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From Nats to Oblivion; Updated for 2013 season

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Is Maya going to be the latest Nats to Oblivion poster child? Photo Al Bello/Getty Images

Is Maya going to be the latest Nats to Oblivion poster child? Photo Al Bello/Getty Images

Several years ago (November 2010) Mark Zuckerman posted a fascinating analysis he titled “From Nats to Oblivion.”  It chronicled the astoundingly high number of players that the early incarnations of the Nats were using who, once the Nats released them, never again appeared on a MLB roster.  I thought the analysis was so interesting that I kept up the same data and have been keeping it up-to-date with the whereabouts of Nats-to-Oblivion candidates ever since.  So with apologies to Zuckerman for stealing his idea, here’s an interesting visit to the Nats darker past.

A large part of this post is borrowed from previous versions; click here for 2012′s version of this post.   A few players from our near past have re-surfaced in the majors as of late and have been removed from this list where noted; if you see any others listed here in error please let me know.  But this entire list is updated post 2013 season, with the minor league/foreign league/independent league movements of oblivion candidates chronicled.

It is nearly impossible for a team to field an entire year’s worth of players who will not fall into this “Oblivion” category.  Every MLB team has guys playing out the string or near retirement, and every MLB team calls up guys through out the season from the minors who eventually show themselves as unable to compete on the MLB level and who never make it back.  So a 0% oblivion measure isn’t a goal.

For your reminiscing pleasure, here is the summary data updated to the 2013 team:

  • 2012: 24 position, 19 pitchers, 43 total.  5/43 = 11.6% candidate ratio
  • 2011: 20 position, 24 pitchers, 44 total.  6/44 = 13.6% candidate ratio
  • 2010: 20 position, 26 pitchers, 46 total.  12/46 = 26.0% never appeared again
  • 2009: 25 position, 30 pitchers, 55 total.  9/55 = 16.3% never appeared again
  • 2008: 25 position, 25 pitchers, 50 total.  8/50 = 16% never appeared again
  • 2007: 21 position, 26 pitchers, 47 total.  12/47 = 25.5% never appeared again
  • 2006: 28 position, 29 pitchers, 57 total.  20/57 = 35% never appeared again
  • 2005: 30 position, 25 pitchers, 55 total.  16/55 = 29% never appeared again

Look at the 2006 season; 35% of the players who played for the team that year never played another Major League game.  That’s still astounding to me.  Read on for a detailed look back at some of the very bad players that have put in significant time for this team.


2013 (13 Candidates):

Total Players used: 23 position, 21 pitchers, 44 total. 13/44 = 29.5% candidate ratio right now.  Real candidates list is just the top 5, so 5/44 = 11.36%.

Candidates

  • Yunesky Maya; ML deal with Atlanta for 2014
  • Chris Marrrero: ML deal with Baltimore for 2014
  • Chad Tracy: still a FA; highly unlikely to get a major league deal after his awful 2013.
  • Corey Brown: DFA’d, traded to Oakland
  • Fernando Abad; DFA’d, traded to Oakland

Less likely “candidates” from the 2013 team:

  • Danny Espinosa
  • Jhonatan Solano
  • Jeff Kobernus
  • Zach Walters
  • Eury Perez
  • Sandy Leon
  • Nathan Karns
  • Erik Davis

The top 5 players are really the “candidates” out of the 2013 team.  Every one of the guys in the lower section is on our 40-man roster, meaning they all likely see time this coming season.  In fact, right now the odds are that at least a couple of these guys will make the opening day roster.  So really the oblivion candidates here are just the top 5 guys, but we’ll track all 13 until they’re cleared off this list.  Both the guys we traded to Oakland sit on their 40-man roster, but both seem in serious jeopardy of being DFA’d again at some point in the spring (especially Corey Brown, who is out of options).

Favorite Nats-to-Oblivion story: Yunesky Maya, who was Mike Rizzo‘s first foray into the Cuban exile market.  Signed to a 4yr/$8M deal, he was given several shots at the majors and never could capitalize.  He arrived in the US with a wide arsenal of pitches but not a lot of swing-and-miss talent, and he ended up basically being a AAA starter.   He spent the last three seasons as Syracuse’s lead starter (getting 22, 28 and 24 starts there inbetween infrequent call-ups) and ended up with just one career MLB win for his $8M salary (making his one of the worst dollars-per-win contracts ever … even if it was “just” $8M).  This whole paragraph is assuming that Maya never makes it back to the majors … but based on what he’s shown thus far combined with his advancing age, that seems like a likely end-result for the Cuban starter.


2012 (5 candidates)

Total Players used: 24 position, 19 pitchers, 43 total.  5/43 = 11.6% candidate ratio right now

Candidates

  • Brad Lidge: Retired post 2012
  • Jesus Flores; signed ML deal with Los Angeles Dodgers for 2013, no MLB appearances

  • Brett Carroll: signed ML deal w/ Pittsburgh for 2013, no MLB appearances
  • Ryan Perry: Wash AAA and AA 2013

  • Carlos Maldonado: Wash AAA 2013

In the past 12 months, we’ve removed 3 players from this list (Izturas, Wang and Brown) who re-appeared on MLB rosters either here or elsewhere.  I still think its possible that Flores could re-appear on an MLB roster at some point; catchers have a way of getting hurt and causing organizations to scramble.  The rest face pretty long odds.

Favorite Nats-to-Oblivion story: Brad Lidge, who gave it one last shot and failed spectacularly.  When you lose your stuff, its gone and gone fast.  I’ll readily admit I thought the signing was a great one when it occurred but it just didn’t work out.  I really hoped that Lidge would be a serviceable 7th inning guy and mentor to Drew Storen and Tyler Clippard, being one of the great closers of his day.  It didn’t work out that way.


2011 (6 candidates)

Total Players used: 20 position, 24 pitchers, 44 total.  6/44 = 13.6% candidate ratio right now…

Candidates

  • Ivan Rodriguez – retired after 2011
  • Matt Stairs — retired after 2011
  • Alex Cora — retired after 2011, now the General Manager of a Puerto Rican Winter League team.
  • Cole Kimball — Nats 60-day DL in 2012, XST in 2013, DFA’d off 40-man roster.
  • Brian Broderick — Stl AAA, waived now Nats AAA in 2012, AA in 2013
  • Atahualpa Severino — Nats AAA, DFA’d off 40-man in 2012, KC AAA for 2013, signed ML deal with Atlanta for 2014 (thanks John C).

Changes in the last 12 months: none.

As with the 2012 candidates, I wouldn’t be surprised to see this list get lowered by one eventually; Severino seems like he could work his way back into a loogy situation for a club.  Kimball’s DFA and Broderick’s pending MLFA status both make it seem like their chances of returning to the majors are slim.

Favorite Nats-to-Oblivion story: Matt Stairs: He made the 2011 roster despite having almost no defensive capabilities and, as it soon became evident, almost no remaining abilities at the plate.  He somehow hung onto his roster spot until August 1st despite having just one extra base hit in 74 at-bats on the year.  I remember one game in particular; we were at the stadium going against the hated Phillies and they left Roy Halladay in to attempt to finish a shutout with a 3-0 lead (Game was on 4/13/11).  Nats rally, score 2 runs to make it 3-2.  Stairs comes up pinch hitting for Jerry Hairston with guys on 1st and 2nd with one out; he promptly watches three straight fastballs go right down the middle of the plate without moving his bat.  I’ve never been so p*ssed at a player at the ball-park.  Ivan Rodriguez then promptly struck out on 3 pitches as well, looking strike 3 into the mitt and then arguing vehimently with the ump over the game-ending call which gave Halladay the complete game victory.


