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Wagner’s Q&A: how I’d have answered the questions he took

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Zimmermann's status is on everyone's mind.  Photo Unk.

Zimmermann’s status is on everyone’s mind. Photo Unk.

I used to love answering the questions that MLB.com beat writer Bill Ladson would post.  But Ladson hasn’t done such a column in months, and the other outlet for such a post (Tom Boswell) usually is populated with too many non-baseball questions to be worth addressing.  So today WP beat reporter James Wagner took a crack at a Q&A session and I thought it’d be fun to do a version of his Q& (my) A.

As with previous posts, I write my response before reading his and edit the questions for clarity/conciseness.

Q: What was the Nats’ final record against winning teams & how did it compare to the other playoff teams?

A: Wagner summarized the answer well; the Nats ended up 23-23 against winning teams.  To show you how useless this stat is in predicting the playoffs, the team with the best record (the Orioles) was swept and the WS matchup features the Giants, who had a losing record against winning teams.  Once again we learn that the post-season is about getting hot (or in the Nat’s case, disappearing) at the right time.  Wagner did the same analysis.

Q: Will the Nats turn to Tyler Clippard as the 2015 closer?

A: Doubtful.  Despite Drew Storen‘s second playoff meltdown, he’s likely the closer in 2015 on the strength of his excellent 2014 season.  Tyler Clippard‘s of more use in generally higher-leverage 8th inning situations, and likely continues in that role.  This has to be a bummer for Clippard, who enters his last arbitration argument without the benefit of the lucrative saves, but who is also just as likely to cash in when he hits free agency with a team looking for a reasonably priced closer.  I’ll bet he can get a 3yr/$24M deal as someone’s closer.  He is a fly-ball guy (not optimal as a 9th inning solution) but fly-ball pitchers definitely play well in pitcher parks.  He’d make an excellent closer for most any team on the west coast.  Wagner agrees.

Q: Why not keep both LaRoche and Zimmerman and platoon them at first base?

A: Because that’s an awful lot of payroll to dedicate to a platoon.  LaRoche likely gets $15M/year, Zimmerman is set to earn $14M next year.  Both are middle-of-the-order bats who need to play every day.  Unfortunately we don’t have a DH, else you’d re-sign LaRoche immediately and they’d split time at 1B/DH like most every other DH in the AL.  LaRoche is getting one last crack at free agency and could get another 2 year deal (rumors have him as a great fit in Milwaukee).  I think sticking Zimmerman at 1B makes the most sense considering the description of his shoulder at this point (he used the phrase “bone on bone” to describe the state of his arm at this point).  In fact, I think Zimmerman makes a great first baseman, immediately becomes a Gold Glove candidate, and (hopefully) stays healthy.  Wagner makes the same points.

Q: How about Steven Souza as our 2B solution?

A: Souza started his pro career as a third baseman … and was moved to the outfield by the time he was 22.  I’m guessing there’s a reason for that.  I don’t see him coming back to the infield, either at 3b or 2B.  He’s way too big to play second base effectively (he’s 6’4″ 225); if I was forced to play him in the infield, i’d suffer with him at 3B and stick Rendon back at second.  But that’d be a waste of Rendon’s defensive talents at the hot corner; we’re much better off installing him at his natural position and finding another 2B alternative.  None of this really talks about what the team *should* do with Souza; he’s more or less blocked for 2015 (as we’ve discussed to death) but has nothing left to prove in AAA.  His best case scenario is an injury in the Nats 2015 outfield, which gives him playing time.  Wagner  points out Souza’s poor defensive record in his time at third.

Q: Should we care about the MASN outcome?

A: Uh, yes.  The Nats could easily expand payroll with a decision and a guaranteed income stream, and we’d not be hearing about how they “have to” let some of their core players walk because they can’t afford them.  The MASN issue has gone on way too long, and it seems like it is getting ready to affect both the Nats and the Oriole’s business operations soon.  Wagner agrees.

Q: Do players and broadcasters read blogs and the press?

A: I hope not.  We’re not professionals; we don’t have day in-day out access, intimate knowledge of the team’s comings and goings, nor insight into reasons that may be behind a player’s cold streak (does he have the flu?  Is he nursing a slight sprain that nobody knows about?)  I don’t think any good comes of professional players reading about themselves.  If a player called out something I wrote derogatory i’d probably profusely apologize and retract it.  Wagner says players sometimes read about themselves in the press … but that if they don’t, they’re likely to hear about it from family/friends/agents anyway.

Q: Which of the bench players (Frandsen, Hairston, Schierholz, McLouth) will be back and who will most likely leave?

A: Well, McLouth is still under contract for 2015, so he’ll at least start the  year with the team (whether he finishes depends on whether he can regain some value).  I’d guess that the other three are gone.  None of the three hit particularly well for us, and all three are replaceable by internal promising candidates.  Frandsen probably has the best chance of sticking around since he’ll be so cheap (he made $900k last year and is arb-eligible); he’ll be an interesting tender-deadline candidate.

Your 5-man bench needs a catcher (Lobaton), a guy who can play both 2b and SS (Espinosa, if he’s not the 2B starter), an outfielder who can cover center (McLouth), a utility guy who can play multiple positions (Frandsen fits  here), and then a big bopper who can pinch hit.  This last spot has been held by the likes of Tyler Moore, Chad Tracy, Matt Stairs, Jonny Gomes in the past few years.  In 2015 it makes more sense to have Souza in this spot.  Only problem is that it helps if this last bench spot is a lefty.  We’ll see how the transactions play out this off-season.

Q: If you must chose between Zimmermann and Desmond, whom do you chose?

A: Desmond.  Harder position to fill, less in the minor league pipeline, probably cheaper too thanks to Desmond’s sub-par (for him) 2014 season.  Zimmermann seems likely to earn nearly $20M/year at this point, which is going to be too rich for this team, and there’s ready-made replacements in the upper minors (A.J. Cole, Blake Treinen, Taylor Jordan) ready to step in immediately after he departs.  A better question might be this: do the Nats flip Zimmermann this off-season for something better than a compensation pick, admitting to themselves they won’t be able to extend him?  It makes 2015 team weaker obviously, but also could ease the transition to the next “phase” of this team that starts in 2016-2017.  Wagner agrees, but also mentions that Doug Fister plays into this decision too.

Q: If the Nats make it back to the postseason next year, can you envision them carrying a speed first guy like Rafael Batista or Wilmer Difo on their roster a la the Kansas City Royals?

A: No.  Williams is old-school and made it pretty clear that he was managing  his post-season team the same way he managed his regular-season team.  For better or worse.  The makeup of this team isn’t the same as the Royals, who have focused on speed, defense and bullpen strength to power their way through the post-season.  The Nats are a starter-first, adequate but fragile offense second.  Wagner isn’t as dismissive as I am.

Q: Why not find a FA third baseman and move Rendon to second?

A: A completely logical idea that we’ve talked to death.  Definitely on the table.  Wagner puts out some names that likely are going to be too expensive for the Nats to really consider.

Q: If the Nats offered Zimmermann a big extension and he declined it, could you see the Nats trading him?

A: If I were the GM, I’d consider it yeah.  You take a step back in 2015 to set yourself up for 2016 and 2017 with the right deal.  Maybe you flip Zimmermann for the 2b/3b player you need and a prospect or two further away, save some payroll and provide more continuity.  My reading the tea leaves though?  I don’t see this team doing it; they’ll “keep the band together” for one more run with this crew in 2015, and then make adjustments for 2016 depending on who they can sign and who walks.  Wagner thinks its possible, but also cautions that the 2015 salary ($16.5M) and just one year of control will limit what the Nats get back.  A very fair point.

From Nats to Oblivion; Updated for 2013 season

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Is Maya going to be the latest Nats to Oblivion poster child? Photo Al Bello/Getty Images

Is Maya going to be the latest Nats to Oblivion poster child? Photo Al Bello/Getty Images

Several years ago (November 2010) Mark Zuckerman posted a fascinating analysis he titled “From Nats to Oblivion.”  It chronicled the astoundingly high number of players that the early incarnations of the Nats were using who, once the Nats released them, never again appeared on a MLB roster.  I thought the analysis was so interesting that I kept up the same data and have been keeping it up-to-date with the whereabouts of Nats-to-Oblivion candidates ever since.  So with apologies to Zuckerman for stealing his idea, here’s an interesting visit to the Nats darker past.

A large part of this post is borrowed from previous versions; click here for 2012’s version of this post.   A few players from our near past have re-surfaced in the majors as of late and have been removed from this list where noted; if you see any others listed here in error please let me know.  But this entire list is updated post 2013 season, with the minor league/foreign league/independent league movements of oblivion candidates chronicled.

It is nearly impossible for a team to field an entire year’s worth of players who will not fall into this “Oblivion” category.  Every MLB team has guys playing out the string or near retirement, and every MLB team calls up guys through out the season from the minors who eventually show themselves as unable to compete on the MLB level and who never make it back.  So a 0% oblivion measure isn’t a goal.

For your reminiscing pleasure, here is the summary data updated to the 2013 team:

  • 2012: 24 position, 19 pitchers, 43 total.  5/43 = 11.6% candidate ratio
  • 2011: 20 position, 24 pitchers, 44 total.  6/44 = 13.6% candidate ratio
  • 2010: 20 position, 26 pitchers, 46 total.  12/46 = 26.0% never appeared again
  • 2009: 25 position, 30 pitchers, 55 total.  9/55 = 16.3% never appeared again
  • 2008: 25 position, 25 pitchers, 50 total.  8/50 = 16% never appeared again
  • 2007: 21 position, 26 pitchers, 47 total.  12/47 = 25.5% never appeared again
  • 2006: 28 position, 29 pitchers, 57 total.  20/57 = 35% never appeared again
  • 2005: 30 position, 25 pitchers, 55 total.  16/55 = 29% never appeared again

Look at the 2006 season; 35% of the players who played for the team that year never played another Major League game.  That’s still astounding to me.  Read on for a detailed look back at some of the very bad players that have put in significant time for this team.


