Nationals Arm Race

"… the reason you win or lose is darn near always the same – pitching.” — Earl Weaver

Jose Fernandez 1992-2016

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Such a shame. Photo via thestar.com

Such a shame. Photo via thestar.com

I have MLB.com notifications setup on my phone.  Normally I get fun notifications about the Nats’ announced lineup for the coming game, or that so-and-so is a triple from a cycle, or information about Vin Scully‘s retirement tour.  But I certainly wasn’t expecting early Sunday morning to see this alert: “Miami Marlins pitcher Jose Fernandez, 24, killed in boating accident.”  It was pretty jarring, and obviously out of the blue.

I’m not going to quote Fernandez’s career stats like other publications have done; I think its tacky and not unlike printing some football player’s career rushing stats along with the announcement that they’re being charged with sexual battery.  The story is that a young player is suddenly gone; one week he’s in discussions about whether he’s in the running for the 2016 Cy Young, the next we’re seeing instagram pictures of his pregnant girlfriend and putting ourselves in her shoes and considering the awfulness of the situation.  Watching the news lately is already awful enough (every story is about a shooting in a mall or a god-awful political race that can’t end quickly enough); now this adds to the overall awfulness.

Unfortunately, we live in a TMZ-driven society where the death of an athlete, or a celebrity, or a politician of note is given tons of media attention while similar deaths are given no attention at all.  An actor commits suicide and its in the news cycle for weeks; a military vet with PTSD commits suicide about once an hour in this country and its just another stat in an ever growing national crisis.  There’s nothing more or less tragic about Fernandez dying in an accident; its just that he was a larger than life figure thanks to his unique occupation.  Like other baseball players who have died suddenly (Nick Adenhart or Cory Lidle recently, Thurman Munson from my youth for example), its hard to separate the tragedy from the celebrity.

My thoughts are with his family, and I’m saddened that such a vibrant exciting player who clearly had an elan for the game is taken so soon.

 

Written by Todd Boss

September 26th, 2016 at 9:25 am

Ask Ladson 9/23/16

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Turner is on everyone's mind.  photo via wp.com

Turner is on everyone’s mind. photo via wp.com

I know my “Fantasy post-mortem” post didn’t move the needle; luckily Nats MLB.com beat reporter Bill Ladson posted another inbox!  2nd one in two weeks!

Here’s how I would have answered these questions, if I was in a position to have random fans email me questions all the time :-)

Q: Is Trea Turner eligible for the National League Rookie of the Year Award? If he is, he should be the winner.

A: Absolutely Trea Turner is eligible.  Is he going to win?  Uh… better go check the season that Dodgers shortstop Corey Seager just had.  Turner probably finishes 2nd or 3rd.  If I had a vote, I’d probably go Seager, Kenta Maeda, Turner, Trevor Story and then Aledmys Diaz to round out the top 5.  Turner has been awesome no doubt, but Seager is an MVP candidate and did it all year.  If Turner had done what he has been doing for the full season?  Yeah he’d probably be at a Mike Trout level of production and we’d be having a far different conversation about him.  Ladson Agrees.

Q: You said you thought Dusty Baker sticks with slumping players too long, but you didn’t list Bryce Harper on that list.

A: I think its one thing to stick with a slumping player too long when you have a better alternative (or even a possible better alternative) on the bench.  But how do you possibly claim that Bryce Harper deserved benching?  He was the frigging MVP last year; talk about impatience.  And even with his “down” season Harper still has an OPS+ of 117.  Harper has had a really weird season: his month by month splits show him crushing in April, falling off a cliff in May after the walkathon in Chicago, rebounding for a solid June, hitting just .176 in July, rebounding again in August (.934 OPS) and then again falling off a cliff so far in September (hitting just .203 this month).  If the partern holds, he’ll get hot again just in time for the October playoff games :-)

Are the persistent rumors about his shoulder true?  Respected national reporter Tom Verducci has reported it not once but twice, each time with a more vehement denial from GM Mike Rizzo, but his drop off from last year is pretty apparent for all to see.  Certainly it would explain why he’s struggled so badly this year.  Are Rizzo et al denying so as to prevent a competitive disadvantage from being public knowledge?  Probably too late for that.

Ladson agrees; Harper is a different story.

Q: Do you think the 2016 Nationals team is stronger than the ’14 Nationals was?

A: Yes I do.  I think the 2016 rotation(at full strength) matched up better than 2014’s, the bullpen is stronger, and I think the hitting is more consistent with more production across the team.  Now, maybe a better question is, “Which team was better positioned heading into the playoffs?  There the answer is inarguably the 2014 team; the rotation we’ll field in the NLDS is two studs and then two question marks, we really don’t have a shutdown lefty in the bullpen, and two of our best hitters (Harper and Danny Murphy) are hurt.  Not a good time for all these injuries to hit.  Ladson gives the edge to 2014 for similar reasons as I gave.

Q: Being a longtime Expos fan and seeing that you covered them, how would you compare Vladimir Guerrero to Harper?

