Nationals Arm Race

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Who *really* should be in the HR derby? 2017 edition

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Stanton is your defending champ .. and one heck of a slugger. Photo unk via rantsports.com

Stanton is your defending champ .. and one heck of a slugger. Photo unk via rantsports.com

I know some think the HR derby is a sham.  However I like it, I love the new format (timed instead of by outs), and the results speak for themselves; by some accounts tickets for the HR derby are going for more money than the All Star Game itself.  And this year seems rather compelling, with the defending champ and inarguable holder of the league’s current title of ‘Best slugger” in Giancarlo Stanton the #1 seed in his home town, set to hopefully face off against the #2 seed Aaron Judge, who is busy setting Statcast exit velocity speed records and running away with both the AL MVP and Rookie of the Year award (last time someone’s done that?  Ichiro Suzuki in his “rookie” year in Seattle).

So we know they got Stanton and Judge right; who else is in this year’s tourney and who *should* have been there?

Here’s a link to the 2017 HR Bracket.   Your seeds are:

  1. Giancarlo Stanton
  2. Aaron Judge
  3. Cody Bellinger
  4. Mike Moustakas
  5. Miguel Sano
  6. Charlie Blackmon
  7. Justin Bour (shout out to the Westfields HS and George Mason alumni Bour!  Also worth noting; he was a 25th round pick; bully for Bour to even be in the majors, let alone slugging his way onto the national stage)
  8. Gary Sanchez

I’m with Logan Morrison here: half field makes no sense compared to who *should* be in.  In my perfect world, here’s who i’d have in the tourney.  This is a combination of looking at the 2016 HR Derby field,  2017 home run leader board, the 2017 hit tracker longest home run list, the Statcast exit velocity/average HR length figures, and my own personal opinion.

By Seed:

  1. Giancarlo Stanton; defending champ and clear #1 seed.
  2. Aaron Judge: 2017 HR leader
  3. Mark Trumbo: last year’s #1 seed and was a monster in the derby.
  4. Bryce Harper: perhaps a homer pick, but he’s clearly a masher of the ball and deserves to be in this tourney.  He turned it down yet again in 2017.  I don’t know why.
  5. Kris Bryant: A Harper-Bryant first round would be just like their school-boy days in Las Vegas.
  6. George Springer2nd in the league in homers right now.
  7. Kris Thames: great reclamation story, has 20+ homers in his return to the majors.
  8. Cody Bellinger: the LA rookie has had nearly as impressive a breakout season as Judge.

If I could go 9-16, I’d probably throw in guys from this list:

  • Yoenis Cespedes: his prior HR Derby wins were legendary
  • Justin Bour: he can put a hurt on the ball
  • Kyle Schwarber: I love the look on his face when he really mashes one.
  • Joey Gall0: another power-first guy who can really back into one.
  • Miguel Sano: a deserving participant this year.
  • Marcelle Ozuna: can’t believe this guy is playing CF for the Marlins.
  • Paul Goldschmidt: he’s definitely one of the elite home run hitters in the league.
  • Mike Trout: people don’t think of him as a slugger … but he’s got his fair share of 480-foot moon shots on his resume (yes I know he’s injured right now; this is my “theoretical” derby!)

And in the “not a young whipper snapper anymore” division, I wouldn’t be opposed to seeing any of these guys in an expanded field:

  • Mike Napoli; just for the beard.
  • Nelson Cruz: believe it or not, he’s the league leader in homers for the past three 3+ seasons inclusive, by a sizeable margin over #2.
  • Edwin Encarnacion: #2 behind Cruz in total homers; I know he’s having a down year after leaving Toronto but he’s still a slugger and a half.
  • Chris Davis: you don’t just fall into 50+ home run seasons.
  • Jose Bautista: for the bat flips and ensuing brawls
  • Mark Reynolds: this era’s version of Adam Dunn
  • Albert Pujols: only makes sense to have the active HR leader in the field.

What do you think?  Did I miss anyone obvious?

Oh a prediction: I like the two top seeds to advance, with Stanton beating Judge in an anti-climactic final.

Fantasy Baseball 2016 Post-Mortem

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Altuve was a huge driving factor for me in Fantasy this year ... but it wasn't enough to win the championship. Photo via mlblogs.com

Altuve was a huge driving factor for me in Fantasy this year … but it wasn’t enough to win the championship. Photo via mlblogs.com

Usual caveats apply; if you don’t care about Fantasy Baseball, you probably won’t care about this post.  I’ll return to Nats next week and am hoping to return to my detailed per-level pitching reviews this year….

