Nationals Arm Race

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

WBC Wrap-up: USA Wins!

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United States outfielder Adam Jones grabs a catch above the wall for the out on the Dominican Republic's Manny Machado during the seventh inning of a second-round World Baseball Classic baseball game Saturday, March 18, 2017, in San Diego. (AP Photo/Gregory Bull) ORG XMIT: CAGB137

Jones makes the catch of a lifetime for USA; photo via USAToday (AP Photo/Gregory Bull)

KW in the previous comments pointed out that I picked against Puerto Rico in every round.  Yes I did.  I’m a sucker for pitching, and I just never thought PR’s pitching staff would take them all the way.  And in the end … it came down to pitching to decide the WBC.

Here’s how the WBC ended up.

(quick links for the WBC:   Official site here, wikipedia site here with schedules, and another wiki site here with rosters).

In the semis: I predicted that the Netherlands and USA would advance, with the Netherlands winning the whole thing.  So what happened?

In the first semi: Puerto Rico and the Netherlands played a pretty entertaining game (side note: why the heck doesn’t Wladimir Balentien get a MLB contract??  He’s destroyed Japanese pitching over the last several years and wasn’t exactly awful during his short stint in the MLB; perhaps he wants to stay over there.  But he’s a beast) that went to extra innings before Puerto Rico walked off with the 4-3 win (using the 11th inning placed runners rules, which certainly make for a quick end to games but seem … well a bit abrupt).

In the other semi, the Nats own Tanner Roark (finally) got the start against previously undefeated (and, really, unchallenged) Japan.  (rant: I hate to be the cynic, but couldn’t have Roark just hung around Palm Beach the last 3 weeks and just show up in LA for this start??  NOW do you see why I hate it when our pitchers get “invited” to pitch in the WBC?).  Luckily, he pitched well, throwing 4+ scoreless innings before making way and thus not getting the W.  The US squeaked out enough runs to win.

In the final, Marcus Stroman (former Nats draftee, I remind you) threw 6+ no-hit innings and the USA bats finally wore down PR’s pitching and won going away 8-0.

Several good post-WBC wrap up columns; one I like from Jim Bowden (yeah yeah boo hiss) where he talks winners and losers, and another good one from Tom Verducci, where he talks about some high-lights and has some intelligent suggestions.

Great event, certainly more exciting and better baseball than we’ve seen in year’s past, and I agree with both Bowden and Verducci that this may have finally been the WBC to “turn the tide” on American participation.  Both visible critics Noah Snydergaard and Mike Trout have done 180-degree reversals on the event which is great to see.

Next up!  Nats roster finalization.

 

Written by Todd Boss

March 23rd, 2017 at 12:13 pm

WBC Round 2 Results and Round 3 predictions

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2017_wbc_logo

The USA has never advanced past the 2nd round of the WBC before, and they get a clutch performance to beat the defending champs (and best team on paper) to advance in 2017.  Here’s a quick review of the Round 2 results and a look ahead/predictions for round 3.

(quick links for the WBC:   Official site here, wikipedia site here with schedules, and another wiki site here with rosters).

Predictions for round 2:

Round 2 Results:

Pool E: Predicted Japan and the Netherlands

Actuals: Israel continued its hot streak early and downed Cuba in what I predict is the 3rd place game, while Japan held serve and beat the Netherlands in extras.  Netherlands turned around the next day and destroyed Israel, handing them their first tourney loss.  Japan handled Cuba to more or less guarantee it spot in the WBC finals on 3/14/17.  On the pool’s final day, the Netherlands destroyed Cuba 14-1 while Japan remained undefeated and my predictions held out; Japan and Netherlands advance to the final round.

Pool F: Predicted DR and USA.

Actuals: Puerto Rico played an inspired game and downed the DR in the first pool game, which puts the DR’s chances of advancing in jeopardy early.  USA held serve and beat Venezuela on a couple of late homers and then the DR beat Venezuela the next night to essentially eliminate them.  The DR needs some help; they would be benefitted by a USA loss to Puerto Rico …. which they got.  The US kept trying to catch up but could never recover from an early 4-0 deficit and dropped a 6-5 decision to Puerto Rico to guarantee PR’s advancement and to setup a do-or-die rematch between USA and DR.  In that game, US starter Danny Duffy wiggled out of jams early and the US’s big bats came through and they downed the defending champs DR 4-2 to advance to their first finals.  Puerto Rico and USA advance.

(tangent; really?  Danny Duffy?  That’s the best starter the US could come up with?  The USA’s three primary starters in this tourney were Chris ArcherMarcus Stroman and Duffy.  Here’s a quick link to 2016’s fangraphs pitcher WAR leaders and thus here’s a quick list of all the US-born players they could have selected ahead of any of these three guys: Kershaw, Snydergaard, Scherzer (who we know was set to attend but got injured), Porcello, Verlander, Sale, Kluber, Bumgarner, Price (also currently injured), Hendricks, Lester, Strasburg, Hill, Arrieta, Grey.  Stroman was 21st in the majors in pitcher WAR last year, behind every one of these guys.  I mean, come on.  How can we alter this event so that the US can put out a rotation of Kershaw, Snydergaard and Bumgarner??)

