Nationals Arm Race

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June 1st Roster Shakeups

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So, apparently according to Nats brass, the amount of time a player needs in the minors to completely dominate a level before getting moved up is exactly … 2 months.

Because on June 1st, a number of players who have clearly shown they’re too good for the level they’re currently in were moved up. Lets take a look at some of the more notable prospect moves over the last few days:

Nationals:

  • Called up Evan Lee, gave him his first start
  • Re-called, finally, Luis Garcia after he slashed .314/.368/.531 the first two months in Rochester.

Yes, I know both of these were more about Lee/Garcia covering for injuries, but they were still merit induced and both may actually stick in the majors. Lee’s rotation spot won’t be there for long (not as long as Strasburg is pitching 6 nearly-no-hit innings in AAA), but Josh Rogers just hit the D/L with a very scary sounding “shoulder impingement” injury. We don’t know if this is season-ending, career-ending, or a two week stint. Meanwhile, Garcia steps in for Alcides Escobar, who hit the D/L with a hamstring injury but who probably should just be released after he posted a 61 OPS+ for the first two months.

AAA:

  • Promoted Cole Henry from AA
  • Promoted Matt Brill from AA

Henry was a long time coming; In 7 starts/23 innings, he gave up a grand total of five (5!) hits and had a 28/9 K/BB ratio. Can we please stretch this guy out longer than an 9yr old little league pitch count restriction? Meanwhile, Brill is an under-the-radar RHP 8th/9th inning guy who was closing in Harrisburg and now can see if he can sustain his excellent numbers in AAA.

AA:

  • Promoted Jake Irvin from High-A
  • Promoted Zach Brzykcy from High-A

So, Irvin wasn’t nearly as dominant as Henry, but he still proved he had nothing left to prove at High-A. This is great news coming off of two lost seasons for him. Meanwhile, NDFA Brzycky continues climbing up the ladder for this team. Best $20k they’ve ever spent. Harrisburg also gets a RHP reliever named Edgar Garcia (at least for the next few days), who was pretty good for the last few years in Minnesota’s AAA team and who has MLB experience in three different seasons. Not really sure why he’s in AA, but Washington does this often with MLFAs it finds on the scrap heap

High-A:

  • Promoted Rodney Theopile from Low-A

In the most obviously needed move of all, Theopile takes his dominant low-A stats (9 starts 1.29 ERA, 62/11 K/BB in 48IP) to the next level. It really is amazing how many times we see a pitcher scuffle at a level one year then dominate it the next. Add another example here.

Low-A:

nothing yet; they just activated Mason Denaburg to join the rotation, and they have a couple of starters sitting on the DL, so they’ll seemingly refill from within for now.


New Look rotations per level:

  • MLB: Corbin, Lee, Adon, Grey Fedde (at least for now: when Stras comes back probably Lee to Long Relief or back to AA)
  • AAA My guess is Cavalli, Sharp, Tetreault, Henry, and Verrett, with Jefry Rodriguez going to swing man and Abbott continuing to not be a starter.
  • AA: Fuentes, Kilome, Reyes, Gausch, Henry, with Troop continuing to be excellent long man. Carrillo still hurt, Herrera just put on the DL.
  • High-A: Cate, Parker, Cuevas, Theopile, then two from Shuman and Merrill
  • Low-A: Denaburg, Cacheras, Lara, Collins and Rutledge. I guess. Rutledge is now floundering in Low-A while Henry and Cavalli now sit on the AAA roster. Wow.

Written by Todd Boss

June 4th, 2022 at 9:07 pm

Voth DFA; end of an era

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Voth runs out of chances with the Nats. Photo mlb.com official

It finally happened. Nine pro seasons, all three options, starter roles and reliever roles, long man and middle relief roles … Austin Voth finally got cut from this pitching staff yesterday.

His stat line this year: 18 IP, 34 hits, a whip north of 2, an ERA north of 10 … it was finally enough for even a last place team who’s entire goal this season is to groom soon-to-be FA players for the trade deadline to squeeze more prospects out of contending teams.

Voth seems likely to clear waivers (who’s going to give a 25-man spot to him based on his performance this year) and then faces an interesting choice; does he accept an outright or does he take his chances elsewhere? I’m betting he accepts the outright, unless some other team tells him during the waiver period that they’re interested in signing him and a better opportunity exists. But think about it; if he accepts the outright, he goes to AAA and when we trade half the bullpen in July he may very well get called back up for one last chance at redemption before an inevitable non-tender next fall.

You hate to see players go that you’ve been talking about for a decade. He was a 5th rounder college sign who made it; we can’t say that about a lot of our 5th rounders over the last decade. So bravo for that. I hope he sticks around, cleans up at AAA, and earns another shot.

Written by Todd Boss

June 1st, 2022 at 9:48 am

Posted in Majors Pitching

Quick thoughts on the MLB and MiLB rotations one month in

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Cade Cavalli not yet ready for the big-dance. Photo via Lookout Landing blog

Every year i’m excited to start tracking our minor league pitching, and rotations in particular … and a month in, here’s some quick, random, small sample sized, perhaps not fully backed by statistics or sabremetrics thoughts on our rotations of the four minor league full season affiliates. And just for good measure, i’ll throw in thoughts on the debacle of the MLB rotation as well.

