Nationals Arm Race

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Your 2017 Bullpen

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So what do I think is going to happen?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Is anyone else seriously concerned about Scherzer’s injury?

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

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

So, let me see if I understand this timeline:

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

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

Awesome.

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

Sounds like a winning formula to me.

 

Written by Todd Boss

February 26th, 2017 at 5:28 pm

Verducci Effect for 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The guys i’m most intrigued by include:

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

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

 

2017 MLB Rotation Rankings 1-30

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Lester: the best pitcher on the best rotation heading into 2017. photo via Grantland

Lester: the best pitcher on the best rotation heading into 2017. photo via Grantland

Even though there’s still about 20 “starting pitchers” still on the FA market, none of them really project as anything more than a 5th starter competition or a MLFA signing at this point in the off-season, so I thought it was high time to break out my 2017 Rotation Rankings.  (Here’s a link to last year’s rankings)

This is not a ranking of 2017 projected performance, nor a WAR ranking from last year, nor anything statistical in nature.  This is me looking at individual players and gauging the overall “strength” of the rotation, with subjective rankings then applied.  This is also a lot of me asking, “Who would I rather have as a fan?” type questions; would your rather have Chicago’s 1-2-3 or New Yorks?   This starts with the identification of the roughly 20 or so best pitchers in the league right now, calling them “Aces,” then looking at those who are just a notch below an Ace, and going on down in order to think about the overall strength of a rotation.  There’s plenty to argue about; for example I absolutely classify Stephen Strasburg as an “Ace” in this analysis; his performance over the last 5-6 years by nearly any measure statistically easily ranks him in the top 10-15 arms in the league even if he’s never sniffed a Cy Young award thanks to his injuries.  But injuries factor in: I no longer classify Matt Harvey as an Ace thanks to his 2016 season.  Feel free to dispute/argue about individual opinions/rankings in the comments.

Here’s my master rankings table just showing the projected rotations.  In this Google Docs link i’ve got my full working file, color coded for Aces/#2s/#3s as well as 6th starter/long man depth identified plus some minor league depth.  Also identified are 2017 acquisitions to get a sense of the rotation turnover.  If you can read the Google XLS it may be easier than reading the table below.

TeamRotation Rank#1#2#3#4#5
Chicago Cubs1Jon Lester Jake Arrieta Kyle Hendricks John LackeyMike Montgomery
New York Mets2 Noah Syndergaard Jacob deGromMatt Harvey Steven MatzZach Wheeler
Boston3Chris SaleDavid Price Rick PorcelloSteven WrightDrew Pomeranz
Los Angeles Dodgers4 Clayton KershawRich HillKenta MaedaJulio UriasScott Kazmir
Washington5Max ScherzerStephen StrasburgTanner RoarkJoe RossGio Gonzalez
Cleveland6Corey Kluber Carlos Carrasco Danny Salazar Trevor BauerJosh Tomlin
Detroit7Justin VerlanderMichael FulmerJordan Zimmermann Anibal Sanchez Daniel Norris
Toronto8 Marcus StromanAaron Sanchez Marco Estrada J.A. HappFrancisco Liriano
St. Louis9Adam Wainwright Carlos Martinez Michael WachaLance LynnMike Leake
San Francisco10Madison BumgarnerJohnny Cueto Jeff SamardzijaMatt Moore Matt Cain
Pittsburgh11 Gerrit ColeJamison TaillonTyler GlasnowSteven BraultIvan Nova
Tampa Bay12 Chris Archer Jake OdorizziAlex CobbBlake SnellMatt Andriese
Arizona13 Zack Greinke Robbie RayShelby MillerTaijan WalkerPatrick Corbin
Texas14Cole HamelsYu Darvish Martin PerezAndrew CashnerA.J. Griffen
Houston15Dallas Keuchel Collin McHugh Lance McCullersCharlie MortonMike Fiers
Seattle16Felix Hernandez Hisashi Iwakuma Drew SmylyJames Paxton Yovani Gallardo
Chicago White Sox17 Jose Quintana Carlos RodonMiguel GonzalezJames ShieldsDerek Holland
New York Yankees18Masahiro Tanaka Michael Pineda CC SabathiaChad GreenLuis Severino
Baltimore19 Chris Tillman Kevin GausmanDylan Bundy Ubaldo JimenezWade Miley
Philadelphia20 Aaron Nola Jeremy HellicksonJerad EickhoffVincent VelasquezAlec Asher
Atlanta21Julio Teheran Bartolo Colon Jaime Garcia R.A. DickeyMike Foltynewicz
Kansas City22Ian Kennedy Danny Duffy Jason Vargas Nate KarnsMatt Strahm
Miami23Wei-Yin Chen Edinson VolquezDan Straily Tom KoehlerJeff Locke
Minnesota24 Ervin SantanaHector Santiago Kyle GibsonPhil Hughes Jose Berrios
Oakland25Sonny GraySean Manaea Kendall GravemanAndrew TriggsJharel Cotton
Colorado26Jon Grey Chad BettisTyler AndersonTyler ChatwoodJeff Hoffman
Los Angeles Angels27 Garrett RichardsRicky Nolasco Matt Shoemaker Tyler SkaggJesse Chavez
Cincinnati28 Homer BaileyAnthony DeSclafaniBrandon FinneganRobert StephensonScott Feldman
Milwaukee29 Matt Garza Chase AndersonZach Davies Wily PeraltaJunior Guerra
San Diego30Luis PerdomoChristian FrederichPaul ClemensJarred CosartCesar Vargas

