Nationals Arm Race

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

2020 MLB Awards Predictions

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So, I try to do this every year, and every year I do reasonably well in predicting the end-of-season awards as voted upon by the media members of the BBWAA.

This year? I have no idea what is going to happen. A combination of work, pandemic, side projects and other interests has really taken away from my focus on baseball in 2020. So honestly I have no idea who is set to win these awards. But lets do some educated guessing, with the help of some of my favorite national baseball writers.


AL MVP: Well, if you use the old adage “best player on the best team,” you end up with Brandon Lowe on the Tampa Bay Rays. Is Brandon Lowe getting MVP buzz? Of course not. Could you pick Brandon Lowe out of a lineup? Yeah me neither. He’s the only guy on the Rays who hit double digit homers but he’s hitting just .269 on the season and posted a 2.1 bWAR, nearly a full win below some of his compatriots in the league. Tampa is a team effort with great starters and even better relievers that probably won’t go far in the playoffs.

No, this award seems to be coming down between two hitters:
– D.J. LeMahieu of the Yankees, who had a monster batting season and really carried a team that was missing its two best hitters for half the season.
Jose Abreu, who also blew up this year, hitting .317 with 19 homers in 60 games to lead the resurgent and dangerous White Sox into the playoffs for the first time in more than a decade.

I like the Abreu narrative. I’ll go Abreu 1, LeMahieu 2 and Trout getting sympathy 3rd place votes for yet another playoff-less season for the Angels. Cleveland’s leading slugger Jose Ramirez continues to mash in anonymity and should be in the conversation for 3rd here as well.


NL MVP: well, its pretty clear that the three best hitters this year in the league were all in the NL. Freddie Freeman, who has never finished in the top 3 in MVP voting amazingly, blew up this year, posting an OPS figure above 1,100 and really continuing to show why he’s consistently year in, year out one of the most underrated hitters in the league. Meanwhile, Mookie Betts quietly led the league in bWAR with a 3.4 figure in just 60 games (that’s projecting to a 9-win season in a full year), but a good chunk of that WAR is defense-related (which some writers struggle to evaluate). Lastly you have our own Juan Soto, who just put up a 212 OPS+ season (the 26th best single season OPS+ figure EVER), became the youngest player to ever lead the league in BA, and posted 2.9 offensive bWAR in just *47 games* (that’s a 10-win offensive season projected to 162 games, before taking away his defensive correction which drags him down from an overall bWAR perspective). And none of this even recognizes any of the guys in San Diego (specifically Fernando Tatis Jror Manny Machado) who have rocketed that team to respectability quickly.

Honestly, I think the narrative gets Freeman the award, given that he’s never come close to winning it anymore. The award goes Freeman 1, Betts 2 and Soto 3. Maybe Tatis takes 3rd over Soto, penalizing the Nat for his false-positive Covid test that cost him a chunk of the season.


AL Cy Young: I think it has to be Cleveland’s Shane Bieber, who gets the pitching “triple crown” in the AL: he leads the league in Wins (8), ERA (1.63) and Strikeouts (122, which worked out to an astounding 14.2 K/9 rate). His ERA+ figure was 281, good for the 3rd best single season figure … EVER.

I’m not even sure who fills out the rest of the AL bracket: perhaps Toronto’s Hyung-Jin Ryu 2nd for his solid performance in his debut Toronto season, and then Dallas Keuchel, who posted a sub 2.00 ERA for the White Sox.


NL Cy Young: this race is a mess. If it were me, i’d be seriously considering Max Fried of Atlanta, who was basically unhittable all year (7-0, 2.25 ERA), but who got hurt and did not pitch enough innings to even qualify for the ERA title. But Cincinnati’s Trevor Bauer was even more unhittable, posting some astounding numbers this year: just 5-4 as a W/L record but his ERA was a league leading 1.73, he also led the league in WHIP with an amazing 0.795 figure, he posted a 276 ERA+ (the 5th best seasonal figure ever), and he struck out 12.3 K/9. Just amazing.

