Nationals Arm Race

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

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GM for a day (or an off-season): what do you do to this team for 2016?


Picture at the top of his C.V. that he'll be updating this off-season. Photo Nats official 2014 via

Picture at the top of his C.V. that he’ll be updating this off-season. Photo Nats official 2014 via

How about some navel gazing to start the off-season?  2015 was a train wreck, both on the field (the projected opening day line up played together exactly 2 games out of 162 and there were something like 15 D/L trips among the projected starters this season) and off (the Barry Svrluga series at the Washington Post literally made me say “Wow” audibly while I sat alone reading the stories).  What can this team really do to right the ship for next year?

Now, I realize the questions “What *should* they do?” and “What *will* they do?” are two completely separate questions.  I have no idea what they will actually do; its hard to read Mike Rizzo and the Ted Lerner-led ownership group.  We often hear that Rizzo has an “ego” and is sometimes afraid to admit mistakes.  We hear rumors that Lerner is in bed with Scott Boras and has gone over Rizzo’s head to sign players Rizzo may not have actually wanted (Rafael Soriano, Jonathan Papelbon?).  But we’re not blessed with a hidden camera inside the boardroom of the Nationals management offices, so its mostly speculation.  In fact, Svruluga’s stories really led the reader to believe that the Papelbon acquisition was Rizzo’s idea as a consolation prize to acquiring Chapman or Kimbrel.  So who knows.

This post is about what I’d do.  From a front-office/managerial perspective:

  1. Fire Matt Williams.  Sorry, the evidence is too overwhelming at this point.  Here’s some quick qualifications for the manager i’d like to see: able to communicate properly, isn’t a Micro managing inflexible drill sergeant, knows how to read a Run-Expectancy chart, knows how to properly set a lineup, realizes that saves are useless and isn’t afraid to throw his best pitcher when needed, understands that bunting was exposed as mostly useless 10 years ago, is open to new ideas about usage, shifting, matchups and statistics in general, listens to his coaches, understands that sometimes the 23 yr old precocious rookie is actually a better player than the 38 year old vet on an 9-figure deal, and lastly, relates to the frigging players.  Shouldn’t be too hard.  Oh one more thing; I want someone who has actually managed a f*cking major league team before.
  2. I don’t have an opinion on the rest of the staff but would go under the general theory that a new manager wants his own staff in place.  Who knows if hitting coaches, pitching coaches, bench coaches, bullpen coaches and 1st/3rd base coaches have any impact on the players.  Hard to prove one way or the other; if the team hits well, the Hitting Coach is a genius.  If the team can’t hit … the hitting coach gets canned.  I like Steve McCatty … but hey, a new manager deserves his own coaches.
  3. Keep Rizzo, but have a serious talk with him about clubhouse chemistry and roster construction and the clear effects their actions have had over the years.  Its really simple: when a guy who’s been with the organization is given an under-market, professionally insulting extension contract offer and then you give $210M to some outsider … that’s “Baaaaaaaad” for morale.  When you tell everyone you can’t “afford” to keep Tyler Clippard (great clubhouse guy, grown up in the organization, thrown 70+ innings year after year for you) because he makes $8.5M …but then you bring in a clubhouse disaster like Papelbon at $11M to replace your UNION REPRESENTATIVE and all around well liked guy Drew Storen, you may have some downstream issues.  Oh; one other thing: take your ego and throw it away and stop trading away useful bullpen parts like Jerry Blevins because he had the audacity of challenging you in arbitration over $200k.  You either are or are not on a budget; $200k represented exactly 0.125% of the $160M payroll of 2015.  That’s like killing a deal for a $500,000 house over a $625 bill for something or another.  Its nothing and it should not have been a factor in the 25-man roster construction.  That Blevins got hurt for New York or that Felipe Rivero (his replacement) worked out isn’t the point.
  4. Budget: here’s a brilliant idea; if Lerner is “freezing” the budget mid-season, then SAVE SOME PAYROLL MONEY for mid-season acquisitions.  Look what the frigging Mets were able to accomplish this trade deadline by being flexible with their payroll and their prospects; they completely remade that team, bought a clubhouse presence and just raced ahead of the Nats.  (Tangent: For  you “clubhouse chemistry is BS” proponents, can you still tell me with a straight face that the 2015 fortunes of the Mets and Nationals had NOTHING to do with chemistry?)

Now, assuming that the Nats are going to reign back in the budget slightly from their $160M plus payroll in 2015:

  1. Let 8 of the 9 FAs go.  Zimmermann, Uggla, Fister, Desmond, Span, McLouth, Janssen and Johnson.  This frees up approximately $60M in payroll.  You’re going to need some of it in arb extensions (there’s 8 arbitration cases pending though we may trade/non-tender a couple).
  2. I’d try to resign just one of my FAs: Matt Thornton.  I think he’s done a pretty good job as a situational lefty.
  3. I’d offer Qualifying Offers to Zimmermann, Desmond and Span but not Fister.  Both Zimmermann and Desmond turned down significant deals to stay here and have made their beds at this point.  I think the team has made the decision to not allocate money there and go with internal options.  I don’t think any of the three take the QO, not even Span.  Why?  Because Span just hired Scott Boras and Boras will tell Span there’s a long term contract to be had in the market.  Span didn’t hire Boras so he could take a one-year Qualifying Offer (deeper discussion on QOs for the Nats pending FAs was previously done here: To Qualifying Offer, or not to Qualifying Offer (2015 version).
  4. I havn’t done major analysis of Tender/Non-Tender cases yet but the only guy seemingly in jeopardy of a non-tender is Tyler Moore; discussed more below.  Maybe David Carpenter too depending on the severity of his shoulder injury.
  5. Rule-5: this is more about the 25-man roster and not the edges of the 40-man; we’ll do a separate rule-5 post later on.

So, this leaves the 25-man roster looking like this for 2016 as a starting point;

  • Rotation: Scherzer, Strasburg, Gonzalez, Ross and Roark
  • Bullpen: Papelbon, Storen, Treinen, Thornton, Rivero, ? and ?
  • Inf: Rendon, Turner, Escobar, Zimmerman, Ramos
  • OF: Harper, Taylor, Werth
  • Bench: Robinson, Moore, Espinosa, Lobaton, den Dekker?

What do we need?  In order: bullpen, lefty hitters, backups and maybe rotation competition.  Every projected starter save Harper hits righty right now and that just needs to change.

So, section by section (using the  mlbtraderumors 2016 FA list for reference):

Rotation: Could the team go shopping for a 5th starter?  I like Roark and don’t think his 2013 and 2014 seasons were flukes, but the team doesn’t seem to rate him.  I like Ross as #3 and think he’s locked in based on his performance this year.  Depth wise, we have Giolito who probably will be ready for the rotation by mid 2016; he could see action as an injury call up if need be.  I have little faith in the rest of the upper-minors depth right now.  Cole, Jordan, Hill have all disappointed at the majors and may be traded for other spare parts.  I like Treinen and Rivero … they are both former starters but both have struggled at times and seem likely to stay in the pen.  I don’t think this is a high priority to supplement the rotation but I could see it.  Maybe Voth gets a shot next year if we get shredded with injuries.  Reynaldo Lopez and Erick Fedde are really more like 2017 options unless the Nats get creative and put Lopez’ 100mph heat in the bullpen short term (not the worst idea…)  Rotation wise, I think they have bigger fish to fry and will stand pat with what they have.

Bullpen; Thanks to the ridiculous choking incident, I think the team needs to part ways with Papelbon.  Won’t be easy; he’s due $11M next  year, his performance tailed off badly, he’s proven once again in his third organization out of three that he’s a bad apple, and he has a partial no-trade.  I’m sure his wife will be happy; reportedly they *just* bought a $2.9M house in Alexandria, like the day before he choked his teammate on national TV.  (side note: why would they buy if he was only here for another year??  That just doesn’t seem like the best investment.  Now they have a brand new property that they have to ditch).  Worst comes to worse, they have to release him to eat $11M.

