Nationals Arm Race

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

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Ladson’s Inbox 2/21/16

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We need Rendon to hit in 2016. Photo Nats Official via espn.com

We need Rendon to hit in 2016. Photo Nats Official via espn.com

Wow, no inboxes for months and suddenly two in two weeks??  It must be spring training! This is great!  MLB.com’s Nats beat reporter Bill Ladson on 2/20/16 has published more reader questions.  Here’s how I would have answered them.

Q: Without a doubt, Bryce Harper will be the best hitter on the Nationals this year. Who do you see as being the second-best hitter on the team?

A: Anthony Rendon.  If this team is going to win in 2016, Rendon needs to return to form.  Everyone else at this point in the lineup will be a table setter for Rendon and Harper.  Ladson says Zimmerman, who I admit i’ve begun to lose faith in.

Q: How does the front office justify bringing back Jonathan Papelbon after what happened last year with Harper? Papelbon has proven time and again that he is not a good teammate, yet he’s back for 2016?

A: I guess the questioner didn’t know that Papelbon was still *signed* for 2016.  So it wasn’t so much about “bringing him back” on purpose as it was the team “not being able to get rid of him.”  I put the Papelbon acquisition as one of the worst of the Mike Rizzo tenure; not so much for who we gave up (a good but not game changing prospect in Nick Pivetta) but for the incredible mis-calculation of the acquisition’s affect on the rest of the team.  I’m sure the team desperately tried to move him in the off-season but (with echos of “Lerner’s are cheap” abounding) probably weren’t willing to dump him for no return.  So here we are; its 2016 and Papelbon is here in lieu of the home grown popular (and team union rep) Drew Storen.

I’ll bet Rizzo doesn’t make this mistake again.

Nonetheless, Papelbon said the right things in his first media interviews since the interview, actually managing to appear humble and contrite while talking about how he was in the wrong and flat out apologizing to the fans.  I say good for him; even I couldn’t help but applaud his performance last last week.

Ladson says the team “made a good decision” in not moving Papelbon; yeah right.  If they could have gotten *anything* for him he’d be gone.  You worry about “finding a closer” in the current bullpen?  Uh, how about anyone?  We don’t need to go into more historical reviews of the uselessness of closers vis-a-vis teams holding leads after 8 innings.

Q: Why did the Nats not re-sign Craig Stammen? Before last year, I thought he did a great job as a middle reliever.

A: It all came down to risk mitigation.  Stammen absolutely did a great job for this team for many years … but he’s got a lot of innings, is coming off of a season-long injury, has (to be fair) rather funky mechanics, and the team just couldn’t justify guaranteeing him what probably would have been $2.5M or so for the unknown.  The industry felt the same way: Stammen ended up with a non-guaranteed minor league deal with Cleveland instead of either a major league deal or anything of significant value.  Trust me I was bummed; we met Stammen years ago at a golf event and he was awesome; hate to see these long-time Nats leave.  Ladson basically says the same thing.

Q: Don’t you think it’s time to improve left field? Jayson Werth is not the player he used to be. He makes a lot of money and doesn’t provide much in return.

A: And do what with Werth?  Magically trade him for valuable assets and get his payroll off your books?  The asker clearly thinks that the rest of the league are run by morons and the Nats can just magically get rid of the likes of Werth for value.  Yes he’s costing you more than 10% of your payroll.  It is what it is; veteran FA contracts all end up like this.  Honestly, I think Werth still has a ton of value if you use him properly; that means batting lead-off where you take advantage of his high pitches-per-plate appearance and high OBP.  We’ll see if Dusty Baker thinks outside the box like this (doubt it).  Ladson says Werth is a comeback player of the year candidate.

Q: What are the chances the Nationals make a trade for someone like Carlos Gonzalez to protect Harper in the lineup?

A: I like Carlos Gonzalez … but his home/away splits are pretty distinct.  .972 OPS in Denver, .758 OPS elsewhere last year.  I’m not sure he’s anything more than a mediocre outfielder if he’s not playing half his games at altitude.  Besides, the team made its play for the outfield when they acquired Ben RevereLadson thinks Rizzo could still “make a deal for a slugger” during Spring Training if he doesn’t like what he sees.  Uh; trading season is over, dude.  How many big-time sluggers can you think of that moved in spring training?

Q: A prime component of the Mets’ rotation is the ability to throw hard and get a bunch of strikeouts, but how unique is the Nationals’ rotation and how could it help them win the NL East next season?

A: Indeed, the Mets have a plethora of big-time arms throwing big-time heat.  But the Royals buzzed through their staff with ease in the World Series.  Why?  Because the Royals were the best team in the league for not taking a strikeout and putting the ball in play.  So once it became apparent that the Mets starters couldn’t close out games by themselves, the Royals (with their superior bullpen) outlasted them.  So Ks are important but not the end-all/be-all.

What makes the Nats rotation unique?  Two part answer for me: they (still) have one of the best 1-2 punches in the league in Scherzer and Strasburg.  What other 1-2 starters would you take over them?   So then past their 2 aces, they have three other guys who are dangerously under-rated.  Gonzalez was a Cy Young finalist just a couple years ago and he still has the same stuff.  Ross is a complete find, a guy who would be most teams’ #2 starter this year despite just having a handful of MLB starts.  And (as often repeated) Roark was a 5-win guy two years ago.  So the potential is there for this to be a top rotation end-to-end.

How does the Rotation help them win the NL east?  By staying healthy, pitching to potential, and outlasting the Mets own powerful rotation when its crunch time.

Ladson doesn’t really give much of an answer here.  He just says what he’d like to “see” each of our starters do this year.

 

 

Nationals/MLB Pitching Staff Year in Review; 2015

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Scherzer will always have his no-hitters from 2015. Photo via thesportsquotient.com

Scherzer will always have his no-hitters from 2015. Photo via thesportsquotient.com

Here’s the first in a 7-part series where we delve into the pitching staffs from start to end, from the majors all the way to the GCL.  We start with the rotations, review all the starters and then hit up the relievers.  We try to predict as we go, which I’ll summarize at the end with a big “2016 predictions” piece.

Here’s 2013’s post and then 2012’s post.  We never got to 2014 as I was switching jobs and this series takes a ton of time and I couldn’t do it.

All stats are courtesy of either Baseball-Reference page or via Fangraphs page.  Also useful here are the Big Board and the Nats Draft Tracker as always.

Washington starters.  The rotation at the beginning of the season was Scherzer, Zimmermann, Strasburg, Gonzalez, Fister.  By the end of the season it was basically the same, with Roark replacing Ross who had replaced Fister.

  • Max Scherzer: 14-12 with a 2.79 ERA, 0.918 whip with 276/34 K/BB ratio in 228.2 IP (33 starts).  Look at that K/BB ratio again: that’s more than 8 strikeouts for every walk for a power pitcher.  His season also included two no-hitters (both of which easily could have been perfect games) and a one-hitter, and by one measure (Game Score) his season-ending 17-K no-hitter was nearly the best pitching 9-inning performance ever.  If you needed another excuse to ignore W/L records, just look at Scherzer’s record on the year given his peripherals.  But even given his season on a macro level, some were rather disappointed in Scherzer because in August, when the chips were down and this team collapsed, he was 0-3 with a 6.43 ERA in 5 starts.  Nonetheless, Scherzer more than earned his salary in 2015 and I see no reason not to expect similar results in 2016.  Outlook for next season: 2nd straight opening day start.
  • Jordan Zimmermann: 13-10, 3.66 ERA, 1.205 whip with 164/39 K/BB over 201.2 IP (33 starts).  His ERA was a point higher than in 2014, his WHIP was 10% higher and his FIP was inflated to a very un-Zimmermann 3.75 level.  Not exactly the walk year season he was hoping for.  Nonetheless, Zimmermann should make out like a bandit on the FA market, where he occupies the lead spot in the 2nd tier of FA pitchers and should do just fine.  Unfortunately, it seems like his time in DC is up; we don’t know the size or length of the contract extension he turned down, but it seems obvious that the team didn’t give him what he and his advisers thought he deserved.  He’ll be oft-mentioned in the coming weeks as he finds a new home and it’ll be a shame to see him go.  Outlook for next season: pitching for another team: Signed with Detroit for 5yrs/$110M.
  • Stephen Strasburg: 11-7, 3.46 ERA, 1.107 whip with 155/26 K/BB in 127 IP (23 starts).   His end-of-the-year numbers don’t look nearly as bad as the debacle that his season really was.   He had a 6.55 ERA through his first 10 starts, then missed most of June and July with two separate D/L trips.  Upon his return, he was awesome, dropping his season ERA from 5.16 to 3.46 thanks to 9 quality starts (out of 10) and 5 double-digit strikeout games.  But, the damage was done; he was awesome down the stretch in a series of games that ended up being meaningless.  On the bright side, the Nats likely save a few million dollars in their arbitration case.  Lets just hope that whatever he finally figured out in Aug and Sept continues into next season.  Outlook for next season: Nats #2 starter.
  • Gio Gonzalez: 11-8, 3.79 ERA, 1.423 whip with 169/69 K/BB in 175.2 IP (31 starts).  Another year, another inconsistent season from our #4 starter.  The team was 16-15 in his 31 starts, which makes sense since he had exactly 16 quality starts.  I think at this point Gio is what he is: a decently valued 4th starter who earns his salary and puts up enough value to keep his spot.  The Nats will ride his arm until his contract expires.  Outlook for next season: Nats #4 starter.
  • Doug Fister: 5-7, 4.19 ERA, 1.398 whip with 63/24 K/BB in 103 IP (25 appearances, 15 starts).  MLB’s most underrated starter over the past few  years finally had father time catch up to him, going 4-7 with a 4.60 ERA in 15 starts before the team mercifully pulled the plug.  His average fastball velocity has been dropping, but dropped precipitously this year (down to 86.1) and just was too hittable.  To Fister’s credit, he accepted the move to the bullpen instead of taking the “easy” way out and claiming a D/L trip, and was effective in 17 relief innings to make his season ERA look a little more palatable.  Nonetheless, it was not exactly the way the Nats drew things up.  Fister faces an uncertain future; he went from being guaranteed a Qualifying Offer to maybe struggling to get a guaranteed offer.  In the end, I can see perhaps a west coast team taking a flier on him as a 5th starter with a pillow contract for him to try to regain some value.  Outlook for next season: Pitching elsewhere, hopefully as a 5th starter somewhere.
  • Joe Ross: 5-5, 3.64 ERA, 1.109 whip with 69/21 K/BB in 76.2 IP (16 appearances, 13 starts).  Ross initially got called up to cover for Strasburg’s first injury, and was impressive enough to be the first man in line to replace the suddenly ineffective Fister.  He got another 10 mostly effective starts, getting shut down in early September after two ineffective starts where he was uncharacteristically wild (9 of his 21 MLB walks were in his last 2 starts) as he reached a soft innings limit for the year.  No complaints here; Ross quickly guaranteed his rotation spot for 2016 with his work during the summer and is making the trade where he was acquired looking even more lopsided.  Outlook for next season: Nats #3 starter.
  • Tanner Roark: 4-7, 4.38 ERA with 70/26 K/BB in 111 IP (40 appearances, 12 starts).  The Nats thanked Roark for his “found gold” 5-win 2014 season by acquiring Scherzer and pushing Roark to the all-important long-man/slop innings guy.  Not exactly what Roark probably expected.  He did get 5 starts covering for Strasburg in late May-early June but otherwise was yanked all over the place; sometimes being a one-inning middle reliever, then getting 3+ in a blowout loss, even getting higher leverage innings in the 8th and 9th (he even had a save in May).  When Fister proved ineffective, the Nats didn’t give the slot to Roark like they should have, instead calling up Ross and leaving Roark pitching in relief (their reason was that he wasn’t stretched out).  When it became clear Ross was going to run out of innings, they sent him back to Potomac briefly to “stretch out” and Roark finished the year in the rotation with 6 relatively ineffective starts.  Not the year Roark wanted.  There was an incredibly long-winded article in beyondtheboxscore.com that seemed to point at Roark’s position on the rubber as the cause of all his ills, but i put Roark’s struggles more simply: pitchers are creatures of habit and when you take a starter and suddenly tell him he’s a one inning reliever, you shouldn’t be surprised when he doesn’t immediately perform in that role.  The question the Nats have to face is this: was 2014 a fluke?  Do you pencil in Roark for the #5 starter in 2016 or do you try to acquire his replacement?  Do you have an open competition between Roark and the slew of AAA arms for the spot?  Personally, I’m a Roark believer and think he’ll be just fine if you install him in the rotation and let him work.  Outlook for next season: Nats #5 starter.
  • Others who got 1-2 Spot Starts:
    • Taylor Jordan: got one spot-start in early June, getting pounded by Toronto.  He provided long-relief cover a few times here and there throughout the season but wasn’t used even after being called up 9/1 (perhaps an innings limit?).  See AAA write-up for more.
    • A.J. Cole got one spot start in late April, getting destroyed by Atlanta in the epic 13-12 game.  I was highly critical of this particular call-up at the time, questioning why the start didn’t go to Roark at the time.  Cole got two other mop-up games to make his ERA slightly less awful for the year, but raised serious questions as to his future.  See AAA write-up for more.