2010 (12 players)

Total Players used: 20 position, 26 pitchers, 46 total.  12/46 = 26.0% never appeared again

Players:

  • Willy Taveras; played AAA for Col in 2011, retired prior to 2012, back with KC AAA 2013
  • Kevin Mench; retired after 2010
  • Jamie Burke; retired after 2010
  • Luis Atilano: in CIN org, AAA in 2012, never signed for 2013
  • Scott Olsen; in CWS org, AAA 2012, never signed for 2013
  • JD Martin; in MIA org AAA 2012, in TB AAA 2013
  • Tyler Walker; indy league 2011, never signed for 2012
  • Jesse English; indy league 2011, 2012.  Mexican League 2013
  • Matt Chico; indy league 2012, never signed for 2013
  • Joe Bisenius; in Mexico 2011-12, Atlanta AA/AAA for 2013
  • Garrett Mock: Houston AAA 2012, AZ AAA for 2013
  • Jason Bergmann: indy 2011, Col AAA 2012, Indy again in 2013, KC AA team.

Changes in last 12 months: none.

There’s more than a few guys here who are still hanging on to AAA jobs but not many of them are looking promising to break onto 40-man rosters and earn call-ups.

Favorite Nats-to-Oblivion story: Jamie Burke: The 2009 Nats were so thin at Catcher by the end of the season that we literally bought a spare catcher in Burke from Seattle so we could have some coverage at the end of the season.  Burke re-signed on for 2010 and appeared in exactly one MLB game.  He was released after the season and retired.


2009 (9 players)

Total Players used: 25 position, 30 pitchers, 55 total.  9/55 = 16.3% never appeared again

Players:

  • Elijah Dukes: released and never picked up for 2010.  Arrested in 2011, 2012, out of baseball.
  • Alex Cintron; playing in Mexico 2012, nothing in 2013

  • Jorge Padilla; in SD org, AAA in 2012, nothing in 2013
  • Ron Villone, 2011 playing indy ball, retired prior to 2012.  He will appear on the 2015 Hall of Fame ballot and is currently the pitching coach of the High-A Chicago affilliate.

  • Julian Tavarez; retired after 2009
  • Zack Segovia; in Det org AA in 2012, Mexican league/Indy ball 2013

  • Mike Hinckley: Tor org in 2011, retired prior to 2012
  • Steven Shell; KC org in 2011, retired prior to 2012

  • Victor Garate; MIL org and Indy ball in 2012, Mexican league 2013

Changes in last 12 months: removed Kensing and Martis after they both resurfaced on MLB teams, meaning that they both went three full seasons inbetween MLB appearances.  That’s why we track these guys for so long.

Favorite Nats-to-Oblivion story: Ron Villone, who proved that a crafty lefty with a halfway decent fastball can have a long career in this game.  He had 63 appearances at age 39 for the 2009 Nats and got re-signed for 2010.  He didn’t make the team though, labored in Syracuse the whole season and was released.  Despite being 41 years old, he headed to Indy ball for one last shot but washed out after just a few outings in 2011.

It wouldn’t be a retrospective on poor Nats players if we didn’t briefly talk about Elijah Dukes though.  I think its safe to assume that he’s the only guy on this list that has served more time in jail than has played in the minor leagues, attempting to get back to the show.


2008 (8 players)

Total Players used: 25 position, 25 pitchers, 50 total.  8/50 = 16% never appeared again

Players:

  • Kory Casto; 2009 AAA, 2010 in Ariz AA, retired.
  • Dmitri Young: some rehab in low minors 2009, retired.
  • Rob Mackowiak: 2009: some indy, bounced around AAA, that’s it.
  • Johnny Estrada; flat out quit after 2008
  • Odalis Perez; refused his 2009 contract, never resigned
  • Levale Speigner; 2009 in Florida’s AA/AAA, then 2010 in Seattle AAA.  done.
  • Ray King; retired after 2008
  • Chris Schroder; 2009, 2010 bounced around AAA with Oakland, Fla.

Changes in last 12 months: none

Favorite Nats-to-Oblivion story: Odalis Perez, though I’m tempted to say either Mackowiak or Estrada, possibly the two worst FA signings of the whole Jim Bowden era (and that’s saying something).  But nothing beats the Perez story.  He was the Nats Opening Day Starter in 2008; hell he was the first guy to get a start in the Nationals Stadium.  He pitched well; in 30 starts he was 7-12 with a 4.34 ERA and a 99 ERA+ for a god-awful team.  But apparently he got really pissed when the team only offered him a non-guaranteed Minor League deal for 2009.  So he held out, the Nats said “fine with us” and released him, and nobody else picked him up.  And he never played another game.  I’m not sure if that was a sign that he was just that bad (not one team wanted to even give an opening day starter a look the subsequent year?), or if there was some sort of MLB general manager omerta that conspired against him.  Either way, Perez played again, not even in Winter Leagues as far as I could find.  Sometimes a player has to swallow his pride, and Perez apparently could not.


2007 (12 players)

Total Players used: 21 position, 26 pitchers, 47 total.  12/47 = 25.5% never appeared again

Players:

  • Nook Logan; indy league 2008, 2010.
  • Robert Fick: Cut from the Padres in ST 2008, full year indy league 2009, retired.
  • D’Angelo Jimenez: AAA all of 2008, 2009.  Mexican league and Indy league 2010-2012
  • Tony Batista: Wash AAA 2008, then released
  • Michael Restovich: 2008 in Japan, AAA 2009-2011, retired
  • Brandon Watson: AAA 2008-9, indy league 2011, retired.
  • Mike Bacsik: 2008 AAA, 2011 indy league, now a broadcaster.
  • Jason Simontacchi; 2008 indy league, 2010 again.
  • John Patterson; cut in ST 2008, immediately signed w/ Texas but never played again.
  • Ryan Wagner: AAA 2008-9, released and presumably retired.
  • Arnie Munoz; went to mexican league, retired > 2010
  • Chris Booker: AAA in 2008, then retired/released.

Changes in last 12 months: none

Favorite Nats-to-Oblivion story: Mike Bacsik, who was destined to be a career 4-A guy before Washington picked him up and gave him 20 starts in 2007.  Bacsik was on his 6th minor league organization when he arrived in Syracuse and pitched his way up to the major leagues.  He was overmatched badly; he had a 5.11 ERA and just a 3.4 K/9 rate.  But he did get his moment in the headlines by giving up Barry Bonds‘ 756th career homer one night in San Francisco in August.  Contrary to accusations on the topic, I do not believe Bacsik “served up” the homer.  If you check the play index, Bonds hit the 7th pitch of the at-bat in a 3-2 count for that homer.  Bacsik didn’t purposely give up a homer on the 7th pitch of an at-bat; he just ran out of pitches to show Bonds that weren’t going to get pulverized.

A quick comment though on John Patterson: I remember being absolutely shocked at his release in 2008′s spring training.  He was cut on 3/20/08, right in the middle of Spring Training with no warning and having just thrown his Grapefruit innings.   He was healthy, recovered from surgery, ready to be the ace of that staff and start showing off the potential that he showed in 2005 (you know, when he 4-hit the Dodgers with 13 punch outs and posted the best Game-Score performance in Nats history).  He signed a ML deal with Texas after his release by the Nats, but he couldn’t answer the call and never appeared again, getting released in mid May.  I guess his third arm surgery in 7 years just left him unable to compete at any level and he hung ‘em up.


