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

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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).

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Written by Todd Boss

March 10th, 2014 at 9:50 am

Posted in Majors Pitching

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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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Quick thoughts on Monday 10/7/13′s playoff games

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Well, both my guesses for Sunday won (Pittsburgh and LA) but not quite how I envisioned it.  Liriano was good but not shutdown, and Pittsburgh needed a big hit from one of their big hitters.  Meanwhile Ryu melted under the pressure … but so did his counterpart Teheran, and LA battered their way to a big 13-6 win.

So, I guess that makes it 10 for 11 so far in the baseball post season.  Not bad.  Lets see who we like tonight:

- NLDS Game 4: Stl at Pitt: StL better win this game, else they face a ton of 2nd guessing for sitting Shelby Miller in favor of Lance Lynn (who promptly got bombed).  Wacha nearly no-hit the Nats in his final regular season start and easily shut down Pitt earlier in September.  Morton has gotten pounded by STL in 2 of the 3 times he’s faced them this year.  I feel like StL is stealing one and forcing a 5th game.

- NLDS Game 4: Atl at LAD: Garcia vs Nolasco.  A tale of two seasons for both pitchers; if you had told me this was the matchup in April I would have laughed and given the series to LA.  Now?  The tables have turned: Garcia was excellent all September and Nolasco was god-awful.   I think Atlanta gets to Nolasco in this one … but LA also gets to Garcia and this turns into another game like yesterday’s … LA’s hitting hot though and outslugs the Braves for the game 4 victory.

- ALDS Game 3: Boston at Tampa: Buchholz vs Cobb; wow, tough match up to call.  I think Tampa’s too good to get swept and gets at least one win here.  Cobb was great in the WC game, is generally good at home (unbeaten 7-0 record) and the Rays get all excited actually playing infront of a sell-out crowd.

- ALDS Game 3: Athletics at Detroit: Parker v Sanchez.  Neither guy has that great of a statline against the other team this year; Parker’s one appearance vs Detroit in April he got hammered for 8 runs in 3 1/3 innings, while Sanchez shut them down in April but got beat by them in August.  On the whole of it, you have to go with the AL ERA champion at home though, so we’ll go Detroit.

Picking St Louis, Los Angeles Dodgers, Tampa and Detroit today.

Ranking the 2013 Playoff Rotations

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Kershaw leads the best rotation in the playoffs. Photo via wiki.

Kershaw leads the best rotation in the playoffs. Photo via wiki.

Now that the playoff fields are set … who has the most formidable playoff rotation?

Unlike previous rotation rankings posts, the playoffs focus mostly on the 1-2-3 guys.  Your 5th starter may not even be on the playoff roster and your 4th starter usually just throws one start in a series where you can line up your guys, and some teams skip the 4th starter altogether if they at least one veteran pitcher who can all go on 3 days rest (there’s enough off-days in the 2-3-2 format to allow most guys to go on regular rest).  So the focus here is on the strength of your top guys.

Here’s how I’d rank the 10 playoff teams’ rotations, despite the fact that two of these teams will be wild card losers and never get a chance to use their rotations:

  1. Los Angeles: Kershaw, Greinke, Nolasco, Ryu (Capuano left out).  As great a 1-2 combination Kershaw and Greinke are, Nolasco has for stretches outpiched them both since his trade, and Ryu is a #2 starter talent in the #4 slot.  They’re going to be a tough out in any short series where Kershaw gets two starts.  Easily the #1 playoff rotation.
  2. Detroit: Scherzer, Verlander, Sanchez, Fister (Porcello left out).  Hard to believe that a guy who most thought was the best or 2nd best pitcher in baseball (Verlander) may not even get the start in the first game of the playoffs.  But they’re still the 2nd best rotation.
  3. St. Louis: Wainwright, Miller, Wacha, Kelly (Westbrook and Garcia hurt, Lynn left out).  The knock on St Louis’ current rotation is their youth; two rookies and a 2nd year guy who was in the bullpen all last year.  Are there any innings-limit concerns here that could force a shutdown  It doesn’t seem so at this point?  It continues to amaze me how well St. Louis develops players.  Carpenter and Garcia out all year?  No worries we’ll just bring up two guys in Wacha and Miller who are barely old enough to drink but who can pitch to a 120 ERA+.
  4. Tampa Bay: Price, Moore, Archer, Cobb (Hellickson left out); A tough top 4, if a little young on the back-side.  Moore has quietly returned to this dominant form upon his call-up and gives Tampa a formidable 1-2 punch.  Price has already pushed them past game 163.
  5. Pittsburgh: Liriano, Burnett, Cole, Morton (Rodriguez hurt, Locke left out).  The team previously said that Cole would likely a reliever in the playoffs, but I’ll believe that when I see it; he’s been fantastic down the stretch.  It is difficult to put a rotation headlined by the burnout Burnett and the reclamation project Liriano this high, but their performances this year are inarguable.
  6. Boston: Lester, Buchholz, Peavy, Lackey (Dempster, Doubront left out).  Buchholz just returning mid September after a hot start; could push this rank up.  I don’t necessarily trust the #3 and #4 spots here in a short series, but Boston can (and probably will) bash their way to the World Series.
  7. Cincinnati: Bailey, Cueto, Arroyo, Cingrani (Leake left out, Latos hurt).  Cingrani may be hurt, Cueto has returned to replace the sore-armed Latos.  Leake’s performance may push him over Arroyo if they get there, but the odds of them beating Pittsburgh were already slim after their poor finish and were vanquished last night.  Still, isn’t it nice when you have more quality starters than you need heading into a season, Mike Rizzo?
  8. Atlanta: Minor, Medlen, Teheran, Wood (Hudson hurt, Maholm left out).  If Wood is shutdown, Maholm makes sense as the #4 starter but has struggled most of the 2nd half and finished poorly.  I may have this rotation ranked too low; they’re solid up and down, just not overpoweringly flashy.
  9. Cleveland: Jimenez, Kluber, Kazmir, Salazar (Masterson in the pen, McAllister left out).  How did these guys get a playoff spot?  Amazing.  They’re all solid, nobody especially flashy, and they won’t go away.
  10. OaklandColon, Parker, Griffen, Gray (Milone, Straily left out, Anderson in long relief).  I didn’t want to rank them last, considering Oakland’s record over their last 162 game stretch.  But here they are; on an individual level one by one, they just do not stack up.  The age-less wonder Colon is easily the staff Ace.  The rest of these guys’ seasonal numbers are just not impressive.

