Nationals Arm Race

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

Archive for September, 2012

Can we find a 5th starter for 2013 internally?

32 comments

Could Garcia's great stuff translate into a starting role in 2013? Photo unknown via federalbaseball.com

I’ve been thinking about the rotation  for 2013, reading some early 2013 Free Agent rankings, and steeling myself for the reality that this team is more than likely to lose Edwin Jackson to free agency.  Two primary reasons we probably lose Jackson:

1. He’s one of the best available starters in this coming off season’s FA market

2. He’s likely to command a multi year deal at more money than this team is probably willing to offer.

Considering our “core 5 starters,” Jackson ranks 5th out of 5 in terms of ERA and ERA+, and he’s 4th of 5 in terms of Whip and FIP, and 3rd of our 5 (barely) via xFIP and SIERA.  He’s been clearly out pitched this year by our 5th starter Detwiler and isn’t ahead of the big three in anyone’s eyes.  So the question is; will the Nats make its 5th starter its highest paid pitcher?

I just don’t think so.

So we’re likely looking for a 5th starter for 2013.  The FA market is pretty bareZack Greinke is going to command a massive deal for a guy who, honestly, has had one stellar season in 2009 and since has been no better than a 3rd starter.  I think the Nats should stay away from him.  The Nats should also stay away from promising starters in 2012 but who have injury or inconsistency issues (Dan Haren and Jake Peavy, both of whom likely have their 2013 options declined).  Who else is out there that fits the Mike Rizzo mold (hard thrower, high K/9 rates)?  Shawn Marcum?  Brandon McCarthy?  Also injury concerns.  How about Anibel Sanchez, Jonathan Sanchez and Ervin Santana?  All three guys have good seasons in their immediate past but blew up (or were at best inconsistent) in 2012.

Maybe the above paragraph is even more support for re-signing Jackson frankly; he’s got no injury issues, apparently is a good clubhouse guy and meets Rizzo‘s starter criteria for veteran, hard-throwing innings eater.  So maybe this whole article is going to be moot.

Here’s a different take (and the point of this article); some news items came out this week that caught my eye; perhaps the Nats can find a 2013 5th starter internally instead?  Christian Garcia has really impressed in 2012, from his stellar minor league numbers to his good performances out of the bullpen in September.  And now word has it that the team is considering looking at him as a starter.

I love Garcia’s stuff; he’s a 3 plus pitch guy with a ton of movement on his decent fastball.  Here’s some Pitch F/X data for him this year; 95mph average (peaking at 97.8mph), 10mph delta between his fastball and change, and a ridiculous amount of movement on his 12-6 curveball.  He’s getting nearly a 20% swing-and-miss rate across all his pitches.  Fangraphs.com even did a post specifically on Garcia based on his September performance, featuring an animated .gif of  his “stupid good” curve.

That features as a pretty good starter line to me.  Perhaps he needs a 4th pitch (his over-the-top delivery could lend itself to a sinking 2-seam fastball, a cutter or even a split-fingered pitch that he could add to his arsenal) to be truly effective as a starter.

Meanwhile, the team has already started the Ryan Perry conversion to starter experiment, and his AA starting numbers in 2012 were pretty good.  Pulling this text from my AA-in-review post:

Ryan Perry, astutely acquired for Collin Balester (who failed to impress in Detroit and was DFA’d earlier this year) in spring training and he competed for the MLB bullpen.  He featured briefly, was ineffective and was optioned to AAA.  The team took a look at his repertoire and decided to try to convert him to a starter in AA.  The results?  Pretty good; a 2.84 ERA and 1.11 whip in 13 AA starts.  Outlook for next season: here’s the problem with Perry; he’s out of options for 2013.  He was added to a 40-man roster in April 2009, and burned options in 2009, 2011 and this year.   So he has to either make the MLB club or be DFA’d at the end of spring training.  So look for Perry to compete for the #5 starter job or be considered trade bait in the off-season.

Can Perry continue his starter performance in spring training in 2013?  Could Garcia win the job?  Will the Nats pursue a starter on the FA market?  Or, as they did in the 2012 off-season will they shock us with a trade that comes out of nowhere?

Jeffrey Loria; Worst owner in sports?

6 comments

Jeffrey Loria, a wanted man in Miami. Photo unknown via si.com

I think in my next life my job title will be “really good buddy of Bud Selig.”  That way I can be assured of running one baseball franchise into the ground (Expos), then having a baseball franchise gift-wrapped for me (Marlins), get to do all sorts of unethical and a-moral things like blatantly deceive politicians to rob taxpayers of hundreds of millions of dollars (to build their new stadium) while continuing to massively profit from my venture (as we discovered when the books of the Marlins were leaked).

This is the life of Jeffrey Loria.

But the news doesn’t get much better for the Marlins fans.  An off-season of spending to prepare for the opening of the new stadium included three major free agents,  none of which really made any sense:

  • Jose Reyes, except you already had an all-star short stop in Hanley Ramirez
  • Mark Buehrle, a career workhorse with a near .500 record but now being paid like an ace
  • Heath Bell, millions of dollars for the most over-rated position on the team (closer).

The team also acquired $19M/year Carlos Zambrano.  The Reyes and Buehrle deals were heavily back-loaded, essentially grenades awaiting the team in a few  year’s time.

Halfway through the season, Ramirez was traded, Bell ineffective and demoted, replaced by a MLB-minimum salary guy in Steve Cishek, Zambrano buried in the bullpen and Buehrle sitting with a .500 record.   The Marlins moved a few other guys (the FA to be Anibel Sanchez, the disappointing Gaby Sanchez, and Edward Mujica namely) at the July deadline in a clear “white flag waving” move just a few months into their supposed “new phase of Marlins baseball.”  The team sits in last place, 22 games under .500 in a season they were supposed to compete.

The news doesn’t get any better for the team or the fans this past week:

Wow: great time to be a Marlins fan!  And there’s really not much hope rising up from the minors; in the past the Marlins could get by with penny pinching and still field a competitive team on the backs of its excellent player development staff (you know, the same player development staff that fueled the Montreal Expos for years and which he ripped out and brought with him to Florida in 2004).   Now the Marlins farm system is considered to be one of the worst in the majors and is relatively devoid of rising talent.

Fun times ahead for Miami.  I hope you enjoy that brand new stadium that nobody will be coming to, Mr Loria.  Hey, at least the Nats can stop getting killed by Miami year after year head to head (Here’s our record against Florida/Miami over the past few years: 9-9 this year, 7-11 last year, 5-13, 6-12 and an amazing 3-14 in 2008).  With the Mets in a long-term rebuilding program and the Marlins cratering, we really only have to worry about two divisional rivals for the foreseeable future.


Wild Card Pitching Strategy

leave a comment

Kris Medlen is as close to an automatic win as there exists now. Should the Braves use him? Photo unknown via totalprosports.com

I was listening to the excellent Fangraphs.com podcast last week, hosted by Carson Cistulli and featuring excellent writer Dave Cameron, and Cameron (who writes the blog USS Mariner in addition to his Fangraphs work) proposed an interesting theory for handling a pitching staff in the wild card game.

Conventional wisdom states that the Atlanta Braves (who I’m using as an example here because I think they’re the best bet to advance in a wild card game right now) would throw their unbeatable ace Kris Medlen in the play-in game.  Reasoning: you can’t leave your best starter on the bench in a do-or-die game; you have to try to win it.  So you throw your best guy to win that game and then deal with the consequences the next round.

(Tangent: I’m pretty sure MLB assumed that a side effect of adding a second pitcher would result in a weakened wild card winner, which benefits the #1 seeded divisional winner and gives them an advantage going forward.  I certainly talked about this as a benefit when I lauded the 2nd wild card in this space earlier this summer.   But the roster loopholes in the wild card game that can be exploited as explained below and the first two home games on the road for the higher seeded team are both major issues that need to be addressed asap).

But what if the Braves decided to try something unconventional instead of just throwing Medlen??  Because of the scheduling of the playoffs, the wild card game winner will get a day off between Friday 10/5/12 and Sunday 10/7/12, meaning they could empty their bullpen and have every single guy down there throw his typical limit of innings and still have everyone available on Sunday for the first game of the Divisional Series.  So Cameron’s theory is; don’t start your ace; start your bullpen guys, who (especially in Atlanta’s case) are more efficient at getting guys out on a short-term basis.  Then, after a few innings of relievers throwing, you take a look at the game and decide then if your starter needs to go in.

