Nationals Arm Race

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

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What’s the best Pitching Staff you could make out of Ex-Nats?

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Imagine tis guy in a Nats uniform? Photo via latimes.com

Imagine tis guy in a Nats uniform? Photo via latimes.com

It seems like every time I turn around, I see another ex-Nat pitching against us.  This past weekend our old friend Tommy Milone surfaced with the Mets to help lead his team to victory against us.

It got me wondering; what’s the best pitching staff of ex-Nats you could come up with right now?

Using a quick and dirty reference guide for depth charts at rotoworld.com, and basically going off of memory of who used to be in our organization, here’s my starting five rotation members, how they were connected with us and how we parted ways.

  1. Rich Hill, LA Dodgers.  He of the near perfect-game turned to walk-off homer loss.  Hill was a MLFA signing in March of 2015, threw in 25 games of relief and then was given his release halfway through the season (he probably had an opt-out).  From there, he bounced to Boston before signing a one year deal with Oakland where he suddenly was an all-star starter.  Oakland flipped him to LA, and now he’s the #2 starter basically on the best team in baseball.
  2. Robbie Ray, Arizona.  He was a big-money draft-pick by us before the new rules came in.  Initially seen as a throw-in in the Doug Fister trade, Ray is now the one who “got away.”   Detroit moved him to Arizona in the 3-way Didi Gregorius move, and he’s slowly come into his own.  He made the All-Star team in 2017 and is one of the better starters in the NL this year.
  3. Marco Estrada, Toronto.  This one still amazes me; we drafted him in 2005 and developed him all the way through his 6-year free agency in the minors, with him showing little of what he now shows for Toronto.   After leaving Washington, he signed in Milwaukee and eventually became a solid rotation member for them, but became an all-star in Toronto.  I’m tempted btw to also put in Marcus Stroman, who we drafted out of HS as a short stop in 2009 before he went to Duke, learned how to pitch, and became a first rounder.
  4. Brad Peacock, Houston.  He’s got a 11.9 K/9 rate as a starter/swingman for Houston this year.  We drafted him under the old “draft and follow” rules in the 41st round in 2006, developed him to the majors, then flipped him in the Gio Gonzalez deal.  Oakland then moved him (as they’re apt to do) to Houston in 2013, where he’s pitched ever since.  2017 is easily his best pro season.
  5. Alex Meyer, Los Angeles Angels.  Our second “first round”pick in the 2011 draft (the “Rendon” draft), he was thought to be perhaps too big to start.  Initially the trade bounty sent to Minnesota for Denard Span, Meyer took for ever to develop, got flipped to Los Angeles and took til his age 25 year to even debut in the majors.  Finally in 2017 he’s showed some promise as a starter (though he’s missed time with a shoulder injury).

Honorable Mentions: Doug Fister, Lucas Giolito, Reynaldo Lopez, Jordan Zimmermann, Nate Karns,  Tommy Milone, Nick Pivetta, Mat Latos, Bronson Arroyo, Vance Worley

Interesting.  When I started this post I thought it’d be deeper.  I struggled to pick the 5th starter over the list of HMs.  Would you take any of the honorable mentions over Meyer or Peacock right now?  Can you think of anyone I’m missing?  Giolito just had a nice start; do you take him over Meyer or these other guys?

Do we have any regrets about any of these guys getting away?  Probably not.  There’s no way we could have predicted what Hill would have become, and Ray was just a baby when he was flipped.  We knew we were giving up talent in Peacock and Meyer … just not knowing how long it would have taken to matriculate.  Estrada’s maturation was totally unexpected too.

As far as the honorable mentions go … i’m completely surprised Fister (and Milone for that matter) is still in the league.  Giolito/Lopez was giving up talent to get talent.  We seem to have dodged a huge bullet with Zimmermann.   Karns has never really been healthy enough to show us what he has.  Pivetta may eventually come back to haunt us, but his 24-yr old season showed he’s not quite ready for the bigs.  Latos and Arroyo are barely hanging on (Arroyo may have already announced his retirement).  Worley pitched against us a few weeks ago and beat us but overall his 2017 has been a struggle.


