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Nats all-star review: 2014 and years past

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Congrats to Zimmermann on his all-star selection.  Photo dcist.com/(AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)

Congrats to Zimmermann on his 2014 all-star selection. Photo dcist.com/(AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)

Here’s my annual Nationals All Star selection post.   As with last year’s post (which also links to subsequent years), I’m including a retrospective on our “illustrious” All Star representative history from years past.  If you read on and it sounds familiar, that’s because a lot of it is cut-n-pasted from previous versions of this post.  Even so, reading backwards to see who our All-star representatives were in the lean years is an interesting exercise.  There were many years that the “one representative per team” rule was bent pretty far in order to include a member of our lousy teams.

Discussion item for the comments: Do you feel that the Major League all-star game should be a collection of the games biggest and best stars year after year, or should it represent who’s having the best current season?  I’ll put in my two cents: right now (thanks partly to the one player from each team rule) the rosters are somewhat of a mix of these two philosophies but are leaning more and more towards “who is having the best season.”  This year for example, future hall of famers like Albert Pujols are not on the team while 2-month flash in the pans like Charlie Blackmon are.  But I feel like a showcase event like the All-Star game needs to highlight the games biggest stars.  And I don’t feel like it does.

Keith Law is right: when (to use our local examples) marquee/famous players like Bryce Harper and Stephen Strasburg are not selected in lieu of middle relievers who have a great ERA through 20 innings in the first couple months of the season, it does a disservice to the game.  Harper can’t open his mouth without it making national news and he’d be a draw at the game.  Same for Strasburg just on fame factor.  In this respect I always thought the NBA all-star game did the best job of making its event an actual “All Stars” event.  If you want to have an event that rewards players for the best SEASON … then do what the NFL does and have the all-star game after the season.  Right now we give all- star spots to guys who have a couple of hot months and who might be hitting .220 again by the end of the season.

The most egregious example of this lately probably was 2012′s Cubs representative Bryan LaHair, who made the all-star game thanks to a scorching first half in 2012.  You know where LaHair is now?  Chicago *released* him at the end of 2012; what all-star gets released in the season in which they make the team?  He played in Japan in 2013 (perhaps why he was released but still indicative of what the team thought of his true talents), hit .230 there, and is currently sitting on Cleveland’s AA roster (having hit .113 for their AAA team and getting demoted).  I dunno; is this the kind of “all star” you want to see in your league’s marquee event?  I don’t think so; even if Joey Votto is having a down year, I want to see him suit up and not some flash in the pan.

One other quick point.  If the season ended today, here’s your playoff teams and the number of players they have in the ASG: NL: Atlanta (3), Milwaukee (4), Los Angeles (4), Washington (1) and San Francisco (2).   And AL: Baltimore (3), Detroit (3), Oakland (6), Los Angeles (1) and Seattle (2).   Wow; looks to me like both the Nats and the Angels have some serious griping about player selection.  The Angels have the 2nd best record in the league and got just one representative (Mike Trout of course).

Anyway, on to the Nats historical representatives.


Here’s a link to the All Star Rosters for 2014, prior to the “last man in” voting and any pending injury replacements.

2014

  • Nationals All-Star representative: Jordan Zimmermann (Update post-publishing: Zimmermann strained a bicep, and had to withdraw from the ASG.  For a bit it looked like the Nats wouldn’t even have a representative, until Tyler Clippard was named on 7/13/14).
  • Snubs: Adam LaRoche, Anthony Rendon, Rafael Soriano, Drew Storen
  • Narrative: Zimmermann’s been the best starter on the best pitching staff in the majors this year, and thus earns his spot.  I find it somewhat odd that a first place team (or near to it) gets just one representative on the team (as discussed above).  Rendon tried to make the team via the “last man in” voting, but historically Nationals have not fared well in this competition (especially when better known players from large markets are in the competition, aka Anthony Rizzo from the Chicago Cubs), and indeed Rendon finished 4th in the last-man voting.  LaRoche is having a very good season, almost single handedly carrying the Nats offense while major parts were out injured, but he’s never going to beat out the slew of great NL first basemen (Joey Votto couldn’t even get into this game).  Soriano has quietly put together one of the best seasons of any closer in the game; at the time of this writing he has a 1.03 ERA and a .829 whip; those are Dennis Eckersley numbers.  But, the farce that is the all-star game selection criteria (having to select one player from each team) means that teams need a representative, and deserving guys like Soriano get squeezed.  Then, Soriano indignantly said he wouldn’t even go if named as a replacement … likely leading to Clippard’s replacement selection.  The same goes for non-closer Storen, who sports a sub 2.00 ERA on the year.  Advanced stats columnists (Keith Law) also think that Stephen Strasburg is a snub but i’m not entirely sure: he may lead the NL in K’s right now and have far better advanced numbers than “traditional,” but its hard to make an argument that a guy with a 7-6 record and a 3.50+ ERA is all-star worthy.

All Star Game Trivia Challenge: Thanks to his 2 month absence, Bryce Harper will not make the 2014 all-star team, thus he drops off as an answer to one of my favorite baseball trivia questions.  Prior to this season, Harper had been selected as an all-star in every season in which he has appeared in a game.  As far as I can tell in baseball history, there’s now just 4 players in Major League History who can say this.  Name them (discuss in comments):

2013

  • Nationals All-Star representatives: Bryce Harper, Jordan Zimmermann
  • Snubs: Stephen Strasburg, Ian Desmond
  • Narrative: Harper comes in 3rd in the NL outfielder voting, ahead of some big-time names, to become only the second Nationals position player elected as an All-Star starter.  He was 4th in the final pre-selection vote, so a big last minute push got him the starter spot.   Harper also becomes the first National to participate in the Home Run Derby.   Zimmermann was 12-3 heading into the game and was on mid-season Cy Young short lists in July in a breakout season.  Strasburg’s advanced stats are all better than Zimmermann’s, but his W/L record (4-6 as the ASG) means he’s not an all-star.  It also probably doesn’t help that he missed a few weeks.  Desmond loses out to Troy Tulowitzki, Everth Cabrera and Jean Segura.  Tulowitzki wass having a very solid year and wass a deserving elected starter, while Cabrera and Segura are both having breakout seasons.  Desmond was on the “Final vote” roster, but my vote (and most others’ I’m guessing) would be for Yasiel Puig there ([Editor Update: Desmond and Puig lost out to Freddie Freeman: I still wished that Puig finds a way onto the roster but ultimately he did not and I believe the ASG was diminished because of it).   Gio GonzalezRyan Zimmerman,and Rafael Soriano are all having solid but unspectacular years and miss out behind those having great seasons.

2012

  • Nationals All-Star representatives: Stephen StrasburgGio GonzalezIan Desmond, Bryce Harper
  • Possible Snubs: Adam LaRocheCraig Stammen
  • Narrative: The two starters Strasburg and Gonzalez were the obvious candidates, and my personal prediction was that they’d be the only two candidates selected.  Gonzalez’ first half was a prelude to his 21-win, 3rd place Cy Young season.  The inclusion of Desmond is a surprise, but also a testament to how far he’s come as a player in 2012.  Harper was a last-minute injury replacement, but had earned his spot by virtue of his fast start as one of the youngest players in the league.  Of the “snubs,” LaRoche has had a fantastic come back season in 2012 but fared little shot against better, more well-known NL first basemen.  Stammen was our best bullpen arm, but like LaRoche fared little chance of getting selected during a year when the Nats had two deserving starters.

2011

  • Nationals All-Star representatives: Tyler Clippard
  • Possible Snubs: Danny EspinosaMichael MorseDrew StorenJordan Zimmermann
  • Narrative: While Clippard was (arguably) the Nats best and most important reliever, I think Zimmermann was a more rightful choice.  He was 10th in the league in ERA at the time of the selections and has put in a series of dominant performances.  Meanwhile Espinosa is on pace for a 28homer season and almost a certain Rookie-of-the-Year award (though a precipitous fall-off in the 2nd half cost him any realistic shot at the ROY), and perhaps both players are just too young to be known around the league.  Lastly Morse is certainly known and he merited a spot in the “last man in” vote sponsored by MLB (though he fared little chance against popular players in this last-man-in voting).

2010

  • Nationals All-Star representatives: Matt Capps
  • Possible Snubs: Adam DunnJosh WillinghamRyan Zimmerman, Steven Strasburg
  • Narrative: Capps was clearly deserving, having a breakout season as a closer after his off-season non-tender from the Pirates.  The 3-4-5 hitters Zimmerman-Dunn-Willingham all had dominant offensive seasons as the team improved markedly from its 103-loss season.  But perhaps the surprise non-inclusion was Strasburg, who despite only having a few starts as of the all-star break was already the talk of baseball.  I think MLB missed a great PR opportunity to name him to the team to give him the exposure that the rest of the national media expected.  But in the end, Capps was a deserving candidate and I can’t argue that our hitters did anything special enough to merit inclusion.

2009

  • Nationals All-Star representatives: Ryan Zimmerman
  • Possible Snubs: Adam Dunn
  • Narrative: The addition of Dunn and Willingham to the lineup gave Zimmerman the protection he never had, and he produced with his career-best season.  His first and deserved all-star appearance en-route to a 33 homer season.  Dunn continued his monster homer totals with little all-star recognition.

2008

  • Nationals All-Star representatives: Cristian Guzman
  • Possible Snubs: Jon Rauch
  • Narrative: The first of two “hitting rock-bottom” seasons for the team; no one really merited selection.  Zimmerman was coming off of hamate-bone surgery in November 2007 and the team was more or less awful across the board.  Rauch performed ably after Cordero went down with season-ending (and basically career-ending) shoulder surgery.   Guzman’s selection a great example of why one-per-team rules don’t make any sense.  Guzman ended up playing far longer than he deserved in the game itself by virtue of the 15-inning affair.

2007

  • Nationals All-Star representatives: Dmitri Young
  • Possible Snubs: Ryan Zimmerman, Shawn Hill (though I wouldn’t argue for either)
  • Narrative: Young gets a deserved all-star appearance en route to comeback player of the year.  Zimmerman played a full season but didn’t dominate.  Our rotation featured 6 primary starters, none of whom are still in the league now, though Hill showed flashes of dominance throughout the year.

2006

  • Nationals All-Star representatives: Alfonso Soriano
  • Possible Snubs: Nick JohnsonRyan Zimmerman
  • Narrative: Soriano made the team as an elected starter, the first time the Nats have had such an honor.  Our pitching staff took massive steps backwards and no starter came even close to meriting a spot.  Cordero was good but not lights out as he had been in 2005.  Soriano’s 40-40 season is a poster child for “contract year” production and he has failed to come close to such production since.  The team was poor and getting worse.  Johnson had a career year but got overshadowed by bigger, better first basemen in the league (a recurring theme for our first basemen over the years).

2005

  • Nationals All-Star representatives: Livan HernandezChad Cordero
  • Possible Snubs: Nick JohnsonJohn Patterson.
  • Narrative: The Nats went into the All Star break surprisingly in first place, having run to a 50-31 record by the halfway point.  Should a first place team have gotten more than just two representatives?  Perhaps.  But the team was filled with non-stars and played far over its head to go 50-31 (as evidenced by the reverse 31-50 record the rest of the way).

Who *really* should be in the HR derby?

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Puig would *make* the home run derby.  photo mlb.com

Puig would *make* the home run derby. photo mlb.com

I have to admit it: the home run derby has probably become my favorite part of the all-star game festivities.  That and the futures game of course.  The all-star game itself has devolved into a farce with a slew of issues (I posted a lot of these criticisms in my 2011 Nats all-star piece, and they remain issues today, so no need to go back into them here).  Lets talk about the Home Run derby.

I kind of like the wrinkle of naming “captains,” which for this year occurred on 6/23/14.  But the captains have to pick the right guys.  I hate the format; when a guy like Josh Hamilton is remembered for his epic performance in an early round moreso than the winner, something’s wrong with the format.   But they’re changing it this year.   And the players take *way* too many pitches.  But whatever.  This year’s captains are Troy Tulowitzki and Jose Bautista.  Fans can vote on who they want to see in the competition.

