Nationals Arm Race

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Archive for February, 2017

Take a guess how much salary the Nats have Deferred at this point?

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Even Murphy deferred some salary.. (AP Photo/John Raoux)

Even Murphy deferred some salary.. (AP Photo/John Raoux)

So, I was kind of wondering the other day, “how much salary has this team deferred at this point?”  And, from the comments on the last article, others are wondering the same.  So lets play a little game; take a quick guess as to the aggregate amount of salary the Nats have kicked down the road to this point before reading on.

Digging through Cots’ website looking for details, here’s what I discovered in terms of Nats players currently under contract and their deferral terms:

PlayerMain Contract DetailsDeferred Pmt Details
Werth, Jayson7 yr/$126M (11-17)Deferred $10M to 2018 w/ 5% interest
Scherzer, Max7yr/$210M (15-21)2019-21 salaries ($105M) deferred without interest, to be paid in seven $15M installments each July 1 from 2022 to 2028
Strasburg, Stephen7yr/$175M (17-23)$70M deferred without interest ($30M in 2019, $10M in 2020, $30M in 2023), paid in seven $10M installments each July 1, 2024-30
Murphy, Daniel3yr/$37.5M (16-18)$5.5M of 2018 salary is deferred without interest, to be paid in installments of $2.5M on 1/15/19 and $3M on 1/15/20
Wieters, Matt1yr/$5.5M (17)$5M in salary is deferred, to be paid in 2021
Lind, Adam1 year/$1.5M (2017)$500k buyout of mutual 2018 option

I’m not sure I was even aware that the team deferred Daniel Murphy‘s salary until I saw it in print.  I also included FWIW the nominal $500k buyout of Adam Lind‘s mutual option as a “future” payment just for completion.

So, how do these payments look going forward?  here’s a quick look at the next 14 years or so of deferred payments:

Player2017201820192020202120222023        
Werth, Jayson01000000000000
Scherzer, Max000001500000015000000
Strasburg, Stephen0000000
Murphy, Daniel0025000003000000000
Wieters, Matt0000500000000
Lind, Adam050000000000
0105000002500000300000050000001500000015000000
Player2024202520262027202820282028Total
Werth, Jayson00000000
Scherzer, Max15000000150000001500000015000000150000000075000000
Strasburg, Stephen1000000010000000100000001000000010000000100000001000000070000000
Murphy, Daniel00000000
Wieters, Matt00000000
Lind, Adam00000000
25000000250000002500000025000000250000001000000010000000145000000

Since those two tables may not be easy to follow, here’s the answer: $196,000,000 in total deferred salary over the next 14 years.

Here’s how it breaks down year over year:

  • 2017: nothing or this year; all our roughly $152M in payroll for this year (current dollars) is for players, this year.
  • 2018: Jayson Werth‘s $10M from last year plus Lind’s $500k buyout.
  • 2019 and 2020: Murphy’s $5.5M total deferred salary, split between the two years.
  • 2021: Matt Wieters’ $5M of 2017 salary deferral comes due.

That’s all chump change compared to what’s coming up after that:

  • 2022, 2023: $15M each year for the beginning of Max Scherzer‘s deferred payments.
  • 2024-2028: $25M each year for both Scherzer’s and Stephen Strasburg‘s deferred payments.
  • 2029, 2030: Scherzer’s payments drop off, leaving just Strasburg’s $10M/year.

$196M total, and five straight years of $25M right off the top going to deferred payments.  Now, there is a silver lining in that Scherzer’s *entire* 2019, 2020 and 2021 salaries are deferred, leaving roughly $30M each year unspent and thus allowing the team to (in theory) use those dollars in those years to augment the roster.  And the same happens for Strasburg’s deferred salary; his entire 2019 salary of $30M is deferred in 2019 and again in 2019, meaning that the team should have use of those dollars in their budget for those years.  So there’s that.

But man, 2024-2028 better see a significant change in the financial landscape of the league, else $25M off the top of dead money could be crippling.  That’d be 1/6th of their general payrolls that they’ve been running lately.  To put that into perspective, there’s a recurring theme about the Nats behavior this off season that seems to imply that the team isn’t willing to fork over the dollars required to buy the upgrades it needs, especially at closer.  Well, if the team is payroll strapped at $150M … what happens when $25M of that is dead money?  Is $125M going to be the new norm in those  years?  Are we assuming that the MASN RSN mess is magically going to be solved by then?

Food for thought.  Not an issue for now … but potentially a big issue later.

 

 

Written by Todd Boss

February 27th, 2017 at 8:54 pm

Is anyone else seriously concerned about Scherzer’s injury?

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What the heck is going on with Scherzer's finger? photo via wp.com

What the heck is going on with Scherzer’s finger? photo via wp.com

So, let me see if I understand this timeline:

  • Max Scherzer suffered a stress fracture in his ring finger “late in 2016” but it wasn’t enough to force him to miss any starts down the stretch (he made 6 starts in September last year, winning 5 of them to lock up the NL Cy Young award, and only really pitched “badly” in one of them) nor either of his two starts in the playoffs (he gave up 4 in 6 innings, then pitched masterfully in the NLDS game 5, giving up just four hits in 6 complete before a lead-off homer and a quick yank on 99 pitches in the fateful game 7).  Indeed, Scherzer said in the below press release that he pitched “pain free” all fall but only in the off-season did the discomfort set in.
  • A couple weeks after he was named to the US WBC team, the injury was then given as the reason that he had to subsequently withdraw from the World Baseball Classic.  This announcement was made on January 9th, and the press release noted that it was basically precautionary and that he would be ready for full participation in Spring Training.
  • Five weeks later, at the start of spring training, we get word that Scherzer now may not be ready for opening day due to the injury.
  • I then read today, February 26th, that Scherzer is throwing but with a “modified grip??”

Great; our Cy Young winning $210M pitcher has had a months-long non-healing fracture in his throwing hand that is now forcing him to throw with a modified grip.  The team has had the entire off-season to resolve this situation, yet here we are in a crucial 2017 season where we literally traded all our pitching depth in the off-season … and our #1 starter sounds to me like he’s starting the year on the D/L.

Awesome.

Am I over-reacting here?  Is anyone else reading these tea leaves and thinking to themselves, “oh it’ll be ok, we’ll see him opening day like always?”  Because right now its looking like he’s on the D/L come April 1st, Strasburg is testing out his injured Flexor Mass Tendon on Opening Day, Roark will be slotting in at #2 after having his normal spring training interrupted by the WBC, to be followed by the erratic Gonzalez, the also-coming-off-an-arm-injury Joe Ross, and then the career 79 ERA+ A.J. Cole leading up the rear, he who just got shelled in his first spring training game.

Sounds like a winning formula to me.

 

Written by Todd Boss

February 26th, 2017 at 5:28 pm

Verducci Effect for 2017

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Lopez is the #1 Verducci effect risk factor arm for 2017. Photo via wp.com/Mitchell Layton getty images

Lopez is the #1 Verducci effect risk factor arm for 2017. Photo via wp.com/Mitchell Layton getty images

This year’s installment of si.com’s Tom Verducci‘s “Year After Effect” (which he’s using as the title instead of the eponymous “Verducci Effect”) was published earlier this month.  This is a quick review of the past few years of his work and documentation of his macabre “success rate” in predicting trouble for young arms working on large innings load increases.

Here’s my reviews of his lists on this same topic from year’s past: 2013 year after effect and 2014 year after effect, and 2016’s year after effect (I forgot to do it in 2015).   In the 2013 post, there’s some counter-arguments to whether or not his “effect” actually exists, with research on all pitchers who qualified for the thresholds he laid out at the time.  I won’t go into the same arguments made there; what I will do is point out the actual results of his predictions:

  • 2013: 11 candidates mentioned, 5/11 regressed or got injured the following year (but, it should be noted, that another 3 of the candidates he mentioned have completely fallen off a cliff in subsequent years).  8/11 candidates showed regression: 72% prediction rate.
  • 2014: 10 candidates mentioned; 8/10 regressed and more shockingly 6/10 had arm injuries.  80% prediction rate.
  • 2015: 14 candidates mentioned (only 5 “main” ones were on his true watch list): 11 of those 14 regressed or got hurt.  One of the 14, Marcus Stroman missed the whole season with a knee injury but counts as a non-regression candidate, so frankly its 11 of 13 guys who actually pitched all year.  84% prediction rate.
  • 2016: 5 candidates mentioned: 2 regressed badly, one regressed nominally, one missed most of the season with arm injuries.  80% prediction rate.

