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.
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:
Org guy. "@dantrivi: What can you tell me about David Freitas? Lot of players w/Bees surprised #KurtSuzuki went for one high-A guy."
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.
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:
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.
The Nats, with Danny Espinosa at 2B and Ian Desmond at SS, have two young middle infielder in their starting lineup. Espinosa is coming off a very good season, with a low AVG but decent OBP and good SLG, especially for a 24 year out 2B, hitting .232/.323/.414. That OPS put him 7th among qualified NL second basemen, not bad for a rookie. Desmond hit very poorly, although at .253/.298/.358, his .656 OPS was 8th among qualified NL shortstops, making you wonder about the 4 guys below him.
Both did had strong defensive seasons. Espinosa demonstrated why many want him to play SS, and Desmond displayed excellent range, cut down his errors by 1/3 from the previous year, and generally looked comfortable out there. But if Desmond never hits, and many people believe he won’t, his time as a starter could be limited. If that’s the case, it makes sense to slide Espinosa over to SS, and bring in yet another slick fielding middle infield prospect, Steve Lombardozzi, to play second base. That’s all well and good, but if Lombardozzi doesn’t hit, what’s the point? Well, here’s what Lombardozzi would bring with the bat.
Time for the annual spring “what the heck is going on in CF?” question. As of right now, it appears the starting center fielder for the Nationals is Roger Bernadina. Or Rick Ankiel. Which might be a nice platoon if they weren’t both lefties. With Bryce Harper being sent down (both for learning baseball reasons and for economic reasons) the dream that he would play CF or that Jayson Werth would is gone for the moment. So what should they do?
Maybe you think their current roster is just fine, and those guys will play well. Or you think it’s only a matter of time before Harper and Werth man RF and CF, in some order. Alternatively, there has been talk they’re going to try to trade for underutilized Arizona CF Gerardo Parra. They could also use Corey Brown, who has hit well this spring, but hasn’t seen much time in the middle of the outfield this spring.
Of course, if you, like me, think they might not truly believe they are going to be World Series contenders with 60% of Harper and no Strasburg at the end of the year, maybe it doesn’t matter what they do right now as long as they go after a free agent this offseason. So what’s your opini0n?
I have never been a big fan of Rick Ankiel as the starting CF on the Nats. I don’t know, maybe it’s the .675 OPS over the last three seasons. No, it’s probably the .297 OBP in that timeframe. But right now, they don’t have a real handle on who’s playing out there. I firmly believe that Bryce Harper isn’t going to start the year in the majors, so the whole, let Werth-play-CF might end up happening, but not in April or early May.
Roger Bernadina is, like Ankiel, a lefty who has spent time at the position, so maybe there isn’t a point in having both guys on the squad. But, while Bernadina is a questionable defensive CF, the case was made last year that Ankiel’s got the best arm of any center fielder in the league, and numbers indicate he’s good at catching the ball, too. But if Ankiel can’t hit, what’s the point in having him around? Simply as a defensive replacement? Actually, it turns out he can hit, well, sort of…
Earlier, we discussed the case for signing Ryan Zimmerman. Most fans probably agree with the sentiment there, but there is a case against re-signing, which mostly him rests on whether or not they think he’s good enough and healthy enough. I think my stance on the “good enough” part of the analysis is pretty clear from the previous post. However, we need to touch on that injury section of our assessment.
And for that, and the maybe the biggest bulwark for the case against, I present to you…