Nationals Arm Race

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

Archive for February, 2020

MLB Rotation Ranks heading into 2020

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Scherzer: the #1 on the #1 rotation. photo via wp.com

Scherzer: the #1 on the #1 rotation. photo via wp.com

Every off-season I find myself meticulously tracking Starting pitching movement, with a working XLS that attempts to quantify the rank of every rotation in the majors.

Before we get too further into the pre-season, and these ranks start to get obsoleted as we find out that some starters are going to head into surgery or to the DL, i wanted to get this out there.

Previous years of doing this

  • 2019 Cubs #1, Nats #4.  Probably overvalued Cubs, undervalued the Dodgers, Rays and Astros.
  • 2018: did not do the analysis, but Houston led the league in ERA, FIP, fWAR
  • 2017: Cubs #1, Mets #2.  Cleveland and LA Dodgers really the best.
  • 2016: Mets #1, Cardinals #2.  Mets and Nats ended up being the best on the season.
  • 2015: did not do the post.  Cubs, Nats, Dodgers the best.
  • 2014: Cards #1.  Nats ended up being the best rotation by most measures.
  • 2013: Nats #1, Tigers #2.  In the end, Detroit really was the best rotation.

Here’s my rankings of the Starting Rotations of every team in the majors.

Raw data, which includes a ton more detail including movement, starters still out there, and color coding indicating whether i think a pitcher is a #1, a #2, a #3 or lower is here: https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/1gztFB_MIkVLd-Bzw9SuSYJxE709eHOPAsAZL8nzsiPw/edit?usp=sharing

Notes: i have these roughly grouped for discussion.  Each of these groups of rotations are in the correct order, but are relatively close enough that if you wanted to argue within the grouping I wouldn’t probably push back too much, but i’d put any of the teams in one group ahead of any team in the next group.

1. Washington:  Max Scherzer Stephen Strasburg Patrick Corbin Anibal Sanchez Joe Ross
2. Texas:  Corey Kluber Lance Lynn Mike Minor Kyle Gibson Jordan Lyles
3. Los Angeles Dodgers:  Clayton Kershaw Walker Buehler David Price Julio Urias Alex Wood
4. New York Mets;  Jacob deGrom Noah Syndergaard Marcus Stroman Steven Matz Rick Porcello

Yes, i’ve got our home team #1.  I think the top 3 are all three Aces (meaning, they’re all among the top 15-20 arms in the league), and the Nats are the only team that can make that claim.  Texas has completely remade their rotation, adding an ace in Kluber, adding the back-end of their rotation via FA this off-season and I really think they’re in a position to make some noise.  LA comes in third, and yes I still have Kershaw as an “Ace” for now, but Buehler is probably the best arm of the bunch.  the Mets are a speculative #4; is Snydergaard really an Ace?  What happened to him last year?  If he returns to form, the NL East becomes that much more difficult to navigate for all the teams involved.

5. Tampa Bay:  Blake Snell Charlie Morton Tyler Glasnow Yonny Chirinos Ryan Yarbrough
6. Houston:  Justin Verlander Zack Greinke Lance McCullers Jose Urquidy Rogelio Armentos
7. Philadelphia:  Zack Wheeler Aaron Nola Jake Arrieta Zach Eflin Vincent Velasquez
8. Cincinnati:  Sonny Grey Luis Castillo Anthony DeSclafani Trevor Bauer Wade Miley
9. Atlanta: Mike Soroka, Mike Foltynewicz, Cole  Hamels, Max Fried, Kyle Wright

Tampa is a hard one to rate, b/c of their use of the “Opener” so much.  Houston takes a hit by letting Cole go and replacing him with someone who I couldn’t pick out of a lineup.  I think Cincinnati’s rotation may prove to look quite mediocre if Grey and Bauer in particular don’t produce.  Atlanta has five talented guys who all could step up and make them really tough to beat, so watch out.