What if Atlanta were to start some bullpen guys instead of Medlen in a play-in game, then suddenly Atlanta jumps out to a 4-0 lead.  You could then put in a different starter (say, the #3 starter, who could throw on 10/5/12 then be ready on normal rest for game 3 of the NLDS on Wednesday 10/10/12) to finish out the game.   You could keep some bullpen guys in reserve to stamp out any fires, but in theory you could manage a game in this fashion and preserve your best starter.  Plus, a major loop-hole in the playoff roster specification rules means that Atlanta could field a far different roster for just this wild card game than for the rest of the playoffs.  They could leave off basically their entire rotation and add in 4 more bullpen arms and continue parading out fresh arms all night like it was a spring training game.

Here’s a look at Atlanta’s top 7 relievers right now (stast as of 9/24/12):

Name W L W-L% ERA G IP H R ER BB SO ERA+ WHIP
Craig Kimbrel 2 1 0.667 1.08 58 58.1 25 7 7 14 106 374 0.669
Cristhian Martinez 5 4 0.556 4.04 51 71.1 79 33 32 17 64 100 1.346
Chad Durbin 4 1 0.8 3.19 73 59.1 51 25 21 28 46 127 1.331
Jonny Venters* 5 4 0.556 3.46 63 54.2 57 23 21 28 65 117 1.555
Eric O’Flaherty* 3 0 1 1.82 61 54.1 46 14 11 19 45 222 1.196
Luis Avilan* 0 0 2.25 27 32 26 9 8 10 28 181 1.125
Cory Gearrin 0 1 0 1.62 19 16.2 15 3 3 4 19 254 1.14

There’s some serious arms in that bullpen.  Kimbrel is obviously a known quantity and his 106 K’s in 58 1/3 innings are ridiculous.  But it also means he’s almost guaranteed to shut down whoever he may be pitching against (heard a great stat about Kimbrel recently; he has not pitched an inning all year where he gave up more than one hit.  That’s as shutdown as it gets).   Venters has had a slightly “off” season after being unhittable last year, but still greater than a K an inning.   O’Flaherty has been fantastic and could give you an inning.  Younger guys like Avilan and Gearrin don’t have a ton of experience but have performed excellently for the Braves.

Why wouldn’t you start off a game with (say) Venters going against the top of St. Louis’ order, then bringing in someone like Avilan for the 2nd and 3rd (he’s a 2-inning guy).  Bring in O’Flaherty when the big hitters roll around again in the 4th inning, then go with someone like Durbin for the next two innings.  You bring in Gearrin for the 7th and 8th, and then you’ve saved Kimbrel for perhaps 4 or 5 out save in the 8th and 9th.   And by virtue of the one-game roster setting loophole, this is just the first 7 guys out of the bullpen; one could add in 4-5 more arms as need be.

Honestly, I think this is a winning strategy.  Will the Braves (or the Cardinals for that matter) consider employing it?  No way;  Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez is well known in the baseball press for being “uber traditional” in the way he handles his pitching staff (lots of complaints about his leaving his best arm out there til it is a “save” situation instead of using him in higher leverage situations).  And the Braves have already manipulated their rotation to put Medlen in line for a wild card start.  Meanwhile St. Louis’ Mike Matheny is a rookie manager and such a strategy as laid out here is basically putting your job on the line for a coin-flip; if it doesn’t work out you’re fired.  Tony LaRussa could have pulled this off; he had enough respect and enough history to be given a pass if he tried something radical and it didn’t work out.  In fact, if LaRussa was still the manager I’d bet this is exactly what he’d do; we are talking afterall about the guy who essentially invented the modern bullpen.

In the end, it’ll be in the #1 seed’s favor if the Braves burned Medlen.  But it’d be great talking fodder if they tried the strategy above.

Nats Playoff Rotation & Bullpen Decisions

4 comments

20-game Winner Gonzalez is our likely #1 starter in the playoffs. Photo Joy Absalon/US Presswire via usatoday.com

The Nats rotation has been incredibly stable this year; only a mid-season experiment with Chien-Ming Wang interrupted a near season-long quintet of starters unmarred by injury or poor performance.  The shutdown and playoff unavailability of Stephen Strasburg is well, well documented, so we won’t talk about him here.  But two important decisions await Davey Johnson in terms of his playoff roster construction: playoff rotation and bullpen construction.  Lets take these questions one-by-one:

1. What is your playoff rotation?  Here’s the evolution of our rotation this year:

  • The year started off with your starters in this order: Strasburg, Gonzalez, Zimmermann, Jackson and then Detwiler. The starters went R-L-R-R-L.
  • After the All Star Break, Johnson shuffled the starters and re-ordered them to go Zimmermann, Gonzalez, Strasburg, Jackson, Detwiler (still R-L-R-R-L), ostensibly to give Strasburg a bit more rest and extend his season a few days.
  • On August 3rd (around a double-header) Zimmermann and Gonzalez switched places.  Now you’ve got Gonzalez, Zimmermann, Strasburg, Jackson and Detwiler (L-R-R-R-L).  All three RHSPs are in order, as are the two LHSPs.
  • On August 15th around an off day, Detwiler and Jackson switched places, probably to keep Detwiler on regular rest and probably to fix the aforementioned issue of 3 RHSPs in a row (starters now Gonzalez, Zimmermann, Strasburg, Detwiler, Jackson for L-R-R-L-R).
  • On September 12th, John Lannan replaces the shut-down Strasburg in the rotation.  Now we’re Gonzalez, Zimmermann, Lannan, Detwiler and Jackson for L-R-L-L-R.

If we play out the rotation the rest of the season, barring any more rain-outs or injuries, the starters will be (Starting 9/21):

9/21: Jackson
9/22: Gonzalez
9/23: spot starter Wang, to give the rotation its regular rest.
9/24: Zimmermann
9/25: Lannan
9/26: Detwiler
9/27: Jackson
9/28: Gonzalez
9/29: Zimmermann
9/30: Lannan
10/1: Detwiler
10/2: Jackson
10/3: Gonzalez

At this point I’m going to assume that the Nats will win the division and go straight to the divisional series, which (per MLB’s playoff schedule) starts either Saturday 10/6 or Sunday 10/7.  Which day the Nats start will be critical; if the Nats are the #1 seed they’ll start Sunday; if they’re the #2 seed they’ll start Saturday.

But in either case I think we’re going to see some manipulation of the above schedule, because I think the team wants Gonzalez to start the opener.   And he cannot start an opener on 10/6 or 10/3 if he throws 10/3.   We may see him skipped on 9/28 and then throwing a start 10/1 (which I’d be happy for; that’s the last game I have tix for this year), which would put him on regular rest for either a 10/6 or 10/7 start.

After that though, there’s some decisions to be made.  The NLDS ridiculously gives the lower-seed the first two home games, so I think Johnson may want to have some options available to him for his 2nd, 3rd, and 4th starter (I think its a pretty basic assumption that Lannan is being left completely off the playoff roster; more on this later down when talking about the bullpen options).  Here’s the home/away splits of our 4 likely playoff starters (numbers as of 9/21/12).

Interesting; Zimmermann is far more effective away, Detwiler is far more effective at home, and Jackson is just about the same either way.  This seems to imply that Zimmermann is your best bet to take the 2nd start, away from home, then line up Detwiler-Jackson-Gonzalez (or some combination thereof) at home.

Here’s another take; Johnson likes to play match-ups with certain teams.  Will the Nats opponent factor into the equation?  Assuming the Nats are the #1 seed, your likely wild-card winners right now are Atlanta and St. Louis (its hard to see a scenario where St. Louis loses its current 3 game WC lead in the next 12 days, but it could happen, but for the purposes of this article we’ll assume these two teams hold on).  How do these teams fare against lefty versus righty starters?

  • Atlanta is hitting .247 as a team versus Lefties with an 86 wRC+.  That’s bad.
  • Atlanta is hitting .251 as a team versus Righties with a 97 wRC+.  That’s certainly better than they do versus lefties.
  • St. Louis is hitting .275 as a team versus Lefties with an 113 wRC+.  That’s basically 2nd in the majors behind the uber-hitting Rangers.
  • St. Louis is hitting .270 as a team versus Righties with a 104 wRC+.  That’s roughly a 10% difference in Run Creation.

So, it seems like if we play Atlanta, we want to load up on Lefties while if we play St. Louis we want to load up on Righties.  This would seem to indicate that, if Atlanta is our opponent we’ll want to go Gonzalez-Zimmermann-Detwiler-Jackson-Gonzalez again, meaning Atlanta has to face 2 lefties in the first 3 games plus 3 out of 5.  If we play St. Louis, you’d think that we’ll want to switch up Detwiler and Jackson so that St. Louis gets L-R-R-L-L.  The idea being that once we get home, even though we’re lefty-heavy we’ll have the advantage.

