Nationals Arm Race

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

Ask Boswell 2/24/14


You know you want to be there right now.  Photo via

You know you want to be there right now. Photo via

The chats come fast and furious; here’s Tom Boswell‘s 2/24/14 online chat.  Not much in this one; i’m thinking we’ll struggle to get to the 50 comments we got on last weeks’ version.

As always, I answer here before reading Boswell’s answer, and freely edit the “questions” for clarity here.  I left out a couple of his non Nats questions this time around.

Q: Predictions on Harper’s line this year?

A: I’ll go .275/.375/.500 with 32 homers.  That’s probably optimistic, but hey, there’s no reason not to project 30 homers for a guy with 80 power.  Boswell went .285/.380/.510 and 30 homers.  Pretty close.  We both just stepped up Harper’s 162-game averages from frankly.

Q: Predictions on Fister’s line this year?

A: Now here, i’ll probably be even more optimistic.   I think he goes 17-9 in 200 innings or so, posting a 3.10 ERA and a 1.25 whip.    His K/9 will rise slightly and his ERA will drop thanks to dozens of at-bats against opposing pitchers instead of DHs.   If he can get a couple more wins he’s into Cy Young territory.  Boswell goes 15-11 with a 3.20 era.  

Q: Why is MLB having a hard time coming up with home-plate collision rules?

A: Because there’s no easy answer.  The questioner makes it sound like ASA (as in, the Amateur Softball Association) is so much smarter than MLB because they have a give yourself up rule.  Well duh.  They’re amateurs, as in “these people don’t get paid to do this so lets not build in rules that promote massive injuries.”  My amateur baseball leagues were the same way; “Slide or give yourself up; we all have to go to work tomorrow.”   In the Pros, it isn’t that simple.  One game can decide a pennant, which decides millions of dollars for a team and can change the outcome of a franchise and a fan base.   Honestly, I don’t know quite how i’d write the rules, other than to demand that the catcher not block the plate while demanding that the runner not purposely barge into the guy.  What happens the first time the catcher DOES purposely block the plate and a runner avoids him, only to lose the out and the manager goes ballistic when the old-school umpire fails to properly call the play?  Or the reverse; what happens the firs ttime a runner blasts a catcher who’s giving up part of the plate and somehow doesn’t get automatically called out?  I don’t know; I await the rules like everyone else in baseball.  Boswell is reserving judgement til he talks to more guys about the new rules.

Q: What version of Denard Span will we see this year?

A: I sure hope its the September 2013 edition.  If it isn’t, then at least I hope Matt Williams has the intelligence to quickly move him out of the leadoff spot instead of stubbornly allowing him to hit .220 for months on end from the lineup spot that gets the most at-bats.  Boswell opines about Span and it isn’t positive, but he doesn’t have a guess either.

Q: Does an extension for Trout make sense right now?

A: For whom?  For the Angels or for Mike Trout?  Rumors of a 6yr $150M deal out there for Trout; that’s a $25M AAV buying out one pre-arb year and three arbitration years of Trout.  How does that make ANY sense for the Angels to do?   Even assuming that Trout sents some sort of record for his arbitration years (I believe the record is Ryan Howard‘s 1st year $10M award), he’s not going to come close to that amount over the next four years.  He gets at or close to the MLB minimum this year (call it $550k).  Lets assume that Trout is a $30M player; that’d put his three arbitration numbers at roughly $12M, $18M and $24M.  Under this scenario, the Angels get the next four full seasons of Trout for $54.5 million dollars.  Why would the Angels agree to pay him $100m MORE at this point to guarantee two more years?   Honestly, this is a fantastic deal for Trout and if the Angels offer it up, grab it.   Boswell didn’t even answer the Trout/Angels question.

Q: Projected Nats Bench right now?

A: Well, you need a catcher (Jose Lobatan).  You need an outfielder and we have two under contract for more than a MLB min (Scott Hairston and Nate McLouth).  You need a guy who can play both shortstop and second base .. and for me that guy is Danny Espinosa.  After that you kind of look at what you need in terms of flexibilty off the bench for the last stop.  These four guys include two switch hitters (Lobaton and Espinosa), a righty with some pop (Hairston), and a lefty with some pop (McLouth).  Is Tyler Moore that 25th guy thanks to his prodigous power from the right side?   Is the better way to go with another utility guy like Jamie Carroll or Mike Fontenot?  I don’t know.  I think its Moore for now.  Boswell says Moore for sure and then a coinflip between Espinosa and Carroll; i think its the other way around frankly.

Q: Do Tall pitchers release the ball closer to the plate?

