Nationals Arm Race

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

Archive for the ‘Majors Pitching’ Category

Papelbon for Pivetta: good trade, bad karma?

12 comments

Hopefully, this won't be what we remember him for.  Photo via majorleagueaholes.com (yes its a site)

Hopefully, this won’t be what we remember him for. Photo via majorleagueaholes.com (yes its a site)

So, by now we’ve all heard the news.  The Nats acquired disgruntled Phillies closer Jonathan Papelbon for 2013 4th rounder Nick Pivetta, newly promoted to AA.

On the plus side, the Phillies pick up all of his remaining 2015 salary (roughly $4.5M), and Papelbon pre-negotiated his 2016 option at a slightly lower figure ($11M with $3M deferred).  This is no 2-month rental; this is a strategic decision to go with him for the next two years.  So in that respect, what the Nats get versus what they gave up is pretty durn good.  Pivetta is a decent prospect who had a great first half for Potomac and just earned a promotion to AA (where he’s gotten hit around a bit in his first couple of starts).  But in terms of what the team is giving up, Pivetta is a “minor prospect” (mostly on the outside of our top 10 lists) and is perhaps no better than 13th or so on our starter depth chart (just off the top of my head, Scherzer, Strasburg, Zimmermann, Fister, Gonzalez, Ross, Roark, Cole, Jordan, Hill, Treinen, Espino, Voth and Giolito ahead of him), so the Nats trade from a surplus/depth for a position of need.

As a side-effect of the acquisition, AAA catcher Dan Butler was DFA’d to make room on the 40-man roster. Butler has been struggling in AAA and may pass through waivers, but if he doesn’t suddenly the Nats have zero catcher depth on the active roster.  So that’s a risk i’m surprised they took (if it were me, I could have named several other guys I would have risked versus Butler first).

My concern with this deal is more on the non-quantifiable side.  What message does this send to your team?  Drew Storen has been *excellent* this year, has remade his mechanics and (as noted elsewhere) has the 2nd best ERA of any reliever in the game over the last two years.  He’s been just as good a closer as Papelbon this year, and for his troubles gets demoted out of the closer spot.  Storen’s future compensation is *directly* tied to the number of saves (however arbitrary and useless that statistic may be) he earns, and now the team has told him “hey, we know you’ve been awesome but too bad you’re no longer going to have the opportunity to earn saves and therefore we’ll argue against you in arbitration to that end.”  Its no wonder Storen was immediately quoted as wanting to “explore his options” with his representation.

Lets also just say that it would not surprise this observer in the least if Storen’s performance fell off a cliff in the coming months.

You can argue that winning creates clubhouse chemistry; that’s your perogative.  You can talk about how the old Yankees “25 men, 25 cabs” had no problem winning and you can disclaim the chemistry factors that seemed to be in play with recent teams like the 2013 Red Sox or last year’s Royals.  Fair enough.  You can make the argument that these guys are all highly paid and should just accept whatever role is given to them … but lets be honest here; MLB players are human, they have egos, and (especially in the case of a reliever) they want to be the closer.  More to the point, when they do everything management asks of them and still get replaced, its hard not to blame them for being disgruntled.  This isn’t like when the Nats demoted John Lannan: Storen didn’t get beat out in spring training; he’s been absolutely stellar for the past two years.

Is this yet another reaction to Storen’s post-season record?  Lets all say it together: “short sample sizes.”  Storen has a grand total of 5 1/3 post-season innings.  Papelbon’s numbers in the post season are great (a 1.00 ERA in 27 innings), but he hasn’t pitched in October in 6 years.  Clayton Kershaw has a 5+ ERA in the post-season and nobody’s talking about replacing him.  You look for excellence in the regular season and hope it plays out in the post-season.

Two years ago, the management over-reacted to Storen’s post-season performance by over-paying (and burning a first round pick) on a closer in Rafael Soriano who, it should be noted, was himself demoted from the closer role in favor of the man he replaced by the time the deal was done.  Lets just hope that we’re not standing here in September of 2016 with Papelbon and his waning velocity ballooning to a 4+ ERA in his walks year with the ever-steady Storen right back in the same role…

I would have much preferred the team find some middle-to-later innings relievers to strengthen things in the 7th and 8th innings and not upset what Storen has established.  But it isn’t my team.  I just hope Storen can take the high road (much like Tanner Roark has been forced to do) and goes back to being a team player.

A few other excellent takes on the trade I recommend:

 

 

State of the Nats at the halfway point 2015

41 comments

Per KW’s comment suggestion, here’s a “State of the Nats” at the halfway point of 2015.

Salient key phrase: “Holding On.”  Lets look at some component parts.

Offense

Here’s the full-strength outfield lineup the Nats would optimally like to deploy: Span, Rendon, Harper, Zimmerman, Werth, Desmond, Ramos, Escobar.

Here’s what they lined-up against Red’s ace Johnny Cueto a few days ago: Taylor, Espinosa, Harper, Ramos, Robinson, Uggla, Desmond, den Dekker.  Yeah, its no wonder they wimpered into the night as Cueto threw a 2-hit shutout.  If you’re Cueto, you pitch around Harper (who got a hit and a walk), you attack the rest of the lineup (strike-out prone lead-off hitter Taylor took a hat-trick), and you laugh as you blow through the rest of the lineup (11Ks on the night).

