Nationals Arm Race

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

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DC-IBWA pre-season predictions for Nats 2014 individual leaders

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Happy Opening day!

Every season David Nichols (editor in chief of DC Pro Sports Blog) organizes the unofficial DC Chapter of Nats bloggers to do some surveying about will happen, and then a post-mortem about what happened.

For 2014; here’s how the DCIBWA members voted in total.

And here’s how I voted:

1. Who will lead the Nats in home runs in 2014?  Hard not to go with the kid Bryce Harper.  I’ll predict he manages to stay healthy, stop running into walls, and hits 32 bombs out of mostly the middle of the order.  Last year’s leader was Ryan Zimmerman, who I like for 20-25 homers again but not as many as Harper.

2. Who will lead the Nats in RBI?  I’m going with Ryan Zimmerman here, mostly because I feel like he’s going to be the beneficiary of many guys getting on base ahead of him and will have plenty of RBI opportunities.  Last year’s leader was Jayson Werth by a hair; something tells me he’s more of a table-setter this year (a #2 hitter) rather than a middle of the order bat.  I could be wrong though.  (Insert obligatory argument about lineup construction and dazzle us with your proof of why your best hitter should be batting 2nd while the 3rd place hitter should be one of your lesser batters…)

3. Who will lead the Nats in stolen bases?  I’ll go with 2013 leader Ian Desmond again; Denard Span is the obvious choice here but he seems to have lost a step.  All in all, speed on this team seems to be lacking on this team; will Matt Williams be a more- or less-aggressive manager on the basepaths?

4. Who will lead the staff in wins?  Stephen Strasburg, who I feel is destined for a break-out season with no leashes and no afterthoughts of his injury.  He’s two years removed from TJ recovery; when 2013 staff wins leader Jordan Zimmermann was in his 3rd year back he went 19-9 and got Cy Young votes.  I predict a 20 win season for Mr. Strasburg, some serious consideration for a Cy Young, and a significant arbitration fight next off-season.

5. How many games will Ryan Zimmerman play first base?  I’ll go with 10-12, maybe fewer.  Perhaps once a week he’ll go over to the other corner.  Something tells me that Adam LaRoche in a contract season will step it up and make it really tough to take his bat out of the lineup.  And something else tells me that Zimmerman may return to his plus-defense now that his shoulder issues are seemingly behind him, and we’ll be talking about how we can stick with him at 3rd for the long haul when the season is over.  (I may be eating my words on Zimmerman here; he’s already shown some air-mailing tendencies during Spring; such a shame that his arm is affecting his overall defense so badly).  For what its worth, Zimmerman has played a grand total of 2 innings at first this spring.

6. Who starts more games: Ross Detwiler, Taylor Jordan, Tanner Roark, Ross Ohlendorf?  Tanner Roark.  The winner of the 5th starter spot will pitch to a relatively non-descript league average for months, while the loser (Taylor Jordan) toils in obscurity in Syracuse, waiting for Roark to fail or someone to get hurt.  Ross Ohlendorf‘s trip to the 60-day D/L means he’s likely a non-factor for the first half, and Ross Detwiler‘s trip to the bullpen looks permanent.  (When I wrote the first draft of this in Mid Feb, it was Detwiler).  Even given what has transpired at the end of spring (Fister’s D/L trip meaning both guys are in the rotation), I feel like Roark is going to stick when Fister comes back.

7. Who will get more at bats for the Nats this season: Danny Espinosa or Jamey Carroll?  Danny Espinosa obviously, since Carroll has already been released.  But even in my first draft of this post in Feb, I was predicting that Espinosa would win the backup middle infielder battle with Jamey Carroll.  I just didn’t think the team was ready to punt on a former 20-home run guy with superior defense.

8.  Which minor leaguer are you most interested in keeping tabs on this season?  Instead of copping out and saying an obvious name from our consensus top 3 prospects (Giolito, Cole and Goodwin), I’m going to throw out a couple other names that really intrigue me.  Matt Skole lost all of 2013 by virtue of a freak injury but impressed last year; i’d like to see him bash his way into consideration for a call-up.  I’d like to see what 2013 draftee Austin Voth can do in a full season; I like this guy as a sleeper, a potential Tim Hudson-esque mid-rotation starter who doesn’t get a ton of credit because of his size but suddenly is posting double-digit wins for your team.  I’d like to see what Matthew Purke does this year; the shine is off this guy; I’d really like to see him put himself back into relevance with this organization.  Like everyone else Stephen Souza has really elevated his status; what can he bring to the table if he gets an opportunity?  And lastly we now know that fireballer Blake Treinen is in the AAA rotation; is he a behind-the-scenes important piece of rotation depth for this farm system now?

9.  Who will reach majors first: Sammy Solis, A.J. Cole, Lucas Giolito or Matt Purke?   Well, this one is easy to me; Sammy Solis is on the 40-man, is 25, and is already being talked about as being a potential loogy in 2014.  After that I’d predict Purke (also by virtue of  his 40-man placement); if Purke shows the team something or anything this year, he could earn a Sept 1 call-up to help in the pennant race.  After that say Cole since he will be put on the 40-man this coming off-season (if not before) and then Giolito last; he’s not rule-5 eligible til 2016 and would have to pitch his way into relevance before then (much like Taylor Jordan did in 2013).

10. How many all-stars will the Nats have? Who?  I’ll predict three: Strasburg, Desmond and Harper.

11. Total wins and what place in the division?  94 wins, 1st place in division.  This could trend higher with every new Atlanta injury.

Essay: What should be the single most important development for the Nats this season?

Hitting in the clutch.  The 2013 team to score 80 fewer runs than the magical 2012 team despite a lineup that seemed better on paper.  A lot of this regression was due to the drop-off in bench production, but an awful lot of it was due to coming up weak in the clutch.  In high-leverage batting situations (as defined by fangraphs), the Nats were dead last in 2013.  This team needs to do better all the way up and down the lineup.  We need Harper healthy.  We need Span producing like he did in September.  I’d like to see something better out of LaRoche in 2014.  Give us that and all these great pitchers will look that much better.

 

Ask Boswell 3/24/14 edition

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Should this man be on this team?  Photo Nats official 2014 via rantsports.com

Should this man be on this team? Photo Nats official 2014 via rantsports.com

Despite there being just a scant week until games start … i’m at a loss for content here!  Fear not; Mr. Tom Boswell always chats on mondays.  Here’s the 3/24/14 edition.  This was a monster chat; he took questions for 3.5 hours.

Q: Steven Souza just had a monster spring: Does he need a year at Syracuse or can the Nats use him now?

A: Some guys here love Steven Souza.  But he’s an outfielder in a system that already has 5 multi-million dollar outfielders under contract, so he’s not going to break camp with the team.  He’s  yet to play above AA and could use some seasoning against the near-MLB quality AAA starters.  But the Nats didn’t put him on the 40-man roster for the heck of it; you have to think he’s going to feature this year to cover for injuries.  He needs some positional flexibility.  He’s listed as a third baseman as well; another position we don’t really need any cover for right now.  Souza’s problem is that he’s a corner player (LF/RF/3B/1B) on a team with a bunch of them already.  So he’s going to have to out-hit a starter to get ABs.  Boswell says the same thing I do about not ever playing above AA.  Lets see how he does in upstate NY in April.

Q: Is Moore going to lose out on his spot to Peterson?

A: I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: if a guy already is on the 40-man (Tyler Moore), then the odds of someone who is NOT currently on our (full) 40-man (aka Brock Peterson) beating out an established 40-man player AND dislodging an existing guy off the 40-man roster seems rather remote.  Besides, are we even sure Moore is making the 25-man roster at this point?  The team already has 5 OFers and needs another guy who can play middle infield, not a guy who can only play a corner.   Peterson is a 1B/OF type, much as Moore is.  Maybe this is all a precursor towards moving Moore to a team that covets him (Houston).  Boswell agrees that Moore is “on the bubble” and then notes that 1B competition after LaRoche is gone will be quite interesting.

