Nationals Arm Race

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

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Why exactly did the Nats call up Turner??

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Turner in a Nats uniform... why?? photo via wp.com

Turner in a Nats uniform… why?? photo via wp.com

In some of the previous posts’ comments sections, I opined that I thought it would be “GM malpractice” to call up uber SS prospect Trea Turner at any point prior to mid April of next year.  My general reasoning including any and all of the following points:

  • the team finally had Ian Desmond hitting decently enough (consistently between about .250-.280 in 1/2/4 week samples going back a month).
  • Danny Espinosa has been a revelation this year, increasing his slash lines across the board and as we speak posting a 99 OPS+ figure.
  • Yunel Escobar being the 2nd most valuable hitter on the team, in addition to wordlessly changing positions as the Nats need dictates.
  • Anthony Rendon finally back on the big club, even if he’s a shell of what he was last year, is still an excellent top-of-the-order MLB hitter.
  • Given the wealth of middle infielders already on the roster (not even mentioning Wilmer Difo or Emmanuel Burriss both of whom have been used already this year in a backup capacity), why call him up to be a backup?

So, given that all four of these middle infield options are (finally) together, healthy and performing relatively decently, what possible rationale would there be to call up Turner??

Why would this team *possibly* want to prematurely start the service time clock on such a polished prospect, unless there was a REAL and ACTUAL need to call him up?  By “real” and “actual” I mean that suddenly the team found itself without an able bodied short stop and found itself in a position where Turner would play full time.

No, that’s not what has happened.  Turner was called up on 8/21/15.  In the five games since, he has two garbage time PAs in a 10-3 loss on his debut and two pinch hit ABs.  He’s played less than 3 whole innings in the field.  What the hell is this team doing??

Matt Williams isn’t going to sit Desmond in favor of Turner.  No way; we’ve seen *time and again* that Williams cow-tows to veterans, ensures that they hit in their preferred lineup spots and play their preferred positions even when evidence shows they’re in need of change.  And even if Williams wanted to sit Desmond … he’s clearly going to play Espinosa in his place, another established vet with a track record and a good 2015 going.  Where exactly is Turner going to play??

I agree whole heartedly with Jim Bowden‘s take: why did the Nats call him up to sit on the bench??  Something is fishy here.  And we’ve harmed the long term benefit of the club in the process.  Instead of waiting til next April to call him up, we’ve needlessly thrown away a year of his career in his prime by starting his service time clock way too soon, and for no reason.  He’s not going to be impactful coming off the bench, he’s not going to play in place of the established regulars Desmond, Escobar and Rendon.  He’s certainly not going to supplant Espinosa as the #1 middle infield option off the bench in case someone gets hurt.  We don’t need a “designated runner” until we’re, you know, actually in the post-season (a concept that seems to be draining by the day thanks to middling losses to 2nd-division teams over and over).

I think this is a clear sign (as Bowden alludes to) that the Mike RizzoMatt Williams working relationship is shot and that this team is quickly heading down the drain of under performance.  But as a long-term fan who thinks Turner’s value to this team is in the next incarnation of the squad, it really infuriates me to see him being wasted on the MLB bench for no reason, costing the team an extra year of his service when he hits his prime.

Written by Todd Boss

August 26th, 2015 at 11:47 pm

Its make or break time; even more so than a week ago.

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A week ago, at the beginning of this west coast trip, I thought the team might end up going 2-5 between LA and SF.  They faced two good teams on the road against good pitching.

I was wrong.  They went 1-6.  What a Disaster.  Scherzer and Gonzalez both laid massive eggs in games where the Nats held a rare and clear SP advantage (over Vogelsong and Cain respectively) and the team squandered games where the offense uncharacteristically scored more than 1 run (5 and 6 respectively in consecutive losses).  It was no surprise they got shut out by Kershaw, Greinke and Bumgarner … but they had no excuse to lose to these other stiffs.

Amazingly, we’re mid-August and this team has gone 10 and 20 since the all-star break.  10 and 20.  Yes they’ve faced some tough pitching, but a playoff team should at least go .500 against a good team throwing good arms.  This team has not; it has completely folded.

Dave Cameron at fangraphs.com summed up things a lot better than I could.  He has a table of 2014 and 2015 WAR figures that’s pretty amazing.  He also has the playoff odds for both Washington and New York and what they’ve done over the past few weeks and that’s pretty amazing too.

The Nats are 58-59.  Amazingly despite a 6 game losing streak the Mets also fell on their faces this weekend and the Nats didn’t lose much ground in the race.  But they’re 4.5 back with 6 weeks to go and need to step it up.

