All winter long fans of the Washington Nationals set huddled in their hovels waiting for news for Spring Training to shake off the chill, but when spring arrived the news was slow. It was no sudden realization that the National roster was mostly set. That was known in January, but to see it play out was the surprise. The games that the Nationals have played have been filled with little to no news or notes. Nothing of interest has happened, but that is not a bad thing. Look at the Yankees camp where they are full of interesting stories as to whether or not Derek Jeter will be ready by Opening Day, and how do they replace Curtis Granderson. The Nats have no interesting stories. It isn't even March and Spring Training already feels like it has last too long.
No Nats fan is going to long for the days of Brian Bruney fighting for a closer's role or the 2007 collection of has-beens and never-weres fighting for five out of five spots in the starting rotation. Nobody misses that, but something of news or note would be interesting. Instead what we get are stories of how tightly nit the Washington Nationals are, how much team chemistry they have, and intimate details about what the pitchers are working on. Some of this is more interesting than the other, but none of it is all that entertaining. Less entertainment and drama now only means more later on.Read More
After making his Spring Training debut yesterday Ross Detwiler was asked what he wanted to improve upon in 2013 and his answer was first pitch strikes. Detwiler said this, but he isn't a non-strike thrower. He is around league average in that category with 62% first pitch strikes compared to a league average of 60% and an overall strike percentage of 64% compared to a league average of 63%. As a strike thrower Detwiler is right around league average, but if Detwiler has a flaw it is that he doesn't strike many batters out.
For his career Detwiler strikes out 14.4% of the batters he faces and has walked 8.3%. Both of those numbers improved in 2012 as his strikeout percentage rose to 15.3% and walk percentage fell to 7.6%, but Detwiler would like to improve that even further and getting ahead of hitters is one easy way to do that. Detwiler was around league average in most control categories, but he is a below average strikeout pitcher. He is an above average ground ball pitcher with 50.8% ground ball rate in 2012. This number is up from his overall career average and the reason for that is Detwiler has started to rely on his sinker.Read More
Last evening's 6-4 Nats Spring Training win over the Mets was interesting for a couple of reasons, and none of them had to do with the fact that Nats finally won a Spring Training game. Spring Training is a lot like minor league baseball. A starting pitcher takes the mound and throws a certain number of pitches and then other pitchers get their work in. It is very formulaic. There is a set way for it to work and results matter far less than during a regular game. It is more important that a pitcher get in their pitches than prevent runs and if one runs into trouble on the mound before they have gotten their work in it is rare that they come out.
There are still things to notice in watching a game that is run this way. Last night the Nats didn't send a whole lot of regulars. Gio Gonzalez, Ryan Mattheus, Tyler Moore, and Steve Lombardozzi were the only players to appear that are likely to make the Opening Day 25 man roster. The rest of the players are either prospects or other non-roster invitees. That doesn't mean that these players won't be important to the Nationals during the course of the season, but what exactly will all their roles be?Read More
In 2012 Jordan Zimmermann threw fastballs between 86.9 and 96.4 MPH sitting mostly at 93.1 MPH and his change-up he threw between 83.4 and 87.6 MPH with the average being 86.1. The change-up isn't just a change of speeds pitch it is also a movement pitch, but the range of speeds of Jordan Zimmermann's change-up put it too close to his fastball. In the two innings that Jordan Zimmermann threw in the Nats 2-2 tie to the Marlins his change-up was reportedly sitting between 83-84 MPH. If Zimmermann can kill the speed consistently to that level then the change-up will finally develop into a pitch that Zimmermann can feel comfortable in using. It is hard to say that a player that has been as good as Zimmermann was in 2011 and 2012 has room to improve, but a true change of speeds pitch would add an entirely different dimension to Jordan Zimmermann as a pitcher and allow him to evolve to the next level.
The other big development from yesterday's game is that the Nats top prospect, Anthony Rendon, hit a homerun. This caused people to get very excited and start to wonder when he will get to the big leagues. The answer is Opening Day 2015. That is far off and there is a strong possibility that Rendon will be major league ready by the middle of this season, but the Nats have no spot for him, and they aren't going to call-up Rendon as an injury replacement to go back down. When Anthony Rendon is called up it is going to be to stay. Read More
The Nats played their first Spring Training game today and nothing was all that interesting about it other than the fact it happened. Strasburg started, threw two innings, gave up two runs, and looked like he was working on his fastball. Strasburg never appeared to be throwing at max effort and threw a hand full of breaking balls in his 43 pitch outing. That is just fine at this point in the spring. For players like Strasburg, and the rest of the Nats, it is about getting ready for the regular season.
