Nationals Arm Race

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

What the heck are the Nationals doing with their Pitching??


Yeah, that's gonna leave a mark Jeremy.  Photo via

Yeah, that’s gonna leave a mark Jeremy. Photo via

So far this season, as far as I can tell, this is what our illustrious brain trust has conspired to do with the pitching staff:

  • They sent Joe Ross to Syracuse to start the season, purportedly to “save innings on his arm” but then threw him when it was 41 degrees with a 17-mph wind (so, in other words, his fragile arm was throwing in a mid 30s-wind chill in upstate NY in April) instead of having him throwing warm-up innings in Palm Beach, where its 70 and the whole staff is there to cater to him.
  • They apparently did this so that the team wouldn’t be forced into a “rash” decision on Enny Romero or perhaps the critical 5th bench slot decision between Wilmer Difo and Michael Taylor to start the season.
  • So by doing so with Ross, he’s “stuck” in AAA for at least 15 days, so when a need came for a 5th starter this past saturday (which wasn’t like it was a huge surprise) they bought the contract of 2017 NRI Jeremy Guthrie.
  • Guthrie, for those of you that don’t know, is now 38 years old, last pitched in the majors in 2015 (where he put up a 5.95 ERA in 148 innings for Kansas City), spend 2016 pitching in AAA (where he had a combined 7.17 ERA for two AAA teams in 86 innings) and in frigging *Australia* (where against what is probably only High-A at best competition he could only muster a 3.38 ERA in 16 innings).  But, but, he had a sterling sub 3.00 ERA this spring, so by all means we had to jump both our existing AAA-based 40-man starters A.J. Cole and Austin Voth (both of whom, it should be noted, easily bested Guthrie’s AAA numbers last year) so that he could be added and called up to make the 4/8/17 start in Philly.
  • Guthrie, as we know, sh*t the bed in his spot start.  10 runs, 2/3rds of an inning.
  • He was so bad, that even surprising me he was DFA’d the following morning, showing a surprising lack of patience for someone that (as  you just read) this team did an awful lot of chess piece moving so as to give him a 25-man spot.
  • In his place, knowing that the bullpen had just thrown 8 and a third innings …. does the team call up any of its FIVE (5) existing 40-man relievers??  Nope; they purchase the contract of a DIFFERENT NRI from this spring Matt Albers for Sunday’s game.

So what are we to make of this sequence of events?

Clearly, the team does not rate any of its current “spare relievers.”  If your names is Trevor Gott, Rafael Martin, Austin Adams, Matt Grace or even Jimmy Cordero I wouldn’t be making long term  plans to find housing in the DC area.  Because the simplest path would have been to call up one of these guys.  Instead, the team went again out of its way to give a MLB tryout to another NRI, in for-real games with for-real consequences.  I guess they didn’t get enough of a look at these guys during the spring?

Does any of this make sense to you?  Why wasn’t Ross just with the team to make his scheduled start?  Why didn’t they invent a soft injury to Oliver Perez or someone to clear room to keep 8 pitchers?  Was it that important to keep 31% strike-out machine Taylor on the bench for the first week?  He didn’t even get an AB!

I’m confused by all of this.  Maybe you rationalize and say, “oh well its April, they can afford to waste games to find a diamond in the rough like Guthrie or Albers.”  Or you can say, “well what the hell was 6 weeks of spring training for?”   I mean, if the team knew ahead of time it was willing to waste a game in the Philly series with an experimental starter, why not call up Voth??  We know what Cole can do, and they *should* have been able to tell what Guthrie can do by now …



20 Responses to 'What the heck are the Nationals doing with their Pitching??'

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  1. I don’t think any of us can say for sure what they’re thinking, but I’ll take a crack.
    (1) Ross was an innings management issue, like you’ve said. Not all innings are created equal, and I think the Nats (and most others) view innings at the MLB level as the highest strain, so are less concerned with a few minor league innings. You can agree or not, but he probably can’t throw 180 innings this year, and they’re gambling that they’ll need him at the end of the season more than now
    (2) they like their young pen arms but have to be shocked how everyone has goofed up at the same time and now they are reluctant to throw any more young guys into the mix. That’s why Albers is up instead of anyone else. And we might see Nathan before too much longer.
    (3) I think there is a little bit of a Dusty/Rizzo disagreement going on behind the scenes. Rizzo likes his stuff guys, and Dusty wants the vets. I’ll be looking for whether Dusty slips in some comments into his press conferences soon, like he did with Espy last year (‘I have to play who I have ‘ or something like that)
    (4) Guthrie – so I think they wanted him for the long man slot, and combined with #1, tried to get lucky with a few spot starts then bring up Ross and slide him into the pen. I don’t know that I disagree too much with the idea of delaying Ross so he could pitch through the playoffs (although you are ripe for criticism if your team struggles), but I said earlier that I was surprised they opted to choose Guthrie’s better spring and bad last few years over Worley, who was solid just last year. That’s the bigger surprise.

