Nationals Arm Race

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

Why exactly did the Nats call up Turner??

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Turner in a Nats uniform... why?? photo via wp.com

Turner in a Nats uniform… why?? photo via wp.com

In some of the previous posts’ comments sections, I opined that I thought it would be “GM malpractice” to call up uber SS prospect Trea Turner at any point prior to mid April of next year.  My general reasoning including any and all of the following points:

  • the team finally had Ian Desmond hitting decently enough (consistently between about .250-.280 in 1/2/4 week samples going back a month).
  • Danny Espinosa has been a revelation this year, increasing his slash lines across the board and as we speak posting a 99 OPS+ figure.
  • Yunel Escobar being the 2nd most valuable hitter on the team, in addition to wordlessly changing positions as the Nats need dictates.
  • Anthony Rendon finally back on the big club, even if he’s a shell of what he was last year, is still an excellent top-of-the-order MLB hitter.
  • Given the wealth of middle infielders already on the roster (not even mentioning Wilmer Difo or Emmanuel Burriss both of whom have been used already this year in a backup capacity), why call him up to be a backup?

So, given that all four of these middle infield options are (finally) together, healthy and performing relatively decently, what possible rationale would there be to call up Turner??

Why would this team *possibly* want to prematurely start the service time clock on such a polished prospect, unless there was a REAL and ACTUAL need to call him up?  By “real” and “actual” I mean that suddenly the team found itself without an able bodied short stop and found itself in a position where Turner would play full time.

No, that’s not what has happened.  Turner was called up on 8/21/15.  In the five games since, he has two garbage time PAs in a 10-3 loss on his debut and two pinch hit ABs.  He’s played less than 3 whole innings in the field.  What the hell is this team doing??

Matt Williams isn’t going to sit Desmond in favor of Turner.  No way; we’ve seen *time and again* that Williams cow-tows to veterans, ensures that they hit in their preferred lineup spots and play their preferred positions even when evidence shows they’re in need of change.  And even if Williams wanted to sit Desmond … he’s clearly going to play Espinosa in his place, another established vet with a track record and a good 2015 going.  Where exactly is Turner going to play??

I agree whole heartedly with Jim Bowden‘s take: why did the Nats call him up to sit on the bench??  Something is fishy here.  And we’ve harmed the long term benefit of the club in the process.  Instead of waiting til next April to call him up, we’ve needlessly thrown away a year of his career in his prime by starting his service time clock way too soon, and for no reason.  He’s not going to be impactful coming off the bench, he’s not going to play in place of the established regulars Desmond, Escobar and Rendon.  He’s certainly not going to supplant Espinosa as the #1 middle infield option off the bench in case someone gets hurt.  We don’t need a “designated runner” until we’re, you know, actually in the post-season (a concept that seems to be draining by the day thanks to middling losses to 2nd-division teams over and over).

I think this is a clear sign (as Bowden alludes to) that the Mike RizzoMatt Williams working relationship is shot and that this team is quickly heading down the drain of under performance.  But as a long-term fan who thinks Turner’s value to this team is in the next incarnation of the squad, it really infuriates me to see him being wasted on the MLB bench for no reason, costing the team an extra year of his service when he hits his prime.

Written by Todd Boss

August 26th, 2015 at 11:47 pm

Its make or break time; even more so than a week ago.

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A week ago, at the beginning of this west coast trip, I thought the team might end up going 2-5 between LA and SF.  They faced two good teams on the road against good pitching.

I was wrong.  They went 1-6.  What a Disaster.  Scherzer and Gonzalez both laid massive eggs in games where the Nats held a rare and clear SP advantage (over Vogelsong and Cain respectively) and the team squandered games where the offense uncharacteristically scored more than 1 run (5 and 6 respectively in consecutive losses).  It was no surprise they got shut out by Kershaw, Greinke and Bumgarner … but they had no excuse to lose to these other stiffs.

Amazingly, we’re mid-August and this team has gone 10 and 20 since the all-star break.  10 and 20.  Yes they’ve faced some tough pitching, but a playoff team should at least go .500 against a good team throwing good arms.  This team has not; it has completely folded.

Dave Cameron at fangraphs.com summed up things a lot better than I could.  He has a table of 2014 and 2015 WAR figures that’s pretty amazing.  He also has the playoff odds for both Washington and New York and what they’ve done over the past few weeks and that’s pretty amazing too.

The Nats are 58-59.  Amazingly despite a 6 game losing streak the Mets also fell on their faces this weekend and the Nats didn’t lose much ground in the race.  But they’re 4.5 back with 6 weeks to go and need to step it up.

They now have 6 straight games against two bad teams (Colorado and Milwaukee).   Can they salvage their season and actually win some of these games?

What is wrong with this team?  Is it just everyone unluckily under performing all at once?  Is it the Manager?  Is it the frigging Papelbon trade? I don’ t mean to find some “arbitrary endpoints” but consider:

  • Nats Record before Papelbon trade: 52-46
  • Nats Record since: 6-13
  • Storen’s ERA before the trade: 1.73 in 36 1/3 innings
  • Storen’s ERA since: 10.38 in 8 2/3rds innings.
  • Papelbon’s entire contribution since arriving: 5 IP in 5 games, 2 saves.

