Nationals Arm Race

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

Archive for the ‘collin balester’ tag

Can we find a 5th starter for 2013 internally?

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Could Garcia's great stuff translate into a starting role in 2013? Photo unknown via federalbaseball.com

I’ve been thinking about the rotation  for 2013, reading some early 2013 Free Agent rankings, and steeling myself for the reality that this team is more than likely to lose Edwin Jackson to free agency.  Two primary reasons we probably lose Jackson:

1. He’s one of the best available starters in this coming off season’s FA market

2. He’s likely to command a multi year deal at more money than this team is probably willing to offer.

Considering our “core 5 starters,” Jackson ranks 5th out of 5 in terms of ERA and ERA+, and he’s 4th of 5 in terms of Whip and FIP, and 3rd of our 5 (barely) via xFIP and SIERA.  He’s been clearly out pitched this year by our 5th starter Detwiler and isn’t ahead of the big three in anyone’s eyes.  So the question is; will the Nats make its 5th starter its highest paid pitcher?

I just don’t think so.

So we’re likely looking for a 5th starter for 2013.  The FA market is pretty bareZack Greinke is going to command a massive deal for a guy who, honestly, has had one stellar season in 2009 and since has been no better than a 3rd starter.  I think the Nats should stay away from him.  The Nats should also stay away from promising starters in 2012 but who have injury or inconsistency issues (Dan Haren and Jake Peavy, both of whom likely have their 2013 options declined).  Who else is out there that fits the Mike Rizzo mold (hard thrower, high K/9 rates)?  Shawn Marcum?  Brandon McCarthy?  Also injury concerns.  How about Anibel Sanchez, Jonathan Sanchez and Ervin Santana?  All three guys have good seasons in their immediate past but blew up (or were at best inconsistent) in 2012.

Maybe the above paragraph is even more support for re-signing Jackson frankly; he’s got no injury issues, apparently is a good clubhouse guy and meets Rizzo‘s starter criteria for veteran, hard-throwing innings eater.  So maybe this whole article is going to be moot.

Here’s a different take (and the point of this article); some news items came out this week that caught my eye; perhaps the Nats can find a 2013 5th starter internally instead?  Christian Garcia has really impressed in 2012, from his stellar minor league numbers to his good performances out of the bullpen in September.  And now word has it that the team is considering looking at him as a starter.

I love Garcia’s stuff; he’s a 3 plus pitch guy with a ton of movement on his decent fastball.  Here’s some Pitch F/X data for him this year; 95mph average (peaking at 97.8mph), 10mph delta between his fastball and change, and a ridiculous amount of movement on his 12-6 curveball.  He’s getting nearly a 20% swing-and-miss rate across all his pitches.  Fangraphs.com even did a post specifically on Garcia based on his September performance, featuring an animated .gif of  his “stupid good” curve.

That features as a pretty good starter line to me.  Perhaps he needs a 4th pitch (his over-the-top delivery could lend itself to a sinking 2-seam fastball, a cutter or even a split-fingered pitch that he could add to his arsenal) to be truly effective as a starter.

Meanwhile, the team has already started the Ryan Perry conversion to starter experiment, and his AA starting numbers in 2012 were pretty good.  Pulling this text from my AA-in-review post:

Ryan Perry, astutely acquired for Collin Balester (who failed to impress in Detroit and was DFA’d earlier this year) in spring training and he competed for the MLB bullpen.  He featured briefly, was ineffective and was optioned to AAA.  The team took a look at his repertoire and decided to try to convert him to a starter in AA.  The results?  Pretty good; a 2.84 ERA and 1.11 whip in 13 AA starts.  Outlook for next season: here’s the problem with Perry; he’s out of options for 2013.  He was added to a 40-man roster in April 2009, and burned options in 2009, 2011 and this year.   So he has to either make the MLB club or be DFA’d at the end of spring training.  So look for Perry to compete for the #5 starter job or be considered trade bait in the off-season.

Can Perry continue his starter performance in spring training in 2013?  Could Garcia win the job?  Will the Nats pursue a starter on the FA market?  Or, as they did in the 2012 off-season will they shock us with a trade that comes out of nowhere?

Nats 2012 Minor League Rotations: Guesses and Results

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Yunesky Maya led the Nats minor league starters for the 2nd straight summer. Photo Jim McGregor/Syracuse Chiefs via milb.com

I stumbled across this post, titled “Updated Minor League Rotation Predictions for 2012,” posted March 1st 2012, while looking for something else last week.  And I thought to myself, hey now that I’ve finished the reviews of the minor league teams, lets see how I did predicting the rotations at the beginning of the season!   I’ve also culled through the post-2011 season review posts for some preliminary guesses at the time.

(Note: I linked to NationalsProspects.com Luke Erickson‘s guesses in the above link for another perspective in the 2012 spring training).

Players are bolded the first time they’re mentioned, but not afterwards.

AAA:

  • Sept 11 Guess: Maya, Milone, Stammen, Meyers, Peacock, Martis
  • Mar 12 Guess: Stammen, Maya, Arneson, Ballard, Buschmann
  • Opening Day Rotation: Atkins, Roark, Maya, Lannan and Duke
  • 5 guys with the most starts in 2012: Maya, Roark, Duke, Lannan, Atkins

What happened?  My prediction was way, way off; only Maya was the constant, but we knew that the second he proved he couldn’t get out MLB hitters last fall.  The team traded two of its probable AAA starters (Peacock and Milone), lost a third to the Rule-5 draft (Meyers, who honestly we probably will get back once the Yankees are done screwing around with him) and a 4th to Minor League Free Agency (Martis).  Meanwhile, who knew that Lannan wasn’t going to make the MLB opening day roster?  Then, the team released Buschmann before he appeared in a game (he played 2012 in the Tampa Bay organization).  Ballard was a starter, just not in AAA.  Stammen, in a surprise to me, made the conversion from AAA starter in 2011 to MLB bullpen guy and had a great  year.  Lastly, instead of using more internal options like Roark the team signed two MLFAs in Duke and Atkins.  I suppose I could have guessed that the team would go with Roark before Arneson as a starter (given Arneson’s rubber-armed handling in 2011).  It just goes to show how much the creation of AAA teams has changed over the years.

AA:

  • Sept 11 Guess: Rosenbaum, BronsonDemny, Olbrychowski,  Solis
  • Mar 12 Guess:  Rosenbaum, Bronson, Demny, Olbrychowski, Gilliam
  • Opening Day Rotation: Gilliam, Demny, Mandel, Rosenbaum and Ballard
  • 5 guys with the most starts in 2012: Rosenbaum, Demny, Gilliam, Perry, Ballard/Pucetas

We were a bit closer here, getting 3 of the 5 guesses right.  Sammy Solis would absolutely have been in this rotation if not for his Tommy John surgery; we’ll cross our fingers for him to return in 2013.  When Solis went out, org-arm Mandel filled in.  Evan Bronson is still with the organization on Milb.com but never threw an inning in 2012 and isn’t on the Big Board.  I can’t find a single bit of google information indicating if he’s still with the team or not.  Weird.  Meanwhile I had just guessed too high for Olbrychowski; he spent most of 2012 as a starter in Potomac.  Nobody could have guessed that we’d have traded Balester for Perry, that Perry would have stunk as a reliever, and then would show up in AA remaking himself as a starter.  Ballard and Pucetas were MLFA pickups designed to fill holes in the system, though based on his prior experience I had Ballard pegged in the AAA rotation.

High-A:

  • Sept 11 Guess: Selik, Grace, Purke, Meyer, Hill, Karns
  • Mar 12 Guess:  Selik, Grace, Purke, Meyer, Hill
  • Opening Day Rotation: Winters, Hansen, Olbrychowski, Grace and Swynenberg
  • 5 guys with the most starts in 2012: Grace, Ray, Swynenberg, Olbrychowski, Karns

I was far off here as well; Purke got hurt, Meyer, Hill and Karns started lower than I would have guessed  and Selik was converted to a reliever.  I was right only on Grace (thought technically I thought Olbrychowski would be a starter, just not back in Potomac).  Winters was a MLFA (the fifth such MLFA who has appeared as a primary starter in our top three levels; is this a statement of some sort?).  As we’ll see in a moment, I was right about Hansen, just wrong about the level.  Lastly Swynenberg came out of nowhere; he was effective in middle-relief in low-A; who knew he’d win a spot in the high-A rotation?  I thought Ray would have done a few turns in low-A; instead he debuted in Potomac and struggled to make the jump.  I lost faith in Karns between September 2011 and March 2012; as it turned out he was one of the 5 top starters (in terms of appearances) for the year while putting in a career season.

Low-A:

  • Sept 11 Guess: Hansen, Jordan, Cole, Ray, Estevez, McGeary
  • Mar 12 Guess:  Turnbull, Hansen, Ray, McGeary, Karns
  • Opening Day Rotation: Estevez, Dupra/Karns, Meyer, Turnbull/Hill, McKenzie
  • 5 guys with the most starts in 2012: Hill, Meyer, Turnbull, Estevez, Hansen

What happened?  The team traded Cole.  Jordan was injured more than we were led to believe in late 2011 (he had Tommy John surgery after the season was over).   I predicted Hansen, Ray, Hill, Estevez, Meyers and Dupra would be starters, just got the levels wrong.   My Mar 12 guesses were somewhat accurate in that we got Turnbull and Karns right.  McGeary struggled through yet another injury filled season and may be nearing the end of his baseball career.  I thought Estevez was getting squeezed out with all these high-profile starters rising up.  I figured McKenzie had lost his starting shot; clearly his performance in 2012 should end his chances at getting another 2013 starting shot.  I guess the lesson here is that it can be awful difficult to determine the difference between a High-, Low- and Short-A guy.