    So a prediction: they give Treinen a little more rope but soon, Blanton will close and then they’ll trade more young guys for a closer in July. Which will suck.


    9 Apr 17 at 10:31 pm

  2. “well what the hell was 6 weeks of spring training for?”

    Exactly. We all know that ST stats are largely meaningless–for the good as well as the bad. The team’s coaches and talent evaluators were watching Guthrie for a month and half. What exactly did they think they saw?

    The whole thing with the way Rizzo has been screwing around with roster to accommodate Guthrie is completely baffling, more so in that even he admitted he was considering retirement if he didn’t make the team. Nobody was going to swoop in and grab this guy if the Nats had asked him to go to Syracuse and first prove that he could still get somebody out.

    The Albers promotion is also a huge talent evaluation indictment considering that two of those five relievers on the 40-man roster were acquired in the offseason. If their ST evaluation concluded that Albers at his 6.31 ERA from 2016 is better than those other guys, this team is potentially in deep trouble.

    Karl Kolchak

    9 Apr 17 at 11:29 pm

  3. Wally–I agree with you that Dusty and Rizzo are probably not on the same page, especially given Dusty’s open disappointment that they didn’t sign Chapman. Now it seems that perhaps there was more to that comment than just expressing the desire to have a proven closer, and that maybe he was also worried about depth of talent in the relief corps.

    Karl Kolchak

    9 Apr 17 at 11:33 pm

  4. I think this disagreement, and the Albers call up, is about having vets who don’t crack instead of just a guy with better stuff. I think that’s what Dusty wants.

    I’m Farley in this camp, but I think I agree with Dusty here. Let Glover spend a season in lower leverage spots to acclimate. Treinen should be acclimated by now though


    10 Apr 17 at 7:00 am

  5. And this doesn’t make it better, but bullpens appear to be melting down everywhere. How about SEA blowing a 6 run lead in the bottom of the 9th?


    10 Apr 17 at 7:02 am

  6. Exactly, Todd. The pitcher usage has been baffling. Add Treinen throwing 5 times in the first week (incl Annapolis) – is Dusty trying to break him? And then calling up Albers over Voth (or another starter) – if Stras had a bad outing, arms would have been even more destroyed. Im starting to wonder if Dusty makes it through the season.

    Andrew R

    10 Apr 17 at 8:02 am

  7. There’s definitely some screwy stuff that has gone on here, and I think there’s something to a Dusty-Rizzo disagreement driving some of it. That said, I can’t get myself worked up into too much of a lather about it, at least at this point. I’m more concerned about Trea’s hamstring than I am the last couple of seats in the bullpen.

    Yes, Sat. was a disaster, and some of the other days have been worrisome. I also have no idea what they’re doing with the 5th starter. It would have seemed more logical to manage that situation with guys with options, like Voth, Cole, and even Fedde. I do understand that Cole spit the bit in the spring. They barely gave Voth a look, though.

    As for the everyday situation with the ‘pen, things will sort themselves out. Conditions Thurs./Fri./Sat. were brutal, so I’m not going to judge too much by performances on those days. Greg Maddux might have had difficulty throwing to spots in 40 mph gusts. All of that said, Romero gives me flashbacks to HRod (as Ray Knight has already said as well). Either throw strikes or be gone. Albers was terrible in 2016 but had a strong run 2012-15, with much better numbers during that period than guys like Guthrie or Perez. I’m not saying he’s the answer, but he’s at least got a prayer and track record. I’ve never trusted Ollie, but they seem unwilling to eat his contract or even phantom DL him.

    Yes, I’m disappointed that the Nats haven’t taken advantage of the Mets’ slow start to build an early lead in the standings. Yes, I’m concerned that they’ve had to burn so many bullpen innings, and that the results have been decidedly mixed. At some point I may move from “concerned” to “worried,” but I’m not there yet. In the meantime, with an off day this week and one next week as well, they shouldn’t need a 5th starter until the last week in April.


    10 Apr 17 at 8:25 am

  8. … and in a continuation of a trend … they resigned 42-yr old Joe Nathan to a ML deal over the weekend too. You know, just to make sure they have enough guys in the fold who havn’t been effective since 2014.

    Todd Boss

    10 Apr 17 at 8:30 am

  9. Remember all the He Said/He Said shaming that went on between the Mets and Harvey a couple of years ago? They’re at it again with Matz. He says he has a flexor strain, while the team is leaking that their docs found nothing wrong with him. I know the guys who were drafted or traded for have no choice, but why would any pitcher with free will in the decision want to pitch for that organization? Geez. It’s easy to mock the team, but I do feel bad for the players caught in the crossfire. (Yes, even Harvey.)

    Of course perhaps the flip side isn’t so great, either, with every double-TJ guy in baseball lining up outside Rizzo’s office!


