Nationals Contract Recoup Tracker

Last Update April 30

Player Performance Value: $29.4 M

Team on track to recoup by: Game 118

Defensive components were added this week, which is why we see a huge drop from Desmond and uptick for Espinosa

Four players have recouped their contract value this year.

Player Salary WAR Value % Recoup by Game
Barrett $514,200 0.3 $1,800,000
Espinosa $1,800,000 0.8 $4,800,000
Taylor $508,900 0.2 $1,200,000
Grace $516,500 0.1 $600,000
Harper $3,750,000 0.5 $3,000,000 80% 28
Lobaton $1,200,000 0.1 $600,000 50%
Strasburg $7,400,000 0.6 $3,600,000 49% 45
Zimmermann $12,000,000 0.7 $4,200,000 35% 63
Ramos $3,550,000 0.2 $1,200,000 34% 65
Span $9,000,000 0.5 $3,000,000 33% 66
Scherzer $27,000,000 1.3 $7,800,000 29% 76
Escobar $6,500,000 0.3 $1,800,000 28% 79
Gonzalez $8,400,000 0.3 $1,800,000 21% 103
Storen $5,700,000 0.2 $1,200,000 21% 105
Thornton $3,500,000 0.1 $600,000 17% 128
Zimmerman $16,666,667 0.1 $600,000 4% 611
Treinen $512,800 0 $0 0%
Stammen $2,250,000 0 $0 0%
Rendon $1,800,000 0 $0 0%
Cole $516,500 0 $0 0%
Rivero $516,500 0 $0 0%
Uggla $529,600 0 $0 0%
Janssen $5,000,000 0 $0 0%
den Dekker $512,972 0 $0 0%
McLouth $5,375,000 0 $0 0%
Fister $11,400,000 -0.1 -$600,000 -5%
Desmond $8,750,000 -0.2 -$1,200,000 -14%
Werth $18,000,000 -0.5 -$3,000,000 -17%
Johnson $1,000,000 -0.1 -$600,000 -60%
Roark $529,600 -0.1 -$600,000 -113%
Robinson $525,000 -0.1 -$600,000 -114%
Moore $518,200 -0.1 -$600,000 -116%

Again this year, we decided to keep a running total of the value measured in fWAR  compared to the players current contracts.   The cost per WAR I am using is again $6M, the average of free agent contracts. The player salary is either the actual arbitration / CBA salary or the Average Annual Value (AAV) of a long term free agent contract.  For example: Werth is making $21M this year but his AAV for the 7 year contract is $18M.  The Scherzer contract is very strange with deferred payment, so I went with Players Association $189M/7yr current value of the contract.

Surprise!!! The Nats Best Hitter This Year Rhymes With Granny Mespinosa wRC+

Who had Danny Espinosa as the Nats best hitter through Week 2.  The crazy thing is, all his hits have been from the left side, traditionally his worst side of the plate.  He is only batting .238 but has a .385 OBP and is hitting HRs at the same pace as Harper. Warning SSS, he has about half the number of at bats as a guy like Harper who who plays every day.  Espi and Uggla have been splitting time at 2nd. So far, Danny looks like a much better option.

Desmond had the biggest one week jump.

Werth has had a tough first week back

Bryce is right on track.

Michael Taylor acquitted himself nicely at the plate…good luck in AAA

Player Now Last Week Change
Danny Espinosa 171
Bryce Harper 158 134 24
Ian Desmond 138 28 110
Michael Taylor 124 112 12
Yunel Escobar 122 130 -8
Clint Robinson 106
Ryan Zimmerman 97 47 50
Wilson Ramos 79
Jayson Werth 22
Dan Uggla 5

I keep track of wRC+ or (weighted runs created) on a week to week basis. This is a stat that measures a players offensive contribution compared to the league average (100 = average.)  In this case, Danny Espinosa is 71% better than the league average and Dan Uggla is 95% worse.  This is different than WAR because it only measures hitting, it is not cumulative and it does not take into account player position.

Is this really how the Nationals are going to use Tanner Roark?