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10. Oakland:  Sean Manaea Frankie Montas Mike Fiers Jesus Luzardo Chris Bassitt
11. St. Louis:  Jack Flaherty Dakota Hudson Miles Mikolas Adam Wainwright Kwang-Hyun Kim
12. New York Yankees:  Gerritt Cole Luis Severino Masahiro Tanaka J.A. Happ Domingo German
13. Toronto:  Hyung-Jin Ryu Chase Anderson Matt Shoemaker Tanner Roark Shun Yamaguchi
14. Minnesota:  Jake Odorizzi Jose Berrios Kenta Maeda Homer Bailey Randy Dobnak
15. San Diego:  Chris Paddock Garrett Richards Drew Pomeranz Zach Davies Dinelson Lamet
16. Cleveland:  Mike Clevinger Shane Bieber Carlos Carrasco Aaron Civale Adam Plutko

Oakland could look a lot better fast if Luzardo lives up to his #2 starter hype.  Its also noteworthy that no matter where you rank Oakland’s rotation pre-season, they produce.  I think i had them in the bottom five last year and they won 97 games with a bunch of #4 starters.  So who knows.  The Yankees are #12, which also seems amazing for a 103 win team that ADDED perhaps the best right hander in the game … but they fall off fast AND they seem to have lost Severino for the season (which is not accounted for here), so they may be actually worse.  Toronto’s got 3 new starters and some unknowns: is Ryu going to be an Ace or a 4th?  Cleveland is the lowest team with an “Ace” in the rotation

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17. Arizona:  Robbie Ray Luke Weaver Mike Leake Merrill Kelly Alex Young
18. Milwaukee:  Brandon Woodruff Adrian Houser Brett Anderson Freddy Peralta Eric Lauer
19. Chicago Cubs:  Kyle Hendricks Yu Darvish Jon Lester Jose Quintana Alec Mills
20. Boston:  Chris Sale Eduardo Rodriguez Nathan Eovaldi Martin Perez Matt Hall
21. Chicago White Sox:  Lucas Giolito Dallas Keuchel Reynaldo Lopez Carson Fulmer Gio Gonzalez
22. Colorado:  Jon Grey German Marquez Kyle Freeland Antonio Senzelata Jeff Hoffman
23. San Francisco:  Jeff Samardzija Johnny Cueto Tyler Beede Kevin Gausmann Drew Smyly
24. Los Angeles Angels:  Shohei Ohtani Julio Teheran Jamie Barria Andrew Heaney Dylan Bundy

this is a logical stopping point (the #24 ranked Angels) because this is clearly the end of teams that are “trying” in 2020.  And you might push back on the notion that some of these teams are even trying (Boston, SF, etc).  Its still kind of amazing to me that the White Sox are ranked this low, given the pedigree of their prospect-laden rotation and the fact that they added a recent cy Young winner in Keuchel this past off-season.  Boston takes a hit as we hear that Sale may start the season on the DL.  Lastly what to make of LAA?  Is Ohtani goign to compete and be an ace?  If not they need production from a bunch of #5 starters or else they waste even more of Trout (and now Rendon‘s) careers.

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25. Seattle: Marco GonzalesYusei Kikuchi Justus SheffieldKendall GravemanJustin Dunn
26. Pittsburgh:  Chris Archer Joe Musgrove Steven Brault Trevor Williams Mitch Keller
27. Kansas City: Danny DuffyBrad KellerJake JunisMike MontgomeryJesse Hahn
28. Detroit:  Matt Boyd Jordan Zimmermann Daniel Norris Spencer Turnbull Ivan Nova
29. Baltimore:  John Means Alex Cobb Asher Wojciechowski Dean Kremer David Hess
30. Miami:  Sandy Alcantara Caleb Smith Jose Urena Jordan Yamamoto Pablo Lopez

All 6 of these teams i have as actively “tanking” in 2020, so not surprisingly they’re the bottom 6 rotations.  A couple of these rotations don’t even have what i would consider even a #3 starter, and among all 6 of these teams I only see two acquisitions this off-season that project into their rotations.  Miami, the lowest ranked rotation, made its sole starting pitching acquisition of the off-season a rule-5 drafting of our own former prospect Sterling Sharp, which is pretty telling.  Baltimore has added a bunch of depth but it all projects as just that; depth.  4-A or minor league starter depth.

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That’s it.  What do you think?

 

Spring Training 2020 NRI Discussion

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Nationals at Orioles 7/16/19

Nationals at Orioles 7/16/19

The Nationals, on the first day of spring training, announced their list of Non-Roster Invitees (NRIs) for 2020.