Discussion; i’ll take the discussion in rough groups.

Top 5: I have the Chicago Cubs, NY Mets, Boston, LA Dodgers and then the Nats.  Why?

Well, if Harvey was healthier i’d still have the Mets #1 as I did last year.  I still think the Mets 1-2 punch of deGrom and Snydergaard is better than anyone elses.  If Harvey returns to form and Matz stays healthy, the Nats may be in trouble in 2017.  But those are huge what-ifs, enough to knock the Mets below Chicago for now.  The Cubs for me have two Aces who just finished 2nd and 3rd in Cy Young voting while their #3 just posted a 2.13 ERA.   And if their planned #5 doesn’t pan out, they have the prospect depth to make a move and acquire what they need.  Despite the acquisition of Sale, I do not think Boston’s rotation is better; David Price is just too shaky for me on a week in/week out basis and Porcello, despite his Cy Young in 2016 just isn’t an “Ace.”    But many have argued Boston is above both NY and Chicago; perhaps its recency bias due to the big moves of the past winter meetings.

I have the Dodgers just ahead of the Nats right now for two reasons: I think the strength of their 2-3-4 slightly trumps our 2-3-4, especially given Joe Ross‘s health question marks.  And any rotation headed by Kershaw is going to be highly ranked.  You can’t drop Washington much below #5 because no other rotation has the 1-2 Ace potential that the Nats do, and Roark is starting to (finally) get the recognition he deserves.

Ranking spots 6-11: Cleveland, Detroit, Toronto, St. Louis, San Francisco and Pittsburgh.

So, a lot of people highly rate Cleveland’s rotation, higher than a couple of teams in my top 5.  And if Carrasco and Salazar are healthy I agree with them.  But they’re not, so they get dinged a bit.  I still have Verlander rated as an Ace after his comeback 2016; maybe that’s a little too high … but the rest of their rotation is all solid, being one of the only teams that I think has #3 starter quality even to the #5 starter in Daniel Norris.   Toronto and St. Louis are both in the same spot; several very good arms who just fall below “Ace” category; in Toronto’s case it may be just a matter of time before we’re calling Aaron Sanchez one of the best in the league and in St.Louis’ case the same with Carlos Martinez.  Some have San Francisco higher based on the fact that Bumgarner may be the 2nd or 3rd best pitcher in the game … but the back end of their rotation is so shaky they get dropped almost out of the top 10.  Likewise with Pittsburgh:  things get thin fast past the top 3 for the Pirates.

Ranking spots 12-16: Tampa, Arizona, Texas, Houston, Seattle.

Five teams that all could/should be higher.  Tampa just stole one of the best arms in the minors in Jose De Leon and have some very talented youth in their rotation; if these guys click Tampa shoots upwards.  I’m not entirely sure what to make of Arizona; they have Greinke (the lowest remaining Ace in terms of rotation rankings) and they have what should be a #2 in Shelby Miller, but what the heck happened in 2016?  Meanwhile former Nat-farmhand Robbie Ray has a massive delta between WAR rating systems that its hard to figure out how good he is: B-R rated his 2016 at just 0.7 bWAR while Fangraphs called it a 3.0 fWAR season.  Well which is it?   Perhaps we’ll see some regression to some sort of mean for him in 2017.  Both Texas and  Houston have Cy Young-calibre starters at the head of their rotations with question marks: Darvish b/c of injury, Hamels  because of age and Keuchel due to a bad 2016.  Seattle’s rating increased over the course of the offseason with their wheeling-and-dealing GM Mark DiPoto acquiring Drew Smyly and Yovani Gallardo to improve that rotation several clicks.

Ranking Spots #17-21: Chicago White Sox, New York Yankees, Baltimore, Philadelphia, Atlanta.