[Interlude: someone asked a question about what "Cybermetrics" was.  WAR, OPS and WHIP].  Boswell answered it well, getting in his own dig at WAR while he was at it.

Q: Will Lobaton’s throwing arm add to an already-weak area?

A: Maybe; but I’m not sweating the throwing arm mechancis of our once-a-week catcher.  I’m more worried about whether Doug Fister is going to be ready for 4/1.  Boswell points out that Lobaton’s pitch framing is one of the best … and that if your backup catcher has just one weakness then you’re doing a-ok.  

Q: Who’s the 5th starter going to be?

A: Now I’m flip-flopping again, trying to read the tea-leaves, and I’m guessing Taylor Jordan wins it.  Ironically it will come down to Tanner Roark‘s flexibility; he’ll head to the pen to be the 7th man and he’ll be happy about it.  If Roark were to win the spot, Jordan would be heading to AAA to keep starting and we’d be basically auditioning a kid in the #7 spot (since it seems like Ryan Mattheus is heading to the D/L and Christian Garcia just hasn’t shown he’s got the stuff).  I’m ok with this configuration.   Boswell uses my previous arguments in saying that Roark deserves it and should have it on merit.  We’ll see.  

Q: Are you worried about the back of the Nats bullpen with Storen and Soriano’s shaky spring training stats?

A: Yes.  Short Sample Sizes, Spring Training stats, blah blah.  Soriano has looked awful, Storen not much better.  The Bullpen was the weakest part of this team last year and these guys are making too much coin to be just so-so.  Problem is, if Soriano blows a bunch of saves and loses the closer job, you might as well just release him because his non-closer splits show what a moper he can be.  This is an area to keep an eye on early in the season.  Boswell seems to think Soriano will be fine but worries about Storen.

Q: Are the Nationals vindicated in “Shutdown gate” now that Medlen is going in for a second TJ?

A: Phew,  I tell you this is a topic I’ve avoided because I want to keep my blood pressure down.  But others have certainly chimed in on it (Ted Leavengood at Seamheads.com opined on 3/18/14, as did Thom Loverro in the WashingtonTimes on 3/13/14 and Rantsports.com’s less than cordial website posted its own opinion in the same timeframe).  You’ll notice that nowhere in this list are the blowhards at NBCSports’ HardballTalk, some of the more loud and ardent critics of the Nationals 2012 decisions.  I wonder why; its like it is in the Newspaper business; nobody notices when you print a retraction of a 20-point headline and bury it on page 12 a few days later; all people remember is the headline.

I think honestly my opinion is in line iwth Loverro’s; we won’t really know if the Strasburg plan or the Medlen plan is really “the best” course of action until both guys are retired.  If Strasburg breaks down again, he’ll be in the same place as Medlen.  Yes the Nats plan looks better now that we have Strasburg going on opening day and the Braves will be lucky to have Medlen back and healthy this time next year.  But it still doens’t prove anything about pitcher mechanics and proclivity to injury (another topic that makes my blood boil; people just spouting off internet theories about biomechanics and presenting themselves as experts on the topic … another topic for another day).

An important note from another questioner on the same topic: all four guys going in for their 2nd TJ surgery this spring (Medlen, Brandon BeachyPatrick Corbin and Jarrod Parker had their first TJ surgery AFTER both Strasburg and Jordan Zimmermann‘s surgeries.  The Nats approach seems to be more and more vindicated by the year.

Boswell doesn’t really bite at the offer to say “I told you so” but offers a link to a paper at NIH on the topic.

Q: Does Espinosa beat out Rendon?

A: No.  Yes Espinosa is superior defensively; you don’t need the second coming of Mark Belanger at second.  Boswell agrees.

Q: Did Rick Shue really make that big of a difference on this team?

A: Looking at splits both pre- and post- Rick Eckstein/Rick Shue hiring/firing, you would be inclined to say yes.  Was this causation or correlation?  Who knows.  Boswell doesn’t address the second part of a two-part question.

Q: Is the game of baseball headed for disaster thanks to big market dominance, over-emphasis on the teams in the 4 biggest cities and declining popularity?

A: I sense this questioner has a bit of bias.  Yes baseball’s ratings are miniscule when compared to Football’s; ask yourself how Football’s ratings would look if there was a game every night.  Baseball attendance dwarfs any other sport and is rising.  There’s national emphasis on “national” teams sure … but I’ve heard cogent, well put arguments that baseball itself is now basically a regional sport.  A strong sport with strong local ties that don’t translate nation-wide.  As compared to the NFL, where if the superbowl is Green Bay vs New England people tune in because they associate those teams with their star quarterbacks, not with their geography.

The thing that I worry about is the incredible revenue disparities we’re starting to see.  I do believe that the RSN monies that large market teams are pulling in will eventually give way to some sort of small-market owner revolt as the playoffs become the same teams year after year.  Sort of like what we see in European Soccer leagues.  Nobody wants to see that.

Boswell notes some stats about attendance, calls the game booming and also repeats my “regional points.”

Q: How important at the two early-season series versus Atlanta (April 4-6 at home and then April 11-13 away)?

A: I’d like to be a cynic and say something pithy like, “a game on April 5th counts the same in the standings as a game on September 30th.”  But in this case, I think a new manager, a weakened rival and a team that got its *ss handed to them last year by Atlanta will want to make a statement.  It could be damaging if the Braves somehow come in here and take 2 of 3.  Boswell does talk about the opportunity to put pressure on the Braves early.

Q: Is this the year Strasburg puts it all together?

A: It seems like it; he’s in the same place Zimmermann was in 2013 in terms of surgery recovery; I’d love to see him win 20 games.  Boswell drinks the kool-aid and then points out the excellent Adam Kilgore piece in the WP a few days ago on Strasburg; its worth a read.

Q: Who do you think has the most upside between Brian Goodwin, Eury Perez and Michael Taylor? Are the Nats still high on Destin Hood? 

A: A prospect question!  I’d go Goodwin, Taylor then Perez at this point. But if Goodwin plateaus again this summer Taylor will surpass him.  I think Perez has peaked as a late-innings defensive replacement/pinch runner at this point and may be trade-able/DFA able sooner than later.  Hood’s time with the organization is running out; he’s entering his 7th minor league season after hitting just .224 with no power in AA last year.  I’m thinking he’ll repeat and then hit free agency.  Too bad.  Boswell doesn’t sound like he likes any of these guys.

Q: Between the Morse trade (Cole, Krol, Treinen), the Guzman trade (Roark), and the Capps trade (Ramos), plus a few others, it seems like the Nats have made some really good trades. Umm, please tell me that the people who scouted these players before any of us had heard of them are well compensated.

A: Yeah, the Nats pro scouting squad has definitely done some great work as of late.   Boswell notes that scouts are not paid a ton … but that the Nats raided other teams for quality guys by giving them more respect and input in this org.  

Q: Every year the number of pitchers requiring Tommy John surgery seems to be higher than the year before. It has to be clear at this point that the innings limit (alone) is not the answer. When does baseball finally figure this out?

A: Well, what’s the answer then?  You can look at literally every pitcher and find a fault or two with his mechanics; this guy has the “inverted W,” this guy subluxes his shoulder, this guy’s arm isn’t in the right position when he lands, this guy’s arm is too high, this guy’s arm is too low.  Nobody can define what “perfect mechanics” are.  I started pulling up video/images of the career MLB leaders of innings pitched and, guess what, those guys don’t have perfect mechanics either.  Don Sutton?  7th all-time in baseball IP and basically 2nd if you take out knuckleballers and dead-ball guys … and he has a perfect inverted-W in his motion.

What is the answer?  I wish I knew; i’d be the most in-demand pitching consultant on the planet.  When fully 1/3rd of major league pitchers have had Tommy John surgery, and that numbers seems to be rising, maybe the answer is found by looking at the evolving role of pitchers.  Velocity is king now: 30 years ago if someone threw 90 it was special; now its mediocre.  Relievers especially; think about how power arms in the bullpen are coveted now.  Is it possible that the answer to all these arm issues is simply that guys are just trying to throw too hard these days?  That’s not much of an answer though.  We can talk about youth development, over-throwing as kids, AAU/travel leagues and 10year olds going from playing 18-20 little league games to 45 travel-league games a year.  But I’m not sure that’s entirely it; baseball recruits from the Dominican Republic basically did nothing for years except play sand-lot baseball from sun-up to sun-down and that doesn’t seem to affect their longer term injuries….

