Nationals Arm Race

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Nats Annual Mid-Season Bullpen overhaul; 2019 edition

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Come on, you know every blog post about Strickland has to lead with this photo right? Photo via Star Tribune

Come on, you know every blog post about Strickland has to lead with this photo right? Photo via Star Tribune

Another year, another mad scramble at the trade deadline to fortify the bullpen.

So, how does this year’s moves look?

Honestly … pretty good, all things considered.

  • Acquired: Hunter Strickland, Daniel Hudson, Roenis Elias
  • Traded away: Taylor Guilbeau, Elvis Alvarado, Aaron Fletcher, Kyle Johnston
  • 40-man Moves to make room: DFA Javy Guerra, Michael Blazek and move Jonny Venters to 60-day DL.
  • 25-man Moves to make room: Guerra, Blazek and one tbd as of this writing
  • Salary acquired: just $1.233M per Mark Zuckerberg , thus staying under the Luxury tax.
  • Mid-season prospect rankings of traded away assets per MLBPipeline/Baseball America/Fangraphs:
    • Taylor Guilbeau: #15 on MLB/#14 on BA/#20 on Fangraphs
    • Elvis Alvarado: unranked on all three
    • Aaron Fletcher: #21/#19/unranked on Fangraphs
    • Kyle Johnston: #27/#21/unranked on fangraphs

So, I’ll take these moves.   The team traded from strength (college-age pitching prospects) to acquire a position of need, and got some decent control with a couple of them to boot.  Irrespective of the underlying stats of these three guys … they’re upgrades over the two guys DFA’d and/or the guys who still remain in the bullpen with seasonal ERAs that start with a 4 (Wander SueroTony Sipp), a 5 (Matt Grace) or a 6 (Kyle Barraclough, mercifully already demoted to AA).

Strickland has been  hurt all year, and saw  his 2019 numbers take a dive from 2018, but for his career he’s still a solid player and is a good gamble.  I’m guessing whatever remnant remains of the clubhouse stemming from his ridiculous and immature plunking of Bryce Harper will talk it out and move on.   Elias’ time as Seattle’s closer has also left his numbers in decline versus last year, but he’ll step into a different role here and won’t have as many high-leverage spots.  Hudson (who was born in Lynchburg and went to ODU in Norfolk) has an interesting career, was once a very promising starter for Arizona before missing an entire season due to injury.  He was featured prominently in Jeff Passan‘s book The Arm since Hudson had to do two Tommy John’s in two years … but he’s been healthy since (relegated to the bullpen).

It seems to me that the new bullpen lineup (assuming all healthy), will go like this:

  • Closer: remains Doolittle
  • Setup/8th inning: Strickland and Elias
  • 7th inning: Rodney, Hudson, Rainey
  • longer relief: Suero, Grace/Sipp

It remains to be seen who gets optioned back; Suero has been solid for a couple of weeks, Rainey has given up just one run this month, Grace has scuffled, Sipp had treaded water, so it remains to be seen.

Will these moves win the Nats the Pennant?  Hardly.  Despite their decent form as of late, they’ve picked up just 1.5 games on Atlanta and seem to be competing for the WC.  Atlanta drastically improved their bullpen, getting better, more expensive assets, and Philly made moves to improve their rotation (moves the Nats couldn’t do b/c of salary cap issues).

Which of the traded assets am I most bummed to see go?

  • Guilbeau had a fantastic year in AA, has struggled a bit in AAA in SSS and could feature as a MLB reliever for some teams.  He’s in his 5th pro season, has already been rule-5 eligible for two years, but may still be more than an org-guy.  A nice turnout for a 10th round pick.
  • Elvis Alvarado: a lottery ticket, 20-yr old recently converted pitcher who’s been in the GCL “rotation” this year and has more walks than IP.
  • Aaron Fletcher: a fantastic 2018 14th round pick who has shot up the Nats system this year, blowing away both Low-A and High-A and currently holding his own more or less in AA SSS.
  • Kyle Johnston: Probably the most pedigree’d player moved, a 6th rounder in 2017 who has been in the Potomac rotation all year, pitching pretty well.

I think I was most interested to see how Fletcher turned out, then to see if Johnston could make the jump to AA next year.  Guilbeau may have already peaked as an org guy, and Alvarado is 5 years away.

Thoughts?

 

Written by Todd Boss

August 1st, 2019 at 11:41 am

Stewart to do end-around of MLB Draft; brilliant!

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Carter Stewart is going to be a heck of a trail blazer. photo via PerfectGame

Carter Stewart is going to be a heck of a trail blazer. photo via PerfectGame

(tangent from our Nats miseries; yes we just got swept in NY, yes our manager needs to be whacked, yes the team is in serious trouble for 2019.  We’ll talk about it more next week).

Here’s a quick story about Carter Stewart.

He was a top prep player last spring, recording the highest spin rate *ever recorded* on his curve ball.  He was the 9th overall pick of the 2018 draft, couldn’t come to an agreement with the Braves over medicals (not related to his elbow or shoulder fyi .. they were related to MRIs of his wrist, stemming from a skateboarding injury apparently incurred when Stewart was a kid), didn’t sign, bailed out of his 4-yr college commitment to Mississippi State, enrolled in a Florida JuCo so he could do one-and-done in college and re-enter the 2019 draft, played this spring and didn’t wow the scouts (despite sterling statistics) and saw his draft projection (and thus his bonus) fall to perhaps an early 2nd round status.

So what is he doing?  He’s doing what Scott Boras  has dreamed of for two decades representing (ahem, “advising”) amateur players: he’s doing an end-around on the MLB draft.  Stewart announced that he’s opting out of the MLB draft, and signing a 6yr, $7M deal in Japan.

And its a brilliant plan.