That’s five regulars out, but not just any regulars; the D/L includes your expected #1, #2 #4, and #5 hitters.  Instead they are replaced by a rookie (Taylor), a career minor-leaguer (Robinson), a cast-off veteran failure (Uggla), a career .230 hitter who the team has spent the last 3 years trying to replace (Espinosa) and a 4th/5th outfielder with just a couple hundred MLB at-bats prior to this year (den Dekker).

Frankly, its a miracle the team is in first place.  Only by the grace of Harper’s incredible season does this team manage to stay in games.  For the record, at the halfway point Harper leads the league in bWAR (6.1), OBP, Slugging, OPS and OPS+.  After having a 3-1 K/BB ratio last year, this year he basically has as many walks as strike-outs, one of the primary reasons his average is 60 points higher and his OBP is 130 points higher than it was last year.  Hold your breath that Harper doesn’t crash out and miss a month with some injury like he’s done in the previous seasons.  If he ends the season with this level of an adjusted OPS+, it’ll be one of the 10-12 best offensive seasons in the history of baseball.

Ironically, even given all these injuries the Nats aren’t even close to what some other teams are dealing with; per mangameslost.com, we’re not even close to what the Mets, Rangers, Rays or Oakland has had to deal with.  Though I’d venture to say that perhaps the games lost by Nats players are slightly more “important” than the cumulative games lost by some of these other teams.  I don’t care who you are; if you remove four of the top five batters from any team’s lineup, they’d be lucky to be out of the cellar.

The team has gotten absolutely nothing from presumed bench players McLouth and Johnson (Do you think Rizzo will *ever* buy a 4th outfielder for 8-figures again in his life?).  Guys who should be in AAA are getting starts and (at least in the case of Robinson) holding their own.  We talked before the season about where Taylor should be (on the MLB bench or in AAA getting starts) … well he’s getting playing time, for better or worse.  Instead of worrying about whether Moore was going to get DFA’d to make room, we’re *adding* guys to the 40-man like Burriss to help out.

Rotation

We know about Scherzer.  He’s been amazing, should start the NL All-Star game (of course, he’s scheduled to throw the series ender in Baltimore so we’ll see) and he leads all NL pitchers in bWAR.

What about the rest of the rotation?  Both Fister and Strasburg have missed a  handful of starts, and the Nats have tried a whole AAA-rotation worth of replacements to varying results.  With apologies to “short sample size judgements” I’ll say that Ross was good, Hill has been ok, Cole has been bad, and Jordan has been worse.  Of course, both Cole and Jordan’s delta between ERA and FIP is massive, so their poor ERAs are unlucky to a certain extent.  In the meantime, Ross has a 23/2 K/BB ratio and a FIP of 1.11 in his three starts.  Its safe to say that this person is excited to see what he can do next, and for me he’s at the head of the line for 2016 rotation candidates.

Clearly we know Strasburg has had an off season.  But so has Fister.  And Gonzalez‘ ERA is in the 4’s.   Just how bad is this rotation?  Not as bad as you think; they’re ranked 8th in the league in starter ERA but are 1st in FIP and fWAR.   Last  year they were 1st in all of these categories.  So perhaps we can expect some “progression” in the 2nd half as (hopefully) guys like Strasburg clean up their act and pitch closer to their FIPs than their ERAs.

Bullpen

We knew Rizzo had weakened the bullpen from 2015, which could have been fine had the injury bug not hit.  But the turnover of this bullpen has caught up to the team in some ways.

  • End of 2014: Soriano, Storen, Clippard, Stammen, Thornton, Blevins, and Detwiler.
  • As we stand now: Storen, Janssen, Treinen, Carpenter, Thornton, Rivero, and Roark.

That’s a lot of turnover.  Yes Storen has been typically excellent (as long as its not the post-season, he seems to be one of the most reliable closers in the game).  As we speak, the bullpen is 11th in ERA; last year they were 4th as a bullpen.  Janssen’s injury did not help, as it pushed guys into the 8th inning role they weren’t ready for.  And we saw Treinen and Barrett struggle (3.69 and 5.06 ERA’s respectively).  Granted their FIP shows that those ERAs are unlucky … but those are still runs on the board, blown leads, blown saves.  Roark (predictably) has regressed as he’s pitched in practically every role a pitching staff has (long-man, mop-up, spot-starter, rotation guy, middle reliever, setup guy and even a closer).  Luckily the gambler Rizzo has gotten pretty good performance out of scrap heap guys like Thornton and Carpenter, both of whom have given the team good innings.

Will this last?  It better: there’s practically nothing left in the farm system for reinforcements.  Barrett is set to return soon (probably pushing Carpenter to AAA), but the other options in the minors do not inspire confidence.  Martin got shelled (unfortunately; we were all cheering him on after his call-up and his fantastic start).  Grace and Solis were both mediocre in their auditions, and I can’t quite figure out why Erik Davis is even still on the roster.  Maybe the team will try some more waiver claims or trades (Neftali Felix just got DFA’d…) to shore up middle relief.

Streaks

Lets talk about streaks.  As of the time of this posting, the Nats season can neatly be fit into these four periods, and then talk about what spurred the beginning/ending of each streak.

  • The Slow Start: 7-13 from opening day through 4/27/15.  The team came out of the game 7-13, thanks to a sputtering offense and a make-shift lineup still trying to gel.
  • The Comeback: 21-6 from 4/28/15 to 5/27/15: Uggla hits his sole homer on the season to spur a pretty incredible 13-12 comeback win in Atlanta, and the team goes on a 21-6 tear following it.
  • Rotational Worries: 6-13 from 5/28/15 to 6/19/15.  Strasburg lasts just 5 batters on his 5/28/15 start, putting 40% of the rotation on the D/L and throwing the rhythm of the pitching staff off.
  • The Kid dazzles: 12-5 from 6/20/15 to 7/9/15; A long road trip/tough schedule stretch ends with a dominant Ross performance at home 6/20/15, kicking off an easy stretch in the schedule and a mostly full-strength pitching rotation.

