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Syracuse/AAA Pitching Staff Year in Review; 2015

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Espino probably had your best overall season out of the AAA staff. Photo via milb.com

Espino probably had your best overall season out of the AAA staff. Photo via milb.com

After skipping the minor league pitching staff reviews in 2014 (that silly thing called work interfered), I’m back for 2015.  I’ll be reviewing the six minor league levels and the major league levels going from high to low.  In this series, we have already published the MLB version for 2015.

For some historical perspective, here’s 2013’s version (featuring Tanner Roark), here’s 2012’s version (featuring John Lannan) and 2011’s version (featuring Tommy Milone) of this post for AAA Syracuse.  In the missing 2014 post I likely would have “featured” either Taylor Hill or Rafael Martin.

All stats are courtesy of either milb.com’s Syracuse Stats page or via Fangraph’s Syracuse Stats page.   Also useful here are the Big Board and the Nats Draft Tracker.  And here’s the Baseball America Minor League Free Agent (MLFA) tracker.  And here’s a list of the official MLB MLFA declarations for 2015.

Syracuse Pitching Staff movement throughout the year (* == lefty)

  • Opening Day Rotation: Cole, Jordan, THill, McGregor, Billings
  • Closing Day Rotation:  Espino, Bleier*, McGregor , THill, Jordan (Cole 9/1 callup)
  • End of Season Swingmen: Walters, Billings
  • End of Season bullpen:   Runion,  Gutierrez, Harper*
  • 9/1 promotions: Solis*, Martin, Grace*, Cole
  • Mid-Season Promotions: Rivero*,  Ross, Treinen
  • Up-and-back: Martin, Grace*, Cole, Jordan, THill, Solis* (not counting 9/1 call-ups)
  • Down-and-back: Bleier*, Runion
  • Demotions: Spann* (was up for spot start), AWilliams (up for spot start),  EDavis, Demny,
  • DL/restricted: Swynenberg
  • Cut/released: Delcarmen, Lively (Japan), RHill*, Simmons, Meek (Korea), Valverde (opt-out), Fornataro

Syracuse starters.  The rotation started the season with Cole, Jordan, Hill, McGregor, and Billings.  It finished the year with Espino, Bleier, McGregor , THill, Jordan and Cole.  Here’s an overview of the starters Syracuse used, starting with the original five starters.

  • A.J. Cole was Syracuse’s opening day starter in 2015.  On the year, he was 5-6, 3.15 ERA, 1.18 whip, 3.90 FIP and 76/34 K/BB in 105.2 innings.  Cole got yanked up and down a couple times on the year, with one ill-fated spot-start for the major league team where he looked completely out of his depth against Atlanta (not exactly the ’27 Yankees).  His K/9 is down, BB/9 is up from his stint in AAA in 2014, though his BAA improved significantly.  I’m struggling not to write him off; after all he’s only 23, he’s still listed in or near the top 100 prospects in all of the minors, and he still could have value.  I just don’t think its going to happen with the Nats.  He’s been pushed down on the starter depth chart and (save an injury) has no chance of making the 25-man roster in 2016.  So is there value in having him pitch another year in upstate New York?  I could see Cole getting flipped to a team that could use a cheap 5th starter candidate.  Outlook for next season: Syracuse’s opening day starter again, unless moved.
  • Taylor Jordan was 5-6, 2.95 ERA, 1.15 whip, 3.41 FIP and 61/27 K/BB in 103 IP.   He’s slipping further and further away from a rotation job that seemed rather likely after his 2013 sterling debut.  His AAA numbers were pretty good this year but he got lit up in his one 2015 spot start (to be fair, it was against Toronto and the best offense in the majors).  His margin for error is just so much lower because he doesn’t get the K/9 that other guys do.  Unlike Cole though, Jordan doesn’t necessarily wow the scouts and may be tougher to move.  I think he plays out his options string as a AAA starter with occasional big league cover and then gives it a go in another organization.  Outlook for next season: Syracuse rotation again.
  • Taylor Hill was 3-10 with a 5.23 ERA, 1.62 whip, 3.85 fip and 70/29 K/BB in 118 IP.  Not a good year for Hill, who got a handful of mop-up bullpen gigs in late May/early June and wasn’t entirely impressive while doing it.  See all that we’ve said for Cole and Jordan, but lower expectations a bit more.  I have Hill near the top of my “guys to get DFA’d to make room on the 40-man roster” at this point and he needs to figure out what changed between 2014 (2.81 ERA) and this year (5.23 ERA, both at Syracuse).  We won’t really know if he’s getting pushed out of the rotation until deeper dives into the AA rotation.  Outlook for next season: Syracuse rotation/release candidate.  1/6/16 update: Hill was DFA’d on the 40-man to make room for Stephen Drew: we’ll update in this space when his roster status is finalized.
  • Scott McGregor (boy I have a hard time typing that w/o remembering the old Baltimore Orioles hurler from the mid 1970s) was 6-6 with a 4.04 ERA, 1.43 whip, 4.67 fip and 63/35 K/BB in 107 IP split between starting and relieving.  He started in the rotation, having signed as a MLFA in June of 2014 originally then re-upped with the Nats over last off-season to continue his role as AAA 5th starter/long-man.  But his performance slipped considerably this year.  I don’t see him listed on the MLFA tracker so its possible he’s signed through 2016 with the team, so we’ll assume he’s reprising his role again in 2016.  Outlook for next season: Syracuse long-man/spot starter
  • Bruce Billings was 8-5 with a  3.63 ERA, 1.26 whip, 3.23 fip and 90/28 K/BB in 121 IP.  The MLFA produced well in a season spent in a similar role to McGregor; 4th/5th starter who made way for prospects as they got moved up but who eventually spent most of the year in the rotation.   His numbers are about what you’d expect for a veteran minor leaguer/classic AAA org guy; he’s declared again and will look to build on his decent 2015 with an organization where he has a better shot at getting called up.  Outlook for next season: in AAA for another organization.
  • Paolo Espino had a nice season, getting promoted up from AA and giving Syracuse 20 starts of 3.21 ERA, 1.15 whip, 3.68 fip pitching (88/19 K/BB in 117 AAA innings).  The 2014 MLFA signing (as with McGregor) stuck with the team for 2015 and could be an interesting piece going forward.  Question is; is he a MLFA for this upcoming season?  My records and research disagree with each other: he’s *not* listed in the BA MLFA tracker nor is he on the official MLB declared MLFA list (links at the top), but the drat tracker says he’s a MLFA.  I’ll assume our private files are not better than MLBs and assume he’s still under team control.  Outlook for next season: Syracuse Rotation.
  • Richard Bleier was 14-5 with a 2.57 ERA between AA and AAA this year.  65/16 K/BB in 171 IP.  Bleier had a nice season, working his way out of AA and finishing the year in the AAA rotation.  His K/9 is shockingly low given his stat line, perhaps why he’s not likely to draw much attention from the team’s executives on 1/2 street.  He’s a declared MLFA already for 2015 and likely plies his trade elsewhere next year.  Outlook for next season: in AAA for another organization.
  • P.J. Walters was acquired mid-season from the Dodgers for cash: for the Chiefs he threw 60 innings of 5.35 ERA and got 5 spot starts towards the end of the year.  52/23 K/BB in his 60 innings for Syracuse on the year.  Walters has significant MLB experience, with 152 IP across several organizations dating to 2008.  He’s yet to really have a decent MLB stretch thought, and his AAA numbers are starting to look just as bad.  Given the team’s dearth of RH bullpen depth options though, I think its safe to say they’ll keep him around to see if he’s an option to consider.  Outlook for next season: Syracuse bullpen.
  • Other guys who got spot starts here and there:
    • Joe Ross had 5 starts before getting called up to the majors.  See MLB write-up for more.  Outlook for next season: Nats #4 starter.
    • Matt Swynenberg had exactly one AAA start of 3 innings this year before spending the rest of the year on the restricted list, which usually indicates retirement.  We’ll see if he gets an official release this coming off-season.  Outlook for next season: retired/out of the organization.
    • Mitch Lively had 2 spot starts but was mostly a reliever; see the reliever section.
    • Sam Runion and Eric Fornataro each had a spot start but were primarily relievers; see the reliever section.
    • Matthew Spann, James Simmons and Austen Williams each got called up to AAA from lower levels to provide exactly one spot start.  See High-A for for Spann and Williams, AA for Simmons writeups.
    • Strasburg and Fister had one-two rehab starts for Syracuse in 2015.

Syracuse Relievers: taking a look at the relief corps.  We’ll organize relievers by going by IP from most to least.  Anyone with less than 10 IP will get cursory analysis at the end.

