Nationals Arm Race

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

Archive for June, 2011

Nats Rotation Cycle #14: good/bad/soso

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Jordan Zimmermann is pitching like the "2nd ace" that we all have hoped for. Photo AP/Manuel Malce-Ceneta

The news this rotation is that Jason Marquis will drop his appeal of his undeserved 5-game suspension and serve it out.  Reason?  Because an off day in the schedule allows the rest of the starters to go on normal rest and Marquis will just move back in the rotation.  So next cycle will only have four of the five pitchers reviewed.

Good

  • Jason Marquis pitched an efficient game on 6/9 (box/gamer) getting his 7th win.  6ip 3hits 1run 5k 3bb.
  • John Lannan throws his fourth excellent start in a row on 6/11 (box/gamer) to get the win.  He’s now thrown four straight games with 0 or 1 run allowed and has lowered his season ERA to 3.60.  Line: 6 1/3, 6hits, 1run, 1k and 2 bbs.  Not a lot of Ks, but he didn’t need them.
  • Jordan Zimmermann threw perhaps the best game any starter has thrown this year on 6/12 in San Diego (box/gamer).  7pm, 4 hits, 1 walk 0 runs and 10 strikeouts.  Too bad his team couldn’t score him any runs, so the win was left for Todd Coffey to clean up.  As was pointed out in another blog, his game score on the night was better than Strasburg‘s debut 14-k game last June.  This is Zimmermann’s 8th straight quality start, and his third straight start going 7 complete and giving up 0 or 1 runs.  You can’t ask more than that out of a starter.

Bad

  • So it goes for Livan Hernandez: some good, some bad.  His start on 6/8 (box/gamer) was definitely in the bad category, getting peppered for 9 hits and 6 runs by the light-hitting Padres.
  • Yunesky Maya certainly pitched his last Nationals game on 6/14 (box/gamer) for a while, and it was indicative of his previous outings.  He failed to finish 5, gave up 6 runs on 9 hits and looked completely overmatched against a good hitting team.  Stay tuned for a Maya-specific post coming up…

Starter Trends (last 5 starts only).  Lannan rebounding nicely, as is Marquis.  Zimmermann has been outer-worldly, while Maya is destined for a return to AAA.  Marquis continues to improve his trade value.

  • Lhernandez      good,soso,soso,good,bad
  • Marquis             bad,soso,good,good,good
  • Lannan               bad,great,good,good,good
  • Zimmermann  good,good,good,good,great
  • Maya                   bad,soso,good,bad

Relievers of Note and other News.

  • A recent spate of sub-par outings by guys in the bullpen has the team over-relying on Tyler Clippard and Drew Storen for late inning success.  We need to get Sean Burnett back in the saddle and pitching the way he did last year.  However the addition of the next guy may help.
  • Ryan Mattheus gets his long awaited shot at the majors, having been added to the 40-man on 6/10/10.  Mattheus has been pitching in the minors since 2003, was our trade bounty for Joe Beimel in 2009 from the Rockies, and has fully come back from Tommy John surgery.  We were sitting at 39/40 on the 40-man after Broderick‘s dfa, so no corresponding move was needed.  His stuff looked pretty nasty during his debut on 6/14; he had a couple of Ks and looked pretty confident.  Per pitch f/x, he averaged 93 and hit 94.5 mph on his fastball and showed a huge gap between his fastball and off-speed stuff.  I’m not sure I believe that he showed 4 pitches (fast, curve, slider, change) but he definitely showed 2 fastballs (a 2 -seamer and 4-seamer) that both showed life, and he’s got a Clippard-esque delta from fastball to changeup.  If Mattheus turns into Clippard v2.0, I’d be very happy.
  • Mattheus replaces Cole Kimball, who has “right shoulder inflammation“  and went on the 15-day DL.  Kimball has been pretty effective thus far, but is walking guys far too often and the rest may do him some good.  But as is apt to happen to guys getting their first shot at the bigs, he has been in pain since April and failed to tell anyone about it.  Now he’s got such bad rotator cuff inflammation he may not pitch for weeks.  Well, at least we get to see what Mattheus can do.
  • Tom Gorzelanny pitched a rehab start in Syracuse on 6/13, putting him in line to re-take his rotational spot during this next cycle.  Per Ben Goessling, Gorzelanny is already back with the team and is ready to go.  Based on Maya’s last outing, I’m guessing Gorzelanny will be activated sunday morning to make his next start.

I’ve a bit behind on these rotation reviews, having captured the data but not really done any analysis.  Here’s the good/bad/soso from the 12th and 13th cycle.

During the 13th Rotation cycle, our crew had perhaps its best 5-day run since the first week of the season.  All five starts were strong.  Even Maya had a strong start, the first of his major league career.

Good

  • Livan Hernandez was strong through 7 but gets loss on 6/4 (box/gamer).   Only 4 hits thru 7complete but his offense disappeared.
  • Jason Marquis was excellent until he got ejected in rather ridiculous fashion on 6/5 (box/gamer).  He was ejected in a highly charged game featuring lots of HBPs and other bad blood between teams, but there’s just no way he was purposely hitting a guy on an 0-2 count.
  • John Lannan looked great on 6/6 (box/gamer) but bullpen blew it.  7 innings, 4 hits and only 1 run.
  • Jordan Zimmermann threw his 7th straight quality start on 6/7 (box/gamer).
  • Yuniesky Maya had his best MLB start, by far, on 6/8 (box/gamer).  He got an early hook though and Burnett blew the game for him.

Relievers of Note News.

  • The Nats placed Doug Slaten on the DL, called up Craig Stammen.  Slaten complained of “shooting elbow pain” that has lasted for 2 weeks, but one could see this as the continuation a convenient trend of the Nats using the DL to hide off their underperforming players.

The 12th rotation cycle started on a blisteringly hot Memorial day at the park, where the temperatures neared 100.  The Phillies were in town, which meant an invasion of Roy Halladay-jersey wearing obnoxiousness.  To make matters worse, the Nats were lined up to go against the #1-2-3 starters on the best rotation ever constructed.  How’d we fare?

Good

  • Jason Marquis pitched very effectively while his teammates battered Cliff Lee for 6 runs on 5/31 (box/gamer) and he got the well deserved victory.  Line: 6 1/3, 2 runs, 8 hits, 0 walks, 4 Ks.
  • John Lannan put 8 guys on in 5 1/3 innings and worked in and out of jams in pretty much every inning, but allowed only one unearned run and got his first ever victory over Philadelphia in the series finale on 6/1 (box/gamer).  A tough third game to a tough series (hot streak, two day games out of three throwing off everyone’s sleep patterns).
  • Another excellent start from Jordan Zimmermann, opening up the Arizona series on 6/2 (box/gamer) with a 7inning 1run performance.  Line: 7ip, 6hits, 1run, 4ks and 1 walk.  I’d love to get an interview with Steve McCatty and find out if Zimmermann has changed his approach; he’s striking out guys at a 33% lower rate than last year.

Mediocre/Inconclusive

  • Livan Hernandez opposed Roy Halladay on 5/30 (box/gamer) and did his best to keep his team in the game.  He ends up with a no decision, giving up 4 runs in 6 1/3.  He nearly pitched his way out of the game in the third, when the Phillies strung together 5 straight hits (including two solo homers).  In typical Livan fashion, he worked his way out of the jam and then pitched 3 more scoreless innings.  The offense (amazingly) really got to Halladay, and its a shame the bullpen dropped the ball after getting 4 runs on the best pitcher in baseball.
  • I’m not quite ready to judge Yunesky Maya‘s 2nd (and presumably last) start as completely bad.  I think he was just unlucky, and possibly the victim of a trigger-happy manager addicted to matchup managing.  Instead of letting Maya try to get out of his own jam, he brought in Doug “The firestarter” Slaten to throw three straight balls, then groove a 3-0 fastball for a bases-clearing triple.

Relievers of Note and other Pitcher News.

  • Sean Burnett blew Livan’s win for him on Monday, and has really struggled this year.  Adam Kilgore reports that Riggleman is standing by his guy, which I suppose is admirable considering the distinct lack of left-handed reliever talent we have in the system right now (in case you’re wondering, that’s close to zero.  Check out our lefty-reliever depth at this link here).
  • Mark Zuckerman reports that Chien-Ming Wang is (finally) ready to leave extended spring training and go out on a rehab assignment.  This means he’s going to supplant a starter, somewhere in the system.  I’d guess he’s going to Potomac to start, as they seem to have the least-performing collection of starters right now and he’d completely overmatch the younger hitters in low-A.  The implication of his going out on a rehab assignment is this: he only gets 30 days in the minors (probably about 6 starts) before the Nats have to make a decision on what to do with him.  He has no minor league options, so in 30 days he either joins the 25-man roster, goes back on the DL or is DFA’d.  After all we’ve invested in him (and for the sake of his career), I’m hoping he still has something left.

