Nationals Arm Race

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

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Nationals Arm Race Best Stories for 2013; Happy New Year!

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On the last day of 2013, I thought I’d take a quick peek back at the posts and discussion that shaped the blog this year.  Here’s a highlight reel by month of the most read and commented-upon posts in this space, as well as recaps of major events and personal favorite entries.

January 2013:

February 2013:

March 2013:

April 2013:

May 2013:

June 2013

July 2013

August 2013

September 2013

October 2013

November 2013

December 2013

Happy New Year!  Its been fun.

 

2014 Projected Pitching Staffs and Rotations; entire Nats system

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Mr. Detwiler's 2014 assignment will have cascading effects for MLB and AAA.  Photo Haraz Ghanbari/AP via federalbaseball.com

Mr. Detwiler’s 2014 role will have serious cascading effects for MLB and AAA. Photo Haraz Ghanbari/AP via federalbaseball.com

OK here we are.  We did seven comprehensive pitching staff reviews (the GCL review is here, which has links to the other 6 reviews) in order to arrive at this post.

So, without further ado, here’s what I’m predicting for all seven systems right now, absent any more deals (like say for a MLB lefty or another starter or trading a closer to Chicago):

 MLB Level

  • MLB Rotation: Strasburg, Gonzalez (L), Zimmermann, Fister, Detwiler (L)
  • MLB Bullpen: Soriano, Storen, Clippard, Stammen, Blevens (L), Ohlendorf, Roark
    MLB out of Org: Haren, Duke (L), Abad (L), Krol (L), HRodriguez

Discussion: the 5th starter competition could shake out so many different ways, that it almost is not worth predicting.  I can see any of the following scenarios playing out:

  • Detwiler gets one last shot at the 5th starter as the incumbent, pushing Jordan to AAA and Ohlendorf/Roark to the bullpen (my current prediction).
  • Jordan wins the 5th starter, pushing Detwiler to the bullpen as a power lefty by virtue of his lack of options.  This would push (likely) Roark to AAA.
  • Roark wins the 5th starter, continuing his blistering sub 2.00 ERA pace from September, pushing Detwiler to the bullpen and Jordan to AAA.
  • Less likely, Karns wins the 5th spot, which pushes Detwiler to the bullpen and Roark & Jordan to AAA.
  • Even more less likely, Ohlendorf wins the spot, which pushes Detwiler to the bullpen but lets Roark stay as the long man/spot-starter.
  • Mike Rizzo shocks us again with another starter acquisition; Detwiler goes to the bullpen, Ohlendorf stays as long man, and Roark & Jordan are in AAA.

Why am I predicting Detwiler will win the rotation spot?  Partly because of options, but partly because I’ve sort of come back around on him after looking more closely at his 2013 season.  He had a decent to good 2012; he posted a 118 ERA+ and even if his advanced FIP/SIERA didn’t indicate he was quite that good, he was still more than a servicable 5th starter.  Then in his first seven 2013 starts he was also very good (he had a 2.53 ERA in his first 7 starts and 42 2/3 innings … he got hurt in his 8th start).  The rest of his season was a mess, with him fighting injury and ballooning his seasonal ERA from 2.53 to more than 4.00 in five more starts.   If he comes back healthy to start 2014, why wouldn’t we expect more of the same performance that he had at the start of 2013?  For these two reasons, I think Detwiler breaks camp as the 5th starter.  Now …. I have zero confidence that he’ll remain healthy enough to keep his spot in the rotation, but that’s a problem for another day.  And a problem for which this team has plenty of coverage.

Another scenario that could affect this predition: Rizzo acquires yet another lefty reliever (latest rumors were about Scott Downs before he signed elsewhere, but I’m sure a trade could be arranged), which complicates any of these predictions because it means one less spot for either Ohlendorf or Roark.  For a team that seems so obsessed with left-handed relievers, we sure have let a bunch of them go in recent years (Duke, Abad, Krol this year, Gorzelanny, Lannan, Burnett and Gonzalez last year).  Maybe we should just hang on to one or two of these guys?  I will say this: I do NOT believe that the Nats will choose Xavier Cedeno and his 6 2013 MLB innings for the Nats over Roark just because he’s left handed at this point.

Personally, I think Roark and Ohlendorf pitched like big leagers last year and deserve to stay in the majors until they prove otherwise.  Ohlendorf’s recent $1.25M deal seems to indicate he’s more likely to stick than Roark, but perhaps the long-man/spot starter competition is open as well.  This pushes previous stalwards in the bullpen (specifically Ryan Mattheus ) to AAA.   I will say this though: if you expect to win, you have to go north with your 25 best guys no matter how much they make or their option status.  And at the end of last year, that undoubtedly included Tanner Roark.  So thats why I’m going with Roark in the pen to start the season.

One other wrinkle; does Rizzo trade one of Storen or Clippard to Chicago, who desperately needs a closer?  This seems less likely, especially for a team that has World Series aspirations, but the truth is this team is paying a LOT of money into its bullpen ($25M and counting), has three closer-quality guys, and potentially a log jam of righties (see the AAA bullpen prediction for more).  I see this as less likely unless Chicago sends back pieces that we really need, but rumors get started because GMs are talking, so maybe this still happens.  But if a guy like that is traded, then that re-opens a slot for the deposed Mattheus or possibly the newly healthy an electric Garcia.   I think these are lesser possibilities and both those guys are pushed to AAA to begin the season.

I’m sure this section garners plenty of discussion; have at it in the comments :-)

AAA Level

  • AAA Rotation: Jordan, Karns, Rosenbaum (L), Young, MLFA or two?
  • AAA Bullpen: Barrett, Mattheus, Garcia, Davis,  Cedeno (L), Robertson (L), Herron (AA?), Alfaro, Stange, Delcarmen
  • AAA Release candidates: Meyers, Lehman
  • AAA out of Org: Maya, Tatusko, Clay, Mandel, Torra, Broadway, Crotta, Lowe, Kimball, Accardo, Bramhall, Romero (L)

Discussion

So, the projected AAA rotation has one hold over in Rosenbaum, two “promotions” in Jordan and Karns, and then a whole bunch of question marks.  Is Chris Young healthy enough to pitch this year?  Is Brad Meyers?  Right now i’ve got Meyers as a release candidate, figuring that he hasn’t been healthy in two years and may be finished.  I have to think that the team will give a couple of lower-level free agents minor league contracts to try to pitch their way back into the league, much as they have done with the likes of Zach Duke, Ross Ohlendorf and Young in the last couple of off-seasons.  There’s plenty of guys out there who may make sense; a quick glance at the current list of free agents offers intriguing names (think of someone like a Joe Saunders or a Barry Zito or an Aaron Harang; do you think these guys are getting guaranteed contracts for 2014?).  I’m predicting that at least one or two of these types of guys get MLFA deals and end up in the AAA rotation, though I suppose at least one guy i’m projecting from the AA rotation could start in AAA.

The AAA bullpen has a couple of MLB-quality arms in Ryan Mattheus and Christian Garcia who we know can contribute at the MLB level but who end up here because of a numbers game at the big club.  The AAA closer likely is Aaron Barrett, newly added to the 40-man and looking to make his mark.  Erik Davis is here, who I kind of soured on last season but his numbers in small MLB samples were good and I think he can contribute in a Craig Stammen sort of way going forward.  We have a couple of hold-over loogies in Xavier Cedeno and Tyler Robertson, the latter of which successfully passed through waivers and was outrighted to Syracuse last month.   We already have three off-season MLFA signings (Gabriel Alfaro, Daniel Stange, Manny Delcarmen) who all project as righty middle relievers, making it seemingly less likely that the team will retain some of its own MLFAs (the likes of Ryan Tatusko and Jeff Mandel being longer serving Nats minor leaguers who pitched decently in 2013).

But as you can see there’s more candidates here than there is room on the Syracuse roster (10 for 7 spots, and that’s assuming that Pat Lehman doesn’t make the cut either).  There will be injuries and D/L stints among these guys, but there may also be some releases next March.

Still, a AAA rotation led by Jordan and Karns (and possibly Ohlendorf and/or Roark if another move is made at the MLB level) leaves Syracuse with a pretty good staff to start the season.  And I like the fact that we have one reasonably accomplished MLB starter (Jordan) waiting in the wings to go along with a guy who might get there soon (Karns), to go with potentially a couple other former major league guys who are working their way back.

AA Level

  • AA Rotation: Cole, Hill, Solis (L), Schwartz, Treinen (AAA?)
  • AA Bullpen: Benincasa, Mirowski, Holland,  Swynenberg, Grace (L), Bates, KPerez, Gilliam (swingman), Spann (L)
  • AA release candidates: Perry, Selik, Demny, RMartin
  • AA out of Org: Broderick, Ray, McCoy, Frias, Holder, Bray

Discussion

We’ll see this trend again and again; despite the fact that the likes of A.J. Cole and Taylor Hill reached AA last year, the organization seems to like seeing these guys “beat the level” a second season in a row before moving guys up.  And so I see these guys in AA again.  Sammy Solis here is no surprise; he’s nearly 26 and has been mentioned as a MLB bullpen candidate already.  Meanwhile for the time being i’ve got Blake Treinen here, repeating the level, but can also see him moving up to AAA.  His numbers were good but not *that* good last year, and I left him in AA assuming that the team will try out some re-treads in the AAA rotation.  Lastly Blake Schwartz gets a deserved promotion after leading Potomac in IP, wins and starts last year.

In the bullpen I think Robert Benincasa is your closer to start, with Richie Mirowski and Neil Holland continuing to put up dominating late-innings relief.  All three guys should be pushing for promotions to AAA.  We’re a little light on lefties here admittedly.  A couple of injury-prone guys in Ryan Perry and Cameron Selik are listed as release candidates in the face of a number of guys meriting placement here.  Paul Demny and Rafael Martin have been around forever and may also be release candidates at this point, but they also could (at least in Demny’s case) convert to relief and try to rekindle their careers.  Lastly, there’s newly acquired Matthew Spann, the bounty for the Nats gambit on David Dejesus near the end of last season.   He’s a lefty who looks like he could start but i’ve got him in the bullpen for now.