However, with the #1, #2 and #3 seeds far from settled with a week and a half to go, lets also look at the same logic for both Cincinnati and San Francisco, since its conceivable at this point we could be playing either of these teams (use the same links in the Atlanta links above to see these statistics):

  • Cincinnati is hitting .268 as a team versus Lefties with an 107 wRC+.   Both Tied for 6th in the majors.
  • Cincinnati is hitting .248 as a team versus Righties with a 89 wRC+.
  • San Francisco is hitting .268 as a team versus Lefties with an 96 wRC+.
  • San Francisco is hitting .270 as a team versus Righties with a 98 wRC+.

Conclusions?  Cincinnati matches up very well against lefties and struggles against righties, while San Francisco is a pretty well balanced team with no real weakness against either side.

One last factor is post-season experience, of which this group has very little.  Jackson is the sole guy with any post season experience, it being last year with potential opponent St. Louis.  I cannot see Johnson bumping any of the guys who are pitching better than him though, at least in a short series, based on this veteran experience (we’ll revisit this though in a 7-game series, where the identity of the 4th starter is incredibly important, as he only goes once in that series).

In any scenario, I think your first two starters away are going to be Gonzalez and Zimmermann.  After that will depend on the opponent.

2. What is your playoff bullpen?  By virtue of the fact that we don’t need a 5th starter, the team can carry an extra player.  Here’s the bullpen as it sits now, divided into “regulars” and 9/1 call-ups:

  • Regulars: Burnett, Clippard, MGonzalez, Gorzelanny, Mattheus, Stammen, Storen
  • Sept 1 callups: Duke, Garcia, Wang (and technically Lannan).

I think this decision is pretty simple; you keep the 7 “regulars” and add in power arm Christian Garcia, who has been lights out since arriving, as an extra middle-relief guy.  There’s no reason to have minor league starters Duke, Wang or Lannan on the post-season roster; the only function they’d have is as long-men, but the regulars include two such arms already in Stammen and Gorzelanny.

The possibility exists that Johnson will opt for an extra bench guy instead of an 8th bullpen arm, but I doubt he’d choose that route.  Your “extra” bench guys right now are Leon (3rd catcher), Brown and Perez (ofs), and one of either DeRosa or Tracy (technically it was DeRosa who got added off the DL after roster expansion; he likely would have been delayed in the minors had this happened earlier in the season).  I can’t see any reason to keep any of these guys on a post-season roster at the expense of an 8th reliever.  Tracy gets a few ABs a week and can only play 1B, while DeRosa can provide cover at multiple positions and seems to have more value.  I could be wrong though; Tracy continues to deliver timely pinch hits in the clutch (as he did this past weekend).

Man, it feels good to talk about playoff baseball!

Nats 2012 Minor League Rotations: Guesses and Results

5 comments

Yunesky Maya led the Nats minor league starters for the 2nd straight summer. Photo Jim McGregor/Syracuse Chiefs via milb.com

I stumbled across this post, titled “Updated Minor League Rotation Predictions for 2012,” posted March 1st 2012, while looking for something else last week.  And I thought to myself, hey now that I’ve finished the reviews of the minor league teams, lets see how I did predicting the rotations at the beginning of the season!   I’ve also culled through the post-2011 season review posts for some preliminary guesses at the time.

(Note: I linked to NationalsProspects.com Luke Erickson‘s guesses in the above link for another perspective in the 2012 spring training).

Players are bolded the first time they’re mentioned, but not afterwards.

AAA:

  • Sept 11 Guess: Maya, Milone, Stammen, Meyers, Peacock, Martis
  • Mar 12 Guess: Stammen, Maya, Arneson, Ballard, Buschmann
  • Opening Day Rotation: Atkins, Roark, Maya, Lannan and Duke
  • 5 guys with the most starts in 2012: Maya, Roark, Duke, Lannan, Atkins

What happened?  My prediction was way, way off; only Maya was the constant, but we knew that the second he proved he couldn’t get out MLB hitters last fall.  The team traded two of its probable AAA starters (Peacock and Milone), lost a third to the Rule-5 draft (Meyers, who honestly we probably will get back once the Yankees are done screwing around with him) and a 4th to Minor League Free Agency (Martis).  Meanwhile, who knew that Lannan wasn’t going to make the MLB opening day roster?  Then, the team released Buschmann before he appeared in a game (he played 2012 in the Tampa Bay organization).  Ballard was a starter, just not in AAA.  Stammen, in a surprise to me, made the conversion from AAA starter in 2011 to MLB bullpen guy and had a great  year.  Lastly, instead of using more internal options like Roark the team signed two MLFAs in Duke and Atkins.  I suppose I could have guessed that the team would go with Roark before Arneson as a starter (given Arneson’s rubber-armed handling in 2011).  It just goes to show how much the creation of AAA teams has changed over the years.

AA:

  • Sept 11 Guess: Rosenbaum, BronsonDemny, Olbrychowski,  Solis
  • Mar 12 Guess:  Rosenbaum, Bronson, Demny, Olbrychowski, Gilliam
  • Opening Day Rotation: Gilliam, Demny, Mandel, Rosenbaum and Ballard
  • 5 guys with the most starts in 2012: Rosenbaum, Demny, Gilliam, Perry, Ballard/Pucetas

We were a bit closer here, getting 3 of the 5 guesses right.  Sammy Solis would absolutely have been in this rotation if not for his Tommy John surgery; we’ll cross our fingers for him to return in 2013.  When Solis went out, org-arm Mandel filled in.  Evan Bronson is still with the organization on Milb.com but never threw an inning in 2012 and isn’t on the Big Board.  I can’t find a single bit of google information indicating if he’s still with the team or not.  Weird.  Meanwhile I had just guessed too high for Olbrychowski; he spent most of 2012 as a starter in Potomac.  Nobody could have guessed that we’d have traded Balester for Perry, that Perry would have stunk as a reliever, and then would show up in AA remaking himself as a starter.  Ballard and Pucetas were MLFA pickups designed to fill holes in the system, though based on his prior experience I had Ballard pegged in the AAA rotation.

High-A:

  • Sept 11 Guess: Selik, Grace, Purke, Meyer, Hill, Karns
  • Mar 12 Guess:  Selik, Grace, Purke, Meyer, Hill
  • Opening Day Rotation: Winters, Hansen, Olbrychowski, Grace and Swynenberg
  • 5 guys with the most starts in 2012: Grace, Ray, Swynenberg, Olbrychowski, Karns

I was far off here as well; Purke got hurt, Meyer, Hill and Karns started lower than I would have guessed  and Selik was converted to a reliever.  I was right only on Grace (thought technically I thought Olbrychowski would be a starter, just not back in Potomac).  Winters was a MLFA (the fifth such MLFA who has appeared as a primary starter in our top three levels; is this a statement of some sort?).  As we’ll see in a moment, I was right about Hansen, just wrong about the level.  Lastly Swynenberg came out of nowhere; he was effective in middle-relief in low-A; who knew he’d win a spot in the high-A rotation?  I thought Ray would have done a few turns in low-A; instead he debuted in Potomac and struggled to make the jump.  I lost faith in Karns between September 2011 and March 2012; as it turned out he was one of the 5 top starters (in terms of appearances) for the year while putting in a career season.

Low-A:

  • Sept 11 Guess: Hansen, Jordan, Cole, Ray, Estevez, McGeary
  • Mar 12 Guess:  Turnbull, Hansen, Ray, McGeary, Karns
  • Opening Day Rotation: Estevez, Dupra/Karns, Meyer, Turnbull/Hill, McKenzie
  • 5 guys with the most starts in 2012: Hill, Meyer, Turnbull, Estevez, Hansen

What happened?  The team traded Cole.  Jordan was injured more than we were led to believe in late 2011 (he had Tommy John surgery after the season was over).   I predicted Hansen, Ray, Hill, Estevez, Meyers and Dupra would be starters, just got the levels wrong.   My Mar 12 guesses were somewhat accurate in that we got Turnbull and Karns right.  McGeary struggled through yet another injury filled season and may be nearing the end of his baseball career.  I thought Estevez was getting squeezed out with all these high-profile starters rising up.  I figured McKenzie had lost his starting shot; clearly his performance in 2012 should end his chances at getting another 2013 starting shot.  I guess the lesson here is that it can be awful difficult to determine the difference between a High-, Low- and Short-A guy.

