Thursday, August 23, 2007

One Bat Or Two?

The Nats extended run of .500ish goodness has everyone salivating at the possibility of next year. The more deluded amongst us sees images of a wild card run, perhaps aided by a few more well-timed John Lannan pitches. But even the sane can see the possibility of a .500ish team. And in the NL, mediocrity central, a .500ish record into September gives you hope. (Were we .500, we'd be about 4.5 games out)

This is a variation of a post I've written once or twice before, but it's interesting to look at.

Winning and losing in baseball revolves around runs scored and runs allowed. You score more than your opponent, you win. Simple, right. That's blindingly obvious on a per game basis, but it also holds over the course of a season. Good teams outscore their opponents. Bad teams get outscored. Bill James came up with a formula for estimating this, the Pythagorean formula, which says that a team's winning percentage is equal to:

(Runs Scored ^ 2) / ( (Runs Scored ^ 2) + (Runs Allowed ^ 2) )

There are variations using different exponents that are more accurate, but for 90% of baseball teams, this formula predicts a teams record within 4-5 games. The formula says the Nats are a 54-73 team; they're really a 57-70 team. Pretty close.

Using the formula as a baseline, you can make some rough estimates about improvements the team would need to make for various records. It's a hell of a lot easier to project offense, so lets make some basic assumptions about the pitching.

The team is on pace to allow 755 runs (120 fewer than last year). Amazingly, they've only had four starters completely crap the bed: Simontacchi, Patterson, Williams and Speigner. The rest have ranged from great (Hill) to passably mediocre (Chico).

If we make the assumption that the team gets more out of Hill and Patterson (or some FA pitcher), when we factor in the move from RFK to a more favorable hitter's park, we can probably safely assume that the Nats will allow roughly the same number of runs next year. They could improve and still allow the same number because of the park.

So to get to 81 wins next year, the team would have to score around 750 runs.
85 wins: 790
87 wins: 810
90 wins: 840
95 wins: 895

The Nats are currently on pace for right around 635 runs. Yikes. That's a lot of improving.

Some of that will come from the park. How much? Damed if I know. The Nats are on pace to score about 20 more runs on the road this year than average. It was dead even last year. And the road team in '05 outscored the average by 60 runs. For the hell of it, let's call it 30 runs attributable to park, but I have a hunch that with a medium-power team like this, it's more dramatic.

So if we factor in ~30 runs for the park, the offensive improvement needed for each of those targets is:
81 wins: 55 runs
85 wins: 95 runs
87 wins: 115 runs
90 wins: 145 runs
95 wins: 200 runs

.500 certainly seems doable, doesn't it?

Now some of those runs will come from this year's slumping players.

If Schneider's bat awakens and he splits the difference between the last two years and '04/'05, that's 5 runs or so. Kearns splitting the difference between this year and last gives another 10. Zimmerman doing the same is another 5-10.

It adds up quickly.

Of course, you'll have to subtract a few for Dmitri -- can you really EXPECT (different from hope!) him to do this again next year? And probably a few from Belliard, who was over his head for half a season.

Make some rough estimates, and you can see that the Nats are one bat away from being a .500 team and one All-Star-type bat from being in the 85-87 range.

So who's out there?

Adam Dunn over the last three years creates about 110-120 runs per season. Subtract a few runs for defense, and he's a solid 100-run a year contributer. When healthy, Torii Hunter is a 75-90-run bat and probably a few runs on defense, considering that Logan isn't a complete butcher (other than on easy popups!). If we chalk this up to a fluke season, Andruw Jones is a solid 100-115-run guy with the bat.

There are options there in the offseason, enough bats to push the Nats, if they choose, to .500 or beyond.

Of course, all this is predicated on the Nats' pitching being as solid next year as it has been this year, which is never a truly safe assumption.

But if it works out, maybe we ARE closer than we think.

31 Comments:

  • One thing to consider: While the pitching staff has been ravaged by injuries (something that was, to be blunt, rather foreseeable), that has not really been the case with the lineup.

    [Aside from Nick, though he's been replaced by Dmitri, who has (a few aches aside) been very healthy and very, very productive. And aside from Guzman, though he was unusually productive in his own right during the short time he was healthy and has been, at least functionally, replaced by a healthy and productive Belliard.]