Or does it?   I wonder if there’s any correlation to the “nature” of a players youth development versus future injury?  American system versus Japanese versus a developing latino country like Venezuela/Puerto Rico or the D.R.?  Excellent post topic.

Boswell totally punts on the question; maybe since there’s no real answer.

Q: Given what Souza has been doing lately, should we focus less on “age appropriateness” in the minors?

A: No.  I think Souza is the exception, not the rule.   If you’re in  your mid 20s and you’ve yet to succeed beyond high A … that’s pretty indicative of what your ceiling may be.  Simple as that.  Boswell points out that Roark is 27 and is a classic “late bloomer.”

Q: Does the news that Scherzer and Desmond declined long-term deals portend eventual trouble for the likes of Strasburg and Harper?

A: No; i think those guys were already going to be trouble.  What’s the common denominator here?  Two words: Scott Boras.  Scherzer == Boras client.  Strasburg?  same.  Harper?  Same.  Desmond isn’t a Boras client but he’s gotta be looking at some of the monster SS deals out there and saying, I’m going to hit the FA market to see what’s out there.  Can’t blame him.  The 2016 off-season is going to be an interesting one for this team.  Boswell mentions the Elvis Andrus contract, as I have many times, as a game-changer for Desmond.

 

 

Ladson’s Inbox 1/31/14

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Would this guy look good in a Washington uniform?  Photo unknown via ladodgertalk.com

Would this guy look good in a Washington uniform? Photo unknown via ladodgertalk.com

Nothing like a time-waster for the weekend; Bill Ladson‘s latest inbox plopped Friday afternoon 1/31/14.  Here’s how I’d have responded if someone had bothered to as me these questions :-)

Q: Even though the Nationals are confident with Denard Span in center field and they have strong center fielders in the Minors, is it possible that they might try to get Matt Kemp at the Trade Deadline or next offseason?

A: Matt Kemp‘s name has come up in this blog in the discussion spaces once before in an interesting “what-if” game.  The question as it was posed was this: “Would you, straight up and with no salary relief, trade Matt Kemp right now for Anthony Rendon?”  Think about it; Kemp is owed $127.5M over the next six seasons ($21-$21.5M per season).  He put up MVP numbers in 2011 (many thought he should have won instead of Ryan Braun, even more so after Braun’s positive PED tests) but has floundered with injury and sub-par performances (relative to his salary) for the past two years.  Meanwhile Rendon is getting paid a fraction of what Kemp’s salary is, is younger and has room to grow, but so far has been merely a league average player.  Its a good question: do you run the risk of a $20M boat anchor on your roster, taking up 1/7th of  your salary cap, or do you roll the dice that Kemp returns to his former glory and earns his pay?  Or do you bet on Rendon becoming a significant player cost contained and under team control for another 5 years?

For me, I think you stay away from Kemp.  That’s a ton of money with no guarantee that 2014 will be any different from 2013, and the Nats already have enough pending payroll problems without adding one more $20M player.

As for the question at hand, I see no inclination for Mike Rizzo to make such a move, now or ever.  He spent a lot of capital (our best starting pitching prospect at the time in Alex Meyer) to get Denard Span, he sought him out and coveted openly him for years, and now he has him.  Span’s not going anywhere.  As for next year, we’re in a wait and see.  One of our best prospects is a CF candidate in Brian Goodwin, but he took a step back in 2013.  If Goodwin steps back up in 2014 or doesn’t pan out, we can exercise Span’s 2015 option at $9M and wait for the next best CF prospect in our system (Michael Taylor) to grow.  If neither prospect pans out, we don’t have to worry about it for a few years.  But, at some point you hope this team can grow another prospect to replace an aging $9M free agent with a minimum salary guy.

Ladson basically says what I say, but in fewer words.

Q: The Nationals still have bullpen questions that were not addressed during the offseason. Do you think the Nats will sign another lefty for the bullpen? Or will they use Ross Detwilerin relief?

A: Do we have bullpen questions?  Where?  We got a lefty (Jerry Blevins) and we have another decent lefty option who pitched decently for us last year (Xavier Cedeno).  I’m quite pleased with the state of our back-end guys (Soriano and Clippard), our 7th and 8th inning options (Storen and Stammen), and our long-man options (Ohlendorf and Roark).   Remember; Clippard has great lefty splits, always has.  If our loogy doesn’t work out that well, we go back to using Clippard periodically as a match-up guy.  Or we call up Sammy Solis.  Hell, we could even try Matthew Purke as a bullpen option (he’s on the 40-man after all); scouts are souring on him ever being an effective starter, but his weird motion and shorter stints could help him feature as a bullpen guy.   I think you use Ross Detwiler as a starter until he proves otherwise; as mentioned in this space time and again, Detwiler was effective in 2012, started well in 2013 and got hurt; I have no doubt that if healthy he can start 2014 as he started 2013.  Ladson says similar things about our lefty options.

Q: How is Adam LaRoche‘s health going into Spring Training? He looked as if he lost a tremendous amount of weight last year.

A: Adam LaRoche looked healthy enough in all those shots that appeared of him killing things on the internet over the winter.  Seriously; who knows what the answer to this question is.  But we know he’s aware of the situation and should be taking steps to maintain his strength and weight in 2014.  It is a contract year after all, and he’s shown a proclivity towards having career years in contract years when he needs them to secure his next paycheck.  I can’t see  him “platooning” like a lot of bloggers seem to be calling for, but I can see him being told by management that he needs to maintain his production or he may be banished in phantom DL trips.  Ladson reports that LaRoche was taking an ADD medication, believes he has it figured out, and predicts a Gold Glove in 2014.  Random prediction but sounds good.

Q: Any chance Nationals could bring back Jesus Flores as a backup to Wilson Ramos?

A: Well, Jesus Flores is still out there as a MLFA.  What doesn’t speak well of him is the fact that he was released in May of last year by the Dodgers.  Clearly to me, he’s no longer a viable major league backup candidate.  I can still see the Nats giving a non-guaranteed contract to one of the few remaining veteran catchers to see if one of them sticks as Ramos’ backup, but at this point I wouldn’t be surprised to see the winner of a competition between Jhonatan Solano and Sandy Leon sticking as the backup.  That being said, both these guys were awful in 2013 in the minors offensively and I don’t have a good explanation why.  Leon seems like the better bet; better history of batting,  younger.   Chris Snyder has had a rough couple years but is still relatively young and has had stretches of decency, if the team wants to go with a veteran backup instead of a rookie.   I dunno what’s going to happen.  On the bright side, Keith Law‘s just-released top 10 for the system (ESPN Insider only) includes one Pedro Severino, giving him relatively glowing grades for his defense.   He’s a couple years away (born in 1993) but if he succeeds in Potomac this year he could be a ready-made Ramos backup sooner than later.  Ladson says the team had a problem with the way Flores called games … hmm, never heard that before.  Ladson also predicts more signings before Feb 1.

Q: I sense a double standard: why give continued chances to Danny Espinosa but essentially shut out Drew Storen? Am I missing something? Similar struggles, but at least Drew fought his way back to the Majors.

A: I’m not sure what “chances” Danny Espinosa is getting at this point, nor am I sure what Storen has been “shut out” of.  The team bought Rafael Soriano, are paying him a ton of money, and he’s the closer as long as he’s here.  That’s that; both Storen and Clippard got pushed down a peg when he got acquired.  Meanwhile, I think its clear that Anthony Rendon is the starter, and Espinosa is playing for a backup role.  Maybe there were just too many quotes taken out of context from NatsFest.  Ladson re-iterates his believe that Espinosa will be traded.