A: I’ll freely admit that I’m not nearly as qualified to answer this as Ladson.  But i’ll give it an opinion; Guerrero was a better hitter, more capable of hitting whatever was thrown his way.  They were comparable in terms of defense; both had powerful arms and great range.  I give Guerrero the edge in speed on the basepaths, and Harper the edge in power (which is tough to say given that Guerrero hit 40+ a few times and had 449 for his career).  Both players only have one MVP: Guerrero’s came at age 29 as soon as he got out of Montreal.  Harper won his last year at the tender age of 22, and you have to think he’s got more in him.  Ladson gives the edge to Guerrero for now.

Q: With the emergence of Turner in center field, do you think the Nats will bring back both Ben Revere and Michael Taylor next season?

A: Revere no, Taylor yes.  Revere is arb-eligible and is making north of $6M this year; he’s an obvious non-tender this coming off-season.  Taylor is still under complete club control and is not arb-eligible for another year.  I can see the team going one of three ways (as we’ve discussed here at length):

  1. Turner to short, Espinosa traded and we look for a CF in trade or via FA.  Taylor the 4th outfielder.
  2. Turner to short, Espinosa moved, Harper to CF and we get a FA corner outfielder (my preference but not likely to happen).  Taylor the 4th outfielder.
  3. Standing pat: Turner stays in CF, Espinosa stays at short, and Taylor is the 4th outfielder.

In all these scenarios, Taylor is the 4th outfielder.  Is he even the 4th outfielder?  Well, he’s now had 781 plate appearances in the majors; he’s hitting .224 and he’s struck out 248 of those appearances.  Not good.  I’m not sure what we do with him at this point.  Ladson agrees with me on non-tendering Revere, and thinks Taylor needs another year in the minors.

 

Fantasy Baseball 2016 Post-Mortem

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Altuve was a huge driving factor for me in Fantasy this year ... but it wasn't enough to win the championship. Photo via mlblogs.com

Altuve was a huge driving factor for me in Fantasy this year … but it wasn’t enough to win the championship. Photo via mlblogs.com

Usual caveats apply; if you don’t care about Fantasy Baseball, you probably won’t care about this post.  I’ll return to Nats next week and am hoping to return to my detailed per-level pitching reviews this year….

Fantasy Baseball has wrapped up for the year; most leagues are doing their playoff finals this week.  This is my post-mortem for the year.  Here was my 2016 team preview article at the beginning of the year to show my drafted team.

My strategy for this year (pulled from the preview article):

  • focus on hitting; don’t load up on OF early.
  • wait on pitching.  With the conversion to QS, I felt like there was a ton of value later on with starters instead of burning early spots.
  • I wanted four closers (and got them … though the last one is really iffy).
  • I only wanted the minimum hitters, figuring I could start churning and burning based on the lower-end starters that weren’t working out.
  • I wanted a good mix of solid dependable players with a couple of high-end rookies (advice I liked after hearing it on a podcast)
  • Lastly I didn’t want to spend early on either C or 1B; catcher since there’s just so much turnover, 1B since there’s so much value later in the draft.

Results: My strategy worked out pretty well.  I had very good hitters, I got quality starters late and off waivers, I kept 3-4 closers all year, and I finished the regular season in 1st place by 3 games.  I was able (as always) to find quality OF and 1B on the waiver wire (in my case, Will Myers who exploded).  My one strategy miss may have been waiting on a Catcher; my catcher was awful all year and there was no  help on the waiver wire until later (see below for who I picked up).

Even despite finishing in 1st place regular season, my pitchers badly declined later in the year, I had an off-week offensively in the playoffs and I got bounced by the 5th place team in the semis.  And when I say bounced, I mean I lost 2-8 on the week.  So, a disappointing finish.  But i think the strategy was sound and I’ll do it again next year.

Here’s how I ended up in team stats for the season:

  • Runs; 3rd
  • HRs: 1st
  • RBIs: 4th
  • SBs: 9th
  • OBP: 2nd
  • Saves: 1st
  • Ks: 3rd
  • ERA: 5th
  • Whip: 3rd
  • QS: 3rd

Yeah; too bad we’re not playing Rotisserie.  The only category i was guaranteed to lose nearly every week was Steals.  Overall I had a pretty good year.


Here’s my initial draft and the player disposition on the year.

I drafted 9th out of 10 spots.  Here is my team (the two numbers are Round and # overall).