    The point being, it's not out of the realm of possibility that depth will be important if Kearns should miss a month or two next year or, heaven forbid, Zimmerman should be befallen by an injury.

    I'm not saying we should adjust any projections to account for such a possibility, but it might be the case where the team can't tolerate another disappointment from someone like Casto (if indeed 50-something ABs can amount to a disappointment).

    By Anonymous Basil, at 8/23/2007 10:56 AM  

  • Fair point.

    The other thing to consider is that you can't just plug Dunn in and say, AHA! There's 100 runs. You'd have to back out the expected performance he'd be replacing. Say a Pena/Church combo that would yield... I dunno... 60 runs? 75 runs?

    By Blogger Chris Needham, at 8/23/2007 10:58 AM  

  • And it's those marginal runs that are costlier and costlier in the FA hunt. It's why A-Rod'll get his $30M.

    Tough offseason decisions, especially as guys like Nook and possilby Pena do OK -- not great, but above replacement level. You have a team of middling performers, none of whom truly stink and so any FA signing means giving something up.

    That's why I say payroll will be $45M next year.

    We're just too good.

    By Blogger Sam, at 8/23/2007 11:07 AM  

  • What ever happened to that Fukudome guy who was being mentioned as an possible FA OF a while back?

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 8/23/2007 11:14 AM  

  • From the stats, he seems like he's basically Austin Kearns and Ryan Church's love child.

    He just had surgery (elbow?) and is out for the rest of their season.

    By Blogger Chris Needham, at 8/23/2007 11:23 AM  

  • Chris,

    Could you say which of the pitchers the Nats have control over next season (Redding? Hanrahan?) and which ones they would have to go out and re-sign?

    By Anonymous Ed, at 8/23/2007 11:35 AM  

  • Both those guys are under team control since they don't have 6 years of service time.

    Redding might be arb-eligible, but I doubt it. They could renew Hanrahan for roughly the minimum.

    Realistically, any of the pitchers they have could be brought back for near minimum. None of them are pure free agents, and as long as some of they're kept on the 40-man roster, they can stay with the Nats.

    By Blogger Chris Needham, at 8/23/2007 11:43 AM  

  • The trick might be juggling the rotation without exposing either of them to other clubs, because they're both out of option years.

    I haven't put pen to paper on this yet, but there may be a scenario where Chico could need to start next year at Columbus simply to protect against losing either Redding or Hanrahan (assuming they continue to pitch well and are worth protecting against losing).

    Same with Lannan, though I'd imagine he would start at Columbus either way.

    Just a thought.

    * That all depends on Patterson returning, Hill's elbow not exploding between now and the end of the season, etc.

    By Anonymous Basil, at 8/23/2007 11:53 AM  

  • You're definitely right.

    But you jettison Simontacchi and Bacsik -- you can find those minor league FA stopgaps again next year.

    The key is having Hill at the front and figuring out if Bergmann's elbow is ever going to be healthy enough to let him throw the slider, which he NEEDS to be anything more than cannon fodder.

    By Blogger Chris Needham, at 8/23/2007 11:58 AM  

  • Chris-are there any Nats arms besides Hill, either currently active or on the DL, that you would pencil in as being in the starting rotation next season? That will be one of the more interesting things this off-season, to see how the rotation shapes up. Also, which FA SP's would you like to see the Nats make a reasonable run at?

    On a side note, went down to the new park yesterday and was very impressed. Like i said on Yuda last night, the pictures you see on teh internets just don't do it justice, until you're in person looking at it. It's much more prominent in person, and i think is going to be a great park. You should go down there some time and check it out.

    By Anonymous Natzzzzzz, at 8/23/2007 11:58 AM  

  • keep in mind that the bench NEEDS to be better next year. if that happens, then you'd probably be able to add on an additional 20-30 runs easily.

    Looking at the roster for this year the Nats RBI leaders for those with less than 200 AB's:

    Ryan Langerhans (19 RBI in 148 AB)
    Jesus Flores (18 in 122 AB)
    Cristian Guzman (14 in 173 AB)
    Tony Batista (14 in 73 AB)

    Finally, if they replaced Robert Fick with a telephone pole, they'd increase their runs by at least 5. Do you realize that over the past two years, he has 271 AB's and has knocked in a total of 14 runs?!

    and using 200 AB's as the cut-off, the RBI leader

    By Anonymous Eric, at 8/23/2007 11:58 AM  

  • Thanks for the good post, Chris. This is exactly why I'll be disappointed if the Nats don't at least take a good run at one of the $18-20 mil-a-year guys that are available this offseason. The team should have the dough to take on a Torii Hunter (although I'd rather have A. Jones), and if the pitching is good enough to be competitive, let's go for it.

