Nationals Arm Race

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

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My 2014 Fantasy Baseball Team

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Adam Jones; my #1 fantasy draft pick in 2014.  Photo unk.

Adam Jones; my #1 fantasy draft pick in 2014. Photo unk.

As with years past … feel free to skip this post if you don’t care about fantasy.  I know for certain that reading about someone elses’s fantasy sports team can be a bit grating.  But, if you do play fantasy i’m sure you’ll at least appreciate reading the selections and then looking at the team’s strength analysis at the end.

I’ll include a jump line so your RSS feeds aren’t blown out either.

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2014 Rotation Rankings 1-30

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The ace on the best rotation in the game.  Photo: talksportsphilly.com

The ace on the best rotation in the game. Photo: talksportsphilly.com

Last year, with my excitement over Washington’s Dan Haren signing and my supposition that Washington had the best rotation in the game, I ranked all 30 team’s rotations ahead of the 2013 season.  Then, after the season was done, I revisited these pre-season rankings with a post-mortem to see how close (or, more appropriately, how far off) my rankings turned out to be.

Here’s the 2014 version of this same post: Pre-season rankings of the MLB’s rotations; 1 through 30.  Warning; this is another huge post.  I guess I’m just verbose.  At this point midway through Spring Training there’s just a couple of possible FAs left that could have altered these rankings (Ervin Santana being the important name unsigned right now), so I thought it was time to publish.

The top teams are easy to guess; once you get into the 20s, it becomes pretty difficult to distinguish between these teams.  Nonetheless, here we go (I heavily depended on baseball-reference.com and mlbdepthcharts.com for this post, along with ESPN’s transaction list per team and Baseball Prospectus’ injury reports for individual players).

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Written by Todd Boss

March 10th, 2014 at 9:50 am

Posted in Majors Pitching

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Would you rather have Houston or Durham’s rotation, revisited

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At the beginning of the season, Houston’s MLB rotation looked so weak that I asked in this space whether you would prefer to have the Houston Astros MLB rotation or the Durham Bulls (AAA affiliate of Tampa) Opening Day rotation?

Now, more than 2/3′s the way through the season, lets take another look.  Here’s some quick links for reference: Houston’s B-R stats, Tampa’s B-R stats, Houston’s Fangraphs Stats, Tampa’s Fangraphs stats and MILB’s Durham stats.

All stats as of 8/6/13.

So, here’s how Houston’s opening day rotation has performed thus far:

Rank Name Age 2013 Stats as of 8/6/13 Notes
1 Bud Norris 28 (MLB) 7-9, 3.89 ERA, 1.394 whip, 106 ERA+, 3.95 fip Traded to Baltmore
2 Lucas Harrell 28 (MLB) 5-12, 5.37 ERA, 1.668 whip, 76 ERA+, 5.41 fip Demoted to bullpen July 9th
3 Philip Humber 30 (MLB) 0-8, 9.59 ERA, 2.019 whip, 43 ERA+, 5.81 fip Demoted to AAA May 11th
4 Erik Bedard 34 (MLB) 3-8, 4.29 ERA, 1.44 whip, 96 ERA+, 4.42 fip Team is 6-14 in his starts
5 Brad Peacock 25 (MLB) 1-4, 7.25 ERA, 1.583 whip, 57 ERA+, 6.57 fip Demoted to AAA April 30th

Here I see one #4 starter (Norris), one #5 starter (Bedard), one guy who wouldn’t make any other team’s rotations (Harrell) and two abject failures in Humber and our own former farmhand Peacock (though it should be noted, Peacock just got recalled, threw 7 innings of 3-run ball, struck out 10 guys and lowered his ERA nearly a full point).

Now, here’s the same stats for Durham’s opening day rotation, showing MLB stats where I could:

Rank Name Age 2013 Stats as of 8/6/13 Notes
1 Chris Archer 24 (MLB) 6-4, 2.65 ERA, 1.085 whip, 144 ERA+, 4.22 whip Promoted June 1, 12 starts thus far
2 Jake Odorizzi 23 (AAA Dur): 8-5, 3.73 ERA, 1.20 whip Has 3 spot starts in May and June with a 6.00 ERA in 18 MLB innings
3 Alex Colome 25 (AAA Dur): 4-6, 3.07 ERA, 1.31 whip 3 spot starts in May/June with a 2.25 ERA in 16 mlb innings
4 Mike Montgomery 23 (AAA Dur): 46-5, 4.28 ERA, 1.43 whip injured earlier in year, in minors all year.
5 Alex Torres 25 (MLB) 4-0 0.26 ERA, 0.612 whip, 1470 ERA+, 1.64 fip Has given up 1 ER in 34 MLB innings pitching out of the pen.

Durham’s opening day rotation has matriculated one mainstay to the Tampa rotation in Chris Archer (he has the best adjusted ERA+ of any of Tampa’s rotation right now) and a second guy in Alex Torres who has given up exactly one run in 34 mlb innings this year.  Alex Colome had three effective spot starts, Jake Odorizzi had 3 relatively ineffective MLB spot starts, and Mike Montgomery missed some time with an injury and has not yet debuted.  It should be noted that both Odorizzi and Montgomery are just 23 and still a bit young for the big stage.

So, which rotation would you rather have now?  It isn’t like the Ray’s AAA guys Montgomery or Odorizzi could do any worse than what Houston’s 4th and 5th starters did this season.  And you can clearly see that Archer’s performance trumps Norris’, and Torres’ amazing bullpen work is better than Bedard’s 96 ERA+ work.

The Rays continue to have the best pitching development system in the majors, even ahead of St. Louis, who turns out mid-90s hurler after mid-90s hurler.

 

 

Would you rather have Houston or Durham’s rotation?

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My Pitching Rotation Rankings post (published on January 7th 2013)  ended up with poor Houston ranked as the 30th best rotation heading into the 2013 season.  They’re heading into the 2013 season with this rotation of guys:

Rank Name Age 2012 Stats
1 Bud Norris 28 (MLB Hou) 7-13, 4.65 ERA, 1.37 whip, 86 ERA+, 4.23 fip
2 Lucas Harrell 28 (MLB Hou) 11-11, 3.76 ERA, 1.36 whip, 106 ERA+, 3.75 fip
3 Philip Humbel 30 (MLB CWS) 5-5 6.44 ERA, 1.54 whip, 68 ERA+, 5.77 fip
4 Erik Bedard 34 (MLB Pit) 7-14, 5.01 ERA, 1.47 whip, 74 ERA+, 4.07 fip
5 Brad Peacock 25 (AAA Sac) 12-9, 6.01 ERA, 1.58 whip, 4.26 fip

There’s a couple of decent possibilities here: Norris looked pretty good opening day and Harrell’s numbers last year weren’t bad.  The other three though?  Phew.  Even