High-A Level

  • High-A rotation: Purke (L), Anderson, Mooneyham (L), Encarnacion, Bacus, Turnbull (bullpen?) (L)
  • High-A bullpen: Wort (AA?), Holt (AA?), Fischer, Henke, Mendez, Harper (L), Davis, Thomas (L), RPena (swingman), Dickson (swingman)
  • High-A release candidates: Dupra, Rauh (starter?), Meza (L)
  • High-A out of org: Pineyro, Hawkins

Discussion

I don’t think there’s too many surprises in this rotation: Matthew Purke leads the line and should push for a promotion mid-season.  If he doesn’t dominate High-A at this point it may be time to think about moving him to the pen.   The same can be said about Brett Mooneyham and especially Kylin Turnbull, two guys who (by now) should have accomplished this level.   Otherwise the rest of this projected rotation are three guys who succeeded in Low-A in 2013: Dixon AndersonPedro Encarnacion and Dakoda Bacus.

In the bullpen, at this point i’m not sure who the closer candidates are to start the season.  Perhaps Greg Holt starts in the role.  Perhaps low-A phenom Gilberto Mendez gets a shot at closing.  Both Holt and Rob Wort may belong in AA at this point; Wort began 2013 there but there’s a lot of relievers in that AA section who would have to get hurt/be released to make room for these two guys right now.  There’s a couple of decent swingmen candidates here in Ronald Pena and Ian Dickson both started for long stretches in Hagerstown and could be useful guys in Potomac.    There’s a lot of names in the mix here for this bullpen; from here on down there could be plenty of releases come the end of spring.

 

Low-A Level

  • Low-A rotation: Giolito, Johansen, Voth, Lee (high-A?) (L), Orlan (L)
  • Low-A bullpen: Self (high-A?), Selsor (swingman), Ullmann, Pivetta, Simms, Hollins, Napoli (L), Bafidis (L), Suero (swingman), Valdez, Walsh (L), Aries
  • Low-A release candidates: Joyce, Waterman, Boyden
  • Low-A out of org: McKenzie, Smith

Discussion

I like this rotation, a lot.  Two of our best prospects, a third guy in Austin Voth who impressed last year, a guy in Nick Lee who probably deserves a high-A rotation spot and then Auburn’s staff leader in Robert Orlan.  Jake Johansen may find himself needing a promotion quickly, if he’s all that he’s cracked up to be.

The bullpen is going to be tough; basically every college aged short-season guy who pitched well in 2013 is named in this bullpen competition.  There’s a couple of interesting DSL graduates in Wander Suero and Phillips Valdez, some big arms in Ryan Ullmann and Nick Pivetta, and some polished college-aged lefties in David Napoli, Cory Bafidis and Jake Walsh.   I have 15 names here for 7-8 spots; Viera’s extended spring training could be busy this year.

 

Short-A Level

  • Short-A rotation: Barrientos, JRodriguez, Silvestre (high-A?) (L), and then 2013 draftees and/or drop-downs from Low-A
  • Short-A bullpen: DWilliams, Cooper, KRodriguez, Derosier, Webb (L), Spezial (L), 2013 draftees and drop-downs from Low-A
  • Short-A release candidates: Sylvestri, Grisz
  • Short-A out of org: Hudgins, Simko, Dicharry

GCL Level

  • Rookie Rotation: Ott (L), 2013 draftees and DSL graduates
  • Rookie bullpen: RLopez, 2013 draftees and DSL graduates
  • Rookie release candidates: DRamos, MRodriguez

Discussion

Its frankly impossible to predict the short-season squads, since (especially Auburn) they exist to park newly signed draftees.  However, I do see a ton of guys who competed and succeeded in the GCL this year who won’t necessarily make the Hagerstown squad, and I see them forming a good chunk of the Auburn squad.   The rest of the Auburn squad will be populated with upper-end 2014 draftees and losers from the Hagerstown pitching staff competition.  More of the same with the 2014 GCL squad, which was heavily tilted with DSL graduates this year.  The Nats tend to focus on college arms and thus only small college guys are generally put in the GCL in their draft year.

Harrisburg/AA Pitching Staff Year in Review; 2013

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Nathan Karns was the story of the year for AA Harrisburg's squad.  Photo Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports

Nathan Karns was the story of the year for AA Harrisburg’s squad. Photo Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports

This is the 3rd in the 2013 Pitching staff review series, here’s a review of Harrisburg/AA’s pitching staff for 2013.  Other parts of the 2013 series: Washington/MLB’s 2013 review and Syracuse/AAA’s 2013 review.

For some historical perspective, here’s 2012′s version (featuring Danny Rosenbaum) and 2011′s version (featuring Brad Peacock) of this post specifically for Harrisburg/AA.

All stats are courtesy of either milb.com’s Harrisburg 2013 Stats page or via Fangraph’s Harrisburg Stats page.   Also useful here are the Big Board and the Nats Draft Tracker.

Harrisburg starters.  The rotation started the season with Broderick, Treinen, Demny, Clay and Karns.  It ended with Karns, Cole, Treinen, Hill and Ray.   There were quite a few changes along the way.  Lets take a look at the AA starters:

  • Brian Broderick got the opening day start for Harrisburg but didn’t last very long, giving the team 7 mostly bad starts before hitting the D/L.  He got one more rehab start in the GCL and ended the season (I believe) on Potomac’s D/L list.  It doesn’t matter; Broderick’s time with the organization is likely done after quite a whirlwind trip; he was a 2010 rule-5 draftee from St. Louis who pitched for our MLB squad for nearly two months before being jettisoned back to the Cardinals.   St. Louis eventually waived him and we grabbed him in July 2012.  He toiled for AA last year and started there again this year.   Outlook for next season: MLFA, with another organization or perhaps out of affiliated baseball.
  • Blake Treinen, aka one of the “other guys” in the Michael Morse trade, quietly put together a pretty good season for the Senators.  In 21 games and 118 innings he had a 3.64 ERA and a nearly an identical 3.67 FIP.  He’s not a strike out guy (86 in 118 innings for a 6.5 K/9 rate, and he gave up more base-runners than you’d like to see (1.33 whip), which is odd considering his pedigree as one of the hardest throwers in the Nats farm system.  He missed a chunk of time this season with two separate D/L trips but made it back just in time to get hammered as the 4th starter in the playoffs.  I projected Treinen as an eventual back-of-the-bullpen arm thanks to his velocity, but for the time being the team should want to see if he can continue to develop as a starter.  Outlook for next season: back in AA as a starter, looking to push to AAA mid-season.
  • Paul Demny got 15 incredibly inconsistent starts for Harrisburg this year before a D/L trip resulted in his losing his rotation spot and then eventually losing his AA spot.  He ended the season in Potomac’s rotation but (likely out of respect for what the Potomac guys accomplished this year) did not participate in the High-A playoffs.  AA numbers for the year: 5-6, 4.95 ERA but 86 K/s in 83+ innings.  Outlook for next season: you have to think that he’s done as a starter, having failed to make the leap to AA for the second year running.  I”m predicting he’s in the AA bullpen.
  • Caleb Clay got 13 AA starts after signing as a MLFA before finishing the year in Syracuse.  See the AAA write-up for more.  Outlook for next season: in the San Francisco organization.
  • Nathan Karns followed up his 2012 Nats Minor League Pitcher of the year with a dominant season at AA: 10-6 with a 3.26 ERA and 155 Ks in 132 innings.  He was the first minor league reinforcement starter to get the call-up to the majors this year. (here’s my “first look” post at his 5/28/13 debut).  In three MLB starts he got hit hard and was eventually returned (after an 11 day layoff) to the AA rotation.  He finished the season strong and got one great playoff win, but was hammered in the season-ending championship for a sour end to a great season.  Nonetheless, we saw the potential and the organization’s patience has been rewarded.  For now Karns remains a starter.  Outlook for next season: AAA rotation.
  • Rob Gilliam ended up being the primary 6th starter/swing-man for Harrisburg this year, covering in the rotation as its original members got promoted, injured or demoted.  The “forgotten man” in the big Gio Gonzalez trade, Gilliam gave the Senators 18 starts and 90 innings of 4.40 ERA ball this year.  Nothing great but nothing awful; right now I see no reason to think he’s not going to serve in a similar same innings-eating role next year.  Outlook for next season: AA swing-man/spot-starter.
  • Taylor Hill had an exceptional season, stepping up from a guy who was throwing 5.00 ERA ball in low-A at the beginning of 2012 to a guy who was making a name for himself with sub 3.00 ERA pitching in AA by the end of 2013.  He earned a promotion out of Potomac with 14 excellent starts and continued the same work in AA.  His K/9 isn’t phenomenal (around 5.5 K/9 between both levels) and his FIPs show that his ERA was a bit lucky at both levels (3.38 FIP in high-A, 4.06 in AA) but the guy clearly knows how to pitch.  I think he’ll be a key man in the AA rotation next year.  Outlook for next season: AA rotation.
  • Robbie Ray showed why I kept my faith in him despite his 6.56 ERA blow-up in Potomac in 2012.  He dominated high-A in the first half of the season (10.71 K/9 in 16 High-A starts) and continued the great work as one of the youngest starters in all of AA by the time the season was over.  Final AA numbers: 5-2, 3.72 ERA, 3.42 whip with 60 K’s in 58 innings.  As we all know by now, Ray was the feature player in the Doug Fister acquisition and clearly made a huge impression on the Tigers GM Dave Dombrowski.  I’m sorry to see him go but I’m happy with the return he brought back.  Outlook for next season: in the Detroit organization.
  • Taylor Jordan passed through AA during his dream 2013 season, going 7-0 with a0.83 ERA in 9 appearances.  See Washington write-up for more.  Outlook for next season: AAA rotation.
  • A. J. Cole continued the trend of Potomac pitchers earning promotions, becoming the 5th of 5 starters who began the  year in Potomac to matriculate to AA.  He did not disappoint, going 4-2 with a 2.18 ERA and greater than a K/inning to solidify his status as one of the top prospects in the organization.  The Michael Morse trade that engineered his return is looking better and better for the team.  Outlook for next season: AA rotation to start, looking for a mid-season promotion to AAA.
  • Other guys who got spot starts here and there:
    • Matt Swynenberg got a few spot-starts heare and there; see the reliever section.
    • Ryan Tatusko dropped down to give AA a spot start; see AAA post.
    • Trevor Holder and Tyler Herron each got a spot start but were primarily relievers; see the reliever section.

