Getting Something for Nothing

August 1, 2011

The Nats didn’t make any real big moves this weekend, but they did make a couple of moves that are very good ones. They traded two vets with expiring contracts for some minor leaguers. Don’t get me wrong, both Jerry Hairston and Jason Marquis provided some value to this team. Marquis had a WAR of 0.8, putting him just above your average replacement player. But his 3.95 ERA and 8-5 record looked nice, and he did eat up 120.2 innings. Hairston played all over the field, infield and outfield, while posting a 102 OPS+, good for 6th best on the team. But neither guy was going to earn the Nats a draft pick after this season, and there’s no reason to think keeping them would give Washington a better chance to re-sign them, if the team was so inclined.

Hairston Deal

In exchange for the 35 year old utility man, the Nationals picked up Erik Komatsu, a 23 year old outfielder, from the Milwaukee Brewers. While this wasn’t a Wilson Ramos level fleecing, the Nats certainly got a potential major leaguer in exchange for someone who probably wouldn’t have been around in 2012. Komatsu is a lefty who has played a good amount of center field. If he can stick there, and there are some doubts, he has real potential. He is hitting .294/.393/.416 in AA right now, and that OBP has to catch your eye. He’s quick, although his SB percentage of 70% in the minors indicates he’s not a great basestealer, just a somewhat fast guy.

Kevin Goldstein of Baseball Prospectus listed him as the Brewers #14 prospect this year, calling him a potential bench outfielder. But that was before another great season of OBP-ness. After the trade, he said that Komatsu proved himself this year after his 2010 breakout, has shown excellent ability to walk and keep his strikeouts down. Goldstein brings up his lack of CF ability, though, saying he CAN play there but probably not full time. But he asserts “What he can do is hit right-handed pitching, run well, and play all three outfield positions, which should lead to a long career as a second division starter or fourth outfielder in the big leagues.”

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Hopes for the Second Half

July 14, 2011

Ok, technically, the Nationals’ season is more like 57% over not 50% over, but let’s skip the games played and just go with the All Star Game as the traditional midway point. There are a few things I’m really hoping to happen this half that would make me more confident going in to next season. While a playoff berth this year is still possible, the team just isn’t THAT good yet. I’m more concerned with them getting ready to make an actual run at a playoff spot in 2012. These aren’t predictions, these are just some things I’d like to see.

Trade

There aren’t too many trade chips for this team, but Jason Marquis is one of them. His ERA+ of 95 is about what you’d expect, and its nothing to get other teams foaming at the mouth. But he’s a free agent at the end of the year who isn’t likely to yield compensation picks. He’s worthless to them come the end of this season, but someone else might be able to use him. Livan Hernandez is in the same boat, and has actually pitched slightly better, but has legal issues which may make him harder to trade. If they can turn either of these guys into anything of value in the trade market, they gotta do it.

Jerry Hairston has performed well enough in fill-in roles, hitting just about what his career numbers would indicate. If there is a team that needs someone to play any of the myriad of positions he can play, why not get some value for him? They won’t get much, but something is better than nothing.

Laynce Nix is interesting because many might not want to trade him, figuring he can start in LF for the rest of the season and next year too. The problem is, he is a free agent after this season, and probably stands to make more than the $700K he’s making right now.

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A Platoon Possibility

May 13, 2011

Over the winter, when things were rosey and Mike Morse was coming off a great season, there were lots of ideas of how to deal with the outfield. Rick Ankiel, a lefty hitter, could play great CF, but nobody knew if he could hit. Roger Bernadina wasn’t as good of a fielder, and was also a lefty. Mike Morse was a righty but hit everyone in 2010. Nyjer Morgan, another lefty, was still on the team. When Morgan left, alot of people started constructing ideas of the lineup. Perhaps Morse would start against lefties, and either Bernie or Ankiel would play CF. Maybe Hairston and Morse would play those games, while Bernie and Ankiel would start against righties. But Morse has looked so good, starting only against lefties seemed like a waste.

Well the season is moving along, and things have changed. First, Morse hasn’t hit at all. Ankiel is on the DL, and Bernadina just came up from the minors, with still a bit of a reverse platoon split, hitting better against righties. Meanwhile, other than their 23 year old catcher, the best hitter on the Nats has been Laynce Nix, and he is rightfully getting playing time in LF. Just as Morse’s 2010 may not have been a true reflection of how good he can hit, Nix’s April and May probably is a little overstated. The 30 year old hit this well last year, but it was in a very hitter friendly park in Cincinnati, and it was almost exclusively versus righties. Which brings me to the premise of the article.

While we can’t figure out everything at once, and CF remains a mystery, there is hope for LF for this season. You see, even this year, while everyone has lauded was Nix has done, something that has remained somewhat unnoticed is that he hasn’t hit lefties. Literally and figuratively, as he only has 1 hit in 8 PAs against them. His remaining 65 have been against lefties. And his career OPS splits of .743 vs righties and .518 vs lefties suggest this is the way to go with him. Meanwhile, despite Mike Morse’s struggle this particular season, he has always shown an ability to hit lefties, and hit them with power.