  • Rafael Martin was Syracuse’s closer for a good portion of the season, getting 12 saves in 50 IP across 46 games.  We discussed Martin at length in the MLB writeup but will repeat our prediction here.  Outlook for next season: Syracuse bullpen/MLB reliever depth.
  • Eric Fornataro was a waiver claim last off-season, then DFA’d off the 40-man roster before the season started.  He then failed to impress, posting a 5.54 ERA in 50 innings before getting released in July.  Outlook for next season: in another organization/out of baseball.
  • Matt Grace had a 2.40 ERA in 48 IP and spent a decent amount of time on the MLB roster (17 ip across 26 appearances).  See MLB writeup for more.  Outlook for next season: Syracuse bullpen/lefty reliever coverage.
  • Evan Meek posted a 2.15 ERA across 37.2 innings in the early part of the year, effective if a bit wild (33/19 K/BB in those 37 ip) and, after not getting consideration for a call-up, asked for his release to sign with a Korean team.  Outlook for next season: still in Korea or with another Organization.
  • Sam Runion posted a 2.91 ERA in 65 IP across AA and AAA after getting picked up in June of 2014 as a MLFA.  1.43 whip, decent K/9 rates, just not enough to get a sniff at a MLB call-up.  Just a classic org guy who is a MLFA this year and likely plies his trade elsewhere next year.  Outlook for next season: MLFA, re-signed per BA ML transactions so AAA bullpen again (updated 12/29/15)
  • Mitch Lively was in basically the same boat as Meek; put up good numbers (2.31 ERA, 0.97 whip, but wasn’t called up and decided to go overseas.  He was released on 6/17/15 so as to sign with a Japanese team.  He posted a 6.75 ERA in 16 games in Japan; not sure what the future holds for him.  Outlook for next season: still in Japan or with another Organization.
  • Juan Gutierrez was signed off the AAA waiver wire in August 2015 and threw 34 mediocre innings (3.47 ERA)for Syracuse down the stretch in a classic “we need someone to pitch innings for us to finish the season” move.  He’s a MLFA and likely keeps on moving for 2016.  Outlook for next season: in another organization.
  • Jose Valverde signed a month into the 2015 season with a typical veteran MLFA contract that guaranteed an opt out after a couple of months if the big club didn’t use him.  Valverde closed effectively for Syracuse until July, when he opted out.  He did not sign elsewhere for 2015.  He’s playing in the DWL but I wonder if he’s done; his last two MLB stints were both ugly.  Outlook for next season: in another organization/out of baseball.
  • Manny Delcarmen had an 8.14 ERA in 21 IP across 18 appearances before getting released in early June.  He played out the rest of the season in Mexico.  Outlook for next season: in another organization/out of baseball.
  • Rich Hill signed as a MLFA late in the 2015 spring from the  Yankees, pitched decently as a middle reliever in Syracuse and likely had an “out clause” forcing the team’s hand, who released him in late June.  He picked up with Boston, pitched well for their AAA squad, got promoted back to the majors, pitched lights out in 4 starts in the end of the season … and signed a $6M contract to pitch for Oakland in 2016. Go figure.  Did the Nats miss the boat here?  This isn’t the first time they’ve had a guy in their AAA rosters who went on to have significant success for another club (Colby Lewis, Marco Estrada, Chris Young).  Maybe they should have given Hill a 40-man job while they were trying out everyone else in late May/early June.  Maybe you could say the same thing about a whole bunch of the MLFA MLB-experienced veterans who passed through Syracuse’s roster in 2015.  Outlook for next season: Pitching for Billy Beane out in Oakland on a $6M deal.
  • Other Relievers who appeared in AAA of note (not including Rehabbing MLBers): Outlook for next season for all of these guys seems the same: either continued “org guy” middle reliever or minor league free agent in another organization.
    • Solis, Treinen and Rivero each had a nominal amount of AAA innings: see MLB writeup for them.
    • Demny and Davis spent more time in AA than AAA: see Harrisburg write-up.
    • Everyone else not mentioned had 5 or less IP in AAA and were mostly in other levels.

Summary

34 different hurlers passed through the Syracuse locker room this year.  Phew.  And it seems like a huge percentage of them have already churned out of the organization, looking for their next stop.  I guess this is the way AAA teams go these days.  We may see more MLFA veteran arms coming into the system for 2016 given the number of guys they’re losing.

Its hard to say whether we really learned much from the AAA staff this year; the team kind of already knew what it had with its highest-end prospects in AAA (the likes of Cole, Jordan and Hill).  Almost the entire bullpen was veteran MLFAs who likely won’t be back, most of whom never got a chance to contribute to the major league team in its time of need in 2015.

2015 World Series matchup and Prediction

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Can Batman bring a championship to New  York? Photo: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

Can Batman bring a championship to New York? Photo: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

Post season predictions so far:

So, neither LCS went as I thought it would and we have the #1 media market in the post-season for the first time since 2009.

Likely Pitching Matchups for Mets-Royals:

Mets-Royals:

  • Game 1: Harvey vs Volquez
  • Game 2: deGrom vs Ventura
  • Game 3: Cueto vs Snydergaard
  • Game 4: Young vs Matz
  • Game 5: likely Volquez vs Harvey again
  • Game 6: likely deGrom vs Ventura again
  • Game 7: likely Snydergaard vs Cueto again

Discussion

The Mets, by virtue of their quite unexpected sweep, get to reset their rotation and opt (somewhat surprisingly) to lead with Matt Harvey instead of Jacob deGrom.  So be it; both guys likely throw twice in the series anyway, so perhaps its a case of getting Harvey a home start in game 5 where he’s likely to be unbeatable.  The Royals had to burn Yordano Ventura in the LCS game 6; he won’t be available until WS game 2, so they seem set to lead off with their 2nd most effective guy Edinson Volquez in the opener.

Man for man, the Mets seem to have an overwhelming pitching advantage here.  Their 1-2-3 starters each are significant throwers, Volquez doesn’t normally scare anyone, and Johnny Cueto had a 36.00 ERA in the LCS.  But the Royals are formidable at the plate: 2nd in the league in BA (by just a point behind the leader), Fewest in the league, by a fairly significant margin, in percentage of strikeouts.  Lastly, as a team they’re the 3rd best squad in the game at hitting fastballs.  So strength meets strength here.

I can see the Royals working the Mets pitchers, who are all young and may be at the tail end of their effectiveness after a season where almost all of them are pitching far longer than they thought.  If the Royals get into the Mets bullpen … are they in trouble?  Meanwhile, the Royals’ starters don’t exactly inspire confidence necessarily, but the Royals bullpen is 2nd to none and with so many off-days there’s no reason to think that their main bullpen arms can’t throw in practically every game.   With the possible exception of one game in NY, I can see the likes of Kelvin Herrera, Wade Davis and Luke Hochevar throwing each night and shutting down the late innings.  This could make the difference if this team can get a lead and hold on to it in a close game.

Side note: how funny is baseball; Wade Davis was an awful starter … 5.32 ERA for KC in 24 starts in 2013.  and in 2 years out of the pen he’s 17-3 with a 0.97 ERA across 139 IP!!  Read that statline again; it wasn’t a typo.  187/43 K/BB in 139 IP over the last two years as a 7th/8th inning guy.  Hochevar was the same thing: 5.73 ERA as a starter in 2012, then a 1.92 ERA when he got moved to the pen in 2013.  They also have the effective Ryan Madsen (former Phillie) out there, and all of this bullpen success is in spite of losing perhaps their *best* arm in closer Greg Holland to injury earlier this year.  Maybe there’s a lesson to be learned for our Nats in terms of bullpen construction and what it can do for you.

Can the Mets keep up their momentum after such a long layoff?  Will the rest help or hurt their young arms? (probably help frankly).

I have a feeling this is the Royal’s year.  I’m not sure how they do it, but I think the home field advantage and the fact that they’ve “been there before” gives them a bit of an advantage.  The Mets’ arms are not infallible; they’ll give up runs.  Is Daniel Murphy still the second coming of Babe Ruth?  Can Lucas Duda get hot again (when he’s on fire, he’s the best hitter in the league, as my fantasy team this year could attest).

Prediction; I like Kansas City in 7.  This goes against my better judgement, because I always favor the arms, but when the bats can neutralize the arms … go with the team that seems like its destined to win.

PS: in case you were not aware of the local connection … Kansas City’s GM Dayton Moore was involved with the baseball program at George Mason University, serving as an assistant coach from 1990-1994, right around the same time as some of my baseball colleagues were there (my former teammates who played at Mason would have graduated in the 92-94 range).  Now as GM in KC, he’s hired former local player Lonnie Goldberg as his scouting director; we mentioned Goldberg in this space back in Jan 2013 when talking about notable local pro players in my big “All-Virginia team” post, and Goldberg was on those Mason teams in the early 1990s with my former HS teammate Billy Emerson (now the AD at Paul VI in Fairfax).  Small world.