2006 (20 players)

Total Players used: 28 position, 29 pitchers, 57 total.  20/57 = 35% never appeared again

  • Damian Jackson; dnp 2007, indy league 2008-9
  • Bernie Castro: AAA all of 2007, 8 then retired.
  • Alex Escobar: Wash minors 2007-8, then retired.
  • Brandon Harper: Wash AAA all of 2007, then released/retired.
  • Wiki Gonzalez: CWS AAA all of 2007, indy league 2008, retired.
  • Henry Mateo: AAA or Indy league 2007-2009, mexican league from 2010-current 2013
  • George Lombard: AAA 2007-9, some indy league, retired.
  • Mike Vento: 2007 Wash AAA, indy league 2008, back with Syracuse 2009, retired.
  • Melvin Dorta; various minor leagues 2007-2010, indy league 2011, retired.
  • Luis Matos: AAA 2007, Mexican League 2008-2012.  ? 2013
  • Pedro Astacio; retired after 2006
  • Felix Rodriguez: dnp 2007, indy league 2008-9, retired.
  • Zach Day: AAA 2007, briefly A+ 2008, retired.
  • Beltran Perez; wash minors AA/AAA 2007-8, released and never played again.
  • Joey Eischen; released off of Washington and retired.
  • Travis Hughes; AAA in 2007, played in Japan 2008, indy leagues 2009, 2011.
  • Ryan Drese: various minor leagues 2007-8, indy league 2009-2010, Baltimore AAA 2011, released/retired.
  • Kevin Gryboski: AAA 2007-2008, retired/released.
  • Brett Campbell: Wash AA 2007, released/retired.
  • Santiago Ramirez: Japan in 2007, Mexican league 2008, indy 2009, retired.

Changes in last 12 months: none

Favorite Nats-to-Oblivion story: Joey Eischen, who bounced around the league in his 20s before settling in Montreal and moving south with the team.  He was known to be a “character” in the clubhouse and to give good quotes to reporters (google “Joey eischen quotes” and you’ll find some of his classics).   By 2006 though the years had taken their toll on his shoulder; he had 19 walks in 14 2/3 innings through the end of May had blown his rotator cuff.  The team put him on the 60 day D/L and called up one Bill Bray.   Eischen never got off that D/L; he was released in the off-season and never played again.  For 2013, he’s listed as the pitching coach of Colorado’s high-A Affiliate in Asheville.


2005 (16 players)

Total Players used: 30 position, 25 pitchers, 55 total.  16/55 = 29% never appeared again

Players:

  • Carlos Baerga; retired after 2005
  • Junior Spivey: bounced around AAA 2006-7, indy ball in 2009, retired.
  • Tony Blanco; Nats minor leagues 2006-7, Colorado AA in 2008, in Japan from 2009-present.
  • Wil Cordero; released mid 2005, signed on with the NY Mets but never made it out of AAA.  Retired after 2005.
  • Deivi Cruz; released after 2005, cut from St. Louis 2006 ST, played indy ball, retired.
  • Jeffrey Hammonds; retired in June 2005 mid-season.
  • J.J. Davis: Traded to Colorado as part of the Preston Wilson deal, sent to Colorado’s AAA, then released after the season and never played again.
  • Rick Short; Granted FA after the 2005 season to play in Japan, played there til 2009.
  • Kenny Kelly; AAA in 2006 and 2007, released and retired.
  • Keith Osik; a backup catcher, got 4 ABs in 2005, released and retired.
  • Tyrell Godwin; after just THREE MLB at-bats in 2005, spent all of 2006 and 2007 in AAA, released and retired.
  • T.J. Tucker; released after 2005, tried one year of indy ball in 2008, retired.
  • Joe Horgan; released after 2005, played one year of AAA with Florida, released, retired.
  • Matt White; AAA in 2006-7, Japan 2007-8, tried indy ball in 2010, hung ‘em up.
  • C.J. Nitkowski; AAA in 2006, then went to Japan 2007-8, Korea 2009-10, back with the Mets AAA team in July 2012.  Not signed for 2013
  • Antonio Osuna: dnp in 2006, Mexican league 2007-9.

Changes in last 12 months: none

Favorite Nats-to-Oblivion story: Rick Short, who got his MLB debut at the age of 32, after 11 very long seasons in the minors with many different teams.  He got a couple of call-ups in June and July to provide cover, and then played out the string after a Sept 1 roster expansion call-up.  In that off-season, he returned to Japan (where he’d played one full season prior), and played four more years in the Japanese League and retired in 2009.

Though it merits talking about a couple other guys here. Tony Blanco; he was a rule-5 draftee who the Nats carried the whole of 2005 so they could keep his rights.  He was awful; he had a .177 batting average as the 25th guy off the bench.  In 2006 he couldn’t even cut it in AA and played most of the year in High-A.  After 2007 the Nats summarily released him from their minor league organization altogether.   He found his calling though; he signed on in Japan in 2009 at age 27 and continues to play there today.  You have to wonder if he may very well earn another MLB shot.

Jeffrey Hammonds was well known to Washington baseball fans by virtue of his pedigree with our northern neighbors in Baltimore; he was a 1st round draft pick in 1992 out of Stanford, broke in with the MLB team the following year and was a role player on the powerhouse Baltimore teams of the mid 1990s.   He bounced around the league afterwards though, signing on with the newly relocated Washington franchise for the 2005 debut season but he hung ‘em up after a slow start here.  He was only 34 when he retired.

Written by Todd Boss

January 16th, 2014 at 9:01 am

Posted in Nats in General

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Nationals Arm Race Best Stories for 2013; Happy New Year!

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On the last day of 2013, I thought I’d take a quick peek back at the posts and discussion that shaped the blog this year.  Here’s a highlight reel by month of the most read and commented-upon posts in this space, as well as recaps of major events and personal favorite entries.

January 2013:

February 2013:

March 2013:

April 2013:

May 2013:

June 2013

July 2013

August 2013

September 2013

October 2013

November 2013

December 2013

Happy New Year!  Its been fun.

 

Blevin Acquired; who is getting DFA’d?

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Welcome to Washington, Mr. Blevins.  Photo via wikipedia

Welcome to Washington, Mr. Blevins. Photo via wikipedia

The unexpected happened today: the Nats acquired a loogy.  Even more unexpected; Mike Rizzo and Billy Beane teamed up to consummate a trade (this is the 7th trade between the clubs in just the last 3 seasons).   Welcome Jerry Blevins; you’re arrival has been widely speculated upon.  Heading the other way is the Nats 2013 minor league hitter of the year Billy Burns, a non-prospect in the eyes of analysts but certainly a favorite of many who follow the Nats farm systems.  I liked Burns, but in all honestly he’s so far down our current OF depth chart that he clearly was an expendible resource, despite his potential.

I’m somewhat ambivalent on Blevins: his 2013 splits against lefties were, frankly, not impressive (a .740 OPS).  It could be a one-season deviation though, since his career splits are much better (.224 BAA).  He’s a lefty in the pen who mostly pitched in lower-leverage situations for Oakland this year, leaving the higher leverage situations to the better lefty in Oakland’s pen, UVA’s own Sean Doolittle.  So, we gave up a lesser prospect to get a lesser reliever.

Now for the fun part: We were at 39/40 on the 40-man roster with the Doug Fister trade.  Nate McLouth makes 40.  Blevins makes 41.  Somebody’s getting DFA’d, likely today.  Who makes way?

The obvious candidate is Corey Brown.  Brown’s chances of making the 2014 team took a severe hit with the McLouth signing.  More importantly; Brown no longer has any minor league options and he would likely have been DFA’d at the end of next spring training anyway.  Designating him now is the right thing to do for him by the organization, cutting him loose now to try to catch on with the best possible organization that will give him a shot at getting back to the major leagues.

