Friday, July 31, 2009

"We are not rebuilding."

Well, there you have it. Courtesy of Harlan:
"We are not tearing this thing down to the foundation and rebuilding it," he said. "We have a good core of young major league starting pitchers. We've established a good inventory of power arms in the minor leagues. We have a good core of controllable, talented position players, two of them being Josh Willingham and Adam Dunn. ... We are not rebuilding. This is a team that, in my opinion, is not far away from being a good, solid baseball team."
Blogger shakes head, sighs...

This right here is the core of the problem, and it's the same problem that this team has had since November 2004. It's the number one reason that they will likely be losing 100 games a year four or five years hence.

They are over-evaluating their own talent. They think they are "not far way," but in fact they are further away than any team in baseball.

I have to wonder, does Rizzo really think this? Does the talent evaluator who found Brandon Webb in the eighth round really believe that his team, on pace for 50 wins, is "not far way?"

Another thing I wonder is, "not far away" from what? From contention? Certainly no one in their right mind can believe this. From .500? Well, it's pretty hard to imagine how they think that's true either.

The Nationals, of course, are the worst team in baseball. Yet, look at all the things that have gone the Nationals' way this season:
  • Josh Willingham is putting up near-MVP numbers at .300 / .410 / .586. Prior to this season his career average was .266 / .361 / .472.
  • Jesus Flores is the only player, including Nick Johnson, to miss any meaningful time with injury.
  • John Lannan is beating the tar out of his 90th percentile PECOTA projection of 3.40 ERA and 156 IP.
  • Craig Stammen is whipping his 90th percentile PECOTA projection of 4.74 ERA in 113.7 IP.
  • Adam Dunn is having the best offensive year of his life, hitting .276 / .405 / .554 and setting career highs in all three categories.
  • Nyjer Morgan has put together one of the hottest hot streaks of his career since coming over, hitting .404 / .429 / .515 compared to a career line of .304 / .362 / .398.
  • Ryan Zimmerman has broken out, upping his wOBA from .336 to .357.
Now, it's well documented that the Nationals are nine games behind their projected won-loss record by run differential. But still, that puts them at just 41-61, still one of the worst teams in baseball.

They do have some bats, it's true. Enough to be 22nd in runs per game in MLB.

Their pitching, meantime, is horrendous. The "good inventory of power arms" in their minor league system is more hype than reality. After Jordan Zimmermann, there isn't an impact arm anywhere in the organization. Stammen and Lannan are great stories, but they're both pitching over their heads right now. If they're your #4 and #5, they might be part of a contender, assuming you have a true front end.

So where do they get improvement next year? Who's going to be better? Most of the key contributors mentioned above are likely to be worse, especially the 30-year-old Willingham and Dunn. Of all their position players, only Zimmerman and Flores could be said to be improving. Elijah Dukes would be a third, but it seems clear that the team has no use for him.

Drew Storen might be ready to contribute out of the bullpen. Then of course there's Stephen Strasburg, if the team decides that it won't "damage the parity of all baseball" to sign their top draft pick once every couple years.

After that? Anyone? I guess they'll probably non-tender Scott Olsen, and that should help a little. But this team is on pace for a Pythagorean record 16 games below .500. I defy anyone to identify 16 games of improvement internally. And that's just to get to .500. Forget contention.

In 2005, Jim Bowden believed he had a real contender on his hands, despite a run differential that said otherwise. He refused to rebuild.

He said at the end of last season that if the Nationals had been totally healthy they would have between .500.
(Of course, 25 other teams would be in the playoffs if they could count on perfect health.). He refused to rebuild.

Now, on track for back-to-back seasons with the worst record in baseball, they're still not rebuilding. What's that saying about first in war, first in peace? Some things never change, I guess.


Anonymous said...

Stephen it is hard to keep track on what side you are on here. You wanted Rizzo to trade both guys - he did - and it cracks me up how the armchair GMs all over the blogosphere on on Rizzo because he didn't get the best prospects in baseball for a situational reliever and a oft-hurt 30 year old first baseman who hits the open market in two months. What exactly else would you like Rizzo to do, save trading Josh Willingham, which I think wpuld have been an act of stupidity, to borrow a line from the President.

I take Rizzo's line as a throwaway more than anything else here, and probably not worth your rant. I fully expect more changes in the off season, and tend to have faith in a guy who is universally respected in the profession and who came up through the scouting ranks.

Section 222 said...

I tend to agree with Anon here. Let's see what he does, rather than going by what he says. Getting some real value for Millege and Hanrahan was pretty impressive I think, notwithstanding tonight's game. And he moved the two obvious players who had to go today -- Johnson and Beimel. Dunn and/or Willingham could still go during the offseason if the right deals materialize.