If they part ways with Papelbon, what do they do with Storen?  I think Storen still demands a trade; this organization has jerked him around enough times, has now gotten not one but two higher-paid veteran closers to replace him despite regular season numbers that looked just fine each time.  Problem is: The FA market for “closers” is pretty weak (there’s just one closer on the market: Joaquin Soria); maybe if Papelbon is gone the organization makes right by Storen and lets him reprise the role.  Of course, on the flip side, the trade market for closers should be pretty good as a result and maybe Rizzo can spin some gold like he did with the Matt Capps trade.  If Papelbon leaves, maybe they kiss and make up with Storen and give him a bigger-than-he-deserves arbitration award and makes him happy.

Even if they keep Storen, the team still needs to acquire two good power arms for the 7th/8th inning.  I like Treinen, Thornton and Rivero to reprise their roles (Rivero in particular is intriguing; he can hit 100 from the left hand side, a rarity.  Too bad he doesn’t have a 3rd pitch or i’d be asking why he isn’t in the rotation).  They’ll get Stammen back so that’s a good 7th inning righty.  Barrett may miss the whole of 2016 so he’s not an option.  Carpenter’s got a shoulder injury and was AAA fodder anyway.  They can fill the long man with Roark if he gets replaced in the rotation or someone else like our spare starters (Cole, Hill, Jordan).  They could buy a whole lotta good will with the fans and re-sign Clippard.  How about someone like Jim Johnson, who kind of re-made himself with his closer performance in Atlanta, to be your 8th inning guy?  How does this look like for 2016:

  • Storen, Clippard/Johnson, Treinen, Stammen, Thornton, Rivero and someone like Cole as your long man
  • bullpen depth:  de los Santos, Davis, Martin, Solis, Grace, Carpenter (if he’s ready to go for 2016)

Still kind of thin; how many of those “depth” guys proved they were ready to go in the majors this year?  Are there any guys on the rise in the system who could make sense to push for a spot next year?  How much would you pay for someone like Clippard on the open market?  Maybe we’re going to see some kind of blockbuster trade where we acquire the surplus of arms we need.

Infield: seems rather set; Turner is a ready made replacement for Desmond.  Healthy Rendon at 3B is a 5-win player.  Escobar more than earned his money this year and defensively makes more sense at 2B where he can do less damage.  Zimmerman isn’t going anywhere (except back to the D/L for the millionth time in his career).  Espinosa remains one more year as the backup infielder and the team finds an additional utility guy from within (Difo?) or in the FA market for backup purposes.  Ramos was finally healthy for a whole season … and took a huge step back at the plate; do we try to replace him?  We could go for someone like a Matt Weiters, who hits lefty and addresses a need and flip Ramos for something we need like bullpen or bench depth.

Outfield: Harper and Werth are set in the corners .. .Werth for better or worse.  Is his 2015 the start of his decline or an injury excuse?  He’s got a no-trade and makes a ton of money and seems locked into LF as long as he’s here.  Question marks remain about Taylor; is he a starter or a 4th OF?  I think the Nats will pursue a lefty hitting outfielder, then position Harper in either CF or RF depending on the abilities of the acquisition.  The name Gerardo Parra keeps popping up; they liked him at the trade deadline and could pursue him again.  Or, if Span inexplicably takes the QO, there’s your lefty CF for 2016.  Jayson Heyward is a lefty but doesn’t add much punch and is going to be crazy expensive.

How about a radical realignment: Zimmerman goes to LF to make way for a lefty hitting 1B like Chris Davis; Harper to center, Werth back in RF, Taylor the 4th OF.  That’d give the team another lefty, a ton more power (imagine a lineup with both Harper and Davis?, and would fit in the budget even if Davis gets something like 6/$100M or so.  Or do you say “Davis is a nightmare FA contract waiting to happen when he starts inevitably declining and/or his Ritalin prescription runs out” and not commit money in this fashion?  I could buy that argument absolutely.  How likely is this team, really, to extend Bryce Harper for $300M plus?  Are they saving their pennies for that attempt or are they saying “he’s a goner lets just try to win while we have them?”

Bench: the team got a ton from Robinson and Espinosa this year; they’re both back.  Moore?  Probably DFA’d; he’s eligible for arbitration and there’s likely to be a dozen right handed power hitters who could play a corner and pinch hit here and there.  Look for a cattle call of veteran MLFAs like we did for the lefty 1b/LF position that Robinson won this past spring training.  I think the team likes den Dekker as “speedy backup CF outfielder” guy so he likely returns too.  Plus he hits lefty and really hit well in September.  No reason to mess with Lobaton; he gives flexibility at the plate and is cost-contained as a backup C.

Honestly, the core of the team is mostly still intact.  If all these guys were healthy all year and hitting at their 2014 rates, this season would have gone a lot differently.  I think we’ll see a lot of work in the pen and some activity on the fringes, but no major signings and no major trades.  Payroll takes a step back; I can’t tell you how much b/c payroll projections will take time and depend on who gets tendered/re-signed/QO’d, but I could see this team back at $130M heading into 2016.

Does this sound like a winning formula?  Did I miss anything?

Closer post-mortem 2014


Francisco Rodriguez screwed my fantasy team this year.  Photo via

Francisco Rodriguez screwed my fantasy team this year. Photo via

This post is somewhat driven by fantasy baseball, where one of the typical pitching categories is “Saves,” and the constant churn of closers has become a huge detriment to most fantasy baseball players.  I’m no exception; this year I drafted who I presumed was going to be the closer for Milwaukee (Jim Henderson), only to watch him be replaced the day before the season started, inexplicably and without warning, by Francisco Rodriguez, who subsequently earned 40+ saves for the guy in my league who vulture waiver-wire picked him up.  (We eventually found out why; Henderson gave up 10 runs in 11 innings before going under the knife for “Labrum & Rotator Cuff Debridement.”  Ugh).

My research shows that just 13 of the 30 teams in the MLB this year started and ended the season with the same closer.  That’s a pretty amazing churn of players.  So I put together a tracking XLS.

Team Switch during 2014 season? 2014 Closer, start of season 1/2 point Closer End of Year Closer Most Saves 2014 full season # Saves for Team Leader in 2014
Ari Addison Reed Addison Reed Addison Reed Addison Reed 32
Atl Craig Kimbrel Craig Kimbrel Craig Kimbrel Craig Kimbrel 47
Bal Yes Tommy Hunter Zach Britton Zach Britton Zach Britton 37
Bos Yes Koji Uehara Koji Uehara Edward Mujica Koji Uehara 26
Chc Yes Jose Veras Hector Rondon Hector Rondon Hector Rondon 29
Cin Yes J.J. Hoover Aroldis Chapman Aroldis Chapman Aroldis Chapman 36
Cle Yes John Axford Cody Allen Cody Allen Cody Allen 24
Col LaTroy Hawkins LaTroy Hawkins LaTroy Hawkins LaTroy Hawkins 23
Cws Yes Nate Jones Ronald Belisario? Jake Petricka Jake Petricka 14
Det Joe Nathan Joe Nathan Joe Nathan Joe Nathan 35
Hou Comm. Chad Qualls Chad Qualls Chad Qualls Chad Qualls 19
KC Greg Holland Greg Holland Greg Holland Greg Holland 46
LAA Yes Ernesto Frieri Joe Smith Huston Street Huston Street 17
LAD Kenley Jansen Kenley Jansen Kenley Jansen Kenley Jansen 44
Mia Steve Cishek Steve Cishek Steve Cishek Steve Cishek 39
Mil Yes Jim Henderson Francisco Rodriguez Francisco Rodriguez Francisco Rodriguez 44
Min Glen Perkins Glen Perkins Glen Perkins Glen Perkins 34
NYM Yes Bobby Parnell Jennry Mejia Jennry Mejia Jennry Mejia 28
Nyy David Robertson David Robertson David Robertson David Robertson 39
Oak Yes Jim Johnson Sean Doolittle Sean Doolittle Sean Doolittle 22
Phi Jonathan Papelbon Jonathan Papelbon Jonathan Papelbon Jonathan Papelbon 39
Pit Yes Jason Grilli Mark Melancon Mark Melancon Mark Melancon 33
Sdp Yes Huston Street Joaquin Benoit Joaquin Benoit Joaquin Benoit 11
Sea Fernando Rodney Fernando Rodney Fernando Rodney Fernando Rodney 48
Sfg Yes Sergio Romo Santiago Castilla Santiago Castilla Sergio Romo 23
Stl Trevor Rosenthal Trevor Rosenthal Trevor Rosenthal Trevor Rosenthal 45
TBR Yes Grant Balfour Jake McGee Jake McGee Jake McGee 19
Tex Yes Neftali Feliz Joaquim Soria Neftali Feliz Neftali Feliz 13
Tor Casey Janssen Casey Janssen Casey Janssen Casey Janssen 25
Was Yes Rafael Soriano Rafael Soriano Drew Storen Rafael Soriano 32