2013 (13 Candidates):

Total Players used: 23 position, 21 pitchers, 44 total. 13/44 = 29.5% candidate ratio right now.  Real candidates list is just the top 5, so 5/44 = 11.36%.

Candidates

  • Yunesky Maya; ML deal with Atlanta for 2014
  • Chris Marrrero: ML deal with Baltimore for 2014
  • Chad Tracy: still a FA; highly unlikely to get a major league deal after his awful 2013.
  • Corey Brown: DFA’d, traded to Oakland
  • Fernando Abad; DFA’d, traded to Oakland

Less likely “candidates” from the 2013 team:

  • Danny Espinosa
  • Jhonatan Solano
  • Jeff Kobernus
  • Zach Walters
  • Eury Perez
  • Sandy Leon
  • Nathan Karns
  • Erik Davis

The top 5 players are really the “candidates” out of the 2013 team.  Every one of the guys in the lower section is on our 40-man roster, meaning they all likely see time this coming season.  In fact, right now the odds are that at least a couple of these guys will make the opening day roster.  So really the oblivion candidates here are just the top 5 guys, but we’ll track all 13 until they’re cleared off this list.  Both the guys we traded to Oakland sit on their 40-man roster, but both seem in serious jeopardy of being DFA’d again at some point in the spring (especially Corey Brown, who is out of options).

Favorite Nats-to-Oblivion story: Yunesky Maya, who was Mike Rizzo‘s first foray into the Cuban exile market.  Signed to a 4yr/$8M deal, he was given several shots at the majors and never could capitalize.  He arrived in the US with a wide arsenal of pitches but not a lot of swing-and-miss talent, and he ended up basically being a AAA starter.   He spent the last three seasons as Syracuse’s lead starter (getting 22, 28 and 24 starts there inbetween infrequent call-ups) and ended up with just one career MLB win for his $8M salary (making his one of the worst dollars-per-win contracts ever … even if it was “just” $8M).  This whole paragraph is assuming that Maya never makes it back to the majors … but based on what he’s shown thus far combined with his advancing age, that seems like a likely end-result for the Cuban starter.


2012 (5 candidates)

Total Players used: 24 position, 19 pitchers, 43 total.  5/43 = 11.6% candidate ratio right now

Candidates

  • Brad Lidge: Retired post 2012
  • Jesus Flores; signed ML deal with Los Angeles Dodgers for 2013, no MLB appearances

  • Brett Carroll: signed ML deal w/ Pittsburgh for 2013, no MLB appearances
  • Ryan Perry: Wash AAA and AA 2013

  • Carlos Maldonado: Wash AAA 2013

In the past 12 months, we’ve removed 3 players from this list (Izturas, Wang and Brown) who re-appeared on MLB rosters either here or elsewhere.  I still think its possible that Flores could re-appear on an MLB roster at some point; catchers have a way of getting hurt and causing organizations to scramble.  The rest face pretty long odds.

Favorite Nats-to-Oblivion story: Brad Lidge, who gave it one last shot and failed spectacularly.  When you lose your stuff, its gone and gone fast.  I’ll readily admit I thought the signing was a great one when it occurred but it just didn’t work out.  I really hoped that Lidge would be a serviceable 7th inning guy and mentor to Drew Storen and Tyler Clippard, being one of the great closers of his day.  It didn’t work out that way.


2011 (6 candidates)

Total Players used: 20 position, 24 pitchers, 44 total.  6/44 = 13.6% candidate ratio right now…

Candidates

  • Ivan Rodriguez – retired after 2011
  • Matt Stairs — retired after 2011
  • Alex Cora — retired after 2011, now the General Manager of a Puerto Rican Winter League team.
  • Cole Kimball — Nats 60-day DL in 2012, XST in 2013, DFA’d off 40-man roster.
  • Brian Broderick — Stl AAA, waived now Nats AAA in 2012, AA in 2013
  • Atahualpa Severino — Nats AAA, DFA’d off 40-man in 2012, KC AAA for 2013, signed ML deal with Atlanta for 2014 (thanks John C).

Changes in the last 12 months: none.

As with the 2012 candidates, I wouldn’t be surprised to see this list get lowered by one eventually; Severino seems like he could work his way back into a loogy situation for a club.  Kimball’s DFA and Broderick’s pending MLFA status both make it seem like their chances of returning to the majors are slim.

Favorite Nats-to-Oblivion story: Matt Stairs: He made the 2011 roster despite having almost no defensive capabilities and, as it soon became evident, almost no remaining abilities at the plate.  He somehow hung onto his roster spot until August 1st despite having just one extra base hit in 74 at-bats on the year.  I remember one game in particular; we were at the stadium going against the hated Phillies and they left Roy Halladay in to attempt to finish a shutout with a 3-0 lead (Game was on 4/13/11).  Nats rally, score 2 runs to make it 3-2.  Stairs comes up pinch hitting for Jerry Hairston with guys on 1st and 2nd with one out; he promptly watches three straight fastballs go right down the middle of the plate without moving his bat.  I’ve never been so p*ssed at a player at the ball-park.  Ivan Rodriguez then promptly struck out on 3 pitches as well, looking strike 3 into the mitt and then arguing vehimently with the ump over the game-ending call which gave Halladay the complete game victory.


2010 (12 players)

Total Players used: 20 position, 26 pitchers, 46 total.  12/46 = 26.0% never appeared again

Players:

  • Willy Taveras; played AAA for Col in 2011, retired prior to 2012, back with KC AAA 2013
  • Kevin Mench; retired after 2010
  • Jamie Burke; retired after 2010
  • Luis Atilano: in CIN org, AAA in 2012, never signed for 2013
  • Scott Olsen; in CWS org, AAA 2012, never signed for 2013
  • JD Martin; in MIA org AAA 2012, in TB AAA 2013
  • Tyler Walker; indy league 2011, never signed for 2012
  • Jesse English; indy league 2011, 2012.  Mexican League 2013
  • Matt Chico; indy league 2012, never signed for 2013
  • Joe Bisenius; in Mexico 2011-12, Atlanta AA/AAA for 2013
  • Garrett Mock: Houston AAA 2012, AZ AAA for 2013
  • Jason Bergmann: indy 2011, Col AAA 2012, Indy again in 2013, KC AA team.

Changes in last 12 months: none.

There’s more than a few guys here who are still hanging on to AAA jobs but not many of them are looking promising to break onto 40-man rosters and earn call-ups.

Favorite Nats-to-Oblivion story: Jamie Burke: The 2009 Nats were so thin at Catcher by the end of the season that we literally bought a spare catcher in Burke from Seattle so we could have some coverage at the end of the season.  Burke re-signed on for 2010 and appeared in exactly one MLB game.  He was released after the season and retired.


2009 (9 players)

Total Players used: 25 position, 30 pitchers, 55 total.  9/55 = 16.3% never appeared again

Players:

  • Elijah Dukes: released and never picked up for 2010.  Arrested in 2011, 2012, out of baseball.
  • Alex Cintron; playing in Mexico 2012, nothing in 2013

  • Jorge Padilla; in SD org, AAA in 2012, nothing in 2013
  • Ron Villone, AAA all of 2010, 2011 playing indy ball, retired prior to 2012.  He will appear on the 2015 Hall of Fame ballot and is currently the pitching coach of the High-A Chicago affilliate.

  • Julian Tavarez; retired after getting DFA’d in July 2009
  • Zack Segovia; in Det org AA in 2012, Mexican league/Indy ball 2013

  • Mike Hinckley: Tor org in 2011, retired prior to 2012
  • Steven Shell; KC org in 2011, retired prior to 2012

  • Victor Garate; MIL org and Indy ball in 2012, Mexican league 2013

Changes in last 12 months: removed Kensing and Martis after they both resurfaced on MLB teams, meaning that they both went three full seasons inbetween MLB appearances.  That’s why we track these guys for so long.

Favorite Nats-to-Oblivion story: Ron Villone, who proved that a crafty lefty with a halfway decent fastball can have a long career in this game.  He had 63 appearances at age 39 for the 2009 Nats and got re-signed for 2010.  He didn’t make the team though, labored in Syracuse the whole season and was released.  Despite being 41 years old, he headed to Indy ball for one last shot but washed out after just a few outings in 2011.

It wouldn’t be a retrospective on poor Nats players if we didn’t briefly talk about Elijah Dukes though.  I think its safe to assume that he’s the only guy on this list that has served more time in jail than has played in the minor leagues, attempting to get back to the show.


2008 (8 players)

Total Players used: 25 position, 25 pitchers, 50 total.  8/50 = 16% never appeared again

Players:

  • Kory Casto; 2009 AAA, 2010 in Ariz AA, retired.
  • Dmitri Young: some rehab in low minors 2009, retired.
  • Rob Mackowiak: 2009: some indy, bounced around AAA, that’s it.
  • Johnny Estrada; flat out quit after 2008
  • Odalis Perez; refused his 2009 contract, never resigned
  • Levale Speigner; 2009 in Florida’s AA/AAA, then 2010 in Seattle AAA.  done.
  • Ray King; retired after 2008
  • Chris Schroder; 2009, 2010 bounced around AAA with Oakland, Fla.

