Nationals Arm Race

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

Giolito to have TJ surgery; Not good


Giolito scheduled for TJ surgery, to the surprise of few apparently. Photo Eric Dearborn via win for teddy blog

Frequent readers of this blog have told me lately that i’m too pessimistic, that I’m “not having fun” with the team and its best record in baseball.  Fair enough; its kind of difficult to write opinion pieces on a team in first place.  But even given that, i’ve tried to write some more positive stuff lately.

However, beware; this is going to be another negative post.  Because we just learned that our 2012 #1 draft pick Lucas Giolito needs to have Tommy John surgery after just TWO professional innings.

I made my point the day we drafted Giolito; you can read this June 5th post or read this executive summary; Giolito by himself wasn’t a bad risk, but combining him with Matthew Purke (on the DL all year) and Anthony Rendon (who has had significant injuries in 3 out of the last 4 seasons) puts all of this team’s proverbial eggs into one dangerous basket.  I thought it was negligent to draft an injury risk, given the major injury risk drafted just the previous year in Purke and the ongoing injury issues of Rendon.

Make no mistake; the Nats essentially sacrificed most of this draft for the express purpose of freeing up enough money to sign Giolito out of his UCLA committment.  Check out the known bonuses paid in the top 10 rounds; most of them were below-slot and a number of college seniors (with no leverage) were picked.  Now, every team in the majors was also doing this (an unanticipated side effect of the new CBA draft rules that are not are good for the game, at all, as with most of the new CBA when it comes to amateur players), but the consensus in the industry was that the Nats essentially “punted” the 2012 draft in the hopes of signing Giolito.

Which would be great, if Giolito was healthy.  But he wasn’t.  Here’s a tidbit that I didn’t know: I listened to a Baseball Prospectus podcast two weeks ago and one of Kevin Goldstein‘s guests was none other than Lucas Giolito’s father.  The conversation/intervew was great; Giolito talked about what it was like having a superstar baseball kid growing up, what it was like having a little leaguer who could throw 78mph as a 12yr old, and what it was like having a 16-yr old rising HS junior at the Area Code games.  He also talked through their whole spring of 2012, from the injury to getting drafted to the decision to sign.  All interesting stuff.

One tidbit I learned though, having not heard it anywhere else previously, was this: Lucas didn’t have a “sprained UCL” as was widely mentioned at the time.  According to his father, he had a PARTIAL TEAR of the UCL, NOT a sprain.  And the Nats drafted him anyway.  Knowing this, is it ANY surprise whatsoever that the kid blows out the elbow 2 innings into his pro career??   Lets get this straight; a kid who throws 100mph has a partial tear of the main tendon that allows him to throw 100mph, and we think this tendon is just going to magically heal itself?  A normal person may heal that tendon to the point where you can live your life and not be bothered.  A professional pitcher, upon tearing that tendon, is always going to have a weakness that eventually will require surgical repair.

Lets face it; the Nats have had some good fortune with their pitchers having TJ surgery lately and coming back.  Zimmermann and Strasburg examples 1A and 1B.  Former top prospect Jack McGeary had it and is still in the low minors, struggling to regain his form, an example of a guy who didn’t exactly come back roses from the surgery.  Taylor Jordan and Sammy Solis both had it earlier this year, one representing a promising underrated arm and the other representing a significant blow to the farm system depth, and they’ll be more test cases.  And now we have Giolito.

I read another nats blog this morning who cheerily said something along the lines of, “Well, he’ll get the surgery and we’ll have a 20-yr old in 2014 who can throw 100mph.”  That statement represents the absolutely 100% best case scenario here.  Tommy John recoveries are pretty high percentage wise, but they’re not 100%.  18yr olds pitchers who get cut aren’t exactly 100% to return to their prior form either.  He may never come back from this surgery, he may never regain his velocity.

Prospect development in baseball is already risky enough; a huge percentage of first rounders never even make the majors.  But that being said … first rounders who DO make the majors are the core of the stars in this league (don’t believe me?  Get a list of the 20 best pitchers and look at their draft position; more than half of the “Aces” in this league were first round picks).  My point is (and was in June) that we should have drafted a safer guy, a known quantity, so that we actually have something to show for the 2012 draft in a few years time.

17 Responses to 'Giolito to have TJ surgery; Not good'

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  1. Todd,

    It was well known before Giolito was drafted he had a small tear in his UCL. Some outlets reported it as a sprain and some said tear, but that’s largely medical semantics.

    TJ was the expected outcome. It’s why the Nats even had the chance to draft him in the first place.

    All part of the plan, my man.

    That said, you’re correct about fans being naive in assuming he’ll get back to the uber-prospect he was pre-injury.

