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My 2018 End-of-Season Awards Predictions

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Another season, another MVP runner-up for Trout at the behest of another player? PHoto via redsox life

Another season, another MVP runner-up for Trout at the behest of another player? PHoto via redsox life

Hi there.  Its time to write about the “silly season” of baseball.   Its my annual awards predictor piece.

Here’s my predictions for how the awards will go.  Important note: This is not necessarily how I believe the awards should go, it is how I think the current electorate will vote …  though I do tend to believe that the MVP award in particular is not just about naming the WAR leader in the league.  And I also tend to favor giving a pitcher the Cy Young and a non-pitcher the MVP.  But feel free to discuss in the comments if you think i’m wrong.  I can be argumentative either way :-)

How do I think the voting will go?

  • AL MVP: Betts
  • NL MVP: Yelich
  • AL Cy Young: Snell
  • NL Cy Young: Scherzer
  • AL Rookie: Ohtani
  • NL Rookie: Acuna
  • AL Manager: Melvin (Oakland)
  • NL Manager: Snitker (Atlanta)

Prediction Results?  2 for 2.


 

Discussion/Reasoning

  • AL MVP: Mookie Betts is the best player on the best team, always a good place to start with MVP thoughts.  Yes, once again Mike Trout is having a phenomenal year, and once again he toils on the West Coast and for a team out of the playoff race.  I’m eternally sympathetic to those who think MVP should not include team performance … and i’m perennially finding myself agreeing with “old school” sentiments that ask a simple question; how can you be the most valuable player when your team isn’t a factor for most of the year.   Also in the mix would be Betts’ teammate J.D. Ramirez, the Oakland phenomenon Matt Chapman, Houston WAR leader Alex Bregman, and Cleveland stars Jose Ramirez and Francisco Lindor.  My personal hedge statement here: I’d be rather surprised if Betts did not win.
  • NL MVP: Christian Yelich has really exploded late in the season to put his name into this discussion.  But the question may end up being this: is this one of those weird years where no dominant, obvious position player candidate steps up and thus the award goes to a pitcher?  I’d suggest this might be possible … except that the top 3-4 pitching candidates all play for non-playoff teams.  And that doesn’t match the narrative.  I’m going to go with Yelich, then the top NL pitchers right behind him, with perhaps Javier Baez,  Nolan Arenado and Freddie Freeman getting some votes as their respective “best player on a playoff team” status.  Coincidentally … did you know that Anthony Rendon is 2nd in the NL in fWAR behind Yelich?  I certainly didn’t.  Personal Hedge statement: I’d still be shocked if a pitcher for a non-playoff team won here, and would find it hard to vote for one of these other position players mentioned.
  • AL Cy Young: Blake Snell.   This might be an interesting case of whether you’re wow’d by conventional stats or not.  Snell has a sub 2.00 ERA, but he’s doing it thanks to a ridiculously low BABIP, which drags down is fWAR and puts him well down the league leader list.  Meanwhile in bWAR … he’s the top AL pitcher, ahead of his competition for this award.  I think the fact that he’s put up the numbers that he has playing in the AL East and having fully 25% of his starts this year come against Boston and the Yankees is pretty amazing.  I’d vote Snell.  Also in the mix here: Verlander, Cole, Sale, Kluber, Bauer.  Personal Hedge: wouldn’t be surprised if this went to Verlander or Sale instead.
  • NL Cy Young.  Max Scherzer  Yes i’m convinced that his broaching the 300k mark put him over the top, despite the unbelievable season that Jacob deGrom had.  I could be wrong; maybe the electorate has now advanced to the point where they recognize that a guy who finished 10-9 was indeed the best pitcher of the year.  We’ll see.  Either way, I sense these guys go 1-2.  After them, look for Aaron Nola Kyle Freeland, and Patrick Corbin.  Personal Hedge: deGrom is getting enough “holy cow look at this season” buzz that it wouldn’t really surprise me if he won.  And he’d be completely deserving.  Btw, as the off-season narratives grew, I became less and less convinced I had this one right.  Writing this ahead of the awards, I think deGrom wins.
  • AL Rookie: Shohei Ohtani: it shouldn’t be close honestly.  He had a 4.0 WAR season, clubbing more than 20 homers and looking pretty darn solid on the mound before the inevitable elbow injury derailed his season and cost him 60 games or so.   Only Gleybar Torres is close; this should be a unanimous vote and I hope Ohtani comes back from injury sooner than later.  Personal Hedge: a vote against Ohtani is really a bad one honestly.
  • NL Rookie: Ronald Acuna; its Acuna or Juan Soto, both of whom had historic seasons at a young age.   Acuna’s monster September pushes him over the top, and his stat line for the season is just slightly better than Soto’s, despite the missed time.  By narrative, Soto would have this hands-down though; he advanced from Low-A to putting up a 4-win season as a 19yr old, has had perhaps the 2nd or 3rd best teen-aged season in the long history of our game, and might have been in the MVP race had the Nats won the division.  Hedge: I begrudgingly have to admit that Acuna is slightly better, and rookie status isn’t given context (ie, its not part of the equation that Soto started the year in Low-A and Acuna was in AAA and a known #1 overall prospect).
  • AL Manager: hard not to say that Bob Melvin‘s performance taking an expected also-ran to nearly 100 wins isn’t the Mgr of the year.  He’s on his like 18th starter of the year, he’s winning with a bunch of non-prospects, he’s turned trash into treasure (Blake Treinen).
  • NL Manager: Brian Snitker, who took the NL east by 8 games in a complete surprise based on nearly every pundit’s pre-season predictions.  No other NL playoff team was really this big of a “surprise” so he gets it.