Short-A:

  • Sept 11 Guess: Manny Rodriguez, Dupra, Baez and two draft picks.
  • Mar 12 Guess:  Manny Rodriguez, Dupra, Baez and two draft picks
  • Opening Day Rotation:  Jordan/Medina, Baez, Monar, Encarnation, and Smith
  • 5 guys with the most starts in 2012: Encarnation, Monar, Lee, Mooneyham, Fischer/Pineyro

My guess of 3 returners and 2 draft picks wasn’t entirely accurate; there wasn’t a single 2012 draft pick in the 2012 opening day rotation.  We got Baez pegged correctly but the rest of the predictions were off.  Manny Rodriguez, a converted infielder, spent the whole year on the 60-day DL.  Dupra was in high-A.  Meanwhile, a couple of guys dropping down from Low-A (Jordan, Encarnation) comprised the rotation at the beginning of the season.  Monar was a repeater from 2011 who didn’t get a ton of innings last  year.  Eventually some 2012 draftees (Mooneyham, Fischer and others) got starts as expected, and helped drive Auburn to the playoffs.

GCL:

  • Sept 11 Guess: Mieses, King, Encarnation, Medina, Marcelino
  • Mar 12 Guess:  Mieses repeating plus 4 guys from DSL and the 2012 draft.
  • Opening Day Rotation:  Mieses, Barrientos, Pineyro, Vasquez, and Schwarz
  • 5 guys with the most starts in 2012: Vasquez, Mieses, Hudgins, Selsor, Pineyro/Schwartz

Finally we got one right (well, right from Mar 12 guess anyway).  The GCL rotation was Mieses, 3 DSL graduates and one 2012 draftee.  Eventually more 2012 draftees (Hudgins, Selsor and others) consumed most of the rest of the starts.  King disappeared from the rosters; he’s still in the organization but was never assigned this season.  Injured?  Disciplinary issues?   There seems to be so much inconsistency in the DSL graduates that it almost isn’t worth tracking them until they appear in a higher level.  Honestly, this is why I don’t really follow the Dominican Summer League teams either.

Phew; that’s a lot of Nats minor league starters.  As it showed, its really, really difficult to predict this stuff from a computer in Northern Virginia, scouting the stat lines.  But its really fun, so we’ll continue to do it :-).

Harrisburg/AA Pitching Staff Year in Review; 2012

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Danny Rosenbaum led the Senators staff in 2012. Photo via wn.com

Click here for the 2011 version of this post, for a look at how things were last year.

Here’s the AA version of the 2012 season pitching staff review.  I’m going down the line from top to bottom; AAA is here.  As with the other reviews, we’ll look at the main rotation, the substitute and spot starters, then focus on key relievers.  Rehab appearances are not discussed.

Harrisburg starters.  The rotation started the season with Gilliam, Demny, Mandel, Rosenbaum and Ballard.  Lets see how the original rotation and other primary starters fared.

  • Robert Gilliam, the “forgotten man” in the mega Gio Gonalez trade in December, made the opening day start for Harrisburg but didn’t live up to his billing.  He got 13 starts before going to the bullpen, and then eventually getting demoted to Potomac.  Season AA numbers: 3-7, 6.38 ERAOutlook for next season: The team likes him as a starter; i’m guessing they give him another whirl in the AA rotation.
  • Paul Demny took a step back in his progressive career with the Nats, going 6-8 with a 5.43 ERA in 23 starts before moving primarily to the bullpen at the end of the season.  He’s still very young (just turned 23) but he’s finishing his 5th pro season and 2013 will be his “walk year.”  Interestingly, the Nats named Demny one of their AFL participants, an odd selection based on his performance this season. Outlook for next season: as with Gilliam, I’d be surprised if Demny remains a starter.  AA bullpen as a swingman unless the team needs a 5th starter.
  • Jeff Mandel started the year in the Harrisburg rotation and put in 11 middling starts before getting moved to AAA to replace an equally ineffective Mitch Atkins.  This marked the third straight season he had started in AA and moved to AAA, a sure sign of an organizational arm who filled in where needed.  Outlook for next season: see AAA post.
  • Danny Rosenbaum was supposed to be the Ace, the Star of this rotation.  He was the highest-ranked prospect and was the Organization’s best starting pitching prospects.  He didn’t really live up to his billing, going 8-10 with a 3.94 ERA and a 1.31 whip in 26 starts.  He looked great his first 10 starts and then struggled the rest of the season.  He turns 25 in the off-season and is Rule-5 Eligible.  I think the team has to protect him.  Outlook for next season: Added to 40-man roster ahead of the Rule-5 draft but back in AA to start 2013, with an eye on a mid-season promotion to AAA.
  • Mike Ballard was a Minor League Free Agent signed from Baltimore (after failing to make it in the Houston organization after 5 minor league seasons).  You would have thought he’d have been in AAA but started the season in the AA rotation.  After 12 up-and-down starts he got absolutely pounded on June 13th, hit the DL with “elbow discomfort” and has been there ever since.   Final season stats: 1-5, 4.31 ERAOutlook for next season: released.  You hate to cut a guy with a season-ending injury, but business is business.
  • Ryan Perry, astutely acquired for Collin Balester (who failed to impress in Detroit and was DFA’d earlier this year) in spring training and he competed for the MLB bullpen.  He featured briefly, was ineffective and was optioned to AAA.  The team took a look at his repertoire and decided to try to convert him to a starter in AA.  The results?  Pretty good; a 2.84 ERA and 1.11 whip in 13 AA starts.  Outlook for next season: here’s the problem with Perry; he’s out of options for 2013.  He was added to a 40-man roster in April 2009, and burned options in 2009, 2011 and this year.   So he has to either make the MLB club or be DFA’d at the end of spring training.  So look for Perry to compete for the #5 starter job or be considered trade bait in the off-season.
  • Kevin Pucetas is another Minor League Free Agent who probably was too experienced for AA (as with Ballard); he spent the previous 3 seasons in the Pacific Coast League.  For Harrisburg in 2012 he was excellent out of the pen early (posting a 1.59 era in 34 relief innings) and then was relatively mediocre in 12 starts (5-5 with a 4.81 ERA).  You have to think he was merely filler for a gap in pitcher development in this system and will be looking for work elsewhere for 2013.  Outlook for next season: with another organization.
  • Trevor Holder finally looked like he was putting things together early in Potomac, earned a mid-season promotion to Harrisburg and put up a 3.78 ERA in 10 starts (9 actual starts plus a 10th game where the “starter” went one inning on a rehab assignment).  The knock on Holder was that he was a total signability pick in 2009 after the team spent big on Strasburg and Storen.  It is good to see him putting some things together.  Outlook for next season: AA rotation.
  • Ryan Tatusko got 8 starts in 27 appearances in a long-man/spot-starter/swingman role for the team.  He was slightly better as a reliever versus a starter (his splits showing a 2.72 ERA with greater than a k/inning as a reliever, a 4.50 ERA in his 8 starts).  I have always liked Tatusko (not the least reason of which is that he writes a blog) and was eager to see him contributed after he came over (with Tanner Roark) in the Cristian Guzman trade.  But his time with the organization may be at an end; he just finished his 6th minor league season and he took a step back with the organization.  Outlook for next season: I thought he’d have been in AAA by now; perhaps 2013 is the year.  AAA swingman.
  • Other guys who got spot starts here and there (non-rehab):
    • Brian Broderick: the team’s former rule-5 pick never made it with St. Louis, and when he was released the Nats picked him up.  He got a handful of appearances down the stretch and finished the season with 3 starts.  The team clearly likes the guy and seems willing to give him a chance.  Outlook for next season: AAA rotation.
    • Austin Bibens-Dirkx, he had a couple starts early before getting promoted up to AAA, where he probably should have started the season based on his experience.   Outlook for next season: (as copied from the AAA post): with another organization.
    • Adam Olbrychowski got called up to make the last start of the season.  Outlook for next season: see High-A post.
    • Of note: Chien-Ming Wang made no less than NINE rehab starts in AA (and fifteen overall minor league rehab starts).  You can argue whether or not the organization was “bending” the DL/service time rules or not; either way I can’t see how Wang stays with this team for 2013 and beyond.

Harrisburg Relievers: taking a look at the relief corps at the end of the season.  They used an awful lot of them.

