Nationals Arm Race

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

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Thou shalt not overreact to a blown save…

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This is the only photo I have of Papelbon where he's not grabbing his nuts or Harper's throat. Photo Keith Allison via wikipedia/flickr

This is the only photo I have of Papelbon where he’s not grabbing his nuts or Harper’s throat. Photo Keith Allison via wikipedia/flickr

Look, I get it.  We’ve watched Jonathan Papelbon blow two saves rather egregiously in the last week.   We know his fastball is down (average of 90.9 this season versus 91.4 last year and 93.8 in 2012).  We know his “stuff” is down (K/9 is “just” 8.35 this year versus career peaks north of 10 K/9) and his walks are up (3.34 BB/9 this year, a stark increase over last year’s 1.71 BB/9).

But did you know that the Nats bullpen is still one of the best in all of baseball?  Here’s some quick team stats for you from fangraphs; the Nats bullpen is:

  • 4th in the MLB in ERA
  • 2nd in FIP and 3rd in xFIP
  • 6th in K/9
  • 4th in BB/9
  • 6th in fWAR
  • 4th in Blown Saves.

So, optically yes we would like to have a better arm throwing in the 9th.  But overall, we have (against all odds) crafted a brand new bullpen from 2015’s dumpster fire version that has been pretty darn effective.

So what do we do with our embattled “closer?”  Well, I think Fangraph’s August Fagerstrom has put it best.  I think its time to flip-flop the roles of Papelbon with Shawn Kelley.  Kelley’s peripherals are ridiculous: 13.9 K/9, a 58/7 K/BB ratio.   By way of comparison, Aroldis Chapman has “only” a 12.6 K/9 rate this year (though to be fair, its a down year for a guy who has a career 15.2 rate … yes i’m cherry picking stats a bit).

I do think its promising (at least from a player management perspective), that we’re hearing Dusty Baker addressing these questions with what seem like real quotes from Papelbon that show him to be a team player and cognizant of his struggles, as opposed to the defiant petulant bastard that he has appeared to be elsewhere in his career.  Numbers don’t lie; if he’s not getting it done, and he knows it, then its time to step aside.  There’s no shame in getting old (he’s in his age 35 season and he’s got nearly 700 high-leverage “I’m the guy” appearances on his C.V.).

No, I wouldn’t have wanted to trade my #1 system prospect for Chapman like the Cubs did.  In fact, I wouldn’t trade a starter or a position player for a reliever, ever,  unless it was a lesser guy completely blocked by someone that I had signed to a long-term deal.  The value trade-off is just not there.  As Fagerstrom points out, we can shuffle roles and then perhaps find a bullpen spot for the electric arms of Lucas Giolito and/or Reynaldo Lopez for the stretch run if we run into injuries.

Mike Rizzo; please, please resist the temptation to trade valuable assets for the “proven closer” (insert trademark here).  Please.  If you’re tempted … I hear Drew Storen is available.  Or at the very least trade someone from our logjam of 4-A starters instead of a valuable piece that we’ll need a few years time.

PS readers; apologies for 2 weeks of radio silence; was OOO visiting family and going through a stretch of business at work that prevented such fun things as spitting out opinion pieces about relievers who will contribute a fraction of a WAR over the rest of the year.  Thanks for sticking in there.  MartyC; next post I’m teeing up a glowing review of Giolito just for you 😉

Lucas Giolito – First Look

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WASHINGTON DC, JUNE 28: Washington starting pitcher Lucas Giolito (44) makes his major league debut as the Washington Nationals play the New York Mets at Nationals Park in Washington DC, June 28, 2016. (Photo by John McDonnell / The Washington Post)

WASHINGTON DC, JUNE 28: Washington starting pitcher Lucas Giolito (44) makes his major league debut as the Washington Nationals play the New York Mets at Nationals Park in Washington DC, June 28, 2016. (Photo by John McDonnell / The Washington Post)

Its been a while since I did one of these, but what better occasion than to eyeball our newest and biggest prospect on his MLB debut.

Lets talk about Lucas Giolito‘s abbreviated debut.  Here’s what I saw.

Smooth and easy delivery, almost effortless.  He seems like he’s just lobbing it in.  According to TV, FB at 94-96.  Here’s his Pitch F/X link on the night: they classified  his change-ups mostly as curves, had his average velocity at 93.9 and his peak at 95.9 (so the TV gun wasn’t embellishing).  In the first, He gave up a weak single to Granderson to lead-off, got the benefit of some high strikes against Cabrera before blowing him away with a “show me” 96 mph fastball down the pike.  Cespedes sat on a first pitch fastball and absolutely gashed it … right at Rendon.  Walker got a really nice change-up to start him off (nice to see that confidence to command his change-up 0-0), got him down 0-2 and kind of knew a a curve was coming and hit it pretty hard, but Murphy made a nice play to retire him and save the run.  Huge delta between his FB and change, and he controlled the change.  He only threw 2 curves in the first inning, one of which broke so sharply that the ump missed the call (it was borderline low anyway) and the second got hit.

Second inning even though he’s “only” 93 Loney was way behind.   You have to attribute that to his length and the fact that he’s releasing the ball probably a foot closer to the plate than a normal guy.  Loney then froze on a beautiful curve before flying out harmlessly.  The umpire’s high strike zone worked to Giolito’s advantage; his adreneline was definitely working against him and his pitches were trending up.   Flores got a good swing on his curve, better than I would have liked to have seen.   Weak fly ball opposite field for Nimmo and Giolito is through 2 having retired 6 straight.  Interesting.

We go into live blogging mode briefly: here’s some thoughts during the bottom of the 2nd:

  • At 8:30pm in my Vienna home it starts pouring; not a good sign for Giolito’s start.  I’m guessing they may have a brief delay.  Yup, like clockwork, 9pm the tarp goes out on the field.  Well at least I now know how long it takes for a storm to get from my house to Nats Park :-)
  • Side tangent; why the F is Zimmerman hitting before Rendon??  In fact, why is Zimmerman hitting anything but like 8th right now?   Rendon gets Giolito a 1-0 lead with a crushed triple to right center.
  • Another tangent: boy seems like Harvey is short arming it.  I think I’ve mentioned this before in a comment somewhere; his mechanics just do not look like they did last year, or prior to his injury.  I wonder if this is just what he throws like now post TJ, or if he’s got some sort of mechanical issue.
  • Why exactly are they pitching to Espinosa with Giolito on deck?  That was kind of dumb.  The kid has 9 at bats in like the last 5 years.  I’m going to laugh if he gets a hit.
  • Giolito is a little rusty at the plate.  Of course, professional hitters can’t hit Harvey, so it isn’t like its any shameful thing that Giolito is swinging after the ball is in the catcher’s mitt.  He manages a grounder to second that for a second looked like it might weasel its way through.

Top of the 3rd, he makes quick work of 8-9 hitters on weak grounders; now its second time through the lineup.   He nibbled a little bit with Granderson and walked him on 4-straight; same with Cespedes.  Maybe that’s fair; those are the two most dangerous hitters in the Mets lineup these days.

He’s pitching efficiently, he’s working contact and getting a lot of weaker outs.  He’s not over throwing, hasn’t shown much above 96.  But he’s in control; just 32 pitches through three complete.

I’m trying to gauge the movement on his fastball; I saw one really nice tailing fastball that might have been a two seamer, but mostly its straight 4-seamers.

True to scouting reports, he has a sick curveball; a true 12-6 curve, straight over the top and it drops straight down.  Wow; that’s something you just don’t see that often.  It curves enough that a pitch that looks way up is going to drop into the zone.  Its no wonder why pundits rave about the hook.  By the 4th inning Ramos was loving the curve and calling it more frequently.

He’s getting great defense behind him; Rendon, Murphy and Espinosa all have turned in really nice plays for him on grounders that were sometimes pretty sharply hit.  But its all outs on the board.

Through 4 complete; 1 hit, two walks on just 45 pitches.  29 strikes, 16 balls (8 of which came on the two batters where he seemed to nibble/lose focus).

At this point, it started pouring, and when they didn’t remove the tarp after like 5 minutes you knew his night was done.  Team wins easily on the night 5-0 and I wonder how much longer Giolito could have gone.

In the end, we’ve seen him throw a couple of clicks faster (he was 97 in spring), and we’ve certainly seen him with more strikeout capacity (353 Ks in 324 career minor league innings with almost exactly 9 k/9 in AA this year against the best hitters in the minors).  I wonder if tonight’s outing was a managed gameplan kind of thing from the Nats brain trust; don’t over throw, pitch to contact, don’t worry about Ks or throwing max effort.

What did you guys see?