 


Actual Award Results added as they were awarded (updated post-publishing).  Finalists announced 11/4/18.

My prediction results: tbd

Links to other awards that I didn’t predict this year (again, updated post-publishing as they’re announced)

Other links to awards worth noting


 

Someone is finally doing it: Tampa using “Openers” instead of “Starters”

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Sergio Romo; Tampa's new #3 starter.

Sergio Romo; Tampa’s new #3 starter.  And #4 starter sometimes … photo via Zimbio.

The Tampa Bay Rays, thanks to a run of injuries to their starting rotation this spring, and perhaps a bit of typical organizational ingenuity, are doing something this year that has a lot of people talking; they’re essentially using a closer-quality pitcher to start games, get through the top of the opposing team’s order the first time, then hands it over to the real “starter” (or in most cases longer man) who pitches a typical starter-length outing.

They seem to be sticking to conventional outings for their two best starters (Chris Archer and Blake Snell) even now, but spring training elbow injuries to planned starters Brett Honeywell and Jose De Leon (both Tommy John surguries), plus recent injuries to #3 starter Jake Faria, Yonny Chirinos  (not Laurel Chirinos!) and Nathan Eovaldi and a lack of upper-end SP prospects has led them to this point.

This strategy is getting put to its biggest test over the Memorial Day weekend series they have with Baltimore, announcing that they’ll be “starting” relievers all three games.

So far this season, they’ve used the strategy at least twice; with Sergio Romo starting on back to back nights.

  • 5/20/18: Romo pitches the first and strikes out the side before handing off to starter Ryan Yarborough, who pitches 6+ and gets the win.
  • 5/21/18:  Romo, going back to back nights, faces the first 6 batters; walks two, gets the other four out, zero runs; the rest of the game is a bullpen game, but the team loses to Shohei Ohtani and the Angels.

Of course, reaction to the moves is already as you’d expect it to be, given our current climate of hot-take/knee jerk reactions.  You’ve got “get off my lawn” types talking about how this isn’t “good for the game.”  You’ve got Joel Sherman (who has been around the sport long enough to know what they’re doing) calling the strategy “Bizarre.”  And you’ve got progressive types like Houston’s A.J. Hinch praising the move.


 

So, what do I think of this?

Well …. honestly this is the natural evolution of the trend towards specialized relievers that we’ve been seeing lately.  A mediocre/failed starter can be converted to a highly valuable reliever by just having them throw harder and focus on mastering two pitches instead of attempting to master three or four, and it happens All The Time.  See Rivera, Mariano and Eckersley, Dennis for hall of fame exhibits A and B here (ok .. to be fair Eckersley was by  no means a failed starter … but he would not be in Cooperstown had he not become a dominant closer).