For reference, as always here’s the Big Board, which has the rotations in their pitching order lined up on the same day as the corresponding MLB pitcher, along with the rest of the staffs and their approximate roles. https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/186nm-v5F-zTCoR2Be7TFYM3e2cZ-gYi2WVqJLEkHdmc/

Note: this was written on Monday 5/2/22 during an off-day so any moves that have happened since are not accounted for.


MLB Rotation

https://www.baseball-reference.com/teams/WSN/2022.shtml

  • Grey: after a scuffling start, has put in a couple of really sterling outings and is starting to look like the headlining prospect we gave up Scherzer and Turner for. FIP is a bit higher than his ERA, which is indicative of his high walk rate, but he’s mowing them down to the tune of 10.7 K/9.
  • Adon: a 7.33 ERA and equally ugly whips and fips show that, as i’ve maintained for most of the last year and a half, he’s overpromoted. One September start against Boston seems to have blinded fan-boys across the Natmosphere into where Adon really is. He’s 23, which is generally the age of our current high-A rotation, and you can count the number of starts he’s had above AA on two hands. I think he needs to be in AAA.
  • Corbin, who is making $23M this year and is under contract through the 2024 season (and its balloon gift payment of a $35M payroll figure that year) continues to dumbfound observers; how could someone be so effective two years ago and fall apart so comprehensively? He’s now posting an 8.69 ERA, a whip north of 2.0, and a 43 ERA+ this season. His only saving grace right now is his obscenely high BABIP of .443, which leads to a normal looking FIP of 3.69 … better than Grey’s amazingly. So, maybe he’s just had a very unlucky April in terms of balls finding their way into the outfield. Either way, he’s not going anywhere, not when he comprises such a large percentage of the payroll and there’s nobody really pushing from AAA for a promotion.
  • Fedde, the guy who I was convinced would get non-tendered this off season (given that he was out of options and pitched horribly in 2021), instead is tendered a contract and given $2.1M guaranteed dollars to be our 5th starter … and has been pitching like it. 6.00 ERA, 1.55 whip, mediocre FIP. He’s yet another example of a guy who, if he had been a 15th rounder and gotten $125K as a signing bonus would have LONG ago been DFA’d and buried in AAA, but because of the “investment” made in him in terms of signing bonus so many years ago, continues to throw MLB innings that virtually ensure losses.
  • Aaron Sanchez at one point was a Fantasy stud, a phenomenal starter for Toronto. Now he’s back in the majors and probably has a pretty extended shot at sticking around. His first two starts were meh, but his peripherals don’t look too bad yet. Now that he’s back in the majors though, he’s got enough service time to refuse a demotion, so he’ll either stick or get DFA’d. My guess is that if he shows any promise whatsoever, he’ll stick in the rotation at the expense of someone else, and the team will look to flip him at the deadline.
  • Josh Rogers was the guy who i thought merited a rotation spot from the get go, not some hail-mary chance at MLFA/NRI/washout Anibel Sanchez. But hey, old habits die hard right?
  • Speaking of Sanchez, he managed to hit the DL pretty much the MOMENT his $2M salary was guaranteed … and it remains to be seen when we’ll see him again. Nice move! His official DL reason was “Nerve impingment in neck.” Anyone want to bet how many starts we get out of him this year?

Hitting the 60-day DL before the season even started were our $35M albatross Stephen Strasburg, who the team still says expects to throw “20-25 starts” this year. I’ll take the under. Joe Ross is earning $2.4M this year to probably sit on the DL for several months with his elbow bone ship removal surgery just done. And of course who can forget our favorite 1st round draft pick Seth Romero, who was recalled and dumped onto the 60-day DL with what was called a “calf strain,” this after suffering a ‘stiff back’ during spring training, and this after suffering a “rib injury” that cost him half of 2021. At what point can he suffer a “DFA injury?”

Next to get demoted/released? I can’t imagine Adon will be allowed to pitch like this the rest of the way and will eventually get pushed back to AAA. Fedde may get the dump if/when one of the DL starters is ready to return … but more likely Rogers (who has options) gets moved since the team has “less invested” in him of course.

What do I think happens next? No changes until Strasburg/Sanchez/Ross is ready to come off the DL.


AAA rotation:

https://www.milb.com/rochester/stats/pitching/games-started?playerPool=ALL

  • Sanchez: promoted and with good reason: 3 starts, 3.60 ERA is best of the AAA rotation, even if his peripherals were not that great (10/5 k/bb in 15 innings, 1.47 whip).
  • Verrett: I think he’s meant more to be a reliever but has 2 starts and 7 IP.  Maybe they put Braymer back in rotation.
  • Tetreault: 1.54 whip, 5.56 ERA but his fip is going to be lower b/c his BAA is decent.
  • Cavalli: interestingly on 13 Ks in 15 innings right now, ugly era 6.23, but his whip is not bad 1.27 and he’s only got a .234 BAA.
  • Reyes: an offseason MLFA who now has a 14.18 ERA … seems like he’s getting ready to get released.
  • Jrodriguez: weird numbers: 8.31 ERA but only a .184 BAA. .. oh its b/c he has 10 walks in 13 innings.  Another guy who seems to be just holding down a rotation spot til they’re ready to promote someone from AA.
  • Sharp: put in a spot start in place of the now departed Sanchez and wasn’t half bad (5ip, 4hits 2 runs), and should probably go into the rotation.