After getting bumped from the rotation after the Max Scherzer free agent signing, it was an open question how the Nationals would use Tanner Roark out of the bullpen. Prior to the season I saw two possibilities:

1. Roark adjusts his pitching approach to become a reliever, hopefully adding a couple of miles per hour to his fastball. With luck, Roark generates more strikeouts with greater velocity and increased movement.

2. Roark changes nothing and he’s relegated to mop-up duty and extra innings when all the other available relievers have already been used.

One week into the season it’s clear which option the Nationals chose. Here are Roark’s appearances so far this season.

-Top of the 7th with the Nationals losing 6-1 to Mets. Roark pitched two scoreless innings.

-Bottom of the 10th with the Nats tied 2-2 with the Phillies. Roark was the 4th Nats reliever on the day. He gave up one run and got tagged with the loss.

-Bottom of the 3rd with the Nats losing 7-0 to the Red Sox. Roark allowed one inherited runner to score and then gave up one more run in 3.2 innings.

Roark started 31 games last season with a 2.85 ERA in 198.2 innings. Yet, two of his three appearances this season have been ultra-low leverage situations where the outcome of the game had largely been decided. Additionally, the extra inning game was a situation where Roark’s primary skill set (throw strikes, induce weak contact), is not particularly well suited. In extra innings–a potential walk-off situation–the Nats would be better off using a high strikeout reliever like Drew Storen. Sadly, Roark finds himself in the same situation as Ross Dewiler last season: the odd man out of the rotation, but not well suited for short term relief.

I have no idea whether the Nationals tried to adjust Roark’s pitching approach to make him more deadly in relief (this is the first option listed above). There are several reasons why this plan might not work. Some pitchers easily adjust to a bullpen job (for example, Zach Britton in Baltimore or Blake Treinen here in DC). Some starters, however, lose their command when trying to throw harder, or simply can’t find the extra velocity needed to make a difference.

It is also possible the Nationals didn’t want Roark to change anything. With Doug Fister and Jordan Zimmermann leaving this offseason, Roark will be needed in the 2016 rotation. Asking Roark to change his approach–and then then change it back–could hurt his development or worse lead to injury.

And finally, Roark may find himself back in the Nats rotation this season. He’s only one injury away.

Currently, however, Roark is painfully miscast on the 2015 Nats. As the team struggles out of the gate, it’s possible one their biggest weapons won’t ever be taken out of the arsenal.

Examining Matt Williams’ bullpen mismanagement 

I wish I could say Matt Williams’ bullpen management was a mystery. If it was a mystery, there might be a revolutionary and ultimately satisfying explanation for how he’s managing this team. Unfortunately we know exactly what’s happening. Williams assigns his relievers certain rolls and he refuses to deviate from his plan. In series like this weekend, it causes problems, and likely loses ballgames.

Let’s look at some examples. On Friday night Gio Gonzalez–while not perfect–had largely cruised through six innings allowing zero runs. The Nationals had a two run lead. A great manager would know that early in the season, starting pitchers sometimes get a little shaky after six innings. Davey Johnson, for example, was quick to pull his pitchers after six innings early in the season while they’re still transitioning from a Spring Training workload. On Friday night, Gio appeared to be cruising, but a great manager would’ve been looking for warning signs. Walking the leadoff batter was a warning sign. A good manager would’ve recognized this sent out the pitching coach to buy some time to get the bullpen ready. Instead Matt Williams let Gio walk another man before sending out his pitching coach. At this point, Williams had no choice but to let Gio face another batter. Hit batter. Bases loaded. The bullpen now faced an impossible task with nobody out. A manager with more foresight might’ve been able to pull Gio after two batters that inning and give his bullpen a fighting chance.

But this was only the beginning of Matty’s bullpen mismanagement. Williams’ devotion to bullpen rolls created the next problem. I can’t say for sure who’s the ideal reliever on this team with the bases loaded and nobody out, but it’s probably not Xavier Cedeno. Blake Treinen and his 98 mph sinker seems like a good choice. The point is Williams gave it very little thought at all. Since it was the 7th inning, he obligated himself to use a “7th inning guy.”  Treinen–Williams’ “8th inning guy”–entered the game next inning with the Nationals losing 4-1. It was too late for his sinker to make a difference. 

