Nationals Arm Race

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

2014 Fantasy Baseball post-mortem

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Stanton blasting another 450-foot homer.  Photo unk via rantsports.com

Stanton blasting another 450-foot homer. Photo unk via rantsports.com

(Standard disclaimer; this is ranting about my fake baseball team.  If you don’t play fantasy, might as well skip this).

I’m really beginning to question my abilities in fantasy sports.  Despite being deep into baseball and knowing random things off the top of my head that should be of use in fantasy (which managers are more inclined to do closer by committee, which ball parks are skewed offensively and thus players who play there may be at an advantage), I struggle year after year.

This year, thanks to an unfortunately timed meltdown (I lost a week 0-10-2 after having been ahead early in the week), I dropped just out of the playoff spots in my league (top 6 make the playoffs out of a 12 team league).  But the ills of my team were seen early.  Once again, I was plagued by under performing players and a poor draft that left me churning the waiver wire.  By the end of the season I had made 58 of the 65 allotted moves in a failed attempt to improve enough to sneak into the playoffs (where honestly, I would have been a tough out; I can grind out 6-5-1 wins with the best of them).

So, what happened?  Here’s a link to the post talking about my initially drafted team.  And here’s a matrix of my 21 initially drafted players, their performance on the year and a note indicating whether or not they over- or under-achieved (bold means on the team at  year’s end, red = badly under performed, green = greatly over-performed).

Player round Drafted/# Drafted overall Yahoo o-rank 2013 Yahoo O-rank 2014 ADP at time of draft 2014 Perf Rank
Adam Jones-OF 1st round (#10 overall) 7 13 10th/11.4 21
Adrian Beltre-3B 2nd round (#15) 15 12 13th/13.2 46
Alex Rios-OF 3rd round (#34) 25 44 34th/35 179
Giancarlo Stanton-OF 4th round (#39) 222 26 24th/27.8 5
Kenly Janssen-RP 5th round (#58) 52 48 49th/53.2 102
Greg Holland-RP 6th round (#63) 36 63 62nd/62 60
Mark Trumbo-1B/OF 7th round (#82) 66 78 53rd/56.0 944
Carlos Santana-C/1B 8th round (#87) 134 87 69th/74.0 159
Shelby Miller-SP 9th round (#106) 76 88 110th/113.0 485
Hyung-Jin Ryu-SP 10th round (#111) 85 101 124th/127.2 95
Aaron Hill-2B 11th round (#130) 402 111 124th/115.8 364
Danny Salazar-SP 12th round (#135) 336 96 154th/150.4 355
Tony Cingrani-SP 13th round (#154) 152 133 156th/156.8 941
Jim Henderson-RP 14th round (#159) 130 155 170th/175.0 750
Shane Victorino-OF 15th round (#178) 67 113 125th/129.0 1144
Chris Archer-SP 16th round (#183) 175 171 208th/209.0 314
Asdrubal Cabrera-SS 17th round (#202) 267 151 171st/177.4 177
J.J. Hoover-RP 18th round (#207) 237 629 344th 922
Tim Hudson-SP 19th round (#226) 299 300 311th 171
Brandon Belt-1B 20th round (#231) 106 104 142th 988
Jake Odorizzi-SP 21st round (#250) 548 358 445th 197

So, what happened?

My first two picks didn’t underperform “badly,” but were not the super stars you need to take hold of a league.  I didn’t really like Adam Jones or Adrian Beltre at the draft, and despite some hot streaks they’ve been disappointments.  Beltre got hurt in camp and missed games at the beginning of the season.  My #3 pick Alex Rios I finally gave up on and waived; his seasonal rank of 179 belies what he’s done the last two months (closer to the 900 ranked range).  It’s never a good sign when your #3 pick gets waived thanks to performance (and not injury) reasons.

Giancarlo Stanton is my one major “win” out of the draft; a 4th round pick who likely will finish in the top 5 of stats on the season.  At the time of this writing, he was trailing only Mike Trout in terms of fantasy rankings for offensive players.  He single-handedly carried my team offensively for weeks on end and is a large reason that my team offense was 1st in homers and 3rd in RBI.   I feel vindicated here: I suffered through at least two injury-riddled Stanton seasons in the past after having drafted him highly, and he’ll have the same issue next year; he’ll likely be a top-5 pick with a huge injury risk on his head.

My two big-time closers did not disappoint: both Janssen and Holland performed as expected and led me to be 5th in team saves and  have a 14-7-1 record in the category on the year.  This is a big lesson learned for me; you can get by with just two big-time closers and be successful in this category.  Of course, I wanted more closers but got unlucky; my #3 closer Jim Henderson suddenly and without warning was yanked from the role on opening day.  Another team vultured his replacement (Francisco “K-rod” Rodriguez); all he’s done is pitch lights out all year and is 6th in the league in saves.  That should have been my 3rd closer.  That was a disappointment.  I tried just one waiver-wire closer grab (Chad Qualls for Houston) and despite picking correctly, Qualls went weeks without save opportunities so I dumped him after two weeks looking for more starter quality.

