Nationals Arm Race

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

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Nats Off-season News Items Wrap-up 12/2/11 edition


Tough break this week (well, two weeks ago) for Chris Marrero. Photo unknown via

Weekly wrap-up of Nats and other baseball news that caught my eye.

Nationals In General

  • In a minor move, the team re-signed its own AAA minor league free agent Carlos Maldonado, per tweet from Bill Ladson.  This sets up our catcher depth for most of the system (Flores/Ramos, Solano/Maldonado, Norris/Leon, and Nieto/Fritas) and gives the team some flexibility with the inevitable injuries.  Frankly Norris’ poor 2011 season jeopardizes his progression; he’ll obviously be repeating AA in 2012 and needs to show some improvement to keep his oft-repeated “close to the majors” prospect status.
  • Chris Marrero tore his hamstring and had surgery, two weeks ago.  Two weeks ago!?  How did this little nugget stay hidden for so long?  Most of the beat reporters had the story on 11/29 and had the same opinion as I; this probably frees up a bench spot for someone like Tyler Moore or perhaps another veteran 1-year FA.
  • Nats are apparently interested in Mark DeRosa.  No big surprise; we have basically zero competent utility infielders under contract right now.  DeRosa can be 2012’s version of Jerry Hairston.
  • Sorry to hear that Masn beat reporter Ben Goessling is leaving to join the St. Paul Pioneer Press.  No word on his replacement.
  • Per the soon-to-be-departing Goessling as well: Toronto continues to collect ex-Nats players and signs Garrett Mock to a minor league deal.  I’m starting to sense a Jim Bowden-esque obsession on the part of Dana Brown with our farm players.  So be it; if they were that good when he was here, we wouldn’t have been ranked in the bottom 5 farm systems of the league.
  • Espinosa, Ramos and Strasburg on Keith Law‘s best 50 under 25 list.  Harper still too young to consider.

Free Agents/Player Transaction News

  • There remains to be questions whether or not Yu Darvish will actually post this off-season.  Rumors of a divorce complicating his posting persist, and its now been a week since the end of the NPB season with no word of his posting status.  (Jon Paul Morosi reports).
  • Here’s some non-news: Mark Buehrle won’t come “cheap or short.”
  • Here’s David Schoenfield‘s 3-fix suggestion for each team in the NL east.  His suggestions for us?  CJ Wilson, putting Werth in CF and signing a corner outfielder, and decide whether Davey Johnson is the long term answer.  I’m not sure the 3rd issue matters in the least: Johnson is only 69; there’s plenty of recent evidence showing guys who are older and less accomplished can be successful in the majors.  His argument for Wilson makes sense; he’ll cost half of Pujols/Fielder, wouldn’t be stressed as our “Ace” with Strasburg and Zimmermann around, and will only improve as he goes from the AL to the NL.  I like his Werth answer honestly; I think Werth could hold his own in Center for at least one season, perhaps two.
  • Baseball America’s Rule5 Preview, part 1 (may be subscriber only).  I definitely see some players the Nats could experiment with, given that they are looking for a 7th bullpen arm and a utility infielder.  He mentions our own Brad Meyers as a possible draftee, but not one of the marquee names out there.
  • Ken Rosenthal says the team is really on both Prince Fielder and the cuban-FA Yoenis Cespedes.  I’m not “against” the interest but am surprised by it.  Does the team really want to just give up on Adam LaRoche that quickly?  Do they really think Cespedes could play in the majors in 2012?
  • Well, there goes one of my Nats-trade candidates; the Angels acquired catcher Chris Iannetta from the Rockies for prospect Tyler Chatwood.  My working theory was that the Angels, who have too many outfielders and especially two many guys who can play center field, would be open to trading one of them (specifically Peter Bourjos) to the Nats for a catcher prospect.  Maybe it still can happen.  Of course, Rizzo actually has to be in the country in order to make deals (when this trade went down, Rizzo reportedly was in the D.R. scouting Cespedes).
  • Its just a MLBtraderumors chat, but Tim Dierkes is well respected, at least in my opinion.  He has the Nats as potential FA suiters for most every major name.   Edwin Jackson, Mark Buehrle, Cespedes, Fielder and Pujols, even Jimmy Rollins.  Geeze.

New Labor Deal Items

  • The new CBA seems almost custom-written to drive out the Tampa Bay Rays.  This article summarizes it nicely.  I wonder what the Tampa ownership group said about these negotiations as they were going on.  Clearly their methods of gaining advantages through player development and stockpiling draft picks are now obsolete.
  • Jim Callis reports via twitter but captured here some more restrictive items about the draft we’re finding out.
  • Teams in the 13 smallest markets now enter a Competitive Lottery for picks.  A quick analysis of the 13 teams selected (from Ben Goessling’s article: the Diamondbacks, Orioles, Indians, Royals, Athletics, Pirates, Padres, Rays, Reds, Rockies, Marlins, Brewers) almost identically mirrors the 13 smallest teams by MSA (in smallest to largest order; Milwaukee, Kansas City, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Denver, Pittsburgh, Tampa, Baltimore, St. Louis, San Diego, Minneapolis, Seattle, Phoenix).  The only deviations are the Athletics and Marlins, who would easily be amongst the smallest markets in baseball once you isolate Oakland from San Francisco’s MSA, and Miami from Ft.Lauderdale.  Tangotiger posted an interesting discussion on the same topic (where in the comments I posted this same analysis) on his blog here.

General News; Baseball and other.

