Nationals Arm Race

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

Nats Annual Mid-Season Bullpen overhaul; 2019 edition


Come on, you know every blog post about Strickland has to lead with this photo right? Photo via Star Tribune

Come on, you know every blog post about Strickland has to lead with this photo right? Photo via Star Tribune

Another year, another mad scramble at the trade deadline to fortify the bullpen.

So, how does this year’s moves look?

Honestly … pretty good, all things considered.

  • Acquired: Hunter Strickland, Daniel Hudson, Roenis Elias
  • Traded away: Taylor Guilbeau, Elvis Alvarado, Aaron Fletcher, Kyle Johnston
  • 40-man Moves to make room: DFA Javy Guerra, Michael Blazek and move Jonny Venters to 60-day DL.
  • 25-man Moves to make room: Guerra, Blazek and one tbd as of this writing
  • Salary acquired: just $1.233M per Mark Zuckerberg , thus staying under the Luxury tax.
  • Mid-season prospect rankings of traded away assets per MLBPipeline/Baseball America/Fangraphs:
    • Taylor Guilbeau: #15 on MLB/#14 on BA/#20 on Fangraphs
    • Elvis Alvarado: unranked on all three
    • Aaron Fletcher: #21/#19/unranked on Fangraphs
    • Kyle Johnston: #27/#21/unranked on fangraphs

So, I’ll take these moves.   The team traded from strength (college-age pitching prospects) to acquire a position of need, and got some decent control with a couple of them to boot.  Irrespective of the underlying stats of these three guys … they’re upgrades over the two guys DFA’d and/or the guys who still remain in the bullpen with seasonal ERAs that start with a 4 (Wander SueroTony Sipp), a 5 (Matt Grace) or a 6 (Kyle Barraclough, mercifully already demoted to AA).

Strickland has been  hurt all year, and saw  his 2019 numbers take a dive from 2018, but for his career he’s still a solid player and is a good gamble.  I’m guessing whatever remnant remains of the clubhouse stemming from his ridiculous and immature plunking of Bryce Harper will talk it out and move on.   Elias’ time as Seattle’s closer has also left his numbers in decline versus last year, but he’ll step into a different role here and won’t have as many high-leverage spots.  Hudson (who was born in Lynchburg and went to ODU in Norfolk) has an interesting career, was once a very promising starter for Arizona before missing an entire season due to injury.  He was featured prominently in Jeff Passan‘s book The Arm since Hudson had to do two Tommy John’s in two years … but he’s been healthy since (relegated to the bullpen).

It seems to me that the new bullpen lineup (assuming all healthy), will go like this:

  • Closer: remains Doolittle
  • Setup/8th inning: Strickland and Elias
  • 7th inning: Rodney, Hudson, Rainey
  • longer relief: Suero, Grace/Sipp

It remains to be seen who gets optioned back; Suero has been solid for a couple of weeks, Rainey has given up just one run this month, Grace has scuffled, Sipp had treaded water, so it remains to be seen.

Will these moves win the Nats the Pennant?  Hardly.  Despite their decent form as of late, they’ve picked up just 1.5 games on Atlanta and seem to be competing for the WC.  Atlanta drastically improved their bullpen, getting better, more expensive assets, and Philly made moves to improve their rotation (moves the Nats couldn’t do b/c of salary cap issues).

Which of the traded assets am I most bummed to see go?

  • Guilbeau had a fantastic year in AA, has struggled a bit in AAA in SSS and could feature as a MLB reliever for some teams.  He’s in his 5th pro season, has already been rule-5 eligible for two years, but may still be more than an org-guy.  A nice turnout for a 10th round pick.
  • Elvis Alvarado: a lottery ticket, 20-yr old recently converted pitcher who’s been in the GCL “rotation” this year and has more walks than IP.
  • Aaron Fletcher: a fantastic 2018 14th round pick who has shot up the Nats system this year, blowing away both Low-A and High-A and currently holding his own more or less in AA SSS.
  • Kyle Johnston: Probably the most pedigree’d player moved, a 6th rounder in 2017 who has been in the Potomac rotation all year, pitching pretty well.

I think I was most interested to see how Fletcher turned out, then to see if Johnston could make the jump to AA next year.  Guilbeau may have already peaked as an org guy, and Alvarado is 5 years away.