  1. 9    Nolan Arenado, Col 3B: Kept all year and finished #6 in Yahoo.
  2. 12    Jose Altuve, Hou 2B: Kept all year and finished #11 in Yahoo; he was much higher but has really struggled this last month, hurting his September value.
  3. 29    George Springer, Hou OF; Kept all year and finished #29 in Yahoo, almost exactly in line with his ADP and his rank.  Also struggled badly in september.
  4. 32    J.D. Martinez, Det OF: Missed 6 weeks mid-season so I dropped him, but picked him back up and he was not awesome but certainly not contributing as a 4th round pick.
  5. 49    Miguel Sano, Min DH; was decent early, then fell off a cliff and eventually missed time.  He ended up on the Waiver wire.
  6. 52    Carlos Carrasco, Cle SP: kept him all year even though he hit the D/L at some point and was awful in September.  I lost K’s by 9 in the playoffs … and got nothing from him thanks to the ill-timed line drive through the box.
  7. 69    Corey Seager, LAD SS: Kept all year; finished #67 in Yahoo.  A very shrewd pickup here.
  8. 72    Jeurys Familia, NYM RP: Kept all year, finished #71 in Yahoo.  Very solid Closer.
  9. 89    Cody Allen, Cle RP: I dropped him when the Indians acquired Andrew Miller … then missed out when Allen turned out to be mostly the closer again.  So
  10. 92    Danny Salazar, Cle SP: Another cleveland SP who spent time on the D/L but who was good when active; I dropped him during the playoffs when he strained his forearm.
  11. 109    David Peralta, Ari OF: My first real draft miss; he was ok for the first 6 weeks, then hit the D/L for a bit, then kept getting injured and didn’t play after early August.
  12. 112    Carlos Martinez, StL SP: My biggest “impatient drop” of the year; he struggled all the way through May and I dumped him; he got picked up by (ironically) the guy who beat me in the playoffs and he was stellar the rest of the way.
  13. 129    Adam Eaton, CWS OF: I dumped him at some point and he was basically on waivers the whole year; never good enough to pick up versus whoever had the hot hand.
  14. 132    Salvador Perez, KC C: Ugh; depth at Fantasy C is so thin, I stuck with him for almost the entire year.  Luckily I got to Gary Sanchez before anyone else, and rode him through the playoffs.
  15. 149    Jeff Samardzija, SF SP: Had him for a bit, thinking he’d be good in SF.  He was so streaky up and down that I dumped him.  He eventually got picked up by a competitor but was never really *that* good.
  16. 152    Justin Verlander, Det SP: My other big “impatient drop.”  I had Verlander two years ago and thought i’d get a find; he had a 6.49 ERA through his first 6 games.  I dumped him … and he finished the year Yahoo ranked #20.  Ugh.
  17. 169    Fernando Rodney, SD RP: A huge closer steal for yours truly; he was lights out right up until he got traded to be a setup guy.  That was a bummer.
  18. 172    Lucas Duda, NYM 1B: My perennail late-round 1B pickup, only this year he got hurt and was never really a fantasy player.
  19. 189    Lance McCullers, Hou SP: this late-round flier was on my D/L for weeks until it became apparent he wasn’t going to shwo up any time soon; he made just 2 starts all year.
  20. 192    Yordano Ventura, KC SP: awful all year; yahoo ranked #732.
  21. 209    J.J. Hoover, Cin RP: a flier on a closer-by-committee was the first player I dropped.  Luckily I caught on with some lower-end closers and did very well.  I got Luke Gregerson in Houston, who did well for a time.

So, just 8 of 21 players on my team all year from the draft.  And not one player drafted after the 10th round made it all the way though.  I’m not sure if that’s an indictment of my drafting, or just the nature of fantasy baseball.

Here was my team (save for playoff transactions) at the end of the year:

  • C: Gary Sanchez: What a monster; #11 for the month of September.
  • 1B: Wil Myers: another waiver-wire monster: He ended up yahoo ranked #30 on the year and I had  him for most of it.
  • 2B, SS, 3B: Altuve, Seager, Arenado: never once varied all year.
  • OF: Martinez, Springer and I had Keon Broxton at the end, trying to get Steals.  I played the waiver wire heavily for OFers, cycling through the likes of Justin Upton, Joc Peterson, Rajai Davis, Kendrys Morales, and for a long time Marcelle Ozuna.  In fact, for weeks I rolled out Martinez, Springer and Ozuna and had an extra random 1B (like Duda, or Napoli, or Travis Shaw) type filling in at utility.
  • Starting Pitchers: Anchors were Salazar and Carrasco.  All my other SPs were waiver pickups.  Teheran, Sanchez and Fulmer did the best for me, also had Smyly, Odorizzi at the end.  I cycled through a few SPs that in retrospect I wish I had kept versus what I ran out during the playoffs: Maeda, Gray, Bauer, Straily, etc.
  • Closers: Familia was the leader, also had Thornberg, Watson and Johnson at the end.  Really worked waivers to get closer replacements when my original guys were traded/got layered/lost out.  Allen and Rodney were really strong for me the first half, and then I just was quick on the trigger to grab Thornberg and Watson when their closers were traded.

So, how do we improve for next year?  My downfall was depending on waiver wire starters who faltered late.  I definitely had too many rookies (Sanchez and Fulmer in particular) leading the line.

I need to be patient with starters of course, but that’s the same thing every year.

I need to focus on getting a SB threat in the draft.

I need better luck.  Or to go rotisserie.  Or to get some transactions during the playoffs (which became a huge issue in our league, especially as I lost 3 different guys to injury during the playoffs).

