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WHOseanders and Whatsiglories?

Updated: 2017-03-23T08:48:55.547-07:00


Who should be the closer?


Shawn Kelley

Moving on....

Wait. You want more don't you?


Shawn Kelley is the best, most proven reliever the Nats have. His K/9 is fantastic (over 11.5 over the past 4 seasons). His BB/9 has moved steadily down from a "uh-oh one of these guys" 3.88 to 3.48 to 2.63 to a "did somebody say elite?" 1.71. His HR/FB is perfectly reasonable.  His percentage of hard hit balls is not high. His LD% is low. 

Blake Treinen is a GB specialist.  Over 65% last year and never under 59% in the majors. Along with the groundball inducing good sinker comes a lot of mediocre contact (Hard% on the low side). However, he  doesn't strike out nearly as many (K/9 around 8.5 over past 2 years), and walks way too many (over 4.00). Plus his HR/FB is higher (though not terrible). With not too much bad luck a Treinen outing can go horribly wrong.

Koda Glover is an unknown. In the minors he has great stuff (K/9 of 10.6 in upper minors) and very good control for his age and that stuff (2.2 BB/9).  He seemed to be unhittable as well, having a hits per 9 of under 7 across every level since being in the Nats organization*. There's also less than 100IP total for Koda and he hasn't pitched more than 24 innings at any level. That means there has never been time for the level to adjust to him. He also seemed to have issues pitching with men on - showing a horrible LOB% and allowing 2 of 6 inherited runners to score. Small sample size? Almost certainly. However it highlights that Glover is an unknown more than anything.

In short, guys don't hit Kelley well, they don't get on base against him, and if he needs to he can strike them out. Guys hit Treinen terribly, but they can get on base against him, and he can't necessarily dial up the big strikeout. Guys hit Glover worst of all, they don't usually get on base against him, and he can strike them out as well, but these "guys" are almost all minor leaguers.

So Shawn Kelly is objectively most likely to give you the best major league results.  By the whole "closers are stupid" philosophy, shouldn't he NOT be pitching in the ninth? Sure. If this were a perfect world. I'll give you a moment to check on that.


Not perfect, huh? You see if Shawn Kelley isn't the closer then he'll be tied to some other role, likely 8th inning guy so what exactly does it matter where he is in this stupid one-set inning food chain? If Dusty were going to break with tradition and use him all over the place then maybe I'd say don't use him as closer but I don't have faith in that. Therefore - might as well give him the inning that's most likely to find itself with high leverage situations.

Another benefit of Kelley the closer - limited innings. Kelley doesn't have any flaws when he can get the ball from the mound to the catcher, but his career is already filled with injuries and last year ended with a dead arm in a playoff game. Closers, because they are used very specifically, pitch fewer innings than even the 7th/8th inning types who are more frequently called on to get an extra out or pitch in closer or tied games. It's possibly smart to limit his innings and sticking him in this role may serve that purpose, if secondarily.

*Kelley and Treinen were both this low last year, too. But historically have been higher so there's more a chance of them being a little easier to hit.

Roster Guess


It's a hard Spring for me and yet that means an easy Spring for the Nats because what the hell hasn't gone according to plan? They have had only one injury, with Scherzer, that appears to be minor.  The market bore out a couple of opportunities to get better now for minimal cost in 2017. The team for all intents and purposes seems set. So why not just go ahead and assume it is with an OD roster?

Last year the Nats started with 12 pitchers, 2 catchers, 6 IFs and 5 OFs.  I'd expect something similar this year. I will take a small guess and say for the purposes of having an extra arm on hard, Max will start on the 15-Day 10-Day DL* but will be brought up right before his first start.

(Max DL)


Cole (until Max back)

Thoughts : Nothing tricky about the first eight. Those are given.  Romero is out of options so they'll let him stay up or else they risk losing him in waivers. Perez is getting paid so he stays up.

I feel like they've already committed to Solis so he gets what amounts to the final real spot in the pen. Nathan has pitched ok but probably not well enough to outright win a spot here. If he's lucky he'll actually opt out on Friday because someone else will give him and his decent showing a secure spot. Martin deserves a spot more than Solis but you lose a little flexibility with another RH pitcher and the Nats have never seen overly keen on Martin.  Guthrie is probably the only real threat to take a spot from Solis, but I just feel they have their minds set and would need a continued flop from Solis and a dominant run from Guthrie to change their minds.

Why does Cole get the temporary spot? Because they've pretty much given up on him and don't care if they shuffle him about or use up an option on him. He's here for mop-up work.


Thoughts : The Nats really like Lobaton as the back-up, valuing his D and the pitchers have to be comfortable throwing to him. He loses a little with Ramos gone because Wieters hits better from the left side of the plate which was Lobaton's specialty, but I think he'll get this role and they'll let Severino get every day ABs in AAA.


Thoughts : No surprises. Robinson isn't paid Lind money so he gets the axe. His flexibility to play OF if necessary was nice but because of his bat and his ability was more of a "break glass" situation than actually usable everyday. 


Thoughts : Heisey is paid and did well last year and Dusty likes him.  Heisey stays. MAT plays good defense, and is a fast runner, which makes him an ideal 5th OF (having Lind instead of Robinson helps MAT too as Clint filled an emergency OF / "better than a pitcher" runner role which Lind does not).  His hitting in Spring doesn't hurt, either. Goodwin can make a decent play to replace him but needs a repeat of his first few months of AAA last year.

Today we'll also play "Guess Max's First Start Date".  Wednesday the 5th (probably quickest possible return date), Friday the 7th (skips homestand), Saturday the 8th (slots back into #1 spot), and Monday the 10th (starts back first game of homestand) are all fine guesses assuming he stays on track.  I'll say :  Saturday the 8th.

*Ed Note - Been reminded that the 15-Day DL is the 10-Day no backdating DL this year. That changes things but I'm not sure how.  So right now my Max guess and the OD roster guess can't happen. I guess I'll think about it. Should take me as many days until Max's next start to come up with a final decision. 

Monday Quickie - Possibly last updates that don't matter


Max pitched in a minor league game.  Everything went fine.  Said he even used some two-finger grips. This keeps him in "first rotation" track, but not first start track since that either would require some short rest or a leap of faith on conditioning. Dusty doesn't seem inclined to do that just to pitch Max what amounts to two games earlier.Do we really know he's ready? Not quite yet. While every outing is the potential key to showing he's NOT ready, this next one will be the first one that will really show he could be. It's real hitters and with only two weeks left in Spring, it's real hitters really trying. There will be a radar gun and this time the Nationals can't just stop the inning if Max can't get the outs he needs and let him start over in the next one like they did in the minor league game. If he looks well enough this time then you can start saying Opening Week for Max.So this is pretty damn good news, especially since AJ Cole and Erik Fedde have looked less that ready for a spot start, let alone a rotation spot. Voth? Maybe but he's at 4.2 IP in 3 games. No the Nats were basically only looking at two guys for that role. So good thing they won't need it.Catcher updateWieters is getting his first team reps and seeing the pitchers we expect him to see. There really isn't anything more here to update unless you think Severino will replace Lobaton on the bench. I can't see that though. You'd probably rather Severino get the ABs to work on his hitting. Maybe Solano replaces Lobaton? You'd be putting a lot of faith into ST stats if you make that call.As for Norris - don't kid yourself. The Nats didn't do him any favors. They kept him as long as they could before his pay would jump up. Then they cut him. They didn't cut him so he could explore options. They cut him to save hundreds of thousands of dollars. This was completely the right move as you have to hold on to him in case there's an injury. It's nothing more than that. Nats are a baseball team, not a non-profit charity.Closer UpdateThe Nats had one closer type situation (3-1 win over Mets) and Glover got the save. That's good to see but won't be the way the Nats start the year. They had another close one and Guthrie pitched the last two innings. That's definitely not what we'll see. Kelley pitched for the first time in a real ST game in long time the other day. Treinen still hasn't pitched in one since March 9th. The Post says the Nats say it's all part of the plan. Sounds fine. Now let me see Treinen, too.Clint Update The bad news for Clint is that despite getting regular at bats he's not showing the Nats any reason for him to win the job.  .176 / .163 / .206.  Not that those numbers matter but like I said if it's a tie-breaker situation (and it might be - hold on) that's not breaking any ties.  The good news for Clint is that Lind isn't making this a simple decision. .179 / .233 / .214.  Contract and history both are on Lind's side so let's hope it doesn't come down to ST stats.Here's the Post's take on that. Please to ignore when Janes' calls Robinson the "big, powerful lefty" bench role filler in. The short of it is Clint is likely to end up somewhere else or a fill-in AAA player bc they want to make a final decision on "prospect" Matt Skole so he gets the 1B ABs.Anything elseMAT keeps hitting in the Spring, presumably while shouting "Wolf! Wolf!"Bryce has hit his 6th homer of the Spring. Don't bet that it means a 50+ homer season, but this is heartening for those that thought last year he didn't quite put enough balls over the fence.Zimm got hits! Several! He may not be dead quite yet.With Zimm actually hitting my biggest offensive worries shift to the prep for late-arriving Wieters and never-used in WBC Murphy. Not getting ABs now may mean a slow start in April (of course they may also be unrelated if it happens but it'll be fun to blame Boras and Leyland)All the starters look fine! Great! [...]