Could just be a coincidence.  Demoting a popular, home grown player who was having a great season with a blow-hard attitude guy couldn’t possibly be a reason for a team that has shown itself to be mentally fragile in the past to shut it down, right?

 

My favorite “questions” from #AskMatt

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#AskMatt was a huge success .. for humorists.  Photo Nats official 2014 via sportingnews.com

#AskMatt was a huge success .. for humorists. Photo Nats official 2014 via sportingnews.com

So, the geniuses at MASN apparently have never seen just how badly these open Twitter hashtag Question and Answer sessions can go.  I wrote about this once before, when NCAA head Mark Emmert was subjected to an #AskEmmert session and was roundly ridiculed (I also link to a fantastic Peter King session that went just as badly).  Googling something like “worst twitter q&a” sessions also leads to some fun “#AskMe” type sessions that went awry.

Instead, MASN threw caution to the wind and decided to have an “#AskMatt” session last week.  Here’s the Twitter link with the hashtag so you could judge for yourself how it went.

It went, to quote Natsenquirer.com, about as well as you could expect.  WP’s Scott Allen also commented on the unasked questions.

Here’s some of my favorite “questions” from the session.  Most of these made me laugh out loud in context.  No word as to whether or not Matt actually answered any of them.  :-)

  • “Is Jayson Werth’s inability to drive batters in related to his inability to drive due to a suspended license?”
  • “What is uglier – Jayson Werth’s beard or your bullpen management?”
  • “If Jordan Zimmermann is throwing a one hitter thru 8 2/3 again, when should we expect to see Aaron Barrett?”
  • “If the Nats make the playoffs, who’s your 18th inning guy? “
  • “What really happened in Benghazi?” (asked by Luigi de Guzman, writer of the Natstradamous blog, part of a theme of asking pointed political questions)
  • “Why didn’t Storen or Papelbon pitch once in the biggest series of the year?”  (asked by the twitter account @FireMattWilliams; i guess it was just a matter of time before that twitter account popped up).
  • “I have found the way to eliminate poverty worldwide, should I share it or just leave Storen & Papelbon in the bullpen?” (Asked by former Nats Farm Authority maven Brian Oliver)
  • “If my cat throws up, should I leave him in for another 20 pitches or bring Aaron Barrett in immediately to clean it up?”
  • “Would you rather: eat steamed cauliflower for rest of your life or let closer pitch in tie game when leverage index is highest?”
  • “Who’s ahead in bullpen pecking order, Doug Fister or Tyler Moore?”
  • “Matt, what’s your favorite hippo diarrhea video?” (and then providing a sample)
  • “Do you like movies about gladiators?” (asked by NatsEnquirer’s ck)

Fantastic.  The internet is the best source of unintentional comedy sometimes.

 

Written by Todd Boss

August 11th, 2015 at 10:01 am

West Coast Trip 2015: its crunch time for this team

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I'll take about 10 more of those starts, Stephen, Thank you.  Photo via centerfieldgate.com

I’ll take about 10 more of those starts, Stephen, Thank you. Photo via centerfieldgate.com

I wrote earlier about the ridiculous slate of starters this team had to face coming out of the All Star break.  They went 6-10 in that stretch, an admirable record considering the opposition.  That took the team to a relatively “easy” looking home-stand against two also-rans (Arizona and Colorado) who were sellers at the trade deadline.  The Nats have practically their whole offense back, augmented the bullpen with Jonathan Papelbon, and got their 2nd “Ace” back in Stephen Strasburg.  They have no more excuses; its time to take control of the division from the suddenly energized Mets.

But, instead of rolling to a 5-2 or a 6-1 home stand … the team scuffled to a 3-4 record, with Drew Storen blowing two games single-handedly, Doug Fister blowing a start against an opposing pitcher with about 5 minutes of service time, and one game that the bullpen so badly bungled that Tyler Moore was on the mound at the end.

Not good.

The team now sits at 57-53 (just an 84 win pace) and is a game and a half back of the Mets.  And they now hit the road for a crucial, difficult 10-game west coast swing.  Three games in LA, four in SF and then 3 more against the Colorado team that embarrassed them at home.  This while the Mets play 7 straight in New York (albeit against the same Rockies who I thought were patsies and then against a Pirates team that just battered the Dodgers’ starters in Pittsburgh).

Lets take a quick look at the projected starter match-ups against the Dodgers and Giants.  Because, lets face it, those are the two series that could be pretty telling:

Nats SP Projected Opposing SP
Gonzalez Anderson
Ross Kershaw
Zimmermann Greinke
Strasburg Vogelsong
Scherzer Cain
Gonzalez Peavy
Ross Bumgarner

Daunting.  Are the Nats in danger of being outright swept in Los Angeles?   I think so.  They then move up the coast but face a SF team that plays a lot better at home than on the road, despite what looks to me like a SP advantage for the Nats.  I don’t really trust Gio Gonzalez anymore in big games, and certainly not on the road (where he has a 4.80 ERA this year, versus 2.60 at home).   Joe Ross has a grand total of 7 starts in the majors and he’ll be given the rather daunting task of facing two of the best pitchers in the game back to back in Kershaw and Bumgarner.  Tough.

Here’s the problem.  I can easily see this team going 2-5 in these games.  What happens if the Mets keep winning?

