Nationals Arm Race

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

My Answers to Boswell’s Chat questions 6/13/11


From Boswell’s live chat on Monday 6/13/11.  I’ll skip the non Nats questions.  As always, the questions below are mostly paraphrased from the submissions he chose.

Q: Should the Nats consider keeping Jason Marquis?
A: No way.  He’s in a contract year and is performing fantastically.  Guess what his previous best pitching year was?  That’d be his LAST contract year, in 2009.  He’s on the wrong side of 30, you’d be paying for 2011 without giving any context to what happened in 2010, you’d be blocking one of the gazillion young arms we have coming up, and you’d have to pay him much more than his current $7.5M/per contract.

You trade him at the deadline for prospects and bring up Detwiler, Meyers, or even Peacock to see what you have.  That’s what last place teams do with their soon-to-be-expiring veteran contracts.  (Boswell agrees, citing the Riggleman blowup as evidence that he’s out the door soon)

Q: Are the Nats a centerfielder and a competent starter away from being competitive?
A: Not quite.  I think we’re a center-fielder, a marquee first baseman, the return of Zimmerman, and TWO good starters on top of a healthy Strasburg and the continued development of Zimmermann away from being really competitive.  (Boswell says that we’d be “crazy not to be optimistic about the Nats” without any real analysis on this question).

Q: Is Jayson Werth the long term answer as the teams leadoff/center fielder?
A: I’m not sure if this question is a joke or not.  No, of course Werth isn’t a lead-off hitter, or a center fielder for that matter.  Riggleman was just mixing up the lineups and put Werth first.  He has far too much power to waste in a leadoff role.  He’s a RBI man, not a table-setter.  Long term this team puts Bryce Harper between Zimmerman and Werth’s right handed bats in the middle of the order and let the power game come to them.  Meanwhile if someone Desmond doesn’t pan out as a leadoff/middle infielder type you find one who can.  Harper should be groomed to play center so enable someone else to lead off.  (Boswell agrees: Werth can fill in at center, but he’s not the long term answer.  And, he’s certainly not a leadoff hitter).

Q: Would a rotation of Strasburg, Zimmermann, Lannan, Marquis and Gorzelanny be a playoff rotation?

A: Wishful thinking, I suspect.  The last few world series winners have shown you need multiple Aces and otherwise good starting pitching to have a shot.  Strasburg is a legitimate “Ace,” easily one of the best 20 pitchers in the game when he is healthy.  But … he’s only been healthy for a few weeks thus far.  We’re a long ways towards counting on him being Roy Halladay-dominant every 5 days.  Zimmermann is looking good … but he’s still up and down.  Lannan, Marquis and Gorzelanny are all 5th starters on most other squads (as is Livan for that matter).  To be successful you need two #1s, a #2 and no worse than a #3 type guy to go with your proverbial 5th starter.

Look at (say) Atlanta’s rotation right now: Lowe, Jurrjens, Hansen, Hudson, Beachy.   Jurrgens is pitching at an all-star level, Hansen is pitching even better.  The worst guy this year is Hudson, who is a work-horse and would be the National’s ace.  Plus they have two major prospects waiting in the wings in Minor and Tehran.  5 of these 7 named pitchers are 25 years of age or younger; the Braves are set for a long time.  This is what the Nationals need to emulate.

Boswell didn’t really answer the question, just talked about the pipeline of players.  I like the pipeline too, trust me, but prospects aren’t quite the same as demonstrated production on the MLB field.  That’s what we need.

Q: Should our broadcasters reference our Montreal past more frequently?

A: Eh.  I hear this complaint a bunch from other bloggers, about the fact that the current regime pays little attention to its Montreal roots.  Personally I don’t think its that big a deal.  There were two iterations of Washington teams prior to the Nats and that’s the natural historical teams to reference.  I’m sure the Texas Rangers don’t really note that they were the Washington Senators and that their previous slime-ball owners basically stole the team away from Washington in the middle of the night.  (Boswell told a story about writing about bike races).

Q: Does Jayson Werth seem like he’s stressed?

A: Probably so.  First year in a massive contract with all the ink spilled about it over the off-season, then your primary lineup protection goes down 8 games into the season.  I’d be stressed too.  The dude is intense, and playing with intensity on a losing team has to be a massive drag.  (Boswell’s answer is borderline mean when discussing Werth’s production this season.  He’s way way down on projections for rbis, extra base hits, etc).

Q: Did the selection of Anthony Rendon (and the lack of announcing his position) mean to send a message to Ryan Zimmerman about his future contract talks?

A: No, and that’s a ridiculous assertion.  There is zero chance the Nats were thinking anything except “oh my gosh I can’t believe Rendon fell to us” when they took him.  To think that the team was somehow projecting 4 years into the future in the 5 minutes they had to do draft pick analysis is crazy.