Here’s our 6th year running NRI analysis.  With this post, I’ve also got the Big Board officially updated to account for all 22 guys.  These 22 signings confirmed at least 6 new MLFA signings unknown until today (Freeman, Ward, Snyder, Wilson, Shuck and Self), so those details are on the page too.

Now, before you say “who cares” here’s some stats.  In the last five seasons (through 2019):

  • 6 NRIs made the 25-man roster straight out of Spring Training (and Guthrie technically made it 6 since he got called up a few days later and was always intended to be the 5th starter in 2017).  Basically every year an NRI has made the roster for 5 seasons running.
  • 21 NRIs eventually played for the MLB team at some point that same season.

So its likely that we’re going to see a lot of these NRIs at some point in the future.  Like, on average at least 4-5 of these NRIs are going to play for this team in 2020.

Here’s the list of 22 NRI’s for 2020

  • RH Starters: Wil Crowe, Paolo Espino
  • RH Relievers; Dakota Bacus, Bryan Bonnell, Javy Guerra, Jhonatan German, David Hernandez, Kevin Quackenbush, Derek Self
  • LH Starters: none
  • LH Relievers: Fernando Abad, Sam Freeman
  • Catchers: Wellington Castro, Taylor Gushue, Jakson Reetz
  • Infielders: Luis Garcia, Brandon Snyder Drew WardJacob Wilson
  • Outfielders: Emilio Bonifacio, Yadiel Hernandez, JB Shuck, Mac Williamson

(interestingly, there is at least one off-season MLFA signing that I had listed as being given an NRI; Tyler Eppler, who is not listed here.)

So lets squint and make some predictions.

  1. Do any of these guys stand a chance at making the Opening day roster?  Honestly, I don’t see it this year.  If there’s an injury sure, but right now the 26-man opening day roster seems pretty set.  Even at the edges of the bullpen and bench, it doesn’t seem like we have a ton of competition.
    1. Squinting at the bullpen, it seems like the last two spots will be going two guys (Roenis Elias and Austin Voth) who don’t seem likely to get sent to AAA (for reliability and options).  Elias is the only other lefty besides Doolittle, so maybe Abad/Freeman have a shot?  Guerra is a franchise favorite who probably gets called up at some point after what he did for the team last year.
    2. The edge of the Bench basically is Eric Thames, Ryan Zimmerman and Wilmer Difo: if someone beats out Difo they’re going to have to be able to play a serviceable short-stop; not sure who of the NRI infielders fits that bill.  Certainly not Snyder, Ward or Wilson, all of whom are corner guys.  And if you want to argue with a straight face that 19-yr old Luis Garcia is breaking camp with the team … well i’m just not going to consider you as someone who understands how modern baseball works.
  2. Do any of these guys project to feature at all in 2020?  At all?  Yeah definitely: I can see a couple of the relievers getting called up, especially since a number of them have MLB experience.  I could see Crowe getting the call in case we get shredded with injuries in the rotation.  I could see a flexible guy with past ties to the club like Bonifacio getting called up.
  3. Who among these guys project to eventually get on the 40-man?  past the above, Garcia obviously, but its hard to make an argument for too many others.  There’s really only like one or two “prospects” here that are called up for the experience; nearly the entire list are MLFAs that will be providing Fresno depth.

NRI Details by year, in case you were wondering…

Summary of NRIs for 2020:

  • Three (3) made the 30-man roster out of Spring training: Javy Guerra, Sam Freeman, Emilio Bonifacio
  • X eventually got added and called-up: tbd by end of 2020 season
  • X more since been added to 40-man post 2020-season: tbd before 20201 season

Summary of NRIs for 2019: 18 total

  • One (1) made the 25-man roster out of spring: Jake Noll
  • Three (3) more eventually got added and called up:  Aaron Barrett, Tres Barrera, Carter Kieboom
  • Zero (0) others have since been added to 40-man (as of 2/6/20).