Rotation summary: Scherzer was good but struggled when the chips were down.  Zimmermann regressed, as did Gonzalez.  Strasburg was either awful or  hurt most of the season.  Fister was abhorrent.  Roark was wasted.  Yet despite all that negativity surrounding our rotation, the Nats starters as a group were still ranked pretty highly : 3rd in fWAR, 7th in ERA, 4th in FIP.   So, it was still a pretty good rotation but not nearly as good as we thought they’d be upon the Scherzer acquisition.

 


Washington relievers.  On opening day the MLB bullpen was Storen, Treinen, Stammen, Thornton, Cedeno, Barrett, Roark.  By the time it was over, the team had used no less than *20* relievers.  Not exactly how they sketched it out in the off-season.  Lets talk about all 20 guys; here they are ordered with closers first, then descending by IP.  Anyone with less than 10 innings is relegated to the end with generally a shorter write-up.

  • Drew Storen was having a near-all Star calibre season closing, holding a 1.69 ERA with 46/9 K/BB over 37.1 IP and 29 saves.  Then suddenly he was demoted thanks to the Papelbon acquisition.  His numbers post 7/29/15: 7.13 ERA in 17 innings, which culminated with his 3-walk performance in the season-ending Mets loss in early September (his 5th blown save of the year).  Two days later he slammed a locker on his thumb, broke it and was done for the season along with his team.  We’ve argued this one to death; there are people who like to argue that players are machines and they are highly paid to do whatever the team asks of them.  I maintain that this team has tried over and over to replace Storen thanks to a couple of poorly-timed games of ineffectiveness that just happened to occur in the two NLDS series this team has managed to reach, and the “layering” of Papelbon over top of him was the icing on the cake of his Nats career.  I’m sure Storen wants out of town, and I’m sure he’ll be a classic “change of scenery” guy.  Mike Rizzo needs to make it happen.  Outlook for next season: Closing for another team.
  • Jonathan Papelbon was acquired in late July straight up for a relatively low-level prospect (Nick Pivetta), an indication of how desperate Philadelphia was to rid themselves of him.  He pitched a grand total of 23.1 innings in two months, through little fault of his own clearly disrupted the karma of the bullpen, and entirely at fault on his own took offense to Bryce Harper‘s non-defense in the press of Papelbon’s over-reaction and subsequent plunking of Manny Machado in a game earlier in that week and decided that calling out one of the game’s premier hustlers for “not hustling” down the line on a routine pop-up was a good idea.  Fast forward to the umpteenth unnecessary embarrassing moment for the franchise and perhaps the final nail in the coffin of the inexplicably unaware and dense manager Matt Williams.  Fun fact: Papelbon bought a $2.9M house in Alexandria exactly one week before choking his teammate on national TV and getting suspended for the rest of the season.  Good timing.  I know that Harper has “reached out” to Papelbon and they’re all saying this is just ‘brothers fighting” and all that BS, but Rizzo has to be shopping him for whatever he can get for him, upto and including eating the entirety of his $11M 2016 salary.  Many think he’s completely untradeable, but i’m guessing someone will take a flier on him.  Outlook for next season: Closing for another team.
  • Blake Treinen was the busiest guy in the pen this year (outside of sometimes starter Roark that is), throwing 67.2 innings in 60 innings as mostly an 7th/8th inning guy.    He had a 3.86 ERA, a 3.49 FIP, and a 1.389 whip, all incrementally worst in 2015 than the year before.  65/32 K/BB in those 67IP.  Treinen features a mid to upper 90s sinking fastball that has so much movement that TV announcers sometimes think its a changeup, yet still has some really odd splits.  Righties had just a .493 OPS against him on the year … while lefties teed off to the tune of a .934 OPS.  Odd because you’d think that a guy who could throw a fastball that tails away from lefties like Treinen would be more successful.  Another oddity; he had a 5.90 ERA at home and just a 2.33 ERA away.  So basically, if he was facing a righty on the road, he’s your guy.  He has limited his repertoire to just two pitches these days (2-seam sinker and a wipeout slider), and seems so far removed from having anything resembling a third pitch that any thoughts of returning to the bullpen seem long gone.  Is Treinen just a ROOGY (right handed one out guy?)  Do teams even have that?  Maybe his goal for the off-season is to figure out some pitch that is effective against lefties.  He also needs to work on his control; his walk rate of 4.3 per nine just won’t cut it for a higher leverage reliever.  Outlook for next season: back in his 7th/8th inning role.
  • Felipe Rivero, 2.79 ERA, 2.64 FIP, 0.952 whip and 43/11 K/BB in 48.1 relief innings.  Rivero was a revelation for the team this year, converting to relief for the first time in his career and really shining.  He has some serious heat; max fastball of 99.8 and an average of 95.5 from the left side, but really was a two pitch pitcher this season; fastball and slider (fangraphs distinguishes his 4-seamer from his 2-seamer but the velocities are exactly the same; does he throw two different, distinct fastballs?)   Unlike Treinen, Rivero got righties and lefties out at equal clips (.200 BAA for righties, .198 for lefties) and really came into his own in the bullpen.  He’s much more than a matchup-lefty and could be a valuable bullpen member for a while.  Can he return to starting?  Hard to say; does he have a third pitch?  Years of starting in the minors seems to indicate that his future remains in the pen.  Outlook for next season: reprising his 7th inning reliever role.
  • Matt Thornton had an excellent age 38 year; 2.18 ERA, 3.52 FIP, 1.065 ERA in 41.1 relief innings across 60 appearances.  His FIP is much higher than his ERA because he doesn’t rely as much on the strikeout; he had just a 23/11 K/BB ratio in those 41.1 innings.  His splits showed some interesting tidbits: 10 of his 11 walks on the year came against right handed hitters, while he had an 11/1 K/BB ratio when facing lefties.  Thornton is best judged by his performance against lefties and he was excellent; .198/.205/.279, and this is why I’m an advocate of resigning him for 2016.  I’m still kind of baffled by his being waived by the Yankees frankly.  The FA market for left handed relievers is a little busy; I count 20 lefties out there.  But not all of them were as effective as Thornton was in 2015.  Can the Nats re-sign him?  Do they want to?  They do have several in-house loogy replacements to be discussed, if they wanted to save a couple million dollars off of payroll.  Outlook for next season: another season as a loogy, for the Nats or elsewhere.
  • Casey Janssen: when the Nats acquired Janssen, a three year closer for the Toronto Blue Jays, I figured the team’s late-inning bullpen issues were solved.  The loss of Rafael Soriano was inevitable (and, frankly, not really that important given how badly he finished 2014), but the loss of Tyler Clippard was going to be hard to fix.  But plugging in a former AL east closer into the 8th inning role?  No worries.  Well, that’s not quite how it went.  Janssen got hurt in spring training, missed the first 7 weeks of the season … and then underwhelmed once he arrived.  His numbers on the season: 4.95 ERA, 4.05 FIP, 1.150 whip, with 27/8 K/BB in 40 IP.   Perhaps the 4.95 ERA is skewed by a few bad outings: scanning through his game log he gave up 4 runs on 5/30, another 4 runs on 8/31, 3 more the following day (in that infamous St. Louis series) and 2 on 9/27.  So of the 22 runs he allowed all year, 13 of them were in four outings.  Perhaps so, but his job as an 8th inning guy is not to allow these massive rallies, ever.  His fastball velocity has been declining and his 4-seamer sat at just 88.3 MPH on average this year; is that fast enough even if you have pinpoint control and can throw 5 pitches?  Apparently not; Janssen’s struggles were a big part of the bullpen’s struggles this year, a big reason they felt the need to acquire Papelbon, and in crunch time towards the end of the season Williams didn’t trust him to give him important assignments.  The Nats bought out his option year and cut ties with him; the end of a disappointing season together.  Outlook for next season: middle reliever for another organization.
  • Aaron Barrett: started out the year looking good as a key 6th/7th inning righty, struggled starting in May, hit the D/L in June, got lit up on Aug 5th to the point of getting demoted to AAA, at which point he (finally) told team doctors that his arm had been bugging him for weeks (months even).  A quick scan showed a blown UCL and he underwent Tommy John surgery on September 5th, 2015.  Final season stats: 4.60 ERA but a 2.21 FIP, 1.193 whip and 35/7 K/BB in 29.1 innings.  Look; you don’t want to wish ill will on a guy for trying to gut it out, but at what point was his arm issues impacting his performance on the field and costing the team games?  Outlook for next season: on the 60-day D/L for most if not all the season. 
  • Sammy Solis was closer to a DFA than a call-up at the end of 2014, a season mostly lost to injury and lost promise of the former 2nd round pick.  But a slew of injuries forced him into action in the Nats bullpen and he held up, throwing 21.1 innings of 3.38 ERA, 3.46 fip, 1.359 whip with a 17/4 K/BB ratio.  That’s not too bad of a debut, even if it was his age 26 season.  He showed a reverse split interestingly, with lefties hitting him at a .355 clip (righties: .255).  I have a feeling that the team is likely going to look elsewhere for a second lefty out of the pen.  Option number one is probably resigning Matt Thornton, which will relegate Solis to AAA/spare part duty in Syracuse.  Outlook for next season: Syracuse bullpen/lefty reliever coverage.
  • Matt Grace; 4.24 ERA, 3.08 fip, 2.00 whip with 14/8 K/BB in 17 IP across 26 outings.  Grace is a nice story, a guy who really came on strong in 2014 and earned his 40-man slot.  But his numbers in his first go-around in the majors were less than ideal.  See Solis’ write up and then add on a little pessimism and you have Grace right now; too many baserunners and not enough ability to get right handers out (.429 BAA) to be trusted as an effective major league reliever right now.  Outlook for next season: As with Solis Syracuse bullpen/lefty reliever coverage.  Except he’s “behind” Solis.
  • Rafael Martin: everyone’s favorite story.  Signed out of the Mexican leagues, shot up the system posting just ridiculous numbers in AA and AAA in 2013 and 2014.  Finally got his shot and had some really odd stat lines: 5.11 ERA, 4.76 FIP, 1.378 whip with 25/5 K/BB in 12.1 major league innings.  That’s right; he had an 18.2 K/9 ratio.  He struck out 8 of the first 12 batters he faced, including a pretty memorable debut where he struck out 5 guys in two innings in Boston in mid April.  He was looking like a made-for-TV-movie story until he took a rough outing in Miami and got sent down … not to be recalled until 9/1.  He threw a bunch of garbage time innings in September and got his ERA back down but kept striking guys out with his upper 80s arsenal.  Why didn’t he get more of a shot when the chips were down and other right handed relievers were struggling in August?  I don’t know.  Honestly, I think he’d make an excellent long-man/middle reliever, the classic “7th guy out of the pen” with his ability to go long and spin the ball in there as a change of pace versus harder throwing guys.  Something tells me though that he’s going to be back in Syracuse as bullpen insurance.  Outlook for next season: Syracuse bullpen/righty reliever coverage.
  • David Carpenter: acquired in trade from the Yankees for Tony Renda, threw 6 innings in the majors for the team, got hurt, went to the 60-day D/L with a shoulder issue, outrighted on 11/15/15, refused the assignment and has already signed with Atlanta for 2016.  Not exactly the best return for a former 2nd round pick and slightly surprising he was outrighted while there was still room on the 40-man roster (and still is room as we speak).  Outlook for next season: in Atlanta organization.
  • Craig Stammen: threw just 4 innings before requiring elbow surgery.  A huge blow for a guy who had been a team leader in IP and an effective middle reliever for  years.  He’s arbitration eligible, and the team could not arrive at an equitable deal ahead of the 12/2/15 non-tender deadline, so Stammen was non-tendered.  I have a feeling that if the team still wants him for 2016 and will work out some sort of heavy incentive-laden deal to keep him in the fold (he’s been with the organization since 2005 after all, tying him for the longest tenured player still with the team now that Ian Desmond has declared FA.   Outlook for next season: hopefully back in his 7th inning middle relief role, perhaps pitching elsewhere.
  • Xavier Cedeno: threw 3 innings, gave up 3 hits, 2 walks and two runs, then was inexplicably DFA’d and traded to the Dodgers for “cash.”  The Dodgers then turned around and traded him to Tampa, where he put up a 2.09 ERA in 43 IP in 2015.  What the heck happened here?   We talked about it in this space when it happened, and the quick hook DFA was as inexplicable then as it seems now.  Was this perhaps the first precursor into the questionable bullpen management that plagued Matt Williams all year?  Outlook for next season: a valuable loogy for Tampa.
  • Other Relievers who pitched too few innings for analysis:
    • Taylor Hill: provided 12 innings of bullpen coverage in Late May-Early June: see AAA write-up.
    • Abel de los Santos: added to the 40-man, called up and started his service clock (oh, and burned an option too while they were at it) so that he could throw to exactly eight (8) batters in mid-july before being returned to Harrisburg.  Ridiculous use of resources frankly.  See AA write-up.
    • Position players Clint Robinson and Tyler Moore became the 1st and 2nd position players to ever hurl for the Washington franchise, each throwing the final inning in a blow-out loss.