Rendon’s current position is irrelevant.  If he hits in the low minors, he’ll be promoted to the high minors.  If he continues to hit in the high minors, the team will find a place for him.  A good 3rd baseman can easily transition to 2nd, 1st, or left field.  Hell, maybe they’ll make him a catcher.

(Ironically, Boswell used almost the same language I just used.  You’ll note that I don’t actually read his answers until AFTER I type up how i’d respond).

Q: Is the Marquis situation shaping up as Adam Dunn v2.0?

A: Not at all.  Adam Dunn was a type-A free agent.  Marquis is not even close to being a type-B.  We could afford to hang onto Dunn and wait out trade offers b/c we knew he’d be worth two high draft picks.  And sure enough, his two picks turned into Alex Meyers and Brian Goodwin. Marquis’ value is never going to be as high as it will be after his current stint of decent starting pitching and we should have flipped him yesterday to a team like the Yankees.  (I’m not sure Boswell answered the question… he just mentioned that the Nats have money to spend.  Whether they spend it wisely or not remains to be seen).

Q: Can the Nats beat the large-spending teams by just growing up with players such as Espinosa, Desmond, and the like?

A: Yes (see Tampa Bay Rays) but its a lot easier to grow most of your team and augment with good FAs.  I think that’s the model this team is following right now (see the attempts to sign Zack Greinke in the off season).  The problem with the grow-the-team approach is that it takes a long time.  And this team already completely blew its first 4 seasons in Washington with incompetence in the front office and in the ownership team.  Now they’re playing catch up.  See me in 2013; if we’re not in the playoff hunt in 2013, we’ll re-boot and get a new GM and basically start over again.

Q: Which of our top 4 picks will sign?

A: Great question.  I’m predicting that Rendon, Meyer and Goodwin all sign.  Goodwin will be a tricky one but he can’t possibly want to return to school after his academic issues.  The tough sign is Purke.  If Purke plays in the Cape and doesn’t show any velocity, the Nats can’t possibly offer him 1st round money, and he’ll really have no choice but to go back to school.  That’s the right thing to do professionally.  The best bet for the Nats is for Purke to show he still has mid 90s heat and we sign him to 1st round money and get possibly the steak of last 5 drafts.  (Boswell agrees).

Q: Is Jordan Zimmermann turning into our staff 1-A to Strasburg’s #1?

A: Its a little premature to annoint him to be that good of a pitcher.  He does have 8 straight quality starts and three straight fantastic starts though.   To be 1-A you have to show this kind of production all season, season-after-season.  Not for a 6 week period.  (Boswell says, “sure looks like it” and quotes stats from these last 8 starts.)

Q: Since the Nats have played so many road games thus far, can we expect a better record here on in?

A: Marginally.  Home field is worth something like 53% historically.  Perhaps some cause for optimism lays in the fact that our rotation has performed better than expected and is only getting better, and that our lineup as it stands now is far stronger than what we fielded from day one.  Ramos over Pudge (100 to 63 ops+), Morse over Laroche (136 to 53 ops+), Nix over Bernadina (139 to 75 ops+) are good starts, but getting Zimmerman back (184 vs 76 ops+ for Hairston) will be a huge help as well.   So with a better hitting team, continued good starting pitching and improving defense … maybe this team can claw its way back to .500.  (Boswell didn’t really answer the question, just talked about the bad timing of the US open and the Baltimore-Washington series being on the same weekend).

Q: Is Bryce Harper to Larry Walker a good comparison?

A: I would say, I would expect more out of Harper frankly.  Walker was a very good hitter (3 batting titles, an MVP) but questions persist about how much of his offense was due to Coors field and the launching pad he played in.  I look more for a Ken Griffey Jr. arc of performance out of Harper.  (Boswell says that David Justice is a good goal.  I think he’s shooting low).

Q: Is John Lannan part of the future of this team?

A: Great question.  Unfortunately, I think the eventual answer is going to be No.  Lannan is a good #4 or #5 starter in a good rotation.  He’s a change of pace starter on a team of hard throwers and could slot in nicely and give a playoff team 30 starts a year.  In 3 years, if we have Strasburg, Zimmermann, Solis, Cole, Ray, Meyer, Meyers and Peacock all making statements to be in the MLB rotation, there’s just no room for guys like Lannan, Gorzelanny, Maya, or Detwiler.  Its a cruel fact, but the team will be better for it.  (Boswell kind of agrees with me on the 4-5th starter bit, quotes a lot of advanced stats on Lannan, then says we should sign  him to an extension.  I disagree; I think we trade him when our kids start coming up).

Q: Are Nationals fans over-reacting when calling for the Manager’s or GM’s head right now?

