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Nats Payroll projections for 2015

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Jayson Werth remains the Nats highest paid player ... but for how long?  Photo via fansided.com

Jayson Werth remains the Nats highest paid player … but for how long? Photo via fansided.com

As we start to debate what the team may do this coming off-season, it is worth discussing the projected payroll for 2015 and the impact it may have on the moves this team makes.

A couple of salient points to start with:

  • The Nats opening day 2014 payroll was somewhere in the $135M range (depending on your source; USA Today had opening day payroll at $133M, Cots had it at $136M).
  • Owner Ted Lerner was quoted in April that “payroll was beyond topped out.”  Which probably can explain some of the cost-savings moves the team made later in the year (acquiring Asdrubal Cabrera and getting the Indians to kick in his salary).
  • The MASN debacle is still not sorted out, meaning the Nats are still operating on a smaller budget than they should be, and the Nats are likely holding down payroll to a certain operating level until they know exactly how much money they can expect out of the deal going forward.

So, based on the above three facts, I’m working under the assumption that the Nats 2015 payroll isn’t going to change much.  The Lerners may be the league’s richest owners, but they’re not running the Nats as a money loser.

Which will make the following analysis kind of scary, honestly, because I’ve got the 2015 Nats payroll projecting at close to $150M.  I’ve posted my work here (a Google xls, also available as a “link” along the right hand column of the blog), so you can see if I made some egregious errors in calculation.  Let’s play along by section to see how I arrived at this number and what I think it means for this off-season.  This accounts for all 39 guys currently on the 40-man roster:

Under Contract for 2015 – 10
Werth, Jayson 7 yr/$126M (11-17) $21,571,000
Zimmerman, Ryan 6 yr/$100M (14-19)+20 opt $14,000,000
Gonzalez, Gio 5yr/$42M (12-16)+17,18 options $11,100,000
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
McClouth, Nate 2yr/$10.75M (14-15) with opt $5,000,000
Rendon, Anthony 4yr/$7.2M ($6M bonus)  (11-14)+15 opt $1,800,000
Harper, Bryce 5 yr/$9.9M (11-15) $2,250,000
Thornton, Matt 2yr/$7M (14-15) $3,500,000

Total Payroll for Players under Contract for 2015: $95,721,000

$95M already, and we’re only to 10 players of the 40-man roster.  So much for all that savings we were getting by declining Soriano and LaRoche’s options.  By the way, I am assuming that the team exercises Denard Span‘s $9M option, but not Soriano or LaRoche’s (Update: after I wrote this but before I published, the Nats indeed exercised Span and declined the others).

Arbitration Eligible Players for 2015 – 11 my arb estimate
Fister, Doug 1yr, $7.2M (14) (arb2) $11,000,000
Clippard, Tyler 1yr, $5.85M (14) (arb3) $7,500,000
Strasburg, Stephen 1yr/3.975M (14) (arb1) $6,500,000
Storen, Drew 1yr/$3.45M (14) (arb2) $5,000,000
Detwiler, Ross 1yr, $3M (14) (arb2)
Ramos, Wilson 1yr/$2.095M with $105k incentives (14) arb1 $4,000,000
Blevins, Jerry 1 yr/$1.6M (14) (arb2) $2,000,000
Stammen, Craig 2yr, $2.25M (13-14) $2,000,000
Lobaton, Jose 1yr/$950k (14) arb1 $1,500,000
Frandsen, Kevin 1yr/$900k (14) arb2 $1,250,000
Espinosa, Danny 1yr/mlb min (14) $1,000,000

Total Estimate for all 2015 Arbitration Raises: $41,750,000

The team has 11 players eligible for Arbitration this year.  I’m assuming the team tenders 10 of them, which may be a bad assumption.  Would you tender Ross Detwiler and pay him $3M (or close to it) again?  Would you tender Jerry Blevins?  How about Kevin Frandsen?  Do you think Fister gets $11M after the season he had?

Either way, even if some of guys aren’t tendered, it barely moves the needle here thanks to the expected paydays for the top guys.

Pre Arbitration MLB players – 18
Purke, Matthew 4yr/$4.15M (2.75M bonus) (11-14) with 2 opts $1,037,500
Roark, Tanner 1yr $506k (14) $550,000
Florimon, Pedro Jr 1yr $517.5k (14) $520,000
Jordan, Taylor 1yr $504k (14) $515,000
Davis, Erik 1yr Minor League deal (14) $505,000
Barrett, Aaron 1yr Minor League deal (14) $500,000
Cedeno, Xavier 1yr Minor League deal (14) $510,000
Kobernus, Jeff 1yr Minor League deal (14) $505,000
Leon, Sandy 1yr Minor League deal (14) $505,000
Mattheus, Ryan 1yr/$520k (14) $525,000
Moore, Tyler 1yr/mlb min (14) $510,000
Rivero, Felipe 1yr Minor League deal (14) $500,000
Solano, Jhonatan 1yr Minor League deal (14) $500,000
Solis, Sammy 1yr Minor League deal (14) $500,000
Souza, Steve 1yr Minor League deal (14) $510,000
Taylor, Michael 1yr Minor League deal (14) $505,000
Treinen, Blake 1yr Minor League deal (14) $515,000
Hill, Taylor 1yr Minor League deal (14) $500,000

Total Estimate for all 2015 pre-Arb 40-man players: $9,712,500

I’m guessing on Purke‘s deal frankly.  And i’ve put in some nominal raises for the likes of Roark who did so well this year; he may get more than just a $50k raise.  A few of these players may be DFA’d or released (wait for the post on options status to see just how many of these players are in jeopardy of a late March DFA).  But we’re not talking about a ton of payroll difference if we cut a guy making a split deal worth $500,000.

 


Total Payroll estimate for 2015: $95,721,000 + $41,750,000 + $9,712,500 = $149,183,500.

That’s $149M … way above the number this team sat at on 4/1/14 (which Lerner said was “maxed out”), and that’s before we count LaRoche’s $2M buy-out (not sure if that technically goes against 2014′s or 2015′s payroll).

