Nationals Arm Race

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

Archive for August, 2013

Great video of Lucas Giolito from GCL

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Giolito's comeback from TJ surgery has been great.  Photo Eric Dearborn via win-for-teddy blog

Giolito’s comeback from TJ surgery has been great. Photo Eric Dearborn via win-for-teddy blog

Courtesy of MinorLeagueBall.com’s John Sickels (who I’ve asked if he’s doing a player-by-player recap of this year’s draftees like he did last year, which I borrowed from for a good blog post last off-season, but have not heard back), here’s a posting with links to the blog BaseballInstinct, which has some good video of Lucas Giolito throwing during his time in the GCL earlier this month.

The videos are set to rather loud music, so hit mute if you’re at work or are annoyed by electronic/techno music.

The videos show POV from behind the catcher and then some from the side, have some MPH readings, have some slo-mo of Giolito’s mechanics for various pitches and at release points.

Observations/thoughts:

– He looks like a bigger kid than the photo above shows.  He has a good pitcher build, big legs, big strong body.  He’s listed as 6’6″ 230 so I’m not sure why I thought he was a little wiry kid.

– His motion looks like a cross between Cole Kimball with perhaps a little Roy Oswalt.  When he lands, his shoulder tilt and arm position are almost identical to Kimball’s, while his arm flail in regular speed seems like a throwback to Oswalt.

– 92-93 reportedly on the gun in these videos; it was from earlier this month, early in his recovery from Tommy John surgery.  But, this is a far cry from the reported upper 90s/100 he showed in high school (speeds per PerfectGame scouting reports).  I’m hoping this was just from a very early game in his rehab and he was holding back.

– Is it just me, or is his curve ball incredibly telegraphed?  His arm position seems way, way higher for his curve than it did for his fastball.  That and his hand position seems to be very simple to pick up.  We talked earlier this season about tipping pitches and I’m guessing this is something they’ll work on with Giolito.  If an amateur like me can see a difference that distinct, then a professional certainly can too.

– Likewise, later in the video his trailing leg finish is incredibly inconsistent.  Sometimes it comes across his body, sometimes he kicks the ground, sometimes it just trails behind.  It seems like he may need some mechanical fine tuning.  Does this make a difference in the pitch?  It’s too late to be a pitch tipping mechanism and could be because he was throwing from the stretch/trying to slide step a bit.

– He gets an incredibly long push-off the rubber (see the side-action video later in the link).  By the time he releases the ball, his foot is at least 12-15 inches in front of the rubber and his arm/release point has to be at least 7+ feet in front of the rubber.  Study the video; he’s 6’6″ and he’s clearly further off the rubber than he is tall.  We talk about how really tall pitchers (think Jon RauchChris Young and Randy Johnson) get an advantage because they’re releasing the ball closer to home, so the pitch looks faster than it is.  Giolito’s mechanics combined with his height give this same appearance.  If you combine this long push-off and the reported velocity he can achieve … wow, that’s a heck of a combination.  There’s no wonder that he was in the mix for 1-1 last year.

Any other thoughts?  I know there are readers out there who discount this kid as a prospect.  But I’ll say this; 10 shutout innings so far after being promoted to Short-A, which is basically a college league.  He’s only 19 and is recovering from injury.   If he starts next season in low-A before his 20th birthday and gets promoted up at some point, he’ll be well on his way to being one of the top prospects in baseball.

Written by Todd Boss

August 30th, 2013 at 10:58 am

Matt Harvey; just unlucky

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Harvey gets a really unfortunate diagnosis.  Photo: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

Harvey gets a really unfortunate diagnosis. Photo: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

