Nationals Arm Race

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

Archive for the ‘clayton kershaw’ tag

Its make or break time; even more so than a week ago.

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A week ago, at the beginning of this west coast trip, I thought the team might end up going 2-5 between LA and SF.  They faced two good teams on the road against good pitching.

I was wrong.  They went 1-6.  What a Disaster.  Scherzer and Gonzalez both laid massive eggs in games where the Nats held a rare and clear SP advantage (over Vogelsong and Cain respectively) and the team squandered games where the offense uncharacteristically scored more than 1 run (5 and 6 respectively in consecutive losses).  It was no surprise they got shut out by Kershaw, Greinke and Bumgarner … but they had no excuse to lose to these other stiffs.

Amazingly, we’re mid-August and this team has gone 10 and 20 since the all-star break.  10 and 20.  Yes they’ve faced some tough pitching, but a playoff team should at least go .500 against a good team throwing good arms.  This team has not; it has completely folded.

Dave Cameron at fangraphs.com summed up things a lot better than I could.  He has a table of 2014 and 2015 WAR figures that’s pretty amazing.  He also has the playoff odds for both Washington and New York and what they’ve done over the past few weeks and that’s pretty amazing too.

The Nats are 58-59.  Amazingly despite a 6 game losing streak the Mets also fell on their faces this weekend and the Nats didn’t lose much ground in the race.  But they’re 4.5 back with 6 weeks to go and need to step it up.

They now have 6 straight games against two bad teams (Colorado and Milwaukee).   Can they salvage their season and actually win some of these games?

What is wrong with this team?  Is it just everyone unluckily under performing all at once?  Is it the Manager?  Is it the frigging Papelbon trade? I don’ t mean to find some “arbitrary endpoints” but consider:

  • Nats Record before Papelbon trade: 52-46
  • Nats Record since: 6-13
  • Storen’s ERA before the trade: 1.73 in 36 1/3 innings
  • Storen’s ERA since: 10.38 in 8 2/3rds innings.
  • Papelbon’s entire contribution since arriving: 5 IP in 5 games, 2 saves.

Could just be a coincidence.  Demoting a popular, home grown player who was having a great season with a blow-hard attitude guy couldn’t possibly be a reason for a team that has shown itself to be mentally fragile in the past to shut it down, right?

 

West Coast Trip 2015: its crunch time for this team

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I'll take about 10 more of those starts, Stephen, Thank you.  Photo via centerfieldgate.com

I’ll take about 10 more of those starts, Stephen, Thank you. Photo via centerfieldgate.com

I wrote earlier about the ridiculous slate of starters this team had to face coming out of the All Star break.  They went 6-10 in that stretch, an admirable record considering the opposition.  That took the team to a relatively “easy” looking home-stand against two also-rans (Arizona and Colorado) who were sellers at the trade deadline.  The Nats have practically their whole offense back, augmented the bullpen with Jonathan Papelbon, and got their 2nd “Ace” back in Stephen Strasburg.  They have no more excuses; its time to take control of the division from the suddenly energized Mets.

But, instead of rolling to a 5-2 or a 6-1 home stand … the team scuffled to a 3-4 record, with Drew Storen blowing two games single-handedly, Doug Fister blowing a start against an opposing pitcher with about 5 minutes of service time, and one game that the bullpen so badly bungled that Tyler Moore was on the mound at the end.

Not good.

The team now sits at 57-53 (just an 84 win pace) and is a game and a half back of the Mets.  And they now hit the road for a crucial, difficult 10-game west coast swing.  Three games in LA, four in SF and then 3 more against the Colorado team that embarrassed them at home.  This while the Mets play 7 straight in New York (albeit against the same Rockies who I thought were patsies and then against a Pirates team that just battered the Dodgers’ starters in Pittsburgh).

Lets take a quick look at the projected starter match-ups against the Dodgers and Giants.  Because, lets face it, those are the two series that could be pretty telling:

Nats SP Projected Opposing SP
Gonzalez Anderson
Ross Kershaw
Zimmermann Greinke
Strasburg Vogelsong
Scherzer Cain
Gonzalez Peavy
Ross Bumgarner

Daunting.  Are the Nats in danger of being outright swept in Los Angeles?   I think so.  They then move up the coast but face a SF team that plays a lot better at home than on the road, despite what looks to me like a SP advantage for the Nats.  I don’t really trust Gio Gonzalez anymore in big games, and certainly not on the road (where he has a 4.80 ERA this year, versus 2.60 at home).   Joe Ross has a grand total of 7 starts in the majors and he’ll be given the rather daunting task of facing two of the best pitchers in the game back to back in Kershaw and Bumgarner.  Tough.

Here’s the problem.  I can easily see this team going 2-5 in these games.  What happens if the Mets keep winning?

This season is more and more reminding me of 2013.  Tons of expectations, and tons of under performance all year, leading to a mid 80s win season but no playoffs.  If this team returns home a week from now and is at .500 (a very distinct possibility), is it finally time to worry?

The Nats post-All Star game gauntlet of opposing Starting Pitchers

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Hard to win games when you're going against guys like this for two straight weeks.  Photo via bleachereport.com

Hard to win games when you’re going against guys like this for two straight weeks. Photo via bleachereport.com

The Nats just finished being swept at the hands of our closest divisional rival, and the natives seem to be getting a bit restless.

I’m not worried.  You know why?  The Nats just finished one of the most brutal stretches of opposing pitchers I can ever remember.  To wit, here’s what they had to face coming out of the all star break:

  • LA: Bolsinger, Kershaw, Greinke
  • Mets: Harvey, DeGrom, Snydergaard
  • Pitt: Liriano, Locke, Burnett, Cole
  • Miami: Fernandez, Koehler, Haren
  • Mets: Harvey, DeGrom, Snydergaard

The 16 starters they’ve had to face since the All Star game include:

  • Six 2015 All-Stars (Kershaw, Greinke, DeGrom twice, Burnett and Cole)
  • The 2015 all-star game *starter* in Greinke
  • The two-time defending Cy Young winner in Kershaw
  • The guy who probably *would* have won the Cy Young in 2013 had he not gotten hurt (Harvey)
  • The last two NL Rookies of the Year (DeGrom and Fernandez)
  • Seven guys ranked in the top 20 in all of baseball for ERA, not to mention 4 of the top 10 and the two best in Greinke and DeGrom.
  • Five guys ranked in the top 15 in the game for pure fastball velocity (Snydergaard, Fernandez, Cole, deGrom and Harvey).
  • At least half of these guys being what i’d call an “Ace” in this league, and a handful more that are easily #2’s.

That’s just a brutal stretch.  By my estimates, I had the Nats with a favorable pitching match-up just three times in their first 16 games back: Zimmermann over Bolsinger (a win), Scherzer over Locke (a bad loss), and Scherzer over Haren (a 1-0 squeaker win).  Certainly I did not have us with a favorable matchup in any of the 3 games this weekend, and it was little surprise to me to see us get swept.  I thought we’d be lucky to be at .500 for these 16 games and with some bad luck they ended up this stretch 6-10.

Now here’s the good news.  We should get pretty healthy in the next week or so.  We face Arizona at home with four pitching matchups that favor Washington.  Then Colorado comes to town and are throwing a couple of guys that I’ve frankly never even heard of (Yohan Flande and Eddie Butler).  So a week from now we may be on a 6-1 or 5-2 streak and be back in happy town.

The Nats have been very streaky this year.  With apologies to “arbitrary endpoint” haters, you can divide the season into five neat streaks:

Start Date End Date Wins during Streak Losses during streak Record at end of Streak GB or GA in Division Key moments starting/ending streak
4/6/2015 4/27/2015 7 13 7-13 -8 GB Opening day instability of offense leads to sputtering start.
4/28/2015 5/27/2015 21 6 28-19 +1.5 GA Unbelievable 13-12 win in Atlanta on 4/28 ends 7-13 start to season and kicks off a 21-6 run
5/28/2015 6/19/2015 6 13 34-33 -1.5 GB Strasburg lasts just 5 batters on 5/28 and hits the D/L in Cincinnati
6/19/2015 7/12/2015 14 6 46-38 +2 GA Long road trip/tough schedule stretch ends with dominant Ross performance at home 6/20/15, kicking off easy stretch and full-strength pitching rotation
All star break
7/19/2015 8/2/2015 6 10 54-49 even Brutal stretch of opposing pitchers to start the 2nd half.

And now here we stand, on 8/3/15, even up with the Mets for the division and just a handful of games over .500.  Inarguably the Mets made great moves at the trade deadline.  But remember, they’ll face the same post-TJ decision on Harvey that the Nats did with Strasburg in 2012.  And Snydergaard’s max IP was 133 last year; He’s already at that for 2015 and its just the beginning of August.  Both these guys may be looking at regression or outright damage as they rocket past conservative workloads for 2015.  Will that work to the Nats’ favor?

I still like the Nats offensive capabilities once they’re fully healthy.  Its like getting players at the trade deadline, only you don’t have to bet the farm for them.  Will they hold up through the end of the season?  Will Strasburg return and give us the same level of pitching that Joe Ross has in his absence?  Lets hope so.

 

Papelbon for Pivetta: good trade, bad karma?