2017 Nightmare Scenario - missing the playoffs


So everything is looking good for Scherzer.  Dusty admits what we've been saying all Spring - Max can't start on Opening Day. There's just not enough time to get ready. He also notes something else we've said, the first game is just the first game and he may in fact sneak into the first round the rotation goes through.  I'll go ahead and adjust my guess, as he's been hitting all his targets after just a week ago looking like he'd have to throw more BP.  I'll guess he slots into his #1 role after someone (Fedde? Cole?) eats up a start.But today isn't about Scherzer. It's about making you worry about the Nats. How can the 94 win Nats miss the playoffs?  Well let's start with an idea of how many wins that would be. Looking back at past years I'd say 87 is a fine guess. What did I say last year? Oh last year was about hitting .500.  These things change based on the starting point.  One year the dream was setting the record in wins!.  Ok so we'll go with 87.  Let's roll up those sleeves and get to workI'll go ahead and take a half-win from Gio as his decline outpaces his performance. (93.5 wins) and I'll make the pen a little worse (93 wins) as well.  I can take another full win and an half from Murphy. That makes him more like all his other years (91.5). If Rendon's slow start wasn't injury related but just part of a normal up and down season there's another half-win (91).  Let's temper Bryce's comeback a lot and pull a win from there (90).I guess I can pull a half-win from Trea (89.5) and the same from Eaton (89) and maybe make the bench below average (88.5). Ok well right now we're at a point where there are disappointments across the board. The starting pitching holds up ok (but we're still factoring in a drop from Scherzer that looks less likely today than a couple days ago), but the relief pitching and bench both do nothing of note. Murphy reverts to his career norms. Trea is good and Eaton is solid instead of being very good and good respectively. Bryce barely improves from his .243 24 HR line.I suppose at this point I could pick half wins here and there. Maybe Ross never gets going again. Maybe Trea sophomore slumps. Maybe the bench or pen just stink. But rather than do that I'll just go ahead and throw in an injury here.  Let's say Strasburg misses a couple months. That probably gets us down to the 87 win totals and being outside looking in.It may seem easier to have gotten to 87 than 100 but I think that should be the case. Each successive win is harder and harder. That's why you don't have many 100 win teams.What did it end up taking for the Nats. Well to my surprise it didn't take everything going wrong, however it did take pretty much nothing going right. Roark is again great. Rendon puts up a good year and you'd still like what you see from Turner even if it wasn't an MVP type situation like he put up for 70 games last year. Otherwise nothing you'd view as a positive.I think an actually more likely scenario than nothing going right, would be several injuries. However I can't predict who and what.I also think there's a lot of room for variation for this Nats team but not because we don't have a good feel for these players. I think we know what most of them can do. Instead of that variation being spread out the Nats two players have had wildly different performances in recent years and where they end up in 2017 will make a big impact on the NatsMurphy2015: about 2.5 wins2016: about 5.5 wins Bryce2015: about 9 wins2016: about 3 winsIf Bryce and Murphy are both hitting as well as they have in the past two years that's 14.5 wins.  If they are both hitting as poorly as they have in the past two years that's 5.5 wins.  That's a 9 win discrepancy.  That may seem crazy but you are going from having a historic season coupled with an MVP season, to a couple of solid, but nowhere near special, major league season. In my 94 win setting I tempered both projections. I thin[...]

2017 Dream Scenario - 100 Wins


Time for the annual exercise where we go over what it would take to get the Nats to 100 wins or out of the playoffs. We'll start with the good news first, the 100 win shot, which the Nats probably won't get to, but it'll be more about their opponents then their own talent. Note this is all rough and stuff with my afro-puffs so don't get on me about exactness. First we need to set a baseline win total for the Nats. Is last year's 95 wins good enough? Maybe. Let's look at other "in a vacuum" records in order to take luck out of it.  97 Pythag. 100 2nd order wins, 98 3rd order.  I'm not saying the Nats were a 100 win team last year but the general trend is the luck worked against the Nats a game or two last year. I'm fine starting with 97 wins as the base.Now we need to adjust for anything we see going into the year. Players brought in, players who have left, injuries and recoveries. PitchingMax is hurt.  I don't think it's going out on a limb to say being forced to adjust the way he throws his fastball may have a negative effect on him.  How negative? I don't know so to be cautious I'll only cut out a win and a half for now (95.5 wins) That's not bad. That basically puts him back into Roark/Strasburg territory. I don't see any reason to change anyone else. Gio is tempting but he pitched better than his ERA suggested so while I think he'll continue to drift down, he'll probably just match last year's effectiveness.The Nats are essentially replacing Belisle, and Lopez/Melancon with Blanton. Maybe a half-win less to be conservative? (95) They actually had a good bullpen last year and they'd still be above average with this take.OffenseAt catcher the Nats take a big loss as Ramos was a fringy MVP type for most of the year. Weiters is perfectly acceptable but the Nats lose like a game and a half here. (93.5). At first base, I can't bring myself to knock Ryan down anymore than he already was, but I have no reason to bring him up either. And unless I hear "platoon" I can't bring Lind in here.  He has to be talked about on the bench.  Murphy should regress a bit. Let's take a win off and go from MVP to All-Star (92.5).  We'll get to SS/CF in a second.  Rendon is healthy and put up a Rendon type season after a slow start. If we take that slow start to be recovery we can add a half-win here (93).  Werth though, aging as players have done forever, takes it right back (92.5).  Bryce? I'm trying to be conservative here but it's hard. I see a big bounce back. Maybe not a repeat of his historic season but he can at the very least pick back up a win and a half (94)Ok onto SS/CF.  We're taking out Danny and his not-the-worst bat and very good glove and  MAT and Revere who did nothing to help the Nats. That's probably only a win total loss (93) The also lose the 3 wins Trea put up in CF. (90) But immeidately we put back a full season of Trea at SS.  I don't think he'll double his half-season but 5 wins, given his speed and likelihood to play 160ish? I'm ok with that. Then again might be high.. I'll stop at 4.5 then. (94.5) And then we add Eaton. Let's be conservative given the position change and say 3.5 wins.  (98). As for the bench it's the same as last year.  I'm going to say Drew won't pull the same performance out that he did in 2016 but Lind can't be worse than Robinson so the whole thing equals out.CompetitionThere is one more thing to consider. The competition the Nats face. The Mets seem healthy. The Braves are better. The Phillies are probably a smidge better too. That increased competition is going to cost the Nats some wins as they were an amazing 41-16 against these teams last year. If you want to be honest you could see the Nats being 31-26. But you gotta mitigate it because if they beat up on their own division they didn't do as well outside and it's not like outside was so great. 7-12 against the Brewers, Padres and Rockies? Let's say the Nats[...]