A: Yes of course.  One of the reasons a guy like Chris Young could succeed despite having only an 86mph fastball; the ball was a foot closer to the plate by the time he released it.  I pointed this out when looking at Lucas Giolito‘s mechanics; he’s a huge guy and he takes a massive stride, and I’ll bet he releases the ball a couple feet closer to the plate than some of his peers.   Boswell discounts the advantage tall pitchers have.

Q: Is there “really” a competition for 2nd right now?  

A: Not in my eyes.  I think Rendon is entrenched at 2nd for the next 6 years and Espinosa will be trade bait before we know it.  Boswell says doubtful.

Q: When does Giolito arrive and how does he fit in?

A: Not for a couple more years.  He starts in Low-A with an eye towards mid-season promotion to High-A.  Repeat that in 2015 and he ends the season in AA.  So then you’re looking at an early to mid-season call up in 2016 to keep his service clock off.  That’s a normal progression for a high schooler.   That still puts him in the majors before his 22nd birthday.

How does he fit in?  Well, he projects by all accounts as a #1 starter with a huge arm and big upside.  But the year 2016 could be a pretty significant season for this franchise: Zimmermann, Fister and Detwiler all are FAs that season.   So this team will be looking for starters.  The big 1-2 punch will still be here (Strasburg and Gonzalez) and perhaps one of these FAs to be, but we’ll need reinforcements by that point.  Thankfully we have more than a few already knocking on the door and Giolito could be another new guy joining in.  Boswell hasn’t seen him but reminds us all that he’s only 19.

19 Responses to 'Ask Boswell 2/24/14'

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  1. In Boswell’s defense, I think the main gist of the Trout question was whether the Nats should think about extending Harper if the Angels extend Trout. Boswell replied that you don’t give Harper a superstar deal till he proves he is one, and I (and you, Todd, based on your Trout answer, agree completely). In today’s inflationary FA market, why would anyone overpay *before* a player justifies it? The bad front office’s overpay after a player is a star, and the good FO’s ideally never overpay. Your analysis of the Trout rumor is spot on. Why the hell would the Angels do it? As for Harper, I predict that he will become a FA at the end of his contract and go for huge dollars to his favorite team, the Yankees. And now I worry that he’ll be joining Desmond there.


    24 Feb 14 at 4:52 pm

  2. I didn’t really address the Harper part of that question, but can’t disagree with anything you said. Its the same thing with Strasburg; everyone says Stras is one of the best in the game … when will he put up a season that proves it? Until then, he will be paid like a good pitcher not a great one.

    Harper is a Boras client. Boras clients go to free agency. Free Agent superstars generally get vastly over-paid. Gargle and repeat.

    Todd Boss

    24 Feb 14 at 5:02 pm

  3. On the bench, I agree with Espy being a strong lead for utility guy. I think roster construction would suggest someone other than Moore, though, and not a utility IF. Although I agree with most of the skepticism on Moore’s ability to be a productive big leaguer, my comment isn’t so much about that as it is with avoiding redundant skill sets. And Moore seems awfully redundant to Hairston, to me.

    Perez, perhaps, is a better fit, skill wise. Defensive replacement and pinch runner? I know that you like Harper in CF, but coming off a knee injury, I don’t think it is ideal, and no one else can really handle CF other than Span. Plus, if (when) they go with TMo, and if (when) he struggles, I think Souza gets a shot.


    24 Feb 14 at 5:14 pm

  4. Wally, I thought McClouth was signed with the ability to play all 3 outfield positions?

    SJM 308

    25 Feb 14 at 7:44 am

  5. Question on home plate collisions: Why would it not easily solve the problem to just eliminate the need for the catcher to hold onto the ball after a collision? If you just said that if the catcher had possession when contact was made, the runner was out, it seems like it would eliminate all incentive for the runner to initiate contact (perhaps unless he saw the catcher clearly bobbling the ball). I admit I haven’t played baseball since little league, so I’m sure I must be missing some complicating factor.


    25 Feb 14 at 7:49 am

  6. McClouth I think was “thought” to be able to cover in CF in a pinch … and I thought so to until looking at his UZR/150 numbers over the past few years. In short; he’s been pretty awful in CF throughout his career. So for me he’s clearly a corner OF. And so is Hairston, so perhaps Wally is onto something; who exactly can cover in CF off the bench? I dunno; maybe if span gets pulled mid-game Harper moves to CF and Mclouth/Hairston/Moore cover in LF. Agree though with Harper’s limitations coming off injury, even if he’s only 21.

    Something tells me Perez just isn’t going to make a MLB roster, at least not in this town.