ALCS Pitching Matchups and Predictions

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Post season predictions so far:

While my overall predictions were pretty good, on an individual game-by-game basis i’ve been awful.  Silly me thinking that regular season dominance on the mound would lead to performance in the playoffs (ahem, Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke).

Toronto-Kansas City:

  • Game 1: Estrada vs Volquez
  • Game 2: Price vs Ventura
  • Game 3: Cueto vs Stroman
  • Game 4: likely Young vs Dickey
  • Game 5: likely Estrada vs Volquez rematch
  • Game 6: likely Price vs Ventura rematch
  • Game 7: likely Cueto vs Strohman rematch

Thoughts: Its hard to root against Toronto, the presumptive AL favorite since they remade their team at the deadline.  The incredibly curious handling of David Price seems really odd though.

Game 4 is where I think this series turns.  RA Dickey absolutely shut down the Royals when he saw them this year (7ip 2hits) while the Royals basically have no fourth starter; they went to a 3 man rotation in the ALDS because they could thanks to Ventura’s short outing but they likely won’t have that luxury in the ALCS.  No less than three Nats rejects (Estrada, Stroman, Young) will be pitching in this series and they all could have serious impact. I think the Blue Jays can steal a game in KC, take 2 of 3 at home and then have Price pitch them to a win in game 6.  Prediction: Toronto in 6.

Good reference links for the above analysis:

ALDS Pitching Matchups and Prediction

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Two games down, and my prognostication skills are looking good (2 for 2 in WC games).

Lets look at the ALDS series with pitching matchups

Toronto-Texas:

  • Game 1: Price vs Gallardo
  • Game 2: Stroman vs Hamels
  • Game 3: Estrada vs Perez/Lewis (I’d guess Lewis)
  • Game 4: likely Dickey v Holland
  • Game 5: likely Price vs Gallardo rematch

Buehrle doesn’t make the post-season roster and sails into the sunset having gotten destroyed in his final outing (and torpedoing my fantasy championship in the process, handing a free win to Tampa’s starter on the evening).

Prediction: I like Toronto in this series, winning in 3 or 4 games.  Toronto may struggle with Gallardo in game 1 but will have Price to shutdown Texas.  Toronto is RHP heavy and shouldn’t struggle too much against Hamels in the homer-dome.  Estrada and Dickey don’t sound like they’re scary but they’ve both been dominant in the 2nd half (Dickey in particular: 8-1 with a 2.80 ERA since the all-star break). 

Kansas City-Houston:

  • Game 1: Ventura v McHugh
  • Game 2: Cueto vs Kazmir
  • Game 3: Volquez vs Keuchel
  • Game 4: likely Young vs McCullers
  • Game 5: likely Ventura v McHugh rematch

KC catches a huge break only having to face likely Cy Young winner Keuchel once in this series.  The rest of Houston’s rotation isn’t as impressive on a head to head basis.  I think we might see the home team hold serve in all five games here the way the pitching match-ups look.  I don’t see Keuchel losing, nor do I see McCullers losing his home start (even given his youth; he’s been excellent at home).  Cueto had crummy numbers but finished relatively strong and Ventura can be a beast.  Prediction: I like Kansas City in five.

 

Rotation Reviews of your 2015 Playoff Teams & WC Picks

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Arrieta makes for a great WC matchup this week in Pittsburgh. Photo via mlb.com

Arrieta makes for a great WC matchup this week in Pittsburgh. Photo via mlb.com

Welcome to playoff baseball.  Lets look at the playoff rotations of the 8 playoff teams.

Reference links: MLB post-season schedule, Depth Charts for all teams, baseball-reference for stats.

NL Divisional Winners:

  • New York Mets: deGrom, Snydergaard, Harvey, Matz (Colon)
  • Los Angeles Dodgers: Kershaw, Greinke, Wood, Anderson (Bolsinger)
  • St. Louis Cardinals: Lynn, Wacha, Garcia, Lackey (Lyons)

Discussions/Thoughts

  • NY Mets: Only the Mets so far  have announced their rotation order.  Matt Harvey has quelled shut-down-gate talks by finishing out the season and saying he’d take the ball in the NLDS: hard to see him getting beat in his home game 3 start against the Dodgers, especially given his last outing (6ip, 11Ks).  deGrom struggled somewhat down the stretch and Snydergaard is only 22; hard to see them beating the seasoned vets Kershaw/Greinke at home.  We still don’t know if Matz is going to be healthy for game 4, but the potential LA opponent isn’t exactly scaring anyone, so I could see this go to a game 5 back in LA with Kershaw getting a 2nd divisional start.
  • LA: We say this every year: Kershaw is the greatest … and he has a 5+ post-season ERA.  I’ll never bet against him in the playoffs, especially not after the September he had.  Greinke either wins the Cy Young or finishes a close second, and Wood is an effective 3rd starter.  This is a tough rotation to handle.  But they’re going against probably the 2nd best rotation in the post-season, meaning this could be a tight 5-game set.  Or not; watch every game will be 8-7.
  • StL: They don’t look tough … but this rotation led the Cardinals to a 100 win season in a division with two other 97+ game winners.  That’s pretty amazing.  Bet against them at your own peril.  They were 11-8 versus the Cubs, 10-9 (and got outscored) against the Pirates, so I’m guessing they’re rooting for a Pittsburgh win in the WC play-in game.

NL Wild Card

  • Chicago Cubs: Arrieta, Hendricks, Haren, Lester (Hammel)
  • Pittsburgh Pirates: Cole, Liriano, Happ, Burnett (Morton)

Discussion/Prediction: Arrieta has given up 3 runs in the last month … and two of them were in his road start in Pittsburgh on 9/16/15.  I could see a similar start from him again in the Wednesday WC game.  So what can the Cubs do with Cole?  They have also seen him twice in the last month, got shut down at home but got to him on 9/15/15 in Pittsburgh.   Tough one to predict but I’m going with your presumptive Cy Young winner to hold serve in Pittsburgh, sending home the 97 win Pirates for the 2nd straight year in the play-in game.   Prediction: Cubs win.

If the Cubs win, they’ll be at a huge disadvantage against the Cards.  If the Pirates win, Liriano and Happ have been pitching well enough to get them back to their ace quickly and make a series of it.


AL Divisional Winners

  • Toronto: Price, Estrada, Buehrle, Dickey/Stroman
  • Kansas City: Cueto, Ventura, Volquez, Young (Medlen)
  • Texas: Hamels, Gallardo, Holland, Perez/Lewis

Discussion:

  • Toronto is setup for the playoffs and will get Price twice.  The back-end of their rotation doesn’t exactly inspire confidence in a playoff series, but Toronto isn’t about top-notch pitching.  They hope to bash their way to the title and just may do it.  Would you roll the dice and sit Dickey for the 4th spot in favor of Stroman and his live arm?  Do you insult the veteran Buehrle and leave him off your playoff roster (probably not).
  • Kansas City: blew Cueto in an attempt to keep home field and were successful, so Ventura likely gets two NLDS starts.  Nationals re-tread Young suddenly looks like the #4 starter for a WS contender.  Who would have thought that?
  • Texas burned Hamels just to get to the playoffs; they’ll struggle to compete against two David Price home starts.  Who is their #4 in the playoffs?  Will Toronto average 6 runs a game against this staff?  Could be a short-post season run for the Rangers; no judgement here; they’ve done fantastically just to get into the playoffs given the number of rotation injuries and their poor start.

AL Wild Card

  • Houston: Keuchel, McHugh, McCullers, Kazmir/Fiers
  • New  York  Yankees: Tanaka, Severino, Pineda, Nova (Sabathia)

Discussion/Prediction: well, it doesn’t look good for the Yankees; Keuchel is scheduled to start and has thrown twice against New York this year: he threw a 6-hit shutout with 12 Ks against them in June and then threw 7 innings of 3-hit shutout ball in late August.  He’s your shoe-in Cy Young Winner and seems likely to pitch the Astros into the divisional series.   New York counters with Tanaka; in his sole appearance vs Houston he got lit up (5ip, 6runs) and the Yankees seem like they’re struggling just to field a lineup at season’s end.  They get the home game but likely go out a loser to end their season.  And if the Yankees somehow won, they’d have thrown their best pitcher … and one of the presumptive rotation members just checked himself into Alcohol RehabPrediction: Astros Win.


 

Interesting collection of guys with Washington ties featuring prominently in the 2015 playoffs.

