Nationals Arm Race

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

DC-IBWAA 2014 Poll results and my vote

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Each year, David Nichols of the District Sports Page blog does a great job getting all the Nats bloggers to participate in pre-season and post-season polls, voting on awards for the team for the year.

For 2014, here’s his post-season awards as voted on by us nerd bloggers.  2013′s post-season poll results and my post here.

Here’s how I voted and why.

2014 DC-Internet Baseball Writers Association

POST-SEASON ACHIEVEMENT AWARDS BALLOT

 

 AWARD FIRST (5 POINTS) SECOND (3 points) THIRD (1 point)
Goose Goslin Most Valuable Player
Player most valuable to the success of the Washington Nationals
Rendon Werth LaRoche
Walter Johnson Starting Pitcher of the Year
Excellent performance as a starting pitcher
Zimmermann Fister Roark
Frederick “Firpo” Marberry Relief Pitcher of the Year
Excellent performance as a relief pitcher
Storen Clippard Soriano
Sam Rice Hitter of the Year
Excellence in all-around hitting, situational hitting and baserunning
Rendon Span Werth
Frank Howard Slugger of the Year
Excellence in power hitting
LaRoche Desmond Rendon
Joe Judge Defensive Player of the Year
Excellence in fielding
Rendon Harper Span
Mickey Vernon Comeback Player of the Year
Player who overcame biggest obstacle in the preceding season to contribute on the field
Storen Roark Barrett
Josh Gibson Humanitarian Player of the YearPlayer who meritoriously gave of himself to the community Zimmerman Desmond Ramos
Minor League Player of the Year Minor league player most destined for big league success Souza Taylor Giolito

Award by Award:

  • Team MVP: Have to go with Rendon; easily leads the team in WAR (by a nearly 3-win margin in bWAR over Werth/Span in second place).   Werth continues to steadily hold on to his skills and contribute well into his mid 30s, while LaRoche put up a great contract year performance.
  • Starter of the Year: No argument here: Zimmermann was the best starter on the year.  Fister‘s advanced stats don’t like him (his FIP is above 4.00) but he gets results.  And Roark remains the best “found gold” the Nats have had in terms of prospect matriculation since the likes of Brad Peacock.
  • Reliever of the Year: Storen‘s great bounce back  year has to put him in the lead, followed closely behind by Clippard.  Still think the Soriano acquisition was worth it?  I have him 3rd here just by virtue of his first half … and because the rest of the relievers were either long guys (Stammen, Detwiler), matchup loogies (Blevins, Thornton) or guys who spent more time in AAA than the majors (Barrett, Treinen).
  • Hitter of the Year: Rendon, Werth obvious top 3 guys, but I like what Span‘s done this year in terms of jacking his average up.  Another classic contract year performance.
  • Slugger of the year: I just went with the team leaders in homers 1-2-3.  You would have thought that Harper would be here by now.
  • Defender of the year: looking at the various advanced stats, I ended up with Rendon for his excellent work at 2B and 3B, then Harper (an excellent UZR/150 in left on the year).  Span has a negative UZR/150 in center on the year, but passes the eye test.  I’ll be curious to see how he ends up looking in the other defensive metrics.  So he gets 3rd place essentially because there’s not another regular who has a positive UZR/150 on the team.
  • Comeback player: Storen makes the most sense … his comeback has been two years in the making.  Roark isn’t really a comeback guy as much as he’s a “making the most of his chances guy.”  Neither is Barrett honestly; but there’s not a good example of someone who was hurt or really came out of nowhere to make this team better.
  • Humanitarian: Honestly I only know of two guys on the Nats who actively do humanitarian/charity stuff and that’s Zimmerman and Desmond.
  • Minor League Player of the Year.  As discussed in the comments of another post recently, for me “Minor League Player of the Year” is a completely different list than the subtitle offered of “Minor league player most destined for big league success.”  POTY for me this year went Souza, Taylor and Giolito, while the top 3 prospects in our system probably are Giolito, Cole and Taylor.

Additional Questions

1) Of the players on the current active roster (or DL), which players do you think will not be part of the organization next season?

Pitchers: Blevins, Mattheus, Ohlendorf, Soriano, Detwiler

Out-field players: Solano, Cabrera, LaRoche, Frandsen, Span, Hairston, Schierholz

I’m guessing the team declines Soriano’s option, non-tenders Ohlendorf, Mattheus and Detwiler, and DFAs Blevins after his poor season.

Of the positional players, the team won’t exercise its options on LaRoche or Span, will have to end up DFA-ing Solano (and perhaps others; I havn’t done my options analysis yet) due to having no more options, and will let veteran FAs Frandsen, Hairston and Schierholz hit free agency.  I think Cabrera is going to command too much money for the team to realistically consider him.

2) Will Ian Desmond or Jordan Zimmermann sign a contract extension before they hit the free agent market?

No.  Both will go to FA.  Desmond to the Yankees to be the next Derek Jeter, Zimmermann to highest bidder.

3) Who was the biggest pleasant surprise on this year’s team?

Rendon’s advancement and central role on the team.

4) Who was the biggest disappointment?

Zimmerman’s continued inability to stay healthy.  A close second is Harper’s injury riddled season and struggles.

5) Who is your favorite professional Nats writer?

Mark Zuckerman #1.  After him, i’ll go with Adam Kilgore 2nd and Byron Kerr third.

6) Which is your favorite non-professional Nats blog or writer?

Luke Erickson; sorry to see him take a step back.  My #2 probably is NatsGM Ryan Sullivan, #3 Luigi de Guzman of Natsradamus (when he infrequently posts).

Rotation Reviews of your 2014 Playoff Teams

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Will the Nats be staring down Kershaw in the playoffs? Photo via wiki.

Will the Nats be staring down Kershaw in the playoffs? Photo via wiki.

Here we are.  After a crazy trade deadline in July, and an August and September that featured the division leaders (in most cases) solidifying their positions and extending their leads, the playoffs are upon us.

