Nationals Arm Race

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

How did so many of Rizzo’s off-season moves fail to pan out?


How is Corbin basically the only "good" off-season acquisition?

I just perused some team splits for 2019.  Your Washington Nationals offense is, as of this writing, (per Fangraphs):

  • 20th in fWAR; a *combined* 3.7.
  • 20th in wRC+, a paltry 91
  • 22nd in Batting Average, hitting .243 as a team
  • 9th in K% .. sitting at exactly 25% , but…
  • sitting 21st in ISO, meaning they’re striking out a ton but not getting the added benefit of the power.

How about the defense?  The team is

  • 27th in Fangraphs’ total Defense stat
  • 29th in UZR/150
  • 28th in DRS, a combined -27 of runs “saved”  (interestingly …their run differential sits at 32 right now, almost entirely on the defense)

And then there’s the bullpen:

  • 30th in bullpen ERA
  • 30th in LOB%
  • 25th in bullpen FIP
  • 21st in K/9
  • 24th in bullpen fWAR .. somehow grading out as a group to exactly neutral 0.0 fWAR.  In other words … completely replaceable across the board as a whole.

At least we have the starters:

  • #1 in fWAR
  • 13th in ERA, but
  • 4th in FIP (Fangraph’s fWAR for pitchers is heavy on the FIP … and the Nats starters are doing this with a .306 BABIP.
  • #2 in K/9.

Anyway … point is; the hitters are bad, the bullpen is awful, and the defense is atrocious.

How exactly did we get here?  Well, Mike Rizzo was incredibly active over the winter.  But, amazingly, practically all of his moves have turned out bad.  Here’s a list of all his major transactions in the off-season:

  • Kyle Barraclough: 4.67 ERA
  • Trevor Rosenthal: complete train wreck
  • Yan Gomes; hitting .228
  • Tanner Rainey: walked 12 in 18 innings in AAA.
  • Meanwhile Tanner Roark has a 3.51 ERA and a 127 ERA+ in 10 starts for Cincy this year.
  • Matt Adams: 89 OPS+ as our big “bench bat”
  • Anibal Sanchez: 5.10 ERA in 9 starts
  • Brian Dozier: hitting .205
  • Jeremy Hellickson: 6.23 ERA in 8 starts.
  • Tony Sipp: 5.79 ERA.
  • He cut loose Trevor Gott in February but kept a slew of other minor league arms: here’s Gott’s SF line so far this year: 21 innings, 2.11 ERA, 193 ERA+
  • He cut loose Austin Adams, who had a ridiculous 24/3 K/BB ratio in 12.1 Fresno innings, who then got picked up by Seattle and has punched out 7 of the first 11 batter’s hes faced.  But was he good enough for our bullpen?  Nope.
  • He brought in Dan Jennings: 13.50 ERA in 8 appearances.  Why exactly did he get the last 3-4 outings?

Even his AAA MLFA moves to provide veteran pitcher backup have been suspect:

  • Henderson Alvarez: 8.01 ERA in Fresno
  • Scott Copeland: 6.33 ERA in Fresno
  • Vidal Nuno; also a 6.33 ERA in Fresno
  • J.J. Hoover: 5.70 ERA in Fresno
  • Brady Dragmire: 11.48 ERA in Fresno, now mercifully on the DL.
  • Logan Ondrusek: had an ERA north of 5.00 in AA (as a 34-yr old).

In fact, really only a couple of his moves  have actually worked out:

  • Kurt Suzuki: 108 OPS+ in a backup catcher role.
  • Patrick Corbin: 3.25 ERA in 10 starts … well heck for $140M i sure hope he’s working out.

Look back at the performance of his roster moves.  Its absolutely astounding how badly he’s judged the talent he’s traded away versus the performance of what he acquired.