Short-A:

  • Sept 11 Guess: Manny Rodriguez, Dupra, Baez and two draft picks.
  • Mar 12 Guess:  Manny Rodriguez, Dupra, Baez and two draft picks
  • Opening Day Rotation:  Jordan/Medina, Baez, Monar, Encarnation, and Smith
  • 5 guys with the most starts in 2012: Encarnation, Monar, Lee, Mooneyham, Fischer/Pineyro

My guess of 3 returners and 2 draft picks wasn’t entirely accurate; there wasn’t a single 2012 draft pick in the 2012 opening day rotation.  We got Baez pegged correctly but the rest of the predictions were off.  Manny Rodriguez, a converted infielder, spent the whole year on the 60-day DL.  Dupra was in high-A.  Meanwhile, a couple of guys dropping down from Low-A (Jordan, Encarnation) comprised the rotation at the beginning of the season.  Monar was a repeater from 2011 who didn’t get a ton of innings last  year.  Eventually some 2012 draftees (Mooneyham, Fischer and others) got starts as expected, and helped drive Auburn to the playoffs.

GCL:

  • Sept 11 Guess: Mieses, King, Encarnation, Medina, Marcelino
  • Mar 12 Guess:  Mieses repeating plus 4 guys from DSL and the 2012 draft.
  • Opening Day Rotation:  Mieses, Barrientos, Pineyro, Vasquez, and Schwarz
  • 5 guys with the most starts in 2012: Vasquez, Mieses, Hudgins, Selsor, Pineyro/Schwartz

Finally we got one right (well, right from Mar 12 guess anyway).  The GCL rotation was Mieses, 3 DSL graduates and one 2012 draftee.  Eventually more 2012 draftees (Hudgins, Selsor and others) consumed most of the rest of the starts.  King disappeared from the rosters; he’s still in the organization but was never assigned this season.  Injured?  Disciplinary issues?   There seems to be so much inconsistency in the DSL graduates that it almost isn’t worth tracking them until they appear in a higher level.  Honestly, this is why I don’t really follow the Dominican Summer League teams either.

Phew; that’s a lot of Nats minor league starters.  As it showed, its really, really difficult to predict this stuff from a computer in Northern Virginia, scouting the stat lines.  But its really fun, so we’ll continue to do it :-) .

Golfing with Tyler Clippard

4 comments

Tyler Clippard and yours truly waiting to tee off on the back nine on September 17th, 2012. Photo; Gary Boss

My Dad and I play in the Diamond Dream Foundation charity golf tournament every year (held this year on Monday September 17th) and this year we had the fortune of being paired up with none other than Nationals closer Tyler Clippard.

Clippard is a pretty darn good golfer.  As we found out, he’s been playing since age 9 and lettered in both golf and baseball in high school (in Florida, golf is a fall sport while baseball is a spring sport, unlike here, so he was able to pursue both sports all the way through high school).  He routinely bombed his drives 310 or so, utilizing a nice draw most of the time.  He could shape his shots on the course nicely (hitting mostly draws but employing a couple of fade shots as needed) and could control the trajectory of his drives based on the wind.  I’d guess he’s somewhere around a 4-5 handicap right now (its really hard to get a read on his mid-iron and short game when you’re chipping off of mud all day).  For what it was worth, he said his older brother was a far better golfer than he, so the golfing bug runs in the family.

We asked Clippard all sorts of questions over the course of the day (it was a slow round so we were on the course nearly 6 hours).  Here’s some highlights:

- We expressed some surprise that he showed up at all; apparently the Nats plane didn’t get back from Atlanta til 2am and he didn’t get to sleep til 4am after the Sunday Braves-Nationals game was moved to be the National 8pm game.  Clippard said that he plays golf on all his off-days, so he was going to show up no matter what.

- He says the team isn’t worried about who they may play in the playoffs at all.  They are confident in their abilities and know they can hang with any team that they may face.

- He gave us his pro history, talking about the various stops he had in the Yankees organization prior to getting traded here.  He saw the entire Yankees system, from rookie all the way to AAA ball, with stops in Charleston, SC, Trenton and then Scranton for AAA.  He said that Battle Creek, Michigan (his Short-A stop) was an “interesting” place to play, to say the least.  I didn’t realize this, but he really rose quickly through the minors, debuting as a starter for the Yankees at age 22.

- He talked about the trade to the Nats; basically he was very grateful for the trade because he was “falling behind” some of the more well-known names in the Yankees organization (Ian Kennedy, Phil Hughes, Joba Chamberlin and the like) and he knew he’d be getting a better shot in Washington.   It was almost immediately after he arrived in DC that he got converted to a reliever (we didn’t talk about the conversion really, he just said something that I’ve always said; “All relievers are failed starters.”).

- He told us why he signed out of high school despite being just a 9th round pick; He grew up in Tampa (I forgot to ask him if he knew some of the guys that come out of the famous Tampa HS Hillsborough) and had committed to USF, which is in Tampa, and the  Yankees rookie league team is based in Tampa, so he’d have been playing baseball in Tampa whether he went to college or played pro, so he decided to play Pro.   By total luck of the draw, his rookie league, his spring trainings and his high-A teams were all based in his hometown, meaning he could live at home to play pro ball.

- He spoke very highly about new Nats reliever Christian Garcia, having played with him in the Yankees organization.  After two Tommy John surgeries and a knee surgery, Clippard says its fantastic to see Garcia getting a shot at the majors.  He has “electric” stuff, always has, but has never been healthy consistently enough to get his shot.

- I asked him about reliever usage vis-a-vis highest leverage situations versus being the closer, and which he preferred.  Unequivocally he said he’d rather be the closer.  Simply put, baseball teams value the closer and the “Save” over the 8th-inning guy and the “Hold,” and he’s at a critical position in his career earnings-wise (he’s entering his 2nd Arbitration year) for him to be having such a fantastic statistical year.   We didn’t talk money, but per Cot’s he’s at 1.65M this year and you’d have to think he’s getting a significant raise this coming off-season.  Some back-of-the-envelope comparables; Chad Cordero earned $4.1M and $6.2M his first two arbitration seasons, putting his FA market value somewhere right around $10M a year.  Clippard’s stats aren’t as good as last year’s, when he was historically tough, but he’s still comparable to the likes of Jonathan Papelbon, who’s earning $13M a year.   I’d guess Clippard could jump up to the $4M/year range easily in arbitration this coming off-season, assuming his agents put his valuation somewhere between $10M and the $13M that Papelbon got.

- The funniest thing we learned; Clippard lives in Capitol Hill (kind of in the “hood” he joked) and that most of the time he BIKES to the stadium.  Along DC streets.  Which implies that he’s biking home after the games, sometimes at midnight.  He laughed about it, saying that nobody knows who he is and he’s just some random dude biking around the city late at night.

Our golfing team, on the strength of Clippard’s length and some great short-game contributions from the whole group, powered its way through the Army-Navy course to a team -16, good for a tie for 3rd on the day.  Our downfall was parring two par-5s; on both occasions both of our big hitters missed the fairway with drives and had to rely on metal wood second shots from much further back.  The course was not in the best of shape, so any chip around the green was basically off of mud, and everyone struggled to put up-and-down chances close to the hole.  We putted fantastically on the day though, draining several very long birdie puts and even getting a chip-in for eagle from my dad.

All, in all, a great day of golf, and a great time hanging with Clippard.  He’s a great guy and I couldn’t say enough nice things about the guy.

ps: I hate approaching ballplayers to sign stuff, but I had to get Clippard to sign something fun after playing with him all day.  We’re expecting a son in mid-to-late October, so here’s a shot of Clippard’s signature to my yet-to-be-born kid.  :-)

The inscription, in case you can’t read it, is addressed to my son and reads “I hope to pitch against you one day!  Tyler Clippard.”  Awesome.  That’ll sit in my kid’s nursery for a while.

Written by Todd Boss

September 20th, 2012 at 10:02 am

GCL/Rookie Pitching Staff Year in Review; 2012

leave a comment

The biggest story in the GCL was also its worst; Giolito injury. Photo Eric Dearborn via win-for-teddy blog

Click here for the 2011 version of this post, for a look at how things were last year.

Here’s the GCL version of the 2012 season pitching staff review.  I’m going down the line from top to bottom; AAA is here, AA is here, High-A is here, Low-A is here and Short-A is here.  As with the other reviews, we’ll look at the main rotation, the substitute and spot starters, then focus on key relievers.  Rehab appearances are generally not mentioned.  The lower you get in the minors, the harder it is to really pass judgement on a player’s real capabilities or career outlook, so take some of these evaluations with a grain of salt.  They say not to depend on small sample sizes and I agree; we’re doing after-the-fact analysis on a small sample size of a half a pro season in most cases.  This is especially true with Short-A and the GCL, where most of the roster are 2012 draftees.   So “outlook for next season” is almost entirely a guess for these players.  A ton of them will be left in extended spring to compete for next year’s short-season team, while a ton more will be released without much fanfare.

The rotations in the lower minor leagues are also not nearly as clean as in the upper-levels.  Lots of times the “starter” is slated to go as many innings as the “reliever,” a way to get two starter candidates longer stretches of innings.  We’ll try to take that into consideration as we move forward.

