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State of the Nats at the halfway point 2015

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Per KW’s comment suggestion, here’s a “State of the Nats” at the halfway point of 2015.

Salient key phrase: “Holding On.”  Lets look at some component parts.

Offense

Here’s the full-strength outfield lineup the Nats would optimally like to deploy: Span, Rendon, Harper, Zimmerman, Werth, Desmond, Ramos, Escobar.

Here’s what they lined-up against Red’s ace Johnny Cueto a few days ago: Taylor, Espinosa, Harper, Ramos, Robinson, Uggla, Desmond, den Dekker.  Yeah, its no wonder they wimpered into the night as Cueto threw a 2-hit shutout.  If you’re Cueto, you pitch around Harper (who got a hit and a walk), you attack the rest of the lineup (strike-out prone lead-off hitter Taylor took a hat-trick), and you laugh as you blow through the rest of the lineup (11Ks on the night).

That’s five regulars out, but not just any regulars; the D/L includes your expected #1, #2 #4, and #5 hitters.  Instead they are replaced by a rookie (Taylor), a career minor-leaguer (Robinson), a cast-off veteran failure (Uggla), a career .230 hitter who the team has spent the last 3 years trying to replace (Espinosa) and a 4th/5th outfielder with just a couple hundred MLB at-bats prior to this year (den Dekker).

Frankly, its a miracle the team is in first place.  Only by the grace of Harper’s incredible season does this team manage to stay in games.  For the record, at the halfway point Harper leads the league in bWAR (6.1), OBP, Slugging, OPS and OPS+.  After having a 3-1 K/BB ratio last year, this year he basically has as many walks as strike-outs, one of the primary reasons his average is 60 points higher and his OBP is 130 points higher than it was last year.  Hold your breath that Harper doesn’t crash out and miss a month with some injury like he’s done in the previous seasons.  If he ends the season with this level of an adjusted OPS+, it’ll be one of the 10-12 best offensive seasons in the history of baseball.

Ironically, even given all these injuries the Nats aren’t even close to what some other teams are dealing with; per mangameslost.com, we’re not even close to what the Mets, Rangers, Rays or Oakland has had to deal with.  Though I’d venture to say that perhaps the games lost by Nats players are slightly more “important” than the cumulative games lost by some of these other teams.  I don’t care who you are; if you remove four of the top five batters from any team’s lineup, they’d be lucky to be out of the cellar.

The team has gotten absolutely nothing from presumed bench players McLouth and Johnson (Do you think Rizzo will *ever* buy a 4th outfielder for 8-figures again in his life?).  Guys who should be in AAA are getting starts and (at least in the case of Robinson) holding their own.  We talked before the season about where Taylor should be (on the MLB bench or in AAA getting starts) … well he’s getting playing time, for better or worse.  Instead of worrying about whether Moore was going to get DFA’d to make room, we’re *adding* guys to the 40-man like Burriss to help out.

Rotation

We know about Scherzer.  He’s been amazing, should start the NL All-Star game (of course, he’s scheduled to throw the series ender in Baltimore so we’ll see) and he leads all NL pitchers in bWAR.

What about the rest of the rotation?  Both Fister and Strasburg have missed a  handful of starts, and the Nats have tried a whole AAA-rotation worth of replacements to varying results.  With apologies to “short sample size judgements” I’ll say that Ross was good, Hill has been ok, Cole has been bad, and Jordan has been worse.  Of course, both Cole and Jordan’s delta between ERA and FIP is massive, so their poor ERAs are unlucky to a certain extent.  In the meantime, Ross has a 23/2 K/BB ratio and a FIP of 1.11 in his three starts.  Its safe to say that this person is excited to see what he can do next, and for me he’s at the head of the line for 2016 rotation candidates.

Clearly we know Strasburg has had an off season.  But so has Fister.  And Gonzalez‘ ERA is in the 4’s.   Just how bad is this rotation?  Not as bad as you think; they’re ranked 8th in the league in starter ERA but are 1st in FIP and fWAR.   Last  year they were 1st in all of these categories.  So perhaps we can expect some “progression” in the 2nd half as (hopefully) guys like Strasburg clean up their act and pitch closer to their FIPs than their ERAs.

Bullpen

We knew Rizzo had weakened the bullpen from 2015, which could have been fine had the injury bug not hit.  But the turnover of this bullpen has caught up to the team in some ways.

  • End of 2014: Soriano, Storen, Clippard, Stammen, Thornton, Blevins, and Detwiler.
  • As we stand now: Storen, Janssen, Treinen, Carpenter, Thornton, Rivero, and Roark.

That’s a lot of turnover.  Yes Storen has been typically excellent (as long as its not the post-season, he seems to be one of the most reliable closers in the game).  As we speak, the bullpen is 11th in ERA; last year they were 4th as a bullpen.  Janssen’s injury did not help, as it pushed guys into the 8th inning role they weren’t ready for.  And we saw Treinen and Barrett struggle (3.69 and 5.06 ERA’s respectively).  Granted their FIP shows that those ERAs are unlucky … but those are still runs on the board, blown leads, blown saves.  Roark (predictably) has regressed as he’s pitched in practically every role a pitching staff has (long-man, mop-up, spot-starter, rotation guy, middle reliever, setup guy and even a closer).  Luckily the gambler Rizzo has gotten pretty good performance out of scrap heap guys like Thornton and Carpenter, both of whom have given the team good innings.

Will this last?  It better: there’s practically nothing left in the farm system for reinforcements.  Barrett is set to return soon (probably pushing Carpenter to AAA), but the other options in the minors do not inspire confidence.  Martin got shelled (unfortunately; we were all cheering him on after his call-up and his fantastic start).  Grace and Solis were both mediocre in their auditions, and I can’t quite figure out why Erik Davis is even still on the roster.  Maybe the team will try some more waiver claims or trades (Neftali Felix just got DFA’d…) to shore up middle relief.

Streaks

Lets talk about streaks.  As of the time of this posting, the Nats season can neatly be fit into these four periods, and then talk about what spurred the beginning/ending of each streak.

  • The Slow Start: 7-13 from opening day through 4/27/15.  The team came out of the game 7-13, thanks to a sputtering offense and a make-shift lineup still trying to gel.
  • The Comeback: 21-6 from 4/28/15 to 5/27/15: Uggla hits his sole homer on the season to spur a pretty incredible 13-12 comeback win in Atlanta, and the team goes on a 21-6 tear following it.
  • Rotational Worries: 6-13 from 5/28/15 to 6/19/15.  Strasburg lasts just 5 batters on his 5/28/15 start, putting 40% of the rotation on the D/L and throwing the rhythm of the pitching staff off.
  • The Kid dazzles: 12-5 from 6/20/15 to 7/9/15; A long road trip/tough schedule stretch ends with a dominant Ross performance at home 6/20/15, kicking off an easy stretch in the schedule and a mostly full-strength pitching rotation.

Definitely a streaky team so far.  At 7-13, they were 8 games back.  At the end of their 21-6 streak, they were 1.5 games up in the division.  Despite their 6-13 stretch the only lost 3 games in the standings as the Mets faltered equally, and as of 7/9/15 they’re still 3 games up despite getting dominated at home by the Reds.

The team is beating who they should be beating (9-3 against Atlanta, 8-5 against Philly).  And they’ve had some success against other teams that are “good” this year (3-1 against the Yankees, 3-0 against Pittsburgh, and a sweep of San Francisco).  But they’re inexplicably bad against Cincinnati (0-5?), Miami (2-4), and were expectedly weak against the rest of the AL East (a combined 3-7 against Boston, Tampa Bay and Toronto).  I’m guessing they’ll struggle against Baltimore this coming weekend since they sputtered against Cincinnati.

Lets just say that the All-Star break is coming at a pretty good time for this team.

Where do we go from here?

The Nats should be healthier coming out of the all-star break.  And they’ll need it; their July schedule is tough.  They host the Dodgers and the Mets to start, then travel to Pittsburgh, Miami and New York.  That’s a slew of games against good teams and their primary divisional rivals.

In August they host some bad teams (Arizona, Milwaukee, Colorado) but they also do their big West Coast trip (at Los Angeles, San Francisco and Colorado).  They also get a 3-game set at St. Louis that could be an eye-opener for where they really stand ahead of the playoffs.  September features practically all divisional games against teams that should all be completely out of it by then, so I forsee a team in cruising mode.