What happened to Matt Harvey?
One of my friends speculated that his overuse at UNC may have contributed to his very unfortunate torn UCL/possible need for Tommy John surgery and drew a parallel to our own Stephen Strasburg in terms of young phenoms going down.  I don’t recall any accusations of overuse of Strasburg at SD State; in fact Tony Gwynn seemed to be hyper aware of the media outcry if there would have been overuse and handled him very carefully.   His workload in college was carefully monitored, the Nats brought him along very carefully and were hyper sensitive to any slight issues in his first pro years.  And Strasburg got hurt anyway.
UNC has a somewhat dim reputation among scouts for destroying pitcher arms (as does Texas, Rice, and a couple other programs), and you saw some evidence of that in this past CWS (where UNC’s “closer” suddenly was starting games and throwing 100s of pitches during the tournament after being a one-inning guy most of the year).  But Harvey left UNC in 2010.  A long time ago.
UCL tears are often point-source injuries; think about Strasburg’s torn UCL: he did it on one pitch.  Yes he probably “strained” the UCL before then (strain is medical term for “small tear” apparently, as we learned during the Lucas Giolito drafting), but it was very clear the exact moment Strasburg blew it out.  Meanwhile, shoulders seem to be more degenerative over time from overuse.  There doesn’t seem to be any video of a single pitch that blew out Harvey’s UCL, and I’m sure there’s arguments and counter-examples against this, but my observations seem to support this.  One day pitchers are healthy, the next day they have a blown elbow ligament.
What else could have caused Harvey’s injury?
Pitch counts?  Harvey’s game logs this year aren’t egregious: a couple of 120 pitch games (studies have shown that 120 pitches is about the threshold for pitches in the majors before workload effects are demonstratble in subsequent starts).  Lots of games in the 100-110 range.  But that’s to be expected; he’s a big guy, a workhorse, always has been.
Innings thrown?  Here’s a concern area.  96 college innings in 2010, 135.2 in 2011, 169.1 in 2012 and 178.1 in 2013 before this injury.  You generally don’t want guys to increase workloads more than 20% per year (the “Verducci effect,” so to speak)  He increased his workload 28% from college to his first pro year and another 20% from his first pro year to his second.  He was well on his way this year to another 20% increase and was set to be shut down before this injury.  He was definitely a risk for ramping up his innings too fast.
Mechanics: no evidence of any trouble spots; his mechanics have always been clean.  He threw hard but he wasn’t considered a “max effort” guy.  Too bad for the “inverted W” conspiracy crowd; they can’t have another poster child for their internet meme which is usually ignored by scouts and baseball professionals.  (as you can tell, I don’t believe in the inverted W b.s. as being anything other than coincidental.  For every pitcher with an arm injury and inverted W mechanics you can 1) find a pitcher with inverted-W who has NO injury history or 2) find a pitcher with impeccable mechanics who suffers the same type of injuries that the inverted W supposedly caused).
Is it the  Travel-league/year round baseball that prospects these days have grown up in?   If anything, you’d think that year-round baseball would help these kids, not hurt them, by building up arm strength and building up the muscles surrounding the critical points in a throwing arm (ucl, rotator cuff, labrum, etc).  This goes counter to recent advice from Dr. James Andrews, who advised that kids need an off-season from baseball to allow their arm muscles to rest and regenerate from the abuse that pitching causes.  Of course, you could also counter argue it and say that “the arm only has so many bullets in it” and each pitch is one pitch closer to an injury.
The “right” answer is probably some combination of all of the above, as well as genetic bad luck.  Some guys have absolutely perfect mechanics and get injured (Harvey), some guys have perfect mechanics and throw 10,000 innings (say, Nolan Ryan), some guys have crummy mechanics and get away with it for a long time (think Don Sutton or someone like that).
On the bright side; Tommy John surgery is now somewhere between 85-90% success rate.  And these TJ surgeries actually improve the arm action.  An amazing stat was tweeted by Rob Neyer in the wake of the Harvey injury; of the 360 pitchers who have started games this year, 124 have had Tommy John surgery.  124 of 360!  That’s one out of every three major league starters in the game.  Our own Nats experience exactly matches this: of the 9 guys we’ve had start a game this year 3 have TJ surgeries in their history (Strasburg, Jordan Zimmermann, Taylor Jordan).  The surgery doesn’t just repair, it improves the arm stability and strength.  TJ pitchers often come back with more break on their curve because the elbow has been improved.  They don’t just staple the tendon in place; they drill holes in the bones to attach the tendon so its got a stronger bond than what was naturally there.
In any case, it really is unfortunate to see such a great young guy suffer an arm injury so soon.  Hopeful for a full recovery.  The baseball world is a better, more fun place with young aces like Harvey out there every 5 days.

2013 Fantasy Baseball post-mortem

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Verlander just killed me this year.  Photo unk via rumorsandrants.com

Verlander just killed me this year. Photo unk via rumorsandrants.com

My standard disclaimer; this is a whole huge post kvetching about my 2013 Fantasy Baseball team.  If you don’t play fantasy, feel free to skip this 3,000 word missive.  I’ll insert a “jump” line here so that RSS readers don’t have to see this whole massive post :-)

Read the rest of this entry »

Ladson’s Inbox 8/26/13

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ClippardTyler_landing_masn.com

Tyler Clippard has been one of the few bright spots for the 2013 Nats; why isn’t he closing? Photo Masn.

Excellent, I was just thinking that I had nothing to write about and MLB Nats beat reporter Bill Ladson posted a mailbox.  Honestly, if I had a steady stream of people emailing me questions I’d have a field day.  I’d post so much content my hands would melt from carpal tunnel syndrome.  I’d post 8,000 word columsn like what Bill Simmons used to do.  Anyway.

Here’s how I’d have responded to the questions Ladson took.  As always, I write my answer here before reading his and edit questions for clarity/conciseness.

Q: Given the way Dan Haren has pitched since being activated from the disabled list, do you see any chance the Nationals re-signing him?

A: Nope.  Zero.  Zilch.  They’re not going to make another $13M mistake in 2014, not with the way that Taylor Jordan has pitched.  The Nats little splurge last off-season pushed their payroll into unknown territory, and I’ll bet they bring it back (especially since that pocketbook hit brought nothing but a .500 record).  Dan Haren is more likely to get flipped to a pitching starved contender in the next week (unless the Nats stupidly hold out for too many prospects, as seems to be the case) and will be plying his trade elsewhere next season.  Ladson says no as well but then completely hedges his answer, saying that “things could change” and “we should have more information in the off-season.”   Well, can’t that be the answer to every question?  

Q: Why isn’t Tyler Clippard closing? 

A: Because the Nats stupidly gave Rafael Soriano a $30M deal, and he’s a “big name closer” that someone in this team’s executive heirarchy was convinced that we needed.  I don’t think it was Mike Rizzo; this moves smelled like a fan-boy ownership panic move in reaction to Drew Storen‘s NLCS Game 5 meltdown.  The problem with Soriano, as has been well established in his prior stints, is that he’s a whiner, a clubhouse cancer, and a problem child when he’s not used in save situations.  His track record speaks for itself: look at his seasonal performances when he’s a closer versus when he’s not.  He wore out his welcome in Tampa Bay with probably the most easy-going manager in the game Joe Maddon.  We’ve already learned this year he doesn’t work out with his fellow relievers, sits off to himself, isn’t a part of the team.  Great acquisition guys!

We played in the Diamond Dream Foundation golf tournament yesterday and had the opportunity to play alongside former Baltimore Oriole pitcher Dave Johnson, who now does radio work for the Orioles on MASN.  This same topic came up; why isn’t Clippard closing but more importantly; what are the Nats going to do with Tyler Clippard in this coming arbitration hearing?   Johnson said that the save statistic is what the players wanted to be judged on for arbitration hearings, and now they’re slaves to it.  Clippard is having a fantastic season, but isn’t the closer, and he belives that management isn’t going to want to pay him $5-$6M to be a “middle reliever.”  I’m guessing the Nats try to sign Clippard to a 2-year deal this off-season, buying out his arbitration years.