Round 3 Predictions:

Now we’re to the semis.  Honestly I think the two best teams are unfortunately matched up against each other in the first semi (Netherlands and Puerto Rico).  I’ll go with the Netherlands in one semi, the USA in the other, and then the Netherlands to beat the US in the final.

ps. Yes I agree with all prior commenters; having Daniel Murphy and Tanner Roark on this team has been a complete waste.  I just hope it doesn’t affect their regular seasons…

WBC Round 1 Review and Round 2 Predictions

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2017_wbc_logo

Some major surprises in round 1 of the World Baseball Classic (WBC).  Lets quickly review what happened and then make some educated guesses about Round 2.

(quick links for the WBC:   Official site here, wikipedia site here with schedules, and another wiki site here with rosters).

Here were my predictions for the four groups in Round 1:

  • Predictions for Advancers from Pool A: South Korea, Netherlands
  • Predictions for Advancers from Pool B: Japan, Cuba
  • Predictions for Advancers from Pool C: USA, DR.
  • Predictions for Advancers from Pool D: Mexico, Venezuela

Round 2 starts before round 1 ends, so this post will be slightly delayed waiting for the final Pool C/D results, but my predictions for Round 2 will have already been written.

Actual Results

  • Pool A: Israel and Netherlands.  In a huge shock, hosts South Korea were surprised by Israel to open the tourney, then were blanked by a Netherlands team that may be a dark horse to win this thing.  Two games in and both the Netherlands and Israel were 2-0, ensuring advancement.  Korea beats Chinese Taipei to at least salvage 3rd place so they don’t have to re-qualify, but this is a huge upset for the former Runners-up.  Israel topped the Netherlands after both had already advanced, though there’s no real advantage to finishing 1st or 2nd.
  • Pool B: Japan and Cuba.  The two favorites both advanced, though Cuba had to hold off a pesky Australia in the do-or-die game.  As might have been predicted, China finished dead last, scoring just one run in 3 games.  Japan scored 22 runs in three games to easily advance.
  • Pool C: went basically chalk, with the US and DR winning their opening games, Columbia securing 3rd place over doormats Canada and the DR beating USA in their big-time matchup.  However that tells little of the story; Columbia’s Jose Quintana shut down the US team with nearly 6 no-hit innings and they needed extra innings to advance.  Then in the US-DR game, the USA took advantage of some sloppy fielding to take a commanding 5-0 lead in the game, only to watch our own Tanner Roark get battered around and then World Series hero Andrew Miller cough up not one but two homers to lose the lead and the game 7-5.  Columbia hung tough with the DR, taking them to extra innings before caputulating and giving up 7 in the 10th to make the score look like a blowout.  The US finally broke out while destroying Canada, scoring 7 runs in the first two innings.  US and DR advance.
  • Pool D: Italy kicked off the group with yet another stunning upset, rallying for 4 runs in the 9th to beat group favorite Mexico.  Meanwhile Puerto Rico put a beat-down on group favorite Venezuela, surprising me and shaking up the group.  Venezuela then beat Italy in a win-or-go-home game by the amazing score of 11-10 in extra innings, a game that featured massive swings and should be an instant classic.  Puerto Rico calmly advanced past Mexico, putting themselves in the drivers seat and sending the Mexicans home early.  I had Puerto Rico finishing third; instead they go 3-0 and top the group.  In the pool’s final game, Mexico saved some face and downed Venezeula, meaning all three teams finished with a meager 1-2 record.  Italy and Venezuela advanced to a “tiebreaker” game by virtue of being less awful in the pool than Mexico and headed to a playoff.  In the final 1st round game, Venezuela needed a 3-run rally in the 9th to surpass Italy and advance.

 

Round 2 Predictions:

Pool E: the two advancing teams from each of the Far East pools, hosted at the Tokyo Dome: Netherlands, Israel, Japan and Cuba.

Israel already proved their mettle, though their decider against the Netherlands may not have had the same import had it been a win-or-go-home game.  I think on paper its still Japan and the Netherlands with the most talent.  Cuba advanced but seems to be the weakest of the bunch.  I’ll go with my gut and predict that Japan and the Netherlands advance, with the Netherlands beating Israel when it counts.

Pool F: the two advancing teams from the Northern Hemisphere pools, hosted at Petco Park in San Diego: DR, USA, Puerto Rico, Venezuela

The DR looks unstoppable and the USA was just an inning or two from beating the DR themselves.  Venezeula limped into the final round and seems like its just too old of a squad.  The big game will be US-Puerto Rico to see who joins the DR in San Diego.  I’m still not entirely convinced that the US will advance (since they never have before), but on paper they look so much better than Puerto Rico.  I’ll go DR and USA.

 

 

Written by Todd Boss

March 14th, 2017 at 8:32 am

Pitching Depth looking good, Norris waived, and other ST observations

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Norris won't get a shot at redemption here. Photo Mark Zuckerman via Nationals Insider.com

Norris won’t get a shot at redemption here. Photo Mark Zuckerman via Nationals Insider.com

Some big player news rumors hit the airwaves this morning; Derek Norris, who two months ago we thought was our opening day starter, is reportedly being put on waivers for the eventual purpose of releasing him.  The timing is no accident; his contract is not fully guaranteed for the year and the Nats can get out of paying the full freight and only be on the hook for $700k by doing this.  I think Norris obviously gets picked up by another team, but they’ll be waiting so they won’t have to pay hin north of $4M.  He’s too good defensively to not get a job, and some team may think he’s a great reclamation project given his past hitting.