Look, this is not hindsight is 20/20 analysis.  I was totally on-board with a ton of these moves.  I really thought that Dozier and Rosenthal were good bounce back candidates and that Sanchez was a sneaky good signing.  And i’m genuinely dumbfounded that basically every off-season veteran gamble has failed to pay off.  Some of the moves I questioned at the time and continue to question (Gott, Roark, Adams).  You have to wonder how much of an indictment of the pitching staff it is when guys like Gott (to say nothing of someone like Blake Treinen) depart here and succeed elsewhere.  Even Lucas Giolito is starting to round into form with another organization, after clearly being dumped as being “unfixable” by this org.

The question is, now what?  What can this team really do?  If suddenly every guy with a sub 100 OPS+/ERA+ turned it around and succeeded, can this team run off a 20-8 month and get back into this race?  With this manager?

28 Responses to 'How did so many of Rizzo’s off-season moves fail to pan out?'

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  1. So, last night’s game is an absolute classic example of pitcher mismanagement. Fedde pulled after 5 innings, giving up 4 hits and a walk and sitting on just 61 pitches. He’s on full f*cking rest; 4 days since his last appearance. So idiot manager uses his best pinch hitter to take out an effective starter … Michael A Taylor. Batting .192 with a 41 OPS+ figure. He bunts and gets thrown out. Great.

    The ONLY reason this move makes any sense is as preventative, since the Mets had 3-4-5 coming up. Ok fine. Mets have 3-4-5; you have a pitcher with a lower ERA this year than 6 of your 7 bullpen guys on the mound and has been effective … uh, why not see if he can’t get through the 6th unscathed? Why not see if he can at leat get the first guy out? Because he’s ONLY THROWN 61 PITCHES! Fedde had room to throw 8 and save your bullpen. But nooooo just had to yank him so that the worst hitter on the roster could make an out. Great move!

    So, Now he’s gotta go to his idiot bullpen. Is it any surprise what happened next?? Suero ineffective, Rainey ineffective. Loss.

    Fire the manager. I mean, how much more idiocy can you take? DFA every reliever who can’t get guys out and call up reinforcements from the minors. how much longer are you going to let this situation go on before you do something?? Now the team is 10 games under .500. Just to get to 90 wins, which may or may not even give them a WC spot in 2019 … they now have to go 71-43 the rest of the way out. That is .628 ball from this day forward … anyone here think this team has it in them to do that?

    Todd Boss

    22 May 19 at 9:07 am

  2. Yes. Everything. Wasted a found-gold start from Fedde and multiple comebacks from a team that doesn’t have many of them in its tank. Also, WTF with Rainey in the 8th AND 9th inning?!? That’s your late-inning guy, the one just off the plane from Fresno?!? Sigh.

    Turner, Soto, and Rendon are back and are doing what they need to do. No excuses . . . and yet there are excuses in the post-game press conference every night . . .


    22 May 19 at 11:07 am

  3. Todd… agree with everything. 2 things. First the entire organization has no clue how to manage pitchers other than TJ shut downs.

    And the managers including Dusty who everyone is pining for now just ruin pitchers in season with overuse. Dusty completely ruined Felipe in season!

    They should take pitching oversight 100% out of Rizzo’s hands. A single new pitching coach is not the answer. Hire a new pitch coaching staff of 10 people from pitching analytics specialists, pitching mechanics specialists, and sports psychologists.

    We are staffing an entire all star team of pitchers on other teams now as soon as they walk out our door. The fact that Gott is excelling is mind boggling. Was promising for Angels, Sucked for us, and doing great for Giants. That recent article on Giolito where he changed back to his bent arm delivery now from the Nat’s suggested straight arm delivery is just head spinning. Reynaldo we knew had the stuff and attitude to prosper. Would have been our perfect #5 to learn on the job but I’m sure we would have messed him up too.

    How can they not try to fix Austin Adams MLB nerves problems before cutting him with those stats?

    It took Davey 2 days to fail Rainey. Going back to back games and multi inning when he is getting the most obvious heavy ball velocity and silliest looking swing and misses we’ve seen years?

    Only 2 ways to fix this. Replace everyone involved in pitching development and decisions in the whole organization. Or have zero pitching coaches and sign every pitcher on the staff pre made like Max, Doo or Corbin. Guys that don’t need pitching coaches or development.

