Nationals Arm Race

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

Archive for August, 2016

Are you worried about the Rotation too?


Giolito's latest start does not inspire confidence.   (Photo by John McDonnell / The Washington Post)

Giolito’s latest start does not inspire confidence. (Photo by John McDonnell / The Washington Post)

(note; i’m at the beach this week … so i’m putting this in as a placeholder for arguing, er I mean discussing).

From the comments section on last week’s post, clearly we’re not happy with the bullpen.  And neither is Mike Rizzo, who caused an uproar amongst the 25 or so people on the planet who knew who Max Schrock was by flipping him for a guy whose name I won’t even try to spell.  Our long man blew a comeback effort last weekend that i’m sure was not well appreciated amongst the vets on the team.

But this post is about the rotation.  Are you worried yet?  Scherzer and Roark might have hiccups here and there but they’ll be solid for the playoffs (and yes, at this point i’m assuming we’re in the playoffs).  But is Strasburg going to make it back?  Is Ross?  Do we trust Gonzalez in a post-season rotation?  Is the performance thus far of Giolito and Lopez just more cause for concern?


Do the Nats have a LOOGY problem?


Can we count on this guy in October? Photo via getty images

Can we count on this guy in October? Photo via getty images

We’ve clearly seen some middle relief issues lately, despite nearly sweeping a 4-game set in Atlanta this past weekend.  And one of the issues we’ve been continually discussing is our left-handed relief options.

We traded Felipe Rivero.  Oliver Perez has a 5.61 ERA.  Sammy Solis just had an MRI on his left shoulder.  Matt Grace has nice looking AAA numbers, but got shellacked last year (2.00 whip in 26 innings) during a brief call-up.  Nick Lee was so ineffective this year that he passed completely through waivers when we DFA’d him off the 40-man.  We just paid cash for twice-TJ survivor and ex Nat Sean Burnett, whose AAA numbers look good but is now on his fourth organization of 2016.

Do we have a LOOGY problem?

Well, maybe.

I constantly have to remind myself of this sentence: “You don’t have to be left-handed in order to get lefties out.”  That and this sentence: “If your lefty splits are good … then you’re still a good LOOGY option.”

Here’s the 2016 versus lefty splits for every reliever on our 40-man, RHP or LHP.  And then lets add in some of the call-up candidates just for fun… (all numbers as of 8/21/16’s Atlanta game via

Right Handed reliever options

  • Melancon: .202/.253/.274 for an .527 OPS; as you’d expect, an elite closer gets both lefties and righties out.
  • Treinen: .211/.357/.351 for an .708 OPS.  Not bad.
  • Kelley: .250/.294/.609 for an .903 OPS.  Not good.
  • Petit: .261/.327/.511 for an .838 OPS.  Again, not really that good, but then again that’s not what we’re asking him to do generally.
  • Belisle: .150/.203/.267 for an .470 OPS.  Wow; that’s better than any of our lefties.
  • Glover: minimal stats in MLB; for 2016 he had a .161 BAA in AAA, .250 in AA and .143 in High-A for lefty splits (which are kind of hard to come by at   That looks promising, but he seems to be more effective against righties.

Left Handed reliever options

  • Perez: .217/.321/.377 for an .698 OPS.  Its his rightly split that’s killing him.
  • Solis: .200/.279/.273 for an .551 OPS.  Awesome … if we can get him back healthy.
  • Sean Burnett: Again, minor league splits are harder to come by, but Burnett had a .150 BAA against in 12 IP in his longest AAA stint of the year.
  • Bryan Harper: .161 BAA in AAA this year, even better .091 while in AA.  And it’d be cool to have him on a roster with his brother.  But he’s on the D/L right now.
  • Matt Grace: .207 BAA in AAA this year … but as noted above he struggled in his 2015 audition.

Rivero, by the way, has this for a lefty split in 2016: .325/.424/.429 for an .852 OPS.  A .325 BAA; no wonder they were willing to part with him.  He was a lefty who couldn’t get lefties out.

What if we thought outside the box a bit?

  • Reynaldo Lopez: .180/.250/.340 for an .590 OPS.  Interesting; we’ve already talked at length about Lopez being a fire-baller out of the pen for a post-season team and his lefty splits are good.
  • Lucas Gioilto: .269/.406/.462 for an .868 OPS; not nearly as impressive.
  • Aaron Laffey: just a .254 BAA in AAA this year in a swing-man role.
  • Nick Lee: the aforementioned struggling lefty is the only other lefty in the minors above High-A; he’s got a decent .214 BAA against lefties in AA … but his overall ERA/Whip is ugly; 4.73 and 1.77,
  • I didn’t go to High-A, where we have a couple of  lefty prospects but they’re no where near consideration for a call-up.

So, we need Solis back; he’s the closest thing we have to a matchup lefty who we can count on.  But clearly Belisle’s numbers make him a matchup option too, despite his being a rightly.  It reminds me of when we had Tyler Clippard, who always had stellar lefty splits.  Perez’s split line isn’t great; I feel like we should be pushing him almost all the way to the mop-up/Petit role right now.