Summary; expected move #3 of 4 this off-season has occurred (#1 being another starter, #2 being some bench help).  Last move John Buck?

 

 

Written by Todd Boss

December 11th, 2013 at 4:11 pm

Nats Player Option status for 2013-2014

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I took a moment to update my own little internal spreadsheet that tracks Player Options for the Nationals, now that Cots’ site has updated service time numbers for 2013.

This spreadsheet is in Google Docs at this link, as well as being in the “NatsArm Creations list along the right hand side of the blog.

Springfieldfan also maintains an options page on the Big Board with a bit more detail for other players in our system outside of the 40-man players that i’ve focused on.

Interesting Options developments for 2014:

  • First and foremost, 40-man member Corey Brown exhaused his 3rd and last option in 2013.  Does anyone think he’s going to be on next year’s 25-man roster as a bench player?   Ironically the team needs lefty power off the bench, and Brown is a lefty with two straight power-filled seasons in AAA.  But somehow me-thinks he’s going to lose out on this competition and faces a DFA sometime between now and April 1st 2014.  He’s cleared waivers before and stayed in the organization, but with more teams purposely tanking right now I wonder if he’ll survive another exposure to waivers.
  • A reminder that Ross Detwiler remains out of options, though the Nats have shown that limitation is easily worked around by virtue of “soft tissue” D/L trips as needed.  Nonetheless, if Detwiler is healthy in spring training, he’s either your 5th starter, a lefty in the pen, or facing a transaction.  It seems like we have this conversation every spring.
  • Denard Span has achieved 5 years of cumulative service time, meaning he can refuse an option to the minors.  Not that he’s in grave jeopardy of such a thing.

The bulk of the team remains very options-flexible, with 30 of the 39 guys on the current 40-man roster capable of being sent down if needed.  This proved to be very handy last year when a number of guys under-performed, and may prove to be handy this year.

Frankly, Spring Training 2015 is going to be a big options showdown for a lot of guys on this team; I count at least four guys and perhaps more who are almost guaranteed to use their last options in 2014.  But this is a topic for a post a  year from now.

Written by Todd Boss

December 5th, 2013 at 9:42 am

Nats Rule-5 protection thoughts for 2013

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Walters already got added to the 40-man; who else may join him?  Photo unk via wp.com

Walters already got added to the 40-man; who else may join him? Photo unk via wp.com

Who might the team protect ahead of the Rule-5 Draft this year?  The topic came up recently in the comments so I thought i’d publish this post to open up the debate again.  I’ve got a rule-5 history post as well that i’ll post later this week.   And, as it turns out, Nov 20th is the deadline for adding players to the 40-man, so today’s as good a day as any to discuss.  (Kilgore’s analysis here, Baseball’s off-season calendar here).

The Nats off-season rule-5 protection debate really started in late August with an observation made about Zach Walters from Adam Kilgore in his pre-Sept 1 callup piece on 8/27/13.  It was continued by the announced list of Nats AFL participants, which included a couple of significant Rule-5 protection candidates.  Walters was subsequently added to the 40-man and called up, ending any Rule-5 speculation.

As (allegedly) was Steve Souza, who hit the cover off the ball in AA in 2013, with power to go with his CF defensive capabilities.  He followed that up by hitting .357 in the AFL, trailing just mega-prospects Kris Bryant and C.J. Cron for top hitting honors in Arizona.  I say Souza was “allegedly added” to the 40-man because, while news of his 11/1/13 40-man addition was widely published at the time, but his name does not appear on MLB.com’s 40-man roster for the team nor does there exist an 11/1/13 transaction (Editor’s update: it was posted 10/31/13 and the MLB 40-man database was missing him in error; it was eventually fixed).   I don’t know if its just a procedural thing or if all the beat reporters mis-reported the event and it should have been characterized as a “planned future” move.  But I’ll assume for the rest of this article that Souza is going to be put on the 40-man before the rule-5 draft.

Two of the most obvious Rule-5 candidates (even if Souza was technically a minor league free-agent to be) are now protected.  Who else might we see added?

Using the indispensable sites Draft tracker and the Big Board, and then giving some thought to prospect acquisitions made via trade, here’s some thoughts.  The quick rule-5 rules; any college-aged draftee from 2010 or before who isn’t already on the 40-man roster is Rule-5 eligible this coming off season, and any high-school aged draftee from 2009 or before is newly eligible this year.

Newly Eligible Players this year worth consideration for protection:

  • Rick Hague: 2B/SS from Harrisburg; .673 OPS in AA, not good enough OBP for a middle infielder and no power.  He’s well down the pecking order of backup middle infielders in this organization right now, and wouldn’t be a great organization loss even if he was selected.  Chances of being drafted or protected: very slim.
  • Jason Martinson: SS from Potomac/Harrisburg: Martinson finally earned a promotion above A-ball, where he promptly hit .185 in AA in 54 games.  He showed a ton of power in 2012 for a SS (22 homers) but it was in Low- and High-A ball.  Maybe he is a late bloomer.  However he’s not in jeopardy of being protected or drafted at this point.

No other 2010 college aged drafted hitter has even made it to Harrisburg; so they’re not going to get drafted or protected.  This includes three draft picks in the first 10 rounds of that draft; understandable in that the team committed millions to 3 top guys in 2010 and skimped elsewhere.

  • Sammy Solis: LHP with Potomac: coming back from injury in 2013 he pitched in Potomac the whole season.  He was a bit “old” for A-ball but its understandible considering where he’s been.  He excelled in the AFL and is being mentioned as a possible Loogy with the big-league team, so I’d have to think he’s a lock to be protected ahead of the draft.
  • Harrisburg middle relievers Matthew GraceAaron Barrett and Neil Holland: all three have good to excellent numbers in relief this year for AA Harrisburg.  Barrett especially as the closer.  Grace is left-handed and could feature as someone’s loogy.   Tough calls here; you can make a case that the team would like to retain all three guys as bullpen reinforcements in the coming years.  You can also make the riskier case that all three guys, while valuable and skilled players, may not stick on a MLB roster the entire year so perhaps they’re good bets to be left unprotected versus someone already on the 40-man roster.

The rest of the remaining 2010 college-age draftees are all either currently on the DL or are in Hagerstown or below, making them very slim candidates to be protected or picked.  Cameron Selik was one guy who could have made some noise, but he got hurt this year and isn’t going to get picked.

  • 2009 High School-age drafted players newly eligible: just Michael Taylor, who has a ton of speed (51sbs) and an improved OBP (.340) while repeating high-A this year.  I know there are readers here who like Taylor a ton, so this isn’t spoken out of disrespect.  I think Taylor has potential.   Maybe he “made the leap” in 2013.  Maybe he’s going to light up AA next season and suddenly we’re talking about him being Denard Span‘s replacement and not Brian Goodwin.  However, I can’t see someone rolling the dice with him in a rule-5 situation.   He’s never played above A-Ball.  In today’s modern game, with 12 man bullpens and thus shortened benches, I just can’t see someone like Tayler getting carried for an entire year.  I think the team may very well roll the dice and leave him exposed in December, and revisit 40-man protection in 2014.