Playoff Outlook

The Nats remain in 1st place despite all their issues, and their closest rival is putting out a lineup that most AAA teams could beat.  Philly is already 30 games under .500.  Miami is 15 games under .500 and just lost their best player.  Atlanta sits around .500 but isn’t really trying for 2015 and won’t spend to compete.  So I think its safe to say the Nats are winning the division.  I’ll guess the Mets hang around since their pitching is so good, but in the end the Nats win the division by at least 10 games.

If the season ended today, Pittsburgh hosts the Cubs in the WC, St. Louis hosts the WC winner and Washington would be traveling to Los Angeles to open the playoffs.  And frankly its hard to see this changing much between now and October 1st.  I don’t think its a stretch to say that the Nats would be underdogs to both the Dodgers and the Cardinals in a playoff series, not unless Strasburg remembers how to pitch again or the offense gets healthy in time.  Are we looking at another first round playoff exit?

 

 

Nats All-Star review: 2015 and years past

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Harper becomes just the 3rd starter in Nats history.  Photo via fansided.com

Harper becomes just the 3rd starter in Nats history. Photo via fansided.com

Here’s my annual Nationals All Star selection post.

(* == All-Star game starter.  The Nats now have three ASG starters in their history, dating to 2005).

2015

  • Nationals All-Star representatives: Bryce Harper*, Max Scherzer
  • Possible Snubs: Yunel Escobar, Drew Storen
  • Narrative: Harper not only made it in as a starter for the 2nd time, he led the NL in votes, setting a MLB record for total votes received.  This is no surprise; Harper’s easily in the MVP lead for the NL thanks to his amazing first half (his split at the half-way point of the season: .347/.474/.722 with 25 homers and an astounding 225 OPS+).  I guess he won’t be earning the “Most overrated player” award next year.  That Harper is electing to skip the Home run derby in a disappointment; his father is nursing an arm injury can cannot throw to him in the event.  In a weird year for the Nats, the only other regular worth mentioning is newly acquired Escobar, who is hitting above .300 and filling in ably at multiple positions that, prior to this year, he had never played.  Storen is having another excellent regular season … but at a time when mandatory members from each team often leads to other closers being selected (there are 5 NL closers and 7 AL relievers), the odds of him making the All-Star team were always going to be slim.  Scherzer deservedly makes the team and probably would have been the NL starter; he’s got sub 2.00 ERA and FIP and leads all NL pitchers in WAR at the mid-way point of the season.  But his turn came up in the final game of the first half, making him ineligible for the game and forcing his replacement on the roster.

As a side note, the 2015 All-Star game will go down as the “Ballot-Gate” game thanks to MLB’s short-sighted plan to allow 30+ online ballots per email address.  This led to severe “ballot stuffing” by the Kansas City Royals fans, led to MLB  having to eliminate 60 million+ fraudulent ballots, but still led to several Royals being elected starters over more deserving candidates.

 


Here’s past year’s information, mostly recycled information from past posts on the topic but fun to read nonetheless, especially the early years.

2014

  • Nationals All-Star representative: Jordan Zimmermann (Update post-publishing: Zimmermann strained a bicep, and had to withdraw from the ASG.  For a bit it looked like the Nats wouldn’t even have a representative, until Tyler Clippard was named on 7/13/14).
  • Possible Snubs: Adam LaRoche, Anthony Rendon, Rafael Soriano, Drew Storen
  • Narrative: Zimmermann’s been the best SP on the best pitching staff in the majors this year, and thus earns his spot.  I find it somewhat odd that a first place team (or near to it) gets just one representative on the team (as discussed above).  Rendon tried to make the team via the “last man in” voting, but historically Nationals have not fared well in this competition (especially when better known players from large markets are in the competition, aka Anthony Rizzo from the Chicago Cubs), and indeed Rendon finished 4th in the last-man voting.  LaRoche is having a very good season, almost single handedly carrying the Nats offense while major parts were out injured, but he’s never going to beat out the slew of great NL first basemen (Joey Votto couldn’t even get into this game).  Soriano has quietly put together one of the best seasons of any closer in the game; at the time of this writing he has a 1.03 ERA and a .829 whip; those are Dennis Eckersley numbers.  But, the farce that is the all-star game selection criteria (having to select one player from each team) means that teams need a representative, and deserving guys like Soriano get squeezed.  Then, Soriano indignantly said he wouldn’t even go if named as a replacement … likely leading to Clippard’s replacement selection.  The same goes for non-closer Storen, who sports a sub 2.00 ERA on the year.  Advanced stats columnists (Keith Law) also think that Stephen Strasburg is a snub but I’m not entirely sure: he may lead the NL in K’s right now and have far better advanced numbers than “traditional,” but its hard to make an argument that a guy with a 7-6 record and a 3.50+ ERA is all-star worthy.

2013

  • Nationals All-Star representatives: Bryce Harper*, Jordan Zimmermann
  • Snubs: Stephen Strasburg, Ian Desmond
  • Narrative: Harper comes in 3rd in the NL outfielder voting, ahead of some big-time names, to become only the second Nationals position player elected as an All-Star starter.  He was 4th in the final pre-selection vote, so a big last minute push got him the starter spot.   Harper also becomes the first National to participate in the Home Run Derby.   Zimmermann was 12-3 heading into the game and was on mid-season Cy Young short lists in July in a breakout season.  Strasburg’s advanced stats are all better than Zimmermann’s, but his W/L record (4-6 as the ASG) means he’s not an all-star.  It also probably doesn’t help that he missed a few weeks.  Desmond loses out to Troy Tulowitzki, Everth Cabrera and Jean Segura.  Tulowitzki was having a very solid year and was a deserving elected starter, while Cabrera and Segura are both having breakout seasons.  Desmond was on the “Final vote” roster, but my vote (and most others’ I’m guessing) would be for Yasiel Puig there ([Editor Update: Desmond and Puig lost out to Freddie Freeman: I still wished that Puig finds a way onto the roster but ultimately he did not and I believe the ASG was diminished because of it).   Gio GonzalezRyan Zimmerman, and Rafael Soriano are all having solid but unspectacular years and miss out behind those having great seasons.

2012

  • Nationals All-Star representatives: Stephen StrasburgGio GonzalezIan Desmond, Bryce Harper
  • Possible Snubs: Adam LaRocheCraig Stammen
  • Narrative: The two SPs Strasburg and Gonzalez were the obvious candidates, and my personal prediction was that they’d be the only two candidates selected.  Gonzalez’ first half was a prelude to his 21-win, 3rd place Cy Young season.  The inclusion of Desmond is a surprise, but also a testament to how far he’s come as a player in 2012.  Harper was a last-minute injury replacement, but had earned his spot by virtue of his fast start as one of the youngest players in the league.  Of the “snubs,” LaRoche has had a fantastic come back season in 2012 but fared little shot against better, more well-known NL first basemen.  Stammen was our best bullpen arm, but like LaRoche fared little chance of getting selected during a year when the Nats had two deserving pitchers selected.

2011

  • Nationals All-Star representatives: Tyler Clippard
  • Possible Snubs: Danny EspinosaMichael MorseDrew StorenJordan Zimmermann
  • Narrative: While Clippard was (arguably) the Nats best and most important reliever, I think Zimmermann was a more rightful choice.  He was 10th in the league in ERA at the time of the selections and has put in a series of dominant performances.  Meanwhile Espinosa was on pace for a 28-homer season and almost a certain Rookie-of-the-Year award (though a precipitous fall-off in the 2nd half cost him any realistic shot at the ROY), and perhaps both players are just too young to be known around the league.  Lastly Morse is certainly known and he merited a spot in the “last man in” vote sponsored by MLB (though he fared little chance against popular players in this last-man-in voting).

2010

  • Nationals All-Star representatives: Matt Capps
  • Possible Snubs: Adam DunnJosh WillinghamRyan Zimmerman, Steven Strasburg
  • Narrative: Capps was clearly deserving, having a breakout season as a closer after his off-season non-tender from the Pirates.  The 3-4-5 hitters Zimmerman-Dunn-Willingham all had dominant offensive seasons as the team improved markedly from its 103-loss season.  But perhaps the surprise non-inclusion was Strasburg, who despite only having a few starts as of the all-star break was already the talk of baseball.  I think MLB missed a great PR opportunity to name him to the team to give him the exposure that the rest of the national media expected.  But in the end, Capps was a deserving candidate and I can’t argue that our hitters did anything special enough to merit inclusion.

2009

  • Nationals All-Star representatives: Ryan Zimmerman
  • Possible Snubs: Adam Dunn
  • Narrative: The addition of Dunn and Willingham to the lineup gave Zimmerman the protection he never had, and he produced with his career-best season.  His first and deserved all-star appearance en-route to a 33 homer season.  Dunn continued his monster homer totals with little all-star recognition.