This season is more and more reminding me of 2013.  Tons of expectations, and tons of under performance all year, leading to a mid 80s win season but no playoffs.  If this team returns home a week from now and is at .500 (a very distinct possibility), is it finally time to worry?

Ross over Fister; best pitching move Williams has made all year (and a bit of ranting)

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Ross deservedly keeps his rotation spot.  Photo Getty Images via federalbaseball.com

Ross deservedly keeps his rotation spot. Photo Getty Images via federalbaseball.com

After his second questionable starting pitcher yank in as many nights, 2014 Manager of the Year Matt Williams made perhaps his best pitching change of the season.  Instead of favoring his veteran Doug Fister like everyone thought he would based on past experiences with player management, he went with a rookie and announced (as first reported by Mark Zuckerman last night) that Joe Ross would keep his rotation spot, sending Fister to the bullpen.

First; some stuff I’ve wanted to get off my chest on Williams’ handling of the pitching staff as of late:

There’s already been enough kvetching about his yanking Gio Gonzalez the previous night; though my readers cannot see this “proof,” as soon as the pitching change occurred I texted a friend saying (in effect) this was going to backfire.  Pulling Gonzalez made zero sense: If you’re going to yank your starter so quickly in the 6th, why let him frigging *bat* in the bottom of the 5th??  Gonzalez was only on 95 pitches; professional, veteran starters can throw at least 105-110 pitches before showing any wear, and studies show that you’re not really in “danger” of causing subsequent regression until you hit 120.  And the most egregious issue: Gonzalez was set to face not 1-2-3 but 6-7-8 in the Arizona order.  To this observer, it was classic over-thinking/over-managing that resulted in a blown lead, a blown game and an embarrassing 9th where a position player had to throw for just the second time in the Nats tenure in Washington.

So, what did 2014 Manager of the Year Matt Williams learn from the 8/5/15 experience??  Absolutely nothing.  Ross was on even fewer pitches last night (89), was absolutely handling the weakened Arizona lineup (they sat two of their best  hitters to give them a day off), and Ross was set to face … wait for it … 6-7-8 in the order.  Yet another “shut down” reliever comes in and gives up a ton of runs … and it looked like yet another game would be lost.  Only the heroics of Matt Thornton (waiver claim) and eventually in the 8th Clint Robinson‘s 3-run homer (minor league free agent) saved the game for this under performing $160M payroll “win now” team.

Starters are starters because, by and large, THEY ARE BETTER PITCHERS THAN RELIEVERS.  If relievers were better, they’d be frigging starters!  Williams needs to STOP yanking effective starting pitchers unless it makes sense.  This dates back to his most egregious yank, that of Jordan Zimmermann last year in the NLDS.

Anyway.  Back to the Fister/Ross decision.  Here’s my quick thoughts:

  • Props to Fister for taking the demotion like a pro.  If it were me, i’d have gone with some BS “soft tissue” D/L stint.  That was a gutsy move for a guy facing free agency this coming off-season.  Maybe he and his agent talked it through and decided it would be less damaging to be demoted to the pen than take a D/L stint and have the league think you’re fighting injuries in your walk year.
  • Despite the above complaints, which are the latest in a series of complaints about our “paint by the numbers” manager and his handling of the pitching staff that has been exposed recently by his lack of use of Storen or Papelbon in the Mets series (and then his subsequent use of Storen in a 5-0 laugher one day later), Williams absolutely made the right move here.  Its a performance game, the team is struggling, and Fister was the low-man on the totem pole in terms of production (the team is just 5-10 in his 15 starts).  Cynical view; was this Mike Rizzo telling Williams what to do or was it Williams begrudgingly realizing that Ross was giving his team the best chance to win?
  • We talked before about how it might have been premature to give Ross a 2016 rotation spot based on short sample sizes; no longer.  Ross is your #4 starter next year as we speak and the rest of the potentials are chasing #5 down in Viera next spring.  And that’s assuming the team doesn’t make a trade or sign a FA or (could it happen?) resign Jordan Zimmermann.
  • There goes any thought of giving Fister a Q.O. this off-season.  He’s gone from something like a 4yr/$55M deal to looking for a pillow contract with some lesser team willing to give him a rotation spot in just 4 short months.
  • How long before the Nats shut Ross down?  He threw right around 120 innings in both 2013 and 2014.  So far this year he’s at 76 in the minors and 45 in the majors for a total of 121, basically matching his career high.   Increasing his workload by 20% means he’s only got another 4 starts in him; is this just a temporary rotation assignment?  Or is the team thinking he can increase his workload considerably this year?  There’s 55 games left, which is 11 turns through the rotation; do you think he’ll be allowed to throw 11 more starts?  That’d put his innings somewhere in the 175-180 range, a huge increase year over year.  Honestly, I think Fister will regain the rotation spot in a month’s time or so as the team shuts down Ross for the season.

Interesting day in Natstown, though, nonetheless.

Written by Todd Boss

August 7th, 2015 at 10:02 am

MLB Trade Deadline 2015: who improved their rotation the most?

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He looks pretty good in Canadian blue.  Photo via ctvnews.ca

He looks pretty good in Canadian blue. Photo via ctvnews.ca

It was by most accounts the busiest trade deadline ever.  Lots of high impact players moved.  And we were worried that the 2nd wild card would curtail the trade market!