These teams obviously didn’t make the playoffs, but were in the hunt until late, and since I had already typed up this content might as well say where I’d have ranked them, had they made the playoffs…

  • Washington: Strasburg, Gonzalez, Zimmermann, Haren (Ohlendorf, Roark left out, Jordan shut down)  Perhaps you’d replace Haren with Roark based on September performances;  I just can’t imagine trusting Haren in a 7 game series..  I’d put them about #4, just ahead or just behind Tampa.   Gonzalez and Zimmermann have shown themselves to be oddly vulnerable here and there coming down the stretch, and I just don’t put Strasburg in the same elite category as Kershaw right now.  Too bad months of indifference cost them the 4 games they needed to make up in the standings to reach the WC game.
  • Kansas City: Shields, Santana, Chen, Guthrie (Duffy, Davis, Mendoza left out): Duffy may be a better choice than Guthrie based on small sample sizes.  I’d have put them just behind Cincy at #8 in terms of rotation depth.
  • Texas: Darvish, Garza, Holland, Perez (Tepisch, Grimm left out, Harrison hurt): Great Ace in Darvish (even if he has occasaional blowups), but falls off badly after that.  The Garza acquisition has just not worked out, and the rest of the rotation is good but not overpowering.  I’d put them behind KC but just ahead of Baltimore.
  • Baltimore: Tillman, Chen, Gonzalez, Feldman (Norris, Garcia, Hammel and others left out).  They’d probably be behind Atlanta at #9, only ahead of Oakland/Cleveland.
  • New York: Sabathia, Kuroda, Nova, Pettitte (Hughes, Phelps left out): Kuroda has been the ace of the staff this year, but you’d always lead off with Sabathia (though, had they made the playoffs it would be unknown if Sabathia could even go with his late-season injury).  Either way, this would be behind any other playoff team’s rotation.

Lincecum’s pending Free Agency; what’s he worth?

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What would you pay Lincecum in 2014?  Photo via SD Dirk flickr via wikipedia

What would you pay Lincecum in 2014? Photo via SD Dirk flickr via wikipedia

An interesting question was posed in an ESPN chat a while ago that I made a note on to come back to.

Should the Giants offer Tim Lincecum a qualifying offer, or just cut him loose without any compensation ties this coming off season?  And a better question: if you were a GM looking for pitching this coming off-season, what would you offer him?

First some stats.  Lincecum is in the last year of a 2yr/$40.5M deal signed to avoid his last two years of arbitration.  This is on the heels of a 2yr/$23M deal that took out his first two years of arbitration.  He’s already north of $60M in career earnings before hitting his first pure free agent contract.  But he’s at a cross-roads.

Take a look at the progression of his career stat-wise: 2 straight Cy Youngs before even hitting his first year of arbitration (which, if you remember, was a Super-2 year because the Giants apparently cannot read a calendar; this little snafu cost them probably $20M in salary).  He went from an ERA+ of 171 in 2010 to last year’s bottoming out season, where he posted a 68 ERA+, a 5.18 ERA and was pulled from the rotation in favor of Barry Zito (an insult to end all insults) in the playoffs.

Garrett Hooe at FederalBaseball just posted a great analysis as well, including insight into Lincecum’s breakdown of mechanics, his velocity loss and other things.  His analysis is great; no need to replicate it here.

In 2013 he’s regained some of his performance but not enough; he’s still pitching like a 5th/6th starter.  His month-by-month splits give no help: he was decent to good in April, awful in May, decent to good in June, mediocre in July and so far has been lights out in August.  The offensively-challenged Nats just tagged him for 6 runs in 6 innings en route to his 12th loss of the season.

Overall, his velocity is down, he has weird mechanics, and he’s clearly deviating from those weird mechanics as of late.  What GM out there is willing to give him a shot, given those two parameters?  Probably more than a few frankly, given his pedigree, but at what cost?

The answer to the second question (what is his value on the FA market) drives the answer to the first question (whether to offer him a QO).   I went looking for some comparisons from last year’s FA market to try to estimate what his market may be this coming off season and found the following data points of interest:

  • Freddie Garcia pitched to an 80 ERA+ (matching Lincecum’s in 2013) but had a 5.18 ERA in New York.  He’s also older (35 versus 29).  He signed a combo minor/major league deal that pays him $1.3M this year.
  • Dan Haren had an 89 ERA+, as 12-13 record with a 4.33 ERA last year and signed a one-year, $13M deal with the Nats.    But he was a near Cy Young winner just two years prior and was hurt most of 2012 (that was what we kept telling ourselves when we all talked ourselves into this signing anyway).
  • Jorge de la Rosa, coming off a lost season to injury but a great 2011, signed a 1 year $11M deal.
  • Joe Saunders pitched to a 101 ERA+ between two teams, is slightly older and is almost the definition of a MLB average pitcher (career ERA+: exactly 100.  career ERA: 4.20).  He signed a 1yr $6.5M deal with Seattle.
  • Speaking of MLB average guys; Gavin Floyd also owns a career ERA+ of 100, and had exactly that for the White Sox in 2012.  His contract?  1yr, $9.5M.
  • Jason Marquis was awful last year; 8-11 with a 5.22 ERA and a 72 ERA+.  He got a 1year $3M deal to come back to San Diego and regain value.  Fun fact: Marquis is a career 94 ERA+ pitcher, has a career ERA over 4.50, has a CAREER bWAR of 5.5 (that’s about half of what Mike Trout had in bWAR just last season) and yet has more than $50 million in career earnings.  Wow.  I’m in the wrong business.
  • Joe Blanton was pretty awful for two teams in 2012, going 10-15 with a 4.71 ERA, yet somehow earned a 2yr/$15M contract extension from the Angels.  Blanton, by the way, is 2-13 this year.  I’m not sure how exactly Blanton got anything more than a couple million dollars, to say nothing of a 2 year contract.  I question the sanity of the Angels management.

Ok.  So using these examples from last year’s FA market … uh, I have no idea what Lincucum is worth.  I’d say he’s better than Blanton, so that mean’s he’s better than $7.5M/year.   But that was such an awful contract that I don’t see how you can use it as a benchmark. Meanwhile, if Gavin Floyd’s consistency year over year is  worth $9.5M, then how do you value the possible jeckyl and hyde that you’re going to get from Lincecum?

If I was a GM, looking at his body of work and his last two seasons, I probably would end up somewhere between Floyd’s $9.5M and de la Rosa’s $11M on a one-year deal.  As they say, there are no bad one-year deals, and if it goes south its just money.  1year, $10M on a career-saving flier taken by some NL team out there willing to roll the dice and spend some cash.

Probably not the Nationals though, not after the Haren experience and considering what Taylor Jordan has given the team in a 5th starter role this year.  You’d have to think Mike Rizzo heads into the off-season with his 3 big guns under contract, his 4th guy Ross Detwiler on the mend, with Jordan penciled into the 5th starter and with the likes of Nathan Karns, Taylor Hill, and Caleb Clay providing the first line of reinforcements in AAA.