They now have 6 straight games against two bad teams (Colorado and Milwaukee).   Can they salvage their season and actually win some of these games?

What is wrong with this team?  Is it just everyone unluckily under performing all at once?  Is it the Manager?  Is it the frigging Papelbon trade? I don’ t mean to find some “arbitrary endpoints” but consider:

  • Nats Record before Papelbon trade: 52-46
  • Nats Record since: 6-13
  • Storen’s ERA before the trade: 1.73 in 36 1/3 innings
  • Storen’s ERA since: 10.38 in 8 2/3rds innings.
  • Papelbon’s entire contribution since arriving: 5 IP in 5 games, 2 saves.

Could just be a coincidence.  Demoting a popular, home grown player who was having a great season with a blow-hard attitude guy couldn’t possibly be a reason for a team that has shown itself to be mentally fragile in the past to shut it down, right?

 

My favorite “questions” from #AskMatt

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#AskMatt was a huge success .. for humorists.  Photo Nats official 2014 via sportingnews.com

#AskMatt was a huge success .. for humorists. Photo Nats official 2014 via sportingnews.com

So, the geniuses at MASN apparently have never seen just how badly these open Twitter hashtag Question and Answer sessions can go.  I wrote about this once before, when NCAA head Mark Emmert was subjected to an #AskEmmert session and was roundly ridiculed (I also link to a fantastic Peter King session that went just as badly).  Googling something like “worst twitter q&a” sessions also leads to some fun “#AskMe” type sessions that went awry.

Instead, MASN threw caution to the wind and decided to have an “#AskMatt” session last week.  Here’s the Twitter link with the hashtag so you could judge for yourself how it went.

It went, to quote Natsenquirer.com, about as well as you could expect.  WP’s Scott Allen also commented on the unasked questions.

Here’s some of my favorite “questions” from the session.  Most of these made me laugh out loud in context.  No word as to whether or not Matt actually answered any of them.  :-)

  • “Is Jayson Werth’s inability to drive batters in related to his inability to drive due to a suspended license?”
  • “What is uglier – Jayson Werth’s beard or your bullpen management?”
  • “If Jordan Zimmermann is throwing a one hitter thru 8 2/3 again, when should we expect to see Aaron Barrett?”
  • “If the Nats make the playoffs, who’s your 18th inning guy? “
  • “What really happened in Benghazi?” (asked by Luigi de Guzman, writer of the Natstradamous blog, part of a theme of asking pointed political questions)
  • “Why didn’t Storen or Papelbon pitch once in the biggest series of the year?”  (asked by the twitter account @FireMattWilliams; i guess it was just a matter of time before that twitter account popped up).
  • “I have found the way to eliminate poverty worldwide, should I share it or just leave Storen & Papelbon in the bullpen?” (Asked by former Nats Farm Authority maven Brian Oliver)
  • “If my cat throws up, should I leave him in for another 20 pitches or bring Aaron Barrett in immediately to clean it up?”
  • “Would you rather: eat steamed cauliflower for rest of your life or let closer pitch in tie game when leverage index is highest?”
  • “Who’s ahead in bullpen pecking order, Doug Fister or Tyler Moore?”
  • “Matt, what’s your favorite hippo diarrhea video?” (and then providing a sample)
  • “Do you like movies about gladiators?” (asked by NatsEnquirer’s ck)

Fantastic.  The internet is the best source of unintentional comedy sometimes.

 

Written by Todd Boss

August 11th, 2015 at 10:01 am

West Coast Trip 2015: its crunch time for this team

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I'll take about 10 more of those starts, Stephen, Thank you.  Photo via centerfieldgate.com

I’ll take about 10 more of those starts, Stephen, Thank you. Photo via centerfieldgate.com

I wrote earlier about the ridiculous slate of starters this team had to face coming out of the All Star break.  They went 6-10 in that stretch, an admirable record considering the opposition.  That took the team to a relatively “easy” looking home-stand against two also-rans (Arizona and Colorado) who were sellers at the trade deadline.  The Nats have practically their whole offense back, augmented the bullpen with Jonathan Papelbon, and got their 2nd “Ace” back in Stephen Strasburg.  They have no more excuses; its time to take control of the division from the suddenly energized Mets.

But, instead of rolling to a 5-2 or a 6-1 home stand … the team scuffled to a 3-4 record, with Drew Storen blowing two games single-handedly, Doug Fister blowing a start against an opposing pitcher with about 5 minutes of service time, and one game that the bullpen so badly bungled that Tyler Moore was on the mound at the end.

