Nationals Arm Race

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

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2013 Fantasy Baseball post-mortem

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Verlander just killed me this year.  Photo unk via rumorsandrants.com

Verlander just killed me this year. Photo unk via rumorsandrants.com

My standard disclaimer; this is a whole huge post kvetching about my 2013 Fantasy Baseball team.  If you don’t play fantasy, feel free to skip this 3,000 word missive.  I’ll insert a “jump” line here so that RSS readers don’t have to see this whole massive post :-)

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Nats pursuit of a CFer; a complete analysis of options

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Conventional wisdom says the team will pursue BJ Upton. But what if there's a decent short-term alternative? Photo unknown via ajc.com

The Nats have not had a consistent, quality, and reliable center fielder since 2005 (and even then it was arguable).  When the team moved here, Brad Wilkerson played most of the season in center field, put up a 103 ops+ and hit a bunch of homers while running around pre-game with packages of Skittles in his pocket.  Jim Bowden traded Wilkerson with a couple other guys for one year of Alfonso Soriano.  Since, then, here’s some of the guys who have played CF for us on a regular basis:

Preston Wilson
Endy Chavez
Ryan Church
Nook Logan
Marlon Byrd
Alex Escobar
Brandon Watson
Ryan Langerhans
Justin Maxwell
Brandon Watson
Lastings Milledge
Roger Bernadina
Elijah Dukes
Nyjer Morgan
Willie Harris
Corey Patterson

Half these guys are out of the league now, most of the rest are marginal players or backup outfielders.  In 2011, we had innings from Rick Ankiel, Jayson Werth and even Laynce Nix (who managed to put in 8 innings in center field but somehow not have a single play, resulting in a neutral zero for UZR/150).  But none of these guys is a long term CF solution, each for different reasons.

Is this the off season we end the madness and finally get a long term solution in center field?

I put together a spreadsheet of every Center Fielder option in the major leagues, threw in their age, salary, contract details, and three measures of their 2011 performance (OPS+, UZR/150 and bWAR).  That spreadsheet is here, for reference.  I’ll pull out the relevant details for each section below.

I’ve divided the CF options to consider into several categories below.

1. Current Washington CF options in-house

Player Age Team Current Contract 2011 Salary 2011 OPS+ 2011 UZR/150 CF only 2011 bWAR
Bernadina, Roger 27 Washington Pre-Arb $414,000 82 -16.6 0.8
Werth, Jayson 32 Washington 7yr/$126M->2017 $10,571,000 97 3 2.1

Bernadina, despite his defensive reputation, was actually rather awful in CF this year while putting up an 82 OPS+.  He’s now had more than a 1000 major league at-bats to show his worth.  The team should DFA him and move on.  Werth actually had a decent UZR/150 in center, albeit in a small sample size, hence why the team seems to be considering using him there on a more regular basis.  We also have a couple of other internal options in the minors:

  • Corey Brown: though his successful designation to AAA says more about his future than I could say.  He’s gone from trade chip prospect to organizational guy in 2 seasons.
  • Eury Perez: just ADDED to the 40-man, but more for protection purposes than because he’s ready.  He’s an option perhaps in mid-season 2013.
  • Bryce Harper: I’d love to see Harper groomed to play CF and don’t understand why the team hasn’t taken more of an effort to do so.  His value as a power-hitting CF would far eclipse his value in a corner OF spot.  As it stands now though, he’s not a full time CF and he probably won’t be on the MLB roster until late June, IF he earns it.

So, we could stand pat, use Werth primarily in CF and pursue a corner outfielder in free agency.  But that still leaves a lead-off hole in our lineup and then probably also leaves a RF hole…

2. Franchise Players/Entrenched Starters/Longer Term Contract

Player Age Team Current Contract 2011 Salary 2011 OPS+ 2011 UZR/150 CF only 2011 bWAR
Ellsbury, Jacoby 27 Boston Arb 2nd yr $2,400,000 146 15.7 7.2
Granderson, Curtis 30 NY Yankees 5yr/$30M->2012 $8,250,000 138 -5 5.2
Hamilton, Josh 30 Texas 2yr/$24M->2012 $8,750,000 128 -3.3 3.6
Jones, Adam 25 Baltimore Arb 2nd yr $3,250,000 114 -8.5 1.7
Kemp, Matt 26 LA Dodgers 8yr/$160M->2019 $7,100,000 171 -4.7 10
McCutchen, Andrew 24 Pittsburgh Arb 1st yr $452,500 127 3.3 5.5
Pagan, Angel 29 NY Mets Arb 4th yr $3,500,000 93 -16 0.2
Victorino, Shane 30 Philadelphia 3yr/$22M->2012 $7,500,000 129 5.7 5.1
Young, Chris 27 Arizona 5yr/$28M->2013 $5,200,000 103 12.9 4.8

For the most part this is a list of the best CFs in baseball.  There’s almost no chance any of these teams are giving up these players in trade; they’re cornerstones, MVP candidates, or key players.