Fantasy Baseball has wrapped up for the year; most leagues are doing their playoff finals this week.  This is my post-mortem for the year.  Here was my 2016 team preview article at the beginning of the year to show my drafted team.

My strategy for this year (pulled from the preview article):

  • focus on hitting; don’t load up on OF early.
  • wait on pitching.  With the conversion to QS, I felt like there was a ton of value later on with starters instead of burning early spots.
  • I wanted four closers (and got them … though the last one is really iffy).
  • I only wanted the minimum hitters, figuring I could start churning and burning based on the lower-end starters that weren’t working out.
  • I wanted a good mix of solid dependable players with a couple of high-end rookies (advice I liked after hearing it on a podcast)
  • Lastly I didn’t want to spend early on either C or 1B; catcher since there’s just so much turnover, 1B since there’s so much value later in the draft.

Results: My strategy worked out pretty well.  I had very good hitters, I got quality starters late and off waivers, I kept 3-4 closers all year, and I finished the regular season in 1st place by 3 games.  I was able (as always) to find quality OF and 1B on the waiver wire (in my case, Will Myers who exploded).  My one strategy miss may have been waiting on a Catcher; my catcher was awful all year and there was no  help on the waiver wire until later (see below for who I picked up).

Even despite finishing in 1st place regular season, my pitchers badly declined later in the year, I had an off-week offensively in the playoffs and I got bounced by the 5th place team in the semis.  And when I say bounced, I mean I lost 2-8 on the week.  So, a disappointing finish.  But i think the strategy was sound and I’ll do it again next year.

Here’s how I ended up in team stats for the season:

  • Runs; 3rd
  • HRs: 1st
  • RBIs: 4th
  • SBs: 9th
  • OBP: 2nd
  • Saves: 1st
  • Ks: 3rd
  • ERA: 5th
  • Whip: 3rd
  • QS: 3rd

Yeah; too bad we’re not playing Rotisserie.  The only category i was guaranteed to lose nearly every week was Steals.  Overall I had a pretty good year.


Here’s my initial draft and the player disposition on the year.

I drafted 9th out of 10 spots.  Here is my team (the two numbers are Round and # overall).

  1. 9    Nolan Arenado, Col 3B: Kept all year and finished #6 in Yahoo.
  2. 12    Jose Altuve, Hou 2B: Kept all year and finished #11 in Yahoo; he was much higher but has really struggled this last month, hurting his September value.
  3. 29    George Springer, Hou OF; Kept all year and finished #29 in Yahoo, almost exactly in line with his ADP and his rank.  Also struggled badly in september.
  4. 32    J.D. Martinez, Det OF: Missed 6 weeks mid-season so I dropped him, but picked him back up and he was not awesome but certainly not contributing as a 4th round pick.
  5. 49    Miguel Sano, Min DH; was decent early, then fell off a cliff and eventually missed time.  He ended up on the Waiver wire.
  6. 52    Carlos Carrasco, Cle SP: kept him all year even though he hit the D/L at some point and was awful in September.  I lost K’s by 9 in the playoffs … and got nothing from him thanks to the ill-timed line drive through the box.
  7. 69    Corey Seager, LAD SS: Kept all year; finished #67 in Yahoo.  A very shrewd pickup here.
  8. 72    Jeurys Familia, NYM RP: Kept all year, finished #71 in Yahoo.  Very solid Closer.
  9. 89    Cody Allen, Cle RP: I dropped him when the Indians acquired Andrew Miller … then missed out when Allen turned out to be mostly the closer again.  So
  10. 92    Danny Salazar, Cle SP: Another cleveland SP who spent time on the D/L but who was good when active; I dropped him during the playoffs when he strained his forearm.
  11. 109    David Peralta, Ari OF: My first real draft miss; he was ok for the first 6 weeks, then hit the D/L for a bit, then kept getting injured and didn’t play after early August.
  12. 112    Carlos Martinez, StL SP: My biggest “impatient drop” of the year; he struggled all the way through May and I dumped him; he got picked up by (ironically) the guy who beat me in the playoffs and he was stellar the rest of the way.
  13. 129    Adam Eaton, CWS OF: I dumped him at some point and he was basically on waivers the whole year; never good enough to pick up versus whoever had the hot hand.
  14. 132    Salvador Perez, KC C: Ugh; depth at Fantasy C is so thin, I stuck with him for almost the entire year.  Luckily I got to Gary Sanchez before anyone else, and rode him through the playoffs.
  15. 149    Jeff Samardzija, SF SP: Had him for a bit, thinking he’d be good in SF.  He was so streaky up and down that I dumped him.  He eventually got picked up by a competitor but was never really *that* good.
  16. 152    Justin Verlander, Det SP: My other big “impatient drop.”  I had Verlander two years ago and thought i’d get a find; he had a 6.49 ERA through his first 6 games.  I dumped him … and he finished the year Yahoo ranked #20.  Ugh.
  17. 169    Fernando Rodney, SD RP: A huge closer steal for yours truly; he was lights out right up until he got traded to be a setup guy.  That was a bummer.
  18. 172    Lucas Duda, NYM 1B: My perennail late-round 1B pickup, only this year he got hurt and was never really a fantasy player.
  19. 189    Lance McCullers, Hou SP: this late-round flier was on my D/L for weeks until it became apparent he wasn’t going to shwo up any time soon; he made just 2 starts all year.
  20. 192    Yordano Ventura, KC SP: awful all year; yahoo ranked #732.
  21. 209    J.J. Hoover, Cin RP: a flier on a closer-by-committee was the first player I dropped.  Luckily I caught on with some lower-end closers and did very well.  I got Luke Gregerson in Houston, who did well for a time.

