Nationals Arm Race

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

Archive for the ‘cy young’ tag

Braves sweep shows some areas of concern

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Its a long season.  The Nats swept the Braves in Atlanta last year in May and the Brave still won 94 games.  This isn’t the end of the world.

However.

Each of the 3 losses this weekend exposed some very specific issues with the team and its manager that aren’t necessarily new, but which are coming to the foreground.  In order:

Friday’s Loss: Over-managing the Pitching Staff:  Once again Davey Johnson pulled a highly effective starter on a miniscule pitch count only to watch his bullpen blow up.  Worse, this is the second straight time its happened to Ross Detwiler, who now has given up exactly one earned run in 13 innings (on a solo homer) and has two No Decisions for his efforts.  No wonder he was visibly frustrated when told he wasn’t going back out.  I defended the decision to pull Strasburg after 80 pitches on opening day in various forums, but I cannot defend the decisions now, knowing that our bullpen was DEAD LAST in the majors in ERA heading into the weekend (I believe they’ve “improved” to 29th by the time of this posting).

I think Johnson has to start relying on his starters to go deeper into games until the bullpen sorts itself out.  Or, to put it differently, I don’t want to see a starter yanked unless he’s sitting on 115 pitches or the lineup is getting ready to turn over a 4th time.   It just does not make sense to pull an effective starter after 90 pitches right now.

Saturday’s Loss: Zimmerman’s Worsening Throwing Arm.  We’re 12 games into the 2013 season and Ryan Zimmerman already has 3 throwing errors.   His throwing error on Friday contributed to the collapse but his air-mailing the throw saturday on a simple, routine play directly led to two unearned runs and a deflating feeling for the Nats.   Opposing scouts are starting to openly question why the Nats are keeping Zimmerman at the position, after watching his throws.  I don’t know if he’s still hurt, if he’s got a Chuck Knoblock mental thing going on, or if he’s just spent far too much time trying to mechanically fix the issue instead of just being a natural athlete, but it isn’t working.  Strasburg‘s line on Saturday: 6IP, 5 hits, 7 Ks, 0 earned runs … and a Loss.  I know this game isn’t entirely on Zimmerman; you have to score to win, but giving a bulldog veteran like Tim Hudson (and his amazing career record when given a lead) 2 free runs is never a good idea.

Unfortunately, there’s nothing the team can really do about this.  You can’t sit your #4 hitter (despite how crummy he’s hitting; see the next point).  There’s no place to stick him now or in the immediate future thanks to the Adam LaRoche re-signing blocking 1B for the next two years.  And he’s a $100M player who clearly isn’t playing like one.

Sunday’s Loss: Where’s the offense?  I know the team generally is doing pretty well; we’re middle of the league right now in terms of Homers, BA, and OPS.  But most of that is thanks to Bryce Harper‘s fast start.  We have two key middle-of-the-order guys who are just not getting it done.  Specifically, LaRoche and Zimmerman.  You just cannot win consistently with your middle of the order guys hitting .147 and .220 respectively.   To make matters worse, there seems to be no hope in sight for Danny Espinosa, and with a MLB-ready guy who had a great spring and is lighting up AA in Anthony Rendon seemingly an able replacement, you have to wonder how long the team is going to let their #7 hitter continue to hit .175 with a known tear in his shoulder.  Paul Maholm is a decent pitcher … but he’s not Cy Young.  He went 7+ and gave up just four measly hits on the afternoon in a game where the Nats looked like they gave up frankly.  One more throwing error tossed in by Zimmerman for good measure.


We didn’t really even talk about how the Nats had the distinct Starting Pitching matchup advantage in all three games but lost them all.  Sometimes your aces just get whacked (Strasburg in Cincinnati, Gonzalez on Sunday); you have to roll with it and try to outscore your opponent in those games.

Nor have we talked about concerns with the bullpen; what is going on with Clippard and Storen?  But the Bullpen is one of those areas that can look really bad with a couple of small sample sized bad outings, so we won’t over-react too much.

But, I think there’s some concerns here that are a bit above those of the “well its just mid April” variety.

Ask Boswell; 12/17/12 Edition

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Is he staying or going? Photo: Rob Carr/Getty Images

Another Ask Boswell edition, dated 12/17/12.

As always, I type my response here before reading his answer (which sometimes leads to non-answers, since Tom Boswell sometimes doesn’t directly answer the same question i’m answering), and I sometimes edit questions for clarity.

Q: What is it going to take to settle this MASN Mess?