(Quick links: ST 2017 hitting stats and pitching stats for the Nats)

Quick implications of the move:

  • Looking obvious that our 1-2 catching punch will be Matt Wieters and Jose Lobaton.  Hard to see Pedro Severino as anything but AAA insurance for the time being.
  • This also thins our Catcher ranks: past Severino is just Raudy Read in terms of depth.  I’m hoping Spencer Kieboom makes it through waivers …
  • This puts the Nats 40-man roster at 39/40, leaving one spot for a quick add for someone at the end of spring training.  We’ve been talking about Vance Worley being an arm that makes sense at the back of the bullpen, but he’s not impressed so far this spring; 8ip, 5 runs and just two strikeouts.

I’d like to talk about two other important arms though; Erick Fedde and Austin Voth.  Fedde now has 7 IP, has given up just 3 hits and zero runs.  Voth has fewer innings (4 2/3) but has zero runs and a 5-0 K/BB ratio.  Meanwhile their competition for “first in line for a spot start” A.J. Cole has been shredded this spring: 8 2/3 innings, 10 hits, 7 earned runs.  Yes I know you often cannot trust spring training stats … but not in the cases of minor leaguers looking to impress while they’re in the presence of major leaguers.  These guys are trying.  And right now I’m feeling a ton better about our near-to-the-majors starting pitcher coverage post Giolito-Lopez trade than I was at the beginning of spring.  Is it time to see if Cole makes more sense as a reliever?

(Tangent: in case you’re not on ten-zillion RSS feeds about baseball and don’t know how Giolito/Lopez are doing: Giolito has by all accounts cleaned up whatever damage the Nats did to his mechanics and looks solid this spring: 9IP, 2 runs, 6-2 K/BB.  Lopez has struggled; 8 2/3rds innings, 6 runs, 7-3 K/BB.

Other interesting ST stat lines to point out:

  • Both Adam Lind and Clint Robinson have struggled badly: Lind is 4-20, Robinson is 4-21.  Matt Skole is missing an opportunity here; he’s just 2-13 on the spring, with one of those two hits being a homer in the opener that had MartyC all hot and bothered.
  • Brian Goodwin is not impressing in his attempt to win the spare OF job; he’s just 2-19 on the spring while “King of Spring Training” Michael Taylor is tearing the cover off the ball (he’s 11-26 with two homers).  Looking more and more like Taylor is getting another shot at the title … and inevitably starting when old-man Jayson Werth hits the D/L at some point.
  • Jhonathan Solano, now starting for Columbia in the WBC, is 10-12 with the Nats.  That’s right; he’s hitting .833.  Good to know; my comment above about us suddenly being rather thin at catcher may not be so bad if Solano keeps it up and earns a 40-man re-call.
  • Wilmer Difo may not have a realistic shot at the opening day roster, but he’s doing the most he can, hitting .400 so far.
  • Lastly, Ryan Zimmerman.  0-13 so far this spring.  At least he’s putting the ball in play (just 3 punch outs).  Too bad all the 1B types in camp that may push him to the bench are also struggling.
  • We all know about Koda Glover and how he’s crushing it.  4IP, one hit, 7-0 K/BB.  If he keeps this up, we’ll have a closer for $550k instead of the $15M that Melancon and Jansen earned.  And that, my friends, is how you build a closer.

Lastly, since i’m clearly trolling specific people by calling out Giolito and Skole stat lines, lets look up some other lightening rod ex-Nats and their spring stats:

  • Future Hall of Famer Max Schrock: only 7 ABs for Oakland this spring training, but he did go 2-7.  He was an NRI but clearly seems set to return to the minors.  No surprise there.  The question is whether or not he can repeat his performance at the AA level in 2017.
  • Nick Pivetta, which bought us the tumultuous Jonathan Papelbon era, has a 2.25 ERA in 8 IP for Philadelphia.
  • Tony Renda is crushing it as an NRI for Cincinnati: he’s 11-25 this season.
  • Felipe Rivero‘s statline resembles Glover’s so far this spring: 4IP, 1hit, 0 runs and 5 Ks.  You have to give up talent to get talent right?

anyway; what do you guys think about some of these guys?

What would a Cuban WBC team look like if everyone could play?

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Cespedes is my all-Cuba cleanup hitter. Photo via Business Insider

Cespedes is my all-Cuba cleanup hitter. Photo via Business Insider

I saw a little throw-away post at USAtoday.com before the start of the 2016 baseball season: there were no less than 23 Cuban-born players on MLB rosters on 2016 opening day.  And even more defected or were signed in the 2016 calendar year.

How awesome is that?  I think its great that we have a huge contingent of Cubans playing in the league again and I wish that a generation hadn’t been lost due to politics.  A good percentage of the teams in the majors now have at least one Cuban on their 40-man roster somewhere, and many have multiple IFA Cuban signees scattered in their lower minors.  Not the Nats though; we got kinda burned by Yunesky Maya and then blew our IFA budget last year on some D.R. players; perhaps they’ll go after some of the rising talent next July 2 window.

I’ve long hoped for a unification of the Cuban National team to compete in the WBC; I think they’d take so much pride in their team it would really add to the event.  However it looks as if the Cuban government will continue to hold a grudge and prevent any defectors from representing their country in the 2017 WBC.  The WBC rosters were announced recently, and we’ll see some of these names in the analysis below for reasons that will become apparent soon.