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Hopefully, this won't be what we remember him for.  Photo via majorleagueaholes.com (yes its a site)

Hopefully, this won’t be what we remember him for. Photo via majorleagueaholes.com (yes its a site)

So, by now we’ve all heard the news.  The Nats acquired disgruntled Phillies closer Jonathan Papelbon for 2013 4th rounder Nick Pivetta, newly promoted to AA.

On the plus side, the Phillies pick up all of his remaining 2015 salary (roughly $4.5M), and Papelbon pre-negotiated his 2016 option at a slightly lower figure ($11M with $3M deferred).  This is no 2-month rental; this is a strategic decision to go with him for the next two years.  So in that respect, what the Nats get versus what they gave up is pretty durn good.  Pivetta is a decent prospect who had a great first half for Potomac and just earned a promotion to AA (where he’s gotten hit around a bit in his first couple of starts).  But in terms of what the team is giving up, Pivetta is a “minor prospect” (mostly on the outside of our top 10 lists) and is perhaps no better than 13th or so on our starter depth chart (just off the top of my head, Scherzer, Strasburg, Zimmermann, Fister, Gonzalez, Ross, Roark, Cole, Jordan, Hill, Treinen, Espino, Voth and Giolito ahead of him), so the Nats trade from a surplus/depth for a position of need.

As a side-effect of the acquisition, AAA catcher Dan Butler was DFA’d to make room on the 40-man roster. Butler has been struggling in AAA and may pass through waivers, but if he doesn’t suddenly the Nats have zero catcher depth on the active roster.  So that’s a risk i’m surprised they took (if it were me, I could have named several other guys I would have risked versus Butler first).

My concern with this deal is more on the non-quantifiable side.  What message does this send to your team?  Drew Storen has been *excellent* this year, has remade his mechanics and (as noted elsewhere) has the 2nd best ERA of any reliever in the game over the last two years.  He’s been just as good a closer as Papelbon this year, and for his troubles gets demoted out of the closer spot.  Storen’s future compensation is *directly* tied to the number of saves (however arbitrary and useless that statistic may be) he earns, and now the team has told him “hey, we know you’ve been awesome but too bad you’re no longer going to have the opportunity to earn saves and therefore we’ll argue against you in arbitration to that end.”  Its no wonder Storen was immediately quoted as wanting to “explore his options” with his representation.

Lets also just say that it would not surprise this observer in the least if Storen’s performance fell off a cliff in the coming months.

You can argue that winning creates clubhouse chemistry; that’s your perogative.  You can talk about how the old Yankees “25 men, 25 cabs” had no problem winning and you can disclaim the chemistry factors that seemed to be in play with recent teams like the 2013 Red Sox or last year’s Royals.  Fair enough.  You can make the argument that these guys are all highly paid and should just accept whatever role is given to them … but lets be honest here; MLB players are human, they have egos, and (especially in the case of a reliever) they want to be the closer.  More to the point, when they do everything management asks of them and still get replaced, its hard not to blame them for being disgruntled.  This isn’t like when the Nats demoted John Lannan: Storen didn’t get beat out in spring training; he’s been absolutely stellar for the past two years.

Is this yet another reaction to Storen’s post-season record?  Lets all say it together: “short sample sizes.”  Storen has a grand total of 5 1/3 post-season innings.  Papelbon’s numbers in the post season are great (a 1.00 ERA in 27 innings), but he hasn’t pitched in October in 6 years.  Clayton Kershaw has a 5+ ERA in the post-season and nobody’s talking about replacing him.  You look for excellence in the regular season and hope it plays out in the post-season.

Two years ago, the management over-reacted to Storen’s post-season performance by over-paying (and burning a first round pick) on a closer in Rafael Soriano who, it should be noted, was himself demoted from the closer role in favor of the man he replaced by the time the deal was done.  Lets just hope that we’re not standing here in September of 2016 with Papelbon and his waning velocity ballooning to a 4+ ERA in his walks year with the ever-steady Storen right back in the same role…

I would have much preferred the team find some middle-to-later innings relievers to strengthen things in the 7th and 8th innings and not upset what Storen has established.  But it isn’t my team.  I just hope Storen can take the high road (much like Tanner Roark has been forced to do) and goes back to being a team player.

A few other excellent takes on the trade I recommend:

Post-publishing update: Joe Posnanski wrote a column 2 weeks onward, crucifying Rizzo and this trade (calling it “The Worst trade of the Season”) for its intangible impact on the team, echoing many of the same sentiments expressed here.

 

Remember this Weekend

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Scherzer can't pitch a no-hitter every time; at some point this team needs to start hitting.  Photo via thesportsquotient.com

Scherzer can’t pitch a no-hitter every time; at some point this team needs to start hitting. Photo via thesportsquotient.com

If the playoffs started today, here’s what the match-ups would look like (and frankly the odds of this setup changing seem slim; maybe SF catches Chicago for the 2nd WC but otherwise this seems like it will be the line-up):

  • Chicago Cubs at Pittsburgh for the wild card
  • St. Louis hosting the WC winner
  • Washington traveling to Los Angeles.

And in said short series, with the Nats traveling to Los Angeles, they’d likely face Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke again in games 1 and 2.

Here’s what the LA 1-2 punch just did to our hapless lineup, on the road no less where Kershaw has a significantly worse stats:

There’s not a pundit in the game who doesn’t think the Nats aren’t going to win the NL East.  That they’re in first place while their #1, #2, #4 and #5 hitters sit on the D/L is pretty amazing (or, perhaps more to the point, a pretty bad indictment of our division in 2015).  But the toll is being seen; between outings against Kershaw, Greinke and (just before the all-star break) Johnny Cueto, we now see the effect of such a weak offense.  MLB-wide Aces will absolutely dominate the Nats.  To the point where we could have Cy  Young himself throwing and not have a chance.  If there’s just one or two legitimate hitters in your lineup, you can pitch around them and attack guys who otherwise would be in AAA or on the bench.  As we just saw.

The question is this: can the Nats offense turn this around?  We have now seen this team make the playoffs twice, each time with the best record in the league, and then each time flail out of the playoffs while barely hitting.  In 2012 they hit .232/.290/.393 and in 2014 they hit .164/.222/.258.

Yes we plan on getting everybody back.  Most of our D/L guys are on rehab assignments as we speak actually.  Can they get their expected form back and make this team respectable on offense?  Can Jayson Werth regain his stroke despite recovering from a broken wrist?  Can Denard Span regain his batting stroke despite a chronic back issue?  I’m less worried about Zimmerman and Rendon; they just need time and luck to stay on the field despite leg/foot issues, and both those guys profile as the kind of middle-of-the-order hitter that would give the Nats lineup some potency back (not to mention some protection for Bryce Harper).

Will it be enough?  Are you worried about looming playoff match-ups?

 

 

Fantasy Baseball 2015: my team

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If Kershaw goes down, my fantasy season is in trouble.  Photo via wiki.

If Kershaw goes down, my fantasy season is in trouble. Photo via wiki.

Standard disclaimer; I do this post every year.  If you don’t play fantasy, you probably won’t care about the 3,000 words contained herein.

Because of the sheer number of players discussed, i’ll eschew my normal bolding of all names except those picked for my team so this post is more readable.


My annual Fantasy Baseball draft was held this week.  Here’s a re-cap of my team and my drafting strategy.

I had the 4th pick in a 12-team snake draft.  6×6 head-to-head league (the extra categories are OPS on the hitting side and Losses on the pitching side).  I obtained the 4th pick through a new draft order selection wrinkle introduced this year; instead of our typical double blind method of picking the order, we each submitted our choice of which pick we wanted.  I selected the 4th pick, thinking that Kershaw would be available here (or if he wasn’t, then i’d get one of the top 3 hitters who had slipped).  I won a coin-toss and kept the 4th pick.

Strategy: I wanted to be strong in Starting Pitching.  I wanted at least two top-notch closers.  I did not want to over-book OF positions early.  I would wait for 1B and the middle infield positions.

At the end of the day, here was my team, in order of round selected:

  1. Clayton Kershaw, LAD
  2. Stephen Strasburg, Wsh
  3. Michael Brantley, Cle
  4. Corey Dickerson, Col
  5. Aroldis Chapman, Cin
  6. Matt Harvey, NYM
  7. Christian Yelich, Mia
  8. Brian Dozier, Min
  9. Chris Carter, Hou
  10. Joaquin Benoit, SD
  11. Evan Gattis, Hou
  12. Michael Wacha, StL
  13. Santiago Casilla, SF
  14. Phil Hughes, Min
  15. Lucas Duda, NYM
  16. Shelby Miller, Atl * (see below)
  17. Taijuan Walker, Sea
  18. Jhonny Peralta, StL
  19. Adam LaRoche, CWS
  20. Nick Castellanos, Det
  21. Brandon McCarthy, LAD

Round by Round thinking

(the notation will be Xth overall pick in our draft, and then the Yahoo o-rank and 2014 rank, and then blended average ADP of the guy selected.  the Yahoo “o-rank” is Yahoo’s 2015 projected ranking).

