Nationals Arm Race

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

Ask Collier 6/1/17


I've got Harper in the 7th, TKO. Photo via Star Tribune

I’ve got Harper in the 7th, TKO. Photo via Star Tribune

This time of year is generally light on pure Nats coverage for me: I like to track local Prep tournaments, I like to track the CWS tourney, and I like to do draft prep.  All of these these things basically hit at the same time between Mid-May and Mid-June.  So bear with me if these aren’t your cup of tea.  I’ll get back to my “where are they now” series soon, as well as more regular stuff on the Nats.

I didn’t even bother to post about the ridiculous Bryce Harper/Hunter Strickland brawl.  I’ll say this: I got a app notification on my phone that said simply, “Harper charges the mound in SF” and I immediately said to myself, “Strickland must have hit him.”  So clearly the intent was obvious, and I think personally the right punishment was arrived at (Bryce 3 games for charging the mound, Strickland 6 days for his ridiculous action).

But, I know my readers mostly care about the Nats.  So luckily Nats beat reporter Jamal Collier posted an Inbox last night, so I have some Nats content to invent.  Here’s how i’d have answered the questions he took.


Q: Have any reason why Bryce has struggled the past few games? Seems like his batting average and other numbers has taken quite a hit.

A: I’d probably say “regression to the mean.”  Nobody can post a 1.200 OPS for an extended period of time (Harper had a 1.281 OPS in April).  But he’s also been a bit unlucky in May in terms of BABIP (.268), just as he was overly lucky in April (BABIP of .429).  I’m guessing he’ll eventually settle back into a .310-.320 BABIP (he does hit the ball hard, so it shouldn’t be a surprise to see his BABIP regularly higher than league average; his career BABIP is .320) and his numbers will rise back up to impressive levels.

I also notice that he hasn’t missed a game yet; he has sat just one game and got a PH appearance in it (April 24th).  Dusty Baker gives other guys regular rest but Harper hasn’t sat in 6 weeks … maybe he was just starting to drag a bit.  The suspension will be well-timed, especially since it takes him out of the Oakland series (death to hitters).

Collier attributes it to regression as well.

Q: If Glover keeps up his recent dominance, will he stay closer rest of season or do Nats trade for Robertson or Herrera?

A: Well, the question here really should be, “Has the Ownership learned its lesson about fiddling with the closer yet?”  I’m not entirely sure they have; they still seem to buy into the closer narrative, a mind-set that led to them jerking around Drew Storen constantly and demoting him during perhaps his best season.  So will the narrative continue in 2017?  It goes like this: “Gee yeah Koda Glover has been throwing the ball really well, but he’s a rookie so he can’t possibly handle the pressure of October baseball, so we better get the “Proven Closer” and pay out the wazoo for him because that’s what we really need in the playoffs.”

I hate that mindset.  Yes Storen blew a couple of games in the post season; he pitched a grand total of 5 1/3 post-season innings for the Nats across 6 games, and in four of those games he gave up zero runs.  Can  you say “small sample size?”  But to continue to over-react and over-pay for closers is something this team has to stop doing.  Lest I remind everyone of Joe Posnanski‘s research on the topic: teams have won 95% of games they lead in the 9th for about the last 100 years, irrespective of whether they were throwing Joe Schmoe in the 9th in the 40s or Goose Gossage in the 70s or Aroldis Chapman today.

Right now Glover, at league minimum salary, is posting a 200+ ERA+ figure and hasn’t given up a run in a month.  Meanwhile, two of the the three big-money closers on the FA market this past off-season have hit the D/L and have worse seasonal numbers for approximately 30-times the salary.  Which situation would you rather be as a team and a GM?

So; if Glover keeps pitching well (and as long as he’s throwing a 95mph cutter or slider or whatever it is, he should), then leave him there and augment the bullpen at the trade deadline with quality middle relievers who won’t cost as much in terms of prospects.  That’s my suggestion.

Collier thinks the Nats may still get a closer at the trade deadline, and noted (using Storen as an example) that they’ve not hesitated to replace a closer mid-season in the past.  In other words .. he thinks they may go ahead and do something stupid too.