  • Dan Haren was nearly released mid-season because he was so bad in Washington 2  years ago, now he’s the #3 starter on a 97 win team.
  • Marco Estrada was waived by the Nats after a long and uninspiring minor league career; now he’s the #2 starter for the AL favorite?
  • Chris Young played a whole season for Syracuse in 2013, working his way back from an injury.  When he didn’t make the 2014 roster he signed with Seattle and has been pretty effective since.
  • Marcus Stroman was an 18th round pick out of HS by the Nats; he was listed as a SS (he’s only 5’8″) but went to Duke, became a power arm and was a 1st round pick by the Blue Jays 3 years later.
  • Colby Lewis signed on with the Nats back in the bad years, failing to make the team out of Spring Training in 2007.  He hooked on with Oakland, playing most of the year in Sacramento before signing a 2-year gig in Japan.

 

Rotation Reviews of your 2014 Playoff Teams

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Will the Nats be staring down Kershaw in the playoffs? Photo via wiki.

Will the Nats be staring down Kershaw in the playoffs? Photo via wiki.

Here we are.  After a crazy trade deadline in July, and an August and September that featured the division leaders (in most cases) solidifying their positions and extending their leads, the playoffs are upon us.

Lets take a look at the rotations of the playoff teams (despite the fact that the four Wild Card teams are just one-man pitching staffs until they win the play-in game).  Who lines up best?  For each team i’ve tried to line the pitchers up one through five, with the 5th guy being the one headed to the bullpen.

(Quick useful links: AL full standings on b-r.com, NL full standings, and post season schedule at MLB.com).

Trade deadline 2014 acquisitions highlighted in blue.  Pre-season acquisitions highlighted in Green for context.

NL Division Champs:

  • Washington: Strasburg, Gonzalez, Zimmerman, Fister, Roark (yes this is how I think it will shake out despite Roark’s great season-long performance; we posted on this separately)
  • St. Louis: Wainwright, Lynn, Wacha, Miller, Lackey (Masterson to the bullpen when Wacha came back)
  • Los Angeles: Kershaw, Greinke, Ryu, Haren, Hernandez, Wright (Beckett hurt, done for year, Ryu coming back, should be ok for playoffs so I’ve inserted him as the #3.  Maholm, Billingsley, Fife hurt all year).

Just look at what the Dodgers have tried to do to keep their rotation afloat in terms of player acquisition over the past couple of years.  I’d like to have their budget.  They will have no less than eleven capable, MLB-experienced starters once they’re all healthy.  Yes Kershaw is unbeatable, but as pointed out earlier this year, they are basically a .500 team otherwise.  Their 4th and 5th starters have been below replacement for much of the past month but they’re getting back Ryu right in time for the playoffs.   St. Louis’ rotation looks just as strong as it has been for the past few years; Wainwright quietly has 20 wins and a 2.38 ERA on the season.  Lynn has been great.  Only Miller has struggled but still has a league-average ERA+.

It is hard not to look at the Nationals’ rotation and claim they’re the deepest one-through-four, despite Gonzalez’s struggles.   I’d take our #4 (Fister) over anyone else’s #4, I think our #3 matches up just as favorably to anyone els’es #3, and Strasburg has a 1.34 ERA in September as the #1.

NL Wild Card:

  • Pittsburgh: Liriano, Cole, Locke, Volquez, Worley (Morton dinged up late Sept, made way for Cole).
  • San Francisco: Bumgarner, Hudson, Petit, Vogelsong, Peavy (Lincecum to bullpen for Petit, Cain out all year)

The NL WC pitching match-up will be Bumgarner-Liriano.  Both teams manipulated their rotations at season’s end to preserve their aces for the coin-flip game.  We’ll do a separate prediction piece.

NL Also-Rans;

  • Atlanta:  Teheran, Minor, Santana, Harang, Wood (Beachy, Floyd, Medlen out all year)
  • Milwaukee: Lohse, Garza, Gallardo, Peralta, Fiers (Nelson and Estrada to bullpen)

The Braves fell so far, so badly in September that they were nearly surpassed by the lowly NY Mets for 2nd place in the NL East.  That’s crazy.  But they still remain here as an also-ran because they were in the wild card race until mid-September.  I still think it is crazy what they were able to accomplish given the starting pitcher injuries they suffered in spring training and don’t quite understand why Frank Wren was fired.  If you want to fire him for his crummy FA contracts so be it; but the man engineered a team that made the playoffs three of the past five years.  Harsh treatment if you ask me.  Insider comments seem to think that Wren lost an internal power-struggle involving Fredi Gonzalez.


And here’s what we’re looking at in the AL:

AL Division Champs:

  • Baltimore: Tillman, Norris, Chen, Gonzalez, Gausman (Jimenez demoted to BP)
  • Detroit: Scherzer, Verlander, Sanchez, Price, Porcello
  • Los Angeles: Weaver, Wilson, Shoemaker, Santiago, Rasmus, LeBlanc (Richards injured, Skaggs hurt)

It is hard to look at these rotations and comprehend where these teams currently stand:

  • How is Baltimore leading the AL East by 12 games?  None of these guys are a league-wide “Ace.”
  • How is Detroit not pulling away from the AL Central with this collection of arms?  Of course, you could ask this question of Detroit over and again the past few years; with a stacked lineup and stacked rotation they have just barely won their (usually) weak division year after year.
  • How does Los Angeles have the best record in the majors with a non-drafted FA and a waiver claim in their Sept rotation?  Would you favor this rotation over Detroit’s?

I guess it doesn’t matter; these teams have bashed their way to their titles and should continue to hit in the post-season.  Apparently the O’s aren’t going to go with Gausman in their playoff rotation despite his good seasonal numbers.  It may be a case of veteran manager going with the veterans, as Gausman’s numbers are pretty much in line with most of the rest of the Baltimore rotation.  The injury to Richards really hurts the Angels: Weaver may be close to an Ace but Wilson showed he is hittable in the post-season and lord knows what will happen when LA has to throw their #3 and #4 choices.

AL Wild Cards:

  • Kansas City: Shields, Duffy, Ventura, Guthrie, Vargas
  • Oakland: Grey, Samardzija, Lester, Hammel, Kazmir

AL Wild Card looks like a knock-out match-up of Shields and Lester; the A’s burned Grey yesterday to get the win that put them in the playoffs.  Oakland has to be kicking themselves; how did they go from (easily) the best team in the majors for the first half to struggling to hang onto the WC spot?   On paper replacing 3/5ths of the rotation (out with Chavez, Milone, Pomeranz and Straily, in with Samardzija, Lester and Hammel) sounded like a great idea … but to me the team’s chemistry was clearly un-balanced.  At least they held on to the spot and avoiding a one-game play-in against Felix Hernandez.

AL Also-Rans:

  • Seattle: Hernandez, Walker, Iwakuma, Paxton, Young (Elias out for year)
  • New York: McCarthy, Greene, Kuroda, Capuano, Pineda (with Tanaka finally coming back at season’s end.  Nova and Sabathia gone all year with injuries).

All Seattle needed to do was *get* to the wild card game … and they’d have great odds of advancing behind ace Hernandez.  But struggled to the finish line.  Meanwhile Cleveland and New York would have been mentioned here a week ago, but both squads just ran out of time to make comebacks.  I’ll give NY credit: they played 7 games better than their pythagorean record with huge chunks of their rotation gone for the season and depending on guys who’s names I had to look up.

Coming soon; a review of the WC matchups with predictions.

 

Written by Todd Boss

September 29th, 2014 at 8:58 am

Post trade-deadline playoff contender rotations

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This year’s MLB trade deadline was crazy.  Never before have so many big-time names moved teams.  And certainly I cannot remember so many big-time pitchers relocating mid-season as well.

Lets look at the playoff contender rotations as they stand right now, with Trade deadline acquisitions highlighted in blue.

NL

  • Washington: Strasburg, Gonzalez, Zimmerman, Fister, Roark
  • Atlanta:  Teheran, Minor, Santana, Harang, Wood
  • Milwaukee: Lohse, Garza, Gallardo, Peralta, Nelson
  • Cincinnati: Cueto, Latos, Bailey, Leake, Simon
  • St. Louis: Wainwright, Masterson, Lackey, Lynn, Miller
  • Pittsburgh: Liriano, Morton, Locke, Volquez, Worley
  • Los Angeles: Kershaw, Greinke, Ryu, Beckett, Haren
  • San Francisco: Bumgarner, Hudson, Lincecum, Vogelsong, Peavy

St. Louis clearly did the most in the NL, acquiring two mid-rotation guys to help cover for the injured Michael Wacha and Jaime Garcia, but it is hard to look at their rotation and say they’d have the advantage over some of their potential playoff rivals.  San Francisco lost its ace (thought he hasn’t pitched like an Ace since signing his new deal) Matt Cain, and his replacement was not inspiring confidence (Yusmiero Petit), so they added former Cy Young winner Peavy (who is pitching better than his 1-11 W/L record .. but not a lot better).  Otherwise the NL playoff contenders mostly stood pat.  There was some small surprise that the free-spending Dodgers wouldn’t try to improve upon the suddenly underperforming Josh Beckett and/or the “fool-me-once” Dan Haren.  They’ll struggle to get through the #3 and #4 starts of their planned playoff rotation to get back to their co-aces Kershaw and Greinke (who was good but not shut-down in last year’s playoffs).  The home-town Nats may find themselves with an uncomfortable decision to make if they make the playoffs; which starter to send to the pen?  Roark is the least renound and the least tenured … but he has clearly been more effective than other rotation members.