Here’s my ideal home-run derby slate of participants.  In the interest of keeping the competition “small” i’ve limited this to 5 per league:

National League:

  • Giancarlo Stanton: owner of 3 of the biggest 11 homers on the year, on pace for 45+ homers, leading the NL in home runs.  And he wants in this year.
  • Bryce Harper: last year’s runner-up is one of the few players in the majors scouted with 80 power; despite his injury-plagued season he belongs in this competition.
  • Michael Morse: not too many all-or-nothing hitters like Morse, whose name dots the leader board on hittracker.
  • Evan Gattis: you don’t just turn on chest-high fastballs from Strasburg if you’re a plain ole hitter.
  • Yasiel Puig: just because.  Can he do a bat flip after every homer?

Left out:

  • Troy Tulowitzki: He’s in as a captain, but even despite that selection he’s a decent choice: he’s 5th in the majors in ISO and tied for 6th in Homers.
  • Paul Goldschmidt: has the power capabilities and the overall game.  But he’s not nearly as explosive as the guys above.
  • Ryan Howard: He may not merit inclusion based on his performance, but he’s a classic three-true outcomes hitter.  Lefties get him out with ease; i’m sure batting practice pitchers don’t.
  • Todd Frazier: his power numbers spike thanks to playing in Cincinnati, but he’s still got some serious underrated power.
  • Justin Upton: Owner of the 3rd longest homer on the year.

American League:

  • Yoenis Cespedes: gotta let the man defend his crown.
  • Edwin Encarnacion: MLB leader in Homers as of this writing.  Has to be in this competition.
  • Jose Abreu: MLB leader in ISO and on a 40 homer pace despite hitting the D/L.
  • David Ortiz: Owns the 2nd longest homer hit this season and would make a nice homecoming in Minnesota.
  • Mike Trout: He’s such a good hitter, that he could just sit at the plate and hit homer after homer.  And, he just hit a 489 foot homer to take over the longest homer of the year.

Left Out

  • Jose Bautista: He’s a captain, so we’ll list him here.   Otherwise he’s a stretch to make this list.
  • Victor Martinez: he’s quietly one of the best power hitters in the league right now.
  • Mark Trumbo: too bad he’s hurt; he’s a great power hitter to watch.
  • Nelson Cruz: his homer totals may be augmented by playing in Baltimore, but he’s still putting numbers on the board.
  • Adam Dunn: you know he’d be a favorite to win if he was named to this team, but I could only select 5.  He’d be the 6th man in for the AL.

Are these the best lineups you could possibly ask for in this competition?  Who else would you put on this list of power-crazy players?  Jim Caple posted his own tongue-in-cheek version of this same post, worth a read for a quick giggle.  There’s a handful of other DH-only types in the AL (Billy Butler, Chris Carter, Adam Lind, Juan Francisco, etc) who might make sense.

(I used three resources to name these names: the current major league leaders in Homers, the current major league leaders in Isolated Power, and an eyeballing of the leader board for most astoundingly long homers on the year from Hit Tracker Online.  All stats are as of 6/24/14 and may have changed slightly between then and the publication of this post).

Nats Draft History; what were the rumors on draft day historically?

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Zimmerman was the Nats first ever pick.  Photo unknown credit via fantasyknuckleheads.com

Zimmerman was the Nats first ever pick. Photo unknown credit via fantasyknuckleheads.com

I thought I’d do a different take on the “history of Nats drafts.”  What was the mood/feel around the team approaching draft day year after year?  Who do we think they were focusing on as the big day rolled around and why?  We focus mostly on the first round pick, where so many of the mock drafts focus, but we’ll also mention significant moves further down.

To be honest, I didn’t really start closely following the draft and track who the Nats were “rumored” to be with until the 2008 draft.   So if you remember something differently than me, please feel free to chime in.  I also focus pretty heavily on the early picks here, simply because teams generally get the most value out of their 1st round picks, and the thought processes in taking the first round pick often is the focus of draft analysis and mock drafts posted head of each actual draft.

The Draft Tracker xls (created by Brian Oliver, now maintained by SpringFieldFan) is vital for any Nats fan interested in tracking the teams’ drafting history.

  • 2005: Nats picked 4th overall and did not have a 2nd or 3rd round picks (the 2nd round pick went to Colorado for the Vinny Castilla FA signing and the 3rd round pick went to Minnesota as compesation for the Cristian Guzman signing)).  The team was also under MLB control and was (presumably) given quite strict financial guidelines over signings.  Given those considerations, they knew they needed a splash with their #1 overall pick, they needed someone affordable and they needed someone that would speak to their new fan-base.  They wanted college draftees, quick to the majors.  The team was looking at the three top 3rd Basemen in the draft.  Ryan ZimmermanRyan Braun and Alex Gordon.  All three were playing at good schools with good numbers.  Gordon went 2nd overall to Kansas City and the Nats snapped up Zimmerman.  Zimmerman signed quickly for an acceptable amount ($2.9M as the 4th overall pick) and was playing in the majors by September.   Zimmerman’s selection made sense geographically (he grew up in Va Beach and attended UVA) and it made sense considering the talent available at the Nats pick.  MASN’s David Huzzard printed a retrospective of the 2005 draft ahead of 2014′s draft.
  • 2006Thanks to a couple of FA losses (Hector Carrasco and Esteban Loiaza), the team had two extra picks in the first two rounds.  The team had a roller coaster 2005; first place at mid-season and then a collapse as MLB refused to allow reinforcements.  By draft-day 2006 the team was firmly under the control of Jim Bowden, and his philosophy had always skewed towards “toolsy” players, potential over actual.   But the team didn’t have an owner yet, so were still operating under MLB’s guidelines.  These two facts were quite evident by looking at the haul the Nats had with their early picks.  6 picks in the top 4 rounds and they were all high school players.  Chris Marrero, Colten Willems, Stephen Englund, Sean Black, Stephen King and Glenn Gibson.    The team got Marrero for a relatively cheap $1.6M deal mid-way through the first round, failed to sign Black altogether, and got 5 of these 6 players to sign for around $5M all told.  The team on the field was under-performing thanks to a limited MLB-dictated budget, but Bowden was drafting for the longer run.  Unfortunately none of these high school players ever amounted to much of anything, with only Marrero ever reaching the majors and Willems retiring before ever advancing out of A-Ball.
  • 2007: The team had another haul of upper-end draft picks, thanks to their acquisition of Alfonso Soriano and his type-A free agency sending them both an extra first rounder and a supplimental first rounder.   The team took lefty Ross Detwiler from small school Missouri State with the 6th overall pick, a selection that has been lampooned based on who else was available at the time (Madison Bumgarner and Jason Heyward in particular), but literature from 2007 supports his selection at 6th overall.  After Detwiler, the nats spent their two supplimental first round picks on high school raw talents (as was Bowden’s custom), neither of which ever panned out (Josh Smoker and Michael Burgess).  This draft turned into one of the more productive in Nat history, with at least four current major leaguers picked (along with Detwiler, Stephen SouzaDerek Norris and especially 2nd round pick Jordan Zimmermann, so it is unfair to focus on the misses out of 2007.  This was easily Bowden’s best draft while in charge in Washington.
  • 2008: The year of Aaron Crow.  Crow had a strong summer and a strong spring and was the 2nd best college arm in the draft, no question.  There was apparently antagonism between Bowden and Crow’s agents from the moment that he was drafted, and the negotiations between the sides never really came together.  The signing deadline came and went with no signature, and Crow went to Indy ball before getting picked the following summer.  There was talk about how the Crow non-signing was purposeful; the Nats spent significantly less money in the draft in 2008 than they had in 2007 and the ownership group was still being labeled as “cheap.”  Either way, this lack of signing was one more bullet in the ammunition guns of opinion makers in the industry about the state of the Nationals organization under the leadership of Bowden.  This would serve to be his last draft; he was embroiled in the bonus scandal over the off-season and relinquished his job ahead of the 2009 season.
  • 2009: We all are quite familiar with the story by now; Stephen Strasburg was a laconic out-of-shape hurler in high school who barely merited a college spot, then re-made himself into the “greatest pitching prospect of all time” while at San Diego State.   Despite his reported bonus demands (he ended up with more than $15M deal) and his representation (Scott Boras), the Nats never seriously considered not selecting him with the first overall pick.  For me the big question was who the Nats were going to take at #10. I wanted another starter, and there were some significant college pitchers projected to be available at #9.  Kyle GibsonAlex White,  Tyler Maztek, Chad Jenkins and Tanner Scheppers were all left on the board to draft a Stanford reliever in Drew Storen.  Keith Law had Storen ranked as his 28th prospect, a guy who was clearly “good” but who was over-drafted by nearly 20 spots.  This had “signability pick” written all over it, a thought that was even more proven when the team drafted college senior Trevor Holder with their 3rd pick and signed him for 1/2 of slot.  Holder wasn’t even his team’s friday starter and had a 4.48 ERA.  So, the team got Strasburg and paid him significant money, and the 2008 draft misstep turned into an effective closer in Storen, so the draft wasn’t a disaster, but with a bit more money allocated (remember, this was the same year they were paying Guzman $8M to be a mediocre shortstop) the team really could have hit it out of the park.
  • 2010: After another 100+ loss season, the Nats were fortunate to have another no-brainer, consensus #1 overall pick in Bryce Harper.   But the real story of the 2010 draft was Mike Rizzo’s finally convincing the ownership group and Ted Lerner of the power of the over-slot pick.  The Nationals gave Harper a 40-man deal and a lot of guaranteed money … but they also bought two high-end high school arms out of their college commitments for 1st-2nd round money (A.J. Cole and Robbie Ray).  The Nats were quickly becoming a team that was ignoring the advice of the penurious commissioner Bud Selig, known for railing against teams and owners who ignored his “slot recommendations.”  The Lerners tried to be friends with Selig and play by the rules, only to watch other teams out-spend and out-sign them.  Remember this fact when we see the next CBA come out, assigning slot deals ahead of time and implementing draconian policies on teams that over-spend in the draft.
  • 2011: The Nats were looking at a handful of players with their #6 pick; George Springer, Sonny Gray, Taylor Jungman, Jackie Bradley, and the like.  In a pretty shocking draft-day shake-up, teams passed on former college player of the year Anthony Rendon and suddenly he fell into the Nationals’ lap.  The sliding of Rendon to the Nats was amazing; Rendon was considered a clear consensus 1-1 pick for nearly 2 seasons, and the pro track record of BA college players of the year is pretty solid.   The Nats had two extra first rounders (compensation for type-A FA Adam Dunn) and the selection of Alex Meyer with the #17 overall pick was a given; some pundits had the Nats taking him at #6 overall, so much they were enthralled with the huge right hander from Kentucky.   As with 2010, the team continued to write big checks to convince Brian GoodwinMatt Purke and Kylin Turnbull to leave school early.  The Purke pick in particular showed that the Nats were willing to spend money to get big-time players and were willing to risk the dice on injury concerns.  The Nats had no 2nd rounder (lost as compensation for Adam LaRoche but with three 1st/supp-1st rounders got plenty of cracks at top-end talent.
  • 2012:  The Nats had a mid-draft pick after their .500 record in 2011 and were focusing on arms.  By now, Rizzo’s drafting mentality has been made evident; he focuses on college players, and more specifically college arms, unless an outlier falls into his lap.  Well, the definition of a draft-day outlier fell into the Nats lap in 2012 when Lucas Giolito, a big-time prep prospect who was under consideration of being the first ever high school right handed pitcher to go 1st overall early in the process.  Giolito’s size, power and secondary offerings were the makings of a 1-1 pick, but his senior prep season was derailed by what was initially called an “elbow strain” but which turned out to really be a “small elbow ligament tear.”  Nonetheless, the Nats grabbed him, signed him for over-slot money (nearly $3M), and they had their man.  Years later, Rizzo revealed that the next guy on their draft board was St. Louis sensation Michael Wacha … a “what if” question for this team that may be asked for quite a while, given Wacha’s quick rise and overall dominance at such a young age.  The rest of the Nats draft class was entirely about saving dollars to over-pay Giolito and buy him out of his college committment (as is seen by the bonus figures and senior draftees for the rest of the first 10 rounds), and we’re already seeing the after-effects of this strategy; the team has already released 10 of its 2012 draft class after just two pro seasons, and outside of Giolito its hard to see any potential impact players out of the entire class.  The Nats may get a couple of RHP bullpen arms, but little else.
  • 2013: The team knew it didn’t have a first rounder thanks to its signing of Rafael Soriano (though to be honest, knowing that they were picking last thanks to their MLB-best record in 2012, they probably weren’t as reticent about losing that pick), and the new CBA had taken affect, meaning that the team had a very limited budget for signing players.  Their first pick wasn’t until the end of the second round, and they went with a big power college arm in Jake Johansen.  It was impossible to predict who would be available to the Nats at the 68th pick (their first pick), so the Nats draft philosophy seemed to revert to default; lots of college players, lots of college arms.  Of their first 15 selected players, just one prep player was selected (Drew Ward) and a number of their guys signed  for significantly under-slot to pay Ward and a couple of other players.
  • 2014: After a disappointing 2013 season, the team kept its first round pick in a draft that seems deep on college arms but thin in other areas (especially college hitters).  The Nats farm system, after years of drafting predominantly college arms for the past few drafts, has plenty of arms but is thin on hitters, leading some pundits to presume the Nats are looking at college bats.  But a couple of late spring elbow injuries on significant names (James Hoffman and Erick Fedde) also has other pundits thinking that the Nats will have no concerns about taking a pitcher who is known to need Tommy John surgery (given their handling of the likes of Strasburg, Solis, Zimmermann and their picking of Giolito in 2012).  Mock drafts frequently have the Nats selecting Fedde at #18.  And indeed that is who the Nats select.  A run on high-end college arms just prior to the Nats pick probably sealed their fate on taking Fedde.  They take a good balance of pitchers and hitters in the top 10 rounds, almost entirely out of the college ranks (as is their custom).  Like 2013 and 2012, they gambled on one prep player in the top 10 (this year Jakson Reetz) and bought a high-end prep prospect out of his college committment, but otherwise stayed the course drafting college players.