 

 

 

Its Moving Day/Giolito day!

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Graduation day has arrived. Photo unk via federalbaseball.com

Graduation day has arrived. Photo unk via federalbaseball.com

There were a TON of cascading moves announced today, with multiple guys moving up in our system.  Starting at the bottom:

  • GCL: 2016 draftees and RHPs Jacob Howell and Phil Morse got bumped to Auburn after one appearance each in the GCL.
  • Auburn then sent Angelo La Bruna, Robbie Dickey and Randy Encarnacion (who probably should have been higher honestly) to Hagerstown.  This will be Dickey’s third shot at Low-A but he was clearly not touchable in Short-A (8ip, 1H 11Ks in 3 outings so far this year).
  • Hagerstown then bumped up two great hitting prospects Max Schrock, Victor Robles and Trey Lambert to Potomac.  Robles and Schrock were both all-stars and both were flatly out-hitting Low-A.  Lambert has quietly been toiling in the bullpen and had a 27/2 K/BB ratio this year.  I tell you, i’m really starting to get excited about Robles, and I think Schrock is turning into a draft day steal.
  • Potomac then bumped up Drew Ward, Andrew Stevenson, Ryan Brinley and Boone Whiting to AA.   Three of these four were all-stars this year, and Whiting was in AAA all of last year so was wasting his efforts in high-A.  Kudos for Ward to get the promotion and get his prospect career back on track, and even more kudos for Stevenson to earn such a quick promotion to AA.
  • Harrisburg then moved up Chris Bostick, Zack Collier and suddenly dominant starter Reynaldo Lopez to Syracuse (they also put Wander Suero on the TIL list to account for the four promotions).  How about the season Lopez is having?  As noted in the comments, he’s leading AA in K/9 while maintaining a 3+ K/BB ratio.
  • Syracuse’s corresponding moves were mostly bloodshed: they released Scott Sizemore, Tony Campana and RHP Juan Gutierrez to make room.  They also promoted Rafael Martin for at least the day.  Lopez isn’t going to be pitching out of the bullpen though, so I’d imagine that Jared Long will get demoted to fill the vacated spot in AA.

Why is there an extra spot in AA’s rotation?

Because Lucas Giolito got called up!  Mid Monday the announcement came out; he’s making the start on Tuesday.  Get your DVRs ready!  I won’t go into Giolito too much; we all know what he’s supposed to be.  Question is; will he live up to the hype?


(if you want to see all the transactions organized by league, here’s the links I use):

Minor League Transaction announcement links

Mets vs Nats: first big showdown of the year

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Will Harvey show up for his marquee matchup on thursday? Photo: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

Will Harvey show up for his marquee matchup on thursday? Photo: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

The first 6 weeks of the season have just been warm-up for this series.  Its time for the rubber to hit the road.  Time to see what’s what.

That’s right; its Mets and Nationals to see who takes round 1 in the battle for the 2016 NL East title.

(yes I know the Phillies are somehow in 2nd place, and the Marlins are frisky.  I don’t buy it; they’re not going to outlast their two divisional rivals that are built for 2016 playoff runs.  Because neither of those teams will spend a dime mid-season to improve and their kids will wilt in August).

Here’s the pitching match-ups (probables here for the week)

  • Tuesday 5/17/16: Max Scherzer versus Noah Snydergaard.  Wow; power versus power.  Scherzer fresh off a 20-k performance; Thor with his slider that he’s run up to 94 (!!) and his 101 peak fastball.  Washington’s hitters havn’t exactly been knocking the cover off the ball lately and Citi Field (I almost said Shea Stadium) will be rocking  Advantage Mets.
  • Wednesday 5/18/16: Gio Gonzalez versus (presumably) Bartolo Colon: The Mets lefties can’t hit Gio and he’s been solid … but he’s also prone to meltdowns under stress.  Washington only saw Colon once last year and it was on opening day; he’s 43 and still slinging the ball in there.  Advantage: even.
  • Thursday 5/19/16: Stephen Strasburg versus Matt Harvey: The Nats are 8-0 in Strasburg’s 8 starts so far and he’s earning his new pay-day.  Harvey is showing the signs of too many innings last year, has an ERA of nearly 5.00 and is 3-5 in his starts.  But Harvey is a big-game guy and will get up for this one.  Nonetheless, I give advantage to Nats.

Prediction/Hopes: you always hope and expect winning just 1 of 3 against a top rival on the road; if the Nats steal an extra game i’d be ecstatic.

 

Written by Todd Boss

May 17th, 2016 at 11:36 am

Strasburg Extension Shocker!

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Wow. Photo allansgraphics.com via free-extras.com

Wow. Photo allansgraphics.com via free-extras.com

Woke today to check the score from last night (we have a toddler, ergo we are sleep deprived and go to bed early).  After reading about Bryce Harper‘s mouth and ejection and Clint Robinson‘s walkoff, there was a small little link at the bottom of the article…

Stephen Strasburg signs a 7yr, $175M extension to stay with the team, as broken last night by the Washington Post’s Chelsea James.

Wow.  Did not see this coming.  I never thought this team would re-sign Strasburg frankly, because I thought there’d be a feeding frenzy when he hit free agency this coming off-season.

Strasburg’s representation (Scott Boras) is not exactly known for having his players sign extensions.  The 2016-17 free agent market for starters was so bare that Strasburg likely would have inspired a bidding war and you have to think Strasburg just left a bunch of money on the table.  The next best starter hitting free agency next off-season now might be Rich Hill.  Rich Frigging Hill, as in the guy the Nats had on a MLFA deal last summer and cut him loose so he could go re-make his career out of the Oakland bullpen.

What kind of value did the team just get?  Here’s a quick look at the other SP deals in the $150M or higher range:

  • David Price: 7yrs/$217M starting in 2016.
  • Clayton Kershaw: 7yrs, $214M starting in 2014
  • Max Scherzer: 7yrs/$210M starting in 2015 (albeit with significant deferred money that brings the net present value down to around $185M)
  • Zack Greinke: 6yrs/$206M starting in 2016
  • Felix Hernandez, 7yrs/$175M starting in 2014
  • Masahiro Tanaka: 7yrs/$155M (but with his $20M posting fee its a $175M deal all told)
  • Jon Lester: 6yrs/$155M starting in 2015.

So, this is the selection of contracts to compare this Strasburg deal to.  Other big deals signed last off-season include Johnny Cueto (6yrs/$130M) and Jordan Zimmermann (5yrs/$110M).

There’s already a bunch of hot takes; some like the deal, some think its a mistake.  On the one hand, Yes, pretty much any big long term free agent deal eventually looks like a stinker, so in that respect you can be a cynic and say that every long term FA contract is a mistake.  But that’s just not a realistic way to look at team building in this modern era.  Unless you’re willing to completely punt on your season for several years running (see Chicago Cubs, see Houston Astros, see the Atlanta Braves right now, even look at what our own Nats did for two seasons so they could acquire both Strasburg and Harper in the draft), then keeping your team consistently in the upper division requires spending on the FA market to paper over what your farm system may  not be developing.

But looking at (specifically) the Cueto and Lester deals … I can’t help but think that the Nats got a steal here.  Who would you rather have, Cueto for 6/$130M or Strasburg for 7/$175?  Same question for Lester. Strasburg, to me, is a better pitcher (a far better pitcher) and they got him for basically the same AAV as those guys.  Would you rather have Strasburg for $25M AAV or Price at $31M AAV?  Honestly?  Give me Strasburg and I can use that $6M to buy more bullpen guys.

I know Strasburg has his detractors out there, people who with a straight face don’t think he’s an “Ace” or one of the best 10-15 arms in this league;  you people are fools.  Look at nearly any metric you want over the last 3-4  years and you’ll find that Strasburg is in the top 10-15 league wide.  Here’s a helpful link to fangraphs individual pitcher stats from 2012-now; in this time frame Strasburg is (among qualified starters): 13th in fWAR, 13th in ERA, 9th in FIP, 2nd in xFIP, 9th in SIERA, 4th in K/9, 11th in K/BB, 5th in FB velocity, 20th in wFA, 7th in wCU, 6th in wCH.  That’s pretty rare air to be that high up in so many different categories spanning the various statistical ways to measure pitching these days.  He’s not Clayton Kershaw … who is?

Interesting question to ponder: is this Strasburg/Boras “payback” for “shutdown-gate” in 2012??  Their way of saying “thank you” for looking out more for the pitcher than the team in that case?   Because it seems so to me; that’s my “hot take.”

I leave you with this before debating the merits of this move: Here’s our projected rotation in 2017:

Scherzer, Strasburg, Giolito, Ross, and Gio Gonzalez or Tanner Roark.