Q: Question for your mailbag: can we expect Albers to revert to his norm? Same for Taylor? (That K rate and BABIP…)

A: Yeah, at some point.  There was a reason Matt Albers was a NRI this past off-season, and there’s a reason Taylor has now had nearly 1,000 major league PAs and is still slashing just .234/.285/.374 for his career.  As far as Albers goes … its ok to have a 6th/7th inning guy who gets blown up every once in a while, as long as those outings are mitigated and don’t really cost you games all that much.  So far, he’s been so much better than expected for us.  Projecting forward, his FIP is a bit higher than his ERA and his BABIP is unsustainably low (.208), so we’ll see some regression back to the mean.  But also there’s this: for as bad as he was in 2016, he was great in 2015.  Who is to say that 2016 was the one-off season and he’s re-gained whatever enabled him to post a 1.21 ERA in 30 appearances for the White Sox?

As for Taylor, I’m not going to re-litigate the whole “Can Michael Taylor turn it around” case.  There’s clearly people dug into the sand on both sides.  His BABIP with his current surge of productivity is .385; that’s all that we need to say.  At some point he’s going to stop having stuff fall in for hits and he’ll regress back to the .230 hitter he’s always been.  Lets just hope Baker is smart enough to keep him in the 8-hole as it happens.  That or recognize it as it happens and think about giving those empty ABs to someone else when it happens.

Collier thinks both players are coming back to earth at some point.

Q: In the time you’ve been covering the Nats, tell us about the value you see JW adding to the team and clubhouse

A: Hard for an armchair psychologist such as myself to give an intelligent answer here.  I know there are many who read this who put little to no value in “clubhouse chemistry,” “team leadership,” and other fuzzy emotional issues when it comes to professional athletes, and I’m fine with that.  I tend to think that clubhouses work like any other workplace team; you have “good” co-workers and “lazy” co-workers, you have respected leaders who have “seen it all” and who have “been around the block” and you have rookies who do dumb things because they just havn’t been around that long.  So in that respect, Jayson Werth should be a valued team-mate who steps up and helps lead the clubhouse, but I have no idea if he actually does.  Its all conjecture on my part, having never stepped into a MLB clubhouse.

Collier says … similar things to what I just said.  Its hard to value leadership.  But he also says (and I agree) that Werth has proven he deserves another contract.  I wonder if it will be with us.





21 Responses to 'Ask Collier 6/1/17'

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  1. Boz just had his Storen column as well. Grrrr. Let’s just say that anyone who compares Glover to Storen hasn’t watched Storen very closely. Glover sure looks like he’s tough as nails. He’s not going to suddenly start overthinking things.

    My concerns with Glover have nothing to do with mental makeup; they have to do with health and with potential overuse. I understand that Dusty was trying to dip his toe into the role with 3- and 4-run leads. But now he’s dipped, so those need to start going to Kelley.

    I wouldn’t mind if the Nats picked up another reliever. But I don’t think they need to overpay for a closer, and I don’t think they need to undermine Glover by doing so . . . unless he hits a sustained bad streak.

    And Boz and everyone else, please stop mentioning Herrera and Tony Watson. They’re not currently in Glover’s class at all.


    2 Jun 17 at 3:15 pm

  2. It wasn’t just 2015 when Albers was very good; it was 2012-2015. His worst ERA in that period was 3.14.

    I’m a well-known Taylor doubter, so I’ll leave Todd’s take to stand here, other than to add that despite his recent success, his K rate is still a 34.3, pretty much what he’s done his entire career. I don’t see the Nats overpaying to bring in someone else this season, but I also hope they don’t see Taylor as a starter after this season.


    2 Jun 17 at 3:23 pm

  3. Sam Dyson DFA’d by Rangers. He had a 1.15 ERA working with Mike Maddux in 2015. Yes, his current ERA is ten times greater. But I wouldn’t be surprised if the Nats take a flyer on him.


