Nationals Arm Race

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

End of July 2023 Check-in on Rotations


How long before we see Rutledge in the bigs? Photo via Federal Baseball.

We’re on a roll: We did an end of April check-in on the rotations, End of May check-in, and an End of June Check-in. Here’s July’s look after another month.

Important links for this analysis:

We’ll start with the Majors.

Rotation: Corbin, Grey, Gore, Williams, Irvin

Changes in the last month: None. No changes month over month, and just one rotation change all year. Amazing.

Observations: Corbin continues to suck (July ERA 5.83, seasonal ERA 5.07). Grey has now lowered his season ERA to 3.27 and was our sole All Star. I thought Williams might actually be trade bait, but an ugly month where he gave up 19 runs in 28 innings probably killed his trade value. Gore really struggled in June, with his K/BB rate plummeting and his giving up 15 runs in 20 innings. Lastly Irvin came down to earth a little but after a stellar June, posting a 5.06 ERA for the month.

In order, the pitchers in this rotation in terms of long-term importance are Grey, Gore, gap, Irvin maybe, huge gap, and then Williams & Corbin, who will be paid to eat innings for a last place team the rest of this year and next. So outside of an injury or an innings limit, I can’t see this rotation changing anytime soon, even as most of these guys struggle. I’d like to see Gore fix his ailments; that’s the most concerning to me long term, because he’s supposed to be a huge part of the future.

As a side note, this analysis is mostly about the rotation, but as you can see on the big board, there’s been a massive amount of churn in the bullpen.

  • 2023 starting pen: Finnegan, Edwards, ERamirez, Harvey, Thompson, Ward, Banda*, Harris
  • Pen Now: Finnegan, Thompson, Harris, Ferrer, Weems, Machado, Willingham, Abbott, La Sorsa

The team has 5 relievers on the 10-day DL, 2 more on the 60-day DL, and released Ramirez in June. That’s a ton of churn. And as of this writing, it may get worse if they move the halfway decent relievers they still have.

Next starter to get cut/demoted: none.

AAA Rochester:

Rotation: Peralta, Rutledge, Urena, Adon, Banda (plus Espino before getting called up).

Changes since Last Month: none.

Observations: Zero turnover in the rotation despite massive churn in the relievers back and forth between MLB and AAA. But that doesn’t imply all 5 of these guys are doing well. Banda’s July was pretty forgettable; 11.57 ERA in 12 innings/5 starts. Something tells me he’s not a starter. Peralta actually worsened his seasonal ERA in July (6.97) when it was already shockingly bad (5.98). Urena wasn’t half bad for the month: 3.60 ERA in 4 starts. Espino’s two starts were decent; he got called up and subsequently hit the DL with a “finger.” Adon returned tot he rotation with a couple of decent starts; lets see if he can build on them. Lastly there’s Rutledge, who had a full month in AAA and held his own: 4 starts, 4.17 ERA but only 17 innings.

Next guy to get promoted: Probably Rutledge, then Adon

Next guy to get demoted or released: Banda or Peralta.

AA Harrisburg:

Rotation: Saenz, Troop, Parker, Hernandez, Henry (plus Knowles, Cuevas, Herz)

Changes in last month: Just one real change in this rotation: Henry coming back of rehab and taking the spot of Cuevas, who threw two starts and has been MIA since July 6th. Knowles gave a spot start, and the team just acquired Herz in trade.

Observations: Henry has made 4 starts, thrown a grand total of 6 innings, can’t find the plate and is getting hit. Just not good news. Shoulder surgeries are always scary, and I’m beginning to really worry about him. Saenz just has not made the adjustment since moving up to AA, posting another 6+ ERA month. Same with Parker, who continues to struggle post A-Ball from an ERA perspective but continues to get punch-outs with regularity. This says “reliever” to me. Troop was efficient this month but is in AA for the third straight season, making me wonder if he has a future as a 27yr old who can’t get promoted northwards. Knowles looks like a really solid multi-inning reliever type, with the best monthly numbers on the staff. Hernandez has the best command of the bunch: just 3 walks in 26IP in the month and looks like he’s adjusting well as a 23yr old in AA after a long time away from affiliated ball. I like what Knowles continues to do, even though he’s not in the rotation. He might be making the best case to move up. Cuevas may be hurt, but having a guy on the active roster but not pitch for multiple weeks seems dumb to me; just put him on the DL. Lastly, newly acquired Herz will go into the rotation in AA, so someone is making way. Probably Saenz unless the team decides to shut down Henry.