Changes in last 12 months: none

Favorite Nats-to-Oblivion story: Odalis Perez, though I’m tempted to say either Mackowiak or Estrada, possibly the two worst FA signings of the whole Jim Bowden era (and that’s saying something).  But nothing beats the Perez story.  He was the Nats Opening Day Starter in 2008; hell he was the first guy to get a start in the Nationals Stadium.  He pitched well; in 30 starts he was 7-12 with a 4.34 ERA and a 99 ERA+ for a god-awful team.  But apparently he got really pissed when the team only offered him a non-guaranteed Minor League deal for 2009.  So he held out, the Nats said “fine with us” and released him, and nobody else picked him up.  And he never played another game.  I’m not sure if that was a sign that he was just that bad (not one team wanted to even give an opening day starter a look the subsequent year?), or if there was some sort of MLB general manager omerta that conspired against him.  Either way, Perez played again, not even in Winter Leagues as far as I could find.  Sometimes a player has to swallow his pride, and Perez apparently could not.


2007 (12 players)

Total Players used: 21 position, 26 pitchers, 47 total.  12/47 = 25.5% never appeared again

Players:

  • Nook Logan; indy league 2008, 2010.
  • Robert Fick: Cut from the Padres in ST 2008, full year indy league 2009, retired.
  • D’Angelo Jimenez: AAA all of 2008, 2009.  Mexican league and Indy league 2010-2012
  • Tony Batista: Wash AAA 2008, then released
  • Michael Restovich: 2008 in Japan, AAA 2009-2011, retired
  • Brandon Watson: AAA 2008-9, indy league 2011, retired.
  • Mike Bacsik: 2008 AAA, 2011 indy league, now a broadcaster.
  • Jason Simontacchi; 2008 indy league, 2010 again.
  • John Patterson; cut in ST 2008, immediately signed w/ Texas but never played again.
  • Ryan Wagner: AAA 2008-9, released and presumably retired.
  • Arnie Munoz; went to mexican league, retired > 2010
  • Chris Booker: AAA in 2008, then retired/released.

Changes in last 12 months: none

Favorite Nats-to-Oblivion story: Mike Bacsik, who was destined to be a career 4-A guy before Washington picked him up and gave him 20 starts in 2007.  Bacsik was on his 6th minor league organization when he arrived in Syracuse and pitched his way up to the major leagues.  He was overmatched badly; he had a 5.11 ERA and just a 3.4 K/9 rate.  But he did get his moment in the headlines by giving up Barry Bonds‘ 756th career homer one night in San Francisco in August.  Contrary to accusations on the topic, I do not believe Bacsik “served up” the homer.  If you check the play index, Bonds hit the 7th pitch of the at-bat in a 3-2 count for that homer.  Bacsik didn’t purposely give up a homer on the 7th pitch of an at-bat; he just ran out of pitches to show Bonds that weren’t going to get pulverized.

A quick comment though on John Patterson: I remember being absolutely shocked at his release in 2008’s spring training.  He was cut on 3/20/08, right in the middle of Spring Training with no warning and having just thrown his Grapefruit innings.   He was healthy, recovered from surgery, ready to be the ace of that staff and start showing off the potential that he showed in 2005 (you know, when he 4-hit the Dodgers with 13 punch outs and posted the best Game-Score performance in Nats history).  He signed a ML deal with Texas after his release by the Nats, but he couldn’t answer the call and never appeared again, getting released in mid May.  I guess his third arm surgery in 7 years just left him unable to compete at any level and he hung ‘em up.


2006 (20 players)

Total Players used: 28 position, 29 pitchers, 57 total.  20/57 = 35% never appeared again

  • Damian Jackson; dnp 2007, indy league 2008-9
  • Bernie Castro: AAA all of 2007, 8 then retired.
  • Alex Escobar: Wash minors 2007-8, then retired.
  • Brandon Harper: Wash AAA all of 2007, then released/retired.
  • Wiki Gonzalez: CWS AAA all of 2007, indy league 2008, retired.
  • Henry Mateo: AAA or Indy league 2007-2009, mexican league from 2010-current 2013
  • George Lombard: AAA 2007-9, some indy league, retired.
  • Mike Vento: 2007 Wash AAA, indy league 2008, back with Syracuse 2009, retired.
  • Melvin Dorta; various minor leagues 2007-2010, indy league 2011, retired.
  • Luis Matos: AAA 2007, Mexican League 2008-2012.  ? 2013
  • Pedro Astacio; retired after 2006
  • Felix Rodriguez: dnp 2007, indy league 2008-9, retired.
  • Zach Day: AAA 2007, briefly A+ 2008, retired.
  • Beltran Perez; wash minors AA/AAA 2007-8, released and never played again.
  • Joey Eischen; released off of Washington and retired.
  • Travis Hughes; AAA in 2007, played in Japan 2008, indy leagues 2009, 2011.
  • Ryan Drese: various minor leagues 2007-8, indy league 2009-2010, Baltimore AAA 2011, released/retired.
  • Kevin Gryboski: AAA 2007-2008, retired/released.
  • Brett Campbell: Wash AA 2007, released/retired.
  • Santiago Ramirez: Japan in 2007, Mexican league 2008, indy 2009, retired.

Changes in last 12 months: none

Favorite Nats-to-Oblivion story: Joey Eischen, who bounced around the league in his 20s before settling in Montreal and moving south with the team.  He was known to be a “character” in the clubhouse and to give good quotes to reporters (google “Joey eischen quotes” and you’ll find some of his classics).   By 2006 though the years had taken their toll on his shoulder; he had 19 walks in 14 2/3 innings through the end of May had blown his rotator cuff.  The team put him on the 60 day D/L and called up one Bill Bray.   Eischen never got off that D/L; he was released in the off-season and never played again.  For 2013, he’s listed as the pitching coach of Colorado’s high-A Affiliate in Asheville.


2005 (16 players)

Total Players used: 30 position, 25 pitchers, 55 total.  16/55 = 29% never appeared again

Players:

  • Carlos Baerga; retired after 2005
  • Junior Spivey: bounced around AAA 2006-7, indy ball in 2009, retired.
  • Tony Blanco; Nats minor leagues 2006-7, Colorado AA in 2008, in Japan from 2009-present.
  • Wil Cordero; released mid 2005, signed on with the NY Mets but never made it out of AAA.  Retired after 2005.
  • Deivi Cruz; released after 2005, cut from St. Louis 2006 ST, played indy ball, retired.
  • Jeffrey Hammonds; retired in June 2005 mid-season.
  • J.J. Davis: Traded to Colorado as part of the Preston Wilson deal, sent to Colorado’s AAA, then released after the season and never played again.
  • Rick Short; Granted FA after the 2005 season to play in Japan, played there til 2009.
  • Kenny Kelly; AAA in 2006 and 2007, released and retired.
  • Keith Osik; a backup catcher, got 4 ABs in 2005, released and retired.
  • Tyrell Godwin; after just THREE MLB at-bats in 2005, spent all of 2006 and 2007 in AAA, released and retired.
  • T.J. Tucker; released after 2005, tried one year of indy ball in 2008, retired.
  • Joe Horgan; released after 2005, played one year of AAA with Florida, released, retired.
  • Matt White; AAA in 2006-7, Japan 2007-8, tried indy ball in 2010, hung ‘em up.
  • C.J. Nitkowski; AAA in 2006, then went to Japan 2007-8, Korea 2009-10, back with the Mets AAA team in July 2012.  Not signed for 2013
  • Antonio Osuna: dnp in 2006, Mexican league 2007-9.

Changes in last 12 months: none

Favorite Nats-to-Oblivion story: Rick Short, who got his MLB debut at the age of 32, after 11 very long seasons in the minors with many different teams.  He got a couple of call-ups in June and July to provide cover, and then played out the string after a Sept 1 roster expansion call-up.  In that off-season, he returned to Japan (where he’d played one full season prior), and played four more years in the Japanese League and retired in 2009.

Though it merits talking about a couple other guys here. Tony Blanco; he was a rule-5 draftee who the Nats carried the whole of 2005 so they could keep his rights.  He was awful; he had a .177 batting average as the 25th guy off the bench.  In 2006 he couldn’t even cut it in AA and played most of the year in High-A.  After 2007 the Nats summarily released him from their minor league organization altogether.   He found his calling though; he signed on in Japan in 2009 at age 27 and continues to play there today.  You have to wonder if he may very well earn another MLB shot.

Jeffrey Hammonds was well known to Washington baseball fans by virtue of his pedigree with our northern neighbors in Baltimore; he was a 1st round draft pick in 1992 out of Stanford, broke in with the MLB team the following year and was a role player on the powerhouse Baltimore teams of the mid 1990s.   He bounced around the league afterwards though, signing on with the newly relocated Washington franchise for the 2005 debut season but he hung ‘em up after a slow start here.  He was only 34 when he retired.

Written by Todd Boss

January 16th, 2014 at 9:01 am

Posted in Nats in General

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Ladson’s Inbox 11/5/13 edition

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Can Roark win a 2014 rotation job? Photo Alex Brandon/AP via wp.com

Can Roark win a 2014 rotation job? Photo Alex Brandon/AP via wp.com

Well, we finally got a manager, so hopefully MLB.com Nats beat reporter Bill Ladson will stop taking “Who do you think the next Nats Manager” questions.  I’m not ruling it out though :-)  Nonetheless, here’s the latest Ladson inbox, dated 11/5/13.  As always, I write my response before reading his and edit questions for clarity.

Q: Will Davey Johnson still play a role in the organization?

