Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Jesus Rises In Ohio

MLB.com sez that the Nats have signed Johnny Estrada to a 1-year, $1.25 million contract. The story claims (and it'd be my gut reaction too) that this has nothing to do with The Pusher's injury, but that it's their way of giving Flores more development time. As much as we love Jesus, that's probably the best course of action for him, giving him an entire season to work on his swing at Columbus (or quite possibly, Harrisburg.)

Estrada's last few seasons have been all over the place, alternating in quality from good to Guzmanian. The MLB story trumpets his respectable .278 average last season, while ignoring his much more important .296 on-base percentage -- 12 walks just don't go as far as they used to in today's economy. When he's going good, he's a high average hitter, but when he's not, it's ugly... as Brewers fans can attest.

Calling Estrada's arm a rag would be an insult to the textile industry. Only four catchers allowed more than Estrada's 73 stolen bases. (Of course, only 5 allowed more than Paul LoDuca's 72). Estrada threw out just 11 of them, giving him the worst CS% in the league. In fairness to him, that's a significant dropoff from previous seasons, where he was only slightly worse than average. He played last season with elbow problems, and had surgery to remove a bone spur (as well as to clean up his knee).

But his problems go a bit beyond that. The Brewers were really unhappy with his attitude, and his game-calling abilities. (He refutes that, of course.) (Some interesting comments from a typically informed Brewers fan here, especially starting at 75)

If he gets in shape, and works hard, he's not a terrible signing, even if he only hits slightly better than the previous season. One year deals, especially for that cheap, are rarely bad.

For the long-term, getting Flores full-time play, and some time to work on the bat isn't a bad thing. As much as we love him, he did only hit .244 .310 .361, and his OPS+ is basically the same as Estrada's was last year -- a season in which fans are painting Johnny as the offensive anti-christ.

At the very least, if the attitude problems are as real as the Brewers -- a seemingly dysfunctional team anyway -- claim, it'll be another ounce of black powder in what could be one of the most interesting clubhouses since the Yankees in the 70s!


  • I seem to recall some attitude issues from his days in Arizona as well.

    By Blogger Brian, at 1/29/2008 10:02 AM  

  • Is the front office deliberately trying to put as many toxic personalities as possible into the clubhouse? Is the idea, "Let's make the team's chemistry so bad that when we get rid of a few of these guys it'll seem like such an improvement that the team will play that much better?"

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 1/29/2008 10:15 AM  

  • Dunno... but Manny better be getting Hazard Duty Pay!

    By Blogger Chris Needham, at 1/29/2008 10:17 AM  

  • Elijah Dukes, Dmitri Young, Paul LoDuca, Johnny Estrada, Lastings Milledge. I swear all that's missing is Robert Fick and John Rocker. If nothing else the All-Star Weekend Cage Match should be highly entertaining.

    By Blogger Nate, at 1/29/2008 10:38 AM  

  • He was 18th in MVP votes in 04!

    By Blogger Ironic Goat, at 1/29/2008 10:42 AM  

  • This puts an exclamation point on the notion that we can't fully judge the Nats 2007 off-season until the team ultimately solves the catcher problem. The team took a lot of calculated risks this off-season. Shrewd IMO, but risks nonetheless, the biggest of which was opening up a giant hole at catcher. Signing two troubled veterans to 1-year deals seems very smart, but make no mistake about it. LoDuca and Estrada are simply stopgaps while they try to figure out who's going to sit behind the plate in the future.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 1/29/2008 10:56 AM  

  • Didn't we have a giant hole at catcher last year? and the year before that?

    By Blogger Chris Needham, at 1/29/2008 10:57 AM  

  • One year deals, especially for that cheap, are rarely bad.

    A near-perfect summation of the Estrada signing.

    Really, the only two "rarely bad" outcomes I can think of are:

    1) He's such a bad guy that his mere presence screws up one of the young guys (Dukes, Milledge, Pens et al)

    2) He plays really well and the FO decides to give him Yadier Molina money.