Next guy to get promoted: Knowles or Troop (Note: after writing this but before publishing, indeed Troop got promoted)

Next guy to get demoted or released: Saenz

High-A Wilmington

Rotation: Alvarez, Lord, Lara, Luckham, Caceres (with Theophile, Bennett)

Changes in Last month: Theophile isn’t on the DL, but he hasn’t pitched since July 7th and was replaced in the rotation by Lord. Bennett also isn’t on the DL, but hasn’t thrown since June 24th, and I agree with Luke Erickson‘s assertion that something bad has happened to our prize prospect. He hasn’t really been “replaced” in the rotation, as much as High-A has settled into a more regular 5-man rotation from last month.

Observations: Lord got 2 starts and was very bad: 9+ ERA. He just got promoted up and may not be long for High-A (he didn’t exactly “solve” low-A in Apr/May). Caceres was even worse; 5 starts with an ERA in the 12s. As I’ve said before, he didn’t deserve the promotion earlier this year and has been awful in High-A. Luckham and Lara were both kinda “meh” months with ERAs in the mid 4s and seasonal ERAs in the same range. Alvarez had the best month: 5 starts of 3.76 ERA and 26/6 K/BB. He continues to hold a sub 3.00 ERA for the season and is clearly the next guy to move up. He just turned 24, was a 12th rounder and may be well positioned to try the next level.

Next guy to get promoted: Alvarez

Next guy to get demoted or released: Caceres or Lord

Low-A Fredericksburg

Rotation: Cornelio, Tolman, Young Susana, Atencio (with Denaburg spot start)

Changes in Last month: Lord was promoted, so Atencio moved from spot starter to rotation guy until he got hurt recently. Now they’re a man short in the rotation and I’m not sure what they do next.

Observations: Atencio was dealing in July before hitting the DL, so that’s disappointing. His most recent start was filled by Denaburg, who continued to light everything he touches on fire (10+ ERA for the month). Susana continues to not be able to find the plate: 13 walks in 18 innings to go along with an ERA in the 8s for the month; he’s gone from “prized prospect return” to “did we get some hard throwing kid dumped on us?” Cornelio really struggled on the month, posting a 2.45 WIP. Not good. Tolman and Young were the best of the bunch, but both had mediocre mid 4s ERAs and 1.50 esque whips. Nobody pitched well in Fredericksburg this month. Tolman continues to have decent seasonal numbers, but didn’t look good this month.

Next guy to get promoted: Nobody. Tolman in a pinch.

Next guy to get demoted or released: Denaburg .. but they’ll never do it. They continue to look at big signing bonuses as “investments” instead of “sunk costs.”

Rookie Florida Complex League

Rotation: Zapata, Leon, Polanco, CSanchez, Agostini (Otanez one spot start)

Changes in Last month: None really: Ogando got two starts in June, got shelled, and hasn’t pitched since (but isn’t on the DL). Otherwise the all-IFA rotation continues.

Observations: Polanco is the oldest and probably had the worst month. Well, except for Otanez, who had a pretty amazing stat line for July: 74.25 ERA. he pitched 1 1/3 innings, gave up 3 hits but 11 walks, which turned into 11 earned runs and a WHIP of 10.5. That’s impressively bad. As for the rest, Zapata had the best month by conventional stats and still holds a 2.45 seasonal ERA. Leon probably had the best month; 17/4 K/BB in 11 July innings. That was only good enough to lower his season ERA back into the 6s though.

Next guy to get promoted: Zapata

Next guy to get demoted or released: Otanez, then Polanco

Dominican Summer League

Rotation: Moreno, Portorreal, R.Ramirez, Farias with D.Perez doing spot starts.