So, just 8 of 21 players on my team all year from the draft.  And not one player drafted after the 10th round made it all the way though.  I’m not sure if that’s an indictment of my drafting, or just the nature of fantasy baseball.

Here was my team (save for playoff transactions) at the end of the year:

  • C: Gary Sanchez: What a monster; #11 for the month of September.
  • 1B: Wil Myers: another waiver-wire monster: He ended up yahoo ranked #30 on the year and I had  him for most of it.
  • 2B, SS, 3B: Altuve, Seager, Arenado: never once varied all year.
  • OF: Martinez, Springer and I had Keon Broxton at the end, trying to get Steals.  I played the waiver wire heavily for OFers, cycling through the likes of Justin Upton, Joc Peterson, Rajai Davis, Kendrys Morales, and for a long time Marcelle Ozuna.  In fact, for weeks I rolled out Martinez, Springer and Ozuna and had an extra random 1B (like Duda, or Napoli, or Travis Shaw) type filling in at utility.
  • Starting Pitchers: Anchors were Salazar and Carrasco.  All my other SPs were waiver pickups.  Teheran, Sanchez and Fulmer did the best for me, also had Smyly, Odorizzi at the end.  I cycled through a few SPs that in retrospect I wish I had kept versus what I ran out during the playoffs: Maeda, Gray, Bauer, Straily, etc.
  • Closers: Familia was the leader, also had Thornberg, Watson and Johnson at the end.  Really worked waivers to get closer replacements when my original guys were traded/got layered/lost out.  Allen and Rodney were really strong for me the first half, and then I just was quick on the trigger to grab Thornberg and Watson when their closers were traded.

So, how do we improve for next year?  My downfall was depending on waiver wire starters who faltered late.  I definitely had too many rookies (Sanchez and Fulmer in particular) leading the line.

I need to be patient with starters of course, but that’s the same thing every year.

I need to focus on getting a SB threat in the draft.

I need better luck.  Or to go rotisserie.  Or to get some transactions during the playoffs (which became a huge issue in our league, especially as I lost 3 different guys to injury during the playoffs).

 

Fantasy Baseball 2016: My Team

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Arenado was my #1 fantasy pick this year. Photo via legitsports.com

Arenado was my #1 fantasy pick this year. Photo via legitsports.com

Last year’s version of this post.

Standard disclaimer; I do this post every year.  If you don’t play fantasy, you probably won’t care about the 3,000 words contained herein.  You won’t  hurt my feelings by not reading.  I’ll include a  jump so it doesn’t blow out your mobile reader

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2014 Fantasy Baseball post-mortem

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Stanton blasting another 450-foot homer.  Photo unk via rantsports.com

Stanton blasting another 450-foot homer. Photo unk via rantsports.com

(Standard disclaimer; this is ranting about my fake baseball team.  If you don’t play fantasy, might as well skip this).

I’m really beginning to question my abilities in fantasy sports.  Despite being deep into baseball and knowing random things off the top of my head that should be of use in fantasy (which managers are more inclined to do closer by committee, which ball parks are skewed offensively and thus players who play there may be at an advantage), I struggle year after year.

