"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.
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.