Thoughts on the offense (dated 5/31, but still applicable right now).

All of a sudden, we have what looks like a halfway decent offense.  As of 5/31, here’s the OPS+ figures of our starting 8 out-field players:

  • C: Wilson Ramos, 105
  • 1B: Michael Morse, 128
  • 2B: Danny Espinosa: 112
  • SS: Ian Desmond: 73
  • 3B: Jerry Hairston Jr: 85
  • LF: Laynce Nix: 148
  • CF: Roger Bernadina: 75
  • RF: Jayson Werth: 117

When Ryan Zimmerman comes back (he’s sitting at 185 through 37 plate appearances) we’d have 6 of 8 positional players being above the mlb average at the plate.  That’s really good :-)

Written by Todd Boss

June 15th, 2011 at 9:46 am

Ladson’s inbox: 6/20/11 and 6/5/11 editions

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I forgot to publish my previous edition of this.  So its located below.  Meanwhile here’s the 6/20/11 edition.  I don’t think Bill’s done one of these since.  A lot of the statistics quoted were at the time of writing (6/20/11) and may be a bit dated by now.

Q: How do you think Jayson Werth has done this year, considering he hasn’t had Ryan Zimmerman, Adam LaRoche or a productive leadoff hitter in the lineup for most of the season so far?

A: He’s barely above 100 OPS+, after a number of seasons in the league top 10.  His slash line: .232/.332/.409.  I think he should be doing better no doubt and is finding out how tough it is to lead a team without much in the way of lineup protection.  (Ladson thinks he’s doing fine, when you take into account his leadership in the clubhouse).

Q: Should the Nationals trade a valuable reliever like Tyler Clippard to get a hitter that could improve the team’s offense?

A: The Nationals should make any trade, involving any player, if the return is deemed worth it.  Perhaps not Zimmerman, Strasburg or Harper, but anyone else is fair game.  That being said, I don’t think Clippard should be traded unless he fetches quite a haul, because of his importance to our bullpen.  So perhaps its a self fulfilling prophesy; we won’t trade him unless he gets valued like a front-end starter, but he’s merely an 8th inning reliever.  (Ladson more or less agrees with what i’ve written).

Q: Should Espinosa start hitting strictly right-handed?

A: Here’s his 2011 splits, and they’re pretty distinct.  He’s hitting .206 as a lefty, .315 as a righty.  But, look at his BABIP split.  .217 as a lefty and .352 as a righty.  So he’s been amazingly unlucky as a left-handed batter so far.  Despite what his splits look like, you don’t purposely get rid of a lefty-capable hitter.  He’s a rookie after all (lest we forget), and can improve his switch hitting abilities.  (Ladson agrees; let him continue to switch hit).

Q: Do you see the Nationals making many major moves at the Trade Deadline?

A: Realistically, I can see the team moving a couple of pieces (perhaps Marquis and Coffey).  I could also see them make a couple of waiver-wire trades very late in the season (Cora and Hairston).  I don’t see them acquiring any MLB players or moving any prospects.   If players like Ankiel or Gaudin were playing better, they’d be trade targets too.    (Ladson for some reason thinks the team will try to acquire a lead-off hitter and a starting pitcher, mentioning Gorzelanny as the one to be replaced.  Can’t see either move at this point in the season.  Getting a lead-off hitter will be an off-season task).

Q: Why would the Nats trade Jason Marquis? He solidifies the third spot in the rotation for 2012.

A: For all of these reasons:

  • He’s in a contract year and is pitching better than he would be once he gets paid.
  • He’s on the wrong side of 30 and has value now.
  • Did everyone forget how bad he was in 2010?
  • Any contract he signs will be difficult to reap the value of as it plays out.
  • He’s not an Elias typeA or typeB pitcher, so if we lose him to free agency we’ll get zero compensation.
  • We’re not winning the world series this year, therefore….
  • All losing teams trade off veterans at the trade deadline for prospects.  And we should too.

2012′s rotation could very easily be the same as 2011′s, except you replace Marquis with Strasburg.

(Ladson thinks Marquis stays if we’re in the playoff race, and is dealt if we’re not.  Makes sense to me).

Q: Michael Morse has played well at first base. Is there any chance the Nationals will trade or release Adam LaRoche to make sure Morse stays at the position?

A: Release?  no way.  He’s owed a good chunk of change for 2012 ($8M plus another $1M buyout of his 2013 option).  Yes Morse has been good at 1st, but I think you move him back to left and look for Laroche back at 1st in 2012.  LaRoche is better in the field and was a pretty consistent 25hr, 100rbi guy before his injury.  Because of his injury, there’s practically no trade market for him now.  So we’re stuck with him for 2012.  (Ladson agrees with my sentiments on LaRoche).

Q: Do you think we might persuade Ivan Rodriguez to join the Giants to get some pitching in return?

A: It would make sense, but the Giants seem to be making do without Posey (they are in 1st place after all).  And they’ve made public statements saying they weren’t going to make a panic trade.  Pudge isn’t going to fetch all that much, perhaps a prospect in the low minors outside the top 20 BA rankings.  For that, its worth keeping him for 2011 and seeing if maybe even he sticks around in a backup role.  (Ladson agrees)

Q: Regarding Matt Stairs — aren’t Pudge, Laynce Nix and Marquis better designated-hitter options during Interleague Play?

A: Yes they are (well, except Marquis.  Come on; he’s a good hitting pitcher, not a good hitter).  And I continue to be amazed that Stairs is on this roster.  He is now 5/42 for the season with one extra base hit and is routinely getting fooled by mediocre middle-bullpen guys.  I believe he needs to be released/turned into a bench coach/something and have a more versatile guy brought up.  Looking at Syracuse hitters, Antonelli gives some middle infield flexiblity, Marrero is already on the 40-man and can be brought up without a corresponding move, and Aubrey has MLB experience and can play 1B.  Stairs is obviously a good guy but at the expense of a 25-man roster spot?  (Ladson says, yes those guys are probably better options).


This is a bit of an older Inbox edition (I was out of town when it dropped, and just saved the link), but I love answering questions that people don’t ask me about the Nats.  :-) .  Reading from above, you’ll see some duplicated, repeated questions (especially about Pudge and Stairs).

Here’s Ladson’s 6/5/11 inbox and my answers to his questions.

Q: If the Nats were to trade Ivan Rodriguez, who do you think would be the new backup?
A: Ramos would start and I believe the team would call up Carlos Maldonado from Syracuse to be the once-a-week backup.  Maldonado has MLB experience and would know his role.  I would NOT call up Jesus Flores, who I would rather continue playing full time in AAA building up value.  (Ladson thinks it would be Flores, which I think would be a disservice to his career to have him come up and ride the bench in the Majors)

Q: What do you think the Nats will do if Matt Stairs continues his subpar hitting? Could they release him or just package him in a trade to get rid of him?
A: I *think* the Nats will just continue to let him eat a 25-man spot.  The argument is that there’s not really anyone in AAA who is earning a trip to the majors and Riggleman likes having Stairs around as a pseudo-bench coach.

I *wish* they’d just cut him and bring up someone like Chris Marrero, even if he’s not deserving, to get some more roster flexibility and to have someone who can actually play the field competently.  What Trade value does Stairs have right now?  Who wants to trade for a guy who is hitting (as of 6/13/11) 5 for 40 on the season?  His OPS+ is 16.  16?!

(Ladson asks who we’d replace him with, citing this as the reason he’s sticking around.  But he notes that Stairs could be in trouble once inter-league play is finished).

Q: Every time you answer a question about the Nats’ leadoff spot, you never mention the names of Stephen Lombardozzi or Eury Perez. Are these guys not as good as their numbers suggest, or are they that far away?
A: I think the answer needs some context.  Are we talking about leadoff for 2011 or lead-off for the future?

Lead-off in 2011 is a lost cause.  The team gambled that Nyjer Morgan would return to his 2009 numbers and chose to forget all the incidents that turned him into a character liability last season.  Suddenly we were faced with having no natural leadoff hitter in the last week of March.  Now we’re cobbling together the likes of Bernadina, Desmond, or Espinosa at the top of the lineup, none of which are good enough or suited enough for leadoff.

Longer term. Lombardozzi is an interesting possibility.  His career slash line in the minors is .297/.372/.412, and that’s been incredibly consistent throughout every level (he has almost identical numbers at every level).    He plays 2b, where suddenly we’re rather overloaded with the very good Danny Espinosa, the probable destination of 1st round draft pick Anthony Rendon, and 2009 2nd round draft pick Jeff Kobernus (though he’s struggling in Potomac as a 3rd year pro and may be a draft bust).  Perhaps the best case is moving Espinosa to SS, Lombardozzi to 2B, Rendon to 1st or left and either trading or making Desmond super-utility guy.