The White Sox lost at least 5-6 rankings spots when they moved Chris Sale, who was by far the biggest name to move this off-season and, in fact, is the ONLY projected starter of any team ranked in my top 10.  That’s pretty amazing; teams are just doing such a better job of building pitching staffs.   The Yankees are precariously holding on to this spot; if their #1 Tanaka goes down with his partially torn UCL, they plummet into the bottom 3.  I’ve never rated Baltimore’s rotation, but they keep making the playoffs, so maybe I just have a blind spot here.  Philadelphia’s rotation could be a year or two from being in the top 6-10 range if these youngsters pan out.  Atlanta maybe should be slightly lower; I like Teheran but others do not.  Atlanta did by far and away the most acquisitions of any team in terms of pitching: 3 of their 5 projected opening day rotation guys are new on FA contracts, and almost all their depth is newly acquired MLFAs.

Ranking Spots #22-23: Kansas City and Miami

It just worked out this way, but both teams who had tragedy strike and take away their aces ended up ranked right next to each other.  The loss of Jose Fernandez cost Miami around 9 spots, and the loss of Yordano Ventura probably cost Kansas City 5-6 ranking spots.  Miami (like Atlanta) will depend on several new faces in 2017 as a result, while Kansas City may be looking at an accelerated rebuilding process.

Ranking Spots #24-26: Minnesota, Oakland, Colorado

I could see why you may think Oakland should be higher, but until their newcomers like Sean Manaea (who I always like to point out was on the board and was draftable in 2013 at the spot we gave up to sign Rafael Soriano in Mike Rizzo‘s eternal Quest for a Closer) succeed for more than a couple of months, Oakland stays ranked this low.  I wouldn’t vociferously argue the order of any of these teams: they’re mostly ranked by their aces this low.

Ranking Spots #27-30: Los Angeles Angels, Cincinnati, Milwaukee and San Diego

At least the Angels and Cincinnati have a couple of arms that you may briefly consider in fantasy; you can’t say that for Milwaukee or San Diego.  In fact, if you told me that the “next 5” for San Diego was actually their planned rotation, I’m not sure i’d rank them any worse than the first 5.  Milwaukee has instead depended on veteran players for their low ranking level, with their team ace Matt Garza making more news lately for having his Ferrari vandalized and for piping up about birth control on twitter than for his capabilities on the mound.  Always a good sign for your coming season.


So, what do you guys think of my rankings?

 

Roark commits to pitch in WBC: why this is potentially Bad News for the Nats

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Roark's playing in the WBC; beware Nats fans. Photo Alex Brandon/AP via wp.com

Roark’s playing in the WBC; beware Nats fans. Photo Alex Brandon/AP via wp.com

Word came out that Nats under-rated star Tanner Roark has committed to pitch for the US in the World Baseball Classic (WBC) coming up this spring.  He was invited earlier but had yet to commit, and his participation comes on the heels of word that Max Scherzer would be bowing out of the WBC thanks to a stress fracture in one of his fingers.  (Which, as a side note/tangent, is pretty distressing news that may be under reported; our $200M ace has a fractured knuckle??  Should we be worried?  anyway, back to the post).

Four years ago, I wrote a post titled “Gonzalez to play in WBC: why this is really Bad News for the Nats” and I’m recycling that post (and title) here, because the message is the same: This is not good news for the Nats and t heir 2017 season.

Simply put: Every Nationals pitcher who has *ever* participated in the WBC has regressed from previous performance in the season following.

Here’s a quick table showing every Nats WBC pitcher with their ERA and ERA+ the season before their WBC participation and subsequent to it:

WBC YrPitcher NameERA Season beforeERA season AfterERA+ season beforeERA+ season after
2006Luis Ayala2.66inj153inj
2006Chad Cordero1.823.19225134
2006Gary Majewski2.934.6113996
2009Joel Hanrahan3.954.7810989
2009Saul Rivera3.966.110970
2013Gio Gonzalez2.893.36138113
2013Ross Detwiler3.41184.0494

As you can see; every single one of our pitchers was either injured or regressed (mostly significantly) after playing in the WBC.  The worst case was Luis Ayala, who pitched against the wishes of the team and blew out his elbow on the field during the WBC.  That injury cost him the entire 2006 season.

But this is just our team’s experiences.  How about Baseball wide?  MLB has endeavored itself to argue that participation in the WBC does not lead to an increase in injuries amongst its players and especially pitchers.  But we’re not talking about injuries here; we’re talking about performance.   Here are two very well done studies that show the negative impact of pitching in the WBC:

  1. This July 2010 study on Fangraphs
  2. This Feb 2013 study from BaseballPress.com
  3. A 2014 study at BeyondtheBoxScore that does really in-depth studies of all three WBCs that uses better numbers than I do.