Written by Todd Boss

August 1st, 2019 at 11:41 am

40 Responses to 'Nats Annual Mid-Season Bullpen overhaul; 2019 edition'

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  1. Todd, first of all, welcome back.
    This is well timed, Fletcher may well turn out better than any of the 3 arms acquired.

    The Hudson trade seems to make the most sense.

    Mark L

    1 Aug 19 at 11:54 am

  2. given the mandate to stay under the luxury tax cap, I think you have to give Rizzo good grades here

    now the players have got to play


    1 Aug 19 at 1:32 pm

  3. Todd — I see you also weighed in at Nats Prospects in the midst of all the negativity about the trades. In general, I agree with you. I will grant one point that some were making at Nats Prospects: it wouldn’t have hurt to audition Guilbeau, Barrett, and/or Boxberger with the big club before making the trades. I have no idea why they brought up Blazek over these guys.

    That said, let’s consider the obstacles: 1) can’t go over the luxury tax line (probably dictated by the Lerners; 2) not a lot of extraneous prospect capital on the farm from which to deal; and 3) a really squirrelly and late-developing market.

    Hudson has been very solid this year, particularly if you take away his first four games. Strickland has an excellent career track record (career 2.99 ERA) plus an edge that this team has needed. (Time to start another brawl with Harper so we can find out what his ex-teammates really thought of him? Haha!) The M’s thought so much of Elias that they traded Diaz. He has struggled this season, yet his 4.40 ERA is still better than every Nat except Doo, Rainey, and Rodney.

    In return, the Nats gave up very, very little, and I say that as someone who loved Fletcher. Guilbeau is already 26, and the Nats didn’t think enough of him to give him a shot in a year where they’ve used 200 guys out of the ‘pen. Johnston has been very up and down at Potomac and destined to switch to relief. I liken him to Mapes and Simms, probably topping out at AA. Alvarado has a 6.00 ERA in the GCL at age 20, so he’s barely on the radar.

    So Fletcher was the only one of any consequence they traded by my reasoning . . . and even as much as I like what he’s done, he’s a 14th-round pick who started in college but who they don’t trust to start now, likely indicating concerns about his secondary pitches.


    1 Aug 19 at 8:26 pm

  4. For some additional context; they gave up a 6th, 10th, 14th round pick. Alvarado cost them $700k on the IFA market, a pretty large sum all thing sconsidered, but he’s the absolute furthest away.

    Fletcher has been amazing. But he’s also limited ceiling. Already a reliever, what’s his projection? At best a loogy in the majors?

    If the team had traded any of its top 10 to do this move (as they’ve done in the past bullpen makeovers) i’d be pissed. Instead I feel like they moved players who may have never

    Todd Boss

    2 Aug 19 at 12:44 pm

  5. I know some (Boswell) have criticized the lerners for not going over the limit. But there’s other points to consider besides money.

    by going over the limit last year, they got a worse comp pick for Harper, they lost an additional pick for Corbin, and it cost them significant chunk of IFA money.

    those are all very significant issues, in the modern game and the modern CBA where you can’t just blow past bonus limits any more. When you forfeit a 2nd round pick … that’s a huge hit. When you can’t sign any significant IFA july 2 pcks … that’s a huge hit.

    That’s what staying under the cap is about; not the money.

    Todd Boss

    2 Aug 19 at 12:46 pm

  6. I’ve thought all along that the Nats HAD to stay under the luxury tax line this year. The penalties compound yearly, but there’s a total reset with one year under the line. It should be pointed out that they really screwed themselves by mismanaging the tax line in 2017, thinking they were under when they weren’t. They then came close to getting under in 2018 but didn’t dump quite enough salary.

    I know I’m in the minority, but I’m glad they’re staying under.


    2 Aug 19 at 3:44 pm

  7. The other big debate seems to be whether the Nats did “enough.” Well, we’ll see. I think they did about as much as they could, considering the circumstances, the tight market, and the budget restrictions. And I agree that they did it while giving up very little in real prospect value. I was afraid they would have to part with someone the level of Crowe, Cate, or Fuentes.

    The Braves had far more budget room and far more prospect capital to leverage. They took on ALL of Melancon’s salary, so more than $20M counting what he’s still due this year plus 2020. In Greene, they got someone who got suddenly a lot better this season. Will it last? We’ll see. The Phils added a mediocre starter in Vargas, which doesn’t scare me. Even though they’ve caught the Nats at the moment, they shouldn’t have enough pitching to stay with them in the stretch.