As for Eury Perez, he’s one of the few DSL grads hanging around in our minor league system right now.  He’s in Potomac right now but has seen a precipitous drop in his OBP at the high-A level.   As of 6/13 he has only THREE walks for the entire season (?).  Inarguably though he has speed (64 Sbs last year) and would be the perfect lead-off/center field type.  But…. isn’t Bryce Harper being groomed to play center?  Werth presumably occupies right field for the next 7 years, and Harper is athletic enough to play center (and would be a ton more valuable there).  If Perez is a plus-defender he’d be wasted in left.

My ideal 2013 lineup if everything goes well: Lombardozzi (2b), Espinosa (SS), Zimmerman (3b), Harper (cf), Werth (rf), Rendon (1b), Ramos (c), Desmond? (lf).  That’s some potential fire-power.

(Ladson succinctly agress with what i’ve said; prospects are far away, we have nobody right now, and Rizzo may make a move).

Q: When do you think we will see Ross Detwiler this season?
A: Excellent question.  Can the answer be “never?”  Detwiler has taken two massive steps backwards this year.  Instead of finally being healthy and ready to produce at the MLB level, he’s been the worst of 5 starters in Syracuse all season.  Yes, his last two starts have been quality starts, but before that he had a string of seven straight starts where he gave up 4 or more earned runs.  This for a first round draft pick who was supposed to be featuring in the majors.

I suspected he is or was hurt.  Because he was lights out in his first start of the AAA season.  Now I just don’t know whats going to happen.  Maya was the first call up to replace an injured starter, and will most likely return.  Perhaps Detwiler gets another shot if we trade Marquis or if we have another injury, but honestly Tom Milone has earned the call up far more than Detwiler. (Ladson agrees, but predicts a 9/1 callup if Detwiler improves.  duh).

Q: Nyjer Morgan was a fantastic leadoff hitter. Any chance they make a deal with Milwaukee and bring him back to D.C. where he belongs?
A: Another humorous question; this one made me laugh out loud it was so absurd.  Rizzo wanted to get rid of him so badly he took back a low-A minor leaguer with no future as trade collateral.  Morgan was a fantastic lead off hitter for the last half of 2009.  When he finally got a shot to be a full time player in 2010, he struggled badly.  His numbers are great in 2011 … but he’s a part time player.  We’re moving on.  (Ladson agrees, saying Morgan is better than what we have, but that he’s not that good a leadoff hitter).

Q: What do you think of Jim Riggleman as a manager?
A: Interesting question. I think Riggleman has done a decent job stabilizing the bullpen and getting guys to understand their roles. I think he is a bit old-fashioned in the way he manages from time to time, pulling starters a bit early to play the matchup game but also leaving guys in a batter too long. I think the fact that this team is near .500 given that they’ve gotten a grand total of 8 games out of their best hitter, their major FA acquisition is batting .236 and their first-baseman/clean up hitter is out for the season is relatively amazing.  He may be perfect for the up and coming rookie crop we expect, based on his experience and no-nonesense approach.  He doesn’t have a very good managerial track record though, so one mediocre season when the front office expects greatness and he’ll be out.  (Ladson thinks he’s an excellent manager and thinks he deserves to have his option picked up).

Written by Todd Boss

June 14th, 2011 at 12:52 pm

My Answers to Boswell’s Chat questions 6/13/11

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From Boswell’s live chat on Monday 6/13/11.  I’ll skip the non Nats questions.  As always, the questions below are mostly paraphrased from the submissions he chose.

Q: Should the Nats consider keeping Jason Marquis?
A: No way.  He’s in a contract year and is performing fantastically.  Guess what his previous best pitching year was?  That’d be his LAST contract year, in 2009.  He’s on the wrong side of 30, you’d be paying for 2011 without giving any context to what happened in 2010, you’d be blocking one of the gazillion young arms we have coming up, and you’d have to pay him much more than his current $7.5M/per contract.

You trade him at the deadline for prospects and bring up Detwiler, Meyers, or even Peacock to see what you have.  That’s what last place teams do with their soon-to-be-expiring veteran contracts.  (Boswell agrees, citing the Riggleman blowup as evidence that he’s out the door soon)

Q: Are the Nats a centerfielder and a competent starter away from being competitive?
A: Not quite.  I think we’re a center-fielder, a marquee first baseman, the return of Zimmerman, and TWO good starters on top of a healthy Strasburg and the continued development of Zimmermann away from being really competitive.  (Boswell says that we’d be “crazy not to be optimistic about the Nats” without any real analysis on this question).

Q: Is Jayson Werth the long term answer as the teams leadoff/center fielder?
A: I’m not sure if this question is a joke or not.  No, of course Werth isn’t a lead-off hitter, or a center fielder for that matter.  Riggleman was just mixing up the lineups and put Werth first.  He has far too much power to waste in a leadoff role.  He’s a RBI man, not a table-setter.  Long term this team puts Bryce Harper between Zimmerman and Werth’s right handed bats in the middle of the order and let the power game come to them.  Meanwhile if someone Desmond doesn’t pan out as a leadoff/middle infielder type you find one who can.  Harper should be groomed to play center so enable someone else to lead off.  (Boswell agrees: Werth can fill in at center, but he’s not the long term answer.  And, he’s certainly not a leadoff hitter).

Q: Would a rotation of Strasburg, Zimmermann, Lannan, Marquis and Gorzelanny be a playoff rotation?

A: Wishful thinking, I suspect.  The last few world series winners have shown you need multiple Aces and otherwise good starting pitching to have a shot.  Strasburg is a legitimate “Ace,” easily one of the best 20 pitchers in the game when he is healthy.  But … he’s only been healthy for a few weeks thus far.  We’re a long ways towards counting on him being Roy Halladay-dominant every 5 days.  Zimmermann is looking good … but he’s still up and down.  Lannan, Marquis and Gorzelanny are all 5th starters on most other squads (as is Livan for that matter).  To be successful you need two #1s, a #2 and no worse than a #3 type guy to go with your proverbial 5th starter.

Look at (say) Atlanta’s rotation right now: Lowe, Jurrjens, Hansen, Hudson, Beachy.   Jurrgens is pitching at an all-star level, Hansen is pitching even better.  The worst guy this year is Hudson, who is a work-horse and would be the National’s ace.  Plus they have two major prospects waiting in the wings in Minor and Tehran.  5 of these 7 named pitchers are 25 years of age or younger; the Braves are set for a long time.  This is what the Nationals need to emulate.

Boswell didn’t really answer the question, just talked about the pipeline of players.  I like the pipeline too, trust me, but prospects aren’t quite the same as demonstrated production on the MLB field.  That’s what we need.

Q: Should our broadcasters reference our Montreal past more frequently?

A: Eh.  I hear this complaint a bunch from other bloggers, about the fact that the current regime pays little attention to its Montreal roots.  Personally I don’t think its that big a deal.  There were two iterations of Washington teams prior to the Nats and that’s the natural historical teams to reference.  I’m sure the Texas Rangers don’t really note that they were the Washington Senators and that their previous slime-ball owners basically stole the team away from Washington in the middle of the night.  (Boswell told a story about writing about bike races).

Q: Does Jayson Werth seem like he’s stressed?

A: Probably so.  First year in a massive contract with all the ink spilled about it over the off-season, then your primary lineup protection goes down 8 games into the season.  I’d be stressed too.  The dude is intense, and playing with intensity on a losing team has to be a massive drag.  (Boswell’s answer is borderline mean when discussing Werth’s production this season.  He’s way way down on projections for rbis, extra base hits, etc).

Q: Did the selection of Anthony Rendon (and the lack of announcing his position) mean to send a message to Ryan Zimmerman about his future contract talks?

A: No, and that’s a ridiculous assertion.  There is zero chance the Nats were thinking anything except “oh my gosh I can’t believe Rendon fell to us” when they took him.  To think that the team was somehow projecting 4 years into the future in the 5 minutes they had to do draft pick analysis is crazy.

Rendon’s current position is irrelevant.  If he hits in the low minors, he’ll be promoted to the high minors.  If he continues to hit in the high minors, the team will find a place for him.  A good 3rd baseman can easily transition to 2nd, 1st, or left field.  Hell, maybe they’ll make him a catcher.

(Ironically, Boswell used almost the same language I just used.  You’ll note that I don’t actually read his answers until AFTER I type up how i’d respond).

Q: Is the Marquis situation shaping up as Adam Dunn v2.0?

A: Not at all.  Adam Dunn was a type-A free agent.  Marquis is not even close to being a type-B.  We could afford to hang onto Dunn and wait out trade offers b/c we knew he’d be worth two high draft picks.  And sure enough, his two picks turned into Alex Meyers and Brian Goodwin. Marquis’ value is never going to be as high as it will be after his current stint of decent starting pitching and we should have flipped him yesterday to a team like the Yankees.  (I’m not sure Boswell answered the question… he just mentioned that the Nats have money to spend.  Whether they spend it wisely or not remains to be seen).