Not good.

The team now sits at 57-53 (just an 84 win pace) and is a game and a half back of the Mets.  And they now hit the road for a crucial, difficult 10-game west coast swing.  Three games in LA, four in SF and then 3 more against the Colorado team that embarrassed them at home.  This while the Mets play 7 straight in New York (albeit against the same Rockies who I thought were patsies and then against a Pirates team that just battered the Dodgers’ starters in Pittsburgh).

Lets take a quick look at the projected starter match-ups against the Dodgers and Giants.  Because, lets face it, those are the two series that could be pretty telling:

Nats SP Projected Opposing SP
Gonzalez Anderson
Ross Kershaw
Zimmermann Greinke
Strasburg Vogelsong
Scherzer Cain
Gonzalez Peavy
Ross Bumgarner

Daunting.  Are the Nats in danger of being outright swept in Los Angeles?   I think so.  They then move up the coast but face a SF team that plays a lot better at home than on the road, despite what looks to me like a SP advantage for the Nats.  I don’t really trust Gio Gonzalez anymore in big games, and certainly not on the road (where he has a 4.80 ERA this year, versus 2.60 at home).   Joe Ross has a grand total of 7 starts in the majors and he’ll be given the rather daunting task of facing two of the best pitchers in the game back to back in Kershaw and Bumgarner.  Tough.

Here’s the problem.  I can easily see this team going 2-5 in these games.  What happens if the Mets keep winning?

This season is more and more reminding me of 2013.  Tons of expectations, and tons of under performance all year, leading to a mid 80s win season but no playoffs.  If this team returns home a week from now and is at .500 (a very distinct possibility), is it finally time to worry?

The Nats post-All Star game gauntlet of opposing Starting Pitchers

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Hard to win games when you're going against guys like this for two straight weeks.  Photo via bleachereport.com

Hard to win games when you’re going against guys like this for two straight weeks. Photo via bleachereport.com

The Nats just finished being swept at the hands of our closest divisional rival, and the natives seem to be getting a bit restless.

I’m not worried.  You know why?  The Nats just finished one of the most brutal stretches of opposing pitchers I can ever remember.  To wit, here’s what they had to face coming out of the all star break:

  • LA: Bolsinger, Kershaw, Greinke
  • Mets: Harvey, DeGrom, Snydergaard
  • Pitt: Liriano, Locke, Burnett, Cole
  • Miami: Fernandez, Koehler, Haren
  • Mets: Harvey, DeGrom, Snydergaard

The 16 starters they’ve had to face since the All Star game include:

  • Six 2015 All-Stars (Kershaw, Greinke, DeGrom twice, Burnett and Cole)
  • The 2015 all-star game *starter* in Greinke
  • The two-time defending Cy Young winner in Kershaw
  • The guy who probably *would* have won the Cy Young in 2013 had he not gotten hurt (Harvey)
  • The last two NL Rookies of the Year (DeGrom and Fernandez)
  • Seven guys ranked in the top 20 in all of baseball for ERA, not to mention 4 of the top 10 and the two best in Greinke and DeGrom.
  • Five guys ranked in the top 15 in the game for pure fastball velocity (Snydergaard, Fernandez, Cole, deGrom and Harvey).
  • At least half of these guys being what i’d call an “Ace” in this league, and a handful more that are easily #2’s.

That’s just a brutal stretch.  By my estimates, I had the Nats with a favorable pitching match-up just three times in their first 16 games back: Zimmermann over Bolsinger (a win), Scherzer over Locke (a bad loss), and Scherzer over Haren (a 1-0 squeaker win).  Certainly I did not have us with a favorable matchup in any of the 3 games this weekend, and it was little surprise to me to see us get swept.  I thought we’d be lucky to be at .500 for these 16 games and with some bad luck they ended up this stretch 6-10.

Now here’s the good news.  We should get pretty healthy in the next week or so.  We face Arizona at home with four pitching matchups that favor Washington.  Then Colorado comes to town and are throwing a couple of guys that I’ve frankly never even heard of (Yohan Flande and Eddie Butler).  So a week from now we may be on a 6-1 or 5-2 streak and be back in happy town.