Changes in Last month: Oliveros dumped out of the rotation with a 9 ERA, replaced with Ramirez. E.Rivero was pulled from the rotation to start the month.

Observations: It looks like the DSL team is basically operating with a 4-man rotation right now due to off-days, since they have freely pulled poorly performing starters out of the rotation. Farias is way too old for the DSL as a 19IFA and I’m kind of surprised he’s lasted this long. Reilin Ramirez has earned his rotation spot out of the pen, but still has too many walks. Doimil Perez has a decent looking ERA but also can’t find the plate. Henry Moreno has 20 walks and 17 Ks in 24 innings; impressive. The absolute best stat line in the DSL right now is long reliever Angel Roman, who has a 0.80 whip in 27 long relief innings and seems like the only guy worth promoting on the entire staff.

Next guy to get promoted: Roman

Next guy to get demoted or released: Farias


I continue to worry about the Starter development in our system. Here’s a quick glance at our top 10 pitching prospects (starter or reliever) in some order:

  1. Cavalli: TJ
  2. Henry: clearly not performing at pre-surgery levels
  3. Sykora: just signed, its years before we’ll see him
  4. Susana: can’t find the plate
  5. Rutledge: finally impressing; a bright spot
  6. Bennett: WTF is going on with him? Is he hurt?
  7. Shuman: out for the year
  8. Brzycky: out for the year
  9. Saenz: getting shelled
  10. Parker: struggling to compete

Not promising. We will need to acquire starting pitching another way apparently.

Written by Todd Boss

August 2nd, 2023 at 9:35 am

7 Responses to 'End of July 2023 Check-in on Rotations'

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  1. I completely understand why the Nats weren’t able to move Corbin, even if they were to throw in a lot of next season’s balloon-payment salary. But in this pitching-desperate market, it’s weird that they didn’t move Trevor Williams, who is signed through ’24. Not only did they not move him, there really weren’t even rumors about his availability.

    This non-move is particularly weird because they currently have no place for Cavalli, nor do they have a slot if they were to try to do a true rotation upgrade for the future with someone like Giolito or Nola.

    Do you bump Irvin from the 2024 rotation for Cavalli? Well, Gray, Gore, and Williams aren’t getting bumped, and it seems unlikely that they will pay Corbin $35M to be a long man. By easy process of elimination, Irvin will be back enjoying springtime in Rochester.

    The prospective Rochester rotation/next-man-up competition could be interesting: Irvin, Rutledge, Adon, Henry (if healthy), and maybe a stretched out Thad Ward. Of those, I think the most of Henry if he’s healthy, but he’s far from it right now. Rutledge is finally looking like he might make it as a #4/5 MLB starter, but not nearly the dominant ace he was once advertised to be. But getting some usefulness from him is better than, well, the full Denaburg/Romero. I’ve made some Irvin-Fedde comparisons, which unfortunately have looked closer to the mark in July. But he’s looking like a serviceable #5/6 guy. Ward got rushed to the majors because of Rule 5 draftee status but might look better with a little more development. Adon got rushed to the majors because, umm, no logical reason whatsoever. He still doesn’t look like a major-leaguer, but he’ll only turn 25 in a couple of weeks, so there’s still a little time to hope on him.

    At one point, there was chatter that maybe Bennett could make a mad rush to the majors by sometime in 2024, but with him currently in witness protection, that looks like an increasingly doubtful projection.


    2 Aug 23 at 12:37 pm

  2. And it may be a leap to expect Cavalli to be ready by the spring. We’ll see. He’ll certainly be innings-limited, so having more guys in line will be necessary.


    2 Aug 23 at 12:44 pm

  3. I appreciate these updates, Todd. I like following the Nats’ minors, but I don’t follow closely enough to get all of this, so posts like this series are great.

    KW, I think there may be potential to use Williams in his historic Mets role and make him a swingman again. I know he doesn’t WANT to do that, but I doubt he can enforce it. Let Cavalli ease back from surgery in the minors for a few months while Williams starts and then when Cavalli’s ready and hasn’t burned all his innings, call him up. Williams can go to the pen at that point. Or the Nats can release Corbin at that point. I doubt the Nats will have an embarrassment of pitching riches holding Cavalli back.