Definitely a streaky team so far.  At 7-13, they were 8 games back.  At the end of their 21-6 streak, they were 1.5 games up in the division.  Despite their 6-13 stretch the only lost 3 games in the standings as the Mets faltered equally, and as of 7/9/15 they’re still 3 games up despite getting dominated at home by the Reds.

The team is beating who they should be beating (9-3 against Atlanta, 8-5 against Philly).  And they’ve had some success against other teams that are “good” this year (3-1 against the Yankees, 3-0 against Pittsburgh, and a sweep of San Francisco).  But they’re inexplicably bad against Cincinnati (0-5?), Miami (2-4), and were expectedly weak against the rest of the AL East (a combined 3-7 against Boston, Tampa Bay and Toronto).  I’m guessing they’ll struggle against Baltimore this coming weekend since they sputtered against Cincinnati.

Lets just say that the All-Star break is coming at a pretty good time for this team.

Where do we go from here?

The Nats should be healthier coming out of the all-star break.  And they’ll need it; their July schedule is tough.  They host the Dodgers and the Mets to start, then travel to Pittsburgh, Miami and New York.  That’s a slew of games against good teams and their primary divisional rivals.

In August they host some bad teams (Arizona, Milwaukee, Colorado) but they also do their big West Coast trip (at Los Angeles, San Francisco and Colorado).  They also get a 3-game set at St. Louis that could be an eye-opener for where they really stand ahead of the playoffs.  September features practically all divisional games against teams that should all be completely out of it by then, so I forsee a team in cruising mode.

Playoff Outlook

The Nats remain in 1st place despite all their issues, and their closest rival is putting out a lineup that most AAA teams could beat.  Philly is already 30 games under .500.  Miami is 15 games under .500 and just lost their best player.  Atlanta sits around .500 but isn’t really trying for 2015 and won’t spend to compete.  So I think its safe to say the Nats are winning the division.  I’ll guess the Mets hang around since their pitching is so good, but in the end the Nats win the division by at least 10 games.

If the season ended today, Pittsburgh hosts the Cubs in the WC, St. Louis hosts the WC winner and Washington would be traveling to Los Angeles to open the playoffs.  And frankly its hard to see this changing much between now and October 1st.  I don’t think its a stretch to say that the Nats would be underdogs to both the Dodgers and the Cardinals in a playoff series, not unless Strasburg remembers how to pitch again or the offense gets healthy in time.  Are we looking at another first round playoff exit?

 

 

Is Ross making the Nats re-think their future rotation strategy?

13 comments

 

Joe Ross has been a revalation at the MLB level.  Photo Getty Images via federalbaseball.com

Joe Ross has been a revelation at the MLB level. Photo Getty Images via federalbaseball.com

Joe Ross, who it is fair to say was in some respects the “other guy” in the Tampa/San Diego 3-way trade that netted the Nats presumed future shortstop Trea Turner but cost them Steven Souza and prospect Travis Ott, got a somewhat surprising call-up after the starters covering for Doug Fister didn’t quite give the Nats the performance they were looking for.

Three starts later, two of which were easily defined as “dominant,” is it too soon to think that perhaps Ross is a bigger part of the Nats future than the trio of starter prospects we have stashed in Syracuse?

He looked *really good* last night against a team on an 8-game winning streak.  He was making professional hitters look very, very ordinary with his slider.  His slider was so good, he threw it nearly 50% of the time last night and got an astounding 38% whiff rate.  Average fastball of 93.1, max of 96.8 on the night.  Wow.

Small Sample Sizes, of course.  And maybe you could ignore the 11-K performance against the god-awful Brewers.  But Pittsburgh is was hottest team in the league and was mowed down like little leaguers.

At the beginning of this season, if you asked me what the Nats’ rotation was going to look like in the next three transitionary years, I might have said something like this:

  • 2015: Scherzer, Strasburg, Zimmermann, Gonzalez, Fister with Roark as #1 replacement option
  • 2016: Scherzer, Strasburg, Gonzalez, Roark and a battle between Treinen, Cole, Jordan and Hill (in that order) for 5th and 6th spots.
  • 2017: Scherzer, Giolito, Gonzalez, Roark, and a question mark.  Maybe Treinen/Cole, maybe a veteran acquired via FA or trade.  Maybe Lopez if he moves up at the same pace as Giolito.  Who knows.

Now?  I think you have to think Ross has jumped to the top of the list in that 2016 rotational battle, maybe even solidifying his spot.   Does a rotation of Scherzer, Strasburg, Ross, Gonzalez and Roark sound good?  Keep Treinen in the bullpen.  Flip spare depth (Cole, Jordan, Hill) for whatever you can get for them, and make room for the next wave of guys (Giolito, Voth, Lopez, Pivetta).

Wishful thinking?  Perhaps.  We love dreaming on pitching prospects here, but give me  your thoughts.

 

Sammy Solis; first look

16 comments

 

Solis finally debuts in the majors.  Photo via Natsinsider blog/Mark Zuckerman

Solis finally debuts in the majors. Photo via Natsinsider blog/Mark Zuckerman

Welcome to the majors, Sammy Solis!

