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Post-Winter Meeting bonanza; who improved their Rotation the most? Who’s left?

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Lester joins the Cubs revolution. Photo via weei.com

Lester joins the Cubs revolution. Photo via weei.com

(Editor’s Note: sorry for the tardiness on this post: I had it completely written and a WordPress or browser glitch lost 1,000 words of analysis.  So it took a bit of time to cobble back together what I had originally written.  Then the Souza trade hit, then the Cuban thing … and this got pushed).

What a GM Meeting week!  As one of the Fangraphs guys noted, there were so many transactions, so fast, that he literally gave up trying to write individual analysis pieces and went to a running diary of sorts.  I was amazed at the number of significant deals and trades made, especially when it came to starters.  So lets take a look at who shook things up.

Many teams are making big moves (almost the entirety of the the AL it seems) to try to win in 2015.  And many teams have revamped their rotations.  First, here’s a quick run through teams that have made significant acquisitions to their starting rotations (using BP’s Depth Charts page, Fangraphs stats pages and BaseballProspectus‘ page for injury history, Cots at BP for salaries, and of course baseball-reference.com).

Teams who have Improved

  • Chicago White Sox: acquired Jeff Samardzija in Oakland’s fire sale to go with established ace Chris Sale, the highly underrated Jose Quintana.  From there the White Sox have question marks: John Danks is just an innings eater at this point and Hector Noesi was not effective in 2014.  But the White Sox have one of the brightest SP prospects in the game at AAA in Carlos Rodon (their fast-rising 2014 1st round pick) and their former #1 prospect Erik Johnson (who struggled in his debut in 2014 but has a good minor league track record).  So by the latter part of 2015 the White Sox could be a scary team for opposing offenses to face.
  • Minnesota: just signed Ervin Santana to join a rotation containing the rejuvinated Phil Hughes, the decent  Ricky Nolasco and first rounder Kyle Gibson.  If they (finally) call up former Nats 1st rounder Alex Meyer to fill out the rotation and replace the dregs that gave them #4 and #5 rotation spot starts last year, they could be significantly improved.  Of course, the problem they face is the fact that they’re already playing catchup in the AL Central and still look like a 5th place team in this division.
  • Los Angeles Angels: adroitly turned one year of Howie Kendrick into six years of Andrew Heaney, who should thrive in the big AL West parks.  If the Angels get a healthy Garrett Richards back to go along with the surprising Matt Shoemaker, they may have a surplus of decent arms being stalwards Jered Weaver and C.J. Wilson.
  • Miami has spent some cash this off-season, but they’ve also gone shopping and upgraded their rotation significantly.   After acquiring the decent Jarred Cosart at the trade deadline, they’ve flipped bit-players to acquire Mat Latos, added Dan Haren and a $10M check  while parting ways with the unproven youngster Andrew Heaney, and should get ace Jose Fernandez back by June 1st if all goes well with his TJ rehab.  Add to that Henderson Alvarez and the Marlins look frisky (their new-found depth enabled them to move Nathan Eovaldi to the Yankees).  Rumors are that Haren won’t pitch unless he’s in SoCal, but $10M is an awful lot of money to turn up your nose at.  This is an improved rotation no doubt, and the rest of the Marlins lineup looks good too.
  • New York Mets get Matt Harvey back.  Enough said.  Harvey-Jacob deGrom is one heck of a 1-2 punch.
  • Chicago Cubs: added an ace in Jon Lester, re-signed their own effective starter in Jason Hammel, and will add these two guys to the resurgent Jake Arrieta.  Past that you have question marks: Kyle Hendricks looked great in 2014.  And the Cubs gave nearly 60 starts last year to Travis Wood (5+ ERA) and former Nat Edwin Jackson (6+ ERA).  I could envision another SP acquisition here and the relegation of Wood & Jackson to the bullpen/AAA/scrap heap.
  • Pittsburgh was able to resign Francisco Liriano and get A.J. Burnett for an under-market deal.  This should keep them afloat if they end up losing Edinson Volquez in free agency.   Otherwise they have decent back of the rotation guys and will get back Jamison Taillon perhaps in the early part of the year.  This could help them get back to the playoffs with the anticipated step-back of NL Central rivals Cincinnati.
  • Los Angeles Dodgers said good bye to a stable of starters (Josh Beckett, Chad Billingsly, Kevin Correia, Dan Haren, Roberto Hernandez and Paul Maholm are all either FAs or have been traded away) and signed a couple of guys to go behind their big three of Kershaw, Greinke and Ryu who could quietly make a difference (Brandon McCarthy and Brett Anderson) if they remain healthy.  That’s a bigger “if” on Anderson than McCarthy, who excelled once leaving the circus that Arizona was last year before the management house cleaning and should continue to excel in the huge park in LA.  Were I Andrew Friedman, I’d re-sign at least a couple of these FA guys for 5th starter insurance … but then again, the Dodgers also have a whole slew of arms in AAA that could be their 5th starter.  Or they could just open up their wallets again; there’s still arms to be had.  Nonetheless, replacing 32 Haren starts with McCarthy will bring immediate benefits, and whoever they end up with as a 5th starter has to be better than the production they got last year out of that spot.

Team most improved: likely the Cubs.

What teams’ rotations have taken step backs or are question marks heading into 2015?

  • Boston: after trading away most of their veteran rotation last season, the Red Sox seem set to go into 2015 with this rotation: Clay Buchholz, Rick Porcello, Justin Masterson, Joe Kelly and Wade Miley.  This rotation doesn’t look as good as it could be; Buchholz was awful in 2014, Porcello is good but not great, Masterson the same, Kelly seems like a swingman, and Miley has back to back 3.98 FIP seasons in the NL and will see some ERA inflation in the AL (though not as much as normal since Arizona is a hitter’s park).  But Boston’s entire AAA rotation are among their top 10 prospects, so there’s plenty of depth they could use in trade or as reinforcements. 
  • Detroit: Arguable if they’ve really taken a “step back,” but you have to question their direction.  In the last two off-seasons they’ve traded away Doug Fister, Rick Porcello, Drew Smyly, prospect Robbie Ray and have (seemingly) lost Max Scherzer to free agency so that they can go into 2015 with this rotation: David Price, Justin Verlander, Anibel Sanchez, Alfredo Simon and Shane Greene.   Is this a winning rotation for 2015?
  • Kansas City: They have replaced departing free agent ace James Shields with newly signed Edinson Volquez, keeping newly acquired Brian Flynn and 2014 draft darling Brandon Finnegan in the bullpen for now.  KC is going to take a step back and will struggle to compete in the new super-powered AL Central in 2015, but have a slew of 1st round arms that look like they’ll hit in late 2015/early 2016.  I do like their under-the-radar signing of Kris Medlen though; he could be a very solid addition to their rotation if he comes back from his 2nd TJ.
  • Oakland will have a new look in 2015, having traded away a number of core players.  But their rotation should be OK despite having traded away Samardzija and let Jon Lester and Jason Hammel walk.  Why?  Because they stand to get back two very good rotation members who missed all of 2014 with TJ surgery in A.J. Griffin and Jarrod Parker.  They should re-join the 2014 rotation members Sonny Grey, Scott Kazmir, newly acquired Jesse Hahn and either Jesse Chavez/Drew Pomeranz to form another underrated rotation.  Of course, if these guys have injury setbacks, it could be a long season in Oakland.
  • Texas made a couple of acquisitions, re-signing their own Colby Lewis and trading for Nats cast-off Ross Detwiler (who should fit in immediately as their 4th starter), to go with ace Yu Darvish and recently recovered Derek Holland.  But Texas could significantly improve come mid-season when injured starter Martin Perez should return.  The big question mark for Texas is Matt Harrison, who had to have two vertebrae in his back fused and may not return, ever.   But if Harrison can come back, that gives Texas an opening day 1-5 that’s pretty improved over last  year.
  • Cleveland didn’t exactly have the world’s best rotation in 2014 but has done little to improve it going forward.  They will continue to depend on Corey Kluber, newly minted Cy Young winner to head the line, but then its question marks.  Carlos Carrasco was great in a combo role in 2014; where’d that come from?  He was awful in years prior.  Is Trevor Bauer dependable?  They better hope so; that’s your #3 starter.  They just signed Gavin Floyd after his injury shortened 9-game stint with Atlanta last year; he’s no better than a 4th/5th innings eater.   Is Gavin Salazar ready for prime time?  He wasn’t in 2014.  And there’s little else on the farm; the Indians don’t have a significant starting pitcher prospect in their entire system. 
  • Atlanta: The Braves surprisingly parted ways with Kris Medlen and not-so-surprisingly parted ways with Brandon Beachy, Gavin Floyd, Ervin Santana and Aaron Harang.  That’s a lot of starter depth to cut loose.  They look to go into 2015 with ace Julio Teheran followed by the newly acquired Shelby Miller, the inconsistent Mike Minor, the excellent but scary Alex Wood and under-rated 5th starter David Hale.  That’s not a *bad* rotation … but it isn’t very deep.  They have cut ties with guys who made nearly half their 2014 starts AND the guy who went 10-1 for them in 2012.  They (inexplicably) picked up a starter in Rule-5 draft who had TJ surgery in June; are they really going to carry him that long on the active roster?  They have no upper-end SP talent close to the majors.  If one of these 5 starters gets hurt, Atlanta could be in trouble.
  • Philadelphia: all you need to know about the state of the Philadelphia franchise can be summed up right here: A.J. Burnett declined a $12.75M player option to play for the Phillies in 2015 and, instead, signed for 1  year, $8.5M to play for Pittsburgh.  They will head into 2015 with their aging 1-2 punch of Cole Hamels and Cliff Lee, the former being constantly dangled in trade rumors but going nowhere because the Phillies GM clearly over-values what a guy like Hamels and his guaranteed contract can actually bring back in return in this market.  Past Hamels/Lee there’s a bunch of non-descript names (David Buchanan, the waiver-claim Jerome Williams and the untested Cuban FA Miguel Gonzalez).   Can this team even broach 70 wins?
  • Cincinnati is moving backwards: they’ve traded away Mat Latos for  pennies on the dollar (Keith Law says there’s “make-up issues.”) and moved the effective Alfredo Simon for other bit players.  They’re putting a ton of faith that one-pitch Tony Cingrani will last a whole season and the youngster Anthony DeSclafini (obtained for Latos) will comprise a workable rotation.  They do have a couple of decent prospects at AAA (Robert Stephenson and Michael Lorenzen) but they seem to be accepting that they’re taking a step back.
  • St Louis traded away their least effective starter (Shelby Miller) and acquired the best defensive RF in the game (Jason Heyward).  Not a bad bit of work.  But they now will go into 2015 with a question mark in the rotation; prospect Carlos Martinez will get the first shot and could be good; oft-injured Jaime Garcia is still hanging around, and there’s a couple of good arms in AAA who could matriculate into the rotation via the bullpen as Martinez did in 2014.  It could end up being addition by subtraction (Martinez for Miller) but we’ll see.
  • Arizona has boldly re-made their rotation this off-season, dealing away 2014 opening day starter Wade Miley for a couple of SP prospects and dealing for 6 arms in total thus far.  New rotation may not be flashy at the top (the enigmatic Josh Collmenter is slated for the opening day start in 2015) and is followed by former Tampa pitcher Jeremy Hellickson (traded for prospects), the two pitchers acquired from Boston for Miley in Rubby de la Rosa and Allen Webster and then a cattle-call for the 5th starter competition this spring.  Arizona also ended up with former Nats farm-hand Robbie Ray, still have the highly regarded Archie Bradley waiting for his free agent clock to get pushed out a year, plus 2013’s darling Patrick Corbin coming off of TJ, not to mention Bronson Arroyo coming back from TJ later in the season.  So there’s a lot of arms out there to choose from, eventually.  But getting to Bradley-Corbin-Hellickson-de la Rosa-Webster from where they’ll start will be rough.
  • San Francisco‘s 2015 rotation could be just as effective as it needs to be (after all, they won the 2014 world series having lost Matt Cain mid-season and given the ineffective Tim Lincecum 26 starts).  They seem to set to go with Cain, WS hero Madison Bumgarner, the age-less Tim Hudson, and then with Lincecum and re-signed aging FA Jake Peavy.  This pushes Yusmeiro Petit to the bullpen for the time being and seemingly closes the door on Ryan Vogelsong‘s SF time.  Rumor had it that they were all over Jon Lester… and missed.  So a big acquisition to permanently sent Lincecum to the pen could still be in the works.  SF’s bigger issue is the loss of offense.  But the NL West is so weak they could still sneak into the playoffs again.  I list them as question marks though because Cain might not be healthy, Lincecum could still suck, and Hudson and Peavy combined are nearly 80 years of age.
  • San Diego has completely re-made their offense; do they have the pitching they need to compete?   They signed Brandon Morrow to replace 32 awful starts they gave to Eric Stults last year; that should be an improvement.  But they’ve traded away their 2nd best guy (Jesse Hahn) and are now set to have two lesser starters (Odrisamer Despaigne and Robbie Erlin) compete for the rotation.  The Padres re-signed lottery ticket Josh Johnson (coming off what seems like his millionth season-ending arm injury) and still have TJ survivor Cory Luebke in the wings, possibly ready for April 1st.  Their 1-2-3 of Andrew Cashner, Tyson Ross and Ian Kennedy isn’t that inspiring, but in San Diego’s home park, you don’t have to be Sandy Koufax to succeed.  Have they done enough to compete in the NL West?