It continues to amaze that the Braves are competing, given the losses they’ve faced in their rotation.  They are missing (arguably) their planned #2, #3 and #5 starters in Kris MedlenBrandon Beachy and Gavin Floyd but are getting by thanks to two mid-spring acquisitions (Santana and Harang) and the surprise performances of youngsters Wood and David Hale (who didn’t merit his demotion to the bullpen).

AL

  • Baltimore: Tillman, Norris, Chen, Gonzalez, Gausman
  • Toronto: Buehrle, Dickey, Happ, Strohman, Hutchinson
  • New York: Kuroda, Phelps, Capuano, Greene, McCarthy
  • Detroit: Scherzer, Verlander, Sanchez, Price, Porcello
  • Kansas City: Shields, Duffy, Ventura, Guthrie, Vargas
  • Oakland: Grey, Samardzija, Lester, Hammel, Kazmir
  • Los Angeles: Weaver, Wilson, Richards, Shoemaker, Santiago
  • Seattle: Hernandez, Iwakuma, Paxton, Elias, Young

I didn’t include fringe playoff contenders such as Cleveland or Tampa Bay here; both of those rotations were purged and weakened, and their odds of catching one of these listed WC contendors is long.  Oakland completely re-made their rotation here, attempting to keep up with Detroit, who now features the last three AL Cy Young winners to go along with Sanchez (who finished 4th last year in a season where he led the league in both ERA and FIP).  That’s quite a lineup.  Meanwhile Seattle likely finishes 10 games back of the Angels and could end up facing them in the coin-flip wild-card game … and could end up throwing the best pitcher in the AL at them (which has been noted as a significant down-side to the 2nd wild-card matchup; who wants to see a team lose out to a divisional rival that they bested by so many games in a play-in game?).

New York is the “Atlanta” of the AL this year; they currently have four planned rotation members on the D/L and (likely) out for the year (CC Sabathia, Ivan Nova, Michael Pineda and Masahiro Tanaka).   Their 4th and 5th starters were a 14th and 15th round pick respectively.  They’ve been outscored by nearly 30 runs on the year yet somehow have a winning record.  It seems like just a matter of time before their luck runs out and they settle back below .500.

Who would you rather go to war with, Detroit or Oakland’s rotation?   Probably Detroit’s rotation, given its depth one to four.  But the ALCS could be one heck of a series.

 

 

Nats Major & Minor League Pitching Staffs vs Predicted 2014 edition

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At the end of the 2013 season, I put out a slew of season rotational reviews and then predicted where everyone would start in 2014.

We’re a month into the minor league full-seasons and the rotations are already mostly established (with D/L trips and slight movement as noted here).  So lets do a little navel gazing and take a look at my predictions versus the actuals before we lose too much identity with the makeup of these four full-season pitching staffs from opening day.

As always, Luke Erickson and nationalsprospects.com, the Nats Big Board and the tireless work by “SpringfieldFan” is much appreciated here.


MLB Dec 2013 Prediction

  • MLB Rotation: Strasburg, Gonzalez (L), Zimmermann, Fister, Detwiler (L)
  • MLB Bullpen: Soriano, Storen, Clippard, Stammen, Blevens (L), Ohlendorf, Roark
  • MLB out of Org: Haren, Duke (L), Abad (L), Krol (L), HRodriguez

MLB April 2014 Actual Opening Day Staff

  • MLB Rotation: Strasburg, Gonzalez (L), Zimmermann, Roark, Jordan
  • MLB Bullpen: Soriano, Clippard, Storen, Stammen, Blevens (L), Detwiler, Barrett
  • MLB D/L: Fister, Ohlendorf, Davis
  • MLB notables Out of Organization: Haren, Duke (L), Abad (L), Krol (L), HRodriguez

MLB Discussion: A late spring injury to Doug Fister obsoleted the 5th starter competition, giving both Tanner Roark and Taylor Jordan spots (for now; Roark has “won” the 5th spot thanks to a better April now that Fister is ready to come back).  The biggest news during spring training was the Ross Detwiler “demotion” to the bullpen, but the Aaron Barrett victory over the likes of Christian Garcia and Ryan Mattheus was also notable.  Injuries to Ross Ohlendorf and Erik Davis cleared out bullpen competition, and an early spring training chest injury to Mattheus also made it difficult for him to break camp with the big league club.

Nothing new here: we’ve talked this to death already :-)  Lets move onto the four full-season minor league squads.


AAA Dec 2013 Prediction

  • AAA Rotation: Rosenbaum (L), Jordan, Karns, Young, MLFA or two
  • AAA Bullpen: Barrett, Mattheus, Garcia, Davis, Cedeno (L), Robertson (L), Delcarmen, Alfaro, Stange, Herron (AA?)
  • AAA Release candidates: Meyers, Lehman
  • AAA out of Org: Maya, Tatusko, Clay, Mandel, Torra, Broadway, Crotta, Lowe, Kimball, Accardo, Bramhall, Romero (L)

AAA Apr 2014 Actual opening day

  • AAA Rotation: Rosenbaum (L), Tatusko, Treinen, Hill, Poveda
  • AAA Bullpen: Mattheus, Garcia, Cedeno (L), Robertson (L), Delcarmen, Madrigal,  Roenicke, Stange
  • AAA D/L: Meyers, Davis (mlb 60 day d/l)
  • AAA cut/released/FA:Young, Broadway, Maya, Mandel, Clay, Kimball, Crotta, Torra, Lowe, Crotta,  Accardo, Bramhall, Romero (L)
  • AAA Missing: MGonzalez (L), Laffey

AAA Discussion

Technically I got 2/5ths of the AAA rotation right to start the year: Rosenbaum and a MLFA in the form of Omar Poveda (technically an acquisition but still…).  Karns was traded to obtain our (now) starting catcher Jose Lobaton.  Jordan of course started the year in the majors, but I think he’ll end up back here for a good portion of the season.  Young was granted his release and immediately signed in Seattle to fill one of their rotation spots.  The team resigned its own MLFA in Ryan Tatusko to return and he seems set to be in the rotation for now, but he’s more of a swing-man/org arm and he likely makes way for a starter when needed.  The big surprise is the unexpected promotion of Taylor Hill; he featured in AA but I thought he’d start out there.   Brad Meyers stays in the organization but is “missing” for the time being: he may be headed for the D/L but as of this writing has no assignment.

In the month since opening day, we’ve seen both Mike Gonzalez and Aaron Laffey make their way to Syracuse to cover for the subsequently injured Rosenbaum and promoted MLB-bullpen-covering reliever of the day (Cedeno, Treinen, Barrett and Mattheus have all already spent time on the shuttle between Washington and Syracuse).

In the bullpen; our prediction looks decently correct; 6 of the 8 Syracuse opening day members were called.  The outliers: MLFA signings Warner Madrigal and Josh Roenicke.   Predicted members Erik Davis instead sits on the mlb 60-day D/L, and Alfaro is in the AA squad.   Pat Lehman sits on the AA D/L for now.

AAA “Star Power” summary: So, as has become typical AAA isn’t so much about finishing off prospects as it is about holding spare parts.  In the rotation we had zero 40-man roster players at this point, and really just Blake Treinen features as a potential up-and-comer (with possible future apologies to Taylor Hill of course …).  The bullpen has just three 40-man roster arms (a loogy in Xavier Cedeno, and two injury reclamation projects in Christian Garcia and Ryan Mattheus).   Eventually we should see some culling of this roster when the team needs to find spots for Gonzalez and Laffey in particular.  Syracuse fans may not be getting the best pitching staff out there to cheer on.  


