Nationals Arm Race

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

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Ladson’s Inbox 9/15/16

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Turner is the biggest surprise of the year for me.  photo via wp.com

Turner is the biggest surprise of the year for me. photo via wp.com

Wow, what a treat!  I’ve been kind of slacking in the content department and suddenly our favorite beat writer Bill Ladson pops out an unexpected mid-September mailbag.  So here’s something to argue about this weekend.

As always, here’s how I would have answered his questions.

Q: Who do you think is the most pleasant surprise on the Nationals this year

A: Trea Turner without a doubt.  We knew he was going to be good, but I don’t think anyone knew he was going to be *this* good.  Keith Law in his chat yesterday  pointed out a fun little fact about Trea Turner: he’s got a (now) 3.0 bWAR this year, which would rank him (unadjusted for position) as the 6th best ever for either the Rays or the Padres, the two teams that passed along Turner (and Joe Ross) in that trade two years ago.  What a steal.  And despite his only playing 57 games this year you have to think he’s in the mix for NL Rookie of the Year.  Corey Seager probably has it wrapped up, but a 2nd or 3rd place for Turner seems warranted.

Ladson said Stephen Drew, which I guess you could argue for … except that he’s a bench player who has missed a ton of time and isn’t a lock to make the post-season roster given his illness.

—-

Q: How far do you think the Nationals could go in the postseason?

A: Could?  They could go all the way!  :-)  In reality, I think the Stephen Strasburg injury really, really hurts them in their likely NLDS match up with Los Angeles.  If the Nats rolled out Scherzer-Strasburg-Roark-Gonzalez versus the Dodgers’ Kershaw-Hill-Maeda-random 4th starter i’d feel pretty good about our chances in that series.  Right now we’re basically auditioning pitchers for that 4th spot and Gonzalez has been shaky, and Los Angeles’ arms are daunting for a team that routinely gets shut down by starters from teams like Philadelphia and Atlanta.  Right now, I think we lose a close NLDS series to Los Angeles.

Even if Strasburg was healthy, I think we’d really be hard-pressed to beat Chicago in a 7 game series either.  We took 2 of 3 here, lost 4 out of 4 there this year (though as we’ve discussed here, that sweep wasn’t nearly as dominant as the press made it seem), but we still lost to them, and they’ve stayed at full strength basically the whole season.  I don’t see how anyone beats the Cubs this year.

Ladson hedges his answer, saying he wants to see how the bullpen and offense go the rest of the way.  Why is he worried about the bullpen?  Isn’t it one of the best in the game?  The Nats bullpen is #1 in baseball in ERA, #2 in Fip.   What more do you want?

Q: Do you think Stephen Strasburg will be ready to pitch in the postseason?

A: Nope.  Strained Flexor Mass is usually a 30 day injury; he got hurt on 9/7/16.  So at best t hat’s 10/7/16 … or basically at the end of the divisional series.  But … where’s he going to rehab?  There’s no more minor league games; i guess he could throw simulated or instructional league games.  But more importantly, this is a notably conservative team medically, especially with Strasburg over the years and especially since they just committed $175M to him.  No way do they rush him back from a serious injury just on the opportunity to make one post-season start.  Ladson agrees.

Q: Why do you call Jayson Werth “The King” on Twitter?

A: (me shaking my head): who knows.  Maybe because he’s the king of getting caught doing triple digits on the beltway?  I’ve lived here all my life and can’t tell you how many times i’ve hit 100 on the interstates around here without getting caught.  Ladson says he calls Werth the king because he turned “clubhouse from unprofessional to first class.”  Well, except for all of last year under Matt Williams … I guess even the King couldn’t salvage that dumpster fire.

Q: What do you think of the job Danny Espinosa has done this year?

A: Good power, good defense, bad hit tool.  About what we expected; his plus defense and power this year have outweighed his strikeouts and his low batting average.   He’s got a 1.8 bWAR and a 1.9 fWAR on the year, so its not like he’s totally useless out there.  Its one of the reasons i’ve supported him and havn’t been completely ready to get rid of him; he’s ranked 15th among qualified Shortstops in fWAR this year.  So that’s right in the middle; league average.   I mean, if he had negative WAR, didn’t have power, or wasn’t a plus defender, I could see the huge rush to replace him.  But moving him this coming off-season (as many want to of my readership) opens up another hole in Center that’s probably harder to fill right now than Short.  Its why I suspect the team may just stand pat, keep Turner in center another year, and roll out basically the same lineup in 2017.  Ladson gives him a “6.5 out of 7” and says he deserves the NL Gold Glove.  I dunno about that; there’s 5 or 6 NL shortstops that probably rate better defensively than him.

Q: Was Murphy what you expected this season?