The BaseballPress study shows some of the same numbers I’ve shown above, but conducts the analysis across every pitcher who participated in both WBCs prior to the 2013.  And the results are pretty evident; across the board on average pitchers regressed both in the year of the WBC and in the year after.  The BeyondtheBoxScore tries to do a much more scientific approach using control groups and finds less significant/trivial regression, but depends on projection systems and not year over year performance, which is kind of the point; we live in the real world, not projection systems.

It isn’t hard to figure out why these guys regress; playing in the WBC interupts the decades-old Spring Training plans for getting a starting pitcher ready for a season by slowly bringing him along in terms of innings and pitch counts.  And, suddenly exposing both starters and relievers to high-leverage situations in February/March that they aren’t ready for either physically or mentally puts undue stress on these guys that (as we have seen) manifests itself later on down the road.

Nonetheless, as much as I like the WBC as a concept I think its “bad” that one of our key pitchers will be participating.  At least we now know that Roark’s time may be limited thanks to new rules that allow roster augmentations.  If Roark throws one 5 inning stint maybe it won’t be so bad.

I just wish the WBC would be played AFTER the season (you know, like the World Cup does it; AFTER the pro seasons have ended) instead of before it.

 

Collier’s Inbox 1/4/17

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Is this the best we can do for backup infielders? photo via offtherecordsports.com

Is this the best we can do for backup infielders? photo via offtherecordsports.com

Happy New Year!

Nats Beat reporter Jamal Collier posted another inbox; here’s how I would have answered the questions he took.


 

Q: The Nationals and A’s have proven to be strong trade partners over the years, and I believe the A’s have a few players to fit the Nats’ needs. Do you think Washington could trade for Sean Doolittle and Stephen Vogt?

A: We mentioned this in passing in the comments discussion recently; it does make sense to try to acquire Oakland’s closer Sean Doolittle.  Acquiring Stephen Vogt makes less sense right now, given that the Nats have guaranteed Jose Lobaton money for 2017 and have signed Derek Norris to be the starter.  For similar reasons as to why the “Nats are still interested in Matt Weiters” arguments make no sense, acquiring Vogt wouldn’t make much sense either.  If you acquire Vogt, you tell the league that you need to trade either Lobaton (no options/5-year veteran who cannot be sent down and who has a guaranteed 2017 contract) or Norris, and it isn’t exactly the best way to go about maintaining a player’s value when the whole league knows you need to make a deal.  That’s why we got very little in return for Danny Espinosa, and that’s why signing a third catcher to a guaranteed deal wouldn’t make any sense.

The one issue that may be blocking a Doolittle deal is the farm system; as in, we’ve gutted it this off-season already.   Billy Beane knows how valuable closers are; he just watched Aroldis Chapman and Kenley Jansen cash in and he has seen what the likes of Andrew Miller and Wade Davis fetch in trade.  I’m not saying Doolittle is in that class of pitcher … but he’s not chopped liver.  The price tag just may be too high for Mike Rizzo to consider.

Collier says Doolittle would be a good fit, but that Oakland isn’t shopping its players right now.


 

Q: Wilmer Difo is the only middle infielder on the 40-man roster, other than the starters. It seems to me the Nats need another infielder on the bench. Emmanuel Burriss seems to be the only other option. What do you think?

A: Yes, the Nats definitely need another MLB quality backup infielder.  Emmanuel Burriss is not that; he’s a 4-A guy who only played last year because Philadelphia isn’t really trying right now.  Wilmer Difo is not the guy you want to be injury option #1 either.  This is why I want Stephen Drew back, as discussed ad naseum in the comments recently.  But I also admit Drew may have priced himself out by virtue of his 2016 performance, and it may be an outlier season.  Who else is out there?  Not much at this point.  I think the Nats are kind of thin right now all the way around; if we lose any of these key players for any length of time, the alternatives are pretty poor.  Imagine giving 400 ABs right now to Difo or to Michael Taylor?   I mean, what does this team do if Anthony Rendon, not exactly known for being a rock heathwise, misses 2 months?  Who plays 3B for that time?  Matt Skole?

I think the team needs a bit more depth both in INF and OF right now, honestly.

Collier says the Nats are comfortable with Difo as a bench option, as evidenced by his presence on the NLDS roster.  But I don’t buy that; i think he was on that roster as basically a 25th man/pinch runner guy, not because he had earned it.


 

Q: The offseason trades seem to point to the Nats believing Stras is going to be healthy, why would they think that?