    Most likely, he's just Johnny Estrada . . . minimially competant from the Left side of the plate and horribly inadequate behind the dish. And gone to his next team circa Feb. '09.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 1/29/2008 11:14 AM  

  • I still dont understand why you spend $5m on LoDuca when you can get Johnny for $1.25m (everything I've read and observed suggests they are interchangable pieces at the position). Oh, if only we had Johnny and Chad Moeller.

    But, hey...at least we haven't wasted any money on the pu-pu platter of mediocre to below avg. starting pitchers on the market!

    By Blogger OleShu, at 1/29/2008 11:50 AM  

  • Despite all the negatives you mentioned, Estrada can hit. Since he bats from both sides, he will provide a decent bat off the bench.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 1/29/2008 11:57 AM  

  • Is a sub-.300 on-base percentage really a sign of a hitter?

    By Blogger Chris Needham, at 1/29/2008 11:58 AM  

  • Maybe Phil's comparing him to the memories of watching Fick, Langerhans and Jimenez come up as pinch-hitters?

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 1/29/2008 12:11 PM  

  • Chris, you pegged it when you called him an all-over-the-place hitter.

    I was stunned to see that his career batting average vs. right-handed pitchers would be best on the team after Dmitri Young.

    Then I looked at just last season, where he was fairly weak overall but significantly better against lefties (313/321/433).

    Virtually no walks, no power, no arm... Is he streaky? Just undisciplined?

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 1/29/2008 12:19 PM  

  • Ok, so take away the OBP from last year and Estrada's offensive numbers were significantly better than Schneider's. Granted, his defense sucks, but he's still a viable option off the bench as a pinch-hitter.

    Answer me this ... runner on third, less than two outs, a right-handed pitcher on the mound. You've got two lefties left on the bench. Who would you rather call to come in to pinch hit? Estrada or Langerhans?

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 1/29/2008 1:12 PM  

  • That's like saying "take away the gross incompetence and general disregard for the Constitution or the inability to communicate effectively and W has been a pretty good president."

    By Blogger Chris Needham, at 1/29/2008 1:20 PM  

  • isn't Damien 'Nice Guy Eddie' Miller still available? What the hell is front office thinking?

    By Blogger Unknown, at 1/29/2008 1:42 PM  

  • I assume that Baseball Prospectus or some other stat genius site has already answered this question, but why is it assumed that Jesus Flores is better off spending a year in AAA or AA than playing about 80 games at the MLB level.

    I have some unscientific reasons why I think Flores and the Nats would be better off keeping Jesus in DC:

    1. He is clearly the best defensive option as Flores actually has chance of limiting the opponents running game.

    2. He is likely better at calling and managing the game. IIRC, Chris had analysis last year that showed the Nats pitchers actually had better ERAs and WHIP when Flores called the games versus Brian Schneider (and that was supposed to be Schneider's strength). Estrada has a horrible rep as a handler of pitchers, and I don't think it is a strength of Loduca's as well.

    3. While Flores was not a great offensive player, he did get his fair share of big hits despite limited at bats, and at his age, it would be reasonable to think that he would put up a better offensive number in 2007.

    4. I see catchers like NFL RBs. Both positions require that the athlete take a lot of abuse, and you have a limited number of games before your body gives out. Why waste 100+ games of wear and tear on Flores' body in AAA when he can be doing it effectively in DC.

    5. Coaching is better on the MLB level. At the MLB level there is virtually an unlimited number of resources for Flores to improve offensively and defensively (better facilities, more coaches that are paid higher and you would assume a better teachers). At the minor league level you have 3 coaches and lame facilities. Even if the Nats have a roving instructor that is assigned to spend a lot of time with Flores, the quality of coaching simply will not be the same in Harrisburg or Columbus as it would in DC.

    6. Attitude. As mentioned above, the mix of Loduca and Estrada along with a bunch of other hot-heads could be toxic. Every report that I have heard about Flores is universal in the praise of his make-up.

