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DC-IBWAA 2014 Poll results and my vote

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Each year, David Nichols of the District Sports Page blog does a great job getting all the Nats bloggers to participate in pre-season and post-season polls, voting on awards for the team for the year.

For 2014, here’s his post-season awards as voted on by us nerd bloggers.  2013′s post-season poll results and my post here.

Here’s how I voted and why.

2014 DC-Internet Baseball Writers Association

POST-SEASON ACHIEVEMENT AWARDS BALLOT

 

 AWARD FIRST (5 POINTS) SECOND (3 points) THIRD (1 point)
Goose Goslin Most Valuable Player
Player most valuable to the success of the Washington Nationals
Rendon Werth LaRoche
Walter Johnson Starting Pitcher of the Year
Excellent performance as a starting pitcher
Zimmermann Fister Roark
Frederick “Firpo” Marberry Relief Pitcher of the Year
Excellent performance as a relief pitcher
Storen Clippard Soriano
Sam Rice Hitter of the Year
Excellence in all-around hitting, situational hitting and baserunning
Rendon Span Werth
Frank Howard Slugger of the Year
Excellence in power hitting
LaRoche Desmond Rendon
Joe Judge Defensive Player of the Year
Excellence in fielding
Rendon Harper Span
Mickey Vernon Comeback Player of the Year
Player who overcame biggest obstacle in the preceding season to contribute on the field
Storen Roark Barrett
Josh Gibson Humanitarian Player of the YearPlayer who meritoriously gave of himself to the community Zimmerman Desmond Ramos
Minor League Player of the Year Minor league player most destined for big league success Souza Taylor Giolito

Award by Award:

  • Team MVP: Have to go with Rendon; easily leads the team in WAR (by a nearly 3-win margin in bWAR over Werth/Span in second place).   Werth continues to steadily hold on to his skills and contribute well into his mid 30s, while LaRoche put up a great contract year performance.
  • Starter of the Year: No argument here: Zimmermann was the best starter on the year.  Fister‘s advanced stats don’t like him (his FIP is above 4.00) but he gets results.  And Roark remains the best “found gold” the Nats have had in terms of prospect matriculation since the likes of Brad Peacock.
  • Reliever of the Year: Storen‘s great bounce back  year has to put him in the lead, followed closely behind by Clippard.  Still think the Soriano acquisition was worth it?  I have him 3rd here just by virtue of his first half … and because the rest of the relievers were either long guys (Stammen, Detwiler), matchup loogies (Blevins, Thornton) or guys who spent more time in AAA than the majors (Barrett, Treinen).
  • Hitter of the Year: Rendon, Werth obvious top 3 guys, but I like what Span‘s done this year in terms of jacking his average up.  Another classic contract year performance.
  • Slugger of the year: I just went with the team leaders in homers 1-2-3.  You would have thought that Harper would be here by now.
  • Defender of the year: looking at the various advanced stats, I ended up with Rendon for his excellent work at 2B and 3B, then Harper (an excellent UZR/150 in left on the year).  Span has a negative UZR/150 in center on the year, but passes the eye test.  I’ll be curious to see how he ends up looking in the other defensive metrics.  So he gets 3rd place essentially because there’s not another regular who has a positive UZR/150 on the team.
  • Comeback player: Storen makes the most sense … his comeback has been two years in the making.  Roark isn’t really a comeback guy as much as he’s a “making the most of his chances guy.”  Neither is Barrett honestly; but there’s not a good example of someone who was hurt or really came out of nowhere to make this team better.
  • Humanitarian: Honestly I only know of two guys on the Nats who actively do humanitarian/charity stuff and that’s Zimmerman and Desmond.
  • Minor League Player of the Year.  As discussed in the comments of another post recently, for me “Minor League Player of the Year” is a completely different list than the subtitle offered of “Minor league player most destined for big league success.”  POTY for me this year went Souza, Taylor and Giolito, while the top 3 prospects in our system probably are Giolito, Cole and Taylor.

Additional Questions

1) Of the players on the current active roster (or DL), which players do you think will not be part of the organization next season?

Pitchers: Blevins, Mattheus, Ohlendorf, Soriano, Detwiler

Out-field players: Solano, Cabrera, LaRoche, Frandsen, Span, Hairston, Schierholz

I’m guessing the team declines Soriano’s option, non-tenders Ohlendorf, Mattheus and Detwiler, and DFAs Blevins after his poor season.

Of the positional players, the team won’t exercise its options on LaRoche or Span, will have to end up DFA-ing Solano (and perhaps others; I havn’t done my options analysis yet) due to having no more options, and will let veteran FAs Frandsen, Hairston and Schierholz hit free agency.  I think Cabrera is going to command too much money for the team to realistically consider him.

2) Will Ian Desmond or Jordan Zimmermann sign a contract extension before they hit the free agent market?

No.  Both will go to FA.  Desmond to the Yankees to be the next Derek Jeter, Zimmermann to highest bidder.

3) Who was the biggest pleasant surprise on this year’s team?

Rendon’s advancement and central role on the team.

4) Who was the biggest disappointment?

Zimmerman’s continued inability to stay healthy.  A close second is Harper’s injury riddled season and struggles.

5) Who is your favorite professional Nats writer?

Mark Zuckerman #1.  After him, i’ll go with Adam Kilgore 2nd and Byron Kerr third.

6) Which is your favorite non-professional Nats blog or writer?

Luke Erickson; sorry to see him take a step back.  My #2 probably is NatsGM Ryan Sullivan, #3 Luigi de Guzman of Natsradamus (when he infrequently posts).

Rotation Reviews of your 2014 Playoff Teams

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Will the Nats be staring down Kershaw in the playoffs? Photo via wiki.

Will the Nats be staring down Kershaw in the playoffs? Photo via wiki.

Here we are.  After a crazy trade deadline in July, and an August and September that featured the division leaders (in most cases) solidifying their positions and extending their leads, the playoffs are upon us.

Lets take a look at the rotations of the playoff teams (despite the fact that the four Wild Card teams are just one-man pitching staffs until they win the play-in game).  Who lines up best?  For each team i’ve tried to line the pitchers up one through five, with the 5th guy being the one headed to the bullpen.

