Nationals Arm Race

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

Archive for February, 2012

Braun appeal: Opinion and a part of the story few are talking about…

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Braun eloquently defended himself but left out a key part of the story that would have changed a lot of opinions. Photo Norm Hall/Getty Images via bleacherreport.com

(editor’s note: I updated and clarified two points in this post on 2/29/12 at 14:00 after receiving feedback from Will Carroll; apologies for misrepresentation.  He does not work for Baseball Prospectus and Braun’s testosterone RATIOs were elevated, not his testosterone levels).

I suppose I have to put my 2 cents in on Ryan Braun.

Here’s what I think; I’m less concerned about the fact that Braun got off on a supposed technicality (though that opinion has now changed given the information discussed further down below) than I am about the breaches in the process.  He suffered a career-damaging leak during what was supposed to be a confidential process and to that I say, shame on whoever leaked the information and double shame on ESPN for their TMZ-style reporting on the matter.  You want to be so cavalier with a person’s life and credibility?  I say you should be 100% culpable to your divulgions and should face financial punishment when Braun inevitably sues you for your leaks (as he has said he will do).

My view on drug testing and these self-appointed anti-doping organizations is incredibly skeptical; much like the NCAA, they self-aggrandize and preach about how they’re trying to keep sports clean, but then don’t acknowledge the irreversable damage done to athletes reputations when false positives, confidential leaks, and mistakes in the process come about.  Braun’s test was supposedly 10 times higher than what had EVER been measured before in baseball testing, and he had tested clean dozens of times before; why isn’t anyone talking about these two points together and asking the question, “gee, maybe something was actually wrong in this case?”   Why is everyone focused on how Braun “beat the system” but not questioning why, as he’s pointed out, he didn’t change his performance, didn’t gain a pound, and tested clean dozens of times previously?  Testing organizations TRY to find people who are cheating because it validates their existences, and when questionable evidence or results arise, instead of looking at things dispassionately they will always take the viewpoint that best supports their corporate missions.

This is related to my problems with the ongoing witch hunts surrounding Lance Armstrong as well; you have banned and proven liars in Tyler Hamilton and Floyd Landis who conveniently claim that Armstrong has cheated, yet you have Armstrong’s body of literally hundreds and hundreds of clean tests with absolutely no evidence of any positive test, ever.  At some point I’ve just kinda said, “Enough.”  Come to me with incontrovertable proof of a positive test or stop talking.  Interviews and “he said, she said” evidence is just that; hearsay.

(Note that the collector has released a statement describing what he did that fateful night and it sounds like he did nothing out of the norm, but his admittance that he stored the samples “in his basement” as opposed to a refrigerator certainly gave me pause).

We’re also seeing ridiculous theories on why the appeal was successful.  Deadspin is reporting that the arbitrator purposely blew the appeal to keep getting work (if i’m reading the article right).  I’ve read a theory that somehow Selig engineered this because of his relationship with Milwaukee.  I guess in the absence of anything besides what we learned from MLB’s ridiculous statement (saying they were “incredibly disappointed” in the arbitration finding seems to be unneccesarily vindictive) and Braun’s attack on the process (which also seemed over-stated; I don’t think its “fatally flawed,” just poorly worded), we’re left to our own imagination.


Now, that rant being said, check out this link at Hardballtimes from writer Mat Kovach. Apparently, Braun’s lawyers decided to see what would happen to Braun’s urine if they repeated the exact same scenario that led to the positive test … and after replicating the 3-day storage conditions before the samples were FedEx’d they found that a different urine sample showed the same elevated testosterone ratio levels!  I think a LOT of the outrage over Braun would disappear if this fact was more widely known.  In fact, frankly if this IS the case i’m not sure why Braun’s camp isn’t leading with this fact.  The narrative behind this story would go from “he got off on a technicality” to being “he got off because his sample was tainted” in a hurry.

Other sources on this topic include this link at Chad Moriyama‘s blog but apparently the person who really discovered this is Will Carroll.  Carroll has published a Kindle-reader story for 0.99 on Amazon and, well, its worth the 99 cent fee to buy and read (proceeds go to the Jimmy V fund).  You don’t need a Kindle reader; if you buy it right now you can read it via Kindle’s “cloud reader.”  For any of you who still have doubts on the case, you MUST read this story.

In fact, I’m still amazed that Carroll’s findings aren’t more well known.  The kindle article says that Carroll wrote it on behalf of si.com, so perhaps this is a future Sports Illustrated article (either in print or online or both).  I hope so; this story needs to have more traction.  To any the holier-than-thou baseball columnist or blogger stating that they “still think Braun is guilty,” I say simply, “read this article.”  To me its 100% incontrovertable proof that Braun’s sample was clean and that the conditions of its handling led to the positive test.

I just wish this was part of the narrative, instead of the tired “he beat the system” reporting that has dominated the story.