    Of course I’d like for the Nats to sign someone in the off-season, too, but I’d start by demoting Corbin.

    Bland Moniker

    2 Aug 23 at 4:04 pm

  4. The reason that there wasn’t a market for Trevor Williams is that he hasn’t been very good and the rest of MLB noticed. The Nats aren’t going to DFA him because they need him to absorb innings as they bring Gore and Irvin up to speed. In short, he’s more valuable to the Nats at the moment than he is to any contenders. So no deal.

    And the idea that the Nats are going to be flush with starting pitchers next spring is more faith based optimism than it is a legit concern. Gray, Gore, and Irvin? Sure. Corbin and Williams? OK. Cavalli had TJ surgery in March and is unlikely to start the season with the team and, if he does turn out to be healthy, when he does start he will be on an innings limit. The Nats have been ridiculously lucky in terms of starting pitcher health at the MLB level. Betting on that continuing another year would be risky. They’re going to need all of them, possibly even if they sign a FA starter.

    John C.

    3 Aug 23 at 12:55 pm

  5. Only a few teams have embraced “bullpenning” of games. The Nats certainly would seem like a good candidate for it in 2024 at least once or twice a week, particularly with Corbin being of only limited effectiveness (at best) and Cavalli coming back from injury (whenever he gets back). Corbin really falls off a cliff in the 6th inning. However, the only inning he’s actually been pretty good is the 2d inning.

    Games where starters only go five innings (or less) really clobber the bullpen. There does seem to be logic of having two guys lined up to go three or four innings apiece instead. Nat teams do in all the time in the minors, particularly early in the season when they’re getting guys stretched.

    As for the full-time starters, Gray has proven himself as an effective #2-3 starter. We hope that Gore will evolve to be about that good, but he’s yet to look like he can be an ace. All the rest of the slots will be up for grabs over the next couple of years. Corbin and Williams will be gone by 2025. Cavalli and Henry may be the most talented of the rest of the bunch, but they’ve got to stay healthy.

    Rizzo talks the talk of wanting to be back to contending in 2024, but it’s hard to see it with this group. Even to have a contending rotation by 2025, it seems likely that they’ll need a free agent signing or two and/or a Gio-type trade for an established starter.


    4 Aug 23 at 12:21 pm

  6. I’m not worried about where Cavalli comes in. These things work themselves out. Right now you have a pretty clear pecking order of Grey/Gore/Irvin then a gap, then Williams, then Corbin. If Cavalli is suddenly ready to go and everyone is healthy, Corbin’s heading to the pen. That money is sunk; you can either have him in the bullpen or cut him; you’re paying it either way. He has to know this is an eventuality.

    The harder decision would be if someone like Rutledge or Henry or Bennett makes a huge push. But that seems like such a long shot right now. Bennett hasn’t pitched in 6 weeks, Henry has not come back from surgery, and Rutledge may still be smoke and mirrors.

    Todd Boss

    7 Aug 23 at 9:49 am

  7. Somewhat encouraging MLB starts for Adon and Irvin over the weekend, particularly in the Great American Bandbox. Not as encouraging a start for Rutledge at AAA yesterday, though. I just have to keep reminding myself that at this time last year he was looking bad at three levels lower, so he certainly has made progress all in all.

    But hey, when we sign Othani, we’ll solve a lot of problems . . .

    Speaking of whom, I really was rooting for the Halos to make a run. Alas. They’re now seven games out for WC. For frame of reference, the Nats are “only” nine games out of the WC in the NL. More importantly, they’re only 1.5 games back of Team $343M, who I would so love to see end up in last place. I wonder what kind of a prop bet you could have gotten before the season that the Nats would have a better record than the Mets.

    (I should note that the last team in with WC in AL is 13 games over .500, while the last team in in NL is only 4 games over. Big disparity.)


    7 Aug 23 at 1:50 pm

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