(Quick useful links: AL full standings on b-r.com, NL full standings, and post season schedule at MLB.com).

Trade deadline 2014 acquisitions highlighted in blue.  Pre-season acquisitions highlighted in Green for context.

NL Division Champs:

  • Washington: Strasburg, Gonzalez, Zimmerman, Fister, Roark (yes this is how I think it will shake out despite Roark’s great season-long performance; we posted on this separately)
  • St. Louis: Wainwright, Lynn, Wacha, Miller, Lackey (Masterson to the bullpen when Wacha came back)
  • Los Angeles: Kershaw, Greinke, Ryu, Haren, Hernandez, Wright (Beckett hurt, done for year, Ryu coming back, should be ok for playoffs so I’ve inserted him as the #3.  Maholm, Billingsley, Fife hurt all year).

Just look at what the Dodgers have tried to do to keep their rotation afloat in terms of player acquisition over the past couple of years.  I’d like to have their budget.  They will have no less than eleven capable, MLB-experienced starters once they’re all healthy.  Yes Kershaw is unbeatable, but as pointed out earlier this year, they are basically a .500 team otherwise.  Their 4th and 5th starters have been below replacement for much of the past month but they’re getting back Ryu right in time for the playoffs.   St. Louis’ rotation looks just as strong as it has been for the past few years; Wainwright quietly has 20 wins and a 2.38 ERA on the season.  Lynn has been great.  Only Miller has struggled but still has a league-average ERA+.

It is hard not to look at the Nationals’ rotation and claim they’re the deepest one-through-four, despite Gonzalez’s struggles.   I’d take our #4 (Fister) over anyone else’s #4, I think our #3 matches up just as favorably to anyone els’es #3, and Strasburg has a 1.34 ERA in September as the #1.

NL Wild Card:

  • Pittsburgh: Liriano, Cole, Locke, Volquez, Worley (Morton dinged up late Sept, made way for Cole).
  • San Francisco: Bumgarner, Hudson, Petit, Vogelsong, Peavy (Lincecum to bullpen for Petit, Cain out all year)

The NL WC pitching match-up will be Bumgarner-Liriano.  Both teams manipulated their rotations at season’s end to preserve their aces for the coin-flip game.  We’ll do a separate prediction piece.

NL Also-Rans;

  • Atlanta:  Teheran, Minor, Santana, Harang, Wood (Beachy, Floyd, Medlen out all year)
  • Milwaukee: Lohse, Garza, Gallardo, Peralta, Fiers (Nelson and Estrada to bullpen)

The Braves fell so far, so badly in September that they were nearly surpassed by the lowly NY Mets for 2nd place in the NL East.  That’s crazy.  But they still remain here as an also-ran because they were in the wild card race until mid-September.  I still think it is crazy what they were able to accomplish given the starting pitcher injuries they suffered in spring training and don’t quite understand why Frank Wren was fired.  If you want to fire him for his crummy FA contracts so be it; but the man engineered a team that made the playoffs three of the past five years.  Harsh treatment if you ask me.  Insider comments seem to think that Wren lost an internal power-struggle involving Fredi Gonzalez.


And here’s what we’re looking at in the AL:

AL Division Champs:

  • Baltimore: Tillman, Norris, Chen, Gonzalez, Gausman (Jimenez demoted to BP)
  • Detroit: Scherzer, Verlander, Sanchez, Price, Porcello
  • Los Angeles: Weaver, Wilson, Shoemaker, Santiago, Rasmus, LeBlanc (Richards injured, Skaggs hurt)

It is hard to look at these rotations and comprehend where these teams currently stand:

  • How is Baltimore leading the AL East by 12 games?  None of these guys are a league-wide “Ace.”
  • How is Detroit not pulling away from the AL Central with this collection of arms?  Of course, you could ask this question of Detroit over and again the past few years; with a stacked lineup and stacked rotation they have just barely won their (usually) weak division year after year.
  • How does Los Angeles have the best record in the majors with a non-drafted FA and a waiver claim in their Sept rotation?  Would you favor this rotation over Detroit’s?

I guess it doesn’t matter; these teams have bashed their way to their titles and should continue to hit in the post-season.  Apparently the O’s aren’t going to go with Gausman in their playoff rotation despite his good seasonal numbers.  It may be a case of veteran manager going with the veterans, as Gausman’s numbers are pretty much in line with most of the rest of the Baltimore rotation.  The injury to Richards really hurts the Angels: Weaver may be close to an Ace but Wilson showed he is hittable in the post-season and lord knows what will happen when LA has to throw their #3 and #4 choices.

AL Wild Cards:

  • Kansas City: Shields, Duffy, Ventura, Guthrie, Vargas
  • Oakland: Grey, Samardzija, Lester, Hammel, Kazmir

AL Wild Card looks like a knock-out match-up of Shields and Lester; the A’s burned Grey yesterday to get the win that put them in the playoffs.  Oakland has to be kicking themselves; how did they go from (easily) the best team in the majors for the first half to struggling to hang onto the WC spot?   On paper replacing 3/5ths of the rotation (out with Chavez, Milone, Pomeranz and Straily, in with Samardzija, Lester and Hammel) sounded like a great idea … but to me the team’s chemistry was clearly un-balanced.  At least they held on to the spot and avoiding a one-game play-in against Felix Hernandez.

AL Also-Rans:

  • Seattle: Hernandez, Walker, Iwakuma, Paxton, Young (Elias out for year)
  • New York: McCarthy, Greene, Kuroda, Capuano, Pineda (with Tanaka finally coming back at season’s end.  Nova and Sabathia gone all year with injuries).

All Seattle needed to do was *get* to the wild card game … and they’d have great odds of advancing behind ace Hernandez.  But struggled to the finish line.  Meanwhile Cleveland and New York would have been mentioned here a week ago, but both squads just ran out of time to make comebacks.  I’ll give NY credit: they played 7 games better than their pythagorean record with huge chunks of their rotation gone for the season and depending on guys who’s names I had to look up.