Bullpen summary: Ugh, what a mess from start to finish.  Under performance, injuries, and a rotating door of guys trying to perform.  By the end of August there wasn’t anyone even worth trusting in that pen, as evidenced in the critical Mets home series where the season was lost.  Even given that, the bullpen as a whole ranked 12th in fWAR, 10th in ERA, 9th in FIP, so it wasn’t really that bad league-wide.  Which surprised me too when I went to fangraphs to pull the data.  Some more telling stats: 7th in the league in Blown saves with 27.  17th in total saves.  17th in Holds.

Pitching summary overall: we expected more, and in the end the performance of the staff and bullpen probably wasn’t the sole reason this team failed to win the NL East.  But it didn’t help.

Operation Bullpen Makeover Status Report

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Welcome to the Nats Mr. Gott. Photo via gettyimages

Welcome to the Nats Mr. Gott. Photo via gettyimages

At the end of the 2015 season, our (primary 7-man not including 9/1 callups) bullpen looked like this:

  • Papelbon, Janssen, Treinen, Thornton*, Rivero*, Fister and Solis* (Stammen, Barrett, Storen on the D/L)

Then half these guys (Janssen, Thornton and Fister) hit the road via Free Agency, already leaving huge holes to fill.  In fact as of just a week ago after this was what our Opening Day 2016 bullpen would have looked like:

  • Papelbon, Storen, Treinen, Stammen, Rivero*, Solis* and Martin as a long-man I guess (Barrett to go to the 60 day D/L as soon as  he’s eligible).

After a flurry of moves in the past 10 days, here’s what we’re looking at now:

  • (Papelbon, Storen) Gatt, Kelley, Treinen, Perez*, Rivero*, Petit

And presumably there’s more work to be done (you have to think we’ll acquire a Proven Closer™ to replace the Papelbon/Storen combo).   But, so far, not a bad week for Mr. Rizzo.

Quick thoughts on each move (in chronological order)

  • Craig Stammen non-tender: discussed at length in the Non-tender deadline preview post comment section.  I didn’t like it for reasons discussed ad naseum, but agree that the team must have decided the risk was too much.
  • Oliver Perez signing 2yrs/$7M: good 2015 numbers in the NL with Arizona, then not so much in 12 innings with Houston.  His LHP-LHB splits are good while righties hit him at an .881 OPS clip in 2015.  I guess that’s as good of a Matt Thornton replacement as we need.
  • Yusmeiro Petit signing 1yr/$2.5M after getting non-tendered by SF.  An odd move by SF; his 2015 regular season numbers were just fine to me.  An ERA+ over a 100, flexibility to go long or go short.  And the Nats certainly remember getting shut down by him in the 2014 NLDS.  A good move for me as a near like-for-like replacement for Stammen (with the exception that Petit can go longer than Stammen could so he could be the long-man as needed).
  • Shawn Kelley for 3yrs/$15M (as reported); three straight years of fantastic swing and miss stuff (11-12 K/9 rates).  Great option to add as an 8th inning guy/eventual setup role, eventually replacing what Casey Janssen never did.
  • Trevor Gott in trade for Yunel Escobar: it seems like an underwhelming return for Escobar on the face of it.  Escobar was our 2nd leading hitter last year and played multiple infield positions.  But his batting average was pretty “empty” (he slugged .415) and his defense was abhorrent (not that he ever should have been playing 3B once Anthony Rendon came back … but that’s another gripe).  I think what it does indicate is the rising cost of good relievers and the fact that Escobar has one year of control while Gott has just 114 days of service time and is thus controlled for at least *six* more seasons, three of which will be at the pittance MLB minimum.  Gott’s numbers as a 22  yr old were pretty good; 125 ERA+, an ERA right around 3.00.  Not a ton of swing and miss so far in the majors but he was a closer in the minors and seems like a good 6th/7th inning guy (in other words, a Barrett replacement for the time being).

This configuration leaves a slew of projected relievers set to start in AAA or on the D/L:

  • D/L: Barrett (60dl), likely lost for the whole year
  • RH middle relievers: Martin, eDavis, de los Santos,
  • Loogies: Solis*, Grace*, Lee*
  • Long Men options: Jordan, Hill, Espino

What’s left to do?

  • Flip Storen for value
  • Dump Papelbon for a couple of pizzas
  • Find a for-real closer; its going to cost some serious stuff, based on the Craig Kimbrel and Ken Giles trades.  Be ready for it.
  • Sign some more veteran relievers for AAA like we always do.

Questions for the group;

  • Do you like the configuration of this bullpen so far?  Assuming we get a for-real closer and dump Storen and Papelbon, would you say that its an improvement over last year?
  • Is this too many new players to gel properly?  Don’t we always hear about how pitchers are creatures of habit and how “Teams” take a while to gel and play well together?  We’re basically throwing out a bunch of guys in that pen who will have never even met, let alone build camaraderie.  Do you worry about this?  Or do you believe that “winning builds chemistry” and that players are just cyber machines who you charge up in the morning with Red Bull and then slot them into their roles and they magically produce?  (If you couldn’t read between the lines in that sentence of sarcasm to tell what I think … well I can’t help you :-)

 

Quick pre-Winter Meetings thoughts…

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The off-season is off to a great start for the Nats. Photo via majorleagueaholes.com (yes its a site)

The off-season is off to a great start for the Nats. Photo via majorleagueaholes.com (yes its a site)

Winter meetings this week.  I figured I’d wait to start posting rotation reviews until after the craziness goes on (if its anything like last winter).