Rule-5 holdovers from before of Note

  • Last year’s selections Erik Komatsu and Danny Rosenbaum: Komatsu has been hurt all year, Rosenbaum was decent but not over-powering in AAA.  Neither guy seems worth protecting since they already were selected and failed to stick.  But, they’re both AAA-level talents who could be someone’s bench player/swing man so they may get plucked again if not protected.
  • Justin Bloxom and Sean Nicol are both college-aged 2009 draftees with run-of-the-mill numbers in AA; they’ll play out the string until they get pushed out at this rate.
  • Patrick Lehman ended the season on the DL, making one think he’s not likely to get drafted.  Well that and his numbers were not good.
  • Matt Swynenberg has looked better in AA than he did in high-A; has he done enough to garner some interest from another team?
  • Destin Hood: our 2nd round pick in 2008 just seems to be spinning his wheels; his batting average has dropped as he’s repeated a level.  He’s officially in bust status.
  • Adrian Nieto has earned a placement in the Arizona Fall League and was Rule-5 Eligible last year, but was not drafted.  He’s yet to rise above high-A and seems a long shot to be taken (though, the Nats did pretty well plucking one Jesus Flores out of the Mets high-A team one year).

 


So, who’s getting protected?   As of the time of this writing, the Nats roster sits at 39 of 40 (again, assuming Souza is really there), so there’s just one empty spot.  But there’s at least a few guys on the fringes of the 40-man who I think could be waived and have a high likelihood of being kept (namely, Tyler Robinson and Corey Brown) if the team thought it needed room for either protectees or free agents.  The back-end of this roster is getting a bit clogged.

Depending on how many spots the team keeps open, in order I’d protect Solis, Barrett, Tayler, Grace, and Holland.   For me, only Solis is a lock.  The rest (for reasons described above) may be calculated omissions.

 

No takers for Carlos Rivero plus Rule-5 returns

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Carlos Rivero snuck through waivers and stays with the organization. Photo Brad Barr/US Presswire via bleacherreport.com

Great news 3/25/13: the Nats exposed Carlos Rivero to waivers, got no takers and he was outrighted to AAA Syracuse over the weekend.

I know he didn’t have the greatest numbers this spring (8-for-47 for a meager .170 BA), but he seems like he could be a valuable utility guy in a pinch, able to play multiple positions both in the infield and outfield.   I liked what I saw from him in limited TV time this spring.  I’m glad he made it through waivers and remains an option in our farm system for at least this year.

He also clears a spot off the 40 man, leaving us sitting at 38/40.  Plenty of room to make moves if need be.  But not a ton of manuverability; of the 38 guys remaining, you can only really make a case for Corey Brown as being relatively expendible/likely to pass through waivers.  If we get a slew of injuries like last season that cause us to do mass call-ups, we may have to heavily depend on the 60-day DL.

Meanwhile, another year of Rule-5 complaining (see here and here) has essentially proven once again to be wasted breath; both Jeff Kobernus and Danny Rosenbaum have been returned to the team.   Kobernus still seemingly sits behind Steve Lombardozzi, Anthony Rendon and Wil Rhymes on the team’s 2nd base depth chart, meaning we’d have to have a pretty bad slate of injuries for him to sniff the majors this year.  But, it is nice to have him back, considering his draft pedigree and bonus money investment.  Rosenbaum was our AA Ace last year and started out with ace-like stuff, but struggled in the 2nd half.  Given that the team suddenly has a slew of starter arms in AAA (especially if Chris Young sticks around, though he probably walks), perhaps we’ll see Rosenbaum starting in AA again.  Not likely though; would you rather challenge Rosenbaum in AAA or give another year of starts to someone like Tanner Roark at this point?

Ladson’s inbox 3/22/13

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Micah Owings has had an impressive spring, putting himself in line for a 2013 callup. Photo Jonathan Newton/TWP

We’re getting closer to Opening Day!  Bill Ladson publishes what may be his last spring training mailbag late friday 3/22/13.

As always, I sometimes edit questions for clarity and answer here before reading Ladson’s response.

Q: Micah Owings is showing pretty impressive numbers in Spring Training. What are his chances of making the Opening Day roster, considering Roger Bernadina and Tyler Moore are also backup outfielders?

A: Zero, barring an injury this week.  The Nats outfield has been set since mid last year.  Micah Owings knows this but took the offer with the Nats presumably for two reasons: the team is expected to be good (and what veteran player doesn’t want to catch on with a first place team?) and the team is a bit thin on corner outfielder OF prospects in the higher minors.  Looking at the current state of the minor league depth chart, it isn’t hard to see how a solid start in AAA would catapult Owings above Corey Brown into the #1 OF reserve spot (of course, Brown can play center, so it would likely depend on which OF was injured, but still).  I like reclamation projects, and I like what we’ve seen out of Owings so far this spring.  I’d like to see him make it back to the majors as a big bopper.  Ladson agrees, though he says the team may promote him in May or June??  Who exactly is he to replace?

Q: Most of the Nationals’ starters are not showing good numbers in Spring Training. Should we be worried?

A: Nope.  Rule number one with Spring Training; pay zero attention to the stats of any established Major Leaguer.  They’re not pitching these games to try to get a win; they’re pitching to get ready for the season, to work on specific pitches, to work on location, etc.  I once heard a story about Tom Glavine giving up something ridiculous like 8 runs in his final spring training outing and the press corps going nuts; turns out he was working on locating his change-up, and ONLY working on locating his change-up, so once the opposing team figured out what he was doing they started sitting on an outside change-up and tattooed him.  This is exactly why you can’t trust stats from Florida.  Ladson agrees.

Q: Do you think the bars that Bryce Harper and Stephen Strasburg have set for themselves this year will be too much for them to handle?

A: I’m not really aware of any “bars” either player has set; the only things I can think of are Strasburg saying he wants to be a “workhorse” and perhaps Harper saying he wants to hit 30 homers?  It isn’t like they’ve thrown down the gauntlet and said they want to win MVPs, Cy Youngs, etc.  Now the Press on the other hand; yes they’ve probably set the bar too high.  But (especially with Harper) it isn’t hard to see this scenario; usually MVPs are the best players from the best teams.  If the Nats end up being a playoff team, and Harper is our best player …. he’s going to be a leading MVP candidate.  This doesn’t imply Harper is the best player in the league (that’s NOT the definition of the MVP and not how its generally voted), but it does mean he may be in the running.  Ladson dismissed the question as well.

Q: What do you feel are the plans with Eury Perez this season and beyond?

A: First off, I’d say that Eury Perez really cost himself development time this year as a side-effect of playing for the Dominican Republic in the World Baseball Classic.  The Nats demoted him while he was sitting on the bench for the D.R., and mentioned publically they were worried about his lack of work.  I’d say that Perez needs another season proving himself at AAA before he really starts putting himself in the mix for a full time MLB spot.  He put up great numbers last year; .314/.344/.361 between AA and AAA with 51 steals in 127 games.  That’s classic leadoff/centerfielder stuff, or exactly what the team acquired in the off-season in Denard Span.  In games so far this spring, Perez has just glided to 2nd base on steal attempts; he’s faster than nearly any player I can remember in a Nats uniform.

But the question is this; how does Perez fit in given that the Nats are committed to Span for at least 2013 and 2014 (it seems more and more likely we’ll be declining his 2015 option based on this paragraph), and considering that the team has rising stud Brian Goodwin who seems to be a similar player in a similar position (albeit with slightly less speed but significantly more power)?  I’m beginning to think that the log-jam in the Nats outfield is going to eventually mean that Perez ends up being traded for an opportunity elsewhere.  Ladson agrees with all of these points, also mentioning prospect Michael Taylor, who I always forget about.

Wow; short mailbag, only 4 questions.


Ladson’s Inbox 3/14/13

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Mar 12, 2013; Miami, FL, USA; United States pitcher Gio Gonzalez (47) delivers a pitch against Puerto Rico at Marlins Park. Mandatory Credit: Scott Rovak-USA TODAY Sports

It’s been a while since Bill Ladson did an inbox; strange because you’d think with Spring Training in full swing he’d be getting a ton of emails.  Here’s his 3/14/13 edition.  Lets see if he takes a question on who will be the 2014 manager for the 5th consecutive time.