Here’s how the numbers work.  Lets say that, for sake of argument, Steward got drafted in 2019, signed for $2M (a stretch frankly, but useful for this conversation).  Here’s likely how the next 6-10 years of his life would go:

  • 2019: signs, $2M bonus.  Barely plays, since most prep pitchers spend their draft year in XST learning how to be a pro.
  • 2020: XST and then GCL time as a minor leaguer earning $1200/month for 6 months.  Call it $10,000 in total salary for ease of calculation.
  • 2021: pitches full season in Low-A as a 21-yr old.  Another $10k in salary
  • 2022: moves up to high-A.  Maybe we’ll even give him AA.  10k in salary
  • 2023.  He’s not breaking camp with the team, even if he merits a rotation spot .. so he starts in AAA for a few weeks, then moves up and basically earns a full MLB pre-arb salary of $575k.
  • 2024: 600k as a 24yr old, 2nd year pre-arb; he earns a small raise

Total earnings through 6 years of service: $2m + 30k + 575k + 600k = $3,205,000 total pay.

So, now he’s through 6 pro seasons, he’s at the end of his age 24 season and he’s got two full years of MLB experience after 4 minor league seasons … and he’s facing another two full pre-arb seasons thanks to service time manipulation in 2023 (which everybody does), taking  him through 2026/age 26, then 3 years of arbitration that limits his salary drastically versus what he’s worth on the open market … and he hits FA in 2029 after 10 years of team control … possibly with a Qualifying Offer tagged to him (unless they CBA it out of existence).

INSTEAD, he signs a $6M deal to go to Japan for those same 6 years, nearly doubles his potential pay, gets legitimate pro experience, and comes out of his experience as a completely free 25yr old.   Oh, and if he hits incentives he can actually triple that $6M pay.  If he had played by the rules of the MLB system at the end of 2024, he’d still be facing another FIVE seasons of artificially limited pay.

Oh, and if he burns out (like a lot of HS arms) and never gets to the majors … he’s got basically 3 TIMES the pay versus his projected bonus.

It makes one wonder; why hasn’t this happened before??  This is a complete no-brainer plan for huge chunks of pro prospects.  If you’re a college-aged top 5 pick making $4-$5M of bonus and perhaps facing just a year and a half in the minors, no.  But consider what Mason Denaburg is now facing (our first round pick out of HS last  year).  He signed last year for $3M … and has YET TO PITCH for our organization now a 1/3rd of the way through his 2nd pro  season and still hasn’t been assigned.   Unless Denaburg is the second coming of Clayton Kershaw, he’s going to spend a good chunk of the next  3 years in the low minors, earning less in a month than major leaguers earn in a day.

The downside to this is, of course, a 19yr old kid from Florida has to go halfway around the world to a culture and a language he doesn’t know.  Sounds daunting … except for the fact that MLB basically has half its minor leagues in the same position, importing non-english speaking talent from the DR, Venezuela, Mexico, etc as well as a slew of other international players who end up here w/o knowing our culture or language.  It isn’t the end of the world.

Honestly … I hope he blazes a path towards forcing MLB to take a pretty hard look at its entire draft and pay structure, which is incredibly tilted towards the owners as the MLBPA has failed for more than 2 decades now to stem the tide of owners chipping away at younger players salaries and earning possibilities.  And, given the embarrassment baseball  (and Oakland) just went through having their 2018 1st rounder Kyle Murray very publicly reject a $4M+ bonus amount and a guaranteed contract offer (specifically outlawed in the last CBA but offered here) so as to go pro in the NFL … it makes you wonder if there’s a need for a revamping of the system.

I hope this isn’t a one-off; I hope Stewart succeeds in Japan and makes a mint coming back to the US as a top-line 25-yr old un-encumbered free agent.  Because that might really spur some change.

Written by Todd Boss

May 24th, 2019 at 9:21 am

Stephen Strasburg now halfway to 3K strikeouts … is he a hall of famer?

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 Photo via allansgraphics.com via free-extras.com

Photo via allansgraphics.com via free-extras.com

Earlier this month, some breathless headlines pointed out that Stephen Strasburg reached a surprising career milestone; he’s now eclipsed 1,500 career strikeouts.  Strasburg is the fastest to 1,500 career strike-outs by IPs than anyone in the history of the game.

He’s likely to add at least 100 more punch-outs this season (his average is about 150 Ks/season and is in his 10th pro season), but may add even more since we’re only about 1/6th of the way through the season.  So lets say he finishes the season with 1,650 strike outs.

So it occurred to me … is Strasburg really halfway to becoming a hall of fame pitcher?

We’ve generally in the history of the sport basically annointed anyone who hits that threshold a Hall of Famer.   Of the 17 pitchers who have hit 3,000 career punchouts, 14 are in the Hall of Fame, one is Roger Clemens, one is Curt Schilling and one is newly minted 3,000 club member CC Sabathia (another interesting test case for Cooperstown coming up in the next 5-6 years presumably … we’ll come back to him in a moment).

But nothing about Strasburg’s career so far screams “Cooperstown.”  He’s made a couple of all star games, finished 3rd in Cy Young voting in his best season, and for most of his career has not been the best pitcher on his own staff.   He’s been a very good pitcher, but injury prone with just one season out of his career 10 that didn’t feature at least a few weeks of D/L time.  He has one stellar season: 2017’s 6.4 bWAR season (also his peak Cy Young voting) but otherwise has a handful of 3-war seasons throughout his career.  He’s nowhere close to Hall standards by JAWS or any of the baseball-reference.com metrics.

Lets say for the sake of argument that Strasburg pitches another 9 seasons after this one, averages 150 K/s a year and is sitting basically where Sabathia is this season: upper 30s, in his 19th pro season and right on the cusp of 3,000 strikeouts.  Does that sound like a hall of fame resume to you?

(yes i know this is a huge leap of faith; you can’t project pitchers, he may blow his arm out again, yadda, yadda.  For sake of argument, assume Strasburg goes 10 more  years, averages 14-11 with 150 Ks/season).