Now, technically the Reds never “switched” their closer; they just knew that Aroldis Chapman was coming back after a brief stint on the D/L.  And the Astros show Chad Qualls in all the positions, but they clearly were going with a committee for most of the season.  So you could argue against those two teams, but that still leaves half the league switching their closer mid-season.  Other teams stuck with the same guy all year (Detroit with Joe Nathan) despite awful numbers (4.81 ERA on the season for Nathan), so you could argue that they *should* have switched.

The Nats were no exception; they started the year with Rafael Soriano, who was one of the league’s best for half the season.  By September, the Nats had dumped Soriano for their *previous* closer in Drew Storen, who then dumped the bed in his only two post-season appearances (blowing the save in Jordan Zimmermann‘s epic 8 2/3 shutout innings, and then allowing two hits and a run in a non-save situation the next night).

What does this mean?  For “real” baseball, not much that we didn’t already know.  Closers are judged mostly on high-leverage short-sample sizes, where one blow-out inning destroys ERA and WHIP numbers for a month.  Its a ridiculous statistic that has far too much credence in the modern game.  And its even more ridiculous that a mediocre “closer” with a ton of saves earns more than a middle-to-late innings reliever with a ton of “holds” and great numbers.  But this is our system.

For “fantasy” baseball, the take away again is kind of known: closers are a crapshoot.  Try to get a couple of “known” closers in the 5th-8th rounds, grab a couple of fliers on people later on, but be sure to be incredibly proactive on the waiver wires in the last week of spring training/first week of the season.  A lot of these personnel changes happened in early April and then stuck the rest of the way through (quick examples being Milwaukee as described above and the New York Mets, who saw presumed closer Bobby Parnell blow out his elbow on practically the first day of the season and have Tommy John surgery on 4/8/14).


My 2014 Fantasy Baseball Team


Adam Jones; my #1 fantasy draft pick in 2014.  Photo unk.

Adam Jones; my #1 fantasy draft pick in 2014. Photo unk.

As with years past … feel free to skip this post if you don’t care about fantasy.  I know for certain that reading about someone elses’s fantasy sports team can be a bit grating.  But, if you do play fantasy i’m sure you’ll at least appreciate reading the selections and then looking at the team’s strength analysis at the end.

I’ll include a jump line so your RSS feeds aren’t blown out either.

Read the rest of this entry »

My 2013 End-of-Season award Predictions

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Clayton Kershaw may be the sole unanimous major award winner in 2013.  Photo via wiki.

Clayton Kershaw may be the sole unanimous major award winner in 2013. Photo via wiki.

This post is months in the making.  In WordPress I looked up the first revision and it was dated May 4th.  Its on at least its 50th revision.  Its crazy.  But its a fun piece to do, to kind of keep track of these awards throughout the season.  But with yesterday’s release of the top-3 candidates for each BBWAA award, I thought it was finally time to publish.  The top-3 announcement didn’t have too many surprises in it, but was eye opening for some of the also-rans in each category.

I like seeing how well I can predict these awards by reading the tea leaves of the various opinions that flow into my RSS feed (here’s 2012’s version of the same post with links to prior years).  The goal is to go 8-for-8 predicting the major awards, with an even loftier goal of going 12-for-12 adding in the unofficial Sporting News awards.  I succeeded in 8-for-8 in 2010 and 2011, but missed out last year by over-thinking the Manager of the Year award in the AL.   This year is going to be tougher; the NL Rookie award and the AL Manager of the Year award are going to be coin-flips.

Here’s links for the MLB Players of the Month, to include Player, Pitcher and Rookies of the month, though frankly these monthly awards don’t amount to much.  But they’re fun to go see who was hot and how they ended up (think Evan Gattis).

Here’s links to some mid-season award prediction columns from Tom Verducci, Matthew Pouliot and Jayson Stark.  Here’s an 8/27/13 post from Keith Law, a 9/5/13 post from Cliff Corcoran, and a 9/25/13 prediction piece from USA Today’s Frank Nightengale that may be very telling about the Cabrera/Trout debate.   Lastly a few end of season pieces from Stark, Passan, Pouliot NL and AL, Gammons, Keri, Olney, Heyman.

Lastly here’s a great Joe Posnanski piece complaining about the faults the typical BBWAA voter has in their methodology.  He touches on some themes I mention below.  Remember this is a prediction piece, not who I necessarily think should actually win.

Without further ado, here’s my predictions and thoughts on the awards (predicted winners in Blue).