Oh, and that’s before the team even thinks about any free agents to fill holes.

Maybe i’m a bit too generous with arbitration raises (Clippard from $5.85M to $7M?)  But those estimates aren’t that far out of line with what will happen and combined won’t change the $149M more than a couple million one way or the other.

So, what’s going to happen?  Does this team go into the off-season thinking about shedding payroll through trades?  Food for thought.  We’ve talked in previous posts about flipping the likes of Jordan Zimmermann ($16.5M), Span ($9M), Clippard ($7M estimate) or even Drew Storen ($5M estimate) … maybe the team is thinking of flipping them to save cash and to acquire future pieces.

Thoughts?

2014 playoff team payroll analysis

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An annual post done at the end of each season.  Here’s 2013′s version.

Money can’t buy me love.  And, in baseball, more and more we’re seeing that Money also can’t buy playoff spots.  Of the ten teams that made the 2014 MLB playoffs, only half of them were among the top 10 spenders in terms of opening day payroll (payroll numbers courtesy of Spotrac.com).  Here’s the full list:

Team SpotRac Opening Day Payroll SpotRac Opening Day Rank Final W/L W/L Rank Playoff Status Payroll/Record Delta
Los Angeles Dodgers $232,899,930 1 94-68 4 NL West -3
New York Yankees $194,460,757 2 84-78 13 -11
Philadelphia Phillies $177,729,966 3 73-89 22 -19
Detroit Tigers $163,285,500 4 90-72 5 AL Central -1
Boston Red Sox $155,912,125 5 71-91 25 -20
San Francisco Giants $148,589,474 6 88-74 8 NL WC -2
Los Angeles Angels $146,647,750 7 98-64 1 AL West 6
Washington Nationals $133,319,078 8 96-66 2 NL East 6
Toronto Blue Jays $133,070,557 9 83-79 14 -5
Texas Rangers $131,657,214 10 67-95 28 -18
St. Louis Cardinals $112,768,000 11 90-72 5 NL Central 6
Atlanta Braves $112,658,731 12 79-83 16 -4
Arizona Diamondbacks $112,298,833 13 64-98 30 -17
Cincinnati Reds $111,694,938 14 76-86 21 -7
Baltimore Orioles $104,045,833 15 96-66 2 AL East 13
Milwaukee Brewers $103,397,967 16 82-80 15 1
New York Mets $96,554,970 17 79-83 16 1
Colorado Rockies $94,079,071 18 66-96 29 -11
Seattle Mariners $91,739,642 19 87-75 11 8
Kansas City Royals $90,837,000 20 89-73 7 AL WC 13
San Diego Padres $90,361,600 21 77-85 18 3
Chicago White Sox $89,792,166 22 73-89 22 0
Chicago Cubs $89,046,356 23 73-89 22 1
Minnesota Twins $85,465,000 24 70-92 26 -2
Cleveland Indians $84,809,134 25 85-77 12 13
Oakland Athletics $80,360,900 26 88-74 8 AL WC 18
Tampa Bay Rays $76,746,916 27 77-85 18 9
Pittsburgh Pirates $71,929,833 28 88-74 8 NL WC 20
Houston Astros $50,032,900 29 70-92 26 3
Miami Marlins $44,136,900 30 77-85 18 12

As you may have already surmised, the “delta” column to the right quickly shows which teams were badly over or under performing their payroll ranks.  Specifically:

  • Boston, Philadelphia, and Texas are three obvious teams that badly underperformed their payroll.  We’re all well aware of Philadelphia’s problems: too many long term contracts given out to guys in their 30s, locking that franchise into transactional inertia for the past few years.  Texas suffered from injury problems that were beyond ridiculous; they ended the season with 10 players on the 60-day D/L, used 15 different starters and no less than *40* pitchers on the year.  Fourty different pitchers!   Texas started the year with $130M payroll and finished with a worse record than their in-state rivals Houston, who have been *not* trying for years.
  • Arizona is a sneaky under performer, but also merits discussion.  Ownership finally has admitted that the brain trust that has been running players out of town for 50 cents on the dollar for years because of “character” or “make-up” issues has, well, not worked (see Justin Upton, Trevor Bauer most famously, but also see the moves that jettisoned Tyler Skaggs, Ian Kennedy and Brandon McCarthy in the same vein).  Gone are former GM Kevin Towers and the on-field managerial staff who has valued “grit” over “capabilities” for years, led by Kirk Gibson.  However, now running the show in Arizona is a newbie GM Dave Stewart whose accomplishments during his brief front-office experience in Toronto were not exactly well thought of by his former staff-member Keith Law.  Nonetheless; they’ll have the #1 overall pick in 2015 thanks to their ineptitude, and a chance to put some depth into a middling farm system.
  • The three teams who have already replaced their GMs this off season (Colorado, Atlanta, Arizona) all were on the under-performing list.  Colorado had the second worst record with a mid-sized payroll but has replaced its odd executive structure from within (which some pundits think will lead to more ineptitude).  Arizona’s odd choices are discussed above.  Atlanta’s GM switch is surprising to me (as i’ve mentioned before) and seems to be the result of an odd power-struggle going on within the Atlanta executive suite.  How do you fire a guy who constructed a team that has gone to the playoffs three out of the last five years on a budget immediately following a season when he lost 3/5ths of his starting rotation to injury before the season began?

How about on the “good” side?

  • Three of your four WC teams are among the smallest payrolls in the game.  Oakland, Pittsburgh and Kansas City rank 26th, 28th and 20th in 2014 payroll.  Also worth mentioning as overachievers are Cleveland (who missed out on the AL wild card by a game), Baltimore (who won 96 games with the 15th ranked payroll) and (of course) Miami (who sported the lowest payroll *by far* but still won 77 games).  Miami in particular seems like it is ready for another boom and sell-off cycle; they have a good team without the services of its best pitcher nearly all year; one or two more acquisitions and/or successful call-ups could have Miami competing for a divisional title again, and soon.
  • Washington Nationals: 8th highest payroll, 2nd best record.  That’s certainly good news.  Our opening day payroll of $133M may have been on the high side to some observers, but the team lived up to its reputation.
  • The Angels bashed their way to the best record in the league on just the 7th highest payroll, ironically, considering the over-spending they’ve been accused of in the past few years.  Don’t worry though; the Angels payroll will begin to have its own issues when Trout’s $30M/year contract years hit.  $30M a year.