Lets take a look at the rotations of the playoff teams (despite the fact that the four Wild Card teams are just one-man pitching staffs until they win the play-in game).  Who lines up best?  For each team i’ve tried to line the pitchers up one through five, with the 5th guy being the one headed to the bullpen.

(Quick useful links: AL full standings on b-r.com, NL full standings, and post season schedule at MLB.com).

Trade deadline 2014 acquisitions highlighted in blue.  Pre-season acquisitions highlighted in Green for context.

NL Division Champs:

  • Washington: Strasburg, Gonzalez, Zimmerman, Fister, Roark (yes this is how I think it will shake out despite Roark’s great season-long performance; we posted on this separately)
  • St. Louis: Wainwright, Lynn, Wacha, Miller, Lackey (Masterson to the bullpen when Wacha came back)
  • Los Angeles: Kershaw, Greinke, Ryu, Haren, Hernandez, Wright (Beckett hurt, done for year, Ryu coming back, should be ok for playoffs so I’ve inserted him as the #3.  Maholm, Billingsley, Fife hurt all year).

Just look at what the Dodgers have tried to do to keep their rotation afloat in terms of player acquisition over the past couple of years.  I’d like to have their budget.  They will have no less than eleven capable, MLB-experienced starters once they’re all healthy.  Yes Kershaw is unbeatable, but as pointed out earlier this year, they are basically a .500 team otherwise.  Their 4th and 5th starters have been below replacement for much of the past month but they’re getting back Ryu right in time for the playoffs.   St. Louis’ rotation looks just as strong as it has been for the past few years; Wainwright quietly has 20 wins and a 2.38 ERA on the season.  Lynn has been great.  Only Miller has struggled but still has a league-average ERA+.

It is hard not to look at the Nationals’ rotation and claim they’re the deepest one-through-four, despite Gonzalez’s struggles.   I’d take our #4 (Fister) over anyone else’s #4, I think our #3 matches up just as favorably to anyone els’es #3, and Strasburg has a 1.34 ERA in September as the #1.

NL Wild Card:

  • Pittsburgh: Liriano, Cole, Locke, Volquez, Worley (Morton dinged up late Sept, made way for Cole).
  • San Francisco: Bumgarner, Hudson, Petit, Vogelsong, Peavy (Lincecum to bullpen for Petit, Cain out all year)

The NL WC pitching match-up will be Bumgarner-Liriano.  Both teams manipulated their rotations at season’s end to preserve their aces for the coin-flip game.  We’ll do a separate prediction piece.

NL Also-Rans;

  • Atlanta:  Teheran, Minor, Santana, Harang, Wood (Beachy, Floyd, Medlen out all year)
  • Milwaukee: Lohse, Garza, Gallardo, Peralta, Fiers (Nelson and Estrada to bullpen)

The Braves fell so far, so badly in September that they were nearly surpassed by the lowly NY Mets for 2nd place in the NL East.  That’s crazy.  But they still remain here as an also-ran because they were in the wild card race until mid-September.  I still think it is crazy what they were able to accomplish given the starting pitcher injuries they suffered in spring training and don’t quite understand why Frank Wren was fired.  If you want to fire him for his crummy FA contracts so be it; but the man engineered a team that made the playoffs three of the past five years.  Harsh treatment if you ask me.  Insider comments seem to think that Wren lost an internal power-struggle involving Fredi Gonzalez.


And here’s what we’re looking at in the AL:

AL Division Champs:

  • Baltimore: Tillman, Norris, Chen, Gonzalez, Gausman (Jimenez demoted to BP)
  • Detroit: Scherzer, Verlander, Sanchez, Price, Porcello
  • Los Angeles: Weaver, Wilson, Shoemaker, Santiago, Rasmus, LeBlanc (Richards injured, Skaggs hurt)

It is hard to look at these rotations and comprehend where these teams currently stand:

  • How is Baltimore leading the AL East by 12 games?  None of these guys are a league-wide “Ace.”
  • How is Detroit not pulling away from the AL Central with this collection of arms?  Of course, you could ask this question of Detroit over and again the past few years; with a stacked lineup and stacked rotation they have just barely won their (usually) weak division year after year.
  • How does Los Angeles have the best record in the majors with a non-drafted FA and a waiver claim in their Sept rotation?  Would you favor this rotation over Detroit’s?

I guess it doesn’t matter; these teams have bashed their way to their titles and should continue to hit in the post-season.  Apparently the O’s aren’t going to go with Gausman in their playoff rotation despite his good seasonal numbers.  It may be a case of veteran manager going with the veterans, as Gausman’s numbers are pretty much in line with most of the rest of the Baltimore rotation.  The injury to Richards really hurts the Angels: Weaver may be close to an Ace but Wilson showed he is hittable in the post-season and lord knows what will happen when LA has to throw their #3 and #4 choices.

AL Wild Cards:

  • Kansas City: Shields, Duffy, Ventura, Guthrie, Vargas
  • Oakland: Grey, Samardzija, Lester, Hammel, Kazmir

AL Wild Card looks like a knock-out match-up of Shields and Lester; the A’s burned Grey yesterday to get the win that put them in the playoffs.  Oakland has to be kicking themselves; how did they go from (easily) the best team in the majors for the first half to struggling to hang onto the WC spot?   On paper replacing 3/5ths of the rotation (out with Chavez, Milone, Pomeranz and Straily, in with Samardzija, Lester and Hammel) sounded like a great idea … but to me the team’s chemistry was clearly un-balanced.  At least they held on to the spot and avoiding a one-game play-in against Felix Hernandez.

AL Also-Rans:

  • Seattle: Hernandez, Walker, Iwakuma, Paxton, Young (Elias out for year)
  • New York: McCarthy, Greene, Kuroda, Capuano, Pineda (with Tanaka finally coming back at season’s end.  Nova and Sabathia gone all year with injuries).