  • Marcos Frias finishes his 6th pro season taking a step back from his 2011 numbers in high-A.  On the year, a 4.82 ERA in 65 1/3 relief innings.   He’s still very young, being a DSL graduate and yet to turn 24.  Technically he’s rule-5 eligible but its hard to see a team taking a flier on a RH reliever without knock-out stuff.  Outlook for next season: back in AA bullpen.
  • Erik Davis was generally excellent all season for Harrisburg, posting a 2.52 ERA in 64 1/3 relief innings.  He earned a late season promotion to AAA.  The former starter and trade bounty for Alberto Gonzalez technically is rule-5 eligible but the risk of losing him seems slight.  Outlook for next season: AAA bullpen, looking to become the next Christian Garcia.
  • Patrick McCoy had a pretty good season out of the pen in Harrisburg; 7-3 with a 3.70 era in 58 1/3 innings.  He was rule-5 eligible in 2011 but didn’t get picked up.  Now he’s one year from being a Minor League Free Agent.  Outlook for next season: AA or perhaps AAA bullpen, whoever needs a left hander.
  • Hector Nelo, who was released by Texas in April of 2011, finished the year with strong numbers as the team’s primary closer.  He had a 2.73 era and 16 saves in 52 2/3s innings over 47 appearances.  More importantly his K/9 rates really jumped from 2011.   He’s the kind of big-time arm that Mike Rizzo loves (he can reportedly hit 100mph) and should get some looks going foward.  He’s tied to the organization for one more season.  Outlook for next season: the closer in AAA.
  • Rafael Martin was as unbelievably bad statistically in 2012 as he was good in 2011.  How do you go from a 1.65 ERA across 2 organizations in 2011 to a 6.69 ERA in 2012?  Perhaps the answer is either a late-season injury or fatigue; in his last four appearances in AA this season he gave up 11 earned runs; the 6 appearances before that just one.  He’s no spring chicken though; he’s already 28 and is far far too old for AA at this point.  Outlook for next season: bullpen in AAA and hoping for a rebound to 2011’s numbers.
  • Cameron Selik pitched 1/3 of an inning in AA before a season-ending injury.  Outlook for next season: See High-A writeup.
  • Pat Lehman got promoted to AAA.  Joe Testa got demoted to High-A.  See those write-ups for outlooks.
  • Other Relievers who appeared in AA of note (not including Rehabbing MLBers): Outlook for next season for all of these guys seems the same: either continued “org guy” middle reliever or minor league FA in another organization.
    • Zech Zinicola came back to the team after being rule-5 drafted in late 2009, and remains an organizational arm.
    • Jimmy Barthmaier split time between AA and high-A.  Org arm.
    • Corey VanAllen was demoted down from AAA and then got hurt in July.   Org arm, maybe a loogy in AA again.

Summary

Harrisburg struggled to find a good consistent group of starters.  My guesses on what role these guys will play next season list too many guys getting dumped into the bullpen, so it may be interesting to see who gets another shot at starting in 2013.  Unfortunately these injuries and inconsistencies cost the team a near-certain 2nd half playoff spot.

Nats Off-season News Items Wrap-up 2/19/12 edition

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RIP Gary Carter, one of only two Montreal Expos enshrined in Cooperstown. Photo via garycarter.org

This is your semi-weekly/periodic wrap-up of Nats and other baseball news that caught my eye.  I try to publish this about weekly or if it gets up to about 1500 words, so that it’s not to voluminous.

Nationals In General

  • Mark Zuckerman writes about a favorite topic of mine w/r/t the current Nats 40-man roster and its construction.  See here for a similar discussion of the 2011 Nats (along with analysis of the 8 playoff teams) from last October.  Clearly the more players you’re using as your “primary 15” that were developed in house, the better you’re doing as a player development machine.  But there’s also the measure of cashing in those prospects in order to acquire resources.  (Coincidentally the “primary 15” of a team means its 8 starters in the field, 5 rotation members, setup man and closer).  By last year’s end, the Nats were starting 9 of these 15 as players developed in house and were down to just three acquired via FA/Waivers.  That’s a massive step up from just a few years prior, when most of the team was FA/Waiver pickups.  We’ll revisit this topic once the 25-man rosters for teams are finalized and play starts in April.
  • The Washington Franchise leads the league in employment of Negative WAR players over the past decade.   A staggering 31% of our players in this time have shown negative WARs per season.   This is not surprising given what we know of the construction of the first few iterations of the Nationals; Zuckerman has done studies in the past related to the staggering number of players the Nats have played at the MLB level who, after leaving us, never appeared in a major league game again.   The last time Zuckerman did this study that I could find was Nov 2010, when he identified 59 such players just since 2005.  I don’t know what percentage that is of all players who appeared for us in that time-frame, but it seems high.  (note: I just did some analysis and will return with a blog posting on this topic soon).
  • Back to the negative war topic, here’s a list of such negative WAR seasons for the 2011 iteration of the team: Alex Cora, Jesus Flores, Chris Marrero, Steve Lombardozzi, Matt Stairs, Livan Hernandez, Doug Slaten, Brian Broderick, Yuniesky Maya, Collin Balester and Chad Gaudin.  That’s 11 of the 44 players who appeared in the majors for us last year, or exactly 25%.  So we’re not exactly out of the woods yes; clearly we continue to employ a ton of players who end up hurting the team.  (For the record I used bWAR instead of fWAR for this, since its a bit easier to see that data.  But i’d guess the analysis would come out the same for either measurement method).
  • Another article on Edwin Jackson and pitch-tipping.  Is it possible that a player could play for years and never have a hitter teammate tell him he’s tipping his pitches?  I think it depends on what team the pitcher plays for.  Mike Mussina infamously was told he tipped his change up once he moved to the Yankees, and he made the adjustment that enabled his stellar 2006 season.  Maybe the team should have just kept its mouth shut about their thoughts and not told every reporter in every press conference that they think their new $11M pitcher is flawed.

Free Agents/Player Transaction News

  • Interesting thoughts on whether “4-A” players really do exist and how to quantify them from Fangraphs.com.  Read through the comments for some better thoughts.  For me, this issue touches on two opinions I’ve been growing.  1st; yes there does exist 4-A players; the Nats have shown to have a slew of them recently.  Guys whose minor league performance literally disappears upon reaching the majors.  I don’t know how to quantify it but there’s clearly guys who bounce freely between the two levels and seem destined to max out as such a 4-A player.  2ndly: Is AAA now a “lesser” league than AA?  Perhaps not with all systems (for example, Tampa Bay insists all their prospects play full seasons at each level, as does Atlanta), but for the Nats we’ve seen some interesting promotion behavior lately.  Stephen Strasburg got hit harder in AA than in AAA during his brief minor league apprenticeship, but the difference is rather slight.  But watching the games you got the distinct feeling that his AA competition was getting decent wood on the bat, while in AAA it was like he was pitching to little leaguers.  This goes to my theory that AAA is morphing into a “spare parts” league, where teams stash backup utility players (mostly catchers, middle infielders, relief pitchers) who are on the 40-man and can quickly be recalled to fill a spot, while AA is the place where your rising prospects play full seasons in preparation for promotion to the majors.  Jordan Zimmermann never pitched a AAA inning, rising from a full season in Harrisburg straight to our rotaton.  Strasburg probably could have done the same.  Will we see Bryce Harper jump straight from AA to the Majors or will the strategy of Mike Rizzo going forward be more Tampa-esque, requiring each prospect to “master” each level rising upwards?
  • A surprise team lands Yoenis Cespedes, namely the penny-pinching Oakland A’s in a 4yr/$36M deal.  4 years and $36M!?  That’s more than they will spend in payroll on their entire TEAM in 2012.  Maybe.  That’s a lot of cash for a completely unproven, if talented player who I’d say is not entirely MLB ready.

General Baseball News

  • Excellent article on the Demise of the Spitball and other Doctoring techniques from Grantland’s Jonah Keri, whose writing I’ve always liked and who is working on a historical retrospective on the Montreal Expos franchise.   Keri’s article talks about the Kenny Rogers pine-tar incident in the 2006 World series, but I don’t consider that “doctoring” the baseball.  That was simply using pine-tar to get a better grip on a cold, wet night.  Not that its legal; just different from the more conventional definition of a “spitball.”   Keri’s conclusion as to why the spitball has disappeared is attributed to the invention of the modern split-fingered fastball (attributed to Bruce Sutter) and to the lack of proper teachers (the craft of doctoring the ball has been handed down generation to generation by pitching coaches).  But honestly I believe the decline is more attributable to two other factors; the lingering stigma of getting caught being higher now post-PED era than every before, and the fact that the true “spitball” is damn difficult to throw (imagine trying to “throw” a baseball with the same motion you might use to squirt a pumpkin seed from your fingers?  That’s what throwing a spitball is like to a certain extent).
  • In typical modern day sabrematrician blogger nerd fashion, someone at a stats-oriented site goes about attacking another writer’s observation column.  In this case, it is someone at Baseball Prospectus attacking the Verducci Effect.  I can’t argue with his stats (other than to quibble with the lack of publication of his control group for comparison), but I suspect he misses the point.  I don’t think Verducci passes this list off as a statistical study; i think its passed off as a subjective list of candidate pitchers who HE THINKS may regress.  See, there’s the rub.  He’s already done the breakdown from the “control” group of pitchers who may be candidates for his study but whom he thinks may not be in jeopardy.  So I’m presuming that, because of this pre-selection and expression of opinion this is no longer a statistical study but an opinion piece.  I’d liken it to analyzing statistically the results of an amateur scout’s player recommendations; sure you could run one in order to judge a scout’s prognostication ability, but there’s so much variation in what happens to players once they sign that it wouldn’t be meaning ful.  I guess my take away is this: Verducci does a pretty durn good job of predicting red-flags for these pitchers (84% over the past 5 years), that maybe we should just recognize his study for what it is, and not overanalyze it to try to discredit it.
  • A nice article about another favorite topic of mine: the relationship between Wins and salary.  The familiar narrative is that payroll discrepancies are killing modern baseball, and to a certain extent I do agree; its no coincidence that the high payroll Yankees have only missed one playoff appearance in the nearly-20 years since the wild card era began.  But the ratio of wins to salary is dropping.  Why?  Because several teams have sacrificed several seasons to basically reset and start over.   Tampa Bay and Texas are the best recent examples, but we’re also seeing remnants of this theory here in Washington and starting anew in Houston and Chicago.
  • Nice little Intro to Sabremetrics from Espn-W.  The author doesn’t go into the real in-depth stats that a lot of people are gravitating to but does cover the basics.  OPS, Fip, UZr, wOBA, Vorp and WAR.  Now if we could only decide on a standard WAR.  :-)
  • Another classy move from baseball’s classiest organization; the Miami Marlins.  Yeah, lets un-retire the number of a former employee who died tragically since, well, he didn’t work for the current ownership group.