  • AL MVP:  Miguel Cabrera (May’s AL player of the month) and was leading the league in nearly every offensive category through a big chunk of the season before injuries cost him a lot of September.  There’s talk of another Cabrera-Mike Trout competition for the MVP in 2013, but I think the same results will hold as in 2012.  It comes down to the simple question; how can you be the “MVP” of a last place team?  That vastly over-simplifies the debate of course, but it is what it is.  I continue to be impatient with holier-than-thou writers who ignore the BBWAA definition of the award and who think this MVP should just be a ranking of the seasonal WAR table.  This award is not (yet) the “Best Player” award, and if it was then Trout would be the easy winner.  Of the also-rans:  Chris Davis tied the AL-record for pre-All Star break homers and finished with 53, but he’s likely #3 in this race.   Rounding out my top 5 would be Josh Donaldson and  Manny Machado.  Names briefly under consideration here earlier in the season (and possible top 10 candidates) include Joe Mauer and Evan Longoria.
  • AL Cy Young: Max Scherzer started the season 13-0 and finished 21-3.  This will propel him to the award despite not being as quite as good overall as his top competition.  Yu Darvish was on pace for nearly 300 strikeouts for a while before finishing with 277 and is likely finishing #2.   Despite a losing record pitching for one of the worst teams in the league, Chris Sale pitched to a 140 ERA+ for the second season in a row and should be rewarded with a top-5 finish.  Hisashi Iwakuma has fantastic numbers in the anonymity and depression of Seattle and will also get top-5 votes.  Rounding out the top 5 could be one of many:  Clay Buchholz was unhittable in April and weathered  accusations of doctoring the baseball from the Toronto broadcast team (Jack Morris and Dirk Hayhurst specifically), but then got hurt and may fall out of the voting.   Felix Hernandez put up his typical good numbers early despite a ton of kvetching about his velocity loss early in the season, but tailed off badly in August to drop him from the race.  Anibal Sanchez‘s 17-strikeout game has him some buzz, and he led the league in both ERA and ERA+.    Matt Moore became the first young lefty to start 8-0 since Babe Ruth and somewhat quietly finished 17-4 for the game-163 winning Rays.  Lots of contenders here.  Predicted finish: Scherzer, Darvish, Iwakuma, Sale, Sanchez.
  • AL Rookie of the Year: Wil Myers may be the winner by default.  Nobody else really stands out, and the biggest off-season narrative involved Myers and the big trade, meaning that nearly every baseball fan and writer knows of Myers’ pre-MLB exploits.  Jose Iglesias put up good numbers in the Boston infield before being flipped to Detroit, and is a great candidate but most of his value resides in his defense, meaning old-school writers won’t vote for him over Myers.   Past that, the candidates are slim.  Justin Grimm‘s fill-in starts for Texas were more than adequate.  Nick Tepesch is also holding his own in Texas’ rotation.  Coner Gillaspie and Yan Gomes are in the mix.  Texas’ Martin Perez put himself in the race with a solid year and got some last-minute exposure pitching in the game-163 tie-breaker.  Leonys Martin is another Texas rookie that has quietly put up good numbers.  Myers’ Tampa Bay teammate Chris Archer could get some votes.  Predicted finish: Myers, Iglesias, Perez, Archer and Martin.
  • AL MgrJohn Ferrell in Boston for going worst to first may be the best managerial job, but Terry Franconia in Cleveland deserves a ton of credit for what he’s done with significantly less resources in Cleveland and should win the award.  Its hard to underestimate what Joe Girardi has done in New York with injuries and the media circus this year, but this award usually goes to a playoff bound team.  I’ll go Franconia, Ferrell, Girardi.
  • (Unofficial “award”): AL GM: Initially I was thinking Ben Cherington, Boston.  He traded away all those bad contracts, brought in several guys under the radar, leading to a 30 game swing in its W/L record.  Though, I agree with David Schoenfield; with Oakland’s 2nd straight AL West title it’s hard not to give this to Billy Beane.
  • (Unofficial “award”): AL Comeback Player of the Year: Nate McLouth has come back from the absolute dead for Baltimore, though technically he was decent last year too.  Josh Donaldson has come out of nowhere for Oakland, but really had nowhere to come “back” from.  John Lackey and Scott Kazmir both rebounded excellently from injury plagued seasons.  I think the winner has to be Kazmir by virtue of his slightly better record over Lackey.  Editor’s update: this award was already given and I got it wrong: Mariano Rivera won for his great 2013 comeback; I completely forgot about him.  We’ll cover the results versus my predictions in a future post.
  • (Unofficial “award”): AL Fireman of the YearGreg Holland, despite some sympathetic desire to give it to Mariano Rivera on his way out.  Joe Nathan is also in the AL discussion.  Jim Johnson is not; despite leading the league in saves for the 2nd year in a row he blew another 9 opportunities.  I hope the voters see past that.

Now for the National League:

  • NL MVP:  Andrew McCutchen is the shoe-in to win, both as a sentimental favorite for the Pirates first winning/playoff season in a generation and as the best player on a playoff team.  Clayton Kershaw‘s unbelievable season won’t net him a double, but I’m guessing he comes in 2nd in the MVP voting.  Paul Goldschmidt has become a legitimate stud this year and likely finishes 3rd behind McCutchen and Kershaw.  Rounding out the top 5 probably are two from Yadier Molina, Freddie Freeman and possibly Joey Votto as leaders from their respective playoff teams.  Also-rans who looked great for short bursts this season include the following:  Jayson Werth (who is having a career-year and making some people re-think his albatros contract),  Carlos Gomez (who leads the NL in bWAR, won the Gold glove and led the NL in DRS for centerfielders but isn’t being mentioned at all for the NL MVP: isn’t that odd considering the overwhelming Mike Trout debate??  I’ve made this case in this space to little fanfare in the past; if you are pro-Trout and are not pro-Gomez, then you’re falling victim to the same “MVP Narrative” that you are already arguing against), and maybe even Matt Carpenter (St. Louis’ real offensive leader these days).
  • NL Cy Young:  Clayton Kershaw put together his typical dominant season and won’t lose out to any of his darling competitors.  He may be the only unanimous vote of the major awards.  Marlins rookie phenom Jose Fernandez probably finishes #2 behind Kershaw before squeaking out the RoY award.   Matt Harvey was the All-Star game starter and looked like he could have unseated Kershaw, but a later season swoon and a torn UCL in late August ended his season and his chances early.  He still likely finishes #3.   Others who will get votes here and there: Jordan Zimmermann (who nearly got to 20 wins),  Adam Wainwright (who is back to Ace-form after his surgery and is put together a great season), St. Louis teammate Shelby Miller,  Patrick Corbin (Pitcher of the Month in May), Cliff Lee (who has been great for the mediocre Phillies), and perhaps even Zack Greinke (who finished 15-4; did you know he was 15-4?).  Predicted finish: Kershaw, Fernandez, Harvey, Wainwright, Corbin.
  • NL Rookie of the Year: Seems like its coming down to one of 5 candidates: Fernandez, Puig, Miller, Ryu and Teheran.  I’d probably vote them in that order.  Shelby Miller has stayed the course filling in St. Louis’ rotation and may also get Cy Young votes and seemed like the leading candidate by mid June.  Evan Gattis, the great feel-good story from the Atlanta Braves, started out white-hot but settled down in to relative mediocracy.  Tony Cingrani continued his amazing K/9 pace from the minors at the MLB level, filling in quite ably for Red’s ace Johnny Cueto but was demoted once Cueto returned and struggled with injuries down the stretch.   Didi Gregorious, more famous for being the “other” guy in the Trevor Bauer trade, has performed well.  Meanwhile don’t forget about Hyun-Jin Ryu, the South Korean sensation that has given Los Angeles a relatively fearsome frontline set of starters.  Yasiel Puig took the league by storm and hit 4 homers his first week on the job.  Jose Fernandez has made the jump from A-Ball to the Marlins rotation and has been excellent.  Julio Teheran has finally figured it out after two call-ups in the last two years and has a full season of excellent work in Atlanta’s rotation.  The question is; will narrative (Puig) win out over real performance (Fernandez)?  Tough call.
  • NL MgrClint Hurdle, Pittsburgh.  No real competition here.  Some may say Don Mattingly for going from near firing in May to a 90 win season … but can you really be manager of the year with a 250M payroll?
  • (Unofficial award) NL GMNeal Huntington, Pittsburgh.  It really has to be Huntington for pulling off the low-profile moves that have paid off with Pittsburgh’s first winning season in 20 years.  Ned Colletti‘s moves may have resulted in the best team in the league, but he has the benefit of a ridiculously large checkbook and I hope he doesn’t win as a result.
  • (Unofficial “award”): NL Comeback Player of the Year: I’d love to give this to Evan Gattis for his back story but that’s not the point of this award.  I’m thinking Carlos Gomez with Milwaukee for his massive out-of-nowhere season.  But honestly the award has to go to Francisco Liriano.  Editor’s update: this award was already given and I got it right: Liriano indeed won.
  • (Unofficial “award”): NL Fireman of the YearCraig Kimbrel, who looks to finish the year with a sub 1.00 ERA for the second year running.   Edward Mujica and Aroldis Chapman in the discussion but not really close.


ALDS Game 5 thoughts

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Wainwright shows why he's an "Ace."  Photo:

Wainwright shows why he’s an “Ace.” Photo:

As much as it pained me and most sentimental baseball fans, I called St. Louis’ NLDS game five victory last night.  Gerrit Cole pitched well, but nothing beats a complete game shutdown performance from an Ace like Adam Wainwright.    The Cards continue to get clutch hitting when they need it and remain a difficult out.  I honestly wanted the Cardinals to lose as penance for putting Shelby Miller in the bullpen, so that I could use the same line that others have used against the Nats for an entire year.  But the Cards gutted out wins in two straight elimination games and now get LA in the NLCS.