They’ll never do this, but another option for the team is this; trade Clippard to a team looking for a closer, get prospects back, and then his pay becomes commensurate with his role.  But this would significantly weaken the bullpen going into next year needlessly.  Its only money; if the Nats didn’t learn this from last year’s transactions (letting Tom Gorzelanny walk over a couple of million dollars?  Non-tendering John Lannan to save $5m?) then that’s unfortunate.  I’d rather have had a couple of guys getting a ton of money as insurance policies than a $30M closer for a .500 team.

Ladson pointed out curious reliever usage in the last series and postulates that Davey Johnson may have had enough of Soriano himself.  We’ll see if Clippard closes the rest of the way and how Soriano handles it.

Q: Do you think Mike Rizzo would consider hiring Mike Scioscia as the Nationals’ next manager? Looks like his time in Anaheim may be ending.

A: Absolutely.  If the Angels are dumb enough to let Mike Scioscia go, then I agree with Buster Olney and Jayson Stark, who talked about this same issue on the Baseball Tonight Podcast late last week.  They said that if Scioscia is fired, “he’ll have a new job in 0.2 seconds.”   The Angels aren’t losing because of Scioscia; they’re losing because the GM wanted to spend $400M on aging FA bats in Albert Pujols and Josh Hamilton while spending about $5 on starting pitching this year.  (I STILL cannot believe the Joe Blanton contract; how does he get a 2yr/$15M contract after the way he pitched in 2012??).  Ladson agrees.

Q: Considering how well Werth has played this year, are we giving up on Span too soon?

A: Possibly.  Or possibly we were just expressing irritation that Denard Span is playing exactly as we feared he would; posting a 91 OPS+ which is nearly identical to his production in 2010 and 2011.   I’m tired of repeating my own opinion on the matter (we didn’t need Span, we could have kept Harper in center, you’re wasting Harper’s defense in left, we could have used Morse’s power, we didn’t need to give up our best starting pitching prospect, defense in LF and 1B is overrated, blah blah blah).   Ladson says that Span has a “friendly contract” and can be dealt.  Sorry; don’t see that.  Rizzo’s way too egotistical to admit a mistake and deal Span now.

Q: Looking to next year, doesn’t Steve Lombardozzi remind you of Chase Utley at second? And what happens with Tyler Moore as either an outfielder or first baseman? Both of these young guys are too good not to get a real chance at starting for the Nats.

A: Steve Lombardozzi as Chase Utley?  Uh; Utley averaged 30 homers in his peak years and has more than 200 for his career.  Lombardozzi has four.  4 homers in his life.  Lombardozzi is a slap hitter, Utley is a middle of the order power hitter.  Other than that, yeah I guess they’re similar.   As for Tyler Moore I guess the questioner either a) hasn’t seen his seasonal numbers or b) has forgotten that the Nats have guys locked up through 2014 at every position that Moore can play.  Unless there’s an injury, the guy is a backup in 2014.  Ladson agrees with me on Lombardozzi.  As for Moore, Ladson seems to think that the Nats might trade LaRoche.  Really??  Who is going to take LaRoche for 2014?  He’s hitting .238 with barely any power for a first baseman.  Who’s taking that contract and giving us anything of value coming back?  Wishful thinking.

Q: Would the Nationals have interest in signing outfielder Jacoby Ellsbury, who is a free agent after this season?

A: I would think not; Jacoby Ellsbury is going to want too much money, we have no place to play him, and I don’t think he’s worth the money.  He had one great season, a couple of decent ones and otherwise is a below-average offensive outfielder.    I think he’s a lock to stay in Boston.  Ladson notes that Ellsbury is a Scott Boras client so you never know what’ll happen.

Tanner Roark where have you been all my life?

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Tanner Roark living the dream.  Photo via milb.com

Tanner Roark is making a case to stick with the big club. Photo via milb.com

So, after yet another excellent outing Friday night in Kansas City, Tanner Roark now has 4 wins, a miniscule 1.10 ERA, a ridiculous 349 ERA+ and has pitched 16 innings and only given up 10 hits.  By way of comparison, in 12 MLB innings Nathan Karns gave up 17 hits, 6 walks and 10 earned runs.  On Friday night he stranded two runners he inherited from the wholly ineffective Gio Gonzalez and then pitched through the 8th inning giving up just one hit against a hot offense who had pounded our 2012 Cy Young candidate.

Tanner Roark, where have you been all my life??

Small sample sizes, yes.  But Roark has been effective in 5 of his 6 of his appearances thus far (his worst outing was in his hometown; understandable as his family looked on).  He hits corners, he doesn’t walk guys, he works inside, he gets a ton of jams and flairs.  He has decent enough velocity and stuff, which is less important than being able to command your pitches.  90mph at the knees on the black is better than 96mph over the middle of the plate (ask Greg Maddux what he thinks of command versus velocity).

Are we looking at a potential 5th starter for 2014?  At some point in the off-season we’re going to have this discussion.  Clearly the team has more than one viable candidate for a 5th starter.  The days of paying Edwin Jackson and Dan Haren tens of millions of dollars to be mediocre-to-ineffective 4th starters looks like it may be over.   Ross Detwiler‘s up and down career may put him in jeopardy of losing his rotation spot next spring.  At the very least Roark seems to have an inside track on the long-man/spot starter role that just a few weeks ago we thought was Ross Ohlendorf‘s to lose.

Stay tuned; with the Nats out of it September is going to be a great time to feature Roark in a starting role (along with perhaps Karns and maybe even someone like Danny Rosenbaum or even the surprising Caleb Clay) as an audition for 2014.

By way of comparison, in 12 MLB innings Nathan Karns gave up 17 hits, 6 walks and 10 earned runs.

What will Shark fans do now?

