Nationals Arm Race

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

Nats & Vazquez; Do people really think Detwiler is going to the bullpen?


Do people really think Detwiler is heading to the bullpen? Photo: Haraz Ghanbari/AP via

By now we’ve all seen the reports; the Nats have been to Puerto Rico to scout Javier Vazquez, the veteran starter who inexplicably “retired” after an effective 2011 at the age of 34.  According to Adam Kilgore‘s initial reports and as stated in other places on line Vazquez is apparently hitting the mid 90s in winter ball and is looking to possibly re-start his pro career.  Kilgore reports that the Nats are looking to offer Vazquez a minor league contract with an “out clause” if he’s not assigned to the Majors by a certain date.

This out clause arrangement seems to make perfect sense for the Nats.  We have a full rotation, we need starter depth in AAA, and Vazquez is a risk having been out of the league for a year, despite how good he looks in a winter ball league that rates at best at being a “weak AAA” level of talent.

What I don’t understand in some of these reports is the claim that the team would love to sign Vazquez and then drop Ross Detwiler to the bullpen.  Mike Axisa from MLBtraderumors stated as much in his report and I got into it with a NY-based blogger who keeps stating that Detwiler “belongs” in the bullpen without really giving much in the way of proof.

Here’s what Detwiler did in 2012: 10-8, 3.40 ERA and a 1.22 whip in 164 1/3 innings and 27 starts.  He posted a 117 ERA+, good for 12th in the league among qualified starters.  He’s a lefty who averages 92-93 and can reach 96 in a division with a number of teams with lefty power (especially Philadelphia).  And he saved the Nats bacon by giving the team its best post-season start in the NLCS.  He is still cheap (he’s first year arbitration eligible this year), meaning he provides great value for the dollar as a starter.

Why exactly would the Nats be looking to replace Detwiler in the rotation??  And why would the team be looking at a reclamation project like Vazquez to be his replacement?  Vazquez’s 2011 numbers were good (13-11, 3.69 era, 1.183 whip) but not earth shattering (106 ERA+ in 2011 after getting hammered in New York the year prior).   Detwiler was a significantly better pitcher by this measure in 2012 than Vazquez was in 2011.   If you had the 12th best pitcher (by ERA+) in the league installed as your 5th starter, why exactly would you be looking to replace him?

Then there’s the “personnel issues” involved with Vazquez at this point.  Why did he walk away from the game?  Wouldn’t you be concerned about his committment levels and his drive at this point?  Why would a team want to give him anything other than a non-guaranteed deal?

Yes, I realize the team’s bullpen, as it is currently constructed, is light on left-handed relievers.  We’ll ignore for the time being the fact that our existing RHPs out there mostly have good lefty splits.  If you go on the assumption that the team “needs” another left handed reliever, there are certainly better ways to fill that spot than by wasting an excellent starter by putting him in the pen.  Any statistical measure of player value will show you that even a medicore starter is usually “worth” more than even an excellent closer; sometimes FAR more.  A quick proof: Craig Kimbrel‘s 2012 season as the Braves closer was epic and historical, and was worth a 3.6 fWAR.  That would only have qualified him for 25th in the league, tied with Kyle Lohse and just ahead of our own Jordan Zimmermann.   And that was for one of the best reliever seasons ever seen.  Rafael Soriano was an excellent closer last  year and only had an fWar of 1.2, a more typical closer number, which would have been about 77th in the league in fWAR, around what Bruce Chen and Edinson Volquez provided in 2012.

In the end, it may not matter; if Vazquez is coming back there’s plenty of teams that make much more sense for him to join that would give him a guaranteed MLB deal and a guaranteed rotation spot.  Any of the bottom 4-5 teams in my Rotation Rankings would make sense.  Returning to Miami would make too much sense, based on where he pitched last and proximity to his home in Puerto Rico.  But it bugs me just the same that people don’t use some common sense when looking at what Detwiler gave the team last year and assuming that he is better served in the bullpen to make way for a lesser pitcher.  I’ll fully admit; I have not always been a Detwiler fan.  But after what he showed the team in 2012, I think you stick with him in 2013 no matter what.