So, since we won’t get a full-strength Cuban WBC team, I thought I’d take a stab at what could have been.   I did a similar post in March of 2013 but with all the recent defections the roster looks much improved.

 


 

Manager: Fredi Gonzalez of the Atlanta Braves.  The only Cuban-born hall of Famer Tony Perez can be the bench coach.  They can bring out the likes of Tony Oliva and Camilo Pascual to be his assistants; they’re the most decorated Cuban ex-pros still living.

Pitching Coaches: Livan Hernandez and Orlando “El Duque” Hernandez: the brothers re-unite to teach the staff how to throw junk balls and make starts despite being hooked on Marlboro Reds.

Hitting Coaches:  Jose Canseco, Rafael Palmeiro.  These two can double as “Strength coaches.”  :-)

Positional Players:

  • C: Yasmani Grandal, starting catcher for the Dodgers, 2015 All-Star.
  • 1B: Jose Abreu, 91 homers in his first three years in the MLB, Rookie of the Year in 2014, when he also made the All-Star team and won the Silver Slugger.
  • 2B: Aledmys Diaz: debut in 2016 and made the All-Star team; prodution fell off so he “only” finished 5th in 2016 Rookie of the Year voting.
  • 3B: Adonis Garcia: a solid bat for Atlanta at the corner despite debuting at age 30.
  • SS: Jose Iglesias: 2015 All-Star for Detroit after finishing 2nd in RoY voting in 2013.
  • LF:  Jorge Soler: Flipped to Kansas City this off-season, escaping a log-jam in Chicago.  Huge power, yet to reach his potential.
  • CF: Yoenis Cespedes: just signed the largest contract of the off-season; not really a CF but played there nonetheless.  2-time All-Star and Home Run derby winner 
  • RF: Yasiel Puig: despite his demotion in 2016 has the potential to be one of the elite players in the game, which he in-arguably was his first two years in the league.  2015 all-Star.

That’s a pretty solid starting lineup; 6 of the 8 players here have already made a MLB all-star team.  Lots of power; you’d probably have a slugger like Soler batting 7th.  I think you line these guys up Iglesias, Diaz, Pug, Cespedes, Abreu, Grandal, Soler, Garcia, Pitcher.

Reserves:

  • Catcher: Brayan Peña
  • Corner Inf/PH: Yonder Alonso , Kendrys MoralesYulieski Gurriel, Yoan Moncada
  • Middle Infield: Yunel Escobar, Adeiny Hechavarria,  Alexei Ramirez,  Alex Guerrero
  • OF: Rusney CastilloHector OliveraYasmany Tomas, Leonys Martin, Alfredo Despaigne, Yoelkys Céspedes, Victor Mesa

The reserves include a number of solid veteran guys like Alonso and Morales, middle infield cover from the likes of  Hechavarria and Ramires, and plenty of OF coverage from players like Tomas and Olivera.  And one of the top prospects in all of baseball (Yoan Moncada, the centerpiece of the Chris Sale trade this past off-season) can’t even crack this lineup; he may be your starting 3B before long.  Perhaps Gurriel, a decade-long star in the Cuban series, should be starting at third over Garcia; we’ll see how he fares once he gets more time in Houston.  Despaigne is the biggest player on this list who still hasn’t come to the MLB: he opted to take up the Cuban government’s relaxing of rules and has been playing in Japan recently.  Yoelkys Cespedes is indeed Yoenis’ younger brother and is getting some attention for his abilities already.

Starting Pitchers

  • Oridismar Despaignehe’s been knocked to the bullpen in the Majors, but someone has to start for the Cuban team.  Career 4.89 ERA.
  • Raisel Iglesias: posted a 2.53 ERA in 2016 as he transitioned from the rotation to closer.  He’s gotta start for this team though.
  • Roenis Elias: 4th starter for Seattle in 2014-15, struggled/got hurt for Boston in 2016.
  • Ariel Miranda : 10 starts for Seattle last year with a 3.54 era; he may not make their rotation in 2017 but he’ll get time.

So, we’re a little light on starters.  We may be reaching out to some domestic-based pitchers.  Starter Lazaro Blanco just pitched two masterpieces in the Caribbean Series, shutting out the Dominican Republic team for 6 innings then giving up just one run in seven innings in the semis against Mexico.  Their #2 and #3 starters (Vladimir Banos and Vladimir Garcia) weren’t half bad either.  Freddy Alvarez got pummeled in his only series start but is on the WBC roster as a returning veteran and should see time.  Perhaps we should also look at promising 18-yr old Cuban prospect Osvaldo Hernandez, who was just declared a FA and may sign a multi-million dollar deal soon.

Relievers

  • Aroldis Chapman (2009 WBC team member): the most dominant reliever in the game, 4-time All-star
  • Dalier Hinojosa: setup guy with Philly, decent numbers, like a 6th/7th inning guy.
  • Raudel Lazo: lefty reliever with Miami’s farm system; closed for their AAA squad and posted a 1.78 ERA in 2016 in New Orleans.
  • Yaisel Sierra: struggled in AA for the Dodgers, demoted to bullpen.
  • Armando Rivero, RP for Atlanta
  • Yadier Alvarez: LA’s #1 remaining prospect; only in high-A but well regarded.