Angel Pagan isn’t a great CF, but he’s clearly the entrenched starter for the Mets, a team clearly in financial chaos.  Likewise, perhaps someone like Adam Jones could be put into the “franchise player” category (he’s not nearly the player as the rest of these guys), but he’s also entrenched in Baltimore.

Coincidentally, look at Ellsbury‘s stats.  Young, cheap, a 146 ops+, a 7.2war and a 15.7 UZR/150.  Is there a more complete player in baseball right now?  Matt Kemp certainly out hit him, but Ellsbury had the best UZR rating for any full time CFer in the majors while putting up his 30/30 season.

3. Recent Acquisitions

Player Age Team Current Contract 2011 Salary 2011 OPS+ 2011 UZR/150 CF only 2011 bWAR
Bourn, Michael 28 Atlanta Arb 3rd Yr $4,400,000 104 -6.2 5
Cabrera, Melky 26 San Francisco Arb 4th yr $1,250,000 121 -9.7 2.9
Jackson, Austin 24 Detroit Pre-Arb $440,000 89 8 2.4
Rasmus, Colby 24 Toronto Arb 1st year $443,000 89 -10.7 0.2
Schafer, Jordan 24 Houston Pre-Arb $414,000 74 -4.3 0.2

These guys aren’t necessarily the best CFs out there, but each of them was more or less just acquired, so presumably they’re not going anywhere ELSE this off-season.  Schaefer just got busted for drug possession, and seems to be in competition with Jason Bourgeois (listed later on), but both really underperformed this year and are not really good options for the Nats.

4. Younger Starters and Up and coming prospects

Player Age Team Current Contract 2011 Salary 2011 OPS+ 2011 UZR/150 CF only 2011 bWAR
Bourjos, Peter 24 LA Angels Pre-Arb $414,000 115 8 5
Cain, Lorenzo 25 Kansas City Pre-Arb $414,000 73 -38.8 0.1
Fowler, Dexter 25 Colorado Arb 1st yr $424,000 105 -6.8 1.2
Gomez, Carlos 25 Milwaukee Arb 3rd Yr $1,500,000 82 27.5 1.7
Jay, Jon 26 St. Louis Pre-Arb $416,000 114 3.2 1.3
Jennings, Desmond 24 Tampa Bay Pre-Arb $414,000 128 -7.1 2.3
Maybin, Cameron 24 San Diego Pre-Arb $429,100 103 11.6 2.9
Peterson, Brian 25 Miami Pre-Arb $414,000 105 13 0.5
Revere, Ben 23 Minnesota Pre-Arb $414,000 73 15.1 0.8
Stubbs, Drew 26 Cincinnati Pre-Arb $450,000 86 -2.2 2.9
Sweeney, Ryan 26 Oakland Arb 2nd yr $1,400,000 91 -5.9 0.8
Trout, Mike 19 LA Angels Pre-Arb $414,000 88 0 0.9

This is a list of mostly 2nd tier CFers in this league, but for the most part they’re pre-arbitration or still relatively affordable, and teams aren’t about to give up on them.  Peter Bourjos represents the Angel’s biggest problem in trying to find playing time next year for Mike Trout: he hits the ball well, he has great defense and he’s only 24.  However the Angels are dying for a catcher, which just so happens to be a strength for this team. Bourjos mostly batted at the bottom of their order, but seems like a natural leadoff hitter.

I put Sweeney in this list only because the entire starting Oakland OF hit free agency, and they’ll need to start SOMEONE in the outfield in 2012.   Lorenzo Cain looks set to be KC’s starter with the Cabrera trade, so I list him here despite his poor numbers in 2011 (besides that Kansas City isn’t exactly in a position to be trading away prospects right now).  Peterson looks like he could take over for Miami in center (see further down for a discussion on this effect on Chris Coughlan).