Yeah; that could be pretty frigging good.

2016 MLB Rotation Rankings 1-30

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The best pitcher on the best rotation in the league. Photo: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

The best pitcher on the best rotation in the league. Photo: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

I’m returning to a fun post that I did in 2013 and again in 2014 (but couldn’t find the time to do while switching jobs in 2015): Ranking the MLB rotations 1-30 ahead of the new season.  I normally wait to do this post until all the significant starter free agents have signed; when Yovani Gallardo signed, he was the final QO-attached starter who might make a difference in a team’s ranking, so it was time to publish.

This is not a scientific analysis necessarily; i’m not looking at PECOTA or ZIPS to project war to do my rankings.  Rather, this is an eye test of the guys projected to pitch 1-5 for each team in the coming season.  So feel free to disagree.  For what its worth, I am pretty confident in my top 10 and my bottom 5 rotations … but am not exactly going to argue vehemently that the rotation i’ve got ranked 22nd is appreciably better than the one I have ranked 24th.

At the bottom i’ve put links to other pundit’s rankings, which are similar but different.

As always, I show my work; here’s the rotation ranks worksheet that I use to track rotation players.  As an added bonus to what is shown below, the worksheet color codes new acquisitions, puts in “depth” for each team and tracks who the team lost from last  year.  it also has a list of as-of-yet-unsigned hurlers, though none would move the needle if/when they sign for 2016.

I’ll put these into sections and put in comments as we go.

Team Rank Projected 2016 Rotation 1-5
New York Mets 1 Matt Harvey, Jacob deGrom, Noah Syndergaard, Steven Matz, Bartolo Colon
St. Louis 2 Adam Wainwright, Michael Wacha, Carlos Martinez, Jaime Garcia, Mike Leake
San Francisco 3 Madison Bumgarner, Johnny Cueto, Jeff Samardzija, Matt Cain, Jake Peavy
Cleveland 4 Corey Kluber, Carlos Carrasco, Danny Salazar, Trevor Bauer, Cody Anderson
Washington 5 Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg, Joe Ross, Gio Gonzalez, Tanner Roark

Discussion 1-5: My top 5 is pretty similar to other people’s top 5 rotations.  I don’t think anyone would argue against the Mets being at #1; if Zack Wheeler comes back healthy he can replace either the ageless Colon or the oft-injured Matz and perhaps even improve what is clearly the class of the league.  I have St. Louis #2 since everyone seems to forget just how good they were last  year; yes they lose Lynn but they gain back Wainwright.

I could see why people could argue against having both San Francisco and Cleveland higher than Washington, and indeed over the course of the winter I had Washington above both.  But I’m convinced that both of SF’s new acquisitions Cueto and Samardzija will completely thrive playing in the NL West, and you can do worse than Cain/Peavy as your 4/5.   They have some depth in case those two veterans get hurt and I see SF as a sneaky NL West challenger in 2016.

Cleveland you say?  Kluber is a former Cy Young winner who hasn’t forgotten how to pitch, Carrasco and Salazar are two of the best young arms in the league (I’m seeing Carrasco in particular going very high in fantasy ADP rankings for 2016), and their 4/5 are comparable to Washington’s back end.  If you wanted to argue that man for man Washington was just ahead of Cleveland i wouldn’t disagree; i’ve been burned over-ranking DC’s rotation in the past so perhaps I was gun shy this time around.

Team Rank Projected 2016 Rotation 1-5
Chicago Cubs 6 Jake Arrieta, Jon Lester, John Lackey, Jason Hammel, Kyle Hendricks
Arizona 7 Zack Greinke, Shelby Miller, Patrick Corbin (TJ), Robbie Ray, Rubby De La Rosa
Los Angeles Dodgers 8 Clayton Kershaw, Scott Kazmir, Alex Wood, Kenta Maeda, Mike Bolsinger
Seattle 9 Felix Hernandez, Taijuan Walker, Hisashi Iwakuma, Nate Karns, Wade Miley
Chicago White Sox 10 Chris Sale, Jose Quintana, Carlos Rodon, John Danks, Erik Johnson

Discussion 6-10: So, is Washington > than the Cubs?  I think so: I don’t view Lester as a real #2 any more, Lackey is approaching retirement and their 4/5 are basically 5th starters easily found on the waiver wire; i’d take the Nats’ 3-4-5 over the Cubs any day.  Still, Arrieta‘s 2nd half was legendary and it is possible that Lackey puts up a 3-win season, so they’re still quite good.  Both Arizona and the Dodgers are propped up by virtue of their Aces; the back side of both rotations looks downright scary.  In fact, you can say the same for Seattle and the White Sox too; all four of these teams have league-wide top end Aces and then 5th starters who seem like they could be replaced by someone in AAA.  That’s really the difference between these teams and the top 5 ranked teams; its the back of the rotations, not so much the front.

I could be slightly wrong about Seattle’s depth; if Iwakuma is really hurt and if Felix‘s decline phase has really started, then Seattle’s a notch down.  If Rodon takes the step forward that he can, then the White Sox can really become a force of a rotation quickly.

Team Rank Projected 2016 Rotation 1-5
Pittsburgh 11 Gerrit Cole, Francisco Liriano, Jeff Locke, Jon Niese, Ryan Vogelsong
Houston 12 Dallas Keuchel, Collin McHugh, Lance McCullers, Mike Fiers, Scott Feldman
Boston 13 David Price, Clay Buchholz, Rick Porcello, Eduardo Rodriguez, Roenis Elias
Tampa Bay 14 Chris Archer, Jake Odorizzi, Erasmo Ramirez, Drew Smyly, Matt Moore
Detroit 15 Justin Verlander, Jordan Zimmermann, Anibal Sanchez, Daniel Norris, Mike Pelfrey

Discussion 11-15: So again looking at edge cases, I have the likes of Seattle and Chicago > Pittsburgh based on the strength (or lack there of) of the back-end of Pittsburgh’s rotation; NieseVogelsong??  Really?  I just have a hard time believing that Pittsburgh is going to reach 90 wins with this 2016 rotation.  Houston is one Cy Young winner and four guys who look like 4-A replacements.  I like the Price signing … but Price is not exactly Kershaw-esque when it comes to putting up constant shut-down performances; Price gets just lit up some times.  Last year he had outings where he gave up 10 hits/8 runs in 2+ innings and a 13-hit 6 1/3 outing.  75% QS rate, which sounds good but isn’t in the 82-85% range like Kershaw and Arrieta.  My point is this: Price goes to the AL East, to pitching in a hitters park, and he can take some big numbers.  The rest of Boston’s rotation is weak too; would you trust Buchholz at this point?  Porcello is their #3 and he’d be in the Syracuse if he played for us.

In fact, Maybe I have Tampa and Detroit too low; Tampa in particular could be a monster if Moore comes back strong and Archer is as good as he could be.  If Verlander can capture his 2nd half form … then Detroit could take a big step up too.

Team Rank Projected 2016 Rotation 1-5
Texas 16 Yu Darvish (TJ), Cole Hamels, Derek Holland, Martin Perez, Nick Martinez
Miami 17 Jose Fernandez, Wei-Yin Chen, Jared Cosart, Tom Koehler, Adam Conley
Kansas City 18 Yordano Ventura, Edinson Volquez, Danny Duffy, Ian Kennedy, Chris Young, Kris Medlen
Los Angeles Angels 19 Garrett Richards, Jered Weaver, Andrew Heaney, Matt Shoemaker, ?
New York Yankees 20 Masahiro Tanaka, CC Sabathia, Michael Pineda, Nathan Eovaldi, Ivan Nova

Discussion 16-20: Texas is an interesting one; Darvish won’t be ready for opening day, but if he comes back this ranking could rise.  Likewise, I might have Miami too low considering that Fernandez is one of the top pitchers in the game; i just don’t trust the rest of their rotation, and the Chen signing made zero sense for a team that can’t seem to decide if they’re trying to win or not.  The strength of Kansas City’s pitching staff isn’t their starters; its the bullpen (best in the league along with the  Yankees), and the Kennedy signing seemed to make no sense.  Thanks to two early ST injuries, I literally have no idea who the Angels 5th starter is going to be now … perhaps they should now be lower.  Lastly you have the Yankees: every guy in their rotation seems like a huge question mark; Tanaka has a torn UCL, Sabathia is a shell of who he once was, Pineda had a shoulder injury that cost him all of 2012 and half of the next two seasons, Nova just came off of Tommy John surgery, and Eovaldi (himself on his 2nd elbow ligament) can’t find the plate.  If these guys are ranked 20th … imagine what’s coming below.