So I predict the Giants will not offer him a qualifying offer, thus cutting ties with one of their most iconic players in the last 25 years.  It will be a sad time in San Francisco head-shops everywhere.

Divisional Series Matchups – By the Starters

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Verlander has already given the Tigers a huge leg up in their divisional series. Photo unknown via rumorsanddrants.com

As we have already seen in the playoffs thus far, predicting these coin-flip games, or predicting the outcome of individual games, is usually fool’s gold.  The first four games of the playoffs featured four Road-team wins.  You can argue that the higher-seeded teams in the divisional series are “better” than the home teams and this was to be expected … except that we’re talking about divisional winners/90+ win teams all around.  So far, the results have been surprising.

What’s also been tough this year is the lack of “announced” starters.  The Tigers seem to know exactly who they’re throwing for all 5 games of the series … but nobody else does.  Baltimore’s only announced starter (Jason Hammel) hasn’t pitched since September 11th and they have a handful of guys to pick from.  In last year’s version of this post I was able to do match-up analysis.  This year i’ll just look at the breadth of the starters to see who has an upper hand.


Washington-St. Louis:

  • Washington’s likely starters: Gonzalez, Zimmermann, Jackson, Detwiler
  • St. Louis’ likely starters: Wainwright, Garcia, Carpenter, Lohse

I’ve already talked at depth about this series in my previous post.  Just looking at starters, its hard not to see the Nats as the favorite.  Our Ace Gonzalez goes twice in the series, St. Louis doesn’t hit righties as well.  Carpenter could be a difference maker.


Detroit-Oakland:

  • Oakland’s likely starters: Parker, Milone, Anderson, Blackley
  • Detroit’s likely starters: Verlander, Fister, Sanchez and Scherzer

Justin Verlander is as close to unbeatable as there is, again evidenced by his game 1 dominance. (7ip, 3 hits one solo home run).  If he’s set to go in game 4, Oakland basically has to win out.  The rest of Detroit’s planned starters all sport sub 4.00 ERAs and all of them have at least a 113 ERA+.  In fact, how exactly is this only an 88 win team?  They have three unbelievable hitters in the middle of their order and plus starting pitching.  Max Scherzer and his dominating fastball apparently has recovered enough from a post-game celebration injury and should take the ball in Game 4.  Anibel Sanchez has been pretty effective since arriving from Miami in a mid-season trade (is Sanchez an off-season FA target of the Nats for their 5th starter?) and should give the Tigers a great chance to win his game 3 start.

Meanwhile, Oakland has a slew of rookie starters to choose from, all of whom sport sub 4.00 ERAs (the worst season ERA on the staff is Travis Blackley, who may or may not feature in the post-season).  Jarrod Parker threw game one and was effective, just not effective enough.  I was surprised to see Tommy Milone slated as the game 2 starter (perhaps chosen by virtue of his home/away splits; 2.74 ERA at home, 4.83 ERA away).  After that I honestly have no idea who we’ll see.  Oakland named 5 starters to its post-season roster, but AJ Griffen was pasted in his last outing and may be a long-man/emergency starter.  Brett Anderson is clearly the staff Ace at this point but only returned in late August.  Oakland’s been on such a tear though, its hard to bet against them.

Prediction: Verlander already gave Detroit the huge advantage with a game 1 victory.  Oakland needs more magic to advance.


New York-Baltimore:

  • Baltimore’s likely starters: Hammel, Tillman, Chen, Saunders
  • New York’s likely starters: Sabathia, Pettitte, Kuroda, Phelps?

Baltimore’s only announced starter as of today is Jason Hammel, who (as noted above) hasn’t thrown in 3 weeks.  After that?  The Orioles used 12 different starters on the season and at one point demoted 3/5ths of their rotation in a week.  They seem set to roll out the above named guys after Hammel, but this leaves out both Miguel Gonzalez and Steve Johnson, who were effective down the stretch.  I can’t find a link for Baltimore’s named divisional roster as of the time of this writing; which would have helped.

Meanwhile, looking at New York’s options past the above named three guys, I would initially guess that New York is going to a 3-man rotation for the playoffs.  What would you rather do?  See three effective veterans going on 3 days rest, or to give post-season starts to the likes of Phil Hughes or Ivan NovaFreddie Garcia lost his starting spot in September when Pettitte returned but isn’t an option because of how ineffective he’s been all season.  Would you give a game-4 start to rookie David Phelps?  It seems amazing to me that the highest payroll team in the league can’t find an effective 4th and 5th starter (getting Pettitte out of retirement?  Giving Garcia 17 starts after signing him off the trash heap?) and I think it continues to be their downfall (only one World Series appearance in 8 years).

New York swept the Orioles in the first series of the season, split a 2-game set in mid-season, but lost EVERY other series exactly 2 games to 1 on the season.  Is there any reason not to think they’ll do something similar in this series?  I see a split in Baltimore and then New York struggling to win 2 of 3 in New York.  Does Sabathia struggle going on 3 days rest?  More importantly, does Pettitte??  He should be on a golf course right now, not pitching in October.  It should be interesting to see if New York uses a 4th starter.


San Francisco-Cincinnati:

  • San Francisco’s likely starters: Cain, Bumgarner, Vogelsong, Lincecum
  • New York’s likely starters: Cueto, Arroyo, Latos, Bailey

We’ve already seen some interesting mishaps with Cincinnati’s best laid plans; Cueto out with bask spasms after just 2 batters, planned game 3 starter Latos forced into action.  Now it looks like Cueto will go game 3, with Bailey either pushed to game 4 or skipped outright since Latos only threw 4 innings in game 1.  Or perhaps Bailey goes game 4 with Latos pushed to a possible game 5.  Either way, the wild-cards here are Cueto’s health and Arroyo’s effectiveness.  If Cueto returns for a game 3 start, with Cincinnati haven already “stolen” a game against SF’s ace, the Giants are in trouble.

Meanwhile, has San Francisco made a decision on its starters?  They’ve named all 5 (the above four plus Barry Zito) to the post-season roster with an unnamed player dropping to the bullpen.  I think they’ll go with supposed ace Tim Lincecum as the 4th starter despite Zito’s numbers being superior. Meanwhile, Ryan Vogelsong has been vulnerable down the stretch despite good numbers on the season.

I think the back-end of the Giant’s rotation is a huge question mark, and if the Reds have already stolen a game against Cain, this series may be short.