How about relievers?  Here’s my best seven ex-Nats relievers out there (feel free to remind me if I forgot someone):

  • Felipe Rivero: the big name on this list; he’s exploded onto the scene since being flipped to Pittsburgh in the Mark Melancon deal.  He’s got an ERA+ for 2017 of 345, a just ridiculous.  He’s my ex-nat closer.
  • Blake Treinen: flipped to Oakland in a classic “change of scenery” move and he’s been stellar from day one on the west coast.  Sub 2.00 ERA, 7 saves.  Will he stay at this level?  Hopefully for him, yes.
  • Mark Melancon: I know he’s struggled with injury this year, but he’s only 32 and should have plenty of more success.  I’ll take him as closer 1-A to Rivero on my Ex-Nat staff.
  • Fernando Abad: DFA’d in the 2013 off-season then flipped to our favorite trade partner for a non-prospect minor leaguer, Abad was subsequently stellar for Oakland the following season.  He’s been up and down since, but has also been stellar in Boston’s bullpen this year.  He’s one of my Ex-Nat Loogies.
  • Jerry Blevins: the guy who (I think) Mike Rizzo traded for 50 cents on the dollar because he took the Nats to arbitration in 2015.  He got hurt soon after the trade in 2015, but has given the Mets two very solid years out of the pen since.
  • Craig Stammen: that’s right; he’s not only back but has had a very nice season in San Diego’s bullpen.
  • Yusmeiro Petit: we signed him away from our nemesis San Francisco … and then he struggled badly enough to have his club-option declined.  He promptly signed with the Angels and has been quite effective in 2017.  He’s my ex-Nat long-man.

Honorable Mentions: Tyler Clippard, Matt Belisle, Michael Brady, Ian Krol, Drew Storen, Josh Smoker, Marc Rzepczynski, Zach Duke, Paolo Espino, Abel de los Santos, Matt Purke, Xavier Cedeno.

So, this is a much better bullpen than starting rotation.  Three closer-quality guys at the top and two quality lefties.  Both Stammen and Petit have been good this year.  There’s a long list of honorable mention Nat relievers at this ponit and there may be others who are sitting in AAA right now.

 

 

Ask Boswell 3/24/14 edition

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Should this man be on this team?  Photo Nats official 2014 via rantsports.com

Should this man be on this team? Photo Nats official 2014 via rantsports.com

Despite there being just a scant week until games start … i’m at a loss for content here!  Fear not; Mr. Tom Boswell always chats on mondays.  Here’s the 3/24/14 edition.  This was a monster chat; he took questions for 3.5 hours.

Q: Steven Souza just had a monster spring: Does he need a year at Syracuse or can the Nats use him now?

A: Some guys here love Steven Souza.  But he’s an outfielder in a system that already has 5 multi-million dollar outfielders under contract, so he’s not going to break camp with the team.  He’s  yet to play above AA and could use some seasoning against the near-MLB quality AAA starters.  But the Nats didn’t put him on the 40-man roster for the heck of it; you have to think he’s going to feature this year to cover for injuries.  He needs some positional flexibility.  He’s listed as a third baseman as well; another position we don’t really need any cover for right now.  Souza’s problem is that he’s a corner player (LF/RF/3B/1B) on a team with a bunch of them already.  So he’s going to have to out-hit a starter to get ABs.  Boswell says the same thing I do about not ever playing above AA.  Lets see how he does in upstate NY in April.

Q: Is Moore going to lose out on his spot to Peterson?

A: I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: if a guy already is on the 40-man (Tyler Moore), then the odds of someone who is NOT currently on our (full) 40-man (aka Brock Peterson) beating out an established 40-man player AND dislodging an existing guy off the 40-man roster seems rather remote.  Besides, are we even sure Moore is making the 25-man roster at this point?  The team already has 5 OFers and needs another guy who can play middle infield, not a guy who can only play a corner.   Peterson is a 1B/OF type, much as Moore is.  Maybe this is all a precursor towards moving Moore to a team that covets him (Houston).  Boswell agrees that Moore is “on the bubble” and then notes that 1B competition after LaRoche is gone will be quite interesting.

[Interlude: someone asked a question about what “Cybermetrics” was.  WAR, OPS and WHIP].  Boswell answered it well, getting in his own dig at WAR while he was at it.

Q: Will Lobaton’s throwing arm add to an already-weak area?

A: Maybe; but I’m not sweating the throwing arm mechancis of our once-a-week catcher.  I’m more worried about whether Doug Fister is going to be ready for 4/1.  Boswell points out that Lobaton’s pitch framing is one of the best … and that if your backup catcher has just one weakness then you’re doing a-ok.  

Q: Who’s the 5th starter going to be?