Q: Can the Nats beat the large-spending teams by just growing up with players such as Espinosa, Desmond, and the like?

A: Yes (see Tampa Bay Rays) but its a lot easier to grow most of your team and augment with good FAs.  I think that’s the model this team is following right now (see the attempts to sign Zack Greinke in the off season).  The problem with the grow-the-team approach is that it takes a long time.  And this team already completely blew its first 4 seasons in Washington with incompetence in the front office and in the ownership team.  Now they’re playing catch up.  See me in 2013; if we’re not in the playoff hunt in 2013, we’ll re-boot and get a new GM and basically start over again.

Q: Which of our top 4 picks will sign?

A: Great question.  I’m predicting that Rendon, Meyer and Goodwin all sign.  Goodwin will be a tricky one but he can’t possibly want to return to school after his academic issues.  The tough sign is Purke.  If Purke plays in the Cape and doesn’t show any velocity, the Nats can’t possibly offer him 1st round money, and he’ll really have no choice but to go back to school.  That’s the right thing to do professionally.  The best bet for the Nats is for Purke to show he still has mid 90s heat and we sign him to 1st round money and get possibly the steak of last 5 drafts.  (Boswell agrees).

Q: Is Jordan Zimmermann turning into our staff 1-A to Strasburg’s #1?

A: Its a little premature to annoint him to be that good of a pitcher.  He does have 8 straight quality starts and three straight fantastic starts though.   To be 1-A you have to show this kind of production all season, season-after-season.  Not for a 6 week period.  (Boswell says, “sure looks like it” and quotes stats from these last 8 starts.)

Q: Since the Nats have played so many road games thus far, can we expect a better record here on in?

A: Marginally.  Home field is worth something like 53% historically.  Perhaps some cause for optimism lays in the fact that our rotation has performed better than expected and is only getting better, and that our lineup as it stands now is far stronger than what we fielded from day one.  Ramos over Pudge (100 to 63 ops+), Morse over Laroche (136 to 53 ops+), Nix over Bernadina (139 to 75 ops+) are good starts, but getting Zimmerman back (184 vs 76 ops+ for Hairston) will be a huge help as well.   So with a better hitting team, continued good starting pitching and improving defense … maybe this team can claw its way back to .500.  (Boswell didn’t really answer the question, just talked about the bad timing of the US open and the Baltimore-Washington series being on the same weekend).

Q: Is Bryce Harper to Larry Walker a good comparison?

A: I would say, I would expect more out of Harper frankly.  Walker was a very good hitter (3 batting titles, an MVP) but questions persist about how much of his offense was due to Coors field and the launching pad he played in.  I look more for a Ken Griffey Jr. arc of performance out of Harper.  (Boswell says that David Justice is a good goal.  I think he’s shooting low).

Q: Is John Lannan part of the future of this team?

A: Great question.  Unfortunately, I think the eventual answer is going to be No.  Lannan is a good #4 or #5 starter in a good rotation.  He’s a change of pace starter on a team of hard throwers and could slot in nicely and give a playoff team 30 starts a year.  In 3 years, if we have Strasburg, Zimmermann, Solis, Cole, Ray, Meyer, Meyers and Peacock all making statements to be in the MLB rotation, there’s just no room for guys like Lannan, Gorzelanny, Maya, or Detwiler.  Its a cruel fact, but the team will be better for it.  (Boswell kind of agrees with me on the 4-5th starter bit, quotes a lot of advanced stats on Lannan, then says we should sign  him to an extension.  I disagree; I think we trade him when our kids start coming up).

Q: Are Nationals fans over-reacting when calling for the Manager’s or GM’s head right now?

A: clearly, yes.  Riggleman has gone above and beyond with the injuries and talent of this team.  Rizzo’s goal is to rebuild on a budget.  Both guys are doing as best as they can right now.  (Boswell didn’t really answer the question..)

Q: Should the Nats trade Clippard (whose name has been in the trade rumors lately?)

A: Hell no.  He’s a vital part of the bullpen, the best guy out there, and is under arbitration control for FOUR more years.  You don’t think about trading him; you sign him to an extension to lock him up.  Well, maybe not an extension, but you certainly keep him around.  (Boswell agrees).

Phew.  Almost 2000 words.  And I only wrote a third of what Boswell wrote.

Written by Todd Boss

June 14th, 2011 at 10:35 am

Obligatory blog post about Realignment rumors

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Buster Olney wrote a piece (insider ESPN, sorry) on June 12th with some interesting comments on realignment and the future structure of the league.   Specifically Olney says that the players union is FOR a two-league 15-team structure, which means that it very well may happen along with the addition of a 2nd wild card (and possible draft slotting, and perhaps trading of draft picks) in each league when the next CBA ends.

How do you organize the league, if you were to move a new team into the AL?

Two proposals:

1. Two division-less 15-team leagues, with the top 5 from each league making the playoffs.  I call this the “Guarantee that Boston and the Yankees make the playoffs for the rest of time” plan.  It certainly would make for a fairer test of the long season, and would mean that a team like Toronto would actually make the playoffs every once in a while, since they’ve been winning 85-87 games and finishing fourth.  But it eliminates the whole concept of divisional play and resembles too closely the English Premier League.

2. Three 5-team divisions in each league, taking the 3 division winners and the two next best teams.  Still a plan that favors the monstrous budgets in Boston and New York, but also guarantees that the five teams that spend the most aren’t necessarily going to be the 5 teams that make the playoffs.

Who switches leagues?  It is obviously a NL team.  Perhaps its easier to start with the teams that will NOT move leagues based on history:

  • Philly, Atlanta, the Mets, St Louis, Cincinnati, Pittsburgh, the Cubs, San Francisco, the Dodgers.

Also, Geographically speaking the 4-team AL West is almost certainly the division that needs to be augmented, which more or less eliminates the Nats, the Marlins (despite what Olney’s sources say.  If the Marlins moved to the AL, what division would they join?), and the Brewers (despite their having already switched leagues in recent memory).

Candidates:

  • Houston: Houston Chronicle (and former WP columnist) Richard Justice wrote some compelling reasons here.
  • Arizona: Has a WS victory, probably not going to move, despite its WS victory seemingly accomplished on the backs of FA acquisitions.  They had the chance to move in the mid 90s and declined.  They have an AL style ball park, offensively heavy, and could fit in nicely with the existing AL west.
  • Colorado: one WS appearance since inception in 1992.
  • San Diego: in the NL West since inception in 1969.  Two world series appearances.  Budget constrained and would probably struggle to compete in the AL west.

Plus, if you  moved someone out of any division except the NL Central, then immediately Houston would become a member of the NL West to replace whoever left.  By moving Houston once, you end the divisional disruption.  In fact, the more you look at it, the more you realize that Houston is really the only logical candidate to move.

Downsides to this plan?  Interleague play all year.  But really, perhaps the real answer is to eliminate the whole interleague nonsense and go towards a more NFL-style schedule where the lines are blurred.  In every other pro league the two “leagues” all play each other all year.

(By the way, Rob Neyer and Jon Paul Morosi both agree; Houston must move to the AL).

DH or no DH?  Perhaps it is just time to admit the obvious and go with all DHs and eliminate pitchers from hitting altogether.  The union wants it (it keeps older sluggers employed for longer periods of time), Fans want it (nobody likes seeing a weak #8 hitter get intentionally walked to get an automatic out of a pitcher).  About the only people who do NOT want it are good-hitting hitters like Livan and NL starters who get somewhere in the range of 30-40 extra strikeouts per year facing their counter parts.

Written by Todd Boss

June 13th, 2011 at 4:12 pm

Good Lord we’ve drafted a lot of Arms …

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Alex Meyer leads a very very large pack of college arms in the Nats draft class. Photo via Lex18.com

I wrote this post in three parts, after each of the draft’s three days.  Hence the groupings.

Here’s a quick breakdown of the top 10 rounds.

- Anthony Rendon 2b/3b 1/6 Rice Jr.  Boras client, slipped b/c of shoulder injury #1 BA ranked
- Alex Meyer rhp 1/23 UKentucky Jr. big starter, 97mph
- Brian Goodwin of S1/34 Miami Dade Juco (was unc).  lefty leadoff/cf type.
- Matt Purke lhp 3/96 TCU Soph. Fantastic pick, was a top10 talent, shoulder bursitis issue.
- Kylin Turnbull lhp 4/127 Santa Barbara Juco.  6-4, 93mph
- Matt Skole 3b 5/157 Georgia Tech Jr.  Big bat.  47homers in 3yr college career.  wow.
- David Hill rhp 6/187 Vanderbuilt Sr.
- Brian Dupra rhp 7/217 Notre Dame Sr.
- Gregory Holt rhp 8/247 UNC Sr.
- Dixon Anderson rhp 9/277 California Sr.
- Manny Rodriguez rhp 10/307 Barry University Sr.