    Todd Boss

    25 Feb 14 at 8:20 am

  7. Dave: I like that point on home plate collisions. Perhaps the reason they’ve never considered it is because you’d be putting in one set of rules for home (in terms of maintaining contact to validate a tag) that’s different from the other bases. ….. of course you could also make the argument that by changing 150-yr old rules you’re already doing that anyway.

    I read the rules yesterday and I like them. The catcher can’t fully block the plate and the runner cna’t go out of his way to pulverize the catcher. That works for me. If you’re a runner barrelling down the line and you see that the catcher has the ball … you slide and/or get tagged. That’s it.

    I just can’t help but think how Jesus Flores’ career would have played out had he not been targeted by Chase Utley so many years ago, in what I have always considered a dirty play that cost Flores the better parts of two years. With these new rules, he never would have gotten hit the way he did…

    Todd Boss

    25 Feb 14 at 8:24 am

  8. SJM – I think that is part of the story of him, but truthfully, he hasn’t really played CF for a while (500IPs in 2011 was his last sizable sample), and when he did, he was pretty bad, at least in terms of the balls that he could reach compared to other CFs. He is older now, and I can only assume that all of those kinds of measurements have gotten worse. For the fancy stats crowd, his UZR/150 in CF from 2010-12 was -33, -26, -20 – meaning, projecting his play over the course of 150 games, he gave up more runs (by those numbers) compared to the average CF by his poor play : really, a lack of getting to balls (at least, that is what I think it means and it has always been hard for me to believe that the magnitude is that high). In his defense, he was better in LF (he basically hasn’t played RF, but I assume he could), and looks to be about average there. But that is my point. He is about an average defensive corner outfielder. Span is above average, Harper appears above average, and Werth is something below average, so McLouth doesn’t really represent an upgrade as a late inning defensive guy. Perez, on the other hand, appears to be a plus defender at all three OF spots, so when you think about a late inning defensive replacement, he stands out to me as adding some value.

    Whereas Moore offers the potential for RH pop as a PH(as does SH), can play a corner OF badly (as does SH), and can play 1B a little better (this is his sole advantage to SH). So unless you think that Hairston can’t be passable at 1B, there just seems like a huge redundancy between their skill sets, whereas Perez may offer something tactical that no one else does, and so presents a better use of the 25 man roster.


    25 Feb 14 at 8:44 am

  9. Ah, I crossed emails with Todd in the ether. His was much more succinct! Lesson learned.


    25 Feb 14 at 8:45 am

  10. Hey, switching topics, I thought this was interesting (from a Fangraphs chat)

    Comment From Teddy
    Jeff, the nationals have gotten multiple inquiries on Taylor Jordan, including by the reds for hanigan, and the tigers for fister. What about him do teams like him so much, and for the nationals to refuse to trade him, AND the fact he was never a highly considered prospect. Did scouts miss the boat on him?

    Jeff Sullivan:
    Over the last three years, Taylor Jordan has allowed seven home runs.

    He doesn’t walk anybody, he keeps the ball on the ground, and though his strikeout rate isn’t incredible, it’s acceptable and his big-league contact rate last year was actually 78% to go with low-90s velocity. Jordan is a pretty good and safe starting pitcher right now with years and years of cheap team control ahead of him. He never would’ve been highly rated because scouts look for upside. Jordan has a lower ceiling than a strikeout pitcher, but he also has a high floor and he could be anyone’s No. 4/No. 5 tomorrow from the looks of things

    A concern is that he’s not going to strike out almost any lefties at all, but then for the league minimum you accept certain drawbacks


    25 Feb 14 at 12:53 pm

  11. Cool; i generally don’t read Sullivan’s chats b/c I never thought he came off very well. But this is a pretty reasonable, educated answer.

    Todd Boss

    25 Feb 14 at 1:20 pm

  12. I have (irrational?) exuberance for Harper, depending on his health.

    If he is healthy, I see him as over .300, over 35 HR, and over 100 BI.

    And why not? His third year in the league, a chip on his shoulder, and he is, after all, Harper.

    This is going to be the year that he and Strasburg elevate to the level we anticipated. And, for that matter, Rendon will make a quantum leap statistically as well.


    25 Feb 14 at 3:47 pm

  13. I’ve liked him ever since he wrote this article about Jesus Montero learning to run last offseason. Hilarious.

    FWIW, there also was an article a week or two ago on Roark, basically saying that while his peripherals don’t look great, he showed an above average ability to get non swings on pitches in the zone. I am blanking on where I read it. I asked Sullivan whether that was considered a repeatable skill, and he said that it definitely was, it was one of the few measures on pitch deception. This was the first time that I had heard a theory on him that didn’t suggest a large amount of regression, so maybe you are right for being up on him.