Lets talk about the god-awful positional player issues I had in the draft: Mark Trumbo started out white-hot, fractured his foot and missed months.  Aaron Hill did not come closer to living up to the hype of fantasy analysts.  Shane Victorino was on and off the D/L all year.  And poor Brandon Belt fractured his thumb, fought his way back and then got hit in the head during BP and still remains on the concussion D/L.

Of the Starting Pitchers I gambled on: Shelby Miller struggled all  year, Danny Salazar got demoted, as did Tony Cingrani.  Chris Archer did not produce at fantasy levels and Jake Odorizzi struggled early and was dropped (I eventually picked him back up).  I only kept two drafted starters on the team all year (Ryu and  Hudson) and frankly Hudson was so bad for so long that I came pretty close to dumping him.  That basically means that my “wait on starters” strategy was a complete failure, if I’m only keeping ONE decent starter the whole  year.

So, for the 2nd straight year I cycled the waiver wires.  Here’s some of the guys I went through:

  • Starters: Scheppers, Kluber, Eovaldi, Skaggs, Kennedy, Strohman, Peralta, Montero, Keuchel, Garcia, Beckett,  Wood, Leake, Despaigne, Bauer, Liriano, Duffy, Hellickson, Cole, Smyly
  • Relievers: Qualls
  • Catchers: Mesoraco, Ruiz
  • 1B: Francisco, Adams, Alonso, Singleton, Napoli, Carter, Duda
  • 2B: Walker, Prado, Gennett, Wong
  • SS: Aybar, Escobar, Baez, Betts
  • 3B: Castellanos, Seager, Arenado
  • OF: Rasmus, Parra, Stubbs, Crawford, Ozuna, Eaton, Reddick, Aoki

Scheppers I took a gamble on b/c his numbers were so good as a reliever; mistake.  He got shelled opening day and soon was on the D/L.   A number of these pitchers were decent moves and pitched well for a while (especially Josh Beckett and Marcus Strohman).  The biggest failure here was dumping Corey Kluber after he got hit hard opening day: He’s turned into the 16th best fantasy performer all year, a 2nd round talent.  That was a huge mistake.  I liked Eovaldi‘s peripherals (lots of Ks) but he struggled with runners and his ERA/WHIP were inflated all year.  Skaggs got hurt, Kennedy was ineffective.  I got great value for a while out of Keuchel, but after a good mid-summer he tailed off badly.  Garcia made like one start before returning to the D/L.  Josh Beckett was a great waiver wire pickup for a while, but he too got hurt and remains on the D/L today.  Alex Wood was a great find.  I snaked Gerrit Cole off the D/L just before he came back on but he contributed little.  Most of my other experiments were far too inconsistent week-to-week to trust (see Trevor Bauer, Despaigne, Mike Leake, etc).

As mentioned before, I only tried to gamble on one closer waiver wire pickup thanks to the solid two starters that I had from draft day.  Most of the available closers on the waiver wire were in committee situations and couldn’t be trusted anyway.

I worked 1B, 2B, and 3B hard.  At one point I was trying to engineer a 3B trade, having Seager while he was hot and Arenado after he came off the D/L.  But my potential trade partners badly low-balled me for Beltre (offering guys who were worth far less than Beltre was) and suddenly Seager dropped off a cliff, making his trade value useless.  Eventually I dumped both.

1B pickups Napoli, Duda and especially Carter turned out to be huge winners.  Once again proving my point that some positions are just so deep they’re not worth drafting.  Same with outfielders to a certain extent; I had Ozuna all  year and he’s turned out to be well worth it.

My season’s end Fantasy team after all this waiver wire churning.  Bold are original, red are waiver wire:

  • C: Santana
  • 1B: Carter, Duda
  • 2B: Baez, Prado
  • SS: Betts
  • 3B: Beltre
  • OF: Stanton, Jones, Ozuna
  • SP: Hudson, Ryu, Odorizzi, Cole, Hellickson, Wood, Duffy, Liriano, Smyly
  • RP: Jansen, Holland

That’s a lot of red.

Lessons Learned for Next Year

  1. You only need two big-time closers to compete.  Spend draft picks in the 5th and 6th rounds, try to get a third closer later on and you’ll do fine.  You must do a better job on the waiver wire though trying to grab closers if you want them.
  2. There’s always 1B talent on waivers.  Do not over-spend on 1B.
  3. My strategy of over-loading on mediocre starters just doesn’t seem to be working.  I was 3rd in wins and 5th in Ks, but 8th in ERA, dead last in losses and 11th in whip.   Meanwhile the #1 team this year went with an uber-pitching strategy (over-drafting starters and ending up with Kershaw, Sale, Felix Hernandez as well as several top closers) and he just dominated pitching.  Despite having a ton of starters, he managed to be 4th in Wins AND be 2nd in Whip.  I think he’s got a good strategy.  And i’m sure people will try to emulate it next year.
  4. Do not sweat churning and burning waiver wire picks early on; you may just end up with a monster surprise player on the year.  This was the 1st place team’s strategy and it netted him Charlie Blackmon and a couple of extra closers.  Two of the top 10 starters on the year were waiver wire guys: Corey Kluber and Garrett Richard.
  5. Do not hesitate grabbing big-name call-ups.  I missed out on more than a couple guys that I would have grabbed but hesitated.  This cost me last year with Yasiel Puig and it cost me this year with Jorge Soler and George Springer.  I waited, and I missed out.