Coming back to Sabathia: he won a Cy Young, finished in the top 5 four years out of five (missing one  year b/c he got traded between leagues) and was absolutely one of the top pitchers in baseball during his peak JAWs period.  He also will eclipse 250 wins (perhaps the new 300 wins of our era of the sport) and has had a nice late 30s rebound.  Is Sabathia a Hall of Famer?   Strasburg doesn’t even have 100 wins yet at age 30 (but will pass it by the all star break this year), and seems unlikely to even get to 200 wins based on his average/season.

I wonder if Strasburg is really this generation’s version of Kevin Brown, who was more remembered for his contract (he was baseball’s first 9-figure $100M deal) than his production.  Brown was a very good pitcher, but never won a Cy Young, never got to marquee career thresholds (300 wins, 3,000 strikeouts), but interestingly had a significant 5-year stretch in his late 20s/early 30s that has him ranked 49th by JAWS, ahead of 16 other Hall of Fame pitchers and perhaps leaving him as one of the most under-rated Cooperstown snubs of all time.  Strasburg isn’t even this right now: he’s a good #2 starter who can’t stay healthy for more than a few months at a time.  And I say this as a Strasburg defender.

What do you think?  Is the sport about to really start re-evaluating its pitcher career landmarks as the K rates skyrocket and the starter disappears.   And a guy like Strasburg has a chance to really demonstrate the issue if he can achieve some important career thresholds over the next 10 years.

 

 

Written by Todd Boss

May 6th, 2019 at 3:25 pm

Opening Day Starter Trivia 2019

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Verlander makes his 11th career opening day start, tying him for the active lead. Photo via sporting News.

Verlander makes his 11th career opening day start, tying him for the active lead. Photo via sporting News.

Every year I update this long-running XLS for this increasingly anachronistic relic of tracking Opening Day Starter honors for teams.  But it does make for some good trivia questions.

After this year’s opening day (including the two-day series in Japan), here’s some interesting stats related to Opening Day Starts from around the league:

  • Most Opening Day Starts, Active Leaders:
    • Justin Verlander makes his 11th and he seems well suited to increase that total given current form and new contract.
    • 11 ties him with both CC Sabathia and Felix Hernandez for the most active, neither of whom seem like they’ll get another shot to extend their totals.
    • Next closest are three tied with 8 each: Jon LesterClayton Kershaw and James Shields.  Lester’s is active, Kershaw’s should continue, while Shields remains unsigned for 2019 and seems unlikely to get another shot.
  • Current Leading Consecutive streak:
    • Julio Teheran with 6, which is pretty amazing because there was talk of him not even making the team with all the pitching depth Atlanta has.
    • Next closest is Corey Kluber with 5.
    • Nobody else really is close.  Lester has 3 straight for the Cubs, to add to his total of 8 between Boston and Chicago.
  • Consecutive streaks ended in 2019:
    • Felix Hernandez has his streak of 10 starts broken, and he wasn’t happy about it.
    • Kershaw had his streak of 8 broken thanks to the spring training injury.
    • Chris Archer has his streak of 4 broken thanks to a mid-season 2018 trade.
  • Number of first-time Opening Day Starters in 2019: 14.
    • deGrom, Castillo, Taillon, Mikolas, Freeland, Ryu, Lauer, Snell, Rodon, Keller, Berrios, Fiers, Gonzales, Minor
    • I’d say half of these are rewards for excellent 2018 seasons (deGrom, Taillon, Mikolas, Freelan, Snell for sure, perhaps also Berrios), some are covering for obvious candidates who are injured (Ryu), while the rest mostly play for tanking teams who have little better choice than to name a starter for opening day (Castillo, Lauer, Rodon, Keller, Fiers, Gonzales and Minor).
    • This is the highest number of first-time opening day starters in my decade of tracking this.

Historically, here’s the all-time record holders:

  • Most Ever Opening day Starts: Tom Seaver with 16.  Tied for 2nd place with 14 is Jack Morris, Randy Johnson and Steve Carlton
  • Most Consecutive Opening Day Starts: Jack Morris, all of whom’s 14 opening day starts were in a row.

Hope you enjoy this useless trivia!

 

 

Solis out; what does this mean for MLB bullpen?

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Solis and the Nats part ways. Photo: natsinsider blog

Solis and the Nats part ways. Photo: natsinsider blog

As many expected, Sammy Solis was cut loose on 3/10/19, given his unconditional release.  Solis was a very long-serving player for this team, a 2nd round pick in 2010, and for a time was a very valuable lefty option out of the MLB bullpen.  But his 2018 struggles led many to believe he’d be non-tendered last fall, and more to believe that he had basically a 3 week try-out this spring.

It was this last scenario that led us to this point; This was a key cut-off point for cutting players and only being responsible for 1/6th of the agreed-upon salary.  So Solis departs with a $147k check for his time and faces a tough future.  He’s a tough sell to put on the 40-man roster b/c of his lack of minor league options, but should have no issues getting a MLFA deal and go pitch out of someone’s AAA team to try to re-establish his ability to get lefties out (which left him for some reason in 2018).

So, ripple effects on the Nat’s bullpen.

Here’s  the bullpen I predicted we’d go with at the beginning of spring training.

  • Closer: Doolittle
  • Setup: Rosenthal, Barraclough
  • RH middle: JMiller, Suero, Glover
  • LH Middle; Grace

other 40-man options in camp: Rainey, AAdams, AWilliams, Cordero, Bourque

Primary non-40man candidates to discuss: Nuno, Copeland

But,  there’s been some developments.