A: No way; Murphy a ton better than I expected.  I was hoping for a solid 6th hitter, not a frigging MVP candidate.  He earned his entire $37.5M contract this year.  Ladson Agrees.

Q: What do you think of Dusty Baker as a manager? I know you often said Davey Johnson is the best manager you ever covered. Where does Baker rank as far as Nationals manager go?

A: I think Baker has done a fantastic job of calming this group, bringing some order, and not showing any of the faults that he was accused of in the past.  He’s shifted, he’s managed the bullpen decently, he’s stuck to his guns and rested players, he’s communicated well, he hasn’t burned out starters.  I think he’s ridden his primary catcher too hard … but then again, Ramos is having a career year and Lobaton is a huge step back offensively.  Is he better than Davey?  Not yet for me: lets see what happens when Baker has to deal with some injury issues or a better divisional rival.  Ladson has them 1-2 with Davey still on top.

 

Strasburg Flexor Mass; what’s plan B for the playoffs?

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It could have been worse; it could have been this. Photo credit unknown.

It could have been worse; it could have been this. Photo credit unknown.

Its been a greek tragedy the last few days in Nats town.  Stephen Strasburg (you know, that guy who we just paid $175M for the next 30 years with deferred payments) clutches his elbow in his first game back after hitting the D/L for a different “elbow soreness” issue.  Nats town fears the worst.  MRI comes back and its “just” a Flexor Mass Strain.  They say it isn’t going to be season ending but…

But we have some rather recent and close-to-home examples to use to gauge his D/L time out:

  • Mat Latos was diagnosed with the same injury in Mid April 2014 and missed exactly 2 months of that season.
  • Homer Bailey had a more severe case of the same in August 2014, had to have surgery and was back in time for the beginning of 2015 (where he subsequently had a different injury).
  • Jonathan Broxton had an even more severe “torn” flexor mass in August 2013, had surgery and was out 6 months.
  • (h/t to Nationals101 on Twitter): Andrew Miller, who strained it in June 2015 against the Nats and missed about a month (injury on 6/10/15, next appearance 7/8/15).

So, best case he takes a couple of week off, it magically feels better, we shoot him up with cortisone and toradol (Hey they’re both legal!) and run merrily into the NLDS (not likely).

Worst case, he has to have a surgical procedure to clean stuff up and he’s ready for April 2017.

Most likely case, the conservative Nats management team shuts him down for the season (he is after all due $175M … and it’d be kind of foolish to risk that kind of investment for one playoff appearance) since it seems like its at least a month of rest.

In the mean time, the Nats have a playoff series to plan for.  Now what do we do?

  • Scherzer, Roark, Gonzalez are all healthy and ready to go.

Who is the 4th starter?  Instead of arguing about whether we take Joe Ross or Gio Gonzalez, are we now asking ourselves who makes that 4th start?  Do we think Joe Ross is going to be ready?  I dunno; I certainly hope so but we’re out of minor league games for him to rehab in and I havn’t heard much about his progress.  Assuming Ross isn’t ready to go either … Are we to the point where we’re wondering who is better, Yusmeiro PetitA.J. Cole, Reynaldo Lopez or Lucas Giolito?

Pros/Cons of these options:

  • Petit: was brought in to be the spot starter so he should be able to handle this.  But he’s been a bit shakey lately; his ERA has risen from 2.72 to 3.90 in just his last 8 appearances, which include a 5 run implosion against Colorado to blow a game the Nats had come back to tie late, an appearance in early August against Atlanta where he couldn’t record an out, and a bunch of other unclean appearances.
  • Cole: he has shown signs of life (looking awesome in New York against our closest rival) and then signs of ineptitude (giving up a 3-run homer to the only guy on the Phillies who could hurt him).
  • Lopez: great fastball … and great hittability.
  • Giolito: well, we don’t need to go into the pro- and anti-Giolito arguments, do we?

I dunno; who among that list are you thinking is best suited for it?

Are you thinking outside the box instead?  Mat Latos?  I dunno; do you think he’s ready to go?  Would you think that to be a slap in the face of all the guys who busted their butts with this organization for years to have a post-season start opportunity given to a guy they signed off the street two months ago?

Me?  I think you give the start to Lopez.  I don’t trust Petit, Cole seems too hittable, and Giolito needs an off-season to get his mechanics (and his head) straight.

(post-publishing update; just saw this at NJ: we know it isn’t going to be Bronson Arroyo… who just couldn’t come back and likely faces the end of his career).

Are you worried about the Rotation too?

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Giolito's latest start does not inspire confidence.   (Photo by John McDonnell / The Washington Post)

Giolito’s latest start does not inspire confidence. (Photo by John McDonnell / The Washington Post)

(note; i’m at the beach this week … so i’m putting this in as a placeholder for arguing, er I mean discussing).