    25 Feb 14 at 4:13 pm

  14. I’m completely optimistic on Harper and Strasburg as well. Something tells me Stras is a 20-game winner this year.

    If Harper puts up those kinds of numbers and Strasburg is a 20-game winner, you have to think this team is the division winner running away.

    Todd Boss

    25 Feb 14 at 4:13 pm

  15. I’ve ranted a fair amount about the bench so won’t revisit everything here. No offense to Carroll, but it’s pretty telling that both Boz and Kilgore have a 40-year-old guy in the running for a bench job. Sigh. At this stage of Carroll’s career, Rhymes or Josh Johnson would have more utility value, although they’re hardly mentioned. (Oops, Kolko has Johnson, whom he calls “John,” having hand surgery – out 4-6 weeks.)

    And yes, Moore and Hairston pretty much fill the same slot – RH bat, 1B, corner OF (not very well). Hairston came up as a 2B but hasn’t played there in a decade. McLouth is corner OF only. Kobernus played the AAA OF (all three spots) with no errors last year, and he certainly would have the speed to cover CF, but not much experience. He could also be used at 2B (his natural position) and 3B. Like Todd, I just can’t see Eury Perez sticking with the big club with the Nats for more than short situations. Souza would bring a lot more to the plate than just about any of these, and could play CF, although he’s more at home in RF.

    But based on the pitcher hitting derby, it sounds like the Nats should count on Christian Garcia as a pinch hitter!

    The question about Taylor Jordan is an interesting one. Do the Nats really see that much in him, or are they just holding out for a higher return? They’ll be showcasing him in the first start of the spring.


    25 Feb 14 at 8:11 pm

  16. I don’t experience this as a showcase. Look at who is in the lineup – people who need at bats and people who Williams wants to see in games.

    Jordan is competing for the #5. What we do know, with his going out Friday, is that he is game ready now. So let him make his case.

    What we don’t know about Espinosa is his bat. We’ll begin to see that on Friday. As we will with Moore, and with Taylor.

    The Taylor in the starting lineup is the more intriguing story line. If it were just about ‘playing the kid,’ Goodwin or Souza would have been perfectly fine. Taylor getting into the lineup before those two should really have folks talking. So when Williams said he wanted to get a look at Taylor under game conditions, he meant it.

    I don’t think the Nats have any intention of trading Jordan for awhile, yet. The next months before the trading deadline will tell them what they have in Fister, Jordan, Cole, Giolito, Solis, Purke, Roark, Detwiler, and Treinen (and the sleepers who will explode this year). That will factor into the Zimmerman negotiation and any trade considerations regarding Zimmerman.

    I am in the minority here, but as much as has been whispered about Gio, if he really dominates, let’s say along the lines of what Jordan did in AA last year, I can see him reaching AA this year, even with the innings limit. If the organization sees him as advanced enough that he can be in the 2015 conversation, that impacts Zimmerman, Fister, and Det, as well as the others. The team will need to know what their depth is and in what time frame.

    The reverse is also true. Locking up Zimmerman or Fister says a lot about how slowly they intend to move Giolito.

    Which begs the rhetorical question. Were Strasburg to come into the organization right now, how fast would he advance in the current climate?

    Another untold story to be told is how the next Dominican influx of talent this year will do. Will the 2014 GCL Nats again show far and away a premier collection of talent, even if nowhere near record setting?

    And will the 2013 baby Nats mature into talents that restore the broader reputation of the organization?

    Another question to be addressed (hopefully by one of the beat reporters or one of you visiting Viera), do the Nats intend to spend heavily on the international talent pool, while they can – a la the former setup in the amateur draft? Are they resisting Cuban investment because the scouting opportunities are more difficult?

    I am also toasting Josh Johnson. I’ve been rooting for him and wish him to get well soon. Hopefully his day will come with this team.


    25 Feb 14 at 11:43 pm

  17. I view Jordan getting this start as Forensicane does: if there’s really a competition for #5 starter, then Jordan, Roark, Ohlendorf and Detwiler are all going to get shots at it. Of course, I’m on record saying that Detwiler is going to be the choice, Jordan will be in AAA and Roark will be in the pen. So we’ll see what happens.

    Pre-arbitration starters are the best currency in the game. That’s why the Nats aren’t trading him. Karns didn’t prove he could hang in his limited starts last year; Jordan did. Maybe he isn’t going to be a Cy Young candidate, but for 5-6 years he projects as a #3-#4 starter in the league. Can’t beat that. That quality costs $13M/year on the open market.