 

The “Race” to the bottom: Reverse Standings for 2017’s #1 overall pick (and potential 1-1 candidates)

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Its been a while since we hyper-monitored for the #1 pick in Nats town … but for draft-wonks its a fun time of the year.  The tail end of the season, especially a season where multiple teams were in “rebuilding mode,” is fun to see who’s in line for the #1 overall pick next year.

Reverse standings updated at Baseball America: here’s who is in line for the top 10 picks next year:

NO TEAM W L PCT LEAGUE L-30 RS RA Diff
1 Minnesota Twins 55 96 .364 American League 6 – 24 684 835 -151
2 Atlanta Braves 61 91 .401 National League 17 – 13 604 749 -145
3 Cincinnati Reds 63 89 .414 National League 10 – 20 663 809 -146
4 San Diego Padres 64 88 .421 National League 12 – 18 641 722 -81
5 Arizona Diamondbacks 64 88 .421 National League 14 – 16 709 856 -147
6 Tampa Bay Rays 64 87 .424 American League 13 – 17 640 670 -30
7 Los Angeles Angels 66 86 .434 American League 15 – 15 661 700 -39
8 Oakland Athletics 66 86 .434 American League 13 – 17 623 716 -93
9 Milwaukee Brewers 68 84 .447 National League 16 – 14 632 690 -58
10 Philadelphia Phillies 69 83 .454 National League 12 – 18 568 716 -148

So, as of 9/22/16, the Twins have a 5 game “lead” over Atlanta for the #1 overall pick, and they’re bottoming out, having gone just 6-24 in the last month or so.  Meanwhile, the Braves, who everyone thought was the shoe-in for the worst team this year, has a 17-13 record in its last 30 and has shown signs of life enough so as to cost themselves the #1 pick next year.  At the rate they’re all going, Atlanta may end up dropping even further down thanks to the Reds and their historically awful pitching.  Arizona has been playing decently but comes to Washington for a 4-game set.

Here’s a quick look at the 2017 candidates for going #1 overall.  Mind you this is amazingly early, especially for the high school kids, but there’s a few specific names that are rising above the others in this class.

High Schoolers in competition for 1-1 overall:

  • Hunter Greene ss/rhp Notre Dame High, CA (UCLA commit). 2015 18U tema as a Jr. Standout at PG Nationals 2016. two-way talent, 95-97 on the mound but also a fantastic hitter. 18U National team trials.  Standout at Area code games.  Basically Greene is so talented on both sides of the ball that there’s disagreement as to which way he should go.  Most pundits think he’s drafted as a pitcher and if he can’t cut it that he can move to the field.
  • Jordon Adell of/rhp Ballard High, KY (Louisville). 18U National team trials.  Area Code stand out.  He is a hitting prospect through and through; he won the HR derby at the Area Code Games.

There’s a distinct gap between Greene/Adell and the next grouping of HS players, which include a couple of high-end lefty prospects in D.L. Hall and Trevor Rogers, a couple of middle infielders in Brady McConnell and Royce Lewis, and a powerful 1B prospect from Miami named Alejandro “Alex” Toral, but the two above are the cream.  Its worth noting; no prep RHP has ever gone 1-1, which works against Greene in that slot.

Collegiate players in competition for 1-1 overall:

  • Jeren Kendall OF Vanderbilt. 2016 Collegiate National team
  • Alex Faedo rhp Florida. 2016 Collegiate National team
  • Kyle Wright rhp Vanderbilt.  2016 Collegiate National team
  • Brendan McCay of/lhp Louisville. All-American as a Soph. 2016 Collegiate National team
  • Jacob “J.B.” Bukauskas rhp UNC/Ashburn. 2016 Collegiate National team

I think they’re ranked roughly in this order too; Kendall is the name most frequently mentioned as 1-1 overall candidate right now; safest pick, an OF from a baseball factory.  I think Faedo and Wright go before local product Bukauskas, but its definitely looking like he’s projected top-10 at this point.  McCay is right there as well, with a great pedigree and likely being a 2-time All American by the time he’s done.

But we’re an awfully long way from next June.  Nobody had Mickey Moniak at the top of their boards at this time last year.


 

PS: i’ve got a draft version of the “Local 2017 draft candidates” to watch, but in a spoiler (we won’t publish it until next Feb/March) there’s nowhere near the projected local talent in 2017 as there was this year (when we saw two local prep players drafted in the top 3 rounds plus a few other local guys in the top 10).  But right now here’s who i’ve got as the best local prep players for 2017.