From the comments section on last week’s post, clearly we’re not happy with the bullpen.  And neither is Mike Rizzo, who caused an uproar amongst the 25 or so people on the planet who knew who Max Schrock was by flipping him for a guy whose name I won’t even try to spell.  Our long man blew a comeback effort last weekend that i’m sure was not well appreciated amongst the vets on the team.

But this post is about the rotation.  Are you worried yet?  Scherzer and Roark might have hiccups here and there but they’ll be solid for the playoffs (and yes, at this point i’m assuming we’re in the playoffs).  But is Strasburg going to make it back?  Is Ross?  Do we trust Gonzalez in a post-season rotation?  Is the performance thus far of Giolito and Lopez just more cause for concern?

 

Nats All-Star review: 2016 and years past

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This photo is an oldie but a goodie, and one we'll probably see year over year for the next decade at least. Photo unk

This photo is an oldie but a goodie, and one we’ll probably see year over year for the next decade at least. Photo unk

Here’s my annual Nationals All Star selection post.

(* == All-Star game starter.  The Nats now have four ASG starters in their history, dating to 2005.  Soriano once, Harper thrice).

2016

  • Nationals All-Star representatives: Bryce Harper*, Stephen Strasburg, Daniel Murphy, Wilson Ramos, Max Scherzer (named as replacement for Strasburg on 7/8/16),
  • Possible Snubs: Danny EspinosaTanner Roark
  • Narrative: The four obvious candidates from the Nats this year were all initially correctly selected, though voting shenanigans out of Chicago elected Ben Zobrist over Daniel Murphy by a scant 500 votes.   I thought perhaps Strasburg would have a chance to start the game, given his 12-0 record, but it seems the team pre-empted any such thought when Scherzer’s naming occurred).  For the first time writing this post, I can’t really name any “snubs” and the team has (finally?) earned the proper respect it deserves in terms of naming its players properly.  Espinosa had a week for the ages just prior to the end of voting but really stood little chance of selection in the grand scheme of things.  He’s not really a “snub” but is worthy of mention based on his resurgent year.  At the break, Espinosa ranked 3rd in NL fWAR but 7th or 8th in bWAR thanks to differing defensive value metrics, so maybe/maybe not on him being a “snub.”  As pointed out in the comments, even I missed the sneaky good season Roark is having; he’s 12th in the NL in bWAR at the break and 9th in fWAR but was left off in favor of any number of starters that stand below him in value rankings.  Unfortunately for fans (and for Harper’s “Make Baseball Fun again” campaign, he opted to skip the Home Run Derby again.  I guess its kind of like the NBA superstars skipping the dunk contest; the Union should really do a better job of helping out in this regard.  The new format is fantastic and makes the event watchable again; is it ego keeping him from getting beat by someone like Giancarlo Stanton?

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

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.

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, Stephen 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).

Mets vs Nats: first big showdown of the year

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Will Harvey show up for his marquee matchup on thursday? Photo: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

Will Harvey show up for his marquee matchup on thursday? Photo: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

The first 6 weeks of the season have just been warm-up for this series.  Its time for the rubber to hit the road.  Time to see what’s what.

That’s right; its Mets and Nationals to see who takes round 1 in the battle for the 2016 NL East title.

(yes I know the Phillies are somehow in 2nd place, and the Marlins are frisky.  I don’t buy it; they’re not going to outlast their two divisional rivals that are built for 2016 playoff runs.  Because neither of those teams will spend a dime mid-season to improve and their kids will wilt in August).

Here’s the pitching match-ups (probables here for the week)

  • Tuesday 5/17/16: Max Scherzer versus Noah Snydergaard.  Wow; power versus power.  Scherzer fresh off a 20-k performance; Thor with his slider that he’s run up to 94 (!!) and his 101 peak fastball.  Washington’s hitters havn’t exactly been knocking the cover off the ball lately and Citi Field (I almost said Shea Stadium) will be rocking  Advantage Mets.
  • Wednesday 5/18/16: Gio Gonzalez versus (presumably) Bartolo Colon: The Mets lefties can’t hit Gio and he’s been solid … but he’s also prone to meltdowns under stress.  Washington only saw Colon once last year and it was on opening day; he’s 43 and still slinging the ball in there.  Advantage: even.
  • Thursday 5/19/16: Stephen Strasburg versus Matt Harvey: The Nats are 8-0 in Strasburg’s 8 starts so far and he’s earning his new pay-day.  Harvey is showing the signs of too many innings last year, has an ERA of nearly 5.00 and is 3-5 in his starts.  But Harvey is a big-game guy and will get up for this one.  Nonetheless, I give advantage to Nats.

Prediction/Hopes: you always hope and expect winning just 1 of 3 against a top rival on the road; if the Nats steal an extra game i’d be ecstatic.

 

Written by Todd Boss

May 17th, 2016 at 11:36 am

Strasburg Extension Shocker!