Blech.  Hope you enjoyed the rant.

 

 

Statistics, Deception and Boswell

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In case you weren't aware, Clayton Kershaw is really good.  Photo via wiki.

In case you weren’t aware, Clayton Kershaw is really good. Photo via wiki.

Was casually reading Tom Boswell‘s article in the post today (which can be summarized as “1,000 words on why you don’t want to face Clayton Kershaw in the playoffs, duh) and he posted the following intriguing statistic as part of his argument:

  • In games started by Kershaw, the Dodgers are 19-4
  • In games NOT started by Kershaw, the Dodgers are 59-58

Ergo, the Dodgers are really beatable when they don’t throw Kershaw.

This sounded like a great stat.  Until you dive a little deeper and you do the same analysis for our own first place/better record than the Dodgers team.

Los Angeles is, as of the moment of this writing, 78-62.  By starter, their team record breaks down like this:

  • Kershaw: 19-4
  • Ryu: 15-9
  • Greinke: 14-13
  • Haren: 13-14
  • Beckett: 9-11
  • Other randoms: 8-11

All others besides Kershaw and Ryu: 44-49
All others but Kershaw: 59-58

Pretty compelling, eh? They’re a losing team when not throwing one of their two aces in Kershaw or Hyun-jin Ryu.   Surprisingly, the team under their supposed #2 Zack Grienke sports just a .500 record on the year through 27 starts despite his known quality.


Lets do the same analysis for the Nationals, currently sporting a better record of 79-59 and having just beaten the Dodgers two out of three at their house.  Here’s the Nats team record under each starter this year:

  • Zimmerman: 19-9
  • Fister: 14-7
  • Gio: 13-10
  • Stras: 16-13
  • Roark: 15-12
  • Jordan: 1-4
  • Treinen: 1-4

All others besides Zimmermann and Fister: 46-43.

Hmm.  So, much like the Dodgers, if you play the Nats and you’re not facing one of OUR two best pitchers, we’re basically a .500 team.

I guess the point is this: in a sport where a team that is winning 57% of its games has the best record in the majors, the margins for winning and losing are pretty slim.  Or maybe the point is this: you can use stats to support pretty much whatever hypothesis you wish to postulate.

I think everyone knows that beating Kershaw is nearly impossible, and facing him twice in a short series may be the difference between advancing and going home.  But then again, this is the same Kershaw who has (believe it or not) a career 4.23 ERA in the post-season and got hammered by the Cardinals for 7 runs in 4 innings in last  year’s NLCS.   I guess that’s why they play the games.

But, I think it is also safe to say that the series in Los Angeles showed why it’d be one heck of an NLCS if the seedings held and the two top NL teams  held form in the divisional series.  Lets hope it comes to pass.

No surprises in Sept 1 call-ups, yet

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Treinen returns to the Nats for the September run.  Photo via zimbio.com

Treinen returns to the Nats for the September run. Photo via zimbio.com

[A quick note; a combination of a dead-time for issues that I like to write about and a new consulting engagement has conspired to mean very little activity here.  Now that the minor league seasons are ending though, I look forward to some wrap-up posts looking at the starters.  Apologies for the lack of posts/activity here].

9/1/14 came and went, and there was little drama in the Nats call-ups.  All six players called up were a) already on the 40-man roster, and b) already had MLB service time this year.

  • Pitchers: Blake Treinen, Aaron Barrett and Xavier Cedeno.
  • Catcher: Sandy Leon
  • 1B/OFs Tyler Moore and Steven Souza

So, nobody shocking thus far.  In fact, its almost easier to talk about the remaining 40-man players they did NOT call up than the ones they did.   In fact, lets do just that.  Here’s the players still on the 40-man but not initially called up:

  • Taylor Hill: hey, somebody’s got to start for Syracuse in the playoffs, right?  He may be approaching an innings limit anyway.
  • Sammy Solis: still rehabbing, no where near ready for prime time.
  • Felipe Rivero: only a handful of AA starts since his long D/L stint.
  • Ryan Mattheus: completely ineffective this season (5.80 ERA), likely on his way to a DFA/outright this off-season.
  • Jhonatan Solano: hey, somebody’s got to catch for Syracuse in the playoffs, right? :-)
  • Michael Taylor: many think he’s ready for prime time; would you start his service time clock so he can ride the pine in September?  I wouldn’t.
  • Jeff Kobernus and Eury Perez: with Moore and Souza call-ups, there’s already 7 outfielders … no need for two more right?