I think it goes Bauer 1, Fried 2 and then someone like Yu Darvish or Jacob deGrom 3rd, to recognize their excellent seasons as well.


AL Rookie of the Year: who knows: there’s been so many debuts this season, it has been hard to keep track. I’ll go with who I see getting more sportswriters buzz; Kyle Lewis of Seattle.

NL Rookie of the Year: I think the narrative gives it to San Diego’s Jake Croneworth, who exploded out of nowhere to have a solid rookie season at the age of 26. Yes, there’s some eye popping figures coming from Milwaukee rookie reliever Devin Williams (53 strikeouts of 100 batters faced, or a 17.7 K/9 rate, good for an ERA+ of … get this …. 1375!), but he’s a middle reliever. we’ll see how the voters evaluate him.


Managers of the Year: how do you possibly evaluate managers in a short season like this? I default to “manager of the team that surprised people the most and snuck into the playoffs.” Following this theory i’ll go Rick Renteria of the White Sox in the AL(who improved from going 72-89 last year to 35-25 this year) and Don Mattingly of the Marlins in the NL (whose Marlins won just 57 games last year). San Diego’s Jayce Tingler deserves votes here too, as does Cincinnati’s David Bell.

There you have it.

Nats finish with 11th pick next season

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A useless 3-game winning streak against another also-ran from the division ended up costing the Nats at least 5 spots in the 2021 draft.

Assuming that MLB does not do any chicanery with the 2021 draft order, the Nats stand to pick 11th overall, down from projecting to at worst 6th overall a week ago.

http://www.tankathon.com/mlb

Despite the drop, the 2021 draft projects to be a pretty solid draft, thanks to the 5-round draft done this year and the corresponding dozens of decent college prospects who were forced to return to school (and, for prep players, forced to actually attend school, some of which chose the juco route, making them immediately eligible for the draft).

We have some 2021 draft content in the works; a drop out of the top 10 probably costs the nats a shot at one of the more “famous” names in the draft (Kumar Rocker, Jack Leiter, Matt McClean, etc) it does bring into play one of many very solid players from a second tier of guys. Could we be looking at someone like LSU’s starter Jadan Hill or Ole Miss’ starter Gunnar Hogeland? Could a run on starters at the top of the 2021 draft force the Nats to actually take a position player? We’ll see.

Written by Todd Boss

September 28th, 2020 at 8:25 am

Race to the Bottom: 2021 Draft outlook

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For the first time in quite a while, the Nats are projected to be drafting in the top 10. The last time the team was projected to be drafting this high was in 2011, when they picked 6th overall and somehow nabbed Anthony Rendon in the process.

Here’s where the “standings” for the #1 pick sit as of 9/14/20, with the Nats exactly 75% of the way done with their season (better link at tankathon.com)

  1. Pittsburgh: 14-30. entered the season in real “tanking” mode and have successfully executed their plan. The last time they drafted #1 overall they managed to snag Gerrit Cole, but their history of drafting in the 1st round is basically abhorrent since. The best 1st rounder they’ve managed since is Austin Meadows, who the team traded away to acquire Chris Archer. Archer has pitched awfully for Pittsburgh and is missing 2020 due to shoulder surgery. Its no wonder Pittsburgh remains mired in the second division.
  2. Boston at 17-31: wow the Boston fans must just be ecstatic with the management of their team. One of the wealthiest franchises in the world, which cleared north of $500M in revenues in 2019, is the 2nd worst team in baseball after crying poor and trading away a generational talent last off-season in Mookie Betts. At least their “plan” is now going to net them a top pick in what should be a stacked draft.
  3. Arizona (17-31) certainly didn’t expect themselves to be this bad, not after buying an ace in the off-season in Madison Bumgarner and making a bunch more moves. They also face one of the easiest remaining schedules, so if they play a bit better they might drop down a bit on this list.
  4. Texas at 17-30 is shocking; i thought they had one of the best rotations in the game heading into 2020. That rotation has collapsed; they lost ace Corey Kluber after one start, and three of their rotation members have regressed horribly.
  5. Washington at 17-28: the team has a 1.5 game “lead” over #6 Kansas City, and we’re coming into a stretch where we have to play a slew of doubleheaders coming up, meaning a slew of 4-A starters and an already-taxed bullpen getting shredded.