Best possibilities: The Nats sacrifice a catcher and a decent prospect haul for Bourjos.

5. Awful Contracts/Poor players/Veterans not interested in

Player Age Team Current Contract 2011 Salary 2011 OPS+ 2011 UZR/150 CF only 2011 bWAR
Davis, Rajai 30 Toronto 2yr/$5.75M->2012 $2,500,000 67 -17.5 -0.9
Gutierrez, Franklin 28 Seattle 4yr/$20M->2013 $4,312,500 53 27.1 -0.4
Hunter, Torii 35 LA Angels 5yr/$90M->2012 $18,000,000 115 -39.3 2.2
Milledge, Lastings 26 Chicago WS Arb 2nd yr $500,000 97 -82.2 -0.3
Morgan, Nyjer 30 Milwaukee Arb 1st year $450,000 111 13 2
Rios, Alex 30 Chicago WS 6yr/$64M->2014 $12,500,000 65 -7.4 -1.5

The list above includes two Washington castoffs (Milledge and Morgan), one of the worst contacts in baseball (Rios), two severe under performers (Davis and Gutierrez), and a guy who really doesn’t play CF anymore (Hunter).  There’s no appealing trade options here.


Ok. now that we’ve seen who is likely NOT going to be options for us in 2012, lets look at those that could be options.

1. Cleveland’s CF log jam

Player Age Team Current Contract 2011 Salary 2011 OPS+ 2011 UZR/150 CF only 2011 bWAR
Brantley, Michael 24 Cleveland Pre-Arb $421,800 96 -12.8 2.2
Carrera, Ezequiel 24 Cleveland Pre-arb $414,000 72 -1.5 -0.5
Crowe, Trevor 27 Cleveland Pre-arb $435,700 61 66.6 * -0.1

(Crowe’s 66.6 uzr/150 was a very small sample size and isn’t indicative one way or the other of his defensive prowness).

With Cleveland’s re-signing of Grady Sizemore to a one year incentive laden deal (guaranteed $5M, with $4M more in incentives), suddenly Cleveland has too many center fielders.  Sizemore, Carrera and Bradley all played about equal numbers of innings in center for the team last year, with Crowe throwing in a few more.  Brantley was essentially the starting left fielder but got 400-some innings in Center, and seems set to do the same this year with him and Sizemore switching back and forth.  That leaves Carrera and Crowe as “extra” outfielders for the team.  Crowe is a former 1st rounder who seems to have peaked as a 4-A guy, while Carrera just earned a callup for the first time in 2011.  For now both look like nothing better than 4th outfielders, so we’re looking elsewhere.

Best possibilities here: none

2. Veteran Trade Possibilities

Player Age Team Current Contract 2011 Salary 2011 OPS+ 2011 UZR/150 CF only 2011 bWAR
Borbon, Julio 25 Texas Pre-Arb $490,000 72 -9.6 -0.3
Bourgeois, Jason 29 Houston Pre-Arb $423,000 89 -6.2 2.3
Byrd, Marlon 33 Chicago Cubs 3yr/$15M->2012 $5,500,000 96 3.3 1.7
Coghlan, Chris 26 Miami Arb 1st yr $490,000 81 -12 -0.1
Gardner, Brett 27 NY Yankees Arb 1st yr $529,500 89 6.6 4.4
Gentry, Craig 27 Texas Pre-Arb $416,000 84 35 1.4
Quenton, Carlos 28 Chicago WS Arb 3rd Yr 5,050,000 124 1.7 * 3.2
Span, Denard 27 Minnesota 5yr/$16.5M->2014 $1,000,000 91 17.6 2.6
Torres, Andres 33 San Francisco Arb 2nd yr $2,200,000 82 17.3 1.3
Upton, BJ 26 Tampa Bay Arb 3rd Yr $4,825,000 115 1.4 3.8

It is from this list that most of the current Nats trade rumors come.  Here’s some thoughts, roughly in alphabetical order:

  • Julio Bourbon seems like a potential non-tender for now: Endy Chavez got most of the CF innings for the team but Hamilton can cover it well enough (as he did in the playoffs).  But they also have Craig Gentry.  Neither is that great an offensive player, but Gentry is a pretty good defensive player.  None of them solve our issues.
  • Jason Bourgeois was mediocre both at the plate and in the field, and now Houston has acquired Schafer in trade, so he might be available in trade.  But what does he bring that Bernadina doesn’t?  We don’t need a replacement guy.
  • Former Nat Marlon Byrd could be an interesting candidate; he wasn’t that bad in 2011, but is scheduled to get a salary bump in his last year.  He’s good in center, good at the plate, and plays in Chicago, which is going to be rebuilding and probably would take prospects in trade.  But, he’s 33, slowing down, and is a one-year solution.  Is that worth it?  Upton will be younger, better offensively, better defensively, and is reaching his peak, not going past it.
  • Coughlan may be spare parts to Miami, that they have discovered the decent Brian Peterson.  But, as with others on this list, he’s not exactly in high demand.  He’s similar to Bernadina as well; 80-ish OPS+ and sub-average defense in CF.
  • Brett Gardner is listed here since he’s a center fielder stuck in LF in New York, and since we think that the Yankees could be talked into a trade since they’re hurting in a couple of areas where we have prospect depth.  However, he’s also one of the few pre-arbitration starters on that team and even a team with $200M payroll sees the value in a cost contained player.  I think trading for him is an impossibility.  Someone suggested Peacock and Desmond for Gardner as a trade in a Keith Law chat and he openly laughed at it.  So the Nats have to ask themselves what it would take to get someone like Gardner before entertaining this question.
  • There’s only two guys on this list with an OPS+ over 100; BJ Upton and Carlos Quenton.  I included Quenton here because his name persistently pops up in various blogs as a trade possibility. However, a quick check of his Fangraphs page shows that he isn’t a center fielder.  He doesn’t have a single Major League inning in center, ever.  So he’s not a center fielder, and doesn’t solve our issues.  (His 1.7 uzr/150 is in Right Field, not center).  The only way he’d make sense is if we went with Werth full time in Center and put him in RF.  But even given that, he’s only under club control for one more year before hitting FA, so he’s essentially a rental.
  • Denard Span is signed to a very club-friendly contract, is a fantastic defender, and wasn’t half bad at the plate this year.  Why is he available?  Because he went down in June with what appeared to be a mild concussion, and was out 2 months.  And in his absence, the Twins promoted 23-yr old Ben Revere, who seemed to ably hold down the job.  The Twins might be in rebuilding mode after a 90 loss season and could entertain some longer-term moves.  We’ve traded with them in the past and they definitely have some needs (a closer for one)  Drew Storen for Denard Span?  Jon Heyman tweeted on 11/19 though that the Nats already asked about both players and were rebuffed.  We’ll see if that’s just a negotiating ploy.
  • Andres Torres just lost his job in San Francisco with their acquisition of Cabrera, and could be on the trading block.  He’s great in the field but can’t hit, as is our own FA Rick Ankiel, and if the team was going to settle you would think we’d re-sign one of our own.
  • BJ Upton, of course, is listed as our trade candidate #1, for the obvious reasons.  He’s easily the best centerfielder available.  Decent OPS+, better than average Uzr/150, and a pretty good 3.8 war.  He’s not going to be cheap, hence the reason that cost-conscious Tampa is considering a non-tender.  We could trade for him, to guarantee that we get him before the free-for-all that would occur if he hit the open market, but (rightly so) how much would we want to give up for a guy who probably wants to hit the open market in a year’s time?  Would we demand a negotiating window to try to extend him?

Best alternatives here: Upton, Span, Byrd, Gardner.

3. Free Agents; actual Cfers

Player Age Team Current Contract 2011 Salary 2011 OPS+ 2011 UZR/150 CF only 2011 bWAR
Ankiel, Rick 31 FA (Wash) FA $1,500,000 81 11.6 2.1
Cameron, Mike 38 FA (Mia) FA $7,250,000 74 17.7 -0.8
Cespedes, Yoenis 25 FA (Cuba) FA n/a n/a n/a n/a
Chavez, Endy 33 FA (Texas) FA $1,250,000 95 9.3 0.8
Crisp, Coco 31 FA (Oak) FA $5,250,000 91 -6.7 2.1
Hairston, Scott 31 FA (NYM) FA $1,100,000 112 6.1 1.6
McLouth, Nate 29 FA (Atl) FA $7,000,000 89 -28.9 0.7
Patterson, Corey 31 FA (STL) FA $900,000 70 5.5 0.9
Wise, Dewayne 33 FA (Tor) FA $414,000 44 22.2 -0.4

Here it is; the list of FA center fielders.