I can still see some value in calling up Perez for his speed, but almost nobody else at this point from this list.

What about those in Syracuse that had great seasons but are not on the 40-man?  Tougher call: You’d have to clear room to add someone right now, and the team seems to have made its moves to that end already in Matt Thornton and Nate Schierholtz.  But, if someone wanted to congratulate minor league vets like Brandon Laird (.300/.350/.490 for Syracuse this year), Rafael Martin (0.80 ERA in 33+ AAA innings) or Matt Grace (a combined 1.17 ERA over 77 innings in AA and AAA this year) with a September call-up and a month’s worth of MLB per diems, I wouldn’t disagree.  I just think it’d be kind of hard to find the space.  I would support a DFA of Mattheus right now to make room; after that is tougher.  You’d have to cut the likes of Kobernus or perhaps a MLB veteran like Jerry Hairston and/or Kevin Frandsen to make room based on performance.  And I don’t think a players’ manager like Matt Williams is cutting any veterans to make room for some 25-yr old he’s never met in AAA.

Nonetheless; there’s some baseball to play and some impact to be had by these 9/1 call-ups.  I think Barrett and Treinen are going to slip right back into the bullpen.  Cedeno could take away lefty-lefty opportunities that Jerry Blevins has been squandering all year (speaking of someone who may be on his way to a DFA this off-season…).  I could see Moore getting some playing time spelling Adam LaRoche at first (he seems like a better offensive option there than Frandsen, who has been the sub of choice lately when LaRoche gets a blow).  I’m excited to see what Souza brings to the table too; he led the Chiefs in steals this year despite missing 40% of the season; he isn’t just some big 6’4″ slugger.

Seven game lead this morning after last night’s win and a guaranteed road-trip split.  That’s fantastic, especially considering who they’ve been playing and beating (ahem, Felix Hernandez having his hat handed to him).

Did the Nationals swing the vote for the new Commissioner?

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They did if you believe Murray Chass.  In his incredibly mean-spirited column today, he goes above and beyond to trash White Sox owner Jerry Reinsdorf, details the supposedly-secret voting process that resulted in baseball’s 10th commissioner Rob Manfred, and lists the teams that initially were voting against Manfred.  Though most in the industry have viewed Manfred as the odds-on heir apparent to Bud Selig, the voting process was apparently anything but smooth.

Personally I have no love for Reinsdorf; I feel like he’s a scrooge-like multi-millionaire who has pushed for years and years on all fronts to affect the industry in ways that lines his pockets even more.  He was the ringleader on the massive free agency collusion case and he was the impetus for capping bonus money for amateurs.  I can’t imagine the owners’ meetings being pleasant experiences right now, since Reinsdorf has basically ram-rodded into place policies that eliminated the advantages that small-market teams held in terms of player acquisition.

It was theorized elsewhere that a vote for his competitor (Red Sox chairman Tom Werner) was a vote for less revenue sharing, while a vote for Manfred was a vote for the continuation of Selig’s policies.  But that doesn’t make much sense if you look at the teams supposedly voting against Manfred (which included initially several smaller market teams).

I’ve read elsewhere that the Nats changed their vote and swung the election with tacit promises that the MASN situation would be resolved.  Which makes sense if its true, but I’m not sure how Manfred can do anything about the current lawsuits, injunctions and threats of MASN insolvency if the Oriole-owned RSN is forced to pay still-not-market rates for Nationals broadcast rights.

I have a long-in-draft mode post-morteming Selig’s tenure.  But I wonder if it is worth publishing, knowing that nearly every baseball writer out there will be doing the same, and they’ll be doing it with more time and better contacts in the industry.  We all kind of know the high and low points of his tenure.  A post for another day.

So, Manfred is set to take over in January.  I wonder what his impact will end up being.

Written by Todd Boss

August 15th, 2014 at 4:09 pm

DC/MD/VA Little League Regional Results

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We covered the 3 local area’s district tournaments and then the state tournaments.  Lets finish it off with quick coverage of the 3 state titlists regional campaigns.

Three local programs (Tuckahoe, West Salisbury and NW Washington) headed off to compete in Little League Regional tournaments earlier this month.  Maryland and DC’s champions moved on to compete in the Mid-Atlantic Little League Regional, comprised of DC,MD,PA,NJ,NY and DE, and this year held in Bristol Connecticut.  Virginia’s champion moved on to compete in the Southeast Little League Regional, comprised of VA,WV,NC,SC,TN,GA,FL and AL, and this year held in Warner Roberts, Georgia (outside of Macon).  The Mid-Atlantic regional ran from 8/1/14-8/10/14 and the Southeast regional ran from 8/2/14 to 8/8/14.