As always, I write my own answers before reading his, and edit questions for clarity as needed.

Q: Should the Nats be worried about sending their pitchers to the World Baseball Classic? Will there be pressure on them to pitch too many innings too soon?

A: Yes, this organization may be worried, as discussed in depth in Feburary in this space.  We’ve never had a pitcher throw in the WBC who hasn’t come back either injured or less effective, and league-wide studies show the same trend.  However I will say this: all 5 pitchers we’ve sent in years past were relievers.  This year we sent two starters in Gio Gonzalez and Ross Detwiler.  So maybe things will be different.  Yes the concern basically is that these guys are more interested in getting outs than getting ready for the regular season, causing them to overthrow, to not prepare as they normally would in the spring, to not focus on specific things that they would normally do in spring training games.  It is less about innings or pitch counts (which are strictly monitored).   Ladson says the team isn’t worried about their arms, but is worried about the lack of playing time Eury Perez is getting.  And they have a great point; Perez is sitting on the DR bench instead of getting ABs in spring training games.  His chances of making the team dropped to zilch and he’s already been re-assigned to AAA.

Q: Who are going to be the lefties for the Nationals by Opening Day?

A: I’m assuming he means the “Lefty relievers.”  At this point its looking like we’re going to break camp with just one lefty reliever in Zach Duke. Bill Bray needs more minor league time, Bobby Bramhall and Sean West are in minor league camp slated for AAA jobs, Brandon Mann got one inning and was awful, Pat McCoy got some innings but isn’t ready.  Only Fernando Abad has stuck with the big-league team and looks good.  But, if Henry Rodriguez is ready to go there’s no room for Abad.  I’m guessing Abad goes to AAA and bides his time.  Ladson agrees, and points out that our righties can get lefties out.

Q: With Tyler Moore on the big league roster, what do you think will happen to Chris Marrero?

A: I’m going to answer this my way, then i’ll predict what Ladson says.  Chris Marrero goes back to AAA, burns his last option in the process, and bides his time waiting for injuries to take out the likes of Adam LaRoche and/or Tyler Moore. That seems to be the only way he gets opportunities this year.  The team will hope for a strong AAA season to build up trade value and then will move him if they can.  Otherwise he’s looking at a waiver wire trip this coming off-season.  Now, before I read Ladson’s answer i’m going to guess that he says something along the lines of “The Nats will look to trade him for valuable assets” but he’ll neglect to mention that Marrero has zero trade value right now, having missed all of last year.  Lets see if i’m right: I stand corrected; Ladson has finally come around on his stance on Marrero and says he’ll be in AAA all year.

Q: Would the Nats ever consider adding Kyle Lohse to the roster?

A: Consider?  Perhaps.  Actually do it?  I don’t see it.   Kyle Lohse is becoming the poster child for the problem with the Qualifying Offer in the new CBA.  He foolishly declined it (on the advice of Scott Boras, who probably told him he could get 3-4 years guaranteed on the open market), and now sits unsigned 3 weeks from opening day.  Its amazing; this guy was 16-3 last year!  Lohse is seen as a product of his environment, a great coaching staff in St. Louis who do wonders with mediocre pitchers.  And make no mistake; 2012 aside Lohse is a career 97 ERA+ pitcher with a .500 record and a 4.45 ERA.  He doesn’t fit into the mold of what Mike Rizzo generally wants in a starter; power arm, high K/9 capabilities.  Now, if the team bus crashed and we lost our starting rotation to injury tomorrow … yeah i’m guessing we’d give him a call.  But there’s no way the Nats (or likely any other team) is going to give 3 guaranteed years to a 34-year old soft-tossing guy.  Boras really, really miscalculated here and it looks like its going to cost his client millions.  Ladson agrees.

Q: Please find out where Cole Kimball is in his rehab. I would like to know if he’s anywhere close to pre-surgery velocity.

A: I only saw Cole Kimball in one game, but his velocity was down.  Perhaps its ramped back up later into spring training.  In either case he’s bound for AAA to burn his last Option and await bullpen issues for his shot.  Ladson says he’s “close to throwing 95-mph.”  I wish more of these games were televised.

Q: Having heard earlier in the offseason that general manager Mike Rizzo feels Steve Lombardozzi and Danny Espinosa are both starters and not bench players, do you feel one of them will be traded prior to Opening Day? Lombardozzi was an extremely clutch pinch-hitter last year in my opinion.

A: Traded prior to Opening Day?  Almost impossible; nobody makes trades at this point in the season.  You make trades prior to spring training and then after a couple months are past in the season to address off-season or intra-season needs.  We’ll save the Espinosa vs Lombardozzi vs Rendon discussion; we all know it by heart by now.   Ladson says a trade is not coming.

Q: Considering he had a very good year with Triple-A Syracuse in 2012, what are the chances of outfielder Corey Brown making the team?

A: Zilch.  He may have hit in AAA, but he didn’t hit squat with Washington last September.  He’s at least 6th on the Washington OF depth chart (Werth, Harper, Span, Moore, Bernadina and then Eury Perez.  Perhaps even lower; I think the team would give Carlos Rivero and Erik Komatsu chances before Brown at this point.  And its just a matter of time before uber-prospect Brian Goodwin passes him by as well.  Brown’s looking at another year of AAA time, burning his last option, and then getting the MLFA treatment.  Ladson says no chance.

Hey!  No question on the 2014 Nats manager this time! I stand corrected.

Ladson’s inbox 1/28/13

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Espinosa's shoulder injury is the big news this week. Photo AP Photo/Nick Wass

These Inboxes are coming fast and furious!  Its almost like we’re just a few days away from Pitchers and Catchers reporting or something.  I should do an inbox response.  Except nobody emails me any questions.   Sometimes I wonder who emails Bill Ladson some of these questions, frankly, especially the people who keep asking about who the manager will be in 2014.  Anyway, here’s his 1/28/13 inbox and how i’d have responded.

Q: What is the status of Chris Marrero? Does he figure to contribute in the Major Leagues at all this year?

A: The phrase “what have you done for me lately” never seems more appropriate than when talking about Chris Marrero.   In November 2007 he was listed by Baseball America as our #1 prospect.   #1 over the likes of Detwiler, Zimmermann, Maxwell, Clippard, Desmond, Peacock, Norris and even Bernadina.    A season-ending injury in 2008, slow progress up our system and then last off-season’s torn hamstring have now dropped him to the Nats #23 ranked prospect overall.  #23 puts him behind “prospects” such as Corey Brown and right above 7-year minor leaguer Carlos Rivero.

The status of Marrero is this: he’s stuck at first-base, seemingly can’t play anywhere else, but doesn’t hit nearly enough homers in order to be a MLB first baseman.  So he seems sort of in a quandry.  Unless he suddenly turns into a 30-home run hitter over-night, or figures out how to play another position, he’s really in a tough spot.  On the Nats depth chart at 1B, he seems to be no better than 4th right now (LaRoche, Moore, Tracy).  That doesn’t bode well for him contributing at the MLB level.  It seems to me that the only way he’s playing meaningful minutes at first this year is if both LaRoche and Moore come down with season-ending injuries.

On the bright side; despite us hearing about him for years, he’s only 24.  But he’s running out of time.  He’ll burn his 3rd and last option in 2013 and isn’t going to be eligible for a 4th.  Marrero needs to hit lights out in AAA this year, get an injury on the big club and gets some big-league ABs, and build trade value.

Ladson has answered this question before and repeated his answer; he thinks Marrero needs to be traded.  Great idea!  Now, who exactly is going to trade for him right now?  And what exactly could the Nats get in return?  These sort of things matter when looking at trade candidates and it irritates me when they’re not taken into consideration by supposed “professionals” in the field.

