Nationals Arm Race

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

Archive for the ‘dustin pedroia’ tag

Ask Boswell 9/9/13 Edition

12 comments

Haren continues to make friends in Washington.  Photo nats official via espn.com

Haren continues to make friends in Washington. Photo nats official via espn.com

With the NFL kicked off and Washington set to return to hits sports normalcy (95% redskins, 5% for the rest of the town’s sports), Tom Boswell did  his weekly chat on 9/9/13.  Lets see if he took any baseball questions:

As always, I write a response here before reading his, and edit questions for clarity:

Q: I guess they should have traded Haren; Oh Well.

A: If Mike Rizzo got any sort of viable offer for Dan Haren after he passed through waivers, then  yeah I’d be pretty irritated right now.  The “rumors” were that he was asking for a ton in terms of prospects; but who knows if anonymous GM quotes are reliable.   But this is also quite a bit of hind-sight is 20/20; you can’t know if Haren’s going to continue to be good or if suddenly he’s going to fall off a cliff.  If any player struggled, hit the D/L, returned and then was great 4 starts in a row, i’d also have thought to myself, “hey, that D/L trip fixed him!”  I’m not going to kill the Nats management over not moving Haren post-trade deadline, other than to say this: the entire organization has been in denial for MONTHS about this team, its construction, its manager, its makeup and its capabilities.  I’m on record saying there should have been a managerial move long before it came to where we are today.   That is the bigger problem with this organization.  Boswell seems to be less forgiving than me; he calls this one of Rizzo’s worst moves.

Q: Should the Nats just shut down Harper at this point?

A: No, not unless there’s a medical reason.  Bryce Harper came back home to  have a hip analysis and it looks like a couple of games.  If there was something deeper, this organization (which has clearly shown itself to be medically conservative) would absolutely make a move.   Boswell has a different take, clearly criticizing Nats management for bungling several injury recoveries this year.  Hmm.

Q: NL Central predictions?

A: St. Louis wins it with their home-heavy schedule running in, Cincinnati uses a ridiculously easy schedule heading in to claim the WC home game and Pittsburgh still wins 90 but has to go to  Pittsburgh and loses the coin flip game.  Boswell just says that the Nats aren’t going to make it.

Q: How much do you attribute the Nats decline this year to poor medical management? For some reason, they continue to let Harper self-manage. And now the LaRoche weight loss issue.

A: There’s definitely some odd things going on medically with this team, and have been all year, but I blame the bulk of this team’s troubles primarily on three factors:

  1. Too much clubhouse chemistry damage; adding a cancer in Rafael Soriano, removing fun loving respected vets Michael Morse and Mark DeRosa, and really leaving the team leaderless in some aspects.  Ask yourself: who is the “leader” of the offense?  Of the pitching staff?  There’s no Dustin Pedroia on this team; a guy who is vocal and loud and rallies the troops; the long term contract vets on this team aren’t leaders, and guys like Harper clearly aren’t generating the respect he deserves in his own clubhouse (as evidenced by the beanball war with Atlanta and nobody stepping up to get his back).
  2. Offense: The bench offense just falling apart, along with key guys (Adam LaRoche) just not coming close to performing like he did in 2012 and Denard Span really failing to be the guy we thought he was going to be.  Oh, and Davey Johnson really failing to react soon enough to make changes.
  3. The starters really taking a step back with no roster coverage, with Haren really, really hurting the team (they are now 9-18 in his 27 starts).

Boswell says the Nats have an explanation for every medical issue that has arisen.

Q: Does Strasburg have a composure/maturity problem?

A: This goes back to the whole meltdown Stephen Strasburg had earlier in the season when Ryan Zimmerman threw a ball away; the most recent issue was the Chicago Cubs game when a tough grounder to short wasn’t converted into an out by covering-man Anthony Rendon and he promptly gave up a 3-run bomb.

I think I’d answer two ways: First yes I think he needs to work on keeping his emotions in check on the field.  But Secondly, pitchers have an absolute right to be upset when they work a hitter to hit his pitch, get the grounder he wants and a guy who shouldn’t even been playing SS throws the ball away.  Boswell makes a good point; he’s only 25.  He’s still young.  But yes he still has a ways to go.

(Note: I did not see the 2-balk game, nor read about it.  That was the genesis of this question.  If the questioner meant to ask, is Strasburg mentally focused enough?  Then I’d probably say, not yesterday!)

Q: Athletics or Rangers?

A: Tough call with Oakland vs Texas; I’d go Oakland.   As does Boswell.

Q: Nats are 65-51 in games not started by Haren: wouldn’t even a .500 or a little better starter have put the Nats in contention?

A: Possibly.  Assume you replace Haren’s 9-18 team record with a 5th starter who guided the team to a 13-13 record in his games; that’s only 4 games more in the Win column, pushing them from 73-69 to 77-65.  That’s still outside the division and outside the wild-card.  But you’re closer.  Boswell basically does the same logic.

Q: Is Ryan Zimmerman’s abdominal surgery part to blame as well as his shoulder?

A: Possibly; it isn’t hard to see a direct link between the drop of Ryan Zimmerman‘s UZR/150 numbers and his surgeries.  They both happened the same instant.  Boswell embarrasses himself by saying to ignore the fangraphs numbers.  Sorry; stats are stats; Zimmerman just made his 20th error of the season, by itself indicative of nothing but a clear indicator of what he’s done to the team this year.

Q: Do the Nationals tweak for 2014, or do they need to make big changes in the roster. What do you think of these predictions: LaRoche becomes an expensive bench player, Span and Gio traded.