Which team has taken the biggest step back?  Clearly for me its Arizona.

Who is left?

Well, clearly the two big FA names are Max Scherzer and James Shields.  Scherzer gambled heavily on himself when he turned down 6/$144M.  Would the Tigers make him a new offer?  Are the Nationals possibly involved (I hope not for the sake of the team’s chemistry; what would it say to players if the Nats jettisoned Jordan Zimmermann so they could give Scherzer $150M?).   He’d make a great fit in San Francisco … who wanted Lester but would get nearly the same great performance out of Scherzer.  Meanwhile Shields could fit in Boston or for the Dodgers to give them the depth they’ve lost.

Past the two big names, you have older guys likely to go on one year deals.  There’s no longer really room for Ryan Vogelsong in SF; he could be a decent option for someone.   Aaron Harang has earned himself a likely 2 year deal as someone’s back of the rotation guy.  Guys like Kyle Kendrick or Joe Saunders could be someone’s starter insurance policy.  And of course there’s a slew of injury guys who are like pitching lottery tickets.  Beachy, Billingsley, and Alexi Ogando all sound intriguing as reclamation cases.

But, once you get past Scherzer and Shields, anyone looking for a big upgrade will have to hit the trade market.  The problem there seems to be this: there’s just not that many teams that are already waving the white flag for 2015.   From reading the tea leaves this off-season, Atlanta is giving up, Cincinnati may be close, Philadelphia has begrudgingly admitted they’re not going to win, Arizona has already traded away its assets, Colorado is stuck in neutral, Oakland may look like they’re rebuilding but they still will be competitive in 2015, and  young teams like Houston and Tampa aren’t giving up what they currently have.  So a GM might have to get creative to improve their team at this point.

Written by Todd Boss

December 22nd, 2014 at 9:24 am

Posted in Majors Pitching

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Nats Starter Matchup Analysis – April 2014

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Strasburg's K/9 is amazing so far in 2014. Photo unk via thewifehatessports.com

Strasburg’s K/9 is amazing so far in 2014. Photo unk via thewifehatessports.com

Ok people, how about getting back to talking some baseball, not arging whether or not we need to fire the manager after 28 games.  :-)

Here’s a monthly feature that I like to do, breaking down the Nats rotation performance and analyzing matchups for the previous month.


Starter “Grades” for the MLB Rotation:

Grade Taxonomy; these are just quick and dirty short hand judgements on the starting stat line for each starter’s performance.   Here’s a rough starting point  for how grades are assigned:

  • Grade A: 6-7+ innings, zero earned runs.
  • Grade B: 6-7 innings, 1-2 earned runs.
  • Grade C: 6 innings, 3 earned runs and run-of-the-mill numbers of walks/hits and strikeouts.
  • Grade D: 4-5  innings, 3-4 earned runs
  • Grade F: 4 or fewer innings, more earned runs than innings pitched.

In each letter grade case, adjustments slightly up or down are made based usually on hits+walks and/or Ks (or lack thereof).   More Ks may push the grade to an N+, a slew of extra hits/walks may drop the grade to an N-, where N is the letter grade division.

(Note: I won’t repeat this each month; it is just for explanatory purposes for the first post of the year in this series).

By way of example; the team had three “A+” outings in April:

  • Strasburg’s 4/10 win over the Marlins.  Line: 6 2/3s, 1 run on 3 hits, 1 walk and 12 Ks.   He gave up the run but 12 K’s pushed him to the A+ rating.
  • Strasburg’s 4/25 win over San Diego: 7 shut-out innings giving up 7 hits and a walk with 11 K’s.
  • Roark’s 4/26 shutout over San Diego: 9 innings, 3 hits, 1 walk, 8 K’s.

Here’s the Letter grades for our Rotation in April: (here’s a quick link to the schedule to see each individual game) along with Key Stats lines for the month:

  • Strasburg: C,D,A+,F,B+,A+.  2-2, 4.24 ERA, 1.412 whip, 2.30 fip, 53/12 K/BB ratio in 34 innings.
  • Roark: C+,D-,C,A-,A+.  2-0, 2.76 ERA, 1.163 whip, 3.43 fip, 26/9 K/BB in 32 2/3 innings.
  • Jordan: A-,D-,F,D,B-/inc: 0-3, 5.61 ERA, 1.636 whip, 4.48 fip, 17/8 in 25 2/3 innings.
  • Gonzalez: A,A,D-,A,C-,C+: 3-1, 3.25 ERA, 1.139 whip, 2.90 fip, 38/13 in 36 innings.
  • Zimmermann: A,F,A-,B,C+,A: 2-1, 3.27 ERA, 1.333 whip, 3.09 fip, 35/8 in 33 innings.

Tanner Roark turned around his slower start and has “won” the 5th starter competition, which extended a month into the season thanks to Doug Fister‘s spring training injuries.  Taylor Jordan’s letter grades bely his crummy overall stats; 0-3 with a 5.61 ERA, a 1.63 whip and a 4.49 FIP.  Lets hope Jordan can get it turned around in Syracuse and provide cover for the next injury.  Gonzalez leads the staff in ERA while Strasburg leads the staff in FIP on the back of his amazing K/9 rate (53 K’s in 34 innings for an astounding 14 K/9 rate, which leads the league right now for qualified pitchers).  Zimmerman keeps on plugging away, mixing in good outings with bad ones; lets look for more consistency from him in May.

I think its rather interesting that our three power arms are all seemingly abandoning the whole “pitch to contact” mantra so far; all of their K/9s are above a K per inning.  And Strasburg’s is just ridiculous.  Do you think maybe Strasburg is tired of his defense throwing away outs and he’s just saying, “I’ll do it myself” to some degree?  I think if I had to rank our own rotation in terms of effectiveness I’d go Gonzalez, Strasburg, Zimmerman, Roark and Jordan.  In other words, almost identically to our rotation order.

The team finishes the month 16-12, on pace for 93 wins, despite the injuries to the offense and the generally awful defense so far this year.


Now here’s some Starting Pitcher Matchup analysis.  I track of the opposing starter the team faces each night and ranked them three different ways:

  • Their Rotation Order intra team: the opening day starter for a team is their “#1” and the other four guys are ranked 2-5 as they appear in the opposing rotation.
  • Their Ranked Performance intra-team: at the time of their series with the Nats, the 5 starters on a team are ranked 1-5 on pure in-season performance.  The guy with the best season stats at that time is ranked #1, the guy with the worst #5.
  • Their Subjective League-Wide “Rank” as a pitcher: a subjective look at whether the opposing starter is a league wide “Ace,” a near-Ace or #2, and the like.