Lets see how our local teams fared:

  • Virginia’s champ Tuckahoe American (outside of Richmond): they dropped their first game to South Carolina 11-5, but dominated Tennessee 13-0 in their second game.  In the pool final, they got a come-back win over Alabama 10-5 to finish 1st in the pool and advance to the Regional Semis.  In the regional semi (which I just happened to catch on ESPN2) they had a pretty amazing 6-run come-back in the final inning to get a walk-off win (Georgia just flat ran out of pitchers and their guys were just lobbing in the ball in the inning) to get a re-match with Tennessee in the regional final.  Despite beating them handily earlier in the tournament, Richmond couldn’t repeat the feat, fell apart in the 5th and lost 9-4 with a berth to Williamsport on the line.
  • Maryland’s champ West Salisbury got pummeled in its first two games in the mid-Atlantic regional, but then squeaked out a win over New York in the 3rd pool play game.  But they lost their last pool play game and finished 5th of 6 regional teams.
  • DC’s champ Northwest Washington had a similar experience to West Salisbury, losing its first three regional games (one by slaughter rule) and leaving them eliminated before pool play was completed.  They went winless and finished last in pool play.

The mid-Atlantic regional got some national press thanks to the presence of Kayla Roncin on the New Jersey champs Toms River, and then even more press when 13-yr old Mo’Ne Davis threw a shutout in the regional final for the Mid-Atlantic champs from Philadelphia.

The US representatives for the 2014 LLWS will be:

  • Mid-Atlantic: Taney Youth Baseball Association (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania)
  • Southeast: South Nashville (Tennessee)
  • Great Lakes: Jackie Robinson West (Illinois)
  • Midwest: Canyon Lake (South Dakota)
  • New England: Cumberland American (Rhode Island)
  • Northwest: Lynnwood Pacific (Seattle, Washington)
  • Southwest: Pearland East (Texas East) (who beat Lake Charles in the final, the hometown of my wife)
  • Western: Mountain Ridge (Nevada)

Here ends the 2014 coverage; unpage.org and llbws.org have all the coverage  you need.

Written by Todd Boss

August 13th, 2014 at 10:29 am

Posted in Local Baseball

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Looking ahead to September

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Souza was smiling even harder last week upon his MLB debut.  Photo Nats official/Tommy Gilligan

Souza was smiling even harder last week upon his MLB debut. Photo Nats official/Tommy Gilligan

So, this post is for forensicane, who wants to talk about the recent promotions of deserving Nats prospects, talk about September call-ups and some other happenings down on the farm. :-)

Despite my own best intentions, I have fallen off the wagon a bit in terms of the monthly check-ins that I like to do for the rotations/pitching staffs (both major and minor leagues).  A tough work schedule and a pending job change have conspired against that (and, frankly, the new job probably will further restrict posting).  But I’ll definitely summarize the minor league seasons (which, believe it or not, end in like three weeks!) and do the full-blown reviews that I’ve done in years past.

In the past week we’ve seen two very deserving farmhands get their MLB debuts: Steven Souza and Michael Taylor.  Souza unfortunately got just twelve ABs before slamming into the outfield fence, damaging his shoulder and heading to the D/L.  Which paved the way for Taylor to now join the team, but likely does not help out the major league club much.  Souza had destroyed AAA pitching while Taylor has just 4 games above AA; i’d bet he sees rather limited action until either Souza or Nate McLouth returns from the injured list.  Nonetheless, both promotions were deserved.

Looking ahead to September call-ups, Chase Hughes on NatsInsider took a look at some players who likely get 9/1 call-ups and came up with the expected list of guys who have shuttled back-and-forth between AAA and the Majors this year (Blake TreinenTaylor Hill, Aaron Barrett, Ryan Mattheus, Xavier Cedeno, Tyler Moore and Jhonatan Solano).  He also predicted one 40-man addition/call-up in Matthew Grace, which would be a great reward for his break-out season (and maybe spell the end of the 5.02 ERA Jerry Blevins experiment)?

Of the rest of the 40-man roster not already mentioned, Sammy Solis is on the AA disabled list, Felipe Rivero is also on the D/L (but is putting in re-hab assignments) but doesn’t merit a call-up, Sandy Leon has struggled badly this year and seems to be closer to a DFA than a call-up, Jeff Kobernus may also get a call-up to provide full-field utility needs and Eury Perez probably doesn’t quite need a call-up unless the Nats lose yet another outfielder.

The 40-man roster is full, but the team could easily re-call and 60-day D/L Solis (much like they did with Matthew Purke) to make room.  Solis hasn’t appeared since May 26th and at this point seems done for the year.

I havn’t done significant analysis of the roster moves that will have to happen in the off-season (re-adding 60-day D/L guys, cutting loose free agents, non-tenders and rule-5 additions), but I can see a bit of a glut coming.