Nats Rule-5 lossee Spring Training Update pt 1

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Are the Nats gonna get Brad Meyers back? Photo Kevin Littlefield/Milb via mlb.com

I was thinking about the AAA rotation and how thin it stands to be for my “updated minor league rotation” post last week, when I was reminded that we may eventually get back at least one solid AAA starter if Brad Meyers fails to make the Yankees 25-man roster.  Then, spurred on by this Seedlingstothestars.com post reviewing all the Rule-5 draft picks so far this spring, here’s a quick look at both Meyers and Erik Komatsu, who were both taken in the Rule 5 draft last December but who both may very well end up back with the team.

  • Brad Meyers Spring Training Stats as of 3/10/12: No stats.  He reportedly injured his shoulder lifting weights over the winter and, while he’s throwing off flat ground he’s yet to appear in a game.  I’m guessing he’ll get stashed on the DL so the Yankees don’t have to immediately return him, waiting to see if they get an early season injury.

Most pundits (examples here and here) seem to think that Meyers is competing for the Long Man spot in the Yankees rotation, what with the late off-season acquisitions of both Michael Pineda and Hiroki Kuroda filling out all 5 available starter spots for the team (not to mention the jettisoning of AJ Burnett).   It is relatively difficult to see Meyers beating out the likes of Freddie Garcia or Phil Hughes (who themselves seem to be set up to be the 5th starter and long man, depending on the outcome of spring training battles) for this spot, and the rest of the Yankees bullpen seems set.  But, without any spring training stats to go by and with his injury status up in the air, and the possibility of a DL trip looming, I’d say that its safe to say he’s not getting returned to the Nats any time soon.

How about Komatsu?

  • Erik Komatsu Spring Training Stats as of 3/10/12: .333/.385/.583 through 12 at-bats in 6 games, playing mostly right field.  He’s got a double, a triple, and a SB.  Not bad so far.

Here’s a good analysis of Komatsu by a St. Louis focused blog upon his acquisition last December; he’s clearly competing for a backup outfielder spot, what with the team’s acquisition of new RF starter Carlos Beltran (moving incumbent Lance Berkman to the vacated 1B position for 2012). The Cardinals have a clear 4th outfielder candidate in Allen Craig but Craig is injured and most likely won’t start the season with the team.  Komatsu is also competing with a couple other prospects for a backup outfielder job, but may very well stick with the team out of camp.  I’d like to see Komatsu back; he was disappointed that he didn’t get much of a shot in Washington and he was coming off an injury most of last off-season.  But at the same time this team has been looking  high and low for a possible lead-off hitter/center fielder and Komatsu could (if you squint perhaps) fill that role.

Nats Off-season News Items Wrap-up 11/4/11 edition

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Wang re-ups for his 3rd year in a Nats uniform. Photo from Washington Nationals photo day.

Here’s a weekly wrap up of Nats-related news items, with my thoughts as appropriate.