General News; other

  • Excellent article at Grantland.com on the Effects of CTE and the possible future (end?) of Football as we know it.  This is something I have been saying for a while and agree with; the increased awareness of concussions and their relationship to the longer term effects (the affliction known as Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy or CTE) may soon start to really change the way that people think about the sport.  More to the point, as a parent does the thought of repeated concussions inflicted on your young football-playing son give you pause?  It would for me.  Read this article and it makes some very good points.  90,000 recorded pre-collegiate concussions per year?!


Ladson’s inbox: 12/12/11 edition

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I can't believe Prince Fielder is a vegetarian. Photo unknown via thesportsbank.net

Another edition of mlb.com beat reporter Bill Ladson‘s inbox, dated 12/12/11.  I’m a bit behind this week but the questions are still current.

As always, I write my response before reading his, and sometimes edit questions for clarity.

Q: Would Prince Fielder pick the Nats over other suitors because we’re closer to the playoffs?

A: He could … if the Nats were really interested.  Its hard to tell right now if the team is really interested in Fielder.  He doesn’t really fit Mike Rizzo‘s vision of a team of track stars.  He’d block the natural eventual position of Michael Morse, who right now is blocking one or more high-end prospect we have coming up.  We have a first baseman in Adam LaRoche already under contract for 2012.  The move, while certainly a massive upgrade at 1st over what we got out of LaRoche last year, would also waste a significant portion of their 2012 payroll.  We’ll see what happens; if this team is really serious about winning, then getting more offense is paramount.  Ladson says the team is not pursuing him.

Q: What was the point of the Ryan Perry-Collin Balester trade?

A: For the Nats, its a great move.  We take a guy who probably wasn’t in our 2012 plans and who was out of options and turn him into exactly what we do need; a hard-throwing right handed bullpen option.  I can’t speak for the Tigers, who probably have soured on Perry after his poor 2011 numbers, and who may have wanted/needed a longer-man out of the pen.  Ladson says both guys needed a change of scenery.

Q: Would Casey Blake be a good addition to the Nats’ bench? He has better overall numbers than Mark DeRosa.

A: Sure, except that he’s probably still thinking he’s a starter.  He was serviceable in 2009 and 2010 and got hurt in 2011.  If he took a backup position, absolutely.  Ladson agrees.

Q: Why have the Nationals been so quiet this offseason? I thought that they were looking to add the final pieces. If they don’t act, the Nationals may miss their window.

A: I’m guessing the team wasn’t really in on any of the names that have dropped thus far.  They got flat-outbid for Buehrle, wasn’t that into Wilson, and we havn’t heard a peep out of Oswalt‘s camp.  There’s no major CF on the market, and trades are gonna be tough to make happen.  Ladson agrees, and says perhaps the team will be on Cespedes.

Q: I’ve heard the Nationals are interested in Cespedes. Can he make an immediate impact at the Major League level?

A: Speak of the devil.  The team is interested, and there’s almost no chance he makes an immediate impact frankly.  Cuba is considered a high-A level of talent, so he’d clearly be looking at some minor league time.  This team needs a CF for opening day.  Cespedes makes more sense for a team with a good pipeline of talent not afraid to take an expensive long term risk.  I’m not sure he makes sense for us.  Ladson gives a non-answer.

Q: A while ago, there was talk about Hanley Ramirez requesting a trade due to his unwillingness to move to third base. What are the chances that the Nats move shortstop Ian Desmond to the Rays for B.J. Upton and then send Stephen Lombardozzi and LaRoche to the Marlins for Ramirez? This would give the Nationals an All-Star shortstop and center fielder. This would also allow for Morse to move back to first base and Bryce Harper to play left field.

A: (I had to cut-n-paste this whole question so I could properly mock it).  Desmond is turning into a complete good-field no-hit player, while BJ Upton is nearly a 5-tool player.  How is that possibly an even trade?  Then, an even more ridiculous trade proposal; a 3rd tier first baseman and a slap hitting middle infielder prospect for one of the best players in the game.  Why, why would either of the Florida teams do these trades??

Ladson actually says he’d rather have Desmond instead of Upton!?  And then gives credence to the Ramirez trade.  *Sigh*.



Nats Off-season News Items Wrap-up 12/13/11 edition

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Fare the well Mr Balester; we'll miss your moustache's twitter account. Photo Nats official Al Bello/Getty Images North America via zimbio.com

I have a new rule: when this post hits 1500 words, I’ll publish it no matter what the date.

Nationals In General

  • Re-signing Ryan Zimmerman thoughts, since it keeps coming up thanks to the Pujols signing, Jim Bowden comments and Natmosphere bloggers bringing it up.  After an injury-plagued year (and really, the 3rd such injury-marred year he’s had out of 6 full pro seasons, including 2 surgeries and one torn labrum he just rehabbed but which cost him 1/3 of a season), the team rightfully should be concerned about giving him a Troy Tulowitzki like deal, guaranteeing money for 10 years.  But on the flip side, ironically after such an injury year his value is down and the team probably can save some money by signing him longer term.  The new CBA takes away a lot of the draft pick compensation we would expect by letting him go to Free Agency, and trading him in the middle of 2013, while we’re probably in the middle of a pennant race, would be a non-starter.
  • Speaking of Zimmerman, everyone’s favorite ex-Nats GM Jim Bowden posts some potential Hanley Ramirez trade ideas, you know, since he’s a petulant superstar already prone to being a clubhouse cancer and now in the position of having to move to 3B, probably without being told ahead of time that the team was nearing a deal with Jose Reyes.  His #1 option: Ramirez for Zimmerman straight up.  Bowden is convinced the Nats, by virtue of not having addressed Zimmerman’s contract status, are going to let him walk at the end of 2013.  Its not the first time he’s brought it up.  Hey Jim; stop trying to MAKE the news and just report on it.
  • Some cool blog posts from Nats minor leaguer Ryan Tatusko, on the differences between learning in Pro ball versus College, and another posting just before it on the “art of throwing a ball.”
  • Trade announced Friday 12/9/11: Collin Balester to the Tigers for rhp Ryan Perry.  A good move for both sides: the Nats were likely to have to waive Balester at the end of spring training by virtue of his lack of options, so we get something for nothing.  Perry has an option left and, while his 2011 numbers were pretty bad, he does have one more  option remaining so the team can use spring training as a tryout of sorts.  Perry could be a natural replacement for Todd Coffey, and is a good move since clearly Balester’s value to the team has ceased and we still need a couple of bullpen arms.  Great analysis of the trade here from Masn’s new beat reporter Pete Kerzel.  Great human-interest angle here from Amanda Comak: Balester’s wife is from Detroit so the family is ecstatic that he’s playing so close now.
  • Byron Kerr, whose writing I normally like, wrote a laughably pro-team article about some of our marginal relievers.  The quotes about Doug Slaten are especially ridiculous, quoting our new bench coach Randy Knorr as saying that Slaten is “one of the three best left-handed relievers in the National League.”   That is so ridiculous that I had to comment on the article and call Kerr’s reporting into question.
  • Henry Rodriguez‘s change-up was listed among the “more interesting” pitches to talk about in baseball by Sam Miller from Baseball Prospectus.  Also thrown in there is Roy Halladay‘s cutter, Mariano Rivera‘s cutter, Javier Lopez‘s drop-down side-arm fastball and Brad Lidge‘s slider.  All of these pitches are analyzed in various statistical measures.
  • The Non-tender deadline came and went, and the team acted as I predicted here.  They protected all their arbitration-eligible guys outside of Doug Slaten.  Here’s a link to MLBtraderumors non-tender tracker for all 30 teams, and there are definitely some interesting names out there now for the Nats, who definitely have some FA needs.  Peter Moylan, Ryan Theriot, Joe Saunders, Andy Sonnanstine and a few others.  BJ Upton was tendered, meaning we’re going to have to give up some prospects to get him.  Mind you, some of these non-tenders are part of pre-arranged deals to come back to the club, but some are definitely the team cutting ties.