    Marty C

    22 May 19 at 11:12 am

  4. I have long been a Fedde defender, but I thought he was on the ropes yesterday. He had given up some hard contact that was turned into outs because the OF was positioned well (not to mention all the double plays). He had few swings and misses. So I don’t think yanking him in a 1-0 game was a terrible idea, though I think leaving him in was defensible.

    I totally agree that Rainey was set up to fail and that’s on the manager. Back to back in his first two outings is one thing, but bringing him in for a second inning on the second day is inexcusable. Bear claw was obviously available. Why not have him start the 9th?

    I’m no Martinez fan, but I think much of the criticism of him has been unfair. When all your options in the bullpen are shit except for one guy, you’re inevitably going to make choices that don’t work out. But I’m starting to come around to the position that it would be better to get rid of him. How could it be worse?


    22 May 19 at 11:57 am

  5. So, i’m not the only one asking the question about pulling Fedde:

    manager explanaion; b/c he’s been in the bullpen, he’s not “stretched out” for starts right now. Here’s his game log in the majors: . Four days ago he threw 44 pitches, which was on one day rest from hte previous night when he threw another 27. So lemme get this straight. He can throw 44 with one day’s rest … but can’t throw more than 61 on four days/full rest? The guy’s a CAREER STARTER. I find this patently ridiculous.

    Todd Boss

    22 May 19 at 12:39 pm

  6. As for the main post, I concur with Todd that “I was totally on-board with a ton of these moves.” I was with the Gomes trade as well, and I thought Sanchez was an upgrade over Roark, who I thought was overpriced for recent performance. I knew there was some reason to be skeptical of Rosenthal, but overall, I thought he might be the second-best reliever on the market, behind only the way overpriced (still) Kimbrel. I thought Corbin was the best starter on the market, and that Sipp was the best situational lefty. I thought they had a really, really good offseason.

    But they weren’t ready to go when the season started. For all the talk of work on fundamentals, there were stupid mistakes from day one. They weren’t mentally ready. Rosenthal wasn’t physically ready, but no one — not even his old pitching coach from STL — would call it out and make him go on the IL.

    Moreover, the team wasn’t mentally ready to compete. The Phils and Mets and everyone else came out acting like they wanted to kick our butts . . . and did. Yeah, Dusty was capable of screwing up a lot of things, but this was NEVER the situation when he was the manager. You did not come in and kick sand in the face of a Dusty team.

    As for Dusty’s mismanagement of the starters and the bullpen, Martinez has been worse on both scores, often much worse. Look it up. That doesn’t make what Dusty did “better,” but since that was one of the big criticisms of Dusty, it sure wasn’t fixed by this hire.

    It’s time for Martinez to go. He’s a nice guy, but he’s in over his head, and the ship is sinking, fast.

    Is Rizzo on the chopping block? That’s an interesting question. One could cite the list of failures, as Todd does above, but then one could also point to how good most of those moves looked at the time. Rizzo wanted Dusty back, and one would assume that he would have hired someone more experienced than Davey II if the Lerners had been willing to pay more. But they weren’t. They went cheap on Dusty, and they went cheap on his replacement. You get what you pay for.


    22 May 19 at 12:53 pm

  7. Boswell column today stating that it’s probably time to fire Martinez. How would they be doing now under Dusty or a fairly compensated Bud Black?


    22 May 19 at 12:53 pm

  8. Understood that you have crummy options in the bullpen if you’re Martinez. But time and again he seems to pick the “wrong” guy or has questionable usage. Joe Ross went unused for TEN DAYS, and now apparently can only pitch with 2-3 days rest despite the fact that, again, he’s a career starter used to going beyond 100 pitches. It is senseless. His season numbers suck but 8 of the 11 runs he gave up were in two shortlived outings; he hasn’t given up an earned run in weeks.

    Why did Jennings get EIGHT appearances when it was pretty clear to me after about his 5th outing that he just didnt’ have it? why keep going to the guy?