    2 Jun 17 at 3:26 pm

  4. Would you give Dyson a 40-man spot? Because we just did the shuffle-roo to put Eaton on 60-day and reinstante Marmolejos … so we have no room.

    Todd Boss

    2 Jun 17 at 3:45 pm

  5. With 40-man spots currently held by Jimmy Cordero (who’s actually been a little better recently) and Rafael Martin, I wouldn’t have problem at all clearing one for Dyson.

    And hey, Mat Latos is available again! (Kidding, just kidding . . .)

    Incidentally, they’ve been giving a few looks to Marmolejos in LF. He could be in the competition to be Lind’s 1B/LF bench bat replacement next season.


    2 Jun 17 at 3:59 pm

  6. Dyson could be an interesting flyer and I agree with KW, there are at least 3 guys I wouldn’t mind bumping.


    2 Jun 17 at 10:25 pm

  7. I know I put it out there, but in reading more, I would have some hesitation with Dyson. He’s out of options, so if he sucks, he’s DFA’d out the door. In reading the Dallas reports, he also sounds pretty screwed up right now. No one would know him better than Maddux, though.

    Of course I say that, and ol’ Mad Dog hasn’t been able to fix some of his own puppies here. He and Dusty have been nursing them back, though. Really, if they get Treinen, Blanton, and Kelley all pointed back in the right direction, it will be a miracle of personnel management.


    2 Jun 17 at 10:37 pm

  8. Nats score 13 without Harper while Mets give up 12, six by Harvey, to fall 11 games back. Nats are now on a 104-win pace. Murph is heating up. Even Taylor and Goodwin are looking good.

    To follow up on what Todd said, I think it’s great for the long run that Harper is getting a little extended time off right now. The season wears down everyone, even super studs. The Nats are already on cruise control, so let’s take it easy on everyone. I was pleased to see that Stras came out after 100 pitches.


    3 Jun 17 at 8:24 am

  9. I feel like the Nats are making another statement on this road trip. Yes I know the Giants are weakened … but at the beginning of the year you’d look at this road trip (3 in SF, Oak, LA) and be like, ugh if they can go 4-5 it’d be a success. Well, they’re destroying teams right now. HItting 5 homers in a pitcher’s park is no mean feat either.

    Dyson: i dunno what to make of him. Lack of options makes his acquisition a tough one. Who do you bump down to AAA to make room for an experiment with him? Is it just me or have we seen some stabilization in the bullpen lately, so why rock the boat?

    Todd Boss

    3 Jun 17 at 10:00 am

  10. Cause Dyson has been good, is still hitting his normal velocity levels and is controlled through 2021. If you fix him, it could be a huge find.

    Now, I don’t really see him as a closer. He is actually a clone of Treinen, but that is a quality pen guy when going well. I’d see if they could dl him right away to let maddux work with him on rehab for a while. Then I’d be fine letting Perez walk if and when he is ready.


    3 Jun 17 at 1:06 pm

  11. Let it never be said that I’m not one to apologize for being wrong. Awhile back I said that if the Nats were to miss the playoffs this year because of a bullpen meltdown, Rizzo ought to be fired. The Greg Holland story on MLB Trade rumors makes it pretty clear that ownership was the real problem in this year’s bullpen woes. I don”t get why Uncle Teddy and company are willing to risk yet another disappointing end to the season over such a relative pittance when they are paying over $400 million just to their top two starters, but there you go. Too bad owners never get fired.

    Karl Kolchak

    3 Jun 17 at 4:45 pm

  12. Well, Joe Ross is ready to be sent down again, and soon. So much for his hometown start! Jeez, that was ugly, and against a not-very-good-hitting team to boot.

    There’s really no other fifth starter option right now than Justin Turner. He wasn’t great today, either, but was much better than Ross. There are no options at Syracuse, none at all. Fedde (at Harrisburg) is about the only one who might be considered, but of course he’s been doing two-inning reliever stints. I don’t know what the projected Super Two date is, but we won’t seem him before then, later June at the earliest.