    The “problem” now for the Nats is more the hotly contested wild card than it is the division. They needed to win two or three more games from the Braves over the last two series to really get in divisional contention. FWIW, FG playoff odds still really like the Nats, just a hair more than the Cubs, and a lot more than the Cards, Brewers, or Phils.


    2 Aug 19 at 3:55 pm

  8. Sipp DFA’d. Really disappointed with how he worked out this year. That’s the vagaries of bullpen construction, though. Sipp had a 1.86 ERA last year.


    2 Aug 19 at 8:39 pm

  9. Thanks Todd for bringing up all the other negatives of going over the cap, I’ve been reading over and over about its only money when it’s so much more.

    Like KW, glad they didn’t go over this year. Need the picks and international money.

    Mark L

    3 Aug 19 at 8:06 am

  10. Wow, 5.1 innings of one-hit ball from Joe Ross, the game after he gave up seven runs. It’s a funny game. Elias possibly hurt, though.


    3 Aug 19 at 8:27 am

  11. Count me in the same camp regarding going over the cap. The degree to which they would have gone over makes the money insignificant, it’s all about the other consequences.

    The trades were fine. Not great, but acceptable. And this team isn’t set up in a way that makes you want to go for it, especially once Max got hurt.

    But they team has shown a lot of resilience this year, especially in light of these staggering bullpen losses, so if they do hang on, I wonder if we finally see a playoff run due to being battle tested during the year. That’s never guaranteed, but getting a big lead early and going through the motions hasn’t translated to playoff success either


    3 Aug 19 at 9:08 am

  12. I was furious reading Tom Loverro’s inane criticism of the trade deadline moves w/r/t Salary cap. Not once in his article did he mention the draft pick/bonus dollar penalties.

    OF COURSE the billionaire Lerner ownership group can afford a few million dollars extra. That’s not the point.

    Todd Boss

    5 Aug 19 at 12:10 pm

  13. Part of the reason to “reset” with the luxury tax is that they may lose Rendon after this season. Getting only a 4th-round pick for Harper was ridiculous.


    5 Aug 19 at 12:22 pm

  14. I really have no idea what to think of the Nats now. Yes, the 3-7 rut includes series with the Braves and Dodgers as well as the supposedly contending D-Backs. It’s worrisome to get blown up with Stras and Corbin pitching, though, and to lean on Suero (4.80 ERA) in a tight spot after you’ve supposedly rebuilt your bullpen.

    I agree with Wally in thinking that this could be a good playoff team, maybe better than its predecessors . . . if it can get to the playoffs. With only 51 games left, 7 on the Braves is a big hole to make up in the division, although they do have several head-to-head matchups left. (Had to laugh at Shawn Greene getting bombed this weekend.) I keep saying that I can’t see the Phils having the pitching to stay in the wild card race, so the “competition” would seem to be whichever two teams don’t win the NL Central.

    A lot depends on Max’s health, of course. If he comes out of everything OK, a month-long mid-season rest may serve him very well in Sept. and Oct., when he has tended to run out of gas in the the past after pushing hard all season.

    Max would be the ace in the hole in any wild card situation, and — if you ignore the results of the weekend — Max/Stras/Corbin may be the most effective starting trio the Nats have taken into the playoffs. There are still a lot of bullpen issues to resolve, of course. Kendrick and Adams have to get healthy. But if the pieces fall into place, yes, this team could make noise in October. The Nats have already played the Dodgers tough in both matchups and dropped a few close games they should have won. The Dodger bullpen is more suspect than in recent years, and they’re only a Kershaw or Ryu injury away from being not nearly as potent.


    5 Aug 19 at 12:38 pm

  15. I agree on the Dodgers bullpen, they are going to pay in the postseason for not bringing in better arms.

    Right now there is nobody in the National league that will run away in October.

    Mark L

    5 Aug 19 at 3:05 pm

  16. The Dodgers are 75-40. They’re 35 frigging games over .500 and have an 18 (!) game lead in the division.

    And I keep hearing people say, “Oh i’m not afraid of the Dodgers.” Really?

    We think the Dodger’s bullpen is going to cost them? For the season, their relievers are:
    – 8th in ERA
    – 12th in FIP
    – 14th in fWAR

    Ok, so they’re not the best. But they’re certainly not that bad. and LA is one of the better teams at developing arms, have a b unch of guys on their 40-man roster in the 21-25 range already producging at hte MLB level.

    they’re a juggernaut.