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The Team that Couldn’t Hit

May 9, 2011

It’s beyond bad, at this point. After a week in which the Nats broke their team record for striking out the most in one game, they came out Sunday and got no hit for 7 innings. Sanchez pitched a good game, but this team certainly helped. You know the hitting has been bad, but it’s probably worse than you realized. They are last in the league in OBP, and second to last in SLG and OPS. Thanks to the last place team playing in San Diego, a big pitchers park, they are actually ranked last in OPS+ (which factors in park effects). They are just plain bad at hitting.

Looking down the lineup is sickening. Forgive the order, this is just a sample lineup that could go out there:

  1. .221/.321/.389
  2. .217/.250/.383
  3. .227/.324/.387
  4. .196/.300/.313
  5. .319/.377/.493
  6. .241/.275/.325
  7. .220/.297/.317

That’s Espinosa (2B), Desmond (SS), Werth (RF), LaRoche (1B), Ramos (C), Morse (LF) and Hairston (3B). There’s no CF in there, but Ankiel’s .221/.302/.288 ranks 5th in plate appearances on the team, so factor that in the list. Ramos is looking great, even without comparing him to the rest of the team. Unfortunately, his last few weeks haven’t looked great, with a very low OBP, but he’s still slugging, so in comparison, a .250/.275/.500 is still the best hitter on this team. When you put Pudge in the lineup with his .214/.241/.321, he manages to drag down these horrendous averages.

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This Could Be the Best Ankiel Has

April 21, 2011

I know it’s early, and we don’t want to worry too much about statistics. A bunch of hitters on this team have started off slowly, and most of them will probably recover. Similarly, Wilson Ramos won’t hit .364 all season. But one player that does worry me is Rick Ankiel. He’s currently hitting .231/.306/.308, which is pretty much atrocious. I’d be less worried, except last season he only hit .232/.321/.389. Basically, if 2 of his hits were a HR and a triple instead of the 2 singles that they were, he’d be right on pace for last season, with a few less walks. Not good, and not convincing me that he is going to do any better.

In fact, it wasn’t just last season that he hit so poorly. In 2009, he had 404 PAs and hit .231/.285/.387. It’s starting to look familiar. Maybe he’s a .231/.300/.387 hitter. Which would mean his ISO power is decent at .150, but not so great that it can excuse the rest of the junk. It’s not even very good power, it’s better described as “some pop” or something similar. Ankiel is a vet, and he’s played well in center field, but this experiment may quickly be coming to an end. If it does, then who else can they play there?

Laynce Nix

This may surprise some fans, but Nix has played more CF in his career than any other position. He’s spent about 58% of his innings playing CF, the rest in the corner OF spots. And his fielding has been good there. Over his career his UZR/150 is 9.3 in CF, so it looks like he can field the position. The problem with Nix, though, is his bat. He has started out strong, managing to make the club and then hitting .276/.300/.483 in 30 PAs. The power is still there, but his numbers suggest that he doesn’t walk that much, and it’s true. He is also probably not a .275 hitter in terms of average, as his career numbers are .244/.286/.426. And his best years, really his only good years, were in Cincinnati, a great park for hitters. But, even if he hits .240/.290/.426 from here on out, it may beat what Ankiel can do.

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What to do in CF

March 17, 2011

Mike Morse has had such a strong showing this spring, that it’s assumed the LF job is his. With Jayson Werth the obvious starter in RF, that leaves all the other guys scrambling to get placed in CF. Morgan is the favorite, but his poor 2010 and an unimpressive spring (although he hit a homer yesterday) has certainly opened up the competition. Roger Bernadina and Rick Ankiel are the other two obvious candidates, and even Jerry Hairston could be considered in the mix. A platoon isn’t really much of an option because all the guys are lefties other than Hairston, and Hairston has almost no discernible split in over 4000 PAs. So without a convenient platoon, someone’s gotta be the initial starter. Who should it be?


Into the Third Week of Spring Training

March 15, 2011

Spring Training is in full swing, and while we must take every performance with a grain of salt and a handfull of small sample size, it’s important not to ignore what’s happened so far. Here are a few highlights after the first few weeks:

The Position Players

The middle infield – Danny Espinosa is batting .324/.378/.559 and Ian Desmond is batting .314/.351/.400 while having the two highest AB totals on the team. They’re not walking much, which is troubling, but at least they are hitting the ball. Without walking, they will have to sit lower in the lineup, they just won’t get on base enough, but hopefully some of that will come.

Left Field – It would be hard to deny Mike Morse the starting job at this point. He’s hitting .469, he’s slugging 1.000, and he’s got 5 HRs in only 32 ABs. This compares with Rick Ankiel‘s .194/.219/.548. Ankiel has shown enough power that you’d think he’d make the team, but he doesn’t look like the starter yet.

Center field – Nyjer Morgan is now batting .212/.242/.261, while Roger Bernadina is hitting .281/.324/.438. Bernadina is putting together a strong case to be the 4th outfielder, since Morse is hitting so well. But if Morgan continues to slump this way, Bernie’s got a chance to be the starting centerfielder.

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