Nationals Arm Race

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

Archive for the ‘brandon knitzler’ tag

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?

Nats Non-News: Non-tender deadline, FA (lack of) market and Ohtani

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Are the Nats really in the mix for Japanese superstar Ohtani? Photo via cbssports.com

Are the Nats really in the mix for Japanese superstar Ohtani? Photo via cbssports.com

As many others have noticed … there isn’t a heck of a lot going on right now in the “hot stove” season.  But given where we are in the regular off-season calendar, lets bang out a couple of topics.

First: the Non-tender deadline.

For the first time in an awful long time, the Nats have no real obvious non-tender candidates on their roster.  They entered the off-season with just four arbitration-eligible players and they are all set to be crucial pieces for 2018:

  • Bryce Harper technically would have been arb-eligible but signed away his 4th year for north of $21M.
  • Anthony Rendon comes off easily his finest season as a pro (his numbers across the board eclipse his 2014 5th place MVP season) and he should be in line to more than double his $5.8M 2017 salary.
  • Tanner Roark struggled in 2017 (… perhaps caused/aided by the frequently-seen WBC hangover?) but is still slated to be our 4th starter on a rotation that doesn’t currently have a fifth and should be in line for about an $8M payday.
  • Michael Taylor has established himself as one of the premier defensive center fielders in the game, will be set to start in 2018, and faces arbitration for the first time (likely to get around a $2.5M check).

Compare this to previous non-tender years (with links to non-tender specific posts from years past):

  • 2016: we non-tendered Ben Revere, waived Aaron Barrett before having to make the NT decision, and declined Yusmeiro Petit‘s option as a way of “non-tendering” him.
  • 2015: we non-tendered Craig Stammen, but kept NT candidates Jose Lobaton and Tyler Moore (eventually trading Moore after waiving him at the end of spring training).
  • 2014: we did not non-tender anyone, though a couple weeks later traded NT candidate Ross Detwiler to Texas for two guys who never really panned out for us (Chris Bostick and Abel de los Santos).
  • 2013: we did not non-tender anyone, only Ross Ohlendorf was a candidate, and in retrospect he probably should have been NT’d since he didn’t throw a pitch for the Nationals in 2014.
  • 2012: we non-tendered three guys (Jesus FloresTom Gorzelanny, John Lannan) in the face of a huge amount of arbitration players (10).
  • 2011: we non-tendered Doug Slaten deservedly, but tendered candidate Gorzellany.
  • 2010: we non-tendered Chien-Ming WangWil Nieves, Joel Peralta.  We also outrighted 5 guys prior to the NT deadline, DFA’d two more in December, and DFA/dreleased four more guys prior to Spring training in a very busy off-season.
  • 2009: we non-tendered Scott Olsen, Mike MacDougal
  • 2008: we non-tendered Tim Redding, now the Pitching coach for our Auburn Short-A team, so I guess there was no hard feelings there :-)
  • 2007: we non-tendered Nook LoganMike O’Conner.
  • 2006: we non-tendered or declined options for Ryan Drese, Brian Lawrence, Zach Day (it might have only been Day who was officially non-tendered)
  • 2005: we non-tendered Carlos BaergaPreston WilsonJunior Spivey.

That’s a long trip down random memory lane for marginal Nationals players from yesteryear.

Post-publish edit: as expected, the team formally tendered contracts to the 3 arb-eligible players on 12/1/17.



The FA market in general seems to be held up by two major names: Giancarlo Stanton and Shohei Ohtani.  Jeff Passan argues there’s other reasons (see this link) for the lack of movement, but one has to think the big names are a big part of it.  I also believe that this year’s “crop” of FAs is … well kind of underwhelming.  Here’s Passan’s ranking of FAs: his biggest names past Ohtani are Yu Darvish (who just sucked in the post-season, is coming off TJ surgery and doesn’t rate as the “Ace” he once was), J.D. Martinez (who blew up in 2017 but who has normally gotten a lot of his value from defense and he’s not getting any younger), Eric Hosmer (a 1B only guy, even if he’s really good, who seems like a safe bet to get over-pad and age badly) and Jake Arrieta (who has taken a step backwards from his Cy Young win and has already entered his decline years).  Plus, the “price” for signing some of these QO-attached guys (Hosmer, Arrieta plus other top-10 FAs like Lorenzo Cain, Mike Moustakas and Wade Davis) will be quite steep for big-market and/or Luxury tax teams like our own Washington Nationals.