Summary of NRIs from ST 2018: 21 NRIs total:

  • One (1) made the 25-man roster out of spring: Miguel Montero
  • Four (4) eventually got added and called up:  Tim Collins, Moises Sierra, Jimmy Cordero, Spencer Kieboom.  Special Mention to Edwin Jackson, who opted out of Washington then excelled for Oakland later in 2018).
  • Zero (0) others have since been added to 40-man

Summary of NRIs from ST 2017: 24 NRIs total:

  • Zero (0) made the 25-man roster out of spring (though technically one kinda was; see next).
  • Five (5) eventually got added and called up (Jeremy Guthrie, Matt Albers, Grant Green, Jacob Turner and Andrew Stevenson): Guthrie was the 5th starter, stashed in XST for a few days before his ill-fated debut.
  • Five (5) have since been added to 40-man (Erick Fedde, Taylor Hill, Kyle McGowin, Wander Suero, Tim Collins)

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).  Adding Reed Johnson as a late-spring signee who made the team after his release from Miami (H/T Sao)
  • 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)

(I believe the above analysis is correct; feel free to comment if i’ve missed someone.  this is a bit tougher to keep track of b/c the team often signs MLFAs mid-spring then technically gives them NRIs … especially for Vets, and I may miss some from the original announcements).

Ask Jessica; MLB.com’s new Nats Beat Reporter Jessica Camerato does her first inbox/mailbag

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Will Kieboom have a shot at the 25-man roster this Spring? Photo via federalbaseball.com

Will Kieboom have a shot at the 25-man roster this Spring? Photo via federalbaseball.com

Jamal Collier has moved on: our new mlb.com beat reporter is Jessica Camerato.  As far as I can now tell, here’s your official beat reporters for the team from the various major media outlets covering the team:

(post-publishing edit: thanks for the crowd-sourcing on the WP beat reporter history that I had forgotten despite still, to this day, being a WP paper subscriber).

  • Washington Post; Jessie Dougherty/Sam Fortier. Before them in descending chronological order: Chelsea Janes/Jorge CastilloJames Wagner, Adam KilgoreChico Harlan.  The original/first beat reporter was Barry Svrluga.
  • MASN: Mark Zuckerman.  He formerly covered the team for The Washington Times, then Comcast Sports Net, with an “unaffiliated” year between gigs writing for his own site (natsinsider.com)
  • MLB.com: Jessica Camerato, formerly Jamal Collier and then for years Bill Ladson
  • The Athletic: Brittany Ghiroli
  • Comcast Sports Net/NBC Sports: not sure?  Perhaps Matt Weyrich?  Todd Dybas (thanks to commenter rdexposfan)
  • Washington Times: … not sure?  Do they have a dedicated beat reporter since parting ways with Zuckerman?

Am I missing any major DC area media outlets with professional beat reporters?

Anyway I digress.

Here’s Camerato’s first mailbag, dated 1/31/20, responding primarily to questions she got on twitter.

———

Q: How are the Nats going to replace Anthony Rendon’s production?

A: Uh… they’re not?

It should be pretty obvious that the team has attempted to “replace” Anthony Rendon‘s lineup presence in a very Billy Beane fashion; buy a bunch of cheaper alternatives that, in the aggregate, may come close to adding up to replace the star.  They’ve brought back guys (Kendrick and Cabrera), they’ve hired new guys (Castro) and they’re hoping that their prospects (primarily Kieboom) can grow up fast and contribute soon.  Throw enough 3B-capable players at the wall and hopefully something sticks.

What they have NOT done is acquire a superstar replacement: no Josh Donaldson and as of yet no trade for someone like Kris Bryant or Nolan Arenado.  I’m not entirely sure how the team puts together a package deep enough to get these guys, not without crushing the existing roster or what remains of the farm system at this point (Baseball America just ranked the system 23rd, and once Kieboom and Luis Garcia graduate i’m not sure what remains to keep it from plummeting to the bottom).  So I think we all have to hope that the new un-tapped edge in the sport is middle-aged sluggers and go with it.

Camerato doesn’t really mention the like-for-like position player at 3B, instead points out that Juan Soto may step up .

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Q: What are the chances Carter Kieboom lands at third?

A: This year?  Or eventually?

I think eventually yes he ends up at 3B.  This year, at least in the first half, may not provide him many opportunities thanks to the FAs that the team has signed.