A: Because he’s not the first player to suffer a Strained Flexor Mass, because its not nearly as severe an injury as other arm injuries, and because the team is probably hyper-monitoring Stephen Strasburg‘s recovery.  Its basically a 1 month injury, 2 if you’re being really cautious.  Had the Nats made the World Series i bet he woudl have pitched.  I can’t imagine any reason he won’t be ready to go by 4-1.

Collier notes that both he and his agent have said multiple times there’s no issues, plus Strasburg was throwing bullpen sessions in the post-season…. he’ll be fine.


 

Q: With the trade to the White Sox, I’m concerned that the Nats have denuded their farm system of Major League-ready top prospect pitchers. In case of injury to any of the top six Major Leaguers, it seems that there will be no “next man up” to fill in.

A: Me too!  The Nats gave no less than 20 starts to pitchers outside the opening day rotation in 2016.  That same number was 28 in 2015, 13 in 2014, 25 in 2013 and just 12 in 2012.  So that’s an average of 19.6 “extra” starts per year thanks to injuries and unplanned absences.  You’re absolutely right; the first two likely candidates to take those starts in 2017 (Lucas Giolito and Reynaldo Lopez) were both flipped for Adam Eaton.  Now we’re looking at those starts going to A.J. Cole and to Austin Voth initially, and the pickings get slimmer from there.  “Slim” as in, there’s only really 7 starters on the 40-man at all, so if you really get stuck you’re looking at Oliver Perez getting stretched out, or putting someone like Blake Treinen back on a starter routine.  And past that?  We’re talking a MLFA type like Jacob Turner or our own already-outrighted-once Taylor Hill.  In reality we’d never get that far; we’d promote Erick Fedde or maybe hope that reformed knuckeballer J.D. Martin has something in the tank.   But those are not really confidence-inspiring options.  Here’s hoping for a healthy 2017 from the rotation!

Collier acknowledges the same and thinks the team may sign some starter depth before spring training starts.


Q: Perhaps the Nats could bring in some veteran starters to Spring Training, like they did last year with Bronson Arroyo, to compete for rotation spots and as insurance in case of an injury. What will it take to get Trout? Sure he would like to play for a winnèr.

A: See above, yes.  2016 Syracuse had some decent alternatives: Paolo Espino and Aaron Laffey both seemed to be good alternatives.  Espino signed with Colorado, Laffey is still a FA.  But there’s a slew of veteran FA starters out there who would probably take a non-guaranteed deal.  I could see Mat Latos coming back b/c of his Dusty Baker connection.  I could see an injury-case like Kris Medlen or Matt Harrison look at the SP depth and say to himself, “gee, I can probably beat out Cole and Voth for the 6th starter job!”  So yeah you never know.

Trout trade; that’s just internet click bait.  He’s not going anywhere.  Owner won’t trade him, and putting together a package of prospects to acquire him could never work out; it’d either be not enough for the Angels, or too much for the acquiring team.

Collier tries to speculate on a package for Trout, coming up with Turner, Robles, Ross and perhaps Fedde.  Think about that trade, what it would do to the current team, and what it does for the future of the team versus what you acquire, and ask yourself if its worth it.  

 

 

Huge Over-Pay for Eaton

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Eaton should be this excited moving to a playoff contender. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)

Eaton should be this excited moving to a playoff contender. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)

There is no such thing as a pitching prospect.”

So said Joe Sheehan, more than 13  years ago on Baseball Prospectus.

Well, the Nationals just traded three very, very good pitching prospects for one very good outfielder in a move that was shocking to baseball insiders, let alone Nats fans.

In case you’re not sure what we’re talking about: Nats acquired Adam Eatonhe of the 6-win 2016 season and his ridiculously team-friendly contract (he’s signed with options through 2021 for just a measly $38.4M).  In return we gave up three of our four best starting pitching prospects in the form of Lucas GiolitoReynaldo Lopez and 2016 1st rounder Dane Dunning.

To put things in a different way: we just acquired 5 years of Eaton for a combined potential of nearly *twenty* years of  rotation pieces for the south siders.  We likely made their rotation for the next decade with this move, even if you take an entirely pessimistic viewpoint of the ceilings of all three of these players.

For me; it was too much to pay (in case you couldn’t tell how I felt from the title of the post).  The Nats just traded away literally all their near-to-the-majors starter depth in a complete win-now move that, while I’ve been advocating for it, seemed like an overpay.  I could see/make the argument for Giolito and Dunning, or Lopez+Dunning, but all three seems gratuitous.  Ironic because i’ve just beek talking about not over-valuing your prospects.