Team Rank Projected 2016 Rotation 1-5
San Diego 21 James Shields, Andrew Cashner, Tyson Ross, Robbie Erlin, Colin Rea
Toronto 22 Marcus Stroman, Marco Estrada, R.A. Dickey, J.A. Happ, Drew Hutchison
Oakland 23 Sonny Gray, Jesse Hahn, Chris Bassitt, Kendall Graveman, Rich Hill
Baltimore 24 Ubaldo Jimenez, Chris Tillman, Yovani Gallardo, Miguel Gonzalez, Kevin Gausman
Atlanta 25 Julio Teheran, Matt Wisler, Manny Banuelos, Bud Norris, Williams Perez

Discussion 21-25: As with all the edge cases, perhaps you can squint at San Diego and say they could be ranked higher.  Perhaps; but take any of those 5 guys at this point and put them in a hitter’s park and they’re not half as good.  I like Stroman (former Nats draft pick!) but the rest of the Toronto rotation looks like guys who are just holding on.  I’m not sure even Oakland’s management knows who some of their rotation candidates are.

I might be selling Baltimore a bit short; I’ve just never been convinced that Jimenez can repeat his earlier glory, and Baltimore’s notoriously awful coaching staff has seemingly ruined yet another young vibrant arm in GausmanAtlanta’s rotation may not look that great right now, especially considering that they’re purposely tanking in 2016 … but they have a couple of sleeper potentials and their prospect depth (including two high end hurlers in Michael Foltynewicz and Aaron Blair) put them above the bottom 5.

Team Rank Projected 2016 Rotation 1-5
Philadelphia 26 Aaron Nola, Jeremy Hellickson, Charlie Morton, Vincent Velasquez, Brett Oberholtzer
Cincinnati 27 Anthony DeSclafani, Michael Lorenzen, Raisel Iglesias, Brandon Finnegan, John Lamb
Minnesota 28 Phil Hughes, Ervin Santana, Ricky Nolasco, Kyle Gibson, Tommy Milone
Milwaukee 29 Matt Garza, Wily Peralta, Jimmy Nelson, Taylor Jungmann, Zach Davies
Colorado 30 Jorge De La Rosa, Chad Bettis, Jordan Lyles, Jon Grey, Tyler Chatwood

Discussion 26-30: The bottom 5 rotations feature two teams clearly tanking (Philly and Cincy) who are throwing out mostly kids and 4-A one-year acquisitions.  Its telling that these two rotations are better than the bottom 3 rotations, each of which belongs to a team that just seems to have no idea how to build a modern rotation.  Minnesota has for  years favored soft-tossers and not pursued high-end arms and now they have a relatively highly paid rotation of guys who, well, are not effective.  Milwaukee is in the same boat, having shelled out money for Garza just to watch him implode.

Lastly we come to Colorado, who still is searching for a strategy upon which to build a rotation.  The latest seems to be to pursue high velocity fastball guys who can just throw their ball through the light air and fool hitters.  But they’re not there yet and their Ace for 2016 is a 35yr old with a career 4.55 ERA.  Its not looking pretty in Colorado for 2016 and the fact that they havn’t sold off all their quality outfielders for parts speaks to the incompetence and indecision of their front office.   You’re not going to win in 2016; you’re in a division with the Dodgers, Giants and Diamondbacks, all of which spent big (either last off-season or before) and are putting out quality lineups.

—-

Some other pundit’s rotation ranks for 2016 for comparison purposes.

http://espn.go.com/blog/buster-olney/insider/post?id=12054
http://www.sbnation.com/mlb/2016/1/12/10755692/baseball-rotation-rankings-mlb
All 30 MLB teams' starting rotations, ranked
http://www.sportsonearth.com/article/164500586/top-10-pitching-staffs-major-league-baseball

 

Verducci effect for 2016 announced

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Snydergaard vastly increased his workload in 2015; will it hurt him in 2016?  Photo tucson.com

Snydergaard vastly increased his workload in 2015; will it hurt him in 2016? Photo tucson.com

This year’s installment of si.com’s Tom Verducci‘s “Year After Effect” (which he’s trying to use as the title instead of the eponymous “Verducci Effect” that i’ve grown used to using) was published this week and he’s definitely gone conservative in his ominous predictions.  In year’s past he’s used a 20% year over year increase and listed many candidates … now he’s down to just a handful a year with a more conservative 30% workload increase.  For 2016, he’s identified 5 candidates for his watch list.

Here’s some posts on this same topic from year’s past: 2013 year after effect and 2014 year after effect (I somehow forgot to do this post last year).  In the 2013 post, there’s some counter-arguments to whether or not his observation 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 (Link to my working XLS showing all the core numbers referenced here):

  • 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 success rate.

So 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.

So who’s listed this  year?  Basically five young pitchers who had massive innings spikes and four of which pitched into the post-season.

2016 Candidate Name/Team Age as of Jan 2016 2015 IP 2015 IP delta 2015 ERA 2015 FIP 2015 xFIP 2015 SIERA
Lance McCullers, Houston 21 164 59 1/3 3.22 3.26 3.5 3.57
Noah Snydergaard, NY Mets 22 198 2/3 65 2/3 3.24 3.25 2.91 2.95
Luis Severino, NY Yankees 21 161 2/3 48 2/3 2.89 4.37 3.72 3.84
Carlos Martinez, St. Louis 23 179 2/3 52 2/3 3.01 3.21 3.28 3.44
Tyler Duffey, Minnesota 24 196 46 2/3 3.1 3.24 3.64 3.83

I’d be most worried about McCullers (who is super  young and showed some fatigue down the stretch) and Severino (also very young but who also had significantly softer advanced stats than his ERA showed) in terms of regression in 2016.  Snydergaard seems big enough to perhaps withstand the added workload.  Martinez was a surprise reason why St. Louis’ rotation was so good last year; can he make the jump too?

Curious why he didn’t put in Matt Harvey, especially after all the BS about innings limits.  He had 178 IP in 2013, Zero in 2014 and then 189 1/3 regular season and another 26 2/3rds in the 2015 post-season.  That’s 215 innings the year after surgery.  I’d be pretty worried if I was Mets fans … but hey, flags fly forever!

 

Written by Todd Boss

February 10th, 2016 at 11:10 am

Nats System 2016 Pitching Staff Projections

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Scherzer leads the MLB rotation for a second year. Photo via sportingnews.com

Scherzer leads the MLB rotation for a second year. Photo via sportingnews.com

(Editor note: I was out of the country for the last week; good timing in terms of missing the snow, but not so much for trying to get on a flight back to DC.  Never got one actually; had to settle for a flight to JFK last night and a train ride ride down).

Now that we’re through all the 2015 Pitching staff review series, level by level, here’s a summary projection of what the pitching staffs may look like for 2016.  These projections are based on the 7 deep dive rotation reviews but are all put in one place.  Since player movement occurs daily, I may have missed one or two MLFA signings but these should be up-to-date as of the time of publishing.

All the reviews in the 2015 series:


 

Nats System Staff projections for 2016 season

(* == lefty, ^ == MLFA or new acquisition for 2016)

MLB

  • Rotation: Scherzer, Strasburg, Ross, Gonzalez*, Roark
  • Bullpen: Papelbon, Treinen, Rivero*, Perez*^, Kelley^, Gott^, Petit^, Barrett (60-day DL)
  • out of organization: Zimmermann, Fister, Storen (traded), Thornton*, Janssen, Carpenter, Stammen (non-tendered)

Quick Discussion: This assumes no more rotation acquisitions; if one occurs, bump Roark to long-man with Treinen then getting dumped to AAA save for injury (See next section for the Arroyo discussion).  It looks like the team can’t move Papelbon for anything of value and refuses to eat $11M and instead moved Storen for something we do value (a CF).  I know they’re still connected to random starters here and there, which continues my amazement in their lack of trust of Roark as an effective 5th starter (I guess his 50 innings in 2013 and 200 awesome innings in 2014 just weren’t convincing enough).  Honestly if they don’t trust Roark, then just call up Giolito.  This is their last season with Strasburg and one of their last with Harper, so “saving” Giolito at this “win now” point seems dumb.  We’ll see.