 

Thoughts on Keith Law’s organization and prospect rankings

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Giolito is rising the ranks of prospects baseball-wide.  Photo unk via federalbaseball.com

Giolito is rising the ranks of prospects baseball-wide. Photo unk via federalbaseball.com

I’ll admit it; I’m a sucker for prospect lists.

Every time I see an organizational ranking published (whether it be from BA/John Callis, BP/Jason Parks, ESPN/Keith Law, MLB/Jonathan Mayo, John Sickels or whoever, I put the rankings into a big spreadsheet and do comparison analysis (I’d publish on Google Docs it except that Law’s stuff is ESPN insider only and I wouldn’t want to get into trouble).   Every time any of these guys puts out organizational top 10s, I capture that too into one big file too.

So, this week is an exciting time because one of the leading prospect voices out there has published his annual rankings lists.  Keith Law published his System rankings 1-30 on 1/28/14 and published his Top 100 prospects list on 1/29/14.  The links themselves are ESPN-insider, which I believe is well worth the pittance of a cost per year just to get access to Law and Buster Olney‘s stuff (among others).

Law has our system ranked 18th this time around, a slight increase from last year’s ranking of 21.   In the five years that I’ve been capturing Law’s organizational rankings, this is as high as he’s had the system ranked believe it or not; his 2012 rankings (where Baseball America famously had us ranked #1) came out after the big Gio Gonzalez trade and thus we didn’t get the high ranking we would have expected (Law said he dropped the system from a top 5 ranking b/c of that trade).

So, how do we explain how the system went from #21 to #18 given all that has happened in the last year?   Borrowing from the comment I made at NationalsProspects.com when Luke Erickson noted the same Law publishing, lets analyze where we were in January 2013 versus now as a system:

In Law’s 2013 writeup for the team, he noted that he liked Washington’s top 5 prospects but that there was a significant gap afterwards.  Going back and looking at my notes, Law’s top 5 guys went:

  1. Anthony Rendon
  2. Brian Goodwin
  3. Lucas Giolito
  4. A.J. Cole
  5. Nathan Karns

Then the gap, then Law ranks 6-10 as went Matt Skole, Christian Garcia, Carlos Rivero, Matthew Purke and Michael Taylor. So, no mention of Taylor Jordan or Ian Krol, both of whom graduated and performed more than ably in the majors in 2013.  There was no mention of Robbie Ray, who Law never liked and never gave much credit to even when in 2011 he was out performing Cole in the low minors despite being the same age and same draft class, but who was regarded enough in Detroit to basically fetch a 4-win established MLB pitcher in Doug Fister.  There was no mention of Jeff Kobernus, who did get some MLB innings but isn’t considered a real prospect.  No mention of Nats minor league batter of the year Billy Burns (again, not really a prospect in lots of evaluator’s eyes).  No mention of Eury Perez as a top 10 candidate, and obviously no mention of Tanner Roark (who in January 2013 pretty much everyone saw as an organizational arm playing out the string to minor league free agency).  Law did say at the time that if Sammy Solis got healthy again he’d be back in the running for his top 100.  Amazingly Rivero, a waiver claim who ended the year demoted to AA, was his 8th best prospect for the system, quite an indictment.  Well, either that or a blind spot for Law, who is more impressed by tools in lower-minors kids than capabilities in prospects in the upper minors.

So, given that our top 10 last year in Law’s minds (in order):

  1. Rendon graduated to a starting job in the majors
  2. Goodwin struggled in a 2-level jump
  3. Giolito ably recovered from injury
  4. Cole impressed at AA after a promotion
  5. Karns made the leap to the majors but struggled
  6. Skole missed the entire season due to a freak injury
  7. Garcia missed basically the entire season with yet another injury
  8. Rivero was demoted to AA and is now a MLFA
  9. Purke pitched mostly a full season but did not dominate as expected
  10. Taylor impressed in high-A and was added to the 40-man

… and considering the litany of graduations/trades/exoduses out of the system (Rendon, Jordan, Krol, Ray, Rivero, Burns and Roark all ineligible for a 2014 analysis), how do you explain the fact that he thinks the system is basically treading water?

You have to think Law’s top 5 for the system now starts Giolito/Cole/Goodwin but then who knows where it goes from there.  I know from chat responses that Law is down on Purke now and that he didn’t ever really rate Jake Johansen or Drew Ward as 2013 draft picks.  Does Karns still qualify as a prospect?  Yes I believe so.   Solis came back and performed post injury but was he that impressive in 2013?

Perhaps Law’s thinking goes like this: he likes our top 3 prospects (clearly; Giolito, Cole and Goodwin all made Law’s minor league-wide top 100 list with Giolito at #21).  Law rates these top 3 guys as strong enough to make up for the graduations from last year.  Then there likely is a gap, then perhaps a small grouping of Karns and Solis, both of whom Law likes and both of whom he probably believes would make either #5 starters or good bullpen guys.  Then after that a grab bag to include Skole, Taylor, Perez and perhaps a couple guys from our 2013 draft class (Austin Voth?).  The problem with the back side of this theoretical top 10 list is that it includes a slew of players who were hurt or who treaded water in 2013.

What do you think?  And if your answer is some variation of, “Todd you spend too much time over-analyzing prospect lists and you just proved your own point by showing that a guy like Taylor Jordan can go from high-A to a MLB-average ERA+ and never appear on anyone’s prospect lists therefore prospect lists are useless” …. well I’m not going to argue against you that vociferously :-)  I’d probably respond by saying something to the effect of, “Its frigging january, what else are we going to talk about?”

Nats Rule-5 protection thoughts

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Walters already got added to the 40-man; who else may join him?  Photo unk via wp.com

Walters already got added to the 40-man; who else may join him? Photo unk via wp.com

Who might the team protect ahead of the Rule-5 Draft this year?  The topic came up recently in the comments so I thought i’d publish this post to open up the debate again.  I’ve got a rule-5 history post as well that i’ll post later this week.   And, as it turns out, Nov 20th is the deadline for adding players to the 40-man, so today’s as good a day as any to discuss.  (Kilgore’s analysis here, Baseball’s off-season calendar here).

The Nats off-season rule-5 protection debate really started in late August with an observation made about Zach Walters from Adam Kilgore in his pre-Sept 1 callup piece on 8/27/13.  It was continued by the announced list of Nats AFL participants, which included a couple of significant Rule-5 protection candidates.  Walters was subsequently added to the 40-man and called up, ending any Rule-5 speculation.

As (allegedly) was Steve Souza, who hit the cover off the ball in AA in 2013, with power to go with his CF defensive capabilities.  He followed that up by hitting .357 in the AFL, trailing just mega-prospects Kris Bryant and C.J. Cron for top hitting honors in Arizona.  I say Souza was “allegedly added” to the 40-man because, while news of his 11/1/13 40-man addition was widely published at the time, but his name does not appear on MLB.com’s 40-man roster for the team nor does there exist an 11/1/13 transaction (Editor’s update: it was posted 10/31/13 and the MLB 40-man database was missing him in error; it was eventually fixed).   I don’t know if its just a procedural thing or if all the beat reporters mis-reported the event and it should have been characterized as a “planned future” move.  But I’ll assume for the rest of this article that Souza is going to be put on the 40-man before the rule-5 draft.

Two of the most obvious Rule-5 candidates (even if Souza was technically a minor league free-agent to be) are now protected.  Who else might we see added?

Using the indispensable sites Draft tracker and the Big Board, and then giving some thought to prospect acquisitions made via trade, here’s some thoughts.  The quick rule-5 rules; any college-aged draftee from 2010 or before who isn’t already on the 40-man roster is Rule-5 eligible this coming off season, and any high-school aged draftee from 2009 or before is newly eligible this year.

Newly Eligible Players this year worth consideration for protection:

  • Rick Hague: 2B/SS from Harrisburg; .673 OPS in AA, not good enough OBP for a middle infielder and no power.  He’s well down the pecking order of backup middle infielders in this organization right now, and wouldn’t be a great organization loss even if he was selected.  Chances of being drafted or protected: very slim.
  • Jason Martinson: SS from Potomac/Harrisburg: Martinson finally earned a promotion above A-ball, where he promptly hit .185 in AA in 54 games.  He showed a ton of power in 2012 for a SS (22 homers) but it was in Low- and High-A ball.  Maybe he is a late bloomer.  However he’s not in jeopardy of being protected or drafted at this point.