(Post-story update: Apparently Braun’s sample contained Synthetic Testosterone at advanced levels.  This particular fact puts a different spin on the entire defense of Braun above, honestly.   I’m less inclined now to defend the process and more at odds with the synthetic positive test.  That’s unfortunate.)

Written by Todd Boss

February 29th, 2012 at 9:15 am

Is a hidden Wang injury the real reason the Nats signed Jackson?

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Is there something wrong with Chien-Ming Wang? Photo Washington Nationals official

I can’t say that I was surprised when the team signed Edwin Jackson a couple months ago; Mike Rizzo very openly coveted Jackson at the trade deadline in 2010, with wide spread rumors of a 1-for-1 trade straight up for Adam Dunn falling through at the last minute.  Then, with almost no leading rumors during the waning weeks of the Hot Stove league this past off-season, the Nats swooped in for a relatively affordable $11M deal for the hard-throwing Jackson.  Rizzo likes power arms and Jackson is that power arm, and save any other reason for signing him, he makes the team stronger (especially if they can fix his windup/stretch splits).

Absent any other proof, I (and many others) figured that Jackson’s signing meant the end of the road with the team for John Lannan, who seemed set to lose out on the race for the Nats 5 rotation spots for 2012.  The logic seemed pretty clear to me:  Strasburg and Zimmermann are your home-grown 1-2 punch, newly acquired Gonzalez cost the team a ransom in terms of farm system depth, and now you had Wang and Jackson on newly signed one-year FA contracts.  The implication of the last point is thus: newly signed Free Agents, by rule of the CBA, cannot be traded without their consent in the first year of a FA contract until at least June 15th.  That’s 5 starters for 5 spots.

This didn’t seem to make sense; the team has an underrated talent in Lannan, a sturdy lefty who hasn’t missed a start due to injury in his career here and, save a mid season swoon in 2010 has been a better-than-replacement starter for this team.  Why purposely replace him?  Wouldn’t most every team trade their 5th starter for someone like Lannan, who (even at $5M) is a pretty good, cheap option?

A 5th paragraph item buried in Pete Kerzel‘s latest report on Wang may have a hidden detail; Wang has reportedly been dealing with “shoulder stiffness” early on in spring training.  Stiffness and limitations in the shoulder of someone coming off of shoulder surgery is not exactly the news you want to hear, though every other beat reporter spoke today of Wang looking “sharp” and his sinker showing “exceptional movement.”

Maybe that’s incredible over-analysis of an off-handed, probably benign comment.  Maybe the real answer is that Rizzo is at a point with this team where he can afford to buy too many starters and have depth above replacement starters in case someone goes down with injury.  I’ve said in this space Lannan is odd-man out if everyone is healthy and I still believe that (he has a minor league option but his relationship with the team likely will be ruined if he gets assigned to Syracuse).  Or perhaps Rizzo has a trade up his sleeve for the long-elusive center fielder.  Or, just perhaps, there’s a 15-day DL trip for Wang in our future with Lannan slotting right in where he has been for several years; in our opening day rotation.

Written by Todd Boss

February 27th, 2012 at 7:35 pm

Is there any Spring Training pitching competition for the Nats?

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Is it too early to guess who starts the Home Opener? My guess is newly acquired Gonzalez. Photo Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images via cbssports.com

We’re getting reports of players getting to Viera early, and we’ve had a slew of off-season moves.  Beat reporters are starting to talk about the 25-man roster (here’s WT’s Amanda Comak‘s take).  The Nats pretty much took care of every off-season need the had:

  • Top-end Starting Pitcher: Gonzalez
  • Backup Outfielder: Ankiel and Cameron (though, apparently Cameron is retiring instead of competing for a spot…)
  • Lower-end Starting Pitchers: Re-signed Wang, signed Jackson
  • Utility Infielders to replace Cora, Bixler, Hairston: signed DeRosa, claimed Rivera
  • Bullpen arm depth (to replace Coffey, Kimball): signed Lidge, traded for Perry

The notable exception to the off-season shopping list, of course, is a lack of a proven center fielder.  Perhaps one could quibble that a shortstop should have been on that list; it seems the team is giving another year to the Ian Desmond experiment, hoping he builds on the strong end of 2011 (he hit .294 in Aug and Sep of 2011).  The backup infielders and backup outfielders listed here, to go along with a slew of minor league/invite to spring training signings, should be where most of the competition for roster slots occurs.

The big question for me is; Is there any real competition for pitching spots this spring?