    By Blogger landerholm1996, at 8/23/2007 12:02 PM  

  • One of those 14 for Fick was a walk off extra inning single to end a rain delayed game. That should count double.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 8/23/2007 12:04 PM  

  • Natzzzzzz I went down there about 2 months ago and walked around the area, right as they started putting the pre-cast 'limestone' up. It's definitely impressive, but, man, that upper deck looks high.

    I think the key to the season is Hanrahan. If he takes a step forward and keeps improving, the Nats have 3 starters next year. Him, Redding and Hill.

    I'm still not sold on Bergmann because of his elbow problems. And counting on Patterson is a mistake -- tho they should bring him back. Hill looks like he might be in that Patterson category, too.

    so there's a definite need for one FA arm... just a #3 starter. I don't think there's much out there, and pitching is ALWAYS overpriced. I'd almost rather the Nats try for the injury discount with someone like Jason Jennings or Freddie Garcia.

    But as they showed this year, if you're smart with your minor league signings, you can find some good stopgap solutions for rock bottom prices.

    eric -- good point on the bench. Contrast this year with last year, and it's night and day. The difference in pinch hitters between this year and last is about 20 runs!

    Lander... I really really really hope they don't go for Torii. He's had a ton of injuries, especially to his legs, which could take much of his value away. For the money he's going to get -- much of it based off his rep -- I think the Nats could do better.

    By Blogger Chris Needham, at 8/23/2007 12:07 PM  

  • what am I missing 750-635 = 115-30= 85 not 55.

    By Blogger Harper, at 8/23/2007 12:54 PM  

  • Don't just consider 07 FAs into the possibilities of Nat acquisitions. Next year's FA class is much better and some of those guys may get traded this offseason. Twins talking about trading Santana, Pads may move Peavy, and Marlins Cabrera. Teams that won't be making an effort to resign their 08 FAs may be trading them this offseason.

    I wouldn't be at all surprised if Sam's post doesn't happen where they don't do a lot if Pena and Logan finish out the season and do OK. If they don't go for offense then I would hope they would trade and sign for a true top of the order starter. As has been pointed out too many of these starters have to prove they can be durable and there's way too much shuffling in the starting pitching.

    By Anonymous Tulsa Fan, at 8/23/2007 12:56 PM  

  • what am I missing 750-635 = 115-30= 85 not 55.

    You're missing my eyes scrolling up and catching the 60-run figure from '05 instead of the 30-run one I said I'd use.

    Sigh.

    The details are different, but the larger point remains. Dammit.

    By Blogger Chris Needham, at 8/23/2007 1:01 PM  

  • Just didn't understand how my vision was so different than yours. With 85 runs I can see the optimistic view being 2 quality bats "puts the Nats right around .500" (since Church's production would probably be lost) where the pessimistic view being "probably put then around 77 wins" either way they are competitive, but not quite WC ready.

    One bat though....

    By Blogger Harper, at 8/23/2007 1:12 PM  

  • It's not that different, not much (if all) beyond the point where Pythagoras might be muted.

    BTW, maybe I'm out of the loop, but I didn't find your post yesterday all that objectionable, Harper.

    By Anonymous Basil, at 8/23/2007 1:18 PM  

  • Or mooted, for that matter.

    By Anonymous Basil, at 8/23/2007 1:18 PM  

  • Folks don't seem to figure in Bacsik a whole lot for next year. Maybe it's because of the 86 mph fast ball. But you can almost write in 5 innings and 3 runs each start. OK, Bacsik is maybe not a youngish Jamie Moyer but he is in kind of that quietly effective style.

    How do you see Bacsik? I wouldn't "jettison" the guy....

    The Yankees have lots of 3 runs on 5 innings guys that they pay zillions to: Pettite, Musina, even Clemens on several of his starts, and these guys often win cuz of the bats the Yanks have.

    The guy who pleaded for one more bat makes sense to me.

