Reply to comments on post predicting a 93 win season

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I appreciate the interest and comments regarding my recent post, which among other things, predicted a 93 win season for the Nationals. As I pen this the Nats are coming off a horrible spring training week including mostly losses and less than encouraging news on the injury front. Rather than respond to comments within the original post I decided to generate a follow up post, which at this point is more likely to be seen. And, after reading the comments and discussions, I was prompted to give some clarification and some new assertions.

First, some basics truths, as I see it:

  1. As we all know ST games do not count. But I want to emphasize in capitals letters that team and individual ST performance has close to a zero correlation with what occurs in the regular season. In my decades of watching baseball the examples of players and teams doing the opposite of their spring indications is very numerous. Just last year Drew Storen went from very bad to good as soon as the regular season switch was turned on. Morse went the other way, but recovered in May. The Astros currently have a winning record in ST. What are the chances they will win even 70 games this year? The dynamic of the real games is so different from the ST games that anything that happens in ST, either good or bad (except lasting injuries) should not be considered at all for estimating regular season performance. I think we all know this, but sometimes we let our short-term anxieties and hopes get in the way of logic.
  2. The amount of change in recent year to year team performance, such as the Nats 10 game improvement from year to year for the last two years does not suggest whether or not they will improve, or by how much, from last year to this year. The only significant factors for change in team performance are changes in personnel via new additions or subtractions and changes in performance by the players continuing from last year. If the Nats have a net improvement in personnel and/or projected improvement from last year's regulars then there is no reason why they cannot improve from 80 to 93 wins. And there are numerous examples of playoff teams who finished at .500 or below a year earlier.
  3. The fact that Washington has not had a contending baseball team in anyone's memory, and that overall Washington sports teams have been quite poor in the last many years, should have nothing to do with what the current Washington Nationals can achieve. Like it or not psychology can get in the way of rationale thinking. Some of us may be afraid to be hopeful to any extent because disappointment can follow. This can cloud judgment just as much as wanting something positive to happen. My assessments have been made, as much as possible, without emotion. I strongly believe good things are coming based on the players who are either here now or close at hand (e.g., Harper?). Fellow Nats fans: forget the first 6 years (2005-2010) as any indication of what is to come.

Perhaps I am stating the obvious but let us consider again the significant changes:

  1. Strasburg is going to start about 4 times the number of games that he started last year. I assume he is among the elite pitchers in the NL.
  2. The Nats acquired Gio Gonzalez, whose performance over two years is just below that of the most elite of starters in the MLB.
  3. Jordan Zimmermann is a year more experienced, though he does not have much of a proven record to go on. To me he has all the requirements to pitch as well as Gio has for the last two years. And J. Zimm. is another year removed from TJ surgery. He looked real good last year.
  4. The number four starter, Edwin Jackson, projects as an average starter that eats innings, who was apparently good enough to pitch in meaningful situations in the World Series last year. I confess to not really knowing him.
  5. The fight to be the fifth starter is among a proven good pitcher (Wang), based on pre-injury performance and promising return late last year and in spring training, a promising lefty who other teams seem to want to acquire (Detwiller), and a veteran lefty (Lannan) with a sub 4 ERA last year who has been the number one starter in the not too distant past.
  6. The bullpen should be as good or better. Clippard and Storen are young and very good. Lidge is at least as good as Coffey. My sense is that both H. Rod. and S. Burnett are going to improve over last year.
  7. The leftover fifth starter contenders are there as either trade bait to improve the offense by acquisition, give a quality replacement for the inevitable missed starts due to injuries to the other four starters (hopefully no long-term injuries), and be available for quality long relief.

This pitching staff is going to be very good, perhaps top three in the NL, and is my firm basis for adding at least 8 wins to last years 80 wins. I assert that this is not only quite reasonable, but likely.

Now for the offense. We all know there are serious questions here, all the more emphasized by the pathetic hitting this spring so far. I do not expect a vast improvement, but I do expect an incremental one. Zim. was out about a third of the season. On a team with so little offense this was a major problem, which should be rectified by a healthy Zim. It is amazing in retrospect that Morse did as well as he did without Zim. batting in front of him for a good chunk of the season, and with Werth as a rally killer. The latter should be much less true if you believe in the return-to-the mean theory, which in Werth's case, is reasonable. Lastly, the Nats have 4 guys in only their second or third season: Desmond, Espy, Ramos, and Berny. They could regress or stay at the same level, but I expect some net improvement here. Lastly, I think Lombo and Flores are going to improve over their past counterparts, Hairston and Pudge. In addition, if Harper, LaRoche, and/or a trade acquisition can contribute then another 5 wins can be found. Of course predicting baseball team outcomes is anything but an exact science, especially since ‘random' events such as major injuries can make any reasoned prediction go off the rails. Happy Nats baseball season to all!

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