I also kept track on a night-to-night basis a quick opinion on whether I felt the Nats had the Starting Pitching Advantage (or if it was an even-matchup, or if I felt the opposing team had the pitching advantage) and tracked how we did.

Opponent Rotation Order Stats

Starter # Record Opposing Starter in Wins Opposing Starter in Losses
1 4-3 Gee, Fernandez, Weaver, Cashner Teheran (2x), Wainwright
2 4-2 Colon, Wood, Wacha, Cosart Wood, Kennedy
3 3-2 Wheeler, Alvarez, Oberholzer Harang, Lynn
4 1-3 Miller Hale, Richards, Stults
5 2-2 Koehler, Erlin Koehler, Skaggs
5+ 2-0 Hand (2x)

(Note: a “5+” pitcher means a starter who was not on the opening day roster for a team.  We’ll see a ton more 5+’s as more starters go down with injury and are replaced by minor league call-ups).

Not all #1 starters are made the same, nor are #5 starters.  The team actually holds a winning record against opposing team’s #1s and #2s (which you normally do not see), but scuffled against other team’s #4 starters.  Of course, Shelby Miller and David Hale are not ordinary #4 starters, but you’d have liked to have seen wins against the likes of Clayton Richardson and/or Eric Stults.

The team got a great win over Jose Fernandez but lost twice to Atlanta’s ace Julio Teheran.  Not the end of the world, but they need to do better (obviously) against Atlanta pitching.


Opponent intra-Rotation Ranking Stats

Starter # Record Opposing Starter in Wins Opposing Starter in Losses
1 2-4 Fernandez, Cashner Teheran (2x), Wainwright, Richards
2 2-4 Gee, Wood Wood, Harang, Koehler, Skaggs
3 4-1 Colon, Wacha, Koehler, Hand Kennedy
4 4-1 Wheeler, Oberholzer, Miller, Erlin Hale
5 3-2 Weaver, Cosart, Alvarez Lynn, Stults
5+ 1-0 Hand

In other words, the Nats are 2-4 against opposing teams’ best pitcher at the time of the series, 2-4 against the opposing team’s 2nd best performing pitcher at the time of the series, etc.   This is a slightly better way of seeing how the Nats perform against the opponent’s hottest hand at the time.  Notice here that Aaron Harang is given much higher credit for his 2014 performance than his rotation order rank may merit him.

The team (as one would expect) is struggling against the best and 2nd best guys on opponent’s teams, but are beating up on the rest of the rotation.  This is a good sign frankly; you need to win when you go against the other team’s struggling starters.  As the season goes along the team should stabilize and be able to hold its own against the best guys on other teams.


Opponent League-Wide “Rank”

Starter # Record Opposing Starter in Wins Opposing Starter in Losses
1 2-1 Fernandez, Wacha Wainwright
2 1-2 Weaver Teheran (2x)
3 5-2 Cashner, Wood, Colon, Wheeler, Miller Wood, Kennedy
4 3-2 Gee, Oberholzer, Cosart Hale, Lynn
5 2-4 Erlin, Alvarez Richards, Harang, Skaggs, Stults
5+ 3-1 Hand (2x), Koehler Koehler

In other words, the Nats are 2-1 against MLB “Aces,” 2-1 against MLB “near aces” or #2’s, etc.

This table really shows how the team has truly done against the elite pitchers in this league.  We can argue in the comments section about my subjective ranking of pitchers as being #1s, #2s, or whatever.   For comparison purposes with our own team talent-wise, I have Strasburg as a league-wide #1, Gonzalez and Zimmermann as #2s, Fister as a #3, Roark and Jordan as #5s.  Aces are few and far between; you’re far more likely to see a bunch of #4s and #5s on opposing teams.  It is of note that a 5+ starter can be a complete crapshoot; he could be a 4-A pitcher just giving the team innings or he could be the team’s #1 starter prospect and can be as effective as a #2 starter right off the bat.

So far, the team has beaten a couple of aces and had expected losses versus the likes of Adam Wainwright and Teheran.  Slightly concerning is the record against what I consider #5 pitchers in this league, though to be fair Harang and Tyler Skaggs certainly are not pitching like #5s right now.

 


Performace against Expectations by Advantage

By “Advantage” Record Matchups in Wins Matchups resulting in Losses
Wash 10-6 Gio-Colon, Stras-Gee, Stras-Miller, Zim-Oberholtzer, Gio-Cosart, Stras-Erlin, Gio-Alvarez, Stras-Koehler, Zimm-Hand (2x) Stras-Teheran, Zimm-Hale, Zimm-Lynn, Gio-Harang, Zimm-Stults, Stras-Koehler
Even 3-1 Gio-Weaver, Jordan-Wood, Roark-Wheeler Jordan-Skaggs
Opp 3-5 Roark-Fernandez, Roark-Cashner, Gio-Wacha Roark-Teheran, Jordan-Wood, Roark-Richards, Jordan-Kennedy, Jordan-Wainwright

In games where I thought Washington had the clear starting pitching advantage head-to-head, the team went 10-6.   I’ve listed the match ups for each case so you can decide whether we really had the advantage.

In games where I thought the pitching matchup was even, the team went 3-1; this is a good sign.  Three of these four matchups involved Roark or Jordan.

In games where I thought our opponent had the clear advantage heading into the game, the team went an expected 3-5.  Most of these matchup involved either Roark or Jordan.

It is interesting to note that Jordan struggled .. but he also had a number of very tough matchups in April.  He had to go against Alex Wood twice, Ian Kennedy, Adam Wainwright and Tyler Skaggs.   For a guy with just a handful of starts, that was a tough slate of matchups.

 


Per-Starter Matchup Listing:

Nats Starter Opponent Makeup Nats Record under starter
Strasburg two Aces, a #4 and three #5s 4-2
Gonzalez an Ace, three #2s, two #3s 5-1
Jordan an Ace, three #2s and a #5 1-4
Roark three Aces, a #3, a #4 3-2
Zimmermann two #3s, two #4s, two #5+s 3-3
ttl for month: 16-12

So, as discussed above, Jordan has had some tough matchups.  But Roark had to go against three staff Aces in April and still came out with a winning record.  Despite a couple of shaky outings the team was 5-1 when Gio pitched.  Lastly we can see that Jordan needs to be replaced; the team was just 1-4 in his outings and you’d have to think that they wouldn’t have a losing record when Fister throws.


April Conclusion

The Nats have beaten up on weak teams and faltered against good teams.  And it only gets tougher from here; they’ll face Philadelphia’s 1-2-3 in order in early May, then entertain Los Angeles and their two Cy Young winners.  Later on this month they visit the cavernous Oakland stadiums and go up against three different playoff calibre teams in Cincinnati, Pittsburgh and Texas.  Lots of good pitching matchups to be seen.

2014 Rotation Rankings 1-30

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The ace on the best rotation in the game.  Photo: talksportsphilly.com

The ace on the best rotation in the game. Photo: talksportsphilly.com

Last year, with my excitement over Washington’s Dan Haren signing and my supposition that Washington had the best rotation in the game, I ranked all 30 team’s rotations ahead of the 2013 season.  Then, after the season was done, I revisited these pre-season rankings with a post-mortem to see how close (or, more appropriately, how far off) my rankings turned out to be.

Here’s the 2014 version of this same post: Pre-season rankings of the MLB’s rotations; 1 through 30.  Warning; this is another huge post.  I guess I’m just verbose.  At this point midway through Spring Training there’s just a couple of possible FAs left that could have altered these rankings (Ervin Santana being the important name unsigned right now), so I thought it was time to publish.

The top teams are easy to guess; once you get into the 20s, it becomes pretty difficult to distinguish between these teams.  Nonetheless, here we go (I heavily depended on baseball-reference.com and mlbdepthcharts.com for this post, along with ESPN’s transaction list per team and Baseball Prospectus’ injury reports for individual players).

Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Todd Boss

March 10th, 2014 at 9:50 am

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What is the “ceiling” of various Nats pitching prospects? (Updated for 2013)

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Can Giolito live up to his potential? Photo unk via federalbaseball.com

Can Giolito live up to his potential? Photo unk via federalbaseball.com

Two off-seasons ago, I did an analysis piece discussing the “ceilings” of the various pitchers (focusing on starters in the system) on our major and minor league rosters.   That led to some good discussions in the comments about what the definition of a pitcher’s ceiling is, about what a “#3” starter is, etc.

Now that the 2013 season has ended, I thought it’d be a good topic to revisit and factor in recent performances and the last couple year’s worth of player movement in and out of the organization.

This post mostly focuses on the Starters we have in the organization.  There’s no real mention of guys who are already in the bullpen (either in the majors or the minors) unless we have heard rumors of them converting back to being starters at some point or another.


Some setup

What do I mean by a #1, #2, #3, #4 or #5 starter?  With some simple examples (from the 2011 post)

  • A #1 starter is a MLB-wide “Ace,” one of the best 15-20 pitchers in the league, someone who you’re genuinely surprised if he performs badly on a given day, opten mentioned in Cy Young conversations.   Guys like Clayton Kershaw and Justin Verlander.
  • A #2 starter is a  slight step down from your elite “Aces,” but still an excellent starter.  Can challenge for the top awards if they put everything together for a season, but remains consistently above average.   I see guys like Madison Bumgarner, Homer Bailey or James Shields in this category
  • A #3 starter is better than your league average pitcher, someone who is solid, consistent innings eater and who routinely gives you quality starts but not much more than that.   I think of guys like Mark Buehrle, Kyle Lohse, or John Lackey here.
  • A #4 starter is basically someone defined as someone who’s a slight step above the back-of-the-rotation guy, usually a veteran guy who knows how to pitch but doesn’t have the best stuff to really go much beyond or a younger guy who is establishing a foothold of a career.   Good examples from this year could include the likes of Kyle Kendrick, or Edwin Jackson or Bronson Arroyo.
  • A #5 starter is just good enough to fill out your rotation.  Starters at the back end who all you’re hoping for is 6 innings and keeping your team in the game.  Think of someone like Jason Marquis at this point in his career, or Ryan Vogelsong.