  • We have four 60-day D/L guys now and a full 40-man roster.
  • We have four potential FAs … but three of them have options that are possibly attainable/possibly executable (Rafael Soriano‘s “games finished” option, Adam LaRoche‘s $15M mutual option for 2015 and Denard Span‘s decently affordable $9M 2015 option).  It doesn’t help that all three guys are having career years (Span now hitting above .300, LaRoche has the best OPS+ on the team and Soriano’s 1.79 ERA is nearly a career-low), making all these decisions rather difficult.
  • We have a TON of arbitration-eligible guys (at least 12-13 if Cots is correct).
  • We have more than a few guys in the minors who WILL need to be added ahead of Rule-5.  A.J. Cole is the biggest name, but there’s more than a few other names out there probably worth protecting too (scan the Nats draft-tracker for 2014 Rule 5 Eligibles).

A post for another day.

Anyway; have at it.

Post trade-deadline playoff contender rotations

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This year’s MLB trade deadline was crazy.  Never before have so many big-time names moved teams.  And certainly I cannot remember so many big-time pitchers relocating mid-season as well.

Lets look at the playoff contender rotations as they stand right now, with Trade deadline acquisitions highlighted in blue.

NL

  • Washington: Strasburg, Gonzalez, Zimmerman, Fister, Roark
  • Atlanta:  Teheran, Minor, Santana, Harang, Wood
  • Milwaukee: Lohse, Garza, Gallardo, Peralta, Nelson
  • Cincinnati: Cueto, Latos, Bailey, Leake, Simon
  • St. Louis: Wainwright, Masterson, Lackey, Lynn, Miller
  • Pittsburgh: Liriano, Morton, Locke, Volquez, Worley
  • Los Angeles: Kershaw, Greinke, Ryu, Beckett, Haren
  • San Francisco: Bumgarner, Hudson, Lincecum, Vogelsong, Peavy

St. Louis clearly did the most in the NL, acquiring two mid-rotation guys to help cover for the injured Michael Wacha and Jaime Garcia, but it is hard to look at their rotation and say they’d have the advantage over some of their potential playoff rivals.  San Francisco lost its ace (thought he hasn’t pitched like an Ace since signing his new deal) Matt Cain, and his replacement was not inspiring confidence (Yusmiero Petit), so they added former Cy Young winner Peavy (who is pitching better than his 1-11 W/L record .. but not a lot better).  Otherwise the NL playoff contenders mostly stood pat.  There was some small surprise that the free-spending Dodgers wouldn’t try to improve upon the suddenly underperforming Josh Beckett and/or the “fool-me-once” Dan Haren.  They’ll struggle to get through the #3 and #4 starts of their planned playoff rotation to get back to their co-aces Kershaw and Greinke (who was good but not shut-down in last year’s playoffs).  The home-town Nats may find themselves with an uncomfortable decision to make if they make the playoffs; which starter to send to the pen?  Roark is the least renound and the least tenured … but he has clearly been more effective than other rotation members.

It continues to amaze that the Braves are competing, given the losses they’ve faced in their rotation.  They are missing (arguably) their planned #2, #3 and #5 starters in Kris MedlenBrandon Beachy and Gavin Floyd but are getting by thanks to two mid-spring acquisitions (Santana and Harang) and the surprise performances of youngsters Wood and David Hale (who didn’t merit his demotion to the bullpen).

AL

  • Baltimore: Tillman, Norris, Chen, Gonzalez, Gausman
  • Toronto: Buehrle, Dickey, Happ, Strohman, Hutchinson
  • New York: Kuroda, Phelps, Capuano, Greene, McCarthy
  • Detroit: Scherzer, Verlander, Sanchez, Price, Porcello
  • Kansas City: Shields, Duffy, Ventura, Guthrie, Vargas
  • Oakland: Grey, Samardzija, Lester, Hammel, Kazmir
  • Los Angeles: Weaver, Wilson, Richards, Shoemaker, Santiago
  • Seattle: Hernandez, Iwakuma, Paxton, Elias, Young

I didn’t include fringe playoff contenders such as Cleveland or Tampa Bay here; both of those rotations were purged and weakened, and their odds of catching one of these listed WC contendors is long.  Oakland completely re-made their rotation here, attempting to keep up with Detroit, who now features the last three AL Cy Young winners to go along with Sanchez (who finished 4th last year in a season where he led the league in both ERA and FIP).  That’s quite a lineup.  Meanwhile Seattle likely finishes 10 games back of the Angels and could end up facing them in the coin-flip wild-card game … and could end up throwing the best pitcher in the AL at them (which has been noted as a significant down-side to the 2nd wild-card matchup; who wants to see a team lose out to a divisional rival that they bested by so many games in a play-in game?).

New York is the “Atlanta” of the AL this year; they currently have four planned rotation members on the D/L and (likely) out for the year (CC Sabathia, Ivan Nova, Michael Pineda and Masahiro Tanaka).   Their 4th and 5th starters were a 14th and 15th round pick respectively.  They’ve been outscored by nearly 30 runs on the year yet somehow have a winning record.  It seems like just a matter of time before their luck runs out and they settle back below .500.