  • MLBtraderumor’s Tim Dierkes announced that the cutoff for this year’s “Super-2″ status is 2 years, 146 days.  This cutoff means that two (and possibly three) Nats players made the cut and will be in line for a 4th arbitration season.  Jordan Zimmermann made it by 8 days, Tyler Clippard by 2 days (!), and Roger Bernadina (at least according to Amanda Comak‘s calculations; he’s missing from Dierkes’ list).  In Bernadina’s case, it may not matter, as he’s out of options for 2012, isn’t likely to make the roster anyway and seems a certainty for a non-tender.  We’ll save salary speculation for a future post as we get closer to the arbitration dates.  11/1 update: Dierkes responded to my comment in this blog posting and said that his personal calculations determined that Bernadina missed the cutoff.
  • Tim Dierkes is a busy man; he has a series of FA analysis by position and posted his Center Field analysis over the weekend.  Considering that the Nats have been looking for a quality center fielder essentially since moving to Washington, the analysis is a good read.  The news isn’t good; Dierkes only projects ONE viable CF FA candidate: Coco Crisp (quotes later in the week though confirm that Crisp wants to stay on the west coast, making him a less likely candidate).  He mentions Grady Sizemore as being worth a flier but no guarantee to be healthy.  There’s some “thinking outside the box” candidates, guys who are older and who could hold on to CF for another year, but if the Nats were to do that we might as well either go with Jayson Werth in center or re-sign Ankiel.  Trade potential BJ Upton is still there, and I’m sure he’s still available for the right price.  Perhaps the Nats could package a bunch of prospects for both Upton and Shields.  One other interesting name to consider: Melky Cabrera.  Nice season, nearly a 20/20 guy.  Getting a bit expensive for KC… maybe we could flip them some pitching surplus.
  • Sammy Solis has marginally improved as the AFL has gone forward, putting in a 4ip, 1run performance on Oct 29th.  Meanwhile, what is going on with Matthew Purke?  In three appearances through 10/29 he’s given up 11 runs on 10 hits in 3 1/3 innings.  Not good.  We may have to just shield our eyes until spring training.
  • Bill Ladson reported on a conversation he had with Mike Rizzo about the Nats off-season plans, and the takeaway seems to be that the team “has made no promises” to Adam LaRoche about playing time in 2012.  I just have a hard time believing that the team plans on just ignoring 1/8th of their payroll (LaRoche’s $8M salary on last year’s $68M payroll) by signing a replacement.  Rizzo pursued and signed LaRoche for a reason; good defense and adequate bat.  At least, that’s the idea.  Personally I have a hard time believing that Albert Pujols is leaving St. Louis, and I’ll bet that Fielder stays in the NL central as well (perhaps replacing Carlos Pena in Chicago as Theo Epstein‘s first big signing).
  • ESPN’s Buster Olney believes the Nats will look at Grady Sizemore, recently having his 2012 option declined by the Indians, as a center field option.  I suppose Sizemore is no more of a risk than it would be to resign Rick Ankiel, or to experiment with Werth in center and a player to be named (Laynce Nix?) in right.  It would be ironic to see Sizemore come back to the team that drafted and developed him, only to trade him in an incredibly damaging deal for a few months rental of Bartolo Colon.
  • Taken from a link in the previous Olney posting, the “Field of Dreams” property in Iowa used to make the movie of the same name is being sold.  Visitors come by the thousands even to this day to see the makeshift field built into a century-old farmland.  What I find neat is the apparent unassuming nature of the owners and the fact they’ve never really attempted to commercialize the property.  In that respect, it reminds me of Cooperstown, which I visited for the first time this past summer (blog post in the works with pictures) and found to be amazingly quant and un-tarnished by the type of tourist-driven revenue generators you find at other places in this country.
  • A post courtesy of Rob Neyer‘s blog about the seemingly imminent move of the Astros to the AL West points out a salient points the Houston fan base would have to put up with; more 9:05pm local starts as the team travels to play new rivals on the West coast.  This likely will badly affect their TV ratings.  Will the Astros take to having new divisional rivals in the Angels, A’s and Mariners well?  It doesn’t seem to have really hurt the Rangers, who have the same issue.  One has to think an intra-state, intra-divisional rivalry with the Rangers would be fantastic for both teams though.  Imagine 18 games and state bragging rights at stake for a state that takes its bragging rights (in all matters, both sports and non) very seriously.
  • All 8 of our free agents filed as soon as the FA filing period opened, as reported by Adam Kilgore.  I’ve got a post coming up on thoughts on the 8 free agents and which I think we should look at resigning.
  • Jon Heyman‘s first off-season column addresses some of the main “questions” facing baseball this off-season and he includes answering some of the major FA rumors.  He lists the Nats as favorites for both Prince Fielder and CJ Wilson.  Signing both would instantly add $30M of payroll to a team that already projects at somewhere in the $65M already basically allocated (we owe $45M in guaranteed contracts on the books now, probably somewhere in the range of $13M to clear our arbitration cases, and the rest being minimum salaries to 40-man guys).  Are the Lerners ready to step up and pay this kind of money?
  • Heyman’s article also notes that the last remaining issue in the MLB contract negotiations relates to Draft Slotting.  Bud Selig has been pushing hard for this, as he feels smaller market teams get screwed by agents who know bigger market teams will pay the money for their guys.  Meanwhile the league is apparently read to ditch free agent compensation picks as a bargaining chip.  Certainly the union has to like this (especially for relievers, who get labeled type-A and suddenly can’t find work).
  • Dodger Fan’s long nightmare may be over: Frank McCourt is apparently willing to sell the team for $1B in a deal that seems to completely remove him from gaining any additional benefit from the team (meaning, he has to divest the parking lots he was threatening to keep control over).  Now if only Bud Selig would consider a decent replacement owner instead of one of Selig’s friends or whoever greased his palm most recently … ah modern baseball.  11/2/update: maybe there won’t be a Selig-appointee; apparently the team will be sold at auction.  Great!  That means an owner not necessarily hand-picked by Selig and his cronies.  I’d love to see Mark Cuban get involved but apparently he was approached a few months ago and backed out.
  • Baseballamerica.com had a front-page feature on the Nats on 11/1.
  • FanGraphs’ top 15 Nats prospects wasn’t too surprising (also posted 11/1).  I’m amazed how high AJ Cole is (called the top pitcher in the system, barely eclipsing the promise of both Alex Meyer and Matthew Purke).  And I’m amazed how far Derek Norris has fallen.  The article also points out something rather interesting: the Potomac rotation could be Meyer, Purke, Cole, Ray and then someone like Selik.  Wow.
  • SI.com’s Ben Reiter put out his list of the top 50 FAs available and has the Nats on Jose Reyes and Coco Crisp, but not Prince Fielder or Edwin Jackson.  I guess I wouldn’t complain if we got both or either guy; either would ably fit into the lead-off spot that we’ve struggled with for years (and if we got both put them 1-2 … and move both Espinosa and Desmond’s .220 batting averages to the bottom of the order).
  • And here’s Tim Dierkes’s top 50 FA list with guesses on destinations: He has the Nats mentioned as an interested party with most of the top names and signing only CJ Wilson of his top 50 list.
  • And here USA Today’s Paul White‘s top 50 FA list, with the Nats projected to land Coco Crisp, Freddie Garcia (?!?) and Chein-Ming Wang.   His comment as to why we’d sign Garcia?  “Short term fix while the kids develop.”  It makes one wonder if he’s seen the state of our starting pitching frankly.  There’s little reason to doubt Milone or Peacock (or some combination of both) being able to fit into the 5th starter.
  • Ron Dibblewow.
  • Gold Glove winners announced; there doesn’t seem to be any egregiously bad winners like there was last year (Derek Jeter).  There were some complaints from the likes of Rob Neyers about the AL shortstop selection, using the Fielding Bible awards as his source.  But lets face it; the voters for the golden gloves probably spend about 20 seconds on it, when handed the form while dealing with a gazillion other items in September after a long season.  They’re voting reputations, not Uzr/150 results.  In fact i’d wager that fully 75% or more of the voters couldn’t tell you what Ultimate Zone Rating is or how it measures defensive capabilities.
  • SI’s Joe Sheehan puts out a nice overview of each division’s “state of franchise” post, and his thoughts on the Nats are interesting.  He has no idea if the team is going to be spooked byWerth’s contract and poor production, and suggests trading Tyler Clippard for a CF.
  • Chien-Ming Wang has officially re-signed with the team, per this SI article late Wednesday night.  We got details thursday: 1yr, $4M with some incentives.   That’s a bit more than I predicted (I was thinking something in the range of $2.5M as a guess).  But it still seems like a good deal, all things considered.  I’ll take a $4M #4 pitcher versus the $7.5M Marquis cost, and he seems like he could very well improve on his 2011 performance.
  • Byron Kerr has a rather effusive article on Sammy Solis (calling his fastball “lethal” and “high-velocity?”  Sorry Byron; he’s got #3 starter stuff, not Randy Johnson-esque power) and his efforts to learn a new pitch; a regular curve-ball.  Solis has used a knuckle-curve that spins/breaks more violently, but is harder to control.  He’s reached the point in his career where he needs alternatives to fastballs and change-ups that he can count on, and hopefully this helps him to the next level.  This is a common theme; high schoolers with merely upper 80s stuff can routinely get away with blowing the ball by most of the opposing lineups of weakling 16-18yr olds and sometimes experience a reality check when going up against hitters who can make the adjustment.
  • The Nats exposed Brian Bixler to waivers (i.e., designated him for assignment to remove him from the 40-man) and he got claimed by the Astros.  Not a major loss (he had a 47 ops+ last season), but still someone who could have helped out next year had he passed through to our AAA roster and been able to be “stashed” in Syracuse.  Best of luck to him.  His position is easily replaced from within from someone like Lombardozzi, or on the FA market similar to our 2011 signings of Hairston and Cora.
http://www.mlb.com/milb/stats/stats.jsp?pos=P&sid=l119&t=p_pbp&pid=545357

2011 FA Market Analysis and Predictions for Starting Pitching

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Is CJ Wilson worth a 9 figure contract this off season? We’ll see. Photo Chris O’Meara/AP via livesportsdb.com

As the World Series ends, and as clubs start exercising (or more importantly, declining) player options, the FA market for starting pitching is starting to really take shape this off season.

The Nats don’t “need” Starting Pitching as they have in the past, but a quality veteran starting pitcher would certainly be preferred to the question marks that we might have if we used the likes of Ross Detwiler, Tommy Milone or Brad Peacock as a 5th starter in 2012.

