Nationals Arm Race

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

Braves sweep shows some areas of concern

13 comments

Its a long season.  The Nats swept the Braves in Atlanta last year in May and the Brave still won 94 games.  This isn’t the end of the world.

However.

Each of the 3 losses this weekend exposed some very specific issues with the team and its manager that aren’t necessarily new, but which are coming to the foreground.  In order:

Friday’s Loss: Over-managing the Pitching Staff:  Once again Davey Johnson pulled a highly effective starter on a miniscule pitch count only to watch his bullpen blow up.  Worse, this is the second straight time its happened to Ross Detwiler, who now has given up exactly one earned run in 13 innings (on a solo homer) and has two No Decisions for his efforts.  No wonder he was visibly frustrated when told he wasn’t going back out.  I defended the decision to pull Strasburg after 80 pitches on opening day in various forums, but I cannot defend the decisions now, knowing that our bullpen was DEAD LAST in the majors in ERA heading into the weekend (I believe they’ve “improved” to 29th by the time of this posting).

I think Johnson has to start relying on his starters to go deeper into games until the bullpen sorts itself out.  Or, to put it differently, I don’t want to see a starter yanked unless he’s sitting on 115 pitches or the lineup is getting ready to turn over a 4th time.   It just does not make sense to pull an effective starter after 90 pitches right now.

Saturday’s Loss: Zimmerman’s Worsening Throwing Arm.  We’re 12 games into the 2013 season and Ryan Zimmerman already has 3 throwing errors.   His throwing error on Friday contributed to the collapse but his air-mailing the throw saturday on a simple, routine play directly led to two unearned runs and a deflating feeling for the Nats.   Opposing scouts are starting to openly question why the Nats are keeping Zimmerman at the position, after watching his throws.  I don’t know if he’s still hurt, if he’s got a Chuck Knoblock mental thing going on, or if he’s just spent far too much time trying to mechanically fix the issue instead of just being a natural athlete, but it isn’t working.  Strasburg‘s line on Saturday: 6IP, 5 hits, 7 Ks, 0 earned runs … and a Loss.  I know this game isn’t entirely on Zimmerman; you have to score to win, but giving a bulldog veteran like Tim Hudson (and his amazing career record when given a lead) 2 free runs is never a good idea.

Unfortunately, there’s nothing the team can really do about this.  You can’t sit your #4 hitter (despite how crummy he’s hitting; see the next point).  There’s no place to stick him now or in the immediate future thanks to the Adam LaRoche re-signing blocking 1B for the next two years.  And he’s a $100M player who clearly isn’t playing like one.

Sunday’s Loss: Where’s the offense?  I know the team generally is doing pretty well; we’re middle of the league right now in terms of Homers, BA, and OPS.  But most of that is thanks to Bryce Harper‘s fast start.  We have two key middle-of-the-order guys who are just not getting it done.  Specifically, LaRoche and Zimmerman.  You just cannot win consistently with your middle of the order guys hitting .147 and .220 respectively.   To make matters worse, there seems to be no hope in sight for Danny Espinosa, and with a MLB-ready guy who had a great spring and is lighting up AA in Anthony Rendon seemingly an able replacement, you have to wonder how long the team is going to let their #7 hitter continue to hit .175 with a known tear in his shoulder.  Paul Maholm is a decent pitcher … but he’s not Cy Young.  He went 7+ and gave up just four measly hits on the afternoon in a game where the Nats looked like they gave up frankly.  One more throwing error tossed in by Zimmerman for good measure.


We didn’t really even talk about how the Nats had the distinct Starting Pitching matchup advantage in all three games but lost them all.  Sometimes your aces just get whacked (Strasburg in Cincinnati, Gonzalez on Sunday); you have to roll with it and try to outscore your opponent in those games.

Nor have we talked about concerns with the bullpen; what is going on with Clippard and Storen?  But the Bullpen is one of those areas that can look really bad with a couple of small sample sized bad outings, so we won’t over-react too much.

But, I think there’s some concerns here that are a bit above those of the “well its just mid April” variety.

13 Responses to 'Braves sweep shows some areas of concern'

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  1. I think Davey is going with the quick hooks because it is so early. JZimm said it the way that I think about it: they’ll build to the 110 pitch thresholds by the time it gets warm. If the bullpen doesn’t flame out every time, I think that this is less of an issue. Short answer: some of it is questionable, but I am not too worried about it.

    RZim does look bad, and it feels like the yips, not physical. Physical, to me, would mean weaker throws. I can’t really see why the throws would be so off the mark if it wasn’t the yips. I am not sure this goes away; you point out a legit dilemma with Laroche. Worried.

    Not so worried about the offense. ALR has picked it up a little, Span, Desi and Werth, plus the catchers are doing fine. It goes in cycles, I guess.

    Bullpen: probably the area that I am the most concerned about. Relievers always have those off years, and this may be one of those years where we string several together. I worry least about Soriano, and most about Clip and Storen. We have some options, though, between Erik Davis, Cole Kimball, Garcia (those last two when healthy), even Karns could pitch out of the pen. Still no lefties, though, unless they want to go Rosenbaum or Abad, or maybe JC Romero. The question is, when does Rizzo start pulling those triggers? Plus, he can’t put everyone on the DL. Might have to lose a guy or two. Very worried.