This year, thanks to an unfortunately timed meltdown (I lost a week 0-10-2 after having been ahead early in the week), I dropped just out of the playoff spots in my league (top 6 make the playoffs out of a 12 team league).  But the ills of my team were seen early.  Once again, I was plagued by under performing players and a poor draft that left me churning the waiver wire.  By the end of the season I had made 58 of the 65 allotted moves in a failed attempt to improve enough to sneak into the playoffs (where honestly, I would have been a tough out; I can grind out 6-5-1 wins with the best of them).

So, what happened?  Here’s a link to the post talking about my initially drafted team.  And here’s a matrix of my 21 initially drafted players, their performance on the year and a note indicating whether or not they over- or under-achieved (bold means on the team at  year’s end, red = badly under performed, green = greatly over-performed).

Player round Drafted/# Drafted overall Yahoo o-rank 2013 Yahoo O-rank 2014 ADP at time of draft 2014 Perf Rank
Adam Jones-OF 1st round (#10 overall) 7 13 10th/11.4 21
Adrian Beltre-3B 2nd round (#15) 15 12 13th/13.2 46
Alex Rios-OF 3rd round (#34) 25 44 34th/35 179
Giancarlo Stanton-OF 4th round (#39) 222 26 24th/27.8 5
Kenly Janssen-RP 5th round (#58) 52 48 49th/53.2 102
Greg Holland-RP 6th round (#63) 36 63 62nd/62 60
Mark Trumbo-1B/OF 7th round (#82) 66 78 53rd/56.0 944
Carlos Santana-C/1B 8th round (#87) 134 87 69th/74.0 159
Shelby Miller-SP 9th round (#106) 76 88 110th/113.0 485
Hyung-Jin Ryu-SP 10th round (#111) 85 101 124th/127.2 95
Aaron Hill-2B 11th round (#130) 402 111 124th/115.8 364
Danny Salazar-SP 12th round (#135) 336 96 154th/150.4 355
Tony Cingrani-SP 13th round (#154) 152 133 156th/156.8 941
Jim Henderson-RP 14th round (#159) 130 155 170th/175.0 750
Shane Victorino-OF 15th round (#178) 67 113 125th/129.0 1144
Chris Archer-SP 16th round (#183) 175 171 208th/209.0 314
Asdrubal Cabrera-SS 17th round (#202) 267 151 171st/177.4 177
J.J. Hoover-RP 18th round (#207) 237 629 344th 922
Tim Hudson-SP 19th round (#226) 299 300 311th 171
Brandon Belt-1B 20th round (#231) 106 104 142th 988
Jake Odorizzi-SP 21st round (#250) 548 358 445th 197

So, what happened?

My first two picks didn’t underperform “badly,” but were not the super stars you need to take hold of a league.  I didn’t really like Adam Jones or Adrian Beltre at the draft, and despite some hot streaks they’ve been disappointments.  Beltre got hurt in camp and missed games at the beginning of the season.  My #3 pick Alex Rios I finally gave up on and waived; his seasonal rank of 179 belies what he’s done the last two months (closer to the 900 ranked range).  It’s never a good sign when your #3 pick gets waived thanks to performance (and not injury) reasons.

Giancarlo Stanton is my one major “win” out of the draft; a 4th round pick who likely will finish in the top 5 of stats on the season.  At the time of this writing, he was trailing only Mike Trout in terms of fantasy rankings for offensive players.  He single-handedly carried my team offensively for weeks on end and is a large reason that my team offense was 1st in homers and 3rd in RBI.   I feel vindicated here: I suffered through at least two injury-riddled Stanton seasons in the past after having drafted him highly, and he’ll have the same issue next year; he’ll likely be a top-5 pick with a huge injury risk on his head.

My two big-time closers did not disappoint: both Janssen and Holland performed as expected and led me to be 5th in team saves and  have a 14-7-1 record in the category on the year.  This is a big lesson learned for me; you can get by with just two big-time closers and be successful in this category.  Of course, I wanted more closers but got unlucky; my #3 closer Jim Henderson suddenly and without warning was yanked from the role on opening day.  Another team vultured his replacement (Francisco “K-rod” Rodriguez); all he’s done is pitch lights out all year and is 6th in the league in saves.  That should have been my 3rd closer.  That was a disappointment.  I tried just one waiver-wire closer grab (Chad Qualls for Houston) and despite picking correctly, Qualls went weeks without save opportunities so I dumped him after two weeks looking for more starter quality.