All Seattle needed to do was *get* to the wild card game … and they’d have great odds of advancing behind ace Hernandez.  But struggled to the finish line.  Meanwhile Cleveland and New York would have been mentioned here a week ago, but both squads just ran out of time to make comebacks.  I’ll give NY credit: they played 7 games better than their pythagorean record with huge chunks of their rotation gone for the season and depending on guys who’s names I had to look up.

Coming soon; a review of the WC matchups with predictions.

 

Written by Todd Boss

September 29th, 2014 at 8:58 am

UVA’s 2015 baseball recruiting class ranked top-10

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The publication Collegiate Baseball Newspaper recently announced its Top 40 college baseball recruiting classes, and 2014 CWS runner-up UVA was ranked 9th.  LSU, Wichita State, Florida, San Diego and Oklahoma State comprise the surprising top 5, though the rest of the top 10 contains some of the expected collegiate powerhouse programs.  In late October, Baseball America ranked UVA’s class even higher, at #2 in the country behind only LSU.

(Also: UVA announced their 2015 schedule on 9/25/14, schedule here).

UVA published their own press release, which detailed the names in their recruiting class.  A good friend (UVA alumni who has taken a big interest in the squad with their recent success) asked me to react to the class with what I knew.  Here’s what I wrote:

(Here’s what I wrote about UVA-committed players after the 2014 draft, and some of these guys were covered in my “pre-2014 season draft prospects” piece).

- Derek Casey: he’s the player I’d be most happy about coming to school, were I a UVA fan.  He was a 3rd round talent, undefeated in his HS pitching career, 93-94 on the gun.  He should go far towards replacing the arms UVA stands to lose after next season to the draft (basically, all three of their projected weekend starters are Juniors in 2015).
- Pavin Smith probably replaces Mike Papi like-for-like in the lineup; big lefty 1B/OF type.  Well regarded nationally.
- Charlie Cody was more highly ranked on prospect boards before his Senior year; he’s a good bat addition.  At one point early in 2014 he was ranked as high as #34 for all HS prospects nation-wide by one ranking service.
- Bennett Sousa is another guy who got a lot of national recognition even if he wasn’t drafted.  93mph from the left hand side, another future starter.
- Tommy Doyle: its hard to say just how good he is: yes he got drafted (by the Nats in the 34th round) but his drafting seemed to be one of those “draft a local kid to appease a part-owner’s buddy” kind of things.  He pitched at a small high school (Flint Hill Prep in Oakton) with almost no competition, making it really tough to gauge how good he is.  He also played for a no-name travel team instead of someone like the Evoshield Canes.  What he does have going for him is his size: he’s 6’6″ and hitting 91, which probably comes out of his hand about a foot closer to the plate than a guy who is 6′ even, making it look that much faster.  If he can add a few mph, he’ll be a beast.
- Jack Gerstenmaier, like Cody, had his stock drop in 2014 for whatever reason.  He was a 1st team PerfectGame All-American for the region at one point.  But Gerstenmaier-Cody could be UVA’s double play combo for years.

Of the rest of UVA’s announced class, I don’t know anything about them, even the local guys.  I’d guess that a couple of them are good talents … but most of them might be on minimal-to-no scholarship.

UVA lost a big-time recruit last minute in Devon Fisher (no relation to 2014 supp-1st round pick Derek Fisher); he was a catcher from Portsmouth who got drafted and then signed with Boston.  20th rounder so probably not for a lot of cash, which makes it that much more of a surprise.  He would have pushed this class up the rankings for sure.

With the new draft rules in place, its likely that guys like Cody, Casey and Gerstenmaier let it be known they had strong college commitments and thus that hampered their draft status.  Same thing happened to Conner Jones last year.  Good for UVA that they draw so well.

It seems UVA is quite setup for the future in terms of arms:

  • 2015 rotation: Kirby, Waddel, Sborz on weekends, one of the freshman/sophomores (Jones?) mid-week.
  • 2016 rotation: Choosing from Jones, Bettinger, Sousa, Doyle and Casey.  not bad.

Nats Minor League Players of the Year; indicator of future success?

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Souza gets well-deserved recognition from the team.   Photo Nats official/Tommy Gilligan

Souza gets well-deserved recognition from the team. Photo Nats official/Tommy Gilligan

The Nationals on 9/24/14 announced that Lucas Giolito and Steven Souza were named their minor league players of the year for 2014 (announcement made on twitter, h/t to FederalBaseball for the initial posting on the topic).

No surprise for Souza, who sported an OPS above 1.000 in AAA.  I was a bit surprised Giolito got the nod over someone like Taylor Hill, Austin Voth‘s 2-level rise, or especially what A.J. Cole did this year, but you cannot argue with his season all in all.

Here’s an look though at the history of the Nats’ minor league players of the year.  Does earning the award guarantee future success?

  • 2014: Steven Souza, Lucas Giolito
  • 2013: Billy Burns, Taylor Jordan
  • 2012: Matt Skole, Nathan Karns (also BA’s two POTY for the org)
  • 2011: Steve Lombardozzi, Brad Peacock
  • 2010: Tyler Moore, Tommy Milone
  • 2009: Derek Norris, Brad Meyers
  • 2008: Leonard Davis, Jordan Zimmermann
  • 2007: Justin Maxwell, John Lannan
  • 2006: Kory Casto, Zech Zinicola
  • 2005: Kory Casto, Mike O’Conner

I’d say that it is quite hit or miss.  Of the 9 distinct hitters named in the Nats franchise history, I think the only guy you could claim has lived up to his minor league success is Derek NorrisLeonard Davis never even made the majors.  Kory Casto barely did: hitting below .200 in parts of two major leagues seasons before getting DFA’d.  Most of the rest of these guys at best are no more than role players (with “too early to tell” labels on Skole and Souza of course).