  • Round 1 (4th overall pick, O-rank of #5, 2014 rank of #1, Blended ADP of #3) I had the 4th pick; the first three picks were Trout, Stanton, McCutchen.  So my choice was either  Kershaw or Goldschmidt?  I had targeted Kershaw by asking for the 4th pick, there’s lots of 1b depth, so going going with my SP.  I targeted Kershaw simply because, despite his ADP and o-ranks, he was the #1 fantasy player last year despite missing a month of starts, and I see no reason why he shouldn’t pick right back up.  I feel like i’m getting great value at #4 by grabbing the #1 overall player.  The pick: Clayton Kershaw.  I’ll say this: I fully believe that Max Scherzer will have a massive year and may very well be a better fantasy player than Kershaw in 2015 … but at the #4 pick, the odds of getting Scherzer to return to me were beyond nil.  I could have gambled on a lower pick in the draft and taken Scherzer later (his blended ADP rank is #16), but there are a couple of “unique” teams in the league who draft home-town heavy.  Sure enough, Scherzer went like 3 picks later, a pretty big overdraft.
  • Round 2 (21st, 22nd, 48th in 2014, 23rd ADP): I really wanted Josh Donaldson here, and he went the pick before me.  Which left me with a problem.  Beltre, Freeman, Brantley all avail… don’t like any of them at this spot.  Rendon was best ADP but as we all know he’s looking more and more like he’s missing half the season.  After Rendon in ADP was Bumgarner and Sale; don’t really like either of those guys at this spot.  To heck with it: I picked Stephen Strasburg.  I really, really didn’t want to have two SPs at this point, and I promise I was not emulating some sort of pitcher heavy strategy.  If it hadn’t been for Rendon’s injury, I would have taken him there and been very happy.  From a value perspective, outside of Straburg’s somewhat disappointing 2014 rank this pick was right in line with Yahoo and ADP.
  • Round 3 (28th, 20th, 6th in 2014, 26th ADP) I wanted Harper here, badly.  Literally, as I was thinking “Harper” he got picked, 2 spots before me.  My choices then were the likes of Freeman, Posey, Price, Brantley.   I don’t like Freddie Freeman this year; who would bother to pitch to him?  Posey is always hurt, and I just couldn’t take a 3rd pitcher in a row.  So I took Michael Brantley.  Ironically, Brantley was under consideration for my 2nd round pick and was still available 7 picks later.  This is always a good sign.  Why did he drop to 26th in ADP despite being #6 in Yahoo last year?  Maybe it was a career, unrepeatable year, but he’s not going to bottom out.  20/20 guy, great average, great OPS and plays in a hitter’s park.  I think this could be a great pick.
  • Round 4: (45th, 40th, 39th in 2014, 42nd in ADP) Needing more hitters, I was looking basically at Dickerson and Marte here.  ADP has Lester, Reyes; I don’t trust Lester going to the bandbox in Wrigley, and I can’t stand Reyes in fantasy (always, always hurt).  So I grabbed Corey Dickerson.  Dickerson had great power numbers in the minors, and had 24 homers in just 436 ABs last year.  Plays in Colorado, his slash line is great.  I feel like he’s going to be a top 25 fantasy producer in 2015.
  • Round 5 (52nd overall pick, 55th ranked, 93rd in 2014, 46th in ADP): a strategy play; last year I got my two main closers in the 5th and 6th rounds and rode them all year.  Knowing that i’d not be picking again for 17 picks … and after my hopeful “sleeper” pick Pujols got nabbed right after my 4th round pick, I looked at the board, didn’t like what I saw (Longoria, v-Mart, Hamels, Car-Go; injury, injury, Phillies and injury concern) and grabbed the best closer out there.  Aroldis Chapman.  Yes Kimbrel might be “better,” but Kimbrel is pitching for a team that will struggle to 65 wins.  He’s just not going to get the save opportunities that Chapman will.  Chapman’s 2014 rank took a tumble with his injury; he should continue his ridiculous K/9 rate and get plenty of saves for Cincinnati.
  • Round 6: (69th overall pick, 44th ranked, did not play in 2014, 57th ADP).  For the entirety of the 6th round, I was hoping for Harvey.  He lasted, he lasted … and I got him at 69th overall pick.  Matt HarveyPerhaps an overdraft based on who he is and what he’s coming back from.  However, at the time of this pick he was top available player on my ADP list.  Debate in the room ensued; is he on an innings limit?  Is he ready to come back?  My answers are this: Harvey, when healthy, was a ridiculous combination of awesome.  Here’s some 2013 stats: in just 26 starts he racked up 6.5 wins on Fangraphs.  His FIP and xFIP numbers showed that he was due for *improvement*.  And perhaps the most amazing stat to me: he was 3rd in the league in K/BB ratio despite leading the league in fastball velocity (for starters).  In other words, he threw the hardest *and* had nearly the best control in the league.  Sign me up.  I think I may have just gotten a top-5 starting pitcher at the end of the 6th round.
  • Round 7 (76th overall pick, 77th ranked, 33rd in 2014, 60th ADP).  Ok, at this point I’m in somewhat of a roster pickle.  I have four pitchers and just two batters and face a big gap before picking again.  I targeted best hitters available: I wanted someone like Fielder, Davis (gone, gone).  I targeted Kyle Seager: he went 2 before me.  So I looked at the 2B available (there were a ton at this stage on the board) and Brian Dozier was the pick.  20/20 guy, average not great, but 33rd ranked in 2014 so undervalued here.  I got him basically a round later than he should have gone by ADP.  Good value, and I have a decent 2B (which I struggled with last year).
  • Round 8: (93rd pick, 72nd ranked, 76th in 2014, 80 ADP).  Another big gap in the drafting; lots of guys off the board.  Is it too early for Kris Bryant?  I really, really want Bryant.  But … he went 3 picks before me.  d*mn.  I was left with very little to choose from; ended up taking Christian Yelich.  Not the sexiest pick; he was good for me last year.  Lots of steals, not a ton of power.
  • Round 9: (100th pick, 108th ranked, 94th in 2014, 118th ADP).  Now what?  another reliever?  Too early for a reliever.  There were good starters on the board (like Arrieta and Teheran).  But I need bats now.  This is the problem with drafting too many starters early; there’s a ton of value these days later on (as we’ll see with some of my later picks).  So I grabbed best hitter on ESPN’s board and the best position player that didn’t duplicate what I already had (OFs): went with Chris Carter.   Huge bat; 37 homers last year.  Awful average.  How does he only score 68 runs when 37 of them were his own homers?  You have to think some of these numbers will improve as Houston improves.  He should have more RBIs with better hitters getting on base ahead of him.
  • Round 10: (117th overall, 145 o-rank, 141st in 2014, 164 ADP).  In the 17 picks after I thought about doing a closer … there was a huge run on them.  Literally 8 of the 17 picks between my 9th and 10th round were closers.  I was hoping that some one like Cishek held out but was disappointed?  I took Joaquin Benoit.  I figure that any pitcher in San Diego is 15% better just because of the stadium, and figure that SD will be better this year and Benoit will get saves.
  • Round 11: (124th overall, 110 o-rank, 289 2014 rank, 84th ADP).  As with Bryant, I was starting to look at uber-rookie Pederson as a sleeper … and he went way, way early.  I also really liked Pablo Sandoval here .. and he got picked just before me.  Damn.  Evan Gattis is C eligible … best hitter available at this point and he fills my troublesome C slot.  Got him.  Gattis hit 22 homers in just 369 ABs last year, and he’ll be a DH/corner OF in a better hitter’s park.  So he should stay healthy.  Healthier that is.  He should immediately get OF eligibility too.
  • Round 12: (141 overall, 138 o-rank, 232 in 2014, 132 ADP) Was looking at Garrett Richards … but he’s hurt and won’t be back til end of april.  No more decent RPs right now.  Can wait for later on.  I went with best starter avail; Michael Wacha.  This isn’t without concern here; a “stress fracture” in his throwing shoulder cost him half of last year.  I don’t forget though just how dominant he was in the 2nd half of 2013; we’ll hope he returns to that form.
  • Round 13: (148 overall, 171 o-rank, 149 in 2014, 193 ADP).  I need a hitter; there are still 1Bs available, and plenty of them.  But I  don’t like what’s here at this point for this pick; I can wait.  So I got the best remaining closer on the market: Santiago Casilla.  And by “best” i mean, closer for the best remaining team.  You don’t want to invest in a closer of a last place team, or a team with a bullpen by committee approach.  Casilla might get supplanted by Romo (and in fact someone picked up my closer “handcuff” later on).  We’ll keep an eye out.
  • Round 14/15: (From here out, instead of going round by round, I’ll talk about the pairs of picks since they’re so close together). I still need SS and 3B.  I still don’t like what’s out there for either and  and think they can hold on.  So the goal was to get another good hitter plus a good SP.  I ended up with Phil Hughes (165th overall, 122nd o-rank, 102 in 2014, 133rd in ADP) and Lucas Duda (172nd overall, 143 o-rank, 72nd in 2014, 155th ADP).  I like both of these picks for value: Hughes was great in 2014, came out of nowhere pitching in a big park.  By his 2014 numbers he went at least 5 rounds later than value.  Meanwhile I had been looking at Duda for a while; had him last year, he’s a masher.  30 homers in 2014 while being platooned a little bit.  He always scares me when he bats against the Nats.
  • Round 16/17: At this point, I *still* don’t have a SS or 3B.  Except that, once again, looking at the board and who is available, I know I could wait on both and still get someone as decent in two rounds from now as if I drafted them now.  So instead, I’m looking at pitchers.  There’s no reason to take an experimental closer at this point, so I’m getting the two best SPs on the market.  I got Shelby Miller (189th overall, 228th o-rank, 323 2014 rank, 243 ADP) and Taijuan Walker (196th overall, 202 o-rank, 417 ranked last year, 223 ADP).  Both are overdrafts by nearly all measures, but both are interesting plays.  All i’ve been reading about Walker this spring is how awesome he’s looked, how un-hittable he’s been.  And he pitches in the pitcher-friendly confines of Seattle.  Miller is more of a riskier pick; he’s moved teams, is now pitching for the woeful Braves … but i’ve always liked him and have had him every year he’s been a pro.  There is a caveat to the Miller pick; apparently the guy who picked right before me asked me about Miller’s availability, and I either neglected to answer or misled him … so he picked Jose Quintana.  When I picked Miller immediately after him, he cried foul.  I promise I wasn’t trying to mis-lead him, and will immediately offer Miller in trade for Quintana as soon as the rosters are available.  So instead of Miller, I may have Quintana.
  • Round 18-21: by this point it was past 11:30pm and we were pretty beat.  I had been targeting two specific SS/3B players for several rounds, knowing they probably wouldn’t get picked.  So I grabbed them, the best hitter remaining, plus one last SP to finish off the draft.  My last four picks were:
    • Jhonny Peralta (213 overall pick, 193 o-rank, 150th last  year, 198th ADP): 20 homers last  year, serviceable BA and OPS.  Best SS left.
    • Adam LaRoche (220th pick, 126 o-rank, 79th last year, 153 ADP): I love grabbing guys like LaRoche; because he plays a busy position, and despite his production last year (79th best fantasy player should have put him in the 7th round), he drops to almost waiver-wire levels.  I’ll take that for the 19th round; 79th best player last  year with the 220nd pick.
    • Nick Castellanos (237th pick, 267 o-rank, 303rd last year, 300+ in ADP).  Might be a wasted pick; of the 3B left, he sounded the most intriguing.  But 300+ in ADP, he wasn’t even on my draft list.  I’m pretty sure that the likes of Prado, Headley and even *gasp* Alex Rodriguez are 3B eligible and on waivers; we may make an early waiver wire move.
    • Brandon McCarthy (244th pick, 170 o-rank, 332 last  year, 236 ADP): last pick, and I got what I think will be a pretty serviceable starter.  McCarthy’s numbers were awesome for the Yankees last  year once he escaped the sh*tty situation in Arizona.  Now he goes to LA, where he’s probably the 3rd starter for the 2nd best team in the NL.  This could be a seriously good pick.