AA Dec 2013 Prediction

  • AA Rotation: Cole, Hill, Solis (L), Schwartz, Treinen (AAA?)
  • AA Swingmen: Gilliam (swingman)
  • AA Bullpen: Benincasa, Mirowski, Holland,  Swynenberg, Grace (L), Bates, KPerez, Spann (L)
  • AA release candidates: Perry, Selik, Demny, RMartin
  • AA out of Org: Broderick, Ray, McCoy, Frias, Holder, Bray

AA Apr 2014 Actual

  • AA Rotation: Cole, Schwartz, Rivero (L), Gilliam, Purke (L)
  • AA spot starts/swingman: Dupra
  • AA bullpen: Herron, Holland, Grace (L), Mirowski, Alfaro, Bates, Espino
  • AA dl: Demny, RMartin, Solis (L), Lehman, Perry
  • AA cut/released/FAs: Broderick, Ray (traded), Bray (L), McCoy (L), Karns (traded), Frias, Holder, Selik, Swynenberg (ret)
  • AA missing: KPerez

AA Discussion

We got some of the rotation correct; A.J. Cole and Blake Schwartz.  We technically got Hill and Treinen correct … just under-valued where the organization would put them.   And lastly Sammy Solis would be in this group had he not suffered a late-spring back injury; for the time being he’s in XST but is on the “missing” list here.  I had Rob Gilliam as the AA swing man anyway; he would likely make way for Solis once he comes back.  The two additional names are Matthew Purke (who surprisingly to me starts the year in AA) and newly acquired Felipe Rivero.  

We got most of the bullpen right: 5 of 8 predicted.  The outliers: Ryan Perry remains in the organization but sits on the D/L; personally I thought he may get released.  Gabriel Alfaro was a MLFA who slots into the bullpen, as was Zach Jackson (who should have been in AAA to begin with and has already been promoted).  Benincasa starts in high-A again and Gilliam is pushed into the rotation.   Recent acquisition KPerez remain missing, along with several other middle relief arms.  Spann started the year two levels lower than I thought he should have in Low-A but currently sits in Potomac.

A couple of long-serving names are now out of the organization; I was surprised to see Cameron Selik in particular being released; I always liked him for some reason.  Its tough being a middle relief RHP with so many of them getting drafted year after year.

AA Star Power summary: A few very important names to the organization sit in AA: top pitching prospect A.J. Cole sits here and will be looking to push for a AAA promotion.  Sammy Solis had rumblings of being turned into a Loogy in Spring Training; now he just needs to get healthy.  Matthew Purke’s destiny remains at a cross-roads thanks to a horrible start to his 2014 AA campaign.  And newly acquired/40-man member Felipe Rivero sits here, hoping to show as a decent bounty for the Nathan Karns trade.  These three guys all sit on the Nats fast-depleting 40-man roster … and they represent 33% of ALL the 40-man rostered players in the Eastern League.


High-A Dec 2013  Prediction

  • High-A rotation: Purke (L), Anderson, Mooneyham (L), Encarnacion, Bacus, Turnbull (bullpen?) (L)
  • High-A swingmen: RPena (swingman), Dickson (swingman)
  • High-A bullpen: Wort (AA?), Holt (AA?), Fischer, Henke, Mendez, Harper (L), Davis, Thomas (L)
  • High-A release candidates: Dupra, Rauh (starter?), Meza (L)
  • High-A out of org: Pineyro, Hawkins

High-A Apr 2014 Actuals

  • High-A Rotation: Rauh, Rpena, Mooneyham (L), Encarnacion, Lee
  • High-A spot starts/swingman: Dickson, Simms, Spann (L)
  • High-A bullpen: Benincasa, Henke, Harper (L), Mendez, Self,
  • High-A cut/released/FA: Smoker (L), Broderick, Ray (traded), Holt, Wort, Applebee (ret)
  • High-A missing: Fischer

High-A Discussion

I thought the team would start Purke in high-A again; instead he is struggling in AA.  I thought Dixon Anderson was old enough to merit the move to high-A; instead he still sits in Hagerstown repeating the level.  And Kyle Turnbull remains on the low-A D/L for now.  Otherwise the High-A rotation prediction looks pretty good: we hit on Mooneyham and Encarnacion, we hit on RPena and Dickson and Bacus as swingmen or starters (they all now sit in those roles in some capacity or another thanks to injuries).

The bullpen predictions are all over the place; both Wort and Holt were released, not pushed higher.  Fischer remains missing.  Benincasa is lower than I thought he’d be.   Dupra and Rauh (who I thought were in jeopardy of getting cut) not only have kept their spots but have been pushing for promotion, which is great to see.  It does go to show that its kind of difficult to do these predictions the lower you go.

High-A Star Power summary: Honestly there’s not a ton of big-time prospect names on the High-A staff.  Mooneyham was a high draft pick but has more or less struggled thus far in his pro career.  Encarnacion could be an up-and-comer in an organization that has struggled to develop its DSL graduate talent lately.  Otherwise the Potomac staff is filled with mid- to late-round college draft arms, older for the level at this point, and likely playing for their careers this year thanks to the higher-end talent sitting in the Hagerstown rotation right now (read further).


Low-A Dec 2013  Prediction

  • Low-A rotation: Giolito, Johansen, Voth, Lee (high-A?) (L), Orlan (L)
  • Low-A swingmen: Suero (swingman), Selsor (swingman),
  • Low-A bullpen: Self (high-A?), Ullmann, Pivetta, Simms, Hollins, Napoli (L), Bafidis (L), Valdez, Walsh (L), Aries
  • Low-A release candidates: Joyce, Waterman, Boyden
  • Low-A out of org: McKenzie, Smith

Low-A Apr 2014 Actuals

  • Low A Rotation:  Giolito,  Johansen, Voth, Pivetta, Anderson,
  • Low A spot starts/swingman: Suero, Anderson,
  • Low A bullpen: JThomas (L), Walsh (L), Cooper, Hollins, Ullmann, Silvestre (L), Sylvestri, Simms, Spann
  • Low A dl: Turnbull, CDavis, Estevez,
  • Low A cut/released/FA: Meza (L), Pineyro (traded), Selsor,  Boyden, Waterman, Aries
  • Low A missing: Orlan, Napoli, Bafidis, Aries, Joyce, Valdez

Discussion

The big three starters in Hagerstown were easily predicted (Giolito, Johansen and Voth).   Lee and Anderson switched places in my predictions (both starters, wrong teams) and Orlan is stuck in XST.   Pivetta was pushed to the rotation after pitching in relief last year.   And then a slew of the Hagerstown arms are participating in a “dual starter” system where by the starters generally have been going 5 and the relievers/spot starters going the other 4 each night.  So the team is getting lots of looks at these pitchers on an extended basis.

This system means there’s really not a “bullpen” being developed in Low-A, which is just as well; I’d rather have 8-10 starter candidates to choose from for higher levels than just 4-5 with guys already being pushed to being short-inning relievers in Low-A.

Unfortunately, we see that a slew of guys have already been cut here who appeared on last year’s rosters.  And, there’s a ton more players currently sitting in XST waiting to compete with June 2014 draft picks in the short-season squads.  Lots of churn here.

Low-A Star Power summary: look no further than the big three starters: they represent 1st, 2nd and 5th round draft picks.  Throw in Pivetta (a 4th rounder) and the team has a ton of vested interest in this rotation.


Phew; that’s a lot of players. I can’t wait to see how the staffs work out this year.  I don’t expect much in the way of commenting on this post; it was one of those drafts sitting in my admin screen that I thought i’d finish off and publish to get it out of the way :-)

Ask Boswell 3/3/14 edition

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Walter's hot start to the spring has him in a lot of people's thoughts... Photo unk via wp.com

Walter’s hot start to the spring has him in a lot of people’s thoughts… Photo unk via wp.com

Well, the entire DC area was off-work with yesterday’s (hopefully) final snowfall of the season snarling roads and cancelling work.  But Tom Boswell was busy chatting.  Here’s how i’d have answered his baseball-related questions from his WP chat session on 3/3/14.

Q: Walters is 5-5 and making some impressive defensive plays. Do you foresee him being more than a September call up this year – perhaps a quality utility player? He also seems like a sharp kid and an interesting character.

A: Well, the only “impressive play” I’ve seen Zach Walters pull off was a 2-run scoring throwing error … but that’s just a “short sample size.”   To answer this question; yes I think Walters is more than a 9/1 call up this year; I think he’s going to be the first guy called up (ahead of both Jamie Carroll and/or Mike Fontenot at this point) if we need middle infield coverage.  I’m worried about his defense (as has been noted in this space before), so I dunno how much we want to depend on him … but so far he’s looking impressive indeed at the plate.  What more does he have to prove in AAA?   The more he hits, the more he pressures the organization to give him a shot at the MLB level.  Boswell doesn’t know either; there’s no room at the inn for him here; maybe a trade is in order to either move him or free up space for him.

Q: If Danny Espinosa can find his swing and cut down on the strikeouts, could Matt Williams get 300+ ABs for him alternating between 2nd/SS/3rd as a super utility?

A: I’m pretty sure that’s the plan for him even if he doesn’t necessarily “find his swing” right now.   Who would you rather go to war with as your backup infielder right now?  Danny Espinosa or a 40-yr old punch-less middle infielder like Carrol or Fontenot?  More and more I think the decision may be Espinosa vs Walters.  Boswell agrees, thinking Espinosa *is* going to be the primary utility guy for this team.