AAA

  • Rotation: Cole, Jordan, Espino, Voth, Laffey*^, THill, Arroyo^
  • Bullpen: Martin, Solis*, Grace*, Brady^, Bacus, de los Santos, Runion, Velasquez^, Masset^, EDavis, Burnett*^
  • Release Candidates: McGregor, Walters
  • out of organization: Billings, Bleier*, Swynenberg, Fornataro, Meek, Runion, Lively, Gutierrez, Valverde, Delcarmen, RHill, Overton

Quick Discussion: Both Hill and Davis took outright assignments to AAA to stick with the team after being DFA’d in the last few weeks: this could lead to some downstream moves in spring training (specifically someone like McGregor getting squeezed in a numbers game).  We have slightly overloaded the bullpen assuming that there’s some injuries to come.  Only a few “veteran MLFA” types listed here, a good sign for the system and its ability to generate upper-level minor league talent, but seemingly every other day we hear about more such signings, probably for competition purposes and/or to fulfil what seems to be the annual ritual of giving guys a few weeks of meal money to throw innings in spring training for one last shot at a roster spot.

The very recent signing of Bronson Arroyo is an interesting one; he’ll be 40, coming off of TJ and has shown himself to be effective even despite a lack of velocity even deep into his 30s.  Is he a competitor to Roark for the 5th starter spot?  Is this a favor to Dusty Baker?  For now, i’m putting him as AAA depth but have to think he’s got an opt-out if he doesn’t make the MLB team so he’s likely to be either the 5th starter or a FA come 4/1/16.

Post-publish edit: thanks to JohnC, I totally forgot about our early off-season MLFA signing of Sean Burnett, our old favorite loogy (who also happens to throw the ball right handed while shagging flies in the OF).  If he doesn’t have an opt-out, I’ll project him as a Syracuse loogy but perhaps behind Solis and Grace thanks to his lack of 40-man status.  I hope he’s still got it after two TJs.

AA

  • Rotation: Spann*, Giolito, Simms, Alderson, Lopez, Mapes, Gorski^
  • Bullpen: Mendez, Harper*, Shackelford^, NLee*, Benincasa, Suero, Thomas*, Walsh*, Robinson^, Whiting^
  • Release Candidates: Rauh, Bates, Self, Dupra
  • out of organization: Purke*, Pivetta, Simmons, Demny, Ambriz, Gilliam

Quick Discussion: here’s where we start to see some log jamming going on; we already have 6 good candidates for the AA rotation (and that was before the recently announced Gorski signing), 10 for the bullpen (some of which already have been promoted to AAA in 2015) and another 4 guys who could still slot in somewhere who i’ve called “release candidates” because of the numbers game.  That’s 20+ guys for 12-13 slots.  Do they get pushed down and cause cascading High-A fall out (where the story is the same?) or do we see some wholesale shredding of contracts this coming spring training?  Do you move UP guys like Giolito, Harper instead and cut AAA veteran MLFAs?

High-A

  • Rotation: AWilliams, Valdez, Dickson, Bach*, Van Orden, Fedde
  • Bullpen: Johanssen, Amlung (swingman),  Napoli*, Orlan*, Glover, Brinley, Sylvestre*
  • Release Candidates: RPena, Turnbull*
  • out of organization: Schwartz, Howell, CDavis, MRodriguez, Cooper (just released)

Quick Discussion: Again, I see this as an overloaded squad; 6 starters, 10 relievers.  Perhaps some AA guys drop down, perhaps there’s guys listed here to are more likely release candidates than sure things (Napoli?  Amlung?  Johanssen even?). We may eventually get our answer; the team just released Cooper despite my thinking he was more or less a lock for the Potomac bullpen in 2016.   I’m really curious to see what a couple of the starters here do this year in particular: Austen Williams and Erick Fedde.  We talked earlier about Fedde perhaps starting the season in Hagerstown … but as we’re about to see, there’s just so many guys for a couple of slots.

Low-A

  • Rotation: LReyes, JRodriguez, ALee, Dickey, Hearn*, Crownover*
  • Bullpen: MSanchez (swingman),  Guilbeau*, Borne*, Rivera Jr., Gunter, Peterson, Baez
  • release candidate: Estevez, DWilliams, DRamos, Boghosian, Mooney, Pirro
  • out of organization: Ullmann, KPerez, Mooneyham, Johns (just released)

Quick Discussion: 6 projected starters, another 8 for the bullpen, and another 6 relievers who … well, i’m not sure where you put them.  You can’t have 20 pitchers in XST can you?  Well, maybe you can and they can catch on with the short-season squads … but look at who is already projected for Short-A below.  In the comments section of the Short-A post a few weeks back, we talked about the four lefty college starters who were drafted and in the Auburn rotation (Hearn, Crownover, Guilbeau and Borne); all had more or less the same pro numbers in Auburn; who stays in the rotation moving up?  Who goes to the pen?  There were already 4 guys who made sense to project to the Hagerstown rotation; where are 4 more college lefties going to go?  Its almost like the team needs an entire additional low-A team to staff.

Short-A

  • Rotation: Bourque, AMartinez, Valero, Watson
  • Bullpen: Morales (swingman), LTorres, Acevedo, Harmening, Serrata
  • release candidates: Feliz, Reynoso, Mills, DeRosier, VanVossen, Copping, Pantoja
  • out of organization: Overton, Plouck, Webb, McDowell, Sylvestri

Quick Discussion: I’ve already got nearly a full squad of arms for short-A as it is, and we havn’t accounted for any 2016 draftees nor potential dropdowns from Hagerstown.  I just feel like there’s going to be some whole sale releases this spring.  Either that or Rizzo is going to draft nothing but bats in 2016.

Rookie

  • Rotation: Avila, Fuentes, WPena
  • Bullpen: CPena
  • release candidate: De La Cruz
  • out of organization: Salazar, Jauss, DVasquez, Morel, EGomez, Charlis, JRamirez, Costa, Uribarri, Mancini, Yrizarri, Bermudez

Quick discussion: practically nobody in the domestic system right now projects to repeat the Rookie league, which means that a) we should expect a ton of guys to make their way from the DSL and/or b) we should expect more 2016 draftees to start here.  Perhaps I should have done a review of the DSL guys to make predictions on who earned their way off the island.

 

——————————–

Guys who really impressed me in 2015 and to watch out for in 2016.  Kind of my own version of Luke’s “watch list” but I was definitely struck by several guys while doing these posts and here’s the list.

  • MLB: Ross, Rivero
  • AAA: Espino, Martin
  • AA: Voth, Giolito, de los Santos, Harper, NLee
  • High-A: Lopez, Mapes, Walsh
  • Low-A: Valdez, ALee, Orlan, Glover, Brinley
  • Short-A: AWilliams,Fedde, Rivera Jr, Johns (why was he released??)
  • Rookie: Valero, Watson, Avila

 

 

Drew Storen for Ben Revere; a trade that seems to work on both sides

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Lets Hope Storen doesn't have days like this in Toronto. Photo Andrew Harnik/washingtontimes.com

Lets Hope Storen doesn’t have days like this in Toronto. Photo Andrew Harnik/washingtontimes.com

(Editor’s note: sorry for the delay on this post: you might have noticed the site being unavailable for a bit of time yesterday.  That’s because the shared server hosting all my various business and personal websites crashed and was down for hours.  Hopefully we’re all back up and normal.  This post is written and posted as of 1/10/16).

Drew Storen got his wish today; a fresh start with another team.  And amazingly, Mike Rizzo was able to turn an asset that basically the entire industry knew he was shopping (and knew that the player wanted out) and was able to basically get the *exact* player he was seeking in Ben Revere; a capable hitter who fits precisely into the hole left by the departed Denard Span.  Lefty, center fielder, lead-off hitter, good stats.

Amazing trade, frankly, by Rizzo, given these circumstances.

The Nats hadn’t consummated a trade with Toronto since 2005 (and that was a two minor leaguers swapping deck chairs kind of a deal in Tyrell Goodwin for Aaron Wideman).  Clearly Rizzo has a better working relationship with the new brain trust in Toronto (former Cleveland GM Mark Shapiro) than he did before (Alex Anthopoulos).

For Storen; he gets out of town and gets a chance at a fresh start for a team that won its division last year and still sports the best offense in the game.  He’s gotta be happy.  I’m not sure he is the closer in Toronto (Robert Osuna was pretty good: 20 saves, 2.58 ERA, 153 ERA+, sub 1.00 whip but is also just 20); maybe there’s a ST competition, maybe Storen just accepted the deal and the 8th inning to get a fresh start.  Can’t blame him.

For the Nats, they get basically the #1 priority they’ve been seeking all off-season.  And they get it without committing to major dollars in the future, without giving up a draft pick, and without trading any of their prospects.  In this respect, A+ trade for Rizzo.  Revere had a good lead-off hitter slash line last year (.306/.342/.377), hits lefty to help with lineup balance, and plays a position of need (CF).  I’m not sure he’s the super duper awesome CF that the team sought (a good looking uzr/150 in 2015 but negative defensive figures the three previous years in Philly), but he’s always been awesome in RF so maybe we’re looking at Harper in CF and Revere in RF as a optimized defensive alignment.  (Oh who am I kidding?  Do you think Dusty Baker is looking at fangraphs and seeing massive negative DRS figures for Revere and going, ‘gee he should play RF?’)