    7. I can see sending a player down for seasoning if he is learning a new position or if he was clearly over-matched at the MLB level (Levale Speigner), but that was not the case with Flores. IMO, he was the best catcher on the Nats roster last year.

    I don't like the move, and I don't agree with the assumption that Flores will be a better player in 2009 after playing 110 games in Columbus rather than 80 in DC.


    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 1/29/2008 2:17 PM  

  • Good comment, and valid points. I'll take a stab at some of 'em.

    1) SB are generally overrated in terms of how many runs they add to the bottom line. That being said, if Estrada reverts to his normal form (and the elbow injury indicates that there's a chance), he's not THAT far below Flores... certainly no more than a handful of runs over the course of a season.

    2) That's not what my analysis showed. I was careful to explain that that didn't show that Schneider was bad or Flroes good... just that there was no evidence that Schneider was superior in the stats. For his faults, Lo Duca has been praised by some for his ability, including in that one piece Boswell did with glowing quotes from Tom Glavine.

    3) Reasonable, perhaps. But with more exposure, especially to right-handed batters, and with better scouting reports, I wouldn't take that to the bank. Remember that his biggest hits came late in games, often against LH relievers, typically the dregs of a bullpen.

    4) Fair enough.

    5) Coaching might be better up here, but it's also potentially mroe intensive and personal down there. If he goes to Columbus, he'll be about the only prospect there, and they can devote lots of time to working with him, and helping him develop.

    6) Can't say I've heard toooo much about his makeup. Hard worker, it seems.

    7) Best catcher on the Nats roster is damning with faint praise. i'd argue that Schneider was better. Flores got a lot of Sunday starts, and pinch-hit chances that inflated his stats. He was worthless against RHP, which he'd see A LOT of this year. The team did a good job of protecting him, considering he'd never played above A ball. If he goes to AAA and hits his way back on the team, great. But there's definitely always room for growth/learning, especially when developing offensively.

    By Blogger Chris Needham, at 1/29/2008 2:26 PM  

  • Here are Dan Szymborski's ZiPS Projections for the Nats three catchers (AVG/OBP/SLG):

    Johnny Estrada (32): 266/320/373
    Paul Lo Duca (36) : 274/320/369
    Jesus Flores (23): 243/295/412

    The Nats won't lose any "run production" if Estrada has to replace Lo Duca for any extended period of time.

    What makes me smile is the "23" next to Flores. The 2009 Nats should have a 24-year-old catcher that can hit very well for his position.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 1/29/2008 2:27 PM  

  • Hey, at least if Florez does flower, no on in the locker room is going to get upset if we dump one of these two clowns to make room for him.

    Also, Flores needs to learn patience at the plate. That is a skill best learned in the minors where there is less pressure.

    By Blogger Unknown, at 1/29/2008 3:06 PM  

  • I think these guys are gonna make me miss Matt LeCroy.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 1/29/2008 3:20 PM  

  • There's definitely something to be said for playing every day instead of only a few times a week. So, I think Jesus would develop better playing in the minors than sitting in the majors. Plus, if either of our other 2 have great starts, they would actually be faily easy to trade at the break -- one year contracts for not much money are attractive to teams in the hunt as long as we don't ask for too much like we did with Dmitri.

    But, having Estrada does not mean we automatically have an extra pinch hitter. The one thing Fick did for the Nats last year was gave Manny the flexibility to use Jesus as a PH. Without a #3 catcher (the emergency catcher will be Kearns), it's a lot less likely we would see Estrada (or LoDuca for that matter) pinch hitting in anything but a bottom of the last inning win or lose situation. Manny won't leave his team without a back-up plan in case the catcher gets injured late.

    By Blogger Natsfan74, at 1/29/2008 3:37 PM  

  • i have never seen one team or one team's fan base obsess about the emergency catcher so much as with this team.

    You can probably count the number of emergency catchers who've come into a game over the last 20 years on one hand. I can only remember one off hand, Neifi Perez about 10 years ago.

    By Blogger Chris Needham, at 1/29/2008 3:39 PM  

  • who cares about Estrada? What about the Santana deal!?!

