to hit, but to take a walk once in a while as well, and displayed serious power potential and strong defense for a 23 year old. Ruiz, now 32, gets his offensive value from a great eye, and despite dwindling power numbers, he could bring more with the bat than Ramos. Thole also gets on base, but has little to no power. John Buck is Miami’s starter and he has some pop, although his AVG is so low that you wouldn’t know just by looking at his SLG. He has had the occasional strong season though, and another one of those could push him Up the Bracket on this list.

SCORE: ATL (5), DC (4), PHI (3), NYM (2), MIA (1)

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