Who would you rather go to war with, Detroit or Oakland’s rotation?   Probably Detroit’s rotation, given its depth one to four.  But the ALCS could be one heck of a series.

 

 

What’s eating Stephen Strasburg? Some stats and some thoughts

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Strasburg's  having a weird season. Photo unk via thewifehatessports.com

Strasburg’s having a weird season. Photo unk via thewifehatessports.com

Knee-jerk question: who is the best starter on the Washington Nationals?  Who do you call the team’s “Ace?”

For years its been Stephen Strasburg, even when Gio Gonzalez and Jordan Zimmermann were getting Cy Young votes (Gio 3rd place in 2012 and Jordan 7th place in 2013).  Its been Strasburg even when Zimmermann makes two consecutive all-star teams and the team acquires Doug Fister, who is 13th in the majors in accumulated fWAR over the past four seasons.  Its still Strasburg despite the fact that #5 starter (and someone who people in this space argued rather vociferously for “stashing” in AAA this year in lieu of other pitchers) Tanner Roark leads the team in victories right now.

(all stats on baseball-reference.com and/or fangraphs.com as of 7/31/14).

But this year, something is amiss with Strasburg.  He’s having a complete jeckyl-and-hyde season in many ways.  To wit;

  • He leads the starters in FIP and xFIP,  (indeed; among qualified starters right now in MLB, he’s 11th in FIP and 4th in xFIP, training just leading Cy Young favorites Clayton Kershaw, Felix Hernandez and Masahiro Tanaka).
  • He leads the Nats starters in fWAR.
  • He leads the NL in strikeouts with 10 more than his closest competitor Johnny Cueto.

I dunno.  If someone told me that a starting pitcher was leading the league in Ks, was 4th in xFIP, 11th in FIP and was 6th in velocity i’d say you had a pretty darn good pitcher.  But he’s been arguably the Nats *least* effective starter this year all in all.

Yet he’s just 7-9 on the season with a 3.55 ERA (one 1/100th of a point better than Zimmermann for last on the Nats rotation).   He has the worst WHIP of any of our starters at 1.240.  The team is just 11-12 in his starts.

So what the heck is going on?  Here’s some interesting statistical splits:

  • Compared to last year, his K/9 is up, his BB/9 is down.  That sounds good.  But his ground ball percentage is down and his line drive percentage is up.  Batters are putting better wood on the ball.  Which leads to…
  • His current BABIP against is an astoundingly high .345.  That’s the third highest BABIP of any qualified starter this year and a good 50 points higher than the league average.
  • Why are hitters getting such good wood on him?  Here’s a hint: for reasons unknown, batters are squaring up his fastballs like never before.  Checking his Pitch F/X data: he’s got a batting average against (BAA) of .294 on his four-seam fastball and an astounding .350 against his two-seam fastball.  Both of those figures are 50 points higher than the comparable BAA for those two pitches from 2013.
  • His velocity is down.  Which is kind of like saying that a model has gained a few pounds, but still.   Last years’ avg MPH on his two fastballs were 95.2 and 95.3.  This year?  94.5 and 94.6.  That’s just 7/10ths of a mph, and even with his loss of velocity he’s still easily in the top 10 in the league in average fastball velocity (6th in four seam velocity among starters), but its still declining.  In his 5 pro seasons his 4-seam average fastball velocity has gone from 97.6 to 96.0 to 95.8 to 95.2 to his current 94.5.

It sounds to me like a combination of slightly declined fastball velocity and some bad luck has led to hitters squaring up his fastballs more this year, resulting in more line drives, higher BABIP and more runs.  That more or less explains the huge delta between his ERA and his FIP.  But why?  Pitch F/X isn’t showing much of a change in fastball movement from last year to this year, so it is hard to argue that he’s lost movement on his fastball.  Could it all just be about location?

A couple more split-related observations (some of these we’ve seen during broadcasts):

  • Home ERA: 2.62.  Away ERA: 4.68.  Yeah, but lots of pitchers have big home/away splits.
  • First Inning ERA: 5.09!  Second Inning ERA: 4.30.  He’s getting hit early and often.
  • He’s improving as the game goes on; his stats against the order the second time through are significantly better than the first time through, something you don’t normally see.

If he’s so bad in the first inning, is he just having difficulties getting loose and finding his spots?  Is he falling behind and grooving fastballs and getting more line drive hits?  Why is he so significantly worse on the road?

On the bright side, the combination of an inflated BABIP and a huge delta between xFIP/FIP and his ERA does tend to indicate that there should be some regression back to the mean.  Maybe we’ll start seeing a bunch more of 7ip, 4hit, 2walk, 10K outings and he’ll break off a slew of dominant starts to help the Nats pull away in the division, just in time to lead the charge with a  home-field start in game 1 of the playoffs.

