Nationals Sign Jason Marquis

The Washington Nationals are the winners of the Jason Marquis derby. His contract is for 2-years, $15 million. Marquis is coming off a career year in which he was worth 3.8 WAR. He started the season strong but struggled down the stretch, pitching himself off of Colorado’s playoff roster. His previous two seasons with the Cubs he was good for 3.5 WAR combined.

Marquis’ success is predicated on keeping the ball on the ground and in the park, two things he excelled at last year. His groundball rate of 56% was a career high and he allowed just .63 HR/9 in Colorado, of all places. The increase of groundballs is encouraging, but his 1.44 K/BB ratio means he’s dancing on the edge of a knife.

All in all, Jason Marquis is the walking definition of a league-average innings-muncher. I don’t mean that as a knock, that certainly has value. CHONE projects Marquis to be 1.8 wins above replacement in 2009. At $7.5 million per, the dollars aren’t too bad. To this point the market is paying about $3.8 million per win; Marquis is coming at around $4-4.3 per win for the Nats.  He’s certainly an upgrade over household names such as J.D. Martin or Craig Stammen.

But here’s the rub. What exactly is the point of spending $4 million for a win when you’re the Nationals? The team currently has maybe seventy-something win talent and they’re well on their way to becoming basement dwellers in the NL East yet again. Signing an innings-eater such as Marquis to a contract like this makes zero sense; all he does is makes the Nationals slightly less bad than they were a year ago.

If the Nationals wanted to fill a spot, why not just sign a Ken Phelps All-Star like Lenny DiNardo  (whom CHONE projects to be worth 1.7 WAR) and save the millions for Bryce Harper?

I’m also enjoying the irony that Stephen Strasburg is getting paid $15 million from the Nationals for four years, while Marquis is getting the same for two. Those wacky draft picks are just so overpaid, right Rob Dibble?

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Erik Manning is the founder of Future Redbirds and covers the Cardinals for Heater Magazine. You can get more of his analysis and rantings in bite-sized bits by following him on twitter.

60 Responses to “Nationals Sign Jason Marquis”

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  1. theWizard says:

    It amazes me how often Marquis is left off a playoff roster. He did the same thing with the Cardinals – was a solid pitcher through most of the year for a good team, piled up more wins than he probably deserved and then faded so badly down the stretch that the team couldn’t even trust him in the bullpen. Wonder how often a 3.8 WAR pitcher ends up getting left off the playoff roster?

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    • petejohn says:

      He was not at all solid that year. He was arguably the worst starter in baseball that season. 5.90 fip and a 6.12 tRA. Awful, awful pitcher who kept getting innings because his arm was physically attached.

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    • clearly none of you have ever seen jason marquis pitch. His truly awful numbers are always maskd by a handful (5 or 6) really lucky starts. Remember 2007? Yah…

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  2. Michael says:

    This is what the Nationals do. They function on a small-to-medium payroll and pay market value for the types of players they can get. Unfortunately, that means they aren’t adding nearly enough WAR to be competitive.

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  3. Hendo says:

    He’ll do. He’ll certainly do better than a Daniel Cabrera, which is what the Nats were signing at this time last offseason. (And why do I get the idea you’d have snarked about the same if the Nats *had* signed a DiNardo type?)

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    • I might almost rather have D-Cabs. Seriously. At least you might get a couple of Ks out of it

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      • Will says:

        No. The Nationals wouldn’t. Daniel Cabrera hasn’t been striking out anyone for years now. His K/9 rate is lower than Marquis’ over the past two years (4.60 to 4.84), and he’s also much worse than Marquis in K/BB (0.89 to 1.37) as well as every other pitching metric.

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  4. jirish says:

    NIt pick here. I don’t believe Colorado left Marquis off of the playoff roster. He did not take his turn starting in the playoffs, thus leaving him out of the starting rotation, but he did come out of the pen in one of the games.

    Go ahead and question the Nationals sanity if you wish. But their “reliable starter” begins and ends with John Lannan. Someone has to actually be on the mound for them, and they can’t, nor should they, push their younsters harder than they have to.

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  5. Mikel says:

    What happened to him wanting to be a Met?

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    • The A Team says:

      Who actually wants to be a Met these days?