Of the pitchers; clearly Jordan Zimmermann has blossomed into the real thing, and a couple of the other names here have turned into serviceable #4/#5 starters (Lannan, Milone).  Perhaps its indicative of just how poor the farm system was upon the team’s arrival in Washington that the first two pitchers of the system were a guy who never pitched in the majors (Zinicola) and another who had a career 5.30 ERA in 35 MLB apperances over several years.  Meyers never came back from a shoulder injury; no shame there.

Before 2005, my information is a little spotty on who the Expos named.  Here’s what I do know:

2004: Ryan Church
2003: Terrmel Sledge
2002
2001
2000: Brad Wilkerson
1999:
1998: Michael Barrett, Noah Hall
1997:
1996: Vladimir Guerrero
1995: Vladimir Guerrero

 

 

Nats playoff rotation: who will be in and who should be in?

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Roark may be odd-man out in the playoffs.  Photo Alex Brandon/AP via wp.com

Roark may be odd-man out in the playoffs. Photo Alex Brandon/AP via wp.com

The NL East champion Nationals have a problem that lots of teams would like to have: they have 5 great starter options for 4 post-season rotation spots.  Who should we pick, and in what order should they pitch?

(all stats are as of 9/23/14 courtesy of baseball-reference.com)

Option 1: stick with the season-long rotation.  Strasburg-Gonzalez-Zimmermann-Fister with Roark heading to the bullpen.

Pos Name W L W-L% ERA ERA+ FIP WHIP G GS IP BB SO BB9 SO9 SO/W
SP Stephen Strasburg 13 11 0.542 3.23 116 2.98 1.139 33 33 209 42 235 1.8 10.1 5.6
SP Gio Gonzalez* 9 10 0.474 3.74 100 3.13 1.233 26 26 151.2 54 150 3.2 8.9 2.78
SP Jordan Zimmermann 13 5 0.722 2.78 135 2.75 1.117 31 31 190.2 28 172 1.3 8.1 6.14
SP Doug Fister 15 6 0.714 2.55 147 4.07 1.123 24 24 155 24 89 1.4 5.2 3.71
SP Tanner Roark 14 10 0.583 2.85 131 3.49 1.102 30 30 192.1 39 137 1.8 6.4 3.51

This is likely what happens regardless, since manager Matt Williams is old school and likely sticks with his veterans over the “new guy” in Roark.  Thanks to four off-days between their last regular season game (Sunday 9/28) and the first game of the playoffs (Friday 10/3) it doesn’t even matter what order these guys have been pitching in; even the guy who goes Sunday (scheduled to be Gio) would have four full days of rest prior to the NLDS opener.

Option 2: Go with the four best starters in terms of season-long performance: Zimmermann-Fister-Strasburg-Roark with Gonzalez the odd-man out.

Looking at the above stats, this would be your top four going strictly by a subjective opinion looking at the “old school” stats of W/L record and ERA.  But a closer look at the FIPs show this to be faulty logic; despite his excellent numbers Fister has the highest FIP of the starters despite having the best ERA+ figure.  Plus, you really don’t want to leave out your sole lefty starter in a playoff series.

Option 3: Go with the hottest hands. Strasburg-Zimmermann-Gonzalez-Roark with Fister in the pen.

Here’s the stats for the last 5 starts for each guy:

Pos Name Team W Team L W-L% ERA babip BAA WHIP G GS IP BB SO BB9 SO9 SO/W
SP Stephen Strasburg 3 2 0.6 1.34 0.28 0.21 0.802 5 5 33.66 2 33 0.535 8.82 16.5
SP Gio Gonzalez* 3 2 0.6 3.41 0.25 0.22 0.958 5 5 31.33 4 23 1.149 6.61 5.75
SP Jordan Zimmermann 5 0 1 2.03 0.3 0.23 1.032 5 5 31 4 32 1.161 9.29 8
SP Doug Fister 3 2 0.6 3.26 0.27 0.27 1.352 5 5 30.33 9 12 2.671 3.56 1.333
SP Tanner Roark 2 3 0.4 3.13 0.3 0.28 1.169 5 5 31.66 3 19 0.853 5.4 6.333

Taking a look at each starter’s last 5 starts, a couple things become clear: Strasburg, as we have all seen, is on fire; just two walks in 33+ innings and a 1.34 ERA.  Its ridiculous that the team hasn’t won all five of his games.  Washington has won all five of Zimmermann’s starts.  Meanwhile, Fister looks like the weakest link here, with the highest whip and the fewest Ks in the closing run.  Roark’s finish hasn’t been too bad, but his peripherals put him behind Gio.

Option 4: Look at the home-road splits to pick starters.  Strasburg-Roark-Zimmerman-Fister

Here’s the season long home/away splits for our starters.

Pos Name Split W L W-L% ERA G GS IP BB SO WHIP SO9 SO/W
SP Gio Gonzalez* Home 4 3 0.571 3.88 12 12 65 23 63 1.3 8.7 2.7
SP Gio Gonzalez* Away 5 7 0.417 3.63 14 14 86 31 87 1.2 9 2.8
SP Stephen Strasburg Home 8 3 0.727 2.7 17 17 110 17 133 1.1 10.9 7.8
SP Stephen Strasburg Away 5 8 0.385 3.82 16 16 99 25 102 1.2 9.3 4.1
SP Tanner Roark Home 6 6 0.5 2.5 14 14 90 23 61 1.2 6.1 2.7
SP Tanner Roark Away 8 4 0.667 3.17 16 16 102 16 76 1.1 6.7 4.8
SP Doug Fister Home 7 2 0.778 1.95 10 10 69 10 47 0.9 6.1 4.7
SP Doug Fister Away 8 4 0.667 3.05 14 14 85 14 42 1.3 4.4 3
SP Jordan Zimmermann Home 6 2 0.75 2.81 16 16 96 16 78 1.2 7.3 4.9
SP Jordan Zimmermann Away 7 3 0.7 2.76 15 15 94 12 94 1 8.9 7.8

This isn’t so much about picking who is better at home; its going with those who have the best away records.  Zimmermann and Fister both give a better chance of winning on the road and make sense as game #3 and #4 starters.  Meanwhile both Strasburg is less effective on the road versus at home.   This scenario leaves us without Gio though, our sole lefty, so it probably isn’t viable.