Coming soon; a review of the WC matchups with predictions.

 

Written by Todd Boss

September 29th, 2014 at 8:58 am

Nats Minor League Players of the Year; indicator of future success?

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Souza gets well-deserved recognition from the team.   Photo Nats official/Tommy Gilligan

Souza gets well-deserved recognition from the team. Photo Nats official/Tommy Gilligan

The Nationals on 9/24/14 announced that Lucas Giolito and Steven Souza were named their minor league players of the year for 2014 (announcement made on twitter, h/t to FederalBaseball for the initial posting on the topic).

No surprise for Souza, who sported an OPS above 1.000 in AAA.  I was a bit surprised Giolito got the nod over someone like Taylor Hill, Austin Voth‘s 2-level rise, or especially what A.J. Cole did this year, but you cannot argue with his season all in all.

Here’s an look though at the history of the Nats’ minor league players of the year.  Does earning the award guarantee future success?

  • 2014: Steven Souza, Lucas Giolito
  • 2013: Billy Burns, Taylor Jordan
  • 2012: Matt Skole, Nathan Karns (also BA’s two POTY for the org)
  • 2011: Steve Lombardozzi, Brad Peacock
  • 2010: Tyler Moore, Tommy Milone
  • 2009: Derek Norris, Brad Meyers
  • 2008: Leonard Davis, Jordan Zimmermann
  • 2007: Justin Maxwell, John Lannan
  • 2006: Kory Casto, Zech Zinicola
  • 2005: Kory Casto, Mike O’Conner

I’d say that it is quite hit or miss.  Of the 9 distinct hitters named in the Nats franchise history, I think the only guy you could claim has lived up to his minor league success is Derek NorrisLeonard Davis never even made the majors.  Kory Casto barely did: hitting below .200 in parts of two major leagues seasons before getting DFA’d.  Most of the rest of these guys at best are no more than role players (with “too early to tell” labels on Skole and Souza of course).

Of the pitchers; clearly Jordan Zimmermann has blossomed into the real thing, and a couple of the other names here have turned into serviceable #4/#5 starters (Lannan, Milone).  Perhaps its indicative of just how poor the farm system was upon the team’s arrival in Washington that the first two pitchers of the system were a guy who never pitched in the majors (Zinicola) and another who had a career 5.30 ERA in 35 MLB apperances over several years.  Meyers never came back from a shoulder injury; no shame there.

Before 2005, my information is a little spotty on who the Expos named.  Here’s what I do know:

2004: Ryan Church
2003: Terrmel Sledge
2002
2001
2000: Brad Wilkerson
1999:
1998: Michael Barrett, Noah Hall
1997:
1996: Vladimir Guerrero
1995: Vladimir Guerrero

 

 

No surprises in Sept 1 call-ups, yet

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Treinen returns to the Nats for the September run.  Photo via zimbio.com

Treinen returns to the Nats for the September run. Photo via zimbio.com

[A quick note; a combination of a dead-time for issues that I like to write about and a new consulting engagement has conspired to mean very little activity here.  Now that the minor league seasons are ending though, I look forward to some wrap-up posts looking at the starters.  Apologies for the lack of posts/activity here].

9/1/14 came and went, and there was little drama in the Nats call-ups.  All six players called up were a) already on the 40-man roster, and b) already had MLB service time this year.

  • Pitchers: Blake Treinen, Aaron Barrett and Xavier Cedeno.
  • Catcher: Sandy Leon
  • 1B/OFs Tyler Moore and Steven Souza

So, nobody shocking thus far.  In fact, its almost easier to talk about the remaining 40-man players they did NOT call up than the ones they did.   In fact, lets do just that.  Here’s the players still on the 40-man but not initially called up:

  • Taylor Hill: hey, somebody’s got to start for Syracuse in the playoffs, right?  He may be approaching an innings limit anyway.
  • Sammy Solis: still rehabbing, no where near ready for prime time.
  • Felipe Rivero: only a handful of AA starts since his long D/L stint.
  • Ryan Mattheus: completely ineffective this season (5.80 ERA), likely on his way to a DFA/outright this off-season.
  • Jhonatan Solano: hey, somebody’s got to catch for Syracuse in the playoffs, right? :-)
  • Michael Taylor: many think he’s ready for prime time; would you start his service time clock so he can ride the pine in September?  I wouldn’t.
  • Jeff Kobernus and Eury Perez: with Moore and Souza call-ups, there’s already 7 outfielders … no need for two more right?

I can still see some value in calling up Perez for his speed, but almost nobody else at this point from this list.

What about those in Syracuse that had great seasons but are not on the 40-man?  Tougher call: You’d have to clear room to add someone right now, and the team seems to have made its moves to that end already in Matt Thornton and Nate Schierholtz.  But, if someone wanted to congratulate minor league vets like Brandon Laird (.300/.350/.490 for Syracuse this year), Rafael Martin (0.80 ERA in 33+ AAA innings) or Matt Grace (a combined 1.17 ERA over 77 innings in AA and AAA this year) with a September call-up and a month’s worth of MLB per diems, I wouldn’t disagree.  I just think it’d be kind of hard to find the space.  I would support a DFA of Mattheus right now to make room; after that is tougher.  You’d have to cut the likes of Kobernus or perhaps a MLB veteran like Jerry Hairston and/or Kevin Frandsen to make room based on performance.  And I don’t think a players’ manager like Matt Williams is cutting any veterans to make room for some 25-yr old he’s never met in AAA.

Nonetheless; there’s some baseball to play and some impact to be had by these 9/1 call-ups.  I think Barrett and Treinen are going to slip right back into the bullpen.  Cedeno could take away lefty-lefty opportunities that Jerry Blevins has been squandering all year (speaking of someone who may be on his way to a DFA this off-season…).  I could see Moore getting some playing time spelling Adam LaRoche at first (he seems like a better offensive option there than Frandsen, who has been the sub of choice lately when LaRoche gets a blow).  I’m excited to see what Souza brings to the table too; he led the Chiefs in steals this year despite missing 40% of the season; he isn’t just some big 6’4″ slugger.