Next to get promoted? Nobody is earning it anytime soon; maybe someone like Sharp if they need a spot starter in the majors, but the Nats already has a couple guys in the bullpen who can do that (Espino, Voth).

Next to get demoted/released? Reyes seems to be out of here soon. JRodriguez may not be far behind.

What do I think happens next? Reyes gets released, the team promotes two guys from AA, Verrett and Sharp go back to the pen and we run with Tetreault, Cavalli, JRodriguez and two guys we’re about to cover in the next section…


AA Rotation:

https://www.milb.com/harrisburg/stats/pitching?playerPool=ALL&sortState=asc

  • Fuentes: 4 competent starts so far; no surprise from someone who should be in AAA. Whip is a little high, should be doing more against AA pitchers.
  • Gausch: Decent numbers, 3.66 era, 1.27 whip, really nice BAA of .194. Pretty good for his first time facing AA hitters. Probably needs to do this for most of the season before promotion.
  • Henry: uh… 13 ip, just 3 hits given up to go with 4 walks. So that’s around 1/2 a baserunner per inning. It goes without saying his era is 0.00 and his BAA is a miniscule 0.073. But, the team is only throwing him 3-4 innings an outing. Obviously, a month in the guy is looking like a sure fire promotion but he’s gotta get his endurance up.
  • Herrera: ERA ugly, but peripherals not bad. He’s too old for the level and either needs to move up or out.
  • Lee: about what we’re expecting; lots of Ks and lots of walks (14/10 in 14 innings). ERA belies some bad peripherals and he’s likely to see that rise soon. Needs more time.

Next to get promoted? Henry and Fuentes.

Next to get demoted/released? Herrera.

What do I think happens next? We probably don’t see much change here for another month, then we see Henry and perhaps Fuentes moved up. Who takes their place? Well, not for nothing but two of our more advanced SP prospects (Cate and Carrillo) are on the AA DL right now; Cate is doing rehab starts and is back soon, Carrillo’s shoulder barked and he may be out for a bit, but it’d make sense for these two to slide in before considering a High-A promotion. They also have an excellent long reliever/spot starter in Alex Troop who is having a fine season who could slot into the rotation soon. There’s nobody really pressing in the immediate from High-A for now, so solutions may come from within. See Next section.


High-A

https://www.milb.com/wilmington/stats/pitching?playerPool=ALL&sortState=asc

  • Cuevas: solid. 2.79 ERA, 1.09 whip, .179 BAA. That’s not bad for a 23rd rounder who hasn’t turned 21 yet. We may have a find on our hands here.
  • Irvin: 4 starts after two lost seasons and things are looking promising; miniscule 0.69 ERA, similarly small whip, great k/bb 13/2 in 13 innings. Like Henry above him, Irvin is being eased back into starts, just going 3 or 4 at a time, but we’re starting to remember why we drafted him.
  • Merrill: strugging; a walk an inning. a 5.00 ERA that might be higher in FIP. Might make sense to put in the pen.
  • Parker: is continuing the great performance we saw last year in Low-A so far; 2.08 ERA, a .111 BAA. 25 Ks in 17 innings is amazing … but 14 walks in 17 innings is not.
  • Shuman: repeating the level and posting a 5.27 ERA, though his peripherals indicate that’s unlucky. He’s one-thrid of trade bounty we got from Oakland in the Gomes/Harrison deal last trade deadline, so the team doesn’t have a ton invested.

Next to get promoted? Cuevas and Irvin, but no time soon.

Next to get demoted/released? Shuman.

What do I think happens next? Irvin isn’t moving up until he’s doing 6ip a night, same as Henry, so maybe both their fates are tied to each other. Cuevas is lower profile and young, so he might not be moving up anytime soon either. Two of the long relievers here (Knowles and Pena) are having solid seasons and could move into the rotation if need be. There’s not a lot of pressure in Low-A pushing up right now, so we may see this unit intact until the July (see next).


Low-A

https://www.milb.com/fredericksburg/stats/pitching/games-started?playerPool=ALL

  • Lara: 6.75 ERA, but a nice K/BB 21/6 in 14 innings. He’s punching a ton of guys out, but letting in a ton of contact. He’s only 19, 3-4 years younger than anyone else in this rotation, so we should be patient here.
  • Saenz: a nice line of 3.74 ERA, 1.34 whip, 26/6 K/BB in 21 innings. This is a solid line and should he continue it he should be in line to move up later this season.
  • Theophile: Crushing it so far in a huge turnaround from last year in the same level: 0.86 ERA through 4 starts, and a great 30/5 K/BB in 21 innings. Love that line. I’d like to see this continue for a while though, since he got shelled for the same team last year (5.56 ERA in 22 starts)
  • Alvarez; 5.93 ERA, decent K/9 numbers, 1.46 whip. Probably needs to step it up a bit.
  • Caceres is the only guy here who didn’t end last year on this staff and it shows: ERA north of 7 but an interesting 20/3 k/bb ratio in 14 innings.
  • Collins: the 2021 17th rounder ended last year in the Low-A rotation but now is getting stretched out a bit and the early returns are good: 20/3 K/BB in 12 innings, 3.55 ERA, 1.11 whip. I like that.