Starters

We all know the narrative; we now have 6 starters with multi-million dollar commitments for 5 spots, and someone has to give.  The Edwin Jackson signing has pretty much made John Lannan the odd-man out of this rotation.  Mike Rizzo likes power arms, and has gone to great lengths to acquire guys who throw more than 89-90 to replace what he inherited in 2009.   Wang and Jackson can’t be moved until June 15th without his consent by virtue of the FA signing rules (as discussed in this article here), Gonzalez just signed a long-term deal, and Strasburg/Zimmerman are our future.  To me, there’s no mystery who’s going to be in the rotation, and frankly articles that say there’s going to be a competition for the 5th starter between Wang, Lannan, Detwiler and Gorzelanny are not really paying attention to the contract realities of the situation.  Barring injury, your opening day rotation will be (in this order):

  • Strasburg, Gonzalez, Zimmermann, Jackson and Wang.

Should someone go down with injury, Lannan steps in to take the 4th or 5th rotation spot (depending on whether Davey Johnson likes to mix up LHSP/RHSP in any fashion).  Otherwise, Lannan is trade-bait and should be moved during the spring.  There are plenty of teams that could be trade partners if we wanted to focus on a center fielder (see this article I did in November talking about the CF market for the whole of baseball for some thoughts).  Barring a trade, it seems inconceivable but Lannan does still have a minor league option left and could be sent down, but a $5M pitcher toiling in Syracuse (to go along with $2M bust Yuniesky Maya) could make the Nats AAA team the most expensive minor league rotation in the league.  (We won’t say “most expensive ever,” since the Yankees kept Kei Igawa and his $46M commitment in the minors for most of his contract).

Relievers

A recent post on option status at Nationalsprospects.com (the option status of every player is now kept on the Big Board, which is good for me since I did this work last year and its a nightmare to keep track of), as well as a question asked of Bill Ladson leads to this conclusion: there literally is no question right now who your 7 bullpen members will be.  Tyler Clippard, Sean Burnett, Henry Rodriguez, Tom Gorzelanny and Ross Detwiler ALL are out of options.  Brad Lidge can refuse a demotion based on his service time and Drew Storen is your closer.  There’s your 2012 bullpen; not much room for anyone else.

The only wiggle room may be with someone like Detwiler: he’s clearly a starter and seems set to be the first Spot starter to fill in for an injury (assuming we trade Lannan of course).  Does the team keep him in the bullpen, where he basically fills the exact same role as Gorzelanny (ex-left handed starter long man/spot starter in a pinch)?  Or does the team cash him in to fill a hole?

This configuration leaves newly acquired Ryan Perry, Ryan Mattheus and Atahualpa Severino in AAA.  Cole Kimball starts on the 60-day DL (and, frankly, probably stays there; the odds of him coming back from that shoulder injury are low).  Lastly Craig Stammen joins Maya in AAA as deep-need emergency starters.

So, here’s your bullpen:

  • Closer: Storen
  • Setup: Clippard
  • 7th inning guys: Lidge, Rodriguez
  • Loogy: Burnett
  • Long Men: Gorzelanny and Detwiler

What’s nice about this bullpen is that, despite my naming players to roles, there’s lots of flexibility.  Rodriguez on a good day has 8th or even 9th inning stuff.  Lidge is a former closer and clearly can do the setup or closing roles.  Clippard excels in the 8th inning role and doesn’t seem to aspire to replace Storen.  Burnett is far more than just a one-out guy, but can serve that role in a pinch.  Lastly both Gorzelanny and Detwiler can be anything from a one-out lefty to a 3-4 inning mop-up guy, given the day.  I like the way this sets up and I think we go into 2012 with a better bullpen than in 2011 (when, if you recall, we wasted a spot on Brian Broderick, had the failure of Doug Slaten in the loogy role and watched Chad Gaudin pitch horribly).

Who starts the Home opener?

Quick guess: based on the way the schedule plays out it looks like our home opener will be thrown by our #2 starter Gonzalez.  We play two 3-game series away to Chicago and New York, then open at home with what should be the #2 rotation spot up.  There’s only one off-day in between, meaning the starters most likely stay on normal rest.

Nats Off-season News Items Wrap-up 2/19/12 edition

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RIP Gary Carter, one of only two Montreal Expos enshrined in Cooperstown. Photo via garycarter.org

This is your semi-weekly/periodic wrap-up of Nats and other baseball news that caught my eye.  I try to publish this about weekly or if it gets up to about 1500 words, so that it’s not to voluminous.