For clarity; if your team has three excellent pitchers, it does not mean that a league-wide ace is defined by these standards as a “#3” starter.  When the Phillies big 3 of Roy HalladayCliff Lee and Cole Hamels were all healthy and firing on all cylinders a couple of years back, all three were #1 starters in my book.  Just because Hamels pitched third in the rotation didn’t mean he was a “#3 starter.”

Also before getting going, a quick discussion on “ceiling” versus “predictions” and what I’m trying to do here.  As was pointed out when I posted on this topic in 2011, a pitcher’s “ceiling” is quite literally the highest level of capability that we can expect that pitcher to accomplish given a perfect set of circumstances.   Scouts routinely talk about player “ceilings” and “number X” starters as a convenient way to speak a common language when describing a pitcher.   I like to be a bit more grounded in predicting what may happen to pitchers, so this analysis is less about the perfect-scenario “ceiling” as it is a thoughtful prediction on where a guy may eventually fit in given his talents and his performances as compared to scouting reports and industry buzz.


Updated ceiling predictions for Nats pitchers post 2013 season:

Nationals Starter Ceilings (per scouting reports, personal observations).  I’m not going to include any MLFAs here, assuming that they’re all either 4-A or minor league starters as a ceiling.  I’m also only really going down to full-season ball guys, throwing in a couple of our higher-end prospects.  Its just impossible to really project guys in rookie ball unless you’re a professional scout.

  • #1: Strasburg, Giolito
  • #2: Gonzalez, Zimmermann
  • #3: Cole, Ray
  • #4: Jordan, Roark
  • #5: Detwiler, Solis
  • MLB bullpen: Purke, Karns, Ohlendorf, Garcia, Johansen, Treinen
  • 4-A starter: Hill, Mooneyham, Schwartz, Voth, Meyers
  • Minors starter: Rosenbaum, Maya, Gilliam, Rauh, Anderson, Encarnacion, Bacus, Turnbull
  • Minors bullpen: Perry, Demny, RPena

Discussion:

#1 Starters: Stephen Strasburg is already an “Ace” starter in this league, ranking up among the 15-20 best arms out there.   However he’s no longer considered in the same class as the likes of Kershaw, thanks to injury and a curious lack of dominance this year (have a draft post on this topic that i’ll expand on later).  Lucas Giolito is widely considered the Nats top prospect and an easy future #1 pitching prospect.  Big guy, big arm, and by all accounts has come back post TJ surgery.  The BA guys think that he could be the #1 prospect in the entire minors with another dominant 2014.  How quickly can he move through the minors?  Can he stay healthy?  Right around the time Giolito arrives, the Nats “3 big names” could all be at the end of their current contracts and an interesting conundrum could face the team; keep the band together?  Or let these guys go and re-load/re-build?

#2 Starters: Just as Gio Gonzalez made the leap to a #2 starter with his Cy Young challenging 2012, Jordan Zimmermann has made that leap by virtue of his near-20 win season in 2013.  I believe these two guys can stay as #2 starters for the next few years, until they hit the regression stages of their careers.

#3 Starters:  A.J. Cole has regained his mojo after bouncing around the California league and advanced to AA this year.  He features a significant fastball and but complaints in the scouting world about his secondary stuff lead him to a #3 starter prediction.  I think he should be a #2 ceiling, and perhaps a spring training working with the Nats staff can get him back where we thought he was when we drafted him.  I’m sure picking Robbie Ray to have a higher likely ceiling than his 2013 AA counterparts would be mocked.  But look at the evidence: he’s the same age and same draft class as Cole and has consistently out-performed him when they’ve been on the same team.  He’s lefty, he averaged well over a K/inning this year, and suddenly he’s 22 and he may be “done” with AA.  Why aren’t his credentials higher with prospect-watchers?  It isn’t has if he’s a soft-tosser; he throws decent stuff from the left side.  I continue to think he’ll move along with Cole and they’ll be promoted to the majors within a couple of weeks of each other, perhaps mid 2015.

#4 Starters: If you want to say I’m crazy for thinking that Tanner Roark can maintain his September pace as a starter for this team, I can understand.  I’m not personally convinced that he’s going to be a mediocre 6th inning reliever or continue to be a Kris Medlen-in-2012 anomoly who continues to get guys out.  For now, i’m rooting for the better story.  Meanwhile I’m also not convinced that I have Taylor Jordan pegged properly; I think honestly he could be a #3 pitcher in the league.  This lack of real punch-out capabilities is what’s holding him back for now.  That being said, guys don’t just come up to the majors and post a 3.66 ERA.  For now, a #4 ceiling sounds good.

#5 StartersI’ve come to believe that Ross Detwiler‘s reached his ceiling; his 2012 season is as good as we’re going to see him.  Not because of a lack of talent; its because he just can’t stay healthy.  I’ve seen and heard reports that Detwiler’s stuff is fantastic; that’s great on paper but he just can’t seem to translate that to the big club on a consistent basis.  I would not shed a tear if he headed to the bullpen, other than to think that its a waste of his talents.   I also feel like Sammy Solis will stay as a starter and continue to climb up the ranks, and tops out as a 5th starter just by virtue of his being left handed.  There’s just something to be said about being a lefty with decent stuff being able to hang around the league (think of someone like Eric Stults).  

MLB Bullpen: Right now i’m projecting a whole handful of our good minor league starters to eventually get transitioned to the bullpen.  Which is good and bad; good for this team as they continue to develop arms and continue to have quality guys in the pen.  But bad in that it predicts a severe thinning of the starting pitching corps.  First off, I think the Christian Garcia as starter experiment is over; he needs to focus on being a reliever so that he can stay healthy and contribute.   I believe that Ross Ohlendorf‘s time as a starter is over, but he should slot in nicely as the 7th guy/long-man/spot-starter that this team will need here and there in 2014.  The more I think about Nathan Karns, the more I think he’d make an excellent setup guy.  Big arm, big fast-ball, not really that much secondary stuff.  He got hit hard as a starter; in shorter stints he could dial it up more and focus on his limited arsenal.   Unfortunately I think Matthew Purke may be headed to the pen as well, but his gun-slinger action could make him an excellent later-innings pitcher, perhaps even a closer, if he can translate that to a bit more velocity.  Lastly the reported two biggest arms in the minors (Jake Johansen and Blake Treinen) project for now as bullpen guys.  Again, I hope I’m wrong, but so far the evidence seems to point at big velocity and little else.

What is a 4-A starter?  A guy basically who looks good in AAA but who, for whatever reason, can’t translate that success to the Majors.  They may get a call-up here and there but never pitch well enough to stick.  This is how I see a handful of guys ending up: Brad Meyers has been hanging around this status for several seasons and just can’t get a break.   I’ve also tagged some guys with good numbers in the lower minors but with fringy scouting reports with this for now, thinking that a lack of a dominant fastball means they’ll stay as a starter until they reach their peak.  Taylor HillBlake Schwartz, and Austin Voth all seem to fit this bill.  Lastly the curious lack of dominance of Brett Mooneyham lends me to believe he’ll end up in this predicament as well.  I hope I’m wrong here; I’d love to see these guys take the leap, or (save that) find success in the bullpen.

Career Minors Starter: Unfortunately, I think we’ve seen the best that Danny Rosenbaum and Yunesky Maya can give; they’ve both had shots at a major league roster and couldn’t stay.  I think they’ll retire as AAA starters.  The rest of these guys listed are mediocre-to-decent starters in the system who don’t seem to be listed as true prospects.  I’m specifically disappointed thus far in Kylin Turnbull, who couldn’t make the leap to high A and seems like he needs to make some sort of adjustment in 2014.

Career Minors Bullpen guys: When Ryan Perry passed through waivers off the 40-man roster, his chances of ever making it back to the majors took a huge dent.  Paul Demny‘s precipitous drop this season also seems to spell doom for his career.  And apropos of nothing else, Ronald Pena seems like he has achieved the dreaded “organizational arm” tag.


On the bright side, the top-heavy nature of this list gives fans optimism for the power of this rotation for years to come.  In 3 year’s time (if Giolito, Ray and Cole all matriculate as expected) you’d have two Aces, two #2s and two #3s to choose from for your rotation.  That’s significant, considering that lots of teams are scraping the bottom of the barrel for their 5th starter.  If Ray and Cole turn into servicable major leaguers, you could trade/let go a guy who gets too expensive (Gonzalez or Zimmermann) with an able, cheap replacement.  Maybe I’m too high on Ray and Cole (who are both youngsters) … but then again maybe i’m too low on Jordan and Roark (both of whom have already shown the ability get major league hitters out).

Agree/Disagree/Hate what I’ve written?  I’m open to criticism.

 

2013 Pre-season Rotation Rankings revisited

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Scherzer's dominant Cy Young season brings the Tigers to the top.  Photo AP Photo/Paul Sancya

Scherzer’s dominant Cy Young season brings the Tigers to the top. Photo AP Photo/Paul Sancya

In January, after most of marquee FA signings had shaken out, I ranked the 2013 rotations of teams 1-30.  I was excited about the Nats rotation, speculated more than once that we had the best rotation in the league, and wanted to make a case for it by stacking up the teams 1-30.

I thought it’d be an interesting exercise to revisit my rankings now that the season is over with a hindsight view, doing some post-mortem analysis and tacking on some advanced metrics to try to quantify who really performed the best this season.  For advanced metrics I’m leaning heavily on Fangraphs team starter stats page, whose Dashboard view quickly gives the team ERA, FIP, xFIP, WAR, SIERA, K/9 and other key stats that I’ll use in this posting.