    Todd Boss

    6 Aug 19 at 9:59 am

  17. LA is undeniably the best team in the NL. They would be a favorite against any team in the NL in a five or seven game series. Having said that, their bullpen is not only weak relative to the rest of their team, but weak relative to the league. It’s average at best, and even Kenley Jansen can no longer be considered reliable. Will it matter? Impossible to say. But as a Nats fan, I’m glad the Dodgers are in the NL and the Astros are in the AL and not the other way around.


    6 Aug 19 at 11:23 am

  18. I do fear the Dodgers. They’re far and away the best team in the NL. The Nats match up with them better than any other NL team, though, which they showed in their last series with them. Stras dominated (1 run allowed in 7IP, 9 Ks) in they game they clobbered Buehler. They got 8 hits off of Ryu but couldn’t finish him off. (And now Ryu is on the IL.) The Ryu game was the one in which Sanchez recorded 20 consecutive outs before the bullpen blew it. (Sipp, Barraclough, and Blazek all pitched, and are now all gone.)

    I give the Dodgers the edge over the Nats in the starting lineup, with a lot of power that can strike at any time (but also three or four guys who will probably K more than 100 times). If AssCab has anything left in the tank, and everyone can get healthy, the Nats may have the best bench in baseball, so that edge goes to the Nats.

    Starting pitching . . . I’m going to assume that the Nats have to burn Max in a wild card game, although the Bravos are doing their best to keep the Nats in the divisional race. So you have Stras vs. Kershaw in the opener. In the last series, Kershaw surrendered two runs to the Nats, while Stras gave up only one to the Dodgers and pitched deeper into the game. Game 2 would be Ryu (if healthy) vs. Corbin, another close matchup. The Nats definitely would have the upper hand at home in Game 3 with Max vs. Buehler, who they just bombed (although Buehler had 7 shutout IP against them in May).

    Much remains to be seen how the Nat bullpen shakes out in its new form. Plus the Nats probably would have Sanchez, who just dominated the Dodgers, available for a couple of innings in a game or two. They would be spinning themselves into the ground with his slow stuff if he followed the Stras or Max heat.

    I’m certainly not predicting that the Nats WILL beat the Dodgers. But the Nats have a deep, mentally tough team, while the Dodger lineup is relatively young overall. Remember what the veteran Giant team did to the young Nats in 2014? (But I’m still not sure I trust the Nat bullpen or Davey’s bullpen management.)


    6 Aug 19 at 11:32 am

  19. Todd, have to respectfully disagree. There is one juggernaut in baseball and, thankfully, the Astros are in the AL.
    The Nats big advantage should they make the playoffs is they are the oldest team in baseball. That helps.

    Now if Max doesn’t come back strong then forgettaboutit.

    Mark L

    6 Aug 19 at 3:31 pm

  20. As Nats and Caps fans should know all too well, don’t get too caught up in regular-season wins totals. To quote Billy Beane, “The playoffs are a crap-shoot,” all the more so with the five-game LDS round. Teams that a built for the regular season aren’t necessarily the best teams in the postseason. Just ask the Bobby Cox-era Braves, who only won one World Series despite 14 division titles. On the flipside, a mediocre Giant team won it all in 2014 with one hot starter and some timely hitting.

    As for the juggernauts in LA and HOU, the Nats have a big-three starter set that stacks up will with those two awesome rotations. Looking at the season totals for the big three of each team (including Greinke), the Nat trio bests both of them currently in FIP and K/9. The Astros have the best WHIP of the three.

    Honestly, I’m not too worried about Max, even if it takes him two or three more weeks to be fully recovered. As I’ve noted, I think/hope an extended rest mid-season will reinvigorate him for the stretch and the playoffs.


    7 Aug 19 at 9:03 am

  21. I’m not too sure what to make of the Met resurgence. They’ve won 13 of 14 to come back literally from the dead to just 1.5 games out of the wild care. Their rotation is certainly better than what PHI, STL, or MIL have. It may make for a brutal home stretch in the NL East if four teams are in playoff contention, though. Also, deGrom is really the only potential wild card pitching opponent vs. Max who would give me concern.


    7 Aug 19 at 9:08 am

  22. Watching Cabrera attempt to play defense, I’m reminded of the line from 2 years ago that he had the range of lawn furniture.