Monday Quickie - Simulated Max


So Scherzer pitched in a simulated game yesterday. A brief pause here to throw out some definitions.BP (Batting Practice) - Pitchers throw off the ground at like 2/3rds speed to hitters who take cut after cut. Can help with stamina build up but not much more. Live BP - Pitchers throw their real stuff off a mound to batters who take cut after cut. In both BP and Live BP the team can choose what it wants to do defensively. You can have 8 guys in the outfield shagging flies and grabbing grounders that go through an empty infield, or you can set-up your game ready D and let them play each batted ball if it were a real hit. Simulated Game - A pitcher faces a set of teammates who treat at bats as if they were in the game - 4 balls a walk, 3 strikes an out, etc. It usually is only a small subset of batters - not 9 - who rotate around. Because of that you often don't bother with real runners or real fielders for that matter, and you kind of guess what would have happened which each batted ball. For example Max faced Jose Lobataon, Raudy Read and Wilmer Difo.Up to this point you are facing your own teammates and thus they might be taking it easy on you or you can tell them to let certain things go by now and again. "Minor League Game" - The Spring Training equivalent of pitching in the minors. Right now all those minor leaguers are gearing up for the AAA, AA and single A seasons too. They play games just like the major leaguers. You send your major league pitcher over to one of these games and let him throw a few innings. It's real competition, though not major league level and in Spring so... yeah. Grapefruit/Cactus League Game -  A regular Spring Training game, meaning you'll face at least a few major league starters along with a mix of back-ups and minor leaguers. Again it's Spring so the competition level is low but it's the best you'll get until the last week of Spring when teams start working on getting their actual everyday lineups ready.Ok we're back.  So reading through those definitions and you can see why a simulated game matters but why it's far from telling in terms of development. What I will allow though is that you can bring back those dreams of Max starting in that first rotation set. It's the bar I had before and he met it. There wasn't a word of negativity from the people watching him and more importantly the next outing is another step in the right direction. I still think personally he'll miss a start or two at least getting fully ready, but it's not impossible as I think it would be if he was still throwing BP.Next step for Max is as close to real rotation work as he has gotten. Four days off and then a game, a minor league game, but a game. As Castillo points out in the article - the earliest that a "real game" could be would be the 22nd, which would give him 11 days to build up arm strength from what would likely be at most a 4 inning / 50 pitch type outing to major league ready.  That's less time than needed for two starts with regular rest inbetween. That seems tough.  Slotting in at the #5 spot would give him 16 days.  Seems more reasonable.Catcher Update  Norris was waived.  Seems like they couldn't find a partner given Norris' contract.  It's not a terrible contract but the market seems to dictate it could be a bit lower. This waiving saves the Nats millions, which cuts into the Wieters money. Keeping Norris is probably the smarter move. Wieters is two years removed from a 75 game season, three years from a 26 game one. Last year was much better. He had an elbow issue that cleared up before the season started and missed a handful of games after fouling a ball off his foot. That's it. But the history is there. However this was always going to happen.Closer UpdateStill can't tell.  Classic closer situation yesterday and Neal Cotts got the save despite Kelley and Treinen not pitching for days.Clint Update See last week. [...]

Setback 1


Dusty says it's no big deal but Scherzer won't be in a real game or a simulated game next. He'll be pitching more BP. (Here's the Post if you prefer Castillo). The Nats continue on with their "Nothing to see here" attitude, still maintaining that Scherzer, who hopes to pitch 3 innings of BP Sunday, will be ready to go all out against major league hitters in 28 days or less. Don't buy it. Scherzer should be considered a mid April return at best and with each further setback that start date gets pushed further and further back.

That's not necessarily a bad thing. For one, we can all agree we'd rather have a definitively healthy Scherzer than force him into 3-4 more starts. Also, if you are gonna miss time, April is the time to do it. The schedule makes it easy to work around that missing rotation spot. It's been noted in the comments and it's true.  Take a look at the month. You'd need a 5th starter the 8th or 9th and then you don't hit the need again probably around the 22nd. So you could almost get through the first three weeks of the season without putting a guy on the mound you don't want to see.  And one rain-out in the set of games starting on the18th nearly gives you a whole another week. Would you rather see Scherzer throw 3 times? Sure. But it's nearly as important that his starts are taken up by Stras, Roark, Ross or Gio and not Cole or whoever. That latter qualification can certainly happen.

Now the question is - why no start? They seemed pretty adamant that he would get one unless he didn't seem to handle the recovery from the first BP well. If I were to guess then I would have to say he didn't handle the recovery from the first BP well. "So is it normal soreness or is it situation?" is the quote from Dusty so we have to assume, unfortuneately, that it's a situation. What is it exactly isn't known.  It could be the finger. It could be extra fatigue. He is throwing the ball differently than he has in the past and that could matter to these finely tuned machines. If its the finger - that's bad because it suggests he can't throw without hurting it and he just needs to rest or surgery it out.  If it's fatigue then it might just mean an extra week or two to get his arm used to the changes. Thus ends the office hours of Dr. Harper.

All I can say at this point is that I hope the Nats are extra cautious with Scherzer. It's hard to see them having the ultimate success without him performing up to his level. It's also hard to see a bright immediate future for the staff if he's becomes lost to injury for a long period of time over the next few years now that the Nats have given up their best starting prospects up in trade*. If he needs an extra month or two, let him have it. Force him to have it.

*How are these guys doing? Both had questionable first outings in the Spring and better second ones. Giolito had his third outing and pitched ok.  Wild. No word on his velocity on his third outing after his first one was very worrisome and his second was more in line with how he ended last year. Lopez throws for the 3rd time today. I'd say neither look ready right now, but that doesn't matter for the White Sox.

Waiting on Scherzer


Here are the Post and MASN accounts of the Scherzer live BP.

What are the take aways? The response could best be described as tepidly positive. Max and everyone seemed to think the velocity was there, but there was no radar* so we don't know if the Mordecai** is as fast as his normal fastball. There didn't seem to be good contact against his pitching but you are talking about (1) 2 innings of pitching, and  (2) AA batters (at best). A lot of good contact would have been alarming. There was a loss of command after one inning which isn't abnormal for someone starting to get back his major league readiness after the off-season, but it reminds you that he's starting to get back his major league readiness and we're less than a month until Opening Day.  And one thing that doesn't even need a "but", I didn't hear anything about swings and misses. A lot of bad contact is fine, but there should be some "no contact" mixed in there.

What's next? Well if Max moves to a Grapefruit League game we can keep thinking he might get around to starting the season officially in rotation. That might be Opening Day, but more likely means a 4th or 5th start - wherever they can fit him in.  If it's a simulated game, I'd go ahead and expect him to miss at least a start as it's hard to imagine him having enough time against real opponents to work up to where he needs to be. If it's not even that... well then you can start to worry.

*if you are a conspiracy theorist this is the 2nd time in 5 days where there was no radar available for public consumption for a Nats injury recovering pitcher. The Palm Beach Park radar wasn't working for Strasburg's start either. Do I think it's on purpose.... Maybe I do. Do I think it means something bad? Not really. More message control then avoidance.

**Yes I'm calling his 3-fingered fastball this as long as I want to.

Monday Quickie - Too many players


Strasburg pitched! And it went... well like a Spring Training outing.  2IP, 3K, 1H.  I was interested in velocity but apparently the radar gun wasn't working so we don't actually have any specifics on that. But the news was less about the ball after it left his hand then what Stras was doing with it before.  Mainly he pitched out of the stretch and suggested he could be done with the windup. Wind-ups are thought to generate more power using more of the body to create all that torque and force needed to throw a ball at the major league level. The stretch is thought to be easier on the major league arm. However the data on these beliefs is inconclusive.

What is clear is the stretch is faster and well what matters is how he feels, right? If he likes it and he pitches well then do it. That's as far as my detailed analysis will go right now.

Max Scherzer update

Bullpens haven't been a failure so he's throwing live BP on Tuesday. That means there's still a path to getting where you'd want him to be for that first rotation through but any set back and forget it. Let's see if he pitches and what they say. I'd like them to say "Looks fine. We should see him in a game by X" Anything other than that I take as a "not going to be ready".  Also be clear - his finger isn't right. It's just a matter if they are going to let him progress with the ol' Mordecai grip. Right now it's all positivity on that grip working but that's to be expected.

Closer Update

Nothing to see here. They are still running out tons of arms just to see who may or may not stick. No back of the pen being set yet.

Clint Update

Clint hasn't been good. Clint hasn't played a particularly large number of games either. I'm not sure what they are doing then as he can't get any worse trade value (re: next to none) than he has now. But perhaps they don't feel any rush to deal him away or any fear he'll be grabbed if they try to outright him.

Anything Else?