    10 Apr 17 at 9:34 am

  10. I started to write a post about that Harvey situation (in fact, its still sitting on my WordPress engine in draft mode titled “Shutdown-gate redux: Matt Harvey”) but never published it b/c the info was changing so quickly.

    He pushed well past his stated limits, got left hung out to dry by his agent’s comments, ended up pitching in the post season in 2015 … then was awful in 2016 and missed half the season with injury. Coincidence? Causation or Correlation? For me, its cause and effect. But if he comes back solid in 2017, will it all have been worth it? I dunno.

    Todd Boss

    10 Apr 17 at 10:43 am

  11. It’s never going to be worth it for Harvey. Stras gotta $175m contract and Harvey, who was on the same skill level as Stras, isn’t going to get anything close to that no matter what he does in 2017.

    For the Mets? Maybe, I dunno, but I wouldn’t want to work there


    10 Apr 17 at 11:00 am

  12. It is pretty baffling.

    Ross – Guthrie: Count me among those who think that Ross was buried in AAA to impact his service time clock. The team gambled on Guthrie and lost big. Perhaps the condition of the agreement was that he was first man up. Well, THAT didn’t work!

    Voth – Hard not to root for him as the sixth man.

    Treinen – It’s premature to pull the plug on him. Patience will be rewarded.

    Glover – It’s premature to pull the plug on him. Patience will be rewarded.

    Kelley – It’s premature…(etc).

    Nathan – Well, with so many folks, including Romero, underperforming, does it hurt to give a veteran a minor league contract? No risk.

    Albers – So he had a bad year. He had a pretty darn good career before that. And it’s a minor league contract, and better him than Taylor rotting on the bench.

    Solis – A disappointment. But we are only one year removed from Rivero and now being a reliable major league cog. Solis and other have talent and have to step up. Some of them will.

    Romero – He made the team in the spring. There was no reason not to keep him, and Ross did not have to do with that decision. If he now pitches his way off the roster, it’s all on him.

    Martin – Just when you want to say he has nothing left, he puts together a run. He had a decent spring, and was in a position to close. But he blew a game himself. Perhaps the cold weather is just really tough on closers….

    Gott and Adams – They’ll get their chances to prove to be the next man up. Unless Nathan’s deal has a “Guthrie clause.”

    Losses make one gnash their teeth, but this does happen every year. And to every team that either invests in talent that may have more in the tank, or talent that is supposedly ripe but really is not.

    It’s worth remembering that Blanton was a late pickup as were Albers and Nathan. So the team knew it had bullpen risks. The Nats are 3-3, Maddux is the pitching coach, and we can and should take a deep breath.

    The underrated problem continues to be very poor run production outside of home runs.


    10 Apr 17 at 11:57 am

  13. Wally–the problem with the idea of only using Glover in lower leverage spots is that Dusty has a tendency to overuse those arms he trusts. He did it with Rivero last year and then again with Treinen this past week. Meanwhile, those who are in his doghouse, like Petit, might not pitch for 10 days straight.

    Andreww–if I had to bet, I’d place my money on Dusty not being back next year. Another issue no one mentions is how Rizzo’s relationships with his managers always seem to fall apart in their second year together. We saw it with Riggleman, Johnson and Williams (heh, sounds like a law firm). I don’t think he’ll get dumped midseason unless the Nats are really struggling and he forces the issue.

    Karl Kolchak

    10 Apr 17 at 1:22 pm

  14. Boz hates and doesn’t understand the Ross move, just like the rest of us:

    And welcome back, forensicane. Just like Murph, you missed Spring Training but are already in midseason form!


    10 Apr 17 at 4:38 pm

  15. Wow, what a bullpen meltdown. What a mess the GM and the manager made of that. I’m talking about the St. Louis bullpen, of course. The Nat one looked fine, except for Shawn Kelley still not looking sharp. I guess the Nat bullpen is just built for 70 degrees, not 40! And who knows whether Matt Albers will last, but he provided a solid bridge last night on a night where hits were flying everywhere.


    11 Apr 17 at 6:36 am

  16. I did want to comment a little more on the Met pitching. How many tens of millions have the Mets lost Harvey, Thor, and deGrom on their prospective free agent contracts? Thor and Harvey would have been in line for something in the 6/200 neighborhood, and deGrom perhaps in the Lester range of 6/150. But who in their right minds is going to gamble on a long-term contract for any of those wounded, overused wings? You think Boras is going to let any of his other clients sign with that two-bit organization? Boras is going to lose millions in his potential cut on Harvey’s lost wages alone.


    11 Apr 17 at 9:02 am

  17. I think Thor might still get there but de Grom and especially Harvey have lost an unthinkable amount of money. It really is ceiminal how they treated him and what’s he going to do? If he complains while still a NYM, the fans will turn on him


    11 Apr 17 at 1:12 pm

  18. Thanks for all the detailed feedback on the last few posts Dr Forensicane!

    Todd Boss

    11 Apr 17 at 1:17 pm

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