A: Probably a huge check to Peter Angelos to buy out his 90% stake in MASN.  But I like the approach baseball is taking; clearly Angelos has himself an incredibly one-sided deal, and clearly the whole “we’ll renegotiate in 5 years” turned out to be a gigantic mess.  Because its now drug on for more than a year with Angelos predicably low-balling the team while other teams out there get multiples of millions of dollars more per year than the Nationals are getting.  Wendy Thurm at fangraphs.com posted a great review of all 30 team’s RSN contracts.  For comparison purposes the next closest Market sizes to Washington (based on 2008 MSA) are Miami and Houston.  Miami gets $18M/year in a very bad deal, Washington is getting $29M/year, and Houston just negotiated a $80m/year deal.  Detroit, which is smaller still than Washington, is getting $40M/year in an old deal that expires in 2017, though they’re likely not to rise too much because of the economic conditions of their market.  What does all that mean?  Clearly Washington is no New York/Boston/Los Angeles, but clearly the team needs more than $29M.

I hope Fox Sports comes along, buys out Angelos and negotiates individual terms with the two franchises.  Will it happen?  Probably no, probably never.  Perhaps the solution will be a change of ownership in Baltimore, and Bud Selig (or whoever the commissioner is at the time) tacks on a clause of the switch to split off the RSN.  I could see that happening.

Boswell says it will take time, anger, and maybe even Selig imposing his whole “best interests of the game” clause.

Q: Who has the most frightening lineup in baseball ( Angels, Dodgers, or Blue Jays)?

A: Hmm.  The Angels now feature no less than SIX guys who have hit 30 homers in a season; Trout, Pujols, Trumbo, Hamilton, Morales and Wells.   That’s some incredible offense (even if Vernon Wells‘ time is past).   The Yankees and the Rangers were 1-2 in Runs Scored, Slugging and OPS in 2012 but both will be weakened by injuries and FA defections in 2013.  The Dodgers lineup “seems” potent, but includes a significant number of question marks.  If everyone plays to their potential, then yes the Dodgers could be fearsome.  But its more likely that  Crawford struggles and that Adrian Gonzalez continues to appear as if his best days are past.  Lastly Toronto may have a great middle of the order but they can’t match the Angels for up-and-down the lineup power.   The additions of Jose Reyes and Melky Cabrera aren’t going to help them catch the Angels.  Boswell says Toronto is best.

Q: With Hamilton->Los Angeles, are the odds of LaRoche leaving higher?

A: I think the ongoing stalemate over contract length plus Texas suddenly being majorly in the market for a middle-of-the-order lefty bat to replace Hamilton should have Nats fans worried (or rejoicing, depending on your viewpoint) that Adam LaRoche may be plying his trade in Dallas the next few years.   I would not be surprised to see LaRoche sign a 3 year deal in Texas right now.  Is that the end of the world for the Nats?  No … I think the team will do just fine with Michael Morse playing first and Tyler Moore getting backup reps in LF and at First.  Others have pointed out that Morse’s lefty/right splits are nearly identical and it doesn’t matter that we wouldn’t have another lefty in the lineup.  And (not that the average fan cares about this point) it would save a bit on payroll, perhaps allowing the team to augment/buy something they may need at the trade deadline.

Q: With all the FA stars seemingly ending up in the AL, are the Nats better just by attrition?

A: A fair point.  But the NL Dodgers have certainly bought their fair share of talent too.  As a Nats fan, you have to be happy about the decline of our divisional rivals in the past few months: Marlins fire-sale, Mets basically turning into a mid-market team (and traded away their Ace in RA Dickey this week), and the Phillies making one curious acquisition (Michael Young) after another (Ben Revere).  Washington has improved this off-season, and if they can stave off the injury bug that hit the offense last season they could improve on 98 wins in 2013.   But I also think St. Louis will be just as good, I think Cincinnati has improved, and of course the Dodgers could be scary if all their talent comes together.  Boswell thinks so, but also has stated before that the WS now goes through Los Angeles.

Q: Is there something amiss in the MASN contract legally, since Angelos has not accepted what should have been stipulated in the contract?

A: It sure seems so.  Ever since Angelos got the team, his legal background seems to have Selig spooked.  I wonder if this is why Selig has not pressed more for a solution to this situation.  Boswell thinks that the search for a MASN buyer could be indicative of a permanent stalemate in the contract talks.

Q: Will Philadelphia fans forgive Lannan for breaking Utley’s hand?  Should the Nats batters be worried when he returns?

A: Yes the Philadelphia fans will forgive and forget; remember, most fans just root for the laundry.  Whoever is wearing the jersey is a friend, everyone else is foe.  I don’t think our batters should be too worried; I’m sure they look forward to facing John Lannan.  He’s not exactly the second coming of Cy Young after all.  Boswell says that Chase Utley brings the HBP on himself by virtue of his hitting too close to the plate.

Q: You’re Mike Rizzo: Do you have another big move up your sleeve, either a trade of a FA signing? Or are you satisfied with what you’ve got, and standing pat?