Lets talk about the god-awful positional player issues I had in the draft: Mark Trumbo started out white-hot, fractured his foot and missed months.  Aaron Hill did not come closer to living up to the hype of fantasy analysts.  Shane Victorino was on and off the D/L all year.  And poor Brandon Belt fractured his thumb, fought his way back and then got hit in the head during BP and still remains on the concussion D/L.

Of the Starting Pitchers I gambled on: Shelby Miller struggled all  year, Danny Salazar got demoted, as did Tony Cingrani.  Chris Archer did not produce at fantasy levels and Jake Odorizzi struggled early and was dropped (I eventually picked him back up).  I only kept two drafted starters on the team all year (Ryu and  Hudson) and frankly Hudson was so bad for so long that I came pretty close to dumping him.  That basically means that my “wait on starters” strategy was a complete failure, if I’m only keeping ONE decent starter the whole  year.

So, for the 2nd straight year I cycled the waiver wires.  Here’s some of the guys I went through:

  • Starters: Scheppers, Kluber, Eovaldi, Skaggs, Kennedy, Strohman, Peralta, Montero, Keuchel, Garcia, Beckett,  Wood, Leake, Despaigne, Bauer, Liriano, Duffy, Hellickson, Cole, Smyly
  • Relievers: Qualls
  • Catchers: Mesoraco, Ruiz
  • 1B: Francisco, Adams, Alonso, Singleton, Napoli, Carter, Duda
  • 2B: Walker, Prado, Gennett, Wong
  • SS: Aybar, Escobar, Baez, Betts
  • 3B: Castellanos, Seager, Arenado
  • OF: Rasmus, Parra, Stubbs, Crawford, Ozuna, Eaton, Reddick, Aoki

Scheppers I took a gamble on b/c his numbers were so good as a reliever; mistake.  He got shelled opening day and soon was on the D/L.   A number of these pitchers were decent moves and pitched well for a while (especially Josh Beckett and Marcus Strohman).  The biggest failure here was dumping Corey Kluber after he got hit hard opening day: He’s turned into the 16th best fantasy performer all year, a 2nd round talent.  That was a huge mistake.  I liked Eovaldi‘s peripherals (lots of Ks) but he struggled with runners and his ERA/WHIP were inflated all year.  Skaggs got hurt, Kennedy was ineffective.  I got great value for a while out of Keuchel, but after a good mid-summer he tailed off badly.  Garcia made like one start before returning to the D/L.  Josh Beckett was a great waiver wire pickup for a while, but he too got hurt and remains on the D/L today.  Alex Wood was a great find.  I snaked Gerrit Cole off the D/L just before he came back on but he contributed little.  Most of my other experiments were far too inconsistent week-to-week to trust (see Trevor Bauer, Despaigne, Mike Leake, etc).

As mentioned before, I only tried to gamble on one closer waiver wire pickup thanks to the solid two starters that I had from draft day.  Most of the available closers on the waiver wire were in committee situations and couldn’t be trusted anyway.

I worked 1B, 2B, and 3B hard.  At one point I was trying to engineer a 3B trade, having Seager while he was hot and Arenado after he came off the D/L.  But my potential trade partners badly low-balled me for Beltre (offering guys who were worth far less than Beltre was) and suddenly Seager dropped off a cliff, making his trade value useless.  Eventually I dumped both.

1B pickups Napoli, Duda and especially Carter turned out to be huge winners.  Once again proving my point that some positions are just so deep they’re not worth drafting.  Same with outfielders to a certain extent; I had Ozuna all  year and he’s turned out to be well worth it.

My season’s end Fantasy team after all this waiver wire churning.  Bold are original, red are waiver wire:

  • C: Santana
  • 1B: Carter, Duda
  • 2B: Baez, Prado
  • SS: Betts
  • 3B: Beltre
  • OF: Stanton, Jones, Ozuna
  • SP: Hudson, Ryu, Odorizzi, Cole, Hellickson, Wood, Duffy, Liriano, Smyly
  • RP: Jansen, Holland

That’s a lot of red.