 


So, here’s the team by positions:

  • C: Gattis
  • 1B: Carter, Duda, LaRoche
  • 2B: Dozier
  • SS: Peralta
  • 3B: Castellanos
  • OF: Brantley, Dickerson, Yelich
  • SP: Kershaw, Strasburg, Harvey, Wacha, Hughes, Miller/Quintana, McCarthy
  • RP: Chapman, Benoit, Casilla

Initial glance: I can’t remember the last time I had starting pitching anywhere near this good.  Incredibly weak at 2B/SS/3B.  Not the greatest set of hitters in general.  Relievers have one great, one good, one crap-shoot; i’ll have to play the waiver wire game to try to grab an extra.

Here’s a breakdown of the 2014 stats for my hitters:

H/AB R HR RBI SB AVG OPS
Gattis 97/369 41 22 52 0 0.263 0.81
Carter 115/507 68 37 88 5 0.227 0.799
Duda 130/514 74 30 92 3 0.253 0.83
LaRoche 128/494 73 26 92 3 0.259 0.817
Dozier 145/598 112 23 71 21 0.242 0.761
Peralta 147/560 61 21 75 3 0.263 0.779
Castellanos 138/533 50 11 66 2 0.259 0.7
Brantley 200/611 94 20 97 23 0.327 0.891
Dickerson 136/436 74 24 76 8 0.312 0.931
Yelich 165/582 94 9 54 21 0.284 0.764

So, nearly every guy was a 20+ homer guy; lots of power on this team.  Three 20+ SB guys; that’s a good sign.  The averages aren’t great; that’s just a blended average of about .270.  My blended OPS is about .808.  By way of comparison, the MLB average last year was .253 for BA and .714 in OPS.  I can’t remember what the fantasy averages were, but i’m guessing these are going to be low.  A surprising number of decent RBI guys here; three that were near 100 RBIs last  year.  Another three guys who were near or over 100 runs.  So maybe this team won’t be that bad on the offensive side.

Let the games begin!

Ladson’s inbox 3/1/15

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Roark; the lost starter.  Photo Alex Brandon/AP via wp.com

Roark; the lost starter. Photo Alex Brandon/AP via wp.com

I havn’t posted something in weeks.  I was facing writers block.  What is there to really write about in the early weeks of Spring Training?  Thankfully, MLB.com beat reporter Bill Ladson piped up with an inbox!

As always, these are (presumably) real questions from (presumably) real Nats fans who took time out of their busy day to email Ladson personally.  And as always, i write my response here before reading his so as not to color my own opinion.


Q: Would the Nationals consider a six-man rotation so Tanner Roark isn’t left out?

A: Uh, no.   You don’t commit $210M to Max Scherzer and then immediately tell him and all the other veterans in the rotation that their entire work preparation process is going to be adjusted, for the first time ever by any MLB team, to account for a guy with a year and a half of service in Tanner Roark.

By going to a 6-man rotation for an entire 162-game season,  you’d be lowering the number of starts for each guy by at least 6.  What would you rather have, 6 less starts by the likes of Scherzer and Strasburg, or 20-some starts for Roark?  I like Roark too, and trust me I wouldn’t mind a bit for a trade to enable him to be the 5th starter again, but this team has made its bed with this contract.

Ladson says that Roark will be in the bullpen as the long man when the season starts.  Cutting-edge analysis!

Q: If the Nationals and Jordan Zimmermann cannot come to an agreement and he signs somewhere else, what kind of effect will this have on the Nationals in general?

A: Not as much as you might think.  Yes, losing a near-Ace is never good, but this team has a 5-win starter pushed to the bullpen right now, and has significant depth in AAA.  I’m of the belief that a lot of the Scherzer signing was about providing rotation stability through the next few years as the team (likely) parts ways with a significant portion of its current rotation through free agency.  Two years from now you’re probably looking at a rotation that goes Scherzer, Gonzalez, Roark, Cole and Giolito.  And the Nats will have likely acquired a whole slew of upper-level prospects either by trade or by virtue of supplemental draft picks.  Ladson confidently says “there will be no effect at all” because Matt Williams “won’t allow it.”  Beat reporter bravado?  Of *course* there will be an effect; we’re talking about what will probably be a difficult and nasty separation when all is said and done.

Q: Why is Gio Gonzalez starting over Roark? Roark is clearly better. Gio won’t throw strikes.

A: Simple answer: because Gonzalez is lefty.  Secondary issue; Gonzalez is getting paid more than 20 *times* what Roark is in 2015.  I’m not entirely in disagreement here; I’ve been a Roark believer ever since he got called up.  But he’s going to be the odd man out in this competition no matter how good he looks this spring.  Ladson says Gio was his good ole self after getting past his shoulder injury.

Q: I like Drew Storen and his numbers are, overall, excellent. I have to admit, though, I worry about him in close games in the postseason. Am I overly concerned about the fact that 2012 and ’14 playoffs saw him blow saves in key games?

A: Three words for you: Short.  Sample.  Size.  Like it or not (and I too fall victim to this), you just can’t look at a couple of outings in the post-season and judge a guy.  Exhibit 1a: Clayton Kershaw‘s career post-season era is 5.12.    I killed Storen‘s 2014 NLDS performance too, but in reality he was rather unlucky to blow Zimmermann’s gem (Posey kind of fisted the ball into center and then Sandoval hit a down-and-away pitch for a very well-placed double to tie the game).  Storen’s regular season record speaks for itself right now: he had a frigging 1.12 ERA last year!

I say, lets worry about *making* the post-season first, then lets see how the games go.  At some point you have to think the Nats will, you know, hit the ball in a post-season series to the point where it won’t matter whether our closer will pitch a 1-2-3 ninth.  Lets you forget: the team slash line in the 2014 NLDS was .164/.222/.258 and in the 2012 NLDS was .232/.290/.393.  That’s not very good.

Ladson basically says the same thing.

Q: Do you expect a significant contribution from any of the players signed to Minor League contracts?

A: We already talked about the NRIs in depth.  Short answer is this: *maybe* one of the veteran right handers might have an impact but not immediately.  And we might very well see one of the lefty-hitting vets pushing Tyler Moore for the last spot on the roster.  Ladson thinks Mike Carp in particular is going to contribute off the bench … which means he’s predicting Carp to make the 25-man roster?

Q: Which Minor Leaguers could get called up during the season?