  • Glover has been hurt; he’s thrown just a third of an inning so far, and seems more and more likely to be hitting the D/L.
  • Miller has thrown just two innings … also struggling with injury.
  • Joe Ross, our supposed 6th starter … has yet to start a game.  But he’s looked pretty darn good in relief.  Is he angling to make the team in a longer relief role?  It may also be meaningless; Voth and McGowin also aren’t starting a ton of games in MLB camp and are expected to be the bulk of the AAA roster.
  • MLFA Scott Copeland has looked excellent and may be pushing for a 25-man spot if Miller/Glover start on the D/L.
  • Tanner Rainey has gotten shelled, and for all we’ve heard about his arm, has zero Ks.
  • Vidal Nuno seems to be the most likely person to benefit from the Solis release; who else in camp is a lefty reliever?
  • J.J. Hoover is still out there too as a veteran MLFA who may get some opportunities based on past track record.
  • Only Miller and Grace now remain without Options … but both seem nearly guaranteed to make the team (or the D/L).
  • As noted elsewhere, Austen Williams has been great … can he make the team?
  • We do have a free 40-man spot for the taking.

One other note.  Not that we’re talking about starters right now … and yes I know you’re supposed to ignore spring training stats, but you just cannot ignore what’s going on with Erick Fedde.  7 innings … SIXTEEN hits allowed to go along with five walks.  That’s nearly a 3.00 whip.  Is it time to pull the plug on the Fedde-as-starter experiment?  Is he better served throwing in relief?

If I had to predict the bullpen today?

  • Closer: Doolittle
  • Setup: Rosenthal, Barraclough
  • RH middle: Suero, Copeland
  • LH Middle; Grace, Nuno
  • D/L: Miller, Glover

What is your reading of the ST bullpen tea leaves this week?

MLB Rotation Ranks for 2019, 1-30

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Lester: the best pitcher on the best rotation heading into 2019. photo via Grantland

Lester: the best pitcher on the best rotation heading into 2019. photo via Grantland

I got out of the habit of doing this piece last year: right around this time in 2018 i was slammed at work, But, I found a bit of time earlier this off-season (thanks for Conference Calls) and put it together.

The core XLS is much more impressive than the text: here’s a Google version of it with the below data.

Here’s my 2019 Rotation ranks for every team in MLB, One to Thirty (1-30).

As I went through doing this, the ranks ended up naturally dividing into kind of natural groupings.  So I’ll show these groupings and then do commentary on the group all together.

Terminology used here:

  • to me an “Ace” is one of the best 15-20 starters in the game.  I think i’ve got 18 identified heading into 2019.   And yes, I count both Strasburg and Corbin as Aces for these purposes.  I’ve seen plenty of op-eds claiming Strasburg isn’t an “Ace” for various reasons …. but he’s in the top 10-15 of practically every statistical measure of starters over the past 4-5 years.  Just because someone is the #1 starter for a team does not make them an “Ace.”
  • A “#2 starter” is then one of the next best 15-20 guys, players who either used to be Aces but have grown a bit old (good example: Jake Arrieta or Cole Hamels) or younger guys who are one more solid season from taking the next step up (Luis Severino, Mike Foltynewicz).
  • A #3 starter is a level below the #2, the next 25-30 guys or so.  A good solid mid-rotation starter.  I have 30 identified.
  • A #4 starter is basically slightly better than the #5 starter.
  • A #5 starter is someone who gives replacement level starting pitching capabilities, a guy who is only slightly better than a 4-A guy.  Often either a rookie or an aging FA signing.

In the XLS, i do assign quantitative values to assist in the rankings … so you can see who i call a 4, who’s getting a 5, etc.

OK lets get to it:


 

1. Chicago Cubs: Jon Lester, Kyle Hendricks,Cole Hamels, Yu Darvish, Jose Quintana
2. Boston: Chris Sale,David Price, Nathan Eovaldi, Rick Porcello, Eduardo Rodriguez
3. Cleveland: Corey Kluber, Carlos Carrasco, Trevor Bauer, Mike Clevinger, Shane Bieber
4. Washington: Max Scherzer, Patrick Corbin, Stephen Strasburg, Anibal Sanchez, Jeremy Hellickson

I have Chicago as the #1 rotation in the game.  I have them at the top not so much because the top of their rotation is the best … its because man for man, 1 through 5, they’re the best.  When your 4th starter is Yu Darvisha guy who was the Cy Young runner up a few years back and is only 32 .. that’s a tough rotation.  Quintana is the Cubs’ 5th starter but was the White Sox’ long time #2.  Its just a lot of good, veteran pitching.   Boston comes in slightly below b/c I rate Porcello/Rodriguez slightly lower than Chicago’s 4/5.  Cleveland has a strong case (as does Washington) for having three legitimate Aces; if their #5 was better they’d probably be #1.   If you wanted to argue that Washington is  above or below the teams above them I wouldn’t argue too much; I look at the #4/#5 starters and say “who would you rather have?”  And I find that i’d rather have Chicago’s arms on the back end than ours.  I’d also note that we’ve had Scherzer now for four seasons; no real injuries … and Strasburg gets hurt literally every year.  So Washington’s rotation really has to take into account its depth … or lack there of.

5. Los Angeles Dodgers:  Clayton Kershaw ,Walker Buehler, Hyung-jin Ryu, Rich Hill, Kenta Maeda
6. New York Yankees:  Luis Severino, James Paxton, Masahiro Tanaka, J.A. Happ, CC Sabathia
7. New York Mets:  Jacob deGrom, Noah Syndergaard, Zach Wheeler, Steven Matz, Jason Vargas
8. Houston:  Justin Verlander, Gerrit Cole, Wade Miley, Brad Peacock, Josh James
9. St. Louis:  Miles Mikolas, Carlos Martinez, Jack Flaherty, Michael Wacha, Adam Wainwright

The Dodgers could jump to the next level if/when Walker Buehler turns into an Ace; i’ve still got him as a #2 but hope to gosh I can get him in Fantasy this year.  The Yankees sport four #2 starters … with Severino nearly ready to make the jump to Ace they’re pretty close.  I’d rate the Mets higher but the back end of their rotation just-cannot-stay-healthy.  Houston’s rotation would look a lot better if they re-signed their former ace Dallas Keuchel (more on him at the end), and Houston could really be good fast if their #1 prospect Forrest Whitley pans out.  Lastly in this group is St Louis, which is notable to me b/c their long time ace Adam Wainright is now their #5 starter, just barely hanging on.  Remember how much we heard about how the Nats missed out on Michael Wacha in the 2012 draft?  Well he’s a pretty solid 4th starter and if he could stay healthy he’d improve this rotation quickly.