We’ve been hearing about Solis for quite a while.  He was our 2nd round pick in 2010 (the same draft that also netted fellow MLB players Harper, Cole, Grace, Barrett and Robbie Ray; that’s quite a good draft), was routinely in the top 4-8 range of the Nats minor league prospects from November onwards, had some early success (2.72 ERA in his first full pro season at High-A), blew out his elbow, missed all of 2012, struggled in 2013 upon his return, barely pitched last year, and had become a forgotten man on all those prospect ranking lists.

Suddenly, he jumps AAA after throwing just four AA innings so far this year and debuts with two shutout innings against the hottest team in the NL.  Wow, what a ride.

In the previous thread, there was some doubters about his velocity showings on TV… but a gander at Pitch F/X supports the stadium gun readings.  Solis averaged 95.2 on his 13 fastballs, hitting 96.9 on his 10th pitch (a called strike 3 on the corner to end the 7th inning, perhaps his best pitch of the night).  He also threw a few curves and changes.  He was very much in the zone: 16 of 22 pitches were strikes, showing command of all three of his pitches.  He got exactly zero swings and misses though, and the Mets hitters did get some solid contact throughout his two innings.  So its probably safe to say he was a bit lucky BABIP wise on the night, and might have to work on his command a bit.  His curves seemed up; perhaps its the shape (Gio Gonzalez‘s curves are up as well), but the Mets got good swings on them.  He has a *huge* delta between his 4seamer and his change (95 to 83?  that’s big).  Is it too big; are hitters adjusting on the fly?  It also seems like Solis needs an in-between velocity pitch, something like a slider that comes in perhaps in the 90-91 range, or perhaps a cut fastball with similar velocity reduction.

His mechanics reminded me of Matt Chico; simple, straight forward, not a ton of extraneous movement .. but with a ton more velocity.  Exciting velocity frankly.  If he can nearly hit 97 from the left side, maybe we need to be thinking about him returning to a starting role?

If you want to see some video, there’s a minute long clip of some of his mechanics on mlb.com with the game summary from 4/30/15.

Quick thoughts.  Feel free to chime in.

Written by Todd Boss

May 1st, 2015 at 9:44 am

Cole up … why not Roark?

39 comments

A.J. Cole getting his MLB debut. Photo AP

A.J. Cole getting his MLB debut. Photo AP

PSA: your 7-13 Nats are now on a pace to finish 57-105.  Or about 50 games in the Wins column away from where some pundits were talking.

And now instead of our $210M stopper Max Scherzer, we’ll be giving the ball to an untested rookie A.J. Cole to stop an ugly 6-game losing streak.  This is the same Cole who we saw this spring look rather hittable while giving up 9 hits and 4 walks in 10+ MLB spring innings.  Of course, his track record speaks for itself at Syracuse: he’s yet to take a loss in 14 AAA starts dating to mid-last season.  And he’s been on literally every single Nats prospect top 10 list since the moment he was drafted in 2010, so certainly we’re all experiencing some “prospect fatigue” with him despite the fact that he just turned 23.

Don’t get me wrong; i’m happy he’s getting a shot and look forward to seeing if his apparent lack of deception (in my eyes) can be overcome against a team of professional hitters (even if its just the Braves).

Now, that being said … why the heck are we not using Tanner Roark?

Wasn’t the WHOLE POINT of putting 5-win Roark in the long man role so that we could, you know, use him as the first alternative starter in case of injury??  That was the argument we all made, right?  Instead of sticking Roark in AAA to maintain a starter’s schedule, he was (in theory) going to be available out of the pen as needed.

Except now we hear that, thanks to his basically being used now as a right-handed middle reliever (you know, the type that you can find on the waiver wire every day, or on the FA market as we speak), he’s not stretched out enough to actually make the start.  Matt Williams was quoted by Chelsea James in NJ as saying that Roark could “only go 50-60″ pitches before needing relief.   Well … if that was the case, then give Roark the start, let him go 5 innings and THEN use Cole.  Or call-up one of the “long men” in AAA who are actually suited for this role.  Guys like Lively, McGregor, or Meek.  No room on the 40-man you say?  Well then put one or both of the guys who are on season-long/season-ending injuries (Erik Davis and Craig Stammen) to the 60-day and make the call.

I just don’t get it.  Who is the better pitcher, Roark or Cole?  Who has demonstrated over parts of two MLB seasons that he’s a highly effective pitcher when given the chance?

I hate to sound negative, especially with a 7-13 team that clearly has offensive issues.  But don’t be surprised if Cole is shelled early, knocked out and Roark gets the d*mn ball anyways in the 3rd inning and pitches for another 4 in mop-up duty.  Yeah; every team uses a 5-win starter as a mop-up guy.  That’s effective use of your resources.  Hey, i’ve got an idea; if you’re going to waste Roark in the pen in low-leverage middle relief appearances and then not bother to use him when you actually need him, why not just frigging trade him?  Lets trade him for someone who can catch the ball when its hit to them, or can hit better than .135 (Uggla) or even .2015 (Espinosa).

Generally speaking, we’re seeing a pretty “worst-case” collection of issues.  The already-thinned bullpen suffered two very bad losses.  Our Cy-Young quality starters have struggled.  Our best hitter can’t bend his knee without pain.  We may have just lost Escobar (one of the guys actually hitting) to a hand injury thanks to a patently dirty slide.  And we’re depending on starters who shouldn’t even be on MLB teams.  Where’s the leadership?  Where’s the veterans rallying the clubhouse?  Where’s the manager leading the troops?  Where’s the frigging defense (22 errors in 20 games, leading the league)?  Have you ever seen so many non-error defensive blunders in such a short amount of time?  How do you fix this?