2008

  • Nationals All-Star representatives: Cristian Guzman
  • Possible Snubs: Jon Rauch
  • Narrative: The first of two “hitting rock-bottom” seasons for the team; no one really merited selection.  Zimmerman was coming off of hamate-bone surgery in November 2007 and the team was more or less awful across the board.  Rauch performed ably after Cordero went down with season-ending (and basically career-ending) shoulder surgery.   Guzman’s selection a great example of why one-per-team rules don’t make any sense.  Guzman ended up playing far longer than he deserved in the game itself by virtue of the 15-inning affair.

2007

  • Nationals All-Star representatives: Dmitri Young
  • Possible Snubs: Ryan Zimmerman, Shawn Hill (though I wouldn’t argue for either)
  • Narrative: Young gets a deserved all-star appearance en route to comeback player of the year.  Zimmerman played a full season but didn’t dominate.  Our 2007 staff gave starts to 13 different players, most of whom were out of the league within the next year or two.  Not a good team.

2006

  • Nationals All-Star representatives: Alfonso Soriano*
  • Possible Snubs: Nick JohnsonRyan Zimmerman, Chad Cordero
  • Narrative: Soriano made the team as an elected starter, the first time the Nats have had such an honor.  Our pitching staff took massive steps backwards and no starter came even close to meriting a spot.  Cordero was good but not lights out as he had been in 2005.  Soriano’s 40-40 season is a poster child for “contract year” production and he has failed to come close to such production since.  The team was poor and getting worse.  Johnson had a career year but got overshadowed by bigger, better first basemen in the league (a recurring theme for our first basemen over the years).

2005

  • Nationals All-Star representatives: Livan HernandezChad Cordero
  • Possible Snubs: Nick JohnsonJohn Patterson.
  • Narrative: The Nats went into the All Star break surprisingly in first place, having run to a 50-31 record by the halfway point.  Should a first place team have gotten more than just two representatives?  Perhaps.  But the team was filled with non-stars and played far over its head to go 50-31 (as evidenced by the reverse 31-50 record the rest of the way).

Is Ross making the Nats re-think their future rotation strategy?

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Joe Ross has been a revalation at the MLB level.  Photo Getty Images via federalbaseball.com

Joe Ross has been a revelation at the MLB level. Photo Getty Images via federalbaseball.com

Joe Ross, who it is fair to say was in some respects the “other guy” in the Tampa/San Diego 3-way trade that netted the Nats presumed future shortstop Trea Turner but cost them Steven Souza and prospect Travis Ott, got a somewhat surprising call-up after the starters covering for Doug Fister didn’t quite give the Nats the performance they were looking for.

Three starts later, two of which were easily defined as “dominant,” is it too soon to think that perhaps Ross is a bigger part of the Nats future than the trio of starter prospects we have stashed in Syracuse?

He looked *really good* last night against a team on an 8-game winning streak.  He was making professional hitters look very, very ordinary with his slider.  His slider was so good, he threw it nearly 50% of the time last night and got an astounding 38% whiff rate.  Average fastball of 93.1, max of 96.8 on the night.  Wow.

Small Sample Sizes, of course.  And maybe you could ignore the 11-K performance against the god-awful Brewers.  But Pittsburgh is was hottest team in the league and was mowed down like little leaguers.

At the beginning of this season, if you asked me what the Nats’ rotation was going to look like in the next three transitionary years, I might have said something like this:

  • 2015: Scherzer, Strasburg, Zimmermann, Gonzalez, Fister with Roark as #1 replacement option
  • 2016: Scherzer, Strasburg, Gonzalez, Roark and a battle between Treinen, Cole, Jordan and Hill (in that order) for 5th and 6th spots.
  • 2017: Scherzer, Giolito, Gonzalez, Roark, and a question mark.  Maybe Treinen/Cole, maybe a veteran acquired via FA or trade.  Maybe Lopez if he moves up at the same pace as Giolito.  Who knows.

Now?  I think you have to think Ross has jumped to the top of the list in that 2016 rotational battle, maybe even solidifying his spot.   Does a rotation of Scherzer, Strasburg, Ross, Gonzalez and Roark sound good?  Keep Treinen in the bullpen.  Flip spare depth (Cole, Jordan, Hill) for whatever you can get for them, and make room for the next wave of guys (Giolito, Voth, Lopez, Pivetta).

Wishful thinking?  Perhaps.  We love dreaming on pitching prospects here, but give me  your thoughts.

 

All is not lost

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Nice performance from Fister on sunday.  Photo via wp.com

Nice performance from Fister on sunday. Photo via wp.com

So, after destroying the ball in Atlanta (30 runs in 3 games) and getting what feels like an early “turn around the ship” 13-12 epic come from behind win, the team goes to New York and takes 3 of 4 from the Mets (who were theretofore undefeated at home and had the best record in the game).  Even if you don’t think the Mets are really that good, it was still a statement series to go to a divisional rival ahead of you in the standings and take 3 of 4.

They couldn’t beat Matt Harvey (who can these days?), not even with Max Scherzer going, but beat Jacob DeGrom and got the kind of shut-down performances from their #4 and #5 starters (Gonzalez and Fister) that practically no other team in the league can depend on.  It isn’t a good sign having to depend on untested rookies and fortunate bounces to get one-off runs that lead to 1-0 victories, but then again, its a great sign that you have a team that *can* win these kinds of games.

Now Miami comes to town; they’ve been hot (8-2 in their last 10), but the pitching matchups favor the Nats.  I’ll take Zimmermann, Strasburg, Scherzer (the best 1-2-3 in the majors) over what Miami’s bringing to the table this week (Phelps, Latos and Koehler).  Anything less than a sweep of Miami will be a disappointment.  The Nats have clear, inarguable pitching matchup advantages, and Latos/Koehler sport ugly ERAs that should help the Nats offense get healthy again quick.

Are we backed away from the ledge yet?   There’s still areas of improvement of course.  Per Fangraphs today, the team ranks:

  • 23rd in team WRC+ at 86 (my favorite all-equaling offensive stat measure)
  • 23rd in team Batting Average at .235, which sounds awful but there’s seven teams worse right now.
  • 7th in Starter ERA … but 2nd in Starter FIP and 1st in Starter WAR (Scherzer leads the league in fWAR despite being just 1-3)
  • 12th in Bullpen ERA and 11th in bullpen FIP

So, the bullpen we’ve fretted about is holding on but could use improvement, the Starters are holding up their end of the bargain, and the offense needs to improve.  About where we expected the team to be?

 

 

Sammy Solis; first look

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Solis finally debuts in the majors.  Photo via Natsinsider blog/Mark Zuckerman

Solis finally debuts in the majors. Photo via Natsinsider blog/Mark Zuckerman

Welcome to the majors, Sammy Solis!

We’ve been hearing about Solis for quite a while.  He was our 2nd round pick in 2010 (the same draft that also netted fellow MLB players Harper, Cole, Grace, Barrett and Robbie Ray; that’s quite a good draft), was routinely in the top 4-8 range of the Nats minor league prospects from November onwards, had some early success (2.72 ERA in his first full pro season at High-A), blew out his elbow, missed all of 2012, struggled in 2013 upon his return, barely pitched last year, and had become a forgotten man on all those prospect ranking lists.

Suddenly, he jumps AAA after throwing just four AA innings so far this year and debuts with two shutout innings against the hottest team in the NL.  Wow, what a ride.

In the previous thread, there was some doubters about his velocity showings on TV… but a gander at Pitch F/X supports the stadium gun readings.  Solis averaged 95.2 on his 13 fastballs, hitting 96.9 on his 10th pitch (a called strike 3 on the corner to end the 7th inning, perhaps his best pitch of the night).  He also threw a few curves and changes.  He was very much in the zone: 16 of 22 pitches were strikes, showing command of all three of his pitches.  He got exactly zero swings and misses though, and the Mets hitters did get some solid contact throughout his two innings.  So its probably safe to say he was a bit lucky BABIP wise on the night, and might have to work on his command a bit.  His curves seemed up; perhaps its the shape (Gio Gonzalez‘s curves are up as well), but the Mets got good swings on them.  He has a *huge* delta between his 4seamer and his change (95 to 83?  that’s big).  Is it too big; are hitters adjusting on the fly?  It also seems like Solis needs an in-between velocity pitch, something like a slider that comes in perhaps in the 90-91 range, or perhaps a cut fastball with similar velocity reduction.