The following links were crucial to doing this post:

Nats all-star review: 2013 and years past

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harper and trout 2

Harper and Trout’s rookie appearance in the 2012 game was so special: I hope Yasiel Puig makes it this year. Photo unk.

Here’s my annual Nationals All Star representative post.   As with 2012 and 2011‘s post, I’m including a retrospective on our “illustrious” All Star representative history from years past.  If you read on and it sounds familiar, that’s because a lot of it is cut-n-pasted from the annual version of this post.  Even so, reading backwards to see who our All-star representatives were in the lean years is an interesting exercise.

Here’s a link to the All Star Rosters for 2013.

2013

  • Nationals All-Star representatives: Bryce Harper, Jordan Zimmermann
  • Snubs: Stephen Strasburg, Ian Desmond
  • Narrative: Harper comes in 3rd in the NL outfielder voting, ahead of some big-time names, to become only the second Nationals position player elected as an All-Star starter.  He was 4th in the final pre-selection vote, so a big last minute push got him the starter spot.   Harper also becomes the first National to participate in the Home Run Derby.   Zimmermann is 12-3 heading into the game and is on mid-season Cy Young short lists right now and is a very deserving pick.  Strasburg’s advanced stats are all better than Zimmermann’s, but his W/L record (4-6 as of this writing) means he’s not an all-star.  It also probably doesn’t help that he missed a few weeks.  Desmond loses out to Troy Tulowitzki, Everth Cabrera and Jean Segura.  Tulowitzki is having a very solid year and is a deserving elected starter (though he’s currently on the DL and I wonder if Desmond may still make it as an injury replacement), while Cabrera and Segura are both having breakout seasons.  Desmond is on the “Final vote” roster, but my vote (and most others’ I’m guessing) would be for Yasiel Puig there ([Editor Update: Desmond and Puig lost out to Freddie Freeman: I still hope Puig finds a way onto the roster).   Gio GonzalezRyan Zimmerman,and Rafael Soriano are all having solid but unspectacular years and miss out behind those having great seasons.

Trivia: With his 2013 selection, Harper has been selected as an all-star in every season in which he has appeared in a game.  As far as I can tell in baseball history, there’s only TWO other players in Major League History who can say this.  Name them (discuss in comments).

2012

  • Nationals All-Star representatives: Stephen StrasburgGio GonzalezIan Desmond, Bryce Harper
  • Possible Snubs: Adam LaRocheCraig Stammen
  • Narrative: The two starters Strasburg and Gonzalez were the obvious candidates, and my personal prediction was that they’d be the only two candidates selected.  Gonzalez’ first half was a prelude to his 21-win, 3rd place Cy Young season.  The inclusion of Desmond is a surprise, but also a testament to how far he’s come as a player in 2012.  Harper was a last-minute injury replacement, but had earned his spot by virtue of his fast start as one of the youngest players in the league.  Of the “snubs,” LaRoche has had a fantastic come back season in 2012 but fared little shot against better, more well-known NL first basemen.  Stammen was our best bullpen arm, but like LaRoche fared little chance of getting selected during a year when the Nats had two deserving starters.

2011

  • Nationals All-Star representatives: Tyler Clippard
  • Possible Snubs: Danny EspinosaMichael MorseDrew StorenJordan Zimmermann
  • Narrative: While Clippard was (arguably) the Nats best and most important reliever, I think Zimmermann was a more rightful choice.  He was 10th in the league in ERA at the time of the selections and has put in a series of dominant performances.  Meanwhile Espinosa is on pace for a 28homer season and almost a certain Rookie-of-the-Year award (though a precipitous fall-off in the 2nd half cost him any realistic shot at the ROY), and perhaps both players are just too young to be known around the league.  Lastly Morse is certainly known and he merited a spot in the “last man in” vote sponsored by MLB (though he fared little chance against popular players in this last-man-in voting).

2010

  • Nationals All-Star representatives: Matt Capps
  • Possible Snubs: Adam DunnJosh WillinghamRyan Zimmerman, Steven Strasburg
  • Narrative: Capps was clearly deserving, having a breakout season as a closer after his off-season non-tender from the Pirates.  The 3-4-5 hitters Zimmerman-Dunn-Willingham all had dominant offensive seasons as the team improved markedly from its 103-loss season.  But perhaps the surprise non-inclusion was Strasburg, who despite only having a few starts as of the all-star break was already the talk of baseball.  I think MLB missed a great PR opportunity to name him to the team to give him the exposure that the rest of the national media expected.  But in the end, Capps was a deserving candidate and I can’t argue that our hitters did anything special enough to merit inclusion.

2009

  • Nationals All-Star representatives: Ryan Zimmerman
  • Possible Snubs: Adam Dunn
  • Narrative: The addition of Dunn and Willingham to the lineup gave Zimmerman the protection he never had, and he produced with his career-best season.  His first and deserved all-star appearance en-route to a 33 homer season.  Dunn continued his monster homer totals with little all-star recognition.

2008

  • Nationals All-Star representatives: Cristian Guzman
  • Possible Snubs: Jon Rauch
  • Narrative: The first of two “hitting rock-bottom” seasons for the team; no one really merited selection.  Zimmerman was coming off of hamate-bone surgery in November 2007 and the team was more or less awful across the board.  Rauch performed ably after Cordero went down with season-ending (and basically career-ending) shoulder surgery.   Guzman’s selection a great example of why one-per-team rules don’t make any sense.  Guzman ended up playing far longer than he deserved in the game itself by virtue of the 15-inning affair.

2007

  • Nationals All-Star representatives: Dmitri Young
  • Possible Snubs: Ryan Zimmerman, Shawn Hill (though I wouldn’t argue for either)
  • Narrative: Young gets a deserved all-star appearance en route to comeback player of the year.  Zimmerman played a full season but didn’t dominate.  Our rotation featured 6 primary starters, none of whom are still in the league now, though Hill showed flashes of dominance throughout the year.

2006

  • Nationals All-Star representatives: Alfonso Soriano
  • Possible Snubs: Nick JohnsonRyan Zimmerman
  • Narrative: Soriano made the team as an elected starter, the first time the Nats have had such an honor.  Our pitching staff took massive steps backwards and no starter came even close to meriting a spot.  Cordero was good but not lights out as he had been in 2005.  Soriano’s 40-40 season is a poster child for “contract year” production and he has failed to come close to such production since.  The team was poor and getting worse.  Johnson had a career year but got overshadowed by bigger, better first basemen in the league (a recurring theme for our first basemen over the years).

2005

  • Nationals All-Star representatives: Livan HernandezChad Cordero
  • Possible Snubs: Nick JohnsonJohn Patterson.
  • Narrative: The Nats went into the All Star break surprisingly in first place, having run to a 50-31 record by the halfway point.  Should a first place team have gotten more than just two representatives?  Perhaps.  But the team was filled with non-stars and played far over its head to go 50-31 (as evidenced by the reverse 31-50 record the rest of the way).

 

 

 

 

Stats Discussion Part I: What’s wrong with Wins and RBI?

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Cabrera's MVP award was thought to be on the backs of "bad stats." Is this a bad thing in general? Photo AP via sportingnews.com

(First Article in a series discussing Baseball Statistics that I mostly wrote months ago and was waiting for downtime to post.  As it happens, the posts that I have in the can for months on end tend to get rather bloated; this one is > 3000 words.  Apologies in advance if you think that’s, well, excessive).

(Note: a good starting point/inspiration for this series was a post from February 2012 on ESPN-W by Amanda Rykoff, discussing some of the stats used in the movie Moneyball.  Some of the stats we’re discussing in the next few posts are covered in her article).

The more you read modern baseball writing, the more frequently you see the inclusion of “modern” baseball statistics interspersed in sentences, without definition or explanation, which are thus used to prove whatever point the writer is making.   Thus, more and more you need a glossary in order to read the more Sabr-tinged articles out there.  At the same time, these same writers are hounding the “conventional” statistics that have defined the sport for its first 100 years and patently ridiculing those writers that dare use statistics like the RBI and (especially as of late) the pitcher Win in order to state an opinion.  This is an important trend change in Baseball, since these modern statistics more and more are used by writers to vote upon year ending (and career defining) awards, and as these writers mature they pour into the BBWAA ranks who vote upon the ultimate “award” in the sport; enshrinement into the Hall of Fame.

This year’s AL MVP race largely came down to the issue of writers using “old-school” stats to value a player (favoring Miguel Cabrera and his triple-crown exploits) versus “new-school” stats to value a player (favoring Mike Trout, who may not have as many counting stats but has put in a historical season in terms of WAR).  And as we saw, the debate was loud, less-than-cordial, and merely is exacerbating a growing divide between older and newer writers.  This same argument is now seen in the Hall of Fame voting, and has gotten so derisive that there are now writers who are refusing to vote for anyone but their old-school stat driven pet candidates as a petulant reaction to new-school writers who can’t see the forest for the trees in some senses.

A good number of the stats that have defined baseball for the past 100 years are still considered “ok,” within context.  Any of the “counting stats” in the sport say what they say; how many X’s did player N hit in a season?  Adam Dunn hit 41 homers in 2012, good for 5th in the league.  That’s great; without context you’d say he’s having a good, powerful season.  However you look deeper and realize he hit .204, he didn’t even slug .500 with all these homers and he struck out at more than a 40% clip of his plate appearances.  And then you understand that perhaps home-runs by themselves aren’t the best indicators of a player’s value or a status of his season.

Lets start this series of posts with this topic:

What’s wrong with the “old school” baseball stats?

Most old school stats are “counting” stats, and they are what they are.  So we won’t talk about things like R, H, 2B, 3B, HR, BB, K, SB/CS.  There’s context when you look at some these numbers combined together, or if you look at these numbers divided by games or at-bats (to get a feel for how often a player hits a home run or steals a base or strikes out a guy).  In fact, K/9, BB/9 and K/BB ratios are some of my favorite quick evaluator statistics to use, especially when looking at minor league arms.  But there are some specific complaints about a few of the very well known stats out there.  Lets discuss.