Seven game lead this morning after last night’s win and a guaranteed road-trip split.  That’s fantastic, especially considering who they’ve been playing and beating (ahem, Felix Hernandez having his hat handed to him).

Looking ahead to September

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Souza was smiling even harder last week upon his MLB debut.  Photo Nats official/Tommy Gilligan

Souza was smiling even harder last week upon his MLB debut. Photo Nats official/Tommy Gilligan

So, this post is for forensicane, who wants to talk about the recent promotions of deserving Nats prospects, talk about September call-ups and some other happenings down on the farm. :-)

Despite my own best intentions, I have fallen off the wagon a bit in terms of the monthly check-ins that I like to do for the rotations/pitching staffs (both major and minor leagues).  A tough work schedule and a pending job change have conspired against that (and, frankly, the new job probably will further restrict posting).  But I’ll definitely summarize the minor league seasons (which, believe it or not, end in like three weeks!) and do the full-blown reviews that I’ve done in years past.

In the past week we’ve seen two very deserving farmhands get their MLB debuts: Steven Souza and Michael Taylor.  Souza unfortunately got just twelve ABs before slamming into the outfield fence, damaging his shoulder and heading to the D/L.  Which paved the way for Taylor to now join the team, but likely does not help out the major league club much.  Souza had destroyed AAA pitching while Taylor has just 4 games above AA; i’d bet he sees rather limited action until either Souza or Nate McLouth returns from the injured list.  Nonetheless, both promotions were deserved.

Looking ahead to September call-ups, Chase Hughes on NatsInsider took a look at some players who likely get 9/1 call-ups and came up with the expected list of guys who have shuttled back-and-forth between AAA and the Majors this year (Blake TreinenTaylor Hill, Aaron Barrett, Ryan Mattheus, Xavier Cedeno, Tyler Moore and Jhonatan Solano).  He also predicted one 40-man addition/call-up in Matthew Grace, which would be a great reward for his break-out season (and maybe spell the end of the 5.02 ERA Jerry Blevins experiment)?

Of the rest of the 40-man roster not already mentioned, Sammy Solis is on the AA disabled list, Felipe Rivero is also on the D/L (but is putting in re-hab assignments) but doesn’t merit a call-up, Sandy Leon has struggled badly this year and seems to be closer to a DFA than a call-up, Jeff Kobernus may also get a call-up to provide full-field utility needs and Eury Perez probably doesn’t quite need a call-up unless the Nats lose yet another outfielder.

The 40-man roster is full, but the team could easily re-call and 60-day D/L Solis (much like they did with Matthew Purke) to make room.  Solis hasn’t appeared since May 26th and at this point seems done for the year.

I havn’t done significant analysis of the roster moves that will have to happen in the off-season (re-adding 60-day D/L guys, cutting loose free agents, non-tenders and rule-5 additions), but I can see a bit of a glut coming.

  • We have four 60-day D/L guys now and a full 40-man roster.
  • We have four potential FAs … but three of them have options that are possibly attainable/possibly executable (Rafael Soriano‘s “games finished” option, Adam LaRoche‘s $15M mutual option for 2015 and Denard Span‘s decently affordable $9M 2015 option).  It doesn’t help that all three guys are having career years (Span now hitting above .300, LaRoche has the best OPS+ on the team and Soriano’s 1.79 ERA is nearly a career-low), making all these decisions rather difficult.
  • We have a TON of arbitration-eligible guys (at least 12-13 if Cots is correct).
  • We have more than a few guys in the minors who WILL need to be added ahead of Rule-5.  A.J. Cole is the biggest name, but there’s more than a few other names out there probably worth protecting too (scan the Nats draft-tracker for 2014 Rule 5 Eligibles).

A post for another day.

Anyway; have at it.

MASN deal reached? And now they’re fighting in court?

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http://www.hollywoodreporter.com/thr-esq/major-league-baseball-embroiled-explosive-721927

H/T to my friend Jason Amos who sent me this link, posted earlier today.  Looks like nobody else has it yet.  Makes me slightly wonder about the veracity.

Read the details.  Apparently the eternal “committee” studying the MASN compensation issue reached a verdict that Peter Angelos didn’t like, and things are starting to get nasty in court filings.

Wow.  Sounds like things are about to get dirty between Angelos, Ted Lerner and wishing-he-had-retired-already Bud Selig.

Written by Todd Boss

July 29th, 2014 at 4:25 pm

State of the Nats at the halfway point

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Harper's run production in the middle of the order should spark this team now that he's back.  Photo via fansided.com

Harper’s run production in the middle of the order should spark this team now that he’s back. Photo via fansided.com

When Bryce Harper was reinstated from the D/L on 6/30/14, an interesting situation occurred:  The Nationals were at full strength for the first time, all year.

That’s right.  With Doug Fister starting the season on the D/L, even those who think that the team was at “full strength” for the first 7 innings of the first game (that’s how long it took before a Nationals offensive starter got hurt) aren’t quite right.  This team has been hampered and has been covering for injuries to its best available squad since the first day of the season.  Here’s a review of the tale of the injury tape for the ideal 25-man roster of this team so far in 2014:

  • Doug Fister; strained shoulder 3/23/14, missed 34 games
  • Wilson Ramos: broken hand on 4/1/14, missed 32 games
  • Scott Hairston; oblique strain on 4/6/14, missed 26 games
  • Denard Span, concussion on 4/12/14, missed 7 games
  • Ryan Zimmerman, broken thumb on 4/13/14, missed 44 games
  • Bryce Harper: torn thumb tendon on 4/27/14, missed 56 games
  • Adam LaRoche: strained quad on 5/11/14, missed 14 games
  • Gio Gonzalez, shoulder strain on 5/18/14, missed 27 games
  • Ramos again, this time a hamstring strain on 6/11/14, missed 14 games

2/5ths of the rotation and 5/8ths of the starting offense have at one time or another been on the shelf so far this year.  More than 250 games lost.  Ironically the oldest player on the team (Jayson Werth) has been one if its healthiest (he’s only missed 4 games this year).  And (knock on wood) there hasn’t been a single bullpen injury, likely one of the main reasons the Nats bullpen is among the best in the game this year.