A: I think we’ll see at least three of the AAA starters at some point during the  year (guessing Treinen, Cole and Jordan).   I could see Matt Grace getting some MLB time.  I’m sure we’ll see a backup catcher in Dan Butler at some point.  If Michael Taylor doesn’t start out on the 25-man roster to replace Jayson Werth, then i’m sure we’ll see him at some point.

Perhaps a better question would be this: what non-40man roster guys could you see getting call-ups mid-season?  Rafael Martin comes to mind, as well as someone like Emmanuel Burriss or Matt Skole if the team gets stuck on the injury front.

Ladson mentions Cole and Grace … and then says that he could see Giolito getting a September call-up.  That’s the dumbest thing i’ve read in a while.  Why in god’s name would we want to start Giolito’s clock early like that??  If he’s MLB ready by the end of 2015 …. then you sit on him in AAA for two weeks in 2016 and call him up mid-April.  That’s it.  Every day he spends pitching useless innings in Sept 2015 would be another day the team has to wait for him in 2016. 

Q: Do you see Danny Espinosa on this team in 2016? It seems like he has gotten a lot more slack than anyone on the team. Additionally, what are the team’s long-term plans for second base?

A: I see no reason for Espinosa not to be on this team in 2016, if he continues to serve as an adequate backup.  There’s no reason to cut him, and there’s not really anyone better who is that close to the majors.   I’m not sure if i’d characterize the way the Nationals have handled him as “slack;” in fact the Nats have now gone out of their way to replace him as the starter both with the Cabrera trade mid-2014 and with the Escobar trade this past off-season.  Long term you have to think the team is waiting for Wilmer Difo as the long-term 2B solution .. if he can step it up and advance two levels in 2015 he may be ready by mid 2016.   I’m not as convinced that Tony Renda (who is “ahead” of Difo on the org 2b chart) is a real MLB prospect at this point.  There’s practically nobody of interest at either AAA or AA right now who rates as a prospect.  There’s also a possiblity that newly-acquired-but-not-yet-with-us Trea Turner could be a solution … but the team is hoping he can stick at short.  Ladson basically agrees.

 

 

Post-Winter Meeting bonanza; who improved their Rotation the most? Who’s left?

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Lester joins the Cubs revolution. Photo via weei.com

Lester joins the Cubs revolution. Photo via weei.com

(Editor’s Note: sorry for the tardiness on this post: I had it completely written and a WordPress or browser glitch lost 1,000 words of analysis.  So it took a bit of time to cobble back together what I had originally written.  Then the Souza trade hit, then the Cuban thing … and this got pushed).

What a GM Meeting week!  As one of the Fangraphs guys noted, there were so many transactions, so fast, that he literally gave up trying to write individual analysis pieces and went to a running diary of sorts.  I was amazed at the number of significant deals and trades made, especially when it came to starters.  So lets take a look at who shook things up.

Many teams are making big moves (almost the entirety of the the AL it seems) to try to win in 2015.  And many teams have revamped their rotations.  First, here’s a quick run through teams that have made significant acquisitions to their starting rotations (using BP’s Depth Charts page, Fangraphs stats pages and BaseballProspectus‘ page for injury history, Cots at BP for salaries, and of course baseball-reference.com).

Teams who have Improved

  • Chicago White Sox: acquired Jeff Samardzija in Oakland’s fire sale to go with established ace Chris Sale, the highly underrated Jose Quintana.  From there the White Sox have question marks: John Danks is just an innings eater at this point and Hector Noesi was not effective in 2014.  But the White Sox have one of the brightest SP prospects in the game at AAA in Carlos Rodon (their fast-rising 2014 1st round pick) and their former #1 prospect Erik Johnson (who struggled in his debut in 2014 but has a good minor league track record).  So by the latter part of 2015 the White Sox could be a scary team for opposing offenses to face.
  • Minnesota: just signed Ervin Santana to join a rotation containing the rejuvinated Phil Hughes, the decent  Ricky Nolasco and first rounder Kyle Gibson.  If they (finally) call up former Nats 1st rounder Alex Meyer to fill out the rotation and replace the dregs that gave them #4 and #5 rotation spot starts last year, they could be significantly improved.  Of course, the problem they face is the fact that they’re already playing catchup in the AL Central and still look like a 5th place team in this division.
  • Los Angeles Angels: adroitly turned one year of Howie Kendrick into six years of Andrew Heaney, who should thrive in the big AL West parks.  If the Angels get a healthy Garrett Richards back to go along with the surprising Matt Shoemaker, they may have a surplus of decent arms being stalwards Jered Weaver and C.J. Wilson.
  • Miami has spent some cash this off-season, but they’ve also gone shopping and upgraded their rotation significantly.   After acquiring the decent Jarred Cosart at the trade deadline, they’ve flipped bit-players to acquire Mat Latos, added Dan Haren and a $10M check  while parting ways with the unproven youngster Andrew Heaney, and should get ace Jose Fernandez back by June 1st if all goes well with his TJ rehab.  Add to that Henderson Alvarez and the Marlins look frisky (their new-found depth enabled them to move Nathan Eovaldi to the Yankees).  Rumors are that Haren won’t pitch unless he’s in SoCal, but $10M is an awful lot of money to turn up your nose at.  This is an improved rotation no doubt, and the rest of the Marlins lineup looks good too.
  • New York Mets get Matt Harvey back.  Enough said.  Harvey-Jacob deGrom is one heck of a 1-2 punch.
  • Chicago Cubs: added an ace in Jon Lester, re-signed their own effective starter in Jason Hammel, and will add these two guys to the resurgent Jake Arrieta.  Past that you have question marks: Kyle Hendricks looked great in 2014.  And the Cubs gave nearly 60 starts last year to Travis Wood (5+ ERA) and former Nat Edwin Jackson (6+ ERA).  I could envision another SP acquisition here and the relegation of Wood & Jackson to the bullpen/AAA/scrap heap.
  • Pittsburgh was able to resign Francisco Liriano and get A.J. Burnett for an under-market deal.  This should keep them afloat if they end up losing Edinson Volquez in free agency.   Otherwise they have decent back of the rotation guys and will get back Jamison Taillon perhaps in the early part of the year.  This could help them get back to the playoffs with the anticipated step-back of NL Central rivals Cincinnati.
  • Los Angeles Dodgers said good bye to a stable of starters (Josh Beckett, Chad Billingsly, Kevin Correia, Dan Haren, Roberto Hernandez and Paul Maholm are all either FAs or have been traded away) and signed a couple of guys to go behind their big three of Kershaw, Greinke and Ryu who could quietly make a difference (Brandon McCarthy and Brett Anderson) if they remain healthy.  That’s a bigger “if” on Anderson than McCarthy, who excelled once leaving the circus that Arizona was last year before the management house cleaning and should continue to excel in the huge park in LA.  Were I Andrew Friedman, I’d re-sign at least a couple of these FA guys for 5th starter insurance … but then again, the Dodgers also have a whole slew of arms in AAA that could be their 5th starter.  Or they could just open up their wallets again; there’s still arms to be had.  Nonetheless, replacing 32 Haren starts with McCarthy will bring immediate benefits, and whoever they end up with as a 5th starter has to be better than the production they got last year out of that spot.

Team most improved: likely the Cubs.

What teams’ rotations have taken step backs or are question marks heading into 2015?