Harrisburg Relievers: taking a look at the relief corps at the end of the season.  We’ll start with the closers and then run down the relievers by innings pitched.

  • Aaron Barrett was the primary closer for Harrisburg, earning 26 saves, striking out 69 in 50 innings and posting a 2.15 ERA.  His FIP was significantly lower (1.87) thanks to an inflated BABIP for the year.  Barrett’s performance on the year necessitated his protection on the 40-man roster: he was added in November ahead of the rule-5 draft.  His late August injury does not seem to be that threatening; the organization clearly thinks he’s got potential to help and i’m sure he’ll feature at some point in 2014 to cover for bullpen injuries.  Outlook for next season: AAA bullpen, likely the closer again.
  • Tyler Herron is an interesting case: signed out of the independent leagues, he had not appeared in affiliated ball since 2009.  He quickly showed he was too good for High-A and stuck around as a back of the bullpen guy in Harrisburg the rest of the season, taking over for Barrett when he hit the D/L in August.  Final season stats: 6-2, 5 saves,  a 3.11 ERA, and an even better FIP.  Even better: 58 K’s in just 46 1/3 innings.  He proved to be a very versatile arm for this team.  Despite the fact that he was a MLFA signing last off-season, he’s not listed on BA’s MLFA list for this off-season; is he still with the organization?  I hope so: I think he can be useful going forward. Outlook for next season: AAA bullpen, if he’s still with the org.
  • Matt Swynenberg served as a longer reliever out of the bullpen and posted a 3.16 ERA in 74 innings over 36 appearances and 4 starts.   He continues his steady progression up the organization but remains off the prospect-radar.  He’s been rule-5 eligible two  years running now and hasn’t been sniffed.  He enters his last  year of pre-MLFA possibly topped out in the organization thanks to a numbers game in the AAA bullpen.  Outlook for next season: AA bullpen.
  • Neil Holland was another big arm in the Harrisburg bullpen this year, posting 63 K’s in 50 relief innings to the tune of a 2.84 ERA/2.43 FIP.   Holland was a 2010 draftee who was Rule-5 eligible this year, but he slipped through the cracks and the Nats get to keep him off the 40-man roster for one more season.   He’s under-sized but has put up great numbers wherever he’s been; it is just a matter of time before he gets his shot.  Outlook for next season: AA bullpen to start, with a good likelihood of moving up soon.
  • Pat McCoy failed to make the jump from AA to AAA and was demoted back to Harrisburg after 7 ineffective AAA appearances.  Repeating AA for the third year, he posted a 4.32 ERA in 41 middle relief innings.  He exhaused his 6 years in the organization and has already signed elsewhere for 2014.  Outlook for next season: in the Detroit organization.
  • Matt Grace was one of NINE hurlers who earned promotions out of Potomac this year, and could be the next “sneaky good loogy” prospect that the organization develops.  He transitioned away from starting after the 2011 season and has seen his numbers improve.  In 38 AA innings this year he posted a 3.79 ERA but better looking 2.88 FIP.   He has good control but seems hittable; his career BABIP is especially high.  As with Holland, Grace passed through his first year of Rule-5 eligibility this year without any interest; he needs to push for a AAA promotion to get onto the MLB radar in 2014.   Outlook for next season: AA bullpen to continue as the lefty matchup guy.
  • Ian Krol exploded onto the scene for the organization, giving up just 2 earned runs in his first 21 appearances for Harrsiburg and getting a surprise  call-up in June.  See the MLB write-up for more.  Outlook for next season: in Detroit’s organization
  • Ryan Perry started the year in the AAA rotation under the National’s grand plan to make him a starter, and the experiment failed.  8 starts later, he boasted a 7.93 ERA.  He hit the D/L, then was demoted to Harrisburg.  There, he was outrighted off the 40-man roster and returned to the bullpen, where he was mediocre (4.43 ERA).   Outlook for next season: he has to show he can get AA hitters out; you have to think he’s starting in the AA bullpen again.
  • Richie Mirowski continues to impress; he has never posted an ERA above 2.61 at any level he’s appeared.  Not bad for a college senior draftee from a no-name college in the 45th round who likely signed for a bonus small enough to fit into the scout’s wallet who brought him his paperwork.  He posted a 1.50 ERA across 48 high-A innings and earned his promotion.  For Harrisburg he had a 12.63 K/9 rate in 20 innings and posted a 1.12 FIP in a small later-season sample size.  Not too shabby.  Outlook for next season: AA bullpen again, looking to force another promotion.
  • Pat Lehman was sent to AA after being a successful AAA guy in 2012 thanks to a numbers game; he promptly posted a 5.49ERA, got hurt and missed most of the season after just 13 appearances.  He did appear in 8 rehab games in the rookie league in August but did not make it back out of Florida.   Here’s the problem with Lehman; he has nothing to prove in AA; he already earned his stripes in AAA.  But is there enough room for him on the AAA roster in 2014?  He enters his 6th pro season and will face MLFA next year unless he pushes his way to the 40-man roster.   Outlook for next season: AAA bullpen competition, a possible release candidate?
  • Marcos Frias posted a 6.16 ERA in 19 innings and was dumped back to High-A.  There he posted an even worse 7.59 ERA and was released mid-season.  Outlook for next season: in another organization or out of baseball.
  • Trevor Holder was repeating AA and had posted respectable numbers through the first month of the season when he was suddenly released to make room for Taylor Jordan‘s promotion on 5/8/13.  I was shocked; we were talking about a 3rd round pick after all.  He was immediately picked up by San Diego and possibly proved why the organization knows more than we do; he dropped down to high-A and was lit up in the California league (a 6.39 ERA in 100 innings).  Now, its the California league (land of small ball parks and high altitudes) so the numbers are inflated (just look at what happened to A.J. Cole out there in 2012), but the story remains the same; Holder’s high draft pick was viewed at the time as the Nats “punting” on the pick to save money, and Holder never really proved anyone wrong.  Outlook for next season: in San Diego’s organization.
  • Michael Broadway started in Harrisburg and quickly earned a promotion to Syracuse.  See the AAA writeup for more.  Outlook for next season: in the Toronto organization.
  • Bill Bray returned to the organization that drafted him, and returned to his “home” team; he grew up in Virginia Beach, went to William & Mary and in a bit of a personal interest item is cousins with a friend of mine; he was counting on him making the MLB team and reaping the benefits of free tickets for family and friends :-) .  However he struggled in the spring and was sent to minor league camp.  He stuck around Viera to work on his mechanics, finally got to Harrisburg and then, after just four outings, suffered a season-ending shoulder injury.   He’s a MLFA again this off-season and it remains to be seen where he picks up.  I’d like to see him back here again, but Bray’s representatives have to be looking at the crowded bullpen and may suggest he continue his career elsewhere.   That is if he can recover from his latest injury.  To say that Bray has “unconventional” mechanics would be an understatement, and it is no shock that he’s struggled with arm issues his whole career.  Outlook for next season: MLFA, in another organization.
  • Other Relievers who appeared in AA of note:

    • Christian Garcia pitched 4 rehab innings during his rehab tour of the organization.  See AAA write-up for more.
    • Ryan Mattheus pitched 4 innings of rehab over three games recovering from his broken hand.  See the MLB write-up for more.
    • Brian Rauh got a one-game call-up to provide bullpen cover.  See the high-A write-up for more.
    • Rob Wort pitched 3 AA innings before getting demoted to Potomac, where he spent the rest of the year.   See the high-A write-up for more.
    • Jose Lozada is normally a SS; he pitched one inning somewhere along the line in what likely was a blow-out loss.

Summary

Harrisburg got a ton of really good pitching this year, both from the starters and from the relievers.  And a ton of it matriculated up over the course of the year from Potomac.  Three guys on this squad jumped straight to the majors, and it isn’t hard to see another couple of these guys getting MLB debuts in 2014.

 

Nationals/MLB Pitching Staff Year in Review; 2013

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Jordan Zimmermann was the real "ace" of the 2013 Nats.  Photo Unk.

Jordan Zimmermann was the real “ace” of the 2013 Nats. Photo Unk.

I began thinking about system-wide predictions for the pitching staffs for the 2014 teams and realized that I heavily depend on doing staff-by-staff analysis to do the predictions.  I wasn’t going to do these review posts this year (mostly because they’re incredibly time consuming) but I also realize they’re a) the best way to do predictions for the coming year and b) the best way to becoming more vigilant in really forming an opinion on all the short-season guys.

So, without further ado, and despite the fact that its mid December and this post should have been done two months ago, here’s the first of many organizational reviews of the pitching staffs of our various affiliates for the 2013 season.  We’ll start with the Majors and move downwards.

Here’s the same version of 2012′s post for a historical review.

I think we all know how the major league squad did, so I’ll try to be brief here for the stalwarts we know are going to be with the team in 2014.  (Editor’s note: “brief” has turned into nearly 3,000 words.  oh well).  A lot of this analysis is for the “Outlook for next season” sections, which help me drive the predictions for all the pitching staffs next year.  All stats are courtesy of either Baseball-Reference’s Washington 2013 page or via Fangraph’s Washington 2013 page.  Also useful here are the Big Board and the Nats Draft Tracker.

Washington starters.  The rotation started the season with Strasburg, Gonzalez, Zimmermann, Detwiler and Haren.  At season’s end it was Strasburg, Gonzalez, Zimmermann, Haren and Roark, though not necessarily in that exact order thanks to skipped starts, ejections/washed out outings and some re-ordering at the all-star break.