Free Agents/Player Transaction News

  • Let the bidding begin!  Yu Darvish officially posts, and as a side-effect makes his soon-to-be-ex-wife a multi-millionare.  Good for him (and her).  Mike Rizzo and the Nationals have definitely scouted the guy and are interested; how high will be willing to go on the posting fee to “win” the negotiations?  Another thought: why wouldn’t we just blow out the posting fee, guarantee the win, then play uber-hardball with Darvish on a contract to make the entire package reasonable?  If we can’t agree on terms, he goes back to Japan (where he clearly has nothing left to prove) but nobody else gets him?  Sounds a little disingenuous but its a strategy.  In any case, we’ll know the posting winner by Wednesday.
  • How do the Tampa Bay Rays keep doing this?  Phenom pitcher Matt Moore signed a 5yr/$14M contract that has club options that could max it out at 8yrs/$40M and buys out the first two free agency years.  I wonder if, 4 years from now, we’ll be looking at this contract and absolutely shaking our heads in disbelief at how underpaid he is.  Kinda like how we look at Evan Longoria‘s contract and say the same thing.
  • A good point about the Angels’ Pujols signing: they now have way too many guys who play first base and outfield.  Morales, Trumbo, and Abreu seem to be first basemen only, and they still have the outfield quartet of Wells, Hunter, Bourjos and uber prospect Mike Trout.   They fixed some catcher depth issues, they don’t need starting pitching.  I wonder what the Nats could do to take some of these hitters off their hands?
  • Arizona lands one of the Oakland starters Trevor Cahill in trade.  Arizona bolsters their division-winning rotation, now looking at Kennedy, Hudson, Cahill, Saunders and Collmenter.  Not bad.  Most pundits are calling the trade a steal for Arizona, who gave up a 1st rounder but only two other mediocre prospects.
  • Turns out the Nats were off by a significant amount on Mark Buehrle.  We offered 3yrs/$39M versus the 4yrs/$58M he got from Miami.  No wonder he took their deal.  Too bad; he would have been a good addition.  Not the addition I would have gone after, but still a solid #3 starter for the next few years.
  • All those people who write “Pujols should have stayed”  or “Pujols has tarnished his legacy” articles should probably zip it.  As is depicted here, the Angels clearly showed they wanted Albert for the long term, including the personal services contract.  Not to mention their offer beat St. Louis’ by $40M.   You just cannot leave $40M on the table.  A few million over a number of years, sure.  $40M?  No way.  Oh, and for everyone who says “well, Stan Musial stayed with St. Louis his whole career,” I will counter with this: “Musial had a reserve clause, Pujols does not.  If icons from the pre 1970s had free agency as an option to earn more money and move to better situations, you’d be a fool to think that they wouldn’t have used that system.”
  • Would you take a flier on AJ Burnett?  The Yankees apparently are willing to eat $8M of the $33M owed to him over the next two years.  If he moved from the AL East to the NL East, he’d probably see a full point reduction in his ERA.  But a quick look at his career stats lends me to believe that he’s barely above mediocre but paid like a super-star.  Burnett’s career ERA+ is now 105.  Our own John Lannan‘s?  103.

General Baseball News

  • Since I’m a bay-area native, I’m always interested in reading news blips about San Francisco and Oakland teams.  Here’s Andrew Clem with a quick blog post with some interesting links to potential new stadium sites and designs.  The big sticking point, obviously, is that the Giants claim San Jose as their territory.  And its hard to argue with them; clearly the “bay area” of San Francisco is exactly the suburbs of San Francisco.  Even though its roughly the same geographical distance from DC to Baltimore as it is from San Francisco to San Jose, there are three major highways to ease the traffic flow (as opposed to one between the two east coast cities) and people routinely make their way up and down the peninsula to commute.  Thus, its going to be a very difficult sell for Oakland to move south, even if they stay across the bay in the Fremont area.  I don’t know the solution; just that the A’s now reside in the same division as the 2-time defending AL champs AND the Angels with their newly minted $170M payroll.  Ouch.
  • Unbelievable: the reigning NL MVP Ryan Braun reportedly has tested positive for a synthetic testosterone and faces a 50-game ban.  What an unexpected piece of news; one of the “new generation” of sluggers who wasn’t tainted at all by the shenanigans of the last 90s now has thrown us back into the same PED conversation we’ve been having for years.  That being said, there is some hope in reading the linked article.  Apparently he asked for a second test, and he was clean in the second test.  There are “false positive” tests all the time.  The case is under appeal but has leaked out (unfortunately for the slugger, who now faces the stigma of the positive test even if its a false positive).
  • Boston announces that Daniel Bard will be moved to the starting rotation in 2012.  Excellent move by Boston; if Bard is just a decent starter, he’s still far more valuable than as a reliever.  Of course, this more or less guts the back end of their bullpen, so look for Boston to sign some of the reliever/closer talent still available on the FA market.

General News; other

  • Not that you may care about the BCS and college football, but here’s a fantastic analysis of the BCS formulas and the flaws contained within them.  It isn’t a bombshell article, but does show some troubling facts about a system that has built in flaws, with coaches voting on items that have a direct effect on their own teams’ successes.


Nats Off-season News Items Wrap-up 12/9/11 edition

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Probably the biggest Nats news of the week was who we DIDN’T get. Photo Peter Christian via thesportsbank.net

Weekly wrap-up of Nats and other baseball news that caught my eye.  With the absolute deluge of baseball news, rumors, and unbelievable FA signings this week I frankly got lost in the shuffle, so most of these items are from the weekend and early this week.  Hopefully you know by now about Reyes, Buehrle, Wilson, Pujols and our Rule5 losses.  If not, you’re just not a true baseball fan now are you?  :-)

Nationals In General

  • An excellent good-bye blog posting from Ben Goessling, leaving the MASN Nats beat for his home-town paper.  No permanent replacement has been hired, but MASN still has Byron Kerr putting out excellent prospect-focused posts, and Pete Kerzel temporarily filling in for Goessling during the Winter meetings (and perhaps beyond).
  • Well, now we know what Stan Kasten plans on doing in his post-Washington career.  Unfortunately for Kasten, Bud Selig can’t just give him the Dodgers as has been his custom in “awarding” teams to new owners.
  • Byron Kerr reports that Hector Nelo, our high-A reliever who is pitching in Venezuela, can now hit 100mph.  He always had a high velocity arm, but being a 25-yr old in high-A isn’t necessarily the most impressive feat.  He was an April minor league free agent pick up, having been released by the Texas organization after putting up pretty mediocre figures.  I’m projecting him in our AA bullpen for 2012.  He may be able to hit those high figures, but its not being reflected in amazing k/9 rates.  I remain skeptical that he can be an impact arm for us in the future.
  • As noted elsewhere, Keith Law‘s posted his “top 50 under 25” list of players under 25 but who have already lost their rookie eligibility.   Its insider-only but Amanda Comak at the Washington Times pretty much cut-n-pasted the entire list late last week.  You can google it or search her archives.  3 Nats made the list: Strasburg, Ramos, and Espinosa.  No real quibbles about those Nats left off; Drew Storen would have qualified, as could have Desmond and some weaker members of the bullpen/bench, but clearly Law doesn’t rate closers (nor do I, really).  He has Craig Kimbrel, 2012’s ROY at #49.  Law’s little dig at Desmond in his Espinosa write-up also indicates his opinion of the hitting capabilities of our current starting SS.  I do question some of his rankings: I’d certainly have ranked Kershaw above one-year wonders such as Mike Stanton, but perhaps Law’s explanation of his ranking (he’s looking at projections for the next 6 years versus what they’ve already accomplished), explains it away.
  • Well, there goes one OF option: Laynce Nix has signed with the rival Phillies.  Most reports seemed to indicate that the 2-year guarantee solidified the deal for Nix, who faces at best a LF platoon in Philadelphia.  Still, he could turn in a 20-homer season rather easily hitting in that bandbox.
  • Jim Riggleman signed on to manage the Cincinnati AA franchise, a bit of a step down from a MLB manager job but at least he has on-field work.
  • In what is sure to inspire a fire-storm of Natmosphere posts, Jim Bowden reports that Ryan Zimmerman‘s agents have been “rebuffed” in opening contract extension talks.  I can’t blame Rizzo here: you’ve got a franchise player who can’t stay healthy; he’s a risk to guarantee a bunch of years and a bunch of money.  Yes, everyone’s a risk to give guaranteed contracts … perhaps why the team needs to think on it a bit more.
  • Uh oh.  Sammy Solis is visiting Dr. Yocum to get his elbow looked at.  This is not a good sign.  Can anyone say Tommy John surgery?