    Giolito: could get to AA this year but I doubt it. I’m sure the team wants to see him throw a full season and for me i’m guessing that starts in Low-A and jumps to high-A.

    If Strasburg was drafted today, he’s still start in AA, jump to AAA quickly and then to the majors. He was that advanced. Look at what he did to AAA in his limited time there; it was embarassingly dominant.

    Todd Boss

    26 Feb 14 at 7:57 am

  18. Todd, I do not disagree with you about the valuation of Jordan. I do feel the the Nats have an organizational strategy to fill a rotation with five, (or at least four plus – I will explain below) #1 or #2 caliber starters.

    The organization has finally advanced to the point where it can add the word “controllable” to that characterization of #1 or #2 caliber starters.

    Controllable does not mean cheap, though cheap obviously allows the organization more flexibility. For a team that does not give out no-trade contracts, Ryan Zimmerman is controllable, Jayson Werth is controllable. I do not believe they use the word controllable interchangeably with cheap. They just have a lot of early career talent right now.

    With that said, Strasburg’s ceiling is one of the top three pitchers in the game, or even higher. They will not let him get away, even if he seeks free agency. Gio nearly won a Cy Young award and that was no fluke. He is a #1 or #2 caliber starter. Zimmerman is a #1 or # 2 caliber starter. Fister, in the National League, may be as well.

    Which leaves the #5 slot. I truly believe, and this is what is so exciting about the system — (and why prospect raters are as I have said before, full of shayt at #19) — that some, and not just one among the plethora of arms the team has been collecting is going to emerge as not a #3 or #4, but a #1 or #2.

    For a team that wants to dominate and bein the World Series every year, that’s the name of your web site and that is how it would be done. It’s an Arms Race, looking for the best arsenal.

    So I think that the team feels that until Jordan “finds out how good he is (another cliche)”, that THEY think his ceiling is higher than #3. If the time comes that he is not a higher ceiling than a #3 or #4, whatever his value, that will be an important chip to fill a hole by major injury (let’s say Ramos went down) or defection in free agency (which is not on the horizon for two years (Desmond or Zimm).

    That is another reason why finding out how good Giolito is will be so important this year. It was Davey Johnson who brought Dwight Gooden up last year, a pitcher who leaped from the Carolina league to an outstanding rookie year with the Mets at age 19. I think that if the Nats feel they have a Gooden level talent on their hands, the Nats will get Giolito to AA this year to have enough of a look to affect the discussion about Zimmerman and Fister and Detwiler.

    It’s very, very exciting to watch. Again, we can all speculate about who has #1 or #2 talent, but the beauty is that the organization does not need to know now and yet needs to know soon. This creates fascinating storylines all over the minor leagues this year.

    And again, NO ONE saw the ascent of Jordan and Roark last year, and NO ONE saw the breakout of Karns the year before, and NO ONE saw the breakout of Peacock the year before that.

    So my list above is necessarily inadequate — again, exciting when you consider how many names are on it even now.

    What makes a #1 or #2? Velocity? Tell that to Greg Maddux. And to Doug Fister. The early returns on what he is showing this spring, as a pitcher with command if not velocity, and as a fielder and holder of runners, speak “long term team relationship” to me. And if he turns out to take the step that Gio Gonzalez did when he came to the National League, we will all be quite giddy, even if Robbie Ray turns out to be all the rage.

    And tell that to Tanner Roark. If he replicated his numbers over an entire year, he would be a “#1 or #2”, no matter how old or torturous his career is of whether he throws 93 or 95. Ace means you are money. (with that said, I agree that is destined right now for long relief with the ML).


    26 Feb 14 at 11:38 am

  19. Not to threadjack, but one last thing.

    To me, the biggest challenge for the Nats will be, offensively, to develop clutch power and run producing ability when the team is down and needs a comeback and big hit.

    Whether this means the team will benefit from “veteran presence” and means that people like Jamey Carroll will join McLouth and Hairston on the bench, maybe. But that quality seemed to follow Morse and others around him in the lineup.

    Zimmerman has been that walkoff guy in earlier years. Desmond has it in him. Ramos has it in him for sure. And Werth, well, he was well ahead of anyone else on the offense last year in that department.

    So perhaps the most important thing about Harper this year may be whether, irrespective of numbers, he becomes that guy in the lineup who has such ignition that he delivers the key home run or extra base hit and is at the heart or the head of comebacks and late inning scoring that wins one run games. He has it in him to transcend the game.


    26 Feb 14 at 11:49 am

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