What happens next year?

  • The Nats may be holding steady; LaRoche‘s $12M and Soriano‘s $14M salaries go away, but huge increases to Desmond and Zimmermann‘s salaries in 2015, stepped-up increases for Gonzalez and Span (who I’m assuming we’re going to exercise for 2015), and arbitration cases for a number of key and expensive players (Fister, Strasburg, Ramos, Clippard, Storen) will probably  more than make up for the $26M coming off the books.
  • The Phillies, to my constant amusement, already have $127M committed to just nine players for next year.  They’ll continue to be a top payroll, bottom performer for at least two more years.
  • The Yankees, who dipped underneath $200M for 2014 thanks to a gift-wrapped Bud Selig suspension for Alex Rodriguez and an equally generous $14M payoff from the cubs to take Alfonso Soriano off their hands, have $161M committed next year for just 10 players, with five of those players each earning north of $20M a year.  Wow.   Plus, they stand to lose their closer, two of their five SPs (Kuroda and McCarthy), and several position players to either FA or retirement.  They could be a train wreck again next year.

 

 

NLDS Post Mortem

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Not Aaron Barrett's finest moment. Photo via lockerdome.com

Not Aaron Barrett’s finest moment. Photo via lockerdome.com

So, if you told me that the Nats would lose the deciding NLDS game because Matt Williams chose to work the 7th inning with Matt Thornton, Aaron Barrett and then Rafael Soriano as the savior, I would have asked you, “was everyone else in the bullpen dead?”

Instead of going to war in a tie game with any of his three longest serving and most effective relievers (i.e., Craig Stammen, Tyler Clippard or Drew Storen) he went with a waiver claim, a rookie, and a deposed starter with an ERA after the all-star break north of 6.00.

I get bringing in Thornton to go against the first two lefties in the 7th; why the hell do you leave him in to face the Giant’s best hitter in Buster Posey?

When Posey inevitably singles to put guys on first and second with one out … clearly the key point in the game and the post-season … why do you bring in a frigging rookie instead of your #1 shut-down, high leverage reliever (Clippard)?

Was anyone really shocked when Barrett walked the next guy to load the bases?  Was anyone then subsequently surprised when he overgripped, overcome by the moment and bounced a mid 90s fastball to the fence?   Wilson Ramos looked like an amateur trying to “block” that pitch, stabbing at it backhanded like someone who’s never caught before, but whatever.  The damage had already been done.  If it wasn’t a wild pitch, it would have been a deep ground out, or a sac fly; the run expectancy of bases loaded with one out is more than 1.5.  I won’t even go into the little league IBB wild pitch; the poor guy was clearly still thinking about the run he just gave up and the weight of the team’s season was on his shoulders.

For the record, you’re not going to win a ton of games where you get just four hits.  Gio Gonzalez once again proved he wasn’t up to the task, and the Nats were lucky to get out of the 5th without giving up a run (also a bases-loaded, one-out jam that Tanner Roark mostly created on his own but also mostly got out of thanks to a ballsy 2-0 changeup to Pablo Sandoval).

No, the story of this game and this series can be summarized with the following list of lines for the 4-game series:

  • Leadoff hitter Denard Span: 2 for 19 with one walk.
  • #3 hitter Jayson Werth: 1 for 17
  • #4 hitter Adam LaRoche: 1 for 18
  • #5 hitter Ian Desmond: 3 for 18.

All of those hits?  Singles.  No power, no driving the ball from the heart of the order.  Basically, the top half of the Nats lineup played four games of automatic outs.  Hard to win like that.  The bottom half of the lineup wasn’t much better: Cabrera was just 3 for 15 though with two clutch hits and Ramos was just 2 for 17 in the series and was a guaranteed weak ground-ball to shortstop every time.

You’re not going to win games when your 3-4-5  hitters get 5 combined hits in four games, none for extra bases and none driving in any runs.  Did you know that Anthony Rendon was 9-17 with a walk and scored ZERO runs in the series?  He was on base TEN times in four games and never scored.  That’s a huge indictment of the middle of the Nats order.

The only hitters who showed up in this series were the two youngest regulars on the field; Rendon and Harper.  With three homers and a double in four games (driving in four of the 9 total runs the team scored), Harper showed once again why it was folly that he was batting 6th.  He drove in exactly four runs; had he been batting with Rendon on all the time, he may have batted in double that and we’re talking about a different series.

Its a bummer; the Nats offense picked a really crummy time to shut down, to make Ryan Vogelsong look like a staff ace.  And they’re out in the divisional round for the 2nd time in three years despite being the #1 seed.  Tim Hudson: you have your answer.

DC-IBWAA 2014 Poll results and my vote

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Each year, David Nichols of the District Sports Page blog does a great job getting all the Nats bloggers to participate in pre-season and post-season polls, voting on awards for the team for the year.

For 2014, here’s his post-season awards as voted on by us nerd bloggers.  2013′s post-season poll results and my post here.

Here’s how I voted and why.