1. Runs Batted In (RBI).   Or as some Sabr-critics now say it, “Really Bad Stat.”   The criticism of the RBI is well summarized at its Wiki page; it is perceived more as a measure of the quality of the lineup directly preceeding a hitter than it is a measure of the value of the hitter himself.  If you have a bunch of high OBP guys hitting in front of you, you’re going to get more RBIs no matter what you do yourself.  Another criticism of the stat is stated slightly differently; a hitter also benefits directly from his positioning in the lineup.  A #5 hitter hitting behind a powerful #4 hitter will have fewer RBI opportunities (in theory), since the #4 hitter should be cleaning up (no pun intended) the base-runners with power shots.  Likewise, a lead-off hitter absolutely has fewer RBI opportunitites than anyone else on the team; he leads-off games with nobody on base, and hits behind the weakest two hitters in the lineup every other time to bat.

I’m not going to vehemently argue for the RBI (the points above are inarguable).  But I will say this; statistical people may not place value on the RBI, but players absolutely do.  Buster Olney touched on this with an interesting piece in September that basically confirms this;  if you ask major leaguers whether RBIs are important you’ll get an across-the-board affirmative.  Guys get on base all the time; there’s absolutely skill and value involved in driving runners home.  Guy on 3rd with one out?  You hit a fly ball or a purposefully hit grounder to 2nd base and you drive in that run.  Players absolutely modify the way that they swing in these situations in order to drive in that run.  And thus RBI is really the only way you can account for such a situation.  The Runs Created statistics (the original RC plus the wRC stats) don’t account for this type of situation at all; it only measures based on hits and at-bats.

(As a side-effect, the statistic Ground-into Double Plays has a similar limitation to RBI: it really just measures how many batters were ahead of you on base as opposed to a hitter’s ability to avoid hitting into them.  But thankfully GIDP isn’t widely used anywhere).

2. Batting Average (BA): The isolated Batting Average is considered a “limited” stat because it measures a very broad hitting capability without giving much context to what that hitter is contributing to the end goal (that being to score runs).  A single is treated the same as a home run in batting average, despite there being a huge difference between these two “hits” in terms of creating runs.  This is exemplified as follows: would you rather have a .330 hitter who had zero home runs on the season, or a .270 hitter who hit 30 home runs?   Absolutely the latter; he’s scoring more runs himself, he’s driving in more runs for the team, and most likely by virtue of his power-capability he’s drawing more walks than the slap hitting .330 hitter.  More properly stated, the latter hitter in this scenario is likely to be “creating more runs” for his team.

Statistical studiers of the game learned this limitation early on, and thus created two statistics that need to go hand in hand with the Batting Average; the On-Base Percentage (OBP) and the Slugging Percentage (SLG). This is why you almost always see the “slash line” represented for hitters; to provide this context.  But, be careful REPLACING the batting average with these two numbers (or the OPS figure, which represents On-Base percentage + Slugging).  Why?  Because Batting Average usually comprises about 80% of a players On base percentage.  Even the highest walk guys (guys like Adam Dunn or Joey Votto) only have their walk totals comprising 17-18% of their OBP.  If you sort the league by OBP and then sort it by BA, the league leaders are almost always the same (albeit slightly jumbled).  So the lesson is thus; if someone says that “Batting Average is a bad stat” but then says that “OBP is a good stat,” I’d question their logic.

Lots of people like to use the statistic OPS (OBP+SLG) as a quick, shorthand way of combing all of these stats.  The caveat to this is thus; is a “point” of on-base percentage equal to a “point” of slugging?  No, it is not; the slugging On Base Percentage point is worth more because of what it represents.  Per the correction provided in the comments, 1.7 times more.

Coincidentally, all of the limitations of BA are attempted to be fixed in the wOBA, which we’ll discuss in part 2 of this series.

3. ERA: Earned Run Average.  Most baseball fans know how to calculate ERA (earned runs per 9 innings divided by innings pitched), and regularly refer to it when talking about pitchers.  So what’s wrong with ERA?

Specifically, ERA has trouble with situations involving inherited runners.  If a starter leaves a couple guys on base and a reliever allows them to score, two things happen:

  • those runs are charged to the starter, artifically inflating his ERA after he’s left the game.
  • those runs are NOT charged to the reliever, which artificially lowers his ERA despite his giving up hits that lead to runs.

ERA is also very ball park and defense dependent; if you pitch in a hitter’s park (Coors, Fenway, etc) your ERA is inflated versus those who pitch in pitcher parks (Petco, ATT).  Lastly, a poor defense will lead to higher ERAs just by virtue of balls that normally would be turned into outs becoming hits that lead to more runs.  Both these issues are addressed in “fielder independent” pitching stats (namely FIP), which are discussed in part III of this series.

A lesser issue with ERA is the fact that it is so era-dependent.  League Average ERAs started incredibly high in the game’s origin, then plummetted during the dead ball era, rose through the 40s and 50s, bottomed out in the late 60s, rose slightly and then exponentially during the PED era and now are falling again as more emphasis is placed on power arms and small-ball.  So how do you compare pitchers of different eras?  The ERA+ statistic is great for this; it measures a pitcher’s ERA indexed to his peers; a pitcher with an 110 ERA+ means that his ERA was roughly 10% better than the league average that particular year.

4. Pitcher Wins.  The much maligned “Win” statistic’s limitations are pretty obvious to most baseball fans and can be stated relatively simply; the guy who gets the “Win” is not always the guy who most deserves it.  We’ve all seen games where a pitcher goes 7 strong innings but his offense gives him no runs, only to have some reliever throw a 1/3 of an inning and get the Win.  Meanwhile, pitchers get wins all the time when they’ve pitched relatively poorly but their offense explodes and gives the starter a big lead that he can’t squander.

Those two sentences are the essence of the issue with Wins; to win a baseball game requires both pitching AND offense, and a pitcher can only control one of them (and his “control” of the game is lost as soon as the ball enters play; he is dependent on his defense to get a large majority of his outs, usually 60% or more even for a big strike out pitcher).  So what value does a statistic have that only measures less than 50% of a game’s outcome?

The caveat to Wins is that, over the long run of a player’s career, the lucky wins and unlucky loseses usually average out.  One year a guy may have a .500 record but pitch great, the next year he may go 18-3 despite an ERA in the mid 4.00s.  I have to admit; I still think a “20-game winner” is exciting, and I still think 300 wins is a great hall-of-fame benchmark.  Why?  Because by and large wins do end up mirroring a pitcher’s performance over the course of a year or a career.  The downside is; with today’s advances in pitcher metrics (to be discussed in part III of this series), we no longer have to depend on such an inaccurate statistic to determine how “good” a pitcher is.

Luckily the de-emphasis of Wins has entered the mainstream, and writers (especially those who vote for the end-of-year awards) have begun to understand that a 20-game winner may not necessarily be the best pitcher that year.  This was completely evident in 2010, when Felix Hernandez won the Cy Young award despite going just 13-12 for his team.  His 2010 game log is amazing: Six times he pitched 7 or more innings and gave up 1 or fewer runs and got a No Decision, and in nearly half his starts he still had a “quality start” (which we’ll talk about below briefly).  A more recent example is Cliff Lee‘s 2012 performance, where he didn’t get a win until July, getting 8 no-decisions and 5 losses in his first 13 starts.  For the year he finished 6-9 with a 3.16 ERA and a 127 ERA+.  Clearly Lee is a better pitcher than his W/L record indicates.

(Coincidentally, I did a study to try to “fix” pitcher wins by assigning the Win to the pitcher who had the greatest Win Percentage Added (WPA).  But about 10 games into this analysis I found a game in April of 2012 that made so little sense in terms of the WPA figures assigned that I gave up.  We’ll talk about WPA in part 4 of this series when talking about WAR, VORP and other player valuation stats).

5. Quality Starts (QS) Quality Starts aren’t exactly a long standing traditional stat, but I bring them up because of the ubiquitous nature of the statistic.  It is defined simply as a start by a pitcher who pitches 6 or more innings and who gives up 3 or less earned runs.   But immediately we see some issues:

  1. 6 IP and 3 ER is a 4.50 ERA, not entirely a “quality” ERA for a starter.  In fact, a starter with a 4.50 ERA in 2012 would rank  him 74th out of 92 qualified starters.
  2. If a pitcher pitches 8 or 9 complete innings but gives up a 4th earned run, he does not get credit for the quality start by virtue of giving up the extra run, despite (in the case of a 9ip complete game giving up 4 earned runs) the possibility of actually having a BETTER single game ERA than the QS statistic defaults to.

Why bring up QS at all?  Because ironically, despite the limitations of the statistic, a quality start is a pretty decent indicator of a pitcher’s performance in larger sample sizes.  Believe it or not, most of the time a quality start occurs, the pitcher (and the team) gets the win.  Take our own Gio Gonzalez in 2012; he had 32 starts and had 22 quality starts.  His record? 21-8.  Why does it work out this way?  Because most pitchers, when you look at their splits in Wins versus Losses, have lights out stuff in wins and get bombed during losses.  Gonzalez’s ERA in wins, losses and no-decisions (in order): 2.03, 5.00 and 4.32.  And, in the long run, most offenses, if they score 5 or more runs, get wins.  So your starter gives up 3 or fewer runs, hands things over to a bullpen that keeps the game close, your offense averages 4 runs and change … and it adds up to a win.

I used to keep track of what I called “Real Quality Starts (rQS)” which I defined as 6 or more IP with 2 or fewer earned runs, with allowances for a third earned run if the pitcher pitched anything beyond the 6 full innings.  But in the end, for all the reasons mentioned in the previous paragraph, this wasn’t worth the effort because by and large a QS and a rQS both usually ended up with a Win.

6. Holds: A “hold” has a very similar definition as the Save, and thus has the same limitations as the Save (discussed in a moment).  There was a game earlier this season that most highlights the issues with holds, as discussed in this 9/21/12 post on the blog Hardball Times.  Simply put; a reliever can pitch pretty poorly but still “earn” a hold.

Holds were created as a counting stat in the mid 1980s in order to have some way to measure the effectiveness of middle relievers.  Closers have saves, but middle-relief guys had nothing.  The problem is; the hold is a pretty bad statistic.  It has most of the issues of the Save, which we’ll dive into last.

7. Saves. I have “saved” the most preposterous statistic for last; the Save.  The definition of a Save includes 3 conditions that a reliever must meet; He finishes a game but is not the winning pitcher, gets at least one out, and meets certain criteria in terms of how close the game is or how long he pitches.  The problem is that the typical “save situation” is not really that taxing on the reliever; what pitcher can’t manage to protect a 3 run lead when given the ball at the top of the ninth inning?  You can give up 2 runs, still finish the game, have a projected ERA of 18.00 for the outing and still get the save.  Ridiculous.  And that’s nothing compared to the odd situation where a reliever can pitch the final 3 innings of a game, irrespective of the score, and still earn a save.  In the biggest blow-out win of the last 30 years or so (the Texas 30-3 win over Baltimore in 2007), Texas reliever Wes Littleton got a save.  Check out the box score.

I wrote at length about the issue with Saves in this space in March of 2011, and Joe Posnanski wrote the defining piece criticising Saves and the use of closers in November 2010.  Posnanski’s piece is fascinating; my biggest takeaway from it is that teams are historically winning games at the exact same rate now (with specialized setup men and closers) that they were winning in the 1950s (where you had starters and mop-up guys).

I think perhaps the most ridiculous side effect of the Save is how engrained in baseball management it has become.  Relievers absolutely want Saves because they’re valued as counting numbers they can utilize at arbitration and free agency hearings to command more salary (I touched on in a blog post about playing golf with Tyler Clippard this fall; he absolutely wanted to be the closer because it means more money for him in arbitration).  Meanwhile, there are managers out there who inexplicably leave their closer (often their best reliever, certainly their highest paid) out of tie games in late innings because … wait for it … its not a save situation.  How ridiculous is it that a statistic now alters the way some managers handle their bullpens?