A: Who cares?  Does it matter?  Whatever role Davey Johnson could play would have so little significance on the on-field play of the 2014 team that I find it useless to even speculate.  I’m sure the Nats offered him a limited role out of respect, and I’d assume Johnson accepted it as long as it allowed him to go relax in Florida for a while, hoping another managerial job opens up.  Ladson expects he’ll consult to the team and advise on trades and FA signings because he’s such a great “talent evaluator.”  Hey Bill; if Johnson was such a great talent evaluator why exactly did he run Danny Espinosa out for so many at-bats?  Why didn’t he push to make a change in the rotation when it was clear that Dan Haren wasn’t pitching at even a replacement-level?  How come he didn’t see the rising talent that made such a difference in September?

Q: After Stephen StrasburgGio Gonzalez and Jordan Zimmermann, how do you see the rest of the rotation shaking out?

A: A good question.  After going into the 2013 season with almost no high-minors starting pitching depth, you have to think the team is going to cover themselves for 2014.  So count on there being more seemingly worthy candidates than roles going into spring training 2014.  The answer to this question may depend on payroll issues: right now Cots has the Nats with about $80M committed for 2014 prior to its arbitration cases, which MLBtraderumor’s Matt Swartz is estimating will run the team another $37.3M (which honestly I think is slightly low).  That’s roughly $117M in payroll before even looking at a single FA candidate.   You could save some of this money with non-tenders or trades (Tyler Clippard at $6.2M is a candidate to be moved), but not enough to get an impact player.

Will the ownership group expand the payroll even more for 2014, knowing their “window” with this group of players is shrinking?  Or will they stay the course and know that nearly $30M of mostly underperforming veteran FAs (LaRocheSpanSoriano) come off the books after next season, allowing them to reload in the FA market towards 2015 and beyond?

If ownership frees up some cash, by trade/non-tender or by expansion of the payroll limit, there are FA pitchers to be had.  I’ve seen more than one pundit with the Nats linked to Matt Garza, but I don’t see it; I don’t think he’s worth what people seem to think he’s going to get (4 yrs/$60M).  More likely is the team going with a modification of the Edwin Jackson/Dan Haren plan and getting a reclamation project in the ilk of Josh Johnson on a one-year/low paying contract with big incentives.

Less predictable is the trade acquisition.  Nobody saw the Gio Gonzalez trade coming until it happened, and something similar could happen now.  The team is in the same position generally this off-season as it was in 2011 in terms of having a slight surplus of closer-to-the-majors arms and bats and could put together a similar package.  If we moved Brad PeacockTommy MiloneDerek Norris and A.J. Cole for Gonzalez in 2011 (or in otherwords, a good-looking starter with great initial call-up numbers, a solid lefty starter who dominated AAA, a decent looking catcher prospect and a high-leverage low-minors prospect) would a similar package of something like Tanner RoarkNathan Karns, Eury Perez and Robbie Ray fetch a #2 starter in the trade market?   Oakland isn’t facing the same issue they were in 2011 with any of its pitchers, so the most likely eager-to-make-a-trade GM in Billy Beane is out.  But that being said, they’re paying Brett Anderson a LOT of money for Oakland’s payroll (roughly 1/6th of their payroll for next year), and he could be moved.  Anderson wouldn’t cost nearly this much in prospects, but would be a huge risk; he hasn’t pitched a full season in years.

Meanwhile everyone knows Tampa is looking to move David Price, but any trade for him has to start with your two best prospects and build from there, and the Nats are just back to the point where the farm system is looking respectable again.  I’m not sure the Nats are going to be willing to give up what the Rays will demand.  The Nats have done business lately with the Chicago Cubs, who may look to move the arbitration-eligible Jeff Samardzija, but they’d be selling incredibly low on him after his poor 2013.  Lastly the Tigers reportedly are considering moving Max Scherzer, who enters his last year of arbitration looking for a big pay day and with Ken Rosenthal reporting that the Nats are his best fit, but I just cannot see purposely moving a Cy Young winner and disrupting a team that continues to be one of the best in the AL.

With no FA acquisitions and no trades, I see a competition next spring that likely sees Ross Detwiler in the 4th spot (no options, theoretically healthy again), Tanner Roark in the 5th spot (he keeps his spot until he shows that his remarkable September numbers are human), Ross Ohlendorf as the spot starter/long man in the MLB pen, and Taylor Jordan-Nathan Karns being the #1 and #2 starters in AAA Syracuse.  Some speculate that Detwiler would lose out to both Roark and Jordan and become a lefty out of the pen … but I don’t see that.  I’m not counting it out, but I don’t see that happening if he’s healthy.

With any significant FA acquisition or trade, you line up Stras-Gio-Zimmermann-New Acquisition and Detwiler to start off 2014, just as you did in 2013.   Roark and Ohlendorf likely work out of the MLB pen and Jordan/Karns still in AAA.   Maybe Karns comes up and works the 7th inning as well, while Jordan remains starter insurance plan #1.

Ladson also mentions Price, also mentions what I do about the difficulties lining up, thinks the Nats will acquire someone for #4 spot and then says Roark has the inside edge on #5 spot, even over Detwiler (who he thinks could move to the bullpen). 

Q: What did you think about the Nationals hiring Williams as manager last week?

A: Well, I guess Ladson had to get in one last question about the managerial situation.  My take: I like the move, I think Matt Williams‘ combination of successful playing career and MLB coaching experience will instantly give him the respect of the veterans and the rookies on this team.   He will get this team in line, he will bring some old-school notions to this team and won’t back down in a fight (as Johnson clearly did with Atlanta all year).  I think he will give this team the spine it lacked and will do nothing but help move the team forward.

One other opinion; I do see some critics who say that Williams’ lack of direct managerial experience at any level hurts him.  I say BS; he was a major league coach for four years, working underneath a successful, respected manager.  He presumably contributed to the decision making process, got to witness first hand how decisions worked out, got to decide for himself how he would have handled situations, and in some ways I think this experience supercedes being a manager of a lower-level ball-club where there’s no egos and just a bunch of kids who you can cower into submission.

Ladson says its too early to tell, but that Williams had a great news conference.  Honestly I didn’t really expect much of an answer here from an employee of MLB.

Q: What is Christian Garcia‘s status? Will he join the Nationals in 2014? He was a great late addition to the bullpen in 2012.

A: He’s finally healthy, and pitching in the Mexican Winter League.  I think the team sees the error of its ways in trying to convert the injury-riddled pitcher to being a starter.  He’s working as a reliever in winter ball, and I hope to see him continue to work as a reliever in the spring.  I’d love to see him earn a spot in the bullpen; lord knows the team could use one more reliable arm in the 6th/7th inning (Ryan Mattheus needs to be on guard; your spot is in jeopardy for 2014).  Ladson agrees with everything I’ve said.

Q: Do you think the Nationals will trade Danny EspinosaTyler Moore and Steve Lombardozzithis winter or sign a couple free agents? I believe they need a lefty middle reliever, a left-handed bat coming off the bench and a veteran backup catcher.

A: Trading any of those three guys after the seasons they had at the plate would be selling incredibly low.  So no, I don’t think any of them get moved unless they’re part of a larger deal.  Espinosa needs to get healthy, learn how to hit left handed, and build trade value.  I believe he can be a valuable player for someone, somewhere, just based on his incredible defense.  But he has to hit better than .150.  Moore needs to return to his 2012 power ways, but I still see him as a useful player who we have no reason to trade; he still has options, he’s still pre-arbitration and thus he’s cheap.  Lombardozzi is the quintessential utility guy; he can play 2nd, 3rd, left, right.  You have to have one of these guys around … and if he can’t hit, it is’t going to kill you.  But when this player gets 300 ABs (as Lombardozzi got last year) … then you have a problem.  This is why the team got Scott Hairston and why they’re likely to give some looks to Zach Walters in 2014.   Maybe the team looks for a cheap veteran to replace Chad Tracy but i’d hope for a bit more positional flexibility.

I can also see the team kicking the tires on a veteran lefty but don’t entirely see the need; Ian Krol may have faltered down the stretch but he was mostly good.  Abad was good.  Cedeno was good.  We have all these guys locked up.  You see who wins a competition and switch them out if they’re ineffective.

Ladson thinks Espinosa is getting traded no matter what, and has played his last game as a National.

Q: Are Gold Glove Awards given with consideration to the offensive stats of a player? Otherwise, how could Denard Span miss out on the award this year?

A: They’re not supposed to be … but we all know old habits die hard and bit players who are awful at the plate often times have a hard time getting a Gold Glove.  Span as it turned out led all NL centerfielders in one defensive metric (Total Zone Total Fielding Runs), but I have zero problem with the NL winner Carlos Gomez.  Ladson says he was “shocked” that Span didn’t win, and then used “# of errors” as a metric.  Poor form Ladson; you need to reference some of the advanced stats in question.  Gomez led the NL in Defensive Runs Saved, one of the two major defensive metrics.  So your argument fails.  Span may have great range, but he wasn’t best in the Ultimate Zone Ratings measurement either.  See the Fielding Awards spreadsheet link to the right to see all the leaders in one place.

2013-14 Off-season Baseball Calendar

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Now that the WS is over, the official off-season begins.  Since a number of key dates related to player movement are based on the end of the world series, now we can officially list the key upcoming dates.

This document is also available in the links section to the right-hand side of the blog (see the 2013-14 MLB Off Season Calendar link).  I’ve uploaded it to Google XLS.  A few of the dates listed here are estimates or based on the day they occurred last year.  The XLS has urls to back up some of these dates.