  • Stephen Strasburg  had a down year for a supposed “Ace” in this league by conventional stats (8-9, 3.00 ERA) but by most advanced measures Strasburg was still in the top 10-15 pitchers in the league.  He still averaged more than a K/inning, he had the 2nd highest fastball velocity for any starter in the majors (only behind Matt Harvey).  He suffered from incredibly bad run support all year; the Nats scored 2 runs or less in 16 of his 30 starts and he got Losses or No-Decisions no less than 13 times when he allowed two or fewer earned runs and pitched enough to qualify for the decision.  That’s crazy.  With normal run support of 3-4 runs a game Strasburg easily could have had a record like 17-6 with a 3.00 era and been in the running for Cy Young votes.  On the bright side; he made 30 starts in year two post Tommy John surgery, and he should be in full force for 2014. Outlook for next season: 2014′s opening day starter.
  • Gio Gonzalez took a step back from his magical 2012 season and more closely resembled the starter that he was for Oakland in 2010-2011.  Which isn’t a bad thing; he still posted a 3-war season, he was still a 113 ERA+ guy, and he answered the bell every time his spot was up for the 4th year running.   He was a bit more hittable this year, gave up nearly twice as many homers as in 2012 (but in line with his years prior) and we got a glance of what we can probably expect from him going forward.  On the year he was 11-8 with a 3.36 ERA, and like Strasburg he had a number of no-decisions where the team just didn’t score him any runs.  Outlook for next season: 2014′s #2 starter.
  • Jordan Zimmermann had his best season as a pro, posting a 19-9 record with a 3.25 ERA and a 1.088 whip.  This earned him a 7th place Cy Young award finish and likely earned him tens of millions of dollars on his eventual contract extension.  Zimmermann maintained a 4/1 K/BB rate, good for 13th among all qualified starters and even better considering the velocity at which he pitches (9th in the league in vFA at 93.9mph).  A side note on just how amazing Matt Harvey is: he was 2nd in the league in K/BB and FIRST in vFA; that’s a pretty special combination.  Zimmermann seems set to broach 8 figures in arbitration and it may behoove the team to try to work out a contract extension before he hits the open market.  Outlook for next season: 2014′s #3 starter.
  • Ross Detwiler made 8 decent starts in April and May before missing a month thanks to an oblique strain, then made 5 mostly mediocre starts in June before being lost for the season thanks to a herniated disc in his back.  Detwiler’s injury exposed the one glaring weakness in the construction of the 2013 Nationals; absolutely no starting pitching depth.  Much ink has been spilled here and elsewhere on Detwiler’s status for 2014, but I will say this: look at his game logs from the early part of the season and you’ll find that his performance was north of expectations for a #5 starter.  Because of this (and his option-less status frankly), I am predicting for now that he’ll win the 5th starter battle in the spring (more on this after all the organization reviews are done and we talk about 2014 predictions).  The question will be; can he stay healthy and can he keep the job?  Outlook for next season: 2014′s #5 starter.
  • Dan Haren was, as we all know, awful in April, mostly awful in May and god-awful in June.  He hit the D/L for a brief stint in what was an obvious “forced” trip, for when he was asked he didn’t even know for what injury he was being shelved for.  At the time of his D/L trip he literally was the worst or close to the worst starting pitcher in the game by nearly any statistical measure.   Yes he picked up his performance after the D/L trip, but by that point the damage had been done.  He had game after game where suddenly the offense was down 5-6 runs and the game was basically over.  For the year the team was 11-19 in his starts.  Not a great return for the $13M contract he signed.  The Nats didn’t dare to offer him a qualifying offer and his tenure ended with an ironic slap in the face as he pitched one of his best games in his final Washington appearance.   Outlook for next season: signed with Los Angeles Dodgers for 1yr/$10m to be their 4th or 5th starter.
  • Nathan Karns was the first minor league reinforcement starter to get the call (here’s my “first look” post at his 5/28/13 debut).  In three starts he got hit hard: 17 hits and 5 homers that resulted in a 7.50 ERA and a return to AA.  We’ll talk more about Karns in the Harrisburg review.  Based on what I saw, it may be that he’s eventually bound for the bullpen, where he can throw harder for shorter bursts.  But his value as a starter is obvious if he can corral all of his pitches.  Outlook for next season: AAA rotation.
  • Taylor Jordan got the call-up when the team finally lost patience with Haren and sent him to the D/L in June (here’s my “first look” post at his 6/28/13 debut).  Jordan looked pretty good in his 9 starts, posting a 3.66 ERA and a 3.49 FIP.  Not bad considering where he started the year (in Potomac’s rotation).  Jordan was shut down in Mid-August thanks to the organizational innings limit for post-Tommy John surgery pitchers (he threw a total of 142 across 3 levels on the  year).  Now the big question; what to do with him for 2014?  Unfortunately for Jordan (and as we’ll talk about in a moment), his departure opened the door for other opportunistic pitchers and he may have been passed on the organizational depth chart.  For now, I’m predicting that Jordan won’t win the 5th starter job over Detwiler and will be sent to Syracuse to get starts and serve as the organizational starter depth that we struggled with in 2013.   Outlook for next season: AAA rotation.
  • Ross Ohlendorf took a minor league gig with the Nationals to try to revitalize his career and went a somewhat pedestrian looking 4-6 in 13 starts at AAA.  He re-vamped his wind-up and mechanics, threw with some good pace and eventually a streak of good starts led to his June call-up.  He spent the rest of the season as the Nats’ long-man/spot starter, getting 16 apperances and 7 starts in posting a servicable 3.28 ERA.  He seemed to tire when featured as a starter, only going past the 5th inning three times, and Davey Johnson eventually seemed hesitatant to use him because of it.  Eventually, a shoulder strain 15 day D/L trip and a poor spot-start in early September opened the door for others to grab starts (see below), but Ohlendorf remained the emergency starter for the rest of the season.  Outlook for next season: he did enough to get tendered a contract (which he quickly signed; 1yr/$1.25M), and seemingly he will slot back in as the long-man/spot-starter role for the MLB team.  He doesn’t seem to have enough to compete and win the 5th starter competition.  Will the team dump him to AAA as an inexpensive starter insurance policy?  I doubt it for now; they probably opt to keep Ohlendorf as the last guy out of the pen and keep Jordan on regular starts in AAA.
  • Tanner Roark toiled in AAA most of the season, and seemingly was set to exit the organization as a MLFA before earning a call-up in August.  Roark’s body of work both in 2013 and over the past few seasons warranted his call-up, and his mixture of success both in the starter role and in a long-relief role in AAA made him the perfect candidate to replace Ohlendorf when he hit the D/L.  All Roark did upon arriving in the majors is pitch lights-out (a 252 ERA+) in 50 innings mixed with starts and relief apperances.  Here was my “first look” post on his relief debut, and by the end of the season he was putting in a series of effective starts in the rotation.  Outlook for next season: he’ll compete for the 5th starter job in spring but may not win it.  Its hard to imagine a guy who threw 50+ innings of 1.50 ERA ball to NOT make the team the following spring;  I see him as the 6th guy in the bullpen and the first emergency starter in case someone gets hurt.
  • Zach Duke got one spot-start but was mostly a reliever; see the next section.

Washington relievers.  We’ll work the relievers backwards from the closer down the pen, starting with the original 7 guys in the pen to start the season and work from there.