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Bernadina's Aug2012 catch in Houston remains a franchise highlight.  Photo zimbio.com

Bernadina’s Aug2012 catch in Houston remains a franchise highlight. Photo zimbio.com

I guess that’s the biggest question mark in the wake of yesterday’s deal, where the Nats released the longest serving member of their franchise Roger Bernadina and traded for a decent bench player in David DeJesus and at least $2.5M worth of contract obligations for  PTBNL.

Update: Ken Rosenthal is speculating that the Nats brass may have made this trade because of a “waiver wire mistake.”  DeJesus is apparently already back out on waivers again.  If this is the case … then I’ll really criticize Mike Rizzo here.  If you put in a claim on a Chicago Cubs guy, a team CLEARLY shedding any and all payroll, you have to think they were going to accept the claim.  There seems to be more to this story that seems to cast the Nats front office in a questionable light.

For me, Bernadina was a case study in a guy who was just slightly below a good MLB hitter.  He wasn’t a 4-A guy; he showed that in spurts he could hit in the majors.  But when given full time opportunities in 2010 and 2011 he just couldn’t get it done.

An, in yet another comment that seems to indicate how out of touch Davey Johnson is this season, he was quoted by Amanda Comak as saying that Bernadina is “still kind of a young player” as part of his explanation for why he just couldn’t get it going this season.  Really?  Kind of a  young player?  Aged 29.  Played in the majors parts of 6 seasons, has more than 1300 major league plate appearances to go with another 3300 plate appearances in the minors, and playing professionally in our system for a decade.   Sorry Davey, he’s not a young player anymore.  He is what he is; a streaky hitter who was probably lucky last year and unlucky this year, who had his shots to be the full time CF here and just couldn’t hit enough to stick.  Great fielder, by all accounts a great guy.

Why release him instead of DFA him?  Probably a classy move by the Nats here; by outright releasing him there’s no waiver process, no shenanigans that have been going on related to teams trying to rig the waiver/DFA process.  Bernadina was almost guaranteed to be non-tendered this coming off-season anyway, so why not make him a FA now and give him a shot to catch right back on with a team right away?

ps: useless programming note: this is the 600th post at NationalsArmRace!  Too bad its on such a down note.

Update: 2 days after his release, Bernadina has signed with Philadelphia after receiving calls from “10 teams.”  Good for him; he should get playing time in Philly and maybe he can parlay that into another MLB gig elsewhere.

Written by Todd Boss

August 20th, 2013 at 9:35 am

Ask Boswell 8/19/13 edition

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Arod, the greek tragedy figure. Photo John Munson/The Star-Ledger via nj.com

Arod, the greek tragedy figure. Photo John Munson/The Star-Ledger via nj.com

With somewhat of a lack of topics to write about lately, I turned to find a relatively deep Ask Boswell discussion on the Washington Post website 8/19/13.  Tom Boswell takes baseball questions, I provide my own answers.

As always, I’ll write answers here before reading his, and edit questions for clarity.  All stats quoted are as of 8/19/13.

Q: Leave it to the Red Sox to make A-Rod into a sympathetic figure!

A: Agree.  I wouldn’t normally have tuned into the expected 4.5 hour 8pm Sunday night game between Boston and New York, but just happened to see the first Alex Rodriguez at bat last night.  My immediate thought: Ryan Dempster‘s actions were pretty gutless and he should have been immediately ejected.   You throw at a guy once and miss?  You’ve made your point.  You had your chance to make a statement and missed.  But then throw two more balls inside then blatantly drill the guy on 3-0?  Sorry; that’s just bush league.  The umpires badly mismanaged that situation; Dempster should have been immediately ejected.  Joe Girardi had a very legitimate point at the time, and continued with very intelligent observations afterwards (where, paraphrased, he said that Dempster was a union rep, should have known better, and if he had a problem with the process of his own players’ union the time and place was elsewhere, not on a nationally televised game).

So, yeah, Alex Rodriguez did earn sympathy there.  How poetic was his home-run later in the game?  Were it me, I would have milked it for everything it was worth, making it a poster child for every egregious home-run celebration.  Bat flip, slow trot, kisses to the stands, fist pumps and multiple pointing to the sky.  But that’s just me.

Boswell doesn’t really say much about the question other than stating the obvious about the athlete and the situation.

Q: Wouldn’t it be better to show up the Braves by actually beating them once in a while, rather than throwing at them?

A: Not the point.  As I posted in this space over the weekend, there’s a code in the game that the Nats, for some unknown reason, were not keeping to.  Kudos to Stephen Strasburg for finally standing up for his own.  It has nothing to do with wins or losses on the field, it has to do with protecting yours.  Boswell says the Justin Upton plunking was done perfectly, but then questions the ejection for what a lot of people thought were just very wild pitches to Andrelton Simmons.

Q: Why did the Nats not keep Oliver Perez?

A: Who said it was just the Nats decision?  Oliver Perez piched as a starter for our AA team in 2011 and then signed another minor league deal with Seattle for 2012.  Only then he converted to a reliever and has had success since.  We don’t really know what happened; maybe the Nats offered to keep him but wouldn’t promise a AAA spot or a spring training invite.  Maybe Perez saw our rotation for 2012 and thought Seattle would give him a better shot at a MLB job.  Honestly I don’t remember a single word at the time indicating that either side wanted a 2012 deal.  Perez was good but not great in AA for us in 2011 (3-5, 3.09 ERA. 1.3 whip in 15 starts), far less than a guy who was once a very effective MLB starter.  Maybe we just though he was washed up.  Boswell questions whether a guy with a 4.25 ERA is even worth discussing.  Fair point

Q: Who would the Nationals “third-string” catcher be? If, for instance, Suzuki got injured and Ramos pinch-hit. -Who would be the preferred position player to pitch if they ran out of pitchers? 

A: Great question.  3rd string catcher?  I have no idea, maybe Steve Lombardozzi.  I do remember the team saying that despite Bryce Harper‘s youth position being predominantly catcher that he was not an option.  Pitcher?  Boy, another who knows.   I can’t remember a single positional player who has taken the mound for the Nats since they moved here.  The best guess would be a utility guy, either Lombardozzi or Scott Hairston.  Boswell guesses the same names I do.