  • Ankiel is the known quantity; he hit .239 but was very good in center.
  • Mike Cameron may be 38 but he’s still an excellent CFer; unfortunately his offense was awful.
  • Cespedes is a complete unknown quantity; scouts compare him to a younger Sammy Sosa with power and speed.  But the Cuban leagues equate roughly to a High-A level of talent, so you’d be paying $30-$40M for a guy who’s still 2 years away.  This doesn’t help us in 2012.
  • Former Nat Endy Chavez put together an excellent season in Texas; I wouldn’t be surprised at all to see him re-sign with the team and make another playoff run.  In fact, if I was Chavez I’d take less money to do so.
  • Coco Crisp: barely a center fielder anymore and a 91 ops+.  Stay away.
  • Scott Hairston had a 112 OPS+ as a 4th outfielder for the Mets, but in limited time.  Pagan was clearly the starter and Hairston bounced around the field.  He’s more of a utility player than a starter,but that didn’t hamper his brother this season.
  • McClouth has had such a bad couple of seasons I’d be surprised if anyone gives him a major league contract.  Maybe he really should be in the next category (for “cf’s that aren’t really center-field capable anymore).
  • Patterson was 8 for 56 after a mid-season trade to St. Louis.  He’s in the same boat as McLouth; he’s looking at a minor league contract for a team ready to take a flier on him.
  • Wise‘s bat is so bad, he’s got a career 62 ops+.

Where’s the long-term solution here?  Answer: there doesn’t seem to be one.

Best possibilities: pursue Chavez and get him to leave Texas, or to sign Hairston and hope that he can put together those kind of numbers for a full season starting in CF.

4. Free Agents: not really CFs any more

Player Age Team Current Contract 2011 Salary 2011 OPS+ 2011 UZR/150 CF only 2011 bWAR
Dejesus, David 31 FA (Oak) FA $6,000,000 93 -76.2 0.6
Johnson, Reed 34 FA (Chi Cubs) FA $900,000 122 -35.1 1.3
Jones, Andruw 34 FA (NYY) FA $3,200,000 122 -24.6 0.9
Pierre, Juan 33 FA (CWS) FA $8,500,000 80 -10.7 0
Ross, Cody 30 FA (SF) FA $6,300,000 105 -2.6 1.6
Sizemore, Grady 28 FA (Cle) 1yr $5M 2012 $7,666,667 95 -17.2 0.5

(Sizemore already re-signed for Cleveland to join their log jam of CF-eligible outfielders).

All these guys are listed as CF-capable by MLBtraderumors, but really none are CFs anymore.  A cursory glance at their UZR/150s should indicate as much.  Only Cody Ross really could still hold his own in Center.  I like Cody Ross; he’s used to the NL East, he’s a great clubhouse guy, and he’d improve his offensive numbers by getting out of San Francisco.   I’m not sure if Ross solves our problem; the rest of these guys are corner-outfielders mostly in the same category as our own corner-OF free agents Laynce Nix and Jonny Gomes.

Best Possibilities: Ross.


Conclusion

All signs indicate that the team is either going to work a trade.  But I wouldn’t mind a one-year stop gap signing either in order to not deviate from “the plan” in order to overpay for someone.

If we’re willing to burn some prospects, I’d say our priorities are (in order): Upton, Gardner, Bourjos and Span.

If we’re going for a one-year stop gap, I’d say our best options are Byrd, Ross, and Hairston.

If we’re willing to sacrifice offense to find a plus-defender in CF, then I say we just re-sign Ankiel and wait another year.  Or perhaps consider Chavez or Torres.

Nats GM for a day. Part 2: the Free Agents

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Is this the National’s 2011 First Baseman? Photo: J. Meric/Getty Images

In our first of a 3-part post, we talked about the arbitration cases that the Nats face.  Some of those decisions are already being made and that post has been updated.  Now, lets talk about the free agents.

Player What Should Washington Do?/What WILL We do?
Dunn, Adam We should resign him, but Rizzo seems dead set against it.  Offer him arbitration and let him walk.
Batista, Miguel Valuable rubber arm in BP; I would resign him to a simliar 1 year deal in 2011.
Harris, Willie Let him go.  Declining value, Morse a better utility option.
Mench, Kevin Let him go; awful september numbers.  Perhaps ML FA in AAA
Kennedy, Adam Decline club option and let him go.  No need for 2nd baseman.