The best case scenario for these three arms is a #1, #2 and #5 starter for years to come.  But since best case is never going to happen, lets take some worst-case scenarios for these three guys we just traded.  I know Giolito’s critics are large here, but bear with me:

  • Giolito never harnesses his control and turns into essentially Alex Meyers.
  • Lopez never develops a secondary pitch and is turned into a late-inning 100-mph reliever
  • Dunning’s craftiness only takes him as far as a 5th starter or middle-relief guy for a middling team.

Still, that’s three major league arms, cost controlled first round talents with their bonus money already paid for.  The reality will be somewhere in the middle.

What this deal says is the high price of a good contract.  Eaton is getting paid absolute peanuts compared to the value he’s producing, he plays (or can play) a valuable position, and that’s really what the cost was all about.  If Eaton was on a $18M/year contract he’s only costing one of those three arms in return.

The last time the Nats did this big of a prospects-for-players deal it was the Gio Gonzalez move.  And at the time I wasn’t nearly as negative towards the price as I am for this one.

Fallout/other observations from this deal:

  • The White Sox have now gone from having a farm system ranked in the 22-23 range to inarguably the #1 farm system in the game.  In like two days.
  • Lots of head scratching amongst baseball insiders, MLB.tv announcers, prospect guys.
  • Interesting that literally as soon as this trade occurred, you started seeing people “in the know” talking about how the Nationals had “soured” on Giolito.  I’m sure we’ll hear more about it soon; whispers about work ethic and approach.  Where were these comments yesterday?
  • Get ready for spot-starts from A.J. Cole and Austin Voth; you don’t get through modern baseball seasons on 5 starters anymore, and we don’t exactly have the most reliable rotation.
  • I suspect Danny Espinosa (who is now patently surplus to requirements) gets flipped for hopefully an optionable starter to give us some more depth.  I like Voth and am excited to see what he can do … but i’m not trusting him to give this team 4-5 starts and compete.
  • Our respectable farm system is now gutted: no matter what you think of these three arms heading the other way, they were #1, #3 and #6 prospects in our system.  We have mortgaged the future for the present in a large way.

Nats new Lineup:  Eaton (CF), Turner (SS), Harper (RF), Murphy (2B), Rendon (3B), Werth (LF), Zimmerman (1B),  Norris (C).  Decent lefty-righty balance which could be stretched a bit if you broke up Harper & Murphy.  Eaton makes a bit more sense at leadoff since Turner has proven to have a bit more power than we thought, and Eaton is a lefty, but I could see them switched and then going Harper-Rendon-Murphy or something like that so you don’t have 3 lefties in a row.  But this is now a pretty fast lineup at the top.

So, what say you?

 

Post-Season pitching Staff; who should it be?

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Gonzalez is key in the NLDS. Photo via Wikipedia/Flickr from user muohace_dc

Gonzalez is key in the NLDS. Photo via Wikipedia/Flickr from user muohace_dc

As requested in the comments, here’s a good thread to argue about and attempt to read the tea leaves as to what the team will do for its upcoming divisional series against Los Angeles.

A quick note before starting: the Dodgers are literally dead last in the majors against lefties as a team.   The have a team BA of .216 against all lefties, which is 15 points lower than the 29th ranked team.  They have a 75 wRC+ against lefties and a .634 OPS figure as a team  … by way of comparison, Michael Taylor has an OPS figure of .648 for the 2016 season.  So the Dodgers hit lefties kinda like Taylor hits pitching in general.  I only mention this because, while I knew the Dodgers were “bad” against lefties, I didn’t know they were this bad.

So, common sense may seem to indicate that the team would know an important fact like this and either a) plan their rotation accordingly, and b) plan their bullpen accordingly.  But, we are talking about a team managed by Dusty Baker, and I’m not sure he’ll have it in him to perhaps consider using Gio Gonzalez in this fashion.

So, that being said, here’s what I think will happen with the rotation and bullpen, based on what we’ve been seeing the last few weeks.  (Btw, i am assuming that the Nats don’t blow home field advantage this weekend and the first two games are in DC … which may be a bad assumption but I can’t see them losing 2 of 3 to the unfortunately reeling Marlins)


 

Rotation goes (and this isn’t much of a surprise): Scherzer, Roark, Gonzalez, Ross

Discussion: Scherzer is scheduled to throw Sunday 10/2 in the final game of the season, giving him normal 4 days rest before the first game of the NLDS (here’s the MLB 2016 post-season schedule).  Past that, i’m guessing that Baker will re-arrange the rotation based on performance and not the current order since everyone will have plenty of rest by the time the NLDS rolls around.  Assuming that the final three games feature the expected probables of A.J. Cole tonight, Tanner Roark tomorrow 10/1 and Scherzer, then Roark would be on five days of rest for the NLDS game 2.