Lets take a look at the starters on the market, put in some predictions as to what kind of money they’re going to get, and discuss whether or not the Nats should (or might) pursue them.  For reference, here’s a list of 2012 FAs from mlbtraderumors, as well as the Elias rankings as of the end of the 2011 season.  Remember, thanks to their end of the season run, the Nats 1st round pick is NOT protected and would be forfeited if they signed a type-A free agent.  So the FA types will be of importance when talking about each of the pitchers below.

Category: Aces (or nearly Aces) and Type-A starters.

  • CC Sabathia seems certain to opt-out of his remaining Yankee contract and will almost certainly re-up with the team.  11/1/11: he has done just that.  5yrs, $122M, fewer years honestly than I thought he’d demand.  He raises his AAV from $23M in the last deal to $24.4M and gets one additional guaranteed year.  The structure of the deal pays him $23M/year for the first four years, then $25M the last.  There’s an option for 2017 at $25M that he most likely makes if he stays healthy.
  • CJ Wilson is also a type-A FA and seems set on testing the market.  I would too if I were Wilson; I don’t think he’s an ace but he’s certainly going to be paid like one.  He seems set to get an AJ Burnett type deal (5yrs $85M) or perhaps more.  I hope the Nats don’t over-spend and get him.  I’d guess he heads to Boston; his free-spirit personal seems to fit with that franchise and the team just got a shock bit of news that John Lackey, despite how bad he was in 2011, is out for the entirety of 2012 with Tommy John surgery.
  • Roy Oswalt had his team option for $16M bought out on 10/25/11, but I’m guessing this is just a procedural move to re-sign him and keep the “big 4″ together for a few more years.  Oswalt’s on the wrong side of 30 and had a rough season of declining stats and missed starts, but still slots in as the best #4 starter in baseball and certainly didn’t come to Philadelphia for anything less than a World Series shot.  I’d guess he re-ups for 3 years, $36M with the Phillies.  Other pundits disagree and see him moving back to Texas to take over Wilson’s #1 spot on the Rangers rotation.
  • Edwin Jackson: another guy whose post season performances seem certain to hurt his FA prospects.  Big arm, good numbers, right age (only 28 hitting free agency), but a propensity to get hit hard and often.  Mike Rizzo loves him, tried to trade Adam Dunn for him in 2010, and it wouldn’t be a stretch to see the Nats go after him again.  Look for him signing with the Nats for 3 years and $28M.  Unless a pitching-starved big-money team like Boston or New York offers him a ton more than that.  I’m not really in favor of this deal for the Nats, but wouldn’t be surprised to see it happen.
  • Yu Darvish: as I opined here, I really do hope that the Nats do not spend fools money after Darvish.  A posting fee in the $40-$50M range, then at least that amount to sign the guy.  I know he’s got great numbers in Japan.  So did Dice-K.  There’s a halfway decent chance he doesn’t even get posted this year, so all ink spilled over Darvish could be moot.  Baseball Prospectus put out a great article about Darvish, including lots of analysis and links to others who share the same concerns that I do.  If you’re in the “pro-Yu” camp there’s a couple good articles on places like fangraphs that support your case.

Category: Mid-rotation/decent starting options.

  • Mark Buehrle is hitting the FA market, but i’d be shocked if he leaves Chicago at this point in his career.  I’m sure he’ll take a team friendly deal that extends his career out 3-4 more years, at which point he may very well retire a one-franchise guy with a surprisingly high number of career wins.
  • Hiroki Kuroda just finished off a sneaky-good season, going 13-16 with a 3.07 era.  The problem is that he’s 36 and had a ton of innings on his arm in the Nippon league prior to getting here.  He’d be a risk.  The Dodgers franchise is a mess but its the only team he’s known, and I’d guess he wants to stay on the west coast.  I’d guess he gets a decent 2-year deal from Seattle if the Dodgers can’t find the money.
  • Javier Vazquez looked washed up during last year’s FA market analysis, having lost 3-4 mph on his fastball and getting shelled in NY.  However, he had a great bounce-back season in Miami and i’d guess he re-ups there for the new season and new stadium.  However, there’s word out there that he may retire.  Hard to see a guy who just put in a decent, comeback season retire though, especially if guaranteed money is thrown around.

Category: Aging/Back of the Rotation starters

  • Bruce Chen has very quietly put together two pretty good seasons for the Royals all things considered, but will be 35 and may see a precipitous drop in production.  He’s not any better than the options the Nats face now, when you consider price and productivity.
  • Freddie Garcia had a revelation of a season for the Yankees; I’d think he stays there as insurance for 2012.   Still hard to believe the Yankees won 97 games giving no less than 51 starts to Garcia and Colon.
  • Bartolo Colon is in the same boat as Garcia, but is 38 to his 34 and may be cut loose to find another team willing to give him a shot with his stem-cell enhanced shoulder.
  • Joel Pineiro has never stayed healthy long enough to reach his potential, and he just laid an egg in his contract year in LA.  I’d be surprised if he got anything more than a 1yr $5M deal.
  • Aaron Harang: beware the veteran pitcher who goes to San Diego and suddenly looks like a #2 starter.  2011 numbers: 14-7, 3.64 era.  Home/Away splits?  3.05 era at home, 4.70 on the road.  I’m sure he’ll get some money, somewhere for a back-of-the-rotation job.
  • Livan Hernandez reportedly offered to move to the bullpen for the Nats, in order to stay here.  Unfortunately he pitched so poorly, and takes so long to warm up, that using him in extended relief really isn’t much of an option.  My guess is that Livan returns to his roots in Miami as the Marlins’ 5th starter on the cheap and enjoys one more spin around the league.
  • Jason Marquis, in a remarkable sense of timing by the Nats, was traded for Zack Walters and then promptly broke his leg.  Its too bad for Marquis, who clearly was using 2011 to regain some market value for his free agency this off-season.  At this point he certainly won’t be getting any 2year deals for 8 figures.  I’d guess he gets a 1yr $4M deal with some incentives, if that.
  • Chien-Ming Wang, by virtue of being in THIS section and not the next, has already had a successful 2011.  He is what he is right now; a guy trying to reclaim former glory and his former sinking fastball, and a guy who looks like a #4 starter who has capabilities of improving as he gets more and more innings into his repaired shoulder.  My guess is that he repays the Nats for nursing him back to health while providing him millions in salary and signs for a 2-year deal worth roughly $6-7M overall.
  • Tim Wakefield; I would have predicted him to possibly hang up the spikes until news of Lackey’s injury and Dice-K’s question mark.  Wakefield’s stats have really declined the past two years, but Boston seems in need of a back of the rotation guarantee that Wakefield’s $4M standing salary can fill, cheaply.
  • Brad Penny, Jeff FrancisPaul Maholm, Chris Capuano, Vicente Padilla, Rodrigo Lopez, Zack Duke, Aaron Cook, Kevin Milwood, Dontrelle Willis and anyone else not already mentioned: all of these guys were either so mediocre in 2011, went unsigned in 2011, or are so old, that i’d be surprised if more than just a few of them got major league deals for 2012.