  1. (#2 pre-season) DetroitVerlander, Fister, Sanchez, Scherzer, Porcello (with Alvarez providing some cover).  Scherzer likely wins the Cy Young.  Three guys with 200+ strikeouts.  The league leader in ERA.  And we havn’t even mentioned Justin Verlander yet.  A team starting pitching fWAR of 25.3, which dwarfed the next closest competitor.  There’s no question; we knew Detroit’s rotation was going to be good, but not this good.  Here’s a scary fact; their rotation BABIP was .307, so in reality this group should have done even better than they actually did.  Detroit’s rotation was *easily* the best rotation in the league and all 6 of these guys return for 2014.
  2. (#3 Preseason): Los Angeles DodgersKershaw, Greinke, Ryu, Nolasco, and Capuano (with Fife, BeckettLilly, Billingsley and a few others helping out); The 1-2 punch of Kershaw (the NL’s clear Cy Young favorite) and Greinke (who quietly went 15-4) was augmented by the stand-out rookie performance of Ryu, the surprisingly good half-season worth of starts from Nolasco, and then the all-hands-on deck approach for the rest of the starts.  This team used 11 different starters on the year thanks to injury and ineffectiveness, but still posted the 2nd best team FIP and 5th best fWAR in the league.
  3. (#8 pre-season): St. LouisWainwright, Lynn, Miller, Wacha and Kelly (with Garcia, Westbrook, and a few others pitching in).  Team leader Chris Carpenter missed the whole season and this team still was one of the best rotations in the league.  Westbrook missed time, Garcia only gave them 9 starts.  That’s the team’s planned #1, #3 and #4 starters.  What happened?  They call up Miller and he’s fantastic.  They call up Wacha and he nearly pitches back to back no-hitters at the end of the season.  They give Kelly a starting nod out of the bullpen and he delivers with a better ERA+ than any of them from the #5 spot.  St. Louis remains the bearer-standard of pitching development (along with Tampa and Oakland to an extent) in the game.
  4. (#22 pre-season): Pittsburgh:  Liriano, Burnett, Locke, Cole, Morton (with Rodriguez and a slew of call-ups helping out).  How did this team, which I thought was so low pre-season, turn out to have the 4th best starter FIP in the game?  Francisco Liriano had a renessaince season, Burnett continued to make Yankees fans shake their heads, and their top 6 starters (by number of starts) all maintained sub 4.00 ERAs.  Gerrit Cole has turned out to be the real deal and will be a force in this league.
  5. (#1 pre-season) WashingtonStrasburg, Gonzalez, Zimmermann, Haren, Detwiler with Jordan, Roark and other starts thrown to Karns and Ohlendorf).   Despite Haren’s continued attempts to sabotage this rotation’s mojo, they still finished 3rd in xFIP and 5th in FIP.  Haren’s 11-19 team record and substandard ERA/FIP values drug this group down, but there wasn’t much further up they could have gone on this list.   If  you had replaced Haren with a full season of Jordan’s production, maybe this team jumps up a little bit, but the teams above them are tough to beat.
  6. (#11 pre-season) Atlanta: Hudson, Medlen, Minor, Teheran and Maholm, (with rookie Alex Wood contributing towards the end of the season).  Brandon Beachy only gave them 5 starts; had he replaced Maholm this rotation could have done better.  Hudson went down with an awful looking injury but was ably covered for by Wood.  They head into 2014 with a relatively formidable  and cheap potential rotation of  Medlen, Minor, Teheran, Beachy and Wood, assuming they don’t resign Hudson.  How did they over-perform?  Teheran finally figured it out, Maholm was more than servicable the first couple months, Wood was great and came out of nowhere.
  7. (#26 pre-season) ClevelandJimenez, Masterson, McAllister, Kluber, Kazmir.  Too high for this group?  7th in rotation fWAR, 8th in FIP, and 6th in xFIP.  This group, which I thought was going to be among the worst in the league, turned out to be one of the best.  Jimenez and Masterson both had rebound years with a ton of Ks, and the rest of this crew pitches well enough to remain around league average.  They were 2nd best in the league in K/9.  You can make the argument that they benefitted from the weakened AL Central, but they still made the playoffs with a relative rag-tag bunch.
  8. (#9 pre-season) CincinnatiCueto, Latos, Bailey, Arroyo, Leake (with Tony Cingrani).  Cueto was good … but he was never healthy, hitting the D/L three separate times.  Luckily Cingrani came up from setting strikeout records in AAA and kept mowing them down in the majors.  Latos was dominant,  Leake took a step forward, and Bailey/Arroyo gave what they normally do.  If anything you would have thought this group would have been better.  6th in Wins, 7th in xFIP, 9th in FIP.  Next year Arroyo leaves, Cingrani gets 32 starts, Cueto stays healthy (cross your fingers, cross your fingers, cross your fingers) and this team is dominant again despite their FA hitting losses.
  9. (#25 pre-season) New York MetsHarvey, WheelerNiese, Gee, Hefner and a bunch of effective call-ups turned the Mets into a halfway-decent rotation all in all.  7th in xFIP, 11th in FIP.  Most of this is on the backs of Matt Harvey, who pitched like the second coming of Walter Johnson for most of the season.  Wheeler was more than effective, and rotation workhorses Niese and Gee may not be sexy names, but they were hovering right around the 100 ERA+ mark all year.  One superstar plus 4 league average guys was good enough for the 9th best rotation.
  10. (#12 pre-season) TexasDarvish, Holland, Ogando, Perez, Garza at the end.  Texas’ fWAR was the 2nd best in the league … but their accompanying stats drag them down this far.  Despite having four starters with ERA+s ranging from 114 to Darvish’ 145, the 34 starts given to Tepesch and Grimm drag this rotation down.  Ogando couldn’t stay healthy and Perez only gave them 20 starts.  Garza was mostly a bust.  And presumed #2 starter Matt Harrison gave them just 2 starts.  But look out for this group in 2014; Darvish, a healthy Harrison, and Holland all locked up long term, Ogando in his first arbitration year, and Perez is just 22.  That’s a formidable group if they can stay on the field together.
  11. (pre-season #6) Tampa BayPrice, Moore, Hellickson, Cobb, Archer and Roberto Hernandez.   Jeff Niemann didn’t give them a 2013 start, but no matter, the Tampa Bay gravy train of power pitchers kept on producing.  Cobb was unhittable, Archer was effective and Moore regained his 2011 playoff mojo to finish 17-4 on the year.  An odd regression from Price, which was fixed by a quick D/L trip, and a complete collapse of Hellickson drug down this rotation from where it should have been.  They still finished 12th in FIP and xFIP for the year.
  12. (pre-season #21) SeattleHernandez, Iwakuma, Saunders, Harang, Maurer, and Ramirez.  Seattle featured two excellent, ace-leve performers and a bunch of guys who pitched worse than Dan Haren all year.  But combined together and you have about the 12th best rotation, believe it or not.
  13. (pre-season #7) PhiladelphiaHalladay, Hamels, Lee, Kendrick, Lannan (with Cloyd and Pettibone as backups).  The phillies were 13th in xFIP, 10th in FIP on the year and regressed slightly thanks to the significant demise to their #1 guy Halladay.  Lee pitched like his typical Ace but Hamels self-destructed as well.  The strength of one excellent starter makes this a mid-ranked rotation.  Had Halladay and Hamels pitched like expected, they’d have finished closer to my pre-season ranking.
  14. (pre-season #17) BostonLester, Buchholz, Dempster, Lackey, Doubront, and Peavy: Boston got a surprise bounce back season out of Lackey, a fantastic if oft-injured performance from Buchholz, a mid-season trade for the effective Peavy.  Why aren’t they higher?  Because their home stadium contributes to their high ERAs in general.  Despite being 3rd in rotation fWAR and 4th in wins, this group was 17th in FIP and 18th in xFIP.  Perhaps you could argue they belong a couple places higher, but everyone knows its Boston’s offense that is driving their success this year.
  15. (pre-season #16) New York YankeesSabathia, Kuroda, Pettitte, Nova, Hughes/Phelps Hughes and Phelps pitched as predictably bad as you would have expected … but Sabathia’s downturn was unexpected.  Are  his years of being a workhorse catching up to him?  The rotation was buoyed by unexpectedly good seasons from Nova and Kuroda.  Pettitte’s swang song was pretty great, considering his age.  Enough for them to slightly beat expectations, but the signs of trouble are here for this rotation in the future.   Pettitee retired, Kuroda a FA, Hughes a FA, a lost season for prospect Michael Pineda and other Yankees prospects stalled.  Are we in for a dark period in the Bronx?
  16. (pre-season #29) Miami: FernandezNolasco, Eovaldi, Turner, Alvarez, Koehler and a few other starts given to either re-treads or MLFAs.  For Miami’s rotation of kids to rise this far up is amazing; looking at their stellar stats you would think they should have been higher ranked still.  Fernandez’s amazing 176 ERA+ should win him the Rookie of the Year.  Eovaldi improved, rookie Turner pitched pretty well for a 22 year old.  The team dumped its opening day starter Nolasco and kept on … losing frankly, because the offense was so durn bad.  Begrudgingly it looks like Jeffry Loria has found himself another slew of great arms to build on.
  17. (pre-season #5) San FranciscoCain, Lincecum, Bumgarner, Vogelsong, Zito, Gaudin.  What the heck happened here?  Cain went from an Ace to pitching like a 5th starter, Lincecum continued to completely forget what it was like to pitch like a Cy Young winner, Vogelsong completely fell off his fairy-tale cliff, and Zito completed his $126M journey in typical 5+ ERA fashion.  I’m surprised these guys are ranked this high (14th in FIP, 16th in xFIP but just 27th in fWAR thanks to just horrible performances all year).  What the heck are they going to do in 2014?
  18. (pre-season #10) Arizona: CorbinKennedy, McCarthy, Cahill, Miley and Delgado.  Corbin was 2013’s version of Miley; a rookie that came out of nowhere to lead the staff.  Miley struggled at times but righted the ship and pitched decently enough.  The rest of the staff really struggled.  I thought this was a solid bunch but they ended up ranked 23rd in FIP and 14th in xFIP, indicating that they were a bit unlucky as a group.
  19. (pre-season #15) Chicago White SoxSale, Peavy, Danks, QuintanaSantiago and Axelrod.  Floyd went down early, Peavy was traded.  Sale pitched well but had a losing record.  The team looked good on paper (16th in ERA) but were 26th in FIP and 17th in xFIP.
  20. (pre-season #14) Oakland: ColonAnderson, Griffen, Parker, Straily, Milone, with Sonny Gray giving 10 good starts down the stretch.  This rotation is the story of one amazing 40-yr old and a bunch of kids who I thought were going to be better.   Oakland is bashing their way to success this season and this group has been just good enough to keep them going.  I thought the likes of Griffen and Parker would have been better this  year, hence their falling from #14 to #19.
  21. (pre-season #19) Chicago CubsGarza, Samardzija, JacksonWood, and FeldmanFeldman and Garza were flipped once they showed they could be good this year.  Samardzija took an uncharacteristic step backwards.  Jackson was awful.  The Cubs ended up right about where we thought they’d be.  However in 2014 they look to be much lower unless some big-armed prospects make the team.
  22. (pre-season #20) Kansas CityShields, Guthrie, Santana, Davis, Chen, Mendoza: despite trading the best prospect in the game to acquire Shields and Davis, the Royals a) did not make the playoffs and b) really didn’t have that impressive a rotation.  12th in team ERA but 20th in FIP and 25th in xFIP.   Compare that to their rankings of 25th in FIP and 26th in xFIP in 2012.   But the results on the field are inarguable; the team improved 14 games in the Win column and should be a good bet to make the playoffs next year if they can replace the possibly-departing Santana and the ineffective Davis.
  23. (pre-season #23) Milwaukee: LohseGallardo, Estrada, Peralta, and dozens of starts given to long-men and call-ups.  I ranked this squad #23 pre-season before they acquired Lohse; in reality despite his pay and the lost draft pick, Lohse’s addition ended up … having almost no impact on this team in 2013.  They finished ranked 23rd on my list, and the team was 74-88.
  24. (pre-season #13): Los Angeles AngelsWeaver, Wilson, Vargas, Hanson, Blanton, Williams: The Angels are in a predicament; their two “aces” Weaver and Wilson both pitched well enough.  But nobody in baseball was really that surprised by the god-awful performances from Hanson or Blanton (2-14, 6.04 ERA … and the Angels gave him a two year deal!).  So in some ways the team brought this on themselves.  You spend half a billion dollars on aging offensive FAs, have the best player in the game languishing in left field because your manager stubbornly thinks that someone else is better in center than one of the best defenders in the game … not fun times in Anaheim.  To make matters worse, your bigtime Ace Weaver missed a bunch of starts, looked mortal, and lost velocity.
  25. (#28 pre-season) San DiegoVolquez, Richards, Marquis, Stults, Ross, Cashner: have you ever seen an opening day starter post a 6+ ERA in a cave of a field and get relased before the season was over?  That happened to SAn Diego this year.  Another case where ERA+ values are deceiving; Stults posted a sub 4.00 ERA but his ERA+ was just 87, thanks to his home ballpark.  In fact its almost impossible to tell just how good or bad San Diego pitchers are.   I could be talked in to putting them this high or all the way down to about #28 in the rankings.
  26. (pre-season #27) Colorado: ChatwoodDe La Rosa, Chacin, Nicaso, Francis and a few starts for Garland and Oswalt for good measure.  Another staff who shows how deceptive the ERA+ value can be.  Their top guys posted 125 ERA+ figures but as a whole their staff performed badly.  26th in ERA, 19th in FIP, 26th in xFIP.  Colorado is like Minnesota; they just don’t have guys who can throw it by you (29th in K/9 just ahead of the Twins), and in their ridiculous hitter’s park, that spells trouble.
  27. (pre-season #4) TorontoDickeyMorrowJohnson, Buehrle, Happ, Rogers, and a line of other guys.  What happened here?  This was supposed to be one of the best rotations in the majors.  Instead they fell on their face, suffered a ton of injuries (only Dickey and Buehrle pitched full seasons: RomeroDrabeck were hurt.  Johnson, Happ, Redmond only 14-16 starts each.  This team even gave starts to Chien-Ming Wang and Ramon Ortiz.  Why not call up Fernando Valenzuela out of retirement?  It just goes to show; the best teams on paper sometimes don’t come together.  The Nats disappointed in 2013, but probably not as much as the Blue Jays.
  28. (pre-season #18) BaltimoreHammel, Chen, Tillman, Gonzalez, FeldmanGarcia with a few starts given to Gausman and Britton.  I’m not sure why I thought this group would be better than this; they were in the bottom four of the league in ERA, FIP, xFIP and SIERA.  It just goes to show how the ERA+ value can be misleading.  In their defense, they do pitch in a hitter’s park.  Tillman wasn’t bad, Chen took a step back.  The big concern here is the health of Dylan Bundy, who I thought could have pitched in the majors starting in June.
  29. (pre-season #30) Houston: BedardNorris, Humber, Peacock, Harrell to start, then a parade of youngsters from there.  We knew Houston was going to be bad.  But amazingly their rotation wasn’t the worst in the league, thanks to Jarred Cosart and Brett Olberholtzer coming up and pitching lights-out for 10 starts a piece later in the year.  There’s some potential talent here.
  30. (pre-season #24) MinnesotaDiamond, Pelfrey, Correia, Denudo, Worley and a whole slew of guys who were equally as bad.  Minnesota had the worst rotation in the league, and it wasn’t close.  They were dead last in rotational ERA, FIP, and xFIP, and it wasn’t close.  They were last in K/9 … by more than a strikeout per game.  They got a total fWAR of 4.6 from every pitcher who started a game for them this year.  Matt Harvey had a 6.1 fWAR in just 26 starts before he got hurt.  Someone needs to call the Twins GM and tell him that its not the year 1920, that power-pitching is the wave of the future, that you need swing-and-miss guys to win games in this league.