Its hard to tell if Low-A is doing a 6-man rotation or is throwing a 6th spot starter in all over the place. They also have Seijas in the pen who is throwing almost starter innings in relief (though not that effectively).

Next to get promoted? Theophile

Next to get demoted/released? Caceres.

What do I think happens next? there’s a couple guys sitting in XST who might profile here (Dyson, AHernandez, Stoeckinger if he’s still with the club at this point). But more likely the team shuffles around its long relievers to fill rotation spots if they need them until we start seeing the FCL team start to play and the 2022 draft take shape. We may end up with an SEC starter in the upper rounds who could go straight to low-A mid-season once the deck chairs start to shuffle. Until then, I can’t see anyone getting promoted, even Theophile, for another month at least.

Written by Todd Boss

May 3rd, 2022 at 10:40 am

Check-in on Traded-away Prospect Arms

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Dunning now in the Texas rotation. Photo via mlb.com

The Nats are well-known for their heavy emphasis on pitching in drafts, and then for using said pitching depth as “currency” to acquire talent to build their roster. The team has traded away more than 20 prospect pitchers in the last 5 years, ranging from recent MLB debutants to rookie-league wild-cards.

I thought I’d be interesting to check in with some of the arms we’ve moved over the past few years.

Part of me does this as a “wouldn’t it be nice if we had kept them…” motive, since not all of these trades were really ones I would have made. But nearly all of these trades contributed in one way or another to the 2019 title … so I have to temper my criticism. In the end, you’d rather have a title than a prospect. But, choices have been made over the years and some of those choices look better or worse in retrospect.

These are listed in order of MLB impact of the traded away talent, not chronologically (this list does not include all the MLB arms we traded away in the 2018 missing the playoff purge; this is mostly about trading away prospects).

  • Lucas Giolito; Traded to Chicago White Sox (along with Lopez and Dunning) for Adam Eaton in 2016. Eaton gave the team 4 injury-filled years and a combined 2.7 bWAR. Giolito is now the #1 starter for the White Sox and was an all-star in 2019, but it took him several years and multiple mechanical changes to get there.
  • Jesus Luzardo: traded to Oakland in 2017 (along with Treinen and Neuse) to acquire Ryan Madson and Sean Doolittle. Luzardo rose to be one of the best prospects in the game ahead of the 2020 season, now Oakland’s #2 starter as a 23yr old. Madson and Doolittle served as valuable back-end bullpen pieces, though Madson did not make it to our title-winning season and Doolittle lost his closer job by 2019 and is pitching elsewhere. This is the kind of trade i wish we made less of; you should be able to grow relievers from your farm system, not trade away future #2 projected starters for a combined 3 seasons of varying production.
  • Dane Dunning was the 3rd of 3 ranked prospects in the 2016 Chicago/Eaton trade. He hovered in the top prospects list for several years, had TJ surgery, debuted with some success in late 2020 for the White Sox, then was flipped to Texas in 2020 for Lance Lynn, and is now featuring in the 2021 Texas rotation as their 5th starter.
  • Taylor Hearn: was the 2nd of 2 prospects in the 2016 Pittsburgh/Melancon trade. He was subsequently flipped by Pittsburgh in 2018 for Keone Kela, and debuted for Texas in late 2019. Since, he has been an 7th/8th inning reliever for Texas with some effectiveness.
  • Austin Adams, traded to Seattle in 2019 for Nick Wells after we DFA’d him. Pitched effectively for Seattle’s bullpen in 2019, then traded to San Diego in Aug 2020 for a package of players. Pitching in middle relief for San Diego in 2021. Wells has done basically nothing for this team, while Adams has at least continued to pitch in the majors and does beg the question … why couldn’t he do for us what he has managed to do for Seattle and San Diego?

Summary: well, you’d have a pretty nice start to a rotation right now with Giolito/Luzardo/Dunning. But it took years to get there for these guys: these were players who were traded 4-5 years ago. And the guys we got in return (Eaton, Doolittle) were key parts of the 2019 title team.

