Nationals Arm Race

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

Archive for the ‘Majors Pitching’ Category

Jose Fernandez 1992-2016

33 comments

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

52 comments

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.

 

Strasburg Flexor Mass; what’s plan B for the playoffs?

17 comments

It could have been worse; it could have been this. Photo credit unknown.

It could have been worse; it could have been this. Photo credit unknown.

Its been a greek tragedy the last few days in Nats town.  Stephen Strasburg (you know, that guy who we just paid $175M for the next 30 years with deferred payments) clutches his elbow in his first game back after hitting the D/L for a different “elbow soreness” issue.  Nats town fears the worst.  MRI comes back and its “just” a Flexor Mass Strain.  They say it isn’t going to be season ending but…

But we have some rather recent and close-to-home examples to use to gauge his D/L time out:

  • Mat Latos was diagnosed with the same injury in Mid April 2014 and missed exactly 2 months of that season.
  • Homer Bailey had a more severe case of the same in August 2014, had to have surgery and was back in time for the beginning of 2015 (where he subsequently had a different injury).
  • Jonathan Broxton had an even more severe “torn” flexor mass in August 2013, had surgery and was out 6 months.
  • (h/t to Nationals101 on Twitter): Andrew Miller, who strained it in June 2015 against the Nats and missed about a month (injury on 6/10/15, next appearance 7/8/15).

So, best case he takes a couple of week off, it magically feels better, we shoot him up with cortisone and toradol (Hey they’re both legal!) and run merrily into the NLDS (not likely).

Worst case, he has to have a surgical procedure to clean stuff up and he’s ready for April 2017.

Most likely case, the conservative Nats management team shuts him down for the season (he is after all due $175M … and it’d be kind of foolish to risk that kind of investment for one playoff appearance) since it seems like its at least a month of rest.

In the mean time, the Nats have a playoff series to plan for.  Now what do we do?

  • Scherzer, Roark, Gonzalez are all healthy and ready to go.

Who is the 4th starter?  Instead of arguing about whether we take Joe Ross or Gio Gonzalez, are we now asking ourselves who makes that 4th start?  Do we think Joe Ross is going to be ready?  I dunno; I certainly hope so but we’re out of minor league games for him to rehab in and I havn’t heard much about his progress.  Assuming Ross isn’t ready to go either … Are we to the point where we’re wondering who is better, Yusmeiro PetitA.J. Cole, Reynaldo Lopez or Lucas Giolito?

Pros/Cons of these options:

  • Petit: was brought in to be the spot starter so he should be able to handle this.  But he’s been a bit shakey lately; his ERA has risen from 2.72 to 3.90 in just his last 8 appearances, which include a 5 run implosion against Colorado to blow a game the Nats had come back to tie late, an appearance in early August against Atlanta where he couldn’t record an out, and a bunch of other unclean appearances.
  • Cole: he has shown signs of life (looking awesome in New York against our closest rival) and then signs of ineptitude (giving up a 3-run homer to the only guy on the Phillies who could hurt him).
  • Lopez: great fastball … and great hittability.
  • Giolito: well, we don’t need to go into the pro- and anti-Giolito arguments, do we?

I dunno; who among that list are you thinking is best suited for it?

Are you thinking outside the box instead?  Mat Latos?  I dunno; do you think he’s ready to go?  Would you think that to be a slap in the face of all the guys who busted their butts with this organization for years to have a post-season start opportunity given to a guy they signed off the street two months ago?

Me?  I think you give the start to Lopez.  I don’t trust Petit, Cole seems too hittable, and Giolito needs an off-season to get his mechanics (and his head) straight.

(post-publishing update; just saw this at NJ: we know it isn’t going to be Bronson Arroyo… who just couldn’t come back and likely faces the end of his career).

Are you worried about the Rotation too?

36 comments

Giolito's latest start does not inspire confidence.   (Photo by John McDonnell / The Washington Post)

Giolito’s latest start does not inspire confidence. (Photo by John McDonnell / The Washington Post)

(note; i’m at the beach this week … so i’m putting this in as a placeholder for arguing, er I mean discussing).

From the comments section on last week’s post, clearly we’re not happy with the bullpen.  And neither is Mike Rizzo, who caused an uproar amongst the 25 or so people on the planet who knew who Max Schrock was by flipping him for a guy whose name I won’t even try to spell.  Our long man blew a comeback effort last weekend that i’m sure was not well appreciated amongst the vets on the team.