His mechanics reminded me of Matt Chico; simple, straight forward, not a ton of extraneous movement .. but with a ton more velocity.  Exciting velocity frankly.  If he can nearly hit 97 from the left side, maybe we need to be thinking about him returning to a starting role?

If you want to see some video, there’s a minute long clip of some of his mechanics on mlb.com with the game summary from 4/30/15.

Quick thoughts.  Feel free to chime in.

Written by Todd Boss

May 1st, 2015 at 9:44 am

Greatest (and worst) ever Nats games & Events

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I think i would have preferred shaving cream.  Photo TV screenshot via natsenquirer.com

I think i would have preferred shaving cream. Photo TV screenshot via natsenquirer.com

Editor note: thanks for all the suggestions; this post has evolved and edited as I’ve gotten them in comments.

So, given the unbelievable comeback win this week against Atlanta, I dug up an old topic for us to argue about.  The “Greatest” and “Worst” ever games in Nats history.  I had an old draft of this from the off-season, and this week’s Atlanta game coupled with the franchise’s first ever no-hitter being thrown in the last game of the 2014 regular season, as well as some new truly gut-wrenching playoff losses, I thought it was a nice time to re-post this list.

(side argument; was last night’s game a “great” game given the comeback or an “awful” game, given the arguments we all just made in the last post?)

This list started with a throw-away post I did a couple years ago titled “the greatest Nats games I’ve witnessed,” but the comments section turned into a great list of the larger “greatest ever” suggestions.  I’m counting on our crew to remind me of games that should make the best and worst lists.

Here’s my updated Greatest Nats Game List.  Subjectively ordered from best on downwards.  Feel free to argue.  :-)

  1. October 11th, 2012: NLDS Game 4: Jayson Werth walk-off homer in an epic battle against Lance Lynn, hitting the 13th pitch of the at-bat (!!) on a line-drive into the seats.  Ironic that what I think is the most special game in Nats franchise history occurred the day before what I consider to be the worst game in franchise history.  (note; thanks to my former coworker Eric Hay for correcting me on my pitch count memory here in the comments :-).
  2. April 14th, 2005: First home game as a franchise: April 14 2005 (even though half the crowd was stuck outside waiting to go through metal detectors for the first two innings thanks to George W. Bush‘s publicized appearance to throw out the first pitch).
  3. March 30th, 2008: Nats Park Opener 2008. I was in Las Vegas for a bachelor party that weekend and took a 4am flight out of Vegas to get back to Washington in time to catch the game.  It was cold, it looked like the bullpen had blown it … and then Ryan Zimmerman hit the latest in a long string of walk-off homers to win it in the bottom of the 9th.  Fantastic.
  4. September 29th, 2014: Jordan Zimmermann‘s season-closing no-hitter 2014, with the amazing game-ending catch by Steven Souza.
  5. June 18th, 2006: Fathers Day versus the Yankees 2006.  An attendance record that stood for this franchise until the 2012 playoffs.
  6. June 8th, 2010: Stephen Strasburg‘s 14-k debut: still the franchise record for strikeouts in a game and just about the most electric debut this team has ever seen.  A college-aged kid made the Pittsburgh Pirates look like a little league team.  The Nats manipulated Strasburg’s service time to avoid the “super-2″ status; it was worth the wait.
  7. October 7th, 2012: NLDS Game 1: 2-run rally in the 8th on Tyler Moore‘s flair to beat the Cardinals in St. Louis in the first ever playoff game for the team.  In theory it should have completely set up the Nats to cruise through the series.  Didn’t quite happen that way.
  8. October 6th, 2014: Beating Madison Bumgarner in the 2014 NLDS; our only 2014 post-season win and the only time Bumgarner lost that post-season.
  9. September 4th, 2006: Ramon Ortiznear no-hitter in 2006, a game where he took a no-hitter into the 9th, hit his first (and only) career home run, but wasn’t able to even get a complete game after Albert Pujols crushed a ball 450 feet to dead-center at RFK the batter after he lost the no-no.  Still a fun night.
  10. April 28th, 2012: Bryce Harper‘s debut in LA , featuring his tomahawk double straight over Kemp’s head for his first hit and watching him run around the bases like the excited teen-ager he actually was.  Should Harper have been up with the team from the get-go?

Not sure how we beat my #1 game until we see some dramatic walk-off post-season series winner.

Honorable Mentions:

  • June 22nd, 2011: Wilson Ramos walk-off homer to complete a 5-1 comeback in the 9th against Seattle.
  • July 8th, 2010: Adam Dunn 3-homer day in 2010.  There have been two three other Nats to hit three homers in a day: Alfonso Soriano did it in 2006 and Ryan Zimmerman did it against Baltimore in a losing effort in 2013, and Bryce Harper just accomplished it on 5/6/15, hitting homers in his first three at-bats against Miami (in his last at-bat, he had an RBI ground-out).
  • Only two Nats have ever hit for the cycle: Brad Wilkerson did it in the 2nd ever game the team played (4/6/2005) and Cristian Guzman did it on 8/2/08.
  • September 22nd, 2012: Gio Gonzalez gets his 20th win, a first for the franchise, and breaks the 200K barrier for the first time by a Washington pitcher since someone named Walter Johnson played here in in 1916.
  • September 23rd, 2007: the last game at RFK, with the largest crowd of that awful season in attendance.
  • Last game of 2012, beating the Phillies and clinching best record in baseball.
  • September 6th, 2010: Danny Espinosa‘s 2-homer MLB home debut.  Espinosa had debuted a few days earlier on the road, but in front of the home crowd and his family, he had a monster day, going 4-5 with 2 homers and 6 RBI.  Was this the apex of his career?
  • April 28th, 2015: 8-run comeback against Atlanta, winning 13-12 on Dan Uggla‘s 9th inning 3-run homer.  I’ll put this in the “good” category considering the unbelievable win-expectancy odds the team beat to win this game.
  • June 14th, 2005: The Frank RobinsonMike Scioscia toe-to-toe argument game, which was followed with an “eff-you” homer from Jose Guillen to propel the Nats to a home win.
  • September 17th, 2014: Nats clinch NL East in Atlanta; a great moment of course … but it wasn’t even here.  But clinching so early and in Atlanta, which had owned the Nats head-to-head even when the Nats were good, was satisfying.
  • October 1st, 2012: NL East clincher; even though the team lost … the crowd started buzzing in the 9th inning as those monitoring the Atlanta game on their phones learned that they were losing, thus clinching the division for the Nats and resulting in their first playoff appearance.  The stadium finally posted the result, annointing the Nats as division champs and they started high-fiving … even though it was the bottom of the 9th and they were losing.  The team had clinched a wild-card berth earlier in the week, but this was the event that the team openly celebrated.  Should a game we lost be on this list?
  • April 20th, 2009: Jordan Zimmermann’s debut vs Atlanta. A 3-2 win after a two-hour rain delay. Jordan goes 6 strong innings to provide the first glimpse of the Nats’ turnaround from what would be consecutive 100-loss seasons, though because of the rain and how bad the team was there were only about 5,000 of us in the stands that night.
  • June 12th, 2005: Nats defeat Seattle 3-2 for their 10th consecutive home win win on the strength of a Junior Spivey(!) two-run homer. I never felt RFK rock like it did that day. Incidentally, Mike Morse played shortstop for Seattle that day.
  • August 4th, 2005: John Patterson’s 14K game against the Dodgers. Nats win 7-0 in what was the highest ever game score (92) for a Nats’ starter until JZ’s no-no in 2014.
  • August 21st, 2014: Nats defeat Arizona 1-0 on an Anthony Rendon walk off single in the bottom of the 9th–their fifth walk off win in six games. Except for Strasburg’s debut, I never felt the NEW stadium rock for a non-playoff game like it did at that moment.
  • August 7, 2012. Roger Bernadina makes ridiculous catch behind a pillar in Minute Maid park to preserve a 3-2 Nats win in 12 innings. What everyone thought was a walk-off, game winning double for the Astros turned into a backbreaking loss.
  • July 28, 2009. Josh Willingham hits two grand slams in same game.  Arguably better than Dunn’s 3-homer performance because of the team aspect to it.  This remains the greatest RBI performance in Nats history (8 RBI on the day, two more than the 2nd best 6-RBI day by Espinosa, mentioned above).

How about more generally a quick list of the non-game related Greatest Nats Non-Game related Events?