2014 DC-Internet Baseball Writers Association

POST-SEASON ACHIEVEMENT AWARDS BALLOT

 

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

Award by Award:

  • Team MVP: Have to go with Rendon; easily leads the team in WAR (by a nearly 3-win margin in bWAR over Werth/Span in second place).   Werth continues to steadily hold on to his skills and contribute well into his mid 30s, while LaRoche put up a great contract year performance.
  • Starter of the Year: No argument here: Zimmermann was the best starter on the year.  Fister‘s advanced stats don’t like him (his FIP is above 4.00) but he gets results.  And Roark remains the best “found gold” the Nats have had in terms of prospect matriculation since the likes of Brad Peacock.
  • Reliever of the Year: Storen‘s great bounce back  year has to put him in the lead, followed closely behind by Clippard.  Still think the Soriano acquisition was worth it?  I have him 3rd here just by virtue of his first half … and because the rest of the relievers were either long guys (Stammen, Detwiler), matchup loogies (Blevins, Thornton) or guys who spent more time in AAA than the majors (Barrett, Treinen).
  • Hitter of the Year: Rendon, Werth obvious top 3 guys, but I like what Span‘s done this year in terms of jacking his average up.  Another classic contract year performance.
  • Slugger of the year: I just went with the team leaders in homers 1-2-3.  You would have thought that Harper would be here by now.
  • Defender of the year: looking at the various advanced stats, I ended up with Rendon for his excellent work at 2B and 3B, then Harper (an excellent UZR/150 in left on the year).  Span has a negative UZR/150 in center on the year, but passes the eye test.  I’ll be curious to see how he ends up looking in the other defensive metrics.  So he gets 3rd place essentially because there’s not another regular who has a positive UZR/150 on the team.
  • Comeback player: Storen makes the most sense … his comeback has been two years in the making.  Roark isn’t really a comeback guy as much as he’s a “making the most of his chances guy.”  Neither is Barrett honestly; but there’s not a good example of someone who was hurt or really came out of nowhere to make this team better.
  • Humanitarian: Honestly I only know of two guys on the Nats who actively do humanitarian/charity stuff and that’s Zimmerman and Desmond.
  • Minor League Player of the Year.  As discussed in the comments of another post recently, for me “Minor League Player of the Year” is a completely different list than the subtitle offered of “Minor league player most destined for big league success.”  POTY for me this year went Souza, Taylor and Giolito, while the top 3 prospects in our system probably are Giolito, Cole and Taylor.

Additional Questions

1) Of the players on the current active roster (or DL), which players do you think will not be part of the organization next season?

Pitchers: Blevins, Mattheus, Ohlendorf, Soriano, Detwiler

Out-field players: Solano, Cabrera, LaRoche, Frandsen, Span, Hairston, Schierholz

I’m guessing the team declines Soriano’s option, non-tenders Ohlendorf, Mattheus and Detwiler, and DFAs Blevins after his poor season.

Of the positional players, the team won’t exercise its options on LaRoche or Span, will have to end up DFA-ing Solano (and perhaps others; I havn’t done my options analysis yet) due to having no more options, and will let veteran FAs Frandsen, Hairston and Schierholz hit free agency.  I think Cabrera is going to command too much money for the team to realistically consider him.

2) Will Ian Desmond or Jordan Zimmermann sign a contract extension before they hit the free agent market?

No.  Both will go to FA.  Desmond to the Yankees to be the next Derek Jeter, Zimmermann to highest bidder.

3) Who was the biggest pleasant surprise on this year’s team?

Rendon’s advancement and central role on the team.

4) Who was the biggest disappointment?

Zimmerman’s continued inability to stay healthy.  A close second is Harper’s injury riddled season and struggles.

5) Who is your favorite professional Nats writer?

Mark Zuckerman #1.  After him, i’ll go with Adam Kilgore 2nd and Byron Kerr third.

6) Which is your favorite non-professional Nats blog or writer?

Luke Erickson; sorry to see him take a step back.  My #2 probably is NatsGM Ryan Sullivan, #3 Luigi de Guzman of Natsradamus (when he infrequently posts).

Looking ahead to September

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Souza was smiling even harder last week upon his MLB debut.  Photo Nats official/Tommy Gilligan

Souza was smiling even harder last week upon his MLB debut. Photo Nats official/Tommy Gilligan

So, this post is for forensicane, who wants to talk about the recent promotions of deserving Nats prospects, talk about September call-ups and some other happenings down on the farm. :-)

Despite my own best intentions, I have fallen off the wagon a bit in terms of the monthly check-ins that I like to do for the rotations/pitching staffs (both major and minor leagues).  A tough work schedule and a pending job change have conspired against that (and, frankly, the new job probably will further restrict posting).  But I’ll definitely summarize the minor league seasons (which, believe it or not, end in like three weeks!) and do the full-blown reviews that I’ve done in years past.

In the past week we’ve seen two very deserving farmhands get their MLB debuts: Steven Souza and Michael Taylor.  Souza unfortunately got just twelve ABs before slamming into the outfield fence, damaging his shoulder and heading to the D/L.  Which paved the way for Taylor to now join the team, but likely does not help out the major league club much.  Souza had destroyed AAA pitching while Taylor has just 4 games above AA; i’d bet he sees rather limited action until either Souza or Nate McLouth returns from the injured list.  Nonetheless, both promotions were deserved.

Looking ahead to September call-ups, Chase Hughes on NatsInsider took a look at some players who likely get 9/1 call-ups and came up with the expected list of guys who have shuttled back-and-forth between AAA and the Majors this year (Blake TreinenTaylor Hill, Aaron Barrett, Ryan Mattheus, Xavier Cedeno, Tyler Moore and Jhonatan Solano).  He also predicted one 40-man addition/call-up in Matthew Grace, which would be a great reward for his break-out season (and maybe spell the end of the 5.02 ERA Jerry Blevins experiment)?

Of the rest of the 40-man roster not already mentioned, Sammy Solis is on the AA disabled list, Felipe Rivero is also on the D/L (but is putting in re-hab assignments) but doesn’t merit a call-up, Sandy Leon has struggled badly this year and seems to be closer to a DFA than a call-up, Jeff Kobernus may also get a call-up to provide full-field utility needs and Eury Perez probably doesn’t quite need a call-up unless the Nats lose yet another outfielder.

The 40-man roster is full, but the team could easily re-call and 60-day D/L Solis (much like they did with Matthew Purke) to make room.  Solis hasn’t appeared since May 26th and at this point seems done for the year.