A: clearly, yes.  Riggleman has gone above and beyond with the injuries and talent of this team.  Rizzo’s goal is to rebuild on a budget.  Both guys are doing as best as they can right now.  (Boswell didn’t really answer the question..)

Q: Should the Nats trade Clippard (whose name has been in the trade rumors lately?)

A: Hell no.  He’s a vital part of the bullpen, the best guy out there, and is under arbitration control for FOUR more years.  You don’t think about trading him; you sign him to an extension to lock him up.  Well, maybe not an extension, but you certainly keep him around.  (Boswell agrees).

Phew.  Almost 2000 words.  And I only wrote a third of what Boswell wrote.

Written by Todd Boss

June 14th, 2011 at 10:35 am

3 Responses to 'My Answers to Boswell’s Chat questions 6/13/11'

Subscribe to comments with RSS or TrackBack to 'My Answers to Boswell’s Chat questions 6/13/11'.

  1. What was left unsaid was there were 6 players who were heads & tails above all the rest in the draft. The fact that the Nats drafted 6th meant that they didn’t have to do a whole lot of thinking, whoever was left is who they got. They had 15-20 minutes, not 5 to think it over, although there was really no choice to make here.

    Boswell’s pretty clueless on what’s down in the minors, so he’s guessing a lot on what we’re going to need in the future.

    Mark L

    14 Jun 11 at 5:17 pm

  2. A: Hell no. He’s a vital part of the bullpen, the best guy out there, and is under arbitration control for FOUR more years

    You shouldn’t say that. You should say : it depends. Wait until you see Ryan Mattheus he is someone pretty special. He just might make you re-think this and its why Rizzo acquired him in trade while he was recovering from TJ surgery.

    If you can trade Clippard plus a pitching prospect for BJ Upton and a Rays pitching prospect you do it. The Rays won’t go for that but … if they did?

    With Clippard pitching well (and for only 1.5 seasons before that he was mostly a disaster remember) the Nats are still in last place in the NL East.

    They don’t need a “marquis” first baseman. Morse seems like he can do the job. And next year LaRoche will be back. What they need is improved UZR in left and center field. Moving Werth to left and putting Harper would do that if you find a good CF. That would be BJ Upton.

    If you ostensibly have an infield of Zim, Espinosa, Rendon, and Morse / LaRoche with the right pitching staff (you make a pretty good list above of guys starting with power pitchers Strasburg, JZimm, and Peacock followed by Ray and Solis / Milone on the left side … you know they are filthy with relievers and that will only improve as pitchers like Manno move through the system?

    With Rendon they no longer need Pujols and worse Fielder … they can get great fielding and hitting from the youngsters. With Antonelli and Lombardozzi hitting and fielding plus Desmond they have lots of potential util guys.


    15 Jun 11 at 2:28 am

  3. I stand by what I wrote. Clippard is the absolute glue of our bullpen right now. Yes, of course anything is possible, and if a ridiculous offer came through then you’d have to consider it (as with nearly anyone on the roster), but from a realistic perspective, Clippard is someone you build around, not look to cash in on. He’s under our control for four more years. He’s on a MLB minimum salary giving (projected) 3 WAR value. That’s fantastic!

    Clippard was only a disaster in a starting role; he’s always been brilliant in relief. My theory? He has two plus pitches (FB and change), one mediocre pitch and no 4th pitch. So the 2nd time through a batting order the guys know they can sit on either the fastball or the changeup and mash him. You need 3 good and a 4th decent pitch to really be effective as a MLB starter.

    Mattheus has 4 batters of MLB experience; yeah he looks promising, but he’s just as likely to suck as he is to look great.

    BJ Upton: why is everyone so obsessed with him? Career 102 OPS+. He’s hitting .216 this year, and has gotten progressively worse the past 3 seasons. I don’t WANT Upton, not if it costs us good players. I’d rather just struggle through with Bernadina in center until Harper takes over.

    Disagree on the value of having a big hitter at 1b. Every team needs big bats, and you can only hide them in two spots on NL teams. Morse and Nix are hitting well RIGHT NOW, but career wise they’re mediocre. Thats why Morse has been optioned 3 times and Nix was a minor league free agent. If these guys were THAT good, they’d be on $30M contracts. I’m thinking a major name at first base. Texieira, Pujols, Gonzalez, Fielder. Look at the first basemen around the league and most of them are FAR better hitters than what we’re putting out there. Yea LaRoche is fantastic with the glove … but he’s a 2nd tier hitter.

    I think defense is valuable … but not at the expense of offense. I think we made a huge mistake giving away Willingham when he could just as easily have stayed in left or played first and kept some continuity in the lineup.

    Todd Boss

    15 Jun 11 at 10:43 am

Leave a Reply