Frankly, between the higher price of forced loss of picks due to our over-spending last season, our current payroll tightness (we seem to only have about $17M to spend to stay under the tax for all of next year) and the underwhelming lot of available players … i don’t see us really participating in this year’s sweepstakes.    Do we want to pony up for a middling 5th starter type like Jaime Garcia at the likely going price of $10M/year?  Or roll the dice with a MLFA like we did with some success last year (Edwin JacksonJacob Taylor).  Or just stay inhouse and let Erick Fedde continue to mature every 5th day on the mound?

Stanton, according to the tea-leaves i’m reading this week, seems like he’s heading to San Francisco, who is in desperate need for offense, outfielders and a franchise makeover after last year’s debacle.  Stanton could fit all three.  Which is great for him (he’s born and raised in California and would be joining a franchise that, despite its 2017 season, still has 3 WS titles in the last decade and a slew of marquee players to build around), great for the Nats (getting him out of the division), great for the “franchise” of Miami (who rids themselves of perhaps the 2nd worst contract in baseball behind Albert Pujols‘ and lets them get a relatively clean slate to start over for the new franchise ownership group), and of course awful for the “fans” of Miami, who thought they were finally getting rid of one of the worst owners in professional sports only to get slapped in the face with comical missteps by the new Derek Jeter-led ownership group, who managed to embarrass themselves in the most ridiculous way (by firing ceremonial Marlins legends for no good reason) early and then put themselves on the defensive needlessly by immediately crying poor and saying that they needed to pare payroll within a few days of taking over.  If i was a Miami fan I wouldn’t know whether to laugh or cry.

I also think its notable that the first ex-Nat ranked on Passan’s list comes in at #43; the “ripe for regression” Matt Albers.  Brandon Knitzler comes soon after him (who could be a re-signing candidate frankly for us, to put the “law firm” back together), then you have to get all the way down to #62 to find Jayson Werth.  As compared to next off-season, when the Nats will have the #1 guy on the list.


Coming back to Ohtani (I’m going with the h in the name since after much research that’s what seems like the right way to spell it) ….

First things first: I desperately hope the Nats get him.  Anyone who thinks that they’re better off without Ohtani is a fool; he’s set to become one of the biggest bargains in baseball.  For the small price of a $20M posting fee, you get a guy who throws 100, is an 80 runner, and hits the crap out of the ball.  For a miniscule bonus figure (the max any team has seems to be about $3.5M; the Nats only have $300k) and then a MLB min contract.  Its just amazing.  His presence could literally change the face of a franchise for a decade for about the same amount of money we will have paid Gio Gonzalez this year and next.  I doubt he picks us though; it seems more likely he picks either a major market team (NY, Boston) on the east coast or (more likely) one of the west coast teams for better proximity to Japan and a larger Asian native market (LA, SF, Seattle).  But its all speculation.

Hey, did I mention that the Nats need both another starter AND a lefty-bat off the bench, right now??  Ohtani would be perfect!

Side Note: why the heck is he coming over now and subjecting himself to MLB minimum contracts and arbitration??  He’s literally leaving $100M on the table by not waiting just two years and coming over un-restricted.  I just cannot believe he’s doing this and costing himself so much money.  I get the lip service comments about wanting to challenge himself, yadda yadda, but when there’s literally 9 figures of money on the table, I just don’t understand the decision.  He’s projected to be better than Daisuke Matsuzaka, better than Darvish, both of whom got many times more money (Dice-K got $52M to him, $103M in total cost plus his posting fee), while Darvish got $60M to him and cost the Rangers $111M total with posting fee).  It seems crazy.

Can’t wait to see where he goes, and I can’t wait to see if he’s the real deal.

Ask Collier 8/3/17

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Did the Nats do enough at the deadline to shore up the bullpen? Photo via UPI

Did the Nats do enough at the deadline to shore up the bullpen? Photo via UPI

Another Nats off-day, another Jamal Collier twitter-driven mailbag.  If people tweeted me a bunch of random questions, I’d probably do “mailbags” too!

Here’s how i’d have answered the questions he took.


 

Q: To me it looks like Dodgers vs Nationals NLCS unless bracketed before…who can u see beating either of these 2 teams???