    Last night; guy on 1st and 2nd with one out. Suero already past 20 pitches. Why wait to allow him to face the pinch hitter? already walked a guy, already struggling. So he gives up a bomb and THEN you take him out. why bother at that point?

    Todd Boss

    22 May 19 at 12:55 pm

  9. Dusty “ruined” Rivero?

    Rivero (now Vazquez) basically has been a top 5 closer in baseball since the moment he escaped this organization. That doesn’t look like “ruined” to me. he’s got a 1.25 ERA this season. And we dumped him for not even a half a season of Mark Melancon, the latest in a decade long pursuit of the “proven closer” by our GM at the cost time and again of prospects who go elsewhere and succeed.

    Todd Boss

    22 May 19 at 12:58 pm

  10. Marginal bullpen moves: the Gott unload is defensible, as it was clear even going into the spring that he very likely wasn’t going to make the 25-man, and he was out of options. It does remain a valid question why he was good with the Angels and now with the Giants but wasn’t with the Nats.

    I thought unloading Austin Adams was lunacy, and the move looks even worse now that they’ve DFA’d Jennings — who they traded Adams to clear a 40-man slot for — just three weeks later. Adams was truly awesome at Fresno this year, got one inning in the majors (where some of his control problems returned), got sent back down, then disposed of. Definitely bad handling by Rizzo and the front office there.


    22 May 19 at 12:58 pm

  11. its notable that,for a team that basically does nothing but draft college pitchers with its leverage picks, that they have almost no home grown talent on the pitching staff righ tnow.

    Starters: Scherzer (FA), Strasburg (drafted), Corbin (FA), Hellickson (FA), Sanchez (FA), Fedde (draft), McGowin (FA)
    Relievers: Doolittle (trade), Barraclough (trade), Grace* (draft), Suero (IFA), Ross (trade), Rainey (trade), Guerrero (FA), Sipp* (FA), AWilliams (draft), Rosenthal (FA), JMiller (FA)

    So of the 18 arms we’ve used this year, we drafted and developed 4 of them, with a 5th being an IFA we developed. that’s not good.

    Todd Boss

    22 May 19 at 1:01 pm

  12. McGowin and Austin Adams actually came in the trade for Danny the K. Not a bad return, all in all.


    22 May 19 at 1:10 pm

  13. Todd, agree 100% that the “not stretched out” explanation for yanking Fedde is ridiculous given how much he’s pitched. My reason for yanking him is that he wasn’t pitching well and sooner or later the results in the game would match that. But the relevant question is whether he would be better than the garbage from the bullpen, and I think you’re right that he probably would have been.

    If you had told me the Nats would be 10 games under .500 approaching Memorial Day, I would have assumed that at least one and perhaps two of Scherzer, Strasburg, and Corbin were hurt or had fallen off a cliff. And yet, Scherzer and Strasburg rank first and second in fWAR and Corbin is in the top 30. It’s appalling that this team is so bad despite having such good performances at the top of the rotation.


    22 May 19 at 2:17 pm

  14. Todd… You didn’t understand me. I meant Dusty ruined Filipe for the Nats that year. He started hot and was throwing 99. So Dusty overused him and before midseason his arm was dead and couldn’t get anybody out. Elite talent obviously rendered ineffective and devalued.

    Of course another team could figure out the value and how to utilize a very young lefty who throws 99 and showed success when his arm was fresh.

    It must be some advanced analytics we are missing. Treinen still had good stuff for us so how is he so elite with the A’s? Are they refining or limiting his pitch selection or location to only what works best for him? Like what the Astros are famous for re Verlander?

    Apparently Giolito’s old high school coach changed his delivery back to effective bent arm. In retrospect his straight arm delivery for us looked odd and un-athletic.

    Marty C

    22 May 19 at 2:41 pm

  15. Just like having Max throw way too many innings chasing stats and Cy Youngs while we’re way ahead and uncatchable in the standings. Leaving him dead arm and ineffective for the playoffs.