No other 2010 college aged drafted hitter has even made it to Harrisburg; so they’re not going to get drafted or protected.  This includes three draft picks in the first 10 rounds of that draft; understandable in that the team committed millions to 3 top guys in 2010 and skimped elsewhere.

  • Sammy Solis: LHP with Potomac: coming back from injury in 2013 he pitched in Potomac the whole season.  He was a bit “old” for A-ball but its understandible considering where he’s been.  He excelled in the AFL and is being mentioned as a possible Loogy with the big-league team, so I’d have to think he’s a lock to be protected ahead of the draft.
  • Harrisburg middle relievers Matthew GraceAaron Barrett and Neil Holland: all three have good to excellent numbers in relief this year for AA Harrisburg.  Barrett especially as the closer.  Grace is left-handed and could feature as someone’s loogy.   Tough calls here; you can make a case that the team would like to retain all three guys as bullpen reinforcements in the coming years.  You can also make the riskier case that all three guys, while valuable and skilled players, may not stick on a MLB roster the entire year so perhaps they’re good bets to be left unprotected versus someone already on the 40-man roster.

The rest of the remaining 2010 college-age draftees are all either currently on the DL or are in Hagerstown or below, making them very slim candidates to be protected or picked.  Cameron Selik was one guy who could have made some noise, but he got hurt this year and isn’t going to get picked.

  • 2009 High School-age drafted players newly eligible: just Michael Taylor, who has a ton of speed (51sbs) and an improved OBP (.340) while repeating high-A this year.  I know there are readers here who like Taylor a ton, so this isn’t spoken out of disrespect.  I think Taylor has potential.   Maybe he “made the leap” in 2013.  Maybe he’s going to light up AA next season and suddenly we’re talking about him being Denard Span‘s replacement and not Brian Goodwin.  However, I can’t see someone rolling the dice with him in a rule-5 situation.   He’s never played above A-Ball.  In today’s modern game, with 12 man bullpens and thus shortened benches, I just can’t see someone like Tayler getting carried for an entire year.  I think the team may very well roll the dice and leave him exposed in December, and revisit 40-man protection in 2014.

Rule-5 holdovers from before of Note

  • Last year’s selections Erik Komatsu and Danny Rosenbaum: Komatsu has been hurt all year, Rosenbaum was decent but not over-powering in AAA.  Neither guy seems worth protecting since they already were selected and failed to stick.  But, they’re both AAA-level talents who could be someone’s bench player/swing man so they may get plucked again if not protected.
  • Justin Bloxom and Sean Nicol are both college-aged 2009 draftees with run-of-the-mill numbers in AA; they’ll play out the string until they get pushed out at this rate.
  • Patrick Lehman ended the season on the DL, making one think he’s not likely to get drafted.  Well that and his numbers were not good.
  • Matt Swynenberg has looked better in AA than he did in high-A; has he done enough to garner some interest from another team?
  • Destin Hood: our 2nd round pick in 2008 just seems to be spinning his wheels; his batting average has dropped as he’s repeated a level.  He’s officially in bust status.
  • Adrian Nieto has earned a placement in the Arizona Fall League and was Rule-5 Eligible last year, but was not drafted.  He’s yet to rise above high-A and seems a long shot to be taken (though, the Nats did pretty well plucking one Jesus Flores out of the Mets high-A team one year).

 


So, who’s getting protected?   As of the time of this writing, the Nats roster sits at 39 of 40 (again, assuming Souza is really there), so there’s just one empty spot.  But there’s at least a few guys on the fringes of the 40-man who I think could be waived and have a high likelihood of being kept (namely, Tyler Robinson and Corey Brown) if the team thought it needed room for either protectees or free agents.  The back-end of this roster is getting a bit clogged.

Depending on how many spots the team keeps open, in order I’d protect Solis, Barrett, Tayler, Grace, and Holland.   For me, only Solis is a lock.  The rest (for reasons described above) may be calculated omissions.

 

Ask Boswell 7/22/13

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Denard Span is catching a lot of criticism right now.  Photo: Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports

Denard Span is catching a lot of criticism right now. Photo: Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports

Well, Phil Mickelson came out of nowhere to take the British Open over the weekend, NFL training camps are coming up soon and the Nats just got swept anemically at home.  I wonder how many baseball questions there are in this week’s ask Tom Boswell chat?  Lets find out.

As always, I answer here before reading Boswell’s response, only take his baseball/Nats questions and edit those questions for clarity.

Q: Is one of the reasons for the Nats malaise because they know Johnson is a short timer?

A: The implication of the question is this: if Davey Johnson suggests a change, the player says, “Eh, you’re gone by the end of the season, why should I listen to you?”  I have a hard time believing this for two reasons:

1. I’m not convinced there’s that much “coaching” going on in the majors.  Especially for veterans.  These guys are professionals, they’ve been playing professional baseball for years.  If you don’t know how to bunt, or how to field by the time you’ve made the majors then I don’t think you’re ever going to get it.  Maybe I’m wrong.

2. I’m also not convinced that managers really have that much to do with a game’s being won or lost.  Yes, disastrous bullpen decisions can back fire.  But its still on the hitters to hit, the starters to pitch, the fielders to make plays.

Related to #2; word came out today that the Nats have fired hitting coach Rick Eckstein.  Is this sort of like firing the secretary when the entire office puts out bad work?  Johnson was really upset by it and said so in the media … and I don’t have any doubt that this is a reactionary move to the poor offensive numbers.  But ask yourself; what is a new hitting coach going to do to turn this team of hitters around between now and September 30th?

Boswell gives Johnson lots of credit in 2012 for instilling confidence in the youngsters and garnering more respect out of the veterans (in comparison to Jim Riggleman). 

Q: Suzuki, Soriano, LaRoche. Any reason the Nats shouldn’t be sellers this year?

A: The Nats will not sell.  Because that would be Mike Rizzo admitting that all his moves last off-season were wrong.  And he’s not going to admit that.

Lets play the what-if game though; what if the Nats were to become sellers.  First guys on the block are FAs in their last (or only) year.  We only have a couple of those guys: Kurt SuzukiDan Haren and Chad Tracy.  Look at that list and ask yourself who would want these guys and what they’d be willing to give up?  Even newly acquired Scott Hairston is signed through 2014.  But then again, teams are smarter and generally won’t give up good prospects anymore for rentals.

One last point: the Red Sox blew a 9 game lead in September two years ago.  The Nats are only 7 out of the division lead, even playing as poorly as they have.  It’s still just mid July.

Boswell says wait until July 31st.  And interestingly he criticizes the Denard Span acquisition. 

Q: Can we get rid of Span?

A: Ironic that Boswell took this question right after killing him.  I have always thought that the Span acquisition was Rizzo being too clever, too focused on defense.  And so far it looks like the critics were right.  Span is posting an 86 OPS+ right now.  His OBP is about the same as the guy we had to jettison to make room for him (Michael Morse).   Except Morse at any moment can hit the ball 430 feet; it’d take Span 3 swings to get it that far.  To say nothing of driving out a fan favorite/good clubhouse guy.

Can we get rid of him?  Nope.  Stuck with him and most of this team through next season.  But, at that point he seems tailor made to flip to bring up someone like Brian Goodwin.

Boswell says that Bernadina isn’t the answer.

Q: Isn’t it galling to the team that Rafael Soriano acts differently on the mound — e.g., windup vs. stretch — depending on whether or not it is a save situation?

A: The word on Rafael Soriano wasn’t positive before he got here, and the whole “shirt untuck” seems to smack of showing people up.  And it’s clear to me that he’s a “Save snob;” look no further than his numbers in 2010, 2011 and 2012.  In2010 as a closer in Tampa?  226 ERA+.  The next year as a setup guy in New York?  4.12 era.  Then when Mariano Rivera goes down and he gets the closer job in 2012?  Back to being excellent.  If he purposely pitches differently in save vs non-save situations?  I’d be really, really pissed as a player.  But luckily the stats don’t support it; his ERA in non-save situations is better than in save situations, by a lot.  Boswell says that Soriano’s behavior is being noticed.  great.