  • Rafael Soriano was a surprise FA signing late in the 2012-2013 off-season, seemingly a Scott Boras special for the Nats.  His signing unsettled the bullpen, brought in a veteran with a history of malcontentness and under-performance when he wasn’t closing (just look at his stats in closer and non-closer seasons), cost a ton of money, and cost the team their 1st round draft pick (which could have netted them quite a prospect, as discussed in my draft review post here).  Other than that, I thought it was a fantastic signing (sarcasm).  For the year he went 43 for 49 in save opportunities, finished 58 games (important b/c his 2015 option vests if he “finishes” more than 120 games), and pitched relatively pedestrian stats for a highly paid closer: 3.11 era, 122 ERA+, 1.230 whip.  Certainly he wasn’t putting up the kind of lights out numbers we saw from other such highly paid closers.   Outlook for next season: back in the closer role, hopefully finishing fewer than 62 games so we can jettison him and his $11M salary.
  • Tyler Clippard returned to his dominant ways of 2011, throwing 71 innings of 2.42 ERA/158 ERA+ ball.  He showed why he’s best suited to keep in the 8th inning role even if it costs him money in arbitration.  He remains the most effective reliever in the pen and is well worth the $6M he seems set to attain in arbitration.  A more interesting question eventually awaits the team; is Clippard going to price himself out of our bullpen?  Perhaps not this off-season but maybe next, he should be moved to a team to assume their closer role and provide value commensurate with his rising salary.  Outlook for next season: back in the 8th inning role.
  • Drew Storen seemed to be the most unsettled by the Soriano acquisition, perhaps coupled with PTSD from his meltdown in the 2012 NLCS game 5.  He was ineffective in April, got it together for a while but then just blew up in July, giving up 14 runs in 9 innings and earning a demotion to work on his (admittedly) inconsistent mechanics.  To his credit, when he returned he was back to normal, giving up just 3 runs in 20 innings to finish out the season.  Lets hope he’s back to normal and can contribute for 2014.  Thanks to his inconsistent 2013, his name isn’t being mentioned as much in trade rumors, so hopefully that gives him some peace of mind this off-season. Outlook for next season: back in the 7th/8th inning role.
  • Craig Stammen continued his excellent workhorse performance as the classic right-handed middle reliever.  He put up a 2.76 ERA in 81 innings over 55 appearances.  Nothing much to say here; the biggest question with Stammen may be what happens NEXT off-season, when he faces the third and fourth arbitration years.  What kind of contract would you pay for him?  Is he going to price himself out of our bullpen?  We’ll see.  Outlook for next season: back in the 6th/7th inning middle relief role.
  • Ryan Mattheus was putting up the expected decent middle relief numbers when he imploded in San Diego in late May, giving up 5 runs in an inning.  In a fit of pique he punched a wall, broke his pitching hand (didn’t he ever see Bull Durham?  Never swing with your pitching hand!) and was sent to the D/L.  More importantly, I think the organization lost quite a bit of respect for him.  He returned two months later but pitched relatively poorly the rest of the season, finishing with a 6.27 ERA.   That’s just not going to cut it, not with the kind of arms who are pushing for spots lower down in the organization.  I think Mattheus will lose the competition for middle relief coming out of spring and will be sent to AAA as reliever depth.  Outlook for next season: AAA bullpen.
  • Henry Rodriguez was his typical self for the Nats early in the season; wild, ineffective and out of options, limiting the team’s flexibility.  Somewhere along the line the team finally gave up; DFA’ing Rodriguez  and somehow working out a trade to get something back (Ian Dickson from the Cubs).  Thus ends a long, frustrating tenure with the team.  The Cubs, for what its worth, DFA’d Rodriguez just 6 weeks after acquiring him, outrighted him to AAA Iowa, where apparently he got hurt after just 3 games and finished the season on the D/L.  He’s pitching in winter ball now so it must have been a minor injury.  Outlook for next season: on Chicago’s AAA team presumably.
  • Zach Duke was inexplicably ineffective for the team in the early parts of 2013, and was subsequently released in early June after the team presumably lost patience with him after an awful spot start and an even more unnerving 4 walk relief outing.   It goes to show you; sometimes you cannot trust small sample sizes.  Duke pitched great in September 2012, awful in April 2013 … but then was absolutely fantastic for Cincinnati down the stretch working primarily as a loogy.  Go figure; maybe our loogy solution was in the pen the whole time.  Outlook for next season: he’s not listed as a FA, so presumably he’s still under contract to Cincinnati right now.
  • Fernando Abad was a MLFA signing last off-season who pitched great for Syracuse and earned a call-up in May.   He toiled in the pen decently most of the year for the big-club but wasn’t considered valuable enough to keep.  The team DFA’d him ahead of this year’s rule-5 draft and then worked out a trade with our favorite GM Billy Beane.  This somewhat surprised me given Abad’s macro numbers for 2013 (3.35 ERA in 37 innings) but not when considering his lefty splits (a .306/.338/.452 lefty-lefty split for the year).  Outlook for next season: in Oakland’s organization.
  • Ian Krol exploded onto the scene for this team, getting a surprise  call-up in June from AA that coincided with the Duke and Rodriguez DFAs.  Here’s my “first look” post on him, pointing out the issue (he really has just one pitch) that would eventually drive him back to the minors.  Still, for a 22-yr old who had no experience above AA, he pitched pretty well; he maintained a sub 3.00 ERA until mid August and finished the year with a 3.95 ERA in 27 innings.  His lefty split numbers: .220/.273/.320.  This was good enough to intrigue Detroit, and Krol was included in the package that acquired Doug Fister.   Outlook for next season: in Detroit’s organization.
  • Erik Davis was Syracuse’s closer in name for a bulk of the season, earning 15 saves while posting a 3.10 ERA in 52+ innings.  He was a Sept 2012 pre-rule5 40-man addition and spent a week in the MLB pen in June before getting recalled for September.  In 10 MLB appearances he gave up zero runs in 9 of them and showed excellent middle-reliever stuff (12/1 K/BB ratio in 8 2/3 innings).  Outlook for next season: AAA bullpen again; he won’t beat out the names above him for the MLB bullpen.
  • Xavier Cedeno was an April 2013 waiver claim off of Houston (of all teams), who spent most of the season in Syracuse (save for a quick June call-up).  In September, he pitched pretty effectively, giving up just one run in 9 outings and 12+ innings for the Nats.  He clearly hasn’t shown the team enough to be counted on as the go-to loogy, considering the Nats off-season trade for Jeremy Blevens and their talk of using the likes of Detwiler and/or Sammy Solis as lefty reliever help in 2014.    Outlook for next season: Syracuse bullpen.
  • Lastly, Yunesky Maya got a call-up to provide bullpen relief, got blitzed, DFA’d and outrighted.  See the Syracuse writeup for more.

Summary

Washington’s rotation was by most measures a top 5-6 rotation in the majors (7th in starter ERA, 6th in starter FIP and 3rd in starter xFIP/SIERA).   Clearly we look to be improved on the rotation side, with Haren’s starts being replaced by the underrated Doug Fister, with a healthy Detwiler and with plenty of reinforcements to back the starters up.  Look for this to continue to be a source of strength in 2014.

The bullpen however was not a source of strength last year, ranking between 17th and 19th in the macro pitching categories (17th bullpen ERA, 19th bullpen xFIP and 18th in bullpen SIERA).  Has the team done enough to improve the bullpen for 2014 by just replacing the under-performers with call-ups and signings?

Ladson’s inbox 12/2/13 edition

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The drumbeat to have Morse back continues.  Photo hardballtalk.nbcsports.com

The drumbeat to have Morse back continues. Photo hardballtalk.nbcsports.com

Happy Thanksgiving!  Apparently I didn’t realize how long between posts it had been (nearly 2 weeks).    I didn’t go anywhere or anything; just hunkered down for the holidays, entertained the in-laws, and found myself with very little non-work computer time to delve into hot-stove season issues.

Thankfully, we have a Bill Ladson inbox to get us going this week!  Dated 12/2/13.

(Note: I was mid-way typing this post when the Doug Fister news broke … so its a day later than I wanted it to be, and I edited this to be relevant).

As always, I write my response here before reading his and edit questions for clarity/conciseness.

Q: I’ve heard about so many big-market teams being out of the Robinson Cano sweepstakes. What about the Nats? They did swing a shocker of a deal in Jayson Werth, and Cano could be the signing that brings the World Series trophy back to the beltway.

A: Several national writers (including this latest, most comprehensive viewpoint from Paul Swydan on ESPN insider just this week) are making the same point.  In simple terms, sign Robinson Cano, move Anthony Rendon to third, move Ryan Zimmerman and his scatter-arm to first, and put Adam LaRoche out to pasture (or, more likely, a trade for 20 cents on the dollar).   I’d love the move in the short-term but would absolutely hate it in the long term.   Its really simple: the guy’s 30.  He wants to be paid for the next decade as if he’ll never age.   His anticipated 10 year $200-and something million dollar contract will immediately be at the top of the list of albatross contracts in the league.  You just can’t do it, not if you want to maintain finacial flexibility to extend the core of this team (Strasburg, HarperDesmond to name three) and maintain some sort of a budget.  (Oh, by the way, I have always maintained the Jayson Werth contract was a “statement contract” to the league, an overpay that legitimized this franchise as a FA player after years of being a laughingstock in the league under Jim Bowden and inept league ownership.  So, i’m not entirely sure I’d use Werth’s deal as any sort of predictor of Mike Rizzo‘s intentions).

Hey, it isn’t my  money.  If Ted Lerner‘s ok with spending $150M or more a  year … maybe i’d be on board.  But man, 3 or 4 years from now when Jayson Werth is hobbling around the outfield earning $20M plus, Zimmerman’s at $15M/year and possibly clogging a 1st base spot, each of Desmond, Gonzalez, Harper, Strasburg and Zimmermann earning 8 figure deals, a Cano $25M/year albatross is clogging your payroll, and the team starts telling its fans that they’re standing pat or depending on signing middling free agents to try to “win” next year (you know, like the Phillies), I think you’ll regret this contract.

Ladson thinks the team could be in on Cano, and could use Rendon as trade bait for a pitcher.  *sigh* well, we’ll see what happens.

Q: Do the Nats have any interest in a guy like Raul Ibanez to fill the fourth outfielder/power-left-handed-bat-off-the-bench role? He’s over 40, but a veteran with outstanding work ethic. His 2013 season’s numbers suggest that it might be worthwhile to take a gamble on him for one year, if he’s willing to accept a reasonable salary and less playing time. Your thoughts?

A: I just do not see it.  Would you trust a guy who suddenly spikes his performance at age 41?  Rizzo needs to go younger, not ancient.  Raul Ibanez makes sense to sign a series of one year deals with AL teams that can DH  him as long as he proves his worth until he’s retired.  Ladson says the nats need a 4th OF who can man center; a good point.

Q: With the way that Ryan Mattheus hurt his hand last year and then struggled mightily after being activated from the disabled list, is he in the Nats’ bullpen plans for 2014?

A: I think Ryan Mattheus may be on the outside looking in come April 1, 2014 after his performance and injury in 2013.  Without any other moves, you have to think right now the Nats bullpen has 4 locks (Soriano, Clippard, Storen and Stammen), one loogy (from within or outside), one long man (Ohlendorf or a 5th starter competition loser) and one spot up for grabs.  Mattheus is the current leader in the clubhouse for that spot .. but he’ll face competition.  Right now, if Christian Garcia is healthy he’s proven to be more effective than Mattheus.  If Garcia can’t go, then Mattheus probably has the spot locked up barring any more signings.  He could face some competition from guys in the minors like Nathan Karns (if the team decides he can’t find a 3rd pitch and converts him to a reliever… though this probably doesn’t happen until 2015 at the earliest), or possibly from new 40-man addition Aaron Barrett.  For right now i’d say he’s the 7th guy but he needs to produce at 2012 levels to keep his job over Garcia.  Ladson agrees with me, I guess.

Q: Just wondering, do you think No. 2 prospect Lucas Giolito will get an invitation to Spring Training with the big club?

A: Nope, not this year.  No point.  He’s yet to play a day in full-season ball; he needs to stay in the minor league section and get his full work, not languish on the MLB spring training bench getting an inning every other day.  Now, if he shoots up the system in 2014 and ends in AA, then yeah a spring training invite for 2015 could be in the works.  Ladson agrees.

Q: After reading all these trade rumors, I feel like the Nationals are going to make a huge move this offseason. Do you feel it would come as a bat or as a pitcher?

A: Even before the Fister deal, I still would have said a Pitcher.  Even though I don’t think pitching was our problem in 2013 (a tease for a draft blog post with some interesting stats that I have in progress).  The problem with trading for a Bat is this: there’s just no obvious place to upgrade.   Not unless you move a guy like LaRoche or Span (our two least productive bats last season) and make a hole for someone coming in.  Ladson really goes out on a limb and says ‘it could be both.’