  • Boston: after trading away most of their veteran rotation last season, the Red Sox seem set to go into 2015 with this rotation: Clay Buchholz, Rick Porcello, Justin Masterson, Joe Kelly and Wade Miley.  This rotation doesn’t look as good as it could be; Buchholz was awful in 2014, Porcello is good but not great, Masterson the same, Kelly seems like a swingman, and Miley has back to back 3.98 FIP seasons in the NL and will see some ERA inflation in the AL (though not as much as normal since Arizona is a hitter’s park).  But Boston’s entire AAA rotation are among their top 10 prospects, so there’s plenty of depth they could use in trade or as reinforcements. 
  • Detroit: Arguable if they’ve really taken a “step back,” but you have to question their direction.  In the last two off-seasons they’ve traded away Doug Fister, Rick Porcello, Drew Smyly, prospect Robbie Ray and have (seemingly) lost Max Scherzer to free agency so that they can go into 2015 with this rotation: David Price, Justin Verlander, Anibel Sanchez, Alfredo Simon and Shane Greene.   Is this a winning rotation for 2015?
  • Kansas City: They have replaced departing free agent ace James Shields with newly signed Edinson Volquez, keeping newly acquired Brian Flynn and 2014 draft darling Brandon Finnegan in the bullpen for now.  KC is going to take a step back and will struggle to compete in the new super-powered AL Central in 2015, but have a slew of 1st round arms that look like they’ll hit in late 2015/early 2016.  I do like their under-the-radar signing of Kris Medlen though; he could be a very solid addition to their rotation if he comes back from his 2nd TJ.
  • Oakland will have a new look in 2015, having traded away a number of core players.  But their rotation should be OK despite having traded away Samardzija and let Jon Lester and Jason Hammel walk.  Why?  Because they stand to get back two very good rotation members who missed all of 2014 with TJ surgery in A.J. Griffin and Jarrod Parker.  They should re-join the 2014 rotation members Sonny Grey, Scott Kazmir, newly acquired Jesse Hahn and either Jesse Chavez/Drew Pomeranz to form another underrated rotation.  Of course, if these guys have injury setbacks, it could be a long season in Oakland.
  • Texas made a couple of acquisitions, re-signing their own Colby Lewis and trading for Nats cast-off Ross Detwiler (who should fit in immediately as their 4th starter), to go with ace Yu Darvish and recently recovered Derek Holland.  But Texas could significantly improve come mid-season when injured starter Martin Perez should return.  The big question mark for Texas is Matt Harrison, who had to have two vertebrae in his back fused and may not return, ever.   But if Harrison can come back, that gives Texas an opening day 1-5 that’s pretty improved over last  year.
  • Cleveland didn’t exactly have the world’s best rotation in 2014 but has done little to improve it going forward.  They will continue to depend on Corey Kluber, newly minted Cy Young winner to head the line, but then its question marks.  Carlos Carrasco was great in a combo role in 2014; where’d that come from?  He was awful in years prior.  Is Trevor Bauer dependable?  They better hope so; that’s your #3 starter.  They just signed Gavin Floyd after his injury shortened 9-game stint with Atlanta last year; he’s no better than a 4th/5th innings eater.   Is Gavin Salazar ready for prime time?  He wasn’t in 2014.  And there’s little else on the farm; the Indians don’t have a significant starting pitcher prospect in their entire system. 
  • Atlanta: The Braves surprisingly parted ways with Kris Medlen and not-so-surprisingly parted ways with Brandon Beachy, Gavin Floyd, Ervin Santana and Aaron Harang.  That’s a lot of starter depth to cut loose.  They look to go into 2015 with ace Julio Teheran followed by the newly acquired Shelby Miller, the inconsistent Mike Minor, the excellent but scary Alex Wood and under-rated 5th starter David Hale.  That’s not a *bad* rotation … but it isn’t very deep.  They have cut ties with guys who made nearly half their 2014 starts AND the guy who went 10-1 for them in 2012.  They (inexplicably) picked up a starter in Rule-5 draft who had TJ surgery in June; are they really going to carry him that long on the active roster?  They have no upper-end SP talent close to the majors.  If one of these 5 starters gets hurt, Atlanta could be in trouble.
  • Philadelphia: all you need to know about the state of the Philadelphia franchise can be summed up right here: A.J. Burnett declined a $12.75M player option to play for the Phillies in 2015 and, instead, signed for 1  year, $8.5M to play for Pittsburgh.  They will head into 2015 with their aging 1-2 punch of Cole Hamels and Cliff Lee, the former being constantly dangled in trade rumors but going nowhere because the Phillies GM clearly over-values what a guy like Hamels and his guaranteed contract can actually bring back in return in this market.  Past Hamels/Lee there’s a bunch of non-descript names (David Buchanan, the waiver-claim Jerome Williams and the untested Cuban FA Miguel Gonzalez).   Can this team even broach 70 wins?
  • Cincinnati is moving backwards: they’ve traded away Mat Latos for  pennies on the dollar (Keith Law says there’s “make-up issues.”) and moved the effective Alfredo Simon for other bit players.  They’re putting a ton of faith that one-pitch Tony Cingrani will last a whole season and the youngster Anthony DeSclafini (obtained for Latos) will comprise a workable rotation.  They do have a couple of decent prospects at AAA (Robert Stephenson and Michael Lorenzen) but they seem to be accepting that they’re taking a step back.
  • St Louis traded away their least effective starter (Shelby Miller) and acquired the best defensive RF in the game (Jason Heyward).  Not a bad bit of work.  But they now will go into 2015 with a question mark in the rotation; prospect Carlos Martinez will get the first shot and could be good; oft-injured Jaime Garcia is still hanging around, and there’s a couple of good arms in AAA who could matriculate into the rotation via the bullpen as Martinez did in 2014.  It could end up being addition by subtraction (Martinez for Miller) but we’ll see.
  • Arizona has boldly re-made their rotation this off-season, dealing away 2014 opening day starter Wade Miley for a couple of SP prospects and dealing for 6 arms in total thus far.  New rotation may not be flashy at the top (the enigmatic Josh Collmenter is slated for the opening day start in 2015) and is followed by former Tampa pitcher Jeremy Hellickson (traded for prospects), the two pitchers acquired from Boston for Miley in Rubby de la Rosa and Allen Webster and then a cattle-call for the 5th starter competition this spring.  Arizona also ended up with former Nats farm-hand Robbie Ray, still have the highly regarded Archie Bradley waiting for his free agent clock to get pushed out a year, plus 2013’s darling Patrick Corbin coming off of TJ, not to mention Bronson Arroyo coming back from TJ later in the season.  So there’s a lot of arms out there to choose from, eventually.  But getting to Bradley-Corbin-Hellickson-de la Rosa-Webster from where they’ll start will be rough.
  • San Francisco‘s 2015 rotation could be just as effective as it needs to be (after all, they won the 2014 world series having lost Matt Cain mid-season and given the ineffective Tim Lincecum 26 starts).  They seem to set to go with Cain, WS hero Madison Bumgarner, the age-less Tim Hudson, and then with Lincecum and re-signed aging FA Jake Peavy.  This pushes Yusmeiro Petit to the bullpen for the time being and seemingly closes the door on Ryan Vogelsong‘s SF time.  Rumor had it that they were all over Jon Lester… and missed.  So a big acquisition to permanently sent Lincecum to the pen could still be in the works.  SF’s bigger issue is the loss of offense.  But the NL West is so weak they could still sneak into the playoffs again.  I list them as question marks though because Cain might not be healthy, Lincecum could still suck, and Hudson and Peavy combined are nearly 80 years of age.
  • San Diego has completely re-made their offense; do they have the pitching they need to compete?   They signed Brandon Morrow to replace 32 awful starts they gave to Eric Stults last year; that should be an improvement.  But they’ve traded away their 2nd best guy (Jesse Hahn) and are now set to have two lesser starters (Odrisamer Despaigne and Robbie Erlin) compete for the rotation.  The Padres re-signed lottery ticket Josh Johnson (coming off what seems like his millionth season-ending arm injury) and still have TJ survivor Cory Luebke in the wings, possibly ready for April 1st.  Their 1-2-3 of Andrew Cashner, Tyson Ross and Ian Kennedy isn’t that inspiring, but in San Diego’s home park, you don’t have to be Sandy Koufax to succeed.  Have they done enough to compete in the NL West?

Which team has taken the biggest step back?  Clearly for me its Arizona.

Who is left?

Well, clearly the two big FA names are Max Scherzer and James Shields.  Scherzer gambled heavily on himself when he turned down 6/$144M.  Would the Tigers make him a new offer?  Are the Nationals possibly involved (I hope not for the sake of the team’s chemistry; what would it say to players if the Nats jettisoned Jordan Zimmermann so they could give Scherzer $150M?).   He’d make a great fit in San Francisco … who wanted Lester but would get nearly the same great performance out of Scherzer.  Meanwhile Shields could fit in Boston or for the Dodgers to give them the depth they’ve lost.

Past the two big names, you have older guys likely to go on one year deals.  There’s no longer really room for Ryan Vogelsong in SF; he could be a decent option for someone.   Aaron Harang has earned himself a likely 2 year deal as someone’s back of the rotation guy.  Guys like Kyle Kendrick or Joe Saunders could be someone’s starter insurance policy.  And of course there’s a slew of injury guys who are like pitching lottery tickets.  Beachy, Billingsley, and Alexi Ogando all sound intriguing as reclamation cases.

But, once you get past Scherzer and Shields, anyone looking for a big upgrade will have to hit the trade market.  The problem there seems to be this: there’s just not that many teams that are already waving the white flag for 2015.   From reading the tea leaves this off-season, Atlanta is giving up, Cincinnati may be close, Philadelphia has begrudgingly admitted they’re not going to win, Arizona has already traded away its assets, Colorado is stuck in neutral, Oakland may look like they’re rebuilding but they still will be competitive in 2015, and  young teams like Houston and Tampa aren’t giving up what they currently have.  So a GM might have to get creative to improve their team at this point.

Written by Todd Boss

December 22nd, 2014 at 9:24 am

Posted in Majors Pitching

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2014 MLB Awards Predictions vs Results

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Kershaw cleans up the BBWAA awards.  Photo via wiki.

Kershaw cleans up the BBWAA awards. Photo via wiki.

Here’s who I predicted would win.

  •     NL MVP: Kershaw
  •     NL Cy Young: Kershaw
  •     NL Rookie: deGrom
  •     NL Manager: Bochy
  •     AL MVP: Trout
  •     AL Cy Young: Felix
  •     AL Rookie: Abreu
  •     AL Manager: Showalter

Here’s who actually won, along with some links to other awards

End result predicting 2014’s BBWAA awards: 6 for 8.  My worst prediction season on record.  2010: 8 for 8.  2011: 8 for 8.  2012: 7 for 8.  2013: 8 for 8.  I swear I only looked up these links because I was re-categorizing posts and adding in a filter for “awards” related posts :-).  Usually its a bit easier to predict the BBWAA electorate in these awards; I suppose that the general evolution of the writers is slowly bringing more statistical analysis into the mix, meaning that the “dinosaur” method of voting is heading out the window.  Probably for the better.

Links to other awards, some of which I used to try and track/predict but no longer.