Rant off.

Grace, Rivero, Martin … and Treinen

37 comments

 

You have to love MLB debut stories like Grace's ... photo AP/Nick Wass via wp.com

You have to love MLB debut stories like Grace’s … photo AP/Nick Wass via wp.com

When I checked the box score this morning from last night’s 7-5 loss, I was pleasantly surprised to see Matt Grace‘s debut in the majors.  His debut was relatively clean; his walk was by all accounts a non-intentional intentional walk and he otherwise handled the side.  WP’s Chelsea James wrote a great story about Grace’s debut, which sounds as hectic and crazy as a lot of players’ emergency call-ups … I’m guessing Grace’s family didn’t get enough warning to get to Washington to see him pitch.

Most of us thought Grace was the next guy in line for a loogy spot in the pen, after his excellent 2014 in AAA.  But Felipe Rivero jumped over him earlier this off-season … and suddenly came down with what’s being described as a “gastro-intestinal issue” and is headed to the 15 day D/L.

Rafael Martin continues his excellent work, having now struck out 8 of the 12 batters he’s faced.  Yeah, i’ll take that.  Even given last night’s homer to Matt Adams.

Meanwhile, i’m starting to worry about Blake Treinen in the pen, especially being thrust into such an important role.  But in his six appearances this year, he now has two blown saves and two losses … and another outing where he gave up the demoralizing “put the game out of reach” run in the top of the 9th.  That’s not a very good start to the season.  Yeah yeah its April and all, but April games count just as much as September games, and I wonder if the team isn’t thinking about finding another alternative.

Of course, it goes without saying that in the first 20 days of the season, the team has now used ten (10) relievers … and used just twelve (12) all of last season.  And not one of 2015’s set of reliever appearances actually includes the team’s major off-season bullpen acquisition Casey Janssen.

And it is worth noting that, as of today, the Nats have zero (0) remaining relievers in the minors on the 40-man roster (unless you’re squinting and calling Sammy Solis a reliever now … which he very well may be since he’s in AA and isn’t in their rotation … but he has exactly 37 1/3 professional innings since the middle of 2013 and is no where near a MLB call-up).  It seems to me that the next move the team makes may very well be giving a shot to some longer-serving minor league vet (someone like a Mitch Lively) or to give one of the several MLB-experienced guys in Syracuse a shot (Rich Hill, Evan Meek or Eric Fornataro).  Its why you have a AAA “spare parts” team, right?

Do you feel like the bullpen needs this drastic of a make-over?  Maybe not: the Nats bullpen is currently 7th in the league in bullpen ERA.  Do we *really* have a problem?   Or like any thing else, do you just say, “Hey, its April … lets see how this turns out?”

Brady Aiken has TJ surgery, shakes up draft boards

9 comments

Tough break for Aiken.  Photo via whotalking.com

Tough break for Aiken. Photo via whotalking.com

We got word today that 2014’s #1 overall pick Brady Aiken did indeed suffer an UCL injury in his first 2015 start and underwent Tommy John surgery yesterday.

Awful break for Aiken, and a  huge shake-up for the top of the 2015 Rule-4/Amateur draft.

Quick oral history of the Aiken situation: Houston made him last  year’s #1 overall pick, then rescinded/altered their $6.5M bonus offer after having “concerns” about Aiken’s UCL when viewing his medicals.  Aiken’s representatives rejected the lowered offer (wanting Houston to honor their original offer), and in the end declined to sign the lower amount (reportedly $5M at the deadline), and Aiken became just the third #1 overall pick to fail to sign in the draft’s history.  Thanks to baseball’s convoluted draft bonus rules, the failure to sign Aiken led to a cascading effect, costing them enough “pool dollars” to have to also rescind offers to 5th round pick Jacob Nix and 21st round pick Mac Marshall (now at LSU).  Nix (rightly so) filed a grievance against the Astros for the situation and was awarded his full $1.5M promised bonus (which, in my opinion, should absolutely be coming out of the Astros’ bonus pool for what they did).  Nix and Aiken eventually enrolled at the IMG academy in Florida, a post-graduate prep school designed to be a place for budding athletes to play who may have lost their HS eligibility.  Both had planned on re-entering the 2015 draft.

My thoughts on this whole mess?