The Nats have been very streaky this year.  With apologies to “arbitrary endpoint” haters, you can divide the season into five neat streaks:

Start Date End Date Wins during Streak Losses during streak Record at end of Streak GB or GA in Division Key moments starting/ending streak
4/6/2015 4/27/2015 7 13 7-13 -8 GB Opening day instability of offense leads to sputtering start.
4/28/2015 5/27/2015 21 6 28-19 +1.5 GA Unbelievable 13-12 win in Atlanta on 4/28 ends 7-13 start to season and kicks off a 21-6 run
5/28/2015 6/19/2015 6 13 34-33 -1.5 GB Strasburg lasts just 5 batters on 5/28 and hits the D/L in Cincinnati
6/19/2015 7/12/2015 14 6 46-38 +2 GA Long road trip/tough schedule stretch ends with dominant Ross performance at home 6/20/15, kicking off easy stretch and full-strength pitching rotation
All star break
7/19/2015 8/2/2015 6 10 54-49 even Brutal stretch of opposing pitchers to start the 2nd half.

And now here we stand, on 8/3/15, even up with the Mets for the division and just a handful of games over .500.  Inarguably the Mets made great moves at the trade deadline.  But remember, they’ll face the same post-TJ decision on Harvey that the Nats did with Strasburg in 2012.  And Snydergaard’s max IP was 133 last year; He’s already at that for 2015 and its just the beginning of August.  Both these guys may be looking at regression or outright damage as they rocket past conservative workloads for 2015.  Will that work to the Nats’ favor?

I still like the Nats offensive capabilities once they’re fully healthy.  Its like getting players at the trade deadline, only you don’t have to bet the farm for them.  Will they hold up through the end of the season?  Will Strasburg return and give us the same level of pitching that Joe Ross has in his absence?  Lets hope so.

 

Papelbon for Pivetta: good trade, bad karma?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A few other excellent takes on the trade I recommend:

Post-publishing update: Joe Posnanski wrote a column 2 weeks onward, crucifying Rizzo and this trade (calling it “The Worst trade of the Season”) for its intangible impact on the team, echoing many of the same sentiments expressed here.

 

Nats 2015 Draft Wrap-up

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Wiseman may be known for his "neck homer" game, but he's raking in short-A.  Mandatory Credit: Steven Branscombe-USA TODAY Sports

Wiseman may be known for his “neck homer” game, but he’s raking in short-A. Mandatory Credit: Steven Branscombe-USA TODAY Sports

The July 17th signing deadline has come and gone, and the Nats had a relatively quiet signing period.  Little drama, no significant failed signings, no arguing in the press with Scott Boras, etc.   Lets recap our 2015 draft class.

As noted by Chelsea James in this NatsJournal piece, the Nats signed 30 of their 40 picks, including all their top ten and 18 of the top 20 picks.

They saved roughly $700k of their top10-round bonus pool, only having to go over slot for one top-10 round pick (Koda Glover, who perhaps not coincidentally was the first 2015 draftee to be promoted to full season ball), and transferred that bonus savings to two big over-draft picks in later rounds (13th rounder Max Schrock and 34th rounder Tyler Watson).  This essentially meant that they were able to acquire the equivalent of an extra 3rd and an extra 4th rounder thanks to bonus savings.

Here’s a cut-n-paste from my 2015 draft tracker spreadsheet (google link here, which includes more details and twitter accounts for the draftees).  Red == did not sign.  *==lefty, #=switch hitter.

