Let’s say, hypothetically, Terry Francona does not return to the Red Sox next season. For whatever reason, be it that the fans clamor for it, Theo just pulls the trigger, or Francona, who seemed like he had enough at his presser, decides it’s time to move on. The Nats have a managerial situation in flux at the moment. While Davey Johnson has done a good job, there are some who doubt his abilities. Davey, meanwhile, has not said whether or not he plans on returning. And if Davey only has one more year in him, the Nats could go after Francona to preempt search next season. What should they do? I’ll give you a few choices beyond yes and no, but I’m not offering the easy answer of “sure if Davey decides to retire now”
Last night, while many baseball fans were watching an incredible end to the regular season with the excitement of the playoffs starting 2 days early, the Nats were finishing up their season. They had a good game, winning 3-1, and a promising one in that Stephen Strasburg pitched very well – 6 IP, 10 K, 1 H, 2 BB and 0 ER. They not only finished the 2011 regular season, but they should have finished their final season of true “rebuild”.
Look who they already have written in the lineup next year, and some of their stats:
C – Wilson Ramos, 23 years old, .779 OPS , rookie
2B – Danny Espinosa, 24 years old, .737 OPS, 21 HR, rookie
3B – Ryan Zimmerman, 26 years old, .798 OPS (.846 after July 2)
SS – Ian Desmond, 25 years old, .294/.342/.422 after July 5
1B/LF – Michael Morse, 29 years old, .910 OPS
RF – Jayson Werth, 32 years old, 20 HR, .264/.349/.445 after July 18
SP – Stephen Strasburg, 22 years old, 24 IP, 4 ER, 24 K, 2 BB, returned from TJ
SP – Jordan Zimmermann, 25 years old, 3.18 ERA, 4.0 K/BB
SP – John Lannan, 26 years old, 3.70 ERA
RP – Tyler Clippard, 26 years old, 1.83 ERA, 88 1/3 IP, 104 K, 26 BB
RP – Drew Storen, 23 years old, 2.75 ERA, 75 1/3 IP, 74 K, 20 BB
Werth’s track record of success, couple with his 2nd half, suggests he’ll be fine next year.The only real question mark in that group is Ian Desmond. Everyone else seems to be ready to produce and win games. Ross Detwiler, only 25 years old, is a lefty who at times looked unhittable, and finished the year with a 3.00 ERA in 10 starts and 5 relief appearances. Throw in potentially Chien-Ming Wang, Brad Peacock and Tom Milone, and the pitching looks very strong. This is no longer a rebuild, this is a young team with strong players at almost every position. They aren’t “potential” guys, they are guys who have produced in the majors.
The biggest hole to fill is in center field. They also might invest in another starting pitcher, but they’d probably have to go after a true front line guy to make it worth shoving one of the younger guys aside. First base is a question, too – Chris Marrero and Adam LaRoche could produce at first base, but neither is one you’d count on. I could see them finishing 2012 with Morse as their first baseman, and leave the other corner outfield spot for Bryce Harper.
Nobody expects them to win 100 games next season. Bryce Harper probably won’t start the year with the team, and may not see action until September, if that. But this team is no longer looking to fill dozens of holes. Next seasons results cannot be written off to another year of rebuilding, they have to win games, and they should start being a serious contender for the playoffs within the next 2 seasons.
Think back to June or July. What were you thinking about this team? If you are like most fans, you were relishing the success of the starting pitching while lamenting the complete lack of offense. Well, some of that pitching has disappeared, due to trades, end of season shutdown, regression or whatever. But just as that evened out a bit, the hitting has roared back. Sure, this team isn’t the Bronx Bombers, but I seem to recall in early summer only Laynce Nix had an OPS+ over 100. Now look what we’ve got with only 3 games to go.
A late season slump probably preventing him from getting serious rookie of the year consideration, but Danny Espinosa is finishing out the year on a high note. Not only is he hitting .239/.324/.420 right now, giving him an OPS+ of 104, the 24 year old rookie is hitting .298/.384/.471 in his last 140 PAs. His rough stretch in July and the beginning of August brought those total numbers down, but he’s still had a great season for a rookie middle infielder, and those 21 home runs look awfully nice.
A 23 year old catcher hitting .269/.335/.449 should probably be getting a bit more national attention, considering Ramos has the 5th best OPS among NL catchers with 350 or more PAs. Not bad for a rookie at this position, either. One of the reasons people having been talking about him is that before September he was just having a pretty good offensive season. But in his last 102 PAs he’s hit .344/.396/.624, making those totals look quite a bit better. Oh, and those 4 catchers ahead of him on the OPS chart? The youngest is McCann, who’s 4 years older than Ramos.