Q: Does Mussina get in to HOF?

A: Hmm.   That is a tough one.   On the one hand his career bWAR is *way* up there (82.7, which puts him in some very heady company right around 50th best in the history of the game). JAWS likes him, and the “Hall of Fame Standards” metric on B-R.com thinks he’s borderline.  On the other hand his ERA isn’t fantastic (career 3.68, career ERA+ of 123, which is about what Jimmy Key or Tim Hudson are pitching to for their careers).  Didn’t get the magical 300 wins or 3,000 strikeouts.  Never won a Cy Young but was in the top 6 in voting 9 times out of 18 years.  Five all-star appearances, seven gold gloves.  7-8 with a 3.42 ERA in 139 2/3 post season innings, where he peaked in his 1997 exploits in an epic Baltimore vs Cleveland series.  I think he was unquestionably one of the best arms in the game for a period of time, even if Cy Young’s don’t show it.  He did not have the greatest reputation with the media though.

Answer?  I’d vote for him, but i’m a “bigger hall” guy.  I think he’s the type who gets in after a few votes to gather steam as people remember how good he was.  But I think its also telling that his best player comparable on B-R is Andy Pettitte, another very borderline hall-of-fame guy.  There’s certainly no PED usage issues with Mussina; maybe that’s enough to get him votes that other players will never get.  Boswell agrees with my sentiments here.

Q: What are the Syracuse Chiefs expecting in terms of a pitching staff this year?

A: In December 2013, here’s what I predicted for Syracuse’s pitching staff:

  • AAA Rotation: Jordan, Karns, Rosenbaum (L), Young, MLFA or two?
  • AAA Bullpen: Barrett, Mattheus, Garcia, Davis,  Cedeno (L), Robertson (L), Herron (AA?), Alfaro, Stange, Delcarmen
  • AAA Release candidates: Meyers, Lehman

What’s happened since then?  We traded away Karns, resigned Ryan Tatusko, resigned Tyler Robinson, signed Clay Hensley , signed a lefty Zack Jackson, signed a righty Warner Madrigal, signed former Nat Luis Ayala, traded for Felipe Rivero, signed Josh Roenicke and (just today) signed another former Nat Reliever Michael Gonzalez.

Phew.  That’s a lot of guys signed who all look like they belong in AAA.   I honestly have no idea how spring training is going to shake out but I do see one issue here: none of these new guys coming in are starters.  So with Karns traded away, we’re looking at just 3-4 true starters left out of all these guys.  Does Tatusko go back into the rotation?   Do the Nats throw a bone to one of the remaining veteran FA starters out there (Joe Saunders has local connections, and Barry Zito could use some work).

If I had to guess, right now, what 5 starters and 7-8 relievers break camp and fly to upstate NY i’d go with the following:

  • AAA Rotation: Jordan, Rosenbaum, Young, Myers, Tatusko
  • AAA Bullpen: Barrett (closer), Davis, Cedeno (L), Robertson (L), Ayala, Gonzalez, Rivero (L), Delcarmen.
  • AAA D/L: Mattheus, Garcia (come on, you know its going to happen)

As for the rest of these guys?  Maybe some push back to AA, maybe the rest exercise out clauses and hit MLFA again.  But there definitely seems like a ton of 4-A/AAA guys for not a lot of spots.  Boswell has no idea and openly solicits input from people who do follow the Nats minors.

Q: Why is the opener in Australia a real game instead of an Exhibition?

A: Probably because the moment it becomes an exhibition thousands of miles away … teams would basically send their AAA squads.  And MLB knows it, so they have to be “real games.”  Boswell just notes how unfair it is to the teams that play.

Q: What’s the best way to get Bryce Harper’s autograph on a special piece of memorabilia?

A: Probably to go to Spring Training and bring along a little kid :-)  That’s my plan, eventually, to use Son-as-proxy to get cool autographs.  Of course, I also have this thing where everytime i’m in a position to get an autograph I have the player customize it to my son … cheesy, sure.  But i’m not acquiring autographs to re-sell them or some fool thing.    Boswell doens’t have any good advice.

Q: Assuming you could afford them all and they would resign, if you had to who on the current roster to make “lifelong” Nats – who would you choose among Desmond/Zimmermann/Strasburg/Harper? And who is the most replaceable?

A: Great question.  The kind that will inevitably lead to 30+ comments here :-)

Assuming money is no object and that they’d all re-sign, I think your “lifelong” Nats have to be in order Desmond, Harper, Strasburg, and then Zimmermann.  All four if you can get them.   I think they’re replaceable in this order: Zimmermann, Strasburg, Desmond and Harper.  But even that order is splitting hairs between Strasburg and Desmond; who is more replaceable?  A top-5 short stop in the league or a top-10 arm?  I dunno.  Harper is in a league by himself; you just can’t replicate power hitters who matriculate to the majors by age 19.

I think Zimmermann is the most replaceable by our pipeline of upper-end arms.  The other three guys, not so much.

By the way, this question goes to the essence of my arguments against “Big Money GMs” as postulated in the post and comments sections of my big GM Rankings post last week.  This question is entirely moot if you have a $200M payroll.  Do you think Brian Cashman ever had to sit down with his ownership and go, “ok we’ve got Derek JeterMariano RiveraBernie Williams and Jorge Posada coming up on the end of their deals: we can only keep a couple of them; which ones are we letting walk?”

Boswell goes slightly different order of replaceability, putting Strasburg ahead of Desmond because the Nats have Espinosa and Walters.  Uh … not sure I think either of those two guys is a “replacement” for Desmond right now Mr. Boswell.  Nonetheless he also postulates that the Nats really can only keep two of the four, and that internally they keep a “5 max contract” limit in place, meaning that they still have some flexibility to keep three of these four guys.  

Q: I am not impressed with the Nats’ bench, because it is a bucket full of strikeouts. Does this open a door for Jamey Carroll to make the Opening Day roster? Would it be a bad sign if he did?

A: I cut-n-pasted this whole question because I love the “bucket-full of strikeouts” line.   Maybe a grizzled vet keeps Carroll instead of Espinosa or Tyler Moore.  Maybe not.  But if you carry Carroll instead of Moore, you are trading one commodity (defense) for another (power).  I’d rather have Moore but understand the positional flexibility of Carroll.   Boswell seems to intimate the decision will be Carroll vs Walters: why does everyone assume Moore is making this team with two other backup outfielders already under multi-million dollar contracts??  

Q: If Zach Walters continues his excellent play from the end of last year deep into the Spring, and Danny Espinosa parties like it’s 2012, do you see the Nats dealing Espinosa this year, or are his defensive skills at short and second too valuable to lose?

A: Yes, I think Espinosa will eventually be traded, as I’ve noted many times here (best summarized in this 1/2/14 Ladson inbox response).   But, he has to regain value first.  If he’s suddenly returning to a near 100 ops+ hitter with his defensive prowness, there’s a whole slew of teams that could use an upgrade at the position (just perusing RotoWorld depth charts, I can see a 2011-esque Espinosa being a desirable choice to current options for at least Houston, Minnesota, Miami, maybe the Mets, Pittsburgh, San Diego, maybe Chicago (WS), maybe the Angels, maybe Seattle, and maybe the Dodgers (so they can move Hanley Ramirez back to 3B).   And that doesn’t even look at the 2B options out there that he could ably fill.  Boswell notes this little nugget; the Dodgers sniffed around on Espinosa exactly to do what I just said; move Hanley back to third.  

Q:  Should we be concerned about middle infield depth? If Espinosa can’t hit over .200, who’s left? Jamey Carroll’s OBP was .267 in 227 ABs last season… yikes.

A:  I’m not concerned because we should only have to count on one of these guys.  Espinosa (as mentioned ad naseum) had a pretty legitimate excuse for his BA last year; he was hurt.  He’s healthy now; there should be no reason he doesn’t return to at least a .240 guy with power he was for his first couple of seasons.  Boswell points at his new favorite fan boy Zach Walters.

Q: Assuming the Nats fifth starter (whoever it may be though I’m pulling for Detwiler) has a great “fifth starter” season, how good can we expect it to be? Has any fifth starter won 15-20 games? 