Option #5: play match-ups with the opponent.  Unfortunately, I’m hoping the team clinches the top seed, which means they go against the wild card winner … and while we’re pretty sure we know who the WC teams are (San Francisco and Pittsburgh) at this point … we don’t know who will host the play-in game, nor who they’ll be throwing.   Washington took the season series against both squads (4-3 over Pittsburgh, 5-2 over San Francisco), and the timing of those series are also interesting:

  • Nats dropped 3 out of 4 in Pittsburgh in May when playing poorly.
  • Nats swept Pittsburgh 3 straight in August at home as they began to solidify their lead in the division.
  • Nats won 3 out of 4 in San Francisco in June when they were still a .500 team.
  • Nats won 2 out of 3 at home in August in a slug-fest of a series.

Fister beat Liriano in Pittsburgh in May; Strasburg, Zimmermann and Treinen all lost.   Then, Roark and Fister pitched effectively in August while Gio was run-of-the-mill.

Against San Francisco; Strasburg, Fister and Roark all pitched great in ATT Park (only Treinen got beat).  Then at home, Strasburg was awful, Fister mediocre and Zimmerman effective in the August series.

Does that tell us much?  Not really.


In the end, I think it’s going to be the same rotation that we lined up on opening day, in the same order. Luckily for us, that means our hottest pitcher (Strasburg) getting the ball in game #1 and #5, it means our two starters who are best away from home will get the ball in games #3 and #4 at the opponent’s park, and it gives us a decent balance of lefty/righty in the first two games at home.  No room for Roark though, which is a shame considering his performance on the year.

So much for cutting edge analysis :-)

 

Written by Todd Boss

September 23rd, 2014 at 3:08 pm

Blogging goodbyes and hellos

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When I first started blogging here (4+ years and 750+ posts ago), the sole local coverage of the Nats farm systems was thanks to Brian Oliver‘s Nationals Farm Authority blog.  Oliver covered the farm systems with daily recaps of each minor league affiliate’s game, some quick stat lines for stars and duds, and generally made it quite easy to follow the minor league affiliates.

Following the minor leagues was important in 2010, because the team had just bottomed out with two straight 100+ loss seasons, had jettisoned a GM that seemed out of his depth to turn the team around, and had just drafted two of the biggest draft-day names in a generation in Stephen Strasburg and Bryce  Harper.  I was personally convinced that the pathway to success at the MLB level, and the most undervalued resource in the game, was developing quality pre-arbitration starters out of your system.  I began tracking the rotations of the minor league teams closely, looking for the next Jordan Zimmermann (arguably the best starter this team has developed not named Strasburg in the Washington era of baseball).

Eventually, Oliver “took a real job” and had to step down from daily posting.  When Oliver hung ‘em up, a new blogger stepped up to take his place.  Initially going by a pseudonym (literally, “Sue Dinem”), but eventually “coming out” and revealing his name, Luke Erickson‘s Nationals Prospects blog picked up where Oliver left off and has served as the go-to place for tracking Nats affiliates for the past several years.  I would not be able to track the minor league rotations like I do without his work.  And, as was probably an inevitability, Erickson too has announced he’s hanging them up (clarification per Luke: “dialing it back”) and heading back into the workforce himself.

Back in the 2009 time-frame, I covered for Oliver for a week of doing his weekly recaps on NFA.  He was going on vacation and would not have any time to do the coverage.  I quickly discovered the time involved; it took 2+  hours a day to run through the links and drill down into the recaps done at various local papers to do this daily coverage.  In fact, I created a links page at my own personal website just to assist with the linking (a links page that I maintain and use to this day in fact; scroll to the bottom for all the minor league affiliate links).  At the end of the week I questioned how Oliver found the time … and always marveled at how Erickson kept it up for years on end.

Nowadays, there’s more people covering the farm system (just off the top of my head, Ryan Sullivan‘s NatsGM does a great job, especially in draft coverage, and the likes of Byron Kerr at MASN and some of the MLB guys are doing more farm coverage than ever before), which is great, but the stuff that Erickson provided was invaluable.  I sincerely hope that someone steps up to continue the daily farm coverage like we’ve seen (I know that Erickson had some help writing the dailies this season; if you’re reading this Jason CrockerJulie Goldberg, Souldrummer and whoever is “the two SDs” I hope you consider taking over).  In fact, if someone doesn’t take over perhaps we could propose a daily summary by community to spread around the work, where volunteers would take certain days to keep the summaries alive.  I’d certainly be up for this arrangement, committing to one day a week instead of seven.

In the meantime, as discussed in the comments, long time commenter “bdrube” (real name Karl Kolchak) has announced his own blog and I’d like to welcome him to the fold.  Nats EXPOsed has started with a strong set of prospect-centric posts and I encourage everyone to give him a RSS subscribe and join the party.

Thanks again to Luke’s years of efforts.

 

2014 Fantasy Baseball post-mortem

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Stanton blasting another 450-foot homer.  Photo unk via rantsports.com

Stanton blasting another 450-foot homer. Photo unk via rantsports.com

(Standard disclaimer; this is ranting about my fake baseball team.  If you don’t play fantasy, might as well skip this).

I’m really beginning to question my abilities in fantasy sports.  Despite being deep into baseball and knowing random things off the top of my head that should be of use in fantasy (which managers are more inclined to do closer by committee, which ball parks are skewed offensively and thus players who play there may be at an advantage), I struggle year after year.

This year, thanks to an unfortunately timed meltdown (I lost a week 0-10-2 after having been ahead early in the week), I dropped just out of the playoff spots in my league (top 6 make the playoffs out of a 12 team league).  But the ills of my team were seen early.  Once again, I was plagued by under performing players and a poor draft that left me churning the waiver wire.  By the end of the season I had made 58 of the 65 allotted moves in a failed attempt to improve enough to sneak into the playoffs (where honestly, I would have been a tough out; I can grind out 6-5-1 wins with the best of them).