I don’t think he ends up at 2B; he’s a bit big, despite currently being a SS and his defensive strength reportedly is in his arm, not his movement, so 2B makes sense for others … like Garcia.

Camerato says he’ll get his shot at the job in ST but that he’ll have competition.

Q: Who’s gonna be the fifth starter?

A: I think it almost has to be Joe Ross.  Ross has proven more than a few times he can’t pitch in relief.  He’s got no options.  And he’s proven in the past to be a solid 5th starter.   His competition for the role all seems to be internal this year; there’s no MLFA reclamation project like Jeremy Hellickson waiting in the wings (at least not right now).  Erick Fedde and Austin Voth are his most direct competition … one has a magical 4th option (Fedde) which buries him in Fresno even before spring training begins, and the other guy (Voth) gets the 13th pitcher roster spot thanks to no options and his ability to be a swing-man /spot starter.

Camerato says they don’t really need to figure this out in Spring Training … which I don’t agree with frankly b/c of the options situation with two of them.

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Q: What does the farm system look like this year? Who should we watch that could make the club in 2021?

A: Farm system, as mentioned above, is thin.  Its two guys at the top (Kieboom and Garcia) and then its a gap to players who are a ways away.

Why is the Farm so thin right now?  Because the team has blown or traded away multiple first round picks in the last few years.   Consider the Draft Tracker:

  • 2019 1st rounder Jackson Rutledge; now basically our 3rd best prospect after throwing 37 innings last season.
  • 2018 1st rounder Mason Denaburg: didn’t pick at all in 2018, threw 20 innings in 2019 with an ERA north of 7.00 in the GCL and is reportedly nursing an injury
  • 2017 1st rounder Seth Romero; known problem child who continued to cause issues upon signing, and threw just 47 pro innings before blowing out his UCL.
  • 2016 1st rounder lost due to the Daniel Murphy signing.
  • 2016 Supplemental 1st rounder Dane Dunning traded away to get Adam Eaton.
  • 2016 Supplemental 1st rounder Kieboom currently our long-standing #1 overall prospect.
  • 2015 1st rounder lost due to the Max Scherzer signing.
  • 2014 1st rounder Erick Fedde really yet to be effective for the MLB team frankly; 143 MLB innings with a 5.39 ERA.

The Denaburg and Romero picks in particular are really crushing the system; those two guys should both be top 100 prospects right now.  Its also worth noting that the team traded away Jesus Luzardo in 2017 in the Doolittle trade, and he’s now nearly a top 5 prospect in the whole of the sport.

Why do I focus on 1st rounders?  Well because those are by far the players with the highest percentage chances of matriculating to the majors, and should be the ones at the top of your prospect lists.  Instead, our team has gotten almost NO prospect depth out of our 1st rounders over the past 6 drafts.  Instead the tops of our “top 30” lists are dotted with 2nd and 3rd rounders (Wil Crowe, 2nd rounder in 2017, Tim Cate, 2nd rounder in 2018 being the best recent examples), but even those 2nd rounders have been gutted lately:

  • 2019 2nd rounder lost to the Patrick Corbin signing
  • 2016 2nd rounder Sheldon Neuse  also traded away with Luzardo in the Doolittle deal, now on the cusp of the Oakland MLB roster
  • 2015 2nd rounder Blake Perkins traded away for Kelvin Herrera (though to be fair, he was young and has yet to really materialize as a prospect)
  • 2014 2nd round pick Andrew Suarez refused to sign; he’s pitched all of 2018 in San Francisco’s rotation.

That’s a LOT of additional prospect depth either out the door on top of the failures of the 1st rounders.  And its going to get worse before it gets better.

Who might debut in 2021?  I’d be looking for Garcia, Crowe, maybe Barrera moving up, Braymer and maybe even a couple of the 2019 guys (Mendoza or Rutledge) if they blow up this year.

Camerato says… Garcia might debut in 2021.  not much else.

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Q: Welcome! I’d be interested in hearing about players who changed up personal routine, training regimen, pitch selection or batting stance this offseason.

A: Me too!  Hoping for more player deep dive content from Camerato and others this spring training.

Camerato says she agrees and hopes to do more once ST starts.