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 1/29/2008 4:55 PM  

  • How many innings did emergency catcher Fick actually catch last year? Zero. Instead, he destroyed his share of games by coming in late to relace Dmitri and/or the left fielder, proving to be a liability at the plate himself while also keeping Flores's bat esconced firmly on the bench. A double whammy to the team, as it were. I for one am glad to see the end of the Fick era in DC. Almost as glad as I am to see the end of the Logan era.

    By Blogger An Briosca Mor, at 1/29/2008 8:47 PM  

  • Not to get off subject, but Santana is such a big deal that it really deserves a post of its own.

    There are several issues worth discussing. For instance:

    1) How will Santana affect the NL East in the short run?

    2)How healthy is he, and how long can we expect him to be effective?

    3) How do the prospects sent away affect the NL East in the long term?

    4) Does this in the immediate sense affect the Nats competitiveness?

    5) Is Teddy Lerner in fact gleefully cheering at the additional ticket revenue he will get from having Santana pitch at Nats home games?

    By Blogger Michael Taylor, at 1/29/2008 9:14 PM  

  • I don't really see how send Flores to AAA will improve his hitting. He shouldn't be an everyday catcher yet, but he will have plenty of opportunities as a PH, defensive replacement, and sometimes starter. He's a defensive backstop with a rocket launcher for an arm. His improving offensive production is just a bonus.
    (Pilchard makes an excellent point about saving the wear-and-tear on his body. More than any other position, catcher do NOT need to play everyday to get better.)

    By Blogger Rob B, at 1/29/2008 10:05 PM  

  • Michael, to answer your questions:

    1) He'll affect the Mets by giving the New York a front line pitcher. It'll affect every team that plays against Santana, provided he stays healthy. Let's not act like this is A-Rod going to the Mets, or a similar superstar hitting talent that plays every day.

    2) In case you didn't notice, this is a Nationals blog. So why should we worry so much about how healthy he is or how long we can "expect him to be effective"?

    3) Seriously?

    4) Uhh, it does when they're batting against him?

    5) I'm sure Ted Lerner is having a big party knowing that Santana will pitch, i'll say, a couple of times a year at Nationals Park. Lots of revenue to be had there!

    I've got a question for you actually, are you here from one of those shitty Mets blogs?

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 1/29/2008 10:19 PM  

  • Actually no. I was thinking of all those questions from the perspective of the Nationals.

    Our team does not exist in a vacuum--we're a member of the NL East. The Mets bagging someone who is arguably the best pitcher in baseball does have a substantial impact on the Nationals, even though we had no active hand in it.

    The overall questions posed by my comment are "How much should we be commiserating the Mets' acquisition?" and "How long do we expect it to last/can we gain anything longterm by their action?"

    I threw in the Lerner comment just for giggles.

    I think you misconstrued my comments. It wasn't gloating, it was food for thought about how this might affect us in the future. Santana is not just any "good" pitcher. He's been one of the best, most consistently great starters in baseball for a few years now. Furthermore, the package of prospects sent to the Twins contained a bunch of talent that the Mets will have to do without. We should consider our rivals as much as our own team.

    By Blogger Michael Taylor, at 1/29/2008 10:40 PM  

  • One effect it might have is that Livian Hernandez is suddenly looking like a long shot to go to the Met's, and that for the right price Mike Pelfry might be available. Both pipe dreams but they are potential effects of this trade.

    Also, back the actual topic in hand. I think Flores will do well with a little extra learning time. He needs to work on his swing and many at bats will help that. Thing is that both our catchers a not injury free, so chances are Flores will get his chance in the bigs. Does anyone think Lo Duca's body will last a season? I think the Estrada signing might be more of a reaction to the Nat's learning the level of steroid use, and what that does to veteran players.

    Either way, in July there will be a catching injury somewhere in the league, and that means will can trade one of the old guys away to make room for Jesus.