What is the solution?  I think there’s absolutely value in trying to measure a high leverage relief situation, a “true save” or a “hard save.”  Just off the top of my head, i’d define the rules as this:

  • there can only be a one-run lead if the reliever enters at the top of an inning
  • if the reliever enters in the middle of an inning, the tying run has to at least be on base.
  • the reliever cannot give up a run or allow an inherited run to score.

Now THAT would be a save.  Per the wikipedia page on the Save, Rolaids started tracking a “tough save” back in 2000, and uses it to help award its “Fireman of the Year” award, but searching online shows that the stats are out of date (they’re dated 9/29/11, indicating that either they only calculate the Tough Saves annually, or they’ve stopped doing it.  Most likely the former frankly).


Phew.  With so many limitations of the stats that have defined Baseball for more than a century, its no surprise that a stat-wave has occurred in our sport.  Smart people looking for better ways to measure pitchers and batters and players.

Next up is a look at some of the new-fangled hitting stats we see mentioned in a lot of modern baseball writing.

Nats Franchise FA history; biggest, best, worst deals

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Jayson Werth is certainly our most expensive FA, by a considerable sum. Photo Mitchell Layton/Getty Images NA

The second in a series: The first looked at the Biggest/Best/Worst Trades of the Washington Nationals era and was posted in late March.  Yes, it took me 8 months to return to this series, despite writing most of this post in July.  Here in Part 2, we’ll look at the biggest, best and worst Free Agent signings in the tenures of both Jim Bowden and Mike Rizzo. In the last section we’ll look at Draft picks.

Ground rules for this article:

1. When considering a Free Agent we’ll only consider the FIRST signing in this list.  So, for guys who have signed multiple one-year free agent contracts in a row (guys like Rick Ankiel and Chien-Ming Wang), we’ll only consider them as a single signing.  For others who signed here and then left, only to come back (example: Livan Hernandez) we’ll consider them as separate signings.

2. We are considering extensions given to existing players (since they don’t fit elsewhere).  You can consider an extension just a pre-emptive free agent contract.

3. We’re mostly focusing here on Major League free agents; each year we sign many minor league FAs ahead of camp.  If a Minor League FA signing ends up having a decent impact on the major league team, we’ll note him (good recent example being Laynce Nix).

Just for review, here’s the tenure period of both GMs:

  • Nov 2004 – Mar 2009: Jim Bowden
  • Mar 2009 – present: Mike Rizzo

The team has made dozens and dozens of signings: I won’t try to go through them all here.  For those interested, here’s my List of Free Agents from over the years (also available on the links section to the right of this blog).  I put up a similar notes file (List of Trades and Trading Partners) from the first post of this series, also available in the list of resources on the right-hand side of the blog.

Jim Bowden Tenure: Nov 2004 – Mar 2009

Bowden’s Biggest Free Agent Signings

  • 2006: Nick Johnson 3yr $16.5M
  • 2007: Austin Kearns 3yr $16.5M
  • 2008: Cristian Guzman 2yr $16M
  • 2009: Adam Dunn 2yr $20M

I wonder sometimes if Bowden doesn’t sit in his ESPN office as he writes his blogs and ask himself what he could have done here had he had more money to spend.  Look at this list; Bowden’s biggest deal in 5 off-seasons was a 2yr/$20M contract for a slugger who really had nowhere else to go that off-season.  Jayson Werth will make more than that annually starting in 2014.

Bowden’s Best Free Agent Signings

  • 2006: Brian Schneider 4yr extension, $2.9M
  • 2007: Ronnie Belliard 1yr ML deal
  • 2007: Dmitri Young 1yr ML deal
  • 2008: Willie Harris 1yr $800K
  • 2009: Adam Dunn 2yr $20M

Bowden’s 2007 off-season was pretty amazing, looking back.  He assembled a team on the backs of Minor League Free Agents galore, one of which (Dmitri Young) ended up being our lone All-Star.  The team went 73-89 and gave 145 of its 162 starts to guys who aren’t even in the league any more (exceptions: Joel Hanrahan‘s 11 starts with 6.00 ERA and late-season call up John Lannan‘s 6 starts as a 22-yr old).  He was the master of the scrap heap and spun a team that should have lost 100 games into a respectable 73 win team.  Too bad that luck ran out in 2008 as the team bottomed out.  But you have to hand it to Bowden for these three 2007 signings; Hanrahan didn’t really pay off for the Nationals, ever, but did enable us to eventually get Sean Burnett, a valuable member of the team’s bullpen these last few years.

All things considered, I’d have to say that Adam Dunn may have been his best FA signing.  Dunn’s bat was mostly wasted during his two years here, considering the unbelievably bad pitching staffs that Bowden assembled.  But the combination of Zimmerman-Dunn-Willingham was a pretty fearsome 3-4-5.  Ironically, NOT re-signing Dunn may also have been one of Rizzo’s best non-moves, considering Dunn’s amazing 2011 collapse and the subsequent rise of Michael Morse (who would have continued to be a bit player if the Nats still had Dunn in LF).

Bowden’s Worst Free Agent Signings

  • 2007: Austin Kearns 3yr $16.5M
  • 2008: Paul Lo Duca 1yr $5M
  • 2008: Rob Mackowiak 1yr $1.5M
  • 2008: Johnny Estrada 1yr $1.25M
  • 2008: Cristian Guzman 2yr extension $16M
  • 2009: Daniel Cabrera 1yr $2.6M

2008 was as bad as 2007 was good for Bowden.  Nearly every move he made back-fired, some spectacularly.  Paul Lo Duca hadn’t been signed for a week when his name showed up prominently in the Mitchell Report; he was released before July.  Rob Mackowiak and Johnny Estrada were just stealing money; its still not clear what Bowden saw in these guys.  I hated the Kearns deal, never understood what Bowden saw in the guy.  Daniel Cabrera was so bad for us it was almost comical, and it was a relief when we DFA’d him after 8 starts.

But the worst FA signing has to the Guzman extension.  He seemed decent enough after coming back from an injury that cost him all of 2005 and most of 2006, but Bowden inexplicably extended him for 2 years for the same amount of money that he had earned the previous four … and almost immediately his production tailed off.   Its not that Guzman was that BAD in 2009 and 2010, its just that he was so vastly overpaid for what he gave the team.  We flipped him for two minor league pitchers, he promptly hit .152 in 15 games for Texas and he was out of the league.

Mike Rizzo Tenure: Mar 2009 – present

Rizzo’s Biggest Free Agent Signings

  • 2010: Ryan Zimmerman 5yr $45M
  • 2011: Jayson Werth 7yr $126M
  • 2012: Ryan Zimmermann 8yrs $100M
  • 2012: Gio Gonzalez 5yr $42M

Its ironic that I had to remove three deals from this list (LaRoche, Jackson, Marquis) that would have qualified for Bowden’s “biggest deal” list.  That’s because the size of these deals are just dwarfing what the team was willing to do under Bowden.  Lots of pundits have (and continue to) criticized the Jayson Werth deal, and it routinely appears on anyone’s list of “Worst Baseball Contracts.”  And his 2011 season confirmed just how bad this may have turned out for Washington.  But a bounceback 2012, which featured Werth putting up a 125 OPS+ despite missing a ton of time with a broken wrist, showing the flexibility of batting lead-off when the team needed him, plus providing the veteran leadership and professionalism that this young team needs certainly would earn back some of that contract value.  In hindsight, I think the team made this deal as a strawman, to send a message to the rest of the league that we were NOT a low-budget, poorly run team, and to pave the path back to respectability in the minds of other professionals out there that Washington can be a destination franchise.

Rizzo’s Best Free Agent Signings

  • 2009: Julian Tavarez 1yr ML
  • 2009: Joe Beimel 1yr $2M
  • 2010: Livan Hernandez 1yr ML 900k
  • 2011: Jerry Hairston 1yr $2M
  • 2010: Matt Capps 1yr $3.5M
  • 2010: Joel Peralta 1yr ML
  • 2011: Todd Coffey 1yr $1.35M
  • 2011: Laynce Nix 1yr ML

In terms of impact-per-dollar, I think the first Livan Hernandez year of his return was probably the best FA signing that Rizzo has done.  Hernandez went 10-12 with a 3.66 ERA and a 110 ERA+ for less than a million dollars on the FA market.  That’s roughly $90k a Win, when most teams are paying more than $1M/win for free agent starting pitching.   However clearly Rizzo’s most shrewd FA deal was the Matt Capps signing.  He took Capps off the scrap heap; he was released by Pittsburgh after a horrid 2009, and his half season of excellent relief for us turned into Wilson Ramos and a minor leaguer (Joe Testa), returned in trade from Minnesota.  I will also mention that the value that minor league signings Julian Tavarez, Joel Peralta, and Laynce Nix gave the team was also fantastic, considering where these players were in their careers prior to joining us.

Rizzo’s Worst Free Agent Signings

  • 2010: Yunesky Maya 4yr $8M
  • 2010: Ivan Rodriguez 2yr $6M
  • 2010: Jason Marquis 2yr $15M
  • 2011: Matt Stairs 1yr ML
  • 2012: Brad Lidge 1yr $1M
  • Chein Ming Wang: all of them.

2010, Rizzo’s first FA class, didn’t turn out very well did it? Yunesky Maya has been a pretty big disappointment, giving the team just one MLB win for an $8M investment.  Ivan Rodriguez just proved to be slightly too old to be worth the starter money he was paid; you could argue that the leadership he provided was worth the money.   And Jason Marquis, bought as a stop-gap for a failed farm system, was god-awful in 2010.  I won’t completely kill Rizzo for the Brad Lidge experiment; it was worth a $1M flier to see if he had anything left in the tank.  Matt Stairs would have been another fine, low-cost experiment except for the fact that the team kept giving him at-bats for weeks/months after it was clear he was washed up.

For me the worst FA signing was related to the money poured down the Chien-Ming Wang rathole for three years running.  The Nats ended up investing $8M total over three years to get 16 starts, 6 wins and a 4.94 ERA.

Rizzo’s Too Early to Tell Free Agent Signings

  • 2011: Jayson Werth 7yr $126M
  • 2012: Ryan Zimmermann 8yrs $100M
  • 2012: Gio Gonzalez 5yr $42M

So far, Werth’s contract is trending as an over-pay, Zimmerman’s as an injury concern, and Gonzalez trending as a complete steal (21 wins for $8.4M AAV in 2012?  That’s a fantastic return for the money).  Pundits have stated that the Nats have “two 9-figure contracts but zero 9-figure players” (I read it at the time of the Zimmerman signing but cannot find the link).  I think that’s slightly unfair to these players, but until Zimmerman can stay healthy enough to produce at his 2009 level, you have to admit that he may be overpaid as well.  Perhaps Zimmerman’s brittle health issues can be alleviated if he makes the move to 1B, where he can continue to play gold glove calibre defense but have less of a tax on his body.  This analysis obviously does not take Zimmerman’s “value” to the franchise into account, which may be unfair when considering this contract (nobody really said Derek Jeter‘s latest contract was a massive overpay considering his service to the Yankees,  his “stature” as the captain and his eventual Hall of Fame induction; for the Yankees to cut him loose would have been a massive public relations gaffe).

Coincidentally, I didn’t view the contracts of guys like LaRoche, Jackson, or Morse as being specifically “good” or “bad.”   I think LaRoche’s one bad/one good season plus Jackson’s MLB average season was just about on-par with expectations for their contracts.  Morse’s 2011 production was pre-contract, so we’ll see how his 2013 goes.

Thoughts?  Any FA signings or extensions out there that stick in your minds that you thought should be mentioned?

Ask Boswell 11/26/12 Edition

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The Nats entire off-season plan revolves around what Adam LaRoche does. Photo Alex Brandon/AP via wp.com

I havn’t done a “how would I answer this chat question” from The Washington Post’s Tom Boswell in a while, but on the back of his 11/26/12 “Stay the Course” opinion piece in the Washington Post (where he basically advises that the team should stay out of the major FA market this off-season), I thought I’d chime in and read/respond to his 11/26/12 chat.