Here’s some thoughts I have:

  1. If the Nats intend to “completely remake their bullpen” then they’re off to a pretty slow start.  We’re already missing out on several key guys who would be good candidates to join the pen.  Darren O’Day, Joaquin Soria to start, Ryan Madsen, Jim Johnson or even Mark Lowe (who signed about 2 minutes after publishing this) as other examples.  Instead we sign Oliver Perez, a soft-tossing lefty retread to (I guess) replace Matt Thornton, who is perhaps the 5th or 6th most important role to fill in a 7 man rotation.  You couldn’t have adequately handled a LOOGY out of our cache of minor league arms?  Didn’t we draft like 10,000 lefty arms in the last three years?
  2. And now we hear that the Dodgers are hot on the case of Aroldis Chapman, not that I want to spend what it will take to get him.  Yes he’s great, yes he’d be a fantastic closer.  No I don’t want to give up a top-100 prospect for one year of his time.  (post-publishing update: literally 5 minutes after hitting publish, word comes out that the Dodgers have acquired Chapman).
  3. Why would they non-tender Craig Stammen given the bullpen turnover they already plan to have?  Stammen is talking in the press like he’s completely moving on, as if the negotiations went that sour that fast.

Here was 2015’s opening day bullpen: Storen, Treinen, Stammen, Thornton*, Cedeno*, Barrett, Roark with Janssen on the D/L.

Here’s where we stand now: Storen on the chopping block,
Treinen still there, Stammen DFA’d, Thornton a FA, Cedeno DFA’d/traded, Barrett on the D/L with TJ surgery all of 2016, Roark presumably going back to the rotation and Janssen a FA.   Throw in late-season acquisition Papelbon also being on the trading block and that’s basically the *entire* bullpen getting turned over.  That’s a recipe for disaster.

If the season started tomorrow: I guess the bullpen would be: Papelbon, Storen, Treinen, Perez*, Rivero*, Solis*, Martin.  Except that we know that’s not going to happen; you have to think the first two guys are moved one way or another.

Maybe we won’t end up seeing both closers moved and instead we’ll make amends somehow with one of them.  Since Papelbon is basically untradeable me thinks the “Lerners are cheap” mentality will win out and he’ll be back for 2016.  Awesome.  Especially considering the fact that he just filed a grievance against the team for not paying him during his “suspension.”  Can’t blame him; the team was stupid for not paying him and thinking they’d just pocket a union player’s salary.  Dumb.  I hope Dusty Baker has his game face on for dealing with this issue next  year, and I hope the whole “Bryce Harper reached out/bros will be bros” BS is not, actually, BS.  I’m skeptical.

4.  So, is the team going after Ben Zobrist or are they not?  Is Zobrist going to be that much better than just keeping Yunel Escobar, who can play 2nd and hit just fine for half the money Zobrist will cost?  What’s the urgency of moving Escobar?  The way I see it, Rendon goes back to 3rd, Turner plays SS (and if he cannot, then the excellent Danny Espinosa starts at SS instead) and Escobar goes to 2B where his defensive limitations won’t hurt us.  Why alter that plan?

5. Where’s the lefty bat going to come from?  How about Pedro Alvarez?  Still not sure why the Pirates were so quick to non-tender him.  I mean, he hit 27 frigging homers last year and his Ks are way down from two years prior.  How about buying Alvarez, sticking him at 1st, then shuffling Zimmerman to LF, Werth to right and Harper to CF?

6. Here’s a radical one.  Los Angeles and San Francisco both whiff on Zack Greinke, who inexplicably goes to Arizona.  Both teams adjusted and bought #3 starters (Iwakuma and Samardzija respectively) but now that basically all the big names are off the market, do you think there’s a possible Stephen Strasburg trade out there?  The Dodgers desperately need a Greinke replacement; word on the street is that they’re talking to Miami about Jose Fernandez and that would just be unfair if they got him.  Meanwhile, San Francisco’s 3-4-5 starters looks scary right now and they need to keep up (think SF can’t out-spend LA?  Google “Mission Rock Development” and see how the Giants are about to become a serious player in the SF commercial real estate market).  Even Boston could still be an interesting option: their projected 4-5 aren’t exactly impressive and their new GM is looking to make a splash, and Boston has serious prospect depth.  What if the Nats and Boston get together and get a couple of serious prospects for Strasburg?  Could you see that?  Maybe he gets moved and Giolito gets pushed into service a lot earlier than people thought.

If we moved Strasburg, the Nats would suddenly have a 5th starter hole too (well, unless Giolito became the guy).  I don’t really trust our AAA rotation guys to step up so maybe we’d be back in the market for a cheap starter too.  Luckily I count like 40 starters who profile like that, and some of them could be had for pretty cheap.

7. I don’t buy that the team needs/wants a CF.  But I could be wrong.  If we really were targeting a CF, we would have tendered Span.  I’ll spit bullets if the sign Dexter Fowler and give up their 1st rounder.  If only they could find a power hitting lefty who could play CF (ahem, Bryce Harper).

That’s a good starting point for the Winter meetings.  Let the swap meet begin!

 

 

 

Nats 40-man Option status for 2016

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After Robinson's breakout 2015, does he have to worry about options? Photo via minorleagueball.com

After Robinson’s breakout 2015, does he have to worry about options? Photo via minorleagueball.com

One bit of analysis that we end up doing every year on the franchise, when thinking about potential moves and roster construction, is Options analysis.  I’m posting this now b/c a couple of the guys w/o options are tender candidates, so this may play into the team’s decision on whether to keep them for 2016.

On the odd chance that you don’t know what i’m talking about with Options, here’s some quickie links that help explain the rules: Wikipedia’s baseball transactions, but more importantly an old Keith Law article on the baseballanalysts.com website explains the nuances of optional assignments well.  Basically it goes like this: once you’re put onto the 40-man roster, if you’re not also on the 25-man (or “active”) roster then you are playing in the minors somewhere .. and you are called being on “optional assignment” down there.  In order to protect the hoarding of players, teams can only send 40-man players down to the minors three years before being forced to allow other teams to lay claim to them and put them on their own active rosters.  Each year you are sent down to play in the minors is called an “Option” or an “option year.”

I’ve done this analysis before: here was 2015’s analysis  (where 4 of the 6 out of options guys were gone before opening day) and here was 2014’s analysis noting that Corey Brown and especially Ross Detwiler were going to be problematic; Brown was DFA’d and traded shortly there after while Detwiler stuck around for a whole season prior to getting moved to Texas.

Here’s the current Nats 40-man roster with updated Service times for 2015 as well as a review of Option Status for the 2016 year.  There are a couple guys who seem to have some options limitations going into 2016 that we’ll have to keep an eye on.

First up; Vets who can refuse demotion thanks to having 5 or more years of service time.  The Nats have ten (10) such players on the current 40-man roster:

Player Service Time post 2015 First Added to 40-man Notes
Werth, Jayson 12.102 Nov 2002 achieved 10&5 rights in 2015, not that he needed it
Papelbon, Jonathan 10.064 July 2005 never optioned as far as I can tell
Zimmerman, Ryan 10.032 Sep 2005 never used an option; achieved 10&5 rights in 2015
Escobar, Yunel 8.121 June 2007 Doesn’t look like he was ever optioned after 6/2007 callup
Scherzer, Max 7.079 May 2007
Gonzalez, Gio 6.162 Aug 2008
Stammen, Craig 5.160 May 2009 Less than 20 days in minors in 2010, so no option used
Storen, Drew 5.140 May 2010 2013 option cancelled when recalled before 20 days were up.
Strasburg, Stephen 5.118 Aug 2009 Probably eligible for a 4th based on lack of service time.
Ramos, Wilson 5.047 Nov 2008

Four players achieved the all-important 5th service year in 2015: Stammen, Storen, Strasburg and Ramos.  It wasn’t exactly likely that any of these four were in jeopardy of getting optioned (all four still had options available), but now they definitely cannot be sent down (as Storen was briefly in 2013).

Two guys achieved  the “Ten and Five” rights in 2015: Werth and Zimmerman.  10&5 gives automatic trade protection to the player … but both Werth and Zimmerman have full no-trade clauses anyway, so the 10&5 doesn’t mean much.

Next group: Options Available but are MLB entrenched.  Six (6) guys are in this category in my opinion:

Player Service Time post 2015 First Added to 40-man Option Years Used Options left? Notes
Espinosa, Danny 4.113 Sep 2010 2013 2
Harper, Bryce 3.159 Aug 2010 2011, 2012 1 Did 2010 count as an option year?
Rendon, Anthony 2.130 Aug 2011 2012, 2013 1 Probably eligible for a 4th option eventually if needed
Roark, Tanner 2.055 Aug 2013 3 Optioned on 8/25/15 but then called up 9/4 cancelling the option
Barrett, Aaron 1.144 Nov 2013 2014 2
Ross, Joe 0.094 June 2015 2015 2

In my mind, none of these guys are really candidates to get optioned in 2016 despite having options available to them.  Roark was optioned in late 2015 (August 25th) but then got called right back up on Sept 4th, so (if i’m reading the rules correctly) that option was “cancelled” for being too short.

I have an open question about Harper‘s 2010 option status; does it count as an option year if you sign a major league contract and then get assigned to a minor league team in the same year?  Not that it really matters for Harper (it isn’t like the reigning NL MVP is in danger of getting optioned), and it can no longer happen (MLB contracts were banned in the latest CBA), but its an intellectual issue.  If you have an opinion or insight, please feel free to chime in.  I’m guessing the rules at the time stated that you cannot burn an option the same year you signed, so i’ve not included it as an option year for Harper here.

Next group: Options Available and thus jeopardizing 25-man roster status for 2016: Five (5) players in this category:

Player Service Time post 2015 First Added to 40-man Option Years Used Options left? Notes
den Dekker, Matt 1.033 Aug 2013 2014, 2015 1
Taylor, Michael 1.037 Nov 2013 2014 2
Treinen, Blake 1.065 Apr 2014 2014 2
Solis, Sammy 0.097 Nov 2013 2014, 2015 1
Turner, Trea 0.045 Aug 2015 3 still pissed he was called up so early.

If the season started tomorrow, I’d likely project all five of these guys to be on the 25-man roster, three of them in pretty prominent roles.  den Dekker definitely seems like a guy who may get squeezed to the minors, especially if the team acquires a veteran OF this off-season.

If you want to read more of my rants on Turner‘s call-up, you can certainly find them in the comments sections over the past few months.  In fact, here’s my complaint the day they called him up in this space.  45 days of service time blown so he could collect MLB meal money for a month’s worth of pinch hitting and pinch running appearances while the team flushed away its season.  He started the last 6 games of the season, having only gotten two spot starts in the previous 5 weeks, in an idiotic use of his time for a team that didn’t need or use him down the stretch.  By my calculations, in order to “save” another year of his time, he’d have to start in Syracuse and stay down there for *8 weeks*; 6 weeks to make up for the 45 days of service time and then another two weeks to make sure that the team saves the difference between a full service time year (172 days) and the number of actual days in a MLB season (roughly 183 days).  See that happening?  I don’t either.  So its a moot point and we have lost any shot of extending his stay here an extra year.