      I’m beginning to wonder who the hell the Mets are actually going to get. They’ve been awfully quiet the last 1.5 offseasons when they only need a couple quality pieces to be relevant again.

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      • B-Chad says:

        I believe 2 years and $15 million happened to him wanting to be a Met.

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      • pounded clown says:

        i heard something about kelvim escobar. I am not certain of his DL history as I don’t pay much attention to Angels baseball, but he seemed to have had more than his fare share injuries. Considering the “are you sure the new ball park wasn’t built on an Indian burial ground” luck the Mets had with injuries last year, maybe an injury prone pitcher isn’t what the doctor ordered. Other than that he’s a decent pitcher.

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  6. BX says:

    Actually, I don’t hate this move for the Nats. Yeah, its paying market value, but the Nats have enough money coming off the books and have already locked up Ryan Zimmerman.

    Lannan, Detwiler, Marquis, and Stammen are locks for the rotation, since its absurd to start Strasburg’s service time, Zimmermann is out with TJS, and it would be smart to let Balester start the season in AAA, for both service time reasons and that he could use some refinement in AAA.

    Then you’ve got a competition between Scott Olsen and J.D. Martin for the back two spots, with the loser going to the pen (it was noted when the signing happened that Olsen was not guaranteed a rotation spot).

    Now, of course, if they don’t sign Bryce Harper, this move suddenly looks awful. And this move is infinitely smarter than everyone’s favorite Adam Dunn signing, although that was Bowden.

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  7. Will says:

    Sure, in a purely sabremetrically-minded world, this doesn’t make sense. Marquis won’t make the Nats remarkably better, and they will still stink. However, the Nats have now lost 100+ games in two straight seasons, and have a new, dispassionate and dwindling fanbase. They cannot afford another 100 loss season.

    Even if Marquis only posts a 2 WAR season, and eats up another 200+ innings, that’s a HUUUUUGE improvement. Last year, the Nats gave 31 starts to Daniel Cabrera, JD Martin, Collin Balester and Marco Estrada. They combined for a total of 13.1 runs BELOW replacement! In those 31 starts, they only pitched 149 innings, averaging just over 4.2 IP/start. Those extra 50+ IP went to the Nats’ equally abysmal relief pitchers, such as Logan Kensing, Mike Hinckley, Victor Garate and Jorge Sosa, who in 62 IP, combined to be another 15.6 runs BELOW replacement (this is unbelievable)! Add it all up, and the 200+ innings of slightly above replacement level pitching Marquis will bring to the Nats will be enormously useful. Marquis is basically replacing a pitcher who was 28.7 runs below replacement level. That’s a 5 win improvement!

    Add another SP like Jon Garland to replace other ~200 innings given to below replacement level pitchers like Shairon Martis, Ron Villone, Saul Rivera and Mike MacDougal, and you’ll see similar results.

    Just by adding two unremarkable, durable SPs and a little better luck to their pythag (which was 7 wins below the expected result), you’re looking at a team that would be about 17 games better. And suddenly you have a 76-86 team!

    I don’t know about you, non-Nats fans, but I’d be much more excited by the prospect and more willing to spend money on a ~.470 team than a .364 team.

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  8. Sky Kalkman says:

    I’m additionally wary of Marquis as a low strikeout guy. You just don’t see successful pitchers with a K/9 of 4 or lower. Once they touch that range, they fall off a cliff.

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    • Daniel B says:

      Marquis has had a K/9 around 5 for a few years and has still been serviceable. Maybe he’s learned how to pitch to ground balls more often. Either way, unless he gets injured, he’ll probably pitch enough innings to be about worth the contract.

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    • Joe R says:

      And I just last night read the 2001 Abstract essay on Fidrych and low K/9 guys.

      I can’t escape it.

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  9. Steven Biel says:

    This is a great example of a bad post by a non-DC person who doesn’t follow this team closely and assumes you know what’s wrong without bothering to find out.

    First, this team has ample money to spend on guys like Marquis and still sign all their picks and draft above slot. Their payroll in 2010 even with this move is still under $70 million. This money won’t stop them from doing anything to win down the road.

    Second, their biggest problem with their youth is that they have no veteran stability to help ease the transition of young players to the majors. It’s not so much about “mentoring” and all that. It’s just that you don’t want to have to send Stephen Strasburg to the mound with a 9-game losing streak and a burned bullpen. If you do, you’re asking for injury. Guys will hide pain they should report. That’s what happened with Craig Stammen and Jordan Zimmermann this year.