Biggest Surprises: Pittsburgh, Cleveland, Miami and New York Mets to a certain extent.

Biggest Disappointments: Toronto, the Angels, San Francisco, Philadelphia and Baltimore to some extent.

Disagree with these rankings?  Feel free to pipe up.  I’ll use this ranking list as the spring board post-FA market for 2014’s pre-season rankings.

Written by Todd Boss

October 10th, 2013 at 2:23 pm

Posted in Majors Pitching

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Time to pull the plug on Haren yet?

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How much longer is Haren going to be wearing this hat? Photo nats official via espn.com

The Nats management waited and waited, but finally gave in and dealt with season-long performance issues in Henry Rodriguez, Zach Duke, Danny Espinosa and Tyler Moore in the first two weeks of June, DFA-ing or demoting as needed and bringing in replacements to try to do a better job and turn this season around.

So, when will it be time to talk about the train-wreck season that Dan Haren is having?  For $13M, here’s what the team has gotten in his first 12 starts, including June 12th’s meltdown:

  • a 4-8 Record with a 5.70 ERA and a 67 ERA+ (his ERA is 6th worst in baseball for qualified pitchers).
  • A 6-10 team record in games in which he’s started
  • a league leading 17 home runs allowed

A quick glance at his advanced stats doesn’t give much credence to any apologists that may try to excuse his line either; his BABIP is slightly elevated but not overly so (.320) and his FIP is still an unsightly 5.06 (5th worst among qualified starters).  Only his expected xFIP and SIERA numbers are relatively respectable, but xFip is just an estimator stat and often times never comes to pass, since it assumes silly things like the fact that Haren can’t possibly keep giving up this many home runs… an assumption that continued to be disproven as he gave up two more in his most recent loss in Colorado.

Game-Log analysis: Haren has yet to have a start where he shut out the opponent.  He’s only got 5 quality starts out of 12.  In half his starts he’s allowed 4 or more runs (not good when your team’s offense is only scoring 3.4 runs a game).  Haren’s only really had a couple of starts that were “grade A” in my book (his best start of the year was an 8 inning 4 hit performance in Atlanta of all places).  In his defense, he has gotten awful run support (2.84 runs per start), heavily indicating team losses every time he pitches.

I’ll admit it; I talked myself into the Haren deal big time after it was announced.  I ignored his 2012 struggles, looked back to the near Cy Young guy he was in 2009 and thought this was the move that could push the Nats to a 105 win team.  Now clearly whatever excuses we made for his performance in 2012 (back injury leading to diminished velocity leading to loss of his sinker leading to crummy numbers) seem like they’re covering up for an aging sinkerballer who never had lights out velocity and who now looks dangerously close to extinct as his very-hittable fastball flattens out and gets hit harder and harder.

So what’s the answer here?

Don’t talk to me about his salary; that $13M is out the door already.  Kaput.  Gone.  Look up the definition of a “Sunk Cost” in economic terms.  If you were worried about $13M in annual salary then you shouldn’t have bought a $15M a year closer who isn’t exactly a complete shutdown guy (Tyler Clippard has almost identical stats this year to Rafael Soriano for a third of the price and he didn’t cost us a 1st round draft pick, which as it turned out could have been spent on one of two pre-draft top-10 talents).  The decision needs to be made; do you still want to try to “win now” in 2013 as all the other off-season moves seemed to indicate?  Because the solution likely is going to be a bit more money and a few more prospects.

Short term (as in, the next week): see how Ross Ohlendorf does in his spot start (Answer: uh, he did awesome, holding a good hitting team to two hits through 6 in the best hitters park in the league).  If he’s anything remotely close to effective, I think you look at an invented D/L trip for Haren and send him on a rehab assignment tour of the minors.

Mid-term (as in, for the next couple weeks): do we have anyone else in the minors worth checking out?  Not on the 40-man and not with enough experience.  Maybe we give Danny Rosenbaum a shot if another spot-start is needed after Detwiler and Strasburg come back.

Longer term (as in, the next two months); Look at the trade market and look at who may be available leading up to the trade deadline.  We’re already seeing some teams completely out of it and clearly some guys will be available:

  • The Cubs probably will look to move Scott Feldman and especially Matt Garza.
  • The Astros probably will cash in on Lucas Harrell and Bud Norris (nobody’s likely interested in Erik Bedard at this point).
  • The Marlins would listen for offers for Ricky Nolasco, though perhaps not intra-division.
  • The Mets aren’t winning this year and could be moving Shawn Marcum (though perhaps not intra-division).
  • I think eventually Seattle becomes a seller: Joe Saunders and Aaron Harang should be dangled.
  • I also think San Diego eventually realizes they’re not going to win the NL West: Edinson Volquez, waiver pickup Eric StultsClayton Richards and our old friend Jason Marquis all make for possible trade candidates.

