Nationals and Giants: Competing Cores | Disciples of Uecker

Disciples of Uecker

We'd like to go to the Playoffs, that would be cool.

Depending on your perspective, the Washington Nationals’ 2013 campaign either serves as evidence for, or against, the Washington club’s decision to shutdown Stephen Strasburg in 2012. The Nationals famously placed their young ace-in-development on an innings limit, just as the club was honing in on their first postseason appearance since they were in Montreal. Many felt that the Nationals should not give up one of their best pitchers, just as soon as they reached the playoffs; the argument being, you don’t throw away now for later in baseball (since one never knows what later brings). On the other hand, some believed that shutting down Strasburg was precisely the type of move that enhanced the Nationals’ chances at competing in the future. In this case, why push the workload of an injury-prone, developing ace, one who could be the key to winning in 2013 and beyond? Ultimately, the righty pitched another full slate of starts, and maintained a high level of performance.

The Nationals stayed around .500 for most of the year, until a late season hot streak proved too-little, too late. Strasburg was about as good as he was in 2012, but that wasn’t enough for the club; the offense was 75 runs worse in 2013, the pitching was 32 runs worse. One might naturally consider a club with Bryce Harper, Ian Desmond, Ryan Zimmerman, Gio Gonzalez, Jordan Zimmermann, and Strasburg would have the core to compete annually; yet, the 2013 Nationals were about as good as the 2012 Brewers. This is notable only to discourage “essentialism” about what a win-now club must look like; for many, the 2012 Brewers were a misguided, last-gap win-now attempt, and yet, they were as good as a 2013 Nationals club that was supposedly built with a dynasty in mind. Baseball seasons, in this regard, have an exceptional ability to defy expectations, intention, and destiny.

I would like to continue working on these roster core studies, if only to understand the extent to which clubs maintain their cores successfully (or, maintain their cores and fail to compete). The Nationals are a striking case, between 2012 and 2013; five of eight of their positional players returned, three of five starters returned, and a few of their bench players and relievers even remained the same. Young stars, developing, above-average starters aside, the Nationals core did not produce the desired outcome in 2013.

Regulars 2012 Nationals 2013 Nationals
C J. Flores W. Ramos
1B A. LaRoche A. LaRoche
2B D. Espinosa A. Rendon
3B R. Zimmerman R. Zimmerman
SS I. Desmond I. Desmond
LF M. Morse B. Harper
CF B. Harper D. Span
RF J. Werth J. Werth
Bench S. Lombardozzi S. Lombardozzi
Bench R. Bernadina K. Suzuki
SP1 G. Gonzalez G. Gonzalez
SP2 J. Zimmermann J. Zimmermann
SP3 S. Strasburg S. Strasburg
SP4 R. Detwiler D. Haren
SP5 E. Jackson
P1 C. Stammen C. Stammen
P2 T. Clippard T. Clippard
P3 T. Gorzelanny R. Detwiler
P4 R. Mattheus R. Soriano
P5 S. Burnett D. Storen
P6 R. Ohlendorf

The 2012 and 2013 Giants provide interesting counterexamples to the idea that dependable starters are desirable to inexperienced arms. Specifically, the 2012 World Series Champs featured an excellent offense, but starting pitchers that were regular, dependable, and notably below average. In 2013, the trend worsened for the Giants, as former ace Matt Cain tossed aside his top rotation spot for his first notably below average season. Despite maintaining the vast majority of their position players, the Giants’ scoring dropped by 89 runs between 2012 and 2013, while their pitching allowed 42 more runs. For a club defending the World Series, they returned fifteen of their regular contributors, and were about as good as the 2013 Brewers.

Regulars 2012 Giants 2013 Giants
C B. Posey B. Posey
1B B. Belt B. Belt
2B R. Theriot M. Scutaro
3B P. Sandoval P. Sandoval
SS B. Crawford B. Crawford
LF M. Cabrera G. Blanco
CF A. Pagan A. Pagan
RF H. Pence H. Pence
Bench G. Blanco A. Torres
Bench J. Arias J. Arias
Bench M. Scutaro
Bench H. Sanchez
SP1 M. Bumgarner M. Bumgarner
SP2 M. Cain M. Cain
SP3 T. Lincecum T. Lincecum
SP4 B. Zito B. Zito
SP5 R. Vogelsong R. Vogelsong
P1 S. Casilla S. Romo
P2 J. Affeldt G. Kontos
P3 S. Romo J. Machi
P4 C. Hensley C. Gaudin
P5 S. Casilla

If we learned from the 2012-2013 Red Sox transition that losing teams can make discerning decisions about their roster, keep most of their core in tact, and compete the following season, we can learn caution about cores from the Giants and Nationals. One might simply suggest that in the contemporary labor atmosphere, baseball teams simply continue the trend of extending contracts or using their reserve years of as many organizational or controllable players as possible. Perhaps baseball clubs simply need to keep cores, and their success varies from year to year. What we should be cautious about is making sweeping claims about whether locking up a core, or keeping the same team in place, is always a good or a bad thing. The Red Sox, Giants, and Nationals prove that there are varying degrees of success that come with organizations’ core decisions. Those fortunes can sometimes fluctuate from 70-win seasons to World Series campaigns, just as they can shift from World Series Champions or Playoff Contention to sitting out for October baseball.

Baseball-Reference. Sports Reference, LLC., 2000-2013.

IMAGE (The Chronicle):

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