    Third, this is a two-year deal. His salary comes off the books before the team has any chance of contending.

    Finally, grabbing free agents like Marquis has nothing whatsoever to do with why the Nationals are bad. Because they haven’t signed free agents like this since 2005. In the past, they’ve filled their rotation with 50% minor league contract guys like Mike Bascik and Jason Simontacchi.

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    • JollyRoger says:

      Good points , Steven.

      Nats needs credible “innings eater” until the youngsters are ready.

      They can’t afford another D.Cabrera type signing.

      Otherwise their pen will be toast by July.

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    • Casadilla says:

      Well stated, Steve. The writer’s analysis largely ignores the value of having a bona fide innings-eater on a young staff. The Orioles are employing the same strategy with Millwood.

      It’s not always about the value of a player individually, but how that player impacts other parts of the team, such as protecting a young staff and weary bullpen by eating up innings. That, IMO, is value that can’t be measured in Marquis’s WAR or (insert-statistic-here).

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  10. Daniel B says:

    I think there should be marginal win value of not having 100 losses three times in a row. You have to start somewhere after all, they won’t get superstars to come to Washington with a 60 win team, and even if they did, they’d probably break the bank. Believe it or not, most teams don’t like to wait as long as the Rays to start winning. Like others have said, Marquis represents something the Nationals desperately need. Having guys who can eat innings makes the other pitchers better by not taxing them so much.

    And yes, a .470 team is more enticing to fans than a sub .400 team. I’d rather spend the resources available on a guy who you know is about average and good for 200 innings than hope that 3 to 4 guys can patch 160 replacement level innings for one rotation spot and then put the rest on the bullpen. It looks better for other players, too. Realistically, if I’m a GM, I’d rather sign Marquis and keep my job for another year than sign a journeyman like DiNardo. That’s why a lot of GMs end up overpaying for solid veterans.

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  11. Scottwood says:

    Doesn’t CHONE use a different replacement level for pitchers? Tango uses .380/.470 for starters and relievers and he uses .420/.500?

    Has that been changed? If it hasn’t, then does that change the WAR projection for Marquis?


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  12. Steven Biel says:

    WAR isn’t the right measurement for the Nationals, because they don’t HAVE replacement level pitchers.

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    • Toffer Peak says:

      The point of replacement level players is that they are pretty much freely available (at least during the off-season and to a lesser extent in-season). If a team doesn’t have access to “replacement level” players then the replacement level is too high.

      “They’re usually available every winter as minor league free agents, via the Rule 5 draft, or as cheap trade acquisitions where a team can acquire one of these players without giving up any real talent in return.”

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  13. hk says:

    Lenny DiNardo has a 1.4 WAR cumulatively for his six year career. On what basis can he be protected to be a 1.7 WAR player next year?

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  14. E-ROC says:

    How about spending $15 million on Aroldis Chapman? The Nationals should’ve gone bargain shopping with Justin Duchscherer, Brett Myers, or Noah Lowry.

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  15. Eric P says:

    Mark me down as another one disagreeing with your take on this, Erik. Craig Stammen was second in IP for the Nats this year, with 105 2/3. They absolutely need somebody who can go out there and give them 200 unremarkable innings. It’ll make them a bit more respectable, it’ll save them from potentially ruining one of their young arms by forcing him into a role he’s not ready for and they didn’t have to commit much in years to Marquis to get it done. This is a good signing.

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  16. Steven Biel says:

    How about spending $15 million on Aroldis Chapman?

    What makes you think this team can’t afford to do both?

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    • E-ROC says:

      I’m not saying the Nationals can’t afford to sign Chapman. I just think signing Jason Marquis was bad usage of resources.

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  17. Xeifrank says:

    This puts the Nationals at 73.0 (Team WAR) for what they currently have on their roster. Marquis adds around 2.0 WAR and there will be less below replacement level innings due to his innings eating prowess. Probably a solid 2.5 WAR gain. Garland would do around the same.
    vr, Xei

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  18. Luke Appling says:

    I had completely forgotten that Rob Dibble was on the Milwaukee Brewers until innocently clicking on the link at the bottom of this article. Then I was bombarded with some ugly statistics, circa 1995 (8.89 K/9, 15.26 BB/9. 7.70 FIP). Wow.