10. Philadelphia: Aaron Nola, Jake Arrieta ,Nick Pivetta, Vincent Velasquez, Zach Eflin
11. Arizona: Zack Greinke, Robbie Ray, Zack Godley, Luke Weaver, Merrill Kelly
12. San Francisco: Madison Bumgarner, Dereck Robinson, Jeff Samardzija, Derek Holland, Drew Pomeranz
13. Atlanta: Mike Foltynewicz, Julio Teheran, Kevin Gausman, Sean Newcomb ,Touki Toussant
14. Colorado : Kyle Freeland, German Marquez, Jon Grey, Tyler Anderson, Antonio Senzelata
15. Tampa Bay:  Blake Snell, Charlie Morton, Tyler Glasnow, Ryan Yarbrough, Yonny Chirinos

An interesting grouping here; all six of these rotations are nearly identical in my private scoring … but looking at the names, you can see that some of these teams are prepped to move up quickly (Atlanta) while others are barely hanging on (San Francisco) with aging cores.  I’m not sure what to make of Philly’s rotation; are these guys scaring you in a short series?   Meanwhile … Tampa in 2018 was so shredded by injuries they went head first into the “opener” strategy … while having a Cy Young winner on staff.  They won 90 games this way, and now have back the starters that got hurt AND added a solid 2nd starter in Morton; are they going to challenge the two teams ahead of them?

16. Pittsburgh: Jamison Taillon, Chris Archer, Trevor Williams, Joe Musgrove, Nick Kingham
17. Oakland: Frankie Montas, Mike Fiers, Trevor Cahill, Brett Anderson, Marco Estrada
18. Texas: Mike Minor, Lance Lynn, Drew Smyly, Edinson Volquez, Jason Hammell
19. Seattle: Mike Leake, Yusei Kikuchi, Marco Gonzales, Felix Hernandez, Wade LeBlanc
20. Minnesota: Kyle Gibson, Jose Berrios, Jake Odorizzi, Michael Pineda, Adalberto Mejia
21. Detroit: Michael Fulmer, Matt Boyd, Jordan, Zimmermann, Tyson Ross, Matt Moore

So there’s a pretty significant step down here; I dont have a single “Ace” defined in this grouping … and only Jamison Taillon even rates for me as a #2.   How did Oakland possibly win 97 games last year?   Texas has bought three lesser-priced pitchers this off season (Lynn, Smyly and Hammel) and stands to improve on their 67 win season.   Seattle is in an interesting place: they won 89 games, added Kikuchi and could be pretty good, pretty fast … but their #1 starter is Mike Leake who’d be the Nat’s #5 starter.

22. Los Angeles Angels: Jamie Barria, Andrew Heaney, Matt Harvey, Tyler Skaggs, Felix Pena
23. Toronto: Aaron Sanchez, Marcus Stroman, Ryan Borucki, Matt Shoemaker, Clayton Richards
24. Chicago White Sox: Carlos Rodon, Ivan Nova, Reynaldo Lopez, Lucas Giolito, Manny Banuelos
25. Kansas City: Danny Duffy, Ian Kennedy, Jake Junis, Brad Keller, Eric Skoglund

The first three of these rotations all seem like they should be ranked higher than they are … but then when you look at them, you realize why.  Los Angeles is depending on injury-heavy arms, Toronto’s arms would be a top 10 rotation if this was 2014, and Chicago’s rotation is proof of the cynical scouting adage, “there is no such thing as a pitching prospect.”    How much better would the Angels be if Shohei Ohtani was there?   Probably 10 spots higher, nearly a top 10 rotation, he’s that good.    Kansas City is lucky to be this high: they  lost 58 games and are rolling out the same crew as last year.

26. Baltimore: Dylan Bundy, Alex Cobb, Andrew Cashner, David Hess, Nate Karns
27. Miami: Wei-Yin Chen, Jose Urena, Dan Straily, Caleb Smith, Trevor Richards
28. Milwaukee: Jhoulys Chacin, Chase Anderson, Zach Davies, Brandon Woodruff, Jimmy Nelson
29. Cincinnati: Anthony DeSclafani, Tanner Roark, Luis Castillo, Alex Wood, Sonny Grey
30. San Diego: Joey Lucchesi, Robbie Erlin, Bryan Mitchell, Eric Lauer, Luis Perdomo

 

Baltimore looks to improve on the rotation that lost 115 games last year by … signing former Nat Nathan Karns.   The other 4 starters in their rotation went (in order) 8-16, 5-15, 4-15 and 3-10 last year, none posting an ERA+ better than 85 for the year.  And they’re not the worst rotation in the league!  Amazing.  We all know Miami is trying to do worse than last year’s 98-loss team and, as far as I can tell, has not added ONE arm this off-season.   I really don’t know how Milwaukee did so well last year with this crew; they’re all basically #4 starters, backed up by a phenomenal bullpen and a great offense.  I hope they can compete again this year, b/c the club has done very little to improve.

Cincinnati has made a flurry of moves, adding 3 new starters this off-season …and is still ranked 29th.  I mean, Tanner Roark is their #2.