My 2014 End-of-Season Awards Predictions

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No more excuses; Trout has more than earned his MVP.  Photo Gary Vasquez/US Presswire via espn.com

No more excuses; Trout has more than earned his MVP. Photo Gary Vasquez/US Presswire via espn.com

First draft of this post: May 8th, 2014, just 5 weeks into the season, with the announcements of MLB players of the month and early MVP watch columns from national baseball writers .  

My Predictions:

  • NL MVP: Kershaw over Stanton, McCutchen and Lucroy
  • NL Cy Young: Kershaw over Cueto and Wainwright
  • NL Rookie: deGrom over Hamilton
  • NL Manager: Bochy over Roenicke
  • AL MVP: Trout over Victor Martinez, Cano, Abreu and Cruz.
  • AL Cy Young: Felix, barely over Kluber, Sale, others.
  • AL Rookie: Abreu over Tanaka, Shoemaker, Ventura, and others.
  • AL Manager: Showalter over McLendon, Yost.

So, how did the major awards evolve this year?  Read below for a running diary of the front runners for each major award.  It makes for a fascinating read of the season.  By my sense, the awards kind of went like this from April to September:

  • NL MVP: Tulowitzki early, then Stanton, maybe McCutchen, then Kershaw, back to Stanton and finally Kershaw with Stanton’s injury.
  • NL Cy Young: Cueto at the start, Jose Fernandez til he got hurt, then Bumgarner, Wainwright, then clearly Kershaw.
  • NL Rookie: Chris Owings, then Wong, then Hamilton, maybe Polanco, suddenly deGrom.
  • AL MVP: Abreu then Bautista, Encarnacion, Cruz, then Trout, no doubt.  Everyone else racing for #2.
  • AL Cy Young: Sonny Grey, then Scherzer, then Buehrle, then Felix, maybe Kluber, down to wire.
  • AL Rookie: Abreu, then Tanaka, Ventura, then clearly Abreu with Tanaka’s injury.

Ahead of this post, some non MLB-affiliated awards have been given out.

  • Matt Williams was named The Sporting News’ NL Manager of the Year, which readers here probably laugh at considering the mess he made of his pitching decisions in the NLDS.
  • Craig Kimbrel and Greg Holland won the NL and AL reliever of the year awards, named after Trevor Hoffman and Mariano Rivera respectively.
  • The Gold Gloves were announced  yesterday: you’d have to be crazy to try to predict those :-)

 


This year, instead of printing links to writers early and mid-season predictions, I’ll just throw those links into the monthly reviews for context.   This post is more like a season-long diary of the evolution of these awards; the sections were written in each month as the season progressed.


April
:

Players-of-the-month in April do not very frequently win MVPs, Cy Youngs or Rookie of the Year awards, but we may see a surprise in 2014 thanks to some big-time performances.  But here’s where we stand after the first month.

Opinions this month: Corcoran on early candidates.

  • MVP candidatesTroy Tulowitzki, Giancarlo Stanton in the NL.  Colorado’s Charlie Blackmon deserves mention for his amazing April.  Jose Abreu and Jose Bautista in the AL (with apologies to perennial contenders Miguel Cabrera and Mike Trout, both of whom started slow).
  • Cy Young candidatesJohnny Cueto and Jose Fernandez in the NL.  Sonny Grey and Max Scherzer in the AL.
  • Rookie of the year candidatesChris Owings in the NL, Jose Abreu in the AL.  Masahiro Tanaka could make some noise in the AL though for sure.

May:

Opinions this month: Corcoran’s musings throughout the month.  Stark’s “First Quarter” awards.  BaseballMusing’s Cy Young Tracker analysisScott Lindholm‘s two month predictor.

  • MVP candidates: Still Tulowitzki in the NL (he has a full 1.0 WAR lead midway through the month and had accumulated 4 WAR just six weeks into the season!  Even more impressive; he’s hitting ABOVE .500 at home thus far), but Stanton has also been on fire (as my fantasy team can attest).  Yasiel Puig may be a lightening rod, but he’s also one of the best players in the NL and has put his name into the NL MVP conversation by winning player of the month..   Jody Donaldson has been on fire in the AL and is getting some notice, but also so has Nelson Cruz, who may be the best FA signing of the off-season.  Abreu went on the D/L.  Bautista remains the best offensive WAR player in the AL.  But by months’ end Trout was near the top of the WAR list despite a “slump.”  Edwin Encarnacion cannot stop hitting and is leading Toronto to a big lead in the AL East, and won player of the month in the AL for May, but i’m doubtful he’ll eventually figure in the MVP race.
  • Cy Young candidates: Cueto still leads in the NL when early front-runner Fernandez goes down to TJ Surgery, despite the Nats tagging him for 8 runs in a mid-May game.  Adam Wainwright is quietly having an excellent season, as is Zack Greinke.  Jeff Samardzija might be the best pitcher of them all but still has zero wins thanks to the vagarities of the Win statistic (that and his team’s purposelly awful offense).  Madison Bumgarner won May pitcher of the month, but doesn’t seem like he’s nearly as dominant as the other pitchers mentioned here.  Lastly we need to mention Tim Hudson‘s great start.  Scherzer and Tanaka still involved in the AL race, but Mark Buehrle‘s turn-back-the-clock season is gaining notice and Houston’s Dallas Keuchel is having an amazing season for the 110 loss Astros.   Meanwhile Felix Hernandez is quietly dominant, posting an 8-1 record out in Seattle.  And Yu Darvish is basically unhittable (as the Nats learned in late May).
  • Rookie of the year candidates: Owings remains in the lead in the NL among little competition pending expected mid-season callups (Corcoran’s May #2 is Atlanta’s David Hale, who was demoted to the bullpen after 4 starts when Gavin Floyd was ready to go), but Kolten Wong‘s showing has his name in the discussion (he was May’s MLB rookie of the month).   Abreu hit the D/L (and his numbers may be impressive from a power stand point but little else), while Tanaka continues his dominance and takes over the AL lead.  Meanwhile the amazing arm of Yordano Ventura pokes his head into this race … and then he got hit with injury.  But the new leader in the AL RoY clubhouse may very well be Houston’s George Springer, who hit seven homers in 7 games in late May and is on pace for 40 as a rookie.

June

Opinions: Lindholm’s early Rookie of the Year look.  Lindholm’s Cy Young Predictions (except that he focuses entirely on advanced pitching stats that, lets face it, the voter-base doesn’t care about).  Corcoran take on the Rookies.  Corcoran update on MVP race.  Passan’s half-year awards column.  Brisbee mid-season AL Awards and mid-season NL-Awards (which he thinks are stupid :-).  MLB June Rookies of the month announcement.

  • MVP candidates: Still Tulowitzki in the lead in the NL, though Stanton probably finishes in the top 3 thanks to his first ever healthy season enabling him to chase 50 homers.  Puig has cooled a bit.  Jonathan Lucroy has thrown his name into top-5 consideration thanks to his great offensive season tacked on top of his great defensive prownesses.  And last years’ MVP Andrew McCutchen has thrown his name into the ring with a great June and the MLB player of the month award.  In the AL, Trout’s consistency has giving him the lead over AL east bashers Bautista and Cruz (and he won MLB’s MVP for June).   Tanaka will probably get top 5 votes but won’t win; see the Cy Young section for a statement on his “rookie” season.  One can only hope that a down year (thus far) for Cabrera will finally eliminate the narrative-driven voting for him over Trout that has occurred the last two years; Trout’s numbers right now eclipse his numbers in his first two years.  Meanwhile you have to start giving Jose Altuve some props: at the half-way point of the season he’s leading the AL in Batting Average, Hits and Stolen Bases, each by a considerable margin.  I’d have him in my top5.
  • Cy Young candidates: Wainwright has overtaken Cueto for the NL lead right now, but if Kershaw keeps throwing scoreless innings (he’s on a streak of 28 as of the time of this writing), he’ll move into the lead (MLB just gave Kershaw pitcher of the month for June).   Julio Teheran probably earns a top-5 spot thanks to his breakout season.  And one Jake Arrieta has added his name to the mix thanks to his pretty amazing turnaround in Chicago.  In the AL, Tanaka still leads King Felix, with Texas-based hurlers Darvish and Keuchel knocking on the door but slightly cooling.  But Felix was named AL’s June pitcher of the month and would be a no-brainer if he didn’t have the West Coast anti-bias working against him.
  • Rookie of the year candidates:  In the NL, no candidates are really distinguishing themselves. Right now Owings remains in the WAR lead over Billy Hamilton (who was named Rookie of the Month for June and is in the lead right now) but neither player is that inspiring.   However the eventual favorite may have finally gotten his callup in Gregory Polanco.  Meanwhile the AL race almost certainly is looking like a 1-2 International FA contest between Tanaka and Abreu, with Tanaka easily winning right now (though Abreu won June’s Rookie of the Month award).  There’s almost no reason to mention anyone else, which is unfair to Houston’s budding stars George Springer and Jon Singleton.
  • Comeback Player of the Year: This award always flies under the radar, but we have a couple of decent candidates getting some mention.  In the NL,  Casey McGehee was run out of the MLB thanks to injuries and awful hitting in 2012; after a dominant year in Japan he’s having a nice bounce-back for Miami.  And, after just 8 awful starts in 2013, LA’s Josh Beckett is looking pretty dominant so far this year.  Tim Hudson‘s come-back year after his gruesome ankle injury earns some mentions.   The AL version is harder to find candidates: Passan mentions Joakim Soria and Phil Hughes as early candidates.  I like Hughes; 4-14 with a 5+ ERA last year who is having success this year.
  • Managers of the Year: at the halfway point, we can start to see some clarity in the Manager of the Year (also known as the “guy in charge of the team that has the most shocking W/L record award.”  Right now we’re we’re looking at Bob Melvin, manager of Oakland and their best-in-the-majors 81-game record in the AL and (easily right now) Ron Roenicke, who is leading the surprising Milwaukee Brewers to the best record in the NL at the halfway point.