But this post is about the rotation.  Are you worried yet?  Scherzer and Roark might have hiccups here and there but they’ll be solid for the playoffs (and yes, at this point i’m assuming we’re in the playoffs).  But is Strasburg going to make it back?  Is Ross?  Do we trust Gonzalez in a post-season rotation?  Is the performance thus far of Giolito and Lopez just more cause for concern?

 

Do the Nats have a LOOGY problem?

74 comments

Can we count on this guy in October? Photo via getty images

Can we count on this guy in October? Photo via getty images

We’ve clearly seen some middle relief issues lately, despite nearly sweeping a 4-game set in Atlanta this past weekend.  And one of the issues we’ve been continually discussing is our left-handed relief options.

We traded Felipe Rivero.  Oliver Perez has a 5.61 ERA.  Sammy Solis just had an MRI on his left shoulder.  Matt Grace has nice looking AAA numbers, but got shellacked last year (2.00 whip in 26 innings) during a brief call-up.  Nick Lee was so ineffective this year that he passed completely through waivers when we DFA’d him off the 40-man.  We just paid cash for twice-TJ survivor and ex Nat Sean Burnett, whose AAA numbers look good but is now on his fourth organization of 2016.

Do we have a LOOGY problem?

Well, maybe.

I constantly have to remind myself of this sentence: “You don’t have to be left-handed in order to get lefties out.”  That and this sentence: “If your lefty splits are good … then you’re still a good LOOGY option.”

Here’s the 2016 versus lefty splits for every reliever on our 40-man, RHP or LHP.  And then lets add in some of the call-up candidates just for fun… (all numbers as of 8/21/16’s Atlanta game via baseball-reference.com):

Right Handed reliever options

  • Melancon: .202/.253/.274 for an .527 OPS; as you’d expect, an elite closer gets both lefties and righties out.
  • Treinen: .211/.357/.351 for an .708 OPS.  Not bad.
  • Kelley: .250/.294/.609 for an .903 OPS.  Not good.
  • Petit: .261/.327/.511 for an .838 OPS.  Again, not really that good, but then again that’s not what we’re asking him to do generally.
  • Belisle: .150/.203/.267 for an .470 OPS.  Wow; that’s better than any of our lefties.
  • Glover: minimal stats in MLB; for 2016 he had a .161 BAA in AAA, .250 in AA and .143 in High-A for lefty splits (which are kind of hard to come by at milb.com).   That looks promising, but he seems to be more effective against righties.

Left Handed reliever options

  • Perez: .217/.321/.377 for an .698 OPS.  Its his rightly split that’s killing him.
  • Solis: .200/.279/.273 for an .551 OPS.  Awesome … if we can get him back healthy.
  • Sean Burnett: Again, minor league splits are harder to come by, but Burnett had a .150 BAA against in 12 IP in his longest AAA stint of the year.
  • Bryan Harper: .161 BAA in AAA this year, even better .091 while in AA.  And it’d be cool to have him on a roster with his brother.  But he’s on the D/L right now.
  • Matt Grace: .207 BAA in AAA this year … but as noted above he struggled in his 2015 audition.

Rivero, by the way, has this for a lefty split in 2016: .325/.424/.429 for an .852 OPS.  A .325 BAA; no wonder they were willing to part with him.  He was a lefty who couldn’t get lefties out.

What if we thought outside the box a bit?

  • Reynaldo Lopez: .180/.250/.340 for an .590 OPS.  Interesting; we’ve already talked at length about Lopez being a fire-baller out of the pen for a post-season team and his lefty splits are good.
  • Lucas Gioilto: .269/.406/.462 for an .868 OPS; not nearly as impressive.
  • Aaron Laffey: just a .254 BAA in AAA this year in a swing-man role.
  • Nick Lee: the aforementioned struggling lefty is the only other lefty in the minors above High-A; he’s got a decent .214 BAA against lefties in AA … but his overall ERA/Whip is ugly; 4.73 and 1.77,
  • I didn’t go to High-A, where we have a couple of  lefty prospects but they’re no where near consideration for a call-up.