Q: Given Danny Espinosa’s torn rotor cuff and disappointing second half last season, is there any chance Steve Lombardozzi will become the Opening Day starting second baseman?

A: Boy, the revelation that Danny Espinosa has a torn rotator cuff is big news to me.  Even though its in his non-throwing shoulder (obviously; if it was in his right shoulder he’d likely have had the surgery as soon as it happened), you have to think this affects his hitting.  In fact, the blog Nationals Review did just this yesterday in a great bit of analysis: before the estimated injury date Espinosa was hitting 255/.321/.416.  Afterwards (including his awful playoffs): .156/.241/.234.  That’s rather definitive, even if “after injury” only included a few weeks of the regular season and a 5-game series.

I think the injury gives the team a built-in excuse to replace him if he starts off the year struggling.  Opening Day though?  No way; Davey Johnson is a players’ manager, is old-school and will go with the team at hand unless someone gets hurt in Viera.  Ladson says lets see what happens in Spring Training.  I think that’s the baseball writer equivalent of an Economist saying, “It depends.”

Q: Do you think Johnson will sit Espinosa more often this season because of his injury?

A: Doubtful; he’s either going to produce or not.  If he doesn’t produce, look for him to be sent to the DL for surgery.  I don’t see him getting sat sporadically.  Ladson says that Espinosa won’t let that happen.  Last time I checked though, Espinosa was the player and Johnson was the manager.  So I’m not sure how he can make that command decision.

Q: What role do you foresee Christian Garcia playing this year?

A: I see Christian Garcia starting the year as a starter in AAA and then one of two things happening; either he hurts himself again, thus destroying the whole starter experiment.  Or, someone in the MLB bullpen gets hurt or gets ineffective (ahem, Henry Rodriguez anyone?) and Garcia-as-starter is scrapped as he’s brought up to pitch meaningful innings.  Ladson says he expects Garcia to be a bullpen member and doesn’t buy into the starter experiment.

Q: Assuming 2013 is Johnson’s final year, do you think his replacement will come from inside or outside the organization?

A: I just don’t get how people are obsessing over the 2014 manager.  Call me when the World Series is over and AFTER Johnson actually retires.  Ladson predicts someone from within.

Q: After Adam LaRoche’s contract runs out, could Ryan Zimmerman move across the diamond to first base and let Anthony Rendon play third?

A: This is exactly what I believe should happen.  My ideal world has Rendon hitting his way into a utility infielder role this year, pushing for more playing time next year (perhaps even forcing the Nats hand at 2nd base), and Zimmerman logically moving across the diamond to alleviate his mental issues with routine throws and to protect his body from the constant pounding he gets at 3rd.  Ladson wants Zimmerman at 3rd for a long time, apparently forgetting that Zimmerman increasingly has difficulty making routine throws and being incredibly fragile.

Q: What are the chances of the Nats opening the season with Bryce Harper in right field and Jayson Werth in left?

A: Zero.  But, honestly, Werth in left is a better defensive team.  Harper‘s so good in center while Werth‘s range is eroding in right, it just makes more sense to switch them up.  Why won’t it happen on opening day?  Deference to the veteran.  Deference to the contract.  I expect the OFs to switch around and get each of them playing time in all three positions.  Ladson says that Harper is more comfortable in left while Werth is an “above-average” right fielder.  Uh, not according to UZR/150, which had Werth at a very poor -14.2 in 2012.  Harper belongs in RF but it won’t happen overnight.

How does the Nats WAR add up for 2013?

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How much WAR is Haren bringing to the 2013 Nats? Photo unknown via wikipedia

Mark Zuckerman posted a nice little Wins Above Replacement (WAR) analysis article in the wake of the Gio Gonzalez signing back in December 2011, showing that without any further moves and with the expected projections of WAR improvement the 2012 Nats should improve by nearly 12 wins if our injured stars return to the norm and produce as expected.  As it turned out, he was right … and wasn’t “right” enough.  He actually under-valued the WAR contributions of a newly healthy Adam LaRoche and of what Gonzalez would give the team (and of course nobody could have predicted what Ian Desmond would do nor how big an impact Bryce Harper would have) and the Nats ended up improving 17 games instead of a predicted 12 from 2011′s 81-81 team.

Here’s a similar analysis for your 2013 Nats, with some thoughts on players who may improve or regress from their 2012 WAR totals, and then using that analysis to predict how the team may fare in 2013.  I have uploaded my working 2013 fWAR spreadsheet to docs.google.com (also a link on the right-hand side of the page), which is the basis of the cut-n-paste tables below.  For the purpose of this article, we’re assuming that LaRoche is leaving and Michael Morse is playing 1B full-time, that Bill Bray is making the bullpen, and that Christian Garcia is starting in AAA.

A quick note before starting: the two leading baseball stats sites both have their own versions of the Wins Above Replacement stat.  Baseball-Reference’s WAR (usually abbreviated bWAR or rWAR) was developed by Sean Smith at BaseballProjection.com.  Meanwhile, fangraphs.com has developed their own version of WAR (usually abbreviated fWAR to distinguish from the Baseball-Reference version).  A good analysis of the differences between the two WARs is here: the main differences relate to the use of FIP versus ERA and TotalZone versus UZR for defensive additions.  In this article i’m using solely fWAR.  I think fWAR is slightly better and uses better component parts, though honestly the difference between the two is often negligible.

How many wins would an entire team of replacement level players win?  In other words, where do you start adding WAR figures to, in order to estimate how many wins you should expect out of your team?  Jim Breem of the Milwaukee-Wisconsin Journal Sentinel did just this study in Jan 2011 and discovered that the average of replacement level wins across MLB in 2010 was 45.5 wins.  In other words, you could expect a team of nothing but AAA-level veterans or 0.0 WAR players to win about 45-46 games in a season.  This is about on par with the figure’s I’ve heard in various chats, and is somewhat supported by last year’s awful Houston Astros (who finished 55-107 and had just a handful of players posting a 1.0 WAR or greater).   The 2012 Nats fWAR totaled exactly 50.0, the team finished 98-64 and they had a Pythagorean record of 96-66,  implying that a team of replacement Nats players would win between 46 and 48 games, right in line with Breem’s studies.  For the purposes of predicting the # of 2013 Nats wins we’ll use 46 as a floor.

How did our returning players fare in 2012, and what might they contribute in 2013?  Here’s my estimates for all returning players.  This table is sorted by 2012 fWAR from highest to lowest.  (b) after a pitcher’s name indicates the fWAR contributions (or lack thereof) of that pitcher at the plate.