GCL starters.  The rotation started the season with Mieses, Barrientos, Pineyro, Vasquez, and Schwartz.   Lets see how the original rotation and other primary starters fared.

  • Adalberto Mieses put in his second poor rookie league season, posting a 5.05 ERA in 41 innings over 13 appearances and 6 starts.  He hasn’t appreciably improved over last year, which saw him put up similar numbers in the same league.  Outlook for next Season: GCL rotation competition or released.
  • Joel Barrientos pitched 45 innings as a swing-man/spot starter and posted respectable numbers (4-1 with a 3.00 era).  Especially considering that he turned 19 about a month ago.  The fact that he’s a tall lefty (though he must look emaciated; 6’2″ 145lbs?) is a bonus.  Outlook for next Season: Perhaps the low-A bullpen but more likely repeating GCL as a starter.
  • Ivan Pineyro dominated the GCL for 5 starts and got bumped up to short-A.  Outlook for next season: (from the Short-A post): Repeating short-A in the rotation.
  • Daury Vasquez was the GCL work horse, leading the staff in starts and IP.  The DSL grad actually improved on his 2011 DSL numbers (a hard feat), putting in work-man like stats of 4-6, 4.10 ERA in 52 2/3 inningsOutlook for next Season: He has  yet to turn 20, so I’d guess he repeats GCL as a starter.
  • Blake Schwartz didn’t seem to merit a two-level promotion, but he out-performed his 5 GCL starts in Hagerstown.  Outlook for next season: (from low-A post): high-A rotation, based on his status as a college senior grad.
  • Casey Selsor was drafted as an OF but threw 41 1/3 GCL innings in 2012 to a 6.10 ERA.   He was a college senior draftee who couldn’t get guys out in GCL; not a good sign for his future.  Outlook for next Season: low-A bullpen competition or released.
  • Wil Hudgins pitched mostly in the GCL after getting picked in the 22nd round this year and was pretty effective in 10 appearances and 6 starts.  4-3, 2.21 era and a great k/bb ratio of 25/3 in 36 2/3 innings.  Unfortunately, Hudgins is a college senior draftee throwing in the rookie league, so anything other than dominance is viewed as failure.  Outlook for next season: low-A bullpen competition.
  • Dixon Anderson threw a bunch of “rehab” innings in the GCL before finishing out the year in low-A.  Outlook for next season: (from Low-A post): competing for low-A rotation, dropping to bullpen.
  • Lucas Giolito, 2012′s #1 draft pick, threw 2 innings after rehabbing a partially torn UCL all summer and fully blew it out.  Tommy John surgery, see you in 2014.

 

  • Other guys who got spot starts here and there (non-rehab):
    • Anthony Marcelino appeared in one game, the 2nd GCL game of the season, pitched 4 innings and was subsequently released.  (?!).  I have no idea why.  Very odd; he worked through an injury all of 2011 and seemed ready to compete in 2012.
    • Kylin Turnbull, 2011′s 4th round pick who signed late and didn’t play in 2011, threw a few starts in the GCL to work out some kinks before returning to Hagerstown.
    • Wirkin Estevez threw three 3-inning rehab starts mid-season before returning to Hagerstown.
    • Ronald Pena made three “starts” of 2 innings each despite really being a reliever and then finished the season in short-A.
    • Andy Santana was relatively awful in 13 appearances and 2 starts; a 6.46 era in 23 2/3 innings.  It is hard to see a future for him after basically failing the rookie league two years in a row.
    • Gilberto Mendez looked pretty good in 33 1/3 GCL innings: 34/4 k/bb ratio and a 3.24 era.  He wasn’t nearly as effective upon reaching short-A.

GCL Relievers: taking a look at the relief corps at the end of the season.  These are done in order by IP for any reliever who didn’t get at least one start.  I’m basically ignoring any reliever who threw 9 or fewer innings in the GCL or who didn’t get a spot-start and is already mentioned above.

  • Inocencio Heredes threw 31 innings of good relief in the GCL this year, improving on his 2011 showing.   Outlook for next Season: maybe competing for a full-season bullpen spot but likely repeating GCL.
  • Kevin Dicherry was a college senior draftee who served as the closer in the GCL.  Good numbers, as you would expect.  He needs to be challenged.  Outlook for next Season: low-A bullpen competition.
  • Mike Mudron threw 24 relief innings in the GCL after he was drafted in the 32nd round as a college senior.  Outlook for next Season: low-A bullpen competition.

Summary

We all know by now that GCL is essentially used for two things: an entry point for graduating Dominican Summer League guys plus a first stop for the younger guys each draft class (High schoolers, juco guys and college guys from smaller programs).  Lots of guys never make it past the GCL, so there’s a lot of churn.  Records are nearly meaningless since so many rehab guys pass through working on a pitch or working out kinks.

Auburn/Short-A Pitching Staff Year in Review; 2012

8 comments

Brett Mooneyham was probably the biggest name in Auburn this year. Photo unknown via mlbdraftcountdown.wordpress.com

Click here for the 2011 version of this post, for a look at how things were last year.

Here’s the Short-A version of the 2012 season pitching staff review.  I’m going down the line from top to bottom; AAA is here, AA is here, High-A is here, and Low-A is here. As with the other reviews, we’ll look at the main rotation, the substitute and spot starters, then focus on key relievers.  Rehab appearances are generally not mentioned.  The lower you get in the minors, the harder it is to really pass judgement on a player’s real capabilities or career outlook, so take some of these evaluations with a grain of salt.  They say not to depend on small sample sizes and I agree; we’re doing after-the-fact analysis on a small sample size of a half a pro season in most cases.  This is especially true with Short-A and the GCL, where most of the roster are 2012 draftees.   So “outlook for next season” is almost entirely a guess for these players.  A ton of them will be left in extended spring to compete for next year’s Auburn team, while a ton more will be released without much fanfare.

The rotations in the lower minor leagues are also not nearly as clean as in the upper-levels.  Lots of times the “starter” is slated to go as many innings as the “reliever,” a way to get two starter candidates longer stretches of innings.  We’ll try to take that into consideration as we move forward.

Auburn starters.  The rotation started the season with Jordan/Medina, Baez, Monar, Encarnation, and Smith.   Lets see how the original rotation and other primary starters fared.

  • Taylor Jordan got 6 rehab-ish starts for Auburn before finishing the season in Low-A post Tommy John surgery. Outlook for next season: (from low-A post) Low-A rotation again.
  • Gregory Baez made 3 starts and was clearly hurt in his last one (giving up 5 runs and 5 hits in a 1/3 of an inning) before hitting the DL, where he’s stayed the rest of the season.  No word on the actual injury.  Outlook for next season: get healthy, try out the Short-A rotation again.
  • Blake Monar was one of two guys who stayed in the rotation from start to finish, ending the season with a 2-3 record and a 3.29 ERA.  He averaged a K/inning, but gave up too many walks (30 in 54 2/3 innings) which drove up his WHIP.  That being said, he kept the ball in the park (only one HR in those 54+ innings) and worked around his base runners effectively (his FIP was lower than his ERA).  I think Monar is a good lefty starter prospect for 2013 and beyond.  Outlook for next season: low-A rotation with a look towards promotion to Potomac.
  • Pedro Encarnation gave low-A a shot but couldn’t cut it, so he dropped to Short-A.  He improved on 2011′s short-A outing by starting the whole season and putting up a 4.20 ERA that was better than it seemed (his FIP was 3.59).  Outlook for next season: a repeat of 2012; he’s getting another shot at the low-A rotation, probably dropping to bullpen.
  • Nicholas Lee made the jump from wild bullpen lefty in 2011 to effective starter in 2012.  He was 3-1 with a 3.77 ERA in 62 mostly starting innings.  He cut down on his walk rate, he kept his stellar K/inning rate, and kept the ball on the ground (2 homers in 62 innings and a 1.48 go/ao ratio).  Per Nationalsprospects, he’s “not a hard thrower and scouts love his change-up.”  His FIP was nearly a point below his ERA, indicating that he was even more effective than we thought.  I like this guy; his only issue is being an undersized lefty, and thus having a tendency to be type-cast as a Loogy.  Outlook for next season: Low-A bullpen; I can’t see him sticking as a starter.
  • Brett Mooneyham was the 2nd biggest name out of our 2012 draft, going 3rd round out of Stanford (and after having gotten picked by the Nats twice before).  He’s a big, projectionable lefty who was effective in his first 10 pro appearances (2-2 with a 2.55 ERA).  But where’s the dominance?  Only 29 Ks in 42 innings.  I tend to agree with John Sickels‘ analysis, as stated here.  I’ll quote: “Just like in college: looks like a pitcher, good arm, but doesn’t dominate the way you think he should.”  Outlook for next season: Low-A rotation.
  • David Fischer was an 18th round 2012 draft pick who started the year in the bullpen and ended it in the rotation (probably to make up for promotions).  Numbers were soso; 4.96 ERA in total, slightly better in 8 starts.  I’m not sure he’s done enough to win a rotation spot in any 2013 team.  Outlook for next season: Repeating short-A in the bullpen.
  • Ivan Pineyro dominated the GCL, moved up to short-A and was not as effective, getting shelled his last two outings to balloon his ERA to 5.50 in 34 1/3 short-A innings.  It took him a year to solve GCL, perhaps it’ll take him 2013 to solve short-A.  Outlook for next season: Repeating short-A in the rotation.
  • Brian Rauh earned a quick promotion out of Short-A and finished the year in Hagerstown. Outlook for next season: (from the low-A post): low-A rotation.