Next, the large group of guys for whom Options almost guaranteed to be used in 2016.  Thirteen (13)  in total:

Player Service Time post 2015 First Added to 40-man Option Years Used Options left? Notes
Davis, Erik 1.045 Nov 2012 2013, 2015 1 60-day DL 2014; no option burned but earned 1 full year of service time
Hill, Taylor 0.030 June 2014 2014, 2015 1
Jordan, Taylor 1.047 June 2013 2014, 2015 1
Cole, AJ 0.047 Nov 2014 2015 2
Grace, Matt 0.074 Nov 2014 2015 2
Goodwin, Brian 0.000 Nov 2014 2015 2
Difo, Wilmer 0.051 Nov 2014 2015 2
de los Santos, Abel 0.006 July 2015 2015 2 Kind of a waste of an option year; 6 days service time in 2015
Martin, Rafael 0.048 Apr 2015 2015 2
Severino, Pedro 0.034 Sept 2015 3
Lee, Nicholas 0.000 Nov 2015 3
Kieboom, Spencer 0.000 Nov 2015 3
Bostick, Chris 0.000 Nov 2015 3

The Nats did themselves no favors by letting Davis hang on the active roster all year in 2014, accruing a full year of service time instead of burning an option.  Perhaps in the end it won’t matter; despite all the other RH relievers used last year, Davis never got called up and seems closer to an outright than worrying about where to rent in DC for the summer.  Speaking of RH relievers, the team called up Abel de los Santos in July, let him play for exactly 6 days, then optioned him back.  Davis (if he’s still around) and the two 4-A starters Jordan and Hill probably each burn their final option in 2016 and then force the team’s hand next off-season.  But that’s what we’ll talk about in next year’s version of this post.

In the meantime, here’s the meat of this year’s post: The four players on the Nats 40-man roster who have no Options left and thus have to either be on next year’s 25-man roster or be subjected to waivers prior to the season starting.

Player Service Time post 2014 First Added to 40-man Option Years Used Options left?
Lobaton, Jose 4.138 Nov 2008 2010,2011, unk 3rd 0 no options per mlbtraderumors; can’t tell if optioned in 2009 or 2012.
Moore, Tyler 3.018 Nov 2011 2012,2013,2014 0 86 days on mlb roster in 2014; how does this add to 1.106?
Robinson, Clint 1.028 Nov 2010 2011,2012,2013 0
Rivero, Felipe 0.162 Nov 2012 2013,2014,2015 0 I’m pretty sure 2015 counted as an option year

Now, both Lobaton and Moore are returnees from last year’s version of this post.  Lobaton was always set to be Ramos’ backup and dutifully performed in that role, slashing just .199/.279/.294 in that role.  I’m not entirely sure that either of the catchers on the 40-man roster can supplant Lobaton as Ramos’ backup, but I’m also not entirely sure that Lobaton will even be here in 2016 thanks to his performance.  So his lack of options may not matter; if the team buys another catcher on the FA market or in trade, Lobaton is likely DFA’d soon thereafter.  Moore (as noted in prior posts) has a bigger issue this coming off-season; he’s Arbitration eligible in a season where he was lucky (thanks to a constant barrage of injured players) to have lasted the whole season on the roster.  As mentioned in the previous post; both of these guys are also serious non-tender candidates, which would close the book on them with this team regardless.

Lets talk about the more interesting cases.  Robinson, from what I can gather from his convoluted Cots contract history page, had three straight options burned after getting added in Nov 2010 by his original signing club Kansas City.  After two option years and a scant four PAs in 2012, he was DFA’d and acquired by Pittsburgh, who then DFA’d him themselves at the end of Spring Training 2013.  Toronto claimed him, optioned him, then DFA’d and outrighted him a couple months later without ever appearing for their big club.  He signed as a MLFA with Los Angeles in 2014, got called up, got 9 ABs and then was DFA’d again (because of course by this time he was out of options…).  He played out the string for the Dodgers’ AAA club and then signed with Washington as a MLFA again in 2015.  So, all of that leading to his nice 2015 season for us and for 2016 he’s either going to be with us or against us: no options means he either makes the team or possibly moves on.

The other guy of note is Rivero.  His first two option years are easy.  But his up/down in 2015 may or may not have counted as an optional assignment.  Here was his movement this past season:

  • 3/16/15: Optioned officially to AAA though the minor league season doesn’t start until 4/9/15.
  • 4/16/15.  So that’s roughly 10 days in the minors since the Nats season starts on 4/6/15.
  • Two days later he got sick and eventually went on the D/L (remember the story?  he was throwing up black blood thanks to taking too much Advil)
  • 5/21/15: reinstated from the D/L and optioned back to Syracuse
  • 6/1/15: recalled again; so he was in Syracuse a grand total of 10 additional days.

So, by my count that’s 20 days in the minors right on the nose.  But the rules say that if you spend at least 20 days in the minors, that you’ve burned an option for that year.  So this is pretty close; did Rivero use an option for 2015 or not?  I think he did.  Now, it may not really matter since he really showed some serious cheese for the Nats this year and seems like a lock to be in the 2016 pen, but from an organizational flexibility perspective its nice to have.


So there’s the Options analysis for the team (well, at least the state of the team and its 40-man roster just after the Rule-5 protection additions and prior to any wheeling-and-dealing this coming off-season).  No big decisions to be had, but some concern areas for this year and next.

Feel free to comment if you think i’ve gotten anything wrong in the analysis.

 

Non-Tender deadline 2015: do we have any candidates?

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Might be the end of the road for Moore. Photo unknown via insidenova.com

Might be the end of the road for Moore. Photo unknown via insidenova.com

The next big day on the 2015-16 Baseball off-season calendar is the “Non-Tender deadline.”  Midnight on 12/2/15 is the deadline for teams to tender contracts to arbitration eligible players and/or unsigned players.  If not tendered, those players immediately become free agents.  (Craig Calcaterra has a funny little intro post on the same).

The team has a whole slew of “unsigned players” but we’ll leave them out of this discussion for the time being, since the non-tender deadline is mostly about discussing what arbitration-eligible players will either guarantee themselves a contract for 2016 or be cut loose.

(this is the 4th year running we’ve done this post: 2014 version (no real non-tender candidates and none non-tendered), 2013 version (Detwiler, Ohlendorf in play), 2012 version (Lannan, Gorzelanny, Flores in play), 2011 version (Slaten and Gorzelanny in play).

The below table lists our 8 arbitration-eligible players for 2016, their current contract, what they got paid in 2015 and then two projections (mine and mlbtraderumors.com) for their 2016 salary.

Player Current or 2015 Contract 2014 2015 My 2016 Guess MLBtraderumors 2016 guess
Strasburg, Stephen 1yr/7.4M (15) (arb3) $3,975,000 $7,400,000 $12,000,000 $10,500,000
Storen, Drew 1yr/$5.7M (15) (arb4) $3,450,000 $5,700,000 $7,600,000 $8,800,000
Ramos, Wilson 1yr/$3.55M (15) (arb3) $2,095,000 $3,550,000 $4,700,000 $5,300,000
Rendon, Anthony 1yr/$1.8M opt (15) (arb1) $1,800,000 $1,800,000 $4,000,000 $2,500,000
Stammen, Craig 1yr/$2.25M (15) (arb4) $1,375,000 $2,250,000 $2,400,000 $2,400,000
Espinosa, Danny 1yr/$1.8M (15) (arb2) $540,000 $1,800,000 $3,200,000 $2,700,000
Lobaton, Jose 1yr/$1.2M (15) (arb3) $950,000 $1,200,000 $1,500,000 $1,500,000
Moore, Tyler 1 yr/$0.5182M (15) (arb1) $507,900 $518,200 $1,200,000 $1,000,000

Lets go one-by-one, giving scant analysis to the more obvious tender candidates.

  • Strasburg, Stephen: obviously he gets tendered; bigger question is what his 2016 salary ends up being.  My guess is a bit higher than mlbtraderumors because i’m going more off of his presumed FA value versus a projection of his 2015 pay vs performance.  Might be an ugly arbitration battle if the two sides come in very far apart.
  • Storen, Drew: obvious tender since he’s getting shopped heavily.  Here mlbtraderumors thinks he’s worth quite a bit more than I projected.  Maybe i’m undervaluing saves.  But the Nats would certainly like to rid themselves of this arbitration case headache.
  • Rendon, Anthony: obvious tender and hoping for a return to 2014 levels.  What do you pay him?  I said $4M … and that might be pretty high considering his 2015 performance.  Could also be an ugly fight in the arbitration hearing.
  • Espinosa, Danny: made himself a bit of money in 2015 by improving his average a bit; still has L/R split issues but he will continue to have a job as a utility infielder for years to come thanks to his plus-plus defense.
  • Stammen, Craig: unless his recovery has been fouled up, he’s a tender candidate and frankly should probably look to sign another cost-controlled 2-year deal with the team instead of fighting it out in a hearing.
  • Ramos, Wilson: may have struggled at the plate but he’s the only starting catcher we have.

Now for the real Non-tender candidates.

  • Lobaton, Jose: Is Lobaton worth $1.5M (both my estimate and mlbtraderumors) given how poorly he hit in 2015?  Yes he is; unless you can tell me that either Pedro Severino or Spencer Kieboom is ready to be an every 5 days MLB catcher (or potentially more given how historically brittle Ramos has been) then Lobaton has to be tendered.  If the team signs a catcher in the next two days, maybe you can cut him loose.  But you generally keep ahold of MLB-competent (if not quality) catchers, not get rid of them.  So I’ll guess we tender him.  No options available, so he’s either all-or-nothing on the MLB roster for 2016.
  • Moore, Tyler: to me the only real non-tender candidate we have.  No options available, had his worst season yet at the plate (.200/.250/.364) and is positionally limited to 1B and LF (two slots filled by guys on $100M contracts).  He posted a -1.5 bWAR in 2015 and now has a -2.1 bWAR for his career.  I just don’t see how he’s tendered a contract frankly; wouldn’t the team do better to have a cattle-call of MLFA NRIs next spring to find a more useful RH-off-the-bench bat, which is essentially what Moore has become?  I think so; in fact some of the recent signing activity (Reed Johnson, Scott Sizemore, Chris Heisey) seems to indicate exactly this; the team thinks it can find a player who has a better MLB track record and who is more positionally flexible than Moore.  My prediction: non-tender.

Thoughts?  Would you do something different?

PS: after publishing, mlbtraderumors.com published their comprehensive list of non-tender candidates for the year.  They list Lobaton, Moore and Stammen as their non-tender candidates.  I think non-tendering Stammen would be pretty heartless, but that’s the business.

12/2/15 results: the team pre-negotiated two deals with Lobaton and Moore, but ended up non-tendering Stammen.  Lets hope they can find a way to bring him back.