The next tests will be what he does with Belliard and Kearns. And I hope you're wrong that the team has no use for Dukes. He needs to be up here and playing steadily for the rest of the season.

I like what I've seen so far from Rizzo. I would have been really worried if we had stood pat. But it looks like he's on the right track. I guess we'll see.

Souldrummer said...

There is a path towards them being closer to .500 next year, and maybe that's where the we're not rebuilding comes from. If they say their not rebuilding, though, I'm looking for the offseason moves that take on salary to make them more competitive in either the starting rotation or the infield. 2B and shortstop are not viable options on a quality club right now and 1st base will be a defensive liability with the options we presently have.

So, it's still wait and see. They did the bare minimum of what they had to do at the deadline in trading Johnson and somebody else. Would have been better to trade Johnson earlier but at least they did something.

They now have to do at least the minimum in the draft and get Strasburg signed.

I can see the team getting a bit better if Storen is able to contribute next year, Morgan offers respectable offense in CF, and another arm matures in the system.

We also forget that there will be some addition from subtraction next year. We won't have a Cabrera experiment at the beginning of next year. We won't have Kearns on the roster.

You're a SABR guy, Stephen. How many wins can this team add by subtracting sub-replacement production from the likes of Cabrera, Kearns and others?

I would rather see them make some more dramatic deals for a focus on 2011, but I don't rule out the possibility for improvement next year, either. Let's hope they put their money where their mouth is.

Steven said...

I'm not ripping the JOhnson and Beimel deals at all. These were total no-brainers. If they didn't move these two guys they would be committing total malpractice.

My complaint is that they didn't also move Willingham, Harris, and even Dunn.

They need to move present assets for future assets. Their present is miserable regardless, and their only chance is to try to invest for the future.

Rizzo says that's not the plan. He thinks they're close to contending.

I don't believe he really thinks that. He must be just saying what he thinks Lerner wants to hear, because he can't really believe this garbage.

estuartj said...

Dukes is being recalled and will join the everyday line-up, per Rizzo via Chico at NJ.

It's important for Rizzo to show we aren't the Pirates and in full fire sale mode, it helps to get a decent return on your investment for the buyer to know you aren't desperate, despite your record.

Let's see if Rizzo can move Guzman in a post waivers trade, that and get Strasburg signed and I'm all for giving Rizzo the job permanently.

Unknown said...

stephen,pls do your research about rizzo since arizona went the dbacks was the worst organitation in and in two years went to be best in the game according with baseball america and went to playoff,he did the best in a horrible situation with the nats,and reff dunn and other you said he did not traded it two to tango,some one must want them and fit in their plans,nats players play not to win they are playing for jobs for next year they are last you know,under this situation rizzo is doing a good job,plus he not the real gm yet remember

Dave Nichols said...

Rizzo's quote was my lede too. sigh.

Steve said...

Perhaps it's best viewed as a semantical argument: If something never got built, can it be "rebuilt"?

Deacon Drake said...

"Perhaps it's best viewed as a semantical argument: If something never got built, can it be "rebuilt"?"

I agree.

I think Rizzo's hands are tied when it comes to the "shiny pieces" like Dunn, Willingham, and even Guzman, who should have been almost given away.

Rizzo does mention building, and while Dunn will be a drain due to his liabilities, Willingham is really coming on and showing what he can do with regular playing time, despite the adversity. I'm glad he stayed on...

Hopefully Dukes makes the most of the next two months so the Nats know what to do with him.

Anonymous said...

Good debate and comments here....

Look I am not saying I am opposed to Steven's proposition, which without misquoting our fine host is that not enough trades were made at the deadline.

Yes I would have dealt Harris but as someone else pointed out it takes two to tango.

I would not have dealt Dunn and Willingham at this point. If you view them as "assets" (and as Nick's reaction to the deal was, we remember they are people), the argument for dealing them now is they have peaked, which they have not in my view. In essence you'd be "selling short". Dunn could have big value in the off-season and at the next deadline. Willingham maybe even more so. So trading now you'd be getting less on the dollar than you would later.

Guzman is untradeable.

Unknown said...

I don't think teams were seriously going after Dunn because of his contract, he would be a perfect 2 month rental player and I don't think teams would be willing to pay the 12 million owed to him next year. The DH market is in a surplus, so essentially teams would be trying to get him cheap. I think the Red Sox next year will want Dunn to replace Big Papi, which would be pretty sweet cause they are loaded with talent.

Willingham is valuable and the Nats were probably asking for a lot but I think it would increase his value if he plays another season healthy and he is under control. No big deal, there will be more deals done. Not the end of the world.

Guzman is stuck here, no one wants him, his value is decreasing and he is owed 8 million next year.