19 Responses to 'Nats & Vazquez; Do people really think Detwiler is going to the bullpen?'

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  1. There is also the possibility that Morse and/or Storen and perhaps a prospect or two get flipped for a starting pitcher from somewhere else, which would also relegate Detwiler to the bullpen. You left out the most important factor why it makes sense to send Detwiler to the pen provided a solid rotation replacement can be found: insurance. The Nats got very lucky that there were no injuries to their starters last year (other than Wang). The chances of that being the case two years in a row would seem to be low. If, say, Zimmermann or Haren were unavailable for a month or two, who would currently be in line replace them? Duke? Maya? Ohlendorf? All I can say is, Yikes!

    Moving Detwiler to the pen and having him in reserve may not maximize his value, but it makes great sense for the Nats as currently constituted. And he’ll still be under team control next year to step back into the rotation for Haren. I for one am all for it, provided they add the right replacement starter.


    16 Jan 13 at 10:42 am

  2. What would be nice is if they could flip Morse/Storen for a circa 2011 Tom Milone type prospect…. some guy who is knocking on the Major League door, but could stand a little work in AAA and still has options.

    Not sure if such an animal exists.

    I agree, however, barring a major acquisition, Detwiler belongs in the rotation over Vazquez or any of the FAs on the market.

    My guess is that Rizzo has his eye on some unsigned proven MLB pitchers that will run out of places to sign come late February and sign them with the understanding that they will be stashed in Syracuse until someone gets hurt.

    Sec 314

    16 Jan 13 at 11:15 am

  3. Todd – I agree with you that signing Vasquez to a major league deal and bumping Det to the bullpen makes no sense, and seems very unlikely.

    The base case – sign Vasquez to a minor league deal with a June 1 opt out – does make a lot of sense for the Nats, if Vasquez would agree. In that scenario, I could see that if Det struggled the first two months, and they were bumping up on the deadline to fish or cut bait with Vasquez, they might send him to the bullpen then.

    But would Vasquez agree to this? Probably not, as you say. But he has always been kind of a different guy, though. All I mean by that is that money doesn’t always drive him. He has been pretty vocal in the past about only wanting to play for east coast teams that make it easy to go home to Puerto Rico to see his family. If you add the contender thing, you are basically saying us, ATL and PHI in the NL, and TAM and perhaps BAL in the AL. Are any of those teams going to offer a MLB deal? I dunno, but it seems like only BAL would (which is also the least likely WS team, imo); possibly Philly. If he only gets minor league deals, he may very well choose us. WS contender, plus he has history with the organization.


    16 Jan 13 at 11:50 am

  4. I’ll buy sending Detwiler to the pen if he’s replaced by a superior pitcher. But that pitcher for me isn’t Javier Vazquez. It’d have to be a pretty darn good pitcher based on Detwiler’s performance from last year, as discussed in the post.

    Todd Boss

    16 Jan 13 at 1:03 pm

  5. All fair points. What motivates Vazquez at this point? Is it just getting a paycheck? If so, Miami makes a ton of sense. Closest to PR and probably easiest to get a rotation spot. Is his motivation winning? You see this mantra lots in other veterans; I just want to get a ring. He has no ring; maybe he’ll take a ML deal with Washington in order to be a part of the early season WS favorite?

    Todd Boss

    16 Jan 13 at 1:09 pm

  6. Welcome back, AJ Cole (for Morse). Supposed to be more coming our way, too


    16 Jan 13 at 7:04 pm

  7. AJ Cole plus two other prospects for Morse. Even assuming that I have never heard of the other two (one is being described as ‘good’), this looks like a good return for Morse. Happy to acknowledge that it looks like I was wrong about his value.

    Still slightly worried that Moore will turn into a pumpkin this year, but I also realize that I usually need something to worry about.


    16 Jan 13 at 7:22 pm

  8. Wally,

    It’s almost like the trades Rizzo made with Beane before made this trade possible. We trade A.J. Cole and Norris as the key upside pieces to get Gio we then trade to get Kurt Suzuki. Beane likes Norris but wants a better receiver so until Norris get better at receiving he gives us A.J. Cole back so he can get a catcher John Jaso to replace Suzuki. So its like we got Gio and Suzuki for Moore, Norris, Milone, and Peacock.

    That’s a pretty good trade in my books.