2016 Nationals Payroll Projection

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Werth is still the high-man on the payroll. Photo via fansided.com

Werth is still the high-man on the payroll. Photo via fansided.com

So, one big factor in any team’s off-season plan is figuring out exactly what the payroll is going to look like, to figure out what their budget is, and then go shopping from there.  This post goes through the guys we have under contract as we speak to try to do some projections of what we already have committed in terms of 2016 dollars and therefore draw some conclusions about how much FA shopping/veteran salary acquisition we’ll be doing this coming off-season.

(note: all this data is, of course, in a Google XLS for your perusal and/or available as a Link to the right).

The 2015 Nats opening day payroll (according to Cots) was $162,014,559.  This represented about a $25M bump from the previous year and included a significant amount of money heading to Free Agents in the last year of their deals.  Here’s the list of Salary immediately coming off the books from the 2015 team:

Player Current or 2015 Contract 2015 Salary
Zimmermann, Jordan 2yr/$24M (14-15) 7.5 and 16.5 $16,500,000
Desmond, Ian 2yr/$17.5M (14-15), 6.5 and 11 $11,000,000
Span, Denard 5 years/$16.5M (10-14), $9M club opt 15 $9,000,000
McLouth, Nate 2yr/$10.75M (14-15) with opt $5,000,000
Thornton, Matt 2yr/$7M (14-15) $3,500,000
Janssen, Casey 1yr/$5M (15) 2016 optn $3,500,000
Uggla, Dan 1yr/mlb min (15) $507,500
Johnson, Reed 1yr/1M (15) $1,000,000
Fister, Doug 1yr, $7.2M (14) (arb2) $11,400,000
sum –> $61,407,500

So, that’s $61M coming off the books.  I’ve counted the option buyout dollars for the 2016 options of Janssen and McLouth in the 2016 figures, but this is still a significant sum.

So, 61M coming off the books; how much are we committed to for 2016 as things stand?

First, lets look at dollars committed to Existing Veteran Players under Contract:

Player Current or 2015 Contract 2015 2016
Scherzer, Max 7yr/$210M (15-21), half deferred $17,142,857 $15,000,000
Werth, Jayson 7 yr/$126M (11-17) $21,571,429 $21,571,429
Zimmerman, Ryan 6 yr/$100M (14-19)+20 opt $14,000,000 $14,000,000
Gonzalez, Gio 5yr/$42M (12-16)+17,18 options $11,100,000 $12,100,000
Papelbon, Jonathan 4yr/$50M + 2016 Optn (11M, 3M deferred) $13,000,000 $8,000,000
Escobar, Yunel 2yr/$13M (15-16) 2017 optn $5,000,000 $7,000,000
Harper, Bryce 2yr/$7.5M (15-16) $2,500,000 $5,000,000
sum –> $82,671,429

I count about $82M committed to these 7 players for 2016.  I’m only counting Scherzer‘s salary at the $15M for 2016 since that’s what he’s gonna get paid exactly in 2016.  Cots has a whole complicated explanation when it estimates payroll on its site (see this link) by prorating his signing bonus over 7 years and a whole different calculation made for luxury tax purposes, but I think that’s a mistake to use anything other than the actual dollars going out the door in a given year.  The Lerner’s kicked that can well down the road by getting him to agree to defer literally half the money in the deal for the express purpose of keeping its present value down for their budget, so that’s how i’m figuring it here. If you disagree, feel free to argue about it in the comments.

If the Nats can move Papelbon and some of his $11M in salary, all the better, but I figure they’ll likely have to eat a lot of it to do so, so I can’t see this figure moving much with off-season trades.

Next, lets look at the Players Eligible for Arbitration.  I’ve put in some quick guesses/estimates for arbitration figures for these players.  I’ve historically been somewhat conservative in my guesses, so these might be off by a million here or there, but in the macro sense it won’t make that much difference.  If you think i’m wildly wrong about (say) my Strasburg estimate, lets argue in the comments:

Player Current or 2015 Contract 2015 2016
Strasburg, Stephen 1yr/7.4M (15) (arb3) $7,400,000 $12,000,000
Storen, Drew 1yr/$5.7M (15) (arb4) $5,700,000 $7,600,000
Ramos, Wilson 1yr/$3.55M (15) (arb3) $3,550,000 $4,700,000
Rendon, Anthony 4yr/$7.2M ($6M bonus) (11-14)+15 opt (arb1) $1,800,000 $4,000,000
Stammen, Craig 1yr/$2.25M (15) (arb4) $2,250,000 $2,400,000
Espinosa, Danny 1yr/$1.8M (15) (arb2) $1,800,000 $3,200,000
Lobaton, Jose 1yr/$1.2M (15) (arb3) $1,200,000 $1,500,000
Moore, Tyler 1 yr/$0.5182M (15) (arb1) $518,200 $1,200,000
sum –> $36,600,000

So, if we keep all these guys I can see them costing in arbitration about $36.6M.  It wouldn’t surprise me in the least to see Storen traded of course, nor would it surprise me to see Moore DFA’d outright, or for the team to acquire another backup catcher and part ways with the light-hitting Lobaton.  But we’ll cross that bridge when we get there.  For now, $36.6M is a good estimate.  Thankfully Strasburg really struggled this year, otherwise his arb-3 figure might be closer to Zimmermann’s last arb figure ($16.5M) than the $12-13 he may eventually get.

Coincidentally on Rendon: did you guys see where he made the Super-2 cutoff on the exact day in terms of service time?  2 years, 130 days.  And that’s exactly what he has.  So, depending on how he plays over the next few years that likely costs the Nats at least $8-10M in salary.  Hey, not my money.  I don’t exactly think the team was actively trying to manipulate his time like they did with Strasburg, so maybe they just don’t care.

So that’s 7 vets and 8 arbitration cases.  That leaves 10 players to fill out the rest of the 25-man roster and they’re all Pre-Arbitration Players:

Player Current or 2015 Contract 2015 2016
Roark, Tanner 1 yr/$0.5296M (15) $529,600 $550,000
Robinson, Clint 1 yr/$0.525M (15) $525,000 $550,000
Barrett, Aaron 1 yr/$0.5142M (15) $514,200 $530,000
den Dekker, Matt 1 yr/$512,972 (15) $512,972 $525,000
Treinen, Blake 1 yr/$0.5128M (15) $512,800 $530,000
Taylor, Michael 1 yr/$0.5087M (15) $508,700 $525,000
Rivero, Felipe 1yr Minor League deal (15) $510,000
Ross, Joe 1yr Minor League deal (15) $515,000
Turner, Trea 1yr Minor League deal (15) $515,000
Solis, Sammy 1yr Minor League deal (15) $510,000
sum –> $5,260,000

If the 2016 season started tomorrow, this is how i’d project the rest of the roster coincidentally.

Even factoring in nominal raises for guys like Roark and Robinson, this still doesn’t even total half of what Papelbon is due in 2016.  Pre-Arbitration players; the best deal in the game!

Here’s the rest of the 40-man roster, who under my projections would be toiling somewhere in the minors on a 40-man roster prorated basis:

Player Current or 2015 Contract
Davis, Erik 1 yr/$0.5089M (15)
Cole, A.J. 1yr Minor League deal (15)
de los Santos, Abel 1yr Minor League deal (15)
Difo, Wilmer 1yr Minor League deal (15)
Goodwin, Brian 1yr Minor League deal (15)
Grace, Matt 1yr Minor League deal (15)
Hill, Taylor 1yr Minor League deal (15)
Jordan, Taylor 1yr Minor League deal (15)
Martin, Rafael 1yr Minor League deal (15)
Severino, Pedro 1yr Minor League deal (15)
Kieboom, Spencer 1yr Minor League deal (16)
Bostick, Chris 1yr Minor League deal (16)
Lee, Nick 1yr Minor League deal (16)

I don’t think Cots counts these guys against payroll because unless they’re on the 25-man roster actively, they’re not necessarily getting paid like it.  I think.  I’m open to suggestion here.


So, where does that leave us?

  • Existing Veteran Players under Contract: $82,671,429
  • Buyouts of 2016 options: $2,250,000
  • Players Eligible for Arbitration: $36,600,000 estimated
  • Pre-Arbitration Players: $5,260,000 estimated

Total 2016 Projected Payroll: $126,781,429.

That’s $35m less than 2015.  So, if you make the argument that the Lerners will keep payroll even with 2015, that’s about $35M of payroll room with which to work.  For some reason I think they’re going to rein back in payroll, so lets call the target for 2016 about $150M.  Not too bad; that should buy what this team needs.

In my “GM for a Day” post in early October 2015, here’s what I put as a shopping list:

  • Bullpen; if a $10M closer is acquired, you off-set the salary a bit with a Storen trade, and then perhaps buy a mid-level veteran RHP for $5-6M/year.
  • Lefty hitters: not much on the FA market that won’t cost you an arm and a leg; we could get creative and move some depth for another $10M outfielder type and use Taylor as a 4th.
  • Backups: Maybe some infield depth in the $5M range.
  • Maybe rotation competition; frankly there’s better things to spend money on, so I think they go to battle with what they have.

So, that’s roughly $25M in acquisitions, right around the $150M target.  That could work.

What do you think?  Sound like a good plan?

 

 

The Definition of Insanity…

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… is to do the same things over and again, and to expect different results.

Two nights in a row, the Nats held leads that should have been protected while playing at their most difficult opponent.  And twice in a row. the same reliever Casey Janssen was completely ineffective and the team lost a game that they could not afford to lose.

At least in the 9/1/15 debacle Janssen had help; deposed closer Drew Storen had yet another awful outing, blowing the save and putting Janssen in the position to give up the walk-off homer.  Storen now has a 7.98 ERA in the 15 games (14 2/3rds innings) in which he has pitched since getting demoted for Jonathan Papelbon.  You want to quibble about causation versus correlation?  How about *cause and effect?*  The Nats man management of this ball-club has been inept at best and horrific at worse (you know where I stand on the idiotic callup of Trea Turner just so he can shine the bench with his ass).

You remember Papelbon right?  He’s the high-priced closer that this team figured it needed to get to the post-season, disrupting the chemistry of the bullpen in the process?  Yeah Papelbon; the highest paid reliever, who finished YET ANOTHER game sitting his surly ass in the bullpen while lesser relievers blew multiple run leads.  That’s because our “color by numbers” manager Matt Williams can’t quite get it through his thick skull that you need to be flexible with relievers, that you can’t just write up the roles ahead of time and wait for it, that the “Save” stat is utterly meaningless to anyone except the idiots who apparently decide all arbitration cases and conclude that 1.5 WAR “closers” are worth 10 times as much as the guys who hand them their cushy 3-run leads night after night.