  • I have to re-evaluate my opinion of the Astros organization’s behavior; previously I thought they were just being penny pinchers and were screwing with the careers of multiple amateur players (both Nix and Aiken lost UCLA scholarships over the mess).  Clearly they were right to be concerned about Aiken’s elbow, given that it tore within about 20 pitches of last being on the mound.  And now they get two top-5 picks out of a draft that does have some talent in it … and should have the money to sign them.
  • That being said … what was the real difference between their initial $6.5M offer and the $5M final offer?  Think about it: why are teams so ridiculously obsessed with figures in the $1-$2M range during amateur signings, when teams are *routinely* giving out 8-figure deals to mediocre veterans?  The Astros gave Luke Gregerson 3yrs/$18.5M and Pat Neshek 2yrs/$12.5M deals this off-season; that’s a combined $30M for two middle relief right handers.  They’ve been the lowest payroll team despite a massive RSN deal and play in the nation’s 4th largest market.  You mean to tell me they couldn’t still pony up the $1.5M difference for the #1 overall pick in the draft?  They couldn’t have just gotten an insurance policy to cover their risk of moving forward with Aiken?
  • If you were the Astros today, wouldn’t you rather have Aiken (with insurance policy), Nix and Marshall in the fold?  Do you think maybe your professional staff could have managed/mitigated this injury?
  • Did Aiken cut off his nose to spite his face by rejecting $5M?  Even before this injury, he was already dropping on draft boards, no sure guarantee to go 1st overall in 2015.  And with Houston holding the #2 and #5 overall picks there was already a real possibility of Aiken dropping outside the top 5 (since clearly Aiken would have refused “re-draft” possibilities), which means he’d have a heck of a time getting anywhere close to even the $5M he turned down. At some point his adviser should have just accepted the deal, in my opinion.  The new rules just make it impossible to get anything close to the bonus he turned down unless you’re #1 overall.
  • The situation kind of reminds me of the Matt Harrington situation, who turned down multiple bonus offers (one as high as $4M) and kept seeing his draft stock fall until he finally signed as a run-of-the-mill 13th rounder and quickly flamed out of pro ball.  His wiki page details the whole mess of a story.

There does exist a possibility of a team picking Aiken despite this injury.  Both Jeff Hoffman and our own Erick Fedde were picked in the mid-to-upper 1st round despite being rehabbing TJ arms.  And Aiken was more heralded than either guy.  I could see a team with a longer term view taking a chance on Aiken in the top 10.  A quick look at the 2015 draft order reveals some “gambler” type teams/GMs in the top 10 who could make a deal.  Assuming that your top-end names under consideration include the likes of Mike Matuella, Brendan Rodgers, Kolby Allard, Dillon Tate and maybe even someone like UVA’s Nathan Kirby , that could put teams in the 6-10 spot right in line to pick Aiken.  And that 6-10 range includes both Chicago teams and Boston, rich teams that could afford to wait him out.

One thing for sure; the odds of the Nationals getting another shot to pick a TJ case are slim; we gave up our 1st rounder to sign Max Scherzer and won’t pick until the 58th overall spot (compensation for not signing Miami’s Andrew Suarez last year).  I don’t think Aiken lasts til the 10th pick; certainly he won’t be there in the mid 2nd round.

Tough break for Aiken; hope he can salvage some bonus money and start his career.

Other opinions/hot takes I’ve read of use:

  • Jeff Ellis at Scout.com predicts the same that I do for Aiken’s draft status; top-10.
  • David Schoenfield at ESPN talks about Aiken and the “inequalities” between being born in the USA and elsewhere in the draft/signing markets (and the discrepancies are ridiculous).
  • Dave Cameron at fangraphs has some quotes from Aiken’s social media posting announcing his surgery and some critical analysis.

Post-posting update: presumed top-5 draft talent Kolby Allard is also out for the season with a back injury, further thinning the list of names in consideration for the #1 overall pick so far.

Another post-posting update: on 4/1/15, Duke ace (and NoVa native) Mike Matuella announced the he too has to have Tommy John surgery.  That’s three presumed top-5 picks in the upcoming draft now out with season-ending injuries.  Wow.

Ladson’s inbox 2/2/15

49 comments

Scherzer is on everyone's mind.  Photo via Scherzer's twitter account.

Scherzer is on everyone’s mind. Photo via Scherzer’s twitter account.

Love it; another inbox to analyze.  In the wake of the Scherzer signing, lets see what kind of questions MLB.com beat reporter Bill Ladson fielded this week.

As always, I answer as I write before reading Ladson’s answer, and edit questions for clarity as needed.

Q: How much better will the Nationals be now that right-hander Max Scherzer is on the roster?

A: Well, if you play the “WAR analysis” game, then Max Scherzer replaces Tanner Roark in the rotation for 2015.   Scherzer posted a bWAR of 5.5 in 2014 while Roark posted a bWAR of 4.8.  So on the face of it, assuming that both players provide identical value in 2015 as they did in 2014, perhaps Scherzer won’t immediately impact the team.  This is the essence of those immediate-post signing blogs and columns that questioned why the Nats needed to make this acquisition.

However.  I offer some counters.

  1. Roark immediately becomes your spot-starter to cover for injury.  Lets say that Gio Gonzalez (bWAR in 2014 of just 2.1) gets hurt and Roark covers for him; well that’s nearly a 3-WAR improvement.  Certainly Roark is going to be better than whatever AAA cover we could promote to provide injury relief.  The Nats only gave 12 13 starts to non-core rotation guys in 2014 but more than twice that number in 2013; the odds are that an injury is going to hit the rotation at some point.
  2. Scherzer will be better in 2015 than he was in 2014.  Why?  He moves to the NL, gets to face pitchers instead of DHs, faces generally weaker lineups, plays in a weaker division and pitches in more parks that are pitcher friendly.  You can make the argument that his K/9 is going to increase significantly (if he faces the pitcher 60-70 times in a season, he likely strikes them out at least half of that), and his ERA likely falls at least a half a point.  That will boost his WAR for 2015.
  3. Scherzer going twice in a seven game playoff series is going to be better than having any one else getting that second start.  In fact, a 1-2-3 punch of Strasburg, Zimmermann and Scherzer is one heck of a daunting task for any opponent.
  4. And there’s this: not to completely re-hash my post on the Scherzer signing, but i’ll note that this signing (to me) seems like a way to bridge the gap and guarantee an “Ace” in the rotation through the next two off-seasons of rotation transition (where the team likely loses Zimmermann, Fister and Strasburg).  The Nats rotation looks an awful lot better after these three guys are gone if Scherzer is leading the line.  So to me this isn’t a move about 2015 as much as it is about getting this team to 2017 and maintaining competitiveness.