I havn’t done significant analysis of the roster moves that will have to happen in the off-season (re-adding 60-day D/L guys, cutting loose free agents, non-tenders and rule-5 additions), but I can see a bit of a glut coming.

  • We have four 60-day D/L guys now and a full 40-man roster.
  • We have four potential FAs … but three of them have options that are possibly attainable/possibly executable (Rafael Soriano‘s “games finished” option, Adam LaRoche‘s $15M mutual option for 2015 and Denard Span‘s decently affordable $9M 2015 option).  It doesn’t help that all three guys are having career years (Span now hitting above .300, LaRoche has the best OPS+ on the team and Soriano’s 1.79 ERA is nearly a career-low), making all these decisions rather difficult.
  • We have a TON of arbitration-eligible guys (at least 12-13 if Cots is correct).
  • We have more than a few guys in the minors who WILL need to be added ahead of Rule-5.  A.J. Cole is the biggest name, but there’s more than a few other names out there probably worth protecting too (scan the Nats draft-tracker for 2014 Rule 5 Eligibles).

A post for another day.

Anyway; have at it.

State of the Nats at the halfway point

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Harper's run production in the middle of the order should spark this team now that he's back.  Photo via fansided.com

Harper’s run production in the middle of the order should spark this team now that he’s back. Photo via fansided.com

When Bryce Harper was reinstated from the D/L on 6/30/14, an interesting situation occurred:  The Nationals were at full strength for the first time, all year.

That’s right.  With Doug Fister starting the season on the D/L, even those who think that the team was at “full strength” for the first 7 innings of the first game (that’s how long it took before a Nationals offensive starter got hurt) aren’t quite right.  This team has been hampered and has been covering for injuries to its best available squad since the first day of the season.  Here’s a review of the tale of the injury tape for the ideal 25-man roster of this team so far in 2014:

  • Doug Fister; strained shoulder 3/23/14, missed 34 games
  • Wilson Ramos: broken hand on 4/1/14, missed 32 games
  • Scott Hairston; oblique strain on 4/6/14, missed 26 games
  • Denard Span, concussion on 4/12/14, missed 7 games
  • Ryan Zimmerman, broken thumb on 4/13/14, missed 44 games
  • Bryce Harper: torn thumb tendon on 4/27/14, missed 56 games
  • Adam LaRoche: strained quad on 5/11/14, missed 14 games
  • Gio Gonzalez, shoulder strain on 5/18/14, missed 27 games
  • Ramos again, this time a hamstring strain on 6/11/14, missed 14 games

2/5ths of the rotation and 5/8ths of the starting offense have at one time or another been on the shelf so far this year.  More than 250 games lost.  Ironically the oldest player on the team (Jayson Werth) has been one if its healthiest (he’s only missed 4 games this year).  And (knock on wood) there hasn’t been a single bullpen injury, likely one of the main reasons the Nats bullpen is among the best in the game this year.

The Nats (at the time of this writing) sit 1/2 a game out of first behind nemesis Atlanta, but have several reasons to be optimistic about catching them:

  • The Nats have a +39 run differential right now, while the Braves have a zero run differential.  That means that the Nats should be 9 games above .500 (according to pythagorean records) while the Braves should be a .500 team.  The Nats have been unlucky while the Braves have been quite lucky.  You could expect these situations to reverse themselves over the rest of the season.
  • The Nats are just 2-7 in extra inning games and 9-13 in one-run games.  You’d normally expect both of these W/L records to be near .500 and is likely the real reason behind the above run differential issue.
  • Despite the heart of their batting order missing dozens and dozens of games, the offense is not doing half bad: the Nats as a team are 8th out of 15 in the NL in WRC+, 8th in runs scored, 8th in wOBA, 10th in batting average, and are 10th in homers despite Zimmerman having just THREE on the year.
  • While the Offense treads water, the Pitching has been fantastic.  Our starters are 5th in the NL in ERA, 1st in FIP, 2nd in xFIP, 2nd in SIERA.  The bullpen has been equally as good (a huge improvement over last year):  2nd in NL ERA, 1st in FIP, 6th in SIERA.
  • The starters lead the NL in FIP despite Stephen Strasburg‘s “struggles;” ironically despite his having a .500 record an a 3.70 ERA he has the best FIP of any Nats starter.   He’s just been victim of circumstance while he pitches.   Blake Treinen has been fantastic covering in the rotation, and the team has found an excellent 5th starter in Tanner Roark.  Games that were “thrown away” time and again last year by Dan Haren and a litany of poor-performing minor league call-ups have been handled with aplumb this year.

Where do we go from here?

The Nats schedule from here on out eases significantly; as of the time of this writing the last three months look like this:

  • July: 10 of 25 games against teams with winning records right now
  • August: 12 of 28 games against teams with winning records right now … and that includes teams that very well may have losing records by the time we get to them.
  • September: Just 9 of 27 games against teams with winning records right now, including the final 11 against Marlins and Mets teams likely to be playing out the string with 40-man call-ups from AAA and key young arms sitting due to inning limits.

For this Nats fan, its hard to see the same struggles we saw last year; I see a team finally getting their squad back together, having a solid July and perhaps a dominant closing to the season to fulfil its promise.  I like where this team stands right now (even with the tepid split in Chicago last weekend) and look forward to the next few months.

When Zimmerman comes back …

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Zimmerman the outfielder?  Photo unknown via fantasyknuckleheads.com

Zimmerman the outfielder? Photo unknown via fantasyknuckleheads.com

… do you just go ahead and start fielding the lineup that we’ll be trotting out in 2015 anyway?

Leave Rendon at 3rd, leave Espinosa at 2nd, install Zimmerman at 1st and trade Adam LaRoche to a team that needs a first baseman?