So in the last four years, he’s identified a total of 40 arms at risk and 31 of them regressed or got hurt.  That’s a 77.5% overall “success” rate at predicting regression or injury over multiple years.  You can quibble with those who claim this “effect” doesn’t exist but you’can’t argue against Verducci’s research year over year.  For me, his analysis is less about running pure numbers to find candidates and more about giving context to the pitchers he selects.  Mostly they’re starters (not relievers), mostly they’re young and mostly they’re guys who had to pitch high leverage innings on top of vastly increased workloads.  But if you want counter arguments to his observations, see the 2013 post above for links.

So who’s listed this  year?  A slew of pitchers this year, including a name at the top that we’re quite familiar with.  Most of his pitchers this year are very young and nearly all of them only pitched part-time in the majors.  In a departure this year, 9 of the 12 guys he lists pitched mostly in the minors in 2016 and mostly struggled in the majors, which is going to make my judgement next year as to whether the player “regressed” more difficult.  But here’s the list of 12 guys:

2017 Candidate Name/TeamAge as of Jan 20172016 IP2016 IP delta increase2016 ERA2016 FIP2016 xFIP2016 SIERA
Reynaldo Lopez, White Sox22155.356.34.913.924.524.55
Aaron Sanchez, Blue Jays23203.670.333.553.754.01
Rob Whalen, Mariners22144.6486.575.054.774.47
Brock Stewart, Dodgers24149485.795.95.034.62
Joe Musgrove, Astros23147.346.64.064.184.043.98
Julio Urias, Dodgers19127.6403.393.173.693.88
Jeff Hoffman, Rockies23150464.886.274.965.22
Michael Fulmer, Tigers23174.349.63.063.763.954.03
Sean Manaea, A's24166.344.63.864.083.964.04
German Marquez, Rockies21187.348.35.234.263.893.97
Jake Thompson, Phillies22183.643.65.76.165.645.68
Daniel Mengden, A's23170.339.66.54.344.574.5

Click here for my full Verducci effect worksheet with detailed stats pre- and post-season.

The guys i’m most intrigued by include:

  • Reynaldo Lopez, who I suspect will start in AAA for the White Sox while they try to figure out if he’s a starter long-term or perhaps a future 100-mph closer.
  • Aaron Sanchez and Michael Fulmer were two awesome rookies last year (Fulmer won the AL Rookie of the Year and Sanchez was the best pitcher on a good Toronto team).
  • Sean Manaea is an interesting younger arm who I’ve often mentioned here because he would have been an option with the 1st round pick we gave up in the 2013 draft so that we could sign Rafael Soriano.
  • Julio Urias projects to be the Dodger’s 3rd or 4th starter and is incredibly accomplished for his age; he seems like he is a lower-risk guy here despite his workload thanks to effortless mechanics.
  • Jeff Hoffman is a rather “famous” name in that he was in talks to go 1-1 in 2014 before blowing out his elbow during his junior year; Toronto drafted him 9th overall despite the injury and then he was a key member of the prospect haul that went to Colorado in the Troy Tulowitzki deal.

Hey, at least there’s no Nats this year :-)

 

Arbitration Wrap up for 2017 season

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Arbitration cases are already touchy enough; why did the Yankees president go out of his way to attack one of his best relievers? Photo via airball.com

Arbitration cases are already touchy enough; why did the Yankees president go out of his way to attack one of his best relievers? Photo via airball.com

We’ve finished off the Arbitration case season for 2017, and it finished with some fireworks.

After a relatively quiet pre-2016 season (just 4 cases), there were 15 cases that went to “trial” this spring.  Clubs “won” 8 of the cases and Players won 7 cases, so it was a pretty even season.

The “fireworks” of course were the result of the final case to be argued, that of Dellin Betances with the Yankees.  He asked for $5M, the team offered $3M, and after the team won Yankees president Randy Levine took it upon himself to trash Betances and his representation for the audacity of even asking for the amount of money he asked for.  I suspect that Betances’ representation pushed the envelope on his case to explore the rapidly changing valuation of relievers; despite not being the Yankees primary closer over the last few years Betances has delivered significant value to the Yankees (3.7 bWAR in 2014 and 2015 before dropping back to just 1.1 bWAR in 2016).  And I get it: who was a more valuable reliever to the Cleveland Indians during their WS run: Andrew Miller or their closer Cody Allen?  The inexplicable part wasn’t Betances’ salary ask; it was the team’s reaction afterwards.

Was Betances’ $5M ask excessive?  Maybe, maybe not: If Betances is work $5M in his first Arbitration year, then that projects to roughly a $12.5M open-market salary (using the 40%/60%/80% rule of thumb where your first arbitration salary should be roughly 40% of your open market price).   If he’s only work $3M, that projects out to a $7.5M annual salary.  The best “comparable” is Miller as a non-closer multi-inning reliever and he’s signed to a 4yr/$36M deal worth $9M a year.  So if that’s the benchmark for elite non-closer multi-inning relievers then Betances is right there.  $5M was too high but a $3.5-$4M first year arb salary was right in line with what he probably “should” have been paid.

Here’s a list of the 15 players who argued.  Here’s a direct link to my master Arbitration case XLS in Google docs.

YearTeamPlayerPlayer FigureClub FigureDeltaWinner
2017MilwaukeeChase Anderson28500002450000400000club
2017BostonFernando Abad27000002000000700000club
2017New York YankeesDellin Betances500000030000002000000club
2017BaltimoreBrad Brach30500002525000525000player
2017OaklandKris Davis50000004650000350000player
2017New York MetsWilmer Flores22000001800000400000player
2017BaltimoreCaleb Joseph1000000700000300000club
2017HoustonCollin McHugh38500003350000500000player
2017ArizonaShelby Miller51000004700000400000club
2017Tampa BayJake Odorizzi41000003825000275000player
2017MiamiDavid Phelps46000004325000275000player
2017TorontoMarcus Stroman34000003100000300000player
2017St. LouisMichael Wacha32000002775000425000club
2017ArizonaTaijuan Walker26000002250000350000club
2017PittsburghTony Watson60000005600000400000club

And now here’s some fun stats on the 81 total cases that have been argued since 2005:

  • Records since 2005: Clubs are 47/81 (58%), players are 34/81 (42%)
  • Washington and Miami are the leading “arguing” club with 9 cases each.  Though we seem to have learned our lesson lately; we had one in 2015, one in 2012 and the rest were prior to that.
  • 45% of all cases since 2005 by just 5 clubs (Miami, Washington, Tampa Bay, Pittsburgh and Houston).
  • 4 of 30 clubs in the game havn’t had an arb argument since 2005 (Detroit, Chicago White Sox, Texas, San Francisco)
  • 2 of the 8 clubs with just one case since 2005 just had it this off-season: Boston, St. Louis
  • Smallest amount argued over: $125k by Miami in 2007 and San Diego in 2014.  Washington close with $150K by Wash in 2010 w/ Burnett and $200k with Blevins in 2015
  • Largest amount argued over: $3M by Philadelphia w/ Ryan Howard (player won)
  • Biggest player demand: Francisco Rodriguez $12,500,000 (player lost)
  • Biggest club offer ($10M twice; both club wins)
  • 30 of the 66 players who argued w/ their clubs (prior to 2017) were traded or released THAT same season
  • Just 5 of 66 players who have argued arb cases remain with their teams as of the end of 2016 and/or signed longer term deals post-arguments

Its these last two points that stick with me, and should stick with any player/GM who decides to go through this process.  By all accounts, its horrible.  The Player is forced to sit there while the team that has just offered them millions of dollars but doesn’t want to pay a few hundred thousand more explains how awful the player is, focusing entirely on faults and deficiencies.  Meanwhile. by all accounts the whole system is based on precedents and “old school” statistics that we know are deeply flawed (batting average, RBIs, wins and saves).  So there’s little surprise that the player-management trust is broken, and nearly half the players who argue with their teams are summarily gone from that team before the season is even done.