Q: Do you think the Nats will make a serious effort to keep him next year? (I’m already writing off 2013) I’m sure he wants to play every day, but given Ramos’ physical issues that isn’t out of the question.

A: Kurt Suzuki is gone.  His $8.5M option for next year is way, way too much for what he has become; a once-a-week catcher.  Even given Wilson Ramos‘ fragility, you just can’t waste money at the backup catcher position.  Look for a 2014 spring training fight between Sandy Leon and Jhonatan Solano for the #2 catcher spot, and look for the team to add a lot of depth in the minor league ranks in the off-season.  Boswell notes the horrific catcher ERA of Suzuki compared to Ramos, and predicts a minor FA signing this coming off-season.

Q: Is there a more insincere human being in sports than A-Rod? Has he always been like this?

A: The above answer was my weekly quota of Alex Rodriguez discussion.  I will say this though; how do you really KNOW that A-rod is an “insincere human being?”  Do you know him personally?  Or are you just following the media narrative?  Boswell makes a good point; the damage he’s done to the game outweighs any sympathy you could have for him.

Q: You’ve said in the past the Nats would return to their career averages…eventually. Are the Nats reverting to their mean, or is this the new mean?

A: If 2012 was the high, maybe 2013 is the low.  Lets hope for somewhere in the middle for 2014.  Hell, i’ll settle for league average.  I did a quick little runs-scored analysis at the end of June that showed where the Nats record would have been if they had a league-average offense (tied for 1st place) or their 2012 offense (best record in majors).  You could quibble with the math, but I think we all know what has let down the team this year.  Boswell summarizes many of the same points I made … and then has some great stats isolating the bench’s collapse this year.

Q: Given Haren’s performance since returning from the DL, does Rizzo make him a qualifying offer for 2014?

A: Good question.  I just don’t see how you can give Dan Haren a qualifying offer.  The Q.O.  amount is going to increase; lets assume its $14M/year.  Would you give a guy with this stat line $14M?  7-11, 4.79 ERA?  Probably not (those are his season numbers).  His last 8 games (since coming off D/L?)  3-2, 2.25 ERA.   Yeah, that’s worthy of a Q.O.   Maybe the team avoids having to make a decision and flips him to someone needing a starter for September, since he passed through waivers.  That’d be advantageous to Haren too, meaning his signing next off-season won’t have compensation associated with it.  In any case, I think the performance of Taylor Jordan has clearly made Haren expendible, giving as good as or better performance for 1/26th the cost.  Use that $13M towards some hitting.  Boswell says no.

Q: When does Drew Storen replace Soriano as the Nats closer?  (After another blown save).

A: When Soriano’s contract is over.  You bought him, you’ve gotta use him.  Rafael Soriano‘s m.o. was always “good when he’s the closer, sullen underperformer when not.”  He was a poor signing when they got him, and continues to be wasted money.  But hey, its not my money.  Boswell agrees.

Q: When Magic Johnson’s group purchased the Dodgers, he was going to fire Mattingly, whom you said would be a very good manager. Does he still want to fire Donnie, now that the Dodgers have gone 42-8, the best MLB win stread in 100 years? Would you like to see him managing the Nats?

A: Well of course Don Mattingly isn’t going to be fired; he’s now neck and neck with Clint Hurdle for manager of the year.  I don’t have a good sense for what kind of manager he is; after Davey Johnson‘s laissez-faire attitude I know what kind of manager I do want; I want someone with some emotion.  Girardi proved a lot to me last night; lighting into an umpire who failed to control the game.  That’s the kind of emotion I want in my skipper.  Boswell gives some good managerial candidates.

Q: Who are the young pitchers the Nats thing are coming soon?

A: From AAA on downwards, here’s a few starters to keep an eye on: Nathan Karns, A.J. Cole, Robbie Ray, Taylor Hill, Sammy Solis, Matthew PurkeBlake Schwartz, Jake Johansen, Austin Voth and Lucas Gilioto.   Almost every guy on this list has performed well and/or earned a promotion in 2013.   Boswell points some of these guys out and then mentions that we need to produce some hitting too.

Q: Should I be worried that the Nats are going to become the new Caps, a talented team who just lacks the discipline to get it done when it matters?

A: No, because at its heart this is still the same basic team of guys who nearly won 100 games last year.  They need a new voice in the skipper’s office, one who reverses the course of Johnson and who properly motivates them.  Boswell says not to judge a team because of 3/4’s of one disappointing season.

Q: Zim’s surgically-repaired shoulder clearly affected his throwing this year — whether physically or mentally. However, his power numbers at the plate are down too, and we haven’t seen his usual late summer hot streak. Do you think his shoulder affected his hitting? If so, what’s the prognosis for next year for Zim’s hitting?

A: If his shoulder really is/was as bad as everyone seems to think, then yeah you can derive all sorts of bad performance indicators from it.  Next year?  Who knows; he should be healthy.  Of course, he was promised to be healthy by spring training of THIS year.  It takes me back to what I now perceive as disinformation from the team about the whole shoulder issue from the onset.  Either way, I think he’s playing 3B for this team in 2014 no matter what (well, unless the team somehow unloads Adam LaRoche).  Boswell shows some good stats showing Zimmerman’s consistency over the years, then goes on to rave about Jayson Werth.

Q: Will baseball be ruined by the addition of instant replay or have the times changed?

A: I think times have changed.  But from all accounts, the implementation will be typical of everything MLB does; half-done, ham-handed, inefficient and not going nearly as far as its counterparts.  Boswell isn’t a fan.