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Wow. Photo allansgraphics.com via free-extras.com

Wow. Photo allansgraphics.com via free-extras.com

Woke today to check the score from last night (we have a toddler, ergo we are sleep deprived and go to bed early).  After reading about Bryce Harper‘s mouth and ejection and Clint Robinson‘s walkoff, there was a small little link at the bottom of the article…

Stephen Strasburg signs a 7yr, $175M extension to stay with the team, as broken last night by the Washington Post’s Chelsea James.

Wow.  Did not see this coming.  I never thought this team would re-sign Strasburg frankly, because I thought there’d be a feeding frenzy when he hit free agency this coming off-season.

Strasburg’s representation (Scott Boras) is not exactly known for having his players sign extensions.  The 2016-17 free agent market for starters was so bare that Strasburg likely would have inspired a bidding war and you have to think Strasburg just left a bunch of money on the table.  The next best starter hitting free agency next off-season now might be Rich Hill.  Rich Frigging Hill, as in the guy the Nats had on a MLFA deal last summer and cut him loose so he could go re-make his career out of the Oakland bullpen.

What kind of value did the team just get?  Here’s a quick look at the other SP deals in the $150M or higher range:

  • David Price: 7yrs/$217M starting in 2016.
  • Clayton Kershaw: 7yrs, $214M starting in 2014
  • Max Scherzer: 7yrs/$210M starting in 2015 (albeit with significant deferred money that brings the net present value down to around $185M)
  • Zack Greinke: 6yrs/$206M starting in 2016
  • Felix Hernandez, 7yrs/$175M starting in 2014
  • Masahiro Tanaka: 7yrs/$155M (but with his $20M posting fee its a $175M deal all told)
  • Jon Lester: 6yrs/$155M starting in 2015.

So, this is the selection of contracts to compare this Strasburg deal to.  Other big deals signed last off-season include Johnny Cueto (6yrs/$130M) and Jordan Zimmermann (5yrs/$110M).

There’s already a bunch of hot takes; some like the deal, some think its a mistake.  On the one hand, Yes, pretty much any big long term free agent deal eventually looks like a stinker, so in that respect you can be a cynic and say that every long term FA contract is a mistake.  But that’s just not a realistic way to look at team building in this modern era.  Unless you’re willing to completely punt on your season for several years running (see Chicago Cubs, see Houston Astros, see the Atlanta Braves right now, even look at what our own Nats did for two seasons so they could acquire both Strasburg and Harper in the draft), then keeping your team consistently in the upper division requires spending on the FA market to paper over what your farm system may  not be developing.

But looking at (specifically) the Cueto and Lester deals … I can’t help but think that the Nats got a steal here.  Who would you rather have, Cueto for 6/$130M or Strasburg for 7/$175?  Same question for Lester. Strasburg, to me, is a better pitcher (a far better pitcher) and they got him for basically the same AAV as those guys.  Would you rather have Strasburg for $25M AAV or Price at $31M AAV?  Honestly?  Give me Strasburg and I can use that $6M to buy more bullpen guys.

I know Strasburg has his detractors out there, people who with a straight face don’t think he’s an “Ace” or one of the best 10-15 arms in this league;  you people are fools.  Look at nearly any metric you want over the last 3-4  years and you’ll find that Strasburg is in the top 10-15 league wide.  Here’s a helpful link to fangraphs individual pitcher stats from 2012-now; in this time frame Strasburg is (among qualified starters): 13th in fWAR, 13th in ERA, 9th in FIP, 2nd in xFIP, 9th in SIERA, 4th in K/9, 11th in K/BB, 5th in FB velocity, 20th in wFA, 7th in wCU, 6th in wCH.  That’s pretty rare air to be that high up in so many different categories spanning the various statistical ways to measure pitching these days.  He’s not Clayton Kershaw … who is?

Interesting question to ponder: is this Strasburg/Boras “payback” for “shutdown-gate” in 2012??  Their way of saying “thank you” for looking out more for the pitcher than the team in that case?   Because it seems so to me; that’s my “hot take.”

I leave you with this before debating the merits of this move: Here’s our projected rotation in 2017:

Scherzer, Strasburg, Giolito, Ross, and Gio Gonzalez or Tanner Roark.

Yeah; that could be pretty frigging good.

Yes they got swept by the Cubs but…

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Here's something Harper didn't do a lot of this past series: swing.  Photo via fansided.com

Here’s something Harper didn’t do a lot of this past series: swing. Photo via fansided.com

So, even though the team just got swept in a 4-game set, I’m not really that concerned.  Why?

Well, first, the Cubs are fantastic, and I thought one win out of four would have been a good, expected result.  The Cubs missed Strasburg, our best guy (even if he’s not the “Ace” thanks to Scherzer‘s contract) while we stood up to the Cubs’ Ace Arrieta.  The Nats scored a bunch of runs against a good team and on other days may have gotten a win or two.  Am I right?