But this is the system they’ve come up with.  I guess its better than restricted free agency, or franchise tags, or whatever other salary structure is out there for professional sports.

Post-publishing update: Dave Cameron at Fangraphs had a follow-up to the Betances situation worth reading.

Nats Option status for 2017

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Robinson is facing an options squeeze this spring. Photo via minorleagueball.com

Robinson is facing an options squeeze this spring. Photo via minorleagueball.com

When the team signed Adam Lind, it put a shot across the bow of Clint Robinson for more reasons than one: yes Lind and Robinson are basically the same player, Lind now has a guaranteed contract … and Robinson has no more options.

So, who else on the Nats is facing an options crunch?

I’ve uploaded my trusty “Options Tracker” for our entire 40-man roster here; i’ve got the players categorized by their options status.  Here’s a summary:

Category 1: Vets who can refuse demotion (5 or more years of service): 12 of our projected 25-man roster now fit into this category.  Jose Lobaton (who last year was in the “no options left” status) joined this club in 2016, passing 5.000 years of service.

PlayerService Time post 2016First Added to 40-man
Werth, Jayson13.102Nov 2002
Zimmerman, Ryan11.032Sep 2005
Scherzer, Max8.079May 2007
Gonzalez, Gio7.162Aug 2008
Strasburg, Stephen6.118Aug 2009
Perez, Oliver12.144Feb 2003
Kelley, Shawn7.128Apr 2009
Murphy, Daniel7.019Aug 2008
Lobaton, Jose5.138Nov 2008
Heisey, Chris6.042Nov 2009
Drew, Stephen10.038Jun 2005
Lind, Adam9.058Sept 2006

Category 2: Players with options Available but who are entrenched on the 25-man roster: I count 8 players here, though we’ve been shocked before when a seemingly solid 25-man roster guy got optioned suddenly (Drew StorenJohn Lannan).   Interestingly only Tanner Roark never got optioned after coming up, even as he struggled after getting replaced in the rotation in 2015.

PlayerService Time post 2016First Added to 40-manOption Years UsedOptions left?
Harper, Bryce4.159Aug 20102011, 20121
Rendon, Anthony3.130Aug 20112012, 20131
Roark, Tanner3.055Aug 20133
Ross, Joe1.094June 201520152
Treinen, Blake2.065Apr 201420142
Turner, Trea0.135Aug 201520162
Norris, Derek4.102Nov 201120122
Eaton, Adam4.030Sept 201220132

Category 3:  Players with Options Available, jeopardizing 2017 25-man roster status – I see 3 guys here who I’m still projecting to make the 25-man roster right now, but who have options flexibility and could easily get dumped back to AAA.  Probably the most likely of this is with Trevor Gott, who we’re kind of expecting to lose out to someone like NRI Vance Worley at the back end of the bullpen.  Or perhaps not if he beats out the option-less Romero (see below).

PlayerService Time post 2016First Added to 40-manOption Years UsedOptions left?
Taylor, Michael2.010Nov 20132014, 20161
Gott, Trevor0.145June 201520162
Glover, Koda0.051July 201620162

Category 4: Players with Options almost guaranteed to be used in 2017 – 14 of the guys on our 40-man are all guys with less than 1.000 years of service time and who are nearly locks to burn an initial option and start the year in the minors.  I suppose that could change if Brian Goodwin beats out Michael Taylor for the last OF spot, or if there’s a loogy injury and Matt Grace is pushed into action.  I also suppose that A.J. Cole could beat out Worley and others for the swing-man spot in the MLB bullpen… but honestly Cole’s value is more as a starter insurance policy stretched out in AAA than languishing in the MLB bullpen, lugging around the candy bag.

PlayerService Time post 2016First Added to 40-manOption Years UsedOptions left?
Cole, AJ0.092Nov 20142015, 20161
Grace, Matt0.145Nov 20142015, 20161
Goodwin, Brian0.044Nov 20142015, 20161
Difo, Wilmer0.110Nov 20142015, 20161
Martin, Rafael0.080Apr 20152015, 20161
Severino, Pedro0.094Sept 201520162
Kieboom, Spencer0.006Nov 201520162
Voth, Austin0.000Nov 2016none yet3
Bautista, Rafael0.000Nov 2016none yet3
Marmolejos, Jose0.000Nov 2016none yet3
Read, Raudy0.000Nov 2016none yet3
Skole, Matt0.000Nov 2016none yet3
Cordero, Jimmy0.000Nov 201520162
Adams, Austin0.000Nov 2016none yet3

Lastly, the critical Options Analysis for 2017: Category 5: Players with No Options Left: 3 guys this year.

PlayerService Time post 2016First Added to 40-manOption Years UsedOptions left?
Robinson, Clint2.028Nov 20102011,2012,20130
Solis, Sammy1.084Nov 20132014, 2015,20160
Romero, Enny1.072Nov 20122013, 2014, 20150

Lets take these guys one by one:

  • Clint Robinson: it’s not surprising that the first thing he reportedly asked when hearing of the Lind acquisition was whether or not he got DFA’d the same day … odds are that Robinson will be facing a DFA at some point this spring training.  That’s life in baseball, and a shame for a journeyman like Robinson who finally got a shot at the bigs but couldn’t produce enough to keep it.  The best thing he can do is keep at it, produce this spring, and then put himself in a position to earn his spot again if there’s an injury and/or hit well enough to earn the Nationals something of value in trade when he inevitably gets DFA’d.
  • Sammy Solis: thanks to an injury that cost him all of 2012, his service time clock had to be accelerated and he burned options at a  young age.  Nonetheless, he’s established himself as a pretty important loogy-plus member of the Nats bullpen going forward and there shouldn’t be any 25-man roster status jeopardy.
  • Enny Romero: newly acquired power lefty cost the Nats very little (Jeffrey Rosa, who was a starter for our GCL team in 2016), and may not be long for the team if he can’t improve upon his 2016 WHIP (north of 1.5), his BB/9 rate (an ugly 5.5) or his ERA (5.91).  You can’t teach velocity though, and Romero frigging brings it (average 96.1, peak 99.2 MPH last  year).  We’ll call him Nook if/when he makes the team.

My predictions: Solis a lock, Romero makes the team but is on a short leash and eventually gets DFA’d after 5-6 weeks, Robinson DFA’d at the end of spring and is traded to an AL team that could use a cheap lefty 1b/DH option for a low-level prospect.

The 2018 version of this post will be significantly more interesting, since 5 guys who i’m projecting as locks to get optioned in 2017 will burn their 3rd and final option this year.  We’ll probably see some churning at the back end of the 40-man roster through out the year and into next off-season as a result.  But that’s a post for another time.

 

 

College Baseball Kickoff for 2017

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TCU Baseball is pre-season #1 team in the land. My father in law (a TCU alum) would be proud.

TCU Baseball is pre-season #1 team in the land. My father in law (a TCU alum) would be proud.

I know pitchers and catchers just reported … but its also the kick off of the Collegiate Baseball Season.  And I like following college baseball; after all, its where the Nats get all of their draft picks!  :-)

The first games of the new season start on 2/17/17.  Here’s a quick post to publish some links of interest and high light some local teams as we kick off the new season.