    By Anonymous Ed, at 8/23/2007 1:53 PM  

  • Bacsik has allowed 19 homers in 99+ IP this season. He's allowed one HR every 6 IP at home and one HR every 4.6 IP or so on the road.

    Now, that's not a huge sample at all and is therefore susceptible to some noise, but he's now allowed 34 in 197 IP for his career. I wouldn't be too optimistic going forward in a new park that has to be more favorable to power than RFK is.

    Bacsik seems the type of guy you pitch if you absolutely have to pitch him. He's been pretty decent this year. I wouldn't bank on that for the future.

    By Anonymous Basil, at 8/23/2007 2:09 PM  

  • Just so we're clear, we're talking about the Mike Bacsik who's allowed 5 or more runs in 6 different starts?

    By Blogger Chris Needham, at 8/23/2007 2:15 PM  

  • Chris,

    If Bacsik gives up 3 runs in 5 innings every time out, his ERA is 5.40.

    Bacsik is better than that, at 4.61, about what Bergmann has given the Nats. But maybe that is just too average for next year's team.

    I guess the answer is to throw Bacsik into the mix next Spring and see if he can keep his job.

    It is nice to have a minimum wage guy who is pitching around the average for starting pitchers in the NL and view him as maginal or expendable. That's progress, compared to where we were on opening day.

    By Anonymous Ed, at 8/23/2007 2:48 PM  

  • I want mike around to give up 783 to A-Rod, and then 1900 to Ryan Howard. I really do. Think of all the great lines he will have.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 8/23/2007 2:52 PM  

  • The announcers on one of the early games today said that Mike Cameron was up for free agency as well. That's the first I've heard his name mentioned in that context so I'm wondering if he's really going to be on the market.

    By Anonymous Simon Oliver Lockwood, at 8/23/2007 6:36 PM  

  • I am all for an extra bat to replace the splinter that Logan seems to use to hit his singles, but I think the Wily Mo is a nice pick up for the future. In a smaller park, the guy could do some damage. He has even managed to drag Kearns out of the slump. And let's not forget young Marrero down in the minors. Let's not rush the plan for an overpriced FA, A Jones for less than $20mill would be good enough for me. Use the rest to a 3rd starter like Chris says and plough the rest into the bench.

    By Anonymous Gus, at 8/23/2007 7:20 PM  

  • tulsa fan-

    But does it make sense to trade for another team's star? The players you mention are going to cost very good prospects. Prospects the Nationals just don't have and when they get them, they'll be so few it will be hard to trade them anyway.

    ARod is the answer. Everyone get aboard the bandwagon now.

    By Blogger RPS, at 8/24/2007 2:00 AM  

  • I want Tadahito Iguchi. We don't have any middle infielders in our system and our starters are horrible. Iguchi, at about $5million/year fits the bill perfectly. We shouldn't have to give up a draft pick, and there's little chance the Phillies will even try to keep him. He would step right into our #2 spot or even hit leadoff.

    By Anonymous steve, at 8/24/2007 12:34 PM  

  • I've been doing some freehand calculations to try to answer a fundamental question in my mind. To what extent, if any, is this team really in more need of hitting than pitching?

    To examine that hypothesis, I first made one assumption that a lot of Nats fans probably wouldn't agree with -- I threw out the first 34 games (the one in which they compiled a 9-25 mark). I did this because I think the mediocre record they have posted since then is probably more indicative of where this teams stands now than the overall poor record for the entire year.
    Then, on top of that, I looked only at away games to try to squeeze out the influence, such as it exists, of RFK.
    This means that the sample of games played in 2007 is a measly 44 games. I can live with that, though I could certainly understand if others couldn't.

    When you do that, and compare runs scored by the Nats (R) and runs scored against the Nats (RA) going back to the final year in Montreal, here's what you get:

    2004: R, 4.25; RA, 4.97
    2005: R, 4.32; RA, 4.35
    2006: R, 4.60; RA, 5.68
    2007: R, 4.59; RA, 4.95*
    * Reminder, that's just for the 44 away games since the 9-25 start.

    The average number of runs scored by a team per game in the National League this year: 4.60.

    Based on this, I don't think it can be automatically assumed that the Nats' offense is as terrible as most fans seem to think it is.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 8/24/2007 5:34 PM  

  • Correction to previous post:
    The average number of runs scored by a team per game in the National League this year is 4.64, not 4.60.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 8/24/2007 5:39 PM  

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