A: I don’t think the team has any more major moves; Mike Rizzo left the winter meetings early because his work was done.  I can see a couple of players getting moved for prospect depth, and perhaps an under-the-radar signing for a right handed reliever to compete for a spot in spring training (ala Brad Lidge last year), but that’s it.  This team is who it is right now.  Well, once the LaRoche situation is resolved anyway.  Boswell agrees.

Q: Who you got for more wins this year, Angels or Dodgers?

A: Dodgers.  Easier division, more talent added.  The Angels have to deal with both Oakland and Texas, and look to have a significantly worse rotation so far in 2013.  The Angels can’t improve much from 89 wins, but the Dodgers can definitely improve on 86 wins.  Boswell didn’t really answer; he says both make the playoffs but neither makes the WS.

Q: Was it the # of Years that convinced Hamilton to go to Los Angeles?

A: I think it was partly a sense that Josh Hamilton felt he wasn’t wanted in Texas, and then mostly from there the right destination in terms of team and guaranteed dollars.  Some cynics out there in the baseball world say that the team doesn’t matter; that players only follow the money.  I don’t believe that necessarily.  Money issues equal, If you had to choose between a franchise on the brink of the playoffs, in a warm-weather city like Los Angeles versus a team that hasn’t contended in years in a crummy weather city (thinking Seattle, another rumored destination), where would you choose?  Boswell says Hamilton isn’t worth 5 years but didn’t answer this part of the question otherwise.

Lannan for Byrd? Yes Yes 100times Yes!

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Could Marlon Byrd be coming back to the Nats? Photo Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images via bleachereport.com

If this MLB rumor is true, then make that trade tomorrow.   If Chicago is inquiring “again,” then make the deal before they stop calling.

Marlon Byrd for John Lannan straight up.  Or even if Washington throws in some salary or perhaps a low-level prospect.  We know why this trade makes sense for Washington; we’ve done Lannan badly, we’re paying him $5M to sit in Syracuse, and he’s a tradeable asset that has asked for a trade and probably has mentally checked out of the organization.  Why does the trade make sense for Chicago?  Because their pitching is a mess right now.

Past their good 1-2 punch of Ryan Dempster and Matt Garza, the Cubs have 3 big question marks for starters penciled in right now.   Here’s the rest of their planned rotation:

3. Jeff Samardzija was a great reliever (and an even better wide receiver), but has never started in the majors.  Despite great scouting reports and good spring numbers (and April 8th’s start where he took a 3 hitter into the 9th) its a risk.  And with Kerry Wood walking 3 straight guys to spoil a fantastic start from Dempster on opening day, the Cubs probably could use some back-of-the-bullpen stability that Samardzija formerly provided.

4. Paul Maholm was decent last year, but as put up some big ERAs in the recent past and now will be pitching in a hitter’s park (though not yesterday, 41 degrees with the wind in… hey everyone looks like Cy Young when you pitch in those conditions).   On most teams he’s barely a #5 starter.

5. Chris Volstad has been awful for Florida (ahem, Miami) for the past few years, and now is a good bet to be even more awful for Chicago.

Lannan easily slots into the #4 spot and gives the team better innings than what they would have gotten from Volstad.  Or, Lannan puts Samardzija back in the bullpen until Volstad puts up a 6.00 ERA in April and the team’s hand is forced.

Chicago could put Reed Johnson in center, or call someone up.  In either case they’re patently in a rebuilding phase and don’t need a veteran playing in Center.  They’re not hurting for money, but a little pay

Make this move!  It’ll be better for everyone.  Washington gets a real CF with some offensive capabilities, moves Lannan (who’s clearly disgruntled and finished with the organization), and everyone wins.

Should Pitchers be eligible for the MVP award?

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Virginia native Justin Verlander is your unanimous AL Cy Young Winner for 2011; is he also an MVP candidate? Photo unknown via rumorsandrants.com

In honor of the AL MVP vote, set to be announced today 11/21/11 ….

Justin Verlander had one of the better starting pitcher seasons in the past few years.  He compiled a 24-5 record with a 2.40 era, a sub 1.00 whip and a 9.0 k/9 rate.  Pitchers getting to 25 wins in the modern 5-man rotations is exceedingly rare and, no matter what you think of the “win” category is still indicative of a stellar season.

Verlander was your unanimous 2011 AL Cy Young Award winner.   He led the AL in a slew of traditional and non-traditional statistical pitching categories, including your “pitching triple crown” categories of Wins, ERA and Strikeouts.  He also lead the AL in bWar and Whip, and is in the top 5 in a number of other categories (k/9, k/bb, fWar, FIP, xFIP, and SIERA).  He wasn’t nearly as “far ahead” of some of his AL competition (in most other seasons any one of Sabathia, Weaver, Shields, and maybe even Beckett before he got hurt would be serious Cy Young candidates), but it’s no surprise that he was the unanimous Cy Young winner.