A: I think a “good” season out of our 5th starter would be 28 starts, a 14-8 record or something like that, and an ERA in the 3.50 range.  I’d love to see that happen.  Has a 5th starter ever won 15-20 games?  I have no idea how you’d find that out; it isn’t as if starters are “labeled” by their rotational rankings like we do in the sportswriting world.  I looked up a couple of options though to see how some “5th” starters fared on some very good teams (looking up the winningest teams I could think of in the 5th starter era)

  • The 5th starter for the 108 win 1986 Mets was Rick Aguilera; he went 10-7 with a 3.66 ERA.
  • The 114-game winning 1998 Yankees 5th starter was Orlando “El Duque” Hernandez, who went 12-4 and had the best ERA+ on the staff, but he wasn’t exactly a “normal” 5th starter.   In reality by the time the playoffs rolled around the real 5th starter was Hideki Irabu: he was 13-9 in the regular season but didn’t get a start in the post-season.
  • Lastly the 116-game winning 2001 Mariners’ 5th starter seemed to be John Halama, who went 10-7 despite a 4.73 ERA and was replaced mid-season by rookie Joel Pineiro. 

Boswell notes a good point; if a “5th starter” wins 20 games … people forget he was the 5th starter.

Q: He had 38 (or thereabouts) errors in Syracuse this year. I don’t think there should be any serious talk of him spending significant time with the Nats until he can clean up his fielding in AAA.

A: I wonder if the person who sent in this question also reads me.  By the way: the break down of Errors (per b-r.com) was 31 errors in 104 games at short to go along with 7 additional errors in 27 games while playing third.  That’s a LOT of errors.  And it is almost entirely consistent with the number of errors he committed in 2012 in AA.  So this wasn’t a fluke season.

We all hear stories about how crummy minor league fields are and how they contribute to poor fielding numbers for players.  Have you ever played on a pro field?  They’re miles better than any amateur field and looked beyond immaculate to me.  I wonder just how much nicer they can get honestly.

But, yes I do somewhat agree with the questioner here; I’d like to see Walters have a cleaner fielding season before counting on him.  That being said, we should all remember that we were ready to string up Ian Desmond for his fielding issues … now he’s a gold-glove calibre talent.   Boswell brings up Desmond’s incredibly poor minor league fielding record … maybe there’s more truth to the whole minor league field issue than we thought.

Q: Do you think Storen might not be long for the team? I’ve felt for some time that Game 5 in 2012 truly affected how Rizzo sees him. Also, many like to say they have three guys who have closed in the bullpen. I feel the 7th, 8th and 9th are all different so that theory doesn’t always work. Thoughts?

A: I’m not sure if 2012 has anything to do with it: Drew Storen definitely got squeezed in that inning and in some ways was very unlucky.  And as my dad likes to point out, Davey Johnson‘s usage of Storen in the series (and his bullpen management overall) really left something to be desired.  Nonetheless, to answer the question no I think Storen is eventually moved, not because of any bad blood but because of simple economics.  We’ve got a really expensive bullpen and three closer-quality guys when only one is needed.  At some point we will cash in.  I’m not sure I believe that 7th/8th/9th innings require different mindsets; you still want guys who can get people out, you want swing-and-miss talents, you want people who can keep the ball in the park and not walk anyone.  Boswell doesn’t really answer the question.

 

Ask Boswell 2/24/14

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You know you want to be there right now.  Photo via wp.com

You know you want to be there right now. Photo via wp.com

The chats come fast and furious; here’s Tom Boswell‘s 2/24/14 online chat.  Not much in this one; i’m thinking we’ll struggle to get to the 50 comments we got on last weeks’ version.

As always, I answer here before reading Boswell’s answer, and freely edit the “questions” for clarity here.  I left out a couple of his non Nats questions this time around.

Q: Predictions on Harper’s line this year?

A: I’ll go .275/.375/.500 with 32 homers.  That’s probably optimistic, but hey, there’s no reason not to project 30 homers for a guy with 80 power.  Boswell went .285/.380/.510 and 30 homers.  Pretty close.  We both just stepped up Harper’s 162-game averages from b-r.com frankly.

Q: Predictions on Fister’s line this year?

A: Now here, i’ll probably be even more optimistic.   I think he goes 17-9 in 200 innings or so, posting a 3.10 ERA and a 1.25 whip.    His K/9 will rise slightly and his ERA will drop thanks to dozens of at-bats against opposing pitchers instead of DHs.   If he can get a couple more wins he’s into Cy Young territory.  Boswell goes 15-11 with a 3.20 era.  

Q: Why is MLB having a hard time coming up with home-plate collision rules?

A: Because there’s no easy answer.  The questioner makes it sound like ASA (as in, the Amateur Softball Association) is so much smarter than MLB because they have a give yourself up rule.  Well duh.  They’re amateurs, as in “these people don’t get paid to do this so lets not build in rules that promote massive injuries.”  My amateur baseball leagues were the same way; “Slide or give yourself up; we all have to go to work tomorrow.”   In the Pros, it isn’t that simple.  One game can decide a pennant, which decides millions of dollars for a team and can change the outcome of a franchise and a fan base.   Honestly, I don’t know quite how i’d write the rules, other than to demand that the catcher not block the plate while demanding that the runner not purposely barge into the guy.  What happens the first time the catcher DOES purposely block the plate and a runner avoids him, only to lose the out and the manager goes ballistic when the old-school umpire fails to properly call the play?  Or the reverse; what happens the firs ttime a runner blasts a catcher who’s giving up part of the plate and somehow doesn’t get automatically called out?  I don’t know; I await the rules like everyone else in baseball.  Boswell is reserving judgement til he talks to more guys about the new rules.

Q: What version of Denard Span will we see this year?

A: I sure hope its the September 2013 edition.  If it isn’t, then at least I hope Matt Williams has the intelligence to quickly move him out of the leadoff spot instead of stubbornly allowing him to hit .220 for months on end from the lineup spot that gets the most at-bats.  Boswell opines about Span and it isn’t positive, but he doesn’t have a guess either.

Q: Does an extension for Trout make sense right now?

A: For whom?  For the Angels or for Mike Trout?  Rumors of a 6yr $150M deal out there for Trout; that’s a $25M AAV buying out one pre-arb year and three arbitration years of Trout.  How does that make ANY sense for the Angels to do?   Even assuming that Trout sents some sort of record for his arbitration years (I believe the record is Ryan Howard‘s 1st year $10M award), he’s not going to come close to that amount over the next four years.  He gets at or close to the MLB minimum this year (call it $550k).  Lets assume that Trout is a $30M player; that’d put his three arbitration numbers at roughly $12M, $18M and $24M.  Under this scenario, the Angels get the next four full seasons of Trout for $54.5 million dollars.  Why would the Angels agree to pay him $100m MORE at this point to guarantee two more years?   Honestly, this is a fantastic deal for Trout and if the Angels offer it up, grab it.   Boswell didn’t even answer the Trout/Angels question.

Q: Projected Nats Bench right now?

A: Well, you need a catcher (Jose Lobatan).  You need an outfielder and we have two under contract for more than a MLB min (Scott Hairston and Nate McLouth).  You need a guy who can play both shortstop and second base .. and for me that guy is Danny Espinosa.  After that you kind of look at what you need in terms of flexibilty off the bench for the last stop.  These four guys include two switch hitters (Lobaton and Espinosa), a righty with some pop (Hairston), and a lefty with some pop (McLouth).  Is Tyler Moore that 25th guy thanks to his prodigous power from the right side?   Is the better way to go with another utility guy like Jamie Carroll or Mike Fontenot?  I don’t know.  I think its Moore for now.  Boswell says Moore for sure and then a coinflip between Espinosa and Carroll; i think its the other way around frankly.

Q: Do Tall pitchers release the ball closer to the plate?

A: Yes of course.  One of the reasons a guy like Chris Young could succeed despite having only an 86mph fastball; the ball was a foot closer to the plate by the time he released it.  I pointed this out when looking at Lucas Giolito‘s mechanics; he’s a huge guy and he takes a massive stride, and I’ll bet he releases the ball a couple feet closer to the plate than some of his peers.   Boswell discounts the advantage tall pitchers have.

Q: Is there “really” a competition for 2nd right now?  

A: Not in my eyes.  I think Rendon is entrenched at 2nd for the next 6 years and Espinosa will be trade bait before we know it.  Boswell says doubtful.

Q: When does Giolito arrive and how does he fit in?

A: Not for a couple more years.  He starts in Low-A with an eye towards mid-season promotion to High-A.  Repeat that in 2015 and he ends the season in AA.  So then you’re looking at an early to mid-season call up in 2016 to keep his service clock off.  That’s a normal progression for a high schooler.   That still puts him in the majors before his 22nd birthday.

How does he fit in?  Well, he projects by all accounts as a #1 starter with a huge arm and big upside.  But the year 2016 could be a pretty significant season for this franchise: Zimmermann, Fister and Detwiler all are FAs that season.   So this team will be looking for starters.  The big 1-2 punch will still be here (Strasburg and Gonzalez) and perhaps one of these FAs to be, but we’ll need reinforcements by that point.  Thankfully we have more than a few already knocking on the door and Giolito could be another new guy joining in.  Boswell hasn’t seen him but reminds us all that he’s only 19.