My opinion on Boswell’s piece; I don’t think you can stand pat in today’s baseball world.  Yes this team won 98 games last year.  But does anyone think we’ll win 98 games again by doing little to nothing to address the team’s needs?  Trying to replace Adam LaRoche and Edwin Jackson‘s departures internally has a large chance of weakening the team, and I believe we need to explore a significant FA purchase (or a trade) this off-season.  Now, inarguably TV deals and the rising revenue streams are fueling the FA market, and we’re already seeing contracts that heretofore would have been immediately labeled as “over pays.”  Therefore, even if the Nats go after a 2nd or 3rd tier player in free agency, they’re going to be compensated far more than we ever thought their value represented.  But this is just the way the baseball world is going; we can no longer say that someone is “overpriced” … we need to remember that everyone is going to be “overpriced.”  Perhaps Jayson Werth‘s $126M/7yr deal will look like a bargain in a few  years.

And this is before even addressing the impact that the amazing new Los Angeles Dodger’s TV deal, reportedly worth between $6 and $7 billion dollars over 25 years, will have on the baseball world.  Even at the low-end estimate, that’s $240M a year in RSN revenue.  $240M a year!  They could field a $200M team, pay luxury taxes and still have money to spare under this deal, and that’s before a single dollar in gate, game-day revenues, suites, parking or merchandising comes in.  To call this a “game-changer” is an understatement; I think this could be a serious issue facing Baseball in the coming years.  We’re already seeing what the new ownership group is capable of doing in terms of acquiring talent without much regard to payroll.  What happens if they also acquire the likes of Josh Hamilton and Zack Greinke this coming winter?  A quick check of Cot’s page shows that Los Angeles has $169.5M committed to its top 14 players right now, with three guys making > 20M and nine total with pay > $11M/year.  And they’re reportedly in the mix for the top FAs this off-season, potentially adding 20-30M more to that base number.  That’s amazing.  Just more revenue sharing for Jeffrey Loria to pocket I guess (Thanks Bud!).

Anyway, back to the chat responses.  As always, I write my response before reading his, and sometimes edit questions here for clarity/conciseness.  I’m only answering baseball-related questions, ignoring the slew of Redskins issues.

Q: Are the Nats positioning themselves to make a strong push in the next two drafts?

A: This is what I whittled down a long-winded, rambling “question” to.  The gist is that a comp pick from Adam LaRoche leaving, plus another potential comp pick if Michael Morse leaves next year could help re-stock the farm system.  I’d tend to say, “maybe.”  The Nats are no longer where they were in 2009 and 2010, getting franchise players by virtue of back to back awful seasons.  So the likelihood of finding an impact player is far less.  That being said, having multiple first and supplemental first round picks is a great way to find players and to get guys who “slipped” due to signability/injury issues (as Lucas Giolito did this year).

The Nats farm system has taken some hits in the last two seasons; one from trade (losing 4 top-10 players in the Gio Gonzalez trade) and then another from injury concerns for its top guys (Sammy Solis, Matthew Purke, Lucas Giolito, and Anthony Rendon all representing 1st and 2nd round talents who suffered either season-ending injuries or significant injuries curtailing their progression in the last calendar year, to say nothing of injuries to lower-level guys like Taylor Jordan who will provide depth rising up).  This thinned farm system may prevent Rizzo from making the kind of deal he made last summer, and he may want to focus on getting some more depth in the 2013 draft, as much as is possible from drafting so low.

Here’s the issue writing my own response before reading Boswell’s: he didn’t even talk about the draft portion of the “question,” instead talking about the FA pitcher angle.

Q: What do you think the team is planning on doing to replace Edwin Jackson?

A: I’d guess the team is working on two fronts: one looking at possible trade angles with teams that have surplus starting pitching (Arizona, Tampa Bay, Oakland, Los Angeles Dodgers and perhaps even Atlanta) and seeing if he can swing a deal.  Then I’d guess he’s looking at a 2nd tier of starters, looking to avoid the Greinke sweepstakes (despite his affinity for the hurler).  I do NOT think the team is going to tender John Lannan, instead looking to get a better pitcher for slightly more money than the $5M he’d likely earn at a minimum in 2013.  Of course, with the prices we’ve seen for lefties already perhaps we will tender Lannan and consider another $5M insurance policy a bargain.  Boswell scrolls through the same 2nd tier of starters, noting that there’s definitely someone out there who could work.  He also mentioned the team may look at re-signing Zach Duke, though I’d be surprised by that.  Why would we re-sign Duke but non-tender Lannan, if Lannan clearly is a better pitcher?

Q: Is the lack of a MASN deal hindering the Nats FA plans?

A: You have to think it is.  If the Nats knew what they were getting next year, they’d certainly have a better idea of how much they could spend.  The fact that Bud Selig has allowed Peter Angelos to hijack this MASN revenue negotiation for this long is deplorable.  Of course, by waiting this long with the negotiations Angelos has only cost himself money, as the price we can command as a franchise certainly skyrocketed between the end of 2011 and now.  So there’s that.  But its clear the team is getting a pittance as compared to other comparably sized markets (Houston, Philadelphia) and needs a larger share.  Boswell doesn’t think the lack of a deal is affecting the team’s plans, mostly because there’s not a $250M player on the market this year as there was last year.

Q: Were you invited to any of the seven off-season Nationals player weddings?

A: I wasn’t.  Boswell wasn’t either.  :-)

Q: Why did the MLB allow the Marlins trade to go through? It poisons Miami against baseball probably for a decade and will surely be seen as a cautionary tale for city governments for at least as long.

A: Simple reason: Selig is buddies with Jeffrey Loria and has enabled his crummy behaviors for nearly 2 decades.  More complex reason: on the face of it, from a purely baseball sense this trade was little different than the Boston-Los Angeles trade, and I’d guess you would have a hard time accepting one and denying the other.  Loria’s position with Miami is not Selig’s concern; he got the new stadium that Selig claims is necessary in every market and Loria clearly will continue to profit from the team.  To an owner, that’s the primary concern.  And Selig works for the owners.  All of us bloggers and columnists to deplored the trade and Loria in general (including me, in this space in September and again in November) and talk about the sanctity of the game are just blowing hot-air.  Selig doesn’t care.  Boswell didn’t really answer the question, just saying that baseball is dead in Miami for a long, long time.  Hey, it only helps the Nats to have a 110 loss team in the division, right?

Q: Is Adam LaRoche destined for the AL as an aging 1st baseman?

A: I don’t think so; the questioner compared LaRoche to Adam Dunn, who can DH and is more valuable in the AL.  Inarguably aging sluggers fare better in the AL … but LaRoche just won a gold glove for his defense at first base.  He isn’t exactly a plodding first baseman slowed by age.  He should be able to capably play the position for several more  years, through whatever contract he’s about to sign.  Boswell agrees that this is the trend, and says that Baltimore is a possible destination … but mentions nothing about LaRoche’s plus defense.

Q: Why aren’t the Nats making a bigger play for Edwin Jackson?

A: A good question.  I questioned the Nats lack of a Qualifying Offer being extended to Jackson and surmised it was because the team was afraid he’d take it (having a history of working on one-year deals).  So clearly the lack of the Q.O. indicates a new direction for the team.  I don’t think its related to his meltdown in the post-season; that can happen to anyone (see most of our pitching staff not named Ross Detwiler).  I’d guess that it relates somehow to Jackson’s maddening capabilities; shutdown power pitcher one night, gopher-ball machine the next.  I think they’re just going in a different direction.  Boswell says Jackson wants a 5-year deal … which if true even more reinforces my questioning of the lack of the Q.O.  I disagree with his sentiment that the team is “saving room” for the rising farm system arms; to me a prospect starter is not a solution until the day he arrives in the majors and gives you 30 starts.

Q: Why did Tampa extend Evan Longoria?

A: The team had him under baseball’s most team-friendly contract (6yrs, $17.5M with three team options, locking him to Tampa from 2008 til 2016).  One of baseball’s best players, he made just $2M and $4.5M in the last two seasons.  Which is just ridiculous.  I feel Tampa did the extension to show good faith to the player who was just so woefully underpaid.  Boswell didn’t really answer the question, just saying its a good move because hitters come back from injury better than pitchers.

Q: Should the team be worried about losing LaRoche and his lefty power?

A: Yes absolutely.  Which is why the team should either try to get him to sign a reasonable deal (3 years max) OR the team should let him walk and try to replace the lefty power on the FA market (perhaps in the form of someone like Nick Swisher, who won’t be cheap but also can stick in LF for a while and should fit in nicely to the clubhouse).  Or maybe the team swings a deal for a lefty outfielder in trade and sticks Morse at first.  Boswell agrees, thinking that LaRoche’s hot FA market will get him a 4 year deal for more money than the Nats are willing to pay.

Q: Is there any chance that MASN just cuts ties with the Nats and frees us from the awful deal?

A: No. Chance. In. Hell.  Angelos stands to get such massive, major profit from this deal that he’ll die before giving in.  There is just no way.  And more and more its looking like this pact with the devil, which enabled the team to move here, will be a limiting factor in the years to come.  People talk about how Atlanta has the worst TV deal in the MLB?  Well what about the Nats?  Boswell asked Selig about this and was told that “everything is on the table.”  I highly doubt that, but I’m not going to call Boswell a liar.  I’ll just say, “Don’t hold your breath” that the Nats will be allowed to extract themselves from MASN and create their own RSN.  This would be the absolute dream scenario, but I just cannot see Selig backpeddaling on this deal less than a decade after it was signed.

Q: Will the Nats learn the lessons heeded by other big-money teams who got saddled with old, expensive players?

A: Hopefully so.  Not giving LaRoche 4 years would be a signal to that end.  But it can be difficult; what happens when the whole core of our young team hits free agency?  That’s a lot of big checks to write, and the fan base will bemoan every star that is allowed to walk.  Boswell thinks LaRoche is consistent enough to warrant the contract, but also notes that he’s several years past the typical hitter prime.

Q: Is Morse really the better choice at 1B if it’s between him and Moore? Is he really just that bad in the OF?

A: I’m convinced this narrative is overplayed.  Morse was a shortstop coming up through the minors, so he’s not exactly immobile, and suddenly nobody remembers that Tyler Moore was a plodding minor league first-baseman who only tried LF for the first time in spring training of last year.  Now suddenly Morse isn’t the better LF option?  I don’t buy it.  Neither are great LF choices; Morse had a -23.3 UZR/150 in 493 innings while Moore had a -22.7 in 229 innings this past season (small sample sizes both).  So it seems they’re both awful out there.  But then again (as I’ve said many times) you can “hide” guys in LF if they’re big bats.  You take the lesser defense in order to get a middle-of-the-order hitter.  The last thing you want is a #8 hitter (think Xavier Nady) bumbling around in LF and hitting .190.  If we lose LaRoche, I think the team should put Moore back in his natural position at 1B and let Morse get one more season out there.  Boswell didn’t answer the question, instead rambling about something else.



Possible 2013 WBC Nationals participants?

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Harper makes perfect sense to represent the US in 2013 WBC. Photo GQ magazine Mar 2012

I read a quickie piece with some Mike Rizzo quotes from the Washington Time’s beat reporter Amanda Comak on November 11th, 2012 and there was an interesting tidbit at the bottom: per Comak,  Rizzo has not been approached yet about any Washington Nationals participation in the WBC, but would approach each request on a “case-by-case basis” to determine what is in the best interests of the team.  This got me thinking about possible Nats representatives on 2013 WBC teams.

Lets take a quick look at the Nationals representatives on WBC teams from the past, talk about whether its really in the best interests of the team to even let these guys play, and then talk about who may be candidates for the 2013 WBC regardless.

(Note: I’ve added updates highlighted in red since the original 11/21/12 publication date on players mentioned here).

Washington has sent a decent number of players to play in the WBC over the years, with very mixed results for the team’s interests.  In 2006 the team sent seven different players to the inaugural WBC:

  • Luis Ayala for Mexico
  • Chad Cordero, Gary Majewski and Brian Schneider for team USA
  • Ronnie Belliard, Alberto Castillo, and Wily Mo Pena for the Dominican Republic.