Here’s a couple of good summary links: a division-by-division overview of teams post-deadline, BaseballAmerica.com’s Trade Central, with a review of every 2015 trade, and a nice trade-by-trade grade at Minorleagueball.com.

Lets look at those teams that altered their rotations and talk about how much they improved.  In order of perceived impact:

1. Los Angeles: added Mat Latos and Alex Wood, replacing two placeholders who had taken over for the injured Brandon McCarthy and Hyun-Jin Ryu.  Add Latos and Wood to what the Dodgers were already rolling out and I feel like they have become the new team to beat in the NL.

2. Toronto: adds the best pitcher on the market David Price to a team that really, really needed a bump in their pitching.  Price is used to the AL East and gives Toronto (coupled with their big Troy Tulowitzki move) a leg up on their divisional rivals.  The rest of the division mostly stood pat in terms of the trade deadline, and the division is there for the taking.  I believe Toronto can catch the Yankees; they’ve been incredibly unlucky by RS/RA and should regress upwards.

3. Kansas City: Johnny Cueto immediately replaces the injured Jason Vargas in a “nice timing” move, and KC solidifies its grip on the division.  This move wasn’t about getting to the post season as much as it was about winning once they get there.  Cueto is their 2015 version of James Shields; the workhorse who they can lean on in the 5- and 7-game series.

4. Houston: added Scott Kazmir and Mike Fiers, who will slide in to the 4th and 5th spots and supplant the under performing Scott Feldman and others who need more time in AAA.  While not as flashy as some other teams’ moves, this makes the back of Houston’s rotation stronger.  And, it should be noted, Houston’s main AL West rival (Los Angeles) not only didn’t make a move but just lost one its key starters to injury (C.J. Wilson).  Houston’s rebuilding plan looks like its at least a year ahead of schedule and coupled with serious injury issues to their competitors look like the favorite in the AL West.

5. Texas: adds Cole Hamels, who Philadelphia *finally* moved after sitting on the pot for 2 years.  I think this move is more about 2016; I don’t really see Texas making a move in 2015.  But it is a significant move: Hamels could give Texas one of the best AL 1-2 punches when Yu Darvish comes back, and then they have a nice collection of arms to choose from to fill out the rotation (Gallardo, Holland, Perez, Lewis, Martinez).

6. San Francisco adds the underrated Mike Leake, who slides into the #3 spot, prevents the Giants from even considering using Tim Lincecum in the rotation any longer, and certainly gives them an upgrade over what they were getting from Tim Hudson.  SF isn’t *that* far back from LA in the division … but more importantly is working hard to secure a WC spot.

7. Pittsburgh makes a minor move in adding J.A. Happ, who slides nicely and fortuitously into the spot that A.J. Burnett may be giving up to injury.

8. Chicago Cubs curiously added Dan Haren to their rotation; adding a mediocre #5 starter to a team that plays in a hitter’s park may back fire.  I would have thought Chicago would have been more aggressive to try to secure the 2nd wild card, but then again is it fair to say their rebuilding plan is also a year ahead of schedule right now?  Maybe they go big in the off-season to add starters behind Lester/Arrieta.


 

Sellers and the Impacts to their rotations:

Detroit moved backwards, selling their ace but acquiring a good prospect in Daniel Norris.  This move also lets them try out a couple of starter prospects for the rest of a season where they’re clearly not going to catch Kansas City.

Oakland was a seller but didn’t augment their rotation very much, getting a #5 starter in Aaron Brooks.  Oakland has been completely snake-bit this season, sporting one of the best run differentials in the game but having lost 75% of the one-run games they’ve played.  Billy Beane isn’t afraid to deal though and he’s got more than enough starting pitching coming off injury to compete in 2016.

Philadelphia got the rotting corpse of Matt Harrison in return for Hamel, along with a whole slew of players; I doubt Harrison ever pitches for them.

Cincinnati sold off their two best pitchers and now are doing open auditions at the MLB level for their 2016 rotation.

Miami finds themselves in a familiar place, selling off assets so as to line the pockets of their owners needlessly.  They lose two rotation guys but augment from the D/L and the farm system.  They’ll regroup for 2016 and continue to challenge as the worst organization to their fan base.

Seattle was sort of a seller, flipping off back of the rotation guys for spare parts.  They did not meaningfully alter their core rotation.  Their problem is simply under-performance.

Atlanta curiously parted with one of the most valuable resources in the game; the effective MLB-minimum starter.   They ended up with draft picks and prospects and a Cuban wild card in Hector Olivera.

Milwaukee parted with a 5th starter, giving those starts to their #1 prospect Taylor Jungmann.  A good deal for them.

 

The Nats post-All Star game gauntlet of opposing Starting Pitchers

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Hard to win games when you're going against guys like this for two straight weeks.  Photo via bleachereport.com

Hard to win games when you’re going against guys like this for two straight weeks. Photo via bleachereport.com

The Nats just finished being swept at the hands of our closest divisional rival, and the natives seem to be getting a bit restless.