With last night’s correct prediction, I’m now 14 for 18 now in per-game predictions this post-season.  Lets put it on the line for another pretty tough game to predict.

ALDS Game 5: Detroit at Oakland.  Verlander versus Gray.   A rematch of game 2’s starters.

Verlander just destroyed Oakland in Game 2; 7 innings, 4 hits, 11 K’s.  No real reason not to think that may happen again.  His big problem was pitch count; he was at 117 pitches through 7 because Oakland sees a ton of pitches.  Billy Beane in action, Oakland walks at the 3rd highest rate in the game.   But, Gray was better; going 8 shutout innings and allowing just 5 baserunners.  Gray was more efficient and probably could have gone another inning; instead Bob Melvin brought on his closer in a tie game late and was rewarded with a bottom of the 9th walk-off win….

Quick Tangent: see Fredi Gonzalez; isn’t it nice when you use your best reliever to help win games, instead of managing to the stupid save category and watching a lesser reliever give up the game-winning bomb while Kimbrel sits in the bullpen with his hands on his hips??  You deserved to lose that game, and its karmic that the Braves are now out after all the whining, the showmanship, and the beanball wars they brought on the league this year.

Anyway.  On tonight’s game something tells me the A’s are going to get to Verlander slightly more than the Tigers get to Gray.   Oakland’s bullpen is in tatters, but Detroit’s isn’t much better.  If Gray can hand the ball directly to Balfour again, and if Oakland can squeeze Verlander out of the game after 7 innings again … I think Oakland hangs on for the win.


Written by Todd Boss

October 10th, 2013 at 8:51 am

DC-IBWAA Poll results and my vote

David Nichols does a great job getting all the Nats bloggers to participate in pre-season and post-season polls.  He got 18 voters this time around.  The link above is the results of the post-season poll.  Here’s his post-season survey questions, the poll results and how I answered them and why.

2013 DC-Internet Baseball Writers Association


 AWARD FIRST (5 POINTS) SECOND (3 points) THIRD (1 point)
Goose Goslin Most Valuable PlayerPlayer most valuable to the success of the Washington Nationals Werth Desmond Harper
Walter Johnson Starting Pitcher of the YearExcellent performance as a starting pitcher Zimmermann Strasburg Gonzalez
Frederick “Firpo” Marberry Relief Pitcher of the YearExcellent performance as a relief pitcher Clippard Stammen Roark
Sam Rice Hitter of the YearExcellence in all-around hitting, situational hitting and baserunning Desmond Span Harper
Frank Howard Slugger of the YearExcellence in power hitting Werth Harper Zimmerman
Joe Judge Defensive Player of the YearExcellence in fielding Span Desmond Espinosa
Mickey Vernon Comeback Player of the YearPlayer who overcame biggest obstacle in the preceding season to contribute on the field Jordan Ramos Werth
Josh Gibson Humanitarian Player of the YearPlayer who meritoriously gave of himself to the community Zimmerman
Minor League Player of the YearMinor league player most destined for big league success








  • Goose Goslin Most Valuable Player: Werth, Desmond, Zimmermann.  I went Werth, Desmond and Harper.  I don’t like voting pitchers for MVP; they have their own awards :-)
  • Walter Johnson Starting Pitcher of the Year: Zimmermann, Strasburg, Gonzalez: Same way I voted.  I do like the few side-votes for Roark.
  • Frederick “Firpo” Marberry Relief Pitcher of the Year : Clippard, Stammen, Soriano: I voted Clippard, Stammen and then Roark.  Honestly I did not think Soriano really did that great a job this year.  He had a 0.9 WAR for his $15M salary (with deferred payments).  That just doesn’t cut it for me for a high-end closer.  I want Craig Kimbrel-esque dominance for that kind of money.  Roark on the other hand had a 2.0 bWAR in his limited time on the team.
  • Sam Rice Hitter of the Year: Werth, Desmond, Zimmerman.  I went Desmond, Span, Harper.  I dunno; I guess I got caught up on the definition, which included “baserunning” and “situational” hitting.  I think I just plain forgot how good a season Werth had here.
  • Frank Howard Slugger of the Year: Werth, Harper, Zimmerman: same way as I voted.  Maybe we should have put more thought into it besides just listing the team leaders in  homers.
  • Joe Judge Defensive Player of the Year: Span, Desmond, Ramos.  I went Span, Desmond and Espinosa.  Despite how bad his bat was, Espinosa was still awfully good in the field.  You always forget about the catchers when rating defenders.  I’m guilty here.
  • Mickey Vernon Comeback Player of the Year: Ramos, Werth, Ohlendorf.  I went Jordan, Ramos and Werth.  Remember, Jordan had Tommy John surgery and was buried in high-A to start the season.  That’s a heck of a comeback.  Fair enough on Ramos after his kidnapping ordeal and his injuries.
  • Josh Gibson Humanitarian Player of the Year: Zimmerman, Desmond, Gonzalez.  Honestly I only voted for Zimmerman; do the rest of these guys do events?  Maybe i’m just unaware of what the rest of the team is doing in the charity world, but clearly Zimmerman’s MS causes is well known.
  • Minor League Player of the Year : Giolito, Rendon, Cole: I voted Giolito, Cole and Goodwin, thinking that Rendon was “graduated.”  I have two lines of players because I wasn’t sure how to answer the question at first; was it “3 best prospects” or “3 best minor league players THIS season?”  Because the answer to the latter question clearly is not the same as the answer to the former question.

Survey Questions
1. Which players on the 40-man roster at the end of the season are least likely to return in 2010?    

I said Cedeno, Haren, Ohlendorf, Tracy (which were the top four answers among all the responses) but i’d like to change my mind on Ohlendorf.   I think the team is going to tender him and keep him around as a long man, considering that he can’t refuse an option until mid-next year.  I also think a couple of these random guys picked up on waivers late in the season (Tyler Robinson and Mauro Gomez) may not stick around for the long haul.  These two guys in particular never even got numbers assigned to them.

2. Will the Nats sign Ian Desmond and Jordan Zimmermann to long-term contract extensions before they reach free agency? 

I said “Desmond yes, Zimmermann maybe.”  Honestly, I feel the team can replace Zimmermann from within and may be better served to flip him for prospects if his price tag gets too high.  At some point the Nats are going to have to make tough choices like this (they are not going to be able to give 9-figure deals to everyone on this team who deserves them) in order to maintain their core group and contine to compete.  You already have two 9-figure deals, and you have to think that Desmond, Harper and Strasburg are going to merit them.  can you have a team with that much top-heavy payroll?  Now, if you got Zimmerman for Gonzalez prices (5  yrs $50M or so) then you have yourself a deal.

3. What player was the biggest surprise for the Nats this season?

I went with with Jordan, Roark, Werth.   The group went with Roark, Werth, Jordan.

4. Who was the biggest disappointment?

I went with Haren, Span, LaRoche.  The group went with Haren, Espinosa, Span.  Maybe I didn’t include Espinosa because I already had my doubts on him; frankly he didn’t disappoint me, he met my low expectations for him in 2014.

5. Who is your favorite professional Nats writer?

I went with Mark Zuckerman.  The survey results went Kilgore, Comak, Zuckerman and Wagner.  Coincidentally bon voyage to Comak, who is leaving The Washington Times Nats beat.

6. Who is your favorite non-professional Nationals writer?

I went with Luigi de Guzman, writer of the blog Natstradamus.  He doesn’t write that frequently, but when he does they’re usually thoughtful, well researched opinion pieces.  Though that’s no slight to Luke Erickson at, whose blog I absolutely depend on to write this blog.  I also really like Ryan Sullivan‘s NatsGM blog and its focus on prospects.  Generally speaking my preference in reading baseball writing on the internet leans towards opinion pieces.  I know that lots of blogs out there try to be replacement newspaper writers/beat reporters.  That’s not what excites me.  I want to see opinion pieces, criticism where criticism is due, etc.  Harper Gordek at Nationals Baseball is one that definitely writes opinion pieces and I look forward to his stuff too.  Unfortunately a lot of these guys have retired (Steven Biel, Chris Needham in particular were always good for a scathing piece when the team deserved it).  I know there’s a couple others out there who write good opinion pieces that i’m forgetting.