Minor league arms traded in last 5 years still in minors:

  • Reynaldo Lopez was the 2nd ranked of 3 prospects in the 2016 Chicago/Eaton trade; he was a full time rotation starter in 2018 and 2019 for Chicago, but got beaten out for the rotation in 2021 and is in AAA. Interesting how many thought Lopez was the “prize” of that trade … now he’s like 7th on their rotation depth chart.
  • Wil Crowe: traded to Pittsburgh (along with Eddy Yean) for Josh Bell. Crowe made the opening day 2021 roster for Pittsburgh, but was optioned after one poor outing. Likely projecting as a 4-A type starter, and future analysis of this trade will have to remember that Pittsburgh was in a salary dump mode when evaluating whatever Crowe and Yean become.
  • Jefry Rodriguez, traded (along with Johnson and Monasterio) to Cleveland for Yan Gomes in 2018. Pitched for a couple months in the Cleveland rotation in 2019, hit free agency in 2021, signed MLFA with Washington in 2021, likely in AAA. Probably safe to say the Nats are coming out on top of this move.
  • Taylor Guilbeau: traded to Seattle for Roenis Elias in 2019. Pitched for Seattle MLB middle relief in 2019 and 2020, DFA’d and outrighted in Feb 2021. Elias got lit up, got hurt and was essentially useless for us.
  • Trevor Gott; traded to San Francisco in 2019 for cash after we DFA’d him; he pitched for SF’s bullpen for two years, was DFA’d and outrighted in Feb 2021. Once again, like with Adams … how is it that Gott couldn’t break our crummy 2019 bullpen but then pitched effectively for another organization immediately upon his exit from Washington? its like Blake Treinen all over again.
  • Pedro Avila was traded to San Diego for Derek Norris in 2016; he rose in the ranks and debuted briefly for San Diego in 2019, then was subsequently DFA’d and outrighted; he remains in their minor league system and projects for AAA in 2021. Norris was originally drafted by DC, and they wanted to get him back. But he only lasted another 3 months with the team, getting released in spring training 2017 before catching on with Tampa for one more season.
  • Aaron Fletcher: traded to Seattle for Hunter Strickland in 2019. Likely in AAA in 2021. Strickland … wasn’t good for Seattle in 2019 and he wasn’t good for us either.
  • Mario Sanchez: traded to Philadelphia for Jimmy Cordero in 2016. Hit MLFA in 2018, came back to Washington, projected AA in 2021. Cordero was crummy for us, then got DFA’d, selected and was gone.
  • Yohanse Morel, traded (along with Gutierrez and Perkins) to Kansas City for Kelvin Herrera in 2018. Likely in High-A in 2021.
  • Kyle Johnston: traded to Toronto for Daniel Hudson in 2019. Likely in High-A in 2021. Hudson closed out game 7 of the 2019 World Series; enough said.
  • Tyler Watson, traded to Minnesota for Brandon Kintzler in 2017. Likley in High-A in 2021. Knitzler was (possibly) scapegoated in the infamous clubhouse blowup mid 2018 and was dumped for pennies on the dollar in 2018.
  • Ryan McMahon; traded to Minnesota for Ryne Harper in 2020; Likely in Low-A in 2021. Harper has really yet to do much, so this is a show-me trade.
  • Eddy Yean; traded to Pittsburgh (along with Crowe) in 2020; projected to pitch in GCL or Low-A in 2021.

Summary: I see several really good moves here, a couple that didn’t work out as well for the Nats, and some that are preliminary. About what you expect when you’re trading prospect arms.

Minor League Arms traded in the last 5 years who are now apparently out of baseball.

  • McKenzie Mills: traded to Philadelphia for Howie Kendrick in 2017. Struggled in AA in 2019 for Philadelphia, released in big Minor league purge in June 2020 and out of baseball. This was a prime example of the Nats selling high on a guy; Mills blew that summer, going 12-3 for the 2017 season, then never replicated that success and was out of baseball two years later. Odd that the team didn’t try to pick him back up after his 2019 release.
  • Jeffrey Rosa; traded to Tampa Bay for Enny Romero in 2017. Struggled for Tampa’s GCL team in 2018 and was released.
  • Mick VanVossen, traded to Chicago WS for Ryan Raburn. struggled in high-A in 2017, likely released that off-season (he has no stats since 2017).
  • Felipe Rivero, traded to Pittsburgh (along with Hearn) in 2016 for Mark Melancon. Changed his name to Felipe Vazquez, replaced Melancon as Pittsburgh’s closer and was dominant, a 2-time all-star in 2018 and 2019. However, he was arrested on child sex abuse charges at the end of the 2019 season and faces multiple felonies in multiple states. As much as I hated this trade at the time (we gave up two solid players for yet another veteran closer since our team for reasons inexplicable cannot home grow closers ourselves), I think we’re all happy to have dodged a bullet w/r/t what Rivero/Vazquez became.

Did I miss anyone?

Opening Day Starter Trivia 2021

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Kershaw gets another opening day start in 2021. Photo via wiki.

Every year I update this long-running XLS for this increasingly anachronistic relic of tracking Opening Day Starter honors for teams.

After this year’s opening day, which was delayed for nearly a week thanks to the Nats Covid outbreak, here’s some cool trivia:

  • Most Opening Day StartsActive Leaders:
    • Justin Verlander remains the current leader with 12, though he’s out for the season with injury.
    • Clayton Kershaw made his 9th opening day start after missing a couple in a row, making him the pitcher with the highest number that is still actively making opening day starts.
    • Felix Hernandez and Jon Lester have 10 and 8 opening day starts respectively, but neither
    • After these guys, the players with the most are Madison Bumgarner (7), Max Scherzer (6) and Julio Teheran (6).
  • Current Leading Consecutive streak:
    • both Max Scherzer and Aaron Nola are on a consecutive opening day start streak of 4 starts.
  • Number of first-time Opening Day Starters in 2021: Just 7. This is after 18 last year.
  • Number of Opening Day Starters who now have exactly two opening day starts: 14 of the 30.
  • Most surprising opening-day starters in 2021:
    • Chad Kuhl: well someone had to pitch opening day for Pittsburgh, who may lose 115 games this year.