College Season Previews:

Pre-season top 25 lists: (I’ll back-fill those that havn’t published as of the publication of this initially)

  • Baseball America: TCU, Florida, Florida State (aka FSU), LSU and South Carolina top 5.  Defending champ Coastal Carolina (aka CCU) #15.  Other ranked local teams or teams with local players: ECU #6, NC State #14, UVA #16, UNC #17, Maryland #24.
  • D1Baseball: TCU, Florida, FSU, South Carolina, LSU.   Other teams of interest: NC State #6, UNC #9, ECU #10, CCU #11, UVA #17, Maryland #22, UNC-W #24.
  • College Baseball Daily: tbd
  • College Baseball Central: TCU, FSU, LSU, Florida, Louisville.  Other teams: South Carolina #6, NC State #8, ECU #9, UNC #10, CCU #11, UVA #18, UNC-W #24.
  • Collegiate Baseball News: TCU, LSU, Florida, South Carolina, Oregon State.  Others: ECU #13, UNC #15, UVA #16, CCU #19.
  • NCBWA (National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association): TCU, Florida, LSU, FSU, South Carolina.  ECU/NC State/CCU/UNC and Clemson ranked 9-13 consecutively, UVA 19 and UMD 25.

So, why is TCU #1 across the board?  Because they return practically everyone from last year’s team, which made the CWS, and they add to it a good recruiting class that includes the highest 2016 draftee not to sign in Nick Lodolo.  They have a pre-season All-American starter in Brian Howard and an early easy pick for player of the year in Luken Baker, who took the sport by storm last year as a freshman, hitting .379 and destroying pitching in the post-season.

Florida is in everyone’s top 5 thanks to their pitching depth and high-end talent (despite multiple 1st rounders drafted off of last year’s team they return another weekend starter who is in talks to go 1-1 overall in Alex Faedo.   LSU, Florida State and South Carolina return their typical strong teams.

There’s a ton of teams in the Carolinas getting top 25 attention.  This should make the ACC and SEC league play as interesting as always.  Locally UVA and UMD getting back of the rankings recognition, though I suspect both teams may struggle to keep up with the level of play they’ve established over the last few  years in the face of better competition south.


Pre-Season All-America Lists with Local players noted: (i’ll backfill those that havn’t published as of the publication of this initially)

  • BaseballAmerica’s pre-season All American: tbd
  • D1Baseball.com’s pre-season all American list: UVA’s Ernie Clement gets 1st team honors at 2B, J.B. Bukauskas gets 1st team for SP.  Virginia-connected Pavan Smith, Brian Mimms, Nick Feight, and Adam Haseley all 2nd teamers.
  • College Baseball Daily: tbd
  • College Baseball Central: tbd
  • Collegiate Baseball News: 1st teamers Sam Donko (rhp reliever, VCU), Feight from UNC-W.  2nd teamers: Bukauskas from UNC and UVA’s Pavin Smith and Adam Haseley.
  • NCBWA: Feight and Brian Mimms from UNC-W, Andrew Beckwith from CCU, Bukaskas, Donko all 1st teamers.  UVA’s Ernie Clement a 3rd teamer.
  • USA Baseball pre-season Golden Spikes watch list: Bukauskas, Feight and Mimms, Beckwith, Haseley, Kevin Smith from UMD, Pavin Smith from  UVA are the local interest players on the pre-season list.

I’ve highlighted mostly players with DC/MV/VA ties here but its worth noting there are several big-time names on every one of these lists.  When we do the draft previews you’ll see all the big names for the 2017 draft who are also at the top of these pre-season all-american lists: Jeren Kendall, Brendan McKay, Alex Faedo, Alex Lange, Kyle Wright primarily.  However there’s two sophomores who may be set to go 1-2 already in the 2018 draft: Seth Beer and Luken Baker.  Both had monster freshman years at the plate and should both be in the mix for the College player of the year in 2017.


 

Major College Site Index/Home pages; landing/jump pages for coverage at the major sites covering the game.

Local teams of interest and who they’re playing this first week:

  • UVA: at the Citadel tournament in Charleston, SC, playing Liberty, The Citadel and Kansas.  A UVA-buddy of mine sent me this link where UVA set their weekend rotation: it looks to me like they’re playing match-ups because I can’t imagine a pre-season All-American like Haseley being their #3 starter.
  • UMD: at the Clearwater Tournament, Clearwater, FL, playing Ball State. Louisville and Alabama State.
  • UNC:  hosting Kentucky, with Bukauskas likely going friday night in the opener.
  • GW: At Auburn for a 4-game opening series.
  • George Mason: at the Hughes Brothers Challenge in wilmington, playing UNC-W, App State and VMI.
  • Georgetown: At Davidson University in North Carolina
  • Coastal Carolina (aka CCU): your defending national champs are hosting the Caravelle Resort Baseball at the Beach in Conway (aka Myrtle Beach): they’ll play Richmond, W. Carolina, JMU and St. Johns.
  • JMU: also at CCU’s tournament, playing NC A&T, St. Johns and CCU.
  • Willam & Mary and VCU are both travelling to Florida powers (#2 Florida and #3 Florida State) respectively for challenging openers.
  • NC State though has the best trip: they’re At Hawaii.  That’s a heck of a travel budget they’re blowing through early.

Updated Nats Prospect and Organizational Rankings for 2017

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Victor Robles is the new unanimous #1 Nats prospect. Photo via milb.com

Victor Robles is the new unanimous #1 Nats prospect. Photo via milb.com

We’re essentially through the “Prospect Ranking Season” at this point.  We’ve  heard from all the major shops who rank systems and individual prospects (MLBpipeline.com/Jim Callis/Jonathan Mayo, ESPN/Keith Law, Baseball America/J.J. Cooper, John Manuel, Baseball Prospectus, Fangraphs/Eric Longenhagen , Minorleagueball/John Sickels/Nick Melotte, Prospects Digest/Joseph Werner and TopProspectAlert.com/JP Schwartz).  If you know of a reputable site that also does rankings not listed here, i’m all ears.

Click here for the updated Master List of Nationals Prospect Rankings for all the pre-2017 rankings.  This worksheet is one of my longest running projects, with every Nats prospect ranking I could find dating from Nov 2004 to the present.

With the trade of Lucas Giolito we have a new #1 prospect on all the major lists: Victor Robles.   Every minor-league wide ranking that I’ve found has Robles between #8 and #13 among all minor league players right now.  Nearly every shop generally mentions either Erick Fedde or Juan Soto (or both) in the 50-70 range.  Nobody has any mention of anyone else in the system right now, consistent with most opinions that the Nats system right now is a big top three, then a gap, then everyone else.

What is fascinating to me right now is the huge gap of opinion on some of our prospects.  Its been a while since we’ve seen such a dichotomy of opinion on our players, and it may very well highlight the methodology differences between the talent evaluators out there.  Lets discuss some of the more interesting cases:

  • Luis Garcia: ranked as high as #4 in the system (Fangraphs) to outside the top 20 (Sickels and Law).   The 2016 IFA signing cost a ton ($1.3M) and has yet to appear in any pro league, which may be why some evaluators don’t even list him.  Meanwhile Longenhagen is clearly bullish on the player and had him 4th, just after the system’s big three.  That seems aggressive to me; I’d at least like to see him in organized ball before putting such a ceiling on him.
  • Sheldon Neuse: mostly in the #6-#7 range … except for Baseball America, who has him all the way down at #17.  Clearly they thought his debut season was a disappointment.  I’m not ready to give up on Neuse after the collegiate career he had, but for him to slash just .230/.305/.341 in Auburn was definitely shocking.
  • Jesus Luzardo; again Fangraphs was way higher on him (#9) than anyone else.  In fact, Sickels didn’t even have him in the top 20.  Clearly the fangraphs methodology is more about potential and less about realization.
  • Drew Ward: Sickels had him #10, Fangraphs outside the top 20.  We may have a bit of prospect fatigue on Ward since we drafted him as a high schooler.  But its worth noting that he posted a .868 OPS figure this year at high A as a 21-yr old (he didn’t turn 22 til after the season) and earned a promotion to AA.  He also earned a NRI this spring, where he went 3-15 but did blast two homers.  I think his power is coming around (11 homers in 64 Carolina league games, not exactly a hitter’s paradise league) and he could be a sneaky prospect going forward.
  • Kelvin Gutierrez: as with several others, we find Longenhagen far more bullish on Gutierrez (#11) versus others (16th at best, outside of Law’s top 20).  Perhaps its trying to spit hairs once you get to a certain point in the system, this act of attempting to rank players who likely never get above AA.  But it does show that Longenhagen’s methodology definitely rates a certain type of player higher than other pundits.
  • Yasiel Antuna: the Nats’ “other” big July 2 signing from last year, Antuna got a massive, franchise record $3.9M bonus despite being lower ranked than Garcia on most international prospect boards.  Nonetheless, most of the pundits had Antuan in the 19-25 range … except for Werner at topprospectdigest… he put Antuna #5 in the system.  Werner’s logic went like this: $3.9M is about what the 3rd overall pick in the Rule-4 draft went for, so therefore Antuna must be ranked on a par with an upper-end first round talent.  I’m not sure I agree with that logic, and would rather put Antuna down in the mid-20s like others have him ranked until we see what he can do in organized ball.
  • Tyler Watson: again Baseball America hates this player as opposed to others.  BA has him #27 while Law and Sickels had him in the 14-15 range.  I like Watson a ton; he utterly dominated Short-A as a 19yr old, meaning he more than held his own against newly drafted higher-end incoming college juniors.  Its weird; why rank two completely untested 16yr old Dominican prospects higher than a domestic lefty arm who is 6’5″, already throws 90 and clearly has projection in his frame?
  • Joan Baez: Another with some wild variation in rankings.  Law has him #10 but BA has him #29.  MLB gives him a 70 fastball and a 60 curve-ball, which means they think he could be an effective 2-pitch reliever in the majors, right now.  Its weird; what’s the essential difference between Baez and Koda Glover right now?
  • Rhett Wisemann: completely disappeared from all rankings … with the exception of Sickels, who snuck him in at #20.
  • Telmito Agustin: another Werner one-off; he had Agustin ranked 9th in the system, where as both MLB and BA had him #28 and everyone else had him outside their top 20.  Agustin’s season was decent for a 19-yr old in Low-A, but his best tool is his run tool and he nearly had as many CS (9) as he had SB (14) in his half-season at Hagerstown.  And he played mostly LF in Hagerstown, though that may have been due to the presence of Robles there.  I don’t see much more in Agustin than a Matt den Dekker type; is that the 9th best prospect in the system?
  • Nick Banks: his crummy junior year became a relatively weak Short-A debut; he slugged just .320 there.  Still, Law ranked him 17th and still thinks the Nats got good value in Banks given his post-sophomore season buzz.  Most others have abandoned him; MLB and BA put him at the back end of their top 30s and others ignored him.

And then there’s this list; these are players who formerly got at least some brief prospect mention in the past who are now off everyone’s top 20-30 list:

  • Andrew Lee: Was ranked in the 20th range last year on some lists.  missed most of 2016 with an injury after a promising 2015 debut for the 11th rounder.  I think he can bounce back and put his name back in the mix.
  • Austen Williams: Got some love in the 15-20th rage last year, none this year after his ERA ballooned to north of 5.00 and getting demoted mid-season.  He’ll presumably be a 24-yr old repeating High-A a third time in 2017, so time is running out.
  • Jefry Rodriguez: peaked as high as #6 on some lists in the 2014 range, his stock has fallen precipitously.  He had a 4.96 ERA in a full season of starting in Low-A in his age 23 season.  Perhaps its time to move him to the pen to see if he can focus on his best pitches in shorter stints.
  • Spencer Kieboom: never was a major prospect but did get some rankings in the 15-20 range over the years.  He’s still 4th on the C depth chart for the Nationals, but his DFA and passing through waivers to get off the 40-man roster is an indictment of where he really is right now.
  • Nick Lee; got some back-of the top-30 list recognition last year after getting put on the 40-man; now he’s off the 40-man and will miss significant time due to an elbow fracture in 2017.  He’s now 26 and staring in the face of being a permanent “org guy” type arm.

Here also is a list of the 30 Minor League Organizations as ranked by various pundits.  As you might expect, the system has been shredded with the graduation of Trea Turner (and in some cases Wilmer Difo) along with the trading of Giolito, Reynaldo Lopez and Dane Dunning.

Observations:

  • Amazingly, 4 of the 5 pundits tracked all ranked the Nats farm system exactly the same: #19.  Only Law varied and only slightly, dropping the Nats to #22.
  • Everyone is unanimous in ranking Atlanta #1.  Most everyone believes the Yankees now have the #2 ranking (Werner’s rankings are a bit suspect when compared to others).
  • The White Sox jumped from generally being in the mid 20s to being ranked in the 3-5 range by most pundits.  Makes sense.  Law has them all the way down at #10, which seems like an outlier.
  • BA is the outlier on Houston’s farm system, ranking them #3 while everyone else had them at 10-12.
  • Law loves the Mets; he ranked them 7th while everyone else had them at middle of the pack #15.
  • At the other end of the spectrum, there’s little disagreement among the pundits about who is at the bottom (either Arizona or Miami), nor with the last 4-5 teams in general.  Nearly all the pundits panned Arizona, Miami, Baltimore, Kansas City and the Angels’ farm systems, with none of these teams being ranked higher than #22 on any list.

Its rather scary to see two of the wealthiest teams (the Dodgers and the Yankees) also possessing strong farm systems; it does not bode well for competitive balance in the near future.  It is also scary to see a divisional rival like Atlanta so fully loaded; the Nats will struggle to compete if the Braves prospects matriculate properly, since it will likely coincide with our natural decline after the 2018 FA purge occurs.

 

Written by Todd Boss

February 13th, 2017 at 10:56 am

Spring Training 2017 NRI Discussion

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Who will be this year's Chris Heisey? Photo via Washington Times

Who will be this year’s Chris Heisey? Photo via Washington Times

Third year running for this post: Here’s a link to 2016’s version and a link to 2015’s post.

Every year the team invites a bunch of Non-Roster Invitees (NRIs) to Spring Training, and every year we wonder if any of these guys have a chance to make the team.  This post discusses the NRIs and their chances.  Through out the winter some NRIs were announced with signings; on 2/11/17 the full list of NRIs was announced.

This is no throw-away post: here’s what has happened to Washington Nationals NRIs the last two spring trainings:

Summary of NRIs from ST 2016: 20 NRIs total (plus perhaps a couple more that got signed late):

  • Two (2) made the 25-man roster: (Chris Heisey and as noted in the comments, thanks for the correction, Matt Belisle).
  • Two (2) eventually got added and called up (Lucas Giolito, Sean Burnett)
  • Two (2) have since been added to 40-man (Matt Skole, Austin Voth)

Summary of NRIs from ST 2015: 20 NRis total:

  • Two (2) made the 25-man roster out of spring (Dan Uggla and Clint Robinson)
  • Two (2) others eventually got added and called up (Rafael Martin and Emmanuel Burriss)
  • Two (2) others were young catchers since added to the 40-man (Spencer Kieboom, Pedro Severino)

So that’s six NRIs from 2016 that eventually played for the Nats or got added to the 40-man roster, and six from the year .  So odds are a handful of these players will eventually have a major league impact for this team.  Lets take a look at 2017’s NRI roster.  From the mlb.com NRI roster, lets break them down by position.