Q: With two years under his belt, he has a 3.00 ERA and a pretty good 27-19 record. He doesn’t hit 100 mph anymore. He hasn’t proven so far to be anything better than mediocre in the clutch. Not a bad track record, of course, but not anywhere near great. He’s 25 years old now. Is it time to adjust expectations?

A: Is this a baiting question?   Quotes ERA and W/L record as the sole ways to evaluate a pitcher (especially a pitcher who hasn’t yet pitched a full season).  What proof is there that he’s “mediocre in the clutch?”  He’s still the highest or 2nd highest average fastball of any starter in the league despite dialing it down, he’s still a league leader in K/9.  His ERA+ is still significantly above average both for this year and for his career.  What more do you want from the guy?  Ask any baseball pundit to give you a list of his top 5 starters in the league and he’s still on it.   Boswell gives some great historical stats, putting Strasburg in pretty elite company thus far.

Q: Why has Bryce Harper not made the 20 year old leap we expected him to? Did the collision with the wall in LA derail his entire season?

A: A fair point; everyone saw his splits pre and post-LA wall.  His lefty splits are abhorrent.  But he hasn’t been the second coming of Mike Trout.  Maybe we just need to appreciate him for what he is right now.  Boswell mirrors what I said.

 

Why aren’t the Nats getting Harper’s back??

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Harper reacts to his purposeful drilling by Julio Teheran on 8/7/13.  Photo HarperBryce hbp Teheran Aug2013 Evan Habeeb-USA TODAY Sports

Harper reacts to his purposeful drilling by Julio Teheran on 8/7/13. Photo Evan Habeeb-USA TODAY Sports

Julio Teheran blatantly drilled Bryce Harper after he thought Harper showed him up after hitting a long bomb on August 7th.  There was no question the pitch was purposely thrown at Harper.  (By the way; watch the video of that home run and try to find the objectionable action there.  Maybe he pauses slightly, maybe he tosses his bat away instead of dropping it, maybe he runs slower than normal.  Not one of these actions comes even close to what some guys in this league do on EVERY homer, ahem Yasiel Puig).

What did the Nats do in response?  Nothing.

Last night, Harper was hit not just once but TWICE.  First in the 4th inning on an errant Alex Wood curveball, then again in the 8th when Luis Avilan threw a ridiculous pitch behind Harper’s head.

What did the Nats do in response?  Again, nothing.

The Nats broadcast team (as heard in the link for last night’s game above) said it right: “What is going on??”

I don’t care if Harper got hit with a curve (not on purpose) and a wild fastball (probably not on purpose, since it put the go-ahead runner on base in a tight game).  I don’t care what the situation is; YOU HAVE TO RESPOND in kind.  Enough is enough.  That’s three straight plunkings of our best guy by the same team inside of a week.

The reaction of the Atlanta crowd was rather telling.  Pathetic in that they cheered the HBP and then gave Avilan a standing ovation.  However also telling because the message is clear; the Nationals ball club, for whatever reason, is not responding in kind to their best hitter getting repeatedly thrown at.

What is going on??  Why aren’t the Nats protecting Harper?  Why aren’t they responding to these HBPs?

The correct response to the August 7th event would have been to hit Justin Upton in the middle of the back the next time he came to the plate.  First pitch.  Plain and simple.  Why Upton?  Because it was Upton who just the night before did the exact same thing that Harper was accused of, only it took him LONGER to prance around the bases.  If Harper got hit because the Braves thought he was too slow around the bases, then how exactly do they excuse Upton’s trot, which was 4 seconds longer?  And the correct response last night was to absolutely drill the first guy up in the bottom of that inning.  No questions; first pitch, in the back.

I don’t know what the hell Davey Johnson is doing.  Why wasn’t he out on the field last night, defending his player?  Why wasn’t he calling out Atlanta’s manager Fredi Gonzalez?  Why isn’t he ordering a response??   Why isn’t he showing any of the passion you would expect from a hall of fame manager who should know better?  Better question; why aren’t Harper’s teammates taking any initiative here and doing what should be done?  Where’s the leadership on this team?  Where’s the leadership in this clubhouse??

If your answer is, “well it was a close game and the Nats couldn’t afford to purposely put a runner on base” then my response is this: 59-62.  That’s the team’s record right now.  You want another couple numbers?  15.5 (games out of first place with 6 weeks of the season to go), or how about 9.5 (games out of the wild card behind a team clearly better than them).  The point is this; the season is over.  They’re playing out the string.  Time to start standing up for yourselves, protect your teammate, show some g*d d*mn spine, and protect your best hitter for the future.

I can’t image what Harper is thinking about his manager and his teammates right now.  If it were me, I’d be asking my manager and my teammates point blank to their faces why i’m not being protected.  It almost makes you wonder if his teammates flat out don’t like him.  Is that what’s going on?  Is the Nats clubhouse, which I’ve accused many times of being dysfunctional, even worse than we thought?

If you don’t think beanball justice has a role in the game, then you’ve either never played the game or don’t understand this aspect of it.  The Nats are sending a message that its ok to go after their guys.  That’s a really bad precedent to create.

 

 

Written by Todd Boss

August 17th, 2013 at 12:19 pm

Lincecum’s pending Free Agency; what’s he worth?

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What would you pay Lincecum in 2014?  Photo via SD Dirk flickr via wikipedia

What would you pay Lincecum in 2014? Photo via SD Dirk flickr via wikipedia

An interesting question was posed in an ESPN chat a while ago that I made a note on to come back to.

Should the Giants offer Tim Lincecum a qualifying offer, or just cut him loose without any compensation ties this coming off season?  And a better question: if you were a GM looking for pitching this coming off-season, what would you offer him?

First some stats.  Lincecum is in the last year of a 2yr/$40.5M deal signed to avoid his last two years of arbitration.  This is on the heels of a 2yr/$23M deal that took out his first two years of arbitration.  He’s already north of $60M in career earnings before hitting his first pure free agent contract.  But he’s at a cross-roads.