Williams’ poor decisions have a cascading effect on the bullpen. Treinen was relegated to a lower leverage situation on Friday night because Williams will only use him in the 8th inning. The next night, Williams used him again in the eighth inning. On Saturday, Treinen–a new reliever still adjusting to the demands of working on consecutive nights–wasn’t sharp and surrendered the Nats 2-0 lead. After burning Treinen on Friday when it was too late to make a difference, the pitcher wasn’t sharp when the team actually needed him. Meanwhile, Aaron Barrett and Drew Storen went unused. The Nats lost the game in extra innings.  

In either game Friday or Saturday night, it would have been appropriate to turn to Drew Storen. But Willliams, like many MLB managers, refuses to use his closer unless it’s a save situation. Storen–who hadn’t worked in 5 days–wasn’t sharp and almost blew the save on Sunday. He was only saved by quality defense and the inability of a substandard Phillies lineup to take advantage of Storen’s wildness. 

I don’t know why Williams refuses to be flexible in his bullpen usage. After last season’s playoff collapse, I proposed this theory: 

Unlike many MLB managers, Matt Williams was a star player. He didn’t bounce from level to level and team to team. He played 16 of his 17 MLB seasons with only two teams. Over half of his nearly 7600 MLB plate appearances were from the cleanup spot. Matt Williams was a player who didn’t see a lot of change in his career. There’s a good chance he believes a chunk of his success came from this consistency. Every day, same team, same place in the order. Stability led to success over time.

Whether this is the actual reason for Williams’ stubbornness, we’ll probably never know. We do know, however, that he’s not maximizing his team’s chances on a nightly basis. The Nats will recover and win a lot of games this season. Unfortunately, when and if the playoffs come, small decisions in bullpen management can make a huge difference. Unfortunately, Williams refuses to make the right decisions. 

Trying to explain the Jerry Blevins-Matt den Dekker trade

A couple of days before the season, the Nats traded reliever Jerry Blevins to the Mets for OF Matt den Dekker. It was a strange trade at the time, for multiple reasons. First, intra-division trades are rare unless one of the teams is in full rebuilding mode, which the 2015 Mets are certainly not. Second, Blevins was poised to play a valuable role in a Nationals bullpen still struggling to fill the hole left by Tyler Clippard’s departure to Oakland. Blevins struggled last season (4.87 ERA), but his splits were strong against lefties (40 strikeouts against 117 batters faced). With Blevins leaving, the Nats were forced to turn to the largely untested Xavier Cedeno and 38-year-old Matt Thornton.

With Jayson Werth and Denard Span hurt, it made sense for the Nats to target an outfielder. But Matt Williams never slated den Dekker for a starting role. He only appeared in four games while getting only two plate appearances. Even if den Dekker did start the first six games of the season, a reliever like Blevins is a pretty high price to pay. Besides, if the Nats needed a short-term solution, there were plenty of replacement-level options (like Reed Johnson) available.

Since the trade, Blevins has performed well in New York (5 batters faced, 0 baserunners, 3 strikeouts), while his replacement in DC, Cedeno, has struggled. Moreover, den Dekker was sent to AAA this morning, leaving many Nats scratching their heads, trying to figure out why Rizzo made this trade in the first place.

The best answer is that Rizzo trusts his scouting. There’s something about den Dekker they liked and they jumped at the opportunity to acquire him. Blevins, meanwhile, is one season away from free agency and likely would have departed for nothing this offseason. This trade entirely fits Mike Rizzo’s M.O., leveraging short-term assets for long term gain. The best comparison to the Blevins-den Dekker trade is the Michael Morse trade prior to the 2013. Morse could have played a valuable role on the 2013 team, but Rizzo opted to flip him for three long-term assets. One of those players (Blake Treinen) is currently a vital member of the Nats bullpen; one (A.J. Cole) is a top prospect in the Nats farm system; and one (Ian Krol) was traded for Doug Fister prior to last season. Rizzo is always playing the long game, trying to keep this franchise stocked with talent when their “window of contention” should otherwise be closing.