So, we need Solis back; he’s the closest thing we have to a matchup lefty who we can count on.  But clearly Belisle’s numbers make him a matchup option too, despite his being a rightly.  It reminds me of when we had Tyler Clippard, who always had stellar lefty splits.  Perez’s split line isn’t great; I feel like we should be pushing him almost all the way to the mop-up/Petit role right now.

Are you concerned though?  On a whole, the Nats bullpen has been one of the best in all of baseball.  Are the falterings lately just due to a too many innings thanks to a couple of bad starter outings?

 

Is Lopez better than Giolito? Are all the pundits wrong?

18 comments

Clearly the team is trusting Lopez more than Giolito; are all the pundits wrong?  Photo via wp.com/Mitchell Layton getty images

Clearly the team is trusting Lopez more than Giolito; are all the pundits wrong? Photo via wp.com/Mitchell Layton getty images

So, I’ll start off by saying this is absolutely a “short sample size” post.  Reynaldo Lopez now has a grand total of four MLB starts (and just 4 AAA starts) and uber prospect Lucas Giolito himself now has the same number of total starts above AA as Lopez (3 in MLB, 5 for Syracuse).  But after last night’s dominant performance in Atlanta (7ip, 4 hits, 11 Ks and 1 walk in 101 pitches), I’ll ask the question that a lot of commenters have already been saying here: are we looking at the wrong guy as the next Ace in waiting from our farm system?

Here’s what’s striking me about Lopez; check out his Pitch FX data from last night’s start.   He threw 68 fastballs with an *average* velocity of 97.6mph, peaking at 99.5mph.   Yes he tired a bit in the last couple of innings, but (per the graph of his pitch velocity at the BrooksBaseball link) he only “slowed” to the 96-97 range … his overall heat earlier in the game kept his average well into the 97mph range.  That’s a very, very impressive velocity neighborhood, one where only two or three starters are living right now (amongst qualified starters … only Noah Snydergaard has kept a higher average fastball velocity this year than 97.6).  But I also watched him absolutely blow balls by hitters; the most impressive of which was a 98mph fastball right by Atlanta’s best  hitter Freddie Freeman to get a punch-out.

We’re not seeing that kind of velocity out of Giolito.   And we didn’t see this kind of performance either.

Literally every scouting analyst out there thinks Giolito is “the best pitching prospect in the game.”  Now, they’re not exactly light on Lopez; Lopez is routinely in the top 50 of all prospects in the minors, and generally listed #2 behind Giolito and Trea Turner on the 2016 lists.  So it isn’t as if nobody knows who Lopez is.  But results on the field at the MLB level in 2016 are hard to beat when it comes to doing comparisons.

Yes Atlanta is an awful team so perhaps over-reacting to 11 Ks is something to temper.   And both guys are clearly up-and-down (Lopez’ last AAA start was 5 runs in 6ip; Giolito’s last AAA start was 10Ks and 1 run in 7ip).   Two of Giolito’s three MLB starts were against the defending NL champ Mets (not exactly a pushover team offensively) while two of Lopez’s four MLB starts were against the trying-to-lose Mets (who might be starting one out-field player who would start on most other teams right now).

But what are you guys thinking?  I mean, clearly to me Lopez is staying in the rotation until he falters, so it may be a moot point for Giolito anyway (who is quickly running out of innings in 2016; he’s sitting at 117 1/3 right now, which is almost precisely what he threw in 2015, so factoring in a 20% increase he may only have 4 more starts in him).  Does Lopez have innings limit concerns too?  He’s never even thrown 100 innings and is already well past that in 2016…).  In fact, are we looking at an imminent shutdown of *both* prospects in the next couple of weeks?

I know how some of you are going to react to this post … cough cough MartyC and forensicane cough cough.  But how about the rest of you?  Is this heresy?  Is this a changing of the guard-type opinion?  Or is this just all SSS-driven nonsense that’ll be thrown out the window when Lopez gets pounded the next time he faces a half-way decent offensive lineup?

Written by Todd Boss

August 19th, 2016 at 11:21 am

Papelbon asks out? May be the simplest solution

74 comments

Papelbon can do this for any team. Photo via usatoday.com

Papelbon can do this for any team. Photo via usatoday.com

Rumors started getting published early saturday morning: embattled, demoted and struggling former Nats closer Jonathan Papelbon has reportedly asked for his release.