But none of these rotations is even close to as poor as San Diego’s projects to be.  Maybe you could squint and tell me that a couple of these guys are #4 starters instead of #5 starters.  But that’d just return them to the 30th ranked rotation, just slightly closer to Cincinnatis.  Luckily for San Diego (breaking news!) they just signed Manny Machado and Baseball America has ranked their farm system #1 in the league … which 13 of the last 14 years means they’ll be in the playoffs in two seasons.  So hopefully there’s some big-time San Diego prospect arms to go with those bats, and we’ll see you in the playoffs in 2020.


 

So, what Free Agent pitchers could move the needle of the above?

As of this writing, the biggest FA pitcher who could really move the needle is obviously Keuchel; i rate him as a #2, so if one of the lower-ranked teams replaces a 5th starter with Keuchel they may very well jump up 5-6 spots.  Other impact free agent pitchers available who could change the above rankings include Gio Gonzalez, Clay Buchholz, and Ervin Santana (update: Santana signed minor league deal with the White Sox, which may put them a couple spots higher). Past that, the remaining FAs seem like 4/5 types who wouldn’t really change any of the rankings b/c they’d likely be replacing a 4-A guy at the back of the rotation.  That list includes Bartolo Colon,Yovani Gallardo, Miguel Gonzalez, Edwin Jackson, James Shields, and Chris Tillman.  Yeah, I said Bartolo Colon; i think he can still pitch.   Maybe not that well … but it wouldn’t surprise me if he gave it one last season.


So, that’s my rankings.  Feel free to argue, tell me i’m wrong :-)

 

Anibal Sanchez as #4 starter; I like the risk

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Sanchez joins the Nats on a 2 year deal. photo Atl official via ESPN

Sanchez joins the Nats on a 2 year deal. photo Atl official via ESPN

 

Well, now we can have the argument; was the Tanner Roark salary dump worth it?  Because just a few days later the team signed his replacement; Anibal Sanchez last night to a  deal to be his replacement.  Contract details are a bit complicated by the reports i’ve seen: 2 guaranteed years, $19M of guaranteed money, with $6M deferred and a 2021 option worth $12M, and some unspecified details that could add $4M to the package.

From what I can tell, the luxury tax implications are just the guarantees; $19M over two years means $9.5M of a luxury tax hit this season … which is almost identical to the $9.8M we’d been using to project Roark.

So, is the team better off?  Probably.  Roark has had flashes of brilliance (2014 and 2016) … but his last two years he was losing velocity and had plateaued as a slightly below league average pitcher.   Despite being much younger, we all kind of saw where he seems to be going, and the team clearly didn’t think his potential performance was worth the money.

Sanchez was a solid, familiar opponent in our division for years, always a solid competitor, an under the radar solid rotation piece.  He was god-awful in the AL, then suddenly found a new pitch and a new approach upon returning to the NL and pitched like a #2 starter most of last season.

So the Nats are betting on his 35-year old resurgence continuing, and paying him for it.

Implications for the team:

40-man: this is the 40th guy on the 40 man; the next move requires us to cut loose someone.

Salary Cap: We’re basically treading water from where we were a week ago; i’ve got the team at $188.8M in luxury tax dollars for fy2019, versus a cap of $206M, still leaving $17.6M of room.  I’ve seen other reports saying the Nats are now above $200M for the year and I don’t really see how people are arriving at that conclusion:

  • $134M for 12 signed players for 2019
  • $32.75M estimate for 6 arb eligible players
  • $4.6M for the other 7 pre-arb players that will make up the rest of the 25-man roster
  • $2.25M for the other 15 guys on the 40-man in the minors
  • $14.5M for benefits

That totals $188.8M, leaving the $17.6M of room.  I know some people want to use “real” dollars instead of lux tax dollars, but the difference really isn’t that much.

Rotation: obviously this bumps Erick Fedde to AAA, where he probably should be.   This makes for a pretty solid rotation improvement over where we were yesterday.   I’m not sure where this places the Nats rotation in the pantheon of the league right now; i have a worksheet that I’ll turn into a blog post that ranks them 1-30 once the remaining impact starters sign (Dallas KeuchelYusei KikuchiWade Miley, Gio Gonzalez, Drew Pomeranz, Mike Fiers, etc).  But I think there’s a clear top 5 of rotations in the league in some order: Chicago Cubs, Boston, Washington, Cleveland and the Dodgers.  Right now i’ve got them roughly ranked in that order.  This move bumped up the Nats a couple of slots by replacing a sub-#5 starter in Fedde with at least a #3 quality guy.

Verdict; I think they did pretty darn good considering what’s out there and what they have to work with.   I’ll take Sanchez and his 2018 performance as my 4th starter any day.  The question is … is it sustainable?  Is it a one-off?  Scouting reports seem to indicate he found a new pitch and worked it heavily, but that his numbers had some luck involved w/r/t BABIP and soft contact.  He’s also 35, so we’re counting on an older guy to continue a sustained late-career surge.  Kinda like what the Dodgers have done with Rich Hillso it isn’t out of the realm of possible.

Goodbye Tanner

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Roark parts ways with the club. Photo via milb.com

Roark parts ways with the club. Photo via milb.com

The rumors ended up being true.  The Washington Nationals, who have traded away half a dozen top pitching prospects in the past few years and who have now cut ties with an additional half dozen starters just since the trade deadline of 2018, have traded away their #4 starter Tanner Roark.

Their return?  Tanner Rainey, a 25yr old RHP 8th inning type who apparently throws hard, just finished his age 25 season,  has 5 years of control, and got shelled in his MLB debut last year.

I dunno; why exactly did the team make this move?  Was it a salary dump?  Was the prospect of paying Roark a projected $9.8M too much to stomach, given that he’s provided just slightly worse than league average pitching over the past two seasons?  I guess so.  Was it worth the return?  I mean, a AAA reliever isn’t exactly something to write home about, so its kind of clear that moving the salary was more important here.