The Nats (at the time of this writing) sit 1/2 a game out of first behind nemesis Atlanta, but have several reasons to be optimistic about catching them:

  • The Nats have a +39 run differential right now, while the Braves have a zero run differential.  That means that the Nats should be 9 games above .500 (according to pythagorean records) while the Braves should be a .500 team.  The Nats have been unlucky while the Braves have been quite lucky.  You could expect these situations to reverse themselves over the rest of the season.
  • The Nats are just 2-7 in extra inning games and 9-13 in one-run games.  You’d normally expect both of these W/L records to be near .500 and is likely the real reason behind the above run differential issue.
  • Despite the heart of their batting order missing dozens and dozens of games, the offense is not doing half bad: the Nats as a team are 8th out of 15 in the NL in WRC+, 8th in runs scored, 8th in wOBA, 10th in batting average, and are 10th in homers despite Zimmerman having just THREE on the year.
  • While the Offense treads water, the Pitching has been fantastic.  Our starters are 5th in the NL in ERA, 1st in FIP, 2nd in xFIP, 2nd in SIERA.  The bullpen has been equally as good (a huge improvement over last year):  2nd in NL ERA, 1st in FIP, 6th in SIERA.
  • The starters lead the NL in FIP despite Stephen Strasburg‘s “struggles;” ironically despite his having a .500 record an a 3.70 ERA he has the best FIP of any Nats starter.   He’s just been victim of circumstance while he pitches.   Blake Treinen has been fantastic covering in the rotation, and the team has found an excellent 5th starter in Tanner Roark.  Games that were “thrown away” time and again last year by Dan Haren and a litany of poor-performing minor league call-ups have been handled with aplumb this year.

Where do we go from here?

The Nats schedule from here on out eases significantly; as of the time of this writing the last three months look like this:

  • July: 10 of 25 games against teams with winning records right now
  • August: 12 of 28 games against teams with winning records right now … and that includes teams that very well may have losing records by the time we get to them.
  • September: Just 9 of 27 games against teams with winning records right now, including the final 11 against Marlins and Mets teams likely to be playing out the string with 40-man call-ups from AAA and key young arms sitting due to inning limits.

For this Nats fan, its hard to see the same struggles we saw last year; I see a team finally getting their squad back together, having a solid July and perhaps a dominant closing to the season to fulfil its promise.  I like where this team stands right now (even with the tepid split in Chicago last weekend) and look forward to the next few months.

When Zimmerman comes back …

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Zimmerman the outfielder?  Photo unknown via fantasyknuckleheads.com

Zimmerman the outfielder? Photo unknown via fantasyknuckleheads.com

… do you just go ahead and start fielding the lineup that we’ll be trotting out in 2015 anyway?

Leave Rendon at 3rd, leave Espinosa at 2nd, install Zimmerman at 1st and trade Adam LaRoche to a team that needs a first baseman?

Perhaps a couple weeks into the season you could have made that argument.  But there’s a few problems with this scenario:

  1. LaRoche is easily the team’s best hitter right now with a slash line better than the coveted .300/.400/.500.  You don’t trade the best hitter off of your offensively struggling team.
  2. Nobody makes trades 8 weeks into the season.  And most of the possible trade candidates for LaRoche (Baltimore, New York, Milwaukee, Pittsburgh) don’t make as much sense now as they may have a few weeks ago.
  3. Espinosa is starting to remind the team again why they demoted him last year, with his average now slipping towards Mendoza line territory.
  4. Despite the Nats awful stretch, they’re only 2.5 games out of first in the NL East, and that’s during a stretch when the meat of their order has been missing.  Its far too early to wave any white flags and/or start dismantling the team.

I’m sure part of LaRoche would love to get traded; it frees him of any qualifying offer complication this coming off-season, where at age 34 he’s likely looking at his last final grasp at a multi-year deal.  But the other part of LaRoche wants to stick with a winner, a team that gives him the best shot at getting back to the post-season (he’s only got a handful of games in his 11 year career playing in October).  On the other hand … the Nats would be crazy to give LaRoche a Q.O., so maybe the team is thinking, “hey, we need to move LaRoche and get *something* for him before we let him walk and get nothing for him.”

More likely the team is actually thinking this: “We were good enough to win last year, we’re good enough to win this year … so we’re keeping the band together until the bitter end, division title or not.”


Or, do you take interest in the fact that Zimmerman has been taking a ton of fly-balls and stick him in left?  I like this move: Zimmerman comes back, and you leave the infield as-is, stick him in left field and you’re a stronger lineup.  Zimmerman’s “yips” will disappear in Left Field; every throw he’ll make will either be a lob back into the infield after a single, or a max-effort peg to either 2nd or home that won’t allow him time to “think” about the throw.  Jon Heyman is now reporting that Zimmerman is being set-up to be a multi-positional player and his fly ball workouts were not (as Zimmerman claimed multiple times) just a “workout” routine.

(side note: I now exactly what Zimmerman is going through; as a 15-yr old middle infielder I tore my rotator cuff.  After rehab, I returned and found that I struggled to make simple throws from second base or short stop.  I had the yips myself.  I eventually moved into the outfield to finish off my career in a rather frustrating fashion.  After years of playing softball in my 20s, where nearly every infield throw is max-effort, I had regained a ton of my confidence and could return to playing middle infield on the diamond … but I still struggle on specific plays.  When I first came back I caught … and (like Sasser) struggled making the throw back to the pitcher sometimes.  Making a double-play turning toss from ss->2nd?  I sieze up every time and have resorted to flipping the ball under-handed.  It is a very frustrating situation to deal with.  Zimmerman acknowleding his issue and trying to do what’s best for the team by limiting his arm exposure shows great character).

Of course, then, when Harper comes back … what do you do?

Maybe you frigging finally sit Denard Span and his middling OBP (which was raised 40 points by his recent outburst and 4-4 game) and stick Harper in center.   I’ve had it with our lead-off hitter making outs nearly 8 out of 10 times up.  Yes Span is a plus defender in center and inarguably saves runs.  No, Harper would not be as good as Span in the field.   But at this point, replacing Harper’s production for Span’s in the lineup makes this a better team.

