Nationals Arm Race

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

Archive for January, 2018

Nats 2018 #5 Starter competition


Is Cole the 2018 5th starter?  Photo AP

Is Cole the 2018 5th starter? Photo AP

Interesting news on 1/11/18: Edwin Jackson has re-signed a split minor league deal  with decent compensation if he makes the major league team ($1.5M plus another $1.4M in incentives).

Lots of rumors about the team eventually buying a more established 5th starter, either on the open market or in trade.  There’s too many names still out there to even begin to discuss, from marquee 8-figure free agents (Yu Darvish) to Nats-favorite Scott Boras clients he’s likely to go over Rizzo’s head about (Jake Arrieta) to trade candidates from rebuilding teams (Tampa, Miami, Pittsburgh and their  valuable arms like Gerrit Cole, Chris Archer, though inbetween the time I started this post and published it, Cole had already been traded to the keep-getting-richer Astros).  Bur for now, we don’t have any of these guys … so we’re still projected for a fun spring training competition.

So, what does the #5 starter competition look like right now?  Basically there’s four primary candidates now in-house and signed for 2018.  Lets rank them in likely order of winning the job:

#1: A.J. Cole

I think right now Cole has the inside track, even given the Milone and Jackson signings.  Cole’s 2018 numbers were decent at the MLB level: 3-5 with a 3.81 ERA even if his periperhals were bad (5.88 fip, 1.50 whip).  His AAA numbers in 2017 were awful (5.88 ERA in 18 starts), but then again the entire Syracuse rotation was awful in 2018.  But, he did show some promise last  year and he’s out of options, so I can’t help but think that he’ll get a shot to stick on the MLB roster until he proves he’s either staying or going one last time.

#2 : Edwin Jackson:

He made an ok case for the job based on what he was able to do last  year.   No, he wasn’t awesome: in 13 starts he was 5-6 with a 5.07 ERA and even worse peripherals (5.88 FIP, 1.4 whip).  That’s about what he did for San Diego in 2016, so It shouldn’t be too much of a surprise.   But he’s a known quantity, he throws hard, he never gets hurt.  He also clearly will work in the minors to get another shot at the majors and didn’t sign back up with this team on a whim, so odds are he could get stashed in Syracuse for a bit and wait out his chance.

#3 Tommy Milone: the prodigal son returns to the fold.  Initially sent away in the Gio Gonzalez trade 7 years ago, he pitched well for both Oakland and Minnesota before falling off a cliff in 2016.  His 2017 was not pretty: a combined 7.63 ERA for two different teams.  He also signed a minor league deal that I suspect may have an opt-out if he fails to make the team.  Hopefully not; he did log some AAA time in the last two seasons and may also opt to stick around.  Is it possible he returns to his career form (a 4.37 ERA and a 91 ERA+ figure)?  Maybe; he’d have to do a lot better though to make his case for t he 5th starter.

#4: Erick Fedde; our top starting pitcher prospect and sole arm in AAA or AA (or perhaps even  high-A at this point) which represents a significant draft investment (outside of Mariano Rivera Jr that is … who is already a reliever).  And he did not look ready in his debut last fall.  3 starts. 9.39 ERA … even if two of those starts were against tough competition (home to Colorado, then away vs the Cubs).  Short Sample Size, yadda-yadda, he got knocked around.  He needs more AAA time and you’d have to think he’s starting the year either in XST (if its too cold in Syracuse) or in upstate NY.

So, what about our minor league depth past these four guys?  Honestly: there’s not a ton of depth we can count on in AAA or AA.  The 40-man names are Fedde, Cole, Voth and Jefry Rodriguez.  That’s it.

Here’s a quick glance at our other minor league starters out there who are more likely to be AA or AAA fodder (in rough order of their consideration for the job/likely 2018 assignments)

AAA projected rotation (over-top of those four names above who miss out and who don’t opt out, that is):

  • Jared Long (he may or may not be a MLFA still; shows him on the Nats roster but shows him as a FA): if he’s still with us, he showed two years running he was better than AA.  I’d like to see him with a long run in AAA to see if he’s a viable candidate to move up.
  • John Simms: this home grown product (2013 11th round draftee) has earned promotion after promotion and should start 2018 in AAA.  He doesn’t have shutdown stuff, but could be a sneaky candidate for spot starts.
  • Logan Darnell; this 2018 MLFA signing from Tampa had good AAA success several years running for other organizations and seems like a clear AAA arm eater for now.  Can he be more?
  • Austin Voth; two years ago looked like he could be the next Tanner Roark, but a brutal 2017 season got him demoted to AA.  He posted a 3.15 ERA in AAA in 2016; can he get back there?   If not, then he’s in clear danger of being first man off the 40-man roster if a spot is needed.
  • Greg Ross: as with Voth, the Greg Ross train got derailed in upstate New York in 2017, also earning him a demotion.  He re-signed though for 2018 to give it another shot and might start in AAA given past success in AA.