Yours truly got one vote!  That’s awesome, to whichever fellow blogger voted for me.



Ask Boswell 7/1/13 Edition


Desmond; trouble-maker Photo Drew Kinback/

Ian Desmond; trouble-maker. Photo Drew Kinback/

Another month, another .500 record for the Nats.  At the halfway point they’re 41-40, on pace for a fantastic 82-80 record.  Well, the Cardinals won the World Series a few years back making the post-season 83-79, so maybe all is not lost (sarcasm).  Though, the last couple days have seen unprecedented offensive output (they’ve scored 10+ runs twice in a row after only having done it once prior).

Bryce Harper is back after missing nearly 5 weeks of games (and hitting badly through another 4 weeks in May of them before that), and promptly hits a homer in his first AB off the D/L.   With Harper’s inclusion, we’ll finally see the “ideal offensive lineup” that I touched on last week.  On paper, a 2-7 of Werth-Harper-Zimmerman-LaRoche-Desmond-Rendon looks really, really good.

In this light, lets see what kind of baseball questions Tom Boswell took in his pre-holiday chat on 7/1/13.  As always, I’ll write my answer here before reading his to avoid bias and edit questions for clarity (since a lot of the “questions” he takes are rambling complaints about this or that).

Q: Are the Nationals as a team missing the “spark” they need to rally for the playoffs?

A: I’ve talked about the outflow of “chemistry” this team lost when Michael Morse was dealt before.  I’ve also speculated in this space before about whether or not this team has too many “uber serious” players.   In many ways winning consistently creates “chemistry” but I also think the reverse is true if you don’t have the right guys with leadership voices in the clubhouse.  Is the return of one hitter (albeit their best) going to change the tune for this team?  Boswell notes that the team faces a significant hole: 6.5 games in the division, 5.5 games just for the wild-card coin flip game.

Q: Thoughts on Taylor Jordan?  Does he get a 2nd Start?

A: See here for my post over the weekend on Taylor Jordan, and Yes he gets a 2nd start.  He only gave up one earned run.   Lets see what Boswell said: Boswell has a good point: he liked Jordan, thought he had potential .. but then noted that this team needs to go 50-31 to make the playoffs and you’re not going to go 50-31 with a rookie as your 5th starter.  

Q: With Werth appearing to be injured, do you see Davey moving Harper to right and Werth to left field?

A: Well, this is one of those “veteran manager” moves from Davey Johnson that gets me sometimes.   I believe that Jayson Werth is inarguably a lesser fielder than Harper (who would be playing center for nearly every other team in the league by virtue of his range and arm).  Harper’s arm is one of the best in the league.  He’s younger, faster and covers more ground (excellent range per UZR/150 numbers in center last year).  So why is Werth in right?  Because he’s the vet.  Harper won’t take over RF until Werth advances in age or gets a new manager who isn’t afraid to move him and his 9 figure salary to the position he should be in.  I disagree with Boswell’s opinion on this one; he thinks Werth is the more polished OF and that Harper got hurt playing RF.  As if he wouldn’t have run into a wall eventually playing elsewhere.

Q: Do we need alterations to the Balk rule?

A: At some level yes.  I think there’s a huge difference between some slight bobble in your motion and a blatant attempt to deceive the runner by “flinching” or doing a purposeful stop-start head motion.   Its the difference between inadvertant and purposeful deception.  And the embarassing umpire “Balking” Bob Davidson needs to be reigned in.  Plus, nearly every left-handed pitcher uses a “balk move” to first on a regular basis, almost never stepping directly at the bag.  And when was the last time you saw a right-hander get a balk call for throwing over to first while bending his right leg?  But, in the grand scheme of things I’m not sure the Balk rule is the great scourge of our modern game (see ball-strike zone consistency, instant replay, ongoing PED issues, and salary discrepancies making the league a group of haves and have-nots).  Boswell doesn’t understand the Balk but loves it.

Q: At what point do Zimmerman’s errors accelerate the conversation to move him to 1B?

A: We can start talk about moving Ryan Zimmerman the moment that Adam LaRoche‘s contract runs out.    Anthony Rendon can play 2B in the interim and eventually move back over to his natural position.  Before then?  Somebody would have to get seriously hurt or traded in order to make any modifications to our infield.   Boswell points something out I didn’t think about: Zimmerman is playing very shallow because his arm strength is shot … hence why he made those two errors in the saturday Jordan start.

Q: Should we look to trade for Nolasco?

A: I had to laugh; the questioner also asked if the Marlins would pick up his salary.  Haha.  Have you not see the M.O. for Jeffrey Loria by now?  Hoard every nickle in every deal.   That being said, I think we’d have the biggest chance of trading intra-division with Miami versus anyone else; they seem to be amenable to take back less in return for taking salary off their hands (see the Willingham/Olsen deal a while back).

A better question; should we be forcing a trade for pitching at all?  Even with the Dan Haren issues all year the team is 5th in the majors in ERA (10th in adjusted ERA+).   Of course, the four teams above us are all either divisional rivals or challengers for the wild card.   But the point is this: you need to fix what’s wrong, and the pitching overall isn’t what’s wrong.  Its offense.  Its bench production.  Its hitting.  Trade for something that helps fix the problem.  Boswell just talks about how we have enough money and how we shouldn’t give up any decent prospects.

Q: Is there a stat that shows how many a player’s errors relate directly to runs scored?

A: Unearned runs?  Except I’ve never seen someone directly tie the two together.  Therefore probably not, because this type of research likely will have a Sabre-tinged analyst immediately say, “I’m not doing that because Errors are not the best way to measure fielders.”  Then they’ll point at (in this case speaking of Zimmerman) his UZR/150 (an awful -20.2 for 2013 thus far), his Defensive Runs Saved (strikingly he’s actually cost the team 2 runs so far, projecting for a -4 rDRS for the year) or his Fielding Runs Above Average (FRAA) which measures out at 3.0 so far in 2013, slightly above average.   My narrative on Zimmerman’s steep decline this year in range and defensive metrics goes as follows: nursing leg injuries and forced to play further up, Zimmerman’s not making the plays he normally would, which is being reflected in his UZR decline.  Meanwhile FRAA correctly measures that he’s still a slightly above average fielder.  Boswell doesn’t know.

Q: With Harper coming back, I’m assuming that Rendon slides down to seventh. Is that the best place for him? Also, is he too good of a hitter to bat seventh? With Ramos coming back soon, does this make the Nats a much more dangerous offensive team?

A: I’m not so sure I’d move Rendon down; he’s the absolute prototypical #2 hitter.  He hits to all fields, he’s especially good at hitting to right, he’s got a .360 OBP, and is a great tablesetter for the 3-4-5 guys.  No, I think you move everyone else down a spot.   Of course, that being said, if you had a manager with any cajones, he’d move Werth to the #7 spot since everyone else in this equation is a better hitter right now.  But it won’t happen, so either Ian Desmond or Rendon likely moves to #7.

With Wilson Ramos back as I’ve noted in this space, yes this should finally let the Nats put out their best, strongest lineup.   Boswell says Werth bats #2, pointout his OBP is .330.  I’ll now point out that that OBP is 10% less than Rendon’s right now.  But I can’t argue with Boswell’s point that Rendon could use the pressure taken off of him … until you remember that Harper didn’t seem to have any issues batting #2 all year last year.   Update: Boswell called it right: Werth is batting #2 upon Harper’s return.

Q: Why would Davey claim the Lerners want him out?