Game by Game:

  • Thurs: Lose 5-2: Joe Ross gives up 2 in 6 but the Nats muster just 3 hits against Kyle Hendricks.  Don’t deserve to win when you only get 3 hits.
  • Fri: Lose 8-6 in a game that really wasn’t that close: Max Scherzer gives up four homers, which is just crazy unlucky for him based on his typical FB/HR averages.  Nats make the scoreline respectable by getting into the Cubs bullpen for four runs late.  Don’t deserve to win when your starter gives up 4 dingers.
  • Sat: Lose 8-5 when Gio Gonzalez can’t get through the Cubs’ 3-4-5 hitters a third time.  Nats bullpen doesn’t do its job.  I kinda question the pitching management here honestly; is Solis the right guy to go to there?  Is it a smart move to let your #5 starter attempt to go through the heart of the other team’s order in a hitter’s park?  If you want to go lefty, why not go with your veteran Oliver Perez or your fireballer Felipe Rivero instead of a guy who was in Syracuse last week?  I guess its because Rivero got blitzed thursday night.   Instead Rivero comes in during garbage time and manages to load the bases and leak yet another run.
  • Sun: Lose 4-3 in extras after chasing the best pitcher in the game and squandering a fantastic outing from Tanner Roark.  Again, a leaky bullpen, this time in the same guy Perez that I thought was a better option than Solis the day before.  But the story of this game was the astounding batting lines of Bryce Harper (7 plate appearances, 6 walks and a HBP) and Ryan Zimmerman (a major league record 14 runners left on base).  The team in total left 21 runners on base and went 1-19 with RISP on the day. One for NINETEEN!  Zimmerman hit a couple balls well on the night, but none when it counted.

Total score of the series: Cubs 25, Nats 16.  Lot of runs on the bullpen.  Zero of our lefty relievers really stepped up.  Both our 8th inning guys couldn’t shut anyone down.  And clearly nobody respects anyone else in the lineup besides Harper.

Anyway; before I get all gloom and doom, the Nats just finished their hardest road trip of the year 5-5, when prior to the season I would have been happy with them going 3-7.  Thanks to sweeps in St. Louis and surprising series win in KC, i’ve still got them projected to win 95 games right now (easy math: team goes .500 against the rest of the league and interleague, plays .600 ball in their division).

Now … if they get swept in New York….

 

Ladson Inbox 4/25/16

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Treinen looking like a closer in the making  Photo via zimbio.com

Treinen looking like a closer in the making Photo via zimbio.com

I’m digging the frequency of Bill Ladson’s inboxes this year.  It prompts me to write something when i’m otherwise slammed and distracted with that silly thing called work.  Here’s 4/25/16’s edition.

Q: As April comes to an end, what has been the most pleasant surprise for the Nationals?

A: I’ll go with the relatively injury-free spring and April; we havn’t had someone major break or pull anything.  Only Ben Revere has gotten bit by the bug, and that’s no great loss b/c it forces more playing time for Michael TaylorLadson goes with the Bullpen, who admittedly has been great.

Q: In your recent Inbox, you said No. 3 prospect Victor Robles will be Bryce Harper‘s teammate in a couple of years. Do you think Harper will still be a member of the Nats? I watched Harper all spring, but my guess is I’ll be driving cross state to Tampa to see him with the Yankees.

A: Harper hasn’t even hit arbitration years yet.  But the timing of Harper hitting free agency and Robles likely arriving could be a “dovetailing” event. I think the assumption that Harper is automatically going to go to New  York is silly; the Yankees aren’t highest spending franchise right now, and Steinbrenner‘s sons seem like they’re more interested in avoiding luxury taxes right now than they are in winning.  The big question the Nats will have to ask themselves is whether they’re willing to put 25% of their payroll for the next decade on one player…. when the time comes anyway.  They’re already kicking $15M/year down the road for a decade longer than they have to with Scherzer‘s contract.  Ladson thinks the Nats will “find a way to pay Harper.”  Really??  Do you not know who his agent its?  Harper is GOING to go to FA, no matter what his opinion of Washington is.

Q: What is Plan B for the ninth inning if Jonathan Papelbon gets hurt or doesn’t perform? Seems like there isn’t a replacement.