Past Chapman and Hinojosa, there’s not much depth here either, so again we dip into the domestic-based players.  Cuba depended on three late-innings relievers in the Caribbean series: Livan Moinelo, Miguel Lahera and Jose Garcia.  All three are named to the official WBC roster.

 


In summary, the Consoildated all-Cuban team can bash the heck out of the ball … but will struggle on the mound until the 8th or 9th inning when Chapman can take over.  But it’d be a fun team to watch play!

Did I miss anyone?  Maybe; its impossible to keep track of the dozens of Cuban signings done over the last couple of years.  Pipe up if you see someone mising.

Some references used to make this:

And Peter Gammons just posted his own version of this the day before I published (but weeks after I wrote this).  Compare and contrast his team; i did not cross check to see if I missed anyone.

2017 WBC Preview and Round 1 Predictions

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2017_wbc_logo

 

Lets preview the latest (and possibly final) iteration of the World Baseball Classic (WBC).  Its set to run March 6th-March 22nd.  Official site here, wikipedia site here with schedules, and another wiki site here with rosters.

First, some editorialization.  I have a love/hate relationship with this event.

  • I love the attempt to create a global tournament for Baseball.  It can only help promote the game.
  • I love the nationalism displayed by *some* of the teams.  The pride that players from the D.R. and other latin countries display, as well as the Far East teams, is fantastic.
  • I love the concept; to emulate a World Cup, to have an event where the best of the best play and compete.

However, I have some things about the WBC that I don’t like;

  • I hate how USA players in particular don’t rate the tournament; why aren’t the best players for the US playing?  I’m talking about you Bryce Harper and Mike Trout as a start.
  • I hate the timing; why is this event in the middle of Spring Training?  Why wouldn’t you put it at the END of the season as FIFA does with the World Cup?
  • As a side effect of the timing … I therefore hate how most pros treat this as another Spring Training game, coming out after a few innings or only pitching a couple of innings.  It detracts from the competition.
  • I rather dislike the “manufactured” teams; why create a fake team for Italy based mostly on players with Italian sounding names?  Same for Israel and to an extent the Netherlands just collecting Caribbean players of Dutch origin.
  • I think the decision by the Cuban government to prevent defectors from representing their team kind of defeats the purpose of the event and prevents the creation of what could have been a very talented team.

(Related to the Cuba rant; I’m working on a separate post that i’ve done in the past postulating on just what a combined Cuban team might look like).


Here’s a look at the pools and offer some predictions.

Round 1: Held at four sites between March 6th and March 12th: four 4-team mini tournaments with the top 2 from each group advancing.

  • Pool A: hosted in Seoul, South Korea.  Teams: South Korea, Chinese Taipei, Netherlands, Israel.

Thoughts: The South Korean team is mostly KBO League players, but its an under-rated squad and will draw energy by playing at home.  The Netherlands squad has a ton of really good players, mostly from Curacao.  The Israeli team is also filled with MLB players, but they’re mostly role players.  The Chinese Taipei team is the most intriguing, being mostly Taiwan based and possibly suffering from some internal political conflict issues.  Still, its hard to see the Netherlands team being beat.

Predictions for Advancers: South Korea, Netherlands

  • Pool B: hosted in Tokyo, Japan.  Teams: Japan, Cuba, China, Australia

Thoughts: There’s little chance the Japanese team doesn’t advance, as the other three teams all have issues.  The Australian team draws mostly from its internal weaker league, nobody knows anything about the China league, and the Cuban league (as noted above) has been significantly weakened through hundreds of defections over the last few years.  Plus Cuba has had to travel thousands of miles to compete against 3 teams playing in their same time zone.  Still, Cuban baseball is Cuban Baseball, and I think they’ll find a way to advance.

Predictions for Advancers: Japan, Cuba

  • Pool C: hosted in Miami, FL.  Teams: USA, Dominican Republic, Canada, Columbia

Thoughts: Its easy to just say USA and DR here; clearly the two best teams on paper.  But as noted above the USA isn’t exactly sending a roster of its best available players, and thus an upstart team of talented players like Columbia could easily pull off an upset.  The Columbian rotation looks like it could be better than the USA’s (led by Julio Teheran and Jose Quintana) and a hot pitcher can take a team far.  Canada looks like a stronger version of Australia; some MLB players but a lot of role players and thinner pitching.  The DR sends a strong team as always and is my prediction to win and repeat.

Predictions for Advancers: USA, DR.

  • Pool D: hosted in Guadalajara, Mexico  Teams: Mexico, Venezuela, Puerto Rico, Italy

Thoughts: I can’t see the talented and nationalistic Mexican team falling here; they’re going to be a tough out for anyone who plays them.  The Italian team will again be a collection of MLB scrubs whose names end in a vowel.  So the second spot goes to the winner of a Venezuela-PR battle; both teams look strong but Venezuela seems to have better depth.

Predictions for Advancers: Mexico, Venezuela

 


 

We’ll post again once the first rounds are done to revisit these predictions, because the 2nd rounds could feature groups where any of the 4 teams could advance.  In fact the 2nd round match-ups look very tough.

 

 

Written by Todd Boss

March 6th, 2017 at 9:26 am

Your 2017 Bullpen

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Old School photo of Blanton from his time at P hilly. (Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images)

Old School photo of Blanton from his time at P hilly. (Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images)

With the Joe Blanton signing, one has to think the team is done augmenting its bullpen until the trade deadline.