First day observations: Wow, that’s a lot of pitching.  8 of our first 11 picks are college arms.  Not ONE high school guy.

Looking at the next 20 rounds (where there’s less of a chance the guy pans out):

- Caleb Ramsey OF   11 Houston Sr.
- Blake Monar LHP  12 Indiana Jr.
- Blake Kalenkosky 1B   13 Texas State Jr.
- Cody Stubbs OF   14 Walters State JuCo J2
- Zach Houchins SS   15 Louisburg JuCo J1
- Deion Williams SS   16 Redan (Ga.) HS (Committed to Georgia State)
- Esteban Guzman RHP  17 San Jose State Jr.
- Nicholas Lee LHP  18 Weatherford College JuCo J2
- Hawtin Buchannan RHP  19 Biloxi (Miss.) HS (Committed to Ole Mis/Mississippi)
- Josh Laxer RHP  20 Madison (Miss.) Central HS (Committed to Ole Mis/Mississippi)
- Todd Simko LHP  21 Texas A&M-Corpus Christi Jr.
- Travis Henke RHP  22 Arkansas-Little Rock Sr.
- Khayyan Norfork 2B   23 Tennessee Sr.
- Kyle Ottoson LHP  24 Arizona State Jr.
- Erick Fernandez C    25 Georgetown Sr.
- Shawn Pleffner OF   26 Univ. of Tampa Jr.
- Bobby Lucas LHP  27 George Washington Sr.
- Kenneth Ferrer RHP  28 Elon University Sr.
- Sean Cotton C    29 Tusculum College Sr.
- Bryan Harper LHP  30 South Carolina Jr.

In rounds 11-30, here’s some highlights:

  • A grand total of 3 high schoolers.  And I’d be shocked if any of them sign based on college commitments and their relatively low draft rankings.  I could be wrong though, especially with Williams.  We’d pretty much destroy Ole Miss’ recruiting class if we took both guys who committed there.
  • 11 more pitchers, making 19 out of the first 31 players we’ve drafted in 2011 arms.

Day 3: here’s rounds 31-50

Josh Tobias SS 31 Southeast Guilford HS (NC) (Florida committment)
Billy Burns OF 32 Mercer Univ. (GA) Jr.
Trey Karlen 2B 33 Univ. of Tennessee-Martin Sr.
Calvin Drummond RHP 34 Univ. of San Diego (CA) Jr.
Alex Kreis RHP 35 Jamestown College (ND) Sr.
Ben Hawkins LHP 36 Univ. of West Florida Jr.
Derrick Bleeker RHP 37 Howard College (TX) Juco J2
Brett Mooneyham LHP 38 Stanford Univ. (CA) Jr.
Peter Verdin OF 39 Univ. of Georgia Jr.
Stephen Collum OF 40 Cartersville HS (GA) (? commit)
Bryce Ortega 3B 41 Univ. of Arizona Sr.
David Kerian SS 42 Bishop Heelan HS (IA) (? commit)
Mitchell Morales SS 43 Wellington Community HS (? commit)
Matt Snyder 1B 44 Univ. of Mississippi Jr.
Richie Mirowski RHP 45 Oklahoma Baptist Univ. Sr.
Tyler Thompson OF 46 Univ. of Florida Jr.
Timothy Montgomery LHP 47 Rockmart HS (GA) (? commit)
Michael Bisenius OF 48 Wayne State College (NE) Jr.
Hunter Cole OF 49 Dorman HS (SC) (? commit)
Anthony Nix OF 50 Univ. of California-Riverside Sr.

Round 31-50 stats:

  • 6 high schoolers, most with very little chance of signing (why sign in the mid 30s for a pittance when you can go to college, get an education and improve your draft status and bonus money?)
  • 13 of the last 20 picks non-pitchers
  • A number of these 30-50th round guys are college juniors, meaning they’re likely to go back to school.
  • 7 more pitchers, bringing the total in the draft to 27 pitchers overall.  Only ONE high school arm.

Coincidentally, “Sue Dinem” has already updated the Draft Tracker xls (one of my favorite Nats resources online: thanks Sue!).

In terms of the first few drat picks: i’m presuming that all Scott Boras clients will NOT sign til 10 minutes before the August 15th deadline, so that means Rendon, Meyer and Goodwin we’ll see you in Viera next spring.  Purke; he’s going to be an interesting negotiation, since he turned down top10 money 2 years ago and presumably can threaten to go back to school.  His negotiations probably go down to the wire as well.  Most likely he pitches in the Cape Cod league, and if he shows he’s got any sort of velocity coming back, we’ll offer him first round money.  Otherwise he’ll return for his third year and the Nats will get a 3rd round compensation pick in 2012.  Not the best solution for us but workable if he’s completely damaged goods.

From Turnbull on down to about the 20th round, i’m guessing everyone signs, and signs fast.   We’ve got a ton of college seniors with no place else to go, and little room for bonus money negotiation.  These guys are going to sign quickly and go directly to Auburn.

I’m a bit surprised at the pitcher focus frankly.  I perceive that we’re rather thin on positional players in our low-minors right now.   Looking at Baseball America’s top 30 for the organization at the end of 2010, the breakdown was as follows:

  • Outfielders (5): Harper, Perez, Hood, Burgess, Ramirez
  • Catchers (2): Norris, Ramos
  • Infielders (8): Espinosa, Marrero, Lombardozzi, Hague, Sanchez, Kobernus, Martinson, Moore
  • Right Handed Starters (7): Cole, Peacock, Maya, Morris, Tatusko, Meyers, Holder
  • Right Handed Relievers (4): Kimball, Ramirez, Carr, Pena
  • Left Handed Starters(4): Solis, Ray, Milone, Rosenbaum
  • Left Handed Relievers (0)

Of these 30 players, 2 have since been traded away (Morris, Burgess) while several more are now on the 25-man roster (Ramos, Espinosa, Maya for the time being and Kimball).  That leaves a breakdown of 12 positional players and 12 pitchers in the minors at the top level of BA’s analysis.  But its hard to look at most of positional players left in the minors and really say “those guys are a sure thing.”

Now we have 26 more arms to fit in, and not a bunch more hitters frankly.  The short-A and GCL are going to be stocked with arms and probably making due with what’s left in extended spring.  There’s approximately 24-26 pitcher slots to fill in short-A and GCL … but we still have a number of arms in extended spring that will be competing.  I wonder how many guys are about to get pink slips.

Get ready for an interesting summer.

Josh Tobias SS 31 Southeast Guilford HS (NC) (Florida committment)
Billy Burns OF 32 Mercer Univ. (GA) Jr.
Trey Karlen 2B 33 Univ. of Tennessee-Martin Sr.
Calvin Drummond RHP 34 Univ. of San Diego (CA) Jr.
Alex Kreis RHP 35 Jamestown College (ND) Sr.
Ben Hawkins LHP 36 Univ. of West Florida Jr.
Derrick Bleeker RHP 37 Howard College (TX) Juco J2
Brett Mooneyham LHP 38 Stanford Univ. (CA) Jr.
Peter Verdin OF 39 Univ. of Georgia Jr.
Stephen Collum OF 40 Cartersville HS (GA) (? commit)
Bryce Ortega 3B 41 Univ. of Arizona Sr.
David Kerian SS 42 Bishop Heelan HS (IA) (? commit)
Mitchell Morales SS 43 Wellington Community HS (? commit)
Matt Snyder 1B 44 Univ. of Mississippi Jr.
Ritchie Mirowski RHP 45 Oklahoma Baptist Univ. Sr.
Tyler Thompson OF 46 Univ. of Florida Jr.
Timothy Montgomery LHP 47 Rockmart HS (GA) (? commit)
Michael Bisenius OF 48 Wayne State College (NE) Jr.
Hunter Cole OF 49 Dorman HS (SC) (? commit)
Anthony Nix OF 50 Univ. of California-Riverside Sr.

Nats top picks verdict: fantastic!

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Anthony Rendon – What a draft day steal. Photo: Brett Coomer/Houston Chronicle via chron.com

I’ve been out of town the past few days (hence the late coming regular rotation reviews).  When, while driving home yesterday afternoon, a friend offered to text me the first 6 picks of the MLB draft I said absolutely.

Here’s a running set of thoughts (paraphrased from text messages).

1. (Pirates select Gerrit Cole): slight surprise here, but apparently Cole was consensus 1-1 pick in most drafts.

2. (Mariners select Danny Hultzen): Can’t believe Mariners skipped Rendon, and also surprised on the Hultzen pick.