A: Actually, its looking more and more like there’s TWO options: Treinen and Rivero.  I gotta admit; i like what Dusty Baker is doing with the bullpen so far.  Both these guys are looking like closers in training.  And that’s good b/c there’s not a ton of help at AAA right now.  A quick glance at the Syracuse stats isn’t entirely promising on this front: I don’t see a “closer in training” anywhere in AAA.  As far as relievers go;  Trevor Gott has ok numbers but not good K/9 rates.  40-man guys Grace and Solis are both doing great … but they’re loogies.  Rafael Martin and Sam Runion have struggled.   Two guys that could be interesting (Erik Davis and Abel de los Santos) have done well … Davis especially, finally healthy after all this time.  But again, not a closer.  So, if Papelbon went down we’d probably be looking at Treinen as the closer, Rivero as an 8th inning guy and likely bringing up Davis or de los Santos to fill in earlier.  Ladson also says Treinen and Rivero.

Q: Why doesn’t Matt den Dekker get more starting opportunities? He has speed, power and is great defensively.

A: It might just be a matter of time, if Michael Taylor continues to struggle and Ben Revere is slow to come back.  But at this point, based on limited sample sizes, even den Dekker might be “behind” Chris Heisey were the Nats to need another starting outfielder.  Just no room at the inn.  Ladson thinks Taylor and den Dekker could platoon.

Q: Why wasn’t Gio Gonzalez pitching in this first home series? He’s a veteran pitcher who seems to have been squeezed out of the starting rotation during the first two weeks.

A: Clearly Baker looked at Gio Gonzalez as his 5th starter coming out of Spring Training and that’s what it meant to have been skipped the first time through the rotation.  I don’t think its a stretch to say that the other four guys have outperformed Gonzalez lately, either in potential (Joe Ross) or in 2014 performance (Tanner Roark).  Baker basically said that Gonzalez’s starts tax the bullpen so he had to consider when to use him.  Ladson notes that Gio struggled in spring training.

Q: With Trea Turner of to a nice start, when do we expect to see him in the big leagues?

A: Man that’s a good question; every additional week he’s hitting .350 in AAA and Danny Espinosa isn’t hitting his weight is another week where it becomes tougher and tougher to keep him down.  I still think he’ll hang out down there until the Nats regain a service year.  Ladson makes a good point; the Nats are winning without him so why change anything?

 

 

Ladson Inbox 2/26/16

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Future $400M Dodger? Photo GQ magazine Mar 2012

Future $400M Dodger? Photo GQ magazine Mar 2012

I guess Bill Ladson only gets questions during spring training.  After not doing an inbox for practically all of last season, its 3 in 3 weeks!  Since these are such good conversation starters, lets see how I would have answered his questions.

Q: Most believe the Nats have no chance of keeping Bryce Harper once he becomes a free agent. Your thoughts? 

A: Unfortunately, I’m also in that camp.  I believe Bryce Harper and his aggressive agent Scott Boras will take him to free agency with the idea of getting the largest contract in history.  And, when push comes to shove, I just can’t see how Washington is going to have the stomach to compete with the big-money teams (namely, the Dodgers and Yankees) and commit the kind of dollars that he’s going to command.  Certainly not with the MASN hamstringing.  I mean, lets be honest with ourselves; its taken years just to get the two parties to agree on whether the Nats are going to get $34M (what the O’s want to pay), $53M (what the first arbitration panel apparently agreed upon) or $109M (what the Nats requested) on the first reset of the agreement.  Meanwhile the Dodgers are getting somewhere between $240M-$280M a year in their RSN deal … potentially FIVE TIMES what the Nats are getting paid.  I’m sorry; but the team that can afford to just throw money at players is the team that is going to be able to promise $40M/season.  There’s just no way even a “rich” team like Washington is going to compete.  Enjoy him while you can and hope the team does the smart thing and really, really tries to win a World Series while they still have him.  Ladson thinks the team is going to wait and will “try to extend him” before he hits free agency.  Yeah, right.  How many players Boras has represented have taken extensions versus going to free agency? 

Q: What are the chances that Ian Desmond returns to the Nationals this year?

A: Well, I think the chances seem like they’re nil.  The Nats made their offers (a multiyear extension AND a qualifier) and Desmond turned them both down.  I’m shocked that he’s the last man standing in the Qualifying Offer class (I would have bet money it would have been Ian Kennedy), and i’m shocked that he hasn’t found a job yet.

Now, that being said, a better question might be “Should the Nats think about bringing him back??”  You’ve just hired a player’s manager who likes veterans in Dusty Baker.  They’ve constructed their roster with a clear intention of sending future SS-in-waiting Trea Turner back to the minors for seasoning, meaning that Danny Espinosa seems like the starting shortstop (career BA: .230).  At this point, given the steal of an offer you might be able to get Desmond for (Fowler was given a gift of a contract from Chicago, guaranteeing $13M when he probably wasn’t going to get that in terms of AAV on the open market), maybe he’s worth considering.  Yes we’d be giving up the supp-1st rounder we stand to gain.  But you can just give him another QO next season if he rebounds and puts himself in line for another big pay day.  Or maybe you assume the next CBA (which will be signed sometime this year since the current deal expires 12/1/16) gets rid of the Q.O. entirely, since it is killing players and FA market values for certain types of players.  Actually this latter argument perhaps supports the Nats wanting to keep the pick, since it may very well go away (or perhaps the system is modified to just give all teams giving away significant FAs supplemental first rounders, not that I have any idea how you’d figure out who was deserving of a pick).  I think the team has made the decision that he’s on the decline, that they’ve dodged a huge bullet by him turning down 7yrs/$105 or whatever it was, and they’re ready to move on.

