Smart change on the roster is needed

The difference a week makes. The Washington Nationals just won two consecutive series against teams that would be playoff teams if the season ended today. In fact, that is the first back-to-back series win since April for the Nats, and their first 4-game series win against the Atlanta Braves since August 20 of 2016. The Nats enter today with a 26-29 record.

Baseball Reference thinks the Nats have been unlucky with that 26-29 record, and have the team’s pythagorean at a W/L of 27-28 given 222 runs scored and 231 runs allowed. Yes, those one-run losses hurt with dropping 8-of-12 games in those tight games.

While the Boston series earlier in the month was a real downer — and set the Nats in a tailspin from their 19-18 record into a 2-7 road trip, the Nats are back to winning. But they have some clear black holes to patch up in the asphalt. Why accept bumpy roads when you have the means to repair it?

Tomorrow is June 1. The sample sizes are rather large now as we are just 26-games from the half-way point in the marathon. The stats might not tell the full story on a player like Keibert Ruiz who suffered a flu that a source described him as “deathly ill” and cost him 18-20 pounds lost in body weight per manager Dave Martinez. He was rushed back after just two rehab games and then pushed hard back into the lineup as his stats plummeted. While FanGraphs has him as the worst player on the team, we all know that Ruiz can hit. He had a .717 OPS last year, and really the knock on him is his defense.

If you look at FanGraphs on real production and not on FIP, you get a different look at the pitching staff. Of course WAR is cumulative, which makes Josiah Gray‘s two starts look really bad. But look at some of the other names near the bottom of the list, and then extrapolate based on this.

A chain is only as strong as its weakest links. The more pressure you pull on that chain, the weakest link breaks. The Nats’ weak links are Patrick Corbin, Tanner Rainey, and Eddie Rosario based on the stats. There are a few beyond them too, but these are easy fixes here. Bring up LHP DJ Herz for a spot start and see how he does. Herz is on the 40-man roster, and you clear a spot for him by DFA’ing Rainey. If Herz does well, you give him another start and move Corbin into the bullpen. If Herz doesn’t do well, send him back and call up a reliever between Adonis Medina or Rico Garcia. At that point, the 40-man roster would be 38 after that move.

With Rosario, try to trade him for a bag of balls. The corresponding move for him can wait for top prospect James Wood to ready himself from the 7-day IL in Triple-A. Aggressively, he might be ready by June 14. If you take Rosario’s scorching week out of the equation, he is awful with sketchy defense and a lack of hustle at times. Fine, count his scorching week, and he is just batting .177 with a .598 OPS. Maybe he has another hot stretch in him to save his job — but the totality of his work has been underwhelming. While Joey Gallo‘s .591 OPS is near Rosario’s number, Gallo gives you Gold Glove defense, and that is the only reason to keep him for now. For now.

This will give the team their best shot if they can stay close to prove if they are a Wild Card team or just a team that needs more help. At least get some glimpses into the future with Herz, Wood, and maybe even Medina and another Garcia. The one spot remaining where help is needed is at first base. If this team was close to beautiful places, maybe you do shop for a first baseman at the trade deadline. Heck we are about 60-day aways from that.

First things first, make some smart changes to the roster. These are all easy. The Atlanta Braves do the Herz type of move all of the time. Sometimes it is just to give their pitchers an extra day-off like they did for Reynaldo Lopez. Imagine that. Using analytics to give your pitchers a breather because the marathon is grueling. What you do at the 8⅝ mile marker ( ⅓ pole of the race) could determine how you finish the race.

“I’ve taken a lot of interest in it in my second career as a manager. As a player, you think you’re invincible and can play every day. But the grind of the season in baseball is an extreme challenge. Over time, it’s compounded. The grind is harder. The game is more difficult.”

— Cincinnati Reds manager David Bell said told ESPN about baseball load management.

Jesse Rogers continued in his ESPN article, “At a time when analytics have become a standard element of almost every front office decision, optimizing player workload is seen as one of the few remaining areas teams can gain an edge. Now that technology has emerged to allow clubs to measure movement like never before, the race to find the best information — and how to communicate it to players — is on.”

The team made a smart decision with Lane Thomas with a week of minor league rehab before his call-up. The mistake made with Ruiz’s rehab needs to be a learning experience. The team pushed hard this week on MacKenzie Gore and Trevor Williams, and even harder on rookie Mitchell Parker. Yes, load management is a thing. Maybe they will luck out with a complete rain-out this week to push everyone back a day. If not, inserting Herz could be the answer, and maybe it helps Herz in his development. He was fantastic yesterday in his start with Rochester in Triple-A. While there are no guarantees, it might be a good time to try it.

The schedule will ease up at some point for the Washington Nationals. Until then, they have to take what the schedule throws at them and keep squeezing those lemons into lemonade.

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