    The line was if the ball hits his glove he’ll be able to throw out the runner.

    Mark L

    7 Aug 19 at 5:24 pm

  23. OK, who had Ross-Fedde-Ross pitching 16.1 scoreless innings on the road and providing three huge wins? There’s no guarantee the magic will last, but this could have been an ugly road trip without those performances.

    Mark, I’ll take Cabrera’s lack of range in exchange for the Sanchez/Difo wet-noddle bat any day. Cabrera adds a solid, switch-hitting bat to the bench and also brings some edge. Maybe he gets rejuvenated with this bunch like Parra has. I’ll confess, I thought Parra looked like yet another in a long line of past-his-prime guys coming here to watch his career die on the end of the Nats’ bench. Instead, he’s becoming a folk hero.


    8 Aug 19 at 9:19 am

  24. Courtesy of Joe Sheehan, here are the ten best 20 and under hitters in baseball HISTORY

    Ted Williams .327 .436 .609 wRC+ 156
    Mike Trout .306 .379 .532 153
    Frank Robinson .290 .379 .558 145
    Mel Ott .323 .414 .549 144
    Jimmie Foxx .331 .410 .538 143
    Mickey Mantle .294 .377 .497 142
    Juan Soto .289 .402 .518 141
    Ty Cobb .324 .359 .421 141
    Rogers Hornsby .306 .360 .428 140
    Tony Conigliaro .278 .345 .520 134

    Folks, we are watching historic greatness right in front of our eyes. I can’t stay up late enough most nights to watch Trout & the Angels but I’m old enough to know I haven’t seen this before.

    Mark L

    8 Aug 19 at 12:49 pm

  25. Sorry those numbers came that way, was much better formatted when I sent it.
    But, still worth appreciating.

    Mark L

    8 Aug 19 at 3:21 pm

  26. Soto’s current career OPS would place him 49th all time. Almost everyone above him on that list is in the HOF, still active, or is out for cheating. The current players ahead of him are Trout, Votto, Miggy, and Pujols.


    9 Aug 19 at 7:34 am

  27. This just in: the bullpen isn’t ready for prime time. The warranty on Rodney is about to expire, and the piper of overuse with Doolittle is being paid. Strickland looks ready for a bigger, later role, though.

    Who is ready for prime time: Soto. If we can actually manage to get that kid to the postseason, it will be a heck of a show. Also kudos to Stras and Corbin for strong starts on the road in a hostile environment. Too bad they were wasted.


    11 Aug 19 at 7:25 am

  28. Wow, Friday was a guy punch and then Saturday was a repeat. KW nailed it; even with the additions there is still a price to be paid from early struggles, especially Doo’s overuse. And now they have to beat deGrom to stay ahead of NYM in the standings. Unbelievable run that they’re on.


    11 Aug 19 at 10:32 am

  29. Back to the Juggernaut thing. Astros added a cy-young calibre starter at the deadline in Greinke and they’re still not really that close to the luxury tax.

    I do think it is interesting though, that the Astros entire rotation now was non-home grown. 4 traded for, 1 FA. In fact, their entire bullpen is non-home grown too. wow.

    Todd Boss

    11 Aug 19 at 11:51 am

  30. In the grand scheme of things, the Nats survived the weekend in New York in decent shape standings-wise. But they should still be pissed about not getting the sweep. All in all, they got a very good performance from their lineup against the Mets’ top three starters, and the Nats got three solid starts of their own. Even though the Nats didn’t particularly get to deGrom, they worked him for 101 pitches in just five innings and got him out of the game.

    Then there’s the bullpen . . . Look, it’s time for some major reshuffling out there. Strickland and Hudson are better than Rodney right now, and probably close to as good as Doolittle. Also, trust Rainey more and push him into to some later innings. Other than a struggle at AZ last weekend, he’s been outstanding for the last six weeks. Suero (4.61 ERA) and Grace (6.12) are not great options right now in competitive contests. Davey seems to have realized that about Guerra (5.10), but not about the other two.

    Also Davey, if you’re reading this, PLEASE get over the illusion that you should use Grace as a loogy. LHB are hitting .304 against him. Of course RHB are hitting .312 against him. So . . . he shouldn’t be allowed to face anyone!

    Here’s how I would put the ‘pen pecking order right now, from back end to use-in-blowouts only: Doolittle, Hudson, Strickland, Rainey, Rodney, Suero, Guerra, Grace.