Date Event Nats-specific Impact/Winners/Notes
Sept 29th, 2013 Last day of regular season No Nats post-season for 2013
Oct 1st, 2013 Beginning of 2013 Post season (NL WC game).  End of Year BBWAA award ballots due (prior to beginning of post season) Some Nats may get some mentions
Oct 21rd, 2013 Sporting News Comeback Players of the Year AL and NL Mariano Rivera and Francisco Liriano winners
Oct 27th, 2013 Roberto Clemente Award given Carlos Beltran 2013 winner; Zimmerman best Nats candidate
Oct 28th, 2013 Fielding Bible Awards given No Nats mentioned
Oct 29th, 2013 Rawlings AL & NL Gold Glove Announcements Span, Desmond finalists but no awards
Oct 30th, 2013 Last actual day of 2013 World Series; official end of 2013 season Boston wins Game 6 and takes the 2013 WS 4-2
Oct 31st, 2013 (WS end + 1) Official start of FA period (8am CST the day after the last game of the WS)
Nov 2nd, 2013 (WS end + 3) Team and player options must be decided three days after the end of the World Series.  (this may be WS + 5 by 2013)
Nov 2nd, 2013 Clubs have to re-set their 40-man rosters, moving all 60-day DL players back to active. Nats currently sit at 39/40 with two 60-day DL guys; someone has to get dropped unless the FA’s don’t count against this list.
Nov 2nd, 2013 HoF “Veterans Committee” releases ballot.
Nov 4th, 2013 (WS end + 5) 5pm: Deadline to make Qualifying offers for your own Fas (average of top 125 salaries or $14.1M for 2014).  5 days after end of WS was 13.3M for 2013.  Nats highly unlikely to offer Qos to their two Fas.
Nov 4th, 2013 (WS end + 5) End of “Quiet Period.”  Teams have “exclusive” negotiating rights with their own free agents during this period.
Nov 4th, 2013 (WS end + 5) 5 days after WS ends: Free agent filing period and exclusive negotiating window ends at 12:01 a.m. ET. Free agents can sign with any team. Haren, Tracy only Fas for Nats in 2013.
Nov 2013 est MLB Comeback Players of the Year AL and NL
Nov 4th, 2013 (WS end + 5) Free Agency granted to all eligible Minor League free agents (5 days after the end of the WS).  Eligibility done on service time; 6 years ML service for college draftees or 7 years ML service for HS draftees or free agents under the age of 18. Plenty of significant, long-serving Nats farm hands hitting MLFA this year.
Nov 4th, 2013 Wilson Defensive Player of the Year awards, given by MLB to best defensive player on each club. Span or Desmond likely in the mix but unlikely to win
Nov 5th, 2013 MLBPA announces “Players Choice” awards: Player of the year, Comeback Player of the year, etc
Nov 7th, 2013 BBWAA Award Nominees announced on MLB networks
Nov 8th, 2013 Sporting News Executive of the Year announced
Nov 6th, 2013 Louisville Slugger Silver Slugger Awards Desmond, Harper may get some attention here.  Werth also
Nov 11-13, 2013 GM Meetings, Orlando, FL for 2013
Nov 11th, 2013 (WS end + 12) 12 Days after WS ends: Players must accept or reject Qualifying Options No Nats likely getting Qos
Nov 11th, 2013 AL, NL Jackie Robinson Rookie of the Year Awards Roark get some honorable mention votes?
Nov 12th, 2013 AL and NL Manager of the Year
Nov 13th 2013 AL and NL Cy Young Zimmermann may get some top-5 votes but not likely.  Strasburg?  Doubtful
Nov 14th 2013 AL and NL Most Valuable Player Werth may get some top-10 votes
Nov 14-15th, 2013 Owners Meetings, Chicago for 2013
Nov 20th, 2013 Day to file reserve lists for all Major and Minor League levels.  In other words, Last day to add players to 40-man to protect them from the Rule5 Draft
Dec 2nd, 2013 Midnight: Deadline for teams to Tender contracts to arbitration eligible players.  If not tendered, those players immediately become free agents.   This is the non-tender deadline for arbitration eligible players No real non-tender scares for this year’s arbitration eligible list of Nats.
Dec 2nd, 2013 Last day for teams to offer 2014 contracts to unsigned players.  (same thing as the non-tender deadline above?)
Dec 9th, 2013 Last day to request outright waivers to assign player prior to Rule 5 Draft
Dec 9th-12th 2013 Winter Meetings, Lake Buena Vista/Orlando, FL
Dec 3rd, 2013 HoF “Veterans Committee” officially releases ballot that was made public ??????
Early December, 2013 Baseball America announces its Executives of the Year
Dec 4th, 2013 MLB Balloting results announced for Hall of Fame Ford C. Frick Award for excellence in baseball broadcasting
Dec 4th, 2013 MLB announces winners of 21 “GIBBY” awards (greatnest in Baseball yearly awards)
Dec 12th, 2013 Rule 5 Draft.  Occurs at Winter meetings
Dec 31st, 2013 Deadline for BBWAA ballots for HoF voting.
Jan 9th, 2014 Hall of Fame BBWAA voting announced; the HoF class of 2014.
Jan 15th, 2014 Salary arbitration filing period
Jan 18th, 2014 Salary arbitration figures exchanged
Feb 1-21, 2014 Salary arbitration hearings (actual hearing date per player picked at random), Phoenix AZ
Feb 12th, 2014 Voluntary Spring Training reporting date for Pitchers, Catchers, Injured players
Feb 15th, 2014 Voluntary Spring Training reporting date for non-pitchers and catchers
Mar 2-11th, 2014 Contracts of unsigned players who are not yet eligible for Arbitration may be renewed
Early March 2014 First Spring Training Game for the Nats
March 13th, 2014 Last day to place a player on unconditional release waivers and pay 30 days termination pay instead of 45 days.
March 27th, 2014 Deadline to request unconditional release waivers without having to pay the player’s full salary or $100k bonus for certain types of veterans
March 31st, 2014 2014 Season Opener; Opening Day 2014; active rosters must be reduced to 25 players and 40-man rosters must be established
March 31st, 2014 Opening Night 2014: ? Vs ?
April 1st, 2014 Traditional Opening Day (Cincinnati)

 

Nationals 2013 post-mortem

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This may be the last time i use Haren's picture in a Nats uniform on this blog.  Photo via Zimbio.com

This may be the last time I use Haren’s picture in a Nats uniform on this blog. Photo via Zimbio.com

They say success has many fathers but failure is an orphan.  Well, here’s a whole slew of orphan-causing problems that befell this team this year.  I started this post months ago, when the team sputtered in July and suddenly sat at 54-60.  None of these bullet points are surprises.  Maybe I forgot some key points; feel free to tack ‘em on.   This is a cathartic, washing my hands of the 2013 season, where so many things conspired to go wrongly.