The tournament was marred for the team by a blown UCL ligament to Ayala, who had undergone elbow surgery earlier in the off-season but pitched for his home country anyway.  The team did not want Ayala to participate in the inaugural event, did not want him used by the Mexican team, and team officials were “livid” by the injury, which cost Ayala the season and cost the team its 8th inning setup guy.  Ayala recovered to pitch again in 2008 but was never as effective, and was shipped out in 2009 for a PTBNL.  Coincidentally, I suspect the team still harbors some ill-will towards Ayala to this day.  Meanwhile the other two relievers who participated both experienced regressions in form; Cordero’s ERA nearly doubled (from 1.82 to 3.19) from his breakout 2005 season while Majewski’s numbers dipped slightly before he was traded in the big Cincinnati deal of 2006.

In 2009, the team had 5 participants:

  • Pete Orr playing for Canada
  • Joel Hanrahan and Adam Dunn playing for the USA
  • Saul Rivera and Ivan Rodriguez playing for Puerto Rico.

The WBC seemed to energize particularly Dunn, who enjoyed playing in a post-season atmosphere for the first (and only) time in his career.  Nobody suffered any injuries, but Hanrahan in particular may have been affected by his lack of a proper spring training; he posted a 7.71 ERA for the team while losing the closer spot and was shipped to Pittsburgh.  Ironically, Rivera also experienced a huge regression of form, going from a 3.96 ERA in 2008 to a 6.10 ERA in 2009 and was eventually released.

This begs the question; do we even WANT our pitchers playing on this team?  The first two WBCs have shown pretty distinctly that our pitchers have regressed greatly after playing.  This only makes sense: the spring training routines are greatly impacted to play in this event.  We may see a ton of front-office resistance to specific guys (especially those coming off injury) playing in the 2013 event.  Which could affect the eligibility of some specific players for 2013.

Now, which Nats may play for the 2013 teams?  First off, looking at the Nationals 40-man roster, we have become an amazingly heavy USA-born team (we’ll get to non-40man roster players in a moment). Thanks to the Nats big board resource (originated by Brian Oliver and now maintained by “SpringfieldFan”), which has the country of origin for players, here’s a breakdown of the home-country of our current 36 active (as of November 15th, 2012) roster players:

  • USA: 27 (would be 29 if adding in our rule-5 avoidance players)
  • Venezuela: 5 (Jesus Flores, Sandy Leon, Wilson Ramos, Henry Rodriguez, and Carlos Rivero)
  • Cuba: 1 (Yunesky Maya)
  • Columbia: 1 (Jhonatan Solano)
  • Dominican Republic: 1 (Eury Perez)
  • Netherlands (via Curacao): 1 (Roger Bernadina)

As you can see, the massive bulk of our team is USA born, and essentially our entire post-season starting roster was USA born as well.  That doesn’t necessarily mean that these USA-born players will actually play for team USA (Alex Rodriguez played for Puerto Rico despite being born and raised in Miami, and our own Danny Espinosa is eligible to play for Mexico by virtue of his first-generation born in the US status), but almost all of these guys will be up for consideration for the USA team.  And this only accounts for our 40-man players; as we’ll see below there’s plenty of lower-minors players from smaller countries that will participate.

Who from the Nationals franchise may make a 2013 WBC roster?  First off, thanks to James Wagner‘s 11/15/12 NatsJournal post we already know of three WBC participants; Solano is on the Columbian team, minor leaguer Jimmy Van Ostrand is on the Canadian team, and A-ball catcher Adrian Nieto is on the Spanish team.  Curacao qualifies to play with the Netherlands, and I’d guess that Bernadina would make a great choice considering the lack of Dutch players in baseball (Baseball Continuum’s projections agree.  And as of 12/4/12 he’s officially been listed as a Netherlands participant).. Venezuela is already qualified for the main draw and has a relatively strong possible team.  The Baseball Continuum blog posted an early projection of the Venezuelan team and listed Flores as a likely participant (specifically mentioning that Ramos wasn’t considered due to injury recovery; I’d suspect these two players to switch based on Ramos’ recovery and Flores’ awful 2012).   If Henry Rodriguez was healthy i’d guess he would be on that list too, but his season-ending surgery probably precludes his participation.  The Dominican Republic has perhaps the strongest depth and has no need for the recently called up Perez among its outfield depth.  Maya’s defection eliminates him from discussion for the Cuban team.  (12/4/12 update): Chien-Ming Wang has been announced as a member of Chinese Taipei’s team (for the purposes of this article I investigated all 2012 Nats).

Which leaves our large contingent of American players.  A couple of writers have started postulating on these rosters (David Schoenfield‘s very early guess as to a potential USA roster is here, Baseball Continuum’s latest projection is here).  So using these two posts as a starting point, lets go position-by-position and give some thoughts as to who may get some consideration.  Keep in mind the WBC rosters are generally very reliever heavy, since no starter is going to be “allowed” to pitch a complete game in March.

(Note: I’m still considering our Free Agents as “Nats players” for the purposes of this analysis, since this really goes position by position from our 2012 team to find candidates).

  • Catcher: Kurt Suzuki isn’t nearly in the class of the likes of Buster Posey, Brian McCann, Joe Mauer, or Matt Weiters.  There are a ton of quality american backstops right now.
  • First Base: Free Agent Adam LaRoche probably faces far too much competition from the likes of Prince Fielder, Paul Konerko, Adam Dunn, Allen Craig, Eric Hosmer, and Mark Teixeira to make this team.  If it were me, I’d go with Fielder and Teixeira.  But, LaRoche’s great 2012 season and his Gold Glove recognition may get him a spot.  He is a FA though, so i’d guess he won’t commit until he signs and gets the go-ahead from his new team.  Or, perhaps he uses the WBC to showcase himself?  Not likely needed; he should sign long before the WBC kicks off in March.
  • Second Base: Danny Espinosa is a decent player, but not in the same league as  Shoenfield’s projection of Dustin Pedroia and Ben Zobrist.  Brandon Phillips is also in the mix for the team.
  • Shortstop: Ian Desmond‘s breakout 2013 season may get him some consideration.  There’s not a lot of American quality short stops out there.  Troy Tulowitzki is the obvious leading choice (as was Derek Jeter in the first two WBCs), but is he ready to come back from injury?  Looking around the majors there are a couple other possibilities (JJ Hardy, Brendan Ryan, Jimmy Rollins and Brandon Crawford all could be alternatives as well).   I think Desmond’s combination of offense and defense, combined with Tulowitzki’s injury recovery could get him on the team.
  • Third Base: Ryan Zimmerman cannot break the hegomony of David Wright and Evan Longoria right now, even given Longoria’s injury struggles this season.  Chase Headley and David Freese are also in the 3b mix.  12/4/12 update: Apparently Wright is committed, Longoria is out due to injury recovery and Headley “was not asked,” so perhaps Zimmerman is back in the mix.
  • Outfielders: I think Bryce Harper is a natural to make this team, not only on talent but also because of the brand-name recognition (and TV ratings and fan interest) it would generate.  Same goes for Mike Trout.  Otherwise there’s a slew of top-end american players who can man the outfield and they read like the top of the MVP boards: Braun, Kemp, McCutchen, Stanton, Hamilton, and Granderson are all candidates to make this team.  12/6/12 update: Scott Boras has stated that Harper will skip the WBC to focus on his sophomore season.
  • Starters: The two logical Nats candidates to be considered would be Gio Gonzalez and Stephen Strasburg.  But lets be honest; there is no way in hell Strasburg would be allowed to play.  Could Gonzalez make this team?  Given the depth of American starter talent right now (just off the top of my head: Verlander, LincecumCain, Hamels, Halladay, Kershaw, Lee, Weaver, Sabathia, Medlen, and so on) perhaps this will be a selection of attrition moreso than a selection of availability.  So if a number of the older guys on this list beg out, perhaps Gio gets his shot.  The WBC’s location in San Francisco has already lead to Ryan Vogelsong committing to play in his home town, and could lead to other Bay Area players signing up.  I’m not sure any of the rest of our starters are really candidates, given the reputations of the above list plus the reliever-heavy nature of the roster.
  • Relievers: our two most well known relievers (Tyler Clippard and Drew Storen) are possibilities; would the Nats block Storen based on his 2012 injury?  Craig Stammen‘s breakout 2012 season could get him looks, based on the reliever-heavy needs of the team.  Normally Sean Burnett may be in the loogy mix, but there’s better lefty relievers out there AND Burnett’s FA status may lead him to bow out to curry favor to his new team (Schoenfeld lists Burnett as a possible member back in July, before knowing he’s declared free agency).  The question is, would you take Clippard/Storen against the likes of this list of quality american back-of-the-bullpen arms: Kimbrel, Ventors, Marshall, League, Janssen, Papelbon, Hanrahan, Motte, Boggs, Bailey, Reed, and Nathan?  Possibly, considering that a lot of these guys probably bow out.  We’ve sent multiple relievers to each of the past two WBCs and its likely going to be the same thing this year.

Summary: here’s my guesses as to which Nats (and recent ex-Nats) will play in the WBC:

  • Venezuela: Ramos
  • Spain: Nieto
  • Canada: Van Ostrand
  • Columbia: Solano
  • Netherlands: Bernadina
  • Chinese Taipei: Wang
  • USA: Harper, Desmond, Gonzalez, Clippard.  Perhaps Zimmerman and Stammen.

March 2013 update: here’s the post-WBC actual list of participants when all was said and done, helped by  the list of rosters via Wikipedia.  MLB reports that nine (9) Nationals are participating in the classic, though the below list (excluding Wang) totals more.  They’re not counting Solano/Columbia, having lost in the preliminaries.

  • Columbia: Jhonatan Solano (AAA/Mlb in 2012)
  • Spain: Adrian Nieto (low-A in 2012)
  • Canada: Jimmy Van Ostrand (AA in 2012)
  • Italy: Matt Torra, Mike Costanzo (both AAA in 2012, Washington MLFA signings for 2013)
  • Netherlands: Roger Bernadina, Randolph Oduber (high-A in 2012)
  • Chinese Taipei: Chien-Ming Wang (former Nat, non-signed FA for 2013 start of season)
  • USA: Gio Gonzalez, Ross Detwiler
  • Dominican Republic: Eury Perez (3/4/13 addition to DR team)

Predicting the End-of-Season Awards: how’d we do?

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Cabrera wins the AL MVP as expected; can the blogosphere now declare peace? Photo AP via sportingnews.com

Here’s a wrap up of the end of season awards.  I posted my predictions here in Mid October.   The dream of going 8-for-8 is over.  Read on for a summary of my predicions versus actual results.

  • AL MVP:  Prediction: Miguel Cabrera.  Winner: Cabrera.  Trout 2nd, Beltre a distant 3rd.
  • AL Cy Young: Prediction: David Price. Winner: Price.
  • AL Rookie of the Year: Prediction: Mike Trout. Winner: Trout, Unanimously.
  • AL Manager of the Year: Prediction: Buck Showalter.  Winner: Bob Melvin.
  • Sporting News AL GM: Prediction: Billy Beane.  Winner: Beane.
  • Sporting News AL Comeback player of the Year: Prediction: Adam Dunn.  Winner: Dunn.  Note that there are now also MLB and Players Choice versions of this award, and they do not always agree with Sporting News’ picks.  But SN is the oldest version so I’ll continue to guess based on it.
  • NL MVP: Prediction: Buster Posey. Winner: Posey.  Braun 2nd, McCutchen 3rd.
  • NL Cy Young: Prediction: R.A. Dickey. Winner: Dickey.
  • NL Rookie of the Year: Prediction: Bryce Harper.  Winner: Harper.
  • NL Manager of the Year: Prediction: Davey Johnson.  Winner: Johnson.
  • Sporting News NL GM: Prediction: Mike Rizzo. Winner: Rizzo, who technically came in 2nd to Beane as Sporting News only awarded one Executive of the year award.
  • Sporting News NL Comeback player of the year: Prediction: Buster Posey.  Winner: Posey.

My Final Prediction results: 7 of 8 of BBWAA awards predicted correctly, 11 of 12 including Sporting News awards.