Nationals In General

  • Mark Zuckerman writes about a favorite topic of mine w/r/t the current Nats 40-man roster and its construction.  See here for a similar discussion of the 2011 Nats (along with analysis of the 8 playoff teams) from last October.  Clearly the more players you’re using as your “primary 15″ that were developed in house, the better you’re doing as a player development machine.  But there’s also the measure of cashing in those prospects in order to acquire resources.  (Coincidentally the “primary 15″ of a team means its 8 starters in the field, 5 rotation members, setup man and closer).  By last year’s end, the Nats were starting 9 of these 15 as players developed in house and were down to just three acquired via FA/Waivers.  That’s a massive step up from just a few years prior, when most of the team was FA/Waiver pickups.  We’ll revisit this topic once the 25-man rosters for teams are finalized and play starts in April.
  • The Washington Franchise leads the league in employment of Negative WAR players over the past decade.   A staggering 31% of our players in this time have shown negative WARs per season.   This is not surprising given what we know of the construction of the first few iterations of the Nationals; Zuckerman has done studies in the past related to the staggering number of players the Nats have played at the MLB level who, after leaving us, never appeared in a major league game again.   The last time Zuckerman did this study that I could find was Nov 2010, when he identified 59 such players just since 2005.  I don’t know what percentage that is of all players who appeared for us in that time-frame, but it seems high.  (note: I just did some analysis and will return with a blog posting on this topic soon).
  • Back to the negative war topic, here’s a list of such negative WAR seasons for the 2011 iteration of the team: Alex Cora, Jesus Flores, Chris Marrero, Steve Lombardozzi, Matt Stairs, Livan Hernandez, Doug Slaten, Brian Broderick, Yuniesky Maya, Collin Balester and Chad Gaudin.  That’s 11 of the 44 players who appeared in the majors for us last year, or exactly 25%.  So we’re not exactly out of the woods yes; clearly we continue to employ a ton of players who end up hurting the team.  (For the record I used bWAR instead of fWAR for this, since its a bit easier to see that data.  But i’d guess the analysis would come out the same for either measurement method).
  • Another article on Edwin Jackson and pitch-tipping.  Is it possible that a player could play for years and never have a hitter teammate tell him he’s tipping his pitches?  I think it depends on what team the pitcher plays for.  Mike Mussina infamously was told he tipped his change up once he moved to the Yankees, and he made the adjustment that enabled his stellar 2006 season.  Maybe the team should have just kept its mouth shut about their thoughts and not told every reporter in every press conference that they think their new $11M pitcher is flawed.

Free Agents/Player Transaction News

  • Interesting thoughts on whether “4-A” players really do exist and how to quantify them from Fangraphs.com.  Read through the comments for some better thoughts.  For me, this issue touches on two opinions I’ve been growing.  1st; yes there does exist 4-A players; the Nats have shown to have a slew of them recently.  Guys whose minor league performance literally disappears upon reaching the majors.  I don’t know how to quantify it but there’s clearly guys who bounce freely between the two levels and seem destined to max out as such a 4-A player.  2ndly: Is AAA now a “lesser” league than AA?  Perhaps not with all systems (for example, Tampa Bay insists all their prospects play full seasons at each level, as does Atlanta), but for the Nats we’ve seen some interesting promotion behavior lately.  Stephen Strasburg got hit harder in AA than in AAA during his brief minor league apprenticeship, but the difference is rather slight.  But watching the games you got the distinct feeling that his AA competition was getting decent wood on the bat, while in AAA it was like he was pitching to little leaguers.  This goes to my theory that AAA is morphing into a “spare parts” league, where teams stash backup utility players (mostly catchers, middle infielders, relief pitchers) who are on the 40-man and can quickly be recalled to fill a spot, while AA is the place where your rising prospects play full seasons in preparation for promotion to the majors.  Jordan Zimmermann never pitched a AAA inning, rising from a full season in Harrisburg straight to our rotaton.  Strasburg probably could have done the same.  Will we see Bryce Harper jump straight from AA to the Majors or will the strategy of Mike Rizzo going forward be more Tampa-esque, requiring each prospect to “master” each level rising upwards?
  • A surprise team lands Yoenis Cespedes, namely the penny-pinching Oakland A’s in a 4yr/$36M deal.  4 years and $36M!?  That’s more than they will spend in payroll on their entire TEAM in 2012.  Maybe.  That’s a lot of cash for a completely unproven, if talented player who I’d say is not entirely MLB ready.