  1. Davey Johnson, for continued pitching/bullpen mismanagement episode after episode, for seemingly losing the clubhouse (see below), for sticking with severely under-performing players (Espinosa, Haren especially) far, far too long, for failing to react to repeated beanings of his best player, and for generally looking old, tired and out-matched this year at press conference after press conference.  This team needs a new voice, a disciplinarian who will command more respect than what Johnson was commanding from this team.  My vote is for Matt Williams.
  2. Injuries.  Every team has injuries; I’m not going to write some simplistic statement that says “well if we had So-and-So healthy all year we’d have won the division.”   Look at St. Louis: they’re missing Chris Carpenter and Jaime Garcia basically all year and still won the best division in the game.  I think the issue most people will have with the Nats is the way their players’ injuries were handled.  Bryce Harper missed the whole month of June after several wall collisions finally caught up to him and he was clearly in pain the rest of the season.  Did the team not allow him to get healthy at the end of April?  Meanwhile you have to take serious issue with either the team, Danny Espinosa or both over the handling of his injuries.  What good did it do anyone to allow Espinosa to try to play through the significant shoulder injury he apparently has?  Why has he STILL not had the surgery done to fix it?  It sounds to me like there’s some serious stubbornness on both sides of this fence.  Ross Detwiler looked to be on the verge of a breakout season in 2012 … and now he’s back to being the broken down starter he’s mostly been during his time here.  In his 6 pro seasons he’s not pitched full seasons in 3 of them.   This isn’t necessarily on the team .. but I will ask this: at what point do you go into a season counting on Detwiler to break down instead of the reverse?  It goes to proper roster planning (also mentioned later on).
  3. Bench production, for regressing so far past the mean from last year’s over production.  Did you know that Steve Lombardozzi got more than 300 plate appearances this year with this slash line: .255/.276/.337?  I know you need backup utility infielders, but man, that’s a huge 68 OPS+ hole getting a ton of ABs.  Our opening-day bench of Lombardozzi/Moore/Bernadina/Tracy posted these OPS+ figures in 2012: 82/123/111/111.  In 2013?  69/66/43/55.  Wow.  That’s just a startling drop-off in production.  To add insult to injury Kurt Suzuki‘s OPS+ went from a respectable 95 last year to 64 this year.  Basically every pinch hitting spot or guy off the bench covering for a starter turned into an 0-4 outing.  We know that at least 3 of these 5 bench guys are gone; who will replace them?
  4. Dan Haren.  $13M for one of the worst starters in the game, even given his little August rebound.  The team finished 4 games out of the wild card, 10 games back of Atlanta.   In Dan Haren’s 30 starts, the Nats went 11-19.  In every other pitcher’s starts, the team went 75-57.   That’s a .568 winning percentage, which equates to 92 wins.  Even a #5 starter who gave the team a 50/50 chance of winning on any given sunday would have basically put the team into the WC game.  Haren was just a really really poor FA acquisition who contributed a huge part to the downfall of the team.  I wonder at this point if the Nats didn’t fail to do the proper medical due diligence on Haren; there was a reason the proposed trade to the Cubs fell through and there was a reason the Angels did not give him a qualifying offer.  I fully admit: I was completely on board with the signing, thinking we were getting the pre 2012 Haren.  Wrong; something clearly changed for him after the 2011 season and I wonder how much longer he can stay in the league after his last two seasons.  I’m sure he’ll get another one-year deal for 2014 based on his stronger finish, but another 5+ ERA season may finish him.
  5. Offense in general: The team scored 656 runs on the year.  That’s down fully 75 runs from last year, when they were 10th in the league in scoring.  Had they produced like they did last year in 2013 (about 10th in the league in runs scored and other key indicators),  they’d have scored around 700 runs, probably good for at least 10 more wins (under the rough estimate that it takes about 4 “extra” runs per win).  With 10 more wins … they’re winning the division again (since some of those added wins come at the hands of Atlanta).
  6. Hitting in the Clutch: Ask any sabre-nerd and they’ll tell you that “clutch” doesn’t exist and that all aspects of batting (good or bad) with RISP is merely coincidence (this came up again recently with David Ortiz’ game-changing NLCS homer).  I don’t entirely buy it. I think hitting with runners on base is a skill that can be practiced and honed.  I think there’s importance to driving runners in when you have the opportunity.  I think a batter with a runner on third and less than one out can absolutely look for a ball that he can hit into the air, thus driving in the run.  Anyway: let’s look at how well the Nats offense hit in the clutch this season (see this team-stats split link at tFangraphs).  The Nats team batting average with runners on base is ranked 19th in the league; its wRC+ as a team 17th.  However, change “runners on base” to “high leverage” in the Fangraphs split and you get this: Nats were 29th in high leverage batting average, 28th in wRC+. That’s right: almost dead last in the league in high-leverage hitting for the year.  When they came to bat in situations that mattered, they were one of the worst teams in the league.  Any way you slice it … that’s not “clutch.”
  7. Clubhouse Issues: I know that many readers here get irritated with presumptions of “chemistry” issues, writing comments about how we have no idea what really goes on in the clubhouse.  Fair enough; we don’t need to rehash the argument.  Absent any proof, I believe something might have been amiss.  Reporters have noted the losses of free-spirit Morse and the level headed DeRosa.  The Soriano acquisition brought a known surly loner with behavior problems into a tight knit bullpen and resulted in the chain reaction demotion of two guys (Storen and Clippard) who didn’t necessarily deserve to be demoted.  I believe Harper was fed up with Johnson’s message and was caught on camera more than once clearly ignoring or showing disdain to something he was being told.  To say nothing of the ridiculousness of Harper getting hit over and over without any of his teammates getting his back.   Can a new manager fix this?  Probably.  Can a leadership void fix this?  Definitely.  Perhaps with Jayson Werth‘s great season he can step up in the clubhouse and be the voice of reason moreso than it seems he has been before (either because he was struggling on the field or collapsing under the weight of his contract).
  8. Rizzo’s mis-management of the 2013 roster: Rizzo just had to have his speedy leadoff/centerfielder, and Span underperformed when it counted (I’m on record stating over and over that the team is wasting Harper’s defensive capabilities in left and blocking a power-hitter acquisition by sticking with Span in center.  But what’s done is done).  The opening day roster had no left handed specialists, a move that I quasi-defended at the time but which turned out to be disastrous.  We relied on a MLFA (and frankly, we over-relied an incredibly short sample size) for the long man (Duke) and he failed. We had absolutely no starting pitching depth in the high Minors and got rather lucky that Taylor Jordan materialized out of the thin air of high-A and Tanner Roark suddenly added 5 mph to his fastball and turned into an effective MLB hurler.  We had a $120M payroll but were depending on bargain basement acquisitions in key roles.  That just has to change for 2014.  Don’t go looking to save pennies on the proverbial dollar by non-tendering useful guys (as they did with Tom Gorzelanny last year); do the right thing and lock these guys up.  You had enough to waste $30M on Soriano but couldn’t find the scratch to keep around half of 2012’s bullpen?
  9. Pressure. this team had no pressure last year, and all of the pressure this year.  Nearly every baseball pundit with a blog, microphone or column picked them to win the division (me included), and lots picked them to win 100+ games (me included).  Look at how awfully they fared this year against the NL playoff bound teams:
  • Stl: 0-6, scoring just 8 runs in 6 games.
  • LA Dodgers: 1-5
  • Atlanta: 6-13.  Outscored 73-49
  • Pittsburgh: 3-4
  • Cincinnati: 4-3 but outscored 36-27 thanks to a 15-0 spanking the 2nd week of the season.

When the chips were down, they folded.  Especially against Atlanta, who pushed the team around, continually threw at us, and we had no reaction (that is until Strasburg suddenly had a fit of wildness which some will argue was less about standing up for his players and more about being off that day).   I lay this at the manager’s feet again.  Atlanta has proved time and again (and again) that they’re capable of acting like bullies when it comes to “unwritten rules” of the game, and Johnson let this go unchecked far too long.  A new manager with some balls will put an end to this nonesense, fast.  Sorry to sound crude, but it is what it is.  Johnson had no balls and made his entire team look weak in the face of the Braves.

Yes its great the team had a run in August and September.  What does it really mean?  Their schedule was cake in August and then filled with teams with AAA callups in September.  Who is the real Denard Span?  The guy who hit .235 in the middle of the summer or the guy who hit .303 in September?  Can Werth keep this kind of production up in the face of father time in 2014?  Can LaRoche return his OPS to something better than what a middling 2nd baseman can produce?  Can Harper stop running into walls and stay on the field?

I think the scarier part for Nats fans is the fact that this team is basically going to be the exact same team next year. Nearly every position player, likely the entire rotation (simply replace Haren with a healthy Detwiler), most all of the bullpen. There’s not a lot of holes here, not a lot of wiggle room.   Unless there’s a major trade on the horizon that drastically reshapes the roster, this is your team in 2014.  Can they turn it around and make up the 14 games they declined in the win column?

In summary; which of the above points IS the real issue behind 2013’s disaster?  And how do you fix it?  Because if you don’t address it, then 2014 is going to be the same story.

 

DC-IBWAA Poll results and my vote

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http://dc-ibwaa.blogspot.com/2013/10/dc-internet-baseball-writers.html
David Nichols does a great job getting all the Nats bloggers to participate in pre-season and post-season polls.  He got 18 voters this time around.  The link above is the results of the post-season poll.  Here’s his post-season survey questions, the poll results and how I answered them and why.

2013 DC-Internet Baseball Writers Association

POST-SEASON ACHIEVEMENT AWARDS BALLOT

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

 

Jordan 

Giolito

Burns 

Cole

Souza 

Godwin

  • Goose Goslin Most Valuable Player: Werth, Desmond, Zimmermann.  I went Werth, Desmond and Harper.  I don’t like voting pitchers for MVP; they have their own awards :-)
  • Walter Johnson Starting Pitcher of the Year: Zimmermann, Strasburg, Gonzalez: Same way I voted.  I do like the few side-votes for Roark.
  • Frederick “Firpo” Marberry Relief Pitcher of the Year : Clippard, Stammen, Soriano: I voted Clippard, Stammen and then Roark.  Honestly I did not think Soriano really did that great a job this year.  He had a 0.9 WAR for his $15M salary (with deferred payments).  That just doesn’t cut it for me for a high-end closer.  I want Craig Kimbrel-esque dominance for that kind of money.  Roark on the other hand had a 2.0 bWAR in his limited time on the team.
  • Sam Rice Hitter of the Year: Werth, Desmond, Zimmerman.  I went Desmond, Span, Harper.  I dunno; I guess I got caught up on the definition, which included “baserunning” and “situational” hitting.  I think I just plain forgot how good a season Werth had here.
  • Frank Howard Slugger of the Year: Werth, Harper, Zimmerman: same way as I voted.  Maybe we should have put more thought into it besides just listing the team leaders in  homers.
  • Joe Judge Defensive Player of the Year: Span, Desmond, Ramos.  I went Span, Desmond and Espinosa.  Despite how bad his bat was, Espinosa was still awfully good in the field.  You always forget about the catchers when rating defenders.  I’m guilty here.
  • Mickey Vernon Comeback Player of the Year: Ramos, Werth, Ohlendorf.  I went Jordan, Ramos and Werth.  Remember, Jordan had Tommy John surgery and was buried in high-A to start the season.  That’s a heck of a comeback.  Fair enough on Ramos after his kidnapping ordeal and his injuries.
  • Josh Gibson Humanitarian Player of the Year: Zimmerman, Desmond, Gonzalez.  Honestly I only voted for Zimmerman; do the rest of these guys do events?  Maybe i’m just unaware of what the rest of the team is doing in the charity world, but clearly Zimmerman’s MS causes is well known.
  • Minor League Player of the Year : Giolito, Rendon, Cole: I voted Giolito, Cole and Goodwin, thinking that Rendon was “graduated.”  I have two lines of players because I wasn’t sure how to answer the question at first; was it “3 best prospects” or “3 best minor league players THIS season?”  Because the answer to the latter question clearly is not the same as the answer to the former question.

Survey Questions
1. Which players on the 40-man roster at the end of the season are least likely to return in 2010?    

I said Cedeno, Haren, Ohlendorf, Tracy (which were the top four answers among all the responses) but i’d like to change my mind on Ohlendorf.   I think the team is going to tender him and keep him around as a long man, considering that he can’t refuse an option until mid-next year.  I also think a couple of these random guys picked up on waivers late in the season (Tyler Robinson and Mauro Gomez) may not stick around for the long haul.  These two guys in particular never even got numbers assigned to them.