Discussion (here’s a link to all the 2012 post-season BBWAA voting with totals from Baseball-Reference.com, plus i’ve included links to the voting and ballots where I could below).

  • AL MVP: Cabrera wins over Trout; let the internet wars begin!  The only thing that surprised me here was the relative landslide victory Cabrera had; he got 22 of the 28 first place votes, far more than I thought he’d get.  This result shows what a lot of holier-than-thou bloggers need to wake up and understand; the MVP is NOT the award for the best player.  Clearly these people (often rather rudely) do not understand the difference between stats-based analysis and context.  Trout played for a 3rd place team; had he never played for the Angels this season … they still would have finished third.  Like it or not, voters start their MVP lists by grabbing the best player on the playoff teams, and adjust accordingly.  The solution to these arguments may be to create a hitting version of the Cy Young so that Trout can get his deserved due for his fantastic 2012 season.
  • AL Cy Young: Price wins in a very close race over Justin Verlander, who had almost identical (and slightly better) sabremetric numbers to his dominant Cy Young last year and was the odds-on favorite of the Sabr-nerd crowd to win.  I predicted Dickey not because he was inarguably the better pitcher; I predicted he’d win because voters sometimes like to give these awards to the fresh new candidate, and I saw that happening here.  Price and Verlander split the first and second place votes almost down the middle, except for one random first place vote that went to Fernando Rodney.  The Rodney vote, combined with both Los Angeles voters giving 2nd place votes to Jered Weaver, is the margin of loss for Verlander.  Still, this was the closest Cy Young voting race in the history of the award.
  • AL Rookie of the Y ear: No doubt here; Trout becomes just the 8th unanimous RoY pick in baseball’s history, and deservedly so.  Yoenis Cespedes second, Yu Darvish third.
  • AL Manager: My first miss on BBWAA awards in three years.  The criticism of this award is that it is less about who actually manages their team the best; it really is given to the team that “surprised” baseball pundits the most.  In retrospect, for all the reasons I predicted Billy Beane would get the executive award I should have given more thought to Melvin winning the Manager award.  Showalter’s Orioles certainly surprised, and you can squint and say that their record in one-run games is entirely on the manager.  But there’s no mistaking that the Athletics out-played their potential far more distinctly than the Orioles did.
  • AL Executive: No surprise that Beane picks up this award, after flipping 3/5s of his rotation, signing the cuban defector Cespedes and getting Josh Reddick in trade, putting together a team that I thought could lose 110 games but instead won the AL West over two of the most bally-hoo’d teams in the majors.  For all the people that chastised Beane for Moneyball, he has risen again after his early career success.
  • AL Comeback player: I really struggled to pick a winner, thinking that Dunn’s pseudo-rebound from 2011′s disaster was a good enough example, and I got lucky.  SN picked Dunn while other AL comeback awards out there went to Fernando Rodney.
  • NL MVP: Posey takes this race in a landslide, getting 27 of the 32 first place votes.  I’m really glad to see Braun get 2nd place despite the stigma surrounding his negated PED test last off-season; he won my “Modern Triple Crown” and was the best hitter in the league.  Chase Headley gets deserved recognition and a 5th place vote.  Several Nats got votes as expected, but none were factors in the race itself.
  • NL Cy Young: this race wasn’t as close as I thought it may be, but Dickey beats out Clayton Kershaw for many of the same reasons Price beat out Verlander.  Our own Gio Gonzalez comes in a close third; as it turns out, one reporter in St Louis completely left him off his ballot, purportedly because Gonzalez didn’t broach 200 innings.  Which makes no sense, since this same reporter gave his 5th place vote to a reliever.  *sigh* I hate hypocrites
  • NL Rookie of the Year: Harper won a very close race over Wade Miley and for good reason; on September 1st you would have said that Miley was the easy RoY candidate.  A strong finish combined with Harper’s narrative and probably some east-coast bias gave him the award.   One writer completely left Miley off his ballot, but that wouldn’t have made a difference in the voting totals in the end.  Another side note: have you ever even heard of the two Washington BBWAA chapter members?
  • NL Manager: Johnson picks up the “manager of the most surprising team” award relatively easily; there really weren’t any other contenders once Pittsburgh collapsed mid-season.
  • NL Executive: Rizzo’s Gio Gonzalez trade, Jackson signing and Harper call-up all led to a 17-game improvement and the major’s best record, earning him 2nd place in the overall executive award voting (to Beane) and thus the highest ranking NL executive.
  • NL Comeback player: Posey was really a no-brainer, and won the award as expected.

I’ll say this in conclusion; the Trout-Cabrera arguments were the most one-sided, rude and biased I’ve seen yet in the whole “new school” trend of baseball writing.  Even more ridiculous than the Jack Morris antagonists.  And I’m thankful that, after today, I won’t have to read one more “Why Trout is the MVP” article.

MLB 2012-13 Off Season calendar

2 comments

Just as an FYI, I’ve created a link to a spreadsheet of key events, dates and deadlines for this coming MLB off-season.   A quick summary of those dates is listed below.  With the new CBA and new rules regarding contracts and options, I still have some guesses as to when the exact date for some contract specific items are.  Feel free to comment/provide feedback if you know the exact date.

Bolded/Italicized Events are post-2012 season awards, official or otherwise.

Date Event Nats Specific Impact
Oct 19th, 2012 MLB Comeback Players of the Year AL and NL Adam LaRoche possibly getting some votes?
Oct 23rd, 2012 Sporting News Comeback Players of the Year AL and NL Dunn, Posey winners
Oct 25th, 2012 Fielding Bible Awards given
Oct 28th, 2012 Roberto Clemente Award given Zimmerman nominated
Oct 28th, 2012 Last actual day of 2012 World Series; official end of 2012 season n/a
Oct 29th 2012 Official start of FA period (12:01am the day after the last game of the WS) LaRoche, Jackson, Burnett, Gonzalez, Duke, DeRosa
October 30th, 2012 Rawlings AL & NL Gold Glove Announcements Desmond, LaRoche are finalists
Nov 1st, 2012 Team and player options must be decided three days after the end of the World Series.  10/31/11 at midnight LaRoche, Burnett have options from the Nats.
Early November? Clubs have to re-set their 40-man rosters, moving all 60-day DL players back to active.  Happened in the past about 11/9.  May be changed date w/ new CBA
Nov 2nd, 2012 5pm: Deadline to make Qualifying offers for your own Fas (average of top 125 salaries or $13.3M for 2012).  5 days after end of WS Nats likely to make Qos to both Jackson and LaRoche, neither of whom is likely to take the deal and thus guaranteeing the Nats draft pick compensation if we lose both guys.
Nov 2nd, 2012 HoF “Veterans Committee” releases ballot.  Officially announced12/3/12
Nov 3rd, 2012 5 days after WS ends: Free agent filing period and exclusive negotiating window ends at 12:01 a.m. ET. Free agents can sign with any team. LaRoche, Jackson, Burnett, Gonzalez, Duke, DeRosa
Nov 3rd, 2012 Free Agency granted to all eligible Minor League free agents (5 days after the end of the WS).  Eligibility done on service time; 6 years ML service for college draftees or 7 years ML service for HS draftees or free agents under the age of 18. http://www.baseballamerica.com/blog/prospects/2012/11/minor-league-free-agents-2012/ has full list; notable names include Arneson, Pucetas, Severino, VanAllen
Nov 4th, 2012 Wilson Defensive Player of the Year awards, given by MLB to best defensive player on each club. Adam LaRoche wins the award for the Nationals.
Nov 5th, 2012 MLBPA announces “Players Choice” awards: Player of the year, Comeback Player of the year, etc No Nats awarded MLBPA’s version of the BBWAA awards.
Nov 7th, 2012 BBWAA Award Nominees announced on MLB networks
Nov 7-9, 2012 GM Meetings, Palm Springs, California for 2012 Rizzo may be laying groundwork for big FA signings.
Nov 8th, 2012 Last day for players to accept arbitration from current club. Would the Nats offer arbitration to its Fas?
Nov 8th, 2012 Louisville Slugger Silver Slugger Awards LaRoche, Desmond likely candidates.
Nov 9th, 2012 12 Days after WS ends: Players must accept or reject Qualifying Options LaRoche only Natioanls FA to get a QO.
Nov 12th, 2012 AL, NL Jackie Robinson Rookie of the Year Awards Harper or Willey?  We’ll see if Harper’s great finish gets him the award.
Nov 13th, 2012 AL and NL Manager of the Year Johnson should get the NL manager of the year for the Nats winning 17 more games than 2011.
Nov 14th 2012 AL and NL Cy Young Gio Gonzalez in the discussion but likely to lose out.
Nov 15th 2012 AL and NL Most Valuable Player No real Nats MVP candidates; perhaps LaRoche gets some top 5 votes.
Nov 15-18th, 2012 WBC Qualifier #4, Taiwan (Chinese Taipei, New Zealand, Phillipenes, Thailand)
Nov 15-19th, 2012 WBC Qualifier #3, Panama City (Brazil, Columbia, Nicaragua, Panama)
Mid November, 2012 Sporting News Executive of the Year announced I think Mike Rizzo is NL GM of the year.
Mid November, 2012 Owners Meetings, ? Location for 2012
Nov 20th, 2012 Day to file reserve lists for all Major and Minor League levels.  In other words, Last day to add players to 40-man to protect them from the Rule5 Draft A host of rule-5 eligible decisions pending for Nats; Rosenbaum, Karns, Kobernus, Hood, etc.
Nov 30th, 2012 Midnight: Deadline for teams to Tender contracts to arbitration eligible players.  If not tendered, those players immediately become free agents. Lannan, Gorzelanny, Flores possible non-tenders here.
Early December, 2012 Last day to request outright waivers to assign player prior to Rule 5 Draft
Dec 3rd-6th, 2012 Winter Meetings, Nashville, TN for 2012
Dec 3rd, 2012 HoF “Veterans Committee” officially releases ballot that was made public 11/2/11.
Early December, 2012 Baseball America announces its Executives of the Year
Dec 4th, 2012 MLB Balloting results announced for Hall of Fame Ford C. Frick Award for excellence in baseball broadcasting
Dec 6th, 2012 Rule 5 Draft.  Occurs at Winter meetings Nats are likely to at least participate in the Rule5 draft, but their draft position leaves them picking last of the 30 teams.  A utility infielder or a bullpen arm could be had here.
Dec 31st, 2012 Deadline for BBWAA ballots for HoF voting.
Jan 9th, 2013 Hall of Fame BBWAA voting announced; the HoF class of 2013.
Jan 5-15, 2013 Salary arbitration filing period Nats could have as many as 10 arbitration cases to settle (but more likely 7 or 8).
Mid January 2013 Salary arbitration figures exchanged
Feb 1-21, 2013 Salary arbitration hearings (actual hearing date per player picked at random)
Mid February 2013 Mandatory Spring Training reporting date for Pitchers and Catchers
Mid February 2013 Voluntary Spring Training reporting date for non-pitchers and catchers
Early March 2013 Contracts of unsigned players who are not yet eligible for Arbitration may be renewed
Mar 2-5, 2013 WBC First Round, Pool B in Taiwan (Korea, Netherlands, Australia, tbd)
Mar 2-6, 2013 WBC First Round, Pool A in Japan (Japan, Cuba, China, tba)
Early March 2013 First Spring Training Game for the Nats
Mar 7th-10th, 2013 WBC First Round, Pool C in Puerto Rico (Venezuela, Puerto Rico, Dominican Republic, tba)
Mar 7th-10th, 2013 WBC First Round, Pool D in Phoenix (USA, Mexico, Italy, tbd)
Mid March 2013 Last day to place a player on unconditional release waivers and pay 30 days termination pay instead of 45 days.
Mar 17th-19th, 2013 WBC Championship round, San Francisco, CA
Late March 2013 Deadline to request unconditional release waivers without having to pay the player’s full salary
March 31st, 2013 2013 Season Opener
April 1st, 2013 Traditional Opening Day (Cincinnati) Nats open at home to Miami
April 15th, 2013 Jackie Robinson Day