Category: Reclamation Projects/Injury recovery guys.  The Nats have a history of pursuing former glory with recovering stars.  Would they try it again?

  • Adam Wainwright: his injury in spring training 2011 amazingly didn’t really cost the Cardinals, who marched right into the World Series without their #2 starter.  Wainwright’s injury couldn’t have been worsely timed in terms of his contract options; St Louis dodges a major payroll bullet by being able to opt out of millions of dollars of guaranteed money.  But Wainwright is free to look elsewhere.  Will he?  Doubtful: i’d guess he signs a one-year incentive-laden contract with St. Louis aimed towards regaining his career.  10/26/11 update: the team exercised its options on Wainwright, meaning he’s off the market.
  • Justin Duchscherer: had some lights out seasons, but missed all of 2009 and 2011 with injury.  Will anyone take a flier on him?
  • Chris Young and his 6′ 10″ faster-than-it-seems fastball only got 4 starts (2 against the Nats) before getting shoulder surgery.  Seems to run in the NY Mets family (see Santana, Johan).  It wasn’t as bad a surgery as it could have been, and he should return for 2012.  He’s now missed games in 4 straight seasons and its buyer-beware.
  • Jon Garland had season-ending surgery in July after just 9 starts, but when healthy is a 105 ERA+ guy, a 4th starter who can eat innings and be solid.  He had great durability up until this injury, having not missed a start since 2002.  But now its not clear if he’ll even be ready for 2012.
  • Ben Sheets is in almost the identical spot as Duchscherer; ironically both have a history of pitching in Oakland.
  • Rich Harden; mr Day Game split (or Mr. Unreliable Injury guy, if you play fantasy baseball) just finished yet another unproductive season with a 5+ ERA pitching in one of the best pitchers parks in baseball.  He seems set for a minor league contract for one last flier at a comeback.
  • Eric Bedard wasn’t half bad for Boston down the stretch, with a 9.0 k/9 rate on the season.  But at the end of the season he was yanked early in two critical games and i’d bet the team won’t be willing to roll the dice with him again.  We’ll see who overpays for his injury-plagued services in 2012.  With Boston’s sudden shortage of starters, look for Bedard to resign in Boston and start the year as Boston’s #4.
  • Brandon Webb: got some looks in spring training 2011, including from the Nats, but then went under the knife yet again.  You can usually come back from TJ surgery.  Shoulders are tougher.  He may be done.

Predictions:  I’d guess the Nats throw their name in the mix for Wilson but get scared off by his price tag.  Maybe we’ll post a respectable figure for Darvish.  But Rizzo goes hard after Jackson and we get him.  Meanwhile Rizzo also signs one of these injury reclamation projects to a nominal guaranteed contract to see what pans out.

What is the “ceiling” of the various Nats pitching prospects?

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Will Matt Purke fulfil his former Ace-starter promise? Photo AP/Nati Harnik

Its nearly impossible to project high-end pitching prospects, the further they are from the minors.  Think of someone like Colten Willems, our #1 draft pick in 2006 who retired before ever getting out of high-A.  Or perhaps Josh Smoker, a supplemental 1st rounder in 2007 who struggled with injury and is now a situational lefty in the high-A bullpen, four-plus years into his pro career.

But, it is fun to think about the upper-end, best case scenario and what it would mean for this team.  I’m sure that this post will garner a ton of disagreement; feel free to make your case in the comments pro or against what i’ve posted.  I know that some people are already drinking the kool-aid on September call-ups Peacock and Milone, but I’m not (read below for more).  I’ve included all our current starters and most of the upper-end draftees over the past few years.

(post-publishing note: a commenter asked what I “meant” by a #1 or a #5 starter.  Here’s text pulled from the comments as to how i’m defining each of these level of starters:)

  • #1 starter is one of the best 15-20 pitchers in the league, someone who you’re genuinely surprised if he performs badly on a given day, mentioned in Cy Young conversations.  Verlander, Lincecum, Halladay.
  • #2 starter: a slight step down from your elite, but still a reliable starter.  The “robin” to the ace’s “batman.”  I’m thinking Matt Cain, Chad Billingsly, Cole Hamels, Clay Buchholz as examples.  Not the best guy on their rotation but a great #2 guy.
  • #3: 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’m thinking someone like a Jonathan Sanchez, Derek Holland, Edwin Jackson, someone like that.
  • #4: is basically someone defined as someone who’s a slight step above the back-of-the-rotation guy, a mlb veteran guy who knows how to pitch but doesn’t have the best stuff to really go much beyond.  John Lannan is a great example of a #4 starter.  Freddie Garcia, John Lackey, Jon Garland, Jason Marquis are other examples.
  • #5: 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.  On our team, Livan Hernandez, Tom Gorzelanny, Craig Stammen in past years.

Nationals Starter prospect Ceilings (per scouting reports, personal observations)

#1: Strasburg
#2: Zimmermann, Cole
#3: Purke
#4: Lannan, Ray
#5: Detwiler, Turnbull, Solis
4-A starter: Milone, Meyers, Rosenbaum
MLB bullpen: Meyer, Peacock, Stammen
Minors starter: Maya, Martis, McGeary, Jordan, Grace
Minors bullpen: Holder, Smoker

Discussion.

#1 Starters: Stephen Strasburg, in my mind, is already an “Ace” starter in this league, ranking up among the 15-20 best arms out there.  When he’s healthy.  In 2010 he posted MLB-best k/9 rates and would have clearly led the league in some sabremetric measures of pitching in his debut season had he qualified.  But health is the big question mark; is he going to become the next Justin Verlander or the next Mark Prior?  Only time will tell.

#2 Starters: Jordan Zimmermann has achieved Robin to Strasburg’s Batman in this rotation, and seems set to be a pretty good rotational guy for the next few years.  AJ Cole pitched well in his first full season, is a big kid who was touching 96 in HS.  He could be a big arm who slides into the rotation as a dominant arm.  Some think his ceiling is even higher than a #2 starter.