Free Agents/Player Transaction News

  • A month-old post, but somehow I missed it.  Jeff Passan‘s free agent tracker, with some concise opinion on each of 181 free agents this off-season.  No predictions but on-point analysis.
  • Wow.  Heath Bell gets 3yrs/$27M from the Marlins.  Not that I don’t think he’s a good closer, and not that I really care that the Marlins just acquired a player being paid in AAV the equivalent of 1/8th of their 2011 payroll.  Maybe this whole “Marlins are going to spend money” thing is for real.  I agree with Neyer‘s assessment here: “that’s a lot for a guy who is going to throw 65 innings.”  Predictably, Keith Law hates the deal.
  • Even more Wow: Jose Reyes signs for a reported 6yr/$106M deal with these same Marlins.  One has to wonder if we’re looking at another dynasty build-up/epic team dismantling situation.
  • Jon Heyman‘s list of 10 busiest clubs for the Winter meetings, and somehow the Nats, whose name is associated with practically every FA in some form or another, are not on the list.
  • We could soon find out just how serious the Nats interest is in Yoenis Cespedes, with him possibly being declared a FA within the next week or so.
  • Despite some opinions that the Rule 5 draft is useless, there are active teams every year (The Nats included).  Here’s one blog’s Top 25 available Rule 5 draft potentials.  He does list three Nationals: Brad Meyers, Sandy Leon and Erik Komatsu.  He also lists the top other prospects by system.  That’s a TON of research frankly, digging through rule5 eligibles from all 30 minor league systems.  Of course, John Manuel did the same on Baseball America, posting part 2 of his review, highlighting some favorites for role players (utility infielders, 4th outfielders, loogys and middle relievers).  I’m guessing its from this group that the Nats may tempt fate and look to fill some bench spots.  12/7/11 Update: sure enough we lost both Meyers and Komatsu.  So irritated.
  • Sometimes, star athletes just don’t know how to say good bye.  Manny Ramirez has filed for re-instatement and plans on playing in 2012 after serving his 2nd drug suspension.  He’ll have to improve on his 1-17 outing for Tampa Bay last season.
  • Interesting potential trade tidbit posted by new Masn beat reporter Pete Kerzel: Boston possibly dangling either Josh Reddick or Ryan Kalish in trade for starting pitchers (names mentioned include Ross Detwiler and Collin Balester).  I’d like any trade permutation here; both Detwiler and Balester are out of options and increasingly with every Buehrle/Wilson/Oswalt rumor Detwiler’s chances of making our 25-man roster diminish.

General News; Baseball and other.

  • “Just in time,” indeed.  Rob Neyer reports that the Feds are investigating the incredibly shady Marlins stadium deal.  Jeff Passan also mentions the SEC subpoenas for financial records, meeting minutes, etc, looking for evidence of bribery of federal officials.  Nothing would make me cackle more than to find out that the Marlin’s owners and management were to expect a federal indictment for corruption.  Everything I’ve ever read about Jeffrey Loria, David Samson, and Larry Benifest and anything related to the Marlins as an organization and this stadium deal in particular has been negative, and this undoubtedly will be no different.  I hope Selig is happy with himself for engineering Loria’s Expos sale and Marlins purchase, as well as watching his new buddy subsequently pocket millions and millions of dollars in revenue sharing whilst occupying the 6th largest market by MSA.
  • Wow.  Jon Heyman is leaving SI for CBS.  This prolific writer is well known for being ahead of the curve on baseball news, and leaves a pretty big hole in the baseball reporting department for cnnsi.com.
  • Interesting precedent setting event: MLB has restored Mike Trout‘s rookie eligibility for 2012.   He’ll certainly be a candidate .. if he can get on the field.  Matt Moore may be a better candidate, based on what we saw in September and October though.
  • I’ll put in just enough opinion to get into trouble on the BCS: LSU-Alabama repeat for the National Championship is an abomination of justice when looking at the Alabama season in basic comparison to Oklahoma State.  The OK State-Stanford game will be 10x as enjoyable.  I only wish the BCS could have had 100% egg on its face with LSU losing the SEC title game but still being pretty much guaranteed a match up in the Championship.  I would have laughed.  Call me when there’s a playoff.
  • I didn’t realize they were nominated: legendary college coaches Mike Krzyzewski and Pat Summitt received 2011’s SI Sportsman of the  Year award.  Clearly these were “career” awards, as opposed to anything specific to 2011.
  • In case you were interested, or wanted to nit-pick every Hall of Fame ballot to death, here’s a blogger who tracks all the BBWAA voters and finds their HoFame votes.
  • Not to get into too much politics here, but Mitt Romney‘s reported dig on Barack Obama‘s planned 17-day vacation smacks of hypocrisy.  All he needs to do is check the record on George W. Bush‘s days spent “on vacation” while office and perhaps he’d wish he wasn’t casting stones.  In fact, depending on how you interpret this research, Bush spent nearly 32 PERCENT of his time in office actually back home at his ranch or at Camp David.



Nationals off-season todo-list: 2011 edition

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Signing Wang took care of one of our most important off-season tasks. Photo via Washington Nationals

(I’ve had this in draft form for weeks; might as well publish it now that the FA period has started).

Before we get too deep into the off-season, I thought it’d be good to do a level set of what exactly this team is in the market for.  Last year’s to-do list included a Center Fielder (Ankiel), a Right Fielder (Werth), a First baseman (LaRoche), a couple of Utility Infielders (Cora, Hairston), some veteran Starting Pitching (Gorzelanny), and some bullpen help (Coffey, Ramirez).

Based on how the team has played down the stretch and watching some players rise and fade in September, here’s what I think the team’s off-season to-do list may look like.

First, lets start with what we know we do NOT need.  Here’s players that seemingly have spots already locked up for 2012:

  • C: With Pudge leaving, Ramos and Flores seem set to be the 2 catchers for a while here.  Flores is healthy but clearly inferior to Ramos right now both defensively and at the plate.  We just added Solano and Norris for catcher cover in case someone gets hurt.
  • 1B: LaRoche should be back healthy, and Morse has shown he clearly can play first if not, though that would lead to a hole in left field.
  • 2B: Should be ably filled by Espinosa, or Lombardozzi if we move Espinosa to short (see next).
  • SS: Desmond‘s one of the lowest qualifying OPS hitters in the league, but the team management loves him.  I’m guessing he’s given one more season.  Rizzo has already stated he’s not after Jose Reyes, and the Marlins seem set to over-pay him.
  • 3B: Zimmerman isn’t going anywhere, despite some blogger’s statements that he should be moved.
  • LF: We’re assuming that Morse is the starter in left.
  • RF: As with Zimmerman, Werth is set to play right field well into the next presidency.
  • SPs: Strasburg, Zimmermann, and Lannan seem locks to be in the rotation.  We re-signed Wang for the #4 rotation spot.  There’s some talk here and there about non-tendering Lannan; he’s a solid mid-rotation guy who is still under arbitration control who is underrated by most people outside of this area, and I believe it would be a mistake to cut him loose at this stage.
  • Setup/Closer: Clippard and Storen managed to survive silly trade rumors this season and should be the 8th/9th inning tandem for at least 2012.
  • Loogy: Burnett: He struggled at times in 2011. He’s also under contract for 2012 with guaranteed money.  So he’s going to be back.  He’s more than a loogy though, so we’ll look for the team to replace Slaten.
  • Middle Relief: Henry Rodriguez and Ryan Mattheus look to return in their middle relief roles.  Kimball will be on the 60-day DL until he’s proven to have regained his fastball.

That’s actually a pretty large chunk of our planned 25-man roster (17 of the 25 are already accounted for, for the most part).

So, what do we need?  In rough priority order:

  • Center Field: again, we go into an off season with questions about center field.  Ankiel had a decent September but overall his 2011 offense was poorl.  He does fit Rizzo’s defensive mind, but is he the answer?  Perhaps this is the off-season Rizzo finally gets Upton or Span or someone of that ilk.  Or perhaps we re-sign Ankiel to a holding deal, waiting for wunder-kid Bryce Harper to come up and take over.  Or, perhaps the lineups that Johnson has been fielding in September featuring Morse in LF, Werth in CF and Nix in RF are telling enough that we can “get by” without investing in a center fielder for 2012.  (I’ve got a very large CF-only post coming up, with lots more detail).
  • Right-handed middle relief: we may have to go digging for one-year FA Todd Coffey types again, because Kimball is on the DL til probably July and Carr was flat out released in September.  That’s it in terms of 40-man roster options for right handed relievers.  An internal option could be using Peacock as a 7th inning guy in 2012; he’s shown he can bring it 95-96 and perhaps even higher in short term situations.  The team doesn’t seem to trust either Balester or Stammen, meaning we need a one-year guy.
  • Utility guys: we used Hairston, Cora, and Bixler as backup infielders.  Hairston did a great job starting at 3B in Zimmerman’s absence; the other two were awful.  So we need a couple replacements.  Lombardozzi could fit in, but he’d be better served with a full season in AAA.  Bixler was waived and claimed, so we’re almost guaranteed to go hunting on the FA pile.
  • Backup Outfielder: Bernadina seems to have run out of chances with this team.  Corey Brown has been god-awful in AAA this year and was assigned off of our 40-man to the AAA team.  Nix and Gomes are FAs.  We can’t possibly offer Gomes arbitration and guarantee him a $2M salary, and Nix can’t hit lefties. In any case, we look like we may need a backup outfielder from somewhere.  Nix has been getting starts in RF (as mentioned above) down the stretch and certainly has enough power to feature 6th in a lineup.  Perhaps he’s worth another year.  The team was in preliminary talks on a 2012 contract with him but nothing official has been signed.
  • Loogy: we could use a one-out guy, assuming that we need a 2nd lefty to Burnett.  I’m guessing that Severino is not the answer, based on how little use he got in September.  Or maybe he is.  Certainly I’d prefer giving him a shot versus scraping the bottom of the reliever barrel again and finding another guy who performs as badly as Slaten.
  • Starting Pitcher: We re-signed our own FA Wang, and continue to be in the mix for more of a marquee name like Buehrle and Oswalt.  Do we need another starter?  Signing either of these two vets will probably indicate team flexibility to trade some of our younger starting pitching cache of Detwiler, Peacock, and Milone, but also may end up blocking a guy who could be just as good for a fraction of the price.
  • Long man: I’m guessing that we assign a long man from one of  Gorzelanny (most likely), Detwiler (somewhat likely), Balester and Stammen (less likely).  The team seems down on both the latter guys, who are probably destined for DFA when they run out of options.