Instant Tangent: Blanton is actually an excellent example of why i’m pretty much A-OK with the Nats not overpaying for a closer.  Here’s Blanton’s career splits as a starter and reliever:

  • Starter: 1553 innings, 4.47 ERA, 1.354 whip, 6.2 K/9 and a 2.65 K/BB ratio.
  • Reliever: 169.2 innings, 3.24 ERA, 1.138 whip, 8.9 K/9 and 3.57 K/BB ratio.

Last year specifically as a middle relief workhorse for Los Angeles: 80 innings across 75 appearances, 2.48 ERA, exactly a 9.0 K/9 rate.

So basically Blanton was a sub-mediocre starter; his starting career was with Oakland (pitcher’s park), Philly (National league) and then stints starting for both Los Angeles clubs (again, both pitcher’s parks and/or NL teams facing pitchers and weaker lineups).  But suddenly he’s a stud when moved into relief.

This is nothing new.  Go look at Mariano Rivera‘s stats starting; in one brief season for the Yankees he got 10 starts and threw to a 5.51 ERA.  The next year he’s moved into the bullpen and he posts a 2.09 ERA and comes in 3rd in Cy Young.  After that, eleven seasons where his ERA for the year was sub 2.00.  Not to be too blunt about it, but Rivera was a failed MLB starter who turned into a Hall of Fame reliever.

There’s no reason the Nats can’t find their own Mariano Rivera.

I’m not saying Shawn Kelley is the answer.  For a while i’ve thought that Blake Treinen was the answer.  Maybe now Koda Glover will be the answer.  Or perhaps Joan Baez will rocket up the system and throw 100 mph bee-bees by September.

In any case … I’m happy with the bullpen now, moreso than I was yesterday, and I still think it’d be a mistake to trade valuable assets for a mediocre closer like David Robertson.

So, to the question at hand.  How’s our Bullpen looking?

Here’s the relievers on our 40-man roster now, in rough order of depth:  Kelley, Blanton, Treinen, Glover, Solis*, Perez*, Romero*, Adams, Gott, Martin, Cordero, Grace*

So what do I think is going to happen?

  • Closer: Kelley.  Good stuff in short bursts, veteran guy to meet the “pressure” requirement of a closer.
  • 8th inning guys: Treinen and Blanton: no arguments here; they’ll both throw in 70-80 games this year, switching off and perhaps spelling Kelley in the 9th.
  • 7th Inning guys: Glover and Solis: I like Glover’s stuff, I think his downturn in performance last year was entirely related to the unreported hip issue, and I think he could be the closer in waiting.  Solis is lefty but offers more than just a matchup; he’s not that far removed from starting and he’s not unlike Andrew Miller in that he depends on a good pitch (his two seamer) slung from a lower arm-angle to get guys out.
  • Lefty specialist: Mr. Swashbuckler Oliver Perez.  He can also pick up the slop in a pinch and give the team twisty-turny rubber armed high sock slinging mud as needed.  (Yes, I like Perez).

Ok that’s 6 guys who are practically guaranteed their slots.  Maybe Glover isn’t a guarantee to you but he is to me if he’s healthy.

So who is 7th reliever?  Maybe its easier to talk about who I do NOT think it will be:

  • Grace: I think he’s not long for the org, clearly now 4th in line for lefty relievers for a team that only needs two.  DFA candidate if it comes to it.
  • Martin: He doesn’t seem to have the same magic he had when he first got called up; he’s also fallen down on the depth chart, now behind the above named guys plus recent acqusitions.
  • Adams, Gott, Cordero: all are new(er), all have things to prove, make perfect sense to start in AAA
  • Romero: option-less, could be on the opening day roster just to avoid a waiver wire exposure … but we paid little for him so there’s little lost cutting him.  Maybe he starts on the roster in lieu of a 5th starter for the first few days (we don’t need a fifth starter until like the 6th or 7th game of the season, assuming everyone is healthy and making the roster).

So who is 7th guy?  Someone who’s not even on the 40-man; Vance Worley.  He sots into 7th man, long guy, spot starter, insurance guy.

That’s what i’m going with for now.  But good or bad spring performances could scuttle this by the time we hit April 1.

Take a guess how much salary the Nats have Deferred at this point?

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Even Murphy deferred some salary.. (AP Photo/John Raoux)

Even Murphy deferred some salary.. (AP Photo/John Raoux)

So, I was kind of wondering the other day, “how much salary has this team deferred at this point?”  And, from the comments on the last article, others are wondering the same.  So lets play a little game; take a quick guess as to the aggregate amount of salary the Nats have kicked down the road to this point before reading on.