Clearly, the Adam Dunn decision will be critical to the direction of the team and our offense next year.  As noted above, personally I think he needs to be re-signed.  The team’s actions all year (plus Tom Boswell‘s repeated comments about how the front office has bungled the negotiations) seem to indicate though that we’re content with getting the compensatory picks and moving another direction.  If we decide to let him go, I’d prefer to sign someone like Adam LaRoche, a player who plays decent defense and shows a good bat.  I don’t think Carlos Pena (as is frequently rumored) is a good choice, and there’s sentiment in the Tampa Bay community that he may stay on in Tampa and try to improve on an awful 2010 season.  But, most pundits seem to think he’s coming here.

We also could become more creative and put someone like Josh Willingham, Michael Morse or even a supposedly healthy Jesus Flores at first as a stop gap until one of our prospects like Chris Marrero or even, say it isn’t so, Bryce Harper is ready to come up.  I mean come on, you “hide” defensive liabilities at first base.  If someone is 6’4″ and has any fielding ability they should be good enough to play the position.

Moving on to other FAs to be the decisions are relatively easy.  Harris, Mench, and Kennedy are gone.  None batted well enough to even consider and we have more able (and cheaper) minor leaguers ready to come up and serve as backups.  The last FA to be Miguel Batista proved to be a great asset to the bullpen at relatively little cost and would be worth bringing back.  We signed him last year on a non-guaranteed contract but guaranteeing him $1M wouldn’t be a huge risk.

Now, given the above, what is in store in the FA market?  I know i’ve heard lots of noise about how the Nats are going after Cliff Lee but I just don’t see that happening.  Here’s what I do see them doing:

1. Getting one or two pitchers.  Rizzo has a history with Brandon Webb, Arizona has blown enough cash on the guy, and he may be ready to come back.  We sign him to a one year deal and try to get lucky.  I’d also be happy with trading for one of Tampa’s spare starters (Garza, Shields), acquiring Vazquez (who I think is an NL, non-NY market pitcher and could return to his 2009 Atlanta form) or a De La Rosa type (hard thrower and can get Ks).  Most pundits have us signing Vazquez, some have us getting Webb.

2. Get a FA first baseman: I’ve previously said I like Adam LaRoche.  Rizzo likes Carlos Pena.  We’ll see what happens.  There’s lots of teams looking for first basemen, so the competition for these guys may force our hand into a guy we don’t want.

3. Find a utility player: we need a better version of Willie Harris.  May come from the minors as a prospect but probably not.  We need a guy who can play 2nd/ss or 3b in a pinch.

Less Likely:

4. Sign or acquire a marquee outfielder.  I’d love to see someone like Werth or Ross in right field, which could move Bernadina to center, allow us to rid ourselves of Morgan and then use Maxwell as the 4th outfielder.  We could also acquire someone like Rasmus or Ellsbury, put them in center, dump Morgan and go with Willingham-new CF-Bernadina.  Or we could use a Morse/Bernadina platoon in Right with Bernadina occasionally spelling Morgan in center (though they’re both lefty and both hit relatively the same, so that may not actually work).

I don’t really see us going after any bullpen help or a closer.  As Zuckerman once said, we’re remarkably set on 2011 positions despite being a 90-loss team.   We had a good bullpen last year and have a couple of decent looking reliever prospects in Carr and Kimball.  I could see a 2011 bullpen with Clippard, Burnett, Storen, Stammen, Balester, Slaten and Carr.  Or substitute some of our arbitration/fa guys for Stammen and Balester.

I’ve said for a while that the Nats need to spend like a mid market team.  $90M payroll at a minimum so as not to insult the fanbase.  Perhaps this off season we’ll see it.  They only have a paltry $24M committed for 2011 right now and, while that number will increase with potentially 13 arbitration cases, a huge chunk of last year’s payroll is now gone (just Guzman and Dunn consisted of nearly 1/3 of our 2010 payroll).  So, lets see some FA dollars get spent!

WS Pitcher Review and Lee’s horrendous Decision in Game 5

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Edgar Renteria buried the Rangers in Game 5. Photo: Stephen Dunn/Getty Images.