The Nats also save some cash (Revere makes a bit less than Storen in terms of projected Arb salaries), AND the Nats get a PTBNL (probably a low-level prospect).  We sent some unreported amount of cash to Toronto; probably a few hundred thousand or so to balance out the salary delta.  I love it when billion dollar assets send piddling amounts of cash in deals; can you imagine the negotiations?  “Hey Mike, I need $100k to make this deal work.”  “Oh ok Mark, lemme dig into my car cushion and see what i’ve got here that fell out of my pocket during my last arbitration negotiation … oh!  here’s $200k.  Sold!”

New projected opening day 2016 lineup:

  • Revere*, Rendon, Harper*, Zimmerman, Murphy*, Werth, Espinosa*, Ramos, pitcher.

Perfect lefty/righty balance.  If you think Espinosa is super-sub and Drew is the starter at short, replace like for like since Drew is a lefty hitter.  If you think Turner is the starter … you’re crazy to think that given the moves this team has made in the past few weeks :-)

Other downstream effects of this deal:

  • If we didn’t have confirmation before, i’ll say it again: i just can’t see how Trea Turner makes the 25-man roster.  This was more about the Drew acquisition than this, but I don’t see how he makes this team unless someone gets hurt in Viera.
  • The 5-man bench looks pretty much complete: backup C (Lobaton unless otherwise replaced), RH pinch hitter/corner player (Moore), LH pinch hitter/
    corner player (Robinson), speedy backup OF who can play CF as needed (Taylor), and utility infielder (Drew or Espinosa).
  • Matt den Dekker now gets pushed to AAA; i can’t see him beating Clint Robinson for “lefty PH bat” and Moore is now basically the only RH bat on the bench so gets to stick around another year.
  • Taylor now is back to being 4th OF, right where he was last year.  But don’t worry; Werth probably gets a hangnail on April 10th and Taylor will still get 300-400 ABs in 2016.
  • Not a ton of salary difference with the move; Storen and Rivera were projected by mlbtraderumores to make 8.8 and 6.7M respectively.  I had Storen’s projected salary a bit less.  In total, I’ve got the 2016 projected payroll at $143M now, still $18M less than last year.
  • Treinen now is back in the projected MLB bullpen; I think he was last guy out given the acquisitions and make up of the roles prior to Storen’s jettison.
  • Papelbon now probably stays; i’d be shocked if he gets moved now, given his NT clause and his toxicity around the league. And, well, the team still needs a frigging closer.  Ironic that they “had” to move their home grown 1st rounder (who happened to also be the union rep) so that they could keep the former star of their divisinoal rival who also just happened to choke the unanimous league MVP on national TV.  But that’s the bed they’ve made for themselves.

One last thing: The bullpen makeover now seems complete.  Check out how the 2016 projected opening day pen looks compared to years past:
o 2016: Papelbon, Treinen, Gatt, Kelley, Perez*, Rivero*, Petit (Barret on D/L)
o 2015: Storen, Treinen, Barrett, Stammen, Thornton*, Cedeno*, Roark (Janssen on d/l)
o 2014: Soriano, Storen, Clippard, Barrett, Stammen, Blevins*, Detwiler*
o 2013: Soriano, Storen, Clippard, Mattheus, Stammen, Rodriguez, Duke*
o 2012: Clippard, Lidge, Mattheus, Stammen, Rodriguez, Burnett*, Gorzelanny*
o 2011: Storen, Clippard, Coffey, Gaudin, Burnett*, Slaten*, Broderick
o 2010: Capps, Clippard, Bruney, English, Bergmann, Burnett*, Walker*, Batista (yes it was an 8-man pen)

100% turnover from 2015’s opening day rotation, man for man (if Janssen had been healthy, Treinen would have been in AAA).  I know it needed to be done, but i’m still apprehensive about it from a cohesion perspective.

In summary; good trade for both sides.  Sorry to see Storen go but it had to be done for both the player and the team.  I think the Nats are better today than they were yesterday; not because Revere > Storen necessarily (by bWAR they are but that’s probably not a fair comparison) but because Storen wasn’t going to be the best he could be here any longer.

Nationals/MLB Pitching Staff Year in Review; 2015

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Scherzer will always have his no-hitters from 2015. Photo via thesportsquotient.com

Scherzer will always have his no-hitters from 2015. Photo via thesportsquotient.com

Here’s the first in a 7-part series where we delve into the pitching staffs from start to end, from the majors all the way to the GCL.  We start with the rotations, review all the starters and then hit up the relievers.  We try to predict as we go, which I’ll summarize at the end with a big “2016 predictions” piece.

Here’s 2013’s post and then 2012’s post.  We never got to 2014 as I was switching jobs and this series takes a ton of time and I couldn’t do it.

All stats are courtesy of either Baseball-Reference page or via Fangraphs page.  Also useful here are the Big Board and the Nats Draft Tracker as always.

Washington starters.  The rotation at the beginning of the season was Scherzer, Zimmermann, Strasburg, Gonzalez, Fister.  By the end of the season it was basically the same, with Roark replacing Ross who had replaced Fister.

  • Max Scherzer: 14-12 with a 2.79 ERA, 0.918 whip with 276/34 K/BB ratio in 228.2 IP (33 starts).  Look at that K/BB ratio again: that’s more than 8 strikeouts for every walk for a power pitcher.  His season also included two no-hitters (both of which easily could have been perfect games) and a one-hitter, and by one measure (Game Score) his season-ending 17-K no-hitter was nearly the best pitching 9-inning performance ever.  If you needed another excuse to ignore W/L records, just look at Scherzer’s record on the year given his peripherals.  But even given his season on a macro level, some were rather disappointed in Scherzer because in August, when the chips were down and this team collapsed, he was 0-3 with a 6.43 ERA in 5 starts.  Nonetheless, Scherzer more than earned his salary in 2015 and I see no reason not to expect similar results in 2016.  Outlook for next season: 2nd straight opening day start.
  • Jordan Zimmermann: 13-10, 3.66 ERA, 1.205 whip with 164/39 K/BB over 201.2 IP (33 starts).  His ERA was a point higher than in 2014, his WHIP was 10% higher and his FIP was inflated to a very un-Zimmermann 3.75 level.  Not exactly the walk year season he was hoping for.  Nonetheless, Zimmermann should make out like a bandit on the FA market, where he occupies the lead spot in the 2nd tier of FA pitchers and should do just fine.  Unfortunately, it seems like his time in DC is up; we don’t know the size or length of the contract extension he turned down, but it seems obvious that the team didn’t give him what he and his advisers thought he deserved.  He’ll be oft-mentioned in the coming weeks as he finds a new home and it’ll be a shame to see him go.  Outlook for next season: pitching for another team: Signed with Detroit for 5yrs/$110M.
  • Stephen Strasburg: 11-7, 3.46 ERA, 1.107 whip with 155/26 K/BB in 127 IP (23 starts).   His end-of-the-year numbers don’t look nearly as bad as the debacle that his season really was.   He had a 6.55 ERA through his first 10 starts, then missed most of June and July with two separate D/L trips.  Upon his return, he was awesome, dropping his season ERA from 5.16 to 3.46 thanks to 9 quality starts (out of 10) and 5 double-digit strikeout games.  But, the damage was done; he was awesome down the stretch in a series of games that ended up being meaningless.  On the bright side, the Nats likely save a few million dollars in their arbitration case.  Lets just hope that whatever he finally figured out in Aug and Sept continues into next season.  Outlook for next season: Nats #2 starter.
  • Gio Gonzalez: 11-8, 3.79 ERA, 1.423 whip with 169/69 K/BB in 175.2 IP (31 starts).  Another year, another inconsistent season from our #4 starter.  The team was 16-15 in his 31 starts, which makes sense since he had exactly 16 quality starts.  I think at this point Gio is what he is: a decently valued 4th starter who earns his salary and puts up enough value to keep his spot.  The Nats will ride his arm until his contract expires.  Outlook for next season: Nats #4 starter.
  • Doug Fister: 5-7, 4.19 ERA, 1.398 whip with 63/24 K/BB in 103 IP (25 appearances, 15 starts).  MLB’s most underrated starter over the past few  years finally had father time catch up to him, going 4-7 with a 4.60 ERA in 15 starts before the team mercifully pulled the plug.  His average fastball velocity has been dropping, but dropped precipitously this year (down to 86.1) and just was too hittable.  To Fister’s credit, he accepted the move to the bullpen instead of taking the “easy” way out and claiming a D/L trip, and was effective in 17 relief innings to make his season ERA look a little more palatable.  Nonetheless, it was not exactly the way the Nats drew things up.  Fister faces an uncertain future; he went from being guaranteed a Qualifying Offer to maybe struggling to get a guaranteed offer.  In the end, I can see perhaps a west coast team taking a flier on him as a 5th starter with a pillow contract for him to try to regain some value.  Outlook for next season: Pitching elsewhere, hopefully as a 5th starter somewhere.
  • Joe Ross: 5-5, 3.64 ERA, 1.109 whip with 69/21 K/BB in 76.2 IP (16 appearances, 13 starts).  Ross initially got called up to cover for Strasburg’s first injury, and was impressive enough to be the first man in line to replace the suddenly ineffective Fister.  He got another 10 mostly effective starts, getting shut down in early September after two ineffective starts where he was uncharacteristically wild (9 of his 21 MLB walks were in his last 2 starts) as he reached a soft innings limit for the year.  No complaints here; Ross quickly guaranteed his rotation spot for 2016 with his work during the summer and is making the trade where he was acquired looking even more lopsided.  Outlook for next season: Nats #3 starter.
  • Tanner Roark: 4-7, 4.38 ERA with 70/26 K/BB in 111 IP (40 appearances, 12 starts).  The Nats thanked Roark for his “found gold” 5-win 2014 season by acquiring Scherzer and pushing Roark to the all-important long-man/slop innings guy.  Not exactly what Roark probably expected.  He did get 5 starts covering for Strasburg in late May-early June but otherwise was yanked all over the place; sometimes being a one-inning middle reliever, then getting 3+ in a blowout loss, even getting higher leverage innings in the 8th and 9th (he even had a save in May).  When Fister proved ineffective, the Nats didn’t give the slot to Roark like they should have, instead calling up Ross and leaving Roark pitching in relief (their reason was that he wasn’t stretched out).  When it became clear Ross was going to run out of innings, they sent him back to Potomac briefly to “stretch out” and Roark finished the year in the rotation with 6 relatively ineffective starts.  Not the year Roark wanted.  There was an incredibly long-winded article in beyondtheboxscore.com that seemed to point at Roark’s position on the rubber as the cause of all his ills, but i put Roark’s struggles more simply: pitchers are creatures of habit and when you take a starter and suddenly tell him he’s a one inning reliever, you shouldn’t be surprised when he doesn’t immediately perform in that role.  The question the Nats have to face is this: was 2014 a fluke?  Do you pencil in Roark for the #5 starter in 2016 or do you try to acquire his replacement?  Do you have an open competition between Roark and the slew of AAA arms for the spot?  Personally, I’m a Roark believer and think he’ll be just fine if you install him in the rotation and let him work.  Outlook for next season: Nats #5 starter.
  • Others who got 1-2 Spot Starts:
    • Taylor Jordan: got one spot-start in early June, getting pounded by Toronto.  He provided long-relief cover a few times here and there throughout the season but wasn’t used even after being called up 9/1 (perhaps an innings limit?).  See AAA write-up for more.
    • A.J. Cole got one spot start in late April, getting destroyed by Atlanta in the epic 13-12 game.  I was highly critical of this particular call-up at the time, questioning why the start didn’t go to Roark at the time.  Cole got two other mop-up games to make his ERA slightly less awful for the year, but raised serious questions as to his future.  See AAA write-up for more.