Ladson has sources in the Org that say its a “long long long shot.”  Baker says Espinosa looks like he’s in “mid-season form” at the plate (wow; does that mean he’s only striking out every OTHER time up and still hitting .230?)

Q: What do you think Baker will bring to the Nationals this year?

A: I think Dusty Baker brings harmony and respect to the clubhouse in ways it was clearly not present under Matt Williams.  No more arbitrary scheduling, lack of communication, lack of awareness of what’s going on with his players.  I’m a big advocate of hiring contrasting styles in managers when one guy clearly grinds his way to a failure, and Baker is a great example of it.  I was completely pro-Bud Black because of his pitching experience, but the team has more than made up for it with the hiring of Mike Maddox and we’re going to be a much better team for it.

Ladson mentions a very important word: Charisma.  Baker brings a ton of experience, charisma and humor to the clubhouse; again going towards one of the big, embarrassing issues from last year (clubhouse chemistry).

Q: Can you predict the Nationals’ rotation on Opening Day?

A: Barring injury, it has to be (in order) Scherzer, Strasburg, Gonzalez, Ross and Roark.  I’m not going to predict Arroyo beating out Roark at this point unless Arroyo looks completely healthy, he’s actually pitching well and Roark falls apart in Spring Training.  If there’s an injury, I look at Arroyo as the first man up, then Cole in terms of rotation coverage.  If we have to dig any deeper than that … watch out.  I like Voth but i’m not sure he’s ready for prime time.  I don’t trust Taylor Jordan any longer.  Lucas Giolito may start his career a ton earlier than anyone thought if injuries take out too many of our starters.

Ladson says its a no-brainer right now with the assumed 5 above.

Q: Why did the Nationals let Yunel Escobar get away? He was a consistent hitter.

A: Escobar was a consistent hitter last year yes (.314 BA, which was 50 points higher than the two previous seasons and 30 points higher than his career average), but hit an “empty” .314 (just 9 homers and a .415 slugging, also a huge improvement over previous seasons and his career high).  Unsaid is Escobar’s significant defensive issues (awful defensive stats, though to be fair genius skipper Williams had him playing out of position the entire season).  I think the Nats “sold high” on Escobar, traded from depth to a certain extent and got a player (Trevor Gott) in trade that they really needed to help bolster the bullpen.  Ladson doesn’t mention the “selling high” part of his offense; only mentions his defensive issues.

Q: What was it that made the front office sour on Drew Storen? The kid is one of the premier closers in the game, yet the team always seemed to be looking for someone better.

A: An excellent question.  I’m not sure it was the “front office” as much as it was the “impulsive owner” who soured on Storen.  He had two well publicized post-season failures, which led the normally sane and intelligent GM Rizzo to twice acquire and over-pay an aging “proven closer” to replace Storen.  The first time, Rafael Soriano eventually was supplanted by his own failures and Storen’s consistency, the second time the team inexplicably replaced him with Papelbon in the middle of perhaps Storen’s finest season.  Is Storen one of the “premier closers” in the game?  No.  I’d say he’s middle of the road and could likely tick off at least 15 guys who will be more highly valued in fantasy than Storen were he to win the Toronto closing job.

The crummy part of the deal was the fact that Storen was the one who needed to be traded by virtue of Papelbon making himself essentially untradeable.  I tell you what; Papelbon better be a frigging all-star this year to make up for what’s happened.  Ladson mentions the two blown post-season games and says he needed a change of scenery.  Both true.

 

 

Ladson’s Inbox 2/21/16

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We need Rendon to hit in 2016. Photo Nats Official via espn.com

We need Rendon to hit in 2016. Photo Nats Official via espn.com

Wow, no inboxes for months and suddenly two in two weeks??  It must be spring training! This is great!  MLB.com’s Nats beat reporter Bill Ladson on 2/20/16 has published more reader questions.  Here’s how I would have answered them.

Q: Without a doubt, Bryce Harper will be the best hitter on the Nationals this year. Who do you see as being the second-best hitter on the team?

A: Anthony Rendon.  If this team is going to win in 2016, Rendon needs to return to form.  Everyone else at this point in the lineup will be a table setter for Rendon and Harper.  Ladson says Zimmerman, who I admit i’ve begun to lose faith in.