    12 Aug 19 at 8:58 am

  31. And of course we sure hope that Soto isn’t dogged too long by the bum ankle and that Max can make it back soon.

    After Soto’s strong weekend, I was just looking back at the list Mark had posted above. Soto’s wRC+ is up to 143, moving him ahead of Mantle into a tie with Foxx. With a solid finish to the season, he could tick up three points or more to third all time age 20 and under. (Can we start the extension talks now?!)


    12 Aug 19 at 9:16 am

  32. Yes, KW, we are watching something historic with Soto.

    The bad news is he just switched agents to Scott Boras.

    Mark L

    12 Aug 19 at 7:33 pm

  33. A note worth considering about the Nats:
    – when they were 19-31, they stood 10 games out of the division lead.
    – Since that time, they’ve gone 43-24.
    – As of today, they’re 6.5 games out of the division lead.

    So despite going 43-24 over the course of two months … they’ve made up just 3.5 games on the division lead.

    they’re still 8 games under .500 on the year against teams with winning records. And they still have a ton of series left against good teams.

    Can they hold on for the Wild Card?

    Series left: Cin (playing well lately), Mil (a WC competitor), 4 games at Pittsburgh (where they really need to take 3 of 4), 3 at the Cubs (division leader), home for Balt and Miami (need to go 4-1), then 3 at home vs the Mets and then 4 away to the Braves (this could be the season right here). Three at Minnesota (be lucky to get one game there), 3 home to Atl, then 3 away at StL (a WC competitor), 3 at miami, then 5 at home vs Philly with a make-up before closing the season out with 3 against a likely 100-win Cleveland.

    2,1,3,1,4,2,2,1,2,1,2,3,1 are the wins i’d project in each season heading out to close the year. That totals up 25 more wins on top of their current 63 wins to get to 88. Fangraphs projects them to 87 wins. Is that enough to get a WC? Seems like it; they’re projecting the Nats and the Mets to take the WC.

    Todd Boss

    12 Aug 19 at 8:32 pm

  34. Right now, Fangraphs projects the 2nd wild card winner in the NL (the Mets) to win 85 games, with two others (Cardinals and Brewers) projected to win 84, and two others (Phillies and D’backs) projected to win 81. We also need to think about the Cubs in this mix, who are projected to win 88, like the Nats.

    I suspect the second WC winner will have more than 85 wins simply because one of the ~5 teams in the mix will get a few lucky breaks and win more games than they should. I think 88 almost certainly gets it done. The Mets, Cardinals, and Brewers are closely bunched in terms of talent, IMO, but the Mets are probably the best positioned team other than the Nats to take one of the WCs because they improved by the most at the deadline. They also have BY FAR the most intimidating SP to face in the wild card game, as well as a few good understudies to use if they need deGrom to pitch one of the last few games of the season even to make the playoffs.

    As for the division, the Braves had played like a slightly-better-than-.500 team through the first two months, and then played dramatically better right around the same time the Nats started to play dramatically better. I think the Nats and Braves are very close in terms of overall talent – the Nats have MUCH MUCH better starting pitching, but the Braves are better in the other areas, and also less vulnerable to injuries because their team is more balanced. The experience with the division this year really illustrates the problem of falling far behind a reasonably good team: even if you play better, it’s hard to be MUCH better than a good team, which is what you have to do to make up a lot of ground


    13 Aug 19 at 10:57 am

  35. This looks like the first real “pennant race” in modern Nat history, and that’s a good thing. Perhaps it will help shake what seems to be a general malaise among the fan base, which started last season and carried over with the awful start in April-May.

    The Mets found their mojo against cupcakes and are now hitting a harder stretch in their schedule. They’ve got the starting pitching to sustain it, though, backed by surprising firepower from a young lineup and a stoked fan base. (Still shaking my head over the Alonso HR on Friday on the pitch six inches off the ground.) Not sure how their bullpen will hold up down the stretch, but the same could be said for the back end for all four contending teams in the division. (Have no fear, Greg Holland is on his way!) (Sarcasm intended, although he was really good for the Nats last year.)

    I’ve said since the offseason that the Phils don’t have the starting pitching to hold up. In a mad scramble like this, they seem the least likely to make it.