3. (Diamondbacks take Trevor Bauer): Damn, I wanted Bauer.  Still can’t believe Rendon is falling.  O’s like HS guys…

4. (Orioles take Dylan Bundy).  hmmmm.  If Rendon is there at 6 the Nats have to take him. Surprising draft so far.  Where do you play him?  Move him to 2b, move Espinosa to short and trade Desmond.  Nats looking like they’re on Starling or Meyer now.

5. (Royals take Bubba Starling).  Damn.  Take Rendon!!!  What an amazing opportunity; this is the absolute consensus 1-1 in the 2011 draft for the past couple of years.

6. Nats take Anthony Rendon. Wow!

I still can’t quite believe that Rendon fell to us.  I thought for sure he was going #2 or #3 overall.

Then, to get Alex Meyers at #23 when we were reportedly considering him at #6 is an even bigger steal (if he’s worth what the Nats think he’s worth).  Bryan Goodwin at #32 seems to represent good value.  Here’s Byron Kerr‘s take.

We didn’t have a 2nd rounder (lost to Phillies for Werth), but Nats went very bold with Matt Purke in the 3rd.  Scouting pundits love the pick.  He’s hurt, but he was also a consensus top 10 pick at one point.  Its risky but bold.

For a full list of our picks, here’s the Draft Tracker at mlb.com.  Also, do a saved search on #Nats tag in twitter.

Written by Todd Boss

June 7th, 2011 at 2:26 pm

Nats at #6 take … Alex Meyer? Or Trever Bauer?

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Is Alex Meyers set to be our next 1st round draft pick? Photo: lex18.com

The consensus view on the draft and the Nationals Mike Rizzo‘s draft proclivities seems to fall along two lines of thought:

  • The 2011 draft is heavy on good college arms.  And…
  • Rizzo likes college arms.

So, the odds are he’s taking a college arm at #6.  Lets look at the top college arms available.  These are in rough order of their probable draft position.  All these pitchers are either college juniors or draft-eligible sophomores.

1. Gerrit Cole, Ucla.  Some concerns about his performance this year are knocking him from a consensus 1-1 position to possibly sliding to 5th (if you believe Keith Law‘s mock draft; see below).  If he got to the Nats, it’d be a steal.  But it comes with some concerns.  As in, how does a guy hitting 100mph only have a 9 k/9 rate?  Strasburg had comparable stuff and was striking guys out at nearly twice that rate.

2. Danny Hultzen, Uva.  Most have him going #3 overall to Arizona, some think Pittsburgh is getting scared off both Cole and Anthony Renden and will take him as a value pick, fast to the majors.  Despite his being a local guy, I’m not sure I want him if I’m the Nats.  Lefty, solid pitcher, fast to the majors sure.  But there’s some stories about his training methods and inflexibility to take coaching that are red flags in my opinion (see Trevor Bauer).  There’s also stories about a meddlesome father out and about, though I’d have a hard time that would translate to the pro game.

3. Trevor Bauer, Ucla.  Ucla’s “other” starter is actually going before Cole on some draft boards.  This, I don’t get.  He’s good, and he has a strong arm, but his ridiculous preparation methods and mid-inning throwing is so unorthodox that it may spell doom to whatever organization has to deal with him.  If he’s already telling people “don’t draft me if you want to change my preparation” then how will he ever take constructive criticism or coaching?  To say nothing of the 150-160pitch outings he’s frequently had this season.  He does have a ridiculous 189 Ks in 127 innings this year.  Here’s one scouting report on Bauer for your perusal.

4. Alex Meyer, Kentucky.  Fangraphs.com scouted and did an extensive report on Meyer, his stuff, and his outlook just this week, reviewing his Florida start.  Rizzo likes big body, power arms out of college and Meyer absolutely fits that bill.  Here’s a profile at mlbdraftinsider.com.  Here’s another at mlb.com by Jonathan Mayo.  The major thing that scares me about Meyer is his sudden reversal of fortunes over his first two college seasons.  How does a guy have a 7+ era as a sophomore then suddenly start throwing lights out (2.94 era, 110ks in 101 innings) as a junior?  Who is the real Meyer?

5. Sonny Gray, Vanderbilt. Good stuff, good results, bad body.  Just as with pro quarterbacks, no GM likes to take a sub-6-foot right hander.  Most think he’s headed for the bullpen … if so how could you possibly draft him this high?  A top5 overall pitcher better have future Ace starter potential.

Anyone below this point isn’t going to get past the Nats, since Anthony Rendon probably goes 1st or 2nd and one of the big-time high school prospects (among them possibly Bundy, Starling or Archie Bradley) may go top 5 as well.  Of the arms below; if any of them fall to #23 we may snap them up despite really needing bats in the farm system.

  • Jed Bradley, Georgia Tech.  Good lefty, good league.  Some think he’s top3, others think he’s lasting til the teens.
  • Matt Barnes, UConn.  I’m sure he’s a great pitcher but playing in the Big East isn’t exactly like playing in the SEC.
  • Taylor Jungmann, UTexas.  Stock is falling.
  • John Stilson, Tamu.  lots of K/9 in a good league.  Unfortunately he just destroyed his shoulder and probably won’t even be drafted.  He’ll be lucky to recover from a SLAP tear.
  • Matthew Purke, TCU.  Has had injury concerns all year but has a top-5 talent arm.  I’d wonder if the Nats would roll the dice at #23 or possibly in the supplemental round on him.  Keith Law posted today (insider only) that his price tag won’t be worth what he has shown this year, and I’m guessing he returns to school for his junior year.  More likely he’ll play in the Cape, try to re-gain his mojo and earn his (likely) $6M demand.

Lots of draft pundits are putting the Nats onto Kentucky right-hander Alex Meyer at the #6 spot.  According to some reports, the Nationals were initially targeting him at #23, but a strong 2011 season has him shooting up the draft boards.  If not Meyer, a lot of other mock drafts have us on Trevor Bauer, which scares me for reasons mentioned above.

Here’s some good mock drafts to refer to:

Final thoughts

I think Meyer may end up being an overdraft, but its hard not to fall in love with a big body and a big arm.  You can’t teach MPH.  Bauer (as Passan says) may be Lincecum 2.0 and certainly has amazing k/9 rates this year, but i’d be afraid of his unconventionalism.  Videos of his mechanics aren’t that crazy, and he definitely has a great arm.  We’ll see if the Nats go this way or surprise everyone.

Really Disagree with Tom Boswell’s column today…

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Mike Rizzo takes some incorrect criticism from Boswell today. Photo: centerfieldgate.com

Tom Boswell printed a column today (6/2) in the post (and online here).  It included some severe criticism of the general manager Mike Rizzo, including this quote:

Instead of scouting for players who might help in 2015, he should have been back home hosing down the Nats’ roof as the wildfires approached.

I may agree (somewhat) with his sentiments about the lack of leadership on the team right now, but I categorically disagree with this statement.  The Nats are NOT going to win the world series in 2011, and a few games lost in May fielding a lineup of predominantly players who aren’t even going to be with this team in 2013 is not going to mean squat to the development of this franchise overall.

The BEST place Rizzo needs to be is preparing for a draft where the Nats have 3 of the first 34 picks in a very talented draft, those three picks which could make a huge difference in the outlook of this team in 2013, let alone 2015.  And then he needs to prepare even better for the next few rounds, which can make or break a draft.  First rounders are high-money, high-visibility but its those 2nd-5th rounders (like, for example, Derek Norris, Jordan Zimmermann, or Danny Espinosa in our own system) that can turn your team around.

Sorry Boswell, I really disagreed with this column’s premise.

Written by Todd Boss

June 2nd, 2011 at 10:04 am

Posted in Nats in General

Boswell’s 5/31/11 Chat: my answers to his questions

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Stairs' performance lately led to Boswell answering the same question about him, twice. Photo: Carlson/AP via nydailynews.com

Boswell’s 5/31 chat; my answers to his questions.  I skipped the non-Nats questions, figuring that anyone could argue about Pujols, the Mets and what not.  I’ve paraphrased/shortened most of the rambling “questions” into single sentences, and have split “questions” that asked for multiple answers.

Q: (paraphrased): Should the Nats Release Stairs?  (This question was asked twice, at the beginning and later on).
A: Yes, they really should.  I continue to fail to see the utility of having Matt Stairs around.  I’ve talked at length about this point at various times in the past on this blog.  (Boswell agrees … says that he “looks awful,” but later on asks why we’re fixated on Stairs and that there’s bigger problems.  True, but right now i’d rather see Marrero batting .100 instead of Stairs.).

Q:(paraphrased): Should the Nats send Desmond to AAA to work on his hitting?
A: No, if only because there’s not really anyone decent to replace him.  What is the value of sitting or demoting Ian Desmond so that we can give a ton of at bats to Alex Cora or Brian Bixler?  Zero.  Unless we had a promising SS prospect in the minors worth seeing, there’d be no reason to sit Desmond right now.  (Boswell agrees, saying that Desmond has had “a million bush league at-bats”).