Ladson said very little about answer the question, using his answer to immediately talk about the offense and the bench.  Yeah we know there’s issues there.  And we all remember how the middle of the order went like 1-for-the NLDS.  Wasn’t the question.

Q: Why didn’t Espinosa work on hitting right-handed exclusively after the season ended? If Espinosa made that transition successfully, he would be the answer at second base.

A: A good question.  Not the first time this topic has come up.  We’ve discussed it to death here but the reasons seem to fall along the following:

  1. Espinosa may be getting “advice” from his agent (Scott Boras) to put his own interests first.
  2. Espinosa may be “stubborn” about maintaining his switch hitting, given that it is a differentiator in the marketplace for him.
  3. Espinsoa may just be uneasy about suddenly facing right-handed curve balls from the right-hand side, probably having not faced such a situation in more than a decade (a fair point).

We all know about his splits lefty versus righty.  We all know he has not chosen to try RH-only.  I think its also safe to say that the organization has gone out of its way (Asdrubal Cabrera last season and now Yunel Escobar) to replace him in the starting lineup despite his defensive skills.  It is what it is; we now have a backup infielder on the roster to cover both 2B and SS and who has some pop from the plate in a backup capacity (and the associated K-rate of course).  Not the worst thing in the world to have.  Ladson says … well he stated the obvious (Escobar is the starter) and then says that the “Nats hope Espinosa cuts down on his strike-outs.”  Non-answer.

Q: How come Jeff Kobernus is not being considered for the starting second-base job? Why not have a young, cost-controlled guy play every day?

A: Because Kobernus hasn’t played 2B basically since college full-time since a half-season stint in Harrisburg in 2012.  The team moved him to the OF and he’s mostly stayed there.  Even if you thought he could play second effectively, he’s got a career minor league slash line of .285/.331/.363.   He is what he is: a utility guy who can cover in case of a slew of injuries and makes for a good 9/1 pinch running/6th outfielder call-up, but that’s about it.  I don’t think you can count on him to produce at the major league level day-in and day-out.  Ladson says Kobernus has a chance of making the bench out of spring training this year, which I disagree with.

Q: Asdrubal Cabrera signed with the Rays for one-year, $7.5 million. Why couldn’t the Nats make that deal? Or something close to it?

A: Probably because Cabrera wanted to play short-stop, and the Nats have a short-stop.  Besides, Escobar at $5M is a good deal.  I mentioned at some point in the off-season that Cabrera’s offensive output with Washington wasn’t too much better than Espinosa’s frankly (Cabrera’s split line with Washington in 2014 was .229/.312/.389; Escobar brings more to the table.  Ladson agrees, and says that the Nats weren’t willing to bring Cabrera back at his asking price based on what he showed last year.

Q: Why didn’t the Nats consider Tyler Clippard as their closer?

A: Hmm.  Good question.  Perhaps because when Clippard was given the closer job in 2012, he really struggled with it as compared to his typical 8th inning performance.   ERA in 2012 as closer: 3.72.  Career ERA: 2.88.  Besides, there was more in play for Clippard’s trade than just who was going to be the 2015 closer.  Clippard’s got a ton of miles on his arm, Clippard was set to make nearly 8 figures as a reliever, and the Nats felt like they could afford to part ways with him to acquire a player who filled a need.  Ladson notes what I noted, and said that Clippard’s pending free agency played into the decision.  That’s a great point that I didn’t mention; Clippard wasn’t going to be offered a qualifying offer (likely worth $16M next off-season), so he’d depart to no compensation.  With this trade, the Nats got some compensation for him.

Q: I know he’s had plenty of success as a general manager, but I’m surprised Mike Rizzo doesn’t feel any sense of urgency to try to sign Desmond or Jordan Zimmermann to an extension. What are your thoughts on this?

A: I think Mike Rizzo has been trying to extend these guys for more than two years.  “Sense of urgency?”  What else do you want to ask of the guy?  He by all accounts has offered both guys 9-figure deals, and has been rebuffed.  Do you think Ian Desmond is worth a 7yr/$100M deal?  Do you think Zimmermann is worth a 6yr/$150M deal?  Clearly to me the two players are valuing themselves higher than what the GM is valuing them, the GM has made what he thinks to be fair market value deals, and both guys have opted to test the market.  Baseball is a business, both on the player side and the team side.  Ladson thinks Rizzo will step up discussions once spring training happens.  I don’t; I think that the ship has more or less sailed on extending these guys at this point.  Now, will the team move Zimmermann?  I think we may see offers once James Shields signs…. if there’s teams out there that want to improve but miss out on Shields, they may come calling to the Nats with deals we cannot turn down.  We’ll see.  Overall thougth I’m doubtful any trades occur at this point.  My prediction: the juggernaut rotation goes into 2015 in-tact.

 

Like the Janssen signing

14 comments

Janssen becomes the latest Nats signing. Photo via THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chris Young

Janssen becomes the latest Nats signing. Photo via THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chris Young

I hadn’t necessarily verbalized it in this space, but after the Tyler Clippard trade it made sense to me for the Nats to go shopping on the FA market for a middle reliever to help bridge the gap.  Its tough to lose two of your three late-inning options in one season (the other of course being the over-paid Rafael Soriano, who remains unemployed at this juncture), and a veteran one-year signing made sense.