    Wally

    15 Apr 13 at 1:47 pm

  2. If i’m Ross Detwiler, who has now gotten two NDs in games where he departed on small pitch counts and with sizeable leads, I’m requesting a private meeting with Davey to demand to stay in games. I’d be beyond pissed. Those are two wins that make a significant difference to him in arbitration hearings down the road. And they’re wins this team doesn’t have on the board.

    Todd Boss

    15 Apr 13 at 2:03 pm

  3. Sure, wins will help Det in arbitration, no doubt, but do you really think Det is pissed at Johnson? I mean, if Johnson pulled him under the same pitch conditions but the score is tied, then Johnson hasn’t given him a chance to win the game. But in this case, they were up 4-1 and the bullpen is supposed to be good, so Det had every reason to think he’d win. I think Johnson would say that he thought that he was improving Det’s chances to win, since he probably felt that a fresh Clip or Storen was better than a [somewhat] tired Detwiler at that point.

    I see it more as the pen has not been good (your ERA point), and everyone has been suffering because of it. I know that I have. With even a mediocre pen, we are 9-3 at least, and everyone is content.

    Wally

    15 Apr 13 at 2:20 pm

  4. The cameras caught Detwiler as he was being told he wasn’t going back out for the 8th and, yeah i think its safe to say he was pissed.

    I mean, I’m pretty sure he’s not thinking about his arbitration case on April 12th … but i’m sure he’s thinking “I’m pitching great, i’m not tired, i’m not pushing a pitch count limit … why am I coming out?”

    Todd Boss

    15 Apr 13 at 2:23 pm

  5. I’d have been pissed if I were Det! It was asinine pulling him from a game because he allowed a home run, especially given the context of the one-two punch of Clippard loading the bases and Storen giving the game away. Again. I have a $20 bet with my brother-in-law that Storen is gone by the break. Released, traded, sent to AAA, whatever….not in DC. He hasn’t been right since before game 5 last fall and I get the feeling that all his bluster about “being” over it is more him trying, and failing, to convince himself than trying to convince anyone else.

    Per Zim…time will tell about the arm. It might be there’s still a problem, it might also be he’s still getting used to it or holding back from 100% with occasionally poor results. It sure would help, however, if Zim and Laroche would start hitting on a somewhat regular basis.

    All that having been said, the end of the season is what counts, not the beginning, so I’d rather they were getting swept by the likes of Atlanta now. And, speaking of Atlanta, while their bullpen really is pretty good, I wasn’t all that impressed by their offense. I thought the first game was probably the most telling as the other two were so laughably bad on the part of DC that you couldn’t really judge how good or bad Atlanta was. And Atlanta’s offense was…well, until the Dynamic Duo went in…was locked up solid.

    As a side note, I was pretty impressed with Haren on his last start. If he can keep pitching like that, at least we won’t have to shoot any of the rotation!

    Mark

    15 Apr 13 at 4:57 pm

  6. One other thing….sure, Zim has three throwing errors but how many has Desmond and his arm is fine.

    Mark

    15 Apr 13 at 8:26 pm

  7. Notice who got a complete game tonight? No bs, no screwing around with the bullpen. Which was exactly the wrong night to do this frankly. if you have a 10 run lead, you let the damn bullpen have at it and work on their game. I’m really not getting the pitching decisions being made by Johnson.

    Desmond; 4 errors, two fielding two throwing. How many of those directly contributed to a loss like Zimmermans’ have? I can’t find a way to search through error players to see if they were innocuous or if they were critical. I’m sure someone has done it though.

    I think Haren will be fine too. All he needs is to get his sinker working and he’ll be effective.

    Interesting theory about Storen. I’m actually more worried about Clippard. He’s throwing way too many off-speed pitches, throwing changeups all the time in counts that it doesn’t make sense and he’s not commanding it like he needs to.

    Todd Boss

    15 Apr 13 at 10:26 pm

  8. I couldn’t tell you how many of Desmond’s errors were critical but considering how often Zimmerman puts himself in a critical situation, it’s almost apples to oranges.

    I would agree that it was the wrong night to pitch a complete game BUT that having been said, JZimm’s pitch count was low, he looked good up to the very last pitch and it was his first complete game win. I knew he had it in him, it was nice to finally see it even if there could have been a better time for it. :-)

    I can see your point about Clippard but I recall a couple years ago when he thought he was the master of the off-speed pitch and was beaten up pretty good. Rather than do what he’s actually good at, he kept trying and kept failing until someone finally told him to knock it off and do what he can actually do. Lo and behold he was again a solid reliever. Hopefully McCatty knows when to yank the leash on Clippard and isn’t afraid to do it BUT, on the other hand, if Clippard is trying to work something out, I’d rather it be now than, say, September. Preferably off the field, too, but I guess there’s no substitute for real opposition. We’ll see.

