Nationals Arm Race

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

Ladson’s Inbox 12/28/12 edition


Rodriguez getting ready to fire in another pitch he has no idea where its going. Photo via

Holiday edition mailbag from’s Nats beat writer Bill Ladson for 12/28/12.

As always, I write my response here before reading his, and sometimes edit questions for clarity.

Q: Where does Henry Rodriguez fit in the Nationals’ plan this upcoming season?

A: A good question; Mike Rizzo loves Rodriguez but I find him completely frustrating as a fan.   In 2011 he led the league in wild pitches despite only throwing 65 innings, and in 2012 he had a -0.7 WAR and a 69 ERA+ before hitting the DL for season ending surgery.  He’s got no minor league options and thus has to be either carried on the active roster or be subject to DL shenanigans.  Davey Johnson also loves him, and said he was the Nats best pitcher last spring training.  My guess is that Rodriguez holds it together for another spring, breaks camp with the team and then plays his way into a DFA.  The team can replace his 7th/8th inning innings with Christian Garcia rather easily (assuming of course that the team realizes that Garcia’s arm is too fragile to reliably be depended upon as a starter).  Ladson predicts he’ll be a middle reliever for this team in 2013.

Q: What are the Nats going to do with first baseman Chris Marrero?

A: Great question; he has one more minor league option, is clearly behind the likes of Chad Tracy and Tyler Moore on the first base backup pecking order, but really hasn’t got much left to prove in the minors.  He hit admirably enough at AA and AAA in 2010 and 2011.  I think Marrero’s problem is that he’s stuck at first base but has limited power capabilities.  If he played LF, perhaps you could deal with someone who didn’t look to hit more than a handful of homers at the MLB level.  But he plays a position that needs 25-30 homers of production.  I think he’s trade bait ultimately.  Ladson says the team’s bench is set and that Marrero may be traded.

Q: Isn’t it time to make Ross Detwiler the No. 4 starter? Also, what do you think of Nats’ rotation?

A: I’m not exactly sure what the questioner wants; does it really matter if Detwiler is #4 or #5?  Not really (not until the playoffs anyway).  Detwiler is the 5th starter inarguably on this team, looking at the accomplishments of the 4 other guys.

I think the rotation is either the best or competing to be the best in the sport.  I’ve got a future post ranking all 30 rotations (I’m more or less waiting for the last of the impact free agents to sign before publishing it), and (teaser) the Nats are in the top 3 without question.  However, the Nats rotation is very, very thin.  If one of the 5 guys goes down, I really don’t know who is going to step up to make starts.   Zach Duke?  Ryan Perry?  Lets pray for a healthy spring training.  Ladson says Detwiler is the 4th starter entering spring training, and that he likes the rotation.  Not a very deep answer.

Q: Bill Bray was an OK pitcher in his last stint with the Nationals. Do you think he will be anywhere near as good the second time around?

A: It all depends on his health.  A groin strain and then a back strain cost him more than 100 games last year.   Those injuries should be healed up well enough by now; if he was recovering from an arm injury I’d be more worried.  He posted a 133 ERA+ in 2011; i don’t see any reason why he couldn’t repeat that performance in 2013.  However, I still think the team needs to pursue one more lefty out of the pen.  Michael Gonzalez just signed with Milwaukee, meaning that all three of our lefty bullpen guys from 2012 are gone.  J.P. Howell remains available but competition is fierce for his services.  Ladson says it all depends on his health.

Q: Should the Nationals be concerned with the way Ryan Zimmerman was releasing the ball at the end of 2012 season?

A: Yes.  They should be concerned with the way he’s been throwing the ball for several years now, AND they should have been concerned with the effects of the shoulder injury that was bothering him all season.  Off-season surgery fixed the latter part.  As for the former … I think its just inevitable that Zimmerman moves to 1B.  At some point I feel his arm action is going to turn into some sort of Chuck Knoblock mental block.  Ladson reminds of Zimmerman’s surgery.

Q: Why don’t the Nationals just give Adam LaRoche a third year? If things don’t pan out by the third year, the team could trade him.