General Baseball News

  • Excellent article on the Demise of the Spitball and other Doctoring techniques from Grantland’s Jonah Keri, whose writing I’ve always liked and who is working on a historical retrospective on the Montreal Expos franchise.   Keri’s article talks about the Kenny Rogers pine-tar incident in the 2006 World series, but I don’t consider that “doctoring” the baseball.  That was simply using pine-tar to get a better grip on a cold, wet night.  Not that its legal; just different from the more conventional definition of a “spitball.”   Keri’s conclusion as to why the spitball has disappeared is attributed to the invention of the modern split-fingered fastball (attributed to Bruce Sutter) and to the lack of proper teachers (the craft of doctoring the ball has been handed down generation to generation by pitching coaches).  But honestly I believe the decline is more attributable to two other factors; the lingering stigma of getting caught being higher now post-PED era than every before, and the fact that the true “spitball” is damn difficult to throw (imagine trying to “throw” a baseball with the same motion you might use to squirt a pumpkin seed from your fingers?  That’s what throwing a spitball is like to a certain extent).
  • In typical modern day sabrematrician blogger nerd fashion, someone at a stats-oriented site goes about attacking another writer’s observation column.  In this case, it is someone at Baseball Prospectus attacking the Verducci Effect.  I can’t argue with his stats (other than to quibble with the lack of publication of his control group for comparison), but I suspect he misses the point.  I don’t think Verducci passes this list off as a statistical study; i think its passed off as a subjective list of candidate pitchers who HE THINKS may regress.  See, there’s the rub.  He’s already done the breakdown from the “control” group of pitchers who may be candidates for his study but whom he thinks may not be in jeopardy.  So I’m presuming that, because of this pre-selection and expression of opinion this is no longer a statistical study but an opinion piece.  I’d liken it to analyzing statistically the results of an amateur scout’s player recommendations; sure you could run one in order to judge a scout’s prognostication ability, but there’s so much variation in what happens to players once they sign that it wouldn’t be meaning ful.  I guess my take away is this: Verducci does a pretty durn good job of predicting red-flags for these pitchers (84% over the past 5 years), that maybe we should just recognize his study for what it is, and not overanalyze it to try to discredit it.
  • A nice article about another favorite topic of mine: the relationship between Wins and salary.  The familiar narrative is that payroll discrepancies are killing modern baseball, and to a certain extent I do agree; its no coincidence that the high payroll Yankees have only missed one playoff appearance in the nearly-20 years since the wild card era began.  But the ratio of wins to salary is dropping.  Why?  Because several teams have sacrificed several seasons to basically reset and start over.   Tampa Bay and Texas are the best recent examples, but we’re also seeing remnants of this theory here in Washington and starting anew in Houston and Chicago.
  • Nice little Intro to Sabremetrics from Espn-W.  The author doesn’t go into the real in-depth stats that a lot of people are gravitating to but does cover the basics.  OPS, Fip, UZr, wOBA, Vorp and WAR.  Now if we could only decide on a standard WAR.  :-)
  • Another classy move from baseball’s classiest organization; the Miami Marlins.  Yeah, lets un-retire the number of a former employee who died tragically since, well, he didn’t work for the current ownership group.

General News; other

  • Excellent article at Grantland.com on the Effects of CTE and the possible future (end?) of Football as we know it.  This is something I have been saying for a while and agree with; the increased awareness of concussions and their relationship to the longer term effects (the affliction known as Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy or CTE) may soon start to really change the way that people think about the sport.  More to the point, as a parent does the thought of repeated concussions inflicted on your young football-playing son give you pause?  It would for me.  Read this article and it makes some very good points.  90,000 recorded pre-collegiate concussions per year?!


Ladson’s inbox: 2/14/12 edition

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Which Henry Rodriguez will the Nats get in 2012? The July version or the September version? Photo unknown via humorfeast.blogspot.com

Another edition of mlb.com beat reporter Bill Ladson’s inbox, dated 2/14/12.  As always, I write my response before reading his, and sometimes edit questions for clarity.

Q: I loved what I saw from relievers Henry Rodriguez and Craig Stammen last year. What do you think 2012 has in store for them?

A: I loved what I saw from Henry Rodriguez too … as long as it wasn’t July.  Check out his splits from 2011: he posted an 8.10 in July but was excellent otherwise.  Also noteworthy is how much he managed to put things together in September; he had 14/4 Ks/BBs in his 12 1/3 September innings (and only one wild pitch!), by far his best bb/9 rate of any month.  Whatever the coaching staff was finally able to get him to do, assuming it took all season to get there, paid off.  The question for 2012 is this; can he be the guy he was in September, is he gonna be the guy we saw most of the rest of the season, or is he gonna be Mr. July?

Craig Stammen may have had stellar late-season numbers in 2011, but look at his game log.  He had 5 appearances in September; Houston (worst team in the league), NY Mets (which by September was fielding a AAA lineup), Florida twice (your last place team in the division), and a reeling Philadelphia squad (which finished the season a pedestrian 16-14).  I like Stammen but think that his role is pre-ordained for this team in 2012; he’ll be a starter in Syracuse, biding his time and serving as insurance for a starting pitching meltdown in Washington.  He may get another September call-up but he seems set to reach minor league free agency in next off-season.  Ladson says he thinks Rodriguez will have a break-out season based on September.  Fair enough guess.  He thinks Stammen may make the team as a long-reliever?!  Not sure how; have you see the options status of the bullpen lately?  Click on the Big Board and look at the Options tab; Tyler Clippard, Sean Burnett, Henry Rodriguez, Tom Gorzelanny and Ross Detwiler ALL are out of options.  Brad Lidge can refuse a demotion based on his service time and Drew Storen is your closer.  There’s your 2012 bullpen; not much room for anyone else.

Q: Who do you think will be the Nationals’ Opening Day starters in right and center field? Do you think Bryce Harper gets the nod with Jayson Werth in center?