(this is a follow-up to a previous posting about the Giant’s World Series victory).

Despite the supposed massive superiority of the American League and its juggernaut payroll teams, a team from the National League (one that barely made the playoffs no less) was crowned WS champion after a rather tidy 4-1 series victory.  The Giants are certainly not a low-payroll team; they started the season with the league’s 9th highest payroll, finished the regular season with the 5th best record and advanced through the playoffs with relative ease (they were 11-4 in the playoffs altogether, losing 2 Sanchez starts, a Lincecum and a Cain start (despite Cain continuing a 22 inning post season no earned-run streak).

Not that it mattered in the end, but game 5 certainly turned on a questionable pitching strategy decision just before the decisive 3-run homer in the 7th.  Cody Ross led off with a single (continuing his amazing post season and certainly buying him FA dollars in the off season).  Cliff Lee made an 0-2 mistake to Uribe who smacked a single into center.  After a fantastic career-first sacrifice/drag bunt by Aubrey Huff, Cliff Lee had runners on 2nd and 3rd with one out.  Lee battled Burrell to 3-2 before striking him out on an outside cutter.  This seemed at the time to be the game-changing strikeout that Lee needed but he quickly fell behind the next batter Edgar Renteria 2-0, missing badly with two curveballs.  Announcer Tim McCarver, often villified as being the master of the obvious, stated very clearly that the right decision upon falling behind 2-0 would be to walk Renteria, load the bases with 2 outs and start afresh with the on-deck hitter Aaron Rowand (a sub in the series and not nearly the threat of Renteria).  Before McCarver could finish his thought, Lee grooved a 2-0 fastball, belt high, down the middle of the plate and the aging, soon-to-be-retired Renteria didn’t miss.  He crushed a 3-run homer and the game was essentially over.  Lincecum pitched 8 complete (giving up a meaningless homer to Nelson Cruz) before oddball closer Brian Wilson blew through the heart of the Rangers lineup (Hamilton, Guerrero and Cruz again) to get the save and finish out the series.

Why does Lee not walk Renteria there?  Why does the pitching coach see the obvious situation, run out to the mound and say, “hey, lets just throw two fastballs a foot outside and start over on Rowand?”  This is the reason MLB teams have bench coaches; to help the manager manage the game.  It was the latest in a series of curious pitching moves (or non-moves) from the Rangers coaching staff.  In reality Lee is a competitor and probably thinks he can get anyone out, at any time, let alone an over-the-hill bounce-around-the league veteran like Renteria.  But, no matter what the quality of the hitter mistakes in Major League Baseball quickly turn into gopher balls.

Overview of all 15 games the Giants played this offseason:

Series/Game # Giants SP Opponent SP Game Result WP LP
NLDS-1 Lincecum Lowe Giants W 1-0 Lincecum Lowe
NLDS-2 Cain Hansen Braves W 5-4 Farnsworth Ramirez
NLDS-3 Sanchez Hudson Giants W 3-2 Romo Kimbrel
NLDS-4 Bumgarner Lowe Giants W 3-2 Bumgarner Lowe
NLCS-1 Lincecum Halladay Giants W 4-3 Lincecum Halladay
NLCS-2 Sanchez Oswalt Phillies 6-1 Oswalt Sanchez
NLCS-3 Cain Hamels Giants W 3-0 Cain Hamels
NLCS-4 Bumgarner Blanton Giants W 6-5 Wilson Oswalt
NLCS-5 Lincecum Halladay Phillies 4-2 Halladay Lincecum
NLCS-6 Sanchez Oswalt Giants W 3-2 Lopez Madson
WS-1 Lincecum Lee Giants W 11-7 Lincecum Lee
WS-2 Cain Wilson Giants W 9-0 Cain Wilson
WS-3 Sanchez Lewis Rangers W 4-2 Lewis Sanchez
WS-4 Bumgarner Hunter Giants W 4-0 Bumgarner Hunter
WS-5 Lincecum Lee Giants W 3-1 Lincecum Lee

SF Starting Pitching Stats in the playoffs (all three series combined)

Pitcher Starts w/l Team w/L ip k/bb era whip
Lincecum 5 4-1 4-1 37 43/9 2.43 0.92
Cain 3 2-0 2-1 21.33 13/7 0 0.94
Sanchez 4 0-1 2-2 20 22/9 4.05 1.25
Bumgarner 3 2-0 3-0 20.66 18/5 2.12 1.11

The cliche for post season baseball has always been, “good pitching beats good hitting” and we certainly saw this in the 2010 post season.  The Giants featured 2 clear “Aces” in Lincecum and Cain, while witnessing a 21-yr old rookie Madison Bumgarner dominate on the sport’s biggest stage.  Only #3 starter Sanchez struggled in this post season (if you can call a 4.05 era against the best teams in baseball truly “struggling”).   The world series featured the league’s best hitting team in Texas, but they were shut down by the Giant’s pitching staff, hitting .190 for the series.