He’s appeared in precisely two games since he was replaced as closer by the newly acquired Mark Melancon.   Both appearances can be generously characterized as “mop up duty.”  He’s gone from highest leverage closer to 8th guy in an 8-man pen in less than two weeks, and it seems he’s reading the tea leaves.

The Nats need a move today to call up their starter Reynaldo Lopez; could a DFA or release of Papelbon be the solution?

We’ve talked in this space about playoff rosters a bit, about how we all are kind of thinking we could use Koda Glover on that roster.  Well, when we dump the 5th starter and expand the bullpen to 8 … not having to worry about Papelbon’s reaction could be a benefit.  I’d gladly take this bullpen construction into a short series:

  • Closer: Melancon
  • 8th inning guys: Treinen, Kelley
  • 7th inning guys: Belisle, Glover
  • Lefties: Perez, Solis
  • Long-man: Petit

That looks strong enough to me.  If Papelbon was still in the picture, you’d face a tough decision on who to drop.  Belisle has more than earned his spot, and there’s nobody else in that list who can really make way thanks to the trade of Rivero.

Thoughts?  Is this a blessing in disguise (if its true?)  Or do you think we should hang on to him and give him a Qualifying Offer?  (sarcasm).

A tale of Three Trades

87 comments

Melancon takes over for the beleagured Papelbon. Photo via bucsdugout.com

Melancon takes over for the beleagured Papelbon. Photo via bucsdugout.com

At the trade deadline, we saw three significant closer-quality arms moved.

  • Cubs acquire Aroldis Chapman for Rashad Crawford, Billy McKinney, Gleyber Torres, and Adam Warren.
  • Nationals acquire Mark Melancon for Felipe Rivero and Taylor Hearn.
  • Indians acquire Andrew Miller for Clint Frazier, Justus Sheffield, Ben Heller and J.P. Feyereisen.

Chapman fetches the Cubs #1 prospect in Torres (he immediately becomes the Yankees’ #1 prospect) in addition to a more marginal (but still ranked) prospect in McKinney, a lottery ticket in Crawford AND the return of their former 8th inning guy Warren.  This in return for perhaps the premier closer in the game for a 2 month rental.

Melancon fetched a solid, young lefty reliever in Rivero (whose peripherals counter his currently poor-looking 2016 ERA) plus a 2nd tier ranked prospect in Hearn who is probably 3 years away.  This in return for 2 months of an elite but not quite as dominant closer.

Miller fetched the Indians #1, #5, #30th ranked prospects in the Cleveland organization (including two 1st round picks) plus an org-arm.  This in return for one of the best relievers in the game for this year plus two more years at a relatively reasonable price ($9M/per).

Projected WAR for these three guys (using opportunistic estimates based on historical performance);

  • Chapman: 0.8-1.0 bWAR for his 2 month rental (2.7 bWAR in 2015)
  • Melancon: 0.6-0.7 bWAR for his 2 month rental (1.9 bWAR in 2015)
  • Miller: 1.0 bWAR for his 2 month rental plus another 4.5 bWAR for 2017-2018: 5.5 bWAR total.

And then there’s the money factors and the intangibles:

  • Chapman: Domestic Violence suspension earlier this year.   $4.33M of salary due this year.
  • Melancon: Salary relief provided by Pittsburgh (not sure how much, but believed to be all of his 2016 salary)
  • Miller: no salary relief.

Which deal do you like the most?  Miller clearly got the most in terms of value, but he also was the best positioned for the long haul.  But even at best case, Miller’s only going to return 5 and a half war over the next 3 years for Cleveland; that’s about as much bWAR as Anthony Rendon provided in his first big breakout season.  Chapman cost much, much more than Melancon; is he worth that much more?

I hate to sound like a homer, but for what they sought and what they gave up, I completely prefer the Nats deal here.  We gave up none of our top tier of prospects, we didn’t take on cash, and we got precisely what we wanted (closer coverage for 2016) and nothing more.  Keith Law hated the deal of course, but he covets prospects and hates closers so it is no surprise.  I also kind of thought that Mike Rizzo would have learned his lesson after the Papelbon-Drew Storen nightmare (remember; he’s the same GM who flipped 2 months of a FA acquisition Matt Capps for years of Wilson Ramos.

Thou shalt not overreact to a blown save…

64 comments

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

39 comments

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?