Just Playing Isn’t Enough

November 1, 2012

Recently, when discussing the catching situation, and the eventual return of Wilson Ramos, I keep seeing people ask about Jesus Flores. Reports suggest that they will keep Kurt Suzuki as a backup, and Flores will become expendable. This is a shame for Jesus Flores, but not for the team. And yet, I keep seeing things that suggest the Nats should try to figure out how to use Flores, as if they owe him something for being paid to play baseball for them this year, especially from fans on Twitter.

Well, Nats fans, its time to recognize that this team’s management has to act like adults. They can’t look at Flores and say stuff like “he was a key player when we needed him most” because this is bunk. Flores was a negative WAR player who filled in when their starting catcher got hurt. You know who else would have been “key” or “filled in admirably”? Any catcher on the roster. Does he deserve credit for staying healthy this year? Absolutely. Does he deserve credit for coming back from awful injuries? Absolutely. But that does not mean he was good for this team this year.

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Kurt Suzuki Makes This Team Better

August 3, 2012

Today, the Nats made just the kind of trade I was advocating. They needed a catcher, but they couldn’t get a top level guy, at least not without paying a steep price. It’s hard to imagine them wanting to do that, considering they have a young, talented catcher under control for many more years in Wilson Ramos. But they needed somebody, and so instead, they traded away David Freitas, a decent hitter who doesn’t have great defensive skills, a guy that Keith Law doesn’t seem to think will have an impactful Major League career:

In exchange, they got the A’s starting catcher, Kurt Suzuki. Suzuki was having a pretty bad season at the plate, and the A’s want to start rolling out Derek Norris, one of the guys they got from the Nats in the Gio Gonzalez deal, so the Nats were able to get him cheaply. But will he be effective? One of the things I didn’t want the Nats to do is go out and get a backup caliber guy – they have enough of those. Jesus Flores is one of those guys, even though he has made some big contributions to the club. Suzuki hasn’t been great this year, but I believe he’s better than any of their in-house options this year, and can probably help mend what is turning out to be the only hole in their lineup.

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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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