    3 Jun 17 at 7:58 pm

  13. I think the Nats can get by without a quality 5th starter this year, given their lead and the state of the division. So I think they take their time to figure out what’s up with Ross, (although my own two cents is to put him in the bullpen and let him let it fly for a few innings at a time to regain confidence and let his stuff play up), and give some opportunities to Voth, Turner and Cole. I know none have pitched well, but they have the luxury to give them a try. If one of the top 4 get hurt though, ….


    3 Jun 17 at 9:07 pm

  14. Bite your tongue, man!

    Actually, I still have the fantasy of trading for the Mad Bum, if he comes back healthy. He would improve their championship chances more than any reliever. He’d also cost more.


    3 Jun 17 at 9:39 pm

  15. Err, just realized that I said “Justin” Turner above. If he’s pitching for us, we might really be in trouble! But at least he wouldn’t be hitting bombs against us . . .

    Anyway, Jacob Turner . . .


    3 Jun 17 at 9:52 pm

  16. Wally–the Nats absolutely DO need to trade for a 5th starter even if the Big 4 are healthy at the trading deadline. Not that the season would be in much jeopardy without one, but with a thin bullpen they need the insurance in case Strasburg or Roark are down with an injury come playoff time. Gio simply cannot be relied upon in big games (I’d send him to the pen in the playoffs if they have that luxury), and going into October with only two reliable starters again would be a setup for yet another post season letdown.

    If they hadn’t converted Fedde to relief pitching and he looked as though he might be a real contributor this year as a starter maybe not, but they’ve pretty much put themselves in the position where the risk of not obtaining another starter is just too great.

    Karl Kolchak

    3 Jun 17 at 11:30 pm

  17. I just don’t see how a better 5th starter could help them more this year than improving the pen. Dusty shouldn’t have brought back Glover but even so, this pen needs at least two more quality arms. It doesn’t matter to me where they slot but they need help.

    And while I agree with you that if one of their top 3 guys gets hurt, they are in trouble in the playoffs, they aren’t going to pick up a starter equal to one of them.


    4 Jun 17 at 9:16 pm

  18. Wally–I should be clear in my belief that the Nats need to add at least two reliable veteran arms, wherever they pitch. Three would be even better.

    Karl Kolchak

    4 Jun 17 at 9:46 pm

  19. When people talk about acquiring a starter, take a quick glance around the league at how poorly the 4th and 5th starters on nearly every team are doing. Everyone needs starting pitching. As much as I’d like to see the Nats get someone, there just aren’t much in the way of affordable options. Even struggling Sonny Gray would cost some top prospects. Do you want to trade Kieboom or Soto for Gray? I don’t.

    I don’t for a million years think that the Nats would get Bumgarner, but if they go for a starter, I’d say go big or stay home if you can’t get someone who could plausibly replace Gio in the postseason rotation. Yeah, the starting price for MadBum would be Fedde and Robles, probably plus other stuff. (The Giants desperately need OFs, so Goodwin would probably go as well.)

    We’ll see. I don’t expect anything rash, at least right away. But I’m sure they’re at least kicking some tires . . . and kicking a lot of other things after the late innings on Sunday.


    5 Jun 17 at 8:32 am

  20. The team has a huge lead, and I can’t see Rizzo make a trade unless he sees a bargain, especially before the organization figures out how much they can expect from Blanton, Solis, Treinen, and Kelley.

    Why trade for a struggling pitcher on the presumption that Maddux, good as he is, can straighten him out? He has plenty of talents to straighten out now.

    The Nationals farm system (with the exception of the outstanding 2016 draft class) has really, really underperformed this year, and the urgency just is not there to trade from a lack of depth. By the time the trading deadline comes around, the Nats will know what they have in the above, and will know what they can expect in 2017 from Fedde, Gott, and Suero, and will know whom they have from the 2017 draft next week.


    5 Jun 17 at 11:29 am

  21. If Robles would not go in an Adam Eaton trade, he is certainly not going to go in a trade for someone now unless the person has an incredibly team friendly deal. No way for a relief pitcher.


    5 Jun 17 at 11:33 am

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