I’m not worried.  You know why?  The Nats just finished one of the most brutal stretches of opposing pitchers I can ever remember.  To wit, here’s what they had to face coming out of the all star break:

  • LA: Bolsinger, Kershaw, Greinke
  • Mets: Harvey, DeGrom, Snydergaard
  • Pitt: Liriano, Locke, Burnett, Cole
  • Miami: Fernandez, Koehler, Haren
  • Mets: Harvey, DeGrom, Snydergaard

The 16 starters they’ve had to face since the All Star game include:

  • Six 2015 All-Stars (Kershaw, Greinke, DeGrom twice, Burnett and Cole)
  • The 2015 all-star game *starter* in Greinke
  • The two-time defending Cy Young winner in Kershaw
  • The guy who probably *would* have won the Cy Young in 2013 had he not gotten hurt (Harvey)
  • The last two NL Rookies of the Year (DeGrom and Fernandez)
  • Seven guys ranked in the top 20 in all of baseball for ERA, not to mention 4 of the top 10 and the two best in Greinke and DeGrom.
  • Five guys ranked in the top 15 in the game for pure fastball velocity (Snydergaard, Fernandez, Cole, deGrom and Harvey).
  • At least half of these guys being what i’d call an “Ace” in this league, and a handful more that are easily #2’s.

That’s just a brutal stretch.  By my estimates, I had the Nats with a favorable pitching match-up just three times in their first 16 games back: Zimmermann over Bolsinger (a win), Scherzer over Locke (a bad loss), and Scherzer over Haren (a 1-0 squeaker win).  Certainly I did not have us with a favorable matchup in any of the 3 games this weekend, and it was little surprise to me to see us get swept.  I thought we’d be lucky to be at .500 for these 16 games and with some bad luck they ended up this stretch 6-10.

Now here’s the good news.  We should get pretty healthy in the next week or so.  We face Arizona at home with four pitching matchups that favor Washington.  Then Colorado comes to town and are throwing a couple of guys that I’ve frankly never even heard of (Yohan Flande and Eddie Butler).  So a week from now we may be on a 6-1 or 5-2 streak and be back in happy town.

The Nats have been very streaky this year.  With apologies to “arbitrary endpoint” haters, you can divide the season into five neat streaks:

Start Date End Date Wins during Streak Losses during streak Record at end of Streak GB or GA in Division Key moments starting/ending streak
4/6/2015 4/27/2015 7 13 7-13 -8 GB Opening day instability of offense leads to sputtering start.
4/28/2015 5/27/2015 21 6 28-19 +1.5 GA Unbelievable 13-12 win in Atlanta on 4/28 ends 7-13 start to season and kicks off a 21-6 run
5/28/2015 6/19/2015 6 13 34-33 -1.5 GB Strasburg lasts just 5 batters on 5/28 and hits the D/L in Cincinnati
6/19/2015 7/12/2015 14 6 46-38 +2 GA Long road trip/tough schedule stretch ends with dominant Ross performance at home 6/20/15, kicking off easy stretch and full-strength pitching rotation
All star break
7/19/2015 8/2/2015 6 10 54-49 even Brutal stretch of opposing pitchers to start the 2nd half.

And now here we stand, on 8/3/15, even up with the Mets for the division and just a handful of games over .500.  Inarguably the Mets made great moves at the trade deadline.  But remember, they’ll face the same post-TJ decision on Harvey that the Nats did with Strasburg in 2012.  And Snydergaard’s max IP was 133 last year; He’s already at that for 2015 and its just the beginning of August.  Both these guys may be looking at regression or outright damage as they rocket past conservative workloads for 2015.  Will that work to the Nats’ favor?

I still like the Nats offensive capabilities once they’re fully healthy.  Its like getting players at the trade deadline, only you don’t have to bet the farm for them.  Will they hold up through the end of the season?  Will Strasburg return and give us the same level of pitching that Joe Ross has in his absence?  Lets hope so.

 

Papelbon for Pivetta: good trade, bad karma?

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Hopefully, this won't be what we remember him for.  Photo via majorleagueaholes.com (yes its a site)

Hopefully, this won’t be what we remember him for. Photo via majorleagueaholes.com (yes its a site)

So, by now we’ve all heard the news.  The Nats acquired disgruntled Phillies closer Jonathan Papelbon for 2013 4th rounder Nick Pivetta, newly promoted to AA.

On the plus side, the Phillies pick up all of his remaining 2015 salary (roughly $4.5M), and Papelbon pre-negotiated his 2016 option at a slightly lower figure ($11M with $3M deferred).  This is no 2-month rental; this is a strategic decision to go with him for the next two years.  So in that respect, what the Nats get versus what they gave up is pretty durn good.  Pivetta is a decent prospect who had a great first half for Potomac and just earned a promotion to AA (where he’s gotten hit around a bit in his first couple of starts).  But in terms of what the team is giving up, Pivetta is a “minor prospect” (mostly on the outside of our top 10 lists) and is perhaps no better than 13th or so on our starter depth chart (just off the top of my head, Scherzer, Strasburg, Zimmermann, Fister, Gonzalez, Ross, Roark, Cole, Jordan, Hill, Treinen, Espino, Voth and Giolito ahead of him), so the Nats trade from a surplus/depth for a position of need.

As a side-effect of the acquisition, AAA catcher Dan Butler was DFA’d to make room on the 40-man roster. Butler has been struggling in AAA and may pass through waivers, but if he doesn’t suddenly the Nats have zero catcher depth on the active roster.  So that’s a risk i’m surprised they took (if it were me, I could have named several other guys I would have risked versus Butler first).