Round Name/Position Col/HS School Signed?
2 Stevenson, Andrew* OF COL jr LSU signed for $750k, $308k under slot
2 Perkins, Blake OF HS Verrado HS (AZ) signed for $800k, $93k underslot.
3 Wiseman, Rhett* OF COL jr Vanderbilt signed for $554k, exactly slot.
4 Rivera, Mariano Jr. RHP COL sr Iona (NY) signed for $410k, exactly slot.
5 Hearn, Taylor LHP COL jr Oklahoma Baptist U. signed for $275k, 37k under slot
6 Crownover, Matt LHP COL jr Clemson signed for $160k, 70k under slot.
7 Borne, Grant LHP COL jr Nicholls State (LA) signed for $150k, 27k under slot.
8 Glover, Koda RHP COL sr Oklahoma State signed for $200k, 34k over slot.
9 Kerian, David# 1B COL sr Illinois signed for $25k, 130k under slot (and, was in the Auburn opening day lineup)
10 Guilbeau, Taylor LHP COL sr Alabama signed for $25k, 124k under slot
11 Lee, Andrew RHP COL jr Tennessee Yes per his twitter
12 Peterson, Tommy RHP COL jr South Florida Yes per his twitter, GCL roster assignment
13 Schrock, Max* 2B COL jr South Carolina signed for $500k, $400k over slot
14 Lemieux, Mack LHP HS Jupiter Community HS (FL) Not likely to sign
15 Mooney, Kevin RHP COL jr Maryland yes per Baltimore sun http://www.baltimoresun.com/sports/bs-sp-digest-0623-20150623-story.html
16 Sagdal, Ian* SS COL sr Washington State U. Yes per his twitter
17 Dulin, Dalton# 2B CC Northwest Mississippi CC yes per http://www.commercialappeal.com/sports/high-school/dalton-dulin-signs-with-washington-nationals_88617898
18 Rodriguez, Melvin* 2B COL sr Jackson State U. (MS) Yes per Auburn assignment
19 Brandt, Clayton SS COL sr MidAmerica Nazarene U (KS) signed per GCL roster assignment
20 Reeves, John C COL sr Rice (TX) Why didn’t he sign?
21 Pirro, Matt RHP COL sr Wake Forest Yes per his twitter
22 Boghosian, Adam RHP COL 5s North Greenville U. (SC) signed per GCL roster assignment
23 Rash, Alec RHP COL jr Missouri Not likely to sign
24 Smith, Blake RHP COL sr West Virginia Why didn’t he sign?
25 Copping, Calvin RHP COL jr Cal. State Northridge signed per GCL roster assignment
26 Harmening, Russell RHP COL jr Westmont Coll (CA) signed per GCL roster assignment
27 Brinley, Ryan RHP COL jr Sam Houston State U. (TX) signed per GCL roster assignment
28 Van Vossen, Mick RHP COL sr Michigan State U. signed per GCL roster assignment
29 Diedrick, Philip* OF COL sr Western Kentucky U. signed per GCL roster assignment
30 Pantoja, Jorge RHP COL jr Alabama State U. signed per GCL roster assignment
31 Sprengel, Nick LHP HS El Dorado HS (CA) Not likely to sign
32 DiNatale, Dalton* 3B COL jr Arizona State U. signed per GCL roster assignment
33 La Bruna, Angelo SS COL 5S U. Southern California signed per GCL roster assignment
34 Watson, Tyler LHP HS Perry HS (AZ) signed per Jim Callis Tweet
35 Montes, Coco SS HS Coral Gables HS (FL) Not likely to sign
36 Bush, Taylor SS HS The Linfield School (CA) Not likely to sign
37 DiPuglia, Steven SS HS Cooper City HS (FL) Not likely to sign
38 Morales, Matt SS HS Wellington Community HS (FL) Not likely to sign
39 Jefferies, Jake# 2B COL jr Cal. State Fullerton Yes per Auburn assignment
40 Quinn, Parker 1B HS The Benjamin School (FL) Not likely to sign

Review of the 10 who did not sign:

  • 14th rounder Lemieux was a tough sign, committed to Florida Atlantic, probably couldn’t get enough money to make it worth his while to forgo college.
  • 20th rounder Reeves has college eligibility left despite being a senior; I originally had assumed he was signing.  Looks like he returns to Rice and is a 5th year senior.
  • 23rd rounder Rash barely pitched this year and from what I read has really struggled in his college career.  He made sense to go back for his senior year to build value.  Coming out of HS he was a decent talent.
  • 24th rounder Smith was listed in some places as a senior but is listed as a junior on WVU’s website.  It makes sense for him to return for his senior  year and build value.
  • 31st rounder Sprengel is committed to U. San Diego.
  • High Schoolers picked in rounds 35-38 (Montes, Bush, DiPuglia and Morales) are committed to respectively South Florida, Westmont, Western Kentucky and Stetson, all opting to go to school.
  • 40th rounder Quinn is commited to Hofstra.

The big signing surprises for me:

  • Schrock in the 13th round, though he got paid like an early 3rd rounder.  So perhaps it isn’t that big of a surprise.
  • Watson in the 34th round, though again he got paid like a mid 4th rounder, so maybe it isn’t that big of a surprise either.
  • DiNatale and Jefferies both signing despite being such low picks; both were college juniors at big programs who could have gone back to school.  Somewhat surprising picks.  Given that any bonus figure below $100,000 in the 11th round or later does not need to be reported, it is possible that both guys got $100k (which is about equivalent to a 10th round pick) and opted to sign.
  • That the team signed *any* of the guys it picked in rounds 31 and above; they got 4 of the 10.

Was this a “good” or a “bad” draft?