  • Kyle Whitten, RHP/1B from Osbourn Park in Manassas, VA. WWBA 2015 with Team Stars, 2016 Evoshield 17-U team.  At the USA Baseball 18U national trials in June 2016 (and made 40-man roster).  Early commit to UVA.  Evoshield 17U team at 2016 Marietta/Cobb.  PBR Class of 2017 top 10.
  • Tyler Solomon, C/1B from Battlefield HS in Haymarket, VA.  2015 WWBA Team Evoshield 17-U, 2016 All 6-A North Region 2nd team.  2016 Evoshield 17-U team.  At PG National 2016.  At the USA Baseball 18U national trials in June 2016.  Early commit to Vanderbilt.  Evoshield 17U team at 2016 Marietta/Cobb.  All PBR DC/VA team 2016.  PBR Class of 2017 top 10.  Area Code Games 2016.
  • Jeremy Arocho, SS from Old Mill HS in Glen Burnie, MD.  2015 WWBA Team Evoshield 17-U, 2016 Evoshield 17-U team.  At PG National 2016.   18U National team trials.  early commit to Maryland.  Evoshield 17U team at 2016 Marietta/Cobb.  Area Code Games 2016.
  • Matt Cooper, C/1B from Norfolk Academy.  2016 VISAA Division I all-state.  2016 Evoshield 17-U team.  At PG National 2016.  Early commit to Clemson.  2nd Team all-Tidewater 2016 as a junior.  American Family 2016 1st team All-Virginia as a junior.  Evoshield 17U team at 2016 Marietta/Cobb.  All PBR DC/VA team 2016.   PBR Class of 2017 top 10.  Area Code Games 2016.
  • Tanner Morris, MIF from St Anne’s-Belfield HS/Miller School of Albemarle.  2015 WWBA Team Evoshield 17-U, VISAA A All-State 2016.  2016 VISAA Division II all-state.  2016 Evoshield 17-U team.   At PG National 2016.  Early commit to UVA.  American Family 2016 1st team All-Virginia as a junior.  Evoshield 17U team at 2016 Marietta/Cobb.  All PBR DC/VA team 2016.   PBR Class of 2017 top 10.  Area Code Games 2016.

They’re the only three players from DC/MD/VA who were invited to the 18U team trials.  Four of these five were the sole local reps at the Area code Games.  So its probably safe to assume at this point they’re among the best 2017 draft candidates.  But are they top-5 rounds good?  We’ll see.

Written by Todd Boss

September 22nd, 2016 at 11:52 am

Ladson’s Inbox 9/15/16

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Turner is the biggest surprise of the year for me.  photo via wp.com

Turner is the biggest surprise of the year for me. photo via wp.com

Wow, what a treat!  I’ve been kind of slacking in the content department and suddenly our favorite beat writer Bill Ladson pops out an unexpected mid-September mailbag.  So here’s something to argue about this weekend.

As always, here’s how I would have answered his questions.

Q: Who do you think is the most pleasant surprise on the Nationals this year

A: Trea Turner without a doubt.  We knew he was going to be good, but I don’t think anyone knew he was going to be *this* good.  Keith Law in his chat yesterday  pointed out a fun little fact about Trea Turner: he’s got a (now) 3.0 bWAR this year, which would rank him (unadjusted for position) as the 6th best ever for either the Rays or the Padres, the two teams that passed along Turner (and Joe Ross) in that trade two years ago.  What a steal.  And despite his only playing 57 games this year you have to think he’s in the mix for NL Rookie of the Year.  Corey Seager probably has it wrapped up, but a 2nd or 3rd place for Turner seems warranted.

Ladson said Stephen Drew, which I guess you could argue for … except that he’s a bench player who has missed a ton of time and isn’t a lock to make the post-season roster given his illness.

—-

Q: How far do you think the Nationals could go in the postseason?

A: Could?  They could go all the way!  :-)  In reality, I think the Stephen Strasburg injury really, really hurts them in their likely NLDS match up with Los Angeles.  If the Nats rolled out Scherzer-Strasburg-Roark-Gonzalez versus the Dodgers’ Kershaw-Hill-Maeda-random 4th starter i’d feel pretty good about our chances in that series.  Right now we’re basically auditioning pitchers for that 4th spot and Gonzalez has been shaky, and Los Angeles’ arms are daunting for a team that routinely gets shut down by starters from teams like Philadelphia and Atlanta.  Right now, I think we lose a close NLDS series to Los Angeles.

Even if Strasburg was healthy, I think we’d really be hard-pressed to beat Chicago in a 7 game series either.  We took 2 of 3 here, lost 4 out of 4 there this year (though as we’ve discussed here, that sweep wasn’t nearly as dominant as the press made it seem), but we still lost to them, and they’ve stayed at full strength basically the whole season.  I don’t see how anyone beats the Cubs this year.

Ladson hedges his answer, saying he wants to see how the bullpen and offense go the rest of the way.  Why is he worried about the bullpen?  Isn’t it one of the best in the game?  The Nats bullpen is #1 in baseball in ERA, #2 in Fip.   What more do you want?

Q: Do you think Stephen Strasburg will be ready to pitch in the postseason?

A: Nope.  Strained Flexor Mass is usually a 30 day injury; he got hurt on 9/7/16.  So at best t hat’s 10/7/16 … or basically at the end of the divisional series.  But … where’s he going to rehab?  There’s no more minor league games; i guess he could throw simulated or instructional league games.  But more importantly, this is a notably conservative team medically, especially with Strasburg over the years and especially since they just committed $175M to him.  No way do they rush him back from a serious injury just on the opportunity to make one post-season start.  Ladson agrees.

Q: Why do you call Jayson Werth “The King” on Twitter?