2. Will the Nats sign Ian Desmond and Jordan Zimmermann to long-term contract extensions before they reach free agency? 

I said “Desmond yes, Zimmermann maybe.”  Honestly, I feel the team can replace Zimmermann from within and may be better served to flip him for prospects if his price tag gets too high.  At some point the Nats are going to have to make tough choices like this (they are not going to be able to give 9-figure deals to everyone on this team who deserves them) in order to maintain their core group and contine to compete.  You already have two 9-figure deals, and you have to think that Desmond, Harper and Strasburg are going to merit them.  can you have a team with that much top-heavy payroll?  Now, if you got Zimmerman for Gonzalez prices (5  yrs $50M or so) then you have yourself a deal.

3. What player was the biggest surprise for the Nats this season?

I went with with Jordan, Roark, Werth.   The group went with Roark, Werth, Jordan.

4. Who was the biggest disappointment?

I went with Haren, Span, LaRoche.  The group went with Haren, Espinosa, Span.  Maybe I didn’t include Espinosa because I already had my doubts on him; frankly he didn’t disappoint me, he met my low expectations for him in 2014.

5. Who is your favorite professional Nats writer?

I went with Mark Zuckerman.  The survey results went Kilgore, Comak, Zuckerman and Wagner.  Coincidentally bon voyage to Comak, who is leaving The Washington Times Nats beat.

6. Who is your favorite non-professional Nationals writer?

I went with Luigi de Guzman, writer of the blog Natstradamus.  He doesn’t write that frequently, but when he does they’re usually thoughtful, well researched opinion pieces.  Though that’s no slight to Luke Erickson at Nationalsprospects.com, whose blog I absolutely depend on to write this blog.  I also really like Ryan Sullivan‘s NatsGM blog and its focus on prospects.  Generally speaking my preference in reading baseball writing on the internet leans towards opinion pieces.  I know that lots of blogs out there try to be replacement newspaper writers/beat reporters.  That’s not what excites me.  I want to see opinion pieces, criticism where criticism is due, etc.  Harper Gordek at Nationals Baseball is one that definitely writes opinion pieces and I look forward to his stuff too.  Unfortunately a lot of these guys have retired (Steven Biel, Chris Needham in particular were always good for a scathing piece when the team deserved it).  I know there’s a couple others out there who write good opinion pieces that i’m forgetting.

Yours truly got one vote!  That’s awesome, to whichever fellow blogger voted for me.

 

 

Is it time to fire Davey Johnson?

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Davey Johnson can't get this team in gear.  Is it time to go?  Photo Getty via mlb.com

Davey Johnson can’t get this team in gear. Is it time to go? Photo Getty via mlb.com

I know this is blasphemous to say.

I know it’ll never happen, not under this GM and not under this ownership group, both of whom have far more respect for Davey Johnson than to give him such an ignominious end to his time here.

And I know that Johnson is as good of a manager as is out there.  I may have been critical of his decisions here and there (especially related to yanking starters on low pitch counts), but I recognize he’s a Hall of Famer and cannot argue against his career accomplishments.

But I’m beginning to believe that the only way to shake this team out of its current malaise is to change the message coming from the top.

They tried demoting players who weren’t hitting (Danny EspinosaTyler Moore).   They’ve tried calling up their best remaining prospects (Anthony Rendon, Nathan Karns and Taylor Jordan).  They’ve tried cleaning house of underperforming relievers (Henry RodriguezZach Duke, and Drew Storen).  They’ve tried changing key staff (firing Rick Eckstein).  They’ve tried ridiculous lineups (your best power hitter Bryce Harper leading off??)   Nothing has made a difference; the team has basically been playing .500 ball for weeks and weeks now.

For whatever reason, this team of players, picked by every baseball pundit out there to make the playoffs and by a good portion to make it to or win the World Series, is now 10 games out of of the divisional lead.  They’re 10 games back of Atlanta, which themselves has only played .500 ball since mid April after a 12-1 start.  The Nats just finished June and July playing 50 games in a row against teams that missed the 2012 playoffs (perhaps not the best bench mark, since Pittsburgh has the best record in baseball this year, but still), and finished the stretch 5 games south of .500.

The team looks like its sleepwaking through games.  They look like they have no voice, no spark, no sense of urgency.  No leadership.

The trade deadline won’t help at all; the Nats have practically no tradeable assets.  Their only FAs to be are Dan Haren and Chad Tracy.  Kurt Suzuki has a 2014 option that clearly won’t be exercised, so he counts too.  But who is out there lineing up for these 3 guys?  Meanwhile, despite their offensive woes, there’s really not a spot on the field that can be improved through trade.  Go around the field and you’ve got players on deals that at least extend through 2014 (LaRoche and Span), or  you’ve got guys on major contracts (Zimmerman and Werth) or you’ve got cornerstone younger players (HarperRamosDesmond and Rendon).  Who are you going to replace?  Maybe you think about trading Rafael Soriano (after all, the last thing a losing team needs is a high-priced closer) but a quick glance at the teams in playoff contention does not easily find a team in need of a closer (the best candidate may be Pittsburgh, who just lost their closer Jason Grilli to a forearm injury, but they’re not exactly rolling in dollars nor likely to take on an $11M/year guy).

Maybe its time to bring in a new voice, and see if he can scare this team into an August and September run.

Sorry Davey; you know how the old saying goes.  You can’t fire 25 players, but its pretty easy to fire the manager.

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.

 

Two months in; Stuck in Neutral

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So my dad calls me the other day and immediately exclaims, “What’s wrong with this team?!?

Today, the season is 57 games old.  Two months old.  Almost exactly 1/3 old.  And the Nationals, the supposed power houses, next-coming-of the 1927 Yankees, the possible 110 win Nationals, are a .500 team.  Actually, a game under .500 with the weekend series loss to Atlanta.

We’ve talked about the Nats early schedule (as has Tom Boswell recently), chock full of 2012 playoff contenders.   But 2013 is a new season and in reality the Nats as of two months in have played the 14th ranked schedule of 30 teams (3 days ago it was 19th ranked … so these rankings move fast).   We’ve talked about the injuries, the offense in general, defense, the bench, Drew StorenDanny Espinosa, and Dan Haren all as contributing factors. A couple of prominent national baseball writers pipped in on 5/31/13 on this topic: Jay Jaffe on si.com and then Rob Neyer on BaseballNation.com, offering some suggestions, possible trades (Ian Kinsler?) and possible call-ups (the obvious Anthony Rendon).

But here’s my scary thought, as proposed to my dad.  What if .500 is exactly what this team is?

The 2011 Nationals finished .500.  The 2012 Nationals surprised us all and won 98 games.  Now the team is back to its 2011 levels.  Is it possible that this was always a .500 team for whom everything went perfectly right in 2012?  All the stars were in alignment in 2012 in terms of hitting, bench play and coming out parties for guys like Ian Desmond and Bryce Harper and Gio Gonzalez.   Now in 2013 are we just seeing all these guys revert to their normal production levels?

Were we just spoiled by the amazing bench production we got last year?  Here’s a quick table (stats as of 5/31/13):

player 2012 OPS+ 2013 OPS+ Career OPS+
Bernadina 113 34 85
Moore 125 27 90
Lombardozzi 83 55 74
Tracy 112 19 97

In other words, all four primary bench guys outperformed their career OPS+ values (mostly by a 25-30% factor) in 2012, and now all four guys are hitting so far below replacement level as to be drastically hurting the club.

I think the answer to the above questions goes along the following, topic by topic:

  • No, this is better than a .500 team.  The 2013 team is absolutely better than the 2011 team that rallied in September to finish 80-81.  The rotation now is leaps and bounds better than the 2011 rotation.  The offense (on potential anyway) is better.
  • This team is by-and-large the exact same team as the 2012 98 win team.  You can quibble about the loss of Michael Morse‘s charisma and power versus the fire-starting abilities of Denard Span at the top of the order, but then you also have to acknowledge the runs-saved so far this season by having an additional plus-plus defender in the outfield.  Haren versus Edwin Jackson?  At least a wash.  Bullpen additions and subtractions?  Perhaps replacing Burnett, Gorzelanny and Gonzalez with just Zach Duke and Rafael Soriano has weakened the bullpen.  Perhaps not, considering Soriano’s pedigree as a closer and its cascading effect on the rest of the bullpen.
  • The bench over produced in 2012 and is underproducing thus far in 2013, per career averages.  A bit of expected regression to the mean should indicate rising bench offensive production from here on out.  It almost has to; there’s just no way that these four guys are going to hit THIS badly the rest of the season.

But, the early season damage as been done.  At this point, just for the team to match its 2012 win total they’d have to finish the season 70-35.  That’s a .667 winning percentage.  That’s a 110-win pace for a season.  The NL Central right now has three teams with better records than either Atlanta or Washington, the two pre-season NL favorites, meaning there may not even be a NL Wild-Card to fall back on.  This team needs to focus on winning the division or there may not be an October.

This sounds like something Yogi Berra would say, but here goes: you have to score to win.  For me, if they start scoring runs and out-hitting teams, the issues we have with defense, the bullpen and injured starters will become secondary concerns.  As we speak, these Nationals are hitting .229 AS A TEAM.  That’s unbelievable.   Almost amazingly bad.  They’re 28th in batting average.  They’re dead last in team OBP (on a pace for a modern seasonal low OBP in fact), 27th in team slugging, 29th in wOBA and 28th in wRC+.

They need Werth back in the middle of the order.  They need a healthy Harper, who hasn’t been the same since the LA wall crash but really hasn’t been the same since hitting the wall in Atlanta in late April (from a tweet by Mark Zuckerman: Bryce Harper’s stats before April 29 collision in ATL: .356/.437/.744. His stats since: .183/.315/.350).  They’re finally getting LaRoche back on track, and Zimmerman is hitting well.  They need to stop giving at bats to Espinosa, and they need Ramos back to help spell Suzuki (he’s catching nearly every game and his offense has bottomed out in the last month).