A: Reactions to these predictions?  Ridiculous, more ridiculous and ridiculously ridiculous.  LaRoche is Rizzo’s buddy; he’s going to play 1B.  Span‘s value is nearly nothing right now, despite his 19 game hitting streak, why trade someone who’s worth nothing when you can keep him on the cheap and see if he regains his hitting stroke?  If not, trade him for nothing next year.  Lastly; go look at Gonzalez‘s contract for the next 4  years and tell me who we get in return that gives us that kind of value?   And if you trade these three guys, who’s playing 1B, CF and #2 starter??  Why even take this question?

Larger question: Tweaks or major changes for 2014?  I think you’re looking at tweaks.  Basically the entire team is signed through next year.  They thought this was a winner this year.  I’m sure Rizzo’s ego will continue to tell him its a winner next year.  Absolute worst case for the next 12 calendar months for Nats fans: team starts hot next spring, fades slowly, slowly but stays a few games out of WC through the trade deadline, then falls apart after the point at which we could move all these expiring contracts for prospects.  Boswell says tweaks, though a new SP is needed.

 

MVP Races getting interesting…

leave a comment

I usually don’t do post-season award analysis until, well, the post-season.  But this year the MVP races seem like they could end up being really interesting.  So lets take a look at who’s in the hunt.

The MVP candidates year in and year out generally are chosen by the voters using these criterion (fair or not):

  1. Best player on the Best teams
  2. Outstanding performances from players on non-playoff teams.
  3. Generally position players, except in a year when no position player really stands out.
  4. East Coast Bias.

I’m not going to get into an argument about whether the “MVP” means the “best player” or “most valuable” here.  I’ll leave that to the multitude of other people who can’t get over this distinction.  For me, the “MVP” still is a subjective award not entirely driven by the guy with the best WAR on the season.  There are plenty who cannot get over the fact that Mike Trout had s uch a fantastic statistical season last year and didn’t win the MVP.  Not me; I don’t see how you can be the “MVP” of a league when your team finishes 20 games out of first.

If the season ended today, your 5 playoff teams per league would be:

  • NL: Divisional Winners Atlanta, Pittsburgh, Los Angeles with St. Louis and Cincinnati meeting in the wild card game.
  • AL: Divisional winners Boston, Detroit and Oakland with Tampa Bay and Texas meeting in the wild card game.

The NL playoff picture seems mostly set; the two wild card leaders have a decent lead on Arizona that seems, well not insurmountable but surprisingly strong.  The AL picture is a bit more unsettled; lots can still  happen in the AL East, and there’s three teams within 4.5 games of the wild card right now (Cleveland, Baltimore and Kansas City).  And that’s to say nothing of the Yankees, who are in the hunt but seem more of a sideshow these days than a contender.

So, using these guidelines, lets look at the leading players that are likely to be in the MVP race.  All stats are as of 8/10/13.  Per team, lets look at the “leading” player both statistically and “honorarily.”

Lets start with the NL:

  • Atlanta: Andrelton Simmons leads the team in bWAR, with almost all of it coming on the defensive side of the ball.   He’s hitting .243 and your voter base just doesn’t have an appreciation for defensive exploits just quite yet.  Justin Upton started out scorching hot and still has great stats on the year, but has cooled so significantly that I don’t believe Atlanta has an MVP candidate.  They have 4-5 really solid hitters and solid pitching driving them to their divisional title.
  • Pittsburgh: it begins and ends with Andrew McCutchen, a serious leader for the award right now.  He’s tied for the league lead in bWAR and is having an outstanding season.  Starling Marte has broken out this year but nobody denies that this is McCutchen’s team.  Pedro Alvarez leads the NL in homers but is otherwise good, but not great, in other offensive statistics.
  • Los Angeles Dodgers: Yasiel Puig leads the team’s hitters in bWAR while taking the league by storm, but he’s only slightly ahead of Hanley Ramirez, who is having a relatively quiet break through season.  But neither guy has played in half the team’s games, leaving a lot of pundits to call for Clayton Kershaw, who is tied with McCutchen for the NL lead in bWAR to get MVP votes.  While I don’t advocate this scenario, it would not surprise me to see Kershaw win the Cy Young and get a top-5 MVP finish.
  • St Louis: Yadier Molina continues to be the transcendent catcher in the NL and is the “spiritual leader” of the Cardinals, but he has gone down with injury and may be losing MVP steam.  He no longer even leads his own team in bWAR (Matt Carpenter does), but remains a good candidate.
  • Cincinnati: the obvious candidate here is Joey Votto, But something seems like Cincinnati’s scuffling as of late combined with the flashier candidates out there will lead to Votto getting votes but not the award.

Other NL Candidates to consider:

  • Arizona’s Paul Goldschmidt is in the top-10 in league bWAR for the Diamondbacks, but unless this team makes a huge run to the playoffs he’s merely going to be a top-10 vote getter.
  • Milwaukee’s Carlos Gomez is tied for the league lead in bWAR, but his streakiness and his team’s place in the standings is going to make it tough for him to get anything other than a top 10 finish.
  • New York‘s David Wright is also putting together a great season, sitting in the top 10 in league bWAR almost entirely on the back of his bat (surprising given his prowness at third).  As with Gomez, the Mets position in the standings hurts him badly.  And his recent D/L trip (which seems like it may end his season) ends his chances.

My opinion of the NL voting right now: McCutchen, Kershaw, Molina, Votto, Gomez.