I ask this question again: where is the sense of urgency on this team?  The offense is certainly doing its part, finally hitting the ball and putting runners on base.  12  hits last night, 8 hits to go along with 7 walks the previous night.  In fact you might wonder how they didn’t score more than five runs each night with that many guys on the basepaths … not that it would have mattered, given the ineptitude of the bullpen lately.

Janssen now has nearly a 5.00 ERA on the season.  Storen is giving up nearly a run an inning.  Maybe, I dunno, maybe its time to try someone else to protect leads??  Blake Treinen has been great since coming back: he has *NOT GIVEN UP A RUN* since his return from AAA, a span of 13 innings over 12 appearances.  I dunno; maybe he’s the guy to get the ball in the 8th right now instead of the sh*t-show that is Storen and Janssen.

We miss Stammen.  We miss Barrett.  We really miss Clippard; why again didn’t we try to acquire him or some other middle reliever instead of disrupting the whole bullpen by acquiring the arrogant headcase Papelbon?  I dunno.  I just watch the games and try not to throw things at the TV screen when our soon-to-be-ex-manager makes his latest idiot move.  Instead of getting a proven middle reliever at the trade deadline, we continue to get by with retreads (Janssen, Thornton) and rookies (Rivero) and demoted starters (Fister, Roark).  Hell, instead of getting someone like Clippard, or Soria, or Johnson, or Broxton, or Jepson or Dyson, or any of the 8th/9th inning types that were moved at this trade deadline, our team KEPT TWO LONG-MEN instead, letting Fister and Roark it in the bullpen to await blow-out situations to throw a couple of useless innings.  You remember Roark right?  Yeah, he was our 5-win starter who the team deemed unnecessary who is now riding buses in AA to “remember” how to be a starter again, since clearly Joe Ross is about 2 more walks from getting shut-down for the season.

Hmm; I see a parallel between Roark and Storen.  Home grown guys, both worked their asses off to get where they got, both had great 2014 seasons … and both were supplanted by FA acquisitions from other teams and were demoted from positions that they not only had earned with blood and sweat but had no business being demoted from.  Is it any surprise either guy has struggled this year?  Will it be any surprise when either or both guys demand trades in the off-season as a result?  Nope, not to me.

This season’s done.  6.5 games out and the team has a losing record in the second half and can’t string together 3 straight wins when they really need about 10 straight wins to get back in this race.  Don’t be surprised when the Mets come to town in a week’s time and the team scores 4 runs in 3 games.  The Mets have better starters, actually MADE ACQUISITIONS at the trade deadline to improve, and apparently want it more.  Get me to the off-season; i’ve had it with 2015.

 

State of the Nats at the halfway point 2015

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Per KW’s comment suggestion, here’s a “State of the Nats” at the halfway point of 2015.

Salient key phrase: “Holding On.”  Lets look at some component parts.

Offense

Here’s the full-strength outfield lineup the Nats would optimally like to deploy: Span, Rendon, Harper, Zimmerman, Werth, Desmond, Ramos, Escobar.

Here’s what they lined-up against Red’s ace Johnny Cueto a few days ago: Taylor, Espinosa, Harper, Ramos, Robinson, Uggla, Desmond, den Dekker.  Yeah, its no wonder they wimpered into the night as Cueto threw a 2-hit shutout.  If you’re Cueto, you pitch around Harper (who got a hit and a walk), you attack the rest of the lineup (strike-out prone lead-off hitter Taylor took a hat-trick), and you laugh as you blow through the rest of the lineup (11Ks on the night).

That’s five regulars out, but not just any regulars; the D/L includes your expected #1, #2 #4, and #5 hitters.  Instead they are replaced by a rookie (Taylor), a career minor-leaguer (Robinson), a cast-off veteran failure (Uggla), a career .230 hitter who the team has spent the last 3 years trying to replace (Espinosa) and a 4th/5th outfielder with just a couple hundred MLB at-bats prior to this year (den Dekker).

Frankly, its a miracle the team is in first place.  Only by the grace of Harper’s incredible season does this team manage to stay in games.  For the record, at the halfway point Harper leads the league in bWAR (6.1), OBP, Slugging, OPS and OPS+.  After having a 3-1 K/BB ratio last year, this year he basically has as many walks as strike-outs, one of the primary reasons his average is 60 points higher and his OBP is 130 points higher than it was last year.  Hold your breath that Harper doesn’t crash out and miss a month with some injury like he’s done in the previous seasons.  If he ends the season with this level of an adjusted OPS+, it’ll be one of the 10-12 best offensive seasons in the history of baseball.

Ironically, even given all these injuries the Nats aren’t even close to what some other teams are dealing with; per mangameslost.com, we’re not even close to what the Mets, Rangers, Rays or Oakland has had to deal with.  Though I’d venture to say that perhaps the games lost by Nats players are slightly more “important” than the cumulative games lost by some of these other teams.  I don’t care who you are; if you remove four of the top five batters from any team’s lineup, they’d be lucky to be out of the cellar.

The team has gotten absolutely nothing from presumed bench players McLouth and Johnson (Do you think Rizzo will *ever* buy a 4th outfielder for 8-figures again in his life?).  Guys who should be in AAA are getting starts and (at least in the case of Robinson) holding their own.  We talked before the season about where Taylor should be (on the MLB bench or in AAA getting starts) … well he’s getting playing time, for better or worse.  Instead of worrying about whether Moore was going to get DFA’d to make room, we’re *adding* guys to the 40-man like Burriss to help out.

Rotation

We know about Scherzer.  He’s been amazing, should start the NL All-Star game (of course, he’s scheduled to throw the series ender in Baltimore so we’ll see) and he leads all NL pitchers in bWAR.

What about the rest of the rotation?  Both Fister and Strasburg have missed a  handful of starts, and the Nats have tried a whole AAA-rotation worth of replacements to varying results.  With apologies to “short sample size judgements” I’ll say that Ross was good, Hill has been ok, Cole has been bad, and Jordan has been worse.  Of course, both Cole and Jordan’s delta between ERA and FIP is massive, so their poor ERAs are unlucky to a certain extent.  In the meantime, Ross has a 23/2 K/BB ratio and a FIP of 1.11 in his three starts.  Its safe to say that this person is excited to see what he can do next, and for me he’s at the head of the line for 2016 rotation candidates.

Clearly we know Strasburg has had an off season.  But so has Fister.  And Gonzalez‘ ERA is in the 4’s.   Just how bad is this rotation?  Not as bad as you think; they’re ranked 8th in the league in starter ERA but are 1st in FIP and fWAR.   Last  year they were 1st in all of these categories.  So perhaps we can expect some “progression” in the 2nd half as (hopefully) guys like Strasburg clean up their act and pitch closer to their FIPs than their ERAs.

Bullpen

We knew Rizzo had weakened the bullpen from 2015, which could have been fine had the injury bug not hit.  But the turnover of this bullpen has caught up to the team in some ways.

  • End of 2014: Soriano, Storen, Clippard, Stammen, Thornton, Blevins, and Detwiler.
  • As we stand now: Storen, Janssen, Treinen, Carpenter, Thornton, Rivero, and Roark.

That’s a lot of turnover.  Yes Storen has been typically excellent (as long as its not the post-season, he seems to be one of the most reliable closers in the game).  As we speak, the bullpen is 11th in ERA; last year they were 4th as a bullpen.  Janssen’s injury did not help, as it pushed guys into the 8th inning role they weren’t ready for.  And we saw Treinen and Barrett struggle (3.69 and 5.06 ERA’s respectively).  Granted their FIP shows that those ERAs are unlucky … but those are still runs on the board, blown leads, blown saves.  Roark (predictably) has regressed as he’s pitched in practically every role a pitching staff has (long-man, mop-up, spot-starter, rotation guy, middle reliever, setup guy and even a closer).  Luckily the gambler Rizzo has gotten pretty good performance out of scrap heap guys like Thornton and Carpenter, both of whom have given the team good innings.

Will this last?  It better: there’s practically nothing left in the farm system for reinforcements.  Barrett is set to return soon (probably pushing Carpenter to AAA), but the other options in the minors do not inspire confidence.  Martin got shelled (unfortunately; we were all cheering him on after his call-up and his fantastic start).  Grace and Solis were both mediocre in their auditions, and I can’t quite figure out why Erik Davis is even still on the roster.  Maybe the team will try some more waiver claims or trades (Neftali Felix just got DFA’d…) to shore up middle relief.

Streaks

Lets talk about streaks.  As of the time of this posting, the Nats season can neatly be fit into these four periods, and then talk about what spurred the beginning/ending of each streak.

  • The Slow Start: 7-13 from opening day through 4/27/15.  The team came out of the game 7-13, thanks to a sputtering offense and a make-shift lineup still trying to gel.
  • The Comeback: 21-6 from 4/28/15 to 5/27/15: Uggla hits his sole homer on the season to spur a pretty incredible 13-12 comeback win in Atlanta, and the team goes on a 21-6 tear following it.
  • Rotational Worries: 6-13 from 5/28/15 to 6/19/15.  Strasburg lasts just 5 batters on his 5/28/15 start, putting 40% of the rotation on the D/L and throwing the rhythm of the pitching staff off.
  • The Kid dazzles: 12-5 from 6/20/15 to 7/9/15; A long road trip/tough schedule stretch ends with a dominant Ross performance at home 6/20/15, kicking off an easy stretch in the schedule and a mostly full-strength pitching rotation.

Definitely a streaky team so far.  At 7-13, they were 8 games back.  At the end of their 21-6 streak, they were 1.5 games up in the division.  Despite their 6-13 stretch the only lost 3 games in the standings as the Mets faltered equally, and as of 7/9/15 they’re still 3 games up despite getting dominated at home by the Reds.

The team is beating who they should be beating (9-3 against Atlanta, 8-5 against Philly).  And they’ve had some success against other teams that are “good” this year (3-1 against the Yankees, 3-0 against Pittsburgh, and a sweep of San Francisco).  But they’re inexplicably bad against Cincinnati (0-5?), Miami (2-4), and were expectedly weak against the rest of the AL East (a combined 3-7 against Boston, Tampa Bay and Toronto).  I’m guessing they’ll struggle against Baltimore this coming weekend since they sputtered against Cincinnati.

Lets just say that the All-Star break is coming at a pretty good time for this team.

Where do we go from here?

The Nats should be healthier coming out of the all-star break.  And they’ll need it; their July schedule is tough.  They host the Dodgers and the Mets to start, then travel to Pittsburgh, Miami and New York.  That’s a slew of games against good teams and their primary divisional rivals.

In August they host some bad teams (Arizona, Milwaukee, Colorado) but they also do their big West Coast trip (at Los Angeles, San Francisco and Colorado).  They also get a 3-game set at St. Louis that could be an eye-opener for where they really stand ahead of the playoffs.  September features practically all divisional games against teams that should all be completely out of it by then, so I forsee a team in cruising mode.