A: Good question.  The core of the team is locked up for 3 more years, why not extend the offer?  I think perhaps the answer relates to the massive amount of arbitration salary the team is looking at by 2015.  They might have 12-13 arbitration cases with escalating salary by then.   And its no guarantee to be able to trade Adam LaRoche in 2015; what kind of return would we get?  We’d likely get marginal prospects AND have to pay most of his salary.  I’m not even mentioning the obvious; he just turned 33; do you want to guarantee a 3rd year 8-figure salary to a 35-yr old?  Isn’t that exactly the kind of contracts that are killing the Phillies right now?  Plus, signing LaRoche locks of 1B for 3 years … meaning no room for Moore for 2 more years AND no room to move Zimmerman if his arm turns into mush.  I know the team likes LaRoche, but it makes more sense for the future of the team to let him walk.  Ladson echos my comments on age and having to eat money on a trade.  He also mentions that the team would like Matthew Skole at first by 2015, which I don’t necessarily think will happen (but we’ll see).

12 Responses to 'Ladson’s Inbox 12/28/12 edition'

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  1. I don’t understand Ryan Zimmerman. He makes plays at 3B that wow the entire crowd. Then on routine grounders he throws them away. Surely it must be (as you state) a partly mental issue?


    31 Dec 12 at 9:05 am

  2. I know exactly what he’s going through; it happened to me when I was a teen-ager. I had an arm injury when I was 16, rehabbed it but didn’t really throw at full strength for a year or so. When I came back …. my accuracy was off; I had to move from the infield to the outfield because literally I did not know where the ball was going. Eventually mentally I became “afraid” to release the ball and I’ll have flashbacks in the middle of a play to prior plays where I’ve airmailed throws and I sieze up. Its really odd. Now i’m playing in much more relaxed settings and generally don’t have a problem making the throw across the diamond, but I still struggle on a flip of the ball from short->second in the midst of a double play.

    For Zimmerman, it looks to me like they’ve installed a very mechanical throwing motion on these routine grounders so that he’s thinking more about following the mechanics than he is about the result. Has it helped? Here’s his regular and advanced defensive metrics on FanGraphs: he is making throwing errors at almost an identical rate now as he has during his career. He makes a throwing error about once every 12 games, and makes a throwing error for about one of every 23-25 assists. Those numbers are pretty constant going back from 2012. So, i’d say no it hasn’t really helped.

    Todd Boss

    31 Dec 12 at 10:17 am

  3. I think that they should let ALR walk too!

    The waiting line at 1B is starting to get deep. I’m a Matt Skole fan. If performance in the AFL is a predictor (it was for Harps)then Skole is ready now.

    Then there’s Moore, not to mention the immediate availabllity of The Beast!

    Brandon Davis

    31 Dec 12 at 3:06 pm

  4. Skole is one of those “old man skills” type players who modern scouts have a hard time quantifying, it seems to me. Tyler Moore was the same way, as is Michael Morse to a certain extent. 27 homers, a 1,000 OPS is great … but it was low-A. And he was old for that level. I will say this: if Skole can hit like that in Potomac (i’m assuming he starts in Potomac since he ended there last season) and then again in Harrisburg, then I’ll have more confidence. Moore had a similar meteoric rise; hitting 31 homers two successive seasons at two different levels.

    Not that its my money, and not that I really care whether or not the Lerners save $13M … but the team absolutely can start 2013 right as they stand, as is. There’s not really a need to spend another $13M/year on LaRoche.

    Todd Boss

    31 Dec 12 at 3:37 pm

  5. Now i’m playing in much more relaxed settings and generally don’t have a problem making the throw across the diamond, but I still struggle on a flip of the ball from short->second in the midst of a double play.

    What leagues do you play in? I was in the NABA a number of years ago, and have played in both the MSBL and the local Ponce league.

    John C.

    1 Jan 13 at 6:53 pm

  6. While in college I played in the Credit Union during the summer, now defunct and rolled into the Industrial league. Since 98 i’ve played DCMSBL; for the Vienna Braves most of that time until we folded, then for the last three years the Chantilly Cardinals in the 25+ league.

    Todd Boss

    2 Jan 13 at 10:40 am

  7. I played in the NABA from 1994 until the late 90’s with the Generals. Sometime in the late 90’s the team jumped to the (then) 28+ DCMSBL as the Ashburn Generals. I moved to the 35+ Prince William Reds around 2004. I shut it down halfway through last summer because my shoulder was killing me. Turns out I needed a full shoulder overhaul (torn labrum (SLAP); rotator cuff; biceps tendon and bone spurs). At least now I know why it was taking me so long to warm up. Surgeon told me no baseball in 2013, and I have no idea what I’m going to do with my summer.