So, thats a somewhat big todo list.  Some spots are clearly fill-able from within, but we’re still looking at a few acquisitions.

Syracuse/AAA Pitching Staff Year in Review; 2011

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Tom Milone was your AAA pitching star of 2011. Photo Tom Priddy/Four Seam Images via Milb.com

(editors note before we begin; I’m sure my faithful readers noted that I abandoned the Minor League Rotation Review posts right after the 4th of July.  That was right around the same date I put in notice and began the process of switching consulting engagements.  Free time and post-work free time suddenly evaporated and something had to give.  Paying gigs before volunteer ones unfortunately.)

That being said, I did maintain the good/soso/bad all the way through the season, and did my best to keep up with the various reliever movements (my interest is mostly with the starters in the system).  Now that the regular seasons are over, I’ll do a team-by-team review of the pitchers, the moves and where guys may/should start in 2012.  Ideally this set of reviews should start with the MLB roster, but since the minor leagues are done, I’ll hit them up first.

Syracuse’s rotation started the year with two guys who some thought could have made the MLB roster, two guys who were closer to the “organizational guy” title than a spot on the 25-man, and a relatively young up and comer who had been cruising up the organization under the radar.  By the end of the year it held three of our better starting pitcher prospects to go with two guys who are not long for the organization.

Here’s the status of the Syracuse pitching staff at the end of the season (ages are as of 9/30/11)

  • Rotation: Maya 30, Stammen 27, Meyers 26, Peacock 23, JD Martin 28
  • Bullpen: Mandel 26, Wilkie 27, Severino(L) 26, Zinicola 26, CGarcia 26, Hyde (L) 26
  • Spot starter: Tatusko 26
  • Promotions: Kimball 26, Mattheus 27, Detwiler 25,  Milone(L) 24, Balester 25
  • 9/1 promotions: Maya, Stammen, Peacock, Severino
  • up-and-back: Stammen, Maya, Severino
  • demotions: Martis (from last year), Chico, Mock, Arneson, Bronson (spot start), CMartinez
  • cut/released from 2010 or this year: Meredith, Kown, Bergmann, Bisenius, Romero (L) (opted out), Carr 27, Mock 28
  • missing: Villone 41

Syracuse starters.  The rotation started the season with Maya, Detwiler, Mock, Milone and Stammen, with JD Martin as the season-long spot starter.

  • Yuniesky Maya: failed to make the team out of spring training, was the opening day starter in Syracuse, but struggled for long parts of the season.  Got a call-up and did not impress in Washington and sulked up on his return.  Finished the year 4-9, 5.00 era, 1.24 whip and 98/28 k/bb ratio in 129 2/3 innings.  Outlook for next season: He probably can’t make the MLB rotation again, and probably returns to AAA for 2012.  His fastball was never as good as advertised and he isn’t as good as countryman Livan Hernandez at getting guys out with control and guile.  At this point, this signing looks like a failure.
  • Ross Detwiler: Promoted mid-season just before the-all star break and has pitched considerably better in the majors than he did in AAA.  In fact, there was some debate at the time of his promotion whether he was the deserving pitcher to come up.  Final AAA numbers: 6-6, 4.53 era 1.49 whip, 63/32 k/bb in 87 1/3 innings.  Outlook for next season: He’s officially out of options and can’t be assigned to AAA without passing through waivers.  He WILL make the 2012 MLB team, likely as a #5 starter with an eye towards moving to the bullpen if he falters.
  • Garrett Mock: started strong, then had two incredibly bad outings and went on the DL.  His rehab travels around the low minors became some what of a joke, but when he returned he failed to impress, and was DFA’d in early September to make way for 9/1 callups to the majors.  Final AAA line: 0-3, 6.28 era, 1.67 whip, 32/24 k/bb in 28 innings.  His stats at all levels are worse.  Outlook for next season: there are plenty of people who openly questioned why Mock occupied a 40-man spot for so long.  I’m guessing he picks up with another team and tries to start fresh with a new organization for 2012.
  • Tom Milone: posted his third straight 12-win season in successive levels and earned a pre-9/1 call up.  He’s young, he’s lefty, and he’s got impeccable control.  Final AAA numbers: 12-6, 3.22 era, 1.03 whip and 155/16 k/bb in 148 1/3 innings.  Another great season for the Nats 2010 minor league pitcher of the year, an award he is in the running for again in 2011.  Outlook for next season: He has 3-4 more September starts to audition for next year’s rotation.  The big question with Milone is whether his 89-90mph fastball and control will be enough in the majors.  I’m predicting he falls victim to a numbers/options status game and starts next year in AAA.
  • Craig Stammen: all around nice guy never once featured in the team’s plans this year, officially crossing over from starter potential to organizational guy in 2011.  He put together a decent season, tailing off in the end to sully his overall numbers, but was never threatening to get a call-up or another shot in the Nats rotation.  AAA stats: 10-7, 4.75 era, 1.43 whip, and 127/40 k/bb in 142 innings.  Outlook for next season: He becomes 2012’s version of JD Martin, the AAA-bound starter and innings eater.  I think he’ll stay on the 40-man because he does have value, and has one option left, but after 2012 he’s a DFA candidate.  Too bad, because he’s a good-guy and deserves better.
  • Brad Meyers: earned one of the first promotions of the season after recovering from injury and dominating in his first few AA starts.   He struggled upon first arriving at AAA, hit the DL briefly, but finished strong.  Final AAA numbers: 6-5, 3.48 era, 1.31 whip and 74/15 k/bb in 95 ip.  Outlook for next season: I think Meyers gets added to the 40-man roster ahead of the Rule-5 draft for protection, but he is at least 7th in the starter pecking order (Strasburg, Zimmermann, Lannan, Detwiler, Peacock, and Milone) right now, so he starts in AAA.
  • Brad Peacock: Peacock absolutely dominated AA, to the point where it was long past the time to promote him when he finally was moved to AAA.  He had two rough starts but more than a few great ones, and finished AAA with a 5-1, 3.19 era, 1.25 whip and 48/24 k/bb in 48 innings.  On the season his minor league numbers were fantastic and earned him the organization’s Minor League Pitcher of the Year; 15-3, 2.39 era, 177/47 k/bb in 146 2/3 total innings.  Outlook for next season: He’s very young (only 23) and certainly could use another year of seasoning in AAA.  He may end up competing for the #5 rotation spot with Milone, unless a new starters comes in via trade or FA.  On the other hand, if he doesn’t master his secondary pitches he’ll be destined for the bullpen, and Rizzo loves hard-throwers in the pen, so I could see him featuring as a righty out of the bullpen next season.  We’ll see.
  • JD Martin: Outrighted before the season and then signed a minor-league deal, Martin was AAA’s long man/spot starter.  He ended up with 14 starts and pedestrian numbers on the season: 3-7, 3.93 era in 30 appearances.  His fate was sealed in January when he was outrighted and nobody else sniffed; he’s a soft-throwing righty who is a good AAA pitcher until his spot is needed.   Outlook for next season: he could be back in the same role he was in this year, unless a numbers game forces his release.
  • Other guys who got spot starts here and there (non-rehab): Erik Arneson (started in AAA then was dumped to AA despite 3 decent starts.  See the AA post) and Ryan Tatusko (pitched mostly in relief with 2 AAA spot starts after a mid-season promotion).  See the AA post for thoughts on Arneson and below for Tatusko.

Syracuse Relievers: taking a look at the relief corps at the end of the season.