The only possible scenario that may eventually make sense; move Espinosa to short, demote/sit Desmond and bring up someone like Lombardozzi, Kobernus or Hague to play 2nd.  Except, Lombardozzi is not nearly ready for this move and isn’t on the 40-man, Kobernus is really struggling and looks like a draft bust, and Hague is halfway into his first pro season.  To say nothing of the fact that any move to bring Espinosa to a new position would be done in the spring, not in June.  (Ironically, Boswell mentioned this scenario .. but in his answer to the NEXT question).

Q: (paraphrased): Should Rizzo focus on hitting in the 2011 draft?
A: Yes … but the major league draft is always about getting the “best player available.”  Unlike a sport like basketball (where the existence of a small forward on a roster prevents a team like Portland from drafting Michael Jordan since you draft for need in the NBA), you cannot project what can happen to a major league roster over the course of the 4-5 years it takes to develop players.  Just because we have Ryan Zimmerman now, does not mean we should ignore drafting and developing 3rd basemen for the next 5 years.  If for no other reason than a good defensive 3rd baseman easily makes a switch to another position (2nd or 1st or even left field) if his bat turns out to be too valuable to keep out of the majors.

Now, that being said, the 2011 draft is college pitcher heavy.  So the first pick is almost guaranteed to be a college arm.  You take what comes to you, in many ways.  At #23, if a great college arm has dropped, you take him there as well.  (Future blog note; stay tuned for a review of the Nats choices and likely picks at #6).

Personally, I think the modern baseball team construction is about developing pitching first, and then buying hitting on the open market if you need to.  So, even given that we’re relatively thin on hitters at the lower levels, I don’t have a problem getting more and better arms if that’s what pops up on the radar.

(Boswell agrees, says, “go pitching,” noting that the Nats limiting factor is developing 1-2-3 starters).

Q: (paraphrased): What value does BABIP give?
A: For context, Boswell’s latest column was about Espinosa and the fact that he has a ridiculously low BABIP right now.

As Boswell notes, BABIP gives a context of just how lucky or unlucky a hitter (or pitcher for that matter) has been.  A pitcher with a low BABIP (like Tom Gorzelanny for us right now at .239) is eventually going to return to the mean.  A pitcher with a high BABIP is most likely unlucky and probably will experience a natural lowering of his ERA over time.

One factor to remember; a high-bunter will maintain an above average BABIP (like our favorite ex-leadoff hitter Nyger Morgan).  And, a skilled directional hitter (such as Rod Carew as mentioned by Boswell, but also someone like Wade Boggs) can maintain a higher-than league average BABIP just based on skill.  Ty Cobb, generally considered one of the best bunters of all time in addition to being one of the most prolific and skill ful hitters, maintained a .378 career BABIP.  That’s pretty amazing.

(Boswell more or less agreed with what I wrote).

Q: (paraphrased) Do we think that Riggleman’s style of managing has cost the team lately?
A: The team is awful in one-run games right now, and Boswell included a slight “dig” at Riggleman, quoting Earl Weaver‘s “play for one run early, lose by one run late” idiom and calling Riggleman a “small ball” manager.  Coincidentally, this column rankled Riggleman, who responded the next day with a blunt rebuttal.

To a certain degree I agree with the anti-small ball, anti-giving up outs sentiment; i’m not sure I like bunting guys over in the first or 2nd innings, assuming you’re not going to get to a starter.  Look at the 5/31 game; the Nats and their 2nd worst offense in the league hit THREE homers off of Halladay.  Who would have thought that?

That being said, I find it really tough to blame Riggleman for this team’s performance, at all.  Zimmerman out, LaRoche batting .187, Ankiel not much better.  These were the guts of this team’s proposed lineup and they’ve been missing or horrible all season.  The pitching staff management has been good for the most part.  We’re 2 games below our pythagorean W/L record but that’s probably mostly due to the outlier 17-5 game in Baltimore.

Riggleman isn’t the reason this team is 22-31; injuries are.  Blame the injuries, not the manager.  Well, injuries and an artificially low payroll for this market (but that’s another topic).

(Boswell doesn’t like Riggleman’s small-ball mentality and thinks he overmanages, as far as I can tell).

Q: Based on Zimmerman’s injury and LaRoche’s lack of productivity, does this team still have a shot to reach 75 wins?
A: They’re 22-31 now, on pace for 67 wins and a worse record than last year.  To finish with 75 wins they have to go 53-56 the rest of the way out.

Sorry, they’re not going to be a .500 team from here on out.  The bullpen is showing signs of wear, the starters are slowly declining to the point where all 5 are below a 100 era+, and there’s really nobody to bring up from AAA to stem the flow (as we saw on sunday with Maya’s mauling).

Getting back to last year’s 69 wins is a new team goal, frankly.

(Boswell somehow thinks the team still has a shot to reach 75 wins …. ).

Q: (paraphased) Are the Nats losing due to lack of talent, lack of fundamentals, or lack of accountability?
A: I’d say its lack of offensive talent.  Fundamentally you do see things here or there (bad decisions by fielders or baserunning errors) but the errors are way down lately.  Accountability?  Yes there was the Werth blowup recently, and perhaps he was pissed at some rookie behaviors.  We’ll never know; he clammed up and stopped talking to the press about it.

(Boswell lays the blame on Rizzo, interestingly.  Not sure I agree; how is a lack of production on the field the fault of Kasten’s departure from the club?  I do agree with Boswell in saying that this non-story will pass once the team has a winning streak).

Q: (paraphrased) Do the owners care that Nats-Phillies games in Washington become essentially Philly home games?
A: Personally, I don’t think the Lerners care.  They see a big gate, lots of revenue, lots of beers sold and lots of hot dogs consumed.  If they could schedule 81 home games against the phillies and make an extra $50M in gate, they’d be completely happy.

And that is kinda sad.  Its clear they’re running the franchise as a business and have profit targets in mind.  That sucks for fans b/c it means we’ll never really get a free-spending, open the checkbooks and go for it kind of owner.  Personally I hope some sort of payroll modifications are put into the next CBA, if only to prevent potential abuses of revenue sharing from profit-minded owners (see Lerner, Jeffrey or Nutting, Robert).

(Boswell didn’t directly address any opinion of the Lerners … just alluded to how he thinks he was a bad ass when he was in his teens).

Q: (paraphrased): How does the Nats farm system rank right now for positional players?
A: Most pundits don’t rank positional versus pitchers when looking at farm systems, but generally speaking the major analysts have the Nats farm system in the middle of the pack (12th-13th) right now.  It is slightly top heavy b/c of Harper.

A quick look at the system seems to show some good starters (Cole, Ray, Solis) and good hitters (Kelso, Harper) in low-A, scattered bright spots in high-A (Hague, Hood), a couple of bright spots in AA (Peacock, Lombardozzi, Norris) and a couple of very interesting arms in AAA (Meyer, Milone).  But that’s not enough depth, at all.

(Boswell thinks the system is weak).

Q: What is the future plans of these players: Moore, Norris, Lombardozzi, Detwiler and Balester?
A: Moore was old for Potomac last year but is doing well enough in AA.  Even if he doesn’t hit 30 homers he’s still an interesting prospect for now.  Norris is absolutely a future MLB catcher; he’s struggled post wrist surgery.  Lombardozzi could be at the least a good MLB utility infielder and i’m hoping he moves up and replaces the likes of Cora/Bixler/Hairston on the mlb roster.  Detwiler i’m concerned about; he’s not pitching well at all right now in AAA and I think he’s hurt.  Balester did well in a relief mode late last season and should be on the MLB roster if not for option statuses of several guys in that pen.  Longer term he has a live arm and should stick as a righty option for the extended future.

(Boswell doesn’t think as much of Balester as I do, but likes Norris and Lombardozzi).

Q: Are the veterans jumping ship on Riggleman (based on Werth comments and Marquis blow-up)?
A: I don’t think so … its way too early.  Its 50 games into a 7 year career for Werth.  He’s competitive, serious  and doesn’t like to lose.  The team has lost a bunch of games lately.  I think that’s all the Werth comments were about.

Marquis’ irritation in having an easy win taken away from him was understandable; he’s in a contract year, he’s taken plenty of losses in games where he’s pitched well enough to earn the win, and he felt like he should have been given that “free” win as a result.  I would have been pissed as well.

This whole team is veterans who should know their roles.  Cora, Hairston, Ankiel, Nix … every acquisition in the offseason was a vet.

(Boswell inexplicably reminds us that Riggleman and Boras are best buddies … in the context of what?  Because Werth is represented by Boras, somehow Werth will cut Riggleman a break?)

Q; (paraphrased) Was Alex Cora’s base-running really a gaffe?
A: Yes, absolutely.  He said he was running on contact, which is a mistake.  He HAS to make sure that ball clears the pitcher and watch the pitcher begin to make a 1-6-3 double play attempt.  (Boswell thinks Cora was right, which I disagree with, but also says it was a bad break, which is true).