What do I think is going to happen here on out? I sense the Nats continuing their trend and staying roughly at the #4 or #5 range. They’d need to win three straight games just to get into the #6 slot right now … something they haven’t managed to do since the first week of the season.

The 2021 draft, coincidentally, is stacked. Tons of solid collegiate arms at the top, right in the Nat’s wheel house. The last mock I saw had this as a top 5: Kumar Rocker, Jack Leiter, Jud Fabian, Adrian Del Castillo, and Jaden Hill as the top 5, all of whom are solid college players who could move fast.

Ask Brittany 9/10/20

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Rizzo (finally) gets paid. Photo via mlb.com

Man, it seems like its been forever since we’ve seen a Nats beat reporter do a mailbag. And unfortunately the one I found is behind the Athletic’s paywall, By Athletic Nats beat reporter Brittany Ghiroli. No worries though; you’ll get the gist.

Q: What are your reactions to the (Mike) Rizzo contract?
A: It’s about damn time. I just do not understand why either Mike Rizzo or Davey Martinez entered this season w/o an extension. The only thing I can think is that both had had informal discussions with the ownership group that promised them extensions at a later time.

Brittany’s take: Finally. 3yr extension, with a big bump in pay from $4M/year on his previous deal. But she also notes how disrespectful this delay was to the rest of the front office staff, who live and die by Rizzo’s contract status. Hard to disagree.

Q: Have you heard about any extension talks with (Juan) Soto?  
A: I hope they have … but it seems unlikely. Juan Soto has already established himself as one of the league’s elite players, so there seems to be little incentive for him to sign away any flexibility. He got a “big” pre-arb raise, which frankly is still peanuts compared to his value, and he’s already guaranteed to be a Super-2 guy, meaning four arb years. If i’m the Nats maybe i’m doing what they did with Harper and Rendon; buy out the arb years with sizeable raises so they’re not arguing every off-season, see if they can get one post-arb FA year thrown in (he’s FA after 2024 season), and make it worthwhile to both sides.

Brittany notes that Soto’s agent is Scott Boras, so forget about an extension. She is unaware of any extension talk, but points out a couple of Braves deals that could serve as landmarks.

Q: Any details on whether the front office has moved on from competing this year to preparing for a stronger ’21 season?
A: Well, we saw no trades this year, meaning zero attempts to shore up multiple areas of need on the current roster. But then again, that might have been a factor of the price tag and our own depleted farm system. I mean, would you have wanted to give up Cade Cavalli or Jackson Rutledge for a month of a #3 starter hitting free agency after the season? Hell no. Meanwhile on the field, the team has been frisky this week, but (as of this writing on 9/11/20) remain 5.5 games out of a wild card spot and still projected for either the #6 or #7 overall pick next July.
Brittany notes the same thing: the lack of moves at the trade deadline tipped their hand.

Q: Any insight on moves Rizzo should consider in 2021 free agency?
A: man, it exhausts me to even start considering this. But here’s 2 minutes on their FA outlook. Using COTS site, they are set to lose Eaton, Sanchez, Doolittle, Suzuki, Kendrick, Thames, Holt, Cabrera, Zimmerman and Freeman to FA (yes some of these guys have options but … right now its hard to see any of these options exercised).

So that means the team is in need of: 1-2 Starting pitchers, a corner OF, two veteran lefty relievers, a starting quality catcher, and a big chunk of their infield depth. Assuming they go young in 2021 the infield could be anchored by Kieboom, Turner and Garcia, so they’d be in the market for a 1B/DH platoon, plus a couple of utility guys who can move around. So, not a ton but also some work to do. the have $126M committed before arb raises of roughly $25M (could be more depending on how much Soto gets), so that leaves about $50M of FA room to work with. We can’t get a good SP and a solid catcher for that, but we should be able to get the edges covered.