Ironically; what the Giants just finished doing to the Rangers is what most of the baseball world thought the Phillies and their vaunted rotation would be doing.  Yes; the AL has the Red Sox and Yankees and Rays (by most opinions 3 of the best 5 teams in baseball) but the NL has the rotational depth to shutdown $150M rosters.  If the Yankees want to compete next year, look no further than replacing Vazquez with Cliff Lee, turning the ineffective Burnett into a 5th starter (ala what SF did with Barry Zito) and finding themselves a solid #1a Ace behind Sabathia.

How does this tie back to the Nats?  The answer is clear; if you can put together a top notch starting rotation, you can go incredibly far.  Imagine in 2012 this rotation: a healthy Strasburg, a strong and improving Jordan Zimmerman, an impressive young starter in Sammy Solis, a top notch free agent acquisition along the likes of Greinke or a healthy Brandon Webb, and a take your pick from our stable of #5 starters like Lannan, Detwiler or Maya.  These guys can end losing streaks, keep your team in games, throw up quality starts 80% of the time, and turn a league average offense into a post season team.

That’s the “plan” anyway.

Interesting thoughts about the Giant’s roster construction…

one comment

As I watch the NLCS and its surprising results so far (Cody Ross with a Reggie Jackson-esque performance thus far, Roy Halladay getting beat, etc), you can’t help but notice some interesting items about the Giants roster and its makeup.

1. The Giants THREE highest paid players (Zito, Rowand, Guillen) are not even on the post season roster, and their 4th highest paid player (Renteria) is not the starter at short.

2. The position players that the Giants are depending on are all either developed internally (Posey, Sandoval) are retread/journeyman free agents on one-year deals (Torres, Uribe, Huff, Fontenot) or total reclamation projects (Burrell who was DFA’d earlier this season and Ross who they got on waivers).

3. Almost their entire pitching staff is home grown. Lincecum, Cain, Sanchez, Bumgarner plus setup/closer
combo of Romo and Wilson are all original SF draft picks. Only #5 Starter Zito is an (infamous) FA acquisition.

Here’s a quick table of Giants “primary starters” player acquisition methods:

SF (postseason 2010) acquisition method
Buster Posey Draft
Aubrey Huff FA
Freddy Sanchez Trade Prospects
Pablo Sandoval FA (intl)
Juan Uribe FA
Pat Burrell FA (dfa’d)
Andres Torres FA
Cody Ross Waivers
Tim Lincecum Draft
Matt Cain Draft
Jonathan Sanchez Draft
Madison Bumgarner Draft
Barry Zito FA
Sergio Romo Draft
Brian Wilson Draft
Drafted/Developed 8
Traded Prospects 1
Traded MLBs 0
FA/Waivers 5

By way of comparison, the Nationals opening day roster featured only FOUR such home grown players (Zimmerman, Desmond, Lannan and Stammen).

The Giants list their 2010 payroll at $96M, of which $42M is allocated to those 3 guys not even rostered.  Imagine what this team would look like if that $42M was properly allocated.

I think what this shows is that, with enough development time and effort put into your pitching staff you can get to the playoffs even with near replacement players in most of your fielding positions. Hope for the Nats, since this seems to be the direction Rizzo is going with his 2009 and 2010 pitcher heavy drafts. 8 of the first 11 picks in 2009 were arms, and while only 4 of 2010’s top 10 picks were arms there was significant funds paid to Solis, Cole and Ray.

Can the Nats turn these two drafts (plus other prospects) into a Giants-esque rotation? Strasburg, Zimmermann, Solis, and Cole all project to be #1 or #2 starter quality per scouting reports. Those four, plus live arms in the pen like Storen, Holder and Morris could be our future. 3-4 years out future, but still promising.

Or am I too rosy glasses colored?