Q: Why not bring back Michael Morse for the extra power on the bench and replacement forAdam LaRoche from time to time?

A: I think the book on Michael Morse has been written by now: he can’t stay healthy, he’s a liability in the field, and he needs to be able to DH.  He’s just not an NL player anymore.  A quick look at the depth charts in the AL shows a couple of teams that could take a flier on Morse.  The problem is that two of the teams with the most need for a DH (Seattle and Baltimore) both had Morse last year and he washed out.  Maybe his last shot could be with a team like Oakland or Houston, teams with limited budgets willing to give last-chances to guys like Morse to resurrect their careers.  Ladson repeats his last Morse answer; Morse wants to be an every-day player and at Washington he’d be  a bench player.

Q: With Stephen Drew being a Scott Boras client, could you see the Nationals signing him, having him or Ian Desmond transition to second base? It could solidify the middle infield with veteran stability, couldn’t it?

A: Why in the h*ll would you purposely take a plus defender shortstop (whether it be Stephen Drew or Desmond)  and waste him at second base?   That’d be dumb.  That’d kind of be like what Texas is doing to Jurickson Profar.  Despite the oft-repeated mantra that the “Nats are Scott Boras‘ b*tch” if you check the records we’re not even the team with the most Boras clients.   And most of our Boras clients were guys we drafted irrespective of who represented them.  I’m really tired of reading the cliche that any and all Boras clients are Nats targets because we for some reason feel obliged to deal with him.  I’ll tell you this; I’d rather be friendly with Boras than unfriendly; he represents serious talent in this game and if we can get access to his players more easily than an antagonistic GM, we’re in a better positions.  Ladson doesn’t think Drew would want to switch positions either.

Nats 2013 Arbitration cases; Non-tender candidates and salary analysis

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Ohlendorf's old-school/new-look windup has resurrected his MLB career.  Mandatory Credit: Evan Habeeb-USA TODAY Sports

Ohlendorf’s old-school/new-look windup has resurrected his MLB career. Mandatory Credit: Evan Habeeb-USA TODAY Sports

In 2012, the Nats had no less than 10 arbitration candidates once the dust settled on the Super-2 cutoff.  The team cut ties with three of the players (Jesus Flores, Tom Gorzelanny and John Lannan) and then subsequently struggled in areas where Gorzelanny (left handed matchups) and Lannan (5th starter) may very well have helped during hte 2013 season.  We predicted these three non-tenders and mostly agreed with the thought process behind each decision at the time.  This is a complete “hindsight is 20-20″ analysis, but it does go to show that perhaps instead of dumping $11M/year onto a mediocre closer they could have fortified their ranks and kept all three players (who together wouldn’t have totaled the $11M Rafael Soriano got) and perhaps wouldn’t have struggled in these areas for so long.  Or perhaps not.  I digress.

For 2013, the Nats have 8 Arbitration-eligible players.   They had a few other candidates before some demotions (Danny Espinosa, Ryan Perry) and releases (Roger Bernadina and Henry Rodriguez) cleared out potential non-tender/additional arbitration candidates early.  Unlike last year there’s really not much argument about nearly any of our arbitration-eligible players (even mlbtraderumors does not list any Nats in its non-tender candidate list).  Lets take a look at the 8 guys, their 2013 salaries, their 2014 estimates, and discuss.  The salary projections are from Matt Swartz‘s mlbtraderumors model, and I’ll discuss if I think they’re slightly over- or under-representative.  As with all salary discussions, all information comes from Baseball Prospectus’ Cots page.

Player Arb Status 2013 Salary 2014 Swartz Estimate
Jordan Zimmermann Arb 3 $5.3M $10.5M
Tyler Clippard Arb 3 $4.0M $6.2M
Stephen Strasburg Arb 1 $3.9M $3.9M
Ian Desmond Arb 2 $3.8M $6.9M
Drew Storen Arb 2 $2.5M $3.6M
Ross Detwiler Arb 2 $2.3M $2.8M
Wilson Ramos Arb 1 $501k $2.1M
Ross Ohlendorf Arb 2 ? $1.3M

Frankly, the only possible non-tender candidate I see here is Ross Ohlendorf.  He signed a minor league free agency deal with Washington whose terms were never released, so one can only assume it was for the major league minimum or near it.   He went through arbitration once already, earning more than $2M/year from Pittsburgh in 2011 before bottoming out as a starter.  He’s reinvented himself this year though and merits a tender.  Paying anything less than $2M/year for what we got from Ohlendorf would be a bargain.  If the Nats got him for Swartz’s estimate of $1.3M that’d be fantastic.

Speaking of Swartz’s estimates, lets take a look at his 10 predictions from last year versus what transpired:

Swartz’s arb salary model for our 2012 candidates
Player Swartz Estimate Actual Salary
John Lannan $5.0M NT $2.5M
Jordan Zimmermann $4.9M $5.3M
Tyler Clippard $4.6M $4.0M
Ian Desmond $3.2M $3.8M
Tom Gorzelanny $2.8M NT $2.6M
Ross Detwiler $2.2M $2.3M
Drew Storen $1.7M $2.5M
Jesus Flores $1.2M NT ML
Roger Bernadina $1.1M $1.2M
Craig Stammen $900k $875k*

(* Stammen signed a 2 yr/2.25M deal paying him 875k and $1.375M his first two arb years.  After non tenders Lannan signed a 1yr/$2.5M deal with Philadelphia, Gorzelanny signed a 2yr/$5.7M deal that pays him $2.6M and $2.8M and which gave him a $300k signing bonus.  Flores signed a minor league deal).

I’m not sure I’d call Swartz’s model the self-titled “very accurate” based on these numbers.  He was significantly wrong on the three biggest cases the Nats faced last year but proved be much more accurate on the lesser players.   It sounds to me like his system does a great job of predicting arbitration figures for bit players but struggles with significant players.  I also get the feeling that the Nationals are less willing to argue with their players than other teams, after a series of brusing and self-defeating fights over a few hundred thousand dollars under the previous regime (relative pennies, all things considered).

With that in mind, lets do a little arbitration salary analysis for our 8 guys.   The general rule of thumb with arbitration salaries is that they are intended to ramp up the full FA value of the player over the three arbitration periods.   So in the first arbitration year, the salary should be roughtly 40% of the full FA value.  60% in the second year and 80% in the third year.  Players with a fourth year are tricky; generally i’ve just assumed that by the 4th year you’re paying them nearly full FA value (we don’t have any 4th year arbitration cases this year, so we don’t have to guess).  The table below contains the Swartz estimates, then has calculations of the player’s full FA value based on the Swartz estimate, then my own personal estimate of each player’s full FA value, and a working-backwards arbitration salary guess for each guy:

Player Arb Status 2013 Salary 2014 Swartz Estimate Full FA Value based on Swartz Estimate My Est of full FA value Arb estimate based on my full FA value
Jordan Zimmermann Arb 3 $5.3M $10.5M $13.125M $15M $12M
Tyler Clippard Arb 3 $4.0M $6.2M $7.75M $8m $6.4M
Stephen Strasburg Arb 1 $3.9M $3.9M $9.75M $15M at least $6M
Ian Desmond Arb 2 $3.8M $6.9M $11.5M $15M $9M
Drew Storen Arb 2 $2.5M $3.6M $6M $6M $3.6M
Ross Detwiler Arb 2 $2.3M $2.8M $4.66M $5M at best $3M
Wilson Ramos Arb 1 $501k $2.1M $5.25M $8M if healthy $3.2M
Ross Ohlendorf Arb 2 ? $1.3M $2.16M $2.5M at best $1.5M

Lets go player by player:

  • Jordan Zimmermann: 2013 Salary was $5.3M.  Swartz guesses he’ll get $10.5M while I think he’ll get more.  If Zimmermann hit the open market right now you have to think he’s at least a $15M/year guy, and I think the team will have to pay him as such after his 2013 season.   The Nats face an interesting decision with Zimmermann; they clearly waited one season too long to lock him down and he now may cost double what it cost the team to secure Gio Gonzalez‘s services.
  • Tyler Clippard: 2013 salary $4.0M.  Swartz guesses he’ll get $6.2M.  Clippard represents a different arbitration case; by virtue of the fact that Clippard went from being the 2012 closer to being the 2013 setup guy, he’ll have a harder time arguing for additional money despite his excellent season.  Why?  Because arbitration is driven by the same old-school stats (Wins, Saves, ERA, RBI) that drive sabrematricians crazy, and unfortunately Clippard didn’t get them in 2013.  So even though I think he’s a $8M/year closer for a team that gives him that opportunity, he won’t get that value in arbitration.  I’ll be surprised if he gets near to Swartz’s estimate of $6.2M.  Honestly the team should look to buy him out of his last two arbitration seasons and look to move him to a team in need of a closer.
  • Stephen Strasburg; 2013 Salary $3.9M.  Swartz guesses he’ll get $3.9M again?  Clearly something is wrong with his system.  No matter what you think about Strasburg’s 2013 season … by nearly any measure available he’s one of the 10 best pitchers in the game.   If he hit the open market right now I’d guess he’d command at least $20m/year, but for simplicity’s sake I’m putting his FA value at a conservative $15M, which would equate with a $6M valuation for his first arbitration season.   Do the Nats just buy him out of his arbitration figures, much as the Giants did with Tim Lincecum?
  • Ian Desmond: 2013 salary $3.8M.  Swartz guess: $6.9M.  Again, I feel like Swartz is undervaluing a significant player here.  Desmond has now established himself as one of the best shortstops in the game.  If you want a comp, look no further than Elvis Andrus‘s $15M/year contract.  I think Desmond is absolutely worth a 6/$90M deal or higher right now, and I think we’ll see it in his arbitration case.
  • Drew Storen: 2013 salary $2.5M.  Swartz estimate: $3.6M.  Here I think Swartz is right on; because Storen’s not getting saves right now, and because of his crummy 2013, I’ve got his FA value pegged at a mid-range closer cost of $6M/year.  Which puts him right in line for a $3.6M payday in his second arbitration year.  As with Clippard, I think Storen’s value is limited as long as he doesn’t get saves, and the team should look to move him before he gets too expensive.
  • Ross Detwiler: 2013 salary $2.3M.  Swartz Estimate $2.8M.  Frankly Swartz may be over-estimating on Detwiler, based on his 2013 season.  At this point in Detwiler’s career its hard to say he’s any more valuable on the FA market than John Lannan was last year (getting a 1yr $2.5M deal).  Which means that any arbitration award above $2.5M may mean Detwiler enters non-tender territory if he struggles in 2014.  Nonetheless, I think he’ll end up getting just a modest raise and an organizational ultimatum for 2014.
  • Wilson Ramos: 2013 salary $501k.  Swartz Estimate: $2.1M.   Here, despite my thinking that Ramos is eventually going to be more valuable than Swartz’s estimate indicat es, I believe that his number will be about right.  Ramos needs to stay on the field consistently to realize his full FA value, and right now that just hasn’t happened.
  • Ross Ohlendorf: 2013 salary unknown.  Swartz Estimate: $1.3M.  This guess is as good as any; at best Ohlendorf is a $2.5M player on the FA market and even that might be a stretch.  A right-handed long-relief guy isn’t going to command a ton of money.