His fielding appears to be improved, although with more and more disagreement about what numbers are relevant for even a full season, I can’t be sure. I do know his Range Factor per 9 inning is 4.57, better than the league average of 4.37 And although errors don’t mean what they used to, his total of 22 right now is 1/3 lower than his 34 last year – and that is in almost the exact same amount of time (at this point in the season, he’s played only 12 fewer innings than 2010). Whatever the numbers mean, it appears that he has range and has improved significantly on his errors, and those are both good things.
His hitting, though, regressed for much of the year. Right now sitting at .251/.295/.359, his OBP is unacceptable for a starting player. His wOBA is .289, ranking him 168 out of the 183 major leaguers with at least 400 PAs. His position allows him a positive VORP (15.9) and WARP (1.7) according to baseball reference, so maybe he isn’t that awful. But a .295 OBP for a guy that the manager wants to bat leadoff? Sheesh. Well it may not be as bad as it appears. He is tempting us with a strong second half, and looking at just that makes him seem much more promising.
But since July 1, he has hit .282/.330/.411, which is significantly better than his first half. That’s 47% of the season in which he has hit pretty well. If you’re believe he’s a better-than-average fielding SS, those numbers are quite good. The .330 OBP still isn’t what you might want from a leadoff guy, but it’s not too bad. The problem is, we have yet to see Desmond do this for more than half a season. Is next year the season that Desmond puts it all together, hits well and fields well for an entire season? Who knows. The Nats certainly think its possible. We really won’t know until next year, and there is some bad history with this kind of thing here.
Brad Peacock and Tommy Milone are here, now what? We’ve been waiting for these guys all year, and now that they’re here, it seems a bit anticlimactic. I mean, they’re not just mowing down hitters, they’re actually struggling as if they were human beings. After such a small sample, what can we glean? Well, not that much, but seeing these guys pitch against majors leaguers might tell you a few things. Here are just a few points here and there that jumped out at me
- I expected Peacock to get alot more swings and misses than Milone. That’s the difference that a few mph can make. Looking at contact rates, Milone is actually doing better, at 89%. Peacock is up at 92%. Anything lower than 80% is considered pretty good, give or take. Jordan Zimmermann, who wasn’t a strikeout machine this year but was great at getting outs, had a much lower rate than those two guys, at 82%. This isn’t promising so far for them.
- Milone’s control has manifested itself in the majors. 0 walks in two starts is a good way to start a career. He got hit hard at times, but not giving any free passes will help. Peacock, on the other hand, looked wild in his first start. He never had a low walk rate, and recognition of that curve ball helped the Mets hitters lay off the pitch, which he doesn’t seem to throw for strikes.
- Continuing with that Peacock curve ball… it has such dip and such bite that it may actually hurt his chances to succeed. He throws hard enough and has two good pitches, so this doesn’t prevent his success in the majors. But if his curve is recognizable the second time around, and it moves so much he NEEDS swings and misses on it, he may not be a starter. That kind of combo could do very well in the bullpen, though. I’m not saying he won’t be a great starter, but watching him pitch gave me some doubts.
I would like to see these guys get a real shot at starting both through the end of this year, in spring training, and early 2012. I’m not sure both will stick, but both are on the edge and could be effective starters if they make the right adjustments. And if we’re really lucky, both will.
Tonight, the Nats will get a chance to beat their win total from last season. They are at 69 wins right now, already besting their 2008 and 2009 marks, 70 gets them over their 2010 spot. If they win 4 more after that, and since they have a total of 15 games remaining it certainly is possible, they’ll have more wins than 2007 (73-89) and their best record since that first year of 81-81. So, with 15 games left, go 5-10 or better, and you have your best season since your first year.
And while the record probably won’t be .500 (although it’s still possible!), this season has to be thought of as better than 2005. The pitching staff in 2005 had two young quality players that showed real promise – John Patterson and Chad Cordero. The rest were aging vets that had good years. The lineup was mostly under 30, but there weren’t too many young sensations on the squad, Nick Johnson was probably the closest.
In other words, 2005 didn’t show a ton of promise for the future but this 2011 team, on the other hand, does. They have a young catcher, at least one young middle infielder (maybe as many as 3), a potential MVP third baseman who is only 26, and 3 or 4 young quality starting pitchers including an almost surefire ace. Throw in Mike Morse and Jayson Werth, who aren’t quite as young, and Bryce Harper on the way, that’s a strong future. Savor it and enjoy it, it isn’t anything that you’ll remember years down the road, and it doesn’t compare to making the playoffs or winning a pennant, but regardless of record, this is the best year this team has had. And next year should be even better.
Saturday was blogger night, and I got to go down to the field during BP and take some pictures. I got some pretty good ones, here’s a whole bunch of pictures of your Washington Nats getting ready for the game. Click on any of them to see the full sized version:
Wilson Ramos getting his hacks in
The pitchers ready to get some time in the cage Read the rest of this entry »