And that’s exactly what the team got today with the signing of former Toronto closer Casey Janssen to a one-year $5M guaranteed deal with a mutual option for 2016.  I like this deal a lot; not a ton of money, a closer-quality guy who immediately takes over the 8th inning role and can cover for Drew Storen if he stumbles in the closer role.  Janssen’s numbers took a dive in 2014, which can be easily attributable to a violent bout of food poisoning he suffered mid-season last  year.

This move makes the 2015 bullpen likely look like the following (in relative order from Closer to Long-Man): Storen, Janssen, Barrett, Stammen, Blevins, Thornton and Roark.

Which means that, save for a theoretical trade of a starter, Roark is the long-man and Blake Treinen is likely in AAA as a starter.  If we move Zimmermann, Roark slides into the 5th starter and Treinen likely becomes a 7th inning option.  The rest of the 40-man reliever options don’t seem like they’re really threatening this core group: Cedeno is out of options and is looking at a DFA unless Blevins/Thornton gets hurt, Fornataro needs to re-establish himself in AAA, Erik Davis is coming off surgery and Matt Grace is freshly on the 40-man and (like Cedeno) won’t be an option unless there’s an injury.  Yes forensicane; I love Rafael Martin too … but he’s not on the 40-man yet so he’s not an option yet either.

I don’t mind keeping Treinen as a starter frankly; the Nats used 8 starters last year and likely will use that many this year.  Past the core 5, you have Roark, Treinen and then your pick of 40-man candidates Jordan/Cole/Hill if we get bit with an injury bug.  That’s plenty of decent starter depth for now; we can call up Treinen and Cole for middle-relief appearances in September ahead of a potential October series.

How do you feel about our bullpen?  Is the Barrett/Stammen/Thornton combination good enough to handle the 6th and 7th innings on a regular basis?  Would you rather have Treinen as a sinkerballing hard-thrower in that mix?  If so, who makes way?

 

 

Holy Cow Scherzer!

31 comments

Wow.  Photo via Scherzer's twitter account.

Wow. Photo via Scherzer’s twitter account.

Nats sign Max Scherzer to a 7yr/$210M deal.  Which, as noted in the rich comment thread on the previous post, occurred while I was away and could not properly analyze.

Well, so much for “payroll is topped out.”

Now it seems like the ownership narrative is going to be, “Mr. Lerner just turned 90 and didn’t buy this d*mn team so they could only just win the division a couple of times.”

Which, as a fan who is still scarred by the Jim Bowden years, when a $68M payroll was astronomical and our GM was shopping in the bargain basement/rejects line in the free agency trough, is pretty liberating.  I guess this is sort of what it feels like to be a Yankees, Red Sox or Dodgers fan in some ways.

I have various thoughts, not having a chance to have read all the comments and all the analysis pieces out there.

  • Apparently the contract is actually structured as $15M a year for 14 years, as opposed to $30M a year for seven.  Man; that’s one heck of a pension plan Scherzer just got for himself.
  • I agree with those that believe this is an insurance move that makes the inevitable departure of Jordan Zimmermann a bit less of a loss.
  • Bummer for Tanner Roark if no subsequent moves are made; all he did was post a frigging 5 WAR season in 2014.
  • I like Scherzer now … but man i’m worried about what he’ll look like in 5 years.  There’s little to zero track record of long-term FA pitchers working out when signed to 9-figure deals.  Trust me; I’ve got a huge spreadsheet as proof that these things almost never work out.  So I think its fair to say that I am happy to have him (of course), but that i’m worried that this will bite the Nats going forward.
  • Yet another example of Mike Rizzo a) picking up a player he originally drafted, and b) doing a deal with the devil, er I mean Scott Boras.  At least the Nats aren’t on the hook for $30M/year clogging up their new “payroll ceiling,” whatever it is.
  • Given the track record for starters going from the AL to the NL … i wonder if we’re about to see a season that looks something like this: 18-5, 2.20 ERA and 280 Ks in 220 innings.  Scherzer’s already at 10.3 K/9 and now he gets to face the Pitcher, a weaker division in the NL East and no DHs.  Can he get to 300 Ks?

How would you lineup our rotation?  Probably Strasburg, Scherzer, Zimmermann, Gonzalez and Fister.  You have to put the lefty in the middle of the rotation, right?

Is Roark wasted in middle relief?  Yeah he is.  But … now the team has its best 6th starter option in its bullpen ready to go, instead of calling up somebody from AAA.  Is this a good thing or a bad thing?

Are we still going to see another move?  Maybe.  Not so much driven by payroll, but by function.  If the team is really fed up with negotiating with Zimmermann, then you move him for what  you can now.  And you’ve just replaced him like-for-like, for actually *less* money in 2015 than he was set to make (conveniently ignoring the $105M in “pension” payments Scherzer will be making for nearly a decade after he’s finished this contract).

Lets say the team does move Zimmermann; the 2015 rotation would be just as good as the 2014 rotation, but the team would presumably would have a couple more nearer-to-the-majors prospects received in return for Zimmermann.  Not the worst situation to find our selves in, given the FA losses the team faces after 2015 and 2016 (3/5ths of its 2014 rotation).  Scherzer bridges the gap and gives the team a solid guy for years to come as the next wave of starters makes its way to the majors (Cole, Giolito, Fedde, Lopez in perhaps that order).