Q: How does the front office justify bringing back Jonathan Papelbon after what happened last year with Harper? Papelbon has proven time and again that he is not a good teammate, yet he’s back for 2016?

A: I guess the questioner didn’t know that Papelbon was still *signed* for 2016.  So it wasn’t so much about “bringing him back” on purpose as it was the team “not being able to get rid of him.”  I put the Papelbon acquisition as one of the worst of the Mike Rizzo tenure; not so much for who we gave up (a good but not game changing prospect in Nick Pivetta) but for the incredible mis-calculation of the acquisition’s affect on the rest of the team.  I’m sure the team desperately tried to move him in the off-season but (with echos of “Lerner’s are cheap” abounding) probably weren’t willing to dump him for no return.  So here we are; its 2016 and Papelbon is here in lieu of the home grown popular (and team union rep) Drew Storen.

I’ll bet Rizzo doesn’t make this mistake again.

Nonetheless, Papelbon said the right things in his first media interviews since the interview, actually managing to appear humble and contrite while talking about how he was in the wrong and flat out apologizing to the fans.  I say good for him; even I couldn’t help but applaud his performance last last week.

Ladson says the team “made a good decision” in not moving Papelbon; yeah right.  If they could have gotten *anything* for him he’d be gone.  You worry about “finding a closer” in the current bullpen?  Uh, how about anyone?  We don’t need to go into more historical reviews of the uselessness of closers vis-a-vis teams holding leads after 8 innings.

Q: Why did the Nats not re-sign Craig Stammen? Before last year, I thought he did a great job as a middle reliever.

A: It all came down to risk mitigation.  Stammen absolutely did a great job for this team for many years … but he’s got a lot of innings, is coming off of a season-long injury, has (to be fair) rather funky mechanics, and the team just couldn’t justify guaranteeing him what probably would have been $2.5M or so for the unknown.  The industry felt the same way: Stammen ended up with a non-guaranteed minor league deal with Cleveland instead of either a major league deal or anything of significant value.  Trust me I was bummed; we met Stammen years ago at a golf event and he was awesome; hate to see these long-time Nats leave.  Ladson basically says the same thing.

Q: Don’t you think it’s time to improve left field? Jayson Werth is not the player he used to be. He makes a lot of money and doesn’t provide much in return.

A: And do what with Werth?  Magically trade him for valuable assets and get his payroll off your books?  The asker clearly thinks that the rest of the league are run by morons and the Nats can just magically get rid of the likes of Werth for value.  Yes he’s costing you more than 10% of your payroll.  It is what it is; veteran FA contracts all end up like this.  Honestly, I think Werth still has a ton of value if you use him properly; that means batting lead-off where you take advantage of his high pitches-per-plate appearance and high OBP.  We’ll see if Dusty Baker thinks outside the box like this (doubt it).  Ladson says Werth is a comeback player of the year candidate.

Q: What are the chances the Nationals make a trade for someone like Carlos Gonzalez to protect Harper in the lineup?

A: I like Carlos Gonzalez … but his home/away splits are pretty distinct.  .972 OPS in Denver, .758 OPS elsewhere last year.  I’m not sure he’s anything more than a mediocre outfielder if he’s not playing half his games at altitude.  Besides, the team made its play for the outfield when they acquired Ben RevereLadson thinks Rizzo could still “make a deal for a slugger” during Spring Training if he doesn’t like what he sees.  Uh; trading season is over, dude.  How many big-time sluggers can you think of that moved in spring training?

Q: A prime component of the Mets’ rotation is the ability to throw hard and get a bunch of strikeouts, but how unique is the Nationals’ rotation and how could it help them win the NL East next season?

A: Indeed, the Mets have a plethora of big-time arms throwing big-time heat.  But the Royals buzzed through their staff with ease in the World Series.  Why?  Because the Royals were the best team in the league for not taking a strikeout and putting the ball in play.  So once it became apparent that the Mets starters couldn’t close out games by themselves, the Royals (with their superior bullpen) outlasted them.  So Ks are important but not the end-all/be-all.

What makes the Nats rotation unique?  Two part answer for me: they (still) have one of the best 1-2 punches in the league in Scherzer and Strasburg.  What other 1-2 starters would you take over them?   So then past their 2 aces, they have three other guys who are dangerously under-rated.  Gonzalez was a Cy Young finalist just a couple years ago and he still has the same stuff.  Ross is a complete find, a guy who would be most teams’ #2 starter this year despite just having a handful of MLB starts.  And (as often repeated) Roark was a 5-win guy two years ago.  So the potential is there for this to be a top rotation end-to-end.

How does the Rotation help them win the NL east?  By staying healthy, pitching to potential, and outlasting the Mets own powerful rotation when its crunch time.

Ladson doesn’t really give much of an answer here.  He just says what he’d like to “see” each of our starters do this year.