Lessons Learned for Next Year

  1. You only need two big-time closers to compete.  Spend draft picks in the 5th and 6th rounds, try to get a third closer later on and you’ll do fine.  You must do a better job on the waiver wire though trying to grab closers if you want them.
  2. There’s always 1B talent on waivers.  Do not over-spend on 1B.
  3. My strategy of over-loading on mediocre starters just doesn’t seem to be working.  I was 3rd in wins and 5th in Ks, but 8th in ERA, dead last in losses and 11th in whip.   Meanwhile the #1 team this year went with an uber-pitching strategy (over-drafting starters and ending up with Kershaw, Sale, Felix Hernandez as well as several top closers) and he just dominated pitching.  Despite having a ton of starters, he managed to be 4th in Wins AND be 2nd in Whip.  I think he’s got a good strategy.  And i’m sure people will try to emulate it next year.
  4. Do not sweat churning and burning waiver wire picks early on; you may just end up with a monster surprise player on the year.  This was the 1st place team’s strategy and it netted him Charlie Blackmon and a couple of extra closers.  Two of the top 10 starters on the year were waiver wire guys: Corey Kluber and Garrett Richard.
  5. Do not hesitate grabbing big-name call-ups.  I missed out on more than a couple guys that I would have grabbed but hesitated.  This cost me last year with Yasiel Puig and it cost me this year with Jorge Soler and George Springer.  I waited, and I missed out.

Blech.  Hope you enjoyed the rant.

 

 

Nats Draft History; what were the rumors on draft day historically?

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Zimmerman was the Nats first ever pick. Photo unknown credit via fantasyknuckleheads.com

Zimmerman was the Nats first ever pick. Photo unknown credit via fantasyknuckleheads.com

I thought I’d do a different take on the “history of Nats drafts.”  What was the mood/feel around the team approaching draft day year after year?  Who do we think they were focusing on as the big day rolled around and why?  We focus mostly on the first round pick, where so many of the mock drafts focus, but we’ll also mention significant moves further down.

To be honest, I didn’t really start closely following the draft and track who the Nats were “rumored” to be with until the 2008 draft.   So if you remember something differently than me, please feel free to chime in.  I also focus pretty heavily on the early picks here, simply because teams generally get the most value out of their 1st round picks, and the thought processes in taking the first round pick often is the focus of draft analysis and mock drafts posted head of each actual draft.

The Draft Tracker xls (created by Brian Oliver, now maintained by SpringFieldFan) is vital for any Nats fan interested in tracking the teams’ drafting history.