Gonzalez then goes in Game 3, in LA.  Is that bad?  Maybe not; in 2016 his home/away splits are nearly identical; he’s been not good no matter where he pitches.

Game 4 is where we think Joe Ross goes 100 pitches or so, which might get him to the 5th inning, and then we see Reynaldo Lopez in a “once through the order” bridge to the back end of the bullpen.  Ross seems like he has gotten back to the point where he can go.

This leaves the likes of Mat LatosA.J. Cole and Lucas Giolito off the post-season roster.  None has really merited inclusion.


Bullpen goes (and this is where I’m sure there’s some disagreement): Melancon, Kelley, Treinen, Belisle, Perez*, Rzepczynski*, Solis*

This means we’re leaving off:

  • Petit: he’s struggled badly and his long man role is replicated by Lopez or Perez
  • Glover: he has also struggled down the stretch and loses out in lieu of a third lefty
  • Gott, Martin and Grace: all have pitched well since their 9/1 call ups, but none are better options or have made cases to supplant the four righties listed above, all of whom have excelled this year.  But I will say, these three may make excellent in-house options to replace the guys who will likely be departing this off-season via FA (specifically Belisle and Rzepczynski).

 

I think this is a good plan of attack.

Who is the first lefty out of the pen to face the likes of Joc PedersonCorey Seager, Adrian Gonzalez or Chase Utley?   Per their current depth chart, the Dodgers are starting no less than six guys who are lefty only but the above four are the ones to be most scared of.  I think it’ll be scrabble, but having three arms makes it easier to do lefty matchups multiple times in a game.

thoughts?

 

Jose Fernandez 1992-2016

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Such a shame. Photo via thestar.com

Such a shame. Photo via thestar.com

I have MLB.com notifications setup on my phone.  Normally I get fun notifications about the Nats’ announced lineup for the coming game, or that so-and-so is a triple from a cycle, or information about Vin Scully‘s retirement tour.  But I certainly wasn’t expecting early Sunday morning to see this alert: “Miami Marlins pitcher Jose Fernandez, 24, killed in boating accident.”  It was pretty jarring, and obviously out of the blue.

I’m not going to quote Fernandez’s career stats like other publications have done; I think its tacky and not unlike printing some football player’s career rushing stats along with the announcement that they’re being charged with sexual battery.  The story is that a young player is suddenly gone; one week he’s in discussions about whether he’s in the running for the 2016 Cy Young, the next we’re seeing instagram pictures of his pregnant girlfriend and putting ourselves in her shoes and considering the awfulness of the situation.  Watching the news lately is already awful enough (every story is about a shooting in a mall or a god-awful political race that can’t end quickly enough); now this adds to the overall awfulness.

Unfortunately, we live in a TMZ-driven society where the death of an athlete, or a celebrity, or a politician of note is given tons of media attention while similar deaths are given no attention at all.  An actor commits suicide and its in the news cycle for weeks; a military vet with PTSD commits suicide about once an hour in this country and its just another stat in an ever growing national crisis.  There’s nothing more or less tragic about Fernandez dying in an accident; its just that he was a larger than life figure thanks to his unique occupation.  Like other baseball players who have died suddenly (Nick Adenhart or Cory Lidle recently, Thurman Munson from my youth for example), its hard to separate the tragedy from the celebrity.

My thoughts are with his family, and I’m saddened that such a vibrant exciting player who clearly had an elan for the game is taken so soon.

 

Written by Todd Boss

September 26th, 2016 at 9:25 am

Ladson’s Inbox 9/15/16

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Turner is the biggest surprise of the year for me.  photo via wp.com

Turner is the biggest surprise of the year for me. photo via wp.com

Wow, what a treat!  I’ve been kind of slacking in the content department and suddenly our favorite beat writer Bill Ladson pops out an unexpected mid-September mailbag.  So here’s something to argue about this weekend.

As always, here’s how I would have answered his questions.

Q: Who do you think is the most pleasant surprise on the Nationals this year

A: Trea Turner without a doubt.  We knew he was going to be good, but I don’t think anyone knew he was going to be *this* good.  Keith Law in his chat yesterday  pointed out a fun little fact about Trea Turner: he’s got a (now) 3.0 bWAR this year, which would rank him (unadjusted for position) as the 6th best ever for either the Rays or the Padres, the two teams that passed along Turner (and Joe Ross) in that trade two years ago.  What a steal.  And despite his only playing 57 games this year you have to think he’s in the mix for NL Rookie of the Year.  Corey Seager probably has it wrapped up, but a 2nd or 3rd place for Turner seems warranted.

