For those paying attention to the Washington Nationals, when the team did not add a competent starting pitcher before the trade deadline the team did not portray themselves as a team that was “going for it.” The Nats essentially weakened themselves because they traded away from the bullpen and those small details matter. Brandon Kintzler did have declining peripherals but certainly would be better than the reliever who would take his place on the roster. After Kintzler’s departure, we would see the Nationals lose three heartbreaking games out of the bullpen against the Cubs, Cardinals and Marlins. The Nationals are further behind today from first place than they were at the non-waiver trade deadline on July 31st.
The combination of Daniel Murphy and Matt Adams in the middle of the Washington Nationals order sure was exciting with a lot of lefty thump, but then Ryan Zimmerman returned from the 60-day DL and Matt Adams went ice cold. In fact, with one swing of the bat yesterday, Andrew Stevenson‘s pinch-hit 2-run home run was one more hit and 2 more RBIs than Adams produced in the last 2 ½ weeks. That’s a fact.
General manger Mike Rizzo’s decision to trade Matt Adams was simple as the team stopped platooning Adams at first base a few weeks ago. Adams’ slump goes back to when Zimmerman returned and in those Adams 58 at-bats he was hitting .155. So was Rizzo really throwing in the towel by trading Adams? Trading Murphy definitely seemed to be a case of weakening the team on the surface, but was it?
Statistics say defense matters, and Daniel Murphy is a defensive liability. If Murphy was the answer then we have a question — why were the results so bad in games that Murphy started? The Nationals were 18-31 in those games. Yes, that is 13 games under .500. Murphy’s defense like we saw on Saturday with his errors have cost this team games, but worse than that is all of the balls hit in his vicinity that he just could not reach that are ruled as “hits”. His ability to turn doubleplays was almost non-existent. Murphy’s defense was so bad that his net worth to the Nationals was a +0.1 WAR which is less than Tanner Roark‘s non-pitching value to this team which is at a +0.5. Defense matters. Murphy was a cumulative -3.9 UZR according to Fangraphs’ ultimate zone rating based on only 287 innings. If you extrapolate and interpolate on those numbers projecting to a full season, he would be near a -16.0 UZR and that would be near historic levels of defensive ineptitude.
Contrast those numbers to Wilmer Difo and you see Difo is a +3.6 UZR at 2nd base. The Nationals are 42-36 when Wilmer Difo starts. Sure, Difo is nowhere near the offensive thumper that Murphy is — but the point here is that defense really does matter. Wilmer Difo is a +0.6 WAR.
— WUSA9 (@wusa9) August 22, 2018
There are plenty of tweets and articles claiming that the Nats threw in the towel or they waved the white flag yesterday. Wasn’t the white flag waved — kind of sort of — back on July 31st? Bob Nightengale who appears to have a personal issue with Mike Rizzo from my perspective wrote an incendiary piece that should be Volume-Two paired with his piece after Dusty Baker was not extended where he accused the Nationals of arrogance and he wrote that again in more negative detail.
“Nationals embarrassment: GM Mike Rizzo officially waves the white flag,” Nightengale wrote.
If the Nationals traded Bryce Harper, that would have been the signal that it’s over, sort of, but wasn’t it over when the Nats lost Saturday and Sunday against the last place Marlins? Are people really paying attention? Maybe these trades will turn out to be a bizarre addition by subtraction.
One thing I won’t do is tell you that these two trades brought back great prospects. These trades won’t even get the Nationals under the tax cap. We can debate how poor the return was for Daniel Murphy in that trade as Andruw Monasterio was the player the Nationals received, and he does not even project as a future MLB player. If you look at Murphy’s true value, it is his value off the bench. The Nationals just did not seem to grasp that, and you have to think the Cubs will use Murphy in the right matchups and sub him out late in games for defense.
Did the Nationals really wave the white flag and throw in the towel with these trades or was that done back in July by what the Nationals did not do then to improve this team.