Over in the American league, the playoff situation may be murky, but the MVP race is pretty straight-forward.  There is a lot to shake out in terms of the playoff positions and the candidates from those teams don’t seem to stand out as much.  But as with 2012, there are two leading MVP candidates and we seem set to have the same arguments this year as last.  But lets go team by team:

  • Boston is being led by their two best players, Jacoby Ellsbury and Dustin Pedroia.  They are both top-10 in bWAR and are having excellent seasons.  Voters likely won’t be able to tell between them and they’ll split the vote with both guys getting top-10 MVP seasons.
  • Detroit: Is there any question?  Miguel Cabrera, who despite negative defensive bWAR is leading the AL.  Max Scherzer will get serious Cy Young consideration but not MVP votes, not with Cabrera and other candidates.
  • Oakland: Jody Donaldson has become the latest “who is that?” player that Oakland has found to drive them to a pennant in a division they have no business competing in.  But east-coast bias and lack of star-power will work against him.
  • Tampa Bay: It has to be Evan Longoria, once again, the face of the franchise.  But as with year’s past, he’s toiling in relative obscurity in front of half the fans that should be supporting a team this good.  And a lot of credit will go towards Wil Myers‘ call-up, taking away Longoria votes.
  • Texas: the story of Adrian Beltre‘s career; he’s a darn good player and nobody gives him enough credit.  Texas has shed many of its name players over the past few seasons, but Beltre continues to provide great value on both sides of the ball.  The transcendant player on Texas this year is Yu Darvish, who will struggle in the Cy Young race (subject of anohter post).

Other AL Candidates to consider:

  • Baltimore may very well sneak into a WC slot as they did last year, entirely on the backs of two guys.  Chris Davis is having a great power season while Manny Machado is having a historic 20-year old season in general.  Both guys have top-10 bWAR seasons and, as with the Boston guys, may split votes here.  Machado in particular looks like he’s already put himself in the “Trout-Harper” discussion for most transcendent young player in the game.
  • Los Angeles Angels: Here we go again.  Mike Trout has put “sophomore slump” naysayers to shame, posting as good or better numbers across the board in 2013.  Interestingly, Trout’s defensive component in 2013 is significantly hurting him whereas in 2012 it gave him a huge boost; his defensive component in bWAR is actually *negative* for 2013.  A topic for another day, the ridiculous swings we see in defensive advanced stats.  In any case, as with 2012 I think Trout’s team’s underperforming will hurt him and he will lose out again.  It is what it is.

My opinion of the AL voting right now: Cabrera, Trout, and then I have no idea.  Right now I’d probably go Machado, Ellsbury and Davis.

 


There’s still a lot of season to go, so lots could still happen. But I’m putting early markers on McCutchen and Cabrera. Both well deserved.

One Team Hall of Famers: a dying breed?

3 comments

Chipper Jones at his retirement game.  Photo via lostthatsportsblog

Chipper Jones at his retirement game. Photo via lostthatsportsblog

I was listening to a podcast this past weekend and the host mentioned something in passing related to Chipper Jones being the last of a dying breed: one-team Hall-of-Famers.  In the modern age of free agency, we’re seeing iconic players such as Albert Pujols (and in other sports lately, Paul Pierce and Peyton Manning) switch teams mid-to-end of their careers and sullying their legacy in their original city.

It got me thinking: who in baseball right now are the best remaining chances of guys being one-team Hall of Famers?

Using the Current Baseball-Reference Active career WAR leaders as a guide to finding players (and using Baseball Prospectus’ Cots Salary database to quote contract years), lets take a look.  The players are listed in descending order of total career WAR.  The first few names are obvious.  Then there’s a group of younger guys who have yet to play out their arbitration years and who could easily jump ship and sign elsewhere in free agency; i’ll put in a complete WAG as to the chances of the player staying with one team their entire career.

Hall of Fame Locks and Likelys

1. Derek Jeter, New York Yankees.   100% likelihood he retires as a Yankee, and 100% likelihood of being a first ballot hall of famer.

2. Mariano Rivera, New York Yankees.  As with Jeter, he’s 100% to retire as a Yankee (having already announced his retirement) and should be a first ballot hall of famer as inarguably the best late-inning reliever the game has known.

3. Yasiel Puig, Los Angeles Dodgers.  Just kidding.  Come on, you laughed.

4. Joe Mauer, Minnesota Twins.  Its hard to envision someone being more of a franchise player than Mauer; born in Minnesota, High School in Minnesota, 1st overall draft pick by the Minnesota Franchise.  Massive contract with full no-trade through 2018.  I think Mauer will be a Twin for life.   Hall of Fame chances?  Looking pretty good; already has an MVP and has a career .323 BA for a catcher, pretty impressive.

5. Robinson Cano, New York Yankees.  He’s about half way through his career, but his numbers and accolades keep piling up.  Pretty soon we’re going to look up and he’s going to have 400 homers and a career BA above .300 as a 2nd baseman with a slew of top 5 MVP finishes, and we’ll be asking ourselves where Cano ranks in the pantheon of baseball 2nd basemen.  Here’s the canonical list of 2nd basemen elected to the hall of fame in the last 50 years: Roberto AlomarRyne Sandberg, Rod Carew and Joe Morgan.  Do you think Cano belongs there?  Now, will Cano stay a Yankee?  We’ll soon find out: he’s just played out his two option years and has not been extended.  Are the Yankees preparing to let him walk?

6. Justin Verlander, Detroit Tigers.  He’s struggled this year as compared to his typical lofty achievements, but he already owns the career trifecta of awards (RoY, MVP, Cy Young).   He’s signed through 2019 with a 2020 option, at which point he’ll be 37.    He probably won’t get to 300 wins but he could broach 250 with excellent career numbers.  Will he stay with Detroit?  It seems like a safe bet.