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

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

Hope you enjoy this useless trivia!

Nats 40-man Options status

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Nearly every year we talk about the Options status of the 40-man, and what it means for spring training. And this year is no different; nearly every year the options availability (or lack of them) helps drive some edge-of-the-roster decisions and the team ends up keeping players at the expense of others, often times in stark contrast to fan-perceived value or merit of inclusion.

Here’s a run-through of the Options status of the current 40-man roster. I have uploaded my Options Analysis annual spreadsheet to the Big Board; it is one of the 2021 tabs. Direct link here. The online XLS has a ton more information than we show here: it has updated Service time, first added to 40-man, known years optioned and some notes.

I divide the Roster into 5 categories of players on the 40-man:
– Vets who can refuse demotion (5 or more years of service)
– Players with Options available but who are MLB Entrenched
– Players with Options Available, jeopardizing 25-man roster status
– Players with Options almost guaranteed to be used in 2021
– Players with No Options left (the main analysis of this post).

For completion, here’s a quick run-through of all the categories:

Category 1: Vets who can refuse demotion (5 or more years of service)

We have 13 such players for 2021: Scherzer, Corbin, Gomes, Strasburg, Harris, Castro, Hudson, Harrison, Schwarber, Lester, Zimmerman, Hand and Avila.

Interesting tidbits about this group:
– Castro, Zimmerman and Avila never once burned an option
– Schwarber just got his 5 years of service time last season.
– Zimmerman earned 10&5 rights in 2015, and Strasburg earned it last year.
– Of this group, only Hand actually burned three options. Then, he didn’t make the Miami team out of spring training in 2016 so they had to DFA him; San Diego claimed him and he began to flourish from there.


Category 2: Options Avail but are MLB entrenched

We have 7 such players for 2021: Turner, Soto, Robles, Suero, Rainey, Bell, and Finnegan.

You may quibble perhaps with Finnegan being called “entrenched” but for now, his 2020 season has him being a lock for the pen in my book.

Interesting tidbits about this group:
– Turner and Bell will reach 5 years of service time in 2021, which means they would be able to refuse an option.
– Neither Soto and Finnegan has ever been optioned.
– Turner’s 2015 nonsensical call-up ended up burning the team dearly; he achieved Super2 by just a few days and the Nats have been on the hook for millions more than they “needed” to spend.

Category 3: Options Available and not a lock for the 25-man roster.

I count 5 players in this category for 2021: Kieboom, Clay, Garcia, Fedde, and Harper.

Each of these players needs some discussion.

  • Kieboom, by all accounts, is being handed the 3B job. The team did not pursue a replacement, Castro wants to play 2B, and the job is his. I suppose it is still possible that the team finds a new 3B and sends him to AAA, where a lot of people think he needs to be. But for now, he’s in this category instead of the one above.
  • Clay signed a MLB contract with the team in the 2020 off-season, somewhat oddly in that he had zero MLB service time at that point and was a MLFA. I wonder if the team “beat out” another suitor by promising the 40-man slot. Either way, I do not favor Clay to make the team coming out of Spring Training.
  • Garcia could theoretically make the 25-man roster as our backup infielder … but i’d much rather see him in AAA playing full time. His slash line was not that impressive last year (but better than Kieboom’s … hence why some are wondering what the heck the team is doing). For now, i’d send him to AAA.
  • Fedde got a 4th option thanks to some timing issues … and i’ll bet the team uses it in 2021. Which means Fedde will be in AAA as a 28yr old and service time in four different MLB seasons. That’s got to be a bummer to him. And to make matters worse he may not be the first spot starter called upon, thanks to an option-less player we’re about to talk about.
  • Harper was solid in 2019, awful in 2020, and I think his options flexibility will mean he starts the year in AAA in lieu of one of the MLFA/NRIs we’ve signed this spring. But he should be back up eventually to provide injury relief cover.

Category 4: Players with options who are almost guaranteed to be optioned out of Spring Training.

I count 11 guys in this category: McGowin, Barrera, Noll, Braymer, Armenteros, Adon, Antuna, Fuentes, Hernandez, Romero and Bacus.

Lets take these guys by category:

  • Adon, Antuna and Fuentes: just added to the 40-man, not yet expected to contribute at the MLB level.
  • McGowin, Braymer, Armenteros and Romero: i’d want this to be 4/5ths or 4/6ths of my AAA rotation. I do not consider these players serious contenders to the 5th starter role, but I do think the team may be looking at the two lefties (Braymer and Romero) as relievers going forward. I’d rather see if they can cut it as starters and provide more value. Armenteros is a wildcard; he has certainly shown he can succeed as a starter in the minors and his release by Houston was somewhat surprising. I’m guessing he pitches excellently in AAA and could be a surprising call-up mid-seaons.
  • Noll: honestly i’m not sure why he’s still rostered at this point; instead of calling him up last year they started a 19yr old’s service time clock. Eventually they called him up and he got a grand total of three starts. He’s my “first guy off the 40-man if we need space” candidate right now.
  • Barrera: you have to have a backup catcher on the roster and he’s it.
  • Hernandez sits on the 40-man after a late-season call-up, but he seems to have no spot on this team. he’s 2nd behind Noll in “next guy to get DFA’d.”
  • Lastly, Bacus seems to be an afterthought reliever on the roster right now, and is not favored to beat out several MLFA NRIs for the 2021 roster.