A: That’s a reasonable conclusion from reading Mike Wise‘s article over the weekend.  He seems to intimate that the ownership group is frustrated with the team’s performance this year and puts some of it at Johson’s feet.  At least that’s the way Johnson interprets it.  Boswell has an interesting point; he says this is a young team and the owners want a manager who can be here for 5-10 years … Johnson is 70 and they don’t see him as the solution.

Q: Should Yasiel Puig be an all-star?

A: If it were me, absolutely yes I’d make Yasiel Puig an all-star, give him an at-bat later in the game.  He’s been electric, he’s been the best hitter in the league for half this season.  He’s still hitting .436 through 100 at bats!.  Having him at the game just makes it more of a fan draw.  Boswell thinks he’ll be a late injury replacement.  I hope so.

Q: Which team has more wins at the end of 162, O’s or Nats?

A: Easy; the Orioles.  They’ve already got a 10 game head start.  I don’t think the Nats are going to be 10 games better than Baltimore in the 2nd half.  Boswell punts.

Q: Did Desi violate the unwritten code yesterday by slamming a home run into the restaurant when the Mets had a position player on the mound?

A: No way.  Of all the unwritten rules out there, the one that is unassailable is that a batter gets a legitimate chance to get a good swing in at the plate no matter what the score.  There’s limits (you can’t swing out of your shoes on a 3-0 pitch when winning by 10 runs) but I don’t see how Desmond’s bomb counts.   Boswell says Desmond’s HBP earlier negates all rules.  Not sure I agree with that reasoning unless the HBP was in any way possible deliberate.  Later on another questioner notes that he thought the Desmond HBP was definitely deliberate; I turned the game off when the Nats knocked out Wheeler, figuring they had it sewn up, and didn’t see the fracas.

Q: Why haven’t media such as yourself chastised the Nats for the foolish contracts given to Werth (injury prone, strikeout prone, shaky defensively), Soriano (too much to pay a closer who is not automatic), and Haren? In Philadelphia, all three contracts would have been regarded as somewhere between bad and stupid.

A: Wow.  Well, not to re-hash the same reasoning we’ve had over-and-over about these guys, but here goes:

  • The Werth deal was an over-pay but also re-established Washington as a player in the FA market, reestablishing credibility that had been destroyed by years of Loria and MLB ownership incompetence.  Remember, the same off-season Carl Crawford signed for MORE money and has produced a total of 1.8 war in the last three seasons combined, yet we don’t hear as much about how “stupid” the Boston organization was for that signing.  Why does Boston get a pass but Washington doesn’t?
  • Rafael Soriano was a luxury item, but I’m not sure its fair to say he’s “not automatic.”  He’s blown 3 saves in 24 chances.  Jim Johnson leads the league in saves and he’s blown 5.  Craig Kimbrel has a 1.48 ERA and he’s blown three himself.  I have no problems with Soriano and his contract (other than my general stance against paying top dollars for closers in general … but it wasn’t my money).
  • Haren looked like a good signing at the time, was a good risk, and frankly there’s no such thing as a bad one year contract.  It wasn’t like we were the only people bidding on him; he was in demand.

Giving power hitters on the wrong side of 30 5 guaranteed years at $25M each?  Now that’s a “stupid” contract.    Boswell chastises the Philly fan for his media’s overreaction to anything, defending the moves as I have.

Chasing Saves: a cautionary tale for GMs


Mariano Rivera’s success has led to a generation of closer-chasing in MLB. Photo wikipedia

One of the mantras we hear from Fantasy Baseball experts is “Don’t chase Saves.”  Closers are so hit-or-miss in this league, that on draft day trying to chase mediocre closers usually turns into wasted draft picks as these guys frequently get hurt or under-perform and get replaced.  Well, its not that much better in “real” baseball, where teams best laid plans for closers often backfire mightily.

In fact, check out this link on, which charts the Opening day and Closing Day 2012 closers for all 30 teams.  In summary:

  • Only 10 of the 30 MLB teams kept the same closer wire-to-wire.
  • 14 of the 30 teams had a different guy in the closer role by season’s end.  That’s half the league!
  • The other 6 teams had the same guy at season’s start and end, but went through personnel changes in between.  This includes our own Nats, who started with Drew Storen, he got hurt, Tyler Clippard took over and stayed in the role after Storen got back, then Clippard melted in September and Storen took back over the role.

By my observations, as of June 15th 2013 here’s the same stats for this year:

  • 22 of 30 teams have same guy as start of season
  • 8 teams have already made a switch (Boston, Detroit, Arizona, Oakland, Chicago Cubs, Cleveland, St Louis, Los Angeles Dodgers)

So what’s the point here?  Teams need to re-think they way they grow, acquire and pay for “Saves.”  Lets look at how far one particular organization has gone “Chasing Saves” and pursuing a Closer.  I present you the Boston Red Sox, normally considered a very forward-thinking, analytical organization but which seemingly has a very large blind spot for the mytical “shutdown closer” position.  As of the publishing of this article (June 14, 2013):

  • Current Closer: Andrew Bailey, for whom they traded 3 players to the Oakland A’s in 2011 to obtain.  Two minor league prospects and one Josh Reddick, who hit 32 homers last year.
  • Acquired last off-season to be their 2012 closer: Mark Melancon, for whom they traded two good prospects to the Houston Astros in 2011; Jed Lowrie and Kyle Weiland.   Lowrie is now posting a nifty 126 ops+ for the Athletics (to whom he was flipped by Houston for even more prospects).  Melancon had two bad outings at the beginning of 2012, was banished to the minors and eventually flipped for ….
  • Former 2013 closer: Joel Hanrahan, for whom they traded 4 players to the Pittsburgh Pirates last December.  Including Mark Melancon, who is repaying the Pirates for their patience in him by posting a .072 ERA in 25 innings thus far this year.  Hanrahan just had Tommy John surgery and is out for at least a  year.
  • [Post-post update]; By the end of June, Bailey allowed 4 homers in 5 games, hit the D/L and on July 22nd was announced as undergoing season-ending surgery. and is being replaced by … somebody.  By Mid July it seemed clear that it was Kenji Uehara, a free-agent signing last off-season.  So for all their trades, they end up using a minor FA signing as their closer.

So for the record that’s 9 guys traded away (including at least two effective hitters) in the past two off-seasons to chase one (in my opinion) relatively meaningless statistic.  And basically all they have to show for it is Andrew Bailey no longer pitching the 9th for them.

Of course, maybe the joke’s on me, since the Red Sox are in first place at the time of this writing.

But for an organization that used to be known for doing smart things (including the smart move of allowing long-time closer Jonathan Papelbon be overpaid by someone else on the FA market), these moves are just dumb.   Find a hard throwing guy in your system, make him the “closer,” repeat as necessary.  That should be the strategy.

And oh, by the way, I don’t exempt our own team from this.  Rafael Soriano was an unneeded purchase who (as we’ve seen by the unwarranted shot at Bryce Harper) could be more trouble than he’s worth.  But hey, its not my money right?  At least the Nats didn’t trade good prospects to acquire him (like Boston has done over and again).

This argument leads into an oft-repeated discussion in this space about the ridiculousness of the Save statistic and how frequently closers are preserved for “Save Situations” despite their leverage rating.   Lets look at a couple of very specific mathematical arguments against overpaying for closers:

1. Joe Posnanski and others have shown how useless closers are.  Teams are winning games at basically the same percentage now in the closer era that they were 50 years ago, without highly paid specialized closers.  Some quick percentages:  For the latest decade teams won 95.2% of games in which they led going into the 9th.  In the 60s, 70s and 80s that same percentage varied between 95.6-94.8%.   Can someone explain to me how the proliferation of highly paid closers in the last 20 years of the game has basically helped teams …. win the exact same number of games they used to before closers, matchup bullpen roles and Loogys existed??