 

  • Other guys who got spot starts here and there (non-rehab):
    • Silvio Medina got four spot starts amongst 16 short-A appearances and was something of a “wild thing;” 9 hit batsmen and 5 wild pitches to go with 20 walks in 47 innings.  His 4.98 ERA was well-earned.  He did average a K/inning.  The DSL graduate turned 22 and finished his 3rd pro season.  Outlook for next season: I could see him trying the low-A bullpen despite his numbers; he can always drop back down if he can’t cut it there or loses out amongst stiff competition.
    • Jason Smith had one spot start and 11 other appearances; he was basically awful in all of them, to the tune of a 7.94 ERA in 22 2/3 innings before getting shut down in early August.  This 2011 undrafted free agent was good in 2011 in the rookie-league but couldn’t make the jump in 2012.  Outlook for next season: short-A bullpen, if not released.
    • Wil Hudgins pitched mostly in the GCL after getting picked in the 22nd round this year.  Outlook for next season: see GCL post.

Auburn Relievers: taking a look at the relief corps at the end of the season.  These are done in order by IP for any reliever who didn’t get at least one start.

  • Travis Henke pitched most of the year in long-ish relief for Auburn and was pretty effective: 7-1, 2.78 ERA and good ancillary numbers.  Outlook for next season: low-A bullpen competition.
  • Cody Davis is a fighter; non-drafted 2011 FA who is just 5’9″ and 170 (hell, that’s my size.  Well, not the weight part anyway) but puts up good numbers from the hill.  2012: 50 Ks in 42 innings and a 3.64 ERA.  He faces an uphill battle though because of his size.  He’s got nothing left to prove though in either short-season league.  Outlook for next season: low-A bullpen competition.
  • Derek Self was the Auburn closer and had effective numbers, but not the dominant K/9 rates you’d expect.  Stats: 3.27 ERA in 33 innings and 16 saves.  He’s got the same issue Mooneyham does; big arm (92-95mph), projectionable frame (6’3″ 205lbs), but missing dominance.  Maybe he needs another pitch, or 20lbs of muscle on his body.   Nonetheless, there’s no reason to think he won’t move up next season.  Outlook for next season: low-A bullpen competition, though I doubt he sticks as a closer.
  • The Nats took a flyer on local product Michael Boyden and it may be paying off; he had a 1.07 ERA in 33 2/3 innings between the two short season teams.    That ERA was slightly lucky; he had 17 walks in 25 short-A inningsOutlook for next season: low-A middle-reliever.
  • Robert Benincasa showed power stuff with impeccable control in his limited time in Short-A.  23 1/3 innings, 32 Ks and just 3 walks.  Great season.  Can’t wait to see what this 7th rounder in 2012 out of Florida State can do at the next level.  Outlook for next season: low-A bullpen.
  • Jack McGeary threw a total of 9 1/3 pro innings in 2012, only coming off the DL in early August.  Outlook for next season: low-A rotation competition for what may be his final season in the organization.
  • Richie Mirowski threw 7 innings in short-A before finishing the season in low-A.  See Low-A post.
  • Ronald Pena and Gilberto Mendez each started the year in the GCL and got a cup-of-coffee in Auburn.  Both seem to feature as short-A bullpen candidates in 2013.
  • Other Relievers who appeared in Short-A (not including Rehabbing MLBers).  Some of these guys threw fewer than 10 innings on the year, not nearly enough to write-up.  Outlook for next season for all of these guys seems the same: another season in the low minors, struggling to make an impact.
    • Elliott Waterman 22 walks in 25 innings.  Needs to improve.
    • Bryan Harper had big K/9 rates but not much else.  He’ll need more than a famous younger brother.
    • Andrew Wall was mediocre in a handful of relief innings after signing as a non-drafted FA this year.
    • John Peters threw a handful of innings for Auburn but ended the year in GCL.

Summary

Auburn made the playoffs behind the strength of its pitching.  All up and down the staff you see dominant performances.  This bodes well as these guys matriculate to Hagerstown and beyond in 2013.

Hagerstown/Low-A Pitching Staff Year in Review; 2012

7 comments

Closer Aaron Barrett was one of the best stories of the year for Hagerstown’s pitching staff. Photo unknown via thephilosophersstone2011.blogspot.com

Click here for the 2011 version of this post, for a look at how things were last year.

Here’s the Low-A version of the 2012 season pitching staff review.  I’m going down the line from top to bottom; AAA is here, AA is here, High-A is here. As with the other reviews, we’ll look at the main rotation, the substitute and spot starters, then focus on key relievers.  Rehab appearances are generally not mentioned.  The lower you get in the minors, the harder it is to really pass judgement on a player’s real capabilities or career outlook, so take some of these evaluations with a grain of salt.

The rotations in the lower minor leagues are also not nearly as clean as in the upper-levels.  Lots of times the “starter” is slated to go as many innings as the “reliever,” a way to get two starter candidates longer stretches of innings.  We’ll try to take that into consideration as we move forward.

Hagerstown starters.  The rotation started the season with Estevez, Dupra/Karns, Meyer, Turnbull/Hill, and McKenzie.   No less than 18 different guys started a game for Hagerstown this year (two of them on rehab assignments).  Lets see how the original rotation and other primary starters fared.

  • Wirkin Estevez was 5-2 with a 5.76 ERA in 12 low-A starts in the early and later parts of the season; he missed two full months with an unspecified injury.  He was no better after returning than before.  He was frequently victimized by the long ball, giving up 6 in 60 innings.    Outlook for next season: he’s young (turned 20 in March, if you trust D.R. birthdays) and he was effective last year in short-A.  He returns to low-A, but is dumped to the bullpen in the face of a glut of competition for rotation spots.
  • Brian Dupra got absolutely lit up in 11 appearances (8 starts) in April and May before suffering a season-ending injury 5/31.  Line on the season: 3-4 with a 7.17 era in 37 2/3 innings.  Outlook for next season: bullpen arm in Low-A.
  • Nathan Karns threw 44 outstanding innings in low-A before he was deservedly promoted to Potomac.  We discussed him at length there.  Outlook for next season: (from high-A post): AA rotation.
  • Alex Meyer was 7-4 in 18 starts for Hagerstown before getting promoted to Potomac.  We discussed him at length there. Outlook for next season: (from High-A post): High-A rotation again with an eye towards quick promotion to AA.
  • Kylin Turnbull got his first pro innings in 2012, being a relatively high draft pick (4th rounder) in 2011.  The 21-yr old lefty gave Hagerstown 89 mediocre innings, going 4-5 with a 5.16 ERA.  Not bad for a first full season.  He gave up a lot of hits though, and his whip was 1.51.  That’s lots of base-runners turning into lots of runs.  He was sent down mid-season to the rookie league to work on “mechanics,” returning the last day of the season (for some reason) to put in one relief appearance. Outlook for next season: Repeating low-A (in the rotation) looking for improvement.
  • Taylor Hill was the Hagerstown workhorse, leading the staff in innings pitched with 124.  He went 10-6 with a 4.92 era on the year.   Outlook for next season: I worry for the 2011 6th round college senior; unless he can be a bit more dominant on the mound, he’s not long for pro baseball.  He is relatively young for a college grad; he’ll be entering his 3rd pro season and turning 24 in March.  I’d guess he’ll get moved to the high-A bullpen in 2013 as a nod to his age/experience.
  • Chris McKenzie had his third straight rough year in the starting rotation, failing to improve on last year’s low-a showing.  Final stats: 2-3 with an ugly 8.64 ERA in 26 appearances and 8 starts.   Outlook for next season: the organization can’t give him a rotation spot again can they?  Low-A bullpen.
  • Bobby Hanson fared little better in low-A than he did in high-A, getting demoted mid-season.  After 11 starts and a 4.55 ERA he hit the DL, where he’s stayed the rest of the season.  Outlook for next season: As pointed out in the High-A post, he’s young but he’s entering his 6th pro season and has yet to really master low-A.  He’s a big lefty though (6’6″, 235lbs) so the team probably salivates at his potential.  He’s just not as dominant as he needs to be.  I’d guess he’s getting another shot at the low-A rotation in 2013.  But it may be his last shot.
  • Taylor Jordan was a favorite of mine after his stellar 2011 season in low-A.  Unfortunately he had to get Tommy John Surgery (done in mid September 2011), so 2012 is a come-back/rehab year.  He seemed to be back really, really early though; he got his first 2012 start 9 months after surgery.  On the year: 3-7 with a 5.13 ERA in 15 starts and 54 1/3 innings.  You can’t beat that for a rehab year.  Outlook for next season: leading the low-A rotation with an eye towards a quick high-A promotion in 2013.
  • Brian Rauh, the first 2012 draft pick mentioned in this series (and as it turned out one of only two 2012 draft picks to make it as high as low-A).  Rauh got 8 starts with Hagerstown in August after getting a quick bump up from short-A.  Results were ok: he was 3-3 with a 4.89 ERA in 8 games as a starter.  He only really had one bad start (his last) and would have had better season stats otherwise.  His K/9 rates were good and he may be an excellent find in the draft (he was an amazing 30-1 during his college career at Division III Chapman; check out his mini bio at milb.com).  Outlook for next season: low-A rotation.
  • Blake Schwartz, The 2nd, and last 2012 draftee pitcher to make it to Low-A this year was pretty good upon promotion to Hagerstown, going 1-1 with a 3.05 ERA in 7 late season starts.  The Nats have had some great luck with small-college pitchers (see Jordan Zimmermann and Ross Detwiler) and hope to continue with the likes of Rauh and Schwartz (from Oklahoma City University, an NAIA school).  Outlook for next season: high-A rotation, based on his status as a college senior grad.
  • Matthew Purke, as most Nats fans know, had three wild appearances in May before getting shut down on the season with continuing shoulder issues.  Outlook for next season: get healthy, try low-A rotation again.
  • Dixon Anderson, coming back from an injury that cost him all of 2011, looked good in a too-small-of-a-sample size of innings (26 between GCL and low-A).   He’s a big right-hander with good k/9 rates who was a little wild in low-A.  I wonder if he features more as an eventual reliever.  Outlook for next season: competing for low-A rotation, dropping to bullpen.