    And your comment about the how prudent it was to draft another injury risk after the Purke/Rendon haul in 2011 was poignant.

    Thanks for the read.


    24 Aug 12 at 1:17 pm

  2. I hadn’t ever heard “partial tear” until that podcast. I had only ever heard it described as a “strain.” I dunno if I’d agree with a “strain” being the same thing as a “partial tear.” But, i don’t have an MD so I won’t argue that point very hard.

    Man, If the “plan” was to draft a kid knowing he’d need TJ surgery, then that proves my point even further.

    Todd Boss

    24 Aug 12 at 2:16 pm

  3. Like Chris, I also believed TJ surgery was an expected outcome. I guess my thinking was that Rizzo believed Giolito’s potential upside, combined with the success rate of TJ surgery, made picking him worth the risk. I just hope he’s right.


    24 Aug 12 at 2:35 pm

  4. It all boils down to risk/reward with Giolito.

    TJ surgery hits at an 85% success rate.

    So there’s an 85% chance the guy they just drafted will become the uber prospect many believed he was – only in 2014 instead of 2013.

    What happens after that is anyone’s guess, but the Nats and their braintrust thought it was worth the gamble.


    24 Aug 12 at 2:53 pm

  5. I’d amend that statement as follows: there’s an 85% chance that, in a year and a half’s time (i.e., spring training 2014) they’ll have a high-school arm who has yet to throw more than 2 professional innings on their hands ready for a relatively full workload.

    At that point then you can start to talk about the success rate of high school arms (the lowest of the four categories of draftees; HS arm, HS bat, college arm, college bat) and then talk about how little success this organization has had developing HS arms since moving here (using as a reference, i’d say the absolute BEST HS arm they’ve developed since 2005 is Pat McCoy, currently one year > rule5 eligiblity and a reliever in AA. That’s the highest any HS pitcher they’ve drafted in the last 7 years has risen. Yes we still have Ray, and Cole was traded away (but promptly got bombed in the California league so is back repeating low-A), so there’s some talent there … but ZERO track record.

    That’s a gamble on top of a gamble. Maybe that’s why I keep posting my opinion about it.

    Todd Boss

    24 Aug 12 at 3:12 pm

  6. Couldn’t agree more Todd, which is why I said after the 85% sccess rate what happens next is anyone’s guess.


    24 Aug 12 at 3:37 pm

  7. I still think taking a guy who was projected as a #1 pick, even if he has to sit out a season to recover from surgery, is a good move. I only think this because the team has Gio, Stras, J Zimm and Detwiler locked up for several seasons. Giolotto doesn’t even come into the major league outlook for several seasons and that is ok because of the long term stability in the big leagues.

    The team made a pretty solid pick of Brett Mooneyham to add prospect depth, along with Blake Monar, Ivan Pinyero and Nick Lee in the low minors and with Nathan Karns and Alex Meyer looking solid and both heading for the upper minors next season, along with a resurgent Ryan Perry and Danny Rosenbaum the team’s pitching depth doesn’t look too bad to me. Robbie Ray and Kylin Turnbull have both struggled this year but also both offer upside. Solis will also be back next season and should be worth watching.

    Was Karns another TJ surgery guy? I know we drafted him a long time ago and he missed at least an entire season if not 2.


    24 Aug 12 at 4:49 pm

  8. Karns was out with a shoulder. But I’ve always liked him; thought he was a steal of a selection in the mid-rounds and this season he’s finally starting to show it. Agree on Perry except for yesterday’s shellacking.

    Its kind of scary though to look at our upper-end pitching depth and see how many are injured right now. Of the 20 top arms in the system (per my own opinion) 5 are on long term injuries (Giolito, Jordan, Solis, Purke and Selik).

    Todd Boss

    24 Aug 12 at 5:11 pm

  9. this was a good read and I don’t think it was all that negative. I would only ask who we could have drafted at 16 that would project as much value as Giolito?

    SJM 308

    24 Aug 12 at 6:02 pm

  10. Agree with SJM, and would add that 2012 wasn’t considered a particularly strong draft, so from a process point, I don’t think it was a bad risk to take this year given his upside and nature of injury (elbow v. shoulder). Plus, even looking over the last few drafts in aggregate, Rendon’s pick was widely applauded as a good risk and after a year, the primary risk at the time (shoulder) appears to be in the past.

    I agree with you that the Purke pick was really the risky one, and maybe even foolish, given it was a shoulder injury, they paid 50% more than for Giolito, and also gave him a MLB deal, shortening the time that they can ride out the recovery.


    24 Aug 12 at 6:14 pm

  11. Let’s face it, the Nats bet the farm on this pick and it may become a total loss. We won’t know for 2-3 years.
    Pitchers who have TJ surgery AFTER they’ve developed have much more success than otherwise.
    The only major blunder I see with Purke was putting him on the 40 man roster. Just a disaster, as the Rule V this year is a potantial bloodbath and having him on it means we’l lose someone we wouldn’t otherwise lose.