  • It looks like the NBA has finally gotten its act together, announcing a tentative deal to salvage the season on Nov 26th.
  • An interesting take on the Bill James “game score” statistic.  (click here for a list of the 20-best scores in the last 70 years).  Highest ever recorded: an 18-inning shutout pitched by Carl Hubbel scoring a 127 game scoreKerry Wood‘s 20-k 1-hitter is the highest score in the last 25 years, scoring 105.  This was also the highest-scoring 9-inning game in baseball history.  My initial guess on the best ever game pitched would be Harvey Haddix‘s 12-inning perfect game, lost in the 13th inning.  Here’s the box: it scored a 107.   The highest ever recorded Nationals game score?  John Patterson in 2005 pitched a 4-hit shutout with 13 K’s, worth a score of 92Strasburg‘s 14-K debut was worth a 75, though interestingly his final 2011 start (6 innings of 1-hit ball over the Marlins with 10K’s) earned a 78There’s about 10 games out there in the 80s range, including an 88 that I can’t possibly think who could have thrown.  Is anyone a baseball-reference subscriber?  I use the site multiple times per day; I should probably register and pay for my time.
  • From the great blogger TangoTiger, an Expos Tribute video.
  • From another great blogger Rob Neyer, a news item about the future of baseball in the Portland, OR area.  Portland does not have a single pro baseball team in the area, not even a short-season or Indy league team, despite being roughly the same size population wise as the MLB cities of Cleveland and Cincinnati, and being larger than Kansas City and Milwaukee.

Looking to the future: Ross Detwiler’s latest start


Detwiler looked rather effective in his thursday start. Photo Haraz Ghanbari/AP via

For fans, the decline of the team over the past month has opened up opportunities to see glimpses of the future.  The trade of Jason Marquis opened up an immediate roster spot and it filled for the night rather ably by Yunesky Maya.  Unfortunately for Maya, his excellent start was shortened by a slight injury, which led to his demotion and subsequently he got rocked in his next AAA start.  Despite having former starter Tom Gorzelanny in the bullpen, manager Davey Johnson seems to have inserted 2007 first rounder and relative disappointment-thus-far-in-his-career Ross Detwiler into Marquis’ spot.  His first start upon his return was on Thursday August 4th against the Rockies in Denver (box/gamer).  How’d he look?

Detwiler took the loss, pitching 5 complete innings.  He gave up 5 hits, 3 walks, threw 68 pitches (only 38 of which were for strikes) with one strikeout.  Interestingly, he got 9 ground-ball outs versus just two fly-ball outs (both of which happened in the 5th, his last inning) and it took the Rockies until the fourth inning to even get a hit.   Detwiler didn’t necessarily seem to be keeping the ball down, but the Rockies were continually driving the ball into the ground.  This is definitely a good sign.  Has the team convinced him to pitch to contact more, and try to strike out fewer batters?  Because that seems to be his strategy.

So, after starting so well, what happened?  The Rockies hitters started squaring up his fastballs, most of which he was missing and hitting too much of the plate, and hit a series of solid line drives towards the end of the 4th and throughout the 5th.  Troy Tulowitzki had an excellent piece of hitting, driving an outside fastball to right field to give the Rockies two baserunners, and Ty Wiggington nailed a liner up the middle to score the first run.  Jayson Werth threw out a runner at the plate on the next single, saving Detwiler another run.  Desmond caught a screamer for the 3rd out of the inning, but the Rockies had hit the last 4 balls on the nose.  This trend continued into the 5th with Iannetta‘s leadoff double, a gapper to left center, followed (after a sac bunt) by another line-drive up the middle to eventually score him.  Detwiler got the last two outs on his only two fly balls (including a 410-foot drive to center from Todd Helton chased down by Ankiel), but Johnson had clearly seen enough.  The third time through the lineup is always tough to get through, even for good pitchers, but clearly the Rockies leading hitters were getting to Detwiler.  Johnson pinch hit for him in the top of the 6th and his night was done, despite only sitting on 68 pitches.

Relievers Balester and Mattheus each leaked in runs to allow Colorado to maintain its lead, the Nats were never really able to get to opposing starter Rogers (despite making him throw 30 pitches in the first), and Detwiler got tagged with the loss.

His arm-action has always seemed easy, and this night was no different.  He seems to be throwing effortlessly, and his release point seems to be a bit higher than the last time he featured in the majors.  This is a good thing; too much side-arm action means his curves move too horizontally to be effective.  On the night he wasn’t quite throwing as hard as we’ve come to expect: he averaged 91.9 on his fastball and humped it up to the 94.4 range on three different occasions (he can hit 95, as evidenced in his 7/5 start), more evidence that he’s working on command instead of power.  He only seems to have 3 pitches; slightly concerning for a “prospect” with his experience.  Fastballs that don’t seem to move much (pitch f/x calls them sinkers, but I don’t see a lot of sink), plus a change-up that he commands pretty well, and a curve that he clearly doesn’t trust (only throwing it twice all night).  In my opinion, major league starters need 4 pitches to survive, unless one of your pitches is such a lights out pitch with movement that you don’t need to develop secondary pitches).  Why doesn’t Detwiler have a cutter or a slider at this stage of his career?  In his only other start this season (July 5th against the Cubs), pitch f/x reveals similar pitch classifications.

Caveat: Colorado is a tough place to throw, so we need more starts to see what he really has.  Curves don’t move as much in the thin air and pitchers have a hard time keeping their hands moist enough to maintain their grips.  Plus conditioning really comes into play.

Conclusions: given the caveat, there is reason to be concerned about Detwiler’s future as a starter.  Is he really a two-pitch starter without a fastball with good movement?  If so, he’s destined for a reliever role.  The Nats clearly have a lot invested in the guy (first rounder, lots of bonus money) and he’s gotten a lot of chances and a lot of looks.  But I wonder where his long-term place is for this team.  Facing an options issue in the spring of 2012 (he’s out of them, thanks in part to Bowden’s ill-advised 2007 call-up), I’m guessing he may be eventually converted to relief.