2012 fWAR 2013 fWAR Est Trend from 2012
Ian Desmond 5.4 5 Down
Gio Gonzalez 5.4 4.8 Down
Bryce Harper 4.9 6 Up
Ryan Zimmerman 4.5 5 Up
Stephen Strasburg 4.3 5 Up
Danny Espinosa 3.8 3.8 Even
Jordan Zimmermann 3.5 4 Up
Roger Bernadina 1.9 2 Even
Ross Detwiler 1.8 2 Even
Jayson Werth 1 1.5 Up
Tyler Clippard 1 1 Even
Steve Lombardozzi 0.8 0.8 Even
Craig Stammen 0.8 0.8 Even
Stephen Strasburg (b) 0.7 0.8 Even
Drew Storen 0.7 1 Up
Tyler Moore 0.6 0.6 Even
Wilson Ramos 0.6 0.2 Down
Kurt Suzuki 0.6 1.5 Up
Chad Tracy 0.5 0.5 Even
Jhonatan Solano 0.4 0 Down
Jordan Zimmermann (b) 0.4 0.4 Even
Michael Morse 0.3 3 Up
Zach Duke 0.2 0.8 up
Corey Brown 0.1 0 Even
Eury Perez 0.1 0 Even
Christian Garcia 0.1 0 Even
Sandy Leon 0 0 Even
Ryan Mattheus (b) 0 0 Even
Zach Duke (b) 0 0 Even
Craig Stammen (b) -0.1 0 Even
Carlos Maldonado -0.1 0 Even
Ryan Perry -0.2 0 Even
Ryan Mattheus -0.2 -0.2 Even
Gio Gonzalez (b) -0.3 -0.3 Even
Henry Rodriguez -0.4 -0.4 Even
Ross Detwiler (b) -0.5 -0.6 Even

Here’s some discussion on my estimates:

Players who I’m trending Up: Harper, Zimmerman, Strasburg, Werth, Suzuki, Storen, Zimmermann, Morse and Duke.  I have Harper going from a 4.9->6.0 fWAR player, which frankly may be selling the kid short.  Lots of pundits think he’s going to explode in 2013 for a Mike Trout-like season.  I think both Zimmerman and Strasburg can achieve 5.0 fWAR seasons.  I think Werth can go from a 1.0->1.5 with a full healthy season, especially if he continues to hit as he did upon returning last year (we’ll ignore for a moment that he’s not “earning” his salary with fWAR seasons in the 5.0 fWAR range like he’s being paid to do).  Suzuki has a couple of 3.4 fWAR seasons under his belt; estimating him at 1.5 may be selling him short.  Storen returns to the closer role healthy, though an improvement to just 1.0 fWAR would be a career best for him.  I’m predicting an improved season out of Zimmermann, who seemed to tire at the end of last season in his first full season back from Tommy John surgery.  Morse has a huge increase predicted (from 0.3->3.0) but he posted a higher fWAR than that in his breakout 2011 season; if he’s here and playing full time, there’s no reason to not expect another season like 2011′s.  Lastly Duke’s 0.8 fWAR estimate may be exceedingly high, but he managed to add 0.2 fWAR in just a few weeks of work in September.

Players who I’m Trending Down: Desmond, Gonzalez, Ramos and Solano: I think Ramos and Solano’s contributions are now limited and/or blocked by Suzuki, so their fWAR contributions drop accordingly.  I’m building in some regression for both Desmond and Gio from last year’s fantastic performances.  Most every player with an estimate of 0.0 for 2013 is assumed to be spending the majority of the season in the minors (notably Ryan Perry and Garcia, but also the likes of Corey Brown,  Eury Perez and all the backup catchers we had to use last year).

Notable Players who I’m trending about Even: Espinosa, Bernadina, Detwiler, Clippard, Stammen, Henry Rodriguez: Even, meaning they’ll contribute about the same in 2013 that they did in 2012.  Is Clippard going to contribute 1.0 fWAR in 2013?  Maybe not.  Can Stammen repeat his stellar performance?  Will Rodriguez continue to drag down the bullpen with a -0.4 fWAR?  If anything, Espinosa should improve on his 3.8 fWAR; he’s trending up year over year.  I’ve listed almost all our backups (Bernadina, Lombardozzi, Moore, Tracy, etc) as being even year over year; there’s no reason right now not to expect the same performance we got out of them in the coming season.  For the moment I’m leaving Garcia in AAA, and have his fWAR at zero; if he were to join the bullpen on a full time basis he could contribute half a WAR or more.

Here’s a quick look at our new players acquired this off-season:

New Players for 2013 2012 fWAR 2013 fWAR Est Trend from 2012
Dan Haren 1.8 4.5 Up
Dan Haren (b) -0.1 -0.3 Down
Denard Span 3.9 3.9 Even
Bill Bray -0.6 0.3 Up
Bill Bray (b) 0 0 Even

Perhaps the most controversial estimate in this article is Haren‘s 2013 fWAR number.  I’m estimating that he’s going to return to his previous form and at least post a 4.5 fWAR.  If you look at his history before 2012, you’ll see he’s easily capable of posting a 6.0 fWAR or higher.   I think the team gave him the contract they did because they’re assuming he’s healthy and assuming he can return at least to his 2011 form.  A 4.5 estimate may end up being low.  Meanwhile, I’m assuming Span is going to just repeat his 2012 performance, and I’m assuming that Bray improves upon his own poor 2012 and returns to something closer to his 2011 form (where he posted a 0.7 fWAR).

Given the above breakdown, here’s how the summaries look:

2012 fWAR 2013 fWAR Est
sum of 2012 fWAR of returning players –> 42.6 49 <– Sum 2013 fWAR estimates existing players
sum of 2012 fWAR for departed players –> 7.4
8.4 <– Sum 2013 fWAR estimates new Additions
sum of 2012 fWAR –> 50.0 57.4 <– Sum 2013 Nats fWAR Estimates

Ok, what does the above table mean?

  • Sum of WAR Returning of 42.6: this is the sum of the fWARs of all pitchers and batters in 2012 who are returning to the team in 2013 (as broken down in the upper table).
  • Sum of WAR Gone of 7.4: this is the sum of the fWARs of all pitchers and batters in 2012 who are no longer with the team.  Adam LaRoche leads this list with a 3.8 fWAR in 2012, though also included in this list are a number of negative fWAR players who drug the team down last year (DeRosa, Wang and Nady especially).
  • Sum of 2012 Nats fWAR of 50.0: This is the sum of returning and departing 2012 players, and is the same number referenced above.
  • Sum fWAR estimates of existing players: 49: This is the sum of the fWAR for all our returning players for 2013; notice this is higher; I’m predicting that through attrition of poor players and some improvement over 2012, we can expect our team to be nearly 7 wins improved.
  • Sum fWAR new additions: 8.4: Span, Haren and Bray should add 8.4 fWAR (as shown in the second table).
  • Sum 2013 Nats fWAR estimates: 57.6

That’s right; I believe the team has an fWAR capability of 57.6, or 7.6 wins more than last year.  Adding that to the previously discussed fWAR floor of 46 games and you have a 103-104 win team.

What happens if LaRoche comes back?  If anything the team could be improved even more.  LaRoche posted a 3.8 fWAR in 2012, while Morse’s BEST fWAR season was his 2011 breakout of 3.3.  If we assume LaRoche can repeat his 2012 performance at least for one year into a 2-3 year contract, then the team’s fWAR estimates rise again.

Does this mean I’m predicting that the 2013 Nationals are going to win 104 games?  Well, no.  Every single one of these estimates implies a 100% best case scenario; no injuries and for the most part all our players playing at their capability levels of 2012.  In reality, we’re going to see some time lost due to injury from key players, and we’re going to see some regression from some players.  The hope is that those regression periods are matched by improvements from other players, or from breakout performances from players who were in the 1.0 fWAR range in the past (think Desmond in 2012).

One last note on WAR (which I’d love to see others’ opinions about): I admittedly have an uneasy and not always consistent opinion on the statistic.  On the one hand, I absolutely believe that career WAR values reward accumulator type players and skew career WAR figures (my favorite example to use is Bert Blyleven, who currently sits with the 39th largest career bWAR in the history of the game.  But no one in their right mind would claim that Blyleven was the 39th best player to ever play the game… so there’s a disconnect that I have a difficult time dealing with).  But, on the other hand, WAR usually does a nice job of quantifying individual seasons, and lending itself to the kind of analysis I’ve just done here.  Do I need to overcome my reservations of using the statistic?  How can I reconcile my concerns with the overall prevalence of the stat?