A: Now I’m flip-flopping again, trying to read the tea-leaves, and I’m guessing Taylor Jordan wins it.  Ironically it will come down to Tanner Roark‘s flexibility; he’ll head to the pen to be the 7th man and he’ll be happy about it.  If Roark were to win the spot, Jordan would be heading to AAA to keep starting and we’d be basically auditioning a kid in the #7 spot (since it seems like Ryan Mattheus is heading to the D/L and Christian Garcia just hasn’t shown he’s got the stuff).  I’m ok with this configuration.   Boswell uses my previous arguments in saying that Roark deserves it and should have it on merit.  We’ll see.  

Q: Are you worried about the back of the Nats bullpen with Storen and Soriano’s shaky spring training stats?

A: Yes.  Short Sample Sizes, Spring Training stats, blah blah.  Soriano has looked awful, Storen not much better.  The Bullpen was the weakest part of this team last year and these guys are making too much coin to be just so-so.  Problem is, if Soriano blows a bunch of saves and loses the closer job, you might as well just release him because his non-closer splits show what a moper he can be.  This is an area to keep an eye on early in the season.  Boswell seems to think Soriano will be fine but worries about Storen.

Q: Are the Nationals vindicated in “Shutdown gate” now that Medlen is going in for a second TJ?

A: Phew,  I tell you this is a topic I’ve avoided because I want to keep my blood pressure down.  But others have certainly chimed in on it (Ted Leavengood at Seamheads.com opined on 3/18/14, as did Thom Loverro in the WashingtonTimes on 3/13/14 and Rantsports.com’s less than cordial website posted its own opinion in the same timeframe).  You’ll notice that nowhere in this list are the blowhards at NBCSports’ HardballTalk, some of the more loud and ardent critics of the Nationals 2012 decisions.  I wonder why; its like it is in the Newspaper business; nobody notices when you print a retraction of a 20-point headline and bury it on page 12 a few days later; all people remember is the headline.

I think honestly my opinion is in line iwth Loverro’s; we won’t really know if the Strasburg plan or the Medlen plan is really “the best” course of action until both guys are retired.  If Strasburg breaks down again, he’ll be in the same place as Medlen.  Yes the Nats plan looks better now that we have Strasburg going on opening day and the Braves will be lucky to have Medlen back and healthy this time next year.  But it still doens’t prove anything about pitcher mechanics and proclivity to injury (another topic that makes my blood boil; people just spouting off internet theories about biomechanics and presenting themselves as experts on the topic … another topic for another day).

An important note from another questioner on the same topic: all four guys going in for their 2nd TJ surgery this spring (Medlen, Brandon BeachyPatrick Corbin and Jarrod Parker had their first TJ surgery AFTER both Strasburg and Jordan Zimmermann‘s surgeries.  The Nats approach seems to be more and more vindicated by the year.

Boswell doesn’t really bite at the offer to say “I told you so” but offers a link to a paper at NIH on the topic.

Q: Does Espinosa beat out Rendon?

A: No.  Yes Espinosa is superior defensively; you don’t need the second coming of Mark Belanger at second.  Boswell agrees.

Q: Did Rick Shue really make that big of a difference on this team?

A: Looking at splits both pre- and post- Rick Eckstein/Rick Shue hiring/firing, you would be inclined to say yes.  Was this causation or correlation?  Who knows.  Boswell doesn’t address the second part of a two-part question.

Q: Is the game of baseball headed for disaster thanks to big market dominance, over-emphasis on the teams in the 4 biggest cities and declining popularity?

A: I sense this questioner has a bit of bias.  Yes baseball’s ratings are miniscule when compared to Football’s; ask yourself how Football’s ratings would look if there was a game every night.  Baseball attendance dwarfs any other sport and is rising.  There’s national emphasis on “national” teams sure … but I’ve heard cogent, well put arguments that baseball itself is now basically a regional sport.  A strong sport with strong local ties that don’t translate nation-wide.  As compared to the NFL, where if the superbowl is Green Bay vs New England people tune in because they associate those teams with their star quarterbacks, not with their geography.

The thing that I worry about is the incredible revenue disparities we’re starting to see.  I do believe that the RSN monies that large market teams are pulling in will eventually give way to some sort of small-market owner revolt as the playoffs become the same teams year after year.  Sort of like what we see in European Soccer leagues.  Nobody wants to see that.

Boswell notes some stats about attendance, calls the game booming and also repeats my “regional points.”

Q: How important at the two early-season series versus Atlanta (April 4-6 at home and then April 11-13 away)?