Perhaps a couple weeks into the season you could have made that argument.  But there’s a few problems with this scenario:

  1. LaRoche is easily the team’s best hitter right now with a slash line better than the coveted .300/.400/.500.  You don’t trade the best hitter off of your offensively struggling team.
  2. Nobody makes trades 8 weeks into the season.  And most of the possible trade candidates for LaRoche (Baltimore, New York, Milwaukee, Pittsburgh) don’t make as much sense now as they may have a few weeks ago.
  3. Espinosa is starting to remind the team again why they demoted him last year, with his average now slipping towards Mendoza line territory.
  4. Despite the Nats awful stretch, they’re only 2.5 games out of first in the NL East, and that’s during a stretch when the meat of their order has been missing.  Its far too early to wave any white flags and/or start dismantling the team.

I’m sure part of LaRoche would love to get traded; it frees him of any qualifying offer complication this coming off-season, where at age 34 he’s likely looking at his last final grasp at a multi-year deal.  But the other part of LaRoche wants to stick with a winner, a team that gives him the best shot at getting back to the post-season (he’s only got a handful of games in his 11 year career playing in October).  On the other hand … the Nats would be crazy to give LaRoche a Q.O., so maybe the team is thinking, “hey, we need to move LaRoche and get *something* for him before we let him walk and get nothing for him.”

More likely the team is actually thinking this: “We were good enough to win last year, we’re good enough to win this year … so we’re keeping the band together until the bitter end, division title or not.”


Or, do you take interest in the fact that Zimmerman has been taking a ton of fly-balls and stick him in left?  I like this move: Zimmerman comes back, and you leave the infield as-is, stick him in left field and you’re a stronger lineup.  Zimmerman’s “yips” will disappear in Left Field; every throw he’ll make will either be a lob back into the infield after a single, or a max-effort peg to either 2nd or home that won’t allow him time to “think” about the throw.  Jon Heyman is now reporting that Zimmerman is being set-up to be a multi-positional player and his fly ball workouts were not (as Zimmerman claimed multiple times) just a “workout” routine.

(side note: I now exactly what Zimmerman is going through; as a 15-yr old middle infielder I tore my rotator cuff.  After rehab, I returned and found that I struggled to make simple throws from second base or short stop.  I had the yips myself.  I eventually moved into the outfield to finish off my career in a rather frustrating fashion.  After years of playing softball in my 20s, where nearly every infield throw is max-effort, I had regained a ton of my confidence and could return to playing middle infield on the diamond … but I still struggle on specific plays.  When I first came back I caught … and (like Sasser) struggled making the throw back to the pitcher sometimes.  Making a double-play turning toss from ss->2nd?  I sieze up every time and have resorted to flipping the ball under-handed.  It is a very frustrating situation to deal with.  Zimmerman acknowleding his issue and trying to do what’s best for the team by limiting his arm exposure shows great character).

Of course, then, when Harper comes back … what do you do?

Maybe you frigging finally sit Denard Span and his middling OBP (which was raised 40 points by his recent outburst and 4-4 game) and stick Harper in center.   I’ve had it with our lead-off hitter making outs nearly 8 out of 10 times up.  Yes Span is a plus defender in center and inarguably saves runs.  No, Harper would not be as good as Span in the field.   But at this point, replacing Harper’s production for Span’s in the lineup makes this a better team.

In reality, if Espinosa is still hitting in the low .200s and everyone’s coming back, then he’ll be the one that makes way.  I don’t think I like Zimmerman for 2nd base like other pundits do. For one, the guy’s too big for 2nd and I don’t think he’s mobile enough to play that position at this point in his career.  But mainly, if he’s got a hitch in his throw from 3rd, he’ll have it even worse from 2nd, where a ton of throws are very casual/toss it over throws and you can go completely mental.   There’s a reason that the famous cases of “baseball yips” are either 2nd basemen (Steve SaxChuck Knoblock) and catchers (Mackey Sasser).  These two positions make a lot of unpressured throws, and guys can get “yippy.”

So that means Rendon back to 2nd, Zimmerman back to 3rd, and the fanbase back to holding its collective breath everytime he gets a grounder.  At least until spring training 2015, when this all goes away by itself when LaRoche hits free agency and Zimmerman permanently attaches a 1st basemen’s glove to his left hand.

I’ll give credit where credit is due though on Zimmerman taking fly-balls and apparently being amenable to trying out the outfield: seeing a gold-glove winning veteran on a 9-figure deal trying a new position mid-career, perhaps acknowledging that he has a problem is refreshing.  Remember the nightmare we had with Alfonso Soriano moving to left field?  And word came out recently that Rickie Weeksrefused to consider” a position switch from 2nd to left, a rather disappointing turn of events for his team, who are paying the underperforming infielder $11M to ride the pine this year.  Instead Zimmerman looks to be doing the team-first thing, working out at a new position where he can get back into the lineup AND not hurt the team anymore.  It isn’t unheard of for hall-of-fame calibre players to move positions (see Yount, Robin), nor is it unheard of to see plus-defenders try alternate positions for the betterment of the team (see the likes of Manny Machado and Jurickson Profar, both fantastic fielding shortstops who are playing other positions to allow entrenched veterans who may not necessarily be better fielders stay at short).  Heck, look at what Rendon did; he was a third baseman all the way … and he made the move to 2nd and has done reasonably well there.

We’ll see what happens when Zimmerman gets off the d/l.

 

 

Law trashes Williams and their handling of Harper

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Harper Harper Harper.  Photo Evan Habeeb-USA TODAY Sports

Harper Harper Harper. Photo Evan Habeeb-USA TODAY Sports

http://insider.espn.go.com/blog/keith-law/post/_/id/2286/the-mishandling-of-bryce-harper

(Yes the post is ESPN Insider only; if you don’t get ESPN insider then ask yourself why you’re not willing to spend $3 a month for access to quality baseball writers like Dave Symborski, Keith Law, or Buster Olney, as well as access to the whole slew of scouting content from Law’s staff… and that’s just their baseball stuff.  $3/month; I spent more than that on my bagel this morning.   And if you’re in that whole “anti paywall camp” and believe that God intended that everything on the internet be for free … well I guess I’d just say sometimes you get what you pay for.   And to me, ESPN’s insider content is worth the 10 or 11 cents a day that I pay for it.  Rant off).