Rotation summary: Scherzer was good but struggled when the chips were down.  Zimmermann regressed, as did Gonzalez.  Strasburg was either awful or  hurt most of the season.  Fister was abhorrent.  Roark was wasted.  Yet despite all that negativity surrounding our rotation, the Nats starters as a group were still ranked pretty highly : 3rd in fWAR, 7th in ERA, 4th in FIP.   So, it was still a pretty good rotation but not nearly as good as we thought they’d be upon the Scherzer acquisition.

 


Washington relievers.  On opening day the MLB bullpen was Storen, Treinen, Stammen, Thornton, Cedeno, Barrett, Roark.  By the time it was over, the team had used no less than *20* relievers.  Not exactly how they sketched it out in the off-season.  Lets talk about all 20 guys; here they are ordered with closers first, then descending by IP.  Anyone with less than 10 innings is relegated to the end with generally a shorter write-up.

  • Drew Storen was having a near-all Star calibre season closing, holding a 1.69 ERA with 46/9 K/BB over 37.1 IP and 29 saves.  Then suddenly he was demoted thanks to the Papelbon acquisition.  His numbers post 7/29/15: 7.13 ERA in 17 innings, which culminated with his 3-walk performance in the season-ending Mets loss in early September (his 5th blown save of the year).  Two days later he slammed a locker on his thumb, broke it and was done for the season along with his team.  We’ve argued this one to death; there are people who like to argue that players are machines and they are highly paid to do whatever the team asks of them.  I maintain that this team has tried over and over to replace Storen thanks to a couple of poorly-timed games of ineffectiveness that just happened to occur in the two NLDS series this team has managed to reach, and the “layering” of Papelbon over top of him was the icing on the cake of his Nats career.  I’m sure Storen wants out of town, and I’m sure he’ll be a classic “change of scenery” guy.  Mike Rizzo needs to make it happen.  Outlook for next season: Closing for another team.
  • Jonathan Papelbon was acquired in late July straight up for a relatively low-level prospect (Nick Pivetta), an indication of how desperate Philadelphia was to rid themselves of him.  He pitched a grand total of 23.1 innings in two months, through little fault of his own clearly disrupted the karma of the bullpen, and entirely at fault on his own took offense to Bryce Harper‘s non-defense in the press of Papelbon’s over-reaction and subsequent plunking of Manny Machado in a game earlier in that week and decided that calling out one of the game’s premier hustlers for “not hustling” down the line on a routine pop-up was a good idea.  Fast forward to the umpteenth unnecessary embarrassing moment for the franchise and perhaps the final nail in the coffin of the inexplicably unaware and dense manager Matt Williams.  Fun fact: Papelbon bought a $2.9M house in Alexandria exactly one week before choking his teammate on national TV and getting suspended for the rest of the season.  Good timing.  I know that Harper has “reached out” to Papelbon and they’re all saying this is just ‘brothers fighting” and all that BS, but Rizzo has to be shopping him for whatever he can get for him, upto and including eating the entirety of his $11M 2016 salary.  Many think he’s completely untradeable, but i’m guessing someone will take a flier on him.  Outlook for next season: Closing for another team.
  • Blake Treinen was the busiest guy in the pen this year (outside of sometimes starter Roark that is), throwing 67.2 innings in 60 innings as mostly an 7th/8th inning guy.    He had a 3.86 ERA, a 3.49 FIP, and a 1.389 whip, all incrementally worst in 2015 than the year before.  65/32 K/BB in those 67IP.  Treinen features a mid to upper 90s sinking fastball that has so much movement that TV announcers sometimes think its a changeup, yet still has some really odd splits.  Righties had just a .493 OPS against him on the year … while lefties teed off to the tune of a .934 OPS.  Odd because you’d think that a guy who could throw a fastball that tails away from lefties like Treinen would be more successful.  Another oddity; he had a 5.90 ERA at home and just a 2.33 ERA away.  So basically, if he was facing a righty on the road, he’s your guy.  He has limited his repertoire to just two pitches these days (2-seam sinker and a wipeout slider), and seems so far removed from having anything resembling a third pitch that any thoughts of returning to the bullpen seem long gone.  Is Treinen just a ROOGY (right handed one out guy?)  Do teams even have that?  Maybe his goal for the off-season is to figure out some pitch that is effective against lefties.  He also needs to work on his control; his walk rate of 4.3 per nine just won’t cut it for a higher leverage reliever.  Outlook for next season: back in his 7th/8th inning role.
  • Felipe Rivero, 2.79 ERA, 2.64 FIP, 0.952 whip and 43/11 K/BB in 48.1 relief innings.  Rivero was a revelation for the team this year, converting to relief for the first time in his career and really shining.  He has some serious heat; max fastball of 99.8 and an average of 95.5 from the left side, but really was a two pitch pitcher this season; fastball and slider (fangraphs distinguishes his 4-seamer from his 2-seamer but the velocities are exactly the same; does he throw two different, distinct fastballs?)   Unlike Treinen, Rivero got righties and lefties out at equal clips (.200 BAA for righties, .198 for lefties) and really came into his own in the bullpen.  He’s much more than a matchup-lefty and could be a valuable bullpen member for a while.  Can he return to starting?  Hard to say; does he have a third pitch?  Years of starting in the minors seems to indicate that his future remains in the pen.  Outlook for next season: reprising his 7th inning reliever role.
  • Matt Thornton had an excellent age 38 year; 2.18 ERA, 3.52 FIP, 1.065 ERA in 41.1 relief innings across 60 appearances.  His FIP is much higher than his ERA because he doesn’t rely as much on the strikeout; he had just a 23/11 K/BB ratio in those 41.1 innings.  His splits showed some interesting tidbits: 10 of his 11 walks on the year came against right handed hitters, while he had an 11/1 K/BB ratio when facing lefties.  Thornton is best judged by his performance against lefties and he was excellent; .198/.205/.279, and this is why I’m an advocate of resigning him for 2016.  I’m still kind of baffled by his being waived by the Yankees frankly.  The FA market for left handed relievers is a little busy; I count 20 lefties out there.  But not all of them were as effective as Thornton was in 2015.  Can the Nats re-sign him?  Do they want to?  They do have several in-house loogy replacements to be discussed, if they wanted to save a couple million dollars off of payroll.  Outlook for next season: another season as a loogy, for the Nats or elsewhere.