I’m going under the assumption, by the way, that Strasburg misses at most one start and that Detwiler returns straight away.  I don’t think Nathan Karns is ready for the big time and the team needs to find another spot starter in the short term (Stammen?).

June is here; a weak schedule and an opportunity to get some wins.  If we’re still .500 on July 1st, then we’ll probably have run out of excuses and decided that we are who we are.

Ask Boswell 4/29/13 edition

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Loved Zimmermann’s 1-hitter last week. Photo AP/Manuel Balce Ceneta

We havn’t done an Ask Tom Boswell chat response in a while; I started one from last week’s chat but ended up deleting it.  Nothing really to add to what Boswell was responding.

Here’s the 4/29/13 edition, after an up and down week with the Nats; getting swept by St. Louis and then taking three of four from Cincinnati behind some of the best starting pitching we’ve seen in a while.

As always, I’ll write a response here before reading Boswell’s, and will edit questions for clarity.

Q: Did Strasburg learn anything from watching Gio’s and JZimm’s efficient starts against the Reds?

A: We talked a bit about Stephen Strasburg‘s issues last week in this space.  I’m not sure what he could have learned from Gio Gonzalez and Jordan Zimmermann‘s consecutive 1-hit outings that he didn’t already know; get ahead of hitters, throw first-pitch strikes, use your whole arsenal.  Cincinnati is a good hitting team, but Atlanta is better.  At least we have the distinct pitching matchup advantage in game one (when the struggling Julio Teheran goes for Atlanta).  Boswell repeats both my points here; first pitch strikes and a favorable Teheran matchup.

Q: Why is blocking the plate by the Catcher now suddenly such an issue?

A: I think it starts with the horrible injury suffered by Buster Posey; a needless debilitating injury that took out an MVP candidate and cost him a year off his career.  Locally, we all remember Chase  Utley‘s cheap shot on Jesus Flores, which essentially cost him two years and a job in the majors.  And I think it is the general climate in sports today to try to avoid concussive injuries at all costs in the wake of the very scary CTE studies that are out there and may change the very fabric of Football as we know it.  Every time there’s another injury, another collision the drumbeat gets louder.  Just because catcher collisions have always been a part of the game doesn’t mean they’re right.  I’m in favor of eliminating the play, and If I was a MLB manager i’d advise my catchers to give the runner half the plate and try to avoid injury.   Boswell agrees.

Q: Why isn’t Solano catching any games?

A: Two reasons: Kurt Suzuki by virtue of the off/on schedule with Wilson Ramos for the first couple of weeks is relatively rested and can catch 6 straight days.  The other?  Jhonatan Solano just isn’t as good of an offensive option, and with the whole team struggling at the plate why put a guy in who is clearly overmatched?  The guy only has about 100ABs above AA after all.  Boswell says the last thing you should do when struggling is bench a veteran for a rookie, especially at catcher.  Ramos returns from the DL tonight so its a moot point.

Q: If you were betting on a team to win the next World Championship in DC who would be that team?

A: You have to think its the Nats right?  Redskins are lookup up with RGIII but aren’t a complete team yet and may be a couple years off (and no more salary cap penalties) from putting together a SB team.  The Wizards may not be relevant for another decade.  The Caps are hot and may go for a decent run in the NHL playoffs, but those series are such coin flips that if they couldn’t win when they were the league’s best regular season team, its hard to see why they’d win now.  Lastly DC United is just getting back to some respectability after years of decline, but winning an MLS title over some of the powerhouses in the league is a tall order.  Boswell says Nats, Caps, Skins.  Doesn’t even mention the other two franchises :-)

Q: Any chance Bud steps in ala with the Dodgers and Frank McCourt and forces Loria’s to sell the team?

A: I think there’s a chance, but something “illegal” would have to happen.  Selig was able to force McCourt to sell when the league was being embarassed and the team was clearly suffering financially because of mis-management.  Selig has allowed Loria to already do several unsavory things to fan bases in both Montreal and Miami, so its hard to see what else could happen.  However, if this supposed SEC investigation finds real evidence of fraud and the team is sued, I can see Selig stepping in and forcing Loria out.  Boswell doesn’t really answer the question.

Q: When he gets sent down next week, would you be surprised if he played second base exclusively given that Espinosa is now struggling with the bat and glove?

A: Anthony Rendon was ALREADY playing multiple positions in the minors this season, starting mostly at 3B but also getting a few games at 2B and at least one at SS.   But I don’t think Rendon would be Danny Espinosa‘s replacement; Steve Lombardozzi would be.  If Espinosa were to be sent to the DL, Lombardozzi starts and then Rendon probably gets called back up to provide some infield cover.  Boswell thinks Rendon could make the transition, but needs more minor league time.  He also talks a lot about Espinosa vs Lombardozzi and (in my opinion) overrates the defensive value of Espinosa a bit.  In the age of rising strikeouts, it isn’t as important to have Gold Glove calibre fielders everywhere.  This is just a partial answer that may need eventual expansion in a blog post of its own.

Q: Mr. Boswell, why did Davey insert Rendon instead of Lombardozzi (following Ryan’s injury) into the lineup and why did he not allow Tyler Moore to start Sunday with Cingrani on the bump?

A: Good questions, both.  I think the team likes Rendon’s defense at 3B more than Lombardozzi or Chad Tracy, so that makes sense at least against lefties.  Why didn’t Tyler Moore play against the tough lefty Tony Cingrani?  I do not know.  You could see Adam LaRoche‘s o-fer a mile away going against the second coming of Randy Johnson (Cingrani’s now has 37 Ks in 23 MLB innings).  Perhaps veteran preference/veteran blind spot on the part of Davey Johnson?  Boswell agrees at least with the LaRoche assessment.

Q: Have the Nats have over-managed Strasburg (in terms of pitch counts, innings limits and pitching to contact) since his injury and gotten into his head?

A: I don’t see Strasburg’s issues being a result of lack of confidence.  If that was the case we’d be seeing 3ip-8 run explosions, not “first inning bad then lights out for the next 6 innings” outings.  Have the Nats over-managed him?  Perhaps; we know Strasburg didn’t like the 2012 shutdown but I supported it (as did the surgeon who performed the damn operation, nobody ever remembers).  I think Strasburg also understands the value of getting hitters to hit your pitch instead of going for blow-em-away Ks every time.  Call it “pitch to contact” but I like to call it “making them hit your pitch.”  You want to try to get a great swing in after falling behind in the count?  Fine; hit my 97mph inside fastball for power, or try to drive my 94mph sinking 2-seamer on the outside corner.  I’ll tip my hat to you if you do.

But Strasburg misses his spots; his command has not been great.  97mph flat on the corner is good; in the middle of the plate is bad.  He’s been missing in the middle way too much.  Boswell defended his column, saying Strasburg needs to “keep it simple.”

Q: What does the team do with Henry Rodriguez?

A: So far this year we’re seeing nothing but “bad” Henry Rodriguez: more walks than hits, too many base-runners, and too many pitches that he just has no idea where they’re going.  He only threw FOUR of Seventeen pitches yesterday for strikes.  Luckily for him, its only a “wild pitch” if someone advances right?  Because some of those pitches were just ridiculous.  I’ll chalk it up to the wet conditions, as (likely) will management.

What can they do with him?  As often repeated in this space, he’s a human roster logjam.  The team has been forced to carry him and his Jeckyl and Hyde pitching for 3 years now because he was out of minor league options when we acquired him.  We’ve invented nebulous DL trips to stash him in extended spring training.  He’s now the lowest leverage guy on the bullpen, when he should be in the mix for 7th and 8th inning opportunities.  But the thing is, there’s not really a guy in Syracuse who is beating down the door to come up.  Maybe Erik Davis, who has pitched really well in AAA and has shown why the team put him on the 40-man.  Or perhaps the team could call up one of its veteran lefties (Fernando Abad or JC Romero) in a pinch.  But I think we’ll see at least another month of H-Rod trying to find his way before that happens.

Boswell raves about his career BAA (.211).  To that I say this: he has now for his career walked 91 batters out of 606 plate appearances.  That’s 15%.  6.1 bb/9.  I’m sorry, but how can you have a reliever with those kind of walk rates be put into any close game?  You can’t.  So in my opinion there’s better ways to use the 7th bullpen slot.

Q: What’s a good ratio for balls to strikes?

A: I’ve always used 60% strikes to pitches thrown as a benchmark for a good outing.  In Jordan Zimmermann‘s 1-hitter he threw 59 of 91 for strikes, or 64%.  In Yu Darvish‘s near perfect game in early April he threw 78 of 111 pitches for strikes for 70%.    Boswell says 65% is a good goal; honestly that’s a bit too high for me realistically.

Q: Do you think Soriano’s presence is helping or hurting Storen?

A: Good question.  Drew Storen‘s struggles so far are really baffling; how do you go from a career 1.099 whip in your first 3 seasons to a 1.7 whip in 2013?  And it isn’t on walks; he’s giving up a ton of hits.  Perhaps it is mental; when Rafael Soriano himself has been a non-closer, his numbers have never been as good than when he’s getting the Saves.  Perhaps Storen is struggling to adapt to this mindset so far.  It also could just be small sample size syndrome too; its only April 29th after all.  Boswell basically says that Storen isn’t a kid anymore and that he should “man up.”

Q: What are Harper’s MVP chances looking like right now?

A: Pretty good.  MVP voting usually starts with “the best players on the best teams” and then whittles down from there.  Bryce Harper is clearly the best hitter on what should be a playoff team, and has been making a game-wide name for himself so far with his performance.  If Washington wins the division and Bryce keeps playing like this, he’s a shoe-in.  However, some guy named Justin Upton has been just as strong; if Atlanta wins the division Upton may be the name people vote for.