My concern with this deal is more on the non-quantifiable side.  What message does this send to your team?  Drew Storen has been *excellent* this year, has remade his mechanics and (as noted elsewhere) has the 2nd best ERA of any reliever in the game over the last two years.  He’s been just as good a closer as Papelbon this year, and for his troubles gets demoted out of the closer spot.  Storen’s future compensation is *directly* tied to the number of saves (however arbitrary and useless that statistic may be) he earns, and now the team has told him “hey, we know you’ve been awesome but too bad you’re no longer going to have the opportunity to earn saves and therefore we’ll argue against you in arbitration to that end.”  Its no wonder Storen was immediately quoted as wanting to “explore his options” with his representation.

Lets also just say that it would not surprise this observer in the least if Storen’s performance fell off a cliff in the coming months.

You can argue that winning creates clubhouse chemistry; that’s your perogative.  You can talk about how the old Yankees “25 men, 25 cabs” had no problem winning and you can disclaim the chemistry factors that seemed to be in play with recent teams like the 2013 Red Sox or last year’s Royals.  Fair enough.  You can make the argument that these guys are all highly paid and should just accept whatever role is given to them … but lets be honest here; MLB players are human, they have egos, and (especially in the case of a reliever) they want to be the closer.  More to the point, when they do everything management asks of them and still get replaced, its hard not to blame them for being disgruntled.  This isn’t like when the Nats demoted John Lannan: Storen didn’t get beat out in spring training; he’s been absolutely stellar for the past two years.

Is this yet another reaction to Storen’s post-season record?  Lets all say it together: “short sample sizes.”  Storen has a grand total of 5 1/3 post-season innings.  Papelbon’s numbers in the post season are great (a 1.00 ERA in 27 innings), but he hasn’t pitched in October in 6 years.  Clayton Kershaw has a 5+ ERA in the post-season and nobody’s talking about replacing him.  You look for excellence in the regular season and hope it plays out in the post-season.

Two years ago, the management over-reacted to Storen’s post-season performance by over-paying (and burning a first round pick) on a closer in Rafael Soriano who, it should be noted, was himself demoted from the closer role in favor of the man he replaced by the time the deal was done.  Lets just hope that we’re not standing here in September of 2016 with Papelbon and his waning velocity ballooning to a 4+ ERA in his walks year with the ever-steady Storen right back in the same role…

I would have much preferred the team find some middle-to-later innings relievers to strengthen things in the 7th and 8th innings and not upset what Storen has established.  But it isn’t my team.  I just hope Storen can take the high road (much like Tanner Roark has been forced to do) and goes back to being a team player.

A few other excellent takes on the trade I recommend:

Post-publishing update: Joe Posnanski wrote a column 2 weeks onward, crucifying Rizzo and this trade (calling it “The Worst trade of the Season”) for its intangible impact on the team, echoing many of the same sentiments expressed here.

 

Summer Prep Travel team guide & Summer Showcase/tourney schedule

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Back in the day, (no this isn’t a “get off my lawn” post), once you got to high school age as a baseball player, you had just two choices for summer ball once the high school season was done; you’d either play Legion ball (if they were the elite of the town) or Babe Ruth (which was still pretty good baseball), and scouts would generally depend on scouting high school and Legion games and to hang out with high school coaches to figure out who the draftable talents were.

No longer.

These days, every kid of note hoping for a Division 1 scholarship or pro interest out of high school plays on a travel team.  These same players also go to Showcase events throughout the  year, either by invitation (for the best of the best) or on their own dime, where scouts can see players in a “combine” like setting and gauge their skills in a relatively controlled environment.  More and more, the actual performance in HS is downgraded or ignored and performances in these elite events is highlighted, since the opponent skill levels are so elevated and consistent.  This move has badly hurt Legion ball and has decimated Babe Ruth (here locally leagues have had to combine with other towns just to field enough teams to compete, and they struggle to find enough pitching to make the games competitive), but its the way of the future.

When you try to track prep kids (as I’ve begun to do more and more), you constantly hear about these teams and these events.  So I’ve finally broken down and tried to summarize them for the local area as best as I can.


This is my attempt to characterize the landscape of Travel Baseball in the DC/MD/VA area.  A ton of this is drawn from participation in the recent Perfect Game Wood Bat 17-U championships, so I likely am missing teams that did not participate.  If you come across this post and i’m missing your team, please comment as such.

Elite Talent Teams

  • Evoshield Canes: Based in Fredericksburg, VA with “outposts” up and down the east-coast.  This franchise is huge, fielding multiple teams at the latest WWBA event.  One of the leading talent teams in the land, winner of recent national travel team championships.
  • Stars Showcase Red (formerly Demarini Stars): Based in Oakton, Va.  Also large enough to field multiple teams in national events.
  • Chandler World: based out of Norristown PA but with a couple local players of note for 2015.
  • The Dirtbags All-Blacks: based just across the border in North Carolina, but draws players from southern and SW Virginia.