  • Casey Janssen: when the Nats acquired Janssen, a three year closer for the Toronto Blue Jays, I figured the team’s late-inning bullpen issues were solved.  The loss of Rafael Soriano was inevitable (and, frankly, not really that important given how badly he finished 2014), but the loss of Tyler Clippard was going to be hard to fix.  But plugging in a former AL east closer into the 8th inning role?  No worries.  Well, that’s not quite how it went.  Janssen got hurt in spring training, missed the first 7 weeks of the season … and then underwhelmed once he arrived.  His numbers on the season: 4.95 ERA, 4.05 FIP, 1.150 whip, with 27/8 K/BB in 40 IP.   Perhaps the 4.95 ERA is skewed by a few bad outings: scanning through his game log he gave up 4 runs on 5/30, another 4 runs on 8/31, 3 more the following day (in that infamous St. Louis series) and 2 on 9/27.  So of the 22 runs he allowed all year, 13 of them were in four outings.  Perhaps so, but his job as an 8th inning guy is not to allow these massive rallies, ever.  His fastball velocity has been declining and his 4-seamer sat at just 88.3 MPH on average this year; is that fast enough even if you have pinpoint control and can throw 5 pitches?  Apparently not; Janssen’s struggles were a big part of the bullpen’s struggles this year, a big reason they felt the need to acquire Papelbon, and in crunch time towards the end of the season Williams didn’t trust him to give him important assignments.  The Nats bought out his option year and cut ties with him; the end of a disappointing season together.  Outlook for next season: middle reliever for another organization.
  • Aaron Barrett: started out the year looking good as a key 6th/7th inning righty, struggled starting in May, hit the D/L in June, got lit up on Aug 5th to the point of getting demoted to AAA, at which point he (finally) told team doctors that his arm had been bugging him for weeks (months even).  A quick scan showed a blown UCL and he underwent Tommy John surgery on September 5th, 2015.  Final season stats: 4.60 ERA but a 2.21 FIP, 1.193 whip and 35/7 K/BB in 29.1 innings.  Look; you don’t want to wish ill will on a guy for trying to gut it out, but at what point was his arm issues impacting his performance on the field and costing the team games?  Outlook for next season: on the 60-day D/L for most if not all the season. 
  • Sammy Solis was closer to a DFA than a call-up at the end of 2014, a season mostly lost to injury and lost promise of the former 2nd round pick.  But a slew of injuries forced him into action in the Nats bullpen and he held up, throwing 21.1 innings of 3.38 ERA, 3.46 fip, 1.359 whip with a 17/4 K/BB ratio.  That’s not too bad of a debut, even if it was his age 26 season.  He showed a reverse split interestingly, with lefties hitting him at a .355 clip (righties: .255).  I have a feeling that the team is likely going to look elsewhere for a second lefty out of the pen.  Option number one is probably resigning Matt Thornton, which will relegate Solis to AAA/spare part duty in Syracuse.  Outlook for next season: Syracuse bullpen/lefty reliever coverage.
  • Matt Grace; 4.24 ERA, 3.08 fip, 2.00 whip with 14/8 K/BB in 17 IP across 26 outings.  Grace is a nice story, a guy who really came on strong in 2014 and earned his 40-man slot.  But his numbers in his first go-around in the majors were less than ideal.  See Solis’ write up and then add on a little pessimism and you have Grace right now; too many baserunners and not enough ability to get right handers out (.429 BAA) to be trusted as an effective major league reliever right now.  Outlook for next season: As with Solis Syracuse bullpen/lefty reliever coverage.  Except he’s “behind” Solis.
  • Rafael Martin: everyone’s favorite story.  Signed out of the Mexican leagues, shot up the system posting just ridiculous numbers in AA and AAA in 2013 and 2014.  Finally got his shot and had some really odd stat lines: 5.11 ERA, 4.76 FIP, 1.378 whip with 25/5 K/BB in 12.1 major league innings.  That’s right; he had an 18.2 K/9 ratio.  He struck out 8 of the first 12 batters he faced, including a pretty memorable debut where he struck out 5 guys in two innings in Boston in mid April.  He was looking like a made-for-TV-movie story until he took a rough outing in Miami and got sent down … not to be recalled until 9/1.  He threw a bunch of garbage time innings in September and got his ERA back down but kept striking guys out with his upper 80s arsenal.  Why didn’t he get more of a shot when the chips were down and other right handed relievers were struggling in August?  I don’t know.  Honestly, I think he’d make an excellent long-man/middle reliever, the classic “7th guy out of the pen” with his ability to go long and spin the ball in there as a change of pace versus harder throwing guys.  Something tells me though that he’s going to be back in Syracuse as bullpen insurance.  Outlook for next season: Syracuse bullpen/righty reliever coverage.
  • David Carpenter: acquired in trade from the Yankees for Tony Renda, threw 6 innings in the majors for the team, got hurt, went to the 60-day D/L with a shoulder issue, outrighted on 11/15/15, refused the assignment and has already signed with Atlanta for 2016.  Not exactly the best return for a former 2nd round pick and slightly surprising he was outrighted while there was still room on the 40-man roster (and still is room as we speak).  Outlook for next season: in Atlanta organization.
  • Craig Stammen: threw just 4 innings before requiring elbow surgery.  A huge blow for a guy who had been a team leader in IP and an effective middle reliever for  years.  He’s arbitration eligible, and the team could not arrive at an equitable deal ahead of the 12/2/15 non-tender deadline, so Stammen was non-tendered.  I have a feeling that if the team still wants him for 2016 and will work out some sort of heavy incentive-laden deal to keep him in the fold (he’s been with the organization since 2005 after all, tying him for the longest tenured player still with the team now that Ian Desmond has declared FA.   Outlook for next season: hopefully back in his 7th inning middle relief role, perhaps pitching elsewhere.
  • Xavier Cedeno: threw 3 innings, gave up 3 hits, 2 walks and two runs, then was inexplicably DFA’d and traded to the Dodgers for “cash.”  The Dodgers then turned around and traded him to Tampa, where he put up a 2.09 ERA in 43 IP in 2015.  What the heck happened here?   We talked about it in this space when it happened, and the quick hook DFA was as inexplicable then as it seems now.  Was this perhaps the first precursor into the questionable bullpen management that plagued Matt Williams all year?  Outlook for next season: a valuable loogy for Tampa.
  • Other Relievers who pitched too few innings for analysis:
    • Taylor Hill: provided 12 innings of bullpen coverage in Late May-Early June: see AAA write-up.
    • Abel de los Santos: added to the 40-man, called up and started his service clock (oh, and burned an option too while they were at it) so that he could throw to exactly eight (8) batters in mid-july before being returned to Harrisburg.  Ridiculous use of resources frankly.  See AA write-up.
    • Position players Clint Robinson and Tyler Moore became the 1st and 2nd position players to ever hurl for the Washington franchise, each throwing the final inning in a blow-out loss.

Bullpen summary: Ugh, what a mess from start to finish.  Under performance, injuries, and a rotating door of guys trying to perform.  By the end of August there wasn’t anyone even worth trusting in that pen, as evidenced in the critical Mets home series where the season was lost.  Even given that, the bullpen as a whole ranked 12th in fWAR, 10th in ERA, 9th in FIP, so it wasn’t really that bad league-wide.  Which surprised me too when I went to fangraphs to pull the data.  Some more telling stats: 7th in the league in Blown saves with 27.  17th in total saves.  17th in Holds.

Pitching summary overall: we expected more, and in the end the performance of the staff and bullpen probably wasn’t the sole reason this team failed to win the NL East.  But it didn’t help.