Honorable Mentions: Juston Morneau: early numbers supported it, but he has aged fast.  Update 9/1/13 traded away from Minnesota in a waiver-wire deal; no longer eligible.

 

Borderline Hall of Fame Guys

1. Todd Helton, Colorado Rockies.   He turns 40 in August, has played his entire career with Colorado and is in the final year of a two-year deal.  His production has vastly tailed off the last two years and I can’t see him playing again after this season.  But, we haven’t heard any retirement news either, so I wonder if he’s going to be one of these one-teamers that tries to play one season too long.  Chances of Hall-of-Fame:  33%.   I think he’s going to have the same issues that Larry Walker is having; despite a career 134 OPS+ his home OPS is nearly 200 points higher than his road OPS, and I think writers will believe him to be an offensive juggernaut borne of Denver.

2. Chase Utley, Philadelphia Phillies.  He’s struggled with injuries four seasons running now, but otherwise has great career offensive numbers for a 2nd Baseman.  Even if he gets healthy, he may fall short of the Hall of Fame for similar reasons to those of Jeff Kent.   And, Utley doesn’t have an MVP.  However, Utley may be falling off this list because his name is prominently mentioned in trade-rumors if the Phillies decide to sell.

3. David Wright, New York Mets.  He’s in his 10th season with the Mets and is signed through 2020, so his chances of being a career one-teamer seem high.  Not 100% though; He’ll be 37 at the end of this deal and may want a couple more seasons; will he be productive enough and stay healthy enough to earn another short-term deal that late in his career?  Is he trending towards the Hall of Fame?  Probably not; he’s got plenty of All Star appearances, Gold Gloves and Silver Sluggers but relatively little MVP love.  In this respect he needs his team to be better.

4. Jimmy Rollins, Philadelphia Phillies.  Rollins is the subject of a long, long running joke amongst my close friends.  One die-hard Philly fan made his argument that Rollins was a sure-fire Hall of Famer, and the rest of us mocked him for being such a homer.   In reality, his Hall of Fame case likely ends up being really debatable.   He has a smattering of career accomplishments but not nearly as many as (say Barry Larkin, the most recent elected SS).   Now, does Rollines remain in Philadelphia?  Probably; he’s signed through 2015, at which point he’ll be 37.  I can see Philadelphia keeping him on board with a 2 year deal at that point.

 

Too Early to tell Guys

1. Felix Hernandez, Seattle Mariners.  Signed through 2019 for just absolutely ridiculous money (he’ll make $27M in the year 2019).  Of course, he’s just 27 now so he’ll still have some career left by then.  Will he stay in Seattle?  A good bet.  Will he continue to look like a hall-of-famer?  Also a good bet, despite his velocity loss.   But like any other guy who’s only 27, its hard to project 10-15 years down the road, especially for pitchers.

2. Dustin Pedroia, Boston Red Sox.  Pedroia doesn’t seem like a guy who is mentioned in the same breath as hall-of-famers, especially when compared to Cano above.  But here’s what Pedroia has that Cano doesn’t: A Rookie of the Year award AND an MVP award.  Pedroia has bounced back in 2013 from a couple of injury-plagued years and has put him self back in position to gain MVP votes if Boston makes the post-season.  Will he stay in Boston?  Seems like hit; he seems like a classic career Red Sox Captain-in-the-making.

3. Ryan Braun, Milwaukee Brewers.  Great production, career accolades, signed to a long-term deal for a mid-market team.  He has all the makings of being a classic one-team Hall of Famer …. except for the small fact that he’s a) already tested positive for banned substances and b) is becoming public enemy #2 (behind Alex Rodriguez) because of his arrogance in being caught up in the Biogenesis scandal AFTER beating the testing rap.  He could win 3 more MVPs and I don’t see him making the hall-of-fame until some veteran’s committee 75 years from now posthumously puts in all these PED cheaters of the 90s and today.

4. Evan Longoria, Tampa Bay Rays.   He’s signed with options through 2023.  He’s always on the short list of the best third basemen (offensively and defensively) in the majors.   He’s already had a series of all-time highlight moments in his career.  But from a cumulative accolades stand point, he’s very much lacking.  While he won the 2008 Rookie of the Year award, the closest he’s come to an MVP is 6th, and his 2013 All-Star snub means he’s only appeared in the game 3 times.  I think he’s going to need a run of healthy, strong seasons to really put his name in the HoF mix.

5. Ryan Zimmerman, Washington Nationals and Troy Tulowitzki with Colorado: both guys are here for the same reasons: they are each team’s ”Face of the Franchise” and are likely never going to play anywhere else.   They’re both signed to very long term deals.  In Zimmerman’s case, he’s a local guy.  As for Hall of Fame chances, right now they look very negligible for both players.  Not because they’re not good, but because both are too inconsistently injured to put together the full seasons needed to stay in the minds of all-star and MVP voters.  They are what Longoria is heading towards: injury plagued solid players who are the cornerstone of their teams for a 15 year stretch.

6. Joey Votto, Cincinnati Reds.  Here’s a fun fact: Votto trails our own Ryan Zimmerman in career war despite being a year older.   He’s signed with Cincinnati with options through 2024, at which point he’ll be 41, so he’s almost guaranteed to be a one-team guy.  Will he accumulate enough accomplishments to be a Hall of Famer?  So far so good.  He’s one of the most feared hitters in the league and seems to be getting better.

7.  Matt CainCole HamelsJered Weaver: all three of these guys have nearly identical career WARs, all are signed for relatively long-term deals, all are on most people’s shorter lists of the best starters in the game, and all are between 28-30 right now.   But ironically, I don’t see any of them as hall-of-famer calibre talent when compared to the next small jump up in talent in the league right now (see the next player).