Brittany repeats the same list of players, and says the priorities will be similar to what I put.

Draft in 2021 to be pushed back

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Finally, a change involving the draft, amateur signings and what not that I agree with and believe makes sense. Today, as reported by Kiley McDaniel and repeated by Steve Adams at mlbtraderumors, MLB announced that the 2021 draft is not going to be held the first week of June (as it always has) but instead will be pushed back to the all Star break in the middle of July.

Brilliant.

Immediate benefits that I can see:

  • No more draft and distractions right in the midst of the CWS playoffs, which has been happening for years with more and more attention brought as the draft has become more and more important to teams. I felt like it was just a matter of time before the CWS saw a player get drafted then immediately quit the team (as we’ve started to see with collegiate football players who quit on their teams instead of playing some meaningless bowl game where all they can do is get hurt).
  • Same (to a lesser extent) for High School players: most are done with their seasons by early June but some have slight lingering end of season playoffs.
  • As noted in the article, the gap this opens up several weeks after the end of the CWS (June 26th in 2019) to host any number of pre-draft activities that make sense. The articles mention two interesting ideas: draft showcases and pre-draft Medical combines. Other pro sports have these kinds of things and they’d be great to incorporate into MLB. Teams desperately want pre-draft medical information on players but have had zero way to get it done in a nation-wide, coordination fashion. Perhaps this gap would allow the teams to coordinate on a national event where all the top prospects get flown in (not sure who pays though) to participate.
  • These kinds of events, rolled into the All Star weekend, would do nothing but add more attention to the future of the sport. MLB has long failed to really work on its burgeoning pipeline of players, for years almost not even recognizing the fact they were drafting players. Now they have a national draft night, they have a futures game, and more events will bring more attention to the next generation of players.

Still no word on the # of rounds in 2021 draft; it has to be at least 20 per the agreement so I’d bet on 20. I think (based on the elimination of the short-season) it should be closer to 25 but losing the 21st-25th rounds probably means pretty little.

thoughts?

Post publishing update: Keith Law published his own reactions to the draft pushback.

Written by Todd Boss

September 2nd, 2020 at 11:09 am

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Nats do absolutely nothing at Trade Deadline

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https://www.mlb.com/nationals/news/nationals-no-trades-2020-trade-deadline

The Nats on 8/31/20 are 12-20.  They have the second worst record in the NL.  They have the 5th worst record in the majors.  But thanks to the crazy 2020 playoff structure they sit just 3.5 games out of a Wild Card spot.  They’ve had season-ending injuries or opt-outs of multiple planned core players; they’ve lost to presumed rotation members in Joe Ross and Stephen Strasburg, they’ve lost a middle-of-the-order off-season acquisition bat in Starlin Castro.  They’ve lost both their lefty specialist relievers in Roenis Elias and Sam Freeman.  They lost an important bench bat/team leader in Ryan Zimmerman.  They’re now throwing out AAA starters twice every five games, and have had severely disappointing seasons from a slew of players they were counting on (Anibel Sanchez, Adam Eaton, Carter Kieboom, Eric Thames, Daniel Hudson, Sean Doolittle, and so on).

So what did they do at the deadline?  Zip.  Nothing.  Nada.

Maybe the farm system is now so utterly depleted (given that they’ve already called up their consensus #1, #2, #5 and #10 prospects on the year with little impact) that they couldn’t offer enough in trade to actually acquire someone they wanted.   Perhaps more to the point, the price tag it would have taken to acquire starters (given the spate of pitcher injuries this year and the competition in the area) may have been too high for the team’s taste (how pissed would you be if they had flipped someone like Jackson Rutledge or Cade Cavalli yesterday for a 3rd starter one-month rental?).   It seems foolish to think they have the cavalry coming in to help; right now the only 10-day DL player they have is Seth Romero, who is only up because they needed a lefty bullpen arm.  Brock Holt?  That’s not a savior.  Neither is Josh Harrison (though to be honest he has hit well).  So I guess the plan is to assume that all those veterans listed above who have sucked so far are short sample size regression to the mean candidates and they’ll be rebounding … within the next few days?