Note: at least one of these names likely gets pushed down, especially since Fedde likely isn’t winning the 5th starter job.  Jackson and Milone as veterans may have opt-outs and are not likely to stick around, but you never know.  And if Cole doesn’t make the team, he’s passing through waivers before he gets to AAA and may not make it.  So the AAA rotation will be in flux right up until 4/1/18.

AA projected rotation (on top of whoever above might get pushed down, likely Ross then Voth)

  • Wirkin Estevez had good AA numbers in 2017 (3.63 ERA in 11 starts after promotion from high-A) and re-signed a ML deal to stay with the organization.   He’s probably first AA starter for a need-based promotion.
  • Tyler Mapes missed all of 2017 after a very solid AA 2016 season; if he’s healthy, he starts here looking to repeat his 2016 performance before getting moved up.
  • Kyle McGowin; our trade bounty for Danny Espinosa has shown two years running his inability to succeed in AAA.  He likely starts in AA again in 2018 given the log-jam in Syracuse.
  • Matt Crownover had a 4.50 ERA in a full AA season; nothing to really prove he needs to move up (especially given his weak K/9 rates), so likely starts in AA again looking for a mid-season promotion.
  • Jefry Rodriguez: the newest member of the 40-man roster, Rodriguez will hope to harness his high-A success from last year at the next step up.

Nobody in AA right now who looks like he could help immediately; Rodriguez though may get some spot-start/double header duty since he’s on the 40-man and doesn’t require a corresponding move.


So; are you satisfied with a ST 2018 competition or do you think we need to spend money or prospects on another arm?

Keep in mind; the division is a mess, with Atlanta not really trying, Miami actively getting worse and Philadelphia making curious moves.  Only the Mets will challenge, and their big move this off-season has been to sign Adrian Gonzalez .  So we don’t need a $20M/year 5th starter.  And there’s the luxury tax considerations that keep coming up.


Ask Collier 1/11/18



how successful will Martinez be here? Photo via

how successful will Martinez be here? Photo via

Another week, another slow news week.  So lets see what questions MLB Nats beat reporter Jamal Collier took.

Q: How will the Nats respond to the new coaching staff? They won so many games with the previous one, why wouldn’t management try and retain more of those coaches (besides Bob Henley)?

A: Well, lets take the 2nd question first.  Because its a good one: why the heck didn’t the ownership group give Dusty Baker and his staff another shot?  We have talked this to death of course, but to review: My opinion is that the ownership made an over-reaction/rookie mistake and and under-valued what Baker brought to the table.  I don’t put the 2017 play off loss on Baker.  Baker completely turned around the clubhouse after the Matt Williams debacle, and it made more sense from a roster transition stand point to make a staff change after 2018, not after 2017.  But whatever.

I can’t see how a veteran team of professionals would respond badly to Dave Martinez in particular though; he was a player, he had accomplishments on the field that will speak to the vets, and he comes from a well respected staff in Chicago.  But, sometimes you never know.  Maybe Martinez comes in and is totally rah-rah and turns off the vets like Murphy and Zimmerman, which sends the clubhouse into a death spiral.  Maybe he makes some bone-headed mistakes early with the pitching staff and turns off the two aces Scherzer and Strasburg.  I don’t know if anyone can predict what will happen here.  It isn’t like there was a huge obvious problem with the previous manager that they immediately get respite from; the prior staff by all accounts was respected and successful.

Collier mirrors what I said; we just don’t know what will happen.

Q: What are the most realistic options to improve at catcher or do you see us sticking with Matt Wieters all season?

A: I’m going to ask a different question, because it relates here.  Is the team willing to blow past the luxury tax threshold or not in 2018?  Because if they’re not … then people need to stop asking about upgrading at catcher.