In reality, if Espinosa is still hitting in the low .200s and everyone’s coming back, then he’ll be the one that makes way.  I don’t think I like Zimmerman for 2nd base like other pundits do. For one, the guy’s too big for 2nd and I don’t think he’s mobile enough to play that position at this point in his career.  But mainly, if he’s got a hitch in his throw from 3rd, he’ll have it even worse from 2nd, where a ton of throws are very casual/toss it over throws and you can go completely mental.   There’s a reason that the famous cases of “baseball yips” are either 2nd basemen (Steve SaxChuck Knoblock) and catchers (Mackey Sasser).  These two positions make a lot of unpressured throws, and guys can get “yippy.”

So that means Rendon back to 2nd, Zimmerman back to 3rd, and the fanbase back to holding its collective breath everytime he gets a grounder.  At least until spring training 2015, when this all goes away by itself when LaRoche hits free agency and Zimmerman permanently attaches a 1st basemen’s glove to his left hand.

I’ll give credit where credit is due though on Zimmerman taking fly-balls and apparently being amenable to trying out the outfield: seeing a gold-glove winning veteran on a 9-figure deal trying a new position mid-career, perhaps acknowledging that he has a problem is refreshing.  Remember the nightmare we had with Alfonso Soriano moving to left field?  And word came out recently that Rickie Weeksrefused to consider” a position switch from 2nd to left, a rather disappointing turn of events for his team, who are paying the underperforming infielder $11M to ride the pine this year.  Instead Zimmerman looks to be doing the team-first thing, working out at a new position where he can get back into the lineup AND not hurt the team anymore.  It isn’t unheard of for hall-of-fame calibre players to move positions (see Yount, Robin), nor is it unheard of to see plus-defenders try alternate positions for the betterment of the team (see the likes of Manny Machado and Jurickson Profar, both fantastic fielding shortstops who are playing other positions to allow entrenched veterans who may not necessarily be better fielders stay at short).  Heck, look at what Rendon did; he was a third baseman all the way … and he made the move to 2nd and has done reasonably well there.

We’ll see what happens when Zimmerman gets off the d/l.

 

 

Nats Starter Matchup Analysis – April 2014

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Strasburg's K/9 is amazing so far in 2014. Photo unk via thewifehatessports.com

Strasburg’s K/9 is amazing so far in 2014. Photo unk via thewifehatessports.com

Ok people, how about getting back to talking some baseball, not arging whether or not we need to fire the manager after 28 games.  :-)

Here’s a monthly feature that I like to do, breaking down the Nats rotation performance and analyzing matchups for the previous month.


Starter “Grades” for the MLB Rotation:

Grade Taxonomy; these are just quick and dirty short hand judgements on the starting stat line for each starter’s performance.   Here’s a rough starting point  for how grades are assigned:

  • Grade A: 6-7+ innings, zero earned runs.
  • Grade B: 6-7 innings, 1-2 earned runs.
  • Grade C: 6 innings, 3 earned runs and run-of-the-mill numbers of walks/hits and strikeouts.
  • Grade D: 4-5  innings, 3-4 earned runs
  • Grade F: 4 or fewer innings, more earned runs than innings pitched.

In each letter grade case, adjustments slightly up or down are made based usually on hits+walks and/or Ks (or lack thereof).   More Ks may push the grade to an N+, a slew of extra hits/walks may drop the grade to an N-, where N is the letter grade division.

(Note: I won’t repeat this each month; it is just for explanatory purposes for the first post of the year in this series).

By way of example; the team had three “A+” outings in April:

  • Strasburg’s 4/10 win over the Marlins.  Line: 6 2/3s, 1 run on 3 hits, 1 walk and 12 Ks.   He gave up the run but 12 K’s pushed him to the A+ rating.
  • Strasburg’s 4/25 win over San Diego: 7 shut-out innings giving up 7 hits and a walk with 11 K’s.
  • Roark’s 4/26 shutout over San Diego: 9 innings, 3 hits, 1 walk, 8 K’s.

Here’s the Letter grades for our Rotation in April: (here’s a quick link to the schedule to see each individual game) along with Key Stats lines for the month:

  • Strasburg: C,D,A+,F,B+,A+.  2-2, 4.24 ERA, 1.412 whip, 2.30 fip, 53/12 K/BB ratio in 34 innings.
  • Roark: C+,D-,C,A-,A+.  2-0, 2.76 ERA, 1.163 whip, 3.43 fip, 26/9 K/BB in 32 2/3 innings.
  • Jordan: A-,D-,F,D,B-/inc: 0-3, 5.61 ERA, 1.636 whip, 4.48 fip, 17/8 in 25 2/3 innings.
  • Gonzalez: A,A,D-,A,C-,C+: 3-1, 3.25 ERA, 1.139 whip, 2.90 fip, 38/13 in 36 innings.
  • Zimmermann: A,F,A-,B,C+,A: 2-1, 3.27 ERA, 1.333 whip, 3.09 fip, 35/8 in 33 innings.

Tanner Roark turned around his slower start and has “won” the 5th starter competition, which extended a month into the season thanks to Doug Fister‘s spring training injuries.  Taylor Jordan’s letter grades bely his crummy overall stats; 0-3 with a 5.61 ERA, a 1.63 whip and a 4.49 FIP.  Lets hope Jordan can get it turned around in Syracuse and provide cover for the next injury.  Gonzalez leads the staff in ERA while Strasburg leads the staff in FIP on the back of his amazing K/9 rate (53 K’s in 34 innings for an astounding 14 K/9 rate, which leads the league right now for qualified pitchers).  Zimmerman keeps on plugging away, mixing in good outings with bad ones; lets look for more consistency from him in May.

I think its rather interesting that our three power arms are all seemingly abandoning the whole “pitch to contact” mantra so far; all of their K/9s are above a K per inning.  And Strasburg’s is just ridiculous.  Do you think maybe Strasburg is tired of his defense throwing away outs and he’s just saying, “I’ll do it myself” to some degree?  I think if I had to rank our own rotation in terms of effectiveness I’d go Gonzalez, Strasburg, Zimmerman, Roark and Jordan.  In other words, almost identically to our rotation order.