A: Gun to the head i’m going with Jayson Werth in RF and Rick Ankiel in CF.  Bryce Harper is not going to make the opening day roster.  I wish this story would go away.  Lets bottom line it; 2 months of Harper as a 19-yr old at the expense of possibly 15-18M in extra payroll due to the kid by starting his arbitration clock early PLUS possibly losing his age-25 year to free agency is NOT going to be an adequate trade-off.  Davey Johnson may want Harper on his opening day lineup, but Johnson isn’t responsible for administering the long-term plan for this franchise.  Ladson doesn’t even address the arbitration clock issue and says he thinks Werth-Harper is best combination.  Great reporting.

Q: Assuming Harper starts in the Minor Leagues, why not have Mark DeRosa as an option in right field? The team can still put Werth in center. When healthy, DeRosa is a proven hitter who could provide more offense than any platoon of players could.

A: Hmm.  Just looked up Mark DeRosa‘s uzr/150 in the outfield over his career and it isn’t half bad; he didn’t play any OF for San Francisco in 2011 but has decent numbers historically in either corner outfield position.  Problem is, he’s a righty.  If you put Werth in CF and DeRosa in right, then you’re fielding a lineup of 6 righties and 2 lefties.  Not good unless you’re going up against a lefty starter.  Which, of course, the NL East has plenty of.  So yeah that may be a line-up option.  Ladson agrees.

Q: What is Danny Espinosa doing to correct the drop-off that we saw during the second half of the 2011 season?

A: A good question; lets hope that its “first full season-itis” that led to natural league adjustments and player fatigue of playing 162 games when theretofore he had only ever played around 140 in a full minor league season (to say nothing of the 50-some odd games that collegiate players play, with mostly mid-week games against weak opponents).  Espinosa has been working hard this off-season and it would be nice to see his lefty/righty splits improve over last year (.223 batting lefty but .283 batting righty).  Ladson also predicts a break out season for Espinosa.  Is there anyone he does NOT think will have a breakout 2012?

Q: Does Stephen Lombardozzi have a legitimate shot at taking a starting spot from Ian Desmond in Spring Training? Desmond has been inconsistent and doesn’t get on base enough for someone with little power.

A: Hard to see that.  Yes Desmond is inconsistent at the plate but he’s also pretty good in the field.  Lombardozzi needs to get some more exposure to MLB pitching to see if his minor league numbers are legit or a mirage.  Ladson says Lombardozzi gets a shot if either middle infielder really struggles in April.

Q: With the addition of Edwin Jackson, where does Ross Detwiler fit with the Nationals?

A: I think its pretty clear that Detwiler is now 7th on the starting pitcher totem pole.  Perhaps even 8th behind Gorzelanny, who has had several seasons of starting versus Detwiler’s handful of sporadic starts over the past few seasons.  Based on option status, Detwiler is in the bullpen as long-man/spot starter, barring injury.  I don’t think the team is really featuring a competition for starting pitching; if it comes down to it I see either Wang or Lannan getting traded or “injured” heading to April 1st.  Ladson agrees.







What does it really mean to be “In the Hall of Fame?”

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Here's a question for you; Is Pete Rose "in" the Hall of Fame? Photo unknown via luminousroc.com

(Editor’s note: I wrote this more than a month ago but got sidetracked.  So apologies for the content being a bit dated).

A post-mortem thought to the overwhelming number of baseball columns, blog postings and sabrematrician rants against Jack Morris but emphatically for Jeff Bagwell in the weeks swirling around the 2012 Hall of Fame elections.

What exactly does it mean to be “in” the Hall of Fame?

Yes, I know what it really means; if you’re elected to the HoF,  you get a bronze plaque in the Hall of Fame gallery, listed among all others that have been elected and selected over the course of the past 80 years or so.  (Of course, if you go an look at the names on the plaques I’ll challenge you to recognize all the names enshrined; there’s been so much revisionist history of players from the 1930s done by veterans committees, as well as an almost apologetic enshrinement of nearly every halfway decent Negro Leagues player from the early part of the century, that the actual “Hall” contains mostly names that are unknown to most mainstream baseball fans.  But I digress…).

But here’s the thing; for all that is spoken about the fact that Shoeless Joe Jackson and Pete Rose “are not in the hall of fame” …. they really are!  Both players have their images and discussion of their impact on the game in the various decade-specific exhibits, and nearly every other player who has been of significance has a picture or part of an exhibit at some point within Cooperstown’s walls.  Both players are bio’d, discussed and have their accomplishments documented.

So, in some ways I don’t really “get” the argument.  All these players we argue about endlessly ARE in the Hall of Fame.  As is Mark McGwire, Barry Bonds and most of the steroid-era players by virtue of their mention in the “Records” exhibit about 2/3 of the way through the museum.