#3 Starters: Matt Purke was a 1-1 talent (1st round, 1st overall draft pick) before suffering shoulder bursitis, and the Nats took a gamble on him.  But its a great gamble; he has Ace material, throwing mid 90s from the left hand side with completely dominating stuff.  He was rated BA’s #14 prospect coming out of high school and had a $4M signing bonus deal turned down by MLB.  He allowed the Nats medical staff to do a dye-injection MRI and were satisfied with the results.  His deal could be remembered as a steal of the 2011 draft if he pans out.  However recent scouting reports have listed his stuff as “ordinary,” so a #3 starter seems like a good middle ground for now.  If his arm is really ok, he’ll start to show it next spring (hopefully at high-A) and he’ll rocket up the prospect lists soon enough.

#4 Starters: Perhaps one could argue that John Lannan is a #3 starter but I don’t believe so; I think he’s a solid, underrated #4 starter on a decent rotation.  If you compare Lannan to the #4 starters on a number of teams, he compares favorably, and you’d clearly take Lannan if given the choice.  The problem is; he’s just not flashy.  We’ll never get appropriate trade value for him because his W/L numbers are mediocre and his K/9 rate isn’t that impressive.  I’d guess that he sticks in our rotation until he reaches free agency, at which point its likely that some of our developing power arms will be ready to take over.   Robbie Ray had a fantastic debut season and may even be better than a #4 ceiling; certainly he put up as good of numbers as his 2010 draft classmate AJ Cole, but his stuff doesn’t project as highly.

Here’s where a number of arguments are probably to be had, starting at the #5 ceiling.

#5 Starters: Ross Detwiler really has yet to fully show his full capabilities, but lefties that throw mid 90s don’t grow on trees.  2012 is a make or break year for him with this organization, and it wouldn’t surprise me to see him moved in the off-season so that the team doesn’t have to deal with his option status when constructing the rotation next spring.  I put him with slightly better stuff than the 4-A guys below.  I’m still not sold on him as a MLB starter, but saw a lot out of him this season that shows improvement over where he was in the organization in 2010.   2011 draftee Kylin Turnbull was overshadowed by the high-end talents drafted ahead of him, but he’s lefty, throws well and is projectionable.  Thanks to Sean Hogan‘s excellent draft research, some scouting reports are here.  Right now it sounds to me like Turnbull has a bit more power than someone like Milone and perhaps can get more missed bats.  For now i’m listing him as a #5 starter ceiling; if he was a righty he’d probably be in the MLB bullpen category.  Lastly Sammy Solis projects thus far as somewhere between a a #3 range starter, a mid rotation guy who has 3 plus pitches and can be a lefty work horse out of the rotation and a back-of-the bullpen guy with mediocre stuff but good constitution.  He may not have the best stuff, but being lefty and being a solid, Mark Buehrle build could mean he’s a slightly better version of John Lannan for this team.  We’ll see how he does in AA in 2012.

4-A starters: (for those that don’t know what is meant by “4-A or AAAA,” it means someone who is better than a AAA pitcher but not quite good enough to get out major league hitters on a consistent basis).  Tommy Milone had a great September debut and has impeccable control in the minors, but I don’t see him having good enough stuff to consistently get major league hitters out.  Now, I could be wrong and he could have Greg Maddux-esque control, at which point he doesn’t need mid-90s heat.  But from what I saw in his September starts, I don’t think he’s got what it takes to stick in the majors.  Brad Meyers could end up in the same position as Milone; a guy who dominates in the minors but who can’t cut in the majors.  It doesn’t look like he’ll even get a shot at the 2012 rotation with the crowded 40-man roster.  Lastly Denny Rosenbaum seems cut from the same cloth as Milone; a softer-tossing lefty without great K/9 rates in the low minors but who is effective enough at getting guys out.

Bound for the bullpen (but good enough to stick in the majors): 2011 draftee Alex Meyer is going to go one way or the other: he’s either going to be a wild man out of the bullpen or a near #1 starter.  Scouts seem to be pretty split as to which way he’s going to go.  Right now, based on the struggles he had early in his college career, I’m guessing he struggles to maintain his forward momentum and ends up a Cole Kimball-esque hard throwing option out of the pen.  Meanwhile, what to make of Brad Peacock?  I know he just finished off a fantastic minor league season and had two effective September starts (giving up just one run in 12 innings over two starts).  But to me I see a guy with good life and heavy reliance on one pitch (a 4-seam fastball), a good 2nd pitch (change-up) no confidence in his third pitch (loopy curveball) and no fourth pitch.  To me, that says bullpen.  Lastly i’m clumping in Craig Stammen here, who couldn’t really cut it as a full time starter in 2010 and spent the entire 2011 season starting in AAA.  I think he can be an effective guy out of the MLB bullpen if he’s given the shot.  I like Stammen and perhaps this is a bit high of a ceiling for him; i wouldn’t be surprised a bit if he misses out on the 2012 bullpen and slips into minor league free agency frankly.

Minors starter: This list of guys looks like they’re destined to be “organization guys” for this team.  Yuniesky Maya was clearly not the pitcher the team thought he was when he got his 4-year contract; he’s gotten a couple shots at the majors over the past two seasons and has not capitalized.  I think he’s going to be ensconced in the AAA rotation for the near future, unless someone can figure out how to trade him.  He certainly isn’t a better MLB starting option than any of the guys listed above him.  Shairon Martis mostly earned this fate when he successfully passed through waivers and off our 40-man roster.  His worth ethic and conditioning came into question in the organization, and he went from a 22yr old starter in 2009 to a AA starter in 2011.  He had pretty good numbers in AA, but that doesn’t really prove much for a guy who was in a MLB rotation two years prior.  Jack McGeary is finally back from two years of mediocracy and Tommy John surgery, but faces a pretty steep climb back into future rotational pictures.  For now, i’m guessing he struggles to ever make it, topping out as a minor league starter once he hits his free agency period.  For now, i’m also classifying both Taylor Jordan and Matthew Grace as org guys, continuing to rise up as 4th or 5th starters but never really making an impact.

Minors bullpen: Lastly, i’m listing both high-end draft picks of the past few years Trevor Holder and Josh Smoker as topped out as minor league bullpen guys.  Smoker seems like he’s already there, having come back from an arm injury but still only having risen to high-A in his fourth pro season.  He put up good numbers as a loogy/bullpen guy this year, and perhaps his real ceiling is the MLB bullpen, but getting a loogy out of a first round draft pick is still a major disappointment.  Holder was clearly an over-draft in the Strasburg year, getting picked up in the 3rd round when he wasn’t even in some team’s top 10, and has done nothing to earn his draft position.  He posted a 5.77 era in high-A this year, repeating the level and leaving the team clearly in a conundrum as to what to do with him.  I think he is destined for a bullpen role in 2012, perhaps in high-A again, and may be short-lived for the franchise.

Is there someone I’m missing?  Agree, Disagree?  Discuss in the comments section.