Basically, Law questions whether Matt Williams is in over his head as a major league manager right now.  Law questions his  lineup choices (as others have repeatedly, especially when the team’s best power hitter his batting 7th.  Which to be fair he only did once, but Harper’s been batting 6th for a good portion of the season too, only really moving up when Ryan Zimmerman went out with injury).   I too question his lineup choices; why the h*ll is Denard Span still batting leadoff?  If Williams felt the need to move Harper to 7th because he was struggling, why hasn’t Span been dropped either?  Isn’t Span “struggling” too?  Yeah; he’s got a .282 OBP right now and has fewer stolen bases than the 35-year old Jayson Werth; why exactly is he still batting leadoff??

Law also questions Williams’ public bashing of Harper’s hustle.  Which led, among other things, to Tom Boswell‘s outlandish claims in a chat two weeks ago that Harper was purposely asking out against tough hitters to maintain a meaningless 9-game hitting streak.  Did anyone actually watch the games surrounding the hustle incident?   To me Harper was clearly favoring his leg, and he had been frustrated at the plate, and by multiple reports was also struggling with the flu.  Maybe everyone would have been happier if Harper had just frigging sat out a couple of games instead?   So he didn’t run out a come-backer; that’s human nature.  Law correctly points out that only Harper has been bashed openly in the press by Williams; other team issues were handled internally.

Why is that?  Is Williams “old school” mentality coming through here?  Is he singling out the young Harper in a “youngster hazing” way?  Remember where Williams came from; the “grit is the way to win” Arizona Diamondbacks, who now have the worst record in the majors after a slew of trades and moves that were designed essentially to rid the team of players who couldn’t or didn’t get along with either the manager or the staff for some reason or another.  I’ve touched on the topic of the Arizona methodology before; you just don’t trade away top 3 draft picks for 50 cents on the dollar because of a personality conflict and expect there to be no consequences.  I believe the consequences are going to be a new manager and a new GM this coming off-season after Arizona loses 90+ games.

Law correctly points out that you can’t have the “hustle” narrative both ways either: Harper cannot be simaultaneously a “lazy” player (as Williams went out of his way to state to the media) but then also be the same player who people thought needed to “slow down” and “play within himself” (as was oft-repeated all last year after he bashed his head in running into outfield walls).   For me; I tend to believe that Harper is human; he was frustrated after an o-fer day, and didn’t run out a come-backer in a meaningless situation late in a game (like a thousand other major leaguers before him).

I’m not sure if I’d lay the play that ended up with Harper’s injury on the manager (Law seems to intimate that Harper’s “over hustle” on that play was in reaction to his press bashing over the lack of hustle the week before), but many, many other players in this game would have just slowed up at 2nd, knowing they had cleared the bases, and not gone for the triple.  Which player would you rather have?   For better or worse, the team will now have plenty of time to think about it; Harper’s out for 2 frigging months.  For those keeping score at home, we’re not even to May yet and we’ve seen the guys hitting 1st, 2nd, 4th and 5th from our opening day lineup now hit the D/L for various lengths.

It bears repeating: Harper, despite being in his 3rd pro season, was STILL the youngest player in the majors on opening day.   If he was sitting on Potomac’s roster right now, he’d be one of the youngest players in the league.  I guess we all need to take a deep breath sometimes and be thankful for what Bryce Harper is, not what he isn’t.  And get well soon…. this team’s offense is going to miss him badly.

Written by Todd Boss

April 29th, 2014 at 10:31 am

Pujols 500th home-run ball haul: enough?

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Too bad he probably goes into the HoF in an Angels uniform.  Photo: unknown via fantasyknuckleheads.com

Too bad he probably goes into the HoF in an Angels uniform. Photo: unknown via fantasyknuckleheads.com

As I watched soon-to-be-demoted-as-soon-as-Doug-Fister-can-return-please-hurry-back Taylor Jordan give up the second moon-ball home run to Albert Pujols on the night, I thought to myself, “wow, I wonder what i’d hold out for if I caught his 500th home run?”

Here’s the answer, thanks to Scott Allen and the DC Sports Bog on WP.  The guy who caught the ball is giving it back to Pujols for … nothing.

Now that I have a kid, I’m sure i’d want some cool stuff for his memory books.  I’d at least want a custom-message signed ball (that’s my goal one-day, to head up to cooperstown with a bunch of 50s and 100s in my pocket and hit the circuit of Hall-of-Famers on the signature series for custom-signed baseballs).   In total, I’d probably settle for some signed jerseys and baseballs and what not.  I mean, hey, that ball may have been worth thousands on the auction market, but its better karma to just return it to the hitter, right?

Oh, and since this is a Nationals blog, supposedly focused on pitching, all I have to say about this team can be summed up in some bullet-points for now:

  • 6.23: that’s Jordan’s current ERA.  And unlike Strasburg‘s “unlucky” high ERA (Stras’ FIP is a miniscule 2.58, the best on the team, proof of why you should probably ignore both ERA and ERA+), Jordan’s clearly not an effective starter right now.  I think the 5th starter competition is over, especially after Tanner Roark‘s excellent outing the night before … which was completely wasted by…
  • Tyler Clippard, who may not have bad numbers so far but boy he has struggled.  You just can’t have a 1.5 whip as an 8th inning/high leverage guy.  Maybe its time to switch him and Drew Storen in the bullpen pecking order (you know, since so far he looks basically unhittable, giving up just 2 baserunners in 7 1/3 innings).
  • 8-1: that’s the Nats record against crummy teams.
  • 3-9; that’s the Nats record against “good” teams so far.  I sense a pattern.

I’m kind of concerned right now.  It doesn’t really help that the teams’ #2 and #4 hitters from opening-day are on the D/L.  But it also doesn’t help that, once again, Mike Rizzo‘s vaunted “lead-off” hitter Denard Span is barely batting above the frigging mendoza line yet continues to be plugged in at lead-off, where he can maximize the damage he does to run expectancy as he scuffles along with his sub .300 OBP.  How long before Matt Williams just sticks him at the #8 spot where he should have been most of last year and starts using hitters at lead-off who can, you know, hit?