Playoff Outlook

The Nats remain in 1st place despite all their issues, and their closest rival is putting out a lineup that most AAA teams could beat.  Philly is already 30 games under .500.  Miami is 15 games under .500 and just lost their best player.  Atlanta sits around .500 but isn’t really trying for 2015 and won’t spend to compete.  So I think its safe to say the Nats are winning the division.  I’ll guess the Mets hang around since their pitching is so good, but in the end the Nats win the division by at least 10 games.

If the season ended today, Pittsburgh hosts the Cubs in the WC, St. Louis hosts the WC winner and Washington would be traveling to Los Angeles to open the playoffs.  And frankly its hard to see this changing much between now and October 1st.  I don’t think its a stretch to say that the Nats would be underdogs to both the Dodgers and the Cardinals in a playoff series, not unless Strasburg remembers how to pitch again or the offense gets healthy in time.  Are we looking at another first round playoff exit?

 

 

Nats All-Star review: 2015 and years past

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Harper becomes just the 3rd starter in Nats history.  Photo via fansided.com

Harper becomes just the 3rd starter in Nats history. Photo via fansided.com

Here’s my annual Nationals All Star selection post.

(* == All-Star game starter.  The Nats now have three ASG starters in their history, dating to 2005).

2015

  • Nationals All-Star representatives: Bryce Harper*, Max Scherzer
  • Possible Snubs: Yunel Escobar, Drew Storen
  • Narrative: Harper not only made it in as a starter for the 2nd time, he led the NL in votes, setting a MLB record for total votes received.  This is no surprise; Harper’s easily in the MVP lead for the NL thanks to his amazing first half (his split at the half-way point of the season: .347/.474/.722 with 25 homers and an astounding 225 OPS+).  I guess he won’t be earning the “Most overrated player” award next year.  That Harper is electing to skip the Home run derby in a disappointment; his father is nursing an arm injury can cannot throw to him in the event.  In a weird year for the Nats, the only other regular worth mentioning is newly acquired Escobar, who is hitting above .300 and filling in ably at multiple positions that, prior to this year, he had never played.  Storen is having another excellent regular season … but at a time when mandatory members from each team often leads to other closers being selected (there are 5 NL closers and 7 AL relievers), the odds of him making the All-Star team were always going to be slim.  Scherzer deservedly makes the team and probably would have been the NL starter; he’s got sub 2.00 ERA and FIP and leads all NL pitchers in WAR at the mid-way point of the season.  But his turn came up in the final game of the first half, making him ineligible for the game and forcing his replacement on the roster.

As a side note, the 2015 All-Star game will go down as the “Ballot-Gate” game thanks to MLB’s short-sighted plan to allow 30+ online ballots per email address.  This led to severe “ballot stuffing” by the Kansas City Royals fans, led to MLB  having to eliminate 60 million+ fraudulent ballots, but still led to several Royals being elected starters over more deserving candidates.

 


Here’s past year’s information, mostly recycled information from past posts on the topic but fun to read nonetheless, especially the early years.

2014

  • Nationals All-Star representative: Jordan Zimmermann (Update post-publishing: Zimmermann strained a bicep, and had to withdraw from the ASG.  For a bit it looked like the Nats wouldn’t even have a representative, until Tyler Clippard was named on 7/13/14).
  • Possible Snubs: Adam LaRoche, Anthony Rendon, Rafael Soriano, Drew Storen
  • Narrative: Zimmermann’s been the best SP on the best pitching staff in the majors this year, and thus earns his spot.  I find it somewhat odd that a first place team (or near to it) gets just one representative on the team (as discussed above).  Rendon tried to make the team via the “last man in” voting, but historically Nationals have not fared well in this competition (especially when better known players from large markets are in the competition, aka Anthony Rizzo from the Chicago Cubs), and indeed Rendon finished 4th in the last-man voting.  LaRoche is having a very good season, almost single handedly carrying the Nats offense while major parts were out injured, but he’s never going to beat out the slew of great NL first basemen (Joey Votto couldn’t even get into this game).  Soriano has quietly put together one of the best seasons of any closer in the game; at the time of this writing he has a 1.03 ERA and a .829 whip; those are Dennis Eckersley numbers.  But, the farce that is the all-star game selection criteria (having to select one player from each team) means that teams need a representative, and deserving guys like Soriano get squeezed.  Then, Soriano indignantly said he wouldn’t even go if named as a replacement … likely leading to Clippard’s replacement selection.  The same goes for non-closer Storen, who sports a sub 2.00 ERA on the year.  Advanced stats columnists (Keith Law) also think that Stephen Strasburg is a snub but I’m not entirely sure: he may lead the NL in K’s right now and have far better advanced numbers than “traditional,” but its hard to make an argument that a guy with a 7-6 record and a 3.50+ ERA is all-star worthy.

2013

  • Nationals All-Star representatives: Bryce Harper*, Jordan Zimmermann
  • Snubs: Stephen Strasburg, Ian Desmond
  • Narrative: Harper comes in 3rd in the NL outfielder voting, ahead of some big-time names, to become only the second Nationals position player elected as an All-Star starter.  He was 4th in the final pre-selection vote, so a big last minute push got him the starter spot.   Harper also becomes the first National to participate in the Home Run Derby.   Zimmermann was 12-3 heading into the game and was on mid-season Cy Young short lists in July in a breakout season.  Strasburg’s advanced stats are all better than Zimmermann’s, but his W/L record (4-6 as the ASG) means he’s not an all-star.  It also probably doesn’t help that he missed a few weeks.  Desmond loses out to Troy Tulowitzki, Everth Cabrera and Jean Segura.  Tulowitzki was having a very solid year and was a deserving elected starter, while Cabrera and Segura are both having breakout seasons.  Desmond was on the “Final vote” roster, but my vote (and most others’ I’m guessing) would be for Yasiel Puig there ([Editor Update: Desmond and Puig lost out to Freddie Freeman: I still wished that Puig finds a way onto the roster but ultimately he did not and I believe the ASG was diminished because of it).   Gio GonzalezRyan Zimmerman, and Rafael Soriano are all having solid but unspectacular years and miss out behind those having great seasons.

2012

  • Nationals All-Star representatives: Stephen StrasburgGio GonzalezIan Desmond, Bryce Harper
  • Possible Snubs: Adam LaRocheCraig Stammen
  • Narrative: The two SPs Strasburg and Gonzalez were the obvious candidates, and my personal prediction was that they’d be the only two candidates selected.  Gonzalez’ first half was a prelude to his 21-win, 3rd place Cy Young season.  The inclusion of Desmond is a surprise, but also a testament to how far he’s come as a player in 2012.  Harper was a last-minute injury replacement, but had earned his spot by virtue of his fast start as one of the youngest players in the league.  Of the “snubs,” LaRoche has had a fantastic come back season in 2012 but fared little shot against better, more well-known NL first basemen.  Stammen was our best bullpen arm, but like LaRoche fared little chance of getting selected during a year when the Nats had two deserving pitchers selected.

2011

  • Nationals All-Star representatives: Tyler Clippard
  • Possible Snubs: Danny EspinosaMichael MorseDrew StorenJordan Zimmermann
  • Narrative: While Clippard was (arguably) the Nats best and most important reliever, I think Zimmermann was a more rightful choice.  He was 10th in the league in ERA at the time of the selections and has put in a series of dominant performances.  Meanwhile Espinosa was on pace for a 28-homer season and almost a certain Rookie-of-the-Year award (though a precipitous fall-off in the 2nd half cost him any realistic shot at the ROY), and perhaps both players are just too young to be known around the league.  Lastly Morse is certainly known and he merited a spot in the “last man in” vote sponsored by MLB (though he fared little chance against popular players in this last-man-in voting).

2010

  • Nationals All-Star representatives: Matt Capps
  • Possible Snubs: Adam DunnJosh WillinghamRyan Zimmerman, Steven Strasburg
  • Narrative: Capps was clearly deserving, having a breakout season as a closer after his off-season non-tender from the Pirates.  The 3-4-5 hitters Zimmerman-Dunn-Willingham all had dominant offensive seasons as the team improved markedly from its 103-loss season.  But perhaps the surprise non-inclusion was Strasburg, who despite only having a few starts as of the all-star break was already the talk of baseball.  I think MLB missed a great PR opportunity to name him to the team to give him the exposure that the rest of the national media expected.  But in the end, Capps was a deserving candidate and I can’t argue that our hitters did anything special enough to merit inclusion.

2009

  • Nationals All-Star representatives: Ryan Zimmerman
  • Possible Snubs: Adam Dunn
  • Narrative: The addition of Dunn and Willingham to the lineup gave Zimmerman the protection he never had, and he produced with his career-best season.  His first and deserved all-star appearance en-route to a 33 homer season.  Dunn continued his monster homer totals with little all-star recognition.

2008

  • Nationals All-Star representatives: Cristian Guzman
  • Possible Snubs: Jon Rauch
  • Narrative: The first of two “hitting rock-bottom” seasons for the team; no one really merited selection.  Zimmerman was coming off of hamate-bone surgery in November 2007 and the team was more or less awful across the board.  Rauch performed ably after Cordero went down with season-ending (and basically career-ending) shoulder surgery.   Guzman’s selection a great example of why one-per-team rules don’t make any sense.  Guzman ended up playing far longer than he deserved in the game itself by virtue of the 15-inning affair.

2007

  • Nationals All-Star representatives: Dmitri Young
  • Possible Snubs: Ryan Zimmerman, Shawn Hill (though I wouldn’t argue for either)
  • Narrative: Young gets a deserved all-star appearance en route to comeback player of the year.  Zimmerman played a full season but didn’t dominate.  Our 2007 staff gave starts to 13 different players, most of whom were out of the league within the next year or two.  Not a good team.

2006

  • Nationals All-Star representatives: Alfonso Soriano*
  • Possible Snubs: Nick JohnsonRyan Zimmerman, Chad Cordero
  • Narrative: Soriano made the team as an elected starter, the first time the Nats have had such an honor.  Our pitching staff took massive steps backwards and no starter came even close to meriting a spot.  Cordero was good but not lights out as he had been in 2005.  Soriano’s 40-40 season is a poster child for “contract year” production and he has failed to come close to such production since.  The team was poor and getting worse.  Johnson had a career year but got overshadowed by bigger, better first basemen in the league (a recurring theme for our first basemen over the years).

2005

  • Nationals All-Star representatives: Livan HernandezChad Cordero
  • Possible Snubs: Nick JohnsonJohn Patterson.
  • Narrative: The Nats went into the All Star break surprisingly in first place, having run to a 50-31 record by the halfway point.  Should a first place team have gotten more than just two representatives?  Perhaps.  But the team was filled with non-stars and played far over its head to go 50-31 (as evidenced by the reverse 31-50 record the rest of the way).