    By Blogger Unknown, at 1/30/2008 11:40 AM  

  • Regarding our obsession about the emergency catcher slot, I'm reminded of Boswell's discussion of what Floyd Rayford allowed Earl Weaver to do with his bench. Boswell said, "Mind you, in none of these situations would Rayford actually play." But his presence on the roster would allow Weaver to do his maneuvering while knowing that if disaster struck, he could plug Rayford in the gap and not have to rely on Lenn Sakata.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 1/30/2008 11:52 AM  

  • Well, Earl Weaver also carried a 9- or 10-man pitching staff...

    By Blogger Chris Needham, at 1/30/2008 12:02 PM  

  • "I think these guys are gonna make me miss Matt LeCroy." - lol...

    I agree, why did the Nats pay $5 mil for one year of bLoDoucha when they could have just waited and signed someone like Estrada for only $1 and a quarter? Plus Estrada has never had any run-ins with Milledge, who will hopefully be plaiyng CF for the Nats longer than just 1 year...

    Overall, Estrada is 4 years younger than L.D. (LoDuca, not Learning Disabled,) and I could see him turning into a Belliard/Young type re-sign much moreso than L.D.

    And Chris, while Estrada may not walk much, I seem to remember that he also doesn't strike out very much either. So he does make contact a bunch. Good for advancing runners, bad for a high number of double plays ( just guessing on that, haven't actually spent the couple of minutes it would take to check.)

    By Blogger HB3k, at 1/30/2008 8:18 PM  

  • "I agree, why did the Nats pay $5 mil for one year of bLoDoucha when they could have just waited and signed someone like Estrada for only $1 and a quarter?"

    Because at the time they signed LoDuca, there was no guarantee that they would be able to sign Estrada for $1.25M. What if they hadn't signed LoDuca when they did - how much would you have been screaming about the catching situation while they were waiting to see if Estrada would become available for $1.25M? You and everyone like you would have been screaming for the Lerners to just not be so f***ing cheap and just spend some money on a catcher. Don't say you wouldn't have been doing that, you would be lying if you did.

    The thing that you and all the other "why don't they just spend $X million on so-and-so?" folks don't understand is that obtaining players is not like pulling into a 7-11 in a drunken stupor and having to decide whether to plop down your money for a shriveled-up BigBite or a stale donut left over from the premiere of The Simpsons Movie. There's no store where you just go and buy some players. Each transaction, whether it be free agent or trade, requires a negotiation. Players come on and off the market, seemingly at random, and their price rises and falls just like the stock market. At some point, the GM just has to gamble and say "I need a catcher (or whatever) and so-and-so is available for such-and-such. Deal or no deal? Okay...deal!" There's no way in a system like this to stack up a series of planned moves and hope that they all will work out in the end. That would be like building a house of cards, and we know how that one works out, every time, don't we?

    By Blogger An Briosca Mor, at 1/31/2008 8:22 AM  

  • "You and everyone like you would have been screaming for the Lerners to just not be so f***ing cheap and just spend some money on a catcher. Don't say you wouldn't have been doing that, you would be lying if you did."

    Wow dude, you really need to clean that sand out of your vagina...

    Don't presume to know what I want; there's no way in hell I'd ever support signing L.D., whether it be for $5 mil or 5 cents. A 34 year old catcher with diminishing offensive statistics and an average to poor defensive track record who has presumably had run-ins with the Nats CF-er of the future and serves as nothing more than a one year stopgap is not worth it. I would rather the Nats have rolled the dice and bank on making a deal like the one for Estrada than wasting their time on L.D. Personally I would not have had a problem with a competition between Moeller/Cota/Flores/____ (fill-in the blank,) if they were unable to pull someone off the scrap-heap on the cheap; and that's because someone like Moeller would probably provide better defense than someone like Miller/Estrada/L.D.

    So go on and be a presumptuous, arrogant internet tough-guy who throws around bad analogies in an attempt to belittle those who you think aren't as smart or baseball/business savvy as you are, it really makes you seem like you know what you're talking about...

    By Blogger HB3k, at 1/31/2008 7:28 PM  

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