Nationals Arm Race

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

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Game 5; by hook or by crook, we got here.

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Maybe they'll bring back out chocolate if Scherzer wins game 5. Photo via thesportsquotient.com

Maybe they’ll bring back out chocolate if Scherzer wins game 5. Photo via thesportsquotient.com

I didn’t really do a pre-NLDS prediction piece for this series.  A combination of work and life events conspired against me.

But if you had asked me what I thought a week ago about the Nats-Dodgers NLDS, I would have said the series would have basically gone like this:

  • Nats lose to Kershaw in Game 1 because he’s Kershaw
  • Nats rebound in Game 2 and handle the veteran Hill.
  • Nats throw their sole lefty who dominates the lefty-feeble Dodgers line-up
  • Dodgers then panic down 2-1 and throw Kershaw on short rest, who dominates us again.
  • … leading to the inevitable Game 5 back home.

Now … the above description isn’t exactly how these games have gone, but the end result has been the same.  The Nats hit Kershaw in Game 1 … but the Dodgers hit Scherzer harder; that was no 2-1 squeaker.  Game 2 was salvaged when perhaps the weakest hitter on the roster clubbed a 3-run homer into a 25mph wind, energizing the stadium and the team to a degree i’ve never felt before.  Gonzalez certainly did not “shut down” the Dodgers in Game 3, but the Nats bats came alive at the end to turn it into a 4hour 12min laugher.  In game 4 Kershaw did indeed go on short rest, and up until the 7th looked pretty dominant, but in a recurring theme for him in the post-season, he went one inning too long, loaded the bases in the 7th and was charged with a total of 5 runs on the night despite 11 strikeouts.  Nonetheless, the Nats bullpen (which it should be noted did not give up a single run in the first three games) finally faltered, with Treinen coughing up the game winner in the bottom of the 8th to long-time Nats nemesis Chase Utley.

So here we are.  Game 5 tomorrow 10/13/16.  Max Scherzer on full rest versus Rich Hill on three days rest thanks to the Saturday cancellation.   Hill, 37-yr old veteran journeyman with a career resurgence, has thrown precisely one game on 3 days rest in his career: he gave up 5 runs on 3 hits and 4 walks in just 3IP that day.   No offense to  Hill, but lets hope for that line again and for the Nats to get into the Dodgers incredibly taxed bullpen.

Meanwhile, Scherzer has to figure out a way to keep the ball in the park.  And he probably needs to go 6 or 7 innings to help a bullpen that has now thrown 17 2/3rds innings in four games.

How about the Offense for this team so far?   Hitting .259 as a team despite going against Kershaw twice and a bunch of one-out relievers most of the rest of the time.   The veterans have really come to play: Murphy, Zimmerman and Werth  all stepping up and crushing the ball.  Youngster Turner at the top hitting .353 … but 10 of his 11 outs have been punchouts.  Harper is just 3-14 with 4 walks … but to be fair, 13 of those plate appearances have come against lefties and 3 more have come against LA closer Jansen … not exactly the easiest series for Harper.

Who has not acquitted themselves at the plate?  Espinosa; 1-11 with 8 punch outs and being outright replaced in game 3.  I read elsewhere, this may change my “next year opinion” on Espinosa; he has looked beyond helpless at the plate despite being a switch hitter.  Remind me of this sentence this coming off-season if I start making arguments for keeping him and keeping Turner in center.   Rendon has had a “loud” 3-16 series; loud in that he has 4 RBI and a monster homer.  Severino is 1-9 but has been putting the ball in play and has not looked overmatched.

Can’t wait for game 5.

Nats projected Starting lineup versus Kershaw: not half bad

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Kershaw is a daunting match-up. Photo via wiki.

Kershaw is a daunting match-up. Photo via wiki.

I was emailing with infrequent commenter “Old Man” (aka, my Dad) about the upcoming game one match-up and I said something along the lines of, “Well the Nats are in trouble because their two most important hitters are both hurt and lefty.”