    Mark L

    25 Aug 12 at 8:52 am

  12. I liked Devin Marrero specifically at the time. Big time college bat, highly regarded and who slipped past 16. I think the team needs to focus on high-end hitters down on the farm, after having spent much of the last two drafts on arms.

    Todd Boss

    27 Aug 12 at 10:34 am

  13. Having both Rendon and Purke on 40-man has caused the team angst, and will continue to do so. Plus, all these guys they’ve had to put on the 40-man this season to cover for injuries are going to come back to haunt them. Totally agree.

    Todd Boss

    27 Aug 12 at 10:36 am

  14. The 40 man roster is only at 39 active members and 3 or 4 of those are probably going to get cut at the end of the season (Wang, Derosa, HRod possibly and Kimball). That leaves 5 open slots. Marrero also may be doomed with Moore passing him on the depth chart. There is also a very strong possibility of Flores being non tendered or trading prior to the rule V draft and also Lannan and Gorzelanny look like a strong non tender candidates with their over inflated contract. I don’t see a huge issue with Rendon on the 40 man but I do agree that Purke getting a ML deal was a mistake. I just don’t see where the team is doomed because of 40 man roster issues though. Before the rule 5 draft it is conceivable that the team will have cleard 8 roster slots. Some of those will be filled in with signings of course but it seems safe to assume there will be room for around 4 guys to be added to it.


    31 Aug 12 at 3:27 pm

  15. 39 active, 2 on 60-day DL for 41 guys we’re talking about. I count 5 pure FAs that immediately come off books: Burnett, Gonzalez, Jackson, Wang, DeRosa. LaRoche has a mutual option that he may decline to pursue a longer-term deal. If we assume he does, that’s 6 FAs. I think the team non-tenders only Gorzelanny and Lannan but looks to bring Gorzelanny back as a long-man. I don’t think Rodriguez or Kimball are going anywhere; both are power arms that Rizzo craves. Also, there’s NO way the team just gives Flores away. He’s a catcher in a catcher-thin league.

    So, 41-6=35 to start, perhaps down to 33 at the non-tender deadline. That leaves 7 spots opened up … but if my scenario plays out as described above with 6 FAs and 2 non tenders, that includes no less than FIVE of our current 25-man roster. Which means most likely we’ll be active in the FA market looking for replacements for those five guys. First example: Who replaces Edwin Jackson? The next guys in line are Lannan and Wang; both likely gone. After that is perhaps Perry or Maya, both on 40-man but so far both proven not to be able to get out MLB hitters. So we’re going to be looking for another starter. Same goes with replacing Burnett and Gonzalez as lefties out of the pen, and replacing DeRosa as mlb-veteran utility infielder.

    My point is that, yeah we have a lot of guys getting cut but we can’t just leave those spots open on the 40-man; we’ll need to immediately fill them with MLB deals in free agency. So we go from 33 open spots probably almost immediately to 37 or 38 with these eventual FA signings…. and boom, you have your roster crunch when it comes to rule5. I have a draft version of the 2012 rule 5 pre-draft recommendations and it could get ugly. is the draft tracker; yellow is 2012 R5 eligible but don’t forget 2011 R5 guys who have stepped up and may need protecting. At first glance in the conversation to be protected has to include: Kobernus, Rosenbaum, Karns, Hood, and Demny. I’m not saying they all need to be protected, but some of them may.

    My point is this; if the team wants to protect more than 2 guys, they’re looking at a one-for-one replacement. Maybe they do DFA Marrero and Kimball, but they probably don’t want to. Marrero is only 24. Kimball was relatively successful (but honestly may be done). That’s the whole “roster crunch” argument I keep making.

    Todd Boss

    31 Aug 12 at 4:49 pm

  16. Fair enough; its kind of difficult to write opinion pieces on a team in first place.

    Well,only if the opinion pieces you write are negative. A positive opinion piece happens all the time. I know you don’t want to feel like a cheerleader, but come ON, Todd – write about Harper putting up a season in rarified air for a 19yo. Write about how the rotation 1-5 compares with other teams in the division, or in MLB. Do an analysis of the Nationals’ defense using advanced metrics, noting their improvement on turning balls in play into outs.

    It can be done! 🙂

    John C.

    1 Sep 12 at 2:04 am

  17. Yeah, maybe I don’t want to be so bandwagony. In re Harper, actually until this week I was thinking he needed a fake DL trip to clear his head. I’ve got a “Ewing Theory” article planned but not yet completed.

    Todd Boss

    1 Sep 12 at 11:11 am

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