The team finishes the month 16-12, on pace for 93 wins, despite the injuries to the offense and the generally awful defense so far this year.


Now here’s some Starting Pitcher Matchup analysis.  I track of the opposing starter the team faces each night and ranked them three different ways:

  • Their Rotation Order intra team: the opening day starter for a team is their “#1″ and the other four guys are ranked 2-5 as they appear in the opposing rotation.
  • Their Ranked Performance intra-team: at the time of their series with the Nats, the 5 starters on a team are ranked 1-5 on pure in-season performance.  The guy with the best season stats at that time is ranked #1, the guy with the worst #5.
  • Their Subjective League-Wide “Rank” as a pitcher: a subjective look at whether the opposing starter is a league wide “Ace,” a near-Ace or #2, and the like.

I also kept track on a night-to-night basis a quick opinion on whether I felt the Nats had the Starting Pitching Advantage (or if it was an even-matchup, or if I felt the opposing team had the pitching advantage) and tracked how we did.

Opponent Rotation Order Stats

Starter # Record Opposing Starter in Wins Opposing Starter in Losses
1 4-3 Gee, Fernandez, Weaver, Cashner Teheran (2x), Wainwright
2 4-2 Colon, Wood, Wacha, Cosart Wood, Kennedy
3 3-2 Wheeler, Alvarez, Oberholzer Harang, Lynn
4 1-3 Miller Hale, Richards, Stults
5 2-2 Koehler, Erlin Koehler, Skaggs
5+ 2-0 Hand (2x)

(Note: a “5+” pitcher means a starter who was not on the opening day roster for a team.  We’ll see a ton more 5+’s as more starters go down with injury and are replaced by minor league call-ups).

Not all #1 starters are made the same, nor are #5 starters.  The team actually holds a winning record against opposing team’s #1s and #2s (which you normally do not see), but scuffled against other team’s #4 starters.  Of course, Shelby Miller and David Hale are not ordinary #4 starters, but you’d have liked to have seen wins against the likes of Clayton Richardson and/or Eric Stults.

The team got a great win over Jose Fernandez but lost twice to Atlanta’s ace Julio Teheran.  Not the end of the world, but they need to do better (obviously) against Atlanta pitching.


Opponent intra-Rotation Ranking Stats

Starter # Record Opposing Starter in Wins Opposing Starter in Losses
1 2-4 Fernandez, Cashner Teheran (2x), Wainwright, Richards
2 2-4 Gee, Wood Wood, Harang, Koehler, Skaggs
3 4-1 Colon, Wacha, Koehler, Hand Kennedy
4 4-1 Wheeler, Oberholzer, Miller, Erlin Hale
5 3-2 Weaver, Cosart, Alvarez Lynn, Stults
5+ 1-0 Hand

In other words, the Nats are 2-4 against opposing teams’ best pitcher at the time of the series, 2-4 against the opposing team’s 2nd best performing pitcher at the time of the series, etc.   This is a slightly better way of seeing how the Nats perform against the opponent’s hottest hand at the time.  Notice here that Aaron Harang is given much higher credit for his 2014 performance than his rotation order rank may merit him.

The team (as one would expect) is struggling against the best and 2nd best guys on opponent’s teams, but are beating up on the rest of the rotation.  This is a good sign frankly; you need to win when you go against the other team’s struggling starters.  As the season goes along the team should stabilize and be able to hold its own against the best guys on other teams.


Opponent League-Wide “Rank”

Starter # Record Opposing Starter in Wins Opposing Starter in Losses
1 2-1 Fernandez, Wacha Wainwright
2 1-2 Weaver Teheran (2x)
3 5-2 Cashner, Wood, Colon, Wheeler, Miller Wood, Kennedy
4 3-2 Gee, Oberholzer, Cosart Hale, Lynn
5 2-4 Erlin, Alvarez Richards, Harang, Skaggs, Stults
5+ 3-1 Hand (2x), Koehler Koehler

In other words, the Nats are 2-1 against MLB “Aces,” 2-1 against MLB “near aces” or #2′s, etc.

This table really shows how the team has truly done against the elite pitchers in this league.  We can argue in the comments section about my subjective ranking of pitchers as being #1s, #2s, or whatever.   For comparison purposes with our own team talent-wise, I have Strasburg as a league-wide #1, Gonzalez and Zimmermann as #2s, Fister as a #3, Roark and Jordan as #5s.  Aces are few and far between; you’re far more likely to see a bunch of #4s and #5s on opposing teams.  It is of note that a 5+ starter can be a complete crapshoot; he could be a 4-A pitcher just giving the team innings or he could be the team’s #1 starter prospect and can be as effective as a #2 starter right off the bat.

So far, the team has beaten a couple of aces and had expected losses versus the likes of Adam Wainwright and Teheran.  Slightly concerning is the record against what I consider #5 pitchers in this league, though to be fair Harang and Tyler Skaggs certainly are not pitching like #5s right now.

 


Performace against Expectations by Advantage

By “Advantage” Record Matchups in Wins Matchups resulting in Losses
Wash 10-6 Gio-Colon, Stras-Gee, Stras-Miller, Zim-Oberholtzer, Gio-Cosart, Stras-Erlin, Gio-Alvarez, Stras-Koehler, Zimm-Hand (2x) Stras-Teheran, Zimm-Hale, Zimm-Lynn, Gio-Harang, Zimm-Stults, Stras-Koehler
Even 3-1 Gio-Weaver, Jordan-Wood, Roark-Wheeler Jordan-Skaggs
Opp 3-5 Roark-Fernandez, Roark-Cashner, Gio-Wacha Roark-Teheran, Jordan-Wood, Roark-Richards, Jordan-Kennedy, Jordan-Wainwright

In games where I thought Washington had the clear starting pitching advantage head-to-head, the team went 10-6.   I’ve listed the match ups for each case so you can decide whether we really had the advantage.