    Who will? The Nats seem well positioned to get a wild card, provided that Max comes back sooner or later, Soto isn’t badly dinged, and Doo’s arm doesn’t fall off. The Nat offense has really been clicking. Can the Nats walk down the Braves and win the division? It’s possible, particularly with seven head to head still remaining, but I wouldn’t bet on it. Those games they gave away at AZ, LAD, and NYM could have made it a lot closer.

    The stretch run won’t be easy for any of the wild-card contenders because of the four contenders in the East and the three in the Central. Teams are going to beat each other up. And yes, the remaining Nat series with MIN and closing with CLE aren’t helpful, either.

    I foresee the Nats claiming the top WC, with Max starting at home in the crap-shoot play-in game. Just hope he’s not facing deGrom . . . and that it’s not at Citi Field.


    13 Aug 19 at 2:09 pm

  36. Wow, Joe Ross has gotten in the DeLorean and gone back to 2016, except he’s throwing harder than he was even then. I still have a hard time believing in this miraculous run we’re seeing from Ross and Fedde — 0.90 ERA combined for August across their five starts, including Ross’s 17+ inning scoreless streak — but goodness, don’t wake up either one of them! Truth be told, this is what the Nats have been expecting from both of them . . . and have been waiting, and waiting, and waiting to see. Did Menhart finally “fix” them?

    Of the two, I believe that Ross’s success is more sustainable than Fedde’s, and that Ross will get the #5 rotation slot when Max comes back. But we’ll have to see. The five games won that were started by Ross and Fedde in this stretch have really been the difference in keeping the Nats ahead in the wild card race instead of swimming with the large pack two or three games out of it.

    Also this just in: the Soto kid is pretty decent, even on one leg.


    14 Aug 19 at 8:53 am

  37. Re Ross and Fedde, it should be obvious to everyone (I think) that neither is as good as his recent results; nobody should expect either guy to have an ERA in the 2s. The relevant questions are: (1) what should we expect going forward, and (2) is either guy a reliable fifth starter candidate, and if so, which one?

    In 2015-16, Ross was a ~3.5 FIP guy in roughly 200 innings with ok but not great K/BB numbers. In both years, he gave up lower-than-normal homers. On the one hand, you might expect a guy who throws a lot of sinkers to give up few homers. But on the other, you might have expected some regression to the mean. And the big trend in recent years has been an increase in homers. That happened in 2017 – his dinger rate roughly doubled and his FIP increased to 5, but his K/BB numbers were similar to the prior two seasons and he had a high BABIP. Given that he blew out the UCL during that year, you might be tempted to discount his 2017 numbers. To me, he had some good luck in ’15 and ’16 and some bad luck in ’17. If he came back the same post-TJ, I think you’d be looking at a high-3s FIP pitcher – a good back-of-the-rotation guy if he could reliably soak up innings. Since his return from TJ, his K numbers are in range of his pre-TJ performance (which means he’s declined relative to the league average on this score because Ks have gone up). But the big red flag is that his BB rate has ballooned. He went from solidly above league average to terrible. I think it’s reasonable to attribute this to the TJ; what I don’t know is whether we should expect it to improve, and if so, by how much.

    Does his recent hot stretch portend anything different compared to his earlier post-TJ performance? I’m not sure. If we go back to his start in Atlanta on 7/21, his ERA/FIP/xFIP is 3.21/3.82/4.60. The ERA and FIP will play for a back of the rotation guy, but the xFIP suggests he’s due for an increase in dingers. The big problem: his BB rate hasn’t improved much. I buy Joe as a 4.50 ERA guy going forward. The talent is there for him to be a sub-4.00 guy, but he has to improve his BB rate for me to be confident.

    I’ll spend less time on Fedde. I’ve been bullish on Fedde compared to conventional wisdom because his stats in the minor leagues suggested his results in the majors would improve. Compared to Ross, he’s higher K, more BB. His big problems in the majors have been (1) enormous and unsustainable HR/FB rates; and (2) his high K rates from the minors have not translated to the majors. (1) was always going to improve (but by how much?). (2) was a puzzle. What do we see since his return to the rotation on 7/17? He’s got a 4.56/5.08/4.61. The Ks remain well below (like 50%) of what he did in the minors, though his BB numbers are much better than Ross’s. BABIP is normal, but he’s had a bit of bad luck with dingers.