  • September 29th, 2004: The day the team officially was announced to be moving to Washington.
  • December 5th, 2010: The Jayson Werth signing.  To me, that was a signal that a) the owners (previously accused of being penny-pinchers) were finally listening to the council of Stan Kasten and Mike Rizzo and were investing in the team.  It was also a statement contract to the rest of the league; the Nats were willing to spend, and were ready to compete.  Within two seasons the team was in the playoffs after having two 100+ loss seasons.
  • May 2006: MLB picks the ownership group led by Ted Lerner to buy the team.  The group includes vastly experienced baseball man Stan Kasten and his vision is clearly seen with the new stadium’s design.
  • August 2010: Signing Strasburg
  • August 2011: Signing Harper
  • October 3rd, 2012: Teddy wins for the first time.  We had privately wondered when Teddy would finally win the president’s race; would it be on his bobble-head night?  Nope; turns out the night after clinching our first playoff appearance, Teddy won.

 


… And now the Worst Games in Nats History.  I don’t have any way to really quantify the “worst” games for a team that lost 100+ games two years in a row just recently.  So please feel free to add on your suggestions.  I don’t think any of them will beat the top three losses listed here though:

  1. NLDS 2015 Game 5 (Drew Storen 9th inning meltdown)
  2. NLDS 2014 Game 2 (Zimmermann yank, another Storen post-season blown save, and then subsequent 18-inning loss)
  3. NLDS 2014 Game 4 (7th inning Aaron Barrett/bullpen debacle)

Honorable Mentions for me (with plenty of input from Zuckerman’s lists, links at the bottom, readers):

  • April 5th, 2010: The “Phillies Invasion” game; opening day.  What started as a fantastic opening day (it was sunny and 80 degrees in early April) turned into a nightmare for Nats fans: the team got beat 11-1 on the field … and the park was perhaps 75% filled with Philadelphia fans.  Turns out the team “courted” event planners in Philadelphia and sold them thousands of tickets, which they turned into day-trips to/from Philadelphia on drinking buses for Phillies fans who (at the time, since they were great) couldn’t easily get home tickets.  As you might imagine, the crowd was incredibly pro-Philadelphia, booed the home team, was mostly drunk and aggressive having been drinking since 9am on their party buses, and there were times that we (sitting in the upper-deck, having given up our season tickets after getting screwed in the seat relocation process), literally felt afraid for our safety.  It was an embarrassment to everyone involved and led to some very specific changes (I believe from then on you had to be calling from a DC-local phone number to book tickets to opening day).
  • July 15th, 2005: Mike Stanton, making his Nats debut, committed a walk-off balk.   Quite a rarity; its only happened a few times that baseball researchers can find in the last 30 years or so.
  • April 18th, 2010: Jason Marquis failed to record an out on April 18th, 2010 against Milwaukee.  The team was down 10-0 before they even came to bat.  That’s a gut punch for the fans who paid to get into the game … to basically know that you’re going to lose before you even get a beer.
  • July 2012, the Nats blew a 9-0 lead against Atlanta.  With Strasburg on the mound. And they blew that lead in just four innings.
  • September 6th, 2006: Nick Johnson breaks his leg on the field, colliding with Austin Kearns going after a pop-up.  Johnson missed the entirety of the 2007 season recovering from this injury, in his prime as a player.
  • April 19th, 2009: judgement day for Jim Bowden‘s cattle-call bullpen construction for the 2009 season; after blowing their third straight 9th inning lead, new GM Mike Rizzo cleaned house; releasing two relievers (Shell & Ledezma) and demoting a third (Rivera).  Within two days their opening-day closer (Hanrahan) was demoted as well, and the tone was set for an ugly 103-loss season.
  • August 21st, 2010: Strasburg motions for his pitching coach to come to the mound … because he’s blown his UCL.  Ironically, the team announced his surgery and year off on the same day (two days later) that their previous high-profile TJ surgery survivor Jordan Zimmermann makes his season debut after his own rehab from the surgery.  The fall-out from this also included Rob Dibble, who on-air basically challenged Strasburg’s manhood for coming out of the game.  Dibble never called another game for the team.
  • May 25th, 2006: Frank Robinson is forced to remove emergency catcher Matt LeCroy mid-inning after he had committed two throwing errors and allowed *seven* steals.  Robinson was so embarrassed for what he was forced to do to LeCroy that he broke down at the post-season press conference.
  • September 17th, 2005: The Nats blow a 5-run lead in the ninth inning to officially eliminate themselves from post-season contention.  It is hard to believe now, but the 2005 Nats were 51-30 at the halfway point and in first place … and then went exactly 31-50 the rest of the way there as the MLB-stewarded team failed to make any meaningful acquisitions at the trade deadline to improve the team (and why would the owners-by-occupation?  Why help a competing, owner-less ward of the league team beat them to the playoffs?).  I don’t recall this as being that significant a game or event, having long since seen the writing on the wall as the team clearly was floundering to the finish line.
  • September 2nd, 2008: Jesus Flores injury game; Chase Utley barreled into Flores’ left leg in what I always thought was a dirty play.  Flores missed the rest of that season.  This is exactly the kind of play that now is barred thanks to too many catchers having season-ending injuries.  In the grand scheme of things, this might not be that “bad” of a game but it really sticks with me.

Perhaps a separate category for “Worst Nats ‘Events’” would include the following (mainly pulled from Zuckerman’s crowd-sourced 2010 lists):

  • Aug 2008: Failing to sign Aaron Crow at the signing deadline.  While in hindsight this was a fortunate miss for the Nats (Crow has been a good but not great reliever and is currently out for TJ surgery, while his comp pick turned into Drew Storen), at the time this was an embarrassing misstep for the organization and another black mark on its GM Bowden.
  • Feb 2009: the team is forced to admit that “Smiley” Gonzalez is not who he says he is, that he’s *four* years older, and that his $1.4M bonus was probably a sham.  Combined into this event’s fallout of course was the forced resignation of Bowden (which to many DC fans was one of the “greatest” events in Nats history), the termination of Jose Rijo and a complete dismantling of our operations in the Dominican Republic.  Our pipeline of DR talent would basically disappear for years, a situation that affects the team to this day.
  • June 27th, 2009: Jim Riggleman abruptly resigns as manager the day he finally guides the team above .500 after  years of ineptitude.  While nearly everyone in the baseball world blamed Riggleman, my take at the time was a bit more supportive of his reasoning.  But this was still a huge amount of unwanted press for this team.
  • 2012 Shutdown-gate; how do you feel about this event?  Do you find yourself *still* defending the team’s actions?  Or, if you didn’t agree with them, still irritated that the team went into its first post-season series without its Ace?  I call this a “worst event” because, frankly, I just wish the team was never in this position.

FWIW, here’s some 2010 links from Mark Zuckerman on his “top 5″ list for both best and worst days/games.   Nearly every game mentioned from our early days is also in this post with context.

Nats Full Season Pitching Staffs

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A.J. Cole leads the minor league starter depth.  Photo AP

A.J. Cole leads the minor league starter depth. Photo AP

All our full-season squads have been announced, and its time to start looking at the pitching staffs.

I never got to doing my massive reviews of the rotations of the various farm system teams this past off-season (job change, less free time at home, they being a ton of work, etc).  Which also led to my not doing any predictions on where our pitchers would start the 2015 season.  Which is a bummer, because it is always fun to see if my predictions were decent and to see how player movement has affected the squads.  Lets go team by team and (focusing on the rotations) look at how things have changed since the end of last season.


MLB (25-man roster announcement here)

  • 2015 Rotation: Scherzer, Zimmermann, Strasburg, Gonzalez, Fister
  • 2014 Opening Day Rotation: Strasburg, Gonzalez, Zimmermann, Roark, Jordan
  • 2014 Closing Day rotation: Strasburg, Gonzalez, Zimmermann, Fister, Roark

Discussion: We’ve certainly talked this through.  Quickly;  Fister‘s 2014 spring training injury opened the door for both Roark and Jordan to duke it out for the 2014 5th starter job, eventually won by Roark, who gave the team a 5-win season as the 5th starter.  That wasn’t enough for the Nats though; committing $210M on Scherzer for the next decade or so, pushing Roark to mop-up guy/insurance starter for opening of 2015.

Manager Matt Williams also shook up the 2015 rotation order, installing the starters by accomplishment, not by reputation.  Thus 3-year running opening day starter Strasburg is dropped to the #3 hole, and last year’s #2 Gonzalez is now basically the #5 starter.

Enough about the MLB discussion though; lets get to the minor league rotations.