A: (me shaking my head): who knows.  Maybe because he’s the king of getting caught doing triple digits on the beltway?  I’ve lived here all my life and can’t tell you how many times i’ve hit 100 on the interstates around here without getting caught.  Ladson says he calls Werth the king because he turned “clubhouse from unprofessional to first class.”  Well, except for all of last year under Matt Williams … I guess even the King couldn’t salvage that dumpster fire.

Q: What do you think of the job Danny Espinosa has done this year?

A: Good power, good defense, bad hit tool.  About what we expected; his plus defense and power this year have outweighed his strikeouts and his low batting average.   He’s got a 1.8 bWAR and a 1.9 fWAR on the year, so its not like he’s totally useless out there.  Its one of the reasons i’ve supported him and havn’t been completely ready to get rid of him; he’s ranked 15th among qualified Shortstops in fWAR this year.  So that’s right in the middle; league average.   I mean, if he had negative WAR, didn’t have power, or wasn’t a plus defender, I could see the huge rush to replace him.  But moving him this coming off-season (as many want to of my readership) opens up another hole in Center that’s probably harder to fill right now than Short.  Its why I suspect the team may just stand pat, keep Turner in center another year, and roll out basically the same lineup in 2017.  Ladson gives him a “6.5 out of 7” and says he deserves the NL Gold Glove.  I dunno about that; there’s 5 or 6 NL shortstops that probably rate better defensively than him.

Q: Was Murphy what you expected this season?

A: No way; Murphy a ton better than I expected.  I was hoping for a solid 6th hitter, not a frigging MVP candidate.  He earned his entire $37.5M contract this year.  Ladson Agrees.

Q: What do you think of Dusty Baker as a manager? I know you often said Davey Johnson is the best manager you ever covered. Where does Baker rank as far as Nationals manager go?

A: I think Baker has done a fantastic job of calming this group, bringing some order, and not showing any of the faults that he was accused of in the past.  He’s shifted, he’s managed the bullpen decently, he’s stuck to his guns and rested players, he’s communicated well, he hasn’t burned out starters.  I think he’s ridden his primary catcher too hard … but then again, Ramos is having a career year and Lobaton is a huge step back offensively.  Is he better than Davey?  Not yet for me: lets see what happens when Baker has to deal with some injury issues or a better divisional rival.  Ladson has them 1-2 with Davey still on top.

 

A couple of quick pictures from the 9/11/16 pre-game ceremony

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I think this is just the 2nd or 3rd game at the park for me this year … and we picked a great day and a great game.  We got there early and caught the pre-game ceremony.  Here’s a couple of pictures from the day.

Pre-game Ceremony at Nats Park 9/11/16. Photo Todd Boss

Pre-game Ceremony at Nats Park 9/11/16. Photo Todd Boss

 

Here’s a view using IPhone’s panoramic view.

Panorama of 9/11/16 pre-game.  Photo Todd Boss

Panorama of 9/11/16 pre-game. Photo Todd Boss

 

No other analysis/comment here; just wanted to put these two cool pictures up.  I wasn’t fast enough to get the fly-over.

Written by Todd Boss

September 12th, 2016 at 12:38 pm

Posted in Nats in General

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Strasburg Flexor Mass; what’s plan B for the playoffs?

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It could have been worse; it could have been this. Photo credit unknown.

It could have been worse; it could have been this. Photo credit unknown.

Its been a greek tragedy the last few days in Nats town.  Stephen Strasburg (you know, that guy who we just paid $175M for the next 30 years with deferred payments) clutches his elbow in his first game back after hitting the D/L for a different “elbow soreness” issue.  Nats town fears the worst.  MRI comes back and its “just” a Flexor Mass Strain.  They say it isn’t going to be season ending but…

But we have some rather recent and close-to-home examples to use to gauge his D/L time out:

  • Mat Latos was diagnosed with the same injury in Mid April 2014 and missed exactly 2 months of that season.
  • Homer Bailey had a more severe case of the same in August 2014, had to have surgery and was back in time for the beginning of 2015 (where he subsequently had a different injury).
  • Jonathan Broxton had an even more severe “torn” flexor mass in August 2013, had surgery and was out 6 months.
  • (h/t to Nationals101 on Twitter): Andrew Miller, who strained it in June 2015 against the Nats and missed about a month (injury on 6/10/15, next appearance 7/8/15).

So, best case he takes a couple of week off, it magically feels better, we shoot him up with cortisone and toradol (Hey they’re both legal!) and run merrily into the NLDS (not likely).

Worst case, he has to have a surgical procedure to clean stuff up and he’s ready for April 2017.

Most likely case, the conservative Nats management team shuts him down for the season (he is after all due $175M … and it’d be kind of foolish to risk that kind of investment for one playoff appearance) since it seems like its at least a month of rest.

In the mean time, the Nats have a playoff series to plan for.  Now what do we do?

  • Scherzer, Roark, Gonzalez are all healthy and ready to go.