Mid-level Talent Teams

  • Richmond Braves National: based in Richmond.
  • Virginia Cardinals; based in Midlothian, VA.  The best of the Richmond area players.
  • Diamond Elite 17U: Ashburn; was independent, now joined with Evoshield Canes as one of their off-spring.  Comprised mostly of Ashburn/Leesburg guys from leading high schools out there like Stone Bridge.
  • Mid Atlantic Red Sox: Frederick MD

Lower-end Talent Teams

  • RISE Baseball Midlothian VA: ; not at WWBA 17u.
  • Arena STARZ 17U out of Bel Air, MD.   Lots of Battlefield players on this roster despite its geographic location.
  • Diamond Skills Dodgers (Silver Spring): mostly St. Johns Prep players
  • Maryland Monarchs: Gambrils, MD: Anne Arundel county players
  • Rawlings MD Prospects: Millersville MD
  • Rawlings Prospects of VA Sandlot Elite Sterling, VA
  • Tidewater Orioles Virginia Beach, VA
  • Virginia Baseball Network: Mostly guys from Lynchburg and Forest based  high schools. (not at WWBA 17u)
  • CBA Rays: Chesapeake based, mostly from Chesapeake-based high schools Greenbrier Christian, Great Bridge and Grassfield.  Not at WWBA 17u.
  • Hampton Road Hurricanes: not at WWBA 17u
  • Baltimore Bandits 17u: travel team run out of Calvert Hall HS in Baltimore.  Not at WWBA 17u.
  • Old Dominion Hitters: some D-I talent, not at WWBA 17u.

It should also be noted that the big programs (Evoshield, Stars, DirtBags, etc) fielded a number of “alternate” teams that were not as talented as their leading “varsity” team.  Those squads, as fielded at WWBA 2015 were:

  • Evoshield Canes American: Fredericksburg
  • Evoshield North (NC): Raleigh
  • Evoshield South (SC): Columbia
  • Evoshield Seminoles (Richmond)
  • Evoshield Canes Mid-Atlantic
  • Evoshield Canes North
  • Richmond Braves American
  • Dirtbags Select (NC)
  • Stars Black
  • Stars Blue

Showcase Guide 2015

So, what events are these kids playing?  Spurred on by this excellent summer-kick off article from Jonathan Mayo, here’s a good guide for the 2015 summer/fall events that the upper end rising HS seniors will be participating in.  Some of these have already passed and are listed here for completion purposes:

Perfectgame.org is *the* website for these kinds of things.  At PG’s events, all the teams, with their full rosters of players with home towns and college commits, are online and viewable.  Very good information if you’re interested in (say) one particular team’s roster of players.


Prep tournament guide 2015

 


 

This is my first cut at this data.  I’m sure i’m missing local teams and showcases.  Please let me know if you disagree with my characterization of the talent level of these teams (mostly taken by eyeballing the college commits to gauge the strength of the roster), if you feel i’m missing any major teams, or if you think a show-case or tourney is missing.

 

Written by Todd Boss

July 27th, 2015 at 9:09 am

Posted in Draft,Local Baseball

Tagged with

Nats 2015 Draft Wrap-up

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Wiseman may be known for his "neck homer" game, but he's raking in short-A.  Mandatory Credit: Steven Branscombe-USA TODAY Sports

Wiseman may be known for his “neck homer” game, but he’s raking in short-A. Mandatory Credit: Steven Branscombe-USA TODAY Sports

The July 17th signing deadline has come and gone, and the Nats had a relatively quiet signing period.  Little drama, no significant failed signings, no arguing in the press with Scott Boras, etc.   Lets recap our 2015 draft class.

As noted by Chelsea James in this NatsJournal piece, the Nats signed 30 of their 40 picks, including all their top ten and 18 of the top 20 picks.

They saved roughly $700k of their top10-round bonus pool, only having to go over slot for one top-10 round pick (Koda Glover, who perhaps not coincidentally was the first 2015 draftee to be promoted to full season ball), and transferred that bonus savings to two big over-draft picks in later rounds (13th rounder Max Schrock and 34th rounder Tyler Watson).  This essentially meant that they were able to acquire the equivalent of an extra 3rd and an extra 4th rounder thanks to bonus savings.

Here’s a cut-n-paste from my 2015 draft tracker spreadsheet (google link here, which includes more details and twitter accounts for the draftees).  Red == did not sign.  *==lefty, #=switch hitter.