Q: Should we start platooning Span with Hairston?

A: Is this what it’s come to with Span?  That we’re talking about platooning him with a guy hitting .170?  Yes Hairston’s lefty splits are good … but come on.  It isn’t like he’s an all-star slugger.  At least span brings plus-plus defense to center.  Bat him 8th, where his damage is limited.  Boswell says Yes its time to platoon.

Q: Everybody says Nats Park can’t get an All-Star Game because the surrounding area isn’t developed enough. But how does that explain sites like Busch Stadium (their development plan is further behind than ours), Angel Stadium (surrounded by parking lots and freeways), or Citi Field (surrounded by parking lots, a subway line, and a junkyard)?

A: Great question.  Maybe Bud Selig hasn’t seen all the development going on.  Or maybe Ted Lerner just don’t want to get on his knees and beg for it before the omnipowerful commissioner.  I do think its kind of ridiculous that baseball has chosen to return to parks that have previously hosted before giving a game to every new park.    Boswell doesn’t really answer.

Q: How good has Gio been over the past two months?

A: Before his 6 shutout/11k outing last weekend Gio Gonzalez had won 4 straight starts.  The worst of them was a 6 2/3 3 run performance that the team won easily anyway.  Maybe he’s pitching to score (ooh, don’t say that too loudly, the sabre nerds get all pissed).  Yeah he’s pitching great.  Boswell agrees.

Q: Should Krol start working later in games?

A: I’m still not entirely convinced Ian Krol can be more than a loogy.  Every time i’ve seen him, he’s been a one-pitch/one-trick guy.  I’ve literally never seen him throw his off-speed stuff for strikes.  Luckily the deception and velocity on his fastball are good enough to let him ride to a very good season statistically so far.  I’d stick with what we’re doing now; using him and Fernando Abad as situational relievers and leaving the hard work for Clippard and Soriano.  Drew Storen?  Now that’s another story.  Boswell says give him more work.

Q: I’ve seen a recent increase in the criticism of Davey Johnson’s managerial decisions. I can’t believe fans are blaming him for where the Nats currently stand. I put the blame on the players. It’s execution that’s at fault. Right? What else could/should Davey do that he hasn’t already tried?

A: Stop using poor relievers.  Stop pulling effective starters after 90 pitches.  Stop batting Span 1st and drop him to 8th where he belongs.  That’s what I’d do.  Boswell shared some ancedotes.

Q: I was so in favor of the Span acquisition, now it just looks horrible. Do you think he can get back to the .392 On Base Percentage he has in 2009 or is he really a .317 OBP guy? Will this team ever solve CF and lead off?

A: Just had this discussion with someone over email.  He does look horrible at the plate.  But he plays a great center field!  Rizzo just had to have his center fielder; well now you have him, and the guy he displaced (Mores) has about the same OBP this year as Span.  To go along with 200 points of slugging.  So there’s that.  You say “well Morse has been injured?”  I say sure … he got injured in Seattle.  No reason to assume the same thing would have happened here.  We gave up Morse’s power in the middle of the order and moved a perfectly capable defender (Harper) off center to acquire Span and have him drag down the top of the order.  Can’t do anything about it now (or until 2015 frankly): I say bat him 8th until he proves he deserves to return to the top.   Boswell points out that Span’s OBP is only 1% better than league average.

Q: Should we keep Soriano in the closer role?

A: Pretty much; $11M a year and he’ll be a sullen clubhouse cancer if he’s not closing.   He’s being paid way too much money to flip, even to teams that covet closers.  Well, maybe we can talk to Boston; they seem to be idiots when it comes to paying for closers (as noted in this space).   Boswell also mentions Boston but points out how battle-tested Soriano is, implying he has value.  I’m clearly on the record in my opinion about closers and paying big money for them, disagreed with the acquisition and disagree with Boswell here; if we could trade him, you do it.

Q: Is Jayson Werth immature and/or a hypocrite?

A: You’d have to read the whole question (which clearly implies the opinion of the asker), but there’s some vitriol in there.  I can’t think of any incidents that make me ever put Jayson Werth in the same maturity category as Nyjer Morgan.  I think the questioner is off-base here.  Boswell predictably defends Werth.  I will say this: go look at Werth’s hitting stats this year; he’s been very, very good.

 

Ask Boswell 6/24/13

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Lots of grief for Espinosa and Haren this week.  Photo Nats official.

Lots of grief for Espinosa and Haren this week. Photo Nats official.

We’re now almost 3 months in, the team is still stuck at .500 and the natives are getting restless (see Haren, Dan‘s forced D/L trip as penance for his performance lately and Danny Espinosa‘s forced demotion to work on his batting).  I wonder what the tone of Tom Boswell‘s weekly chat questions on 6/24/13 will be?

As always, I answer here before reading Boswell’s answers and edit questions for clarity.

Q: Should the Nats move Ian Desmond up in the order?

A: Ian Desmond has mostly been batting 5th or 6th (depending on injuries to the 3-4-5 guys).   Frankly there’s no place else to put him.  They bought Denard Span so he could bat lead-off, and now suddenly Anthony Rendon is the prototypical #2 hitter; hits to all fields, good bat control, high average and some pop.  3-4-5 are set in stone when they’re healthy.   The only question is whether Desmond merits batting before or after Jayson Werth.  I’d say he will stay in the #6 hole.  Boswell says #6 is the best spot for him and he’ll stay there until Adam LaRoche‘s contract is up.

Q: Why do fans boo home-town players who are struggling?

A: The genesis of this question is the cascade of Boos rained down on Dan Haren after his latest meltdown.   I think fans are fans: they pay good money and expect this team to be successful.  When a guy lets in 7 runs in 3 and a third innings … well that’s a game spoiled.  Are they booing the player or the team, really?  Should they boo?  Eh; you certainly hear “good baseball town” crowds booing players.  Boswell says he’d have booed Haren too, but also notes what a class act and competitor he is.

Q: Where do we go with Dan Haren now?/Will Ohlendorf get the spot start?/Is Haren getting DFA’d?

A: Just answered a lot of this myself in a post yesterday.  Short answer; spot start from someone, extended rehab assignment for Haren, and probably a long-man role in the bullpen if we find a competent starter replacement.   I don’t think he’s getting DFA’d because any one of a number of pitching poor teams would snap him up in a heartbeat despite his crummy numbers.  Boswell thinks the team is going out on the open market to replace Haren and notes he’s hearing Taylor Jordan is getting a shot this weekend, and thinks that summarily demanding that a struggling player be released is cruel.

Q: Is Ian Desmond a flawed player?

A: The question arises because of Desmond’s small delta between his BA and his OBP (.280 and .318) and his approach in clutch situations.  I think Desmond has taken a small step back from last year’s break out season but otherwise all three of his slash line numbers are right where they were last year and in the same relative ratio as last year. His 2012 OBP was about 40 points higher than his average (same as this year), and his slugging is about at the same slightly lower figure.  He’s on pace to hit the same number of homers and actually increase his total extra base hits.  I see no issues here.  I’ll take a 120 OPS+ shortstop who plays plus defense anyday.  Boswell agrees, saying Desmond is a complete player and an all-star.  Nuff said.

Q: Is Werth’s groin strain another example of a Nats player coming back too soon?

A: It doesn’t seem so.  Different injury, and one that does tend to bedevil older players like Werth.  Lets just hope it isn’t too long.  Boswell does kind of scoff at Werth’s excuse of “playing dehydrated.”  As if there wasn’t enough ways for a professional athlete to hydrate themselves during the day.

Q: Will either Haren or Espinosa get another start in 2013?