I realize this answer may be unsatisfying to many fans who rightfully realize Blevins can help this team right now. And perhaps these fans are right. When you’re contender, sometimes you have to sacrifice your future to cover up holes on the roster.

But the Nats trust their scouts, and their track record is strong. There was something they liked about Blake Treinen two years ago, and now he’s firing 98 mph sinkers as the Nats full-time set-up man.

It’s entirely fair to question Mike Rizzo’s moves as GM. But his track record and long-term focus make one week later the wrong time to do it.

Takeaways from the first Nats win of the season

Takeaways from tonight’s 2 to 1 win over the Mets:

1. Bryce Harper’s arm: The Mets were afraid to test it, and they’re wise to be afraid. It looks like Harper’s move to right field this season was a smart one. Not only is Bryce keeping singles from becoming doubles, he’s covering good ground out there, showing the extra few steps Jason Werth has lacked in the past few seasons. I can’t wait to see Harper’s first victim on the basepaths. 

2. Ryan Zimmerman’s glove: speaking of new positions, Ryan Zimmerman looks like he knows how to play first base. This shouldn’t be a surprise because–you know–he’s been an infielder his entire life. 

3. Bryce Harper’s singles: earlier today I noted Harper’s strikeout higher rate in 2014. Today, he twice simplified his swing and slapped a single into the outfield. Bryce Harper looked like a dangerous well-rounded hitter today. 

4. The bullpen: Matt Williams is a guy that ordinarily likes routine, so it wouldn’t be surprising if Treinen and Storen were the regular eighth and ninth inning guys. If so, that lineup looked pretty imposing today. It was nice to be able to take it to one run lead and carry it all the way till the end. 

5. Your Thom Loverro suggested Hot Take of the Day: Jordan Zimmermann out-pitched Scherzer. HE should have been give the $210 million contract. Write it up, Thom. 

Nationals trends to watch: strikeouts

It’s silly to draw any conclusions from the first game of the baseball season. Worrying about your team losing on Opening Day is like worrying about missing the NFL playoffs after only returning the season’s opening kickoff to the 19-yard-line.

But one thing stuck out to me on Opening Day, and it was something I was concerned about entering the season (so I’m allowed to write about it now): strikeouts.

The Nationals struck out 1304 times last season, the most of any playoff team. The plurality of these strikeouts came from Ian Desmond, who’s been trending the wrong way since his breakout season in 2012. After fanning 113 times that season, he stuck out 145 times in 2013. Last season’s rise to 183 strikeouts (in fewer plate appearances than the year before) in part led to Desmond’s noticeable drop in on base percentage, from .331 in 2013 to .313 in 2014. Overall, Desmond struck out 28.24% of the time in 2014.

Bryce Harper, too, is trending in the wrong direction. After only 120 strikeouts in 139 games his rookie season, Harper had over one strikeout per game last season with 104 in 100. Overall, he struck out just over 26.3% of the time.

There are other troublesome spots in the Nats current lineup. Michael Taylor struck out 163 times last season between three levels of pro ball in only 127 games, at a rate of 28.6%. Opening Day second baseman, Dan Uggla, is king of strikeouts, averaging more than one per game over the course of his career. He struck out just under 29.3% of the time last season, which was better than 2013 when he struck out 31.84% of the time.

MLB players, as a whole, stuck out just under 20.36% of the last season.

Strikeouts can be overcome on offense if the team is still getting on base (last season, the Nats were 4th in the NL in OBP), hitting for power (4th in NL in HR), and generally scoring runs (3rd in the NL in runs per game). But a rise in strikeouts often leads to a drop in all those categories.

Yes, it’s too soon to draw conclusions, but if you’re looking for trends to watch, look at strikeouts.