A tradition that has I’ll rank each position for each team in the NL East, seeing who has the best pieces to their team. There are 5 teams in the division, so if someone 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, and playing time, on top of assessing their abilities. Starting with the position players:
McCann is not just the best catcher in the group, he’s one of the best in the game, and is generally highly underrated as an altogether great player. Ruiz, now 31, has developed the patience to make him a good hitter, even though he won’t hit .300 again this year. Thole is a youngster who has proven he can get on base. The trio in DC may have to drop down if Flores doesn’t recover, Pudge gets too many ABs, and Ramos doesn’t mature. But I think enough will happen on the other side to allow them to surpass the Marlins catching tandem, with once decent hitting John Baker struggling to even make the team.
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?
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.
Baseball Prospectus authors Steven Goldman, Kevin Goldstein, Jay Jaffe, and Ben Lindbergh showed up in DC to host an event at Politics and Prose last night. Also appearing unbilled was Clay Davenport, who jumped into the group and helped field questions.
If you love online baseball chats (I do) and you aren’t afraid to leave the house (I’m not) than this is the kind of event for you. It was a little cramped in the room, thanks to a ton of people showing up, but it didn’t detract from the great atmosphere. After introductions, and an entertaining dinosaur story by Goldman, they got right into answering questions. People lined up at microphones, asked away, and they answered away as a group. I thoroughly enjoyed it, here are some highlights that I remember:
A question was posed about relegation a la primer league soccer, to make a team have to work their way back to the majors. Jay Jaffe brought up the point that the capital required to have real major league baseball facilities would make this difficult. And most cities wouldn’t put up the money for a stadium if they thought their team might be relegated to the minors in the next decade. Goldstein chimed in that baseball probably shouldn’t do anything that soccer does.
Last week, Baseball Prospectus came out with their PECOTA predictions for the Nationals, and it wasn’t pretty. This week, they came out with their depth charts. This is basically their predictions, with playing time adjusted for what the lineup situation looks like right now. They also changed some of the underlying numbers to get their totals. I said I’d be shocked if they put the Nats at more than 60 wins, but they are actually predicted to get to 70 (Joy!). So there must be something positive out of this. There is, here’s a rundown of some of their adjustments, and a few other notes.
Let’s begin with the starting pitching
Jordan Zimmermann got better. He went from an 86 IP, 4.27 ERA guy to a 172 IP, 4.19 ERA guy. That puts him as the most valuable starter on the team, with 149 Ks and a 1.4 WARP.
Tom Gorzelanny joined the group, and got better. He was still listed on the Cubs, and maybe it was the ballpark, but his ERA was predicted to be 4.73. Now, on the Nats, he is predicted to be their 2nd best of the 5 main starters, with a 4.34 ERA, 105 Ks, and a 0.7 WARP, all ranked #2 behind JZimm. Perhaps because of injury history, they have him ranked #5 in IP.
Livan, Marquis and Lannan fill out the rotation, each with about a 0.10 ERA drop from last weeks predictions.
Lannan’s predictions still seem a little off. His PECOTA suggested 4.76 ERA would be his career low
Chien-Ming Wang does come back and pitch, according to them, and his 4.24 ERA is the best in the rotation after JZimm, but they only have him going 65 innings.
If you paid attention to the DC baseball world yesterday, be it ona website or on twitter, the talk of the day seemed to be Roger Bernadina‘s massive muscles. The pictures don’t lie, those are pretty big arms for a baseball player. Is it possible that bulking up will make Bernie better? If you can buy what sportswriters have said about the last decade of baseball, then you can buy that since Bernie got bigger, he will hit with more power. Where will that get him?
Right now, PECOTA predicts he’ll hit .260/.321/.382 in 450 PAs. The playing time will be adjusted before the season starts to account for playing time, but it certainly isn’t unreasonable, especially if Morgan or Ankiel struggle. Before we get into adding stats on to Roger, let’s take a look at how often he hits the ball in the air. His career GB/FB ratio is 0.97. It’s not at the high end, where a guy like Morgan (1.16) might want to be, but it isn’t as low as some power hitters like Zimmerman (0.74). Either way, I think it’s reasonable to assume that an addition of power would add some home runs to his arsenal, rather than just some hard hit grounders. But there would be some of those, too.
The news of the day is the signing of Adam LaRoche to a 2 year, $15M deal with a seemingly unlikely to be exercised 3rd-year mutual option for $10M. As for right now, it was probably the best move the Nats could make at first base, considering the list of available free agent options.
LaRoche is a good hitter but not great, who had probably his worst season last year since his sophomore effort back in 2005. Prior to last season, his OPS was .849 from 2006-2009, but him in the good not great category. Last year’s .788 is a little troubling, but part of that was driven by a low AVG, he still hit 25 HRs. Somewhat troubling, though, he had a career high BABIP in 2010, and a career high K rate. As for fielding, his career UZR/150 of -2.6 is just around average, and he’s a solid fielder. Average in every sense.
Except… he’s been a different player in the first half of the season compared to the second half. His splits are remarkable, with a .776 OPS in the first part of the season compared to a .889 OPS in the second half. I did a more detailed analysis yesterday, if you’re interested in seeing how he hits over the course of the season.