Thoughts?  Are you worried?  What else do you think is causing his troubles this year?

MASN deal reached? And now they’re fighting in court?

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http://www.hollywoodreporter.com/thr-esq/major-league-baseball-embroiled-explosive-721927

H/T to my friend Jason Amos who sent me this link, posted earlier today.  Looks like nobody else has it yet.  Makes me slightly wonder about the veracity.

Read the details.  Apparently the eternal “committee” studying the MASN compensation issue reached a verdict that Peter Angelos didn’t like, and things are starting to get nasty in court filings.

Wow.  Sounds like things are about to get dirty between Angelos, Ted Lerner and wishing-he-had-retired-already Bud Selig.

Written by Todd Boss

July 29th, 2014 at 4:25 pm

Babe Ruth, American Legion and other youth league Updates

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Continuing my coverage this year of youth baseball.  We covered the local High School tournaments and Little League tournaments so far.  We talked about all the local area draft prospects ahead of the draft.   I have a draft post covering the multitude of College Wood Bat leagues, but since those leagues are almost over I may just save it for next year.  Now lets try to bridge the gap between little league and high school.

The youth landscape in baseball has changed a ton since I was a kid in Northern Virginia.  It used to be simple:

  • you’d play Little League until  you were 12
  • then you’d play Babe Ruth til you were 15
  • then if you were good enough you’d play HS ball in the spring and you’d play American Legion in the summers.  But you could always play “Senior” Babe Ruth from the time you were 16-18.
  • and that was it.  If you weren’t playing some other sport there was always “fall ball” at each age level, but the above were the leagues that “counted.”

Now a days, I’m not even sure what is going on with youth baseball.  We all know about the wide growth of travel baseball, which has essentially destroyed Babe Ruth at its older levels (thanks to the siphoning off of any one talented enough to pitch).  But now apparently there’s a whole slew of leagues i’m not familiar with:

  • “Major60″ and “Major70″ distinctions for 11 and 12 year olds
  • Modifications to the classic “little league” rules to try to capture those kids they’re losing to travel teams
  • Pony League baseball (more prevalent in southern virginia; is there even a northern virginia league?)
  • Cal Ripken youth leagues, which I guess is a division of Babe Ruth for youngsters
  • Travel teams; do they even have “leagues?”  Or do they just go to tournaments?

Back in the day, when Babe Ruth had no competition for the youngest teens, winning the 13-year old and/or the 13-15 year old Babe Ruth tournaments still meant something.  Likewise, American Legion was essentially a hand-picked/all-star team of your hometown high schools.  Now, I’m not so sure.  How is American Legion faring, considering that big-time travel teams now have all the major prep prospects out there?   As far back as 2005, there were stories in the Washington Post about how Legion ball was badly suffering.  It seems to me now that Legion ball is struggling just like senior Babe Ruth ball.

That being said, I did go looking for district and state results for the leagues I grew up knowing.  We reveiwed Little League’s local and state tournaments, so here’s the subsequent state results for Babe Ruth and other amateur youth leagues:

American Legion’s district tournaments are complete; the state tournament kicks off on 7/28/14 from the great Fireman’s Field in Purcellville.  Your 8 teams in the Virginia American Legion state tournament are from Roanoke #3, hosts Leesburg #34, Stafford #290, Williamsburg #39, Albemarle #74, West End (Richmond) #361, Big Island (outside of Lynchburg) #217 and lastly my “home post” of 180, Vienna.  Editor Update: Here’s the tourney results: Vienna Post 180 went two and out, losing to Albemarle and then Williamsburg (by forfeit of all things) to end their involvement in the tournament.   Albemarle breezed through the state tournament, winning 4 straight to win the State title.  Big Island fought through the loser’s bracket to

Cal Ripken Leagues (not to be confused with the Cal Ripken Collegiate league, nor “Ripken Baseball,” a for-profit academy run by the Ripken brothers) have all finished their state tourneys as well, and most of those state champs are already deep into their regional tournaments.

I have no information on Pony League baseball, other than what’s on their incredibly confusing website.  Pony baseball has more divisions than … well something with a lot of divisions.  My pun-making ability failed me here.


I have no idea if there’s even organized leagues for these multitude of travel teams.  I know there’s an official Northern Virginia Travel League, but nowhere on this site can i find something like a “schedule” or “standings.”  Do these teams just exist to go play weekend tournaments?   The locally based EvoShield Canes “schedule” is just a list of tournaments they’re playing in.   So what do these teams do the rest of the time?  Don’t they play regular games?

I dunno.  My kid is too young to force me to know all these things yet.  Hell, he may not even play baseball.  Are there readers out there who can fill me in?  Is it even worth tracking these all-star results anymore, thanks to the complete dilution of talent?

Feedback welcome/encouraged.

Written by Todd Boss

July 29th, 2014 at 1:55 pm

Posted in Local Baseball

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