A: I think the answer is likely yes.  This team has shown itself to be incredibly brittle so far (Saw a stat that the opening day lineup hasn’t played together since the 2nd week of April).  The odds of another guy going down with injury and requiring the return of either guy seems high.  The better question is likely what happens after 2013.  Haren’s one year deal is clearly over, and the Nats can’t possibly offer him a Qualifying Offer.  Danny Espinosa will be sans position and will be traded (even more proof of this?  The fact that Espinosa is playing SS in Syracuse).  Boswell interpreted the question more of a “rest of their career question” and said that Espinosa clearly has more career but Haren, maybe not unless he adjusts his approach.

Q: Why is there a disagreement between Harper and Johnson on his rehab?

A: Much to-do about nothing?  Either way, it doesn’t sound good when you have media members scurrying from one guy to another to play “he said, she said” in the papers.  Those two need to get on the same page, whether Bryce Harper is going on a rehab assignment Tuesday, Wednesday or three Fridays from now.  turns out: he’s going out on rehab tonight.  Boswell thinks its just Davey Johnson being too positive on how long it takes guys to come back.

Q: Why hasn’t Espinosa gotten surgery, if it has so clearly impacted his performance?

A: Probably two words: “Anthony” and “Rendon.”  I think Espinosa’s been reading the tea leaves and knew that his spot was the most likely destination for Rendon, and that Rendon (once arriving) likely wouldn’t give it up.  So far, that scenario is playing pretty much exactly as in Espinosa’s worst fears.  Boswell talks about how the Nats evaluated Espinosa’s injuries now and at the time.

Q: If the Nats were to pursue someone like Lee or Gallardo in the trade market, what would it cost them?  And who is untouchable?

A: Cliff Lee is owed so much money that it may not take as much in prospects as one would think.  But, the Philles have to declare that they’re out of it first … and they’ve got basically the same record as the Nats right now.  Gallardo is signed through 2014 with a 2015 option for about the same money we’re paying Haren right now .. and he has limited no-trade.  The thing is; is he worth trading for?  He’s only so-so this year, better the last two years.  I think Yovani Gallardo probably rates a bit below Gio Gonzalez on the trade market b/c of his salary  and being slightly less on the field, so perhaps two good prospects plus a young guy.

Who is untouchable at this point?  Rendon, Karns (they like him too much), Jordan (gotta see what they have now).  Brian Goodwin (he’s Span’s replacement in two years).  A.J. Cole (they worked pretty hard to get him back).  I don’t think they want to part with Matt Skole either.  But that’s not leaving a lot to work with in terms of prospects.

Boswell doesn’t really talk much about these guys or who the Nats are keeping … but fantasizes about getting David Price.  Dream on; the Tampa Bay Rays don’t trade unless they know they’re winning the deal.

 

Time to pull the plug on Haren yet?

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How much longer is Haren going to be wearing this hat? Photo nats official via espn.com

The Nats management waited and waited, but finally gave in and dealt with season-long performance issues in Henry Rodriguez, Zach Duke, Danny Espinosa and Tyler Moore in the first two weeks of June, DFA-ing or demoting as needed and bringing in replacements to try to do a better job and turn this season around.

So, when will it be time to talk about the train-wreck season that Dan Haren is having?  For $13M, here’s what the team has gotten in his first 12 starts, including June 12th’s meltdown:

  • a 4-8 Record with a 5.70 ERA and a 67 ERA+ (his ERA is 6th worst in baseball for qualified pitchers).
  • A 6-10 team record in games in which he’s started
  • a league leading 17 home runs allowed

A quick glance at his advanced stats doesn’t give much credence to any apologists that may try to excuse his line either; his BABIP is slightly elevated but not overly so (.320) and his FIP is still an unsightly 5.06 (5th worst among qualified starters).  Only his expected xFIP and SIERA numbers are relatively respectable, but xFip is just an estimator stat and often times never comes to pass, since it assumes silly things like the fact that Haren can’t possibly keep giving up this many home runs… an assumption that continued to be disproven as he gave up two more in his most recent loss in Colorado.

Game-Log analysis: Haren has yet to have a start where he shut out the opponent.  He’s only got 5 quality starts out of 12.  In half his starts he’s allowed 4 or more runs (not good when your team’s offense is only scoring 3.4 runs a game).  Haren’s only really had a couple of starts that were “grade A” in my book (his best start of the year was an 8 inning 4 hit performance in Atlanta of all places).  In his defense, he has gotten awful run support (2.84 runs per start), heavily indicating team losses every time he pitches.

I’ll admit it; I talked myself into the Haren deal big time after it was announced.  I ignored his 2012 struggles, looked back to the near Cy Young guy he was in 2009 and thought this was the move that could push the Nats to a 105 win team.  Now clearly whatever excuses we made for his performance in 2012 (back injury leading to diminished velocity leading to loss of his sinker leading to crummy numbers) seem like they’re covering up for an aging sinkerballer who never had lights out velocity and who now looks dangerously close to extinct as his very-hittable fastball flattens out and gets hit harder and harder.

So what’s the answer here?

Don’t talk to me about his salary; that $13M is out the door already.  Kaput.  Gone.  Look up the definition of a “Sunk Cost” in economic terms.  If you were worried about $13M in annual salary then you shouldn’t have bought a $15M a year closer who isn’t exactly a complete shutdown guy (Tyler Clippard has almost identical stats this year to Rafael Soriano for a third of the price and he didn’t cost us a 1st round draft pick, which as it turned out could have been spent on one of two pre-draft top-10 talents).  The decision needs to be made; do you still want to try to “win now” in 2013 as all the other off-season moves seemed to indicate?  Because the solution likely is going to be a bit more money and a few more prospects.

Short term (as in, the next week): see how Ross Ohlendorf does in his spot start (Answer: uh, he did awesome, holding a good hitting team to two hits through 6 in the best hitters park in the league).  If he’s anything remotely close to effective, I think you look at an invented D/L trip for Haren and send him on a rehab assignment tour of the minors.

Mid-term (as in, for the next couple weeks): do we have anyone else in the minors worth checking out?  Not on the 40-man and not with enough experience.  Maybe we give Danny Rosenbaum a shot if another spot-start is needed after Detwiler and Strasburg come back.

Longer term (as in, the next two months); Look at the trade market and look at who may be available leading up to the trade deadline.  We’re already seeing some teams completely out of it and clearly some guys will be available:

  • The Cubs probably will look to move Scott Feldman and especially Matt Garza.
  • The Astros probably will cash in on Lucas Harrell and Bud Norris (nobody’s likely interested in Erik Bedard at this point).
  • The Marlins would listen for offers for Ricky Nolasco, though perhaps not intra-division.
  • The Mets aren’t winning this year and could be moving Shawn Marcum (though perhaps not intra-division).
  • I think eventually Seattle becomes a seller: Joe Saunders and Aaron Harang should be dangled.
  • I also think San Diego eventually realizes they’re not going to win the NL West: Edinson Volquez, waiver pickup Eric StultsClayton Richards and our old friend Jason Marquis all make for possible trade candidates.

A few other poorly performing teams are probably going to be too stubborn to wave the white flag, which cuts down on the number of guys that will be available (see the Los Angeles Angels, the Los Angeles Dodgers, Toronto specifically).

The only problem with a trade market move is this: all these teams are going to want prospects back.  And the Nats prospect cupboard has been cleaned out recently to acquire all these fools who are underperforming so far in 2013.  I’m not an opposing GM, so I can’t say for sure, but from a quick look at the Nats best prospects in the minors right now (basically in order: Giolito, Goodwin, Cole, Karns, Garcia, Skole, Purke, Solis, Perez, then guys like Hood, Taylor, Walters, Ray and Jordan round out the list) and I see a lot of injured guys or players on injury rehab, backups or guys barely above or still in A-ball.  I’m not trading a valued asset for an injury-risk guy who has never gotten above AA.  Who on this list is going to fetch us a quality major league starter?

Maybe we trade Haren along with a huge chunk of his remaining salary and multiple prospects to one of these teams in order to get one of these 5th starters back.  But that’d be an awful trade when it was all said and done (about as awful as, say, the Giants trading Zack Wheeler to the Mets for 2 months of Carlos Beltran in a failed effort to make the playoffs in 2012; with all the Giants 2013 pitching issues do you think they wish they had Wheeler back right now??)