Take a look at the progression of his career stat-wise: 2 straight Cy Youngs before even hitting his first year of arbitration (which, if you remember, was a Super-2 year because the Giants apparently cannot read a calendar; this little snafu cost them probably $20M in salary).  He went from an ERA+ of 171 in 2010 to last year’s bottoming out season, where he posted a 68 ERA+, a 5.18 ERA and was pulled from the rotation in favor of Barry Zito (an insult to end all insults) in the playoffs.

Garrett Hooe at FederalBaseball just posted a great analysis as well, including insight into Lincecum’s breakdown of mechanics, his velocity loss and other things.  His analysis is great; no need to replicate it here.

In 2013 he’s regained some of his performance but not enough; he’s still pitching like a 5th/6th starter.  His month-by-month splits give no help: he was decent to good in April, awful in May, decent to good in June, mediocre in July and so far has been lights out in August.  The offensively-challenged Nats just tagged him for 6 runs in 6 innings en route to his 12th loss of the season.

Overall, his velocity is down, he has weird mechanics, and he’s clearly deviating from those weird mechanics as of late.  What GM out there is willing to give him a shot, given those two parameters?  Probably more than a few frankly, given his pedigree, but at what cost?

The answer to the second question (what is his value on the FA market) drives the answer to the first question (whether to offer him a QO).   I went looking for some comparisons from last year’s FA market to try to estimate what his market may be this coming off season and found the following data points of interest:

  • Freddie Garcia pitched to an 80 ERA+ (matching Lincecum’s in 2013) but had a 5.18 ERA in New York.  He’s also older (35 versus 29).  He signed a combo minor/major league deal that pays him $1.3M this year.
  • Dan Haren had an 89 ERA+, as 12-13 record with a 4.33 ERA last year and signed a one-year, $13M deal with the Nats.    But he was a near Cy Young winner just two years prior and was hurt most of 2012 (that was what we kept telling ourselves when we all talked ourselves into this signing anyway).
  • Jorge de la Rosa, coming off a lost season to injury but a great 2011, signed a 1 year $11M deal.
  • Joe Saunders pitched to a 101 ERA+ between two teams, is slightly older and is almost the definition of a MLB average pitcher (career ERA+: exactly 100.  career ERA: 4.20).  He signed a 1yr $6.5M deal with Seattle.
  • Speaking of MLB average guys; Gavin Floyd also owns a career ERA+ of 100, and had exactly that for the White Sox in 2012.  His contract?  1yr, $9.5M.
  • Jason Marquis was awful last year; 8-11 with a 5.22 ERA and a 72 ERA+.  He got a 1year $3M deal to come back to San Diego and regain value.  Fun fact: Marquis is a career 94 ERA+ pitcher, has a career ERA over 4.50, has a CAREER bWAR of 5.5 (that’s about half of what Mike Trout had in bWAR just last season) and yet has more than $50 million in career earnings.  Wow.  I’m in the wrong business.
  • Joe Blanton was pretty awful for two teams in 2012, going 10-15 with a 4.71 ERA, yet somehow earned a 2yr/$15M contract extension from the Angels.  Blanton, by the way, is 2-13 this year.  I’m not sure how exactly Blanton got anything more than a couple million dollars, to say nothing of a 2 year contract.  I question the sanity of the Angels management.

Ok.  So using these examples from last year’s FA market … uh, I have no idea what Lincucum is worth.  I’d say he’s better than Blanton, so that mean’s he’s better than $7.5M/year.   But that was such an awful contract that I don’t see how you can use it as a benchmark. Meanwhile, if Gavin Floyd’s consistency year over year is  worth $9.5M, then how do you value the possible jeckyl and hyde that you’re going to get from Lincecum?

If I was a GM, looking at his body of work and his last two seasons, I probably would end up somewhere between Floyd’s $9.5M and de la Rosa’s $11M on a one-year deal.  As they say, there are no bad one-year deals, and if it goes south its just money.  1year, $10M on a career-saving flier taken by some NL team out there willing to roll the dice and spend some cash.

Probably not the Nationals though, not after the Haren experience and considering what Taylor Jordan has given the team in a 5th starter role this year.  You’d have to think Mike Rizzo heads into the off-season with his 3 big guns under contract, his 4th guy Ross Detwiler on the mend, with Jordan penciled into the 5th starter and with the likes of Nathan Karns, Taylor Hill, and Caleb Clay providing the first line of reinforcements in AAA.

So I predict the Giants will not offer him a qualifying offer, thus cutting ties with one of their most iconic players in the last 25 years.  It will be a sad time in San Francisco head-shops everywhere.

Ladson Inbox 8/12/13

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The drumbeat to move Zimmerman to first continues.  Photo AP via tbd.com

The drumbeat to move Zimmerman to first continues. Photo AP via tbd.com

Hey, its been a while since MLB Nats beat reporter Bill Ladson did an inbox.  With the Nats season now relegated to “playing for pride,” I’m guessing this inbox is going to be chock full of questions about the future.  Lets dive in.

As always, I write my response to each question before reading his, and edit questions for clarity/conciseness.  All stats mentioned are as of 8/13/13.

Q: Do you think the Nationals could trade Adam LaRoche, move Ryan Zimmerman to first base, Anthony Rendon to third base and sign a free-agent second baseman like Robinson Cano?