Total payroll hit: $37.3M if all of Swartz’s estimates come true exactly.  $44.7M if all of my estimates above come true.  Honestly I think my calculated estimates are slightly high in a couple of cases, so I think the arbitration bill will come in at around $42.5M.  Which, by the way, would put 2014′s payroll at around $122M before signing a single free agent.  So think about that and think about what the Nats “real” payroll budget is before thinking that they’ve got some significant signing in their back pocket.

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

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

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

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

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

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


Some setup

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

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

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

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


Updated ceiling predictions for Nats pitchers post 2013 season:

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

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

Discussion:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

 

Ladson’s Inbox 11/5/13 edition

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Can Roark win a 2014 rotation job? Photo Alex Brandon/AP via wp.com

Can Roark win a 2014 rotation job? Photo Alex Brandon/AP via wp.com

Well, we finally got a manager, so hopefully MLB.com Nats beat reporter Bill Ladson will stop taking “Who do you think the next Nats Manager” questions.  I’m not ruling it out though :-)  Nonetheless, here’s the latest Ladson inbox, dated 11/5/13.  As always, I write my response before reading his and edit questions for clarity.

Q: Will Davey Johnson still play a role in the organization?

A: Who cares?  Does it matter?  Whatever role Davey Johnson could play would have so little significance on the on-field play of the 2014 team that I find it useless to even speculate.  I’m sure the Nats offered him a limited role out of respect, and I’d assume Johnson accepted it as long as it allowed him to go relax in Florida for a while, hoping another managerial job opens up.  Ladson expects he’ll consult to the team and advise on trades and FA signings because he’s such a great “talent evaluator.”  Hey Bill; if Johnson was such a great talent evaluator why exactly did he run Danny Espinosa out for so many at-bats?  Why didn’t he push to make a change in the rotation when it was clear that Dan Haren wasn’t pitching at even a replacement-level?  How come he didn’t see the rising talent that made such a difference in September?

Q: After Stephen StrasburgGio Gonzalez and Jordan Zimmermann, how do you see the rest of the rotation shaking out?

A: A good question.  After going into the 2013 season with almost no high-minors starting pitching depth, you have to think the team is going to cover themselves for 2014.  So count on there being more seemingly worthy candidates than roles going into spring training 2014.  The answer to this question may depend on payroll issues: right now Cots has the Nats with about $80M committed for 2014 prior to its arbitration cases, which MLBtraderumor’s Matt Swartz is estimating will run the team another $37.3M (which honestly I think is slightly low).  That’s roughly $117M in payroll before even looking at a single FA candidate.   You could save some of this money with non-tenders or trades (Tyler Clippard at $6.2M is a candidate to be moved), but not enough to get an impact player.

Will the ownership group expand the payroll even more for 2014, knowing their “window” with this group of players is shrinking?  Or will they stay the course and know that nearly $30M of mostly underperforming veteran FAs (LaRocheSpanSoriano) come off the books after next season, allowing them to reload in the FA market towards 2015 and beyond?

If ownership frees up some cash, by trade/non-tender or by expansion of the payroll limit, there are FA pitchers to be had.  I’ve seen more than one pundit with the Nats linked to Matt Garza, but I don’t see it; I don’t think he’s worth what people seem to think he’s going to get (4 yrs/$60M).  More likely is the team going with a modification of the Edwin Jackson/Dan Haren plan and getting a reclamation project in the ilk of Josh Johnson on a one-year/low paying contract with big incentives.

Less predictable is the trade acquisition.  Nobody saw the Gio Gonzalez trade coming until it happened, and something similar could happen now.  The team is in the same position generally this off-season as it was in 2011 in terms of having a slight surplus of closer-to-the-majors arms and bats and could put together a similar package.  If we moved Brad PeacockTommy MiloneDerek Norris and A.J. Cole for Gonzalez in 2011 (or in otherwords, a good-looking starter with great initial call-up numbers, a solid lefty starter who dominated AAA, a decent looking catcher prospect and a high-leverage low-minors prospect) would a similar package of something like Tanner RoarkNathan Karns, Eury Perez and Robbie Ray fetch a #2 starter in the trade market?   Oakland isn’t facing the same issue they were in 2011 with any of its pitchers, so the most likely eager-to-make-a-trade GM in Billy Beane is out.  But that being said, they’re paying Brett Anderson a LOT of money for Oakland’s payroll (roughly 1/6th of their payroll for next year), and he could be moved.  Anderson wouldn’t cost nearly this much in prospects, but would be a huge risk; he hasn’t pitched a full season in years.

Meanwhile everyone knows Tampa is looking to move David Price, but any trade for him has to start with your two best prospects and build from there, and the Nats are just back to the point where the farm system is looking respectable again.  I’m not sure the Nats are going to be willing to give up what the Rays will demand.  The Nats have done business lately with the Chicago Cubs, who may look to move the arbitration-eligible Jeff Samardzija, but they’d be selling incredibly low on him after his poor 2013.  Lastly the Tigers reportedly are considering moving Max Scherzer, who enters his last year of arbitration looking for a big pay day and with Ken Rosenthal reporting that the Nats are his best fit, but I just cannot see purposely moving a Cy Young winner and disrupting a team that continues to be one of the best in the AL.

With no FA acquisitions and no trades, I see a competition next spring that likely sees Ross Detwiler in the 4th spot (no options, theoretically healthy again), Tanner Roark in the 5th spot (he keeps his spot until he shows that his remarkable September numbers are human), Ross Ohlendorf as the spot starter/long man in the MLB pen, and Taylor Jordan-Nathan Karns being the #1 and #2 starters in AAA Syracuse.  Some speculate that Detwiler would lose out to both Roark and Jordan and become a lefty out of the pen … but I don’t see that.  I’m not counting it out, but I don’t see that happening if he’s healthy.

With any significant FA acquisition or trade, you line up Stras-Gio-Zimmermann-New Acquisition and Detwiler to start off 2014, just as you did in 2013.   Roark and Ohlendorf likely work out of the MLB pen and Jordan/Karns still in AAA.   Maybe Karns comes up and works the 7th inning as well, while Jordan remains starter insurance plan #1.

Ladson also mentions Price, also mentions what I do about the difficulties lining up, thinks the Nats will acquire someone for #4 spot and then says Roark has the inside edge on #5 spot, even over Detwiler (who he thinks could move to the bullpen). 

Q: What did you think about the Nationals hiring Williams as manager last week?

A: Well, I guess Ladson had to get in one last question about the managerial situation.  My take: I like the move, I think Matt Williams‘ combination of successful playing career and MLB coaching experience will instantly give him the respect of the veterans and the rookies on this team.   He will get this team in line, he will bring some old-school notions to this team and won’t back down in a fight (as Johnson clearly did with Atlanta all year).  I think he will give this team the spine it lacked and will do nothing but help move the team forward.

One other opinion; I do see some critics who say that Williams’ lack of direct managerial experience at any level hurts him.  I say BS; he was a major league coach for four years, working underneath a successful, respected manager.  He presumably contributed to the decision making process, got to witness first hand how decisions worked out, got to decide for himself how he would have handled situations, and in some ways I think this experience supercedes being a manager of a lower-level ball-club where there’s no egos and just a bunch of kids who you can cower into submission.

Ladson says its too early to tell, but that Williams had a great news conference.  Honestly I didn’t really expect much of an answer here from an employee of MLB.

Q: What is Christian Garcia‘s status? Will he join the Nationals in 2014? He was a great late addition to the bullpen in 2012.

A: He’s finally healthy, and pitching in the Mexican Winter League.  I think the team sees the error of its ways in trying to convert the injury-riddled pitcher to being a starter.  He’s working as a reliever in winter ball, and I hope to see him continue to work as a reliever in the spring.  I’d love to see him earn a spot in the bullpen; lord knows the team could use one more reliable arm in the 6th/7th inning (Ryan Mattheus needs to be on guard; your spot is in jeopardy for 2014).  Ladson agrees with everything I’ve said.

Q: Do you think the Nationals will trade Danny EspinosaTyler Moore and Steve Lombardozzithis winter or sign a couple free agents? I believe they need a lefty middle reliever, a left-handed bat coming off the bench and a veteran backup catcher.

A: Trading any of those three guys after the seasons they had at the plate would be selling incredibly low.  So no, I don’t think any of them get moved unless they’re part of a larger deal.  Espinosa needs to get healthy, learn how to hit left handed, and build trade value.  I believe he can be a valuable player for someone, somewhere, just based on his incredible defense.  But he has to hit better than .150.  Moore needs to return to his 2012 power ways, but I still see him as a useful player who we have no reason to trade; he still has options, he’s still pre-arbitration and thus he’s cheap.  Lombardozzi is the quintessential utility guy; he can play 2nd, 3rd, left, right.  You have to have one of these guys around … and if he can’t hit, it is’t going to kill you.  But when this player gets 300 ABs (as Lombardozzi got last year) … then you have a problem.  This is why the team got Scott Hairston and why they’re likely to give some looks to Zach Walters in 2014.   Maybe the team looks for a cheap veteran to replace Chad Tracy but i’d hope for a bit more positional flexibility.