 

 

Nationals 2014 Walk-on music review

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At the home opener, when Nate McLouth came to bat we were stopped in our tracks by his walk-up music: “Kyrie” by 80′s band Mister Mister.  My wife and I immediately thought this was a rather odd choice.

It made me wonder: should we critique every one of the Nats’ batter’s walk-up songs?  Of course we should!

Thankfully, the team lists each player’s 2014 walk-up music for us on their official MLB.com page.  And, here’s some research by fellow blog DistrictSportsPage on this year’s walk-up songs (and 2013′s walk-up songs) for comparison purposes (note; the official website list isn’t accurate according to those actually listening to and Soundhounding the songs).

Here’s some thoughts on each player’s selection (we’re only going on their primary/1st at bat selection).  We’ll list this in the rough batting order and then tack on the bench guys.  And I’ll give my personal, baseless, unscientific “grade” for the song from a crowd-involvement and song-selection standpoint.

Starters

  1. Denard Span: “Gotta Have It” by Kanye West/Jay-Z.  Fitting song to start; last year he used a selection of hip-hop songs, but not really a big crowd involver.  Grade: D
  2. Bryce Harper: “Flower” by Moby.  A repeat from last year.   Interesting selection for the young Harper; he doesn’t seem to be the typical Moby fan, but the song is catchy and unique.  He also uses a slew of different songs from many other genres for subsequent at-batss.  Grade: B-
  3. Ryan Zimmerman: “This Is How We Do It” by Montell Jordan.  His 2014 actual song differs from the official website; I like this pick.  A familar song, if not a big sing-along song.  Grade: B-
  4. Adam LaRoche: “The Only Way I Know“ by Jason Aldean and Eric Church.  Also fitting; LaRoche is a ranch-owning, game-hunting good ole-boy.  And he’s buddies with the singer Aldean.  So he continues to use his songs as he did in 2013.  Grade C+
  5. Jayson Werth: “Warehouse“ by Dave Matthews Band.  This is the crowd-favorite where everyone calls out, “Wooh!” after each interlude.  Of course, I can’t figure out where in the song that occurs from the video.  Werth also uses “Werewolves of London” periodically (of course).  Brilliant.  Grade: B+
  6. Ian Desmond: “One Sixteen“ by Trip Lee (feat. KB & Andy Mineo).  Does not seem fitting for him, but clearly he likes this genre of hip-hop/rap since his alternates from last year are by and large the same kinds of songs.  Unfortunately for Desmond I’m a middle-aged white guy and can’t stand modern hip-hop.  Grade: D
  7. Anthony Rendon: “No Competition“ by Bun B. Feat. Raekwon & Kobe.  Eh.  Don’t like it, don’t get it.  I will say this: I liked his song from last year moreso (“Still D.R.E.“ by Dr. Dre/Snoop Dogg, which you’d recognize if you ever saw the movie Training Day).   Grade: D
  8. Wilson Ramos: Wepa“ by Gloria Estefan.  I’m not sure if he’s still using this (its a holdover from 2013) since he got hurt so quickly, but its got a good dance beat and latino flavor.   No offense to Lobaton’s selections, but lets hope we’re hearing more Gloria Estefan sooner than later.  Grade: B.

Bench Guys

  • Nate McClouth: “Kyrie” by Mister Mister.  Man, I’m sorry. I know Michael Morse made retro 80′s songs hip with his selection of “Take On Me” (by the way, being in the stadium when 40,000 people were “singing” gave me goose-bumps that I still get thinking about it to this day), but this song is awful.  You gotta find something else.  How about some Kenny Loggins or the Top Gun theme, if we’re stuck in the 80s?  Grade: F
  • Danny Espinosa: “Outside“ by Staind.  Big fan, especially after his 2013 choice as well (from Cage the Elephant).  Grade: B
  • Jose Lobaton: “Mi Chica Ideal“ by Chico & Nacho.  Fast, catchy.  Can’t argue with it.  Grade: B
  • Kevin Frandsen: “Snow (Hey Oh)by Red Hot Chili Peppers.   You’ve heard this song, even if you have no idea who RHCP is (hint: they were a serious underground 80s sensation but are now totoally mainstream and played the Superbowl Halftime show this year and actually wore clothes!)   I like it; even if it seems a bit slow-paced.  Grade: B-
  • Tyler Moore: “Drivin’ Around Song by Colt Ford feat. Jason Aldean (at least according to the Nats website; he hasn’t had a home AB yet).  We see Moore’s heritage here; Mississippi born and bread.  Loves his country music.  Grade: C
  • Scott Hairston: “Blue Sky“ by Common.  Not my cup of tea; not really a crowd-engager either.  Grade: D
  • Sandy Leon: I have no idea; has anyone seen an at-bat by him yet?  They never got his song from last year either.  Grade: Inc

What would I use as walk-up music?

Not that I’ve ever thought about this in my life or anything.  But i’d definitely go with something from my head-banging days in high school.  I (fortunatley or unfortunately depending on your point of view) grew up in the 80s, so we listened to glam rock, heavy metal and the like.  I’d probably go with one of these three options:

  • “Home Sweet Home” by Motley Crue (who is on their farewell tour this summer; tickets going fast!)
  • The Final Countdown” by Europe (simply because this is a huge running joke amongst my friends and my wife and I)
  • Something harsh from Metallica.  I’d have to do some digging for a good riff that wasn’t already taken by someone more famous like Mariano Rivera.  :-)

 


I’m tempted to do this same analysis for the pitchers … and maybe I will.  But for some reason “walk on” music for pitchers isn’t as meaning ful.  Well, except for Tyler Clippard‘s epic “Peaches” walk-up song by the Presidents of the United States a few years back.  Ok, we’ll do a part-2 of this post for the pitchers…. stay tuned.