    Marty C

    22 May 19 at 2:43 pm

  16. McGowin. my bad. for some reason i thought he was a MLFA re-sign in the off-season.

    Todd Boss

    22 May 19 at 4:06 pm

  17. Some teams are known for not getting the most out of pitchers. And some are known for finding diamonds in the rough.

    – Baltimore: couldn’t do jack with Arrieta he had an ERA > 7.00 …traded to Chicago, immediately halves his ERA and wins the Cy Young two years later. To a lesser extent, the Braves have been able to get more out of Gausman than Baltimore ever could.
    – Pittsburgh: Gerrit Cole had a 4.26 ERA his last year in Pitt … goes to Houston and despite going NL->AL (usually worth half a point of ERA thanks to DH) his ERA dropped to 2.88 his first season there.
    – Oakland; they won 97 games with a rotation that gave starts to more than a few MLFA or waiver wire signings. Turned Treinen into a star.

    Is Washington working its way to the incompetent range?

    Todd Boss

    22 May 19 at 4:14 pm

  18. Another gut punch on Wednesday night. Pulled Scherzer at the right time, and I have no problem with going to Doo when there’s trouble in the 8th, provided that you’re not going to push him into the 9th. Just didn’t work out. Yes, they were facing deGrom, but all they managed in three innings against the Met ‘pen was one measly hit. Sigh.

    If the Mets finish the sweep today, Martinez is gone, right? I just can’t see how he survives.


    23 May 19 at 9:28 am

  19. the Mets GM literally had to hold a press conference earlier this week to address the job status of the Mets manager, their team has been playing soo poorly.

    So then the Nationals roll into town, the Nats who were projected to win 100 games and win the world Series … and promptly lose three straight in spectacular fashion.

    so tell me how OUR manager’s job continues to be safe?

    Completely defensible moves last night, agreed … for the most part. I’m still Not sure why Joe Ross, who has been a starter his whole life but now who can’t pitch on back to back days, could only throw 1/3rd of an inning and had to come out when a lefty PH stepped up. I mean, Joe Ross should, frankly, have been given the ball and allowed to FINISH THE F*CKING GAME based on what he’s been able to do his whole life. he’s not a one-out right handed middle releiver; This is a guy who, at age 23 in 2016, was perhaps the best 5th starter in the league, giving the team 19 starts with a sub 3.50 ERA and a 127 ERA+. And now he is only trusted to get one pinch hitter out at a time every 3 days? wtf.

    this is the kind of over-clever bullpen management that frustrates me. If you don’t think Joe Ross can’t get out the 2nd PH off the Mets bench in the 7th, well then what is he doing up there? You realize that Ross has thrown just 12 f*cking innings for the MLB team this year?? 12 innings; he threw more than that in a week as a starter.

    Todd Boss

    23 May 19 at 9:44 am

  20. Todd, I mostly agree that Ross should be used for longer stretches (although he hasn’t pitched particularly well this year). But in a one-run game with a power-hitting lefty pinch hitter, I think I want that hitter to face the lefty pitcher, even if the lefty pitcher is Matt Grace, the human embodiment of “replacement player.”


    23 May 19 at 12:39 pm

  21. Another day, another strong starting pitcher outing, another bullpen disaster (8th inning), and another loss. It’s become Groundhog Day.


    23 May 19 at 3:21 pm

  22. Welp, I don’t have much to offer in terms of solutions. This team deserves its record. What I’ve mostly learned is about myself, which is that I must not be a ‘true’ fan any more because I’ve already kind of checked out. I’m not going to keep watching this kind of play.

    I’m ready to call the season too. I think it’s over and they should start to think about next year, with the question being ‘total rebuild’ or reload. Maybe it’s better to say ‘reload’ or ‘deep reload’. It won’t make sense to trade Soto and Robles under any scenario so total rebuild is out. But Eaton, Adams, Kendrick, Doo and a catcher for sure. Rendon if he doesn’t sign an extension by Jul 1. And they have to think real Hard about Max. As much as I love him, he’d bring a bunch back and the reload may take a season or two and he’ll be 37.

    Martinez is a done deal, it’s only a matter of when. He clearly isn’t ready to manage in the pros. I don’t think he has ‘lost’ the team but he ain’t helping. It just doesn’t make sense to waste a lot of words on him any more.