 


All four full season minor league squads are announced here by Nats Journal.   In some cases we know who the rotation will be, in other cases the below is a huge guess.  Especially at Hagerstown (as we’ll see).

AAA (Syracuse roster announcement link)

  • 2015 Rotation: Cole, Jordan, Hill, McGregor, Billings (with Lively, Rivero (L) as swingmen)
  • 2014 Opening Day Rotation: Rosenbaum (L), Hill, Tatusko, Treinen, Poveda
  • 2014 Closing Day rotation: Laffey (L), Hill,  Treinen, Lively, Cole (Espino 9/1 call-up)

Discussion

A late spring training injury to Casey Janssen has called presumed AAA starter Blake Treinen into action in the Nats bullpen, perhaps for the long run.  Which has opened up a couple of spots in the Syracuse rotation … and they’ve been surprisingly filled.  Instead of installing who I presumed to be the 5th AAA starter (trade acquisition Felipe Rivero), the team has announced that 2014 MLFA signing/rubber-armed swingman Scott McGregor and 2015 MLFA Bruce Billings will fill out the rotation.

Changes from 2014?  Rosenbaum traded for catcher depth, Tatusko to Korea, Poveda remains an unsigned MLFA, and Laffey signed a new MLFA deal with Colorado.

One has to think that McGregor/Billings are temporary holds in the rotation until Treinen returns.  The conversion of Rivero to the bullpen is more interesting; the team is rather short on lefty starters in the system right now (thanks to a slew of upper-end draft pick lefty starters failing in the past few years … ahem Solis, Purke, Mooneyham, Turnbull).  As we’ll see later on, there’s nobody really that makes sense to supplant any of these guys as a starter from AA or XST.


AA (Harrisburg roster announcement here)

  • 2015 Rotation: Voth, Ross, Espino, Alderson, Swynenberg (with Bleier (L) perhaps as a swingman?)
  • 2014 Opening Day Rotation: Schwartz, Rivero (L), Gilliam, Purke (L), Cole
  • 2014 Closing Day rotation: Dupra (sort of), Voth, Rivero (L), Poveda, (Espino 9/1 promotion), Kroenke

Discussion

Harrisburg went through an awful lot of starters last year.  19 guys got starts, 15 of which were not just one-offs.  From last year’s opening day, Schwartz got demoted after putting up a 7+ ERA and then hurt, Gilliam got hurt, and Purke had Tommy John surgery.  By the end of the season, only Rivero remained in the rotation, though he spent a good spell on the D/L as well.  Dupra got 12 starts and 24 appearances and was medicore (5.60 ERA), Poveda had great ratios (39Ks in 32innings) but an ugly era (5.34), and MLFA Kroenke was abhorrent (6.72 ERA).

Returning for 2015 are Austin Voth, the 2013 draft pick who shot up two levels last year, and last year’s MLFA Paolo Espino, who has re-upped with the team for 2015.  They are joined by newly acquired Joe Ross, MLFA Tim Alderson and the surprising Matt Swynenberg (who was closer to retirement than a rotation gig this time last year).   I have 2015 MLFA Richard Bleier as a swingman/spot starter for now.  This rotation may be augmented by some of the Missing/XST arms (see later discussion).


High-A

  • 2015 Rotation: Bacus, Pivetta, Spann (L), Suero, Rauh (with Schwartz as swingman?)
  • 2014 Opening Day Rotation: Rauh, Rpena, Mooneyham (L), Encarnacion, Lee (L)
  • 2014 Closing Day rotation: Bacus, Spann (L), Dickson, Sylvestre,  Rauh,

Discussion

Lots of turnover in the Potomac rotation as well; 14 guys got starts from last year.   Dakota Bacus, Brian Rauh, and Matthew Spann are reprising their roles as starters from the end of last season, while two others (Dickson and Sylvestre) remain in XST limbo for now.  What happened to the rest of these guys?  Brett Mooneyham and Nick Lee posted ERAs of 7.36 and 10.05 respectively and were both demoted.  Encarnacion was nearly as bad and was outright released by the organization earlier this past off-season.

Luckily, we kind of already know that the opening day rotation is going to change: we know where two of the organization’s brightest arms are heading.  Giolito and Lopez should supplant Bacus and Rauh, making for a rather formidable Potomac rotation.


Low-A

  • 2015 Rotation: AWilliams, LReyes, Van Orden … and then who knows.  Orlan?  Ullman?
  • 2014 Opening Day Rotation: Pivetta Voth, Giolito, Silvestre (L)/Anderson, Johansen,
  • 2014 Closing Day rotation: Pivetta, RLopez, Ott, Dickey, Suero,

Discussion

Well; Hagerstown’s rotation should be … interesting.  When you look at the assigned arms, there’s only three clear-cut starters from last year.  So clearly either the Hagerstown team will be getting reinforcements from the XST list or there’s guys being converted from 2014 relievers to 2015 starters.

Pivetta and Giolito were the mainstays from last year; both will be in high-A at some point soon.  Ott was flipped as a throw-in with the Steven Souza deal.   Its hard to pass judgement on this rotation until we talk about those in XST.


Missing/XST

There’s a TON of arms who are currently unassigned.

Starters: JRodriguez, Dickey, Dickson, Estevez, Lopez, Giolito, Simms, Silvestre, Bourque, Amartinez, Gilliam
Relievers: Purke, Bates, Holland, Lehman, Mooneyham, Pena, Simmons, Solis, Turnbull, Feliz, McDowell, Torres, DWilliams

Where might these guys end up?   Well, based on their performance from last year, here’s some guesses for the starters:

  • AAA: nobody who isn’t already there
  • AA: Simms, Silvestre, Gilliam
  • High-A: Dickey, Dickson, Lopez, Giolito, Dupra (already on the Potomac D/L)
  • Low-A: JRodriguez, Estevez, Bourque, AMartinez

And the relievers?

  • AAA: Purke (already on the AAA D/L), Holland, Lehman (release candidate), Simmons (release candidate)
  • AA: Bates (release candidate), Pena, Solis
  • High-A: Mooneyham, Turnbull
  • Low-A: Feliz, McDowell, Torres, DWilliams

We’ll see how things go; I guess we could start seeing some minor league releases soon enough.

 

 

Nats Outfield … what happens next?

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Span's injury is going to really affect this team. Photo: Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports

Span’s injury is going to really affect this team. Photo: Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports

I’ve held off posting about this, since most other pundits are putting in their two cents as well.  But Denard Span‘s “core muscle” surgery has suddenly got this team potentially in a pickle in terms of outfield depth and I thought it was worth discussing.

Unlike the Jayson Werth surgery announcement, which seemed to be well enough timed to cause only a brief disruption to the Nats starting outfield plans, the Span injury could have a longer lasting issue.  And, even though Span’s not nearly the hitter that Werth is, he’s much more difficult to replace thanks to his position (center instead of corner) and his lineup skills (lead-off).

What do I think happens now?  In no particular order:

  • I’m guessing that Span misses the entire month of April.  His surgery has a “4-6 week” recovery time frame and there’s plenty of recent players who struggled for entire seasons after dealing with similar injuries.  Not a great sign for the team or for Span, heading into a walk year.
  • I’m guessing Werth also starts the season on the 15-day DL with the idea of coming off of it on the first possible day and only missing 2 weeks.
  • That means your opening day lineup projects right now to having Bryce Harper in right, Michael Taylor in center and probably Tyler Moore in left.  I’m assuming also that Nate McLouth is starting on the 15-day DL as well, given that he’s apparently not even throwing the ball yet after his Aug 2014 labrum surgery, and that the team would rather have Moore in LF than Kevin Frandsen.  Well, let me rephrase;  *I* would rather have Moore playing than Frandsen …
  • I also think the Span/McLouth DL combination creates an opening for a backup OF on the opening day roster.  And I think one Tony Gwynn Jr. is going to win it.  He may not be with the big club very long, but he could serve as the prototypical “4th OF who can play center field really well who does a lot of late-inning defensive replacement duty” guy until the roster is back.  There’s not really another guy in camp who has CF quals and the MLB experience that Gwynn Jr. has, even if he’s a career .238 hitter.
  • Gwynn could easily be added to the 40-man by opening day because at the same time he’s to be added, the team will likely be DFAing both Xavier Cedeno and Sandy Leon, both of whom are out of options and not likely to make the 25-man roster.
  • When both Span and Werth come back, it could spell the end of the line for Moore thanks to his options crunch.  That being said, he’s hitting the cover off the ball so far in spring training (insert standard March debate about spring training stats and their meaning), and the team won’t dump him if he’s hitting .350 in April, so he controls his own destiny.  Where the roster moves do come into play is the assumption that one of these lefty-hitting NRI guys is making this team too.  We likely cannot keep both Moore and someone like a Mike Carp once everyone is back.  Luckily three injuries to presumed 25-man holders makes for a stay of execution for many guys.