8. Clayton Kershaw, Los Angeles Dodgers.  It is foolish to speculate on the Hall of Fame chances of a 25 year old pitcher.  But Kershaw seems to be a safe bet to sign the largest pitcher contract in history with the nouveaux-rich Dodger’s ownership group, so he could continue to pitch in the cavern of Dodger stadium for another 10 years and start to really approach some hall-of-fame mandate numbers.  Ask yourself this; who would you rather have for the next 10 years, Kershaw or Stephen Strasburg?

 

Summary: In all of baseball, just two HoF one-team locks.   A couple more good bets for being career one-teamers but by no means HoF locks.  So yeah, it seems like the one-team hall-of-famer is going the way of the Reserve Clause.

Possible 2013 WBC Nationals participants?

leave a comment

Harper makes perfect sense to represent the US in 2013 WBC. Photo GQ magazine Mar 2012

I read a quickie piece with some Mike Rizzo quotes from the Washington Time’s beat reporter Amanda Comak on November 11th, 2012 and there was an interesting tidbit at the bottom: per Comak,  Rizzo has not been approached yet about any Washington Nationals participation in the WBC, but would approach each request on a “case-by-case basis” to determine what is in the best interests of the team.  This got me thinking about possible Nats representatives on 2013 WBC teams.

Lets take a quick look at the Nationals representatives on WBC teams from the past, talk about whether its really in the best interests of the team to even let these guys play, and then talk about who may be candidates for the 2013 WBC regardless.

(Note: I’ve added updates highlighted in red since the original 11/21/12 publication date on players mentioned here).

Washington has sent a decent number of players to play in the WBC over the years, with very mixed results for the team’s interests.  In 2006 the team sent seven different players to the inaugural WBC:

  • Luis Ayala for Mexico
  • Chad Cordero, Gary Majewski and Brian Schneider for team USA
  • Ronnie Belliard, Alberto Castillo, and Wily Mo Pena for the Dominican Republic.

The tournament was marred for the team by a blown UCL ligament to Ayala, who had undergone elbow surgery earlier in the off-season but pitched for his home country anyway.  The team did not want Ayala to participate in the inaugural event, did not want him used by the Mexican team, and team officials were “livid” by the injury, which cost Ayala the season and cost the team its 8th inning setup guy.  Ayala recovered to pitch again in 2008 but was never as effective, and was shipped out in 2009 for a PTBNL.  Coincidentally, I suspect the team still harbors some ill-will towards Ayala to this day.  Meanwhile the other two relievers who participated both experienced regressions in form; Cordero’s ERA nearly doubled (from 1.82 to 3.19) from his breakout 2005 season while Majewski’s numbers dipped slightly before he was traded in the big Cincinnati deal of 2006.

In 2009, the team had 5 participants:

  • Pete Orr playing for Canada
  • Joel Hanrahan and Adam Dunn playing for the USA
  • Saul Rivera and Ivan Rodriguez playing for Puerto Rico.

The WBC seemed to energize particularly Dunn, who enjoyed playing in a post-season atmosphere for the first (and only) time in his career.  Nobody suffered any injuries, but Hanrahan in particular may have been affected by his lack of a proper spring training; he posted a 7.71 ERA for the team while losing the closer spot and was shipped to Pittsburgh.  Ironically, Rivera also experienced a huge regression of form, going from a 3.96 ERA in 2008 to a 6.10 ERA in 2009 and was eventually released.

This begs the question; do we even WANT our pitchers playing on this team?  The first two WBCs have shown pretty distinctly that our pitchers have regressed greatly after playing.  This only makes sense: the spring training routines are greatly impacted to play in this event.  We may see a ton of front-office resistance to specific guys (especially those coming off injury) playing in the 2013 event.  Which could affect the eligibility of some specific players for 2013.

Now, which Nats may play for the 2013 teams?  First off, looking at the Nationals 40-man roster, we have become an amazingly heavy USA-born team (we’ll get to non-40man roster players in a moment). Thanks to the Nats big board resource (originated by Brian Oliver and now maintained by “SpringfieldFan”), which has the country of origin for players, here’s a breakdown of the home-country of our current 36 active (as of November 15th, 2012) roster players:

  • USA: 27 (would be 29 if adding in our rule-5 avoidance players)
  • Venezuela: 5 (Jesus Flores, Sandy Leon, Wilson Ramos, Henry Rodriguez, and Carlos Rivero)
  • Cuba: 1 (Yunesky Maya)
  • Columbia: 1 (Jhonatan Solano)
  • Dominican Republic: 1 (Eury Perez)
  • Netherlands (via Curacao): 1 (Roger Bernadina)

As you can see, the massive bulk of our team is USA born, and essentially our entire post-season starting roster was USA born as well.  That doesn’t necessarily mean that these USA-born players will actually play for team USA (Alex Rodriguez played for Puerto Rico despite being born and raised in Miami, and our own Danny Espinosa is eligible to play for Mexico by virtue of his first-generation born in the US status), but almost all of these guys will be up for consideration for the USA team.  And this only accounts for our 40-man players; as we’ll see below there’s plenty of lower-minors players from smaller countries that will participate.