    16 Jan 13 at 9:26 pm

  9. I like Moore he has a very simple approach to hitting but he may turn into a pumpkin. If he does there is a chance that Rendon might be ready by mid-season. Rendon will be 23 in June so he should be a little more mature. He also had a very good AZ Fall league and his non-injured sophomore season numbers were very impressive. He did break his ankle running the bases, is that possible? Rendon should be able to hit MLB pitching, Rizzo would probably like to keep him in the minors but if he is hitting and they need him Rizzo could pull another Harper, so to speak.


    16 Jan 13 at 9:49 pm

  10. Man, I looked at comments before news and didn’t see the trade.

    Todd Boss

    16 Jan 13 at 10:08 pm

  11. I gave you reasons. There is no “proof.” You just don’t like the reasons I gave you.
    You’ve been consistently wrong on this issue and continue moving the goalposts to try and prove yourself right for reasons I don’t understand. What’s the difference to you? They’ll be a better team with Vazquez as a starter and Detwiler in the bullpen. I’m not sure why, other than a desperate need to be right, you’re clinging to this issue.

    Paul Lebowitz

    17 Jan 13 at 5:44 pm

  12. I think i’ll take a guy with a 117 era+ in 2012 versus a guy who sat out last year, who had a 106 ERA+ the year prior, who isn’t left handed and isn’t entirely a guarantee to play in 2012 just yet.

    Just for reference, here’s your initial ridiculous argument for this, and the subsequent one. In the first section, your “proof” is an opinion from “scanning the box scores” of Detwiler’s starts to arrive at an opinion that he’s a 5-inning pitcher. He also mentions Detwiler’s ERA at AAA in 2011. I dunno; I;m pretty sure I’d trust MLB numbers in 2012 versus AAA numbers in 2011 as “proof” that Detwiler was an effective starter.

    Just a couple of “statistics” on this issue. I know statistics are a tough concept for you to use when stating an opinion about things. In 27 starts last year Detwiler threw 151 innings, for an average of 5.59 Innings/start. Jackson, the “known innings eater” in your parlance, threw 189 2/3 innings in 31 starts for 6.11 innings/start. The difference on average between someone who throws 6.11 and 5.59 innings per stat is .52 of an inning, or exactly between 1 and 2 more outs per outing.

    I love how one or two more outs per outing is the difference between “weak 5 inning pitcher” and “innings eater.”

    In the latter article, you lists a bunch of pitchers that you “think are better” than Detwiler. I love how your “proof” involves your opinion on “how good” a pitcher is, versus something concrete and quantitative. Like a statistic. Like a statistic that most other recognized baseball pundits use rather often as a nice gauge of how a pitcher fares compared to the rest of the league on a year to year basis, park and league adjusted (the ERA+ figure). You list Lincecum as being “better” than Detwiler; well not in 2012 he wasn’t. In fact, Lincecum was pretty much the worst (or close to it) pitcher statistically in every category in 2012. All things being equal, if you only knew of 2012’s performance for those two guys nobody would prefer Lincecum to Detwiler in 2013.

    Maybe that’s the rub. Maybe you just doesn’t believe that 2012 was a season indicative of what Detwiler is capable of. I wasn’t for a long time. However i’m a believer now; he finally got a chance, he finally was given an entire major league season to show what he can do, and he delivered.

    I believe that what a player did last year (if there wasn’t some other alternative reason for doing so, like an injury) is a pretty good indicator of what he’s going to do this season. Morse hit 30 homers in 2011; I can’t see why he isn’t capable of repeating that feat again if he stays healthy. If you think Lincecum’s 2012 was just an aberration and that he’s going to return to his Cy Young form in 2013 like nothing happened … well, that’s one way to go.

    Todd Boss

    17 Jan 13 at 7:19 pm

  13. I’m stunned how you cling to this when the NATS are looking at Vazquez and have no one other than Detwiler to stick into a bullpen where they HAVE NO LEFTIES!!!!
    Your ego is getting in the way of reality.