Who is the 4th starter?  Instead of arguing about whether we take Joe Ross or Gio Gonzalez, are we now asking ourselves who makes that 4th start?  Do we think Joe Ross is going to be ready?  I dunno; I certainly hope so but we’re out of minor league games for him to rehab in and I havn’t heard much about his progress.  Assuming Ross isn’t ready to go either … Are we to the point where we’re wondering who is better, Yusmeiro PetitA.J. Cole, Reynaldo Lopez or Lucas Giolito?

Pros/Cons of these options:

  • Petit: was brought in to be the spot starter so he should be able to handle this.  But he’s been a bit shakey lately; his ERA has risen from 2.72 to 3.90 in just his last 8 appearances, which include a 5 run implosion against Colorado to blow a game the Nats had come back to tie late, an appearance in early August against Atlanta where he couldn’t record an out, and a bunch of other unclean appearances.
  • Cole: he has shown signs of life (looking awesome in New York against our closest rival) and then signs of ineptitude (giving up a 3-run homer to the only guy on the Phillies who could hurt him).
  • Lopez: great fastball … and great hittability.
  • Giolito: well, we don’t need to go into the pro- and anti-Giolito arguments, do we?

I dunno; who among that list are you thinking is best suited for it?

Are you thinking outside the box instead?  Mat Latos?  I dunno; do you think he’s ready to go?  Would you think that to be a slap in the face of all the guys who busted their butts with this organization for years to have a post-season start opportunity given to a guy they signed off the street two months ago?

Me?  I think you give the start to Lopez.  I don’t trust Petit, Cole seems too hittable, and Giolito needs an off-season to get his mechanics (and his head) straight.

(post-publishing update; just saw this at NJ: we know it isn’t going to be Bronson Arroyo… who just couldn’t come back and likely faces the end of his career).

Its Call-up Day! Who is coming to Washington (like Mr. Smith?)

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Is Burnett coming back to Washington? Photo: masnsports.com

Is Burnett coming back to Washington? Photo: masnsports.com

September 1st; Roster expansion day.  I’ll get this post in before the inevitable call-ups occur so we can argue for a bit.  Not all 9/1 callups happen on 9/1; we do have to finish out AAA season so some guys will hang out there through the weekend before getting called up.

Here’s the canonical list of 40-man players currently in the minors on optional assignment:

  • SP: Lopez, Giolito
  • RP: Martin, Gott, Grace*
  • C: Severino, Kieboom
  • INF: Difo, Bostick
  • OF: Goodwin, den Dekker

We also know that Mat Latos is going to be added, and will come at the expense of someone.  And we’re assuming that Sean Burnett is going to come on board as well.  So it sounds like we’ll either be shifting someone to the 60-day D/L or DFAing some guys to make room.

So, predictions on what you think will happen, and what you would like to see happen?

My predictions, by position:

  • SP: Lopez, Giolito come back up to do small stints as needed, and Latos gets a look as the 5th starter until Strasburg comes back.
  • RP: Martin gets DFA’d to make room for Burnett, who along with Grace comes up for a month-long post-season audition.  Gott has given little reason to think he’s merited a call-up and may be done for the season.
  • C: Severino comes up to provide some relief; Kieboom calls it a season.
  • INF: Difo back up, Bostick done.
  • OF: den Dekker DFA’d to make way for Latos addition to 40-man and Goodwin comes back up to provide some OF cover.

Bryan Harper may have merited a look but he’s still on the D/L.  Both Espino and Voth had solid AAA seasons starting but there’s little reason to add them with the surplus of starters we already have.  Some have mentioned Matt Skole or maybe even a return for Steve Lombardozzi but neither guy really excelled in AAA this year.  Skole has 24 homers …but a sub .800 OPS even given all that power.

Anyone else you want to see head to Washington?  How about Max Schrock?  (oh, sorry, too soon?)

ps: someone in the Nats blogosphere asked Keith Law in his chat yesterday about Giolito’s “80 fastball” and he had an interesting response.  I feel like he’s hedging a little bit; if Giolito had a 100mph fastball that by definition is a 80 fastball.  He was at 98 in High School, which is a heck of a number and merits at least a 70 or 75 grade … at age 18.  But he also notes what we’ve noted; he’s showed significantly less velocity in pro ball and is sitting 93.4  (average 4-seam velocity) with a max of “just” 95.8.   Where is 98?  And more importantly … where’s the command of said 4-seamer?

Post-publishing update: Mr. Law himself DM’d me on twitter about the above paragraph and wrote the following: “I don’t think you misrepresented [what I said in the chat], but I did want to correct something. A guy who hits 100 once, pitching on a week of rest, wouldn’t automatically get an 80 fastball grade (or 75, a grade I’ve never used or heard a real scout use). So I wasn’t hedging, but would make a clear distinction between a Riley Pint, who hits 100 regularly as a starter, and a Giolito, who was 94-98 in HS and happened to hit 100 that one time. That’s all.”

 

Written by Todd Boss

September 2nd, 2016 at 10:14 am

Are you worried about the Rotation too?

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Giolito's latest start does not inspire confidence.   (Photo by John McDonnell / The Washington Post)

Giolito’s latest start does not inspire confidence. (Photo by John McDonnell / The Washington Post)

(note; i’m at the beach this week … so i’m putting this in as a placeholder for arguing, er I mean discussing).