So, what happened?  Here’s a link to the post talking about my initially drafted team.  And here’s a matrix of my 21 initially drafted players, their performance on the year and a note indicating whether or not they over- or under-achieved (bold means on the team at  year’s end, red = badly under performed, green = greatly over-performed).

Player round Drafted/# Drafted overall Yahoo o-rank 2013 Yahoo O-rank 2014 ADP at time of draft 2014 Perf Rank
Adam Jones-OF 1st round (#10 overall) 7 13 10th/11.4 21
Adrian Beltre-3B 2nd round (#15) 15 12 13th/13.2 46
Alex Rios-OF 3rd round (#34) 25 44 34th/35 179
Giancarlo Stanton-OF 4th round (#39) 222 26 24th/27.8 5
Kenly Janssen-RP 5th round (#58) 52 48 49th/53.2 102
Greg Holland-RP 6th round (#63) 36 63 62nd/62 60
Mark Trumbo-1B/OF 7th round (#82) 66 78 53rd/56.0 944
Carlos Santana-C/1B 8th round (#87) 134 87 69th/74.0 159
Shelby Miller-SP 9th round (#106) 76 88 110th/113.0 485
Hyung-Jin Ryu-SP 10th round (#111) 85 101 124th/127.2 95
Aaron Hill-2B 11th round (#130) 402 111 124th/115.8 364
Danny Salazar-SP 12th round (#135) 336 96 154th/150.4 355
Tony Cingrani-SP 13th round (#154) 152 133 156th/156.8 941
Jim Henderson-RP 14th round (#159) 130 155 170th/175.0 750
Shane Victorino-OF 15th round (#178) 67 113 125th/129.0 1144
Chris Archer-SP 16th round (#183) 175 171 208th/209.0 314
Asdrubal Cabrera-SS 17th round (#202) 267 151 171st/177.4 177
J.J. Hoover-RP 18th round (#207) 237 629 344th 922
Tim Hudson-SP 19th round (#226) 299 300 311th 171
Brandon Belt-1B 20th round (#231) 106 104 142th 988
Jake Odorizzi-SP 21st round (#250) 548 358 445th 197

So, what happened?

My first two picks didn’t underperform “badly,” but were not the super stars you need to take hold of a league.  I didn’t really like Adam Jones or Adrian Beltre at the draft, and despite some hot streaks they’ve been disappointments.  Beltre got hurt in camp and missed games at the beginning of the season.  My #3 pick Alex Rios I finally gave up on and waived; his seasonal rank of 179 belies what he’s done the last two months (closer to the 900 ranked range).  It’s never a good sign when your #3 pick gets waived thanks to performance (and not injury) reasons.

Giancarlo Stanton is my one major “win” out of the draft; a 4th round pick who likely will finish in the top 5 of stats on the season.  At the time of this writing, he was trailing only Mike Trout in terms of fantasy rankings for offensive players.  He single-handedly carried my team offensively for weeks on end and is a large reason that my team offense was 1st in homers and 3rd in RBI.   I feel vindicated here: I suffered through at least two injury-riddled Stanton seasons in the past after having drafted him highly, and he’ll have the same issue next year; he’ll likely be a top-5 pick with a huge injury risk on his head.

My two big-time closers did not disappoint: both Janssen and Holland performed as expected and led me to be 5th in team saves and  have a 14-7-1 record in the category on the year.  This is a big lesson learned for me; you can get by with just two big-time closers and be successful in this category.  Of course, I wanted more closers but got unlucky; my #3 closer Jim Henderson suddenly and without warning was yanked from the role on opening day.  Another team vultured his replacement (Francisco “K-rod” Rodriguez); all he’s done is pitch lights out all year and is 6th in the league in saves.  That should have been my 3rd closer.  That was a disappointment.  I tried just one waiver-wire closer grab (Chad Qualls for Houston) and despite picking correctly, Qualls went weeks without save opportunities so I dumped him after two weeks looking for more starter quality.

Lets talk about the god-awful positional player issues I had in the draft: Mark Trumbo started out white-hot, fractured his foot and missed months.  Aaron Hill did not come closer to living up to the hype of fantasy analysts.  Shane Victorino was on and off the D/L all year.  And poor Brandon Belt fractured his thumb, fought his way back and then got hit in the head during BP and still remains on the concussion D/L.

Of the Starting Pitchers I gambled on: Shelby Miller struggled all  year, Danny Salazar got demoted, as did Tony Cingrani.  Chris Archer did not produce at fantasy levels and Jake Odorizzi struggled early and was dropped (I eventually picked him back up).  I only kept two drafted starters on the team all year (Ryu and  Hudson) and frankly Hudson was so bad for so long that I came pretty close to dumping him.  That basically means that my “wait on starters” strategy was a complete failure, if I’m only keeping ONE decent starter the whole  year.

So, for the 2nd straight year I cycled the waiver wires.  Here’s some of the guys I went through:

  • Starters: Scheppers, Kluber, Eovaldi, Skaggs, Kennedy, Strohman, Peralta, Montero, Keuchel, Garcia, Beckett,  Wood, Leake, Despaigne, Bauer, Liriano, Duffy, Hellickson, Cole, Smyly
  • Relievers: Qualls
  • Catchers: Mesoraco, Ruiz
  • 1B: Francisco, Adams, Alonso, Singleton, Napoli, Carter, Duda
  • 2B: Walker, Prado, Gennett, Wong
  • SS: Aybar, Escobar, Baez, Betts
  • 3B: Castellanos, Seager, Arenado
  • OF: Rasmus, Parra, Stubbs, Crawford, Ozuna, Eaton, Reddick, Aoki