Talks been all about Norris since Weiters signed.  He's barely played though with Solano and Lobaton getting into most of the games. He started hot so my guess is he'll be used sparingly in favorable games from here until he's gone. (And if he's not gone by OD I'll eat my ... well I did HAT and CAP.  Hmmm anything else you wear on your head that's short enough to be a workable sandwich acronym?

Most of the ABs and IP are going to nobodies.  They are just getting some guys major league time. I'd wait for after the first cuts to see how things like line-up and bullpen are going to shake out. Too much noise now.

Stats don't matter much but you do want guys who were hurt last year to do something to prove they aren't hurt now and Zimm... well anytime now Zimm would be nice.

Weekend thoughts


David Price possibly going under the knife reminds us that every team, every one, is a balky elbow and a blown knee away from a lost season. There are some players that can't be replaced and for the Nats Max Scherzer is one of those players. We'll officially check up on him Monday, because that's what I said I'd do, but I can tell you I'll definitely be keeping my ears out for any news this weekend.  Personally I think this is the weekend that decides whether Max will start in that first rotation set - maybe not Opening Day but sometime during the first 5 games. I'm ok with him missing a week or two as staying healthy is the most important thing, but the sooner we get off this path the better.

Strasburg is set to start today. We haven't seen him really pitch since going out with injury toward the end of last year. He was presumably well enough to go in October so the stakes feel lower but let's get through today healthy, with normal speeds on his pitches before we officially let go of the held breath.

As for the stats? Somewhere in the next 3 days you are likely to see a "Look how good Solano is hitting!" Ignore this. Please.

Joe Blanton - the needed arm


We've talked about this earlier. The Nats pen had lost a lot of innings pitched - some good Rivero/Melancon (79.1), Belisle (46), Rzep (11.2), some not so good Petit (62), Papelbon (35), but a lot of innings nonetheless. Knowing this, the Nats made some efforts to get a lights out closer, first trying to re-sign Melancon, then going after Jansen. They failed at both.That happens, but what happened next was unexpected. Unable to solve the problem of lost innings with the preferred solutions the Nats acted as if there was no longer a problem to solve. Things would be fine, they said, with Kelley and Treinen and maybe Solis and hopefully Glover and ? ? ? It didn't make sense then. It doesn't make sense now, a team that sees itself competing for a title content to leave its bullpen up to the fatesEventually though opportunity knocked. The best available pitcher, Joe Blanton, was seemingly drawing no interest from the teams despite a price tag that appeared to be quite reasonable (1yr 5 million might have done it). Desperate to take a deal that got him the same money, if not in the same time frame, the Nats were able to swoop in with a deferred deal that paid Blanton his money and got the Nats the arm they desperately needed.So what kind of arm is Joe Blanton? Since settling in as a relief pitching Joe's been a very effective arm.  He's a slider heavy pitcher (43% of the time last year), who uses curves, fastballs, and change-ups around it. The movement of his main pitch makes it very effective, he strikes out a decent amount and is effective at getting swinging strikes, but hard to control. He can walk a few. His ability to place the pitch where he wants has made him as effective against LHB (.546 OPS) as RHB (.587 OPS). Do the fancy stats have any warnings for us? Plenty. First is the .240 BABIP. Part of that is surely induced weak contact from that slider. But his percentage of soft contact isn't all that high, suggesting luck is playing a large part in this as well.  The previous year, pitching mostly, but not exclusively in relief, he had a .301 BABIP which was more in line with past results. That number should rise. Another thing is an oddly low HR/FB rate. Perhaps related to pitching in the vast fields of the NL West, Blanton, who was a severe flyball pitcher last year, had a HR/FB rate of a mere 7.4%.  Improvement in this number is not unusual given the focus of relief pitching but again it's a number that should go up. Finally his LOB% - the percentage of men left on base - was fairly high at 82%. This again symbolizes some level of luck, whether that means a lot or a little I can't tell you.That may seem like a lot of negatives but the end result is basically explaining to you why Blanton isn't a sub 2.50 ERA pitcher, but probably more an over 3.00 ERA pitcher.  He's not Melancon, he's Belisle. But this isn't bad. The Nats need a reliable arm and Blanton throwing 80 IP of say 3.10 ERA baseball would fit that perfectly. He's not your lights out closer but he solves the problem we noted at the beginning of the column with the best available solution.This isn't to say there couldn't be a worst case scenario. Blanton is over 36. His arm could simply dry up. It's hard to say if its coming because going from starter to reliever all those went up the last couple years. However there has been no trend at all in his career yet of declining velocity.  Or Blanton, who had everything work for him last year could have everything work against him this year, a .330 BABIP, 70% LOB rate, 17% HR/FB rate which would balloon his ERA up over 4.00. But understand we're saying "oh if he has bad luck accross the board it'll be bad". That's not really an analytical statement. That's a common sense one that applies to anyone.We try to find the midd[...]

What will Matt Wieters be? Exactly what he has always been


If we're lucky, Matt Wieters won't surprise us. I say that because at age 31 the idea that somehow Wieters will suddenly fulfill the expectations that were set nearly a decade ago should not even be considered. No, the surprise that Matt Wieters may have in store would be a precipitous decline, not unheard of from aging catchers. If you look at his most similar batters you can see examples of this. Michael Barrett done at 30.  Jody Davis, Earl Battey done at 32. Charles Johnson, John Buck done at 33.  Rich Gedman, probably should have been out of the game before 30.That's not to say it will happen to Matt or that we should be worried about it for next year, but I just want you to have the right mindset in place. This isn't about getting a bat to replace Ramos' 2016. This is about getting a bat to replace the potential issues with a Norris/Lobaton platoon in 2017.What kind of bat is it? Wieters has been surprisingly consistent in his underwhelming performances since his first full year.  He'll hit for a low-ish average, say around .250.  He won't walk very often meaning his OBP will be fairly low, around .310. And he'll pop 15-20 home runs, ~20 doubles*, slugging under .420 or so.  He won't strike out that much (K rate under 20%). He will ground into double plays. A reasonable approximation of this performance might be Kurt Suzuki's short 2012 stint played out over a season, or perhaps a more impatient, contact oriented version of last year's injury recovering Jayson Werth. It's a bat. Won't embarrass, won't impress.Do fancy stats suggest anything is getting better or could get worse? Nah. BABIP is fairly consistent with other full years, so he's not sneaky bad or good with the average. His power is definitely fading, but not fast enough that you worry he can't get 15+homers in a full year. K-rate is stable, though he is making less contact then at his prime, especially with pitches in the zone. HR/FB rate is stable.If I'd be worried about one thing it would be the increase in softly hit balls over the past two years.  19.6% last year. 20.2% last year. Since the hard % hasn't dropped I imagine this again speaks to contact issues. He's swinging hard but having issues lining the ball up right. But as long as the K-rate stays where it is some of those squibblers will find their way through the infield for hits. Short of it is I think we're just explaining the deterioration we've seen since his mild peak, where he might have challenged 25 homers and had a few more walks, to what he is now. It happens to all players at some point and Wieters looks to have already started the process. This makes that 2nd year iffy for the Nats, and makes it easily understandable why 4+ years wasn't out there, but as for what we care about today, Wieters in 2017? Average is the best guess. Behind the plate Wieters is a mixed bag. In things not 100% controlled on him he's ok. He can throw out runners, but is beginning to have plate blocking issues. Outside of Gio none of the Nats strike me as particularly wild, not the relievers either, so if the latter continues I don't think it'll matter that much.  The bigger issue is Wieters is a poor pitch framer and has consistently measured as such. How much does that matter? It's unknown but it can't be dismissed.Wieters will be better than Lobaton. He will hit better and produce more than Severino. He may not hit better than Norris, who was deviled by some bad luck last year, but then again he might. That's the thing about Norris - you can see him hitting above average and you can see him repeating last year's debacle**. For a contending team that's too much variation to have, especially with no good back-up. Wieters is a good attempt at a solution to a problem where the N[...]

Monday Quickie - Spring Training Reminder!


Spring Training games have begun so it is time for your annual reminder.


Who was the Nats best hitter last Spring? Why it was Michael Taylor who hit .453 / .491 / .849.  That didn't work out. What about second best? Scott Sizemore. OK well that's not fair. What about second best regular? Ben Revere. Dammit. Third best regular? Ryan Zimmerman.