Who from the Nationals franchise may make a 2013 WBC roster?  First off, thanks to James Wagner‘s 11/15/12 NatsJournal post we already know of three WBC participants; Solano is on the Columbian team, minor leaguer Jimmy Van Ostrand is on the Canadian team, and A-ball catcher Adrian Nieto is on the Spanish team.  Curacao qualifies to play with the Netherlands, and I’d guess that Bernadina would make a great choice considering the lack of Dutch players in baseball (Baseball Continuum’s projections agree.  And as of 12/4/12 he’s officially been listed as a Netherlands participant).. Venezuela is already qualified for the main draw and has a relatively strong possible team.  The Baseball Continuum blog posted an early projection of the Venezuelan team and listed Flores as a likely participant (specifically mentioning that Ramos wasn’t considered due to injury recovery; I’d suspect these two players to switch based on Ramos’ recovery and Flores’ awful 2012).   If Henry Rodriguez was healthy i’d guess he would be on that list too, but his season-ending surgery probably precludes his participation.  The Dominican Republic has perhaps the strongest depth and has no need for the recently called up Perez among its outfield depth.  Maya’s defection eliminates him from discussion for the Cuban team.  (12/4/12 update): Chien-Ming Wang has been announced as a member of Chinese Taipei’s team (for the purposes of this article I investigated all 2012 Nats).

Which leaves our large contingent of American players.  A couple of writers have started postulating on these rosters (David Schoenfield‘s very early guess as to a potential USA roster is here, Baseball Continuum’s latest projection is here).  So using these two posts as a starting point, lets go position-by-position and give some thoughts as to who may get some consideration.  Keep in mind the WBC rosters are generally very reliever heavy, since no starter is going to be “allowed” to pitch a complete game in March.

(Note: I’m still considering our Free Agents as “Nats players” for the purposes of this analysis, since this really goes position by position from our 2012 team to find candidates).

  • Catcher: Kurt Suzuki isn’t nearly in the class of the likes of Buster Posey, Brian McCann, Joe Mauer, or Matt Weiters.  There are a ton of quality american backstops right now.
  • First Base: Free Agent Adam LaRoche probably faces far too much competition from the likes of Prince Fielder, Paul Konerko, Adam Dunn, Allen Craig, Eric Hosmer, and Mark Teixeira to make this team.  If it were me, I’d go with Fielder and Teixeira.  But, LaRoche’s great 2012 season and his Gold Glove recognition may get him a spot.  He is a FA though, so i’d guess he won’t commit until he signs and gets the go-ahead from his new team.  Or, perhaps he uses the WBC to showcase himself?  Not likely needed; he should sign long before the WBC kicks off in March.
  • Second Base: Danny Espinosa is a decent player, but not in the same league as  Shoenfield’s projection of Dustin Pedroia and Ben Zobrist.  Brandon Phillips is also in the mix for the team.
  • Shortstop: Ian Desmond‘s breakout 2013 season may get him some consideration.  There’s not a lot of American quality short stops out there.  Troy Tulowitzki is the obvious leading choice (as was Derek Jeter in the first two WBCs), but is he ready to come back from injury?  Looking around the majors there are a couple other possibilities (JJ Hardy, Brendan Ryan, Jimmy Rollins and Brandon Crawford all could be alternatives as well).   I think Desmond’s combination of offense and defense, combined with Tulowitzki’s injury recovery could get him on the team.
  • Third Base: Ryan Zimmerman cannot break the hegomony of David Wright and Evan Longoria right now, even given Longoria’s injury struggles this season.  Chase Headley and David Freese are also in the 3b mix.  12/4/12 update: Apparently Wright is committed, Longoria is out due to injury recovery and Headley “was not asked,” so perhaps Zimmerman is back in the mix.
  • Outfielders: I think Bryce Harper is a natural to make this team, not only on talent but also because of the brand-name recognition (and TV ratings and fan interest) it would generate.  Same goes for Mike Trout.  Otherwise there’s a slew of top-end american players who can man the outfield and they read like the top of the MVP boards: Braun, Kemp, McCutchen, Stanton, Hamilton, and Granderson are all candidates to make this team.  12/6/12 update: Scott Boras has stated that Harper will skip the WBC to focus on his sophomore season.
  • Starters: The two logical Nats candidates to be considered would be Gio Gonzalez and Stephen Strasburg.  But lets be honest; there is no way in hell Strasburg would be allowed to play.  Could Gonzalez make this team?  Given the depth of American starter talent right now (just off the top of my head: Verlander, LincecumCain, Hamels, Halladay, Kershaw, Lee, Weaver, Sabathia, Medlen, and so on) perhaps this will be a selection of attrition moreso than a selection of availability.  So if a number of the older guys on this list beg out, perhaps Gio gets his shot.  The WBC’s location in San Francisco has already lead to Ryan Vogelsong committing to play in his home town, and could lead to other Bay Area players signing up.  I’m not sure any of the rest of our starters are really candidates, given the reputations of the above list plus the reliever-heavy nature of the roster.
  • Relievers: our two most well known relievers (Tyler Clippard and Drew Storen) are possibilities; would the Nats block Storen based on his 2012 injury?  Craig Stammen‘s breakout 2012 season could get him looks, based on the reliever-heavy needs of the team.  Normally Sean Burnett may be in the loogy mix, but there’s better lefty relievers out there AND Burnett’s FA status may lead him to bow out to curry favor to his new team (Schoenfeld lists Burnett as a possible member back in July, before knowing he’s declared free agency).  The question is, would you take Clippard/Storen against the likes of this list of quality american back-of-the-bullpen arms: Kimbrel, Ventors, Marshall, League, Janssen, Papelbon, Hanrahan, Motte, Boggs, Bailey, Reed, and Nathan?  Possibly, considering that a lot of these guys probably bow out.  We’ve sent multiple relievers to each of the past two WBCs and its likely going to be the same thing this year.