A few other poorly performing teams are probably going to be too stubborn to wave the white flag, which cuts down on the number of guys that will be available (see the Los Angeles Angels, the Los Angeles Dodgers, Toronto specifically).

The only problem with a trade market move is this: all these teams are going to want prospects back.  And the Nats prospect cupboard has been cleaned out recently to acquire all these fools who are underperforming so far in 2013.  I’m not an opposing GM, so I can’t say for sure, but from a quick look at the Nats best prospects in the minors right now (basically in order: Giolito, Goodwin, Cole, Karns, Garcia, Skole, Purke, Solis, Perez, then guys like Hood, Taylor, Walters, Ray and Jordan round out the list) and I see a lot of injured guys or players on injury rehab, backups or guys barely above or still in A-ball.  I’m not trading a valued asset for an injury-risk guy who has never gotten above AA.  Who on this list is going to fetch us a quality major league starter?

Maybe we trade Haren along with a huge chunk of his remaining salary and multiple prospects to one of these teams in order to get one of these 5th starters back.  But that’d be an awful trade when it was all said and done (about as awful as, say, the Giants trading Zack Wheeler to the Mets for 2 months of Carlos Beltran in a failed effort to make the playoffs in 2012; with all the Giants 2013 pitching issues do you think they wish they had Wheeler back right now??)

Or, it very well may be that the Nats are stuck; we knew going into the season we had no starter depth and those MLFAs we did acquire (Ohlendorf and Chris Young basically) probably aren’t the answer.  But something has to give; we can’t give away every 5th start like we seem to be doing now and claw back into the NL East race.

May 2013 Monthly review of Nats rotation by Opponent

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Welcome to the Majors Nathan Karns. Photo perfectgame.org

Continuing a monthly series of look-backs at our starters (here’s Apr 2013 post), here’s a monthly glance at how our .500 team is doing from a Starting Pitching standpoint.  As with last month, we’ll have “Grades” per outing, the team’s performance per opposing starter sliced and diced a few ways, and other per-starter stuff that I like to track.

MLB Rotation Per-Start Grades for May:

  • Strasburg: C-,B-,A,A-,A+,C/inc
  • Gonzalez: C+,A+,C+,A,D-
  • Zimmermann: A+,A,A-,A,B+,D+
  • Haren: A+,D+,A-,F,C+,B+
  • Detwiler: C-,B,D-/inc -> D/L
  • Duke: F
  • Karns: D+

Discussion: Nats Pitcher YTD Stats from Baseball-Reference are here

Strasburg has stepped up his game after his well-documented 4-unearned run meltdown and has dominated his last three starts before straining his Lat on 5/31 (hence the “incomplete” grade).  Gonzalez remains up-and-down, as he was in April/  He’ll be excellent and then less than mediocre start to start.  Zimmermann‘s 6 run 7th in Baltimore is the only blip on an otherwise fantastic month which has put him into Cy Young contendor status.  Haren‘s up and down starts finished off with a heroic effort in Baltimore on 5/30/13, pitching into the 8th and giving up just two runs to one of the more potent offenses in the league.  Detwiler‘s month was cut-short by his injury and subsequent D/L trip.  Lastly the Nats one known glaring weakness heading into this season (Starting pitching depth) has been exposed with the two spot starts we’ve gotten from Duke and Karns.  I know Karns’ grade isn’t that fair considering the circumstances (MLB debut, hot night, tough hitting team), but his stat-line is what it is.


May Performance By Opponent Starting Pitcher Rotation Order Number

A look at the opposing team’s rotation ranked 1-5 in the order they’re appearing from opening day.

Starter # Record Opposing Starter in Wins Opposing Starter in Losses
1 3-4 Samardzija, Volquez, Hamels Burnett, Kershaw, Cain, Hammel
2 4-2 Maholm, Rodriguez, Sanchez, Bumgarner Jackson, Greinke
3 2-3 Medlen, Fister Feldman, Stults, Tillman
4 1-0 Kendrick
5 3-1 Locke, Beckett,Teheran Vogelsong
5+ 2-3 Smith, Gausman Cashner, Pettibone, Garcia

Thoughts; as always, not all opposing team #1 starters are the same.  But, the Nats actually fared pretty durn well against opposing #1 and #2 guys in May.  Where they struggled were against the #3 starters in May; you cannot lose to the likes of Scott Feldman, Eric Stults and Chris Tillman.  They also struggled with what I call “5+” starters; guys who were call-ups to replace opening day starters.  Sometimes a 5+ is a rising ace prospect (theoretically a Kevin Gausman or perhaps a Matt Harvey in the end of 2012) and sometimes they’re a 4-A guy (Jonathan Pettibone).  But usually you expect a winning record there.


May Performance By Opponent Starting Pitcher Actual Performance Rank Intra-Rotation

A ranking of opposing teams’ rotations by pure performance at the time of the series, using ERA+ heavily.

Starter # Record Opposing Starter in Wins Opposing Starter in Losses
1 1-3 Bumgarner Burnett, Kershaw, Cashner
2 6-2 Samardzija, Sanchez, Medlen, Fister, Kendrick, Locke Greinke, Tillman
3 3-2 Maholm, Rodriguez, Beckett Feldman, Pettibone
4 1-3 Teheran Cain, Stults, Garcia
5 2-3 Volquez, Hamels Hammel, Jackson, Vogelsong
5+ 2-0 Smith, Gausman

On the bright side; going 6-2 against the opposing team’s 2nd best starter isn’t bad.


May Performance By Opponent Starting Pitcher League-wide “Rank”

A team-independent assignment of a league-wide “rank” of what the starter is.  Is he an “Ace?”  Is he a #2?

Starter # Record Opposing Starter in Wins Opposing Starter in Losses
1 1-3 Hamels Kershaw, Greinke, Cain
2 4-0 Bumgarner, Samardzija, Sanchez, Medlen
3 3-2 Fister, Maholm, Volquez Burnett, Tillman
4 3-3 Kendrick, Rodriguez, Beckett Cashner, Hammel, Jackson
5 4-5 Locke, Smith, Gausman, Teheran Feldman, Pettibone, Stults, Garcia, Vogelsong

I like this table the best; It usually shows where a team really is over- or under-performing.  There’s no shame in going 1-3 against the league’s best hurlers.  And its fantastic to see the team going 4-0 against that collection of league-wide #2s.  It is downright awful to see the team go 4-5 against this collection of #5 starters.


May Records by Pitching Advantage

Start-by-start advantages in my own opinion and then looking at the results.

Wash 9-5 Strasburg-Hamels, Zimm-Maholm, Stras-Volquez, Zimm-Kendrick, Gonzalez-Rodriguez, Zimm-Beckett, Stras-Locke, Gio-Smith, Stras-Teheran Zimm-Tillman, Gio-Hammel, Stras-Jackson, Gio-Feldman, Zimm-Stults
Even 2-4 Gonzalez-Bumgarner, Zimm-Sanchez Strasburg-Cain, Detwiler-Burnett, Haren-Cashner, Haren-Garcia
Opp 4-4 Haren-Medlen, Karns-Gausman, Detwiler-Samarzija, Haren-Fister Haren-Kershaw, Detwiler-Greinke, Haren-Pettibone, Duke-Vogelsong

In other words, the team when 9-5 when I thought Washington had the pitching advantage, 2-4 when I thought the pitching matchup was even, and 4-4 when I thought the opposing team had the advantage.  This is about what I expected, perhaps wanting to see a slightly better record in our advantage’d starts.  The Strasburg-Edwin Jackson loss hurt, as did the Zimmermann-Stults loss.


May matchup analysis

Looking at the opposing starter rank that our guys are going up against to see how their competition fares.

Nats Starters Opponents matchup analysis Nats Record under starter
Strasburg Three #1s, One #2, Two #5s 4-2
Gonzalez One #1, Two #2s, a #3 and a #5+ 3-2
Zimmermann Two #2s, Two #3s, a #4 and a #5 4-2
Haren One #1, Two #3s, and Three #5+ 2-4
Detwiler Two #1s, One #2. 1-2
Duke One #5 0-1
Karns One #5+ 1-0
total record 15-13

Detwiler’s turn now basically matches up with the opposing teams’ best guys, while Haren is getting more and more #5 and #5+ guys but continues to struggle.

Ask Boswell 5/20/13 Edition

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The drum is banging for Espinosa's benching. Photo AP Photo/Nick Wass

Another week, another set of disappointing results for our weary Nats (losing two games in San Diego?  come on), coupled with a troubling set of injuries, and Nats fans are a bit nervous.  Lets see what kind of questions Tom Boswell got in his weekly chat, 5/20/13 edition.

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

Q: You can have Stephen Strasburg or Jordan Zimmermann for the next eight years, but only one. Which do you pick?

A: Has it come to this for poor Stephen Strasburg?   As I pointed out in this space last week, Strasburg isn’t any worse or different of a pitcher right now; he’s just been really unlucky this year.  Despite Jordan Zimmermann‘s dominance so far in 2013, I still think Strasburg has better stuff and a  higher ceiling.  I’d still go with Strasburg.  Boswell also goes with Strasburg based on age and the last three years stats.

Q: Nick Markakis has proven to be a solid veteran but, possibly due to injuries, not the star the Orioles envisioned when they gave him the big contract extension. Do you think this may be Ryan Zimmerman’s fate?

A: Great question.  Nick Markakis has been injury plagued … but only the last two years.  Before that he was very solid, rarely missed a game, and had some really good numbers.   Ryan Zimmerman only has managed to play three full seasons and has missed significant time in 5 others.  Zimmerman is being paid a 9 figure salary but may not really be a 9-figure player honestly.  I’ll freely admit; after injuries and now his arm issue, i’ve really fallen off the Zimmerman bandwagon.  So yes, in a way I agree with the questioner.  Boswell sort of agrees too.