2. Any old mediocre reliever is going to end up being a relatively effective closer.  Proof?

Lets say an average reliever has a 4.50 era or so (which in today’s game frankly is a stretch, given what we’ve talked about before and the advantages that relievers have over starters; they can go max effort for shorter time periods and they don’t have to face batters more than once).  That means he gives up one run every two innings.  Now lets say that you used this pitcher with his 4.50 era in every closing situation you face in a given year.  A save situation can be a lead held by 1, 2 or 3 runs.

So, out of these three scenarios your 4.50 ERA pitcher can give up his run every other start and still “save” 5 out of 6 games.

  • 1 run lead: gives up 0 runs; save
  • 1 run lead; gives up 1 run: blown-save
  • 2 run lead: gives up 0 runs; save
  • 2 run lead: gives up 1 run: save
  • 3 run lead: gives up 0 runs: save
  • 3 run lead: gives up 1 run: save.

And then even in those blown-save situations, extra inning affairs are basically coin flips anyway historically, which means that teams are going to win half those games anyway.  So you’re basically going to win 5.5 out of every 6 games.   5.5 out of 6 is 91%.  So historically even my normal case scenario undervalues the ability of teams to win these games.

And this scenario really undervalues what kind of reliever you’re actually going to put into the role.  Every team has a handful of relievers in their bullpen with ERAs in the 3-3.50 range; that’s 1-1.5 runs better than my “mediocre pitcher” example over the course of a couple weeks (assuming closers get about 9 innings of work every two weeks).  With even this marginal improvement you’re going from 91% to closer to the historical 94-95% of games won.

Want some more food for thought on closers?   Here’s your current top 5 closers in the league by number of saves, along with their acquisition method, salary and general statement about their careers thus far:

  1. Jason Grilli – 23 Saves.  36yrs old.  $2.25M.  He was flat out released in July 2011 by Philadelphia and signed as a Minor League FA by Pittsburgh.  He’s a 36 year old journeyman on his 7th pro organziation with a 106 career ERA+.
  2. Jim Johnson – 23 saves.  30yrs old.  $6.5M.  He’s a home-grown middle reliever thrust into the closer role last year when the O’s got fed up with FA closer Kevin Gregg.
  3. Mariano Rivera – 23 saves.  43yrs old.  $10m, taking a discount from his $15M/year deals since 2008 b/c of knee issue.  Home-grown player who converted to relief after bombing out as a failed starter at age 25.
  4. Joe Nathan – 20 saves.  38yrs old.  $7M, taking a discount from his last contract value of $11.25M/year after significant arm injury.   Failed starter with San Francisco, traded to Minnesota in the AJ Pierzynski deal and has flourished as a closer.
  5. Addison Reed – 19 saves.  24yrs old, $520k (20k above MLB minimum).  3rd round draft pick by the White Sox out of San Diego State, where he was a career relief pitcher after not having ever pitched until his Junior year of HS.

The next few guys are Kimbrel (655k), Mujica ($3.2M).   But you’ve also got guys out there closing like Wilhemlsen, who didn’t even make the majors until he was 27 and was out of the game working as a bartender for 6 years.

The point?  You shouldn’t pay for a high end closer; you find someone internally who looks like a good option on the cheap and go with them.  You can find someone in your farm system, or on waivers, or working in a bar who can be an effective closer.  Find someone who can throw 1mph for 20 pitches a few nights a week; they’re going to give you as good of a chance to win as throwing the last guy out of the bullpen out there with a 3 run lead in the 9th.

One last bit of observation:  Lets look at Dennis Eckersley‘s career.  As a starter: good, not amazing.  A couple years with a smattering of Cy Young votes.  One 20-game winning season but another season where he 9-13 with a 5.61 ERA.  He converts to a closer and immediately his ERA plummets, his K/9 jumps up, his ERA+ numbers rise to stupid levels.  One year (1990) as a 35-yr old he allowed just 5 earned runs and just 3 unintentional walks on the year through 73+ innings.

So, how is it that a 4th starter during his 20s can suddenly become a lights out Hall-of-Fame closer in his mid-30s while doubling his k/9 rates at a time when he should have been regressing as a player?  The answer is easy; relievers only have to face part of the lineup once a night, don’t need 4 pitches and can basically get by with a gimmick pitch.  And, since they’re only throwing 15-20 pitches a few nights a week instead of 100-110 pitches every 4 days, they don’t need to “save their arm for the whole night” and can go with max effort during their outings with no long term effects.

That’s a lot of loosely tied together points to my main theory: If I were the GM of a team, the absolute last thing I’d pursue on the FA market was a high-priced closer.  I don’t think the “closer” role is going away (players know that Saves translate to Dollars in arbitration and on the FA market), but I’m hoping we’ll see less Dusty Baker-esque management techniques and more Joe Maddon.

My 2013 Fantasy Baseball Team


Kemp reacts to being Boss' first round pick in my fantasy league for the 2nd year running. Photo unknown via

Editor’s note: feel free to stop reading now if you don’t want to read 4,400+ words on my fantasy baseball team.  I won’t blame you for it.  For those of you who do play fantasy, as I made picks I wrote down who I was considering and who was available per each pick to try to give some context for the pick.  I’ll insert a “jump” line here so that RSS readers don’t have to see this whole massive post :-)

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WBC Second Round Review

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Following up on the First Round Review post, lets look at the 2nd round, which establishes the 4 teams battling it out in San Francisco for the 2013 World Baseball Classic championship.

Here’s the two semi-finalist “pools” and how they finished up:

Pool 1: Japan, Netherlands, Cuba, Chinese Taipei

Japan cruises through the 2nd round and advances with two quick wins, while Chinese Taipei shows it is a one-trick (or in this case, a one pitcher) pony and gets wiped out by Cuba in an elimination game. Meanwhile the Netherlands continued to surprise, giving Cuba a rare international loss in the opening round and then following it up with a come-from-behind win in the do-or-die game, scoring 2 in the 8th and 1 in the 9th to win 7-6 and ensure their trip to San Francisco.  Nats and former Nats were all over this game, as Shairon Martis pitched, Randolph Oduber played left field and Roger Bernadina sat out after getting a HBP in the previous night’s game).  Still, another huge upset for the Netherlands to advance at the expense of both Cuba and South Korea in this tournament.  In the final seeding game, Japan took care of business and will play the Runner-up of Pool 2 in the WBC semis.

Pool 2:  Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, USA, Italy

Italy gave the D.R. a scare in the first game, but Puerto Rico did not do the same to Team USA, getting dominated behind 5 shutout innings from Gio Gonzalez.  The D.R. then came up clutch in the long-anticipated USA matchup, getting to USA closer Craig Kimbrel and dinging him for two runs in the top of the 9th to steal away a win in a game where neither team really hit that well.   Italy’s cinderella run came to an end at the hands of Puerto Rico, setting up a loser-goes-home rematch with USA.  In that game on 3/15/13, the US team just didn’t show up; allowing journeyman Nelson Figueroa to shut them down on just 2 hits through 6 innings and failing to either hold the rag-tag P.R. team or to score any runs when needed.  Ryan Vogelsong didn’t pitch badly but didn’t shut down the Puerto Rican team, and the USA goes home, losing 4-3.  In the seeding game, the D.R. took care of business (as Japan did against lesser competition) and set-up the semis as follows.

Semis Preview.

Japan goes against Puerto Rico in one semi while the Dominican Republic goes against Netherlands in the other.  At least we have a clear-cut final ahead of us, with the two dominant teams in the world (outside of the US of course) setup to play a potentially awesome final.  I disasgree with those that think it was a “good thing” the US failed to get to the semis; I think viewership and interest would have been much higher had the US team made the semi-finals.  Either way, I’m predicting that the D.R. takes out Japan in the final.

Written by Todd Boss

March 13th, 2013 at 10:41 am