Summary: here’s my guesses as to which Nats (and recent ex-Nats) will play in the WBC:

  • Venezuela: Ramos
  • Spain: Nieto
  • Canada: Van Ostrand
  • Columbia: Solano
  • Netherlands: Bernadina
  • Chinese Taipei: Wang
  • USA: Harper, Desmond, Gonzalez, Clippard.  Perhaps Zimmerman and Stammen.

March 2013 update: here’s the post-WBC actual list of participants when all was said and done, helped by  the list of rosters via Wikipedia.  MLB reports that nine (9) Nationals are participating in the classic, though the below list (excluding Wang) totals more.  They’re not counting Solano/Columbia, having lost in the preliminaries.

  • Columbia: Jhonatan Solano (AAA/Mlb in 2012)
  • Spain: Adrian Nieto (low-A in 2012)
  • Canada: Jimmy Van Ostrand (AA in 2012)
  • Italy: Matt Torra, Mike Costanzo (both AAA in 2012, Washington MLFA signings for 2013)
  • Netherlands: Roger Bernadina, Randolph Oduber (high-A in 2012)
  • Chinese Taipei: Chien-Ming Wang (former Nat, non-signed FA for 2013 start of season)
  • USA: Gio Gonzalez, Ross Detwiler
  • Dominican Republic: Eury Perez (3/4/13 addition to DR team)

Boswell Chat 10/31/11: My answers to his Baseball questions

2 comments

Lots of World Series questions from Boswell this time around. Photo unknown via usasportsbettinglines.com

Tom Boswell did his monday morning chat on 10/31 in the wake of the end of an epic World Series and a brutal 23-0 loss by the town’s #1 draw Redskins.  Lets see how many baseball questions he takes…

Questions are edited for clarity and space, and I write my answer before reading Boswell’s.  We’ll only address baseball-related questions.

Q: What do you make of the decision to post-pone game 6 of the World Series so early?

A: The implication being, it never really rained.  Baseball was very quick to do cancellations this year, as we saw when a day game here was cancelled despite it being perfectly sunny outside.  The extra day of rest enabled St. Louis to put Carpenter on the mound for game 7 on a relatively acceptable amount of rest (3 days), a key factor that helped turn the tide.  Meanwhile Texas didn’t take advantage and kept the same rotation they announced at the beginning of the series (a point I made in this space, asking why Holland wasn’t recalled after his game 4 gem).  I understand what MLB was worried about (starting, stopping, rain-delays and losing TV viewership), but the delay ended up affecting the world series in a way that the Rangers can’t be happy about.  Boswell notes that he was in St. Louis, it was barely raining but he supported the decision at the time.

Q: Is St. Louis the “team of the decade,” since they went to three world series to the Yankees and Red Sox’ two?

A: Eh; both St. Louis WS victories were as weaker teams that ran the table in the playoffs.  For me the Yankees are probably the “team of the decade,” with their winning percentage and 90% playoff rate being paramount.  Boswell notes that St. Louis’s A-players are far better than the Nats comparable players, and that we have a long way to go.

Q: Are baseball players overpaid?  (Citing Pujols’ contract demands, Sabathia’s opt-out and Jeter’s $12M/year)?

A: In a game where you can have MVPs on rookie contracts making $450k (Dustin Pedroia) and a large percentage of your team also on league minimums, its hard to say that a player is “overpaid.”  Pujols IS the St. Louis Cardinals; if I were them i’d offer him ownership in the team, since he’s a legacy ball player that will always be as associated with St. Louis as Stan MusialSabathia is just taking advantage of the market; he knows that he can get a few more guaranteed years and more guaranteed money, so why not do it?  Blame the Yankees for giving him that ridiculous opt-out clause in the first place.  Lastly the Jeter contract was NOT about equating pay with performance; it was about the Yankees paying to save-face for their own vast overpayment of Alex Rodriguez when Jeter’s the captain and the clear face of the franchise.  Boswell notes that most FAs show solidarity towards the efforts of their yesteryear colleagues who fought so hard for free agency, and try to push the envelope.

Q: Was Nelson Cruz’s miss on the David Freese triple a Bill Buckner-level gaffe?

A: Not at all; Freese‘s ball hit the fence and was nearly a walk-off homer.  Cruz may not be the best fielder but that was no gimme ground ball (like the one that Buckner missed).  Boswell puts it well; Cruz failed to make an excellent play while Buckner missed an easy one.  No better way to put it.

Q: Was St. Louis’ victory about Karma (and then a long winded, conspiracy theory level email involving the Deckinger blown call)?

A: St. Louis’ victory showed what happens when you put together a very strong 3-4-5, have a couple guys on complete hot streaks, and add a dominant shut-down Ace starter to a good lineup with a deep bullpen.  No matter what the record of the team or how they got into the playoffs, its a crap shoot as to who comes out.  St. Louis went from being out of the playoffs to beating the Phillies within a span of a week.  I hate it when wild card teams win the World Series, because it just validates more and more how the best teams are not being rewarded with post season success.  Boswell notes just how good LaRussa’s teams have been.

Q: Was Lance Berkman’s comment about his batting thought process eye opening in the context of clutch hitting?

A: Not really; Berkman said that he (paraphrased) tries not to think about anything at the plate.  And that’s the key to hitting in general; focus on the pitcher, not the situation or the pressure.  Otherwise you’re distracted at the plate and will be an easy out.  I think the questioner was trying to bat Boswell into a conversation about “clutch hitting,” which can’t really be proven by stat-nerds (so therefore they don’t believe it exists, despite 100 years of experience to the contrary.  Grr).  Boswell didn’t really address the question.