Well, why go by biased observations when you can go to the stats?  Here’s the career stat lines for each of our projected game 1 starters against Clayton Kershaw:

  • Harper: 1 for 15; ok, that’s not good.
  • Murphy: 6 for 19 with 2 homers; not bad, .316 avg, .947 OPS
  • Werth: 10 for 35 for a .286/.359/.457 line.  not bad again
  • Rendon: 5 for 16; .313 but they are all singles; no power.
  • Espinosa: 1 for 17; no surprise there
  • Zimmerman: 7 for 22 but with no power for .318
  • Lobaton; 0 for 8; again, no surprise.
  • Turner: never faced Kershaw but his career lefty split shows consistent average versus his Righty split but significantly less power; 13 of his 14 career homers have come against righties.
So honestly; those aren’t half bad numbers against Kershaw all in all.  Murphy, Werth, Rendon and Zimmerman all about .300 against him.  Maybe you work your lineup differently as a result; maybe drop Harper down a bit and stack the top of the order with those who have had success:
  • Turner, Werth, Rendon, Murphy, Zimmerman, Harper, Espinosa, Lobaton, Scherzer.
Also keep in mind: Kershaw has a 4.59 post season ERA.  Its the playoffs: anything can happen.  Last year for example he gave up 3 runs in 6 2/3rds in game one of the NLDS to take the loss then completely shut down the Mets in Game 4 on three days rest for the win … but the Mets did enough against the Dodger’s big two to take the series and move on.
Yeah its a tough match-up for the Nats, or anyone.  Kershaw shut them down in LA in June, giving up 1 run in 7.  Scherzer somehow missed the Dodgers in both their season series this year; funny how nobody points that fact out when they talk about how the Dodgers beat the Nats 5 of 6 this year.  The Nats used these 6 pitchers against the Dodgers: Petit, Roark, Ross in LA in June, then Lopez, Gonzalez and Strasburg in DC.   The one win?  Surprise; it was with lefty Gonzalez on the mound.  I won’t make too much of this, since the Dodgers used 15 different starters this year and its frankly amazing they still won 91 games.  That and the fact that the Nats missed their #3 Kenta Maeda in both series.
Still, I like our chances with those career match-up stats.

Nats 2016 Minor League Players of the year; do they matter?

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Lopez 2016 Nats minor league pitcher of the year; will it matter? Photo via wp.com/Mitchell Layton getty images

Lopez 2016 Nats minor league pitcher of the year; will it matter? Photo via wp.com/Mitchell Layton getty images

The Nats recently announced their 2016 Minor League Players of the Year, and then recognized them along with GCL MVP Juan Soto over the weekend.

Rafael Bautista, Reynaldo Lopez, Jose Marmolejos-Diaz and Juan Soto, who all hail from the Dominican Republic and represent the best evidence of the Nats long awaited “rebirth” in that market, were all recognized.  And that’s great.

But how have the Nats Minor League Players of the Year fared in terms of eventual career accomplishment?  Is this achievement a good precursor for MLB success?  Lets dig deeper.

Here’s a list of the Nats declared prospects of the year (i’ve gone back beyond the Nats time in DC since prospects lag in terms of their arrival), along with some quick commentary on where they’ve gone:

  • 2016: Jose Marmelejos-Diaz, Reynaldo Lopez: Lopez had some impact at the MLB level in his first shot, may factor into the post-season bullpen, but is looking at AAA next year unless an injury or trade occurs.  Marmeloejos-Diaz is still too young to pass judgement.  Verdict: too early to tell obviously; Is Lopez going to be an effective mid-rotation starter or (as some pundits believe) is he going to end up being more effective in the bullpen?
  • 2015: Jose Marmelejos-Diaz, Austin Voth: Voth had a solid AAA season in 2016, but was (somewhat surprisingly) not called up on 9/1 despite facing Rule-5 protection this coming off-season.  Has he peaked?  Was he left off of the 40-man for strategic (i.e. trade bait) purposes?   He’s clearly behind three other AAA guys on the depth chart right now with a full MLB roster; what does his future hold?  Verdict: too early but concerns about Voth’s role going forward.
  • 2014: Steven Souza, Lucas Giolito: Souza famously netted the team both Trea Turner and Joe Ross in trade, but has been an injury prone 1-win/year player for Tampa Bay ever since (total bWAR for Tampa: 1.9 in two seasons).  Giolito’s jury is still out; despite his lofty prospect status he struggled on the big stage in 2016 amid reports of mechanical tweaks and struggles.  Verdict: early on Giolito, Souza might be who he is.
  • 2013: Billy Burns, Taylor Jordan: Burns netted the team Jerry Blevins in trade and then had one decent season with Oakland (a 2.8 bWAR season in 2015 that may have had the Nats with trader’s remorse.  However, he struggled badly in 2016, was traded, was sent to the minors, and may not be much more than a defensive outfield bench player.  Jordan had 9 promising starts in 2013, then struggled in spot starts in 2014, blew out his elbow, came back, struggled again in 2015 spot starts, blew out his elbow again this year and was summarily released.  He may struggle to find a team willing to give a 4-A pitcher on his third elbow a shot going forward.  Verdict: one may be done, one may be a 4th outfielder at best.
  • 2012: Nathan Karns, Matt Skole: Karns was a lower-round draft pick with an injury history the Nats took a chance on and he shot through the system, taking just a season and a half to rise from low-A.  The team capitalized on his promise and flipped him for three role players (Jose LobatonFelipe Rivero and Drew Vettleson).  Since, Karns got flipped to Seattle, struggled early and has missed most of 2016 with a back strain.  Skole is a polarizing figure amongst readers here; to me he is a 27yr old AAA power-only hitter who has had three consecutive NRI to spring training (so its not as if the MLB squad doesn’t know who he is).  He’s at the end of his string with the Nats and likely moves elsewhere as a MLFA for next year.  I wish he turned out better; after his fantastic 2012 season an unfortunate injury cost him all of 2013 and he really seems like he’s been playing catchup since.  Verdict: Karns may turn out to be more than he’s shown, but Skole is a 6-year MLFA.
  • 2011: Steve Lombardozzi, Brad Peacock: Lombardozzi made the majors as a 19th round pick (quite the rarity; it usually only happens 2-3 times per draft class), got traded in the Doug Fister deal, got traded again, then released, then picked up by Baltimore, then released again and found himself playing indy ball after getting cut by the Chicago White Sox this past spring.  The Nats picked him up for their AAA team but he possesses a negative bWAR career value as a backup utility player.  Peacock (not unlike Karns) had a brief debut with the Nats before getting used in trade to acquire others (in his case, going to Oakland as part of the Gio Gonzalez deal).  Oakland flipped him to Houston, where he struggled as a starter in 2014 and has been basically a 4-A taxi squad member between their AAA team and their bullpen.  Verdict: both guys ended up better AAA players than MLB players.
  • 2010: Tyler Moore, Tommy Milone: Moore matriculated to the majors and had a fantastic 2012 off the bench (123 OPS+) … and then never matched it.  The Nats traded him for Nate Freiman in a “moving the deck chairs” trade with Atlanta, and Moore spent most of 2016 off a 40-man and on the D/L.  Milone, like Karns and Peacock after him, had a brief and exciting debut with the MLB club before being used as trade fodder for others (he was also in the Gonzalez trade).  He excelled in Oakland’s big park and was then flipped for Sam Fuld to the Twins.  He’s been less successful with Minnesota, getting dumped out of the rotation in 2016 and posting a 5+ ERA this year for baseball’s worst team.  He may be a non-tender candidate and could be on the move again this winter.  Verdict: At best a 4-A slugger and a 6th starter.
  • 2009: Derek Norris, Brad Meyers: Is it interesting that three Nats Minor league players of the year were all included in the same trade?  Norris was a centerpiece of the Gonzalez deal while still relatively a young minor leaguer; he peaked as an All Star in 2014 for Oakland before getting moved to San Diego in the Jesse Hahn deal.  He’s struggled in San Diego, hitting just .186 this year.  Meyers’ career is an injury plagued shame; after a fantastic 2009 he started 2010 just as well before getting hurt.  He returned and had a solid 2011 in AA and AAA but was taken in Rule5 by the Yankees.  He missed basically all of 2012 with injury and was returned as damaged goods, an injury that cost him all of 2013.  By the time he made it back in 2014, he just had nothing left; after 6 starts in Harrisburg the team released him.  Verdict: At least a backup catcher in the majors and an asterick due to injury.
  • 2008: Leonard Davis, Jordan Zimmermann: Davis was named the hitter of the year on the back of a solid year at Potomac … when he was 24 and a year and a half older than the league.  He kept climbing the ranks, hit .250 in Syracuse in 2011 but never got a shot in the majors.  He bounced around indy ball for a copule of years but retired in 2013.   Zimmermann is what we all know him to be: a 9-figure starter and easily the most successful player on this list .. which, not to bury the lede this early, is kind of the point of this article.  Verdict: a AA washout and a #2 starter in the majors.
  • 2007: Justin Maxwell, John Lannan: Maxwell toiled for years as a 4th OF for the Nats in their dark times before getting flipped for a middle reliever in Adam Olbrychowski.  That started his itinerant career, playing for Houston, Kansas City, San Francisco and most recently Boston’s AAA team.  He has now decamped for Korea.  For his career he has a bWAR figure of 2.9, 2.4 of which came in his best season in Houston.  Lannan famously went from Nats opening day starter and Ace during the “down years” to AAA insurance policy in 2012.  After getting mercifully non-tendered in 2012, he played for two different NL East rivals in 2013-2014, and has pitched full AAA seasons in the PCL the last two years.  7.1 career bWAR, most of which was earned during his first two full seasons starting for the awful 2008 and 2009 Nats.  Verdict: two MLB players, both of which had limited impact in their careers.
  • 2006: Kory Casto, Zech Zinicola: Casto was a long-time Nats farmhand favorite, progressing slowly one level a  year and always producing.  He finally made the majors in 2007 but struggled in parts of two seasons and was outrighted off the 40-man after 2009.  He elected FA, bounced around two organizations in 2010 before retiring in July of that  year.  Zincola won the Nats minor league pitcher of the year in a  year when he threw just 32 innings as a closer, an indication of how bad our farm system was in the early years.  He played for years in the Nats system, never making the majors, but interestingly played a full season this year with the independent Sugar Land Skeeters.  Verdict: essentially two career minor leaguers.
  • 2005: Kory Casto, Mike O’Conner: O’Conner became just the second pitcher in the history of George Washington baseball to make the majors (the first being a guy from the 1920s who had exactly one career IP).  He gave the team 20 starts in 2006 and then had a grand total of 15 MLB innings thereafter, toiling for years in AAA.  Verdict: as with Casto, essentially a career minor leaguer.
  • 2004: Ryan Church: a late bloomer who won the Nats minor league player of the year the year he was acquired by destroying Edmonton before getting called up.   By 2007 he was a solid contributor for the Nats and looked like a viable RF option for a few  years.  He got flipped to the Mets in Jim Bowden‘s ill-fated trade for the “toolsy” Lastings Milledge not uncoincidentally just before his first arbitration pay day, played there halfway decently for a year and a half before getting moved to Atlanta.   He signed as a FA in Pittsburgh and struggled badly, and 2010 was his last year in the big leagues.  Total career bWAR: 9.1, most of it in the three solid years he gave the Nats.  Verdict: a MLB regular for a handful of seasons.
  • 2003: Terrmel Sledge: Sledge won the Expos minor league award after an excellent year in AAA Edmonton.   He was solid in 2004 for the big league club but then barely played in 2005 thanks to injury.  That off-season he was flipped in the Alfonso Soriano deal, traded to San Diego a few weeks later, played two non-descript seasons there and then played 5 years in Japan, retiring after the 2012 season at the age of 35.  Verdict: essentially a 4-A player.