I was on record quite clearly that I thought our 2014 draft was a failure.  This led to my posting a huge missive doing analysis on *every* draft class and determining whether it was a failure or a success.  I’m still not sold on 2014 a year onwards; Fedde is going to have to turn into an all-star to make up for the rest of the deficiencies of the class.

So how does the 2015 draft class look?  Unfortunately, in my mind, probably not too great either.  We had no 1st rounder.  Our two second rounders both project as good field/no hit center fielders (thought to be fair, Stevenson is hitting .360 in Auburn).  I like Wiseman but he has holes in his swing.  Rivera has gotten shelled so far in Auburn.  I think the team got some good deals on Glover, Schrock, and Watson.  Some of the college arms are really looking good at Auburn (Bourne, Peterson, Gilbeau).  So we’ll see.

Good links for the draft: that i’m constantly using.

 

Remember this Weekend

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Scherzer can't pitch a no-hitter every time; at some point this team needs to start hitting.  Photo via thesportsquotient.com

Scherzer can’t pitch a no-hitter every time; at some point this team needs to start hitting. Photo via thesportsquotient.com

If the playoffs started today, here’s what the match-ups would look like (and frankly the odds of this setup changing seem slim; maybe SF catches Chicago for the 2nd WC but otherwise this seems like it will be the line-up):

  • Chicago Cubs at Pittsburgh for the wild card
  • St. Louis hosting the WC winner
  • Washington traveling to Los Angeles.

And in said short series, with the Nats traveling to Los Angeles, they’d likely face Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke again in games 1 and 2.

Here’s what the LA 1-2 punch just did to our hapless lineup, on the road no less where Kershaw has a significantly worse stats:

There’s not a pundit in the game who doesn’t think the Nats aren’t going to win the NL East.  That they’re in first place while their #1, #2, #4 and #5 hitters sit on the D/L is pretty amazing (or, perhaps more to the point, a pretty bad indictment of our division in 2015).  But the toll is being seen; between outings against Kershaw, Greinke and (just before the all-star break) Johnny Cueto, we now see the effect of such a weak offense.  MLB-wide Aces will absolutely dominate the Nats.  To the point where we could have Cy  Young himself throwing and not have a chance.  If there’s just one or two legitimate hitters in your lineup, you can pitch around them and attack guys who otherwise would be in AAA or on the bench.  As we just saw.

The question is this: can the Nats offense turn this around?  We have now seen this team make the playoffs twice, each time with the best record in the league, and then each time flail out of the playoffs while barely hitting.  In 2012 they hit .232/.290/.393 and in 2014 they hit .164/.222/.258.

Yes we plan on getting everybody back.  Most of our D/L guys are on rehab assignments as we speak actually.  Can they get their expected form back and make this team respectable on offense?  Can Jayson Werth regain his stroke despite recovering from a broken wrist?  Can Denard Span regain his batting stroke despite a chronic back issue?  I’m less worried about Zimmerman and Rendon; they just need time and luck to stay on the field despite leg/foot issues, and both those guys profile as the kind of middle-of-the-order hitter that would give the Nats lineup some potency back (not to mention some protection for Bryce Harper).

Will it be enough?  Are you worried about looming playoff match-ups?

 

 

State of the Nats at the halfway point 2015

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

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

Offense

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rotation

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

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

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

Bullpen

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

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

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

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

Streaks

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

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

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

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

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

Where do we go from here?

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

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

Playoff Outlook

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

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

 

 

Nats All-Star review: 2015 and years past

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Harper becomes just the 3rd starter in Nats history.  Photo via fansided.com

Harper becomes just the 3rd starter in Nats history. Photo via fansided.com

Here’s my annual Nationals All Star selection post.

(* == All-Star game starter.  The Nats now have three ASG starters in their history, dating to 2005).

2015

  • Nationals All-Star representatives: Bryce Harper*, Max Scherzer
  • Possible Snubs: Yunel Escobar, Drew Storen
  • Narrative: Harper not only made it in as a starter for the 2nd time, he led the NL in votes, setting a MLB record for total votes received.  This is no surprise; Harper’s easily in the MVP lead for the NL thanks to his amazing first half (his split at the half-way point of the season: .347/.474/.722 with 25 homers and an astounding 225 OPS+).  I guess he won’t be earning the “Most overrated player” award next year.  That Harper is electing to skip the Home run derby in a disappointment; his father is nursing an arm injury can cannot throw to him in the event.  In a weird year for the Nats, the only other regular worth mentioning is newly acquired Escobar, who is hitting above .300 and filling in ably at multiple positions that, prior to this year, he had never played.  Storen is having another excellent regular season … but at a time when mandatory members from each team often leads to other closers being selected (there are 5 NL closers and 7 AL relievers), the odds of him making the All-Star team were always going to be slim.  Scherzer deservedly makes the team and probably would have been the NL starter; he’s got sub 2.00 ERA and FIP and leads all NL pitchers in WAR at the mid-way point of the season.  But his turn came up in the final game of the first half, making him ineligible for the game and forcing his replacement on the roster.