Q: Did Texas “deserve” the world series?

A: Not after blowing leads THREE times in game 6.  The Rangers got everything the deserved there.  Boswell notes, in response to the phrasing of the question, that Dallas has only recently (within the past few years) even had a legitimate “fan base” for baseball.  It is good to see though the area starting to embrace its team.

Q: Thoughts on the way home field advantage is decided for the World Series?

A: Ridiculous.  An exhibition that pulls all its stars after 3-5 innings and lets all-star “scrubs” (which are usually the one-per-team required guys from weaker franchises) decide home field advantage in the World Series.  It was ridiculous that a divisional winning 96-win team didn’t have home field advantage over the barely-eked-into -the playoffs Cardinals.  Either rotate back and forth year to year or give it to the team with the best record each year.  It really shouldn’t be that much more complicated.  Boswell says that he prefers the system stay the way it is except to say that a wild card team can never have home field.

Q: Will the Nationals go after the recently opted out CC Sabathia?

A: I doubt it; I think Sabathia is doing this purely as a procedural move to re-up with the Yankees for a ton more money.  Nobody has reported his having any desire to leave New York.  10/31/11 update; this is confirmed by Sabathia re-upping with the Yankees for 5 years.  Boswell seems to intimate that Sabathia makes sense on a team like the Nats.  Hmm.  Nothing about whether we’d actually go after him.  Then some comments on just how much money Wilson cost himself in the post season.  Agreed.

Q: Was this a better WS since it didn’t have the “best teams money can buy” like in Boston/NY/Philly?

A: I’m not so sure.  Personally I like to see teams be rewarded for superiority over 162 games … but understand the desire of the league to have multiple playoff rounds for TV ratings and excitement.  Boswell says it was a great world series.  In arguable, but not the question.

Q: What do you think of LaRussa’s retirement?  How does Davey Johnson rate compared to TLR?

A: Surprising; we don’t live in the St. Louis market so we don’t get the regular questioning of LaRussa to ascertain whether this was a surprising retirement or not.  I’d rate Johnson relatively close to LaRussa; if Tony is one of the better managers ever, Johnson is still in the upper-calibre grouping.  Boswell says this was a surprise announcement, but not really a surprise since LaRussa has had medical issues of late.  He also notes that this does NOT help the Cards resign Pujols.

Q: Did Boswell save all his “alternative ending” stories and columns that he had to re-write because of some late game heroics or misfourtunes?

A: Boswell says it happens more than you think; he’s had 10-12 blown just in the past few months.  Wow.  He doesn’t save them though.  I agree that they would make for very interesting reading.

Nats should trade for Jacoby Ellsbury

6 comments

Rizzo; go get this guy! Photo Bosoxinjection.com

The Red Sox’s signing of Carl Crawford to a 7yr, $142M contract (a contract undoubtedly pushed skyward by the Nats Jayson Werth deal a few days earlier)  makes for a rather imposing possible Red Sox Lineup in 2011.  Here’s a probable opening day lineup:

  1. 2B Dustin Pedroia (R)
  2. LF Carl Crawford (L)
  3. 1B Adrian Gonzalez (L)
  4. 3B Kevin Youkilis (R)
  5. DH David Ortiz (L)
  6. RF J.D. Drew (L)
  7. SS Marco Scutaro (R)
  8. C Jarrod Saltalamacchia (S)
  9. CF Jacoby Ellsbury (L)

Now, one thing is immediately apparent with this lineup.  They are incredibly lefty-heavy through the heart of their order.  And in a division with CC Sabathia, probably Andy Pettitte and potentially Cliff Lee on their main competitor, this could be rather bad during key divisional games.

Clearly the Red Sox need to get some righty help in the heart of their lineup.  Enter Josh Willingham.

Trade Proposal: The Nats trade Willingham and a decent prospect (perhaps one of our AA pitchers) to the Red Sox for Jacoby Ellsbury.  Crawford slides over to center for Boston, Willingham plays left, and you have Mike Cameron as your late inning defensive replacement outfielder.

Ellsbury is exactly what the Nats need; leadoff center fielder who shows more promise and more self control than our current leadoff/CF Nyjer Morgan.  He lost most of 2010 to injury but in 2009 lead the league in stolen bases and would give us good defense in center per his uzr/150 rankings.  He’s cost contained (not yet arbitration eligible) and we’d control him for at least 3 more years.

Willingham’s approach at the plate fits the Sabremetric-thinking Red Sox; he has a high OBP, sees a lot of pitches and puts up a good OPS when healthy.  He is defensively challenged but left field at Fenway might be the best place in all of baseball to “hide” a crummy defender.  He’d give the Red Sox a righty presence in the middle of the lineup and replace a 9th place hitter with a middle of the order hitter.  He’s in the last year of arbitration but still projects to be relatively cheap (by Boston’s standards), probably earning around $6M/year.  He clearly wants to set down roots and could be a nice 3 or 4-year signing in Boston.

With Willingham, here’s a Potential Boston lineup:

  1. 2B Dustin Pedroia (R)
  2. CF Carl Crawford (L)
  3. 3B Kevin Youkilis (R)
  4. 1B Adrian Gonzalez (L)
  5. LF Josh Willingham (R)
  6. DH David Ortiz (L)
  7. RF J.D. Drew (L)
  8. SS Marco Scutaro (R)
  9. C Jarrod Saltalamacchia (S)

Now they go R-L alternatively for the first 6 hitters, and if Saltamacchia catches or if Varitek gets some ABs they both switch hit and could slot above Scutaro to give even more flexibility.

Who says no first?