So, is he also your AL MVP?

In a year where most of the candidates for the AL MVP seem to have “warts” of some sort, is Verlander in line to be the first pitcher since Dennis Eckersley in 1992 to win both the Cy Young and the MVP?

Lets talk about reasons having a starting pitcher win your league’s MVP does not make any sense:

  • A SP only plays in 34-35 games a year, about 20% of a team’s total starts.  How can the “most valuable player” only play in 20% of a team’s games?
  • Even if your SP wins 25 games (as Verlander nearly did), or the team goes 27-8 in your pitcher’s starts (as Detroit did for Verlander this year) … that’s still only at best representing 25-30% of your team’s victories.

On the other hand:

  • If you have an ace starter and switch places with a replacement-level player, how much of an effect would that have on your team’s success?  If you assume the Tigers replaced Verlander’s 27-8 record in games he started with a .500 pitcher, suddenly the Tigers are looking at potentially 10 fewer victories and missing the playoffs.  But then again, this probably overstates the capabilities of any one pitcher winning games all by himself.
  • Tom Boswell once argued that pitchers may only pitch every 5th day, but they face nearly 1000 batters in a season (Verlander faced 969 batters this year).  That’s nearly 300 more batters faced than positional players get plate appearances.  The converse is that if you’re looking at impact strictly on a plate appearance basis, you have to then factor in every single play in the field that a positional player takes part in.  Using an MVP competitor as comparison:  Jacoby Ellsbury (an outfielder) had 388 putouts in center field while playing 1358 innings.  He also had 729 plate appearances.  So those two figures add up to eclipse direct involvement on a per-at bat level.  Depending on where you play in the infield, your involvement on a per-at bat level is about equivalent to an outfielders (for 3rd basement), significantly higher (for middle infielders) to exceptionally high (for 1st basemen and catchers).  The difficulty of a center fielder catching a fly ball for a putout isn’t nearly as much as a pitcher recording a strikeout with the bases loaded … but then again, when you’re already expecting roughly 75% of hitters to make outs without you (as a pitcher) even really being considered anything much above replacement … the law of averages, averages out a bit.

To me, pitchers are not a large enough part of a team’s success on a day in/day out basis to be the “most valuable player,” in the accepted working definition of the title.  I believe pitchers have an award for accomplishment (the Cy Young) and the MVP, while perhaps poorly named or poorly defined, really should be for positional players.  Perhaps this argument comes back to the pure definition of an MVP, and on this point I’ll have disagreements as well, since I basically consider the MVP to be realistically defined as “the most important positional player on a playoff team.”  I generally don’t believe that the best player on a 4th place team really can be the MVP.

Of course, all this being said, I did predict that Verlander would win the AL MVP.  Why?  Because every one of his primary competitors seems to have some narrative that will prevent them from winning.  Ellsbury‘s team folded in September.  Bautista‘s team didn’t play a meaningful game for months.  Cabrera was only the 2nd best player on his own team.  Granderson had a 40-homer season but he hit .260 and wasn’t even in the league top-10 in bWAR.

What do you guys think?

Top 10 Unbreakable Baseball records (per si)

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Screwing around at cnnsi.com while eating, here’s their list of top 10 most unbreakable baseball records:

1. Cy Young’s 511 career victories
2. Joe DiMaggio’s 56 game hitting streak
3. Ty Cobb’s career .366 batting average
4. Rickey Henderson’s season SB record of 130
5. Babe Ruth’s career .690 slugging pct
6. Barry Bonds’ season record for walks: 232.
7. Nolan Ryan’s career Ks of 5,714.
8. Jack Chesbro’s season record for complete games: 48.
9. Ted William’s lifetime OBP of .482
10. Hank Aaron’s 25 career all-star games (somewhat aided by multiple games for several years, but he still played in an all star game in 21 of his 23 seasons).

Most of these I tend to agree with … but there are certainly other records out there that are in a similar vein to Cy Young’s career victory record.  Single season wins, single
season innings pitched, starts, complete games, etc all are basically obsolete benchmarks.  Hell, I’d be willing to wager against someone ever winning 30 games in a season ever again.

Not sure i’d say that a 56-game hitting streak is unassailable.  Yes it’s been a while since it happened, but it routinely gets approached.  You see 30, 35, 40 game streaks
with some frequency.
Plus, i think the stolen base is coming back into vogue.  Maybe not close to 118 or 130 in a season, but i think its just a matter of time before we start seeing higher totals.
There seems to be a dearth of quality defensive catchers these days.
anyway, random thoughts.

Written by Todd Boss

June 26th, 2010 at 9:00 am