The Nats as a team look like a team already focused on Opening Day. All of these games are a formality. As much as the battle for the last roster spot is discussed it is going to be hard for someone to unseat Henry Rodriguez and his lack of options. Rodriguez can be given an extended look in a mop-up role during the regular season. With the strength of the Nats rotation and bullpen it would take a 15 inning game to force Rodriguez into a meaningful inning. Read More
Heading into 2012 the Nats were heralded as a team with catching depth. They had traded Derek Norris but still have Wilson Ramos, Jesus Flores, and a number of prospects like Sandy Leon working their way through the minors. The Nats ended up needing all of that catching depth and because of Jesus Flores' total disregard for his own well being he hit only .213/.248/.329 in 296 plate appearances. Flores stuck around on the roster and caught everyday when most players would have been on the DL, but the Nats needed him, because as bad as those numbers were injuries to Leon and Solano left them with no one else to turn to.
It is overlooked how poorly Nats catchers hit in 2012 with a total team batting line of .237/.294/.365 when the MLB average was .248/.318/.400. In all other up the middle positions the Nats were above average offensively, but they were well below average at catcher. It is hard to say it hurt them as even with the poor production they were able to win 98 games, but it is also hard to ignore the fact that the return of Wilson Ramos and the presence Kurt Suzuki could have a major impact on the 2013 season.Read More
The Nats claimed IF Carlos Rivero off of waivers from the Phillies in December of 2011. At the time, the move came with little fanfare; Rivero was coming off of a .270/.326/.440 triple slash in his third full season of AA ball. Carlos Rivero has always been a toolsy guy; the Phillies used a waiver claim and a 40-man spot on him the year before the Nats did after he put up a .603 OPS in AA ball. The issues with Rivero revolved around his mediocre results, because the talent has always been there both offensively and defensively.
Rivero turned a corner in Syracuse in 2012, where he hit .303/.347/.435 with 10 HR and 64 RBI in 126 games, as well as in the Venezuelan Winter League, where he hit .283/.365/.498 with 10 HR and 35 RBI in 55 games for the Leones del Caracas. His defense improved as well, as he improved from a .913 fielding percentage at 3B in 2011 to a .953 in 2012. While .953 is still not great by any stretch, the potential is there for him to keep improving, to the point where Baseball America named him the best defensive 3B in the AAA International League in 2012. Rivero's bat won't play nearly as well at the ML level as it did in AAA, but can still be passable enough for a utility role.Read More
As has been mentioned time and time before the Nationals are in an unfamiliar position. There appears to be only one Spring Training battle and that is for the 25th spot on the roster. This is often thought of as a bullpen battle and that may be it, but the Nats have a very strong rotation and back of the bullpen and could forgo going with either H-Rod in a mop-up role or a one batter pitcher like Bill Bray for extra bench help early on. Especially since the Nationals have no true back-up short stop and there are already injury concerns with Espinosa's shoulder.
But this isn't a spot that is going to be won in Spring Training. The Nats could open the season with Henry Rodriguez given every opportunity to fail and if he does call up Bill Bray or Erik Davis or another reliever to take that role. If it is Bray he can't be sent down, but someone like Davis can be and replaced with utility infielder Carlos Rivera during a part of the schedule where the starting pitching is going well and the Nationals need an extra bench bat. The truth is the Nats roster, especially at the bottom, isn't going to be finalized until playoff rosters are set. Read More
I am going to admit from the start I don't like thinking of this season as “World Series or bust”. It isn't that I don't think the team should be thinking that way it is more I don't like the concept. A team that is continually being tied to the 2013 Washington Nationals is the 2011 Boston Red Sox. Mainly because that was the last team so heavily favored and they failed to make the post-season. It is a word of warning, but that team did win 90 games and would have made the post-season as the second Wild Card under the current system. A Wild Card spot isn't what the Nationals want, and 90 games will be viewed as a disappointment, but it is hard to call a 90 win season a bust.