    I think Storen is done, however, unless someone does something drastic and soon. Perhaps he’d benefit from the Lannan treatment of a couple of years ago where he sent himself back to AA to pull it together. He did and was very effective when he came back up. You know, for Lannan. :-)

    Along the same lines, I think Espinosa’s time in The Show is running out. His shoulder is showing, he’s not hitting well (again) and the decision to try to play a season in his physical shape was a poor one at best. Rendon was dynamite in spring training and I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see him at 2B full time by the break. I like Espinosa but he his absolutely the weakest part of both the offense and defense at this point.

    Mark

    16 Apr 13 at 5:53 pm

  9. Oh yeah…and how about Tyler Moore last night?! Man was THAT nice to see!

    Mark

    16 Apr 13 at 5:55 pm

  10. Oh…and one last thing…I never did hear why Zimmerman was hobbling around the bases last night and couldn’t make what looked like should have been an easy 3rd out behind 3B that, instead, led to a couple runs for Miami. I was hoping he was just making fun of Ryan Howard but MASN never did have any real info. Hear anything?

    Mark

    16 Apr 13 at 5:58 pm

  11. Just what I read this am. The arm is becoming more and more of a concern. Read nothing about him hobbling, but he hasn’t exactly looked “fleet of foot” lately at all.

    All of this just screams “move to first base” … except that the team locked up LaRoche for two years. So we’re going to have to deal with this issue for quite a while.

    Todd Boss

    17 Apr 13 at 10:19 am

  12. Last night I heard something about a “tweaked hammie” but I don’t know how true it is. That’s what he looked like a couple nights ago, however.

    He did look better last night. Well, as much of last night as I cared to watch, anyway. I happened to be at a party and watched the game until Miami scored, then turned it off. When I got home it Miami had scored six more times to the Nationals none so I turned it off for good. I don’t know if we have to deal with it for a couple of years, however.

    I could fairly easily see Lombardozzi taking over 2B from Espinosa, Rendon taking over 3B from Zimmerman and Zimmerman and LaRoche switching between 1B and the bench depending on what skill is needed on what day. If Zimmerman ever manages to pull it together, Rendon goes back to the bench and Zimmerman back to 3B but it’s hard to see that happening any time in the near future.

    I’m also starting to wonder if Ramos can really be a full time player from now on, also. Yeah, he made it further than he did last year and this wasn’t a season ending injury but still, he’s back on the DL yet again and how many days or weeks will he return after he’s done with this stint? In the meantime, the Nats don’t have much depth past Suzuki.

    Mark

    17 Apr 13 at 5:05 pm

  13. Zimmerman: I thought I heard “tweaked calf.” Either way, I wasn’t listening that closely. Lots and lots of coverage about his throwing issues, both locally and nationally. In the pregame on Masn they talked a lot about his arm slot, showed pictures of him working with Chad Tracy. I think maybe they’ve found the issue;
    - When he throws overhand (usually when he’s making a play to his right and then has to make a max-effort throw to 1st) he’s ok.
    - When he throws sub-sidearm (usually as he’s making hurried plays on bunts or where he’s throwing across his body) he’s ok.
    - When he makes a routine play on a ball hit right to him where he has all the time in the world … he tends to find a casual sub 3/4′s arm slot that often gets away from him.

    So for me the answer is simple; always make a max effort throw to 1st. I dealt with a mental issue just like this in my own playing career after an arm injury; it forced me to the outfield for a number of years where my scatter arm wouldn’t hurt the team. Eventually I learned the same things that Zimmerman is learning; you can’t just toss it across the diamond anymore because your arm and your brain will fail you.

    Espinosa; yes I can see an escape route for the Nats with Lombardozzi pretty easily. However i’ll disagree with you on suddenly platooning LaRoche and Zimmerman at first. There’s just no way that happens. That’s your #4 and #5 hitter, that’s $130M of committed payroll and that’s your franchise player. There’s just no way the team is going to suddenly bench Zimmerman for an untested rookie, no matter how promising that rookie is. It isn’t like Zimmerman is in the twilight of his career; he’s at his prime age and the team has made a pretty significant committment to him.

    Now, in two years time I can easily see this happening. You let LaRoche walk at the end of his 2 year deal, move Zimmerman to 1st, install Rendon (who by this time may have been playing elsewhere just to get his bat in the lineup). But 2 years on may be too late for all of these things to happen, and its one of the reasons I wasn’t really in favor of a lot of the moves this team made in the off-season. If you keep Morse and put him at 1st, keep Harper in center, let Moore start in left, guess what? You can move Zimmerman to 1st and Morse back to left if a situation arises where you suddenly need positional flexibility. I’m not saying Span isn’t good .. i’m saying that they didn’t NEED to block the entire outfield and waste Harper’s signficant defensive talents in left field.

    Ramos is fragile. But when he’s healthy he’s great. Sounds like a fantastic backup catcher to me. I think the team has more catcher depth than you may think: Solano is decent, Leon is decent, Maldonado can catch in a pinch. And then we have a couple higher-round draft picks in low-A who could turn out to be ok. That’s better than we were a few years back, when we had to buy Seattle’s AAA catcher Jamie Burke just to have a live body for the last couple weeks of the season.

    Todd Boss

    18 Apr 13 at 11:04 am

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