Meanwhile, the rest of the division at least tried to improve:

Not earth shattering moves, but it is notable that the Braves lead the division with a rotation that’s being held together with scotch tape, and they just acquired Milone to fill in because he’s better than whatever else they apparently have at their disposal (remember when people shuddered at the pipeline of starters in the Atlanta system?  yeah’ they’ve all crapped the bed this year).

So, what to make of this?  Are you happy they did nothing?  did we want a sell-off?  Or do we have confidence they can turn it around and squeak into the crap-shoot playoffs for 2020?

Strasburg done for season; is this the dagger that ends the Nats in 2020?

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Will Crowe gets the call.   Photo via SportsTalk

Will Crowe gets the call. Photo via SportsTalk

Word today that Strasburg is having surgery on his wrist and is heading to 60-day DL, effectively ending his season.  Wil Crowe becomes the latest Nats top-10 prospect (behind Kieboom, Garcia, Romero ) to get called up this season and attempt to keep the team afloat.  By most rankings, the Nats current #1, #2, and #4 prospects are now active (plus wherever you think Romero ranks, anywhere between 10 and 14 on most boards).  Suddenly its looking like a youth movement in Washington.  (side note: our farm system is going to be dead last next year if all these guys exhaust rookie eligiblity).

Is Strasburg’s injury unsurpassable for this team?  Eh, probably not; he was already hurt but in his absence the team is sputtering along playing about .400 ball.

Of course, in the 2020 crazy season, .400 ball only puts them like a game out of the wild card.  Eight teams out of the NL make it, meaning that ST Louis (currently sitting at 7-8) is in playoff position.  So the Nats at 9-13 are … 1.5 games back?  My math is a little fuzzy on “games back” logic right now given differing numbers of games played.  So a weekend sweep suddenly rockets the team back into play off position.

The larger question is this: The Nats are losing piece after piece, and I wonder how long they conintue to hold on.  Both lefty relievers are done, their #2 starter done, their FA second baseman signing done.   They were already down a 5th starter thanks to Joe Ross‘ opt out.  I mean, i’m glad to see all these prospets coming up; its great to be able to actually see these guys play.  But man, can this team hold on?

Luckily for the Nats … the “class” of the division (Atlanta) is just 4 games ahead, and themselves seem to be falling apart too.  Maybe its a race of attrition until October.

Written by Todd Boss

August 22nd, 2020 at 3:19 pm

Holy Cow Romero has been called up!

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Romero gets the call. Photo via milb.com

Romero gets the call. Photo via milb.com

 

I first saw this tidbit on Keith Law‘s chat today and was kind of shocked.  Then i confirmed it via the nats transaction page; Seth Romero has been called up.  Thanks to a spate of injuries and ineffectiveness-driven-dl trips (ahem Sean Doolittle), the Nats bullpen suddenly has zero left handers, and Romero has reportedly been impressing the Nats brass in Fredericksburg.

So he’s up.  Big board updated as well as the Draft tracker for all our still-signed draftees (everyone is now either Washington, Fredericksburg or XST for 2020).

So, part of me is not entirely surprised at this move … despite his limited minor’s experience, he’s rule-5 eligible this coming off-season (as is all the rest of the college-aged 2017 draftees, most notably Wil Crowe), so it seemed  highly likely that the team would be adding him at some point anyway.  He’s far enough past the deadline to ensure an extra year of control.  And they have a need.  I suppose they could have tapped a few of the other options they have in Fredericksburg (Matt Cronin and Nick Wells are both lefty and both relievers) … but having Romero up seems to give a higher-ceiling guy in the pen.