  • 2005: Nats picked 4th overall and did not have a 2nd or 3rd round picks (the 2nd round pick went to Colorado for the Vinny Castilla FA signing and the 3rd round pick went to Minnesota as compesation for the Cristian Guzman signing)).  The team was also under MLB control and was (presumably) given quite strict financial guidelines over signings.  Given those considerations, they knew they needed a splash with their #1 overall pick, they needed someone affordable and they needed someone that would speak to their new fan-base.  They wanted college draftees, quick to the majors.  The team was looking at the three top 3rd Basemen in the draft.  Ryan ZimmermanRyan Braun and Alex Gordon.  All three were playing at good schools with good numbers.  Gordon went 2nd overall to Kansas City and the Nats snapped up Zimmerman.  Zimmerman signed quickly for an acceptable amount ($2.9M as the 4th overall pick) and was playing in the majors by September.   Zimmerman’s selection made sense geographically (he grew up in Va Beach and attended UVA) and it made sense considering the talent available at the Nats pick.  MASN’s David Huzzard printed a retrospective of the 2005 draft ahead of 2014’s draft.
  • 2006Thanks to a couple of FA losses (Hector Carrasco and Esteban Loiaza), the team had two extra picks in the first two rounds.  The team had a roller coaster 2005; first place at mid-season and then a collapse as MLB refused to allow reinforcements.  By draft-day 2006 the team was firmly under the control of Jim Bowden, and his philosophy had always skewed towards “toolsy” players, potential over actual.   But the team didn’t have an owner yet, so were still operating under MLB’s guidelines.  These two facts were quite evident by looking at the haul the Nats had with their early picks.  6 picks in the top 4 rounds and they were all high school players.  Chris Marrero, Colten Willems, Stephen Englund, Sean Black, Stephen King and Glenn Gibson.    The team got Marrero for a relatively cheap $1.6M deal mid-way through the first round, failed to sign Black altogether, and got 5 of these 6 players to sign for around $5M all told.  The team on the field was under-performing thanks to a limited MLB-dictated budget, but Bowden was drafting for the longer run.  Unfortunately none of these high school players ever amounted to much of anything, with only Marrero ever reaching the majors and Willems retiring before ever advancing out of A-Ball.
  • 2007: The team had another haul of upper-end draft picks, thanks to their acquisition of Alfonso Soriano and his type-A free agency sending them both an extra first rounder and a supplimental first rounder.   The team took lefty Ross Detwiler from small school Missouri State with the 6th overall pick, a selection that has been lampooned based on who else was available at the time (Madison Bumgarner and Jason Heyward in particular), but literature from 2007 supports his selection at 6th overall.  After Detwiler, the nats spent their two supplimental first round picks on high school raw talents (as was Bowden’s custom), neither of which ever panned out (Josh Smoker and Michael Burgess).  This draft turned into one of the more productive in Nat history, with at least four current major leaguers picked (along with Detwiler, Stephen SouzaDerek Norris and especially 2nd round pick Jordan Zimmermann, so it is unfair to focus on the misses out of 2007.  This was easily Bowden’s best draft while in charge in Washington.
  • 2008: The year of Aaron Crow.  Crow had a strong summer and a strong spring and was the 2nd best college arm in the draft, no question.  There was apparently antagonism between Bowden and Crow’s agents from the moment that he was drafted, and the negotiations between the sides never really came together.  The signing deadline came and went with no signature, and Crow went to Indy ball before getting picked the following summer.  There was talk about how the Crow non-signing was purposeful; the Nats spent significantly less money in the draft in 2008 than they had in 2007 and the ownership group was still being labeled as “cheap.”  Either way, this lack of signing was one more bullet in the ammunition guns of opinion makers in the industry about the state of the Nationals organization under the leadership of Bowden.  This would serve to be his last draft; he was embroiled in the bonus scandal over the off-season and relinquished his job ahead of the 2009 season.
  • 2009: We all are quite familiar with the story by now; Stephen Strasburg was a laconic out-of-shape hurler in high school who barely merited a college spot, then re-made himself into the “greatest pitching prospect of all time” while at San Diego State.   Despite his reported bonus demands (he ended up with more than $15M deal) and his representation (Scott Boras), the Nats never seriously considered not selecting him with the first overall pick.  For me the big question was who the Nats were going to take at #10. I wanted another starter, and there were some significant college pitchers projected to be available at #9.  Kyle GibsonAlex White,  Tyler Maztek, Chad Jenkins and Tanner Scheppers were all left on the board to draft a Stanford reliever in Drew Storen.  Keith Law had Storen ranked as his 28th prospect, a guy who was clearly “good” but who was over-drafted by nearly 20 spots.  This had “signability pick” written all over it, a thought that was even more proven when the team drafted college senior Trevor Holder with their 3rd pick and signed him for 1/2 of slot.  Holder wasn’t even his team’s friday starter and had a 4.48 ERA.  So, the team got Strasburg and paid him significant money, and the 2008 draft misstep turned into an effective closer in Storen, so the draft wasn’t a disaster, but with a bit more money allocated (remember, this was the same year they were paying Guzman $8M to be a mediocre shortstop) the team really could have hit it out of the park.