A: Well, lets not put the cart before the horse.  What’s looking more and more certain by the day isn’t a guaranteed NLCS matchup, but rather an NLDS matchup between the Nats and the Cubs.  And who can beat the Nats?  Certainly the Cubs can.  Heck, the Nats just got their asses handed to them by the Marlins in a 3-game series; certainly they could lay an egg in a 5-game series against a good offensive team that’s the defending World Series champs.  It bears repeating: in a short series, anything can happen.  The Nats outscored the Dodgers in the 2016 NLDS 24-19 and had the lead in the deciding game heading into the 7th inning … and still managed to lose.

I’ll also point this fact out: the 116 win 2001 Seattle Mariners got their asses handed to them in 5 games by the Yankees in the playoffs.

Lets make it to October, then see how our health looks and see how we’re hitting.  All we can hope for is 100% all hands on deck to give the series our best shot.

Collier notes that anything can happen in the playoffs, that the wild card teams all improved at the trade deadline, and that he’d love to see an LA-Wash rematch.


 

Q: Do you see the Nats going after a waiver Starting Pitcher this month in case Strasburg needs to be out for an extended period?

A: Hmm.  Yeah I could.  I don’t think the team trusts Jacob Turner, nor A.J. Cole.  Certainly not 40-man member Austin Voth (demoted to AA a month ago).  But I also think Erick Fedde was better than his stat line showed, and his dominant 2nd inning was clearly a sign of what he “can” do if he stays consistent.  But we need to get to October first and that might mean a waiver-wire trade.  It all depends on how much more time their two aces miss at this point.

Collier disagrees, saying that Rizzo was adamant about not getting antoher starter at the trade deadline … but things have changed.


 

Q: With Matt Wieters recent offensive and defensive struggles, do you think that the Nats should give Pedro Severino a closer look in Sept?

A: In a word, No.  Severino‘s 2016 stat line was a mirage; he’s hit just .213 in AAA this year.  That might not even be good enough to supplant Jose Lobaton as our once-a-week catcher.  I agree with those who complain about the Wieters signing … but then again Derek Norris has hit just .201 for Tampa, and Wilson Ramos is hitting even worse after missing half the season.  So its not like they really had a choice.  Lets just hope some of our lower minors Catcher depth pans out.

Collier agrees.


 

Q: How are they going to fit everyone back into this pen when Kelley and Glover come back?? Surely they can’t send anyone down for Kelley

A: Good question.  As of today (prior to the Romero injury, their pen was as follows:

Kintzler, Doolittle*, Madsen, Albers, Romero*, Perez*, Blanton, Grace*,

They’ve been carrying 8 relievers for a bit, probably since their 5th starters rarely make the 5th inning.  Now look at that crew and ask yourself; who could even be optioned?  Kintzler, Madsen, Perez and Blanton are all vets that could refuse demotions.  Albers too; they all have 5+ years.  Doolittle doesn’t … but he’s also pretty much your closer right now.  So that’s 6 of your 7 guys.  Romero is out of options.  That’s 7 of 7 right there.  Despite how well Grace has pitched, he’s on the outside looking in right now.  If/when Kelley and Glover come back … yeah you have to make some tough decisions.  If I had to guess, the team is going to have to D/L some guys (like Blanton) in order to get others in.  And if you were putting together an 8-man playoff bullpen, you’d probably go Kintzler, Doolittle, Madsen, Kelley, Glober, Albers, Romero and Grace.  Man it’d be tough leaving Perez off a post-season roster though.  And we havn’t even mentioned Solis, banished to AAA but very much an integral part of last year’s playoff bullpen.

Collier notes that by the time some of these roster squeezes happen, we’ll be past the 9/1 expansion deadline and it may not matter.  Which is a good point.


Q:  It’s definitely a long shot, but do you think there’s any chance whatsoever that a ’17 draftee pitches in our bullpen by end of September?

A: Zero chance.  For reasons inexplicable, the one guy who may have had a shot (Seth Romero) failed to sign until the deadline, apparently squeezing out the ever last drop of over-slot bonus money, then failed to even appear in a game for several weeks beyond that (despite not having pitched since mid-March?).  Clearly the organization was not in a hurry to move him along.  Times are changing; we still havn’t even seen a 2016 draftee appear in the majors yet, so to project a 2017 player moving up that fast would be crazy.

Collier agrees.