Now the big question; who the heck hits lead off if Span is out??  A good question.

Presuming your opening day fielders are: Harper, Taylor, Moore, Zimmerman, Escobar, Desmond, Rendon and Ramos.

Who in that group makes sense to bat lead-off?  Basically just three candidates: Taylor, Escobar and Rendon.  And none of them are really “good” candidates frankly.

  • Yunel Escobar (who is nursing his own injury and could very well also be joining the others on the DL, but we’re assuming for the purposes of this post that isn’t happening and we’re not looking at an April 1 roster that has Dan Uggla on it) isn’t exactly a prototypical leadoff hitter at this point in his career, though he generally has batted either 1st or 2nd. throughout his career.
  • Taylor projects more as a middle of the order hitter frankly, thanks to his massive K numbers (144 in 110 minor league games last year).
  • Anthony Rendon *could* bat lead-off … but he’s likely the team’s best hitter and makes the most sense batting in the #2 slot.

If I were Matt Williams, I’d probably go with this lineup: Escobar, Rendon, Harper, Zimmerman, Desmond, Ramos, Moore, Taylor.  Man that’s a lot of right handers.  The only lefty in that lineup is Harper.  But what choice does the team have?

I’m kind of excited to see Taylor get some opportunity at the MLB level frankly.  What if he lights it up?  What if he proves he’s a legitimate power-hitting center fielder who can man the #8 position for the next 5  years in Washington?  We’ll never know until he gets a shot.

Oh, btw, to all those second guessers who now feel the need to question the Stephen Souza trade, asking smarty-pants questions like “gee do you think the Nats regret trading him now??” stuff in national forums, I say this: the trade made sense at the time, the return was great, and you cannot manage your baseball team on the fear of two unexpected injuries in a 3 month time span.  Souza is very promising, so is Michael Taylor, and the team is assuming that Taylor has more positional flexibility than Souza.  You only need one or two backup outfielders on a 25-man roster, and the Nats had more than plenty heading in to 2015.  Yes hindsight is 20/20, but if the team was presented with the same trade today, knowing they were getting a future back-of-the-rotation starter in Joe Ross plus their shortstop of the future in Trea Turner, i’m not so sure they still wouldn’t make that deal and just work their way through April of 2015.

Oh, pps, has anyone noticed that the setting up of the spring rotation seems to imply that the Nats 1-5 rotation is shaking things up from years past?  It seems like we’re going to go Scherzer, Zimmermann, Strasburg, Fister and Gonzalez.  That’s last  year’s #1 pitching third, and last year’s #2 pitching last.  Can’t say I disagree based on the career accomplishments of Scherzer and Zimmermann, just kind of surprised to see Strasburg being “deposed” as the Nats #1 starter.

And, another PS: with the injury announcements to Yu Darvish and now Marcus Stroman, I wonder if teams are calling the Nats to work a trade for one of our surplus starters.  Maybe there’s still a deal out there for Zimmermann or Fister, reinstating 5-win starter Tanner Roark to the rotation and padding the farm system coffers a bit more.

 

Ladson’s inbox 3/1/15

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Roark; the lost starter.  Photo Alex Brandon/AP via wp.com

Roark; the lost starter. Photo Alex Brandon/AP via wp.com

I havn’t posted something in weeks.  I was facing writers block.  What is there to really write about in the early weeks of Spring Training?  Thankfully, MLB.com beat reporter Bill Ladson piped up with an inbox!

As always, these are (presumably) real questions from (presumably) real Nats fans who took time out of their busy day to email Ladson personally.  And as always, i write my response here before reading his so as not to color my own opinion.


Q: Would the Nationals consider a six-man rotation so Tanner Roark isn’t left out?

A: Uh, no.   You don’t commit $210M to Max Scherzer and then immediately tell him and all the other veterans in the rotation that their entire work preparation process is going to be adjusted, for the first time ever by any MLB team, to account for a guy with a year and a half of service in Tanner Roark.

By going to a 6-man rotation for an entire 162-game season,  you’d be lowering the number of starts for each guy by at least 6.  What would you rather have, 6 less starts by the likes of Scherzer and Strasburg, or 20-some starts for Roark?  I like Roark too, and trust me I wouldn’t mind a bit for a trade to enable him to be the 5th starter again, but this team has made its bed with this contract.

Ladson says that Roark will be in the bullpen as the long man when the season starts.  Cutting-edge analysis!

Q: If the Nationals and Jordan Zimmermann cannot come to an agreement and he signs somewhere else, what kind of effect will this have on the Nationals in general?

A: Not as much as you might think.  Yes, losing a near-Ace is never good, but this team has a 5-win starter pushed to the bullpen right now, and has significant depth in AAA.  I’m of the belief that a lot of the Scherzer signing was about providing rotation stability through the next few years as the team (likely) parts ways with a significant portion of its current rotation through free agency.  Two years from now you’re probably looking at a rotation that goes Scherzer, Gonzalez, Roark, Cole and Giolito.  And the Nats will have likely acquired a whole slew of upper-level prospects either by trade or by virtue of supplemental draft picks.  Ladson confidently says “there will be no effect at all” because Matt Williams “won’t allow it.”  Beat reporter bravado?  Of *course* there will be an effect; we’re talking about what will probably be a difficult and nasty separation when all is said and done.

Q: Why is Gio Gonzalez starting over Roark? Roark is clearly better. Gio won’t throw strikes.

A: Simple answer: because Gonzalez is lefty.  Secondary issue; Gonzalez is getting paid more than 20 *times* what Roark is in 2015.  I’m not entirely in disagreement here; I’ve been a Roark believer ever since he got called up.  But he’s going to be the odd man out in this competition no matter how good he looks this spring.  Ladson says Gio was his good ole self after getting past his shoulder injury.

Q: I like Drew Storen and his numbers are, overall, excellent. I have to admit, though, I worry about him in close games in the postseason. Am I overly concerned about the fact that 2012 and ’14 playoffs saw him blow saves in key games?

A: Three words for you: Short.  Sample.  Size.  Like it or not (and I too fall victim to this), you just can’t look at a couple of outings in the post-season and judge a guy.  Exhibit 1a: Clayton Kershaw‘s career post-season era is 5.12.    I killed Storen‘s 2014 NLDS performance too, but in reality he was rather unlucky to blow Zimmermann’s gem (Posey kind of fisted the ball into center and then Sandoval hit a down-and-away pitch for a very well-placed double to tie the game).  Storen’s regular season record speaks for itself right now: he had a frigging 1.12 ERA last year!

I say, lets worry about *making* the post-season first, then lets see how the games go.  At some point you have to think the Nats will, you know, hit the ball in a post-season series to the point where it won’t matter whether our closer will pitch a 1-2-3 ninth.  Lets you forget: the team slash line in the 2014 NLDS was .164/.222/.258 and in the 2012 NLDS was .232/.290/.393.  That’s not very good.

Ladson basically says the same thing.

Q: Do you expect a significant contribution from any of the players signed to Minor League contracts?

A: We already talked about the NRIs in depth.  Short answer is this: *maybe* one of the veteran right handers might have an impact but not immediately.  And we might very well see one of the lefty-hitting vets pushing Tyler Moore for the last spot on the roster.  Ladson thinks Mike Carp in particular is going to contribute off the bench … which means he’s predicting Carp to make the 25-man roster?

Q: Which Minor Leaguers could get called up during the season?

A: I think we’ll see at least three of the AAA starters at some point during the  year (guessing Treinen, Cole and Jordan).   I could see Matt Grace getting some MLB time.  I’m sure we’ll see a backup catcher in Dan Butler at some point.  If Michael Taylor doesn’t start out on the 25-man roster to replace Jayson Werth, then i’m sure we’ll see him at some point.

Perhaps a better question would be this: what non-40man roster guys could you see getting call-ups mid-season?  Rafael Martin comes to mind, as well as someone like Emmanuel Burriss or Matt Skole if the team gets stuck on the injury front.

Ladson mentions Cole and Grace … and then says that he could see Giolito getting a September call-up.  That’s the dumbest thing i’ve read in a while.  Why in god’s name would we want to start Giolito’s clock early like that??  If he’s MLB ready by the end of 2015 …. then you sit on him in AAA for two weeks in 2016 and call him up mid-April.  That’s it.  Every day he spends pitching useless innings in Sept 2015 would be another day the team has to wait for him in 2016. 