For me, the Hall of Fame is a museum dedicated to the history of the game; certainly that’s how its set up and configured (If you’ve never been … you’d probably be surprised if you visited).  All these aforementioned players are a part of that history, whether we like it or not.  And the Hall recognizes that, not shying away from listing players who have known warts or who have had their candidacy for the enshrinement section banned by a current or former Baseball Commissioner.

Maybe all these arguments surrounding whether or not Player X belongs “in the Hall of Fame” need to be tempered, or at least modified to say “in the specific enshrinement exhibit.”

Written by Todd Boss

February 16th, 2012 at 7:04 pm

Nats Off-season News Items Wrap-up 2/11/12 edition

2 comments

Mr. Jackson Comes to Washington. Photo unknown via sportsbank.com

This is your semi-weekly/periodic wrap-up of Nats and other baseball news that caught my eye.  I try to publish this about weekly or if it gets up to about 1500 words, so that it’s not to voluminous.

Apologies for the delay on this; life sometimes intervenes into blogging :-) .  Most of this news is at least a week old.

Nationals In General

  • John Lannan presses his luck, goes to arbitration with the team and “loses,” meaning he’ll only get $5M in 2012 instead of the $5.7M he was seeking.   I thought $5M was rich frankly; using my 40/60/80% theory on arbitration salaries (as in, your first year arbitration salary is roughly 40% of your open market free agent value, 2nd year 60% and so on…) I thought Lannan’s salary would be roughly $4.8M (equating to an $8M salary on the open market).  Still, he nearly doubles his 2011 salary of $2.75M despite having a sub .500 record (yes I know that’s relatively meaning less but still).
  • In the out of nowhere department, Edwin Jackson signs with the Nats.  1yr, $11M (with $2M deferred to 2013).  Scott Boras finds employment for another client in Washington DC.  Mike Rizzo immediately had to comment on the future of John Lannan, who clearly seems like the odd-man out despite being guaranteed a $5M salary in 2012.  I should do a more in-depth post on this situation … Rizzo mentioned at the press conference a “flaw” in Jackson’s delivery that they’ve identified; its not often you invest $11M into a guy just to say he’s flawed.  But the splits are pretty obvious: As noted by Joe Lemire with no-one on base the league had an astounding .868 OPS (slash line: .339/.390/.478) against Jackson but with runners on that figure dropped to .665 (slash line: .239/.292/.373).  However most every other pitcher in the league experiences the reverse of this situation, faring better out of the wind-up than from the stretch.  Maybe Jackson needs to pitch from the stretch all the time…. For context, a Batting Average Against (BAA) of .239 for an entire season would have ranked Jackson around 30th for all qualified Starters in the league, better than supposed Aces Matt Garza and Zack Greinke.  Maybe we didn’t get a 4th starter; maybe we got something close to a #2 starter in disguise.
  • Very good Nats starting pitching option analysis post Jackson acquisition from David Shoenfield, who does some trade analysis for Lannan and comes up with some good options.  And Joe Lemire does a 5-point analysis of the Nats and concludes
  • Si.com‘s very detailed article on Venezuelan baseball, safety concerns and details on the Wilson Ramos kidnapping case.
  • A link to try out for the Racing Presidents.

Free Agents/Player Transaction News

  • Reports from both Craig Calcaterra and Jon Heyman that JD Drew may retire based on the lack of interest this off-season.  See, I have a big problem with this.  Drew’s career numbers are very under-rated; he’s got a career .873 OPS and a career 125 OPS+.  Yes he tailed off badly in 2011, and has struggled with injuries the past several seasons; but look at his OBP  figures; he could be the solution to the Nats outfield problem!  I think I need to write a post on this.

Hall of Fame leftovers

  • More interesting Jack Morris articles; this one talking about the fact that he was the “winningest pitcher” of the 80s.  Which he was, by a fairly large margin (20 wins if memory serves).  Here’s the pertinent fact: EVERY single pitcher who has led a “decade” in wins is in the Hall of Fame, prior to Morris and the 80s.  The leader for the 90s was Greg Maddox, who may become the first unanimous first ballot hall of famer (unless of course someone makes a “statement” vote by mailing in a blank ballot or something stupid).  The leader for the 2000 decade?  Andy Pettitte, who I think will struggle to make the Hall just as Morris has.  Now, does this mean that Morris and Pettitte are automatically hall of famers by virtue of leading their decades?  No, probably not, but just because a pitcher is a “borderline” candidate doesn’t mean they don’t deserve consideration.  I’ll bet we’ll be arguing about Pettitte the same way we’re arguing about Morris in about 10 year’s time.  The other interesting takeaway from this article was this google doc spreadsheet, where someone went through and calculated the leader of every 10-year period to see how the “leader of the decade” worked on rolling 10 year scales.  You’re hard pressed to find a non-hall of fame pitcher on this rolling scale no matter what the 10 year period.
  • An interesting article that says that certain legendary hitters are “overrated” when looking at career WAR.  This is something I’ve been saying for years, especially with those that think Bert Blyleven is one of the best pitchers ever to play the game.  WAR is an accumulator stat, overrating mediocre-but-extremely-healthy players who rack up a ton of stats over time.  My simple case in point: Blyleven’s career WAR of 87.6 ranks him 44th of all time, while Pedro Martinez‘s career WAR is 73.5.  Anyone who looks at me with a straight face and says that Blyleven therefore is a better pitcher than Martinez needs to consider both this article and my statement.  Stats are what they are; they are tools that help people analyze and consider behaviors.  They’re not be-all, end-all statements.
  • The above article led me to create this interesting trivia question; what baseball player has the highest career WAR but who is not enshrined in the Hall of Fame (counting these caveats; the player can’t be currently active, pre-Hall of Fame eligible or currently ON the hall of fame ballot)?  The answer is Bill Dahlen, with a career WAR of 75.9 and who played from 1891 to 1911.  He played mostly short stop, which explains why his WAR is so high considering his career OPS+ of 109.  Pete Rose, coincidentally, is just behind him on the career WAR leaderboard and would probably be most people’s guess.