But why would a team that has practically no SP depth … get rid of its 4th best starter?  A guy who eats innings, who never gets hurt, who has shown flashes of brillance in the past, and who represents one of the best player development/low-end acquisitions in the history of the franchise?

Here’s all the starters the team has parted ways with just since the beginning of last season: Gio Gonzalez, Jeremy Hellickson, A.J. Cole, Edwin Jackson, Tommy Milone, Jefry Rodriguez and now Roark.

here’s all the starting pitching prospects the team has shed since the 2016 Winter Meetings shock Adam Eaton move: McKenzie Mills, Tyler Watson, Mick VanVossen, Jesus Luzardo, Lucas Giolito, Reynaldo Lopez, Dane Dunning.

I mean, that’s a lot of arms now out of the system.  And now the team needs to augment in the FA market.

Implications of the move:

  • 40-man: no change: one man off, one man on.  We saill sit at 38/40
  • Payroll: losing Roark’s 9.8M (and offsetting it by the same $150k that Rainey will make that was already accounted for), Nats now project to be at $177M or so, leaving about $28.6M of payroll room.
  • The 2019 Rotation, without any more moves, is now quite iffy looking.  The big 3, then Joe Ross, and then Erick Fedde nicely slotted into the current #5 slot.

Still plenty of starters on the market.  Are the nats going to get one as good as Roark for the $10M estimate they clearly didn’t think he was worth?

Written by Todd Boss

December 13th, 2018 at 4:26 pm

Posted in Majors Pitching

Nats Pitching depth to now be tested…

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It sounds like its Fedde-time. Photo via minorleagueball.com

It sounds like its Fedde-time. Photo via minorleagueball.com

Well, we can’t really seem to go a season without a Stephen Strasburg injury … and this annual affair hit us over the weekend, with Strasburg looking ineffective, getting pulled, going for an MRI and quickly hitting the 10-day D/L with “right shoulder inflammation.”

This comes on the quick heels of two other SP issues for this team:

  • miracle MLFA off-season signing Jeremy Hellickson yanking his hamstring and exiting precisely one batter into his friday start, also hitting the D/L.
  • Off-season SP depth re-signing Edwin Jackson opting out of his minor league deal and departing the team (he signed with Oakland soon after).

So, it seemed like we could stand the absence of Hellickson thanks to the schedule over the next week and a half (plenty of off-days and no need for a 5th starter), and since his injury is listed as “mild” meaning he may only miss the minimum time … but with the loss of Strasburg we’ll need to reach into our depth.  So who’s getting the call?

(oh, btw on top of this, on 6/9/18 Brandon Knitzler strained his forearm and seems likely to be at least unavailable for a bit, if not on his way to the D/L too, so they’re needing reinforcements stat.  He was officially put on the D/L just after posting this on 6/10/18, resulting in both Trevor Gott and Wander Suero getting their tickets for a DC return…).

We’ve now seen all three of our non-active roster 40-man starters get MLB action this year … and they looked promising enough to have the loss of Jackson or even the presence of Tommy Milone in AAA seem like after-thoughts.  So who gets the call to cover for Strasburg?  Options:

  1. Erick Fedde: got one spot-start this year and looked solid: he gave up 3 runs in 5 2/3rds but pitched a lot better than his stat line.  He hasn’t looked as great for Syracuse; a 4.76 ERA and a 1.48 whip showing how he’s giving up too many base-runners.  Do you believe what you saw in the majors, or look at his AAA line for the year?  His most recent start: in Gwinnet, 5 1/3, 2runs, 9Ks but 10hits allowed.
  2. Austin Voth: has turned his career around, going from “next guy to get DFA’d” to a MLB call-up earlier this year (he did not appear).  His AAA ERA of 4.35 is a bit inflated; he’s giving up less than a hit/inning.  He had two bad outings in a row just after his call up/send-back, giving up 12 ER in 2 innings … but his last out ing (6/6/18) was stellar; 7IP, 4hits, 6Ks, 0 walks, 0 runs.  That’s the kind of stat line GMs like to see.
  3. Jefry Rodriguez: he was thrown into action when Hellickson went down and did awesome: 4 2/3 scoreless innings in his MLB debut.  Can’t ask for more than that.  He’s been good for AA Harrisburg this year; 12 starts, 3.57ERA, a bit wild though (24 walks in 63 innings).  Its interesting that he’s gotten MLB time but has yet to get pushed to AAA; perhaps they’re waiting for the typical Nats mid-season shuffle.  His most recent outing?  6/9/18: 5ip, 1 hit and just 65 pitches thrown (a hint?  why would he have gotten  yanked so quickly?)

You have to think it’ll be Fedde first.  Maybe what they do is promote Fedde, move Rodriguez to AAA.  Then if you need a second starter … it seems like Rodriguez has jumped Voth in the pecking order and is next in line.

It isn’t a very opportune time for this sudden loss of their second ace; their next nine games are AL East interleague play … which will be tough games even though both Toronto and Baltimore are struggling.  After that they get 6 games versus Philly interspersed with five more AL East games (including three at home against Boston) … so this might be a pretty crucial stage for this team.  Lets hope our depth stands up.

Someone is finally doing it: Tampa using “Openers” instead of “Starters”

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Sergio Romo; Tampa's new #3 starter.

Sergio Romo; Tampa’s new #3 starter.  And #4 starter sometimes … photo via Zimbio.

The Tampa Bay Rays, thanks to a run of injuries to their starting rotation this spring, and perhaps a bit of typical organizational ingenuity, are doing something this year that has a lot of people talking; they’re essentially using a closer-quality pitcher to start games, get through the top of the opposing team’s order the first time, then hands it over to the real “starter” (or in most cases longer man) who pitches a typical starter-length outing.