The main reason the Nationals are in this position is that unbiased computer projection systems continue spitting out insane results. Even the conservative estimate that PECOTA spat out of 88 wins still has the Nationals winning the division by six games. Most other projection systems are higher and ZiPS even goes so far as to say the Nationals have a 27% chance of winning over 100 games. This is all insanity, but even my own projection system of taking the players average career WAR and making some logical adjustments for pitchers like Strasburg who has never pitched 200 innings comes out to 98 wins. Then there is this from Natstradamus that also came out to 98 wins.Read More
Most Nats fans have come around on the point that Denard Span is an upgrade over Michael Morse. You replace a negative 20 runs in UZR/150 with a positive 4.6 and you upgrade the Nats weakest line-up spot from the past few season with a career .357 OBP hitter. Defense is one thing but Morse was a left fielder/first baseman and both of those positions are known for offense. At the end of the day people are going to see the Nats replacing a career .839 OPS and .363 wOBA hitter with a .746 OPS and .332 wOBA one. That ignores a large chunk of offense and most of Denard Span's added value outside of defense and OBP, and that is base running.
Think about it for a second. What is the first stat you look at when judging a player? Is it their slash line, wOBA, WAR, what? How often is the first stat checked a base running or defensive stat. WAR does try to account for those things and it does a good job of it, but do most realize it or do they even care or are they even the ones I am writing this for? I often even forget that the base running aspect of fWAR can be viewed on Fangraphs. BSR/UBR is the stat and it takes everything into account. It even counts for when a batter doesn't run on a strong armed outfielder. Take a look at the primer. Morse is a -10 BSR/150 base runner and Span a 6.3. As with defense, that is a large increase in value. From base running and defense alone Span is worth four wins more than Morse.Read More
Clubhouse chemistry. What is it? How do we define it? And how much does it matter? Those are all questions that baseball fans ask, particularly stats inclined baseball fans. Clubhouse chemistry is an open ended term that can mean almost anything and is used more often to disparage a player or to give a below average player some sort of redeeming quality. Players labeled good or bad chemistry guys are often bad players with good qualities or good players with bad qualities. Common sense though tells us that if we can cut to the heart of the matter that clubhouse chemistry does matter.
Baseball is a job and psychologists have done many studies that have shown that a happy worker is a productive worker, but in baseball a talented unhappy player is still likely to be better than an untalented happy player. That last argument misses the point. When constructing a baseball teams GMs don't have to pick from extremes. One of the best executives of all time, Pat Gillick, said when he looked at a player he considered 60% talent and 40% make-up. More weight is given to talent, but significant weight is also given to make-up, and that is because a lot of baseball players are talented.Read More
Early reports out of Viera are saying that Jordan Zimmermann is yet again working on perfecting his changeup to use as a fourth pitch. This is at least the second year in a row where Jordan Zimmermann was said to be working on a changeup, and this season it sounds like he’s finally got it.
The importance of a fourth pitch is understated for a starting pitcher. On average batters hit for a higher OPS each subsequent time they face a starting pitcher. For Zimmermann in 2012, batters hit .780 OPS the third time facing him, versus just .648 the first time. While relievers, who usually only face a batter once, can get away with only two or three pitches, this is not true for a starter. The more pitches a pitcher has, the more permutations of attack he has for any single hitter, which can help him pitch quality innings late into the game.Read More
With the acquisition of Denard Span to play center field and bat leadoff, a new defensive home had to be found for Harper. In 2012 advanced stats didn't just rate Harper as a good defensive center fielder he was rated as a great one. The Span move makes the Nats better in two positions of weakness and it also allows Harper to move to a more offensive position and focus on that aspect of his game. Left field is the second least important defensive position according to the defensive matrix, and often times it is the home of some of the games best sluggers.
For a quick comparison the average MLB center fielder hit .265/.330/.418 in 2012 and the average left fielder .261/.327/.431. While left field is traditionally a more offensive position current left fielders only managed a .009 OPS advantage over their CF brethren in 2012. This doesn't nor should it change the perception of left field as the less important defensive position of the higher offensive position. All it means is that there aren't a lot of good left fielders right now. In WAR there are built-in bonuses for playing different positions, a good offensive player at an up the middle position will be rated higher than a good offensive player at a corner position, because an up the middle player that can hit is more valuable.Read More