Starters

  • RHP Jacob Turner: once upon a time he was halfway decent for an NL East team (Miami), but lost his effectiveness somewhere in the 2014 timeframe and hasn’t gotten it back.  Seems like AAA rotation filler to me.
  • RHP Vance Worley: an interesting minor league signing; why couldn’t he get a 40-man contract after the season he just had in Baltimore?  Could be a sneaky effective pickup.
  • RHP Jeremy Guthrie: 272  career starts but none in the majors since getting dumped from Kansas City’s 2015 rotation.  In 2016 he posted an ERA north of 7.00 for Miami and San Diego’s AAA squads.  He’ll be 38.  I’m not sure he’s really any better of a “spare starter” option than what we already have in house.
  • RHP Erick Fedde: his invite clearly indicates to me that the MLB staff wants to get a look at him, figuring that he’s taken over as the next big thing in terms of starting pitcher prospects.  With all due respect to A.J. Cole and Austin Voth, its really Fedde that I’d like to see pitching in the majors if/when we have a month long starter injury later this summer.
  • RHP Taylor Hill; may be up to see if he’s got anything left in the tank, or perhaps to eat some split squad innings?  Once you’re off the 40-man it seems pretty hard to get back, and that’s the dilemna that Hill faces.
  • RHP Kyle McGowin, recently acquired in the Danny Espinosa deal.  I’m guessing the team wants to see what they have.  McGowin’s 2016 numbers were awful … but pitching in the PCL is generally awful, so its hard to scout the stat line here.

FWIW, a couple of these guys who I’ve called “starters” (Turner and Worley) may actually still be starters, but they’re close enough to starting that the team could look at them as such. I could see Worley getting the last spot in the MLB rotation and acting as a swing man/6th starter, not unlike what we used Yusmeiro Petit for last year.  The minor league invites mean that the whole AAA rotation will be in camp.  Unless the team suffers 3 SP injuries in camp, nobody here is making the 25-man on 4/1.

Right Handed Relievers

  • RHP Matt Albers; Great in 2015, awful in 2016.  Wrong side of 30, losing his swing and miss stuff.  Seems like he’s just in camp to rebuild value and likely opts out if he doesn’t make the team.
  • RHP Mike Broadway: career journeyman, was formerly with Nats in 2013 time-frame.  Little MLB experience, seems like he’s AAA insurance.
  • RHP Joe Nathan: 377 career saves, but he’s 42, was last effective as a 38yr old in 2013, and this seems like perhaps an audition for him to take a role on a coaching staff here.
  • RHP Dustin Antolin: longtime Toronto farm hand who spent 3 straight years in their AA team and was a part-time closer for their AAA team last year with good results; seems like a safe bet to close in AAA and serve as middle relief insurance.
  • RHP Derek Eitel; similar to Antolin; long time farm hand who finished a ton of games in AAA for San Diego last year.  Averaged a K/inning but had a ton of walks.
  • RHP Wander Suero: a long-serving middle relief option for the team, Suero has grown up in the system.  He’s entering his 8th pro season and I’m guessing the team wants to see if he’s a MLB middle relief option and/or an option to eventually add to the 40-man roster ahead of his pending MLFA deadline.

Left handed Relievers

  • LHP Tim Collins:  hasn’t pitched in 2 years thanks to a failed TJ surgery that cost him a second season, but was pretty effective for Kansas City to that point.  I think he has to think he’s heading to AAA to prove to teams that he’s ok.
  • LHP Braulio Lara: seems like a lottery ticket based on performances from a few years past; he got shelled in Korea, shelled in AAA recently.
  • LHP Neal Cotts: long time reliever who has had some bouts of success over the years, but who didn’t make it out of AAA last year.  Can’t see him supplanting the 40-man guys ahead of him on the Loogy pecking order.
  • LHP Nick Lee, who like Hill before him was on the 40-man and then passed through waivers to get removed from it.  He was good enough to protect in 2015 (putting up good numbers in a closing role for AA) but really struggled with his control in 2016 (42 walks in 50 innings).  Perhaps a mechanical tweak can put him back on the radar to being an effective reliever.

Tangent: The recent addition of optionless Enny Romero may complicate a 25-man path for these guys.  Or perhaps not; the arm they gave up (Jeffrey Rosa) was so insignificant that I had to look him up because I forgot who he was.  In case you were wondering, Rosa was the “ace” of this year’s GCL team, getting 11 starts and posting a 4.91 ERA.  As a 21 year old.  So that means he was a 19-yr old IFA signing from a land where most players of note sign at 16 and only the rare cases make it to 18 and still have a minor league impact.  So perhaps the team isn’t entirely wedded to Romero making the roster/challenging his no-options status.  That trade was more about Tampa shedding a 40-man spot and getting something (anything) in return.

Discussion:  So, no real “closers” in here, even if you somehow think Nathan can still produce (I don’t).  I think a couple of these guys will exercise opt-outs and the rest will sign up in AAA.  I can’t see any of them seriously challenging any of the existing 40-man arms for a spot.  The one exception could be Collins for me; he was good, had bad luck with his injury and could very well come back and be effective; is he a better Loogy option than our current set of lefties (Perez, Solis, Romero and Grace)?  I doubt it.  I like the call-up of Suero and Lee; i think its a good idea for the team to see what they have here.

Catchers:

  • Jhonatan Solano, who probably reprises his role as AAA backup for Syracause and is in camp mostly to help with all the warm-up duties.

Infielders:

  • Emmanuel Burriss: we are quite familiar with Burriss, who is a Washington DC native and was with the org two years ago.  I see little chance of him breaking with the team but he’ll do exactly what he did for us in 2015: toil in Syracuse, wait for an injury in the infield and bide his time until he can get some MLB at-bats.  In 2015 he was up by June 26th; what are the odds that the Nats infield holds up without injury again in 2017?
  • Grant Green; primarily a 2B, but can play like a utility guy around the field.  He’s a former 1st round pick and a highly regarded prospect; don’t see much of a position for him though.  Will he stick around if he doesn’t make the team?
  • Corban Joseph: owns a grand total of 7 MLB at-bats, and that was in 2013.  He has toiled in the minors for the last four full seasons, bouncing around organizations.  He plays 1B and 2B and seems like the backup to the backup for Daniel Murphy.  In other words, if Joseph is playing, we’ve really suffered some serious injuries.
  • Neftali Soto: the 2016 MLFA signing had such a solid year for the organization that they re-signed him and gave him the NRI invite this year.  I suppose he’s Ryan Zimmerman insurance … but like Snyder is a RH hitter who is more or less limited to 1B.  Hard to see a pathway for him.
  • Drew Ward: this NRI seems a bit premature; he was in A-ball a year ago this time.  But Ward also faces Rule-5 protection this coming off-season and is one of the few remaining hopes of the 2013 draft class of producing much in the way of MLB talent for the home team.  He could be a replacement for an Anthony Rendon injury at some point too.

Its hard to see any openings here, especially given the Stephen Drew re-signing.  Are any of these guys beating out Wilmer Difo?  Doubt it.

Outfielders

  • Brandon Snyder: another local product (Westfield HS in Chantilly) and another 1st round pick who has sputtered out.  He has some pop, but he bats right handed … and the RH bench spot is already committed (along with $1.4M) to Chris Heisey.  Snyder seems like AAA “spare parts” insurance for 2017.
  • Andrew Stevenson: I know he was a high draft pick, but based on what I saw of him in college i’m still kind of shocked he’s advanced so quickly.  He joins several other CF-capable players in camp and signals to me at least that the team clearly thinks he’s got a role going forward.

Note that there’s really nobody invited to compete with the likes of Michael Taylor/Brian Goodwin for 5th outfielder spot.  Yes Stevenson is a CF … does anyone think he’s MLB ready?  Snyder seems to be competition with Clint Robinson/Matt Skole/Chris Heisey for bench bat/corner spots.  He had good numbers in small sample sizes for Atlanta last  year; maybe he’s an option.  Problem is that he bats righty and the team already guaranteed money to Heisey, so there’s no direct competition for Robinson/Skole as a “corner lefty bat with some pop.”


Conclusion/predictions: I predict no NRIs make the team out of spring training right now.  But I could see several of these guys head to AAA and get call-ups in the case of a 60-day D/L trip.  And a number of the minor league invite guys will feature eventually.