 

  • Other guys who got spot starts here and there (non-rehab):
    • Christian Meza had 36 appearances, 3 spot starts and a good 2.97 era in 88 low-A innings on the year.   A tall lefty with excellent K/9 rates, he excelled in 3 spot starts but remained mostly a middle-to-late innings reliever.  Outlook for next season: I’d try to feature him as a starter honestly, but i’d guess he ends up in the high-A bullpen.
    • Pedro Encarnation got a few innings in low-A after moving up from Short-A.  Outlook for next season: see short-A write-up.
    • Jason Smith got a call-up/spot start mid-season and got shelled.  Outlook for next season: see short-A write-up.

Hagerstown Relievers: taking a look at the relief corps at the end of the season.  These are done in order by IP for any reliever who didn’t get at least one start.

  • Gregory Holt gave the Suns 78 workman-like innings in 41 games, finishing the year with an era of 4.12.    Unfortunately it seems that result was rather lucky; his FIP was 5.18, a full point higher.   He’ll have to improve to stay in the organization.  Outlook for next season: high-A bullpen.
  • Ben Hawkins continues to be a late-round steal (he was a 36th round draft pick in 2011 out of baseball juggernaut West Florida) for the team, putting up a 3.55 ERA in 58 1/3 innings over 30 appearances, giving the team nearly a k/inning as a lefty.   He continues on a great 2011 as well.  He’s more than just a loogy, routinely putting in 2-3 innings per outing.   Outlook for next season: high-A bullpen.
  • Colin Bates closed a few games, was effective for most of the season (2.79 era in 51 2/3 relief innings) and has given the organization no reason not to move him up the chain.  He’s a little under-sized (6’1″, 175lb) and that may have him flying  under the radar as a prospect.   Outlook for next season: high-A bullpen.
  • Aaron Barrett got promoted to high-A after tearing through Low-A with 52 Ks in 34 innings.   See the high-A write-up for more. Outlook for next season: (as copied from high-A writeup) AA bullpen.
  • Richie Mirowski is another feather in the southwestern Nats draft staff’s hats; a 45th round pick in 2011 out of Oklahoma Baptist University was neat and effective upon reaching low-A this year.  He had a 2.00 era in 27 relief innings.  He had a few more walks than you’d like to see, but had over a K/inning to go with it.  45th round picks are usually throw-away picks on high schoolers who you don’t expect to sign; they’re not generally guys who put in sub 3.00 eras in successive seasons.  Outlook for next season: move him up; high-A bullpen
  • Other Relievers who appeared in Low-A (not including Rehabbing MLBers): Outlook for next season for all of these guys seems the same: another season in the low minors, struggling to make an impact.
    • Wilson Eusebio was inexplicably promoted after putting up a 6.78 ERA in 28 innings.
    • Bobby Lucas, GWU product and local kid, wasn’t good this year; a 7.67 ERA in 29 innings.  He was also incredibly wild; 36/31 k/bb in those 29 innings.
    • Alex Kreis had a 5.88 era in 26 innings for Hagerstown.  Nearly a 2.00 whip; he needs to improve.
    • Todd Simko, 2011 21st rounder, got 19 mostly wild innings in before going down with a season-ending injury in May.
    • Leonard Hollinshad a mostly nondescript 2012 season; he was a 29th rounder out of Juco in his first pro season.  He needs to show more swing-and-miss (only 8 Ks in 18 innings) capability to move up in this organization.
    • Travis Henke got lit up in 3 low-A innings and got dumped back to short-A.

Summary

Hagerstown had a mixed bag of starters early (some good, some bad), but got help down the stretch from 2012′s draft class.  It wasn’t enough for them in the end; losing out in the playoffs.

Potomac/High-A Pitching Staff Year in Review; 2012

2 comments

Nathan Karns parlayed his first healthy pro season into an Organizational POTY award. Photo Potomac Nationals official via milb.com

Click here for the 2011 version of this post, for a look at how things were last year.

Here’s the High-A version of the 2012 season pitching staff review.  I’m going down the line from top to bottom; AAA is here, AA is here.  As with the other reviews, we’ll look at the main rotation, the substitute and spot starters, then focus on key relievers.  Rehab appearances are generally not mentioned.

Potomac starters.  The rotation started the season with Winters, Hansen, Olbrychowski, Grace and Swynenberg.  Lets see how the original rotation and other primary starters fared.