General Baseball News

  • Adam Dunn talks about his “one stupid year” in 2011 to the Chicago Sun-Times (h/t to Craig Calcaterra).  I do feel sorry for Dunn, who seems to have caught a perfect storm of adjustments (switching leagues, switching teams, switching positions, moving cities and going to a unique on-field manager just to name a few) just at the wrong time, leading to his historically bad season.  I hope he figures out what he needs to do to return to his prior form.
  • Interesting NYTimes article by Tyler Kepner (h/t to Calcaterra again) on the Identity Fraud problem for baseball players in the DR.  This of course is a follow up to the latest scandal, this time involving all-star Cleveland pitcher Fausto Carmona, or as we now know his real name to be Roberto Hernandez Heredia.  He paid off someone 3 years younger to assume his identity, and was outed when he stopped paying the bribe.  (side note: if you pay someone to help you do something illegal … chances are you’ll probably be outed on your illegal behavior 100% of the time if you remove the sole incentive for keeping that person quiet.  Duh).   Anyway; the interesting takeaway here was the anonymous quote that more than “a dozen such cases” could soon get exposed.  I hate anonymous quotes like this, but on this topic it isn’t surprising.  Age disputes have dogged Albert Pujols for years (though I doubt them personally; if he really is 2-3 years older than he says, then he would have been a MUCH bigger prospect out of high school).
  • An article at Cleveland.com (but which is of severe interest to Washington fans as we re-negotiate our MASN deal) talking about Regional Sports Network TV money highlights an interesting point that nearly every team in a major market soon will have tens of millions more dollars in their pocket, thanks to renegotiated TV deals.  We squawk about how the big market teams over spend now?  How about when suddenly teams that are “mid-market” but spending $100M on payroll get an extra $30-$40M to play with?  I wonder if the solution for the betterment of the sport (considering that a team in a small market like Milwaukee only gets about $12M total in TV money) is going to be to go to a NFL-style TV revenue model where all 30 teams share the same pool equally.  That last sentence of course will never happen; the Steinbrenner family isn’t about to give up HUNDREDS of millions of dollars of their own money to help tight-fisted owners in other cities pad their bottom line.
  • I hate seeing this story blown so far out of proportion: Josh Hamilton had “a few drinks” at a bar and now there’s headlines talking about a “relapse” and holier than thou stories about how this is going to cost him tens of millions of dollars.  This post on sbnation.com asks the right question; “Is this any of our business?”  I had 3-4 drinks one night at dinner last week; am I I a relapsed alcoholic?  Of course not.  I guess this is the price of fame.

General News; other

  • Months ago, when Tyler Hamilton had his gripping appearance disclosing all sorts of supposedly incriminating facts about Lance Armstrong on 60-minutes I had a rather heated discussion over email with some fellow sports-fanatic fans talking about whether that interview was really “proof” of Armstrong’s having cheated his way to 7 tour de France wins.  I guess not: Federal prosecutors closed the inquiry into Armstrong after a 2-year witch hunt.  I was much more vehement on this topic before but my general stance is this; Armstrong took hundreds of drug tests in his life and never ONCE tested positive.  There’s allegations of cheating by former teammates who themselves lied about cheating (and were eventually caught), and there’s allegations of covered-up tests (which can’t be corroborated), and there’s rumors and innuendo.  But nowhere, ever, has anyone actually found anything close to concrete “proof” that Armstrong cheated.  So to anyone who still thinks he’s a cheater, I’ll say this: “Innocent until proven guilty.”  And nobody will ever find any proof, because (as is noted in this column) if Jeff Novitzky couldn’t find the proof, nobody will.
http://espn.go.com/mlb/story/_/id/7533216/edwin-jackson-agrees-washington-nationals