Post-publishing update: indeed, no NRIs made the opening day 25-man roster, but clearly the plan was in the works to bring in NRI Jeremy Guthrie to make a spot start early into the season and perhaps stick around as the long man…. Except that Guthrie got absolutely battered in said start (10 runs in 2/3rds of an inning), leading to his immediate DFA and the subsequent call up of a second NRI Matt Albers (over, it should be noted, four other 40-man roster relievers).  Then, thanks to two quick infielder injuries the first week, a third NRI Grant Green was called-up to provide some cover.

So technically zero NRIs made the team but several were used inside of the first week.

Qualifying Offer Wrap-up for 2017

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Cespedes was the only major QO winner this off-season.  Photo via Business Insider

Cespedes was the only major QO winner this off-season. Photo via Business Insider

While we bide our time for the opening of Spring Training, I thought I’d wrap up some off-season posts in draft mode…

Every year since its inception i’ve done a “Qualifying Offer” wrap-up post (henceforth referred to as QO), as a way to provide some analysis of this salary-limiting vehicle that was such a major point of negotiations in the latest CBA.  It has been markedly changed for the coming years, changed in a way that favors the players and penalizes the smaller market teams “less” than the larger market teams.

This off-season just 10 players took the Qualifying Offer, as compared to 20 the year before.  Here’s a summary table of those players:

YearPlayerOld TeamPrevious Contract AAVNew TeamNew contract AAV
2016Yoenis CespedesNew York Mets27.5MNew York Mets$27.5M
2016Dexter FowlerChicago Cubs13MSt. Louis$16.4M
2016Justin TurnerLos Angeles Dodgers5.1MLos Angeles Dodgers$16M
2016Edwin EncarnacioToronto9.75MCleveland$20M
2016Neil WalkerNew York Mets10.55MNew York Mets$17.2M
2016Kenley JansenLos Angeles Dodgers10.65Los Angeles Dodgers$16M
2016Ian DesmondTexas8mColorado$14M
2016Jeremy HellicksonPhiladelphia7mPhiladelphia$17.2M
2016Jose BautistaToronto13.16MToronto$18M
2016Mark TrumboBaltimore9.15MBaltimore$12.5M

Here’s a link to my full QO worksheet, with more fields, more contract details and a history of all QO players dating to 2012.

High-level Summary of the QOs:

  • 5 of the 10 players ended up re-signing with their old team.
  • 2 of the 10 players took the QO that was offered and will play on a one-year, $17.2M deal in 2017.
  • Just 3 of the 10 signed with other teams and cost those teams a draft pick.

Compare those results to 2015’s crop of 20 QO offered players:

  • 6 of the 20 re-signed
  • 3 of the 20 took the QO; the first three to do so in the history of the system
  • 11 of the 20 cost teams draft picks.

Here’s some other observations of this past year’s crop of players:

  • 5 of the 10 ended up taking a lesser AAV on their next contract than the $17.2M one-year deal on the table when they were offered the QO.
  • However, only 2 of the 10 I’d say were “screwed” by the QO: Jose Bautista and Mark Trumbo.  Bautista kind of mis-read the FA landscape and declined multi year deals before scurrying back to Toronto on a one-year $18M deal that probably was a “saving face” contract from Toronto to one of its best stars.  Trumbo was the last man standing and took nearly $5M less in AAV to sign a 3 year extension; the modern game just does not rate aging sluggers with 30% whiff rates who are defensively limited.
  • Ian Desmond, as has been frequently reported, took the most inexplicable contract of the past few years, but despite taking more than $3M/year less in AAV than the QO you cannot say that his new contract is anything but a win for him and his family.  $70M guaranteed drastically shortchanges what he allegedly turned down from the Nats (and, boy did the Nats dodge a bullet by not committing to Desmond for 7 years).
  • I kinda couldn’t believe that Philly extended the QO to Jeremy Hellickson.  Maybe they’ll flip him at the deadline for prospects.
  • The teams who offered QOs to players this year reads like a list of the major market teams: Chicago, New York, Los Angeles, Toronto, Texas, Philadelphia and Baltimore.  Among those teams only Baltimore is not immediately considered a major market team … but they should be (they were the #1 payroll team in the majors in the 1990s; the were the Yankees before the  Yankees became the  Yankees).
  • The 3 teams who forfeited 1st round picks: Colorado, Cleveland and St. Louis.  All three smaller market teams.
  • The 3 teams who gained add’l picks: Chicago Cubs, Toronto and Texas.  All three major market teams.

The last two statements together perfectly encapsulate why this system no longer worked.  I’m glad to see its impact lessened, and I’m sure the players are too.  They gave up way too much in the CBA negotiations to secure it, but that’s a problem for the next CBA.

 

Written by Todd Boss

February 8th, 2017 at 2:48 pm

2017 MLB Rotation Rankings 1-30

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Lester: the best pitcher on the best rotation heading into 2017. photo via Grantland

Lester: the best pitcher on the best rotation heading into 2017. photo via Grantland

Even though there’s still about 20 “starting pitchers” still on the FA market, none of them really project as anything more than a 5th starter competition or a MLFA signing at this point in the off-season, so I thought it was high time to break out my 2017 Rotation Rankings.  (Here’s a link to last year’s rankings)

This is not a ranking of 2017 projected performance, nor a WAR ranking from last year, nor anything statistical in nature.  This is me looking at individual players and gauging the overall “strength” of the rotation, with subjective rankings then applied.  This is also a lot of me asking, “Who would I rather have as a fan?” type questions; would your rather have Chicago’s 1-2-3 or New Yorks?   This starts with the identification of the roughly 20 or so best pitchers in the league right now, calling them “Aces,” then looking at those who are just a notch below an Ace, and going on down in order to think about the overall strength of a rotation.  There’s plenty to argue about; for example I absolutely classify Stephen Strasburg as an “Ace” in this analysis; his performance over the last 5-6 years by nearly any measure statistically easily ranks him in the top 10-15 arms in the league even if he’s never sniffed a Cy Young award thanks to his injuries.  But injuries factor in: I no longer classify Matt Harvey as an Ace thanks to his 2016 season.  Feel free to dispute/argue about individual opinions/rankings in the comments.

Here’s my master rankings table just showing the projected rotations.  In this Google Docs link i’ve got my full working file, color coded for Aces/#2s/#3s as well as 6th starter/long man depth identified plus some minor league depth.  Also identified are 2017 acquisitions to get a sense of the rotation turnover.  If you can read the Google XLS it may be easier than reading the table below.