Round Name/Position Col/HS School Signed?
2 Stevenson, Andrew* OF COL jr LSU signed for $750k, $308k under slot
2 Perkins, Blake OF HS Verrado HS (AZ) signed for $800k, $93k underslot.
3 Wiseman, Rhett* OF COL jr Vanderbilt signed for $554k, exactly slot.
4 Rivera, Mariano Jr. RHP COL sr Iona (NY) signed for $410k, exactly slot.
5 Hearn, Taylor LHP COL jr Oklahoma Baptist U. signed for $275k, 37k under slot
6 Crownover, Matt LHP COL jr Clemson signed for $160k, 70k under slot.
7 Borne, Grant LHP COL jr Nicholls State (LA) signed for $150k, 27k under slot.
8 Glover, Koda RHP COL sr Oklahoma State signed for $200k, 34k over slot.
9 Kerian, David# 1B COL sr Illinois signed for $25k, 130k under slot (and, was in the Auburn opening day lineup)
10 Guilbeau, Taylor LHP COL sr Alabama signed for $25k, 124k under slot
11 Lee, Andrew RHP COL jr Tennessee Yes per his twitter
12 Peterson, Tommy RHP COL jr South Florida Yes per his twitter, GCL roster assignment
13 Schrock, Max* 2B COL jr South Carolina signed for $500k, $400k over slot
14 Lemieux, Mack LHP HS Jupiter Community HS (FL) Not likely to sign
15 Mooney, Kevin RHP COL jr Maryland yes per Baltimore sun http://www.baltimoresun.com/sports/bs-sp-digest-0623-20150623-story.html
16 Sagdal, Ian* SS COL sr Washington State U. Yes per his twitter
17 Dulin, Dalton# 2B CC Northwest Mississippi CC yes per http://www.commercialappeal.com/sports/high-school/dalton-dulin-signs-with-washington-nationals_88617898
18 Rodriguez, Melvin* 2B COL sr Jackson State U. (MS) Yes per Auburn assignment
19 Brandt, Clayton SS COL sr MidAmerica Nazarene U (KS) signed per GCL roster assignment
20 Reeves, John C COL sr Rice (TX) Why didn’t he sign?
21 Pirro, Matt RHP COL sr Wake Forest Yes per his twitter
22 Boghosian, Adam RHP COL 5s North Greenville U. (SC) signed per GCL roster assignment
23 Rash, Alec RHP COL jr Missouri Not likely to sign
24 Smith, Blake RHP COL sr West Virginia Why didn’t he sign?
25 Copping, Calvin RHP COL jr Cal. State Northridge signed per GCL roster assignment
26 Harmening, Russell RHP COL jr Westmont Coll (CA) signed per GCL roster assignment
27 Brinley, Ryan RHP COL jr Sam Houston State U. (TX) signed per GCL roster assignment
28 Van Vossen, Mick RHP COL sr Michigan State U. signed per GCL roster assignment
29 Diedrick, Philip* OF COL sr Western Kentucky U. signed per GCL roster assignment
30 Pantoja, Jorge RHP COL jr Alabama State U. signed per GCL roster assignment
31 Sprengel, Nick LHP HS El Dorado HS (CA) Not likely to sign
32 DiNatale, Dalton* 3B COL jr Arizona State U. signed per GCL roster assignment
33 La Bruna, Angelo SS COL 5S U. Southern California signed per GCL roster assignment
34 Watson, Tyler LHP HS Perry HS (AZ) signed per Jim Callis Tweet
35 Montes, Coco SS HS Coral Gables HS (FL) Not likely to sign
36 Bush, Taylor SS HS The Linfield School (CA) Not likely to sign
37 DiPuglia, Steven SS HS Cooper City HS (FL) Not likely to sign
38 Morales, Matt SS HS Wellington Community HS (FL) Not likely to sign
39 Jefferies, Jake# 2B COL jr Cal. State Fullerton Yes per Auburn assignment
40 Quinn, Parker 1B HS The Benjamin School (FL) Not likely to sign

Review of the 10 who did not sign:

  • 14th rounder Lemieux was a tough sign, committed to Florida Atlantic, probably couldn’t get enough money to make it worth his while to forgo college.
  • 20th rounder Reeves has college eligibility left despite being a senior; I originally had assumed he was signing.  Looks like he returns to Rice and is a 5th year senior.
  • 23rd rounder Rash barely pitched this year and from what I read has really struggled in his college career.  He made sense to go back for his senior year to build value.  Coming out of HS he was a decent talent.
  • 24th rounder Smith was listed in some places as a senior but is listed as a junior on WVU’s website.  It makes sense for him to return for his senior  year and build value.
  • 31st rounder Sprengel is committed to U. San Diego.
  • High Schoolers picked in rounds 35-38 (Montes, Bush, DiPuglia and Morales) are committed to respectively South Florida, Westmont, Western Kentucky and Stetson, all opting to go to school.
  • 40th rounder Quinn is commited to Hofstra.

The big signing surprises for me:

  • Schrock in the 13th round, though he got paid like an early 3rd rounder.  So perhaps it isn’t that big of a surprise.
  • Watson in the 34th round, though again he got paid like a mid 4th rounder, so maybe it isn’t that big of a surprise either.
  • DiNatale and Jefferies both signing despite being such low picks; both were college juniors at big programs who could have gone back to school.  Somewhat surprising picks.  Given that any bonus figure below $100,000 in the 11th round or later does not need to be reported, it is possible that both guys got $100k (which is about equivalent to a 10th round pick) and opted to sign.
  • That the team signed *any* of the guys it picked in rounds 31 and above; they got 4 of the 10.

Was this a “good” or a “bad” draft?

I was on record quite clearly that I thought our 2014 draft was a failure.  This led to my posting a huge missive doing analysis on *every* draft class and determining whether it was a failure or a success.  I’m still not sold on 2014 a year onwards; Fedde is going to have to turn into an all-star to make up for the rest of the deficiencies of the class.

So how does the 2015 draft class look?  Unfortunately, in my mind, probably not too great either.  We had no 1st rounder.  Our two second rounders both project as good field/no hit center fielders (thought to be fair, Stevenson is hitting .360 in Auburn).  I like Wiseman but he has holes in his swing.  Rivera has gotten shelled so far in Auburn.  I think the team got some good deals on Glover, Schrock, and Watson.  Some of the college arms are really looking good at Auburn (Bourne, Peterson, Gilbeau).  So we’ll see.

Good links for the draft: that i’m constantly using.