I gotta say; quite a turn of fortune for Romero after all he’s gone through.  Can’t wait to see him throw against real MLB hitters.

this by the way makes for the following roster chagnes:

  • 28/28 on active roster: Freeman, Doolittle to DL, Harris back, Romero called up.
  • 38/40: Romero added to 40-man
  • 57/60 on extended; no change here.

Written by Todd Boss

August 13th, 2020 at 2:02 pm

MLBPipeline updated Nats top 30 post 2020 draft

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Samuel Infante has some pretty wide variety of initial rankings in the various prospect lists.  Photo via BaseballFactory.com

Samuel Infante has some pretty wide variety of initial rankings in the various prospect lists. Photo via BaseballFactory.com

Just a couple days after Fangraphs announced their mid-season updates, MLBPipeline did as well.

No changes from their Mar 2020 list other than to include three of our 2020 draft picks.  Lets talk about where they got inserted:

  • 2020 1st rounder Cade Cavalli slots in at #4 in the system, which is exactly where BA and Fangraphs put him, and behind the exact top 3 that everyone has for the system (Kieboom, Garcia, Rutledge).  Consistent.
  • 2020 2nd rounder Cole Henry slots in at #6 in our system per MLB, about where BA has him but ahead of where Fangraphs put him.  I think i’m ok with this ranking, given that he’s behind Wil Crowe but ahead of two very young starter prospects in Eddy Yean and Andry Lara.
  • 2020 supp 2nd rounder Samuel Infante comes in at #26, well down the list and well below either BA or fangraphs.  #26 in a system is nearly non-prospect territory, and puts him below Jackson Cluff.  Who would you rather have?  Infante or Cluff?

The addition of these three guys bumps the following players off the back end of hte top 30:   Jakson Reetz, Jhonatan German and … Nick Raquet.

 

Written by Todd Boss

August 11th, 2020 at 10:17 am

Fangraphs updates the Board with 2020 picks

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Henry makes fangraph's top 10. Photo via ai.com

Henry makes fangraph’s top 10. Photo via ai.com

A small diversion from the Nats increasingly awful 4-7 (the equivalent of 11-19 in a full season) start to the abbreviated season…currently in line for the 5th draft pick in 2021 and somehow missing the “basically everyone makes the playoffs” 2020 post-season.

We posted a couple weeks ago about Baseball America’s updated prospect rankings with our 2020 draftees … now by inference Fangraphs has done the same.  They announced today that “The Board” has been updated with bonus amounts (which must have been an amazing amount of work to do, especially to track down bonuses for post 11th rounders and for all the random July 2nd picks who don’t exactly go out of their way to announce paltry bonus figures), and I noticed our 2020 picks included in their system rankings.

So, here’s some quick notes on our 2020 draftees and how they slotted in:

  • 1st rounder Cade Cavalli pops up as our 4th ranked prospect, right after Jackson Rutledge.  This is basically what BA did as well.
  • 2nd rounder Cole Henry is ranked 10th, as compared to BA’s 5th.  This puts him just ahead of the likes of Tim Cate and Seth Romero and seem a more appropriate ranking spot than the lofty heights that BA put him.
  • 2nd round supp pick Samuel Infante is placed 18th as compared to BA’s 10th.  This puts him well below Yasiel Antuna and right in the same range as Jackson Cluff.
  • 3rd rounder UCLA closer Holden Powell did not make the top 24 ranked players, as compared to BA’s ranking of 14.  This mean’s Holden is well below the other relievers ranked in our system, including Matt Cronin, James Bourque and Tyler Dyson.  Again, a more sane ranking than what BA did.

Otherwise Fangraphs’ rankings are unchanged from their Dec 2019 ranking, which means they continue to exclude some names from their list altogether that some Nats fans may call out.  Guys like Jake Irvin, Jackson Tetreault, Cole Freeman, Tres Barrera, Ben BraymerJhonatan German and Steven Fuentes get no love from the Fangraphs duo of Eric Longenhagen and Kiley McDaniel.