TeamRotation Rank#1#2#3#4#5
Chicago Cubs1Jon Lester Jake Arrieta Kyle Hendricks John LackeyMike Montgomery
New York Mets2 Noah Syndergaard Jacob deGromMatt Harvey Steven MatzZach Wheeler
Boston3Chris SaleDavid Price Rick PorcelloSteven WrightDrew Pomeranz
Los Angeles Dodgers4 Clayton KershawRich HillKenta MaedaJulio UriasScott Kazmir
Washington5Max ScherzerStephen StrasburgTanner RoarkJoe RossGio Gonzalez
Cleveland6Corey Kluber Carlos Carrasco Danny Salazar Trevor BauerJosh Tomlin
Detroit7Justin VerlanderMichael FulmerJordan Zimmermann Anibal Sanchez Daniel Norris
Toronto8 Marcus StromanAaron Sanchez Marco Estrada J.A. HappFrancisco Liriano
St. Louis9Adam Wainwright Carlos Martinez Michael WachaLance LynnMike Leake
San Francisco10Madison BumgarnerJohnny Cueto Jeff SamardzijaMatt Moore Matt Cain
Pittsburgh11 Gerrit ColeJamison TaillonTyler GlasnowSteven BraultIvan Nova
Tampa Bay12 Chris Archer Jake OdorizziAlex CobbBlake SnellMatt Andriese
Arizona13 Zack Greinke Robbie RayShelby MillerTaijan WalkerPatrick Corbin
Texas14Cole HamelsYu Darvish Martin PerezAndrew CashnerA.J. Griffen
Houston15Dallas Keuchel Collin McHugh Lance McCullersCharlie MortonMike Fiers
Seattle16Felix Hernandez Hisashi Iwakuma Drew SmylyJames Paxton Yovani Gallardo
Chicago White Sox17 Jose Quintana Carlos RodonMiguel GonzalezJames ShieldsDerek Holland
New York Yankees18Masahiro Tanaka Michael Pineda CC SabathiaChad GreenLuis Severino
Baltimore19 Chris Tillman Kevin GausmanDylan Bundy Ubaldo JimenezWade Miley
Philadelphia20 Aaron Nola Jeremy HellicksonJerad EickhoffVincent VelasquezAlec Asher
Atlanta21Julio Teheran Bartolo Colon Jaime Garcia R.A. DickeyMike Foltynewicz
Kansas City22Ian Kennedy Danny Duffy Jason Vargas Nate KarnsMatt Strahm
Miami23Wei-Yin Chen Edinson VolquezDan Straily Tom KoehlerJeff Locke
Minnesota24 Ervin SantanaHector Santiago Kyle GibsonPhil Hughes Jose Berrios
Oakland25Sonny GraySean Manaea Kendall GravemanAndrew TriggsJharel Cotton
Colorado26Jon Grey Chad BettisTyler AndersonTyler ChatwoodJeff Hoffman
Los Angeles Angels27 Garrett RichardsRicky Nolasco Matt Shoemaker Tyler SkaggJesse Chavez
Cincinnati28 Homer BaileyAnthony DeSclafaniBrandon FinneganRobert StephensonScott Feldman
Milwaukee29 Matt Garza Chase AndersonZach Davies Wily PeraltaJunior Guerra
San Diego30Luis PerdomoChristian FrederichPaul ClemensJarred CosartCesar Vargas

Discussion; i’ll take the discussion in rough groups.

Top 5: I have the Chicago Cubs, NY Mets, Boston, LA Dodgers and then the Nats.  Why?

Well, if Harvey was healthier i’d still have the Mets #1 as I did last year.  I still think the Mets 1-2 punch of deGrom and Snydergaard is better than anyone elses.  If Harvey returns to form and Matz stays healthy, the Nats may be in trouble in 2017.  But those are huge what-ifs, enough to knock the Mets below Chicago for now.  The Cubs for me have two Aces who just finished 2nd and 3rd in Cy Young voting while their #3 just posted a 2.13 ERA.   And if their planned #5 doesn’t pan out, they have the prospect depth to make a move and acquire what they need.  Despite the acquisition of Sale, I do not think Boston’s rotation is better; David Price is just too shaky for me on a week in/week out basis and Porcello, despite his Cy Young in 2016 just isn’t an “Ace.”    But many have argued Boston is above both NY and Chicago; perhaps its recency bias due to the big moves of the past winter meetings.

I have the Dodgers just ahead of the Nats right now for two reasons: I think the strength of their 2-3-4 slightly trumps our 2-3-4, especially given Joe Ross‘s health question marks.  And any rotation headed by Kershaw is going to be highly ranked.  You can’t drop Washington much below #5 because no other rotation has the 1-2 Ace potential that the Nats do, and Roark is starting to (finally) get the recognition he deserves.

Ranking spots 6-11: Cleveland, Detroit, Toronto, St. Louis, San Francisco and Pittsburgh.

So, a lot of people highly rate Cleveland’s rotation, higher than a couple of teams in my top 5.  And if Carrasco and Salazar are healthy I agree with them.  But they’re not, so they get dinged a bit.  I still have Verlander rated as an Ace after his comeback 2016; maybe that’s a little too high … but the rest of their rotation is all solid, being one of the only teams that I think has #3 starter quality even to the #5 starter in Daniel Norris.   Toronto and St. Louis are both in the same spot; several very good arms who just fall below “Ace” category; in Toronto’s case it may be just a matter of time before we’re calling Aaron Sanchez one of the best in the league and in St.Louis’ case the same with Carlos Martinez.  Some have San Francisco higher based on the fact that Bumgarner may be the 2nd or 3rd best pitcher in the game … but the back end of their rotation is so shaky they get dropped almost out of the top 10.  Likewise with Pittsburgh:  things get thin fast past the top 3 for the Pirates.

Ranking spots 12-16: Tampa, Arizona, Texas, Houston, Seattle.

Five teams that all could/should be higher.  Tampa just stole one of the best arms in the minors in Jose De Leon and have some very talented youth in their rotation; if these guys click Tampa shoots upwards.  I’m not entirely sure what to make of Arizona; they have Greinke (the lowest remaining Ace in terms of rotation rankings) and they have what should be a #2 in Shelby Miller, but what the heck happened in 2016?  Meanwhile former Nat-farmhand Robbie Ray has a massive delta between WAR rating systems that its hard to figure out how good he is: B-R rated his 2016 at just 0.7 bWAR while Fangraphs called it a 3.0 fWAR season.  Well which is it?   Perhaps we’ll see some regression to some sort of mean for him in 2017.  Both Texas and  Houston have Cy Young-calibre starters at the head of their rotations with question marks: Darvish b/c of injury, Hamels  because of age and Keuchel due to a bad 2016.  Seattle’s rating increased over the course of the offseason with their wheeling-and-dealing GM Mark DiPoto acquiring Drew Smyly and Yovani Gallardo to improve that rotation several clicks.

Ranking Spots #17-21: Chicago White Sox, New York Yankees, Baltimore, Philadelphia, Atlanta.

The White Sox lost at least 5-6 rankings spots when they moved Chris Sale, who was by far the biggest name to move this off-season and, in fact, is the ONLY projected starter of any team ranked in my top 10.  That’s pretty amazing; teams are just doing such a better job of building pitching staffs.   The Yankees are precariously holding on to this spot; if their #1 Tanaka goes down with his partially torn UCL, they plummet into the bottom 3.  I’ve never rated Baltimore’s rotation, but they keep making the playoffs, so maybe I just have a blind spot here.  Philadelphia’s rotation could be a year or two from being in the top 6-10 range if these youngsters pan out.  Atlanta maybe should be slightly lower; I like Teheran but others do not.  Atlanta did by far and away the most acquisitions of any team in terms of pitching: 3 of their 5 projected opening day rotation guys are new on FA contracts, and almost all their depth is newly acquired MLFAs.

Ranking Spots #22-23: Kansas City and Miami

It just worked out this way, but both teams who had tragedy strike and take away their aces ended up ranked right next to each other.  The loss of Jose Fernandez cost Miami around 9 spots, and the loss of Yordano Ventura probably cost Kansas City 5-6 ranking spots.  Miami (like Atlanta) will depend on several new faces in 2017 as a result, while Kansas City may be looking at an accelerated rebuilding process.

Ranking Spots #24-26: Minnesota, Oakland, Colorado

I could see why you may think Oakland should be higher, but until their newcomers like Sean Manaea (who I always like to point out was on the board and was draftable in 2013 at the spot we gave up to sign Rafael Soriano in Mike Rizzo‘s eternal Quest for a Closer) succeed for more than a couple of months, Oakland stays ranked this low.  I wouldn’t vociferously argue the order of any of these teams: they’re mostly ranked by their aces this low.

Ranking Spots #27-30: Los Angeles Angels, Cincinnati, Milwaukee and San Diego

At least the Angels and Cincinnati have a couple of arms that you may briefly consider in fantasy; you can’t say that for Milwaukee or San Diego.  In fact, if you told me that the “next 5” for San Diego was actually their planned rotation, I’m not sure i’d rank them any worse than the first 5.  Milwaukee has instead depended on veteran players for their low ranking level, with their team ace Matt Garza making more news lately for having his Ferrari vandalized and for piping up about birth control on twitter than for his capabilities on the mound.  Always a good sign for your coming season.


So, what do you guys think of my rankings?