That being said … my take on his ownership group is that they still cling to the notion that you run a team like a business to a certain extent.  And as a business owner, if you were in the hole for $10M in salary would you continue to throw good money after bad or would you just stand pat with what you have?  Furthermore … Wieters is a Boras client and i’m sure Boras has already bent their ear about layering his client and effectively destroying his FA value.   Plus, in case you’re clamoring for a trade for J.T. Realmuto, the Nats have already emptied the farm system, so any further prospect trades will be cutting deep.  Would you give up Soto or Robles for a mediocre catcher?  I wouldn’t.  I’d just suck it up, play out 2018 with Wieters hitting 8th and learn from my mistake (and this is no hindsight is 20/20 statement; everyone knew Wieters was a bad signing when it happened).

So, for me, i’m guessing they stand pat.

Collier notes that Wieters is in better shape , but also notes the team is pursuing a better backup catcher option than the untested Pedro Severino.

Q: For years we’ve seen Joe Maddon hit players such as Addison Russell ninth in the order behind a pitcher. With how dense the middle of our lineup is, could you see Martinez taking this approach with Michael A. Taylor or Trea Turner?

A: Well, the numbers are definitely there: batting the pitcher 8th definitely makes a difference over the course of a whole season.  But it isn’t much of a difference.  And you need a contact guy at the 9-hole to take advantage.  Is Michael A. Taylor that guy?  I don’t think so; I think Taylor is hitting 7th and Wieters hitting 8th all year, forcing the pitcher to the 9-spot with Eaton/Turner 1-2 in some combination.  This lineup kind of writes itself.

Collier disagrees, thinking Taylor could be that “second leadoff” guy in the 9-hole behind a pitcher.  Uh … have you seen how much he strikes out?  He lowered his rate year over year and was still striking out 31.7% of the time in 2017.  

Q: Do the Nats have genuine interest in bringing Howie Kendrick back?

A: I’m sure they do; Kendrick filled a bunch of nice holes and hit so well that many were clamoring for him to play over Werth last post-season.   But there’s no starting position for him, this team when healthy is stacked and he’d be riding the pine.  So i’m sure he’s holding out for a starting role, trying to parlay his excellent 2017 into a full time gig.  Maybe he fails and the Nats get him on a one-year pillow contract … but I doubt it, since he’s got more than just corner defensive capabilities.

Collier basically says the same thing I did, but with better quotes from Mike Rizzo.

Q: At this point, what other offseason moves do you think would be necessary? More bench players? Adding another to the rotation? Bullpen help?

A: Rotation.  Its all about the 5th starter at this point honestly.  We can live with this bench: Severino, Matt Adams, Wilmer Difo, Brian Goodwin and a RH corner bat to be signed or discovered in spring training.  I also think any additions to the bullpen mean difficult decisions given the options status of players this coming spring; the bullpen has basically has 4 guys signed to guaranteed contracts plus 3 guys who have no options left.  Not much room for wiggling there.

So that really means two more moves at most.  Do you want your 5th starter to be A.J. Cole?  If not, we need an arm.  Do you want your last bat off the bench to be Andrew Stevenson?  If not, we need a Chris Heisey like character.

Collier agrees.

Obligatory Post on the 2018 Hall of Fame class


Chipper Jones at his retirement game.  Photo via lostthatsportsblog

Chipper Jones at his retirement game. Photo via lostthatsportsblog

Its January, so that means Hall of Fame Ballot time.  BBWAA Writers who were not completely disgusted by Joe Morgan‘s ridiculous letter to the writers should have mailed in their ballots by 12/31/17.

If you still care about Hall of Fame voting, then this post is for you.  Which I do … because its the only such career-recognizing institution for our sport … even if the people running the museum are tone-deaf morons who want to make it harder to get candidates in rather than easier  despite mounds of evidence that the 80s and 90s are vastly under represented in the Hall.  They continue to enrage rationalists by doing thins like shortening the time players are allowed on the ballot, refusing to expand the ballot to allow more candidates and most recently refusing to make all ballots public so dinosaurs can continue to be unaccountable for their awful voting decisions.

Here’s two key links for you, if you’re still reading:

  •’s 2018 ballot with stats
  • Ryan Thibodaux‘s online tracker of all HoF votes .  Which is great for those who do talk about their votes … but is tough to use as a predictor because generally the non-public votes are more in the Murray Chass category of voting; too few candidates and no consistency over who he picks.

My consideration of candidates, unlike my consideration of a lot of stuff, comes down more to “feel” than it does to stats.  I know Jay Jaffe  has his great JAWS thing that tries to do both peak and longevity.  I know has a bunch of metrics per player.  That’s all great.  But it isn’t the hall of stats, it isn’t the hall of WAR.  Its the hall of Fame.  Its the hall of marquee players from their day.  I cannot remember the pundit (perhaps Bill James or Joe Posnanski), but they said something to the effect of if the player didn’t “scare” you when he came to bat, or if you didn’t get excited when the pitcher took the mound … then odds are they weren’t a hall of famer.