Q: Do you see Danny Espinosa on this team in 2016? It seems like he has gotten a lot more slack than anyone on the team. Additionally, what are the team’s long-term plans for second base?

A: I see no reason for Espinosa not to be on this team in 2016, if he continues to serve as an adequate backup.  There’s no reason to cut him, and there’s not really anyone better who is that close to the majors.   I’m not sure if i’d characterize the way the Nationals have handled him as “slack;” in fact the Nats have now gone out of their way to replace him as the starter both with the Cabrera trade mid-2014 and with the Escobar trade this past off-season.  Long term you have to think the team is waiting for Wilmer Difo as the long-term 2B solution .. if he can step it up and advance two levels in 2015 he may be ready by mid 2016.   I’m not as convinced that Tony Renda (who is “ahead” of Difo on the org 2b chart) is a real MLB prospect at this point.  There’s practically nobody of interest at either AAA or AA right now who rates as a prospect.  There’s also a possiblity that newly-acquired-but-not-yet-with-us Trea Turner could be a solution … but the team is hoping he can stick at short.  Ladson basically agrees.

 

 

Ladson’s inbox 2/2/15

49 comments

Scherzer is on everyone's mind.  Photo via Scherzer's twitter account.

Scherzer is on everyone’s mind. Photo via Scherzer’s twitter account.

Love it; another inbox to analyze.  In the wake of the Scherzer signing, lets see what kind of questions MLB.com beat reporter Bill Ladson fielded this week.

As always, I answer as I write before reading Ladson’s answer, and edit questions for clarity as needed.

Q: How much better will the Nationals be now that right-hander Max Scherzer is on the roster?

A: Well, if you play the “WAR analysis” game, then Max Scherzer replaces Tanner Roark in the rotation for 2015.   Scherzer posted a bWAR of 5.5 in 2014 while Roark posted a bWAR of 4.8.  So on the face of it, assuming that both players provide identical value in 2015 as they did in 2014, perhaps Scherzer won’t immediately impact the team.  This is the essence of those immediate-post signing blogs and columns that questioned why the Nats needed to make this acquisition.

However.  I offer some counters.

  1. Roark immediately becomes your spot-starter to cover for injury.  Lets say that Gio Gonzalez (bWAR in 2014 of just 2.1) gets hurt and Roark covers for him; well that’s nearly a 3-WAR improvement.  Certainly Roark is going to be better than whatever AAA cover we could promote to provide injury relief.  The Nats only gave 12 13 starts to non-core rotation guys in 2014 but more than twice that number in 2013; the odds are that an injury is going to hit the rotation at some point.
  2. Scherzer will be better in 2015 than he was in 2014.  Why?  He moves to the NL, gets to face pitchers instead of DHs, faces generally weaker lineups, plays in a weaker division and pitches in more parks that are pitcher friendly.  You can make the argument that his K/9 is going to increase significantly (if he faces the pitcher 60-70 times in a season, he likely strikes them out at least half of that), and his ERA likely falls at least a half a point.  That will boost his WAR for 2015.
  3. Scherzer going twice in a seven game playoff series is going to be better than having any one else getting that second start.  In fact, a 1-2-3 punch of Strasburg, Zimmermann and Scherzer is one heck of a daunting task for any opponent.
  4. And there’s this: not to completely re-hash my post on the Scherzer signing, but i’ll note that this signing (to me) seems like a way to bridge the gap and guarantee an “Ace” in the rotation through the next two off-seasons of rotation transition (where the team likely loses Zimmermann, Fister and Strasburg).  The Nats rotation looks an awful lot better after these three guys are gone if Scherzer is leading the line.  So to me this isn’t a move about 2015 as much as it is about getting this team to 2017 and maintaining competitiveness.

Ladson said very little about answer the question, using his answer to immediately talk about the offense and the bench.  Yeah we know there’s issues there.  And we all remember how the middle of the order went like 1-for-the NLDS.  Wasn’t the question.

Q: Why didn’t Espinosa work on hitting right-handed exclusively after the season ended? If Espinosa made that transition successfully, he would be the answer at second base.

A: A good question.  Not the first time this topic has come up.  We’ve discussed it to death here but the reasons seem to fall along the following:

  1. Espinosa may be getting “advice” from his agent (Scott Boras) to put his own interests first.
  2. Espinosa may be “stubborn” about maintaining his switch hitting, given that it is a differentiator in the marketplace for him.
  3. Espinsoa may just be uneasy about suddenly facing right-handed curve balls from the right-hand side, probably having not faced such a situation in more than a decade (a fair point).

We all know about his splits lefty versus righty.  We all know he has not chosen to try RH-only.  I think its also safe to say that the organization has gone out of its way (Asdrubal Cabrera last season and now Yunel Escobar) to replace him in the starting lineup despite his defensive skills.  It is what it is; we now have a backup infielder on the roster to cover both 2B and SS and who has some pop from the plate in a backup capacity (and the associated K-rate of course).  Not the worst thing in the world to have.  Ladson says … well he stated the obvious (Escobar is the starter) and then says that the “Nats hope Espinosa cuts down on his strike-outs.”  Non-answer.

Q: How come Jeff Kobernus is not being considered for the starting second-base job? Why not have a young, cost-controlled guy play every day?

A: Because Kobernus hasn’t played 2B basically since college full-time since a half-season stint in Harrisburg in 2012.  The team moved him to the OF and he’s mostly stayed there.  Even if you thought he could play second effectively, he’s got a career minor league slash line of .285/.331/.363.   He is what he is: a utility guy who can cover in case of a slew of injuries and makes for a good 9/1 pinch running/6th outfielder call-up, but that’s about it.  I don’t think you can count on him to produce at the major league level day-in and day-out.  Ladson says Kobernus has a chance of making the bench out of spring training this year, which I disagree with.

Q: Asdrubal Cabrera signed with the Rays for one-year, $7.5 million. Why couldn’t the Nats make that deal? Or something close to it?

A: Probably because Cabrera wanted to play short-stop, and the Nats have a short-stop.  Besides, Escobar at $5M is a good deal.  I mentioned at some point in the off-season that Cabrera’s offensive output with Washington wasn’t too much better than Espinosa’s frankly (Cabrera’s split line with Washington in 2014 was .229/.312/.389; Escobar brings more to the table.  Ladson agrees, and says that the Nats weren’t willing to bring Cabrera back at his asking price based on what he showed last year.

Q: Why didn’t the Nats consider Tyler Clippard as their closer?

A: Hmm.  Good question.  Perhaps because when Clippard was given the closer job in 2012, he really struggled with it as compared to his typical 8th inning performance.   ERA in 2012 as closer: 3.72.  Career ERA: 2.88.  Besides, there was more in play for Clippard’s trade than just who was going to be the 2015 closer.  Clippard’s got a ton of miles on his arm, Clippard was set to make nearly 8 figures as a reliever, and the Nats felt like they could afford to part ways with him to acquire a player who filled a need.  Ladson notes what I noted, and said that Clippard’s pending free agency played into the decision.  That’s a great point that I didn’t mention; Clippard wasn’t going to be offered a qualifying offer (likely worth $16M next off-season), so he’d depart to no compensation.  With this trade, the Nats got some compensation for him.

Q: I know he’s had plenty of success as a general manager, but I’m surprised Mike Rizzo doesn’t feel any sense of urgency to try to sign Desmond or Jordan Zimmermann to an extension. What are your thoughts on this?

A: I think Mike Rizzo has been trying to extend these guys for more than two years.  “Sense of urgency?”  What else do you want to ask of the guy?  He by all accounts has offered both guys 9-figure deals, and has been rebuffed.  Do you think Ian Desmond is worth a 7yr/$100M deal?  Do you think Zimmermann is worth a 6yr/$150M deal?  Clearly to me the two players are valuing themselves higher than what the GM is valuing them, the GM has made what he thinks to be fair market value deals, and both guys have opted to test the market.  Baseball is a business, both on the player side and the team side.  Ladson thinks Rizzo will step up discussions once spring training happens.  I don’t; I think that the ship has more or less sailed on extending these guys at this point.  Now, will the team move Zimmermann?  I think we may see offers once James Shields signs…. if there’s teams out there that want to improve but miss out on Shields, they may come calling to the Nats with deals we cannot turn down.  We’ll see.  Overall thougth I’m doubtful any trades occur at this point.  My prediction: the juggernaut rotation goes into 2015 in-tact.