I can also see the team kicking the tires on a veteran lefty but don’t entirely see the need; Ian Krol may have faltered down the stretch but he was mostly good.  Abad was good.  Cedeno was good.  We have all these guys locked up.  You see who wins a competition and switch them out if they’re ineffective.

Ladson thinks Espinosa is getting traded no matter what, and has played his last game as a National.

Q: Are Gold Glove Awards given with consideration to the offensive stats of a player? Otherwise, how could Denard Span miss out on the award this year?

A: They’re not supposed to be … but we all know old habits die hard and bit players who are awful at the plate often times have a hard time getting a Gold Glove.  Span as it turned out led all NL centerfielders in one defensive metric (Total Zone Total Fielding Runs), but I have zero problem with the NL winner Carlos Gomez.  Ladson says he was “shocked” that Span didn’t win, and then used “# of errors” as a metric.  Poor form Ladson; you need to reference some of the advanced stats in question.  Gomez led the NL in Defensive Runs Saved, one of the two major defensive metrics.  So your argument fails.  Span may have great range, but he wasn’t best in the Ultimate Zone Ratings measurement either.  See the Fielding Awards spreadsheet link to the right to see all the leaders in one place.

Roster construction of 2013 playoff teams

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I like doing this post every year (here’s 2012′s version, here’s 2011′s version), looking for trends in baseball’s most successful teams.  How do the best teams generally construct their rosters?

Borrowing from last year’s post, there are four main ways teams can acquire players:

  1. Draft/Development: The player is with the original team that drafted him.  In the case of international free agents, if they’re signed as 16-year olds they are considered in this category as well (i.e. Jose Fernandez is a developed player despite being acquired as an international “free agnet” while Yasiel Puig).  It could be better defined as “Club developed players.”
  2. Trade MLBers: The player was acquired by the team by virtue of trading an established MLB player.  Most of the time these days, this means the player was acquired as a prospect (since most trades seem to be of the prospect-for-established player kind).
  3. Trade Prospects: The player was acquired by the team by virtue of trading prospects.  This is essentially the reverse of #2.
  4. Free Agency: The player was acquired in free agency.  This category also includes several other types of acquisitions: waiver claims, Rule-5 draftees and cash purchases.  These three categories are lumped together since all three indicate that a team has acquired a player with zero outlay in terms of development or prospects.

Sometimes these trades get a bit muddled; if you send a combination of major and minor league talent to the other team, which category does it fall under?  But for the most part trades are simply categorized.

Now, here is the summary of roster construction and “Construction Strategy Category” for all 10 teams that made this year’s playoffs.  I only count the “core players” on a team for this analysis.  The core players is defined as the 5-man starting rotation, the setup and closer, the 8 out-field players, and the DH for AL teams.  I didn’t extend this all the way to the 25-man roster, figuring that these core 15-16 players are the main reasons teams win and advance.  That and huge chunks of the bullpen and the bench are either fill-in FAs or draftees and it would skew the analysis of how teams really got to the playoffs.  Here’s the summary (the table is sorted by count of Draftees):

Team Drafted/Developed Traded Prospects Traded MLBs FA/Waivers Constr Method
Boston 7 1 0 8 #4
Detroit 5 4 2 5 #2/#4
Oakland 3 1 7 5 #3
Tampa Bay 6 1 4 5 #1
Cleveland 4 1 7 4 #3
St. Louis 10 2 2 1 #1
Atlanta 8 0 5 2 #1/#3
Cincinnati 9 2 2 2 #1
Pittsburgh 5 3 3 4 #1/#3
Los Angeles Dodgers 3 4 1 7 #4

So, what are these four Team Construction Methods?  Lets go one by one:

Method #1: Build from within nearly 100% (Tampa, St. Louis and Cincinnati the best examples, Atlanta and Pittsburgh to some extent): Two great fact points drive this team construction for two of the best example teams in this category:

  1. 18 of St. Louis’ 25 man post season roster was drafted by the team and is still with the team.   Another 5 total guys were acquired in trade (including Adam Wainwright who was acquired more than a decade ago).
  2. When Roberto Hernandez got a start this past April, it broke a nearly 8-season long trend of Tampa having every one if its starts being taken by a starting pitcher developed in house.

These are easily the two best examples in the game of success from almost entirely in-house player development.  St. Louis has one core Free Agent (Carlos Beltran and only two on its entire playoff roster).  Cincinnati isn’t too far behind with its sole major FA acquisition on this year’s roster being Aroldis Chapman.   Atlanta and Pittsburgh do qualify for this (Atlanta has a huge number of home-grown players), but also have made enough trades/signings to create their current rosters that they don’t entirely fit here fully.

Method #2Ride your developed Core and use your prospects to acquire big names: Detroit (to a certain extent).  Detroit has a good core of home-grown guys to which they’ve augmented by trading prospects and major FA acquisitions to arrive at their current incarnation; a very good, very expensive squad.

I continue to classify Washington in this category as well, 6 of our core 15 were drafted and another 3 were acquired by flipping our prospect depth.

Method #3: Wheel and Deal: Oakland, Cleveland entirely, then Atlanta & Pittsburgh to a certain extent.  Is roster-turnover the new market inefficiency?  Oakland’s 2013 team featured an entirely new infield from last year’s 2012 AL West winning team.  Only 3 of Oakland’s core 16 players were home-grown this year.  Billy Beane’s M.O. of wheeling and dealing is paying major dividends; his trades of established major leaguers to acquire prospects has resulted in two AL West divisional crowns in a row.  Meanwhile Cleveland has adopted some of the same strategy, with just one real home grown starter and a whole batting order assembled via trade and free agency.

Atlanta and Pittsburgh each have done their fare share of major trades/signings lately, with Atlanta ending up with Justin Upton and Pittsburgh ending up with 4/5ths of a rotation thanks to big moves.  So while both teams have their cores in player development, smart transactions have made big differences in their 2013 playoff pushes.

Method #4Spend what it takes to win: Boston, Los Angeles Dodgers and Detroit to some extent.  Certainly no one can argue with Los Angeles’ planned path; they more than doubled their team payroll from 2012 to 2013 by taking hundreds of millions of dollars off the hands of … Boston, who still remains in this category despite a large bulk of their core 16 being home grown.  You just can’t have a $150M payroll and not be categorized as a “spend what it takes to win” team.  Detroit’s owner has opened up the pocketbook time and again to try to buy a winner, so they aren’t entirely in this category but they’re getting close.

 


So, what’s the *right* way to build your team?  I guess it depends; clearly all four of these methods can result in playoff appearances.  Perhaps its better to look at the downsides of each method:

Method #1 depends on a long track record of consistent player evaluation and drafting.  St. Louis, in my opinion the best franchise in the game, has a great track record.  Their 2009 draft alone produced 5 of their 25 man roster, and Michael Wacha was a 2012 draft pick who shot to the majors and may be the steal of that draft.  But getting there takes time and talent; to me clearly teams like the Cubs and Houston are re-booting in order to get to this point.  It tests the patience of your fan base and your RSNs (as Houston is learning).  Kansas City has tried this method for years and years and has had little luck.  Seattle went this route mostly and a slew of big-name prospects have failed to really pan out.  So you need great player development and some draft-day luck.  The new CBA is going to make this method harder and harder to do.

Method #2 is slightly less harrowing than going entirely by method #1, but does depend on finding trading partners and finding matches for your spots.  This is where I classify the Nats right now; we have a good core of home-grown guys earned on the backs of several years of last place finishes/high first round draft picks.  And now we’ve parlayed some prospect depth into two key members (Gio Gonzalez and Denard Span).  The downside of this method basically is that your farm system gets depleted very quickly.  Washington’s farm system went from the best in the game to being ranked in the low #20s after matriculations, losses of first round picks and the two big trades.  Suddenly your team has no big-time rising prospects, your major league team has no reinforcements coming, and you soon devolve more into category #4, spending hand over fist to extend your stars and to fill in holes.  Kind of like where Philadelphia is right now.

Method #3 can go bad, fast.  If your trades don’t work out … you look bad, quickly.  You’re also buying yourself some known down years (think what Miami is doing; they clearly punted on 2013 while trading away a ton of salary and major league assets).  That can be tough on the fan base; Oakland and Miami’s fan bases already have their own problems, but Cleveland struggled to sell seats this  year even on their way to 90 wins.

Method #4 can go bad, fast as well … and expensively so.  Only three of the game’s 11 most expensive teams made the playoffs this year.  The Yankees got 85 wins for their $228M in payroll and look like they may be in trouble for a time to come.  Philadelphia?  73 wins.  The Angels and Giants were losing teams.   Free Agents are generally being paid for what they DID, not what they’re going to do.  And Free Agents are almost always in their late 20s/early 30s, entering their natural decline years, and invariably are going to be overpaid for their performance.  If you want to build your team through FA, consider that new estimates value a “win” at roughly $7M on the open market … meaning that to build just a 90 win team through free agency would cost more than $300M in free agent dollars.  Or about what Robinson Cano wants this off-season.  There will continue to be high-payroll teams of course (that RSN money has to get spent somewhere), but I feel as if the industry is going to get smarter about these long term deals.  One look at the Angels last few off-seasons should give you every bit of proof you need to know; hundreds of millions committed to aging sluggers, several very productive prospects traded away chasing glory, and the Angels (even with the best player in the game at $500k/year) look lost.

I think the answer to “which way is best” really resides in the skills of the organization at large.  You can succeed using all four methods … its just how *long* can you continue to succeed?

2013 Pre-season Rotation Rankings revisited

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Written by Todd Boss

October 10th, 2013 at 2:23 pm

Posted in Majors Pitching

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