Q: Is the Nats record in one-run games all Riggleman’s fault?
A: I’m sure he has something to do with it, but i don’t think you can put it all at his feet.  Boswell points out that Riggleman’s record versus the pythagorean is a massive outlier in comparison to top managers in the game  historically, and lists his “sentimental” managing as a result.  Hard to argue against that.  But its also much harder to win one-run games when you have an offense that barely scores 3.5 runs a game while your pitching staff usually gives up 4.

Q: (paraphrased): Is Davey Johnson waiting in the wings for Riggleman’s job?
A: Maybe.  who knows.  Put a better product on the field before killing the manager.  (Boswell says the team needs to spend more money in its manager budget).

That was fun!  He took a gazillion questions.

Written by Todd Boss

June 2nd, 2011 at 9:52 am

Minor League Rotations Cycle #10: good/bad/soso

2 comments

Sammy Solis finally makes his long awaited Nats debut. Photo: Mark Zuckerman via natsinsider blog.

The Dominican Summer League kicked off this cycle.  Sue Dinem does the recaps in the links below but I generally do not review and rate DSL arms.  Reason?  Too many names, too many guys who seem to go nowhere.  I’ll definitely be tracking the GCL and the short-A teams when they start up though.

Here are the daily links from NationalsProspects, for reference below:

Good

  • Shairon Martis had another solid start in AA on 5/28: 6IP 5H 0R 1BB 5K.  What is this showing us about Martis that we didn’t already know?  I’m still questioning his AA rotational spot frankly.
  • Taylor Jordan had an excellent outing on 5/28: 5IP 4H 1R 0ER 1BB 5K.
  • Erik Davis had a decent start on 5/29 for Harrisburg: 5⅓ 5H 1R 1ER 3BB 2K.  He scattered his hits and base-runners effectively enough to get the victory.
  • Oliver Perez had his 2nd excellent AA start in as many outings on 5/29: 6+ IP 5H 0R 0BB 5K.  Honestly, if we’re going to really consider Perez this season, shouldn’t we put him in Syracuse to see what he can do against better players?
  • AJ Cole had his best pro start yet on 5/30, going for 5IP 2H 1R 1ER 1BB 6K.  That’s the kind of dominant line we’re looking for.
  • Brad Peacock continued his dominance of AA, and created more calls for his promotion, with yet another dominant start on 5/31.  Line: 7+ IP 2H 1R 1ER 3BB 7K.  Among other startling season-long stats is his WHIP: 0.79.  Adam Kilgore featured him in the NatsJournal this week as well.
  • Garrett Mock, as well he should have, put in a dominant start in Potomac on 5/31: 6IP 4H 0R 2BB 6K.  I’m guessing this is partly a rehab start, partly a spot-start for a Potomac team that had to play back-to-back double headers and exhausted their pitching staff.
  • Robbie Ray was wild, but nearly unhittable, for Hagerstown on 5/31.  5IP 1H 0R 4BB 3K.   Season stats right now: 5 starts, 24 innings, 11 hits and ONE earned run.  I know he’s a youngster but is he quickly running of things to prove in low-A?

Bad

  • Bobby Hanson‘s 5/27 start was unlucky: 5IP 5H 4R 4ER 0BB 6K 1HR.
  • Trevor Holder put in another indictment of his draft slot on 5/28: 1⅔ IP 9H 8R 8ER 2BB 0K 1HR.   The awful outing raises his season ERA to 7.16 for a team that isn’t averaging nearly that many runs a game on offense.
  • Paul Demny couldn’t do much better than Holder, getting tagged for 4IP 6H 6R 6ER 5BB 4K 2HR in the nightcap on 5/28.
  • Spot starter JD Martin got shelled on 5/29: 3⅔ IP 8H 5R 5ER 0BB 3K 1HR.   I’m pretty sure he won’t be keeping the rotation spot.
  • Denny Rosenbaum was battered for 13 hits over 7 2/3, with 7 of those base-runners turning into runs, while his offense was beign shut down yet again.  Final line: 7⅔ 13H 7R 3ER 2BB 5K.  The 2nd half can’t get here quickly enough for the P-Nats.
  • Brady Meyers issued only his 2nd walk of the season en route to a loss in Syracuse 5/31: 5IP 8H 5R 5ER 1BB 2K 1HR.   But he also hit two batters in the first inning on the way to giving up 3 runs.  He seemed to settle down, cruising through the next 3 innings but gave up a quick single-homer to go down 5-0 in the fifth and got yanked.  Probably not the worst outing ever, but it wasn’t one of his best.

Mediocre/Inconclusive/Incomplete

  • Tom Milone‘s 5/27 start wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t great.  Line: 6⅔ IP 7H 4R 4ER 1BB 6K.
  • Tanner Roark‘s 5/27 start was interrupted by rain after 2 innings, so he gets an incomplete.  2IP 1H 0R 0BB 2K.
  • Craig Stammen may have been pitching to the score on 5/28, as he went for 7IP 8H 3R 3ER 2BB 5K after getting 5 runs from his side in the first.  Can’t fault a pitcher for getting an easy W.
  • Cameron Selik‘s high-A starts are getting better; his line on 5/29 was 5⅔ 5H 3R 2ER 1BB 2K in a losing effort.  Sue Dinem reports that he’s keeping the ball down more and commanding his slider a bit better than during his first few starts.
  • Evan Bronson had a quality start foiled by a last-inning homer in the “nightcap” of 5/29: 6IP 6H 4R 4ER 2BB 3K 1HR.  This is Bronson’s third spot start of the season and at times he’s looked better than his regular rotation counter parts.  One wonders if there may be a shakeup for the last-place Potomac team.
  • Matt Grace was staked a huge lead on 5/29 and pitched 7 innings en route to victory.  Line: 7IP 7H 4R 4ER 1BB 3K.
  • Another start, and another question mark for Ross Detwiler, who labored through 6 innings in Syracuse on 5/30.  Line: 6IP 7H 4R 4ER 3BB 5K 1HR.  Not awful, but we expect better from a former 1st rounder.
  • Tanner Roark recovered from a rough beginning to his 5/30 start, retiring 10 straight at one point and getting bailed out by his hitters.  Line: 6IP 7H 4R 4ER 3BB 2K 1HR.
  • Sammy Solis‘s long awaited debut was up and down: 4 2/3 4H 3R 3ER 3BB 7K.  Lots of Ks and per Byron Kerr he was touching 95 (that’s fantastic if he can maintain that kind of speed as a lefty), but a bit wild.   He clearly tired in the 5th inning, having only given up one hit in the first four.  I’m guessing his next start will be more in the 6ip, 3h, 8k range.

Relievers of Note and other Thoughts

  • Yunesky Maya, as we all know, became the first starter outside of the opening day 5 to get a game for the MLB club.  And he didn’t fare very well.  I’m guessing that he’ll be back in Syracuse after one more start.  He still can’t seem to avoid “the big inning” at the major league level.
  • Cameron Selik was the subject of a nice piece by Masn.com’s Byron Kerr, in case you missed it.
  • Still no idea who is making way for Solis in the Hagerstown rotation, since they had to use a 6th starter b/c of double headers this cycle.  My guess is still Grace.  We’ll see how it shakes up over the next 5 days.

Trends; last 5 starts

AAA trends (in rotation order)
Detwiler:      soso,bad,bad,bad,soso
Meyers          soso,good,soso,good,bad
Milone           bad,great,good,great,soso
Stammen     soso,good,soso,soso,soso
(Maya           great,good,soso,soso,soso->promoted)

AA Trends:
Martis           soso,soso,good,bad,good
OPerez           great,soso (1IP cut short),good
Peacock         very good,bad,great,great,good
Roark             bad,good,incomplete (2 ip cut short), soso
EDavis          bad,soso,incomplete (knee injury->dl),soso,good

High-A Trends:
Rosenbaum    good,soso,bad,good,bad
Clegg                unbelievably bad,soso,good,good,bad
Holder              soso,soso,good,bad,awful
Demny             good,soso,soso,bad,bad
Selik                  soso,bad->dl,soso,soso

Low-A Trends:
Jordan          good->dl,soso,soso,soso,good
Grace            soso,soso,soso,soso,soso
Cole                soso,soso,bad,good
Solis               soso
Ray                great,great,good,2ip short outing,good
Hansen         very good,soso,soso,good,good

Top 3 starters NEEDING promotion (as in, they’re not proving anything where they are): Perez, Martis, Mock
Top 3 starters earning a promotion right now: Peacock (who will stay here until he moves to AAA), Ray and no other real candidate right now.
Top 3 whose jobs are in jeopardy: The entire Potomac staff after Rosenbaum.

Written by Todd Boss

June 1st, 2011 at 3:06 pm