As a side note, the 2015 All-Star game will go down as the “Ballot-Gate” game thanks to MLB’s short-sighted plan to allow 30+ online ballots per email address.  This led to severe “ballot stuffing” by the Kansas City Royals fans, led to MLB  having to eliminate 60 million+ fraudulent ballots, but still led to several Royals being elected starters over more deserving candidates.

 


Here’s past year’s information, mostly recycled information from past posts on the topic but fun to read nonetheless, especially the early years.

2014

  • Nationals All-Star representative: Jordan Zimmermann (Update post-publishing: Zimmermann strained a bicep, and had to withdraw from the ASG.  For a bit it looked like the Nats wouldn’t even have a representative, until Tyler Clippard was named on 7/13/14).
  • Possible Snubs: Adam LaRoche, Anthony Rendon, Rafael Soriano, Drew Storen
  • Narrative: Zimmermann’s been the best SP on the best pitching staff in the majors this year, and thus earns his spot.  I find it somewhat odd that a first place team (or near to it) gets just one representative on the team (as discussed above).  Rendon tried to make the team via the “last man in” voting, but historically Nationals have not fared well in this competition (especially when better known players from large markets are in the competition, aka Anthony Rizzo from the Chicago Cubs), and indeed Rendon finished 4th in the last-man voting.  LaRoche is having a very good season, almost single handedly carrying the Nats offense while major parts were out injured, but he’s never going to beat out the slew of great NL first basemen (Joey Votto couldn’t even get into this game).  Soriano has quietly put together one of the best seasons of any closer in the game; at the time of this writing he has a 1.03 ERA and a .829 whip; those are Dennis Eckersley numbers.  But, the farce that is the all-star game selection criteria (having to select one player from each team) means that teams need a representative, and deserving guys like Soriano get squeezed.  Then, Soriano indignantly said he wouldn’t even go if named as a replacement … likely leading to Clippard’s replacement selection.  The same goes for non-closer Storen, who sports a sub 2.00 ERA on the year.  Advanced stats columnists (Keith Law) also think that Stephen Strasburg is a snub but I’m not entirely sure: he may lead the NL in K’s right now and have far better advanced numbers than “traditional,” but its hard to make an argument that a guy with a 7-6 record and a 3.50+ ERA is all-star worthy.

2013

  • Nationals All-Star representatives: Bryce Harper*, Jordan Zimmermann
  • Snubs: Stephen Strasburg, Ian Desmond
  • Narrative: Harper comes in 3rd in the NL outfielder voting, ahead of some big-time names, to become only the second Nationals position player elected as an All-Star starter.  He was 4th in the final pre-selection vote, so a big last minute push got him the starter spot.   Harper also becomes the first National to participate in the Home Run Derby.   Zimmermann was 12-3 heading into the game and was on mid-season Cy Young short lists in July in a breakout season.  Strasburg’s advanced stats are all better than Zimmermann’s, but his W/L record (4-6 as the ASG) means he’s not an all-star.  It also probably doesn’t help that he missed a few weeks.  Desmond loses out to Troy Tulowitzki, Everth Cabrera and Jean Segura.  Tulowitzki was having a very solid year and was a deserving elected starter, while Cabrera and Segura are both having breakout seasons.  Desmond was on the “Final vote” roster, but my vote (and most others’ I’m guessing) would be for Yasiel Puig there ([Editor Update: Desmond and Puig lost out to Freddie Freeman: I still wished that Puig finds a way onto the roster but ultimately he did not and I believe the ASG was diminished because of it).   Gio GonzalezRyan Zimmerman, and Rafael Soriano are all having solid but unspectacular years and miss out behind those having great seasons.