Digging through Cots’ website looking for details, here’s what I discovered in terms of Nats players currently under contract and their deferral terms:

PlayerMain Contract DetailsDeferred Pmt Details
Werth, Jayson7 yr/$126M (11-17)Deferred $10M to 2018 w/ 5% interest
Scherzer, Max7yr/$210M (15-21)2019-21 salaries ($105M) deferred without interest, to be paid in seven $15M installments each July 1 from 2022 to 2028
Strasburg, Stephen7yr/$175M (17-23)$70M deferred without interest ($30M in 2019, $10M in 2020, $30M in 2023), paid in seven $10M installments each July 1, 2024-30
Murphy, Daniel3yr/$37.5M (16-18)$5.5M of 2018 salary is deferred without interest, to be paid in installments of $2.5M on 1/15/19 and $3M on 1/15/20
Wieters, Matt1yr/$5.5M (17)$5M in salary is deferred, to be paid in 2021
Lind, Adam1 year/$1.5M (2017)$500k buyout of mutual 2018 option

I’m not sure I was even aware that the team deferred Daniel Murphy‘s salary until I saw it in print.  I also included FWIW the nominal $500k buyout of Adam Lind‘s mutual option as a “future” payment just for completion.

So, how do these payments look going forward?  here’s a quick look at the next 14 years or so of deferred payments:

Player2017201820192020202120222023        
Werth, Jayson01000000000000
Scherzer, Max000001500000015000000
Strasburg, Stephen0000000
Murphy, Daniel0025000003000000000
Wieters, Matt0000500000000
Lind, Adam050000000000
0105000002500000300000050000001500000015000000
Player2024202520262027202820282028Total
Werth, Jayson00000000
Scherzer, Max15000000150000001500000015000000150000000075000000
Strasburg, Stephen1000000010000000100000001000000010000000100000001000000070000000
Murphy, Daniel00000000
Wieters, Matt00000000
Lind, Adam00000000
25000000250000002500000025000000250000001000000010000000145000000

Since those two tables may not be easy to follow, here’s the answer: $196,000,000 in total deferred salary over the next 14 years.

Here’s how it breaks down year over year:

  • 2017: nothing or this year; all our roughly $152M in payroll for this year (current dollars) is for players, this year.
  • 2018: Jayson Werth‘s $10M from last year plus Lind’s $500k buyout.
  • 2019 and 2020: Murphy’s $5.5M total deferred salary, split between the two years.
  • 2021: Matt Wieters’ $5M of 2017 salary deferral comes due.

That’s all chump change compared to what’s coming up after that:

  • 2022, 2023: $15M each year for the beginning of Max Scherzer‘s deferred payments.
  • 2024-2028: $25M each year for both Scherzer’s and Stephen Strasburg‘s deferred payments.
  • 2029, 2030: Scherzer’s payments drop off, leaving just Strasburg’s $10M/year.

$196M total, and five straight years of $25M right off the top going to deferred payments.  Now, there is a silver lining in that Scherzer’s *entire* 2019, 2020 and 2021 salaries are deferred, leaving roughly $30M each year unspent and thus allowing the team to (in theory) use those dollars in those years to augment the roster.  And the same happens for Strasburg’s deferred salary; his entire 2019 salary of $30M is deferred in 2019 and again in 2019, meaning that the team should have use of those dollars in their budget for those years.  So there’s that.

But man, 2024-2028 better see a significant change in the financial landscape of the league, else $25M off the top of dead money could be crippling.  That’d be 1/6th of their general payrolls that they’ve been running lately.  To put that into perspective, there’s a recurring theme about the Nats behavior this off season that seems to imply that the team isn’t willing to fork over the dollars required to buy the upgrades it needs, especially at closer.  Well, if the team is payroll strapped at $150M … what happens when $25M of that is dead money?  Is $125M going to be the new norm in those  years?  Are we assuming that the MASN RSN mess is magically going to be solved by then?

Food for thought.  Not an issue for now … but potentially a big issue later.

 

 

Written by Todd Boss

February 27th, 2017 at 8:54 pm

Is anyone else seriously concerned about Scherzer’s injury?

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What the heck is going on with Scherzer's finger? photo via wp.com

What the heck is going on with Scherzer’s finger? photo via wp.com

So, let me see if I understand this timeline:

  • Max Scherzer suffered a stress fracture in his ring finger “late in 2016” but it wasn’t enough to force him to miss any starts down the stretch (he made 6 starts in September last year, winning 5 of them to lock up the NL Cy Young award, and only really pitched “badly” in one of them) nor either of his two starts in the playoffs (he gave up 4 in 6 innings, then pitched masterfully in the NLDS game 5, giving up just four hits in 6 complete before a lead-off homer and a quick yank on 99 pitches in the fateful game 7).  Indeed, Scherzer said in the below press release that he pitched “pain free” all fall but only in the off-season did the discomfort set in.
  • A couple weeks after he was named to the US WBC team, the injury was then given as the reason that he had to subsequently withdraw from the World Baseball Classic.  This announcement was made on January 9th, and the press release noted that it was basically precautionary and that he would be ready for full participation in Spring Training.
  • Five weeks later, at the start of spring training, we get word that Scherzer now may not be ready for opening day due to the injury.
  • I then read today, February 26th, that Scherzer is throwing but with a “modified grip??”

Great; our Cy Young winning $210M pitcher has had a months-long non-healing fracture in his throwing hand that is now forcing him to throw with a modified grip.  The team has had the entire off-season to resolve this situation, yet here we are in a crucial 2017 season where we literally traded all our pitching depth in the off-season … and our #1 starter sounds to me like he’s starting the year on the D/L.

Awesome.