 

Summary: 13 years of the franchise naming minor league players of the year (24 total guys) has produced:

  • One legitimate MLB star (Zimmermann)
  • 6 slightly better than replacement Major leaguers: Souza, Milone, Karns, Norris, Lannan, Church
  • 9 basically 4-A players: Burns, Jordan, Lombardozzi, Peacock, Moore, Maxwell, Casto, O’Conner, Sledge
  • 4 guys who never made the majors: Skole (as of yet), Meyers, Davis, Zinicola
  • 4 guys who its too early to tell: Marmelejos-Diaz, Lopez, Voth, Giolito

Not a great track record.  Lots of this is squarely on the shoulders of the early state of the farm system; fair enough.   Its also wise to note that none of the main home-grown stars that the team as developed over the years appears on this list; No Zimmerman, Harper, Strasburg, Rendon, Storen, Cole, Solis, Ray, Espinosa, etc.  That’s because these guys either raced through the minors or just never shined brightly enough at a particular level to earn the award.

Also interesting; look how many of these guys got flipped soon after their being named our POTY: Norris, Milone, Peacock, Karns, Burns, Souza.  Its almost as if the team is trading high on more marginal prospects thanks to their POTY status.  Look at the return in each of these deals; it seems like the Nats “won” the trade nearly every time.

Another interesting side note; while doing this I noticed that no less than four guys from the 2007 draft are on this list: Zimmermann (2nd), Souza (3rd), Norris (4th) and Meyers (5th).  That draft also included future big leagers in Detwiler (1st), Smoker (1st-supp) and Smolinksi (2nd).  and McCoy (10th).  That’s a heck of a draft; all due credit.