Category 5: Players out of options.

We have 3 players out of options for 2021: Ross, Voth and Stevenson.

  • Joe Ross is the current leading 5th starter candidate.
  • Voth (along with Fedde) are the leading competitors for said 5th starter job, and the odds on circumstance to occur is this: Voth loses the 5th starter job but “looks good” in spring training, which leads the team to either carry him as the 8th reliever or to invent a soft tissue injury and stash him on the DL for a few weeks. If Voth does NOT look good in spring training, he’s a DFA candidate come 4/1/21.
  • Stevenson has proven his worth as a plus defender, 4th outfielder type and his 2020 allowed the team to move on (finally?) from Michael A. Taylor this off-season. He’s out of options, but it doesn’t matter b/c he’s the bench OF.

Post Publishing Update 3/23/21: an Arbiter has just ruled that Erick Fedde does NOT have a 4th option, meaning that he’s now out of options and would have to be exposed to waivers if he doesn’t make the 2021 opening day roster.

Rizzo gets his 4th starter in Lester

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Lester to feature the curly W in 2021. photo via Grantland

One of our most obvious roster gaps heading into the off-season was a veteran 4th starter, and today Mike Rizzo got his man.

Jon Lester. 3-time World Series winner, cancer survivor, noted wine aficionado, signs a one-year $5M deal with the ubiquitous mutual option that is never mutually agreed to, to be our 4th starter for 2021.

Lester joins an esteemed list of “veteran 4th starters signed to pillow contracts” under the Rizzo regime. To wit:

  • 2010: Jason Marquis (though to be fair he signed a 2 year deal to probably be more than our 4th starter).
  • 2011: Chien-Ming Wang
  • 2012: Edwin Jackson, the first of the “real” 4th starter FA assassins
  • 2013: Dan Haren
  • 2014: Doug Fister
  • 2018: Jeremy Hellickson
  • 2019: Anibel Sanchez

To be fair here, Fister was of course a trade acquisition, and was much more than a 4th starter, but his acquisition, plus Scherzer signing and the eventual rise of home grown products like Roark and Ross led to several years without a need to pursue the veteran 4th starter. Not surprisingly, they made the playoffs 3 of 4 years in this timeframe … inexplicably missing the playoffs in 2015 in a season I hand squarely on the incompetence of Matt Williams. But I digress.

Clearly Rizzo’s strategy in building a rotation goes like this: splurge for the top of your rotation, sign a veteran for your 4th starter, let the kids compete for the 5th starter. What I’d LIKE it to be is, grow a couple of stud starters, pair them with your $30M/year guys, and dominate. He’s had had a slew of misses in the 1st round in the last decade, gave up too early on others (ahem Giolito), and now seems to have put their eggs into the Cavalli/Rutledge basket. Lets hope.

Anyway, back to this post. What do I think of the Lester signing? Well…. i think he’ll be a great clubhouse guy. But i’m tempered on what I think he can provide on the field, unfortunately. Lester went from being an #1/#2 kinda guy to being a #4 starter right starting with the 2017 season. He saw a sustained bump in his WHIP starting in 2017, which he somehow danced around in 2018 to put together a smoke-and-mirrors 18win season where his FIP was a full point higher than his ERA. This run of luck came back to bite him in 2019, in the form of a .347 BABIP that ballooned his ERA to ugly territory. 2020 was a wash; he was bad across the board, which could be a pretty bad sign for 2021.

Now he’ll be in his age 37 season with a whole lotta mileage on his known torn UCL elbow. He’s also famous for his inability to keep runners on first base … which will put pressure on his catchers. Gomes is pretty decent at caught stealing percentage (.305 pct in 2019, which was 6th or 7th or so of “regular” catchers in the league), but who knows about whatever backup we pick.

Do we think Lester is a bounce back candidate? Can he flourish when he’s not “the man” in the rotation? How much does he have left in the tank? All interesting questions. At the worst case its a very small price tag to take that gamble.

Payroll implication; not a heck of a lot. $5M doesn’t really change anything else the team might be doing, which makes this a positive. I now have their projected 2021 payroll at $181M, leaving them a shade under $29M left to work with. Notably, they have about $11.5M in deferred dollars this year, plus their “real” 2021 payroll (i.e. actual dollars heading out the door versus cap space dollar figure) is another $9.5M … so that’s $20M of money that the Lerners may be removing from consideration … which means they only want to spend about another $9m. Maybe. Just throwing that out there; there’s a real versus cap space payroll consideration here as the team starts to see a lot of its deferred dollar contracts catching up to them.

My conclusion; proceed with caution. I would have liked to roll the dice with another candidate on the FA market.