A: I’d like to be a cynic and say something pithy like, “a game on April 5th counts the same in the standings as a game on September 30th.”  But in this case, I think a new manager, a weakened rival and a team that got its *ss handed to them last year by Atlanta will want to make a statement.  It could be damaging if the Braves somehow come in here and take 2 of 3.  Boswell does talk about the opportunity to put pressure on the Braves early.

Q: Is this the year Strasburg puts it all together?

A: It seems like it; he’s in the same place Zimmermann was in 2013 in terms of surgery recovery; I’d love to see him win 20 games.  Boswell drinks the kool-aid and then points out the excellent Adam Kilgore piece in the WP a few days ago on Strasburg; its worth a read.

Q: Who do you think has the most upside between Brian Goodwin, Eury Perez and Michael Taylor? Are the Nats still high on Destin Hood? 

A: A prospect question!  I’d go Goodwin, Taylor then Perez at this point. But if Goodwin plateaus again this summer Taylor will surpass him.  I think Perez has peaked as a late-innings defensive replacement/pinch runner at this point and may be trade-able/DFA able sooner than later.  Hood’s time with the organization is running out; he’s entering his 7th minor league season after hitting just .224 with no power in AA last year.  I’m thinking he’ll repeat and then hit free agency.  Too bad.  Boswell doesn’t sound like he likes any of these guys.

Q: Between the Morse trade (Cole, Krol, Treinen), the Guzman trade (Roark), and the Capps trade (Ramos), plus a few others, it seems like the Nats have made some really good trades. Umm, please tell me that the people who scouted these players before any of us had heard of them are well compensated.

A: Yeah, the Nats pro scouting squad has definitely done some great work as of late.   Boswell notes that scouts are not paid a ton … but that the Nats raided other teams for quality guys by giving them more respect and input in this org.  

Q: Every year the number of pitchers requiring Tommy John surgery seems to be higher than the year before. It has to be clear at this point that the innings limit (alone) is not the answer. When does baseball finally figure this out?

A: Well, what’s the answer then?  You can look at literally every pitcher and find a fault or two with his mechanics; this guy has the “inverted W,” this guy subluxes his shoulder, this guy’s arm isn’t in the right position when he lands, this guy’s arm is too high, this guy’s arm is too low.  Nobody can define what “perfect mechanics” are.  I started pulling up video/images of the career MLB leaders of innings pitched and, guess what, those guys don’t have perfect mechanics either.  Don Sutton?  7th all-time in baseball IP and basically 2nd if you take out knuckleballers and dead-ball guys … and he has a perfect inverted-W in his motion.

What is the answer?  I wish I knew; i’d be the most in-demand pitching consultant on the planet.  When fully 1/3rd of major league pitchers have had Tommy John surgery, and that numbers seems to be rising, maybe the answer is found by looking at the evolving role of pitchers.  Velocity is king now: 30 years ago if someone threw 90 it was special; now its mediocre.  Relievers especially; think about how power arms in the bullpen are coveted now.  Is it possible that the answer to all these arm issues is simply that guys are just trying to throw too hard these days?  That’s not much of an answer though.  We can talk about youth development, over-throwing as kids, AAU/travel leagues and 10year olds going from playing 18-20 little league games to 45 travel-league games a year.  But I’m not sure that’s entirely it; baseball recruits from the Dominican Republic basically did nothing for years except play sand-lot baseball from sun-up to sun-down and that doesn’t seem to affect their longer term injuries….

Or does it?   I wonder if there’s any correlation to the “nature” of a players youth development versus future injury?  American system versus Japanese versus a developing latino country like Venezuela/Puerto Rico or the D.R.?  Excellent post topic.

Boswell totally punts on the question; maybe since there’s no real answer.

Q: Given what Souza has been doing lately, should we focus less on “age appropriateness” in the minors?

A: No.  I think Souza is the exception, not the rule.   If you’re in  your mid 20s and you’ve yet to succeed beyond high A … that’s pretty indicative of what your ceiling may be.  Simple as that.  Boswell points out that Roark is 27 and is a classic “late bloomer.”

Q: Does the news that Scherzer and Desmond declined long-term deals portend eventual trouble for the likes of Strasburg and Harper?

A: No; i think those guys were already going to be trouble.  What’s the common denominator here?  Two words: Scott Boras.  Scherzer == Boras client.  Strasburg?  same.  Harper?  Same.  Desmond isn’t a Boras client but he’s gotta be looking at some of the monster SS deals out there and saying, I’m going to hit the FA market to see what’s out there.  Can’t blame him.  The 2016 off-season is going to be an interesting one for this team.  Boswell mentions the Elvis Andrus contract, as I have many times, as a game-changer for Desmond.