It's a little harsh to say it doesn't matter, but only a little and we're far better ignoring this "information" than we are trying to find a nugget of wisdom from it. Spring Training has everything you don't want from your source of information; small sample size, varying levels of competition, arguably dissimilar goals.You are far more likely to let personal biases effect your interpretation of what are perfectly normal stats under these circumstances than be able to pick out something that is actually useful. Honestly, it's the best time of year to listen to the guys playing the game and see what they are saying (that's not related to how they are doing stats-wise in the Spring)

Max Scherzer update 

Max threw off a mound Saturday. That is good. Max didn't use his regular grip during this. That is not good.  What does this mean? Not much today. In my head I'm pencilling in Max to start his first game the 9th or 10th (Game 5 or 6).  If you believe the same, things are looking "good". If you are hoping Max can be ready for Opening Day, that's still a possibility, we'll probably know by the end of this week if that's off the table. If you are hoping Max is really hurt, first why are you reading this blog?, second we're probably a couple weeks of not ramping up before that comes into play.

Closer update

Neither Treinen, nor Kelley has pitched yet so unless you think Mike Broadway has a real shot at closing for the Nats we've learned nothing.

Clint update

Robinson is one of two players (MAT being the other) who have started both Spring Training games. I'm inclined to think that's far more hoping he gets hot and the Nats can say "Hey! Look at this guy! Trade for this!" than it is evaluation. That's me though.  We'll check back in a week and if he's got the most at bats on the team... well I don't think that's a good thing.

Anything else? 

Bryce CRUSHED a homer.

Trea had an error. Expect this. Everything points to him having at least 20 errors this year, I wouldn't be surprised if he went over 25.  It's a process even for ones that are talented enough to play the position. Trea can, but he's not a wizard or anything.

What's going to happen today?


Assuming Wieters passes his physical he goes on the 40-man.

The Nats have a full 40-man

The Nats would prefer to trade Norris.

So do they trade Norris today?

There isn't a terrible rush. There are many names on the 40-man that I think could be DFA'd to the minors. Jimmy Cordero, a 25yo middling relief non-prospect. Raudy Read, a 23yo C trying to get over the hump of hitting in A+ ball. Jose Marmolejos, a hihg-average hitting first-baseman with questionable power potential.  A couple others like Austin Adams or Rafael Bautista, who might be just good enough not to take a chance they get grabbed on waivers but are no big loss in general.  One of these guys could also magically get injured enough to be placed on the 60 day DL.

Still if you can you'd rather not go through the hoops of removing someone just to bring them back a few days later so it'll be interesting to see if the Nats can make a deal.

What's on the table now? No one really knows. It's thought that there is a deal out there where the core is Pedro Severino for David Robertson but the idea that Severino would be enough for a major league caliber player is confusing. On one hand there's his defensive reputation. He's thought to be a plus defender, if not even better with a strong arm and good framing. Even if he can't hit, he's thought to be a shoe-in to make the majors as a back-up catcher, possibly for a long while. On the other hand is his offensive stats. Young, yes, but consistent. He doesn't hit for average. He isn't patient. He doesn't hit for power. He's not bringing anything to the table.

Perhaps the lack of stats is because of his aggressive movement up the minors. He's never able to really improve in place. That could be true about his acceptable hitting for average, which has remained steady as he climbed the ladder. But his patience (also steady) is so terrible and improvement would only make it bad. And his power has diminished as he's gone up. This suggests a ceiling of something like .250 / .300 / .340. Basically a good outcome is he becomes Steve Lombardozzi but slow and not nearly as good as putting the ball in play.

If he's the hold up, he shouldn't be.

Well interesting day. I'll update when we find out exactly what is going on.

Wieters! (maybe) then Robertson (possibly)


News just broke! Nats closing in on Wieters deal says Jon Heyman. There's further thought that a Robertson deal could go down soon after that. Quick thoughtsUPDATE! The contract is supposedly for 10 million this year, 11 million next (player option). But 5 million is deferred money.  Norris makes 4.5 million this year. So if you trade Norris (who you need far less now) you end up adding only 500K to the payroll for this year.  Next year? Worry about next year, next year. Wieters is better than what the Nats have, still not very good. It's been nearly a decade since Wieters was hailed as the second coming at the plate after crushing the ball in college. However in eight years and nearly 900 games Wieters has shown himself to be... ok. He has moderate power but he doesn't hit for high average and he is not patient. You can't blame recent injury issues because he was merely ok when healthy. He is not particularly adept defensively either meaning there is no secret value here.  However blah Wieters sounds - catcher is a hard position to fill and what the Nats have now is Lobaton, who is no good, and Norris, who has a chance to hit good and a better chance not to do that. Wieters is a competent major leaguer and would be a strong bet to improve the Nats situation.Roberston is an effective but troublesome arm with a big contract attached. Robertson was cruising along as a very effective Yankee middle reliever fighting a slight tendency to get wild that was keeping him from elite status. Then right before FA he got a chance to close and then - poof! - he was a CLOSER. He closed for the White Sox in 2015 and pitched some of the best baseball of his career. He also hit an ERA of 3.41.  He closed for the White Soc in 2016 and pitched some of his worst baseball in years. He also hit an ERA of 3.47.  Karmic justice? Perhaps but everything trended the wrong way last year. Strike outs? Down. Hits? Up. Walks? WAY UP.  That's still a lot of strikeouts and not a lot of hits so he would still be effective piece to add but you couldn't say the Nats got a lights-out closer. Of course that assumes it's a new normal. If it's an aberration then the Nats... well still don't have a lights-out closer but have someone just as effective as Kelley, maybe more so, and a strong back end of the pen however it shakes out.  If it's instead a trend, well then Roberston is a 12 million 4th/5th arm out of the pen. I don't see the Nats adding Wieters and Robertson without jettisoning Gio, and maybe more. Maybe I'm wrong. But if I'm not the Nats are adding say 6 million with Wieters and some chunk with Roberston. Where can they get that money back? Well maybe the White Sox won't make the Nats pay everything for Roberston. If they can get it so the White Sox cover 6 or so of this years' money then that matches up nicely with Gio's 12 million. If they make the Nats pay pretty much all, well then Norris (4.2) goes too. Which honestly makes sense. The Yankees, who the Gio deal was in place for, haven't solved their rotation issues and would still probably bite on the deal. Would it leave the Nats short in the rotation? Yep. But that's the gamble you take. There isn't another tradeable commodity the Nats can afford to lose.Could the Nats add just Wieters, trade Norris, and keep everyone else? Yes. I suppose they could. Depends on, as always, money spent and money deferred. In my head that leaves them spending a couple million. They can save some of that throwing Robinson into any Norris deal but I don't see a perfect match. But come on Nats, you can spend a couple million right? I think they can. I think that's why they had a firm pri[...]