In games where I thought the pitching matchup was even, the team went 3-1; this is a good sign.  Three of these four matchups involved Roark or Jordan.

In games where I thought our opponent had the clear advantage heading into the game, the team went an expected 3-5.  Most of these matchup involved either Roark or Jordan.

It is interesting to note that Jordan struggled .. but he also had a number of very tough matchups in April.  He had to go against Alex Wood twice, Ian Kennedy, Adam Wainwright and Tyler Skaggs.   For a guy with just a handful of starts, that was a tough slate of matchups.

 


Per-Starter Matchup Listing:

Nats Starter Opponent Makeup Nats Record under starter
Strasburg two Aces, a #4 and three #5s 4-2
Gonzalez an Ace, three #2s, two #3s 5-1
Jordan an Ace, three #2s and a #5 1-4
Roark three Aces, a #3, a #4 3-2
Zimmermann two #3s, two #4s, two #5+s 3-3
ttl for month: 16-12

So, as discussed above, Jordan has had some tough matchups.  But Roark had to go against three staff Aces in April and still came out with a winning record.  Despite a couple of shaky outings the team was 5-1 when Gio pitched.  Lastly we can see that Jordan needs to be replaced; the team was just 1-4 in his outings and you’d have to think that they wouldn’t have a losing record when Fister throws.


April Conclusion

The Nats have beaten up on weak teams and faltered against good teams.  And it only gets tougher from here; they’ll face Philadelphia’s 1-2-3 in order in early May, then entertain Los Angeles and their two Cy Young winners.  Later on this month they visit the cavernous Oakland stadiums and go up against three different playoff calibre teams in Cincinnati, Pittsburgh and Texas.  Lots of good pitching matchups to be seen.

Law trashes Williams and their handling of Harper

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Harper Harper Harper.  Photo Evan Habeeb-USA TODAY Sports

Harper Harper Harper. Photo Evan Habeeb-USA TODAY Sports

http://insider.espn.go.com/blog/keith-law/post/_/id/2286/the-mishandling-of-bryce-harper

(Yes the post is ESPN Insider only; if you don’t get ESPN insider then ask yourself why you’re not willing to spend $3 a month for access to quality baseball writers like Dave Symborski, Keith Law, or Buster Olney, as well as access to the whole slew of scouting content from Law’s staff… and that’s just their baseball stuff.  $3/month; I spent more than that on my bagel this morning.   And if you’re in that whole “anti paywall camp” and believe that God intended that everything on the internet be for free … well I guess I’d just say sometimes you get what you pay for.   And to me, ESPN’s insider content is worth the 10 or 11 cents a day that I pay for it.  Rant off).

Basically, Law questions whether Matt Williams is in over his head as a major league manager right now.  Law questions his  lineup choices (as others have repeatedly, especially when the team’s best power hitter his batting 7th.  Which to be fair he only did once, but Harper’s been batting 6th for a good portion of the season too, only really moving up when Ryan Zimmerman went out with injury).   I too question his lineup choices; why the h*ll is Denard Span still batting leadoff?  If Williams felt the need to move Harper to 7th because he was struggling, why hasn’t Span been dropped either?  Isn’t Span “struggling” too?  Yeah; he’s got a .282 OBP right now and has fewer stolen bases than the 35-year old Jayson Werth; why exactly is he still batting leadoff??

Law also questions Williams’ public bashing of Harper’s hustle.  Which led, among other things, to Tom Boswell‘s outlandish claims in a chat two weeks ago that Harper was purposely asking out against tough hitters to maintain a meaningless 9-game hitting streak.  Did anyone actually watch the games surrounding the hustle incident?   To me Harper was clearly favoring his leg, and he had been frustrated at the plate, and by multiple reports was also struggling with the flu.  Maybe everyone would have been happier if Harper had just frigging sat out a couple of games instead?   So he didn’t run out a come-backer; that’s human nature.  Law correctly points out that only Harper has been bashed openly in the press by Williams; other team issues were handled internally.

Why is that?  Is Williams “old school” mentality coming through here?  Is he singling out the young Harper in a “youngster hazing” way?  Remember where Williams came from; the “grit is the way to win” Arizona Diamondbacks, who now have the worst record in the majors after a slew of trades and moves that were designed essentially to rid the team of players who couldn’t or didn’t get along with either the manager or the staff for some reason or another.  I’ve touched on the topic of the Arizona methodology before; you just don’t trade away top 3 draft picks for 50 cents on the dollar because of a personality conflict and expect there to be no consequences.  I believe the consequences are going to be a new manager and a new GM this coming off-season after Arizona loses 90+ games.

Law correctly points out that you can’t have the “hustle” narrative both ways either: Harper cannot be simaultaneously a “lazy” player (as Williams went out of his way to state to the media) but then also be the same player who people thought needed to “slow down” and “play within himself” (as was oft-repeated all last year after he bashed his head in running into outfield walls).   For me; I tend to believe that Harper is human; he was frustrated after an o-fer day, and didn’t run out a come-backer in a meaningless situation late in a game (like a thousand other major leaguers before him).

I’m not sure if I’d lay the play that ended up with Harper’s injury on the manager (Law seems to intimate that Harper’s “over hustle” on that play was in reaction to his press bashing over the lack of hustle the week before), but many, many other players in this game would have just slowed up at 2nd, knowing they had cleared the bases, and not gone for the triple.  Which player would you rather have?   For better or worse, the team will now have plenty of time to think about it; Harper’s out for 2 frigging months.  For those keeping score at home, we’re not even to May yet and we’ve seen the guys hitting 1st, 2nd, 4th and 5th from our opening day lineup now hit the D/L for various lengths.

It bears repeating: Harper, despite being in his 3rd pro season, was STILL the youngest player in the majors on opening day.   If he was sitting on Potomac’s roster right now, he’d be one of the youngest players in the league.  I guess we all need to take a deep breath sometimes and be thankful for what Bryce Harper is, not what he isn’t.  And get well soon…. this team’s offense is going to miss him badly.

Written by Todd Boss

April 29th, 2014 at 10:31 am