Am I over-reacting here?  Is anyone else reading these tea leaves and thinking to themselves, “oh it’ll be ok, we’ll see him opening day like always?”  Because right now its looking like he’s on the D/L come April 1st, Strasburg is testing out his injured Flexor Mass Tendon on Opening Day, Roark will be slotting in at #2 after having his normal spring training interrupted by the WBC, to be followed by the erratic Gonzalez, the also-coming-off-an-arm-injury Joe Ross, and then the career 79 ERA+ A.J. Cole leading up the rear, he who just got shelled in his first spring training game.

Sounds like a winning formula to me.

 

Written by Todd Boss

February 26th, 2017 at 5:28 pm

Verducci Effect for 2017

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Lopez is the #1 Verducci effect risk factor arm for 2017. Photo via wp.com/Mitchell Layton getty images

Lopez is the #1 Verducci effect risk factor arm for 2017. Photo via wp.com/Mitchell Layton getty images

This year’s installment of si.com’s Tom Verducci‘s “Year After Effect” (which he’s using as the title instead of the eponymous “Verducci Effect”) was published earlier this month.  This is a quick review of the past few years of his work and documentation of his macabre “success rate” in predicting trouble for young arms working on large innings load increases.

Here’s my reviews of his lists on this same topic from year’s past: 2013 year after effect and 2014 year after effect, and 2016’s year after effect (I forgot to do it in 2015).   In the 2013 post, there’s some counter-arguments to whether or not his “effect” actually exists, with research on all pitchers who qualified for the thresholds he laid out at the time.  I won’t go into the same arguments made there; what I will do is point out the actual results of his predictions:

  • 2013: 11 candidates mentioned, 5/11 regressed or got injured the following year (but, it should be noted, that another 3 of the candidates he mentioned have completely fallen off a cliff in subsequent years).  8/11 candidates showed regression: 72% prediction rate.
  • 2014: 10 candidates mentioned; 8/10 regressed and more shockingly 6/10 had arm injuries.  80% prediction rate.
  • 2015: 14 candidates mentioned (only 5 “main” ones were on his true watch list): 11 of those 14 regressed or got hurt.  One of the 14, Marcus Stroman missed the whole season with a knee injury but counts as a non-regression candidate, so frankly its 11 of 13 guys who actually pitched all year.  84% prediction rate.
  • 2016: 5 candidates mentioned: 2 regressed badly, one regressed nominally, one missed most of the season with arm injuries.  80% prediction rate.

So in the last four years, he’s identified a total of 40 arms at risk and 31 of them regressed or got hurt.  That’s a 77.5% overall “success” rate at predicting regression or injury over multiple years.  You can quibble with those who claim this “effect” doesn’t exist but you’can’t argue against Verducci’s research year over year.  For me, his analysis is less about running pure numbers to find candidates and more about giving context to the pitchers he selects.  Mostly they’re starters (not relievers), mostly they’re young and mostly they’re guys who had to pitch high leverage innings on top of vastly increased workloads.  But if you want counter arguments to his observations, see the 2013 post above for links.

So who’s listed this  year?  A slew of pitchers this year, including a name at the top that we’re quite familiar with.  Most of his pitchers this year are very young and nearly all of them only pitched part-time in the majors.  In a departure this year, 9 of the 12 guys he lists pitched mostly in the minors in 2016 and mostly struggled in the majors, which is going to make my judgement next year as to whether the player “regressed” more difficult.  But here’s the list of 12 guys:

2017 Candidate Name/TeamAge as of Jan 20172016 IP2016 IP delta increase2016 ERA2016 FIP2016 xFIP2016 SIERA
Reynaldo Lopez, White Sox22155.356.34.913.924.524.55
Aaron Sanchez, Blue Jays23203.670.333.553.754.01
Rob Whalen, Mariners22144.6486.575.054.774.47
Brock Stewart, Dodgers24149485.795.95.034.62
Joe Musgrove, Astros23147.346.64.064.184.043.98
Julio Urias, Dodgers19127.6403.393.173.693.88
Jeff Hoffman, Rockies23150464.886.274.965.22
Michael Fulmer, Tigers23174.349.63.063.763.954.03
Sean Manaea, A's24166.344.63.864.083.964.04
German Marquez, Rockies21187.348.35.234.263.893.97
Jake Thompson, Phillies22183.643.65.76.165.645.68
Daniel Mengden, A's23170.339.66.54.344.574.5

Click here for my full Verducci effect worksheet with detailed stats pre- and post-season.

The guys i’m most intrigued by include:

  • Reynaldo Lopez, who I suspect will start in AAA for the White Sox while they try to figure out if he’s a starter long-term or perhaps a future 100-mph closer.
  • Aaron Sanchez and Michael Fulmer were two awesome rookies last year (Fulmer won the AL Rookie of the Year and Sanchez was the best pitcher on a good Toronto team).
  • Sean Manaea is an interesting younger arm who I’ve often mentioned here because he would have been an option with the 1st round pick we gave up in the 2013 draft so that we could sign Rafael Soriano.
  • Julio Urias projects to be the Dodger’s 3rd or 4th starter and is incredibly accomplished for his age; he seems like he is a lower-risk guy here despite his workload thanks to effortless mechanics.
  • Jeff Hoffman is a rather “famous” name in that he was in talks to go 1-1 in 2014 before blowing out his elbow during his junior year; Toronto drafted him 9th overall despite the injury and then he was a key member of the prospect haul that went to Colorado in the Troy Tulowitzki deal.

Hey, at least there’s no Nats this year :-)