Nov 14

Hot Stove topic – Team Review

The anemic offense seemed to be the Nats primary issue in 2013. But checking the stats gives us pause. Washington finished 13th in the National League in fielding percentage, Defensive Efficiency, 12th and in very low most of the other fielding categories. Shocking for a team that was going to be built on pitching and defense. Batting, 3rd in Home Runs, but just 6th in Runs Per Game. They were just below the league average in OBP. Pitching, while the team was 6th in ERA, they were 10th with 3.86 runs scored per game and 3rd in WHIP.

Adam LaRoche had an off year in the field and at the plate. Did “injury or other issues” affect his ability, who really knows? Maybe the poor play of the other members of the inner garden hurt his play. All conjecture, but there is no hiding the regression in his fielding numbers. LaRoche should be expected to improve on his work on the field and at the bat from last year, especially in his power numbers. If not then Washington was rewarded for his 2012 year with two subpar ones.

Anthony Rendon finally inherited the second base position after Danny Espinosa failed so miserably at the plate that he would have reminded some old timers of Rabbit Nill. Rendon to his credit handled the tough transition from third to second base well. Going forward the question we have is will he be able to improve and play the position with the skill and grace required. Rendon appears to have the athletic skills but will that translate into improved performance. If Washington was not primed to make a serious run for the World Series, it the pressure was not so intense it might not matter.

We always thought that Danny Espinosa was a better fielder than Desmond, his major league sample size while small seems to indicate that believe is true. The decline of Espinosa at the plate, while not a surprise, was one of the significant stories that played out in 2013. The team missed his solid performance in the field and lacked a dependable backup at shortstop.

Congratulations to Ian Desmond for his Silver Slugger Award. Desmond had a good year at the bank and at the plate. His salary jumped to over $3M and he surpassed his average in most offensive categories. His Offensive Wins Above Replacement (oWAR) was 4.1, slightly better than 2012.

Here is how the other shortstops in the division compared with Desmond.

Ian Desmond 3.7 4.1 0.4 .971 4.37
Andrelton Simmons 6.8 2.1 5.4 .981 4.92
Omar Quintanilla -0.8 0.2 -0.5 .978 3.93
Jimmy Rollins 0.2 2.0 -1.0 .982 4.19
Adeiny Hechavarria -2.1 -1.7 0.3 .976 4.15

Simmons is the gold standard for shortstops, while Desmond is at best an average defensive shortstop. His 2013 MLB numbers ranked against his peers; Desmond ranked 6th in range factor, 17th in fielding percentage at his position. The kicker, Defensive Wins Above Replacement (dWAR), Desmond ranks 46! Of course this takes into account players like Emilo Bonifacio who played just one game there. His 2011 and 2012 numbers are roughly similar. While possible that Desmond may be able to improve his defensive numbers, he is entering his prime; but it appears that Desmond needs to swing a hot bat to justify his position in the line-up.

Having Rendon and Desmond in the field might make the incoming manager a little nervous.

Continuing on to third the situation is not much better. Ryan Zimmerman had a case of the yips last year. He seemed to improve during the latter part of the year, but he still made us nervous, especially when he had time to make the throw over to first base. Ryan Zimmerman ranked 82nd in DWAR with 0. Ouch! Although many of these players were part timers. Zimmerman did better in range factor, ranking 10th and in fielding percentage 19th. Zimmerman has displayed good range and the ability to turn a double play. It is possible that at some point Zimmerman will be shifted over to first, although the placement of Matt Skole at first when he was moved up to Harrisburg would seem to put this into some doubt.

After all the on and off field trials and tribulation, Wilson Abraham Campos Ramos, showed what he could do. Barring set-backs the young backstop should make out quite nicely in the next round of arbitration hearings. He is a powerful hitter and should be one of the top sluggers on the team. He adds to his value with good defense. The team will no doubt move to sign an experienced back-up catcher as an insurance policy.

Young Mr. Harper with two seasons under his belt already projects to hit 26 home runs and 117 RBIs in a 162 game season. He put up these numbers despite an injury plagued 2013 season. About the only knock on Harper is his inability so far to hit left handed pitching. Assuming he can adjust his arbitration hearing in 2016 will be a profitable one.

Denard Span was the Dr. Jeckel~Mr Hyde member of the 2012 aggregation. He performed horribly in the first half but turned into a model player in the second. Like Harper he struggles against left handed pitching leaving the top of the line up vulnerable to southpaws. Surprisingly to us Span underperformed in the field, if you match his 2013 to his career numbers. He was not the base stealing threat some had wanted. Span is a graceful fielder and should do better in 2014. Jayson Werth rounds out the outfield. He had a very good year and fans hope for more of the same for 2014.

The outfield should be the team’s least pressing issue going into next season, although injuries would again cause problems for the franchise. Mike Rizzo did not show much trust in the position players stockpiled at Syracuse. Instead bench players were used often out of position. Steve Lombardozzi a case in point. He might do well at second or even third but he is not an outfielder. Players like Eury Perez, Zach Walters, Corey Brown and Jeff Kobernus don’t seem to be part of the team’s future. The best position prospect, Brian Goodwin, played well in the Arizona Fall League, but he is maybe a year away.

The line-up appears set for the upcoming season. It is possible the team could make a move adding or subtracting players to the line-up. In this care you would hope that the trade of a position player would get a positive return on investment. They could open a space at first by trading Adam LaRoche, then move Ryan Zimmerman over but then who plays third? Or do you put Tyler Moore at first? The problem with any move is that you want to end up with a team that can win now. Is Moore the guy? Or do you bundle several prospects in a trade. This might be an option but the team does not have a lot of top tier talent on the farm. What about signing a top free agent?

Our take. We expect the team to add a front line starter for a one, maybe two year rental. Players need to be acquired to strengthen the bullpen and the bench along with a backup catcher. We doubt the team would make a splash by a big free agent signing or a trade. All possibilities but the team has some key decisions coming up in the future which involve considerable financial commitment. That brings us to the final topic. Current projections call for a salary of $120M in 2014. Salary creep will continue and there is still no viable long term TV contract. Expectations are high and the window of opportunity narrow. Whatever the management has in mind the clock is ticking.

Here are some important Free Agent dates coming up;

Jordan Zimmerman 2016
Adam LaRoche 2016
Denard Span 2016
Wilson Ramos 2017
Stephen Strasburg 2017
Jayson Werth 2018
Gio Gonzalez 2018
Bryce Harper 2019