Strasburg done for season; is this the dagger that ends the Nats in 2020?

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Will Crowe gets the call.   Photo via SportsTalk

Will Crowe gets the call. Photo via SportsTalk

Word today that Strasburg is having surgery on his wrist and is heading to 60-day DL, effectively ending his season.  Wil Crowe becomes the latest Nats top-10 prospect (behind Kieboom, Garcia, Romero ) to get called up this season and attempt to keep the team afloat.  By most rankings, the Nats current #1, #2, and #4 prospects are now active (plus wherever you think Romero ranks, anywhere between 10 and 14 on most boards).  Suddenly its looking like a youth movement in Washington.  (side note: our farm system is going to be dead last next year if all these guys exhaust rookie eligiblity).

Is Strasburg’s injury unsurpassable for this team?  Eh, probably not; he was already hurt but in his absence the team is sputtering along playing about .400 ball.

Of course, in the 2020 crazy season, .400 ball only puts them like a game out of the wild card.  Eight teams out of the NL make it, meaning that ST Louis (currently sitting at 7-8) is in playoff position.  So the Nats at 9-13 are … 1.5 games back?  My math is a little fuzzy on “games back” logic right now given differing numbers of games played.  So a weekend sweep suddenly rockets the team back into play off position.

The larger question is this: The Nats are losing piece after piece, and I wonder how long they conintue to hold on.  Both lefty relievers are done, their #2 starter done, their FA second baseman signing done.   They were already down a 5th starter thanks to Joe Ross‘ opt out.  I mean, i’m glad to see all these prospets coming up; its great to be able to actually see these guys play.  But man, can this team hold on?

Luckily for the Nats … the “class” of the division (Atlanta) is just 4 games ahead, and themselves seem to be falling apart too.  Maybe its a race of attrition until October.

Written by Todd Boss

August 22nd, 2020 at 3:19 pm

Holy Cow Romero has been called up!

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Romero gets the call. Photo via milb.com

Romero gets the call. Photo via milb.com

 

I first saw this tidbit on Keith Law‘s chat today and was kind of shocked.  Then i confirmed it via the nats transaction page; Seth Romero has been called up.  Thanks to a spate of injuries and ineffectiveness-driven-dl trips (ahem Sean Doolittle), the Nats bullpen suddenly has zero left handers, and Romero has reportedly been impressing the Nats brass in Fredericksburg.

So he’s up.  Big board updated as well as the Draft tracker for all our still-signed draftees (everyone is now either Washington, Fredericksburg or XST for 2020).

So, part of me is not entirely surprised at this move … despite his limited minor’s experience, he’s rule-5 eligible this coming off-season (as is all the rest of the college-aged 2017 draftees, most notably Wil Crowe), so it seemed  highly likely that the team would be adding him at some point anyway.  He’s far enough past the deadline to ensure an extra year of control.  And they have a need.  I suppose they could have tapped a few of the other options they have in Fredericksburg (Matt Cronin and Nick Wells are both lefty and both relievers) … but having Romero up seems to give a higher-ceiling guy in the pen.

I gotta say; quite a turn of fortune for Romero after all he’s gone through.  Can’t wait to see him throw against real MLB hitters.

this by the way makes for the following roster chagnes:

  • 28/28 on active roster: Freeman, Doolittle to DL, Harris back, Romero called up.
  • 38/40: Romero added to 40-man
  • 57/60 on extended; no change here.

Written by Todd Boss

August 13th, 2020 at 2:02 pm

Opening Day Starter Trivia 2020

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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 12th career opening day start, putting him in the clear 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, which involved few fans and

  • Most Opening Day StartsActive Leaders:
    • Justin Verlander makes his 12th career Opening day start, double the next closest competitor now.
    • Next closest are two veterans, each of which who has 8 career opening day starts, neither of which made 2020 opening day starts (Clayton Kershaw and Jon Lester).
    • Special mention of Felix Hernandez, who is technically active with the Braves but is not on their 40-man roster.  He has 11 but seems like a longshot to make another.
  • Current Leading Consecutive streak:
    • 3; shared by Verlander, Max Scherzer and Aaron Nola
    • Julio Teheran had a streak of 6 broken this year; he signed with the Angels in the off-season
  • Number of first-time Opening Day Starters in 2020: 18 of 30
    • Soroka, Alcantara, Hendricks, Woodruff, Musgrove, Flaherty, Marquez, May, Paddock, Milone, Eovaldi, Morton, Giolito, Bieber, Boyd, Heaney, Montas, Lynn
    • This is easily the highest number of 1st time opening day starters since I started tracking this.
  • Most surprising opening-day starters in 2020:
    • Tommy Milone getting the opening day start for Baltimore.  Just crazy.
    • Sonny Gray getting his 3rd career opening day start, 5 years after last getting one for Oakland.
    • Johnny Cueto getting his 5th career opening day start, also 5 years after his last.
    • Trevor May, who gets a last minute spot start filling in for the injured Kershaw.  The rich keep getting richer out in LA; he was more than adequate, quite a showing for a guy who would normally be in AAA yet could clearly make nearly every other rotation in the league.

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

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

Hope you enjoy this useless trivia!