    Paul Lebowitz

    17 Jan 13 at 7:34 pm

  14. You’re clinging to the belief that you need lefties to get lefties out. Clippard’s split line against lefties in 2012: .170/.260/.259. Soriano: .221/.316/.397. Stammen: .198/.274/.331. Henry Rodriguez: .208/.356/.354. All four of those guys are right handed and have ridiculously low lefty batting averages against. Throw in Duke and Bray (I’m not sure why you think Bray is not in the mix here: he was pretty effective in 2008 and 2011, seasons in which he wasn’t injured. His injury last year wasn’t arm-related and you’d have to think he’s a good bet to make the bullpen as a loogy) and you have a pretty good bullpen all things considered to go against lefties.

    Plus, the off-season isn’t over yet. The team has signed a number of lefty relievers to minor league deals, which is exactly what they did with Michael Gonzalez last season and he pitched very effectively for us as well. You don’t need to spend millions of dollars on a matchup lefty; you just need to find the hot arm.

    Putting Detwiler in the bullpen would be a ridiculous waste of the potential he showed last year, just to adhere to some old-fashioned notion that you HAVE TO HAVE another lefty in the bullpen.

    Your inability to recognize well-worn statistics and mathematical evidence when you make your arguments really hurts your credibility.

    Todd Boss

    17 Jan 13 at 8:46 pm

  15. They’re going to need at least two lefties. One long man and one specialist. Just cut it out.
    Duke is awful. I’ve always liked Bray, but he’s constantly hurt.
    “Well worn statistics”? Which ones? The ones you’re cherrypicking to prove a point that no one else agrees with? All the scouts are *raving* about Vazquez. He’ll get a big league contract and given his career history–as long as he doesn’t do something stupid like go back to the AL East–show that he’s a very good pitcher who will be better than Detwiler.

    Paul Lebowitz

    17 Jan 13 at 8:57 pm

  16. Duke and Bray. Long man and specialist. done and done.

    Duke looked excellent out of the pen in September for the team. 2 runs in 13 2/3 innings. Small sample size yes, but they’re not asking him to make 33 starts in 2013. They’re asking him to do mop-up duty. You don’t need a stud as your 7th man out of the bullpen.

    Yes; ERA+ in this day and age is a very standard statistic to use to neutralize ERA and get a quick gauge of a pitcher. If you don’t like ERA+, then tell me a statistic that shows how for some reason Detwiler was not an effective starter in the Major Leagues last year.

    I’m glad scouts are raving about Vazquez. It sounds to me like he’s “winning” the off-season. The talent level in the Puerto Rican winter league is AAA at best; our own Yunesky Maya destroyed a winter league two off-seasons ago and he is barely adequate in AAA. You show an amazing amount of trust in a guy who just up and quit the game, who hasn’t pitched against major leaguers in a year, and who was slightly better than league average in 2011 but god-awful in 2010. I guess we’ll see.

    This is entirely a moot argument, by the way, since some team out there besides the Nats is almost certain to give him a MLB contract while the reporting seems to indicate that the Nats won’t give him anything else besides a minor league deal with an out. He’ll get his shot presumably pitching for some last place team with dire rotation needs (Cleveland? Colorado? Miami? Houston?) and then we’ll see how effective he really is.

    Here’s a question; how come the Yankees aren’t all-in on him, if he’s looking so good? Aren’t the Yankees in a pretty precarious situation from the starting pitching stand point? You’ve got Sabathia coming off injury, you’ve got two guys either 40 or nearing it, you’ve got a guy coming off major arm surgery in Pineda and youv’e got a couple of inconsistent younger arms. Why aren’t the yankees full in on Vazquez? Oh i remember; because he was worse than useless for them in 2010. How do you reconcile his performance in NY in 2010 versus your stellar opinion of him now? You think he’s magically become the 2nd coming of Roger Clemens after taking a year off of pitching professionally?

    Todd Boss

    17 Jan 13 at 9:14 pm

  17. Todd, I’m going with you on this one. Yes, there are no LOOGIES in the bullpen; but they won’t need one now.

    Detweiler is a step up over Vasquez.

    Mark L

    18 Jan 13 at 8:26 am

  18. If I was Keith Law, I’d find some Latin phrase to reply as to why the Yankees would be idiotic to bring Vazquez back a third time.

    Paul Lebowitz

    18 Jan 13 at 10:03 am

  19. No Mas!


    18 Jan 13 at 12:41 pm

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