Well, what if you had an entire roster of specialized relievers instead of spending tens of millions of dollars on a rotation?

Take the Nats: our top four starters this year are earning north of $80M this season.  What if you had spread that $80M around on a bunch of closer/near-closer types, the kinds of guys who go for significantly less per annum?  What if you had an entire team of guys like Ryan Madsen ($7.6M) or Sean Doolittle ($4.3M) or Brandon Knitzler ($5.5M).  Heck, why not load up y our team with pre-arb guys like Sammy Solis ($560k) and Matt Grace ($557k) and spend that $80M on improving the out-field players?

I’ve often wondered if a team couldn’t just have essentially 12 relievers and would basically turn every game into a bullpen game.  What if you deployed your staff kind of like this:

  • Three “Closer” quality guys (like our Doolittle)
  • Three solid RH 7th/8th inning types like Madsen and Kelley.
  • Three left-handed match-up guys (Solis, Grace)
  • Three long-men types who could soak up innings but who can’t turn over a lineup more than twice (kind of like Jeremy Hellickson but perhaps more like a 4-A starter, or what Edwin Jackson is doing in AAA).

You take half this squad and they’re the A-team; that gives you 5-6 arms to pitch the first game of the week.  Then, they all get a break and the other 5-6 arms get the next game.  In a typical week every reliever then gets three to four days off with off-games and off-days.   The long-men only go every two days, since you’re asking them to do 3-4 innings, but still get plenty of rest.  So a pattern of games could look like this:

  • Game 1: Closer1 pitches the 1st, RH1 and LH1 combine to pitch 2nd and 3rd.  Longman1 comes in and throws 4th through the 7th.  Then depending on where you are in the game he returns for the 8th or you go to your RH2/LH2 guy before handing off to Closer2 in the 9th.  So that’s 5 to 6 arms used in the first game.
  • Game 2: Closer3 starts.  RH3 throws next two innings.  Longman2 throws innings 4-7.  LH3 finishes it out, perhaps throwing Closer1 a second day in a row if need be.
  • Game 3: Closer2 starts.  Perhaps you go right to Longman3 for a 5 inning stint.  Back to RH1 and LH1 for the 7th/8th, then either let these guys do a 2 inning stint or go back to Closer3 for back-to-backs to finish the game.

So the workload for a 3-game series goes like this:

  • Closers: 2 innings each with an off-day
  • RH guys: 2-3 innings each with an off-day
  • LH guys: 2-3 innings each with an off-day
  • Long-men: 3-4 innings each with two off-days

That’s basically 27 innings across three games, assuming your middle relievers throw a couple of 2-inning stints in there, or one of your long-men does 4 innings instead of three.

Tell me why this wouldn’t work?  Everyone gets a ton of rest, and if you burn out one of your longmen you just call up re-inforcements from AAA to do mop-up games here and there.  You always have a closer going against the top of the order in the first inning, then you try to work it out so that you can do match-ups the next time they come up with a 7th/8th inning quality guy.  The best hitters on the other team will eventually get a shot at your “long man…” but under this plan, they’re getting four at bats generally against four different arms.  That’s going to give the advantage to the pitcher every time; batters don’t get to study up the opposing starter every night for research; they’re going to be seeing gas, trick pitches and one-trick ponies that have ridiculous BAAs and BABIPs thanks to their specialty.


So, who would love this?

  • Owners.  no more 9-figure contracts for starters who have like a 50% injury rate.
  • Some Pitchers: more opportunities for guys who just couldn’t cut it as starters but who crush it as releivers.

Who wouldn’t like this?

  • High end starters: less jobs, less demand for you.  Maybe.  I mean, right now Tampa is sticking with their two solid starters and only doing this for the other slots.  Maybe a team with two Aces like the nats just lets them roll normally then does this kind of bullpen game the other three games out of five.
  • Any baseball fan born before 1970, since they hate any change, any game modification.  I mean come on, there’s people demanding that we ban the shift (including the commissioner).
  • The Players union; you’d have to think salaries would plummet
  • Maybe most every baseball fan?  Offense drives fan interest … and this plan is specifically designed to neutralize the opposing team’s best hitters.

Thoughts?