From the comments section on last week’s post, clearly we’re not happy with the bullpen.  And neither is Mike Rizzo, who caused an uproar amongst the 25 or so people on the planet who knew who Max Schrock was by flipping him for a guy whose name I won’t even try to spell.  Our long man blew a comeback effort last weekend that i’m sure was not well appreciated amongst the vets on the team.

But this post is about the rotation.  Are you worried yet?  Scherzer and Roark might have hiccups here and there but they’ll be solid for the playoffs (and yes, at this point i’m assuming we’re in the playoffs).  But is Strasburg going to make it back?  Is Ross?  Do we trust Gonzalez in a post-season rotation?  Is the performance thus far of Giolito and Lopez just more cause for concern?

 

Do the Nats have a LOOGY problem?

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Can we count on this guy in October? Photo via getty images

Can we count on this guy in October? Photo via getty images

We’ve clearly seen some middle relief issues lately, despite nearly sweeping a 4-game set in Atlanta this past weekend.  And one of the issues we’ve been continually discussing is our left-handed relief options.

We traded Felipe Rivero.  Oliver Perez has a 5.61 ERA.  Sammy Solis just had an MRI on his left shoulder.  Matt Grace has nice looking AAA numbers, but got shellacked last year (2.00 whip in 26 innings) during a brief call-up.  Nick Lee was so ineffective this year that he passed completely through waivers when we DFA’d him off the 40-man.  We just paid cash for twice-TJ survivor and ex Nat Sean Burnett, whose AAA numbers look good but is now on his fourth organization of 2016.

Do we have a LOOGY problem?

Well, maybe.

I constantly have to remind myself of this sentence: “You don’t have to be left-handed in order to get lefties out.”  That and this sentence: “If your lefty splits are good … then you’re still a good LOOGY option.”

Here’s the 2016 versus lefty splits for every reliever on our 40-man, RHP or LHP.  And then lets add in some of the call-up candidates just for fun… (all numbers as of 8/21/16’s Atlanta game via baseball-reference.com):

Right Handed reliever options

  • Melancon: .202/.253/.274 for an .527 OPS; as you’d expect, an elite closer gets both lefties and righties out.
  • Treinen: .211/.357/.351 for an .708 OPS.  Not bad.
  • Kelley: .250/.294/.609 for an .903 OPS.  Not good.
  • Petit: .261/.327/.511 for an .838 OPS.  Again, not really that good, but then again that’s not what we’re asking him to do generally.
  • Belisle: .150/.203/.267 for an .470 OPS.  Wow; that’s better than any of our lefties.
  • Glover: minimal stats in MLB; for 2016 he had a .161 BAA in AAA, .250 in AA and .143 in High-A for lefty splits (which are kind of hard to come by at milb.com).   That looks promising, but he seems to be more effective against righties.

Left Handed reliever options

  • Perez: .217/.321/.377 for an .698 OPS.  Its his rightly split that’s killing him.
  • Solis: .200/.279/.273 for an .551 OPS.  Awesome … if we can get him back healthy.
  • Sean Burnett: Again, minor league splits are harder to come by, but Burnett had a .150 BAA against in 12 IP in his longest AAA stint of the year.
  • Bryan Harper: .161 BAA in AAA this year, even better .091 while in AA.  And it’d be cool to have him on a roster with his brother.  But he’s on the D/L right now.
  • Matt Grace: .207 BAA in AAA this year … but as noted above he struggled in his 2015 audition.

Rivero, by the way, has this for a lefty split in 2016: .325/.424/.429 for an .852 OPS.  A .325 BAA; no wonder they were willing to part with him.  He was a lefty who couldn’t get lefties out.

What if we thought outside the box a bit?

  • Reynaldo Lopez: .180/.250/.340 for an .590 OPS.  Interesting; we’ve already talked at length about Lopez being a fire-baller out of the pen for a post-season team and his lefty splits are good.
  • Lucas Gioilto: .269/.406/.462 for an .868 OPS; not nearly as impressive.
  • Aaron Laffey: just a .254 BAA in AAA this year in a swing-man role.
  • Nick Lee: the aforementioned struggling lefty is the only other lefty in the minors above High-A; he’s got a decent .214 BAA against lefties in AA … but his overall ERA/Whip is ugly; 4.73 and 1.77,
  • I didn’t go to High-A, where we have a couple of  lefty prospects but they’re no where near consideration for a call-up.

So, we need Solis back; he’s the closest thing we have to a matchup lefty who we can count on.  But clearly Belisle’s numbers make him a matchup option too, despite his being a rightly.  It reminds me of when we had Tyler Clippard, who always had stellar lefty splits.  Perez’s split line isn’t great; I feel like we should be pushing him almost all the way to the mop-up/Petit role right now.

Are you concerned though?  On a whole, the Nats bullpen has been one of the best in all of baseball.  Are the falterings lately just due to a too many innings thanks to a couple of bad starter outings?