Or, it very well may be that the Nats are stuck; we knew going into the season we had no starter depth and those MLFAs we did acquire (Ohlendorf and Chris Young basically) probably aren’t the answer.  But something has to give; we can’t give away every 5th start like we seem to be doing now and claw back into the NL East race.

DC-IBWA Pre-2013 Season Predictions

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I took part in the DC-IBWA’s pre-season survey this year (despite this blog being missing from the “participants” page on the result link…) along with many of our fellow Nats bloggers.  The full results are here; I gave both a player and a guess on the totals, and compared my guesses to the poll results.

1) Who will lead the Nats in home runs in 2013? Bryce Harper, 35hrs.  Makes sense that Harper takes the lead; Morse is gone, Zimmerman has only shown 30-homer power in one injury-free season and I think Harper is a dangerous bet for a 30/30 season in 2013.  (Harper was the poll leader as well).

2) Who will lead the Nats in RBI?: Adam LaRoche, 105rbi.  The #5 hitter behind a slew of high OBP guys in front of him is going to get plenty of RBI opportunities.  Most people said Zimmerman; I just constantly worry about his ability to play 162.

3) Who will lead the Nats in stolen bases? Ian Desmond, 25sbs.  Most people guessed Span, but he hasn’t been the SB machine that people think.  Desmond is a better bet.

4) Who will lead the staff in wins? Stephen Strasburg, 20wins.  As good a guess as any.  It wouldn’t surprise me to see any of our top 3 pitchers broach 20 wins.

5) Who will make more appearances for the Nats this season: Rafael Soriano, Drew Storen, Tyler Clippard or Craig Stammen? Tyler Clippard, 70games.   The addition of Soriano allows Clippard to go back to his work-horse self, and he’ll lead the team in appearances again.  Soriano will only get save opps, Storen is too close to being the closer to get the workhorse treatment, and Stammen isn’t going to throw unless the starter gets yanked early.   (Clippard was the poll leader as well)

6) Who will get more at bats for the Nats this season: Kurt Suzuki or Wilson Ramos? Hmmm.  Tough one.  I’ll go with Suzuki with 400ab.  I don’t think Ramos can stay healthy.  I could be wrong; Ramos seems to have won the starter role at least from the onset.  Poll favored Ramos.

7) Which minor leaguer are you most interested in keeping tabs on this season? Matt Purke.   We know what our top two guys can do for the most part (Rendon and Goodwin).  Giolito is basically out all year and Cole needs a full season in A-ball to regain confidence.  Purke needs to show us something in 2013.  He seems to be healthy, and we need to know if the monetary investment is going to pay off.  A close second may be Matt Skole; can he make the leap from over-aged low-A slugger to a legitimate power prospect who could take over 1st when LaRoche’s contract ends?  So far from spring training, it seems like the answer could be a yes.  (Poll winner was Rendon easily).

8 ) Date of Anthony Rendon’s Major League debut? July 1.  Long enough to ensure one additional year and avoid super-2.  The club gives Espinosa 3 full months to show he’s healthy and can hit better than .240.  I could easily see more Espinosa struggles, a DL trip to repair his shoulder and Rendon taking over 2B for the 2nd half.  I hope not; he’s my fantasy shortstop :-) .   Poll winner was Sept 1.

9) How many all-stars will the Nats have? Who? 4; Strasburg, Gonzalez, Harper and Desmond.  The Poll results were all over the road, but lots of support for Zimmerman to re-gain his all-star stature.  Problem is … there’s a few big names at third base in the NL that Zimmerman would have to out-perform to get votes.  David Wright and Pablo Sandoval first among them, perhaps David Freese and Chase Headley as well.

10) Total wins and what place in the division? 100 wins, 1st in division.  Most people have the team pegged for slightly fewer.

Essay: What should be the single most important development for the Nats this season?

I think the overall health of the Rotation is going to be the biggest factor for the team.  We have no starting pitching depth to speak of, and a lengthy injury to any of the front line pitchers will affect our win total.

Ladson’s inbox 3/22/13

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Micah Owings has had an impressive spring, putting himself in line for a 2013 callup. Photo Jonathan Newton/TWP

We’re getting closer to Opening Day!  Bill Ladson publishes what may be his last spring training mailbag late friday 3/22/13.

As always, I sometimes edit questions for clarity and answer here before reading Ladson’s response.

Q: Micah Owings is showing pretty impressive numbers in Spring Training. What are his chances of making the Opening Day roster, considering Roger Bernadina and Tyler Moore are also backup outfielders?

A: Zero, barring an injury this week.  The Nats outfield has been set since mid last year.  Micah Owings knows this but took the offer with the Nats presumably for two reasons: the team is expected to be good (and what veteran player doesn’t want to catch on with a first place team?) and the team is a bit thin on corner outfielder OF prospects in the higher minors.  Looking at the current state of the minor league depth chart, it isn’t hard to see how a solid start in AAA would catapult Owings above Corey Brown into the #1 OF reserve spot (of course, Brown can play center, so it would likely depend on which OF was injured, but still).  I like reclamation projects, and I like what we’ve seen out of Owings so far this spring.  I’d like to see him make it back to the majors as a big bopper.  Ladson agrees, though he says the team may promote him in May or June??  Who exactly is he to replace?

Q: Most of the Nationals’ starters are not showing good numbers in Spring Training. Should we be worried?

A: Nope.  Rule number one with Spring Training; pay zero attention to the stats of any established Major Leaguer.  They’re not pitching these games to try to get a win; they’re pitching to get ready for the season, to work on specific pitches, to work on location, etc.  I once heard a story about Tom Glavine giving up something ridiculous like 8 runs in his final spring training outing and the press corps going nuts; turns out he was working on locating his change-up, and ONLY working on locating his change-up, so once the opposing team figured out what he was doing they started sitting on an outside change-up and tattooed him.  This is exactly why you can’t trust stats from Florida.  Ladson agrees.

Q: Do you think the bars that Bryce Harper and Stephen Strasburg have set for themselves this year will be too much for them to handle?

A: I’m not really aware of any “bars” either player has set; the only things I can think of are Strasburg saying he wants to be a “workhorse” and perhaps Harper saying he wants to hit 30 homers?  It isn’t like they’ve thrown down the gauntlet and said they want to win MVPs, Cy Youngs, etc.  Now the Press on the other hand; yes they’ve probably set the bar too high.  But (especially with Harper) it isn’t hard to see this scenario; usually MVPs are the best players from the best teams.  If the Nats end up being a playoff team, and Harper is our best player …. he’s going to be a leading MVP candidate.  This doesn’t imply Harper is the best player in the league (that’s NOT the definition of the MVP and not how its generally voted), but it does mean he may be in the running.  Ladson dismissed the question as well.

Q: What do you feel are the plans with Eury Perez this season and beyond?

A: First off, I’d say that Eury Perez really cost himself development time this year as a side-effect of playing for the Dominican Republic in the World Baseball Classic.  The Nats demoted him while he was sitting on the bench for the D.R., and mentioned publically they were worried about his lack of work.  I’d say that Perez needs another season proving himself at AAA before he really starts putting himself in the mix for a full time MLB spot.  He put up great numbers last year; .314/.344/.361 between AA and AAA with 51 steals in 127 games.  That’s classic leadoff/centerfielder stuff, or exactly what the team acquired in the off-season in Denard Span.  In games so far this spring, Perez has just glided to 2nd base on steal attempts; he’s faster than nearly any player I can remember in a Nats uniform.

But the question is this; how does Perez fit in given that the Nats are committed to Span for at least 2013 and 2014 (it seems more and more likely we’ll be declining his 2015 option based on this paragraph), and considering that the team has rising stud Brian Goodwin who seems to be a similar player in a similar position (albeit with slightly less speed but significantly more power)?  I’m beginning to think that the log-jam in the Nats outfield is going to eventually mean that Perez ends up being traded for an opportunity elsewhere.  Ladson agrees with all of these points, also mentioning prospect Michael Taylor, who I always forget about.

Wow; short mailbag, only 4 questions.