They seem to be sticking to conventional outings for their two best starters (Chris Archer and Blake Snell) even now, but spring training elbow injuries to planned starters Brett Honeywell and Jose De Leon (both Tommy John surguries), plus recent injuries to #3 starter Jake Faria, Yonny Chirinos  (not Laurel Chirinos!) and Nathan Eovaldi and a lack of upper-end SP prospects has led them to this point.

This strategy is getting put to its biggest test over the Memorial Day weekend series they have with Baltimore, announcing that they’ll be “starting” relievers all three games.

So far this season, they’ve used the strategy at least twice; with Sergio Romo starting on back to back nights.

  • 5/20/18: Romo pitches the first and strikes out the side before handing off to starter Ryan Yarborough, who pitches 6+ and gets the win.
  • 5/21/18:  Romo, going back to back nights, faces the first 6 batters; walks two, gets the other four out, zero runs; the rest of the game is a bullpen game, but the team loses to Shohei Ohtani and the Angels.

Of course, reaction to the moves is already as you’d expect it to be, given our current climate of hot-take/knee jerk reactions.  You’ve got “get off my lawn” types talking about how this isn’t “good for the game.”  You’ve got Joel Sherman (who has been around the sport long enough to know what they’re doing) calling the strategy “Bizarre.”  And you’ve got progressive types like Houston’s A.J. Hinch praising the move.


 

So, what do I think of this?

Well …. honestly this is the natural evolution of the trend towards specialized relievers that we’ve been seeing lately.  A mediocre/failed starter can be converted to a highly valuable reliever by just having them throw harder and focus on mastering two pitches instead of attempting to master three or four, and it happens All The Time.  See Rivera, Mariano and Eckersley, Dennis for hall of fame exhibits A and B here (ok .. to be fair Eckersley was by  no means a failed starter … but he would not be in Cooperstown had he not become a dominant closer).

Well, what if you had an entire roster of specialized relievers instead of spending tens of millions of dollars on a rotation?

Take the Nats: our top four starters this year are earning north of $80M this season.  What if you had spread that $80M around on a bunch of closer/near-closer types, the kinds of guys who go for significantly less per annum?  What if you had an entire team of guys like Ryan Madsen ($7.6M) or Sean Doolittle ($4.3M) or Brandon Knitzler ($5.5M).  Heck, why not load up y our team with pre-arb guys like Sammy Solis ($560k) and Matt Grace ($557k) and spend that $80M on improving the out-field players?

I’ve often wondered if a team couldn’t just have essentially 12 relievers and would basically turn every game into a bullpen game.  What if you deployed your staff kind of like this:

  • Three “Closer” quality guys (like our Doolittle)
  • Three solid RH 7th/8th inning types like Madsen and Kelley.
  • Three left-handed match-up guys (Solis, Grace)
  • Three long-men types who could soak up innings but who can’t turn over a lineup more than twice (kind of like Jeremy Hellickson but perhaps more like a 4-A starter, or what Edwin Jackson is doing in AAA).

You take half this squad and they’re the A-team; that gives you 5-6 arms to pitch the first game of the week.  Then, they all get a break and the other 5-6 arms get the next game.  In a typical week every reliever then gets three to four days off with off-games and off-days.   The long-men only go every two days, since you’re asking them to do 3-4 innings, but still get plenty of rest.  So a pattern of games could look like this:

  • Game 1: Closer1 pitches the 1st, RH1 and LH1 combine to pitch 2nd and 3rd.  Longman1 comes in and throws 4th through the 7th.  Then depending on where you are in the game he returns for the 8th or you go to your RH2/LH2 guy before handing off to Closer2 in the 9th.  So that’s 5 to 6 arms used in the first game.
  • Game 2: Closer3 starts.  RH3 throws next two innings.  Longman2 throws innings 4-7.  LH3 finishes it out, perhaps throwing Closer1 a second day in a row if need be.
  • Game 3: Closer2 starts.  Perhaps you go right to Longman3 for a 5 inning stint.  Back to RH1 and LH1 for the 7th/8th, then either let these guys do a 2 inning stint or go back to Closer3 for back-to-backs to finish the game.

So the workload for a 3-game series goes like this:

  • Closers: 2 innings each with an off-day
  • RH guys: 2-3 innings each with an off-day
  • LH guys: 2-3 innings each with an off-day
  • Long-men: 3-4 innings each with two off-days

That’s basically 27 innings across three games, assuming your middle relievers throw a couple of 2-inning stints in there, or one of your long-men does 4 innings instead of three.

Tell me why this wouldn’t work?  Everyone gets a ton of rest, and if you burn out one of your longmen you just call up re-inforcements from AAA to do mop-up games here and there.  You always have a closer going against the top of the order in the first inning, then you try to work it out so that you can do match-ups the next time they come up with a 7th/8th inning quality guy.  The best hitters on the other team will eventually get a shot at your “long man…” but under this plan, they’re getting four at bats generally against four different arms.  That’s going to give the advantage to the pitcher every time; batters don’t get to study up the opposing starter every night for research; they’re going to be seeing gas, trick pitches and one-trick ponies that have ridiculous BAAs and BABIPs thanks to their specialty.


So, who would love this?

  • Owners.  no more 9-figure contracts for starters who have like a 50% injury rate.
  • Some Pitchers: more opportunities for guys who just couldn’t cut it as starters but who crush it as releivers.

Who wouldn’t like this?

  • High end starters: less jobs, less demand for you.  Maybe.  I mean, right now Tampa is sticking with their two solid starters and only doing this for the other slots.  Maybe a team with two Aces like the nats just lets them roll normally then does this kind of bullpen game the other three games out of five.
  • Any baseball fan born before 1970, since they hate any change, any game modification.  I mean come on, there’s people demanding that we ban the shift (including the commissioner).
  • The Players union; you’d have to think salaries would plummet
  • Maybe most every baseball fan?  Offense drives fan interest … and this plan is specifically designed to neutralize the opposing team’s best hitters.

Thoughts?