    Rizzo is the bigger question and it’s an imminent one because if you think he has lost his fastball, you don’t want him orchestrating the reload. I think he should go, which pains me because he did so well early. When is the last time he won a trade? But the kiss of death for me is the list of relievers he has traded away and what he’s left them with. He has not been able to get performance out of people who then go on to pitch well for others. There is something wrong with the organization that he has built where others are taking our players and getting them to perform. I would start over. I’d take one of the guys from the dodgers if they would come.


    23 May 19 at 7:57 pm

  23. So, I wake up this morning to find that there’s a pending change at the top . . . in Great Britain, but not on the Nats’ bench. Sigh. What are they waiting for? To actually fall behind the Marlins, who are on a six-game winning streak?

    I know the problems extend well beyond Martinez. But he’s also shown no ability whatsoever to fix the problems that should be within his control.


    24 May 19 at 7:04 am

  24. Marty, I completely agree. I think they should dump Davey now just in case they manage to win the Marlins series and start thinking that the season is salvageable. It’s not happening and every decision from here on out needs to be about the future, not hoping to make the playoffs this year. Dump Chip Hale as well and bring up Knorr and Bo Porter to be the new skipper and bench coach in some combo. Those guys strike me as no nonsense and can give the team the best look at if either should have the job next year.

    I too think that Rizzo needs to go. He should be held to the same Dusty standard, where you can be great in a lot of parts of the job, but if you consistently fail in some of the same areas (bullpen construction, pitcher development) and you ultimately aren’t winning championships, then they should make a change. At this point he has to stay through the draft though right? Then can him and the entire player development staff and start fresh.

    As for the roster, I want some heads to roll, but who? It may be time time to send Suero down and bring up anyone else. Bourque? I’d even go for Barrett. Barraclough could use a break as well. Other than Gomes, I don’t know that they can do much different on offense. I’d be willing to go with Spencer Kieboom over Gomes now.

    Todd, i’d love to see a post going through the roster man by man to evaluate if they deserve to be part of the future or not. If not, take the best trade available, even if it’s only for marginal salary relief.

    Lastly, I think you may even need to consider trading one of the Big 3. Yes they are the only saving grace for the team this year, but I’m starting to feel like Rizzo has the wrong idea of investing so much of the payroll in top starters at the expense of the bullpen and offense. I’m not sold on this, but it’s a theory and one of the Big 3 would probably bring the biggest trade return to jump start the reload.


    24 May 19 at 7:19 am

  25. Sorry, Wally not Marty


    24 May 19 at 7:20 am

  26. A man by man post for 2020 and beyond is an interesting idea for sure.

    Todd Boss

    24 May 19 at 9:35 am

  27. MG, I understand the desire to hold Rizzo to the same standard as Dusty, but why on earth would we think that standard is correct given the Nats’ post-Dusty experience with the field-manager? To me, this suggests the standard might be wrong.

    The correct standard is not to compare Rizzo to an ideal GM and let Rizzo go if he doesn’t measure up. This is the Nirvana fallacy. The correct standard is whether Rizzo is better than a plausible alternative – which requires identifying plausible alternatives ahead of time (in this case, “plausible” means available and willing to work for the Nats). Rizzo is not perfect, and he appears to have systematic problems assembling a good bullpen. But he also has a lengthy track record of success, and a demonstrated willingness to work for the Lerners. What are the chances the Lerners hire someone better than Rizzo? This was the big failure of the Dusty experience. I think some of the criticisms of Dusty were valid (though, combined with his track record, not nearly significant enough to warrant a change, in my opinion). But the Nats failed mightily in identifying and hiring someone better. They could very easily repeat this error with a new GM.

    It’s certainly worth talking about getting a replacement for Rizzo. But that should not happen unless a better candidate for the job is lined up. I am skeptical that such a candidate both exists and could be identified by this ownership group.


    24 May 19 at 11:27 am

  28. +1 to Derek’s comments.

    Todd Boss

    24 May 19 at 12:17 pm

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