I look at the players I’d vote for and … they’re the guys you paid money to see.  They’re the arms that were on the mound and you gave the opposing team little chance.  They’re the sluggers who you wanted up in the 9th inning of a tie game.  That’s what makes the game exciting and that’s the lens I like to use when judging players.  Yeah its subjective and partisan; so is every person voting in the BBWAA.

With my imaginary ballot, here’s how i’d vote.  Since there’s a (ridiculous) limit of 10 players per ballot, I’ll list these players in rough order of voting priority to start:

New to the 2018 Ballot Candidates:

  • Absolute Yes on Chipper Jones, Jim Thome
  • Less emphatic Yes for Scott Rolen
  • Slight pause to consider Andruw Jones, Omar Vizquel, Johan Santana
  • No on everyone else (though there are still some interesting names on that list)

Returning Ballot Candidates:

  • Absolute Yes on Roger Clemens, Barry Bonds
  • More tepid Yes on Vladimir GuerreroCurt Schilling,  Manny Ramirez, Edgar Martinez, Mike Mussina, Fred McGriff, Trevor Hoffman
  • Pass on Jeff Kent, Larry Walker, Gary Sheffield, Billy Wagner, Sammy Sosa

Discussions on my opinions from a hypocritical litmus test stand point:

  • Why support Hoffman but not Wagner?   Probably a fair question and probably not supported by stats when you compare all three guys together.  But that’s why its the “Hall of Fame” and not the “Hall of WAR” or the “Hall of Stats.”  Hoffman was more famous than these other relievers.  I always viewed Smith as a good-but-not-great reliever who compiled stats, and I viewed Wagner as an electric and under-rated closer without near the career accomplishments of Hoffman.
  • Why support McGriff/Guerrero but not Walker?  You can make the argument that Walker’s numbers were a product of Colorado … and you can make the alternative argument too.  I think for me the fact that Walker couldn’t reach even 400 homers while playing in the launching pad in Denver is an indictment of his career.  Walker was a fine hitter … but he never inspired the league wide “fear” that Guerrero and McGriff did.  He’s in the “Hall of Good” but not the “Hall of Fame” for me.  Also it is worth noting that McGriff finished his career with 493 homers, but missed months out of the 1994 season at his peak.  Had he eclipsed 500 homers … i think we’re having a different conversation about him.  These artificial numbers (300, 3000, 500) are pretty important to voters.  Guerrero himself was for a time absolutely “the best player in the game,” a title that I don’t think Walker can come close to claiming.
  • Why support Bonds and Ramirez but not Sosa?   Something about Sosa’s career just screams “artificial.”  He went from being a 35-home run hitter to a 66-home run hitter overnight, he has PED suspisions and a corked bat on his resume, and his skills disappeared as soon as testing became the norm.

So, if you include all firm Yeses and more tepid Yeses … I have 12 candidates.  Probably like everyone else who thinks like I do; too many guys for the ballot.  So who do you cut?  Probably I’d trim the ballot to 10 by cutting McGriff and Hoffman.  I keep Manny Ramirez on despite his positive tests because I don’t think there was a better RH hitter during the 1990s.   I support Clemens/Bonds because I just don’t see how you can have a museum that excludes a 7-time MVP winner or a 7-time Cy Young winner, no matter what you think they took or when.

Nats connected candidates:  excluding the Montreal guys, we have two down-ballot guys who will be lucky to get a single vote: Livan Hernandez and Brad Lidge.  So far, zero votes for either guy, no surprise there.

Quick thoughts on the BBHOF tracker results so far:

  • Bonds/Clemens nearing 70% on public ballots, and keep increasing.  I’m glad to see this.
  • Who the heck voted for Johnny Damon?
  • So far, 3 looking like total locks (Guerrero, Jones, Thome) with the odds of Hoffman also going in strong.
  • It seems like both Schilling and Mussina will drastically increase their vote totals this year, also a good thing.
  • I cannot believe how little support Rolen is getting.
  • Likewise, it looks like Andruw Jones may drop off the ballot!  that’s crazy; i realize he fell off a cliff, but he was among the best in the game for many years.
  • Somewhat surprised with Vizquel’s higher totals (28% as of this writing); no i don’t think he’s a HoFamer … but i do think he deserves some consideration.

Care to argue about the HoF?