    It’s sort of hilarious to try to find difference between two guys with a 4.60 and a 4.61 xFIP respectively during their recent “hot” streaks. I think the smart money is on that number being a good portrait of each guy going forward. In choosing between them, the big question is what do you think is more likely: Ross’s BBs go down or Fedde’s Ks go up. I think the former is probably more likely than the latter, but it’s really just a guess.

    I just don’t see either guy as a sub 4.00 ERA pitcher. It’s been a great stroke of luck for the Nats that their good stretches have occurred while Max was hurt.


    14 Aug 19 at 11:26 am

  38. Derek — very interesting analysis, but I’m going to respectfully disagree, based more on track record than specific numbers. First, let me start by pointing out that Fedde is actually three months older than Ross, even though he has significantly less MLB experience. I’ll also admit bias up front, as I’ve thought for a long time that the organization has been overrating Fedde’s upside. Frankly, he’s just never been particularly successful above AA. He did have a 3.83 xFIP at the MLB level last year, which gave some folks hope, but it’s at 5.16 this year despite his recent success, and 4.53 for his career, which is starting to seem about like who he is.

    Ross does has a period of success at the MLB level, in 2015-16. There have been significant injury issues since then, plus a couple of periods where the organization sort of jerked him around, so he’s already had quite a psychological roller-coaster ride for guy who is only 26. As for whether he can keep his walks down, I’ll point out that he already is — in his five “starts” in the recent time frame (including the disastrous outing against LAD following the “opener”), he has walked only two guys in four of those five contests. He also managed to survive the five walks at AZ because he was virtually unhittable that night.

    As for Fedde and Ks at the MLB level, the concerning point to me is that I think we’ve reached the point where it’s fair to question whether he has the particular pitch or pitches with which to put away MLB hitters on a regular basis. Ross has a pretty lethal slider, although it would be fair to point out that he hasn’t struck out a lot of guys during his recent run of success. In fact last night, he looked to be very much in pitch-to-contact mode, which really helped keep his pitch count down and get him deeper into the game. (On the flipside, the Reds seemed to be swinging early in counts.)

    Anyway, all in all, my take is that Ross has a higher upside going forward than Fedde, both for the rest of this season and career-wise. I think either likely could be a league-average fifth starter next season, but I wouldn’t want both of them in the rotation for a long period of time. But I’d be glad for them to prove me wrong!


    14 Aug 19 at 1:09 pm

  39. And a league-average fifth starter is not at all what the Nats hoped/expected of these guys back in 2015-16. At that time, Ross looked like a good bet to be a solid #3, and we were told, for years, that the ceiling for Fedde was even higher than that. So neither has turned out to be what was expected/hoped.


    14 Aug 19 at 1:12 pm

  40. On a recent post where Todd speculated about the HOF prospects of several aging pitchers, I brought up the outside possibility of Stras making a HOF run. I mentioned that one of the knocks against him would be the lack of 20-win seasons, but with probably eight more starts this year and 15 wins already in the bank, he will at least have an opportunity.

    Yesterday was Stras’s 109th career win, catching him up with the suddenly floundering Chris Sale, who is also in his age-30 season and would seem to have a similar HOF path as Stras. I think both would have to get to 200 wins to be viable Hall candidates. Neither has any 20-win seasons or CYAs. Stras is top-5 all time in K/9, though (Sale currently leads), and Stras is also top-25 all time in win %, now essentially tied with some guy named Koufax. In fact, you have to go out to the thousandths place in win % to differentiate between Stras, Max, Koufax, Clemens, and Halladay. That’s some pretty fast company there. Stras is also top-5 among current players in career FIP, in which he is .05 behind Sale. Among active players, Stras is #6 in WHIP, while Sale is #2 (Max is #5). In K/BB ratio, Sale is #1, Stras is #4, and Max is #5 among active, but even more impressively, among career leaders in this stat, Sale is #1, Stras is #5, and Max is #7. In ERA+ among active players, it’s Sale #3, Max #5, Stras #6. (In nearly every one of these stats, Stras is ahead of Verlander and Greinke, both of whom likely will be in Cooperstown.)

    (As an aside, deGrom is high on most of these peripheral stat lists as well, which generally also include Kershaw and Scherzer, but deGrom has only 62 career wins and is a year older than Stras and Sale, so there’s no way he’ll be able to get in a HOF conversation.)

    So . . . peripherally, Stras is building a legit Hall case. But I still think 200 wins will be a baseline that both he and Sale have to hit.


    15 Aug 19 at 9:15 am

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