A: Wow, that’s a lot of moving parts.  Lets take this wish list of proposed personnel moves one by one:

  • Trade Adam LaRoche: we’d likely not get a whole heck of a lot for a 33 turning 34 year old first baseman who clearly took a step back in 2013.  LaRoche currently ranks 22nd among league-wide first basemen in wRC+, barely above the league average.  By way of comparison, Mark Reynolds is ranked 25th and was just flat-out released after passing through waivers.  So, no I don’t think there are a lot of teams out there willing to pony up the $14M he’s owed next year ($12M in salary, $2m of a buyout of his 2015 option).   This signing has really set the team back offensively.  Though to be fair, Michael Morse (who would have slotted in at 1B had the team not been able to re-sign LaRoche) is also posting about the same wRC+ numbers and has missed half the season with yet another injury.
  • Move Ryan Zimmerman to first base: yes I think this is going to happen eventually, but not this off-season.  I think you handle the transition of a gold-glove winning player off his chosen position carefully and with consideration to the clubhouse ramifications.  I don’t think it played well in Texas’ clubhouse when a former gold-glove winning shortstop Michael Young was moved to third against his wishes, and he made way for a superb defender in Elvis Andrus.  Zimmerman would be making way for a relative unknown (though presumed gifted) defensive replacement.  I think the Nats brass is chalking up 2013’s subpar defensive season to Zimmerman’s lingering shoulder issue, which has exacerbated his already problematic throwing motion and associated mental issues.  I see Zimmerman giving it a fresh start in 2014, and if it becomes clear it isn’t working out we look at spring training 2015 as a position transfer.
  • Move Anthony Rendon to third: it likely happens eventually.  But him moving to third has to wait for the first two bullet points to happen, so again I’m predicting perhaps 2015.  I think more time at 2B will give him more confidence and his errors will subside.  So far his range at 2B is passable (UZR/150 of 0.5 in 448 innings), but that’s a far cry from what Danny Espinosa was offering there (UZR/150 of 12.0 this year, which would have been good for 2nd in the league.  He posted a 9.9 in a full-season last year).  But, by the time Rendon is set to move to 3rd he may very well just stay at 2nd.  He seems like he’s the right size and shape to play 2nd.
  • Sign Robinson Cano.  There’s no question Cano will be the marquee FA this coming off-season, but I don’t think he signs with Washington for two main reasons.  First, the Yankees just cannot let the one remaining good offensive player they have leave, and I believe they’ll over-pay him to stay.  Secondly, whoever signs Cano is making a potentially classic free agency mistake; overpaying a guy in his down years.  Look at the 9 figure deals signed lately for position players, and look at how many of them are almost immediately regrettable.  Albert PujolsRyan HowardJosh HamiltonCarl Crawford and our own Jayson Werth.  All of those deals routinely listed as the worst contracts in the game.  I believe Mike Rizzo is smart enough and forward thinking enough not to hamstring the team with another contract.

So, my answer to this scenario is “not going to happen.”  Ladson says “call me in the off-season.”

Q: How do you defend your previous support of Danny Espinosa?

A: Um, you can’t. Espinosa has now had nearly 1600 major league plate appearances and has a career slash line of .230/.303/.396.  He just cannot hit batting left handed (career splits: he’s 40 batting points and 75 slugging points lower batting left-handed).  He’s hitting .219 in AAA since being demoted.  He faces serious concerns about where his career is going right now.  Yes he’s a great defensive player, but that only gets you halfway to a MLB job these days. Ladson says Espinosa has been hurt this whole time and when he’s healthy he’s good.  But he also admits that Espinosa’s time playing full-time for the Nats is probably at an end.

Q: Is Denard Span a bust?  He has a low on-base percentage and he hasn’t been stealing many bases.

A: Yes, I think its safe to say that Denard Span has been a bust.   He never really stole that many bases (17 last year, career high of 26), but certainly he has posted much better OBP numbers (.342 last year, .350 career).  What has happened to him in 2013?  Who knows.  He has stated that he likens this year to his rookie year, having to learn a whole new league of pitchers.  That could be fair; and could lead to a rebound in 2014.   I do know this; .313 OBP from the lead-off spot just doesn’t cut it.  To make matters worse, his defensive stats have dropped off too; his UZR is down, his DRS is down.  That’s really not a good sign; you can put up with a #8 hitter batting .260 with no power if he provides great value in the field.  If not, then you’re better off bringing up a minor leaguer to see what he can do.  This is another concern for Rizzo heading into the off-season; is this a one-off, an adjustment season for Span, or is this the start of his decline phase?   Ladson extolls Span’s defense, admits he’s not getting on base and postulates the Nats could go after Shin-Soo Choo in the off-season to replace him.  I think Ladson needs to look at the defensive numbers on Choo before advocating that; he’s dead last in UZR/150 for center-fielders right now, by a significant margin.  Now, if you got Choo and moved Bryce Harper back to center?  I’d be for that 100%.  Make Span your 4th OF, wave good-bye to Roger Bernadina and move on.  

Q: Do you think Drew Storen will be traded? His relationship with the Nationals doesn’t seem the same since he blew the save last year against the Cardinals during the National League Division Series.

A: Traded?  No.  Re-called and put into a lesser bullpen role?  Absolutely.  I think once Drew Storen fixes whatever mechanics issue that has been plaguing him, he comes right back to a Ryan Mattheus type role in the pen.  Storen’s ERA in Syracuse is unsightly so far (unlucky small sample size; he’s given up 4 runs on just 7 hits), but he’s got 11 k’s to 0 walks in 6 innings.   AAA hitters aren’t exactly challenging him, if he’s struck out half the guys he’s faced.  If the team was considering him in trade … you’d have to think they would want to get him back up to the majors to regain value anyway.  Ladson thinks he can regain value and can be a MLB closer again.

Q: Will the Nationals consider going after Michael Morse when he becomes a free agent at the end of the year? He would have helped the Nats’ offense this year, splitting time between the outfield and first base. What do you think?

A: As much as I like Morse and have complained about losing him … you have to realize who he is.  He’s an oft-injured slugger who has no position on an NL team.  If we signed Morse, where exactly does he play?  I guess you could platoon him with LaRoche at first or with Span in the outfield … but as a righty he’d play bat twice a week.   I think Morse signs on as a DH with an AL team for surprisingly low money.  If Seattle offers him a Q.O. I’d be shocked.   Ladson doesn’t think he would have helped the team, nor does he see any way he gets signed.