  • Kyle Winters, an off season minor league free agent pickup, was Potomac’s opening day starter.  But he wasn’t long for the rotation; he got shelled en-route to posting a 7.02 era in 8 starts before getting released.  It does not seem like anyone else picked him up (except perhaps in Indy ball).  Lets be honest; it is never a good sign to have minor league free agents playing significant roles on high-A ball clubs.  Outlook for next season: in another organization or out of baseball.
  • High-A proved to be too much for Bobby Hansen, who put up a 5.85 ERA in 6 starts (9 total appearances) before being moved back to Low-A, where he spent 2011.  He’s young; he has yet to turn 23, so even low-A isn’t the worst place for him.  But he’ll be entering his 6th pro season in 2013 and you’d like to see him throw more than 50 innings in a season.  Outlook for next season: see the Low-A post.
  • Adam Olbrychowski wasn’t able to build on his 2011 season in High-A, regressing badly and posting a 6.24 ERA in 26 appearances (16 starts).  He lost his rotation spot halfway through the season and didn’t fare well out of the pen.   This trade didn’t work out for either team really (the Nats traded Justin Maxwell to the Yankees for Olbrychowski    in January 2011 and released him themselves; he now plays for Houston).  Outlook for next season: either one last shot in the High-A bullpen or released.
  • Matthew Grace put in his third year as a full-time starter with the Organization, and he continues to be hit or miss.  On the season he posted a 9-12 record with a 4.84 ERA and 83/48 k/bb ratio in 141 1/3 innings, but you never know what you’re getting with him.  His final start of the season featured 8 shutout innings, but his first start in August was a 3-inning 9 hit meltdown.  Outlook for next season: the organization stuck with him after a 5.17 ERA in a full season of low-A; no reason to think they won’t continue to stick with him in 2013.  AA rotation, perhaps re-peating High-A if the numbers don’t work out.
  • Matt Swynenberg was in and out of the rotation, not really excelling as either a starter or a reliever on the year.  7-5, 4.92 ERA on the season.   He was a bit unlucky on the season; he had a .343 BABIP and his FIP was a bit lower than his ERA.   Outlook for next season: he’s still young (turned 23 in February) and has plenty of time to improve.  And, given that he was a 28th round draft pick, anything he contributes is absolute gravy to the organization).   Look for him to be leading the High-A rotation in 2013 with an eye for mid-season promotion.
  • Robbie Ray was last year’s sensation, an 19-yr old dominating in Low-A.  He clearly suffered from a sophomore slump, going 4-12 with a 6.56 ERA in 22 “starts” (I put that in quotes since he had one 5-inning “relief” appearance in June).  What happened?  His K’s were down, Walks up, HRs up, BABIP unlucky, and his FIP was a full point and a half lower than his ERA.  So it wasn’t as bad as it looked.  Plus, he’s only 20 in high-A, where a lot of college guys take a year and a half to get to.  I’m not worried at all; i’ll bet he’s back to being dominant in 2013 repeating the level.  Outlook for next season: back in the High-A rotation.
  • Nathan Karns finally got a healthy full season of pitching under his belt after getting paid 3rd round money as a 12th round draft pick in the high-spending 2009 draft, and the organization finally got a look at what Karns can do: A 2.17 ERA in 24 appearances (18 starts) across 116 innings between low- and high-A.  This was no fluke either; all his advanced stats support his performance and give reason to believe he’ll continue to develop.  He was named the Organization’s Pitcher of the  Year for 2012, usually a great indicator of future success for this team.  He’s a big guy with a great pitching frame (6’5″, 230lbs) and an even better mustache (see his profile picture at milb.com).  I think Karns may be our best or 2nd best starter prospect right now.  A ight concern may be his hitting the DL in mid-August after a couple of mediocre outings; I’d guess that he’s reached an innings limit for the season and was shutdown with an unspecified injury.  This may also explain why he’s not appearing in the AFL after such a season.  Outlook for next season: AA rotation.
  • Trevor Holder finally got promoted past high-A after repeating the league for the 4th time in 2012.  He got 10 starts in Potomac before being moved up mid-season.  He was pretty good in his 9 starts in High-A this year: 3-3 with a 3.72 ERA. Outlook for next season: (from the AA post): AA Rotation.
  • Alex Meyer excelled in 7 late-season starts in Potomac after throwing 90 innings in low-A to start the  year.  Final high-A stats: 3-2 with a 2.31 ERA in 39 innings.  His ancillary numbers declined slightly moving from low- to high-A (as one would expect), but his core capabilities seem to be the same.  He’s a HUGE guy (6’9″) and the downward plane on his fastball makes it incredibly difficult to hit in the air (only 6 homers allowed in 139IP).  A lot of pundits (myself included) were critical of Meyer starting in low-A as such an advanced draft prospect, but his numbers in high-A (a more legitimate evaluation of his skills age- and experience-wise) give great hope.  The organization has had him working on mechanics all year, worried that such a big guy was going to struggle to repeat his delivery (as highlighted by this Baseball America article, subscribers only sorry).  After being basically a 2-pitch guy in college, Meyer has reportedly added a 2-seam fastball that he throws at the same velocity as his 4-seamer to go with an 87-mph change-up.  Suddenly he’s a 4-pitch guy (2 plus-plus, one plus and one fringe) and that gives him a great chance of remaining a starter.  A 6’9″ throwing upper 90s has to look like 100+ to a hitter based on his release point, and despite most scouts opinion that he’d make a fantastic shut-down closer with his 2 plus-plus pitches, he has more value to the team as a starter.  Outlook for next season: I think he starts in High-A rotation again with an eye towards quick promotion to AA.
  • Robert Gilliam underperformed in AA, got demoted to high-A and gave Potomac 7 up-and-down starts down the stretch.   Final numbers in Potomac: 1-2, 4.25 ERA in 36ip.  Outlook for next season: (cut-n-pasted from AA post): The team likes him as a starter; i’m guessing they give him another whirl in the AA rotation with Meyer sitting in High-A waiting in the wings.
  • Taylor Hill got three late-season starts after toiling all year in Hagerstown.  Outlook for next season: see Low-A post.

  • Other guys who got spot starts here and there (non-rehab):
    • Ryan Demmin served as the mop-up/swing man for the team, giving them a K/9 reliever with a 4.57 ERA on the season.  He got a couple of spot starts but only went 7 innings between the two.  He gives up a lot of hits but doesn’t walk guys.  He could continue to be a useful middle reliever.  Outlook for next season: Likely the high-A bullpen again, though he could slot up to AA if the numbers don’t work out.
    • Paul Applebee, as with Demmin, was used mostly as a long man and got a spot start before going down with injury in June.  He wasn’t great when he did pitch (5.00 era in 36ip), but he’s been useful in the organization for a while.  Outlook for next season: High-A mop-up guy again, not knowing how severe his arm injury is.

Potomac Relievers: taking a look at the relief corps at the end of the season.  They used an awful lot of them.

  • Neil Holland continued an excellent string of seasons for this organization since being drafted in 2010.  He was close to unhittable in 2012: a 1.64 era in 60 innings and a sub 1.00 whip.  That’s fantastic.  Outlook for next season: see if he can repeat his performance in AA.
  • Rob Wort had, frankly, a pretty amazing season as Potomac’s closer.  He had an era of 2.38 over 56 2/3 innings, and had 13 saves.  That’s not why he was amazing; He had 95 Ks in those same 56 2/3 innings.  That is a 15.09 K/9 rate!!  For a 30-th round draft pick (i.e., a guy who was never really expected to make it out of rookie camp), that’s incredible.  Outlook for next season: closer in AA.
  • Joe Testa couldn’t repeat his excellent 2011 Potomac results, putting up an ugly 5.17 era in 38 IP.  The ugly part?  A perfect 1-1 ratio of walks to strikeouts on the year (31 walks, 31 Ks).  He turning 27 in December and is entering his 6th minor league season; I think its safe to say 2013 is a “show me” year for Testa. Outlook for next season: hard to see him moved up to AA; I see him repeating in the High-A bullpen, perhaps a pure Loogy.
  • Cameron Selik looked to have “figured out” the bullpen after being a starter for most of 2011, and had a fantastic 34/3 k/bb ratio in 22 high-A innings.  He earned a promotion, but begged out of his AA debut with what probably was a torn Lat.  He didn’t pitch again after June 5th.  A shame, since it would have been nice to see how he fared upon reaching AA. Outlook for next season: I’d start him in the High-A bullpen again to make sure he’s healthy, then promote him up to AA.
  • Aaron Barrett has gone from unknown 9th rounder to organizational top prospect in one season; after tearing through Low-A with 52 Ks in 34 innings, he allowed just 2 runs in 17 high-A innings to close out the  year.  His performance earned him a trip to the Arizona Fall League along with a number of other high-profile Nats prospects.  Outlook for next season: As with Selik, I’d imagine he belongs in the AA bullpen; we’ll see if the numbers work out.  If not he starts in Potomac looking for a quick jump.
  • Josh Smoker, the Nats poster child for NOT drafting high school arms early, threw a grand total of 9.2 innings between three levels this year.  Its hard to believe, but he’ll play his 6th minor league season in our system in 2013 and then he’ll likely move on.  Outlook for next season: if healthy, High-A bullpen to try one last time to resurrect his Nats career.
  • Other Relievers who appeared in High-A of note (not including Rehabbing MLBers): Outlook for next season for all of these guys seems the same: either continued “org guy” middle reliever or minor league FA in another organization.
    • Adam Carr, a 28-yr old in high-A after spending most of 2011 in AAA.  Org arm.
    • Jimmy Barthmaier looked great in 19 High-A innings; he should since he’s 28 and in his 8th minor league season.
    • Shane McCatty struggled through a 6-week mid-season injury and an 8.83 ERA in high-A.  Nepotism seems to indicate that he’ll get another shot in 2013, deserved or not.
    • Wilson Eusebio was promoted twice, both times inexplicably based on his performance, and ended up getting lit up in Potomac.  He may be out of baseball after 2012.

Summary

Summary Potomac’s 5 opening day starters finished the season with these ERAs: 7.02, 5.85, 6.24, 4.84 and 4.92.  Thankfully guys like Meyer, Holder and Karns replaced some of these starts with decent ones later on in the season.  They got great performances up and down the bullpen though, which helped the team to remain in playoff contention late into the 2nd half (despite their sub .500 record).  At least they were dominant at home (21-13 first half, 21-15 second half), giving the Potomac fans a lot to cheer for.

Outlook for next season: see the Low-A post.