Scheppers I took a gamble on b/c his numbers were so good as a reliever; mistake.  He got shelled opening day and soon was on the D/L.   A number of these pitchers were decent moves and pitched well for a while (especially Josh Beckett and Marcus Strohman).  The biggest failure here was dumping Corey Kluber after he got hit hard opening day: He’s turned into the 16th best fantasy performer all year, a 2nd round talent.  That was a huge mistake.  I liked Eovaldi‘s peripherals (lots of Ks) but he struggled with runners and his ERA/WHIP were inflated all year.  Skaggs got hurt, Kennedy was ineffective.  I got great value for a while out of Keuchel, but after a good mid-summer he tailed off badly.  Garcia made like one start before returning to the D/L.  Josh Beckett was a great waiver wire pickup for a while, but he too got hurt and remains on the D/L today.  Alex Wood was a great find.  I snaked Gerrit Cole off the D/L just before he came back on but he contributed little.  Most of my other experiments were far too inconsistent week-to-week to trust (see Trevor Bauer, Despaigne, Mike Leake, etc).

As mentioned before, I only tried to gamble on one closer waiver wire pickup thanks to the solid two starters that I had from draft day.  Most of the available closers on the waiver wire were in committee situations and couldn’t be trusted anyway.

I worked 1B, 2B, and 3B hard.  At one point I was trying to engineer a 3B trade, having Seager while he was hot and Arenado after he came off the D/L.  But my potential trade partners badly low-balled me for Beltre (offering guys who were worth far less than Beltre was) and suddenly Seager dropped off a cliff, making his trade value useless.  Eventually I dumped both.

1B pickups Napoli, Duda and especially Carter turned out to be huge winners.  Once again proving my point that some positions are just so deep they’re not worth drafting.  Same with outfielders to a certain extent; I had Ozuna all  year and he’s turned out to be well worth it.

My season’s end Fantasy team after all this waiver wire churning.  Bold are original, red are waiver wire:

  • C: Santana
  • 1B: Carter, Duda
  • 2B: Baez, Prado
  • SS: Betts
  • 3B: Beltre
  • OF: Stanton, Jones, Ozuna
  • SP: Hudson, Ryu, Odorizzi, Cole, Hellickson, Wood, Duffy, Liriano, Smyly
  • RP: Jansen, Holland

That’s a lot of red.

Lessons Learned for Next Year

  1. You only need two big-time closers to compete.  Spend draft picks in the 5th and 6th rounds, try to get a third closer later on and you’ll do fine.  You must do a better job on the waiver wire though trying to grab closers if you want them.
  2. There’s always 1B talent on waivers.  Do not over-spend on 1B.
  3. My strategy of over-loading on mediocre starters just doesn’t seem to be working.  I was 3rd in wins and 5th in Ks, but 8th in ERA, dead last in losses and 11th in whip.   Meanwhile the #1 team this year went with an uber-pitching strategy (over-drafting starters and ending up with Kershaw, Sale, Felix Hernandez as well as several top closers) and he just dominated pitching.  Despite having a ton of starters, he managed to be 4th in Wins AND be 2nd in Whip.  I think he’s got a good strategy.  And i’m sure people will try to emulate it next year.
  4. Do not sweat churning and burning waiver wire picks early on; you may just end up with a monster surprise player on the year.  This was the 1st place team’s strategy and it netted him Charlie Blackmon and a couple of extra closers.  Two of the top 10 starters on the year were waiver wire guys: Corey Kluber and Garrett Richard.
  5. Do not hesitate grabbing big-name call-ups.  I missed out on more than a couple guys that I would have grabbed but hesitated.  This cost me last year with Yasiel Puig and it cost me this year with Jorge Soler and George Springer.  I waited, and I missed out.

Blech.  Hope you enjoyed the rant.

 

 

Statistics, Deception and Boswell

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In case you weren't aware, Clayton Kershaw is really good.  Photo via wiki.

In case you weren’t aware, Clayton Kershaw is really good. Photo via wiki.

Was casually reading Tom Boswell‘s article in the post today (which can be summarized as “1,000 words on why you don’t want to face Clayton Kershaw in the playoffs, duh) and he posted the following intriguing statistic as part of his argument:

  • In games started by Kershaw, the Dodgers are 19-4
  • In games NOT started by Kershaw, the Dodgers are 59-58

Ergo, the Dodgers are really beatable when they don’t throw Kershaw.

This sounded like a great stat.  Until you dive a little deeper and you do the same analysis for our own first place/better record than the Dodgers team.

Los Angeles is, as of the moment of this writing, 78-62.  By starter, their team record breaks down like this:

  • Kershaw: 19-4
  • Ryu: 15-9
  • Greinke: 14-13
  • Haren: 13-14
  • Beckett: 9-11
  • Other randoms: 8-11

All others besides Kershaw and Ryu: 44-49
All others but Kershaw: 59-58

Pretty compelling, eh? They’re a losing team when not throwing one of their two aces in Kershaw or Hyun-jin Ryu.   Surprisingly, the team under their supposed #2 Zack Grienke sports just a .500 record on the year through 27 starts despite his known quality.


Lets do the same analysis for the Nationals, currently sporting a better record of 79-59 and having just beaten the Dodgers two out of three at their house.  Here’s the Nats team record under each starter this year:

  • Zimmerman: 19-9
  • Fister: 14-7
  • Gio: 13-10
  • Stras: 16-13
  • Roark: 15-12
  • Jordan: 1-4
  • Treinen: 1-4

All others besides Zimmermann and Fister: 46-43.

Hmm.  So, much like the Dodgers, if you play the Nats and you’re not facing one of OUR two best pitchers, we’re basically a .500 team.

I guess the point is this: in a sport where a team that is winning 57% of its games has the best record in the majors, the margins for winning and losing are pretty slim.  Or maybe the point is this: you can use stats to support pretty much whatever hypothesis you wish to postulate.