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  19. GameOfInches says:

    Tim Kurkjian had an article last year about how Jason Marquis has never missed the playoffs in 10 years, which he somehow attributes to Marquis’ presence.

    As always, the name link has a firejoemorgan-esk summary

    “It’s nice to have a 2.00 ERA, win Cy Young Awards, strike out a lot of hitters and make All-Star teams, but the idea is to win games. And it doesn’t matter how you do it. I am a baseball player who can pitch.”

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  20. JSS says:

    Don’t they lose a draft pick since Marquis’ is a Type B free agent? That makes this a lot worse, as they need all the picks they can get.

    The only way this is good for the Nats is if Marquis starts off hot in Year 2 of the deal and they can trade him for some kids.

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  21. Circlechange11 says:

    Here’s the thing …

    If you don’t have a starting staff that has very many guys that go reasonably deep into games, then an “Innings Muncher” (accurate description, IMO) has some “slightly greater than perceived value” for giving the bullpen a breather.

    There’s something to be said for guys that don;t need relieved in the 6th inning EVERY time out. In the current era where relievers don;t normally toss multiple innings, that means 4 (or more) guys pitch in a game.

    Relievers love regular work, but the key is to keep it “regular” and not just run them into the ground … other wise you end up hosting “pitching tryouts” with all of the fatigue, injuries, and call ups that are sure to come with bullpen overuse. IMO, bullpen guys are looked at (especially by stats guys) as “disposable”, in the regard that you can just gid rid of one and call someone else up. But, being a solid bullpen guy has value, and the key to bullpen value (outside of the obvoius, talent) is NOT being overused.

    The Nats also have some quality young starters coming up. I have no idea how useful of a mentor Marquis can be, but he’s been around, knows the cities, and give lots of on and off field advice to some of these guys. What that’s worth, I can quantify.

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    • Circlechange11 says:

      I will add this, I do know from coversations that when young players get to a new city they have NO idea what do. Being able to guide a young guy to a good place to eat, to AVOID certain places that are destined for trouble, and just put them at general ease knowing that “someone” knows where to go …. helps.

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    • pounded clown says:

      I give you my Jamie Moyer for your Jason Marquis anyday.

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  22. recca says:

    This is a very meh move. Not a world changer but at the same time it doesn’t really restrict the Nationals plans for the present of future in many ways.

    Question, would this deal been equally as meh if the Mets did this? I want to say no, it would have been worse but I’m having a hard time convincing myself.

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  23. tom s. says:

    this would make more sense if the nats had made efforts to improve their infield defense for a groundball pitcher, beyond zimmerman.

    had they moved guzman to second, and gotten a cheap, defense-first shortstop, they could have landed marquis and given him an infield he could succeed with.

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    • pounded clown says:

      I lived in Washington for a while, and though a lifelong Phillies fan, still suffer with many a Nats fan. I know there are growing pains but, the Keystone Kops fielding and horrid baserunning has to end. Also as a Phillies fans, if you want to hear a collective groan from us, just say ground ball pitcher or sinkerballer. I don’t know the Phillies current line-up’s history with Marquis but it wouldn’t suprise me if he put up good numbers. Since moving back to Philly, I don’t see the Nats. play as much but have seen enough to know that with the right pieces you’ll be a force to reckon with. In fact few of the games btw us were decided by the Nats neglience in the field and on the base paths. The Nats always give us an epic battle with no lead safe until the last out. So yeah, I agree they need a glove before offense, you have alot of firepower. At the very least a late inning defensive replacement to help hold leads.

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    • Mike says:

      Yes, I was thinking the same thing. The Nats defense was completely ignored in this original post… Marquis is going to have a hard time replicating his most valuable seasons’ numbers on this team. I understand the Nats desperately need innings out of their rotation, but with Marquis’ slim margin for error, I could see this deal backfiring.

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    • Steven Biel says:

      Rizzo’s been talking about upgrading the infield defense and bringing in guys like Alberto Gonzalez and Anderson Hernandez to try to do that. That’s weak tea, but it’s not something he doesn’t know.

      There’s talk about moving Guzman to 2B, which might make him average. Desmond could be above average at SS, and down the road Danny Espinosa is a good fielder.