  • Relievers Cole Kimball, Ryan Mattheus and Collin Balester were each promoted up at various points during the season and each performed pretty well at the MLB level.  Outlook for next season: Kimball may start 2012 on the DL post surgery.  Mattheus should earn a bullpen spot after pitching well.  Balester’s spot is more tenuous; he’ll be out of options and has not really impressed at either level in 2011.  I’m guessing he’ll lose out in a long man competition to someone like Tom Gorzelanny and get a DFA at the end of spring training 2012.
  • Local Favorite Josh Wilkie served as the AAA closer and put up good numbers; 3.13 era, 1.36 whip, 57/21 k/bb in 60 1/3 innings pitched.  Outlook for next season: He’ll get a spring training invite but seems destined to return to AAA to wait for injuries or an opportunity.
  • Athualpa Severino got a 9/1 call up and finally featured in a MLB game, showcasing a big fastball for a little guy.  Outlook for next season: He’s a little old for a prospect (27) but could feature as a LOOGY in 2012, especially since the team is so thin on that particular speciality.
  • Everyone else (Mandel 26, Zinicola 26, CGarcia 26, Hyde (L) 26, Tatusko 26) in the AAA bullpen seems destined to be organizational guys, unfortunately.  Jeff Mandel passed through waivers and toiled decently this year.  Zech Zinicola was a rule-5 draftee who got returned and put up great numbers, but seems to be a AAA ceiling guy.  Christian Garcia didn’t have great numbers in the Yankees organization but the team took a flyer on him.  Lee Hyde has already passed through waivers successfully and was more or less awful in 2011.  Lastly Ryan Tatusko regressed badly in 2011 after a stellar 2010.  He was demoted to the bullpen and pitched mostly in relief for AAA this year, getting a couple of spot starts that he was just “soso” in.  Outlook for next season: All these guys will be back in AAA or with another organization, trying to keep the dream alive.

Other pitchers who appeared in AAA of note (not including Rehabbing MLBers): Hassan Pena pitched 7 horrible innings and was demoted.  Matt Chico was similarly bad and was DL’d/demoted before getting released.  Philly castoff JC Romero had 16 appearances and pitched well before opting out of his contract because the team hadn’t promoted him (a surprise, given our loogy struggles this year).  A year after Adam Carr was put on the 40-man to protect him, he was flat-out released after an injury riddled season (lets hope the team re-signs him and he gets another shot).  Both Evan Bronson and Carlos Martinez put in brief AAA outings before returning to their normal teams.  Lastly I put in Ron Villone as “missing” because he was in our Spring Training camp but never made it onto any roster.  We didn’t necessarily hear any announcement, but I suspect he retired after not making the team out of camp.

After reviewing all the staffs at each level, I’ll cull the above predictions into a summarized 2012 projected staff throughout the system.

Nats Rotation Cycle #30: good/bad/soso

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Brad Peacock gets his first turn in the rotation. Photo via bleacherreport.com

A reminder; the rotation is now Milone-Lannan-Strasburg-Detwiler-Wang after Detwiler got skipped when the last Dodger game was cancelled.   Plus we’ve found out that Brad Peacock will get a start at the end of this cycle, so this is a 6-man review.  We may be in a 6-man rotation the rest of the way as well.

Good

  • Brad Peacock‘s debut mlb start resulted in 5 scoreless innings and a win on 9/14.  Here’s much more analysis on the performance.

Bad

  • An ugly loss on 9/10 (box/gamer) from John Lannan, the one remaining rotational hold over from the beginning of the season.  2 1/3 innings, 8 hits, 6 runs (4 earned) to raise his season Era from 3.48 to 3.65.  Luckily the team has about a dozen relievers to pick up the slack now, and 5 guys combined to finish the game.  Of those 5, only Collin Balester impressed, pitching two clean innings.

Mediocre/Inconclusive

  • Tom Milone (or, as found out on Saturday, “Tommy Milone“) didn’t “appear” to be pitching badly in his 9/9 start (box/gamer), but by the time he got yanked in the 6th it seemed to be “death by paper cuts.”  He gave up 3 runs on 8 hits, had 3 Ks and (of course) zero walks in his tenure.  89 pitches, 64 of them strikes.  Pitch F/X is still struggling to properly classify his pitches, as were the Masn announcers, who routinely were claiming his cutter is the same speed as his fastball.  In reality he throws his four-seamer between 88-90 with good movement, and his cutter comes in at about 86.  He mostly as a 2-pitch pitcher last night, fastball and change-up, with five big curves thrown in and just a handful of cutters.  He really struggled to get his cutter on-target, but did get a great bat-snapping cutter for a weak grounder early on.  He worked the corners really well, but got punished when he missed over the plate.  A couple of guys flailed on curves and outside pitches for weak hits (hence my “paper cut” comment), and he was victimized each time a lead-off hitter got on base (3 innings with first batter retired?  0 runs.  3 innings with the lead-off hitter getting on base?  Scored each time).  Milone definitely works the corners well though, and throws a ton of strikes.  I continue to wonder if he will be a Greg Maddox-type pitcher (i.e., someone who doesn’t throw amazingly hard but has such great control and movement) or if he’ll flame out into a 4-A type starter, great in the minors but without good enough stuff to be successful in the majors.  We need more starts, more evidence.
  • Wunderkid Stephen Strasburg‘s 2nd start back was troubling against the Astros on 9/11 (box/gamer).  From the first pitch (a 94-mph fast ball) he clearly didn’t have the velocity that he featured in his first start (to say nothing of his 2010 velocity).  The Astros worked him for 30+ pitches in the first inning, and he was sitting at 57 pitches through 3 complete innings before getting the safety hook from the dugout.  He seemed to be struggling with the control of his 2-seamer and wasn’t throwing his curve nearly as much as he needed to.  On the plus side, his change-up was fantastic, and was directly responsible for 3 of his 4 Ks on the day.  And, he really only gave up one hard-hit ball (a liner to right field for an out).  Final line: 3ip, 3 hits and one run.  The next day, he talked about his lack of velocity, noting that his mechanics were “on and off.”  Lets hope its that and not something more serious.
  • Ross Detwiler looked great early on 9/12 (box/gamer), giving up just a hit and a walk through five complete, then getting the first two outs in the 6th before unraveling in the 6th.  Two quick walks and then two hits ended his night and spoiled an otherwise good looking night.  Final line: 5 2/3, 3 hits, 2 runs and 3 walks.  His ERA on the season now sits at 3.76, but his FIP stands nearly a point higher (though to be fair his xFIP is nearly in line with his ERA, a good sign for the longer term).  In any case, each decent start we see in September makes me feel better about the likely fact that Detwiler’s going to make the 2012 rotation.
  • Another start, another piece of the Chien-Ming Wang puzzle.  He went 5 innings on 9/13 (box/gamer), scattering 5 hits through 4 before giving up a 2-run single in the 5th.  On the night: 5ip, 9 hits, 2 runs.  The improvement this time around was the clean first inning (he had a 12.75 ERA in the first innings of his games this year).   He was only on 72 pitches when he was pinch hit for in the top of the 6th and could have easily gone 8 complete if the team had any sort of lead.
  • Sometimes its the little things that make a difference; apparently Sean Burnett‘s turn-around this season was due to changing his rubber location.  According to an excellent piece by Adam Kilgore, Burnett moved towards the first base side of the rubber about 18 inches.  Results?  As of July 19th he had a 5.67 era.  Since the move he has a 1.37 era.  Yeah, that’s a great adjustment.

Starter Trends

2nd half only:
Milone    bad,soso
Lannan    good,good,bad,soso,good,bad,bad,good,soso,good,bad
Strasburg    great,soso
Detwiler    soso,soso,good,good,bad,bad,soso
Wang        bad,bad,great,soso,soso,good,bad,soso,soso
Peacock    good

Relievers of Note and other News

  • The cancellation of the 9/8 Dodgers game means the team will flip-flop Wang and Detwiler’s next starts so that everyone continues on normal rest.
  • Wang, like every other FA that’s not necessarily entirely going to be in demand this off-season, has said he wants to come back to his current team.   See my thoughts on the team’s lack of a club option on him here.
  • Brad Peacock will get a start this week in NY, possibly putting the whole staff into a 6-man rotation.  Perhaps he’ll replace Lannan in the rotation to give the Nats a completely new rotation versus opening day.  More likely is that he’ll fit in between regular starters to give the team a 6-man rotation.  Can’t wait to see him stretched out to see his full arsenal of pitches.
  • Garrett Mock was outrighted to AAA after passing through waivers, meaning that he passed through waivers without another claim (similarly to what happened earlier in the year with Chico in December of last year).  On the positive; he stays in the system on the off chance that 2011 was a complete outlier and he can turn around the ship.  On the negative; a guy with a plus fastball but who has proven time and again that he can’t produce consistent results stays in the system to provide continual tempting of the club management (the leader of whom Rizzo has a soft spot for him, having drafted him while working in Arizona).  Lets hope he doesn’t take the job of someone more deserving.
  • Here’s Doug Slaten‘s 9/13 appearance: two batters, one walk and one HBP.  Is anyone surprised by this?  Why is this guy still getting the ball?  Hasn’t he shown enough failures as a loogy and in middle relief to show the team everything they need to know going forward?
  • Reverse draft standings update: As of 9/13 the team is projected to draft 12th overall in the 2012 rule-4 draft.  With a bad run of form we could easily rise to #8.  The 2012 draft is considered to be much weaker than 2011, but there’s still talent to be found.
  • 2012 preliminary schedules have been released and the Nats get the AL east next year!  Away to Boston and Toronto, home dates against the Yankees and the Tampa Bay Rays.  I’ll predict now that the Saturday Yankees game will break the attendance record at the stadium.  Or come darn close to it.
  • About 5 questions into Keith Law’s chat on thursday 9/15/11 (insider only), someone asked him about Peacock and Milone’s debuts.  His opinions thus far mirror mine: Milone may be a 4-A starter and Peacock may end up a reliever.