Q: Is it time to really worry about the Nats? The most errors in the majors, the hitting remains spotty at best, and they can’t score enough runs to win when their best pitchers give extra-quality starts.

A: I’m definitely worried.  They should have swept the Cubs.  There’s no dishonor in losing to two Aces in Los Angeles (Kershaw and Greinke), but then to come to San Diego and lose to a no-name journeyman in Eric Stults and a rookie in Andrew Cashner (no matter now promising he may be), is troublesome.  They now travel to San Francisco with no pitching advantage in any of the three games and look like they could easily get swept the way they’re hitting.  Of course, that being said, I must also remind myself of my 4/24/13 post that talked about our very tough early schedule … and remind myself that the Nats go 8 weeks in June and July without playing a playoff team.  So we just have to scuffle around .500 until then.   I’ll say this though; if we don’t go somthing like 20-8 in June, we’ll have different issues.  Boswell says its May 20th, relax (paraphrasing :-) )

Q: I’m puzzled by his use of the bullpen. Last year, every guy seemed to get an inning or two of work every few days. (Of course, last year every guy was also reliable.) The postgame analysis yesterday talked about how rusty they were and chalked it up to the starters going long. To me, it seems more about the relievers being brought in (or not) at all the wrong times. Thoughts?

A: Ah, a question after my own heart.  I have complained about Davey Johnson‘s management of the bullpen twice this year already, after both Detwiler and Gonzalez had excellent efforts wasted when they got pulled too early.  I’m just not getting the bullpen usage at all.  In Johnson’s defense, he just hasn’t had enough blowouts (wins or losses) in order to really get his fringe guys work.  Zach Duke has exactly 2/3s of an inning this entire MONTH.   Stammen may be our best reliever and he’s only getting one appearance a week right now.  Henry Rodriguez got only his second appearance in May in yesterday’s blow out.  So yes, that’s nearly half his bullpen that is inarguably rusty.  In some ways its a good problem to have; it means their starters have been going deep and there’s not been a need for 6th and 7th innings of work.   Rodriguez has brought his inactivity upon himself frankly, but I think Stammen needs some of these later inning stints right now.  Boswell agrees that the bullpen management has been poor this year.

Q: Is it acceptable for a manager or GM to tell a player that he is not a switch hitter at the big league level? Espinosa has always looked better from the right side of the plate. Career he is .221 from left side and .264 from right. Considering his struggles, maybe someone should tell him he’s a right handed batter. No shame in that after all.

A: A great question, one that continues to follow Danny Espinosa. He has not “turned the corner” in 2013 as some had hoped; instead he’s bottomed complete out.  A 90-100 OPS+ figure is ok if you’re hitting for power; this year he’s sitting at a 33 OPS+ with an embarassing slash line.  June 1st I think the hammer comes down and Espinosa goes to the bench in favor of Steve Lombardozzi. That being said, Lombardozzi isn’t exactly lighting the world on fire either right now, so maybe both guys sit in favor of Anthony Rendon or maybe even a call-up Jeff Kobernus, who has been hitting well in AAA.  As for the question in hand; can a GM “tell” a player to stop switch hitting?  Probably not; Espinosa has presumably never faced a top-level right hander from the right side; I’d have to think that forcing him to stop switch hitting would make him even worse.  At the very least that change happens in the off-season/spring training, not in the middle of a slump.  Boswell posts a very eloquent answer about what the team may do with Espy/Lombo but doesn’t answer the core question.  Maybe it isn’t answerable.

Q: Nats pitchers giving away Stolen Bases: This is getting ridiculous. It has been a serious problem since last year, known to everyone. Didn’t anyone of the pitching staff work on this in the off-season?

A: The coaching staff said they did.  I havn’t really noticed.  Lets runs some quick numbers out of Baseball-Reference.com:

2012 Starter SBs SBs CSs SB%
Strasburg 14 2 88%
Gonzalez 12 1 92%
Zimmermann 10 2 83%
Jackson 7 5 58%
Detwiler 3 2 60%

Yes, the rotation last year generally speaking was not holding runners on.

2013 Starter SBs to 5/20/13
Strasburg 5 1 83%
Gonzalez 2 2 50%
Zimmermann 5 1 83%
Haren 2 0 100%
Detwiler 1 0 100%
2013 Starter SBs extrapolated full season
Strasburg 18.3 3.7 83%
Gonzalez 7.3 7.3 50%
Zimmermann 18.3 3.7 83%
Haren 7.3 0.0 100%
Detwiler 3.7 0.0 100%

So, Strasburg isn’t appreciably improving in this regard, but Gonzalez has really worked on it.  Zimmermann looks about the same.  Haren is not quite as good historically as Jackson at holding runners, but the variations in the factors may have something to do with that as well.  All in all, I don’t think its as bad as it was last year.  Boswell’s answer verbatim: “They worked on it. They ain’t fixed it.”

Q: Just looking at Strasburg’s pitching in comparison to other elite speedballers in the league and I find one glaring item: the speed of his pitches in relation to the fastball . His off-speed pitches seem to hover too close to his fastball. Verlander, Wainwright, Kershaw, et.al., all throw 90’s fastballs, 70-85 curve and change-ups. Is this something that is missing from his arsenal?

A: Is this true?  Lets do a little Pitch F/X analysis.  All these numbers are average speeds for the pitch type for 2013 only for the pitchers named in the question plus a handful of other hard-throwers:

(Quick glossary lesson for pitch F/X: FA = 4-seam fastball.  FT = 2-seam fastball.  SI = Sinker, usually ends up being the same thing as a FT.  CU=Curve, SL=Slider, CH=Change up and FC = Cut-Fastball).

FA FT/SI CU SL CH FC FA-CU Delta FA-CH Delta
Strasburg 95.5 95.3 79.7 88.1 15.8 7.4
Samardzija 94.9 94.3 82.9 83.3 91.1 12 11.6
Harvey 94.7 94.4 82.3 89.1 86.4 12.4 8.3
Zimmermann 93.7 93.6 77 86 86.6 16.7 7.1
Verlander 93.5 93.3 78.7 85.3 86.7 14.8 6.8
Darvish 93 92.7 66.7 81.8 86.9 89.3 26.3 6.1
Kershaw 92.5 73.6 84.5 85 18.9 7.5
Hernandez 91.1 91.4 80.5 84.2 88.7 91.9 10.6 2.4
Wainwright 90.9 90.6 74.9 83.7 87.3 16 7.2

Strasburg’s delta between his curve and his fastball is 15.8.  That’s an almost identical delta to Wainwright and is better than Verlander.  Kershaw‘s delta is ridiculous, but his curve is also his signature pitch.  Meanwhile Darvish‘s curve is almost comedically slow and he rarely throws it.   Strasburg’s Fastball-Change up delta is also very consistent with the top pitchers in the league, and is “better” than the likes of Verlander and Darvish.

So, I’m calling BS on this question.  I don’t see any problem with Strasburg’s arsenal or the delta between his pitches.  He throws a ridiculous, unhittable 88 mph circle change that breaks a foot; ask yourself whether or not MLB hitters want to see that pitch right after the see him hump it up to 98mph.  Boswell says his stuff is fine and give some similar numbers, including some Vertical and Horizontal pitch F/x discussion that I only alluded to.

Q: What Logic did Davey have leaving both Haren and Mattheus in past their effectiveness. Haren? Well okay, sometimes he shapes up as the game goes on. HOWEVER! Leaving Mattheus in for that long when he kept getting pinged and dinged was ridiculous! Was this essentially a forfeit to save the bullpen for when Duke pitches tonight?

A: The chances of a team overcoming a 6-7 run deficit are astronomically low.  So much so that most teams just go into autopilot once a big enough lead is opened up by either team.  That’s why there’s so many “unwritten rules” regarding doing things with big leads; guys are mentally checked out and just trying to avoid the embarassment.  The same can be said for bullpen use.  Once one guy gets hammered, if the next guy does too you just kind of throw in the hat and just let guys work it out.  What use would it have been to replace Mattheus after the Padres had scored 12 runs?  You let the guy work on his craft, get some innings in, and move on to the next game.   Boswell says, yes this was basically Johnson giving up.

Q: Boz, my 13-year-old is convinced that the Nats are finished (and that he could play second base better than Danny Espinosa, but that is another story). Baseball seasons are long, and Dad is confident but quietly getting concerned with the way the records look in the NL that a second-place finish in the NL East will not result even in a wild card. At this point in the season, what things do we really know with certainty about this team?

A: What do we know?  I think we know the following:

  • We still have 4 very good starters (Gio will get it back and post another 120 ERA+ season).
  • We know Haren is a weakness
  • We know Harper is no one-season wonder and is improved.
  • But we also know that Harper has not been the same since his first injury scare about a month ago.
  • We know we have some issues on defense and in the bullpen, and have all year.
  • We know our schedule gets easier.
  • But we also know that the Braves have cooled off and despite our iffy run we’re just a couple games out of first place in our own division.
  • I don’t trust either Pittsburgh, Arizona or Colorado to continue to play even .500 ball, so I’m not worried about a 2nd wild card coming from a weird place.
  • And lastly, we know there’s a lot of baseball to be played.

Boswell talks about our starters and Harper, and the re-iterates my last point.  There’s 100 games to play!

Q: Did the addition of Soriano contribute to Storen’s struggles?

A: I think it had to; after a demoralizing game 5 loss the team replaces you and demotes you in the off-season.  Wouldn’t you struggle in your job if that happened to you?  I think we’ve talked about this before so I won’t go into great detail.  Boswell’s heart wasn’t in the answer either; he just noted that Storen’s first save since his Game 5 meltdown was this week.

Q: Seems like you left out what may be the sanest idea for the Nats’ offensive woes in your column: move Rendon to second base permanently and call him at the All Star break if he’s still mashing at AA and Espinosa still can’t hit a slow pitch softball.

A: He did, but I didn’t; see above.  Boswell admits this is eventually going to be an option.