2012

  • Nationals All-Star representatives: Stephen StrasburgGio GonzalezIan Desmond, Bryce Harper
  • Possible Snubs: Adam LaRocheCraig Stammen
  • Narrative: The two SPs Strasburg and Gonzalez were the obvious candidates, and my personal prediction was that they’d be the only two candidates selected.  Gonzalez’ first half was a prelude to his 21-win, 3rd place Cy Young season.  The inclusion of Desmond is a surprise, but also a testament to how far he’s come as a player in 2012.  Harper was a last-minute injury replacement, but had earned his spot by virtue of his fast start as one of the youngest players in the league.  Of the “snubs,” LaRoche has had a fantastic come back season in 2012 but fared little shot against better, more well-known NL first basemen.  Stammen was our best bullpen arm, but like LaRoche fared little chance of getting selected during a year when the Nats had two deserving pitchers selected.

2011

  • Nationals All-Star representatives: Tyler Clippard
  • Possible Snubs: Danny EspinosaMichael MorseDrew StorenJordan Zimmermann
  • Narrative: While Clippard was (arguably) the Nats best and most important reliever, I think Zimmermann was a more rightful choice.  He was 10th in the league in ERA at the time of the selections and has put in a series of dominant performances.  Meanwhile Espinosa was on pace for a 28-homer season and almost a certain Rookie-of-the-Year award (though a precipitous fall-off in the 2nd half cost him any realistic shot at the ROY), and perhaps both players are just too young to be known around the league.  Lastly Morse is certainly known and he merited a spot in the “last man in” vote sponsored by MLB (though he fared little chance against popular players in this last-man-in voting).

2010

  • Nationals All-Star representatives: Matt Capps
  • Possible Snubs: Adam DunnJosh WillinghamRyan Zimmerman, Steven Strasburg
  • Narrative: Capps was clearly deserving, having a breakout season as a closer after his off-season non-tender from the Pirates.  The 3-4-5 hitters Zimmerman-Dunn-Willingham all had dominant offensive seasons as the team improved markedly from its 103-loss season.  But perhaps the surprise non-inclusion was Strasburg, who despite only having a few starts as of the all-star break was already the talk of baseball.  I think MLB missed a great PR opportunity to name him to the team to give him the exposure that the rest of the national media expected.  But in the end, Capps was a deserving candidate and I can’t argue that our hitters did anything special enough to merit inclusion.

2009

  • Nationals All-Star representatives: Ryan Zimmerman
  • Possible Snubs: Adam Dunn
  • Narrative: The addition of Dunn and Willingham to the lineup gave Zimmerman the protection he never had, and he produced with his career-best season.  His first and deserved all-star appearance en-route to a 33 homer season.  Dunn continued his monster homer totals with little all-star recognition.

2008

  • Nationals All-Star representatives: Cristian Guzman
  • Possible Snubs: Jon Rauch
  • Narrative: The first of two “hitting rock-bottom” seasons for the team; no one really merited selection.  Zimmerman was coming off of hamate-bone surgery in November 2007 and the team was more or less awful across the board.  Rauch performed ably after Cordero went down with season-ending (and basically career-ending) shoulder surgery.   Guzman’s selection a great example of why one-per-team rules don’t make any sense.  Guzman ended up playing far longer than he deserved in the game itself by virtue of the 15-inning affair.

2007

  • Nationals All-Star representatives: Dmitri Young
  • Possible Snubs: Ryan Zimmerman, Shawn Hill (though I wouldn’t argue for either)
  • Narrative: Young gets a deserved all-star appearance en route to comeback player of the year.  Zimmerman played a full season but didn’t dominate.  Our 2007 staff gave starts to 13 different players, most of whom were out of the league within the next year or two.  Not a good team.

2006

  • Nationals All-Star representatives: Alfonso Soriano*
  • Possible Snubs: Nick JohnsonRyan Zimmerman, Chad Cordero
  • Narrative: Soriano made the team as an elected starter, the first time the Nats have had such an honor.  Our pitching staff took massive steps backwards and no starter came even close to meriting a spot.  Cordero was good but not lights out as he had been in 2005.  Soriano’s 40-40 season is a poster child for “contract year” production and he has failed to come close to such production since.  The team was poor and getting worse.  Johnson had a career year but got overshadowed by bigger, better first basemen in the league (a recurring theme for our first basemen over the years).

2005

  • Nationals All-Star representatives: Livan HernandezChad Cordero
  • Possible Snubs: Nick JohnsonJohn Patterson.
  • Narrative: The Nats went into the All Star break surprisingly in first place, having run to a 50-31 record by the halfway point.  Should a first place team have gotten more than just two representatives?  Perhaps.  But the team was filled with non-stars and played far over its head to go 50-31 (as evidenced by the reverse 31-50 record the rest of the way).