 

 

Thoughts on Keith Law’s organization and prospect rankings

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Giolito is rising the ranks of prospects baseball-wide.  Photo unk via federalbaseball.com

Giolito is rising the ranks of prospects baseball-wide. Photo unk via federalbaseball.com

I’ll admit it; I’m a sucker for prospect lists.

Every time I see an organizational ranking published (whether it be from BA/John Callis, BP/Jason Parks, ESPN/Keith Law, MLB/Jonathan Mayo, John Sickels or whoever, I put the rankings into a big spreadsheet and do comparison analysis (I’d publish on Google Docs it except that Law’s stuff is ESPN insider only and I wouldn’t want to get into trouble).   Every time any of these guys puts out organizational top 10s, I capture that too into one big file too.

So, this week is an exciting time because one of the leading prospect voices out there has published his annual rankings lists.  Keith Law published his System rankings 1-30 on 1/28/14 and published his Top 100 prospects list on 1/29/14.  The links themselves are ESPN-insider, which I believe is well worth the pittance of a cost per year just to get access to Law and Buster Olney‘s stuff (among others).

Law has our system ranked 18th this time around, a slight increase from last year’s ranking of 21.   In the five years that I’ve been capturing Law’s organizational rankings, this is as high as he’s had the system ranked believe it or not; his 2012 rankings (where Baseball America famously had us ranked #1) came out after the big Gio Gonzalez trade and thus we didn’t get the high ranking we would have expected (Law said he dropped the system from a top 5 ranking b/c of that trade).

So, how do we explain how the system went from #21 to #18 given all that has happened in the last year?   Borrowing from the comment I made at NationalsProspects.com when Luke Erickson noted the same Law publishing, lets analyze where we were in January 2013 versus now as a system:

In Law’s 2013 writeup for the team, he noted that he liked Washington’s top 5 prospects but that there was a significant gap afterwards.  Going back and looking at my notes, Law’s top 5 guys went:

  1. Anthony Rendon
  2. Brian Goodwin
  3. Lucas Giolito
  4. A.J. Cole
  5. Nathan Karns

Then the gap, then Law ranks 6-10 as went Matt Skole, Christian Garcia, Carlos Rivero, Matthew Purke and Michael Taylor. So, no mention of Taylor Jordan or Ian Krol, both of whom graduated and performed more than ably in the majors in 2013.  There was no mention of Robbie Ray, who Law never liked and never gave much credit to even when in 2011 he was out performing Cole in the low minors despite being the same age and same draft class, but who was regarded enough in Detroit to basically fetch a 4-win established MLB pitcher in Doug Fister.  There was no mention of Jeff Kobernus, who did get some MLB innings but isn’t considered a real prospect.  No mention of Nats minor league batter of the year Billy Burns (again, not really a prospect in lots of evaluator’s eyes).  No mention of Eury Perez as a top 10 candidate, and obviously no mention of Tanner Roark (who in January 2013 pretty much everyone saw as an organizational arm playing out the string to minor league free agency).  Law did say at the time that if Sammy Solis got healthy again he’d be back in the running for his top 100.  Amazingly Rivero, a waiver claim who ended the year demoted to AA, was his 8th best prospect for the system, quite an indictment.  Well, either that or a blind spot for Law, who is more impressed by tools in lower-minors kids than capabilities in prospects in the upper minors.

So, given that our top 10 last year in Law’s minds (in order):

  1. Rendon graduated to a starting job in the majors
  2. Goodwin struggled in a 2-level jump
  3. Giolito ably recovered from injury
  4. Cole impressed at AA after a promotion
  5. Karns made the leap to the majors but struggled
  6. Skole missed the entire season due to a freak injury
  7. Garcia missed basically the entire season with yet another injury
  8. Rivero was demoted to AA and is now a MLFA
  9. Purke pitched mostly a full season but did not dominate as expected
  10. Taylor impressed in high-A and was added to the 40-man

… and considering the litany of graduations/trades/exoduses out of the system (Rendon, Jordan, Krol, Ray, Rivero, Burns and Roark all ineligible for a 2014 analysis), how do you explain the fact that he thinks the system is basically treading water?

You have to think Law’s top 5 for the system now starts Giolito/Cole/Goodwin but then who knows where it goes from there.  I know from chat responses that Law is down on Purke now and that he didn’t ever really rate Jake Johansen or Drew Ward as 2013 draft picks.  Does Karns still qualify as a prospect?  Yes I believe so.   Solis came back and performed post injury but was he that impressive in 2013?

