Redskins 2017: The Defense Will be Better, But When?

David Malinsky

Wednesday, August 16, 2017 2:02 PM UTC

Wednesday, Aug. 16, 2017 2:02 PM UTC

Even with better players, will the Redskins defense take a step backwards before going forward? ... The 2017 Lance Lynn is not the Lance Lynn of the past (though some folks don't see that yet).

Point Blank – August 16, 2017

Wednesday brings a lot of matinee action across the MLB diamonds, and for many of you that will also mean more football digging while watching those results come in. That makes it a fitting day to deal with the Redskins as our team-by-team tour of the training camps continues because it isn’t just about “what” judgment to make on that defense, but “when” as well.

After units perform poorly the natural process is to make changes, and on that defensive side of the ball Washington certainly has. In terms of personnel, it will be for the better, but it is in how that talent comes together that some patience is going to be required. This defense may become good right around the time that many are ready to write them off.

Here’s the gist – the change is massive. Let’s go to the roster first, because while particular position groups have been topics here across several teams already, Washington has added talent both through free agency (FA) and the draft (D) across the board. Let’s look at the additions that are either starting or second-team, at this stage –

DL: Jonathan Allen (D), Stacy McGree (FA), Terrell McClain (FA), Phil Taylor (FA)

LB: Zach Brown (FA), Ryan Anderson (D)

DB: D.J. Swearinger (FA), Fabian Moreau (D), Montae Nicholson (D)

That doesn’t count rookie LB Josh Harvey-Clemons and DB Joshua Holsey, who are still in the running for roster spots.

That is quite an upgrade, both free agents and draft picks boosting each group, with Allen, McClain, McGee, Brown and Swearinger all currently in starting positions. Now combine that with how much injuries had impacted the 2016 defense, when 23 different players were on the field for at least 100 snaps, and there is a lot for DC Greg Manusky to work with, even having lost Trent Murphy for the season. The issue becomes just how much is too much for a coach only in his second year with the team, and first in the DC role.

Manusky is going to have at least nine new players in the playing rotation, and he does not have a lot of experience with some of the holdovers, like DeAngelo Hall only playing three games in 2016. And of course Manusky was only the OLB coach with a defense that was #26 on the Football Outsiders weighted charts, bringing matching weakness of being #24 both against the run and the pass.

Note that back in the second paragraph I stated that the personnel would be better, but the jury is out in terms of coaching. Manusky has a bunch of assistants that are in their first season with the team – Jim Tomsula, Torrian Gray, James Rowe and Cannon Matthews, all the while even the Redskin holdovers on the roster don’t necessarily help assimilation processes, playing for their third DC I as many seasons.

This coaching group may already be an upgrade over what was some perplexing strategy from Joe Barry last year, including that odd early decision to keep Josh Norman on the same side of the field, which opponents easily exploited until the corrections were made. That is already out the window, and this from Kirk Cousins made the files - “I think that it’s going to allow a Josh Norman, I think, to be more active and make more plays, I’d like to think. He’s been scaring me a little more this camp than maybe last year simply because of the coverage schemes and what he’s being asked to do or given the opportunity to do.”

Potential is a key word for this defense, because that includes the potential to be disjointed early, because the coaches don’t know the players, and the players neither know the system, or each other. But there is talent depth across the board, and with that comes upside. The various performances metrics will all be under the microscope for me as the season unfolds, attempting to measure how much better this group can be, and of course who much better they actually will be. Some bad early numbers may throw off much of the marketplace, so you need to be careful about that.


It is time to stay in play against Lance Lynn

Last Wednesday I went into details about how Lynn’s base numbers were so misleading and used the fact that the markets are a step behind in their ratings of him for an Over ticket. Tonight there is enough value to stay in play, this time laying a little chalk, with #926 Boston (7:10 Eastern) showing value up to -140 (a shopper can find as low as -135 this morning).

Here is the gist with Lynn – that 10-6/3.12 bottom line might appear to be the natural flow for a guy sitting on a career 71-45/3.33, but after missing 2016 to injury, Lynn has not been the same pitcher at all.

Let’s look at some glaring discrepancies through baseball’s advance pitching metrics –

Lynn    Career    2017

FIP        3.58        4.83

xFIP      3.84        4.68

SIERA   3.86        4.67

And of course you will have noticed that the 2017 metrics are all at least a run and a half higher than his ERA.

Where are the issues? Lynn’s average fastball is at a career-low, and nearly two full mph off of his peak season. K% is a career low, BB% a career high, and GB% just a tick from being a career low (43.2, the previous worst a 43.1 in 2013). What has kept his run prevention low is a .226 BABIP and an 82.1 LOB%, neither of which are likely to maintain.

Fenway is a difficult place to pitch to contact. The Red Sox lack their usual power but they put the ball in play, #5 across MLB in batting average and only the Astros striking out less frequently. While the pitching forms in the morning newspapers show a strong 2-0/2.50 for Lynn over his last three starts note how misleading those numbers are – xFIP reads those same games at 6.36. Lynn faced 77 batters, only striking out 10 of them, while issuing 13 walks.

I also believe Eduardo Rodriguez is under the radar a bit right now. He is sitting on a 4-3/3.80 that is close enough to league average to elicit yawns from many numbers crunchers, especially with FIP sitting close to that at 3.99, and the fact that Rodriguez hasn’t won a game since returning to the rotation after the All Star break also prevents some folks from taking a deeper look.

I see something to like. Across those five starts Rodriguez has more strikeouts (31) than hits allowed (25), an indication of the kind of stuff he has, and he has quietly worked his way up to 316.1 MLB innings with a 4.13 ERA and a 4.11 FIP. Those numbers again don’t excite anyone because they are basically league average across the span, but consider that Rodriguez was only 23 when this season began, and the proper stamp for him should be “ahead of schedule”.

Now Rodriguez gets the usual advantage of a young left-hander facing a team that has precious little experience against him, no Cardinal with more than three plate appearances, and the fact that the Boston ride was such an easy one after that eight-run fourth inning last night also means that the bullpen is laid out well for the latter stages.


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