The best shapermetrics of his life


There isn't a problem in baseball that can't be solved in the Spring.Obviously this isn't a literal statement but a figurative one, based in the constant stream of stories that come out now featuring Player X identifying the underlying issue that held him back in the previous year and how he's now doing exactly what he needs to do to address it. The most common, now almost laughable, version of this story is the one about the player who had an off-year now showing up "in the best shape of his life" but that's only one type. There is a version for every type of malady and as sabrmetrics ingrains itself more and more into the major league culture it was only a matter of time before something like "launch angle correction" showed up. Last year some people noted that even though Ryan Zimmerman was doing poorly, he was hitting the ball hard. They took that to mean that a revival was just around the corner. Some of us more steeped in the fancy stats noted that while Zimmerman was hitting the ball hard* he was simply driving it into the ground. The difference between a 80 MPH ball hit 10 feet and a 110 MPH ball hit 10 feet is just how much you get thrown out by.Well Zimm has found out this same information and is working on hitting the ball higher. But as Boz notes it's not a given. It is difficult to change your approach without messing something else up. Try to hit the ball up and maybe you end up popping up a ton or just missing the ball entirely. Maybe you can hit the ball at the angle you want but to do it you have to adjust your swing just a bit so now your exit velocity drops. The balls that were supposed to be home runs are now lazy fly balls, the doubles to the gaps singles dropping in infront of outfielders. To add to the issue Zimm also wants to be more aggressive thinking that there has been such a change in pitching that he's no longer able to take advantage of a pitcher by working deep into counts and looking for mistakes.Has he been doing that? Let's tackle the question in two parts - has he been overly patient? Boz seems to think so but I'm not so sure. The numbers are out there but not already calculated for us so in lieu of looking at the whole league** I went ahead and compared the number of 2-strikes ABs to the number of 0 strike at bats (Boz's stat) for the Nats Top 10 hitters last year. The result? Zimm was patient but not appreciably more than Rendon. He was also in the neighborhood of Espy, Bryce and Revere. Murphy and Ramos stood in stark contract as aggressive hitters but on the flip side Werth stood out as ridiculously more patient than Zimm. Looking at 2015 and 2014 seems to say the same thing - patient but not crazily so, not like Werth. Ok he's kind of patient.  Is he hitting well with two strikes? Well no. No one hits well with two strikes. BUT he was during his peak (2009-2012) one of the better two-strike hitters in the league. So there's that. Of course it's been a long time since 2012 and Zimm has been terrible with two-strikes since then even though as a hitter he didn't even go below average overall until last year.  Perhaps the game did change that quickly? Doubtful. People hit terribly with two strikes in 2009-2012, pretty much just as bad as in 2013-2016. So while the game may be shifting, it's a slow shift and Zimm's two-strike issues were immediate. So I do think being aggressive may help. He may be passing up some decent pitches looking for a great one and leaving himself open to get blown out but I think he's not going to hit those decent pitches all that well. Daniel Murphy may have been able to figure out how to hit better, but Daniel Murphy is a different type of hitter[...]

Friday Spring Training Notes


Spring Training WooooOK that's enough.

I noted yesterday (and we'll go over again when the games start) that Spring Training is really about three things
  1. Injuries
  2. Confirming Main roster decisions
  3. Making fringy roster decisions
That's it. For the first you are looking at those coming back from injury to see how they are recovering. You are also praying that you avoid an injury now.

For the second and the third, we all know the issues with Spring Training stats. That's why you should have your decisions basically all made going INTO Spring, not coming out of it. You really do have all the information you need, outside of potentially a look at the physical development of a young player that may start. For main roster then you have your guys set and Spring should only serve as a chance for something weird to happen that makes you second guess that decision. A guy who hits for power can't get it out of the infield. A control pitcher can't find the plate at all. That sort of thing. It should be a very rare event. If you have a last guy on bench, last guy in pen decision to make and you don't have any favorite then using Spring as a tie-breaker is fine. But really using anything as a tie-breaker at that point is fine. Who fits better in the clubhouse? Who would help the AAA team more? Who's closer to FA? Whatever.

So here we are. And getting back to #1 there is an injury recovery for the Nats to worry about (two actually). Scherzer is not guaranteeing that he'll be ready for Opening Day.  In grand tradition of the Nats medical staff (and probably all medical staffs) it's already a walkback from the inital recovery estimate, telling us Scherzer would be a “full participant” in Spring Training. It's a bit disturbing because Opening Day is a good six weeks away but I imagine Scherzer is just being overly truthful. Even if you are 95% sure, it's better not to promise anything. Plus, I think we all agree, be overly cautious. If he's not ready for Opening Day but is ready a week or two later - so what? 

The biggest injury question on my mind though isn't Scherzer, who says he pitched through the finger in September (as was very good - but not great at that point). It's Kelley. If you remember last season ended for Kelley walking off the mound with numbness in biggest game of the year. Certainly that's a "gut it out" situation if he felt he could so he was really hurt/bothered in the moment. In grand tradition of the Nats medical staff (this sounds familiar) the Nats apparently haven't done an MRI to see if anything is up there. So I'm going to wait until I see Kelley pitch a couple times in Spring Training games before I believe he's likely to be fine to start the year. You can choose differently. 

Other than that - I think the Nats are in the clear. Zimm, Bryce, Murphy all may have injury issues but they all were playing at the end of the year, injuries or not, so whether they play in the 3/4 speed of Spring Training doesn't tell me much.

Allright Nats, go out there and don't get injured!

Adam Lind - Better than Clint


Let's do this in Q&A formDoes Adam Lind make the Nats better?Sure! Last year Lind OPS'd .717 (.239 / .286 / .431).  Last year Robinson OPS'd .637 (.235 / .305 / .332). It was Lind's worst year since 2012. He's a decent bet to do better. Robinson was also better before this. But it was just one season. It's a complete toss-up what Robinson is.That's a pretty good SLG.Yep! He's a full season 25 HR 30 2B season guy. (For comparison - Robinson is more like a 10 HR / 15 2B guy).  If there's one thing you should be able to count on from Lind it would be that he can hit the ball hardGreat! Tell me more good newsOk. The assumption is Lind will mostly play versus RHP.  He slugged .442 with 19 homers in 121 games vs RHP last year. That was an off year. In 2015 he threw up a .291 / .380 / .503 line against righties. In 2014 it was .354 / .409 / .533. He could be really effective in a platoonWow. How'd we get this guy for a million...WAIT! That's not a quLind can't field. Robinson isn't great but can do the job if necessary. Lind probably not. And while defensive stats are a little fluky, especially in a single year, Lind has been bad forever. You can forget about the outfield. He really should DH. So he's an imperfect choice for an NL team. Also he's slow. Not Ramos slow, but not too far off. So while Robinson could feasibly run for a pitcher or catcher or hurt player, Lind probably isn't all that much better. So he's an imperfect choice for a bench player.And the flip side of those awesome numbers vs RHP? Lind is garbage vs LHP. Like should have signed with the Dodgers garbage vs LHP. But at least he can crush righties?Well yes. Assuming last year was a fluke and not a trend downward....was it a trend downward?Let's quick read fancy stats. The BABIP is low - that suggests that the average should perk up and with it he should be above average. But it's not low for no reason. Lind hit a higher percentage of "soft" hits last year than any year in his career. Zone stats suggest the culprit may be losing his ability to distinguish the strike zone leading to more swings at bad pitches. If that's the case we should see more strikeouts in general and fewer walks and yep, that's what we see. Lowest walk rate since 2011. Highest K rate since 2010. He was also fed more off-speed stuff last year meaning the other teams know this is a weakness. So what exactly are you saying?Given his age (34 in July) I guess I'm saying I wouldn't be surprised if Lind was free-falling.Can we end this on some good news?Sure. There's no telling what is actually happening with Lind. I don't give him much better odds than Robinson to "be right". But if Lind is right he's going to hit well, and probably hit righties very well. If Robinson is right, well we don't know what he'll do.Also Lind hit .293 / .388 / .448 in SeptemberAnything else about Lind? There's apparently a "Teen Mom" dad with the same name. That's not him.  Here's an early interview with the one we care about from Toronto.  If Lind is in, what happens to Clint?Well, if the Nats are smart he gets shipped down to AAA. Sure he might have literally been the worst last year. But he was literally very good the year before. Which is the real Clint? I don't know. Something like just below average, seems to be most likely. So you keep him around because if injuries happen he's a quick fix.If the Nats aren't smart, or more accurately have other thoughts in mind, they will trade Clint for some nothing prospect to save his half a million. This is what I'm watching for.   [...]