      But it’s true they could use a bridge plus-defender. I thought Adam Everett or Alex Gonzalez would be here. Omar Vizquez could be a good fit. I don’t think Rizzo’s done with the IF.

      The biggest question is Dunn. If Rizzo says he thinks he’s following a plan of gb pitchers + good infield D and plays Dunn, then he should be criticized.

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  24. justfun says:

    sell cheap ,discount UGG boots,cheap NFL Jerseys,Air jordan ,hair straightener and other brand products.Aeept Paypal.Shipping takes 4-7 days.

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  25. recca says:

    @ tom s.
    Isn’t that Ian Desmond’s job?

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    • tom s. says:

      i haven’t scouted him personally but desmond’s totalzone rating is VERY poor. he literally has never had a positive impact defensively according to TZR.

      alex gonzalez, vizquel, and everett (all mentioned by steven biel above) would have been the kind of signing i’d think of; alternately, a trade for some defense-first youngster would make a lot of sense.

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  26. Nick says:

    This is a difficult trade to understand if you can only see things in terms of metrics.

    Marquis’ experience having only played for teams that went to the playoffs will be a valuable addition to one of the youngest and least experienced rotations in baseball. He’ll have the credibility to tell the guys when they aren’t doing what they need to be doing to win.

    Also, you have to spend money to make money. If the fans see you signing more players they’ve never heard of what’s the incentive for them to come out to the ballpark? What’s their incentive to invest time and money in this team? Why should they get excited.

    The Nationals are awful. The only way to entice any player worth anything to play for them is to offer them more money than everyone else. Maybe these would have been better suggestions:
    “Sign with us, we were the worst team in baseball two years in a row.”
    “Sign with us, we’ll get the first round draft pick again.”
    “Sign with us, nobody watches us play.”
    C’mon, seriously guys?

    Change and improvement are incremental. No one player is going to turn your team around. This isn’t Hockey, Basketball, or Football where one player makes that big of a difference. This is a good, small step forward for the team and the fans. They ARE indeed marginally better, but marginally better gives the fans SOME hope that things are on the right track.

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  27. Leprkon says:

    The one extra you get from Marquis is that he can hit. When pitching, you can take a chance on him at the plate in the fifth with two outs and men on and he might come through, leaving you alot of options later. LaRussa routinely used him as a mid-inning bat off the bench to keep his bigger bats for later.

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  28. Pdowdy says:

    Does anybody realize that while the Nationals have been spending money this offseason that they are still UNDER last years payroll? Kearns made 8m, Dmitri Young made 5m and never played a game. Nick Johnson was another 5.5m and Belliard was 3.5m. Not to mention they cut Olsen lose because he was due to make more than the 2.8m he made last year and signed him back for 1m (plus incentives) and there is no Cabrera taking up 2.8m either. If my calculations are correct that is a savings of 26.6m. While Nieves, Bergman, Willingham, Flores and maybe someone else I am forgetting are due raises through arb, I can’t see it being that huge of an increase. We will say Willingham will get an extra 1.5m this year, Nieves might get another 200k, same with Bergman and Flores will be bumped somewhere into the 500k range. Dunn goes from 8m to 12m and Zimmerman goes up 2m I think. That equals out to roughly 8.5m in raises. That leaves roughly 18 million to spend this offseason just to get back to last years payroll. Marquis with 7.5 and Pudge with 3 still leaves almost 8 million to put towards free agents.

    While the signings may seem futile it adds a level of experience to a young team and adding some players that aren’t used to losing couldn’t hurt to influence the kids. I say go ahead and spend the money that hacks like Kearns/Young/Cabrera took up last year and put a mediocre product on the field so maybe some bigger names will take a look at the Nats next offseason.

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  29. WY says:

    I agree with the previous commenters who feel this is a poor post. What are the Nationals supposed to do, not try at all? Is there no value to being something less than a complete laughingstock and/or not completely frying your bullpen by June? Marquis isn’t a world beater, but this doesn’t handicap the franchise.

    The “WAR blinders” have a tendency to lead to some pretty myopic and uninspiring transaction analyses here — which, by the way, the average Fangraphs reader can do on his or her own by this point. All you need to is just look at the player’s projections; multiply the WAR value by about $4 million; toss in some mention of marginal value based on where the team is supposed to be in the standings; note whether the player was a Type A, Type B, or neither (and whether he was offered arbitration); and then either praise or (more often) ridicule the GM in question. Voila.