Perhaps Law’s thinking goes like this: he likes our top 3 prospects (clearly; Giolito, Cole and Goodwin all made Law’s minor league-wide top 100 list with Giolito at #21).  Law rates these top 3 guys as strong enough to make up for the graduations from last year.  Then there likely is a gap, then perhaps a small grouping of Karns and Solis, both of whom Law likes and both of whom he probably believes would make either #5 starters or good bullpen guys.  Then after that a grab bag to include Skole, Taylor, Perez and perhaps a couple guys from our 2013 draft class (Austin Voth?).  The problem with the back side of this theoretical top 10 list is that it includes a slew of players who were hurt or who treaded water in 2013.

What do you think?  And if your answer is some variation of, “Todd you spend too much time over-analyzing prospect lists and you just proved your own point by showing that a guy like Taylor Jordan can go from high-A to a MLB-average ERA+ and never appear on anyone’s prospect lists therefore prospect lists are useless” …. well I’m not going to argue against you that vociferously :-)  I’d probably respond by saying something to the effect of, “Its frigging january, what else are we going to talk about?”

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?

Fister acquisition thoughts and fallout

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What a steal; Fister joins the Nats rotation.  AP Photo/Paul Sancya via cbssports.com

What a steal; Fister joins the Nats rotation. AP Photo/Paul Sancya via cbssports.com

Wow; I got into work today and opened up the Washington Post and saw that the Nationals pulled off what I think is a huge steal of a trade, getting Detroit’s Doug Fister for three fringy guys in Steve LombardozziIan Krol and Robbie Ray.

Taking the very glass is half empty view of the guys we just sent away: we get an accomplished starter for (frankly) two edge-of-the-25 man roster players in Lombardozzi and Krol, and a prospect who I like but who scouts never have really taken to in Ray.  Lombardozzi took a step back this year offensively and despite being the kind of flexible, multi-positional player that teams crave this year (think of how Tampa Bay uses Ben Zobrist) he was exposed at the plate and may have already shown what his peak is (backup infielder).   Krol flashed up the farm system and looked fantastic in his early MLB appearances, but slumped enough to be demoted back to the minors in search of some consistency; he’s got a great arm but clearly is a one-out lefty.  Robbie Ray is a very young and accomplished starter who has operated in the shadow of his fellow high school draft-class mate A.J. Cole and has mostly out-pitched him, but the scouting reports on Ray seem bearish on his eventual ceiling (4th starter at best?).  

If i’m a Detroit fan, I’m scratching my head here.  A backup infielder, a matchup-lefty with just a few months of MLB experience, and a AA prospect who is probably still 2 years away?  That’s the return for a cost-contained, effective 4th starter for a team who’s oft-repeated mantra is Win now?  I just don’t get this deal for the Tigers.  Yes Fister faces arbitration, and his salary may rise up to the $6-$7M range, and yes I guess Detroit has a ready-made replacement in Jose Alvarez or perhaps Drew Smyly, but why are you trading away depth at a time like this?  Is this simply a money-saving deal?   The team saves somewhere in the range of $6M in arbitration for Fister (paying MLB mins or less for all three guys they got back).  As others have pointed out, the Tigers really must have liked what they saw in Robbie Ray to make him the clear centerpiece of this deal.

Some other quick responses in the Baseball analysis world: Keith Law hates the deal for Detroit with this quote summing it up nicely: “A lefty reliever, a backup at second and a non-top-100 prospect is just not a good return for two years of one of the top 30 starters in baseball.”   Jayson Stark thinks Detroit made this deal for payroll relief and seems to indicate that Detroit’s GM Dave Dombrowski is already on the defensive.  Matt Fillippi at HardBallTimes questions Detroit’s mindset.   Grant Brisbee wishes his team (the Giants) could have done this deal.  Dave Cameron says the Nats “stole” Fister in this deal.    So, I’m not being a homer in saying that, on the face of it, this is a fantastic deal.

Fister posted 3.67 ERA in 2013 pitching in front of a horrible Detroit defense in the American League, so you would have to think that he’s going to immediately get that typical 1/3 to 1/2 point improvement on his ERA moving to the NL and facing weaker lineups and pitchers on a regular basis.   Not to mention going from one of the worst infield defenses to one of the better ones.  Meanwhile, despite being called a “4th starter” Fister quietly has been one of the best pitchers in the league over the last three years; in Cameron’s fangraphs post he has a list of the top pitchers by various measures over the last three years and Fister easily makes the top 15 arms in the game by most measures.  He’s a 4-WAR arm slotting into a near-replacement level WAR slot (Dan Haren) for half the price.  And the team basically gave away spare parts and a decent but not elite prospect to get him.