Baseball thinks it has a time problem. It thinks it is too long and too boring. In response it's coming up with potentially new rules to speed the game along. But what is exactly going on? Is the game getting longer and are fewer things happening? Or are the powers that be overreacting to a popular belief that's taken hold? I'm going to ramble so understand that going in. The first question, are the games getting longer, has an easy answer. They are. Here you go.  The average time for a nine-inning game is just at 3:00 hours. Of course that's just a data point. What we want to know is the trend and what we see is a general increase in time of game. The most appropriate starting point is probably the TV age (mid 1950s) and games there sat around two and a half hours long. This length was pretty stable until the 80s when the time would rise from 2:31 in 1979 to about 2:45 by 1986 and never go under 2:30 again. It rose up to 2:50+ by the strike year, but would fluctuate from 2:45-2:54 through 2011.  In 2012 it crossed 2:55 which it had only done once before - and hasn't gone back down yet.OK so it's been going up - however there's two points to be made here.  The first is it's been going up since the 1980s.  If you are looking for a 2:30 hour game to come back you are looking for something that is now over 30 years in the past. Second, it's gone up but is three hours fundamentally different than the low 2:50s of the steroid era?  Is a 6% difference or so that noticeable?My guess is no, it isn't, at least not by itself.  But when coupled with the second issue - the idea that fewer things happening - the games as a whole feel different.*Well are fewer things happening? Yes! Now by "fewer things happening" we mean that there are fewer balls in play. Home runs are fun but just involve watching one guy round the bases. Strikeouts can be fun, but again, no action is taking place on the field. Walks aren't fun. It's the increase of the three of these that has caused a drop in balls in play. Here's a graph for you to see it through 2013. The issue has only grown since then and we're down to just about 2/3rds of all plate appearances ending up with a ball in play.The thing is, for the most part this isn't driven by walks or home runs. Let's think about this mathematically for a second. PAs have been pretty steady (you can check it out here). It's been 38-39 batters a game since the dead ball era came to an end, with a brief dip here and there to 37-38. HRs are up but only to 1.0-1.2 per nine innings in the steroid era. Over the course of a season that matters, in any given game not so much. In comparison to the 0.7-0.9 range between strikes you are talking an extra HR every 4th game or so.As for walks, they have actually been down since 2010, sitting in the 2.9-3.1 range in stark contract to the 3.3-3.5 that was in place from 2001-2010, and the brief run of 3.5-3.8 from the 94 strike to 2000.  Around 3.0 compares favorably with historic walk rates.  The six year average for walks per nine is the lowest since the lowering of the mound in 1969.So it's not walks and it's barely home runs effecting the balls in play. Is it really all just strike outs?  Yep. Last year was the highest ever for K/9 at 8.1. Second highest was 2015, third highest 2014, fourth....well you get the point. Since 2007 each successive year has seen more strikeouts than the last.You can see a steady raise from around 1950 (under 4 K per game) to getting to about 6 a game in the late 60s. The 1969 changes took place and then it droppe[...]

Enny which way but (still) lose


The Nats picked up Enny Romero. "Who?", you might ask. Indeed it's what I said remembering the name vaguely from some late season Yankee games but the pitcher leaving no impression.  Turns out there is a reason. Enny is a last man in the pen type in there for a strikeout, but incapable of providing assurances that he'll get that, averaging 5.0 BB/9 in the majors, 4.4 in the minors. Usually this type of pitcher gets a chance because he is also unhittable. There's the thought - if only we can reign him in, he'll be valuable. Enny isn't that, however, for the most part becoming much more hittable when he manages to drop his BB-rate. If he were say 22/23, you might give him a go because of the live arm. At 26 Enny is on his last shot. A new location, a new league may help, but the chances are slim.

Why even make such a deal? Well the Rays were motivated to move Enny to clear up room. They'd probably have to waive him and why not get something, even when something is really nothing. (Hi Jeffrey Rosa! - old for his league with no control but that unhittable type I mentioned before - at 22 this year worth a conversion to reliever attempt. If you're worried "his league" is Rookie. This isn't a player that registers at all on even the deepest team prospect lists.) The Nats have room to spare (still have a roster space open). I have a sneaking suspicion that this started out as Colome deal talk and ended up here but regardless the Nats have added another nothing player when they need something. No new harm. No new foul. But same old ones persist.

Two weeks later how does Passan's All Unemployed Team look?

Gone outside the pen are - Moss (KC), Coughlan (PHI), Napoli (TEX), Descalso (ARI), Carter (NYY), Hammel (KC)

If you were looking for a Clint/Zimm back up Kelly Johnson is the best fit. You could make a case for Pedro Alvarez who would make an interesting platoon with Zimm, but in no way could he play the OF (it's arguable he can't play first) so you'd lose that flexibility.

Gone in the pen are - Logan (CLE), Romo (LAD), Blevins (NYM), Belisle (MIN), and Smith (TOR).

Basically that leaves Joe Blanton  and David Hernandez. Hernandez lacks control and is hittable BUT if you think he is trending the right way since TJ you might take a flier (splits don't suggest that though - pretty wild and hittable all year).  Blanton is good, but he has to know his position as the best available option and is holding out for some cash or contract he will eventually get.  Outside of this the best out there might be JP Howell who is a fair inning filler who could drift into very good because he's killing lefties, or just a LOOGY. A useful arm, which the Nats do need, but not likely to be an impactful one, which the Nats need more.

Monday Quickie : Nats non-moves hit spotlight


Ken Rosenthal has an article up about the Nats lack of moves this off-season. For a person not following the team daily, it does seem head-scratching. It can even lead you to say things you think should be true, because that's how things typically go, but really aren't for the Nats. "Their decision-making, though, is oddly inconsistent for a team that was nine outs away from..."The thinking is the Nats spent a lot in 2015 because they felt urgency and pressure to win. That's why most teams start raising payroll. That's not the case here. They spent a lot in 2015 because they were convinced by Boras/Rizzo that they needed Scherzer going forward for the next ~5 years and the payroll could drop down to where they like it / need it to be by the next season. The inconsistency was the 2015 payroll.  Otherwise they've been clear in where they want to be (about 150 Million, about 10th highest ). This may change after the MASN deal is settled, but for now this is where the team is."Urgency is warranted, and the free-agent market has been a buyer’s market all off-season, full of opportunity. Yet the Nats barely have stirred,"Since they haven't signed anyone the Nats must not have been terribly active. However, that's not true. Much like last year the Nats have made a bunch of offers, kicked a lot of tires. But as Rosenthal notes these offers tend to have a ceiling that prevents going over what they consider fair market value*, or involve deferred money. The Nats throw out a bunch of lines, hoping to catch something, but they don't use the best bait. "If Lerner wanted to spend more -– even with the Orioles withholding money, at least some of which the Nats eventually will receive — he could."This is true."And now would be the time."This would be the case if the Nats were chasing a title. They are not. The Nats are trying to be consistently competitive and hope that titles will come their way by virtue of multiple playoff appearances. There is never "the time" for the Nats. Not how the organization is currently run."Over the past year, the owners occasionally have loosened the reins. The deferrals in the Nationals’ free-agent offer to Jansen were relatively minimal,"People often use the supposed Jansen deal as a way to note the Lerners were ready to spend more. I guess that is possible. However when looking to bring in Chris Sale, the Nats had a dump trade for Gio on the ready. It's my assertion that if the Nats were successful in bringing in Jansen, that Gio would have to go. Who would start? I don't know. Cole? Voth? But I'll stick to my guns. "But the Nats have yet to win a postseason series in their 12-year history, suffering first-round defeats in three of the past five years. You’d think ownership would want a different outcome."They do! But they also aren't convinced spending will get that. You need to stop thinking the Nats are like other teams. The Nats may have the same goal as other teams, to be champions, but they have a set plan on getting it based on quantity, not quality.  It's a plan that plays out in the math. Will it play out in the field? All we can say is that it hasn't so far. *which often turns out to be under what the market will give them. [...]