Ladson said Stephen Drew, which I guess you could argue for … except that he’s a bench player who has missed a ton of time and isn’t a lock to make the post-season roster given his illness.

—-

Q: How far do you think the Nationals could go in the postseason?

A: Could?  They could go all the way!  :-)  In reality, I think the Stephen Strasburg injury really, really hurts them in their likely NLDS match up with Los Angeles.  If the Nats rolled out Scherzer-Strasburg-Roark-Gonzalez versus the Dodgers’ Kershaw-Hill-Maeda-random 4th starter i’d feel pretty good about our chances in that series.  Right now we’re basically auditioning pitchers for that 4th spot and Gonzalez has been shaky, and Los Angeles’ arms are daunting for a team that routinely gets shut down by starters from teams like Philadelphia and Atlanta.  Right now, I think we lose a close NLDS series to Los Angeles.

Even if Strasburg was healthy, I think we’d really be hard-pressed to beat Chicago in a 7 game series either.  We took 2 of 3 here, lost 4 out of 4 there this year (though as we’ve discussed here, that sweep wasn’t nearly as dominant as the press made it seem), but we still lost to them, and they’ve stayed at full strength basically the whole season.  I don’t see how anyone beats the Cubs this year.

Ladson hedges his answer, saying he wants to see how the bullpen and offense go the rest of the way.  Why is he worried about the bullpen?  Isn’t it one of the best in the game?  The Nats bullpen is #1 in baseball in ERA, #2 in Fip.   What more do you want?

Q: Do you think Stephen Strasburg will be ready to pitch in the postseason?

A: Nope.  Strained Flexor Mass is usually a 30 day injury; he got hurt on 9/7/16.  So at best t hat’s 10/7/16 … or basically at the end of the divisional series.  But … where’s he going to rehab?  There’s no more minor league games; i guess he could throw simulated or instructional league games.  But more importantly, this is a notably conservative team medically, especially with Strasburg over the years and especially since they just committed $175M to him.  No way do they rush him back from a serious injury just on the opportunity to make one post-season start.  Ladson agrees.

Q: Why do you call Jayson Werth “The King” on Twitter?

A: (me shaking my head): who knows.  Maybe because he’s the king of getting caught doing triple digits on the beltway?  I’ve lived here all my life and can’t tell you how many times i’ve hit 100 on the interstates around here without getting caught.  Ladson says he calls Werth the king because he turned “clubhouse from unprofessional to first class.”  Well, except for all of last year under Matt Williams … I guess even the King couldn’t salvage that dumpster fire.

Q: What do you think of the job Danny Espinosa has done this year?

A: Good power, good defense, bad hit tool.  About what we expected; his plus defense and power this year have outweighed his strikeouts and his low batting average.   He’s got a 1.8 bWAR and a 1.9 fWAR on the year, so its not like he’s totally useless out there.  Its one of the reasons i’ve supported him and havn’t been completely ready to get rid of him; he’s ranked 15th among qualified Shortstops in fWAR this year.  So that’s right in the middle; league average.   I mean, if he had negative WAR, didn’t have power, or wasn’t a plus defender, I could see the huge rush to replace him.  But moving him this coming off-season (as many want to of my readership) opens up another hole in Center that’s probably harder to fill right now than Short.  Its why I suspect the team may just stand pat, keep Turner in center another year, and roll out basically the same lineup in 2017.  Ladson gives him a “6.5 out of 7” and says he deserves the NL Gold Glove.  I dunno about that; there’s 5 or 6 NL shortstops that probably rate better defensively than him.

Q: Was Murphy what you expected this season?

A: No way; Murphy a ton better than I expected.  I was hoping for a solid 6th hitter, not a frigging MVP candidate.  He earned his entire $37.5M contract this year.  Ladson Agrees.

Q: What do you think of Dusty Baker as a manager? I know you often said Davey Johnson is the best manager you ever covered. Where does Baker rank as far as Nationals manager go?

A: I think Baker has done a fantastic job of calming this group, bringing some order, and not showing any of the faults that he was accused of in the past.  He’s shifted, he’s managed the bullpen decently, he’s stuck to his guns and rested players, he’s communicated well, he hasn’t burned out starters.  I think he’s ridden his primary catcher too hard … but then again, Ramos is having a career year and Lobaton is a huge step back offensively.  Is he better than Davey?  Not yet for me: lets see what happens when Baker has to deal with some injury issues or a better divisional rival.  Ladson has them 1-2 with Davey still on top.