July

Opinions: Stark “First Half Winners.”  Jonah KeriMidseason Report.”  Schoenfield’s “NL MVP is wide open” post.

  • MVP candidates: In the NL, Colorado’s waning playoff chances are knocking down Tulowitzki’s chances, while Stanton continues to produce staggering offensive numbers.   Meanwhile McCutchen is coming on strong and may lead Pittsburgh on a 2nd half run.  In the AL, the Angels success finally ends the 3-year running narrative based arguments that have prevented Trout from winning an MVP.  At this point, if he doesn’t win, its because some bloc of writers has conspired against him.  Batista and Cruz continue to be 2-3 on my ballot.  At the end of the month, Trout leads the majors in bWAR with Tulowitzki not far behind.
  • Cy Young candidates: In the NL, it is looking like Wainwright versus Kershaw.  Wainwright in the lead now, but Kershaw’s dominance may carry him to the title by the end of the year.  In the AL; Felix Hernandez has overtaken Tanaka, who hit the D/L with a partially torn UCL that may force him into Tommy John.  Chris Sale has put his name into contention as the #3 candidate right now.  Kershaw/Fernandez are 1/2 in bWAR at the end of the month.
  • Rookie of the year candidates:  In the NL, Hamilton still holds off Polanco, but the Pittsburgh rookie has been great since his call up.  Check back on this race later.  In the AL, Tanaka’s D/L trip also may cost him his unanimous Rookie of the Year award, which now goes to the 1-A candidate Abreu.  No one else is close; If I had to guess who was #3 in this race, i’d go Springer.
  • Comeback Player of the Year: Still looking like Hudson and Hughes for now.
  • Managers of the Year: Still Roenicke and Melvin for now.  There’s no other obvious candidates.

August

Opinions: Calcaterra on who is MVP.  A list of most improved players by WAR in mid-August. (which should be a good way to talk about Comeback players, except that it really is just highlighting former role players who are having great  years).  Paul Swydan talked about the NL MVP vote in mid-August.  Keith Law’s mid-august preview of the awards.  Crasnick’s 8/25/14 chat talking about AL Manager of the Year candidates.  Bowden’s rookie Rankings from late august.  HardballTalkDaily video says the Rookie races are pretty clear cut on 8/29/14.

  • MVP candidatesJayson Werth was named July NL player of the month, but seems like a long shot to get anything other than 5th place MVP votes.   Meanwhile previous leaders Tulowitzki AND now McCutchen are both on the D/L and missing at least a month each, so questions abound.  Is Puig the front runner now?  Stanton?  A pitcher?  At this point it may end up being Kershaw thanks to some deficiencies in the cases of both these healthy candidates, except that Kershaw missed quite a few starts and many voters won’t even give him the Cy Young nod as a result.  And there’s the small fact that apparently sportswriters are starting to place Barry Bonds-level hatred on Puig (I heard a 3rd-party story that does not flatter Puig in the least in terms of his attitude and self-opinion, so this does not shock me).  Abreu earned his second AL Player of the Month but seems like a long shot to beat out Trout at this point; the Angels seem set to make the playoffs, removing the “narrative” that has prevented Trout from being the MVP in years past.  In fact, the 2nd best candidate in the AL may very well be Felix Hernandez, who won’t win on some ballots because he’s a pitcher.  Alex Gordon is starting to get some MVP notice, thanks to his leadership on the suddenly-playoff-bound Royals.  I see him as a good top-5 candidate.
  • Cy Young candidates: In the NL, Kershaw has earned his second NL pitcher of the month award and (despite missing several starts) seems like a lock to win another Cy Young award.  Meanwhile in the AL, Grey has earned another pitcher of the month award, but Hernandez and Sale seem to be 1-2 in this race as long as Tanaka stays on the shelf.   Corey Kluber has put together a great season, but he’s chasing Hernandez for 2nd place right now.
  • Rookie of the year candidates:  In the NL, Mets starter Jacob deGrom has put his name into the hat thanks to a slew of dominant starts, and was just named July rookie of the month.  In a weak field, he could push to a victory.  But no sooner did he win the monthly award than go down to injury, likely cementing the award for Hamilton.  In the AL, not only was Abreu named rookie of the month, he was also named player of the month.  The longer Tanaka stays on the D/L, the more Abreu solidifies his hold on this award.  Brandon Shoemaker quietly has a 13-4 season for the Angels but may not even broach the top 5 in voting, thanks to the huge glut of quality AL rookies this year.
  • Comeback Player of the Year: Still looking like Hudson and Hughes for now.
  • Managers of the Year: In the AL, surprising runs by the Mariners, Orioles and Royals have their three managers (respectively, Lloyd McClendon, Buck Showalter and Ned Yost) will get some attention.  In the NL, I still think Milwaukee’s turn-around keeps Ron Roenicke in the lead. 

September

You know its starting to get close to silly season; lots of opinion pieces start popping up right after labor day.: Brisbee’s “handicapping” of the NL awards on 9/1/14 and the same for the AL awards two days later.  Schoenfield’s Heyward for MVP article 9/2/14.  NL awards video from Schoenfield 9/2/14.  USAtoday’s early Sept Awards preview.  Jim Bowden pops up for Executive of the Year predictions.  Schoenfield extolling McCutchen’s credentials in mid September.  Cory DiBenedetto at GammonsDaily talking about the AL RoY and then the NL RoY.  Passan’s late Sept award column.  Jayson Stark’s final prediction column.  Anthony Castrovince’s prediction column.  Schoenfield’s “best rookies” column.

  • MVP candidates: In the NL, it was looking more and more like Stanton’s continued massive offensive season was driving the narrative towards his getting the MVP.  However, an awful-looking HBP likely ended Stanton’s season on 9/11/14 … will those lost two weeks prevent him from taking the top spot now?  It seems so; I’m predicting Kershaw wins both MVP and Cy Young.  A pitcher hasn’t gotten the NL Cy Young in more than 40  years.  The NL WAR leader-board shows the problem with using WAR as a projection tool of MVP (as Brisbee’s column points out: there’s just no way that NL positional player bWAR leader Jason Heyward is getting the MVP no matter how much you believe in defensive stats.  Buster Posey‘s huge summer has put his name into the hat for top-5 candidates.  Speaking of top-5 candidates, do you put Anthony Rendon into that discussion?  In the AL, there’s just no way Trout doesn’t get the award this year, so we’ll discuss runners-up later on.  Brisbee seems to think Robinson Cano will somehow sneak into the discussion but I don’t think so.  Victor Martinez‘s excellent/no-frills offensive season should have him getting some top-5 love.  Michael Brantley looks to earn some top 5 votes too.
  • Cy Young candidates: In the NL, Kershaw has solidified his hold on the award.  The better question may be whether he also wins the MVP.  In the AL I think its safe to say Hernandez-Kluber go 1-2, though a September swoon may cost Felix votes.  It could get really close.  Expecially after Felix got pounded on 9/23/14 in his 2nd to last start. 
  • Rookie of the year candidates: In a weak NL field, DeGrom’s fantastic 2nd half seems to be pushing him over the top of the obvious candidate for most of the  year in Hamilton.   Kyle Hendricks may get top 5 votes.  In the AL, it has to be Abreu, likely unanimously unless a couple of NYC writers do the homer-vote for Tanaka.
  • Comeback Player of the Year: Still looking like Hudson and Hughes, but this award is unpredictable.  Passan’s late Sept column points out a couple of NL candidates to consider, since Hudson’s ERA cratered in the 2nd half.  Casey McGhee returned from Japanese exile to have a great season, and Justin Morneau has come back from the DFA heap to nearly lead the NL in batting.  In the AL one should also consider former Nats AAA pitcher Chris Young, who has absolutely come back from nowhere to stay healthy an entire  year.  He should write the Nats a thank-you card for giving him a paycheck to rehab on our dime.
  • Managers of the Year:  I can’t see the writers giving Manager of the year awards to a team like Washington (which was expected to win) nor the Angels (which has a monster payroll and the best player in the game).  It may be someone like Bruce Bochy in the NL, who has overcome the loss of his two marquee pitchers and a slew of curious signings to keep the Giants in playoff contention.  In the AL, perhaps Showalter deserves some mention for what he’s done in Baltimore … but then again, have we ever seen an AL east meltdown top to bottom like we’re seeing this year?   More and more i’m liking what Showalter is doing with Baltimore and a relatively unknown pitching staff and a ton of injuries.