 

 

 

Post-Season pitching Staff; who should it be?

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Gonzalez is key in the NLDS. Photo via Wikipedia/Flickr from user muohace_dc

Gonzalez is key in the NLDS. Photo via Wikipedia/Flickr from user muohace_dc

As requested in the comments, here’s a good thread to argue about and attempt to read the tea leaves as to what the team will do for its upcoming divisional series against Los Angeles.

A quick note before starting: the Dodgers are literally dead last in the majors against lefties as a team.   The have a team BA of .216 against all lefties, which is 15 points lower than the 29th ranked team.  They have a 75 wRC+ against lefties and a .634 OPS figure as a team  … by way of comparison, Michael Taylor has an OPS figure of .648 for the 2016 season.  So the Dodgers hit lefties kinda like Taylor hits pitching in general.  I only mention this because, while I knew the Dodgers were “bad” against lefties, I didn’t know they were this bad.

So, common sense may seem to indicate that the team would know an important fact like this and either a) plan their rotation accordingly, and b) plan their bullpen accordingly.  But, we are talking about a team managed by Dusty Baker, and I’m not sure he’ll have it in him to perhaps consider using Gio Gonzalez in this fashion.

So, that being said, here’s what I think will happen with the rotation and bullpen, based on what we’ve been seeing the last few weeks.  (Btw, i am assuming that the Nats don’t blow home field advantage this weekend and the first two games are in DC … which may be a bad assumption but I can’t see them losing 2 of 3 to the unfortunately reeling Marlins)


 

Rotation goes (and this isn’t much of a surprise): Scherzer, Roark, Gonzalez, Ross

Discussion: Scherzer is scheduled to throw Sunday 10/2 in the final game of the season, giving him normal 4 days rest before the first game of the NLDS (here’s the MLB 2016 post-season schedule).  Past that, i’m guessing that Baker will re-arrange the rotation based on performance and not the current order since everyone will have plenty of rest by the time the NLDS rolls around.  Assuming that the final three games feature the expected probables of A.J. Cole tonight, Tanner Roark tomorrow 10/1 and Scherzer, then Roark would be on five days of rest for the NLDS game 2.

Gonzalez then goes in Game 3, in LA.  Is that bad?  Maybe not; in 2016 his home/away splits are nearly identical; he’s been not good no matter where he pitches.

Game 4 is where we think Joe Ross goes 100 pitches or so, which might get him to the 5th inning, and then we see Reynaldo Lopez in a “once through the order” bridge to the back end of the bullpen.  Ross seems like he has gotten back to the point where he can go.

This leaves the likes of Mat LatosA.J. Cole and Lucas Giolito off the post-season roster.  None has really merited inclusion.


Bullpen goes (and this is where I’m sure there’s some disagreement): Melancon, Kelley, Treinen, Belisle, Perez*, Rzepczynski*, Solis*

This means we’re leaving off:

  • Petit: he’s struggled badly and his long man role is replicated by Lopez or Perez
  • Glover: he has also struggled down the stretch and loses out in lieu of a third lefty
  • Gott, Martin and Grace: all have pitched well since their 9/1 call ups, but none are better options or have made cases to supplant the four righties listed above, all of whom have excelled this year.  But I will say, these three may make excellent in-house options to replace the guys who will likely be departing this off-season via FA (specifically Belisle and Rzepczynski).

 

I think this is a good plan of attack.

Who is the first lefty out of the pen to face the likes of Joc PedersonCorey Seager, Adrian Gonzalez or Chase Utley?   Per their current depth chart, the Dodgers are starting no less than six guys who are lefty only but the above four are the ones to be most scared of.  I think it’ll be scrabble, but having three arms makes it easier to do lefty matchups multiple times in a game.

thoughts?

 

Ladson’s Inbox 9/15/16

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

—-

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Q: Was Murphy what you expected this season?

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pros/Cons of these options:

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

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

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

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

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

Are you worried about the Rotation too?

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

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

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

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

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

 

Nats All-Star review: 2016 and years past

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

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

Here’s my annual Nationals All Star selection post.

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

2016

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

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

2015

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

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

2014

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

2013

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

2012

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

2011

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

2010

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

2009

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

2008

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

2007

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

2006

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

2005

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

Mets vs Nats: first big showdown of the year

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Written by Todd Boss

May 17th, 2016 at 11:36 am

Strasburg Extension Shocker!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yeah; that could be pretty frigging good.