Are you concerned though?  On a whole, the Nats bullpen has been one of the best in all of baseball.  Are the falterings lately just due to a too many innings thanks to a couple of bad starter outings?


Is Lopez better than Giolito? Are all the pundits wrong?


Clearly the team is trusting Lopez more than Giolito; are all the pundits wrong?  Photo via Layton getty images

Clearly the team is trusting Lopez more than Giolito; are all the pundits wrong? Photo via Layton getty images

So, I’ll start off by saying this is absolutely a “short sample size” post.  Reynaldo Lopez now has a grand total of four MLB starts (and just 4 AAA starts) and uber prospect Lucas Giolito himself now has the same number of total starts above AA as Lopez (3 in MLB, 5 for Syracuse).  But after last night’s dominant performance in Atlanta (7ip, 4 hits, 11 Ks and 1 walk in 101 pitches), I’ll ask the question that a lot of commenters have already been saying here: are we looking at the wrong guy as the next Ace in waiting from our farm system?

Here’s what’s striking me about Lopez; check out his Pitch FX data from last night’s start.   He threw 68 fastballs with an *average* velocity of 97.6mph, peaking at 99.5mph.   Yes he tired a bit in the last couple of innings, but (per the graph of his pitch velocity at the BrooksBaseball link) he only “slowed” to the 96-97 range … his overall heat earlier in the game kept his average well into the 97mph range.  That’s a very, very impressive velocity neighborhood, one where only two or three starters are living right now (amongst qualified starters … only Noah Snydergaard has kept a higher average fastball velocity this year than 97.6).  But I also watched him absolutely blow balls by hitters; the most impressive of which was a 98mph fastball right by Atlanta’s best  hitter Freddie Freeman to get a punch-out.

We’re not seeing that kind of velocity out of Giolito.   And we didn’t see this kind of performance either.

Literally every scouting analyst out there thinks Giolito is “the best pitching prospect in the game.”  Now, they’re not exactly light on Lopez; Lopez is routinely in the top 50 of all prospects in the minors, and generally listed #2 behind Giolito and Trea Turner on the 2016 lists.  So it isn’t as if nobody knows who Lopez is.  But results on the field at the MLB level in 2016 are hard to beat when it comes to doing comparisons.

Yes Atlanta is an awful team so perhaps over-reacting to 11 Ks is something to temper.   And both guys are clearly up-and-down (Lopez’ last AAA start was 5 runs in 6ip; Giolito’s last AAA start was 10Ks and 1 run in 7ip).   Two of Giolito’s three MLB starts were against the defending NL champ Mets (not exactly a pushover team offensively) while two of Lopez’s four MLB starts were against the trying-to-lose Mets (who might be starting one out-field player who would start on most other teams right now).

But what are you guys thinking?  I mean, clearly to me Lopez is staying in the rotation until he falters, so it may be a moot point for Giolito anyway (who is quickly running out of innings in 2016; he’s sitting at 117 1/3 right now, which is almost precisely what he threw in 2015, so factoring in a 20% increase he may only have 4 more starts in him).  Does Lopez have innings limit concerns too?  He’s never even thrown 100 innings and is already well past that in 2016…).  In fact, are we looking at an imminent shutdown of *both* prospects in the next couple of weeks?

I know how some of you are going to react to this post … cough cough MartyC and forensicane cough cough.  But how about the rest of you?  Is this heresy?  Is this a changing of the guard-type opinion?  Or is this just all SSS-driven nonsense that’ll be thrown out the window when Lopez gets pounded the next time he faces a half-way decent offensive lineup?

Written by Todd Boss

August 19th, 2016 at 11:21 am

Papelbon asks out? May be the simplest solution


Papelbon can do this for any team. Photo via

Papelbon can do this for any team. Photo via

Rumors started getting published early saturday morning: embattled, demoted and struggling former Nats closer Jonathan Papelbon has reportedly asked for his release.

He’s appeared in precisely two games since he was replaced as closer by the newly acquired Mark Melancon.   Both appearances can be generously characterized as “mop up duty.”  He’s gone from highest leverage closer to 8th guy in an 8-man pen in less than two weeks, and it seems he’s reading the tea leaves.

The Nats need a move today to call up their starter Reynaldo Lopez; could a DFA or release of Papelbon be the solution?

We’ve talked in this space about playoff rosters a bit, about how we all are kind of thinking we could use Koda Glover on that roster.  Well, when we dump the 5th starter and expand the bullpen to 8 … not having to worry about Papelbon’s reaction could be a benefit.  I’d gladly take this bullpen construction into a short series:

  • Closer: Melancon
  • 8th inning guys: Treinen, Kelley
  • 7th inning guys: Belisle, Glover
  • Lefties: Perez, Solis
  • Long-man: Petit

That looks strong enough to me.  If Papelbon was still in the picture, you’d face a tough decision on who to drop.  Belisle has more than earned his spot, and there’s nobody else in that list who can really make way thanks to the trade of Rivero.

Thoughts?  Is this a blessing in disguise (if its true?)  Or do you think we should hang on to him and give him a Qualifying Offer?  (sarcasm).