  • 2010: After another 100+ loss season, the Nats were fortunate to have another no-brainer, consensus #1 overall pick in Bryce Harper.   But the real story of the 2010 draft was Mike Rizzo’s finally convincing the ownership group and Ted Lerner of the power of the over-slot pick.  The Nationals gave Harper a 40-man deal and a lot of guaranteed money … but they also bought two high-end high school arms out of their college commitments for 1st-2nd round money (A.J. Cole and Robbie Ray).  The Nats were quickly becoming a team that was ignoring the advice of the penurious commissioner Bud Selig, known for railing against teams and owners who ignored his “slot recommendations.”  The Lerners tried to be friends with Selig and play by the rules, only to watch other teams out-spend and out-sign them.  Remember this fact when we see the next CBA come out, assigning slot deals ahead of time and implementing draconian policies on teams that over-spend in the draft.
  • 2011: The Nats were looking at a handful of players with their #6 pick; George Springer, Sonny Gray, Taylor Jungman, Jackie Bradley, and the like.  In a pretty shocking draft-day shake-up, teams passed on former college player of the year Anthony Rendon and suddenly he fell into the Nationals’ lap.  The sliding of Rendon to the Nats was amazing; Rendon was considered a clear consensus 1-1 pick for nearly 2 seasons, and the pro track record of BA college players of the year is pretty solid.   The Nats had two extra first rounders (compensation for type-A FA Adam Dunn) and the selection of Alex Meyer with the #17 overall pick was a given; some pundits had the Nats taking him at #6 overall, so much they were enthralled with the huge right hander from Kentucky.   As with 2010, the team continued to write big checks to convince Brian GoodwinMatt Purke and Kylin Turnbull to leave school early.  The Purke pick in particular showed that the Nats were willing to spend money to get big-time players and were willing to risk the dice on injury concerns.  The Nats had no 2nd rounder (lost as compensation for Adam LaRoche but with three 1st/supp-1st rounders got plenty of cracks at top-end talent.
  • 2012:  The Nats had a mid-draft pick after their .500 record in 2011 and were focusing on arms.  By now, Rizzo’s drafting mentality has been made evident; he focuses on college players, and more specifically college arms, unless an outlier falls into his lap.  Well, the definition of a draft-day outlier fell into the Nats lap in 2012 when Lucas Giolito, a big-time prep prospect who was under consideration of being the first ever high school right handed pitcher to go 1st overall early in the process.  Giolito’s size, power and secondary offerings were the makings of a 1-1 pick, but his senior prep season was derailed by what was initially called an “elbow strain” but which turned out to really be a “small elbow ligament tear.”  Nonetheless, the Nats grabbed him, signed him for over-slot money (nearly $3M), and they had their man.  Years later, Rizzo revealed that the next guy on their draft board was St. Louis sensation Michael Wacha … a “what if” question for this team that may be asked for quite a while, given Wacha’s quick rise and overall dominance at such a young age.  The rest of the Nats draft class was entirely about saving dollars to over-pay Giolito and buy him out of his college committment (as is seen by the bonus figures and senior draftees for the rest of the first 10 rounds), and we’re already seeing the after-effects of this strategy; the team has already released 10 of its 2012 draft class after just two pro seasons, and outside of Giolito its hard to see any potential impact players out of the entire class.  The Nats may get a couple of RHP bullpen arms, but little else.
  • 2013: The team knew it didn’t have a first rounder thanks to its signing of Rafael Soriano (though to be honest, knowing that they were picking last thanks to their MLB-best record in 2012, they probably weren’t as reticent about losing that pick), and the new CBA had taken affect, meaning that the team had a very limited budget for signing players.  Their first pick wasn’t until the end of the second round, and they went with a big power college arm in Jake Johansen.  It was impossible to predict who would be available to the Nats at the 68th pick (their first pick), so the Nats draft philosophy seemed to revert to default; lots of college players, lots of college arms.  Of their first 15 selected players, just one prep player was selected (Drew Ward) and a number of their guys signed  for significantly under-slot to pay Ward and a couple of other players.
  • 2014: After a disappointing 2013 season, the team kept its first round pick in a draft that seems deep on college arms but thin in other areas (especially college hitters).  The Nats farm system, after years of drafting predominantly college arms for the past few drafts, has plenty of arms but is thin on hitters, leading some pundits to presume the Nats are looking at college bats.  But a couple of late spring elbow injuries on significant names (James Hoffman and Erick Fedde) also has other pundits thinking that the Nats will have no concerns about taking a pitcher who is known to need Tommy John surgery (given their handling of the likes of Strasburg, Solis, Zimmermann and their picking of Giolito in 2012).  Mock drafts frequently have the Nats selecting Fedde at #18.  And indeed that is who the Nats select.  A run on high-end college arms just prior to the Nats pick probably sealed their fate on taking Fedde.  They take a good balance of pitchers and hitters in the top 10 rounds, almost entirely out of the college ranks (as is their custom).  Like 2013 and 2012, they gambled on one prep player in the top 10 (this year Jakson Reetz) and bought a high-end prep prospect out of his college committment, but otherwise stayed the course drafting college players.

The following links were crucial to doing this post:

My 2014 Fantasy Baseball Team

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Adam Jones; my #1 fantasy draft pick in 2014.  Photo unk.

Adam Jones; my #1 fantasy draft pick in 2014. Photo unk.

As with years past … feel free to skip this post if you don’t care about fantasy.  I know for certain that reading about someone elses’s fantasy sports team can be a bit grating.  But, if you do play fantasy i’m sure you’ll at least appreciate reading the selections and then looking at the team’s strength analysis at the end.

I’ll include a jump line so your RSS feeds aren’t blown out either.

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