Joe Nathan and Matt Albers


The Nats signed a couple guys yesterday to minor league deals. These things are basically no-lose situations because if the guy isn't good enough you don't have to keep him and pay him. There's no real harm in filling out those extra spring innings with guys like this. All teams do this.However, just because the individual deals are perfectly fine, that doesn't mean there isn't a negative spin to it. There are only so many Spring Training innings out there. If you want to evaluate Joe Nathan and Matt Albers and Vance Worley AND Tim Collins against even the vaguely "real" competition of a Spring Training game you start to lose innings that guys you know you want to keep need to get ready for the season. In other words - the more guys like this you sign, the less likely it is you sign someone that isn't a question mark. I don't think the Nats have gotten to that point yet but it's something to keep an eye on if you hear of more signings like this.What about these guys?Joe NathanRelatively few fans have the affection for Joe Nathan that I do.  He's the best contemporary ball player from my neck of the woods. But let's be honest he's very old and a huge injury risk. To be more specific he is 42 and coming off his second Tommy John surgery. In the history of baseball only 81 times has a 42+ pitcher thrown 10+ innings of better than average ball. Since 2010 it's only been done 4 times. Is he any good to be bothering with even trying? Hard to say. He's has been decent since returning from surgery but had very limited pitching the past two seasons; 1 inning total in 2015, 21.2 innings last year. Neither the Cubs nor the Giants, two playoff contenders, saw him and thought they needed to keep him, so my guess is no. But we think Maddux likes him, so there's thatMatt AlbersAlbers is a a sinkerball pitcher who had a short stint of success and an even shorter stint of deserved success in the 2010s. He doesn't miss bats, and his control has mostly been poor, so his success lies completely in forcing GBs and getting a good BABIP.  If he can do both he's passable, if not he's terrible. Since he seemingly had an epiphany in 2015 (Ks up, BBs down) that made him a better pithcer, it's worth kicking the tires, but his overall history and his recent one say the same thing. PassVance WorleyWorley is an underappreciated mediocrity.  It's easy to look at his stats and see no reason to be interested. Like Albers he doesn't strike anyone out anymore and he's not particularly unhittable. But he has better control in general and he's usually not giving up a bunch of homers. While nothing from the last two seasons suggests a rebound is likely (everything is trending in a bad way with age) His age and his FB speed both suggest there is no reason to believe he suddenly will be a lot worse than he is. If you want to stash a guy in AAA who seems likely to be a inning eating 4.50+ ERA type, and the Nats can use someone like that, Worley fills that role perfectly.Tim CollinsCollins was a very good reliever for three+ years. He had untouchable stuff  (9.7 K/9, 7.4 H/9 from 2011-2013) but was held back from elite status by control issues (5.2 BB/9). Then his arm blew. He got Tommy John but in what should be a cautionary tale for everyone that thinks TJ surgery will work perfectly, Collins felt discomfort during his rehab period and it was discovered that the TJ had failed. He would need another one. That is why he is where he is now.  I can't really find any info on his[...]

Anything going on?


While the world twists and turns the baseball world stays pretty quiet.  Stephen Drew is back which a sensible re-signing. Drew can play multiple defensive positions presumably well and occasionally you luck into a good offensive year. I doubt he'll put up the slash line he did last year (.266 / .339 / .524) but .240 with pop and D and he's the back-up Danny Espinosa prays he'll be at age 33.

The Nats also signed Grant Green.  He's a Boras guy with good PCL numbers, but every batter has good PCL numbers. His PCL numbers are all average based - little power, no patience. When he's been up in the majors without that environment, the average dips and he's pretty much worthless. Not a spectacular fielder. Not particularly speedy. Not young. So should you be upset at the signing? Nah. There's no downside to signing these guys as minor league filler and inviting these guys to camp. What's the upside? I guess Kevin Frandsen.

If you don't like the Robinson/Zimmerman situation, a good back-up option there, Brandon Moss, is off the table, signing with the Royals. If you don't like the bullpen situation, nothing has really moved there.

The Nats (and the league) really have set prices and these... let's call them "lower middle class" players have set their own demands. Who blinks first? Who gets a bargain arm? We're about 2 weeks away from pitchers and catchers so there's still a little wiggle room. My guess is that the teams blink first, we see a signing, then another one a few days later, then a rush, but I guess we'll find out.

The proof is in the 2017-2021 pudding


The Nats lost out on Greg Holland. My first feeling, which denies certain realities in favor of my own desires, says the Nats should just spend whatever. Payroll is whatever. Rich man's toy. etc etc. My second feeling, more steeped in understanding, says is that's a fair amount of money (assumed - club nor Holland hasn't officially stated deal) and if that would mean the end of the Nats FA signings well then I'm fine losing out. The Nats need an arm and a bench player. I'd rather get two B- level of these then one huge question mark with A potential.There are a lot of decent FAs still left out there. Maybe they'll be available cheap. Maybe that doesn't even matter. We'll see.What I wanted to really talk about though was the fact we are now completely removed from the "first window" of Nats success. You could argue that it ended after 2015 if you like, when ZNN and Desmond walked away and Storen was dealt. But there's no argument that at this moment, with Ramos out, Espy traded, and Strasburg here on a new deal, that we're in a different era. No longer are the Nats living off the unique set of circumstances that had them looking up after 2012 and seeing themselves as potentially division favorites for 4 more years. That was due to a combination of things in place before Rizzo, things Rizzo set up through the draft, things Rizzo and the Lerners finished out with deals, and a division that parted like the Red Sea. Everything in place now was set in motion by Rizzo alone. There is nothing here that he serendipitously found himself with. There are no #1 generational draft picks to help things along. This is all him.Why I focus on this is because the Nats have a very specific plan in mind. Be good enough to get into the playoffs more often than not. As we talked about, this is a sensible goal because more playoffs appearances are the biggest factor in increasing your chances of winning it all. Improving the team beyond "playoffs" is a marginal concern when it comes to championships.  And this plan has worked for the most part over the past 5 seasons. However the Nats also seem to have a very specific idea of what their budget should be to accomplish this. It is not a cheap budget, but does not extend to the highest in the league. Instead they feel secure settling on a competitive level around 10th in the league. Rizzo has been able to meet these two concurrent goals up to this point, which makes it seems reasonable. However, the next 4-5 years will tell us if that is really sustainable or just a function of those unique set of circumstances.Can the Nats compete like this if more than one team in the NL East mounts a serious challenge through high payrolls or a timed explosion of young talent?  With just "one at a time" the Nats planned seemed to acheive acceptable but just acceptable on again, off again, success. Can the Nats keep up a playoff level team without expanding payroll?  This is where Eaton's bargain deal really matters. But even with that deal they'll have far more committed in 2018-2019 before looking at FAs then they ever did in the first window era. Does the age of the team work against it? After 2012 the team was full of players entering their primes. Now the team isn't old but no longer is almost everyone important 27, 26 or younger. Now multiple key players Strasburg (28), Roark (30), Gio (31), Murphy (32), Scherzer (32) are exiting prime years.I don't want to suggest that doom[...]

Dodgers get better, Cubs already great


Yesterday the Dodgers made a deal and got Logan Forsythe.  If you aren't familiar with him it's not your fault. He's played for some terrible teams and was mostly forgettable. But in 2015, at age 28, something clicked and he became a decent batter. The difference seems to be mostly learning what pitches in the zone to attack and which to let go but anyway evaluating him isn't the point. The point is the Dodgers addressed their one glaring issue and in my mind put themselves clearly ahead of the Nationals.

Why exactly are the Dodgers a better bet than the Nationals? Well before this I thought they were pretty equal. Yes, the catcher situation for the Dodgers is better. Yes, the pen a little better too given it is anchored by Jansen. And yes their bench is better with the at least decent OF/1B back ups you would expect from a healthy Ethier and Van Slyke. But the Dodgers rotation is still a huge injury risk to the point where an injury should not be feared, but expected. The Nats have the potential of Bryce to be much better sitting out there. And while the Nats have Zimmerman dragging down the line-up at first, the Dodgers had the probably worse with certainly less hope of being better Enrique Hernandez pencilled in at second. I felt it could be argued that the latter cancelled out the former. But now that 2nd is manned by the competent Forsythe I don't feel that's the case.

The Nats already should face an uphill climb for HFA and any playoff favorite slot with the Cubs sitting out there. Their bench players; Schwarber, John Jay, Montero, La Stella, could start for some teams. Their second oldest bat will be the 27 year old Jason Heyward. Their 6th man in the pen (I see it as Grimm) is comparable to a Treinen/Solis type. That team should win 100 games again. The Nats are clearly not as good as the Cubs.

What does this mean for a 5 or 7 game series in October? Not much. The Nats were clearly better than the Giants in 2014 and Cardinals in 2012 and where did that get them? The Cubs were clearly the best last year and came innings away from losing to a solid but ailing Cleveland team. But when your fanbase is desperate for a playoff series win conceding the "pre-season" 1st and 2nd spots in your league just feels wrong.

And the thing is - the Nats can't do much about this now. They can't bring in a big bat to kick Zimm out like they should. They can't find a closer. And maybe that's for the best because those things can potentially derail the Nats "consistently good enough" plan that keeps them in the playoff hunt annually. But they can improve the bench and pen to the point where you might like those more than the Dodgers (yes even with Jansen) and for a relatively low cost and with little impact on the future put themselves back on par given the usual expected injuries for a team.

This isn't asking the Nats to trade Robles for a middle relief arm, or to sign the slightly better than what we have Weiters to a 5 year deal. It's bringing in some bench and pen guys on a couple year, couple million dollar a year contracts. To me it's a no brainer.