Other positional fallout from this for the Nats off-season:

  • Lombardozzi was still penciled in a backup infielder/utility guy.  Does this open up an opportunity for Zach Walters to earn a spot?  Will the team buy a cheap utility guy on the FA market to couple with Scott Hairston?  Does this pave the way for Danny Espinosa to return to the majors?
  • Krol’s departure thins the already thin internal loogy ranks to choose from, which to me indicates that one of two things now happens.  We either try to buy one of the limited remaining professional lefties on the market or we go into 2014 planning on converting a here-to-fore starter (either Ross Detwiler or Sammy Solis) into a left-handed option out of the pen.  Unless we think Xavier Cedeno is the answer.

Summary; Great move by Mike Rizzo, and I have to immediately agree with Law’s sentiment that this easily gives the Nats one of the 2-3 best rotations in either league heading into 2014.  I didn’t think Starting Pitching was an area of greatest need necessarily … but boy he’s upgraded over the 4th starter/$13M experiments the team has been running out for the past two years in a hurry.

 

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.

Ladson Inbox 9/26/13

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Could the team deal LaRoche to improve at 1st? Photo Rob Carr/Getty Images via bleacherreport.com

Could the team deal LaRoche to improve at 1st? Photo Rob Carr/Getty Images via bleacherreport.com

Phew.  I was running out of things to talk about lately.  Well, other than the ridiculous John Feinstein article this week or perhaps a missive on what a bunch of a-holes the Atlanta Braves seem to be.  The federal end of year cycle has consumed all my time recently, so I’ve been late to post end-of-season minor league pitcher reviews.  We’ll get there; its a long winter.

But thankfully a gift arrived via an unexpected Bill Ladson inbox dated 9/26/13.  Lets see what questions Ladson took this time around.  As always, I write my response here before reading his and edit questions for clarity.

Q: How disappointed were you in the 2013 Nationals?

A: Not so much disappointing as frustrating; when you’ve claimed “World Series or Bust” and your team isn’t gelling correctly, why not try to do more to fix the problem mid-season?  What was the sum total of the changes this team tried to make after it was clear the team was consistently playing .500 ball?  Replace a hitting coach?  Demote a couple guys who deserved demoting?  Trade for a 25th guy/bench player?  I dunno.  Why massively increase payroll and sign luxury players like $15M closers and then do nothing when the team is clearly mired in a malaise for 4/5ths of the season?  Ladson says he was disappointed too.

Q: What do you consider the team’s greatest need in the offseason?

A: A better question may be this: where *can* you upgrade this team as it sits now?  There’s not a single starting fielder who is a FA or who really needs to be replaced.  The two worst performing hitters (Span and LaRoche) are both under contract for 2014.  I’ve already seen quotes that say that Rendon will have “competition” for 2nd base next spring; from who exactly?  Lombardozzi and his 68 OPS+ or Espinosa and his 27 OPS+?  Right.  How about the starters?  The 3 main guys are not going anywhere.  Getting rid of Detwiler would be selling very low.  It seems clear from the FA market and from the Haren experience that the team should have a #5 starter competition between RoarkJordan and Karns.   How about the bullpen?  Not really; maybe you tweak it and find a 5th or 6th guy who may pitch better than Mattheus did this year, but by and large the bulk of it already seems set (Soriano, Clippard, Stammen all seem like locks, Storen will be given a chance to rebound, one from Ohlendorf/Roark probably fits in nicely as a long-man, and your lefties Abad and Krol have both been good).  So you’re left with bullpen scrubs and the bench.  Not exactly high-impact spots to improve.

I was talking about this with friends recently; one thing I’d do if I was GM would be to sign Shin-Soo Choo.  He posted a .424 OBP with 21 homers for Cincinnati from the leadoff position this year.  Career .389 OBP.  You put him in LF (since his defense in center is atrocious) and install Harper in center where he belongs.  Dump Span somewhere, anywhere.  Instantly you get power and a significantly improved OBP at the top of your order.  The knocks on Choo are that he’s older (30 this year), that he doesn’t hit lefties (true … but his OBP split versus lefties is STILL higher than Span’s season long OBP, even given the run he’s had the last 6 weeks), and that he’ll be expensive.  A move like this likely never happens; Choo will command probably 4/$40M or more, and I doubt the team wants to pay him that much or block an OF spot given the guys coming up.