    This isn’t directed at Erik in particular, but about 20% of the posts I’ve seen recently.

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    • CircleChange11 says:

      I made the same point in another thread …

      The “expert” analysis here at FG seems to consist of the following:

      [1] Take the salary per year.
      [2] Divide by 4
      [3] If the quotient is >4 then point out how dumb the GM is.
      [4] If the quotient is <4 then you have 2 options …
      (A) If it's a GM the author/site likes then point out the high quality signing/trade.
      (B) If it's a GM the author/site doesn't like then point out the meaningless of the signing and mine for reasons why it's not good.

      It's not really anything my baseball crazy 3rd grade son couldn't do. Plus, it's FAR too predictable.

      The reader comments are almost always high quality.

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  30. Andrew says:

    What is the marginal value of not being the laughingstock of a city? No one in DC takes the Nats seriously. Even if you added Tim Lincecum and Zach Greinke to the 2009 roster, there is no guarantee that that team would finish above .500; that isn’t what this signing is about.

    The Nats pitching staff is young. Really young. I don’t think they have any starting pitchers who are over the age of 26. Age isn’t a virtue in an athlete, but experience is.

    Generally you need to pay to win but with the Nats case they desperately need to pay to not lose.

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  31. exxrox says:

    I agree with the majority here. What exactly was the point of this article? What happened to COMBINING saber-analysis with natural human judgment and/or scouting? I have been seeing this too often lately on this website, with elitist “WAR-blinded” (thanks WY) analysts using only graphs and spreadsheets, not seeing any other way to interpret transactions.

    In fact, this same discussion came up in the previous Nationals’ signing (Pudge), and I posted the exact same complaint. So what if they’re not in contention? Grabbing free agents is still noble, especially veteran free agents on such a young team. Off-field contributions are being paid for as well in these deals, and these contributions include protecting youngsters who either are not ready for, or have not yet earned, a promotion.

    On this singing specifically, as a fan of the Blue Jays and their very young and inexperienced staff, this is something I very much want to see my club do. Get Jon Garland. Suck up the innings, protect the bullpen which was overworked last year and prevent guys who should for all intents and purposes should be on strict innings limits.

    Lately I’ve been rather disappointed by the quality of some of the analysis on this site (not all of them)…I find myself questioning the methods used here because of how narrow they have become. I for one do not truly believe that WAR is an all-encompassing stat, and that the value of a player can be influenced by other, non-quantifiable factors. Writers writing about situations they do not know, using numbers and numbers only, is not the proper way to conduct research or form conclusions.

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    • CircleChange11 says:

      Here’s the quote from the article that just kills me …

      “What exactly is the point of spending $4 million for a win when you’re the Nationals?”

      [1] How much poer win *should* the Nationals pay? And what are the names of some 2-4 WAR guys that would sign for that? And would that be a team aimed at sustained improvement?

      There is also this prevailing idea that there are just prospects everywhere that are major league ready anbd that are “major league average”. There are NOT … and Cameron Maybin, Delmon Young, Brandon Wood, Andy marte, Ian Stewart, etc … and these guys were top 20 prospects(!).

      Truth is, teams are going to have to spent money to improve, and sometimes over-spend on a few players because hardly anyone signs at “WAR value”.

      Either way the nationals get blasted by blogging experts. Either they don’t do enough to improve, or they overspend on players just to finsih out of the playoffs.

      Wait, wait, I know. If *they* owned the nationals, they’d spend all the money on draft picks and international talent and within 3 years they’d have “future all-stars” at every position, for minimal money, and numerous years of team control. Simple as that. No sweat.

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  32. alalryvargo says:

    The action taken to local and national disasters is great but it’s a damn shame that so many people take advantage of the negative situations.

    I mean everytime there is an earthquake, a flood, an oil spill – there’s always a group of heartless people who rip off tax payers.

    This is in response to reading that 4 of Oprah Winfreys “angels” got busted ripping off the system. Shame on them!

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  33. A human beings begins icy his perceptiveness teeth the earliest without surcease he bites out more than he can chew.

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  34. garbage bag & call it my carry on, right?

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