    John C.

    2 Jan 13 at 12:20 pm

  8. Never heard of the Generals, but certainly have heard of the PW Reds. We played them for years and years as the Braves in 25+/28+/30+. In fact, the one time I ever got a chance to play in Prince William stadium was a game we played against the Reds. I can’t remember the year (it had to be at least 6 years ago though). I can’t remember when they moved to 35+; did you ever play with them prior to that age group move? We had to have played against each other at some point.

    Todd Boss

    2 Jan 13 at 1:33 pm

  9. The Generals jumped straight into the 35+ Division, so all my DCMSBL experience has been in the 35+ Division (for which I’m pretty firmly overqualified :-). I joined Reds in 2005, which may well have been the year that they moved into the 35+ division. Their manager had also played on the Senators in 2004, and brought me over – that’s what makes me think it was their first year in the 35+.

    If I can get my shoulder right I may get back into the DCMSBL, but probably in the 45+ division, at least at first. Good luck on the field this summer – I know that I will miss it terribly.

    John C.

    3 Jan 13 at 4:36 pm

  10. Ah, makes sense. We never wanted to play 35+ because the games were on saturdays. So we’re essentially a 35+ team in the 25+ division regularly getting our asses handed to us by the younger/better teams. It works out b/c in the “lower” 25+ divisions there’s plenty of older/weaker teams like us, so the competition is generally ok. I keep meaning to request a sunday-only 35+ division at the Manager’s meetings, but I know that scheduling is already a complete nightmare in this league and don’t want to create any more bother.

    Todd Boss

    4 Jan 13 at 9:56 am

  11. We played weeknights (often two nights a week) during the summer, not weekends. That enabled me to pick up the Ponce league to feed my addiction.

    A lot of guys in DCMSBL have an attitude about Ponce, and Ponce IS less competitive. But there are usually 5-7 guys on each Ponce team that could, and often do, play in DCMSBL without missing a beat. And I never make fun of someone who is actually playing baseball :)

    John C.

    4 Jan 13 at 10:07 am

  12. I heard the 35s were now playing mid-week. We had a guy leave our 25 team b/c he wanted to play mid-week instead of having his weekends tied up. I’d say that’d make sense, except that when we had mid-week games it was damn near impossible to get 9 players, and traffic in this area makes getting to games nearly impossible. In fact, one of the main reasons our old Vienna Braves team disbanded (we were the last of the original franchises dating to the beginnings of the league back in early 90s) was exactly that; just couldn’t get guys. We had an 8pm game in Silver Spring one mid-week night years ago; a guy left his house in Aldie at like 5pm to get there … and we didn’t have enough guys and we had to forfeit. I’ve never seen someone so mad. I once left my job in Georgetown at 5:30 to make an 8pm game start in Leesburg and barely freaking made it. This is essentially why I won’t play 35s right now :-)

    There’s nothing wrong with having different leagues with different skill levels. The guy who owns Ponce also manages and plays in DCMSBL, so he’s not passing judgement either. I probably am in the “judgemental” side about Ponce, but recognize that it serves a purpose; it allows access to players who are perhaps slightly less talented and wouldn’t be able to get onto a dcmsbl team. I once attended a draft for DCMSBL and watched as dozens of guys tried out, 5 got drafted and the rest just sat there as the commissioner was like, “well, we’ll put you on the waiting list.” It was really embarassing, and I thought at the time that, gee it’d be nice if we could just roll all these guys onto a team in a lower division. Today, we’d probably send them en masse to Ponce and they’d be playing instead of being completely disillusioned.

    I always thought that it made more sense if Ponce was associated with DCMSBL in this fashion and was just another “division” instead of being its own league. Same way I think the Industrial league (now down to just 5 teams) makes more sense to be rolled into a “super division” within dcmsbl and perhaps play against the best 19+ teams, or perhaps everyone plays wood (and thus could include NABA; does it even still exist?) But there’s politics involved, as always.

    Todd Boss

    4 Jan 13 at 10:30 am

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