I wonder if we’re not going to see something bigger and unexpected happen.  A big trade that opens up a spot and lets the players move around.  Or a big FA signing that forces a trade of one of these entrenched players.  Because otherwise its hard to see how this team dramatically improves this off-season.   Ladsons says the team needs dependable loogies, bench and the back of the rotation.  Safe, obvious statements.

Q: Do you think Adam LaRoche will be traded after this season?

A: I don’t see it; I think LaRoche is a team favorite.  Rizzo wants plus-defenders manning the positions and that’s how he views LaRoche.  But here’s a dirty secret; LaRoche wasn’t that great this year defensively at 1st.  His UZR/150 was negative, he was ranked 18th among first basemen with more than 500 innings at the position this year, and only slightly better than the very sedentary Ryan Howard and equally glacial Chris Davis on the year.  And we have all seen his throwing arm; accurate but weak.  But if you jettison LaRoche, who’s taking him after he hit just .230 this year?  And who are you replacing him with?  The FA crop is weak; who on that list would you want?  Mike Napoli maybe?  He can rake … but he also probably earned himself a ton of dough with his performance in Boston this year.   Ladson says LaRoche is going nowhere.

Q: Why don’t the Nationals sign Michael Morse? He has been injured, and they could get him for a cheap price.

A: …. and they’d play him, where exactly?  He can play left field and first base, and last time I checked we’ve got those positions covered.  I like Michael Morse like every one in DC else but he was *awful* this year.  And he picked an awful time to do it; age 31, in a contract year, playing in the relative media obscurity of Seattle.  If he had just hit a couple bombs down the stretch for Baltimore, maybe that would have helped.  Now you have to wonder if he’s just looking at a minor league deal.  Would the team consider him for a bench role?  Probably not, he likely still considers himself a starter and may not handle the bench well.  Ladson says it isn’t happening.

Q: Is Cal Ripken Jr. managing the Nats next year just a rumor or a realistic possibility?

A: Just a rumor.  What experience does Ripken have managing?  He’s not like other former players like Don Mattingly (who cut his chops watching the great Joe Torre for years in New York) or Ryne Sandberg (who worked his way up the minors and earned his job in Philadelphia).  I’d be worried about him being completely out of his element.  What proof is there that he can handle a pitching staff or manage a game?  Give me a serious, experienced, no-nonsense guy to manage this team and get the guys in line after this year’s season-long drift.  Give me Matt Williams.  Ladson says it isn’t going to be Ripken.

Q: Do the Nats have any interest in signing Robinson Cano?

A: Not at these prices; he reportedly wants 10yrs/$305M!!  And already turned down 6/$144M.  Phew.   I wouldn’t pay him $24M/year in his decline years.  He’s no doubt a great player; is he that good?  Whoever signs him (Dodgers?) is going to really, really regret any deal longer than 6 years.  Well, unless it IS the Dodgers, who may make a complete mockery of the game in the next few years in terms of payroll.  Fun fact: The Dodgers already are committed to $165M in payroll next year … for just ELEVEN players.  They still have to handle arbitration for Clayton Kershaw (who may command $20M) and fill out the rest of the lineup.    Ladson also mentions this contract demand.

Q: How about Jayson Werth as player-manager next year? It worked for the Senators, after all, with Bucky Harris and Joe Cronin.

A: Well, if we don’t Cal Ripken can manage, what makes you think Werth has any such qualifications either?  Baseball has come an awfully long way from the days where teams thought a player/manager was a workable idea.  Now a-days, the money involved and egos involved almost necessitate an experienced, veteran guy for nearly every team.  Ladson thinks Werth would make a great manager.

Q: What do you think is the main cause of the Nats’ struggles this season, and do you think they will be better next year?

A: (see upcoming blog post that I’ll hit “publish” on when the season is over).  Ladson says in order injuries, bullpen, bench, and St. Louis.

Q: At this point, how would you handicap the likely 2014 Nats managerial candidates?

A: Who knows.  Is this really the pressing issue on the minds of Nats fans like Ladson makes it out to be?   Somehow I don’t think its going to be anyone on the current field staff (sorry Randy Knorr).  I think it will be either a big-name manager who gets the axe this off-season unexpectedly (Mike Scioscia or Joe Girardi would be decent choices) or a former player that Rizzo knows (which is why I keep coming back to Matt Williams).  Ladson says Knorr is the leader but also mentions Williams and Trent Jewett.