I think everyone knows that beating Kershaw is nearly impossible, and facing him twice in a short series may be the difference between advancing and going home.  But then again, this is the same Kershaw who has (believe it or not) a career 4.23 ERA in the post-season and got hammered by the Cardinals for 7 runs in 4 innings in last  year’s NLCS.   I guess that’s why they play the games.

But, I think it is also safe to say that the series in Los Angeles showed why it’d be one heck of an NLCS if the seedings held and the two top NL teams  held form in the divisional series.  Lets hope it comes to pass.

No surprises in Sept 1 call-ups, yet

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Treinen returns to the Nats for the September run.  Photo via zimbio.com

Treinen returns to the Nats for the September run. Photo via zimbio.com

[A quick note; a combination of a dead-time for issues that I like to write about and a new consulting engagement has conspired to mean very little activity here.  Now that the minor league seasons are ending though, I look forward to some wrap-up posts looking at the starters.  Apologies for the lack of posts/activity here].

9/1/14 came and went, and there was little drama in the Nats call-ups.  All six players called up were a) already on the 40-man roster, and b) already had MLB service time this year.

  • Pitchers: Blake Treinen, Aaron Barrett and Xavier Cedeno.
  • Catcher: Sandy Leon
  • 1B/OFs Tyler Moore and Steven Souza

So, nobody shocking thus far.  In fact, its almost easier to talk about the remaining 40-man players they did NOT call up than the ones they did.   In fact, lets do just that.  Here’s the players still on the 40-man but not initially called up:

  • Taylor Hill: hey, somebody’s got to start for Syracuse in the playoffs, right?  He may be approaching an innings limit anyway.
  • Sammy Solis: still rehabbing, no where near ready for prime time.
  • Felipe Rivero: only a handful of AA starts since his long D/L stint.
  • Ryan Mattheus: completely ineffective this season (5.80 ERA), likely on his way to a DFA/outright this off-season.
  • Jhonatan Solano: hey, somebody’s got to catch for Syracuse in the playoffs, right? :-)
  • Michael Taylor: many think he’s ready for prime time; would you start his service time clock so he can ride the pine in September?  I wouldn’t.
  • Jeff Kobernus and Eury Perez: with Moore and Souza call-ups, there’s already 7 outfielders … no need for two more right?

I can still see some value in calling up Perez for his speed, but almost nobody else at this point from this list.

What about those in Syracuse that had great seasons but are not on the 40-man?  Tougher call: You’d have to clear room to add someone right now, and the team seems to have made its moves to that end already in Matt Thornton and Nate Schierholtz.  But, if someone wanted to congratulate minor league vets like Brandon Laird (.300/.350/.490 for Syracuse this year), Rafael Martin (0.80 ERA in 33+ AAA innings) or Matt Grace (a combined 1.17 ERA over 77 innings in AA and AAA this year) with a September call-up and a month’s worth of MLB per diems, I wouldn’t disagree.  I just think it’d be kind of hard to find the space.  I would support a DFA of Mattheus right now to make room; after that is tougher.  You’d have to cut the likes of Kobernus or perhaps a MLB veteran like Jerry Hairston and/or Kevin Frandsen to make room based on performance.  And I don’t think a players’ manager like Matt Williams is cutting any veterans to make room for some 25-yr old he’s never met in AAA.

Nonetheless; there’s some baseball to play and some impact to be had by these 9/1 call-ups.  I think Barrett and Treinen are going to slip right back into the bullpen.  Cedeno could take away lefty-lefty opportunities that Jerry Blevins has been squandering all year (speaking of someone who may be on his way to a DFA this off-season…).  I could see Moore getting some playing time spelling Adam LaRoche at first (he seems like a better offensive option there than Frandsen, who has been the sub of choice lately when LaRoche gets a blow).  I’m excited to see what Souza brings to the table too; he led the Chiefs in steals this year despite missing 40% of the season; he isn’t just some big 6’4″ slugger.

Seven game lead this morning after last night’s win and a guaranteed road-trip split.  That’s fantastic, especially considering who they’ve been playing and beating (ahem, Felix Hernandez having his hat handed to him).

Did the Nationals swing the vote for the new Commissioner?

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They did if you believe Murray Chass.  In his incredibly mean-spirited column today, he goes above and beyond to trash White Sox owner Jerry Reinsdorf, details the supposedly-secret voting process that resulted in baseball’s 10th commissioner Rob Manfred, and lists the teams that initially were voting against Manfred.  Though most in the industry have viewed Manfred as the odds-on heir apparent to Bud Selig, the voting process was apparently anything but smooth.

Personally I have no love for Reinsdorf; I feel like he’s a scrooge-like multi-millionaire who has pushed for years and years on all fronts to affect the industry in ways that lines his pockets even more.  He was the ringleader on the massive free agency collusion case and he was the impetus for capping bonus money for amateurs.  I can’t imagine the owners’ meetings being pleasant experiences right now, since Reinsdorf has basically ram-rodded into place policies that eliminated the advantages that small-market teams held in terms of player acquisition.

It was theorized elsewhere that a vote for his competitor (Red Sox chairman Tom Werner) was a vote for less revenue sharing, while a vote for Manfred was a vote for the continuation of Selig’s policies.  But that doesn’t make much sense if you look at the teams supposedly voting against Manfred (which included initially several smaller market teams).

I’ve read elsewhere that the Nats changed their vote and swung the election with tacit promises that the MASN situation would be resolved.  Which makes sense if its true, but I’m not sure how Manfred can do anything about the current lawsuits, injunctions and threats of MASN insolvency if the Oriole-owned RSN is forced to pay still-not-market rates for Nationals broadcast rights.

I have a long-in-draft mode post-morteming Selig’s tenure.  But I wonder if it is worth publishing, knowing that nearly every baseball writer out there will be doing the same, and they’ll be doing it with more time and better contacts in the industry.  We all kind of know the high and low points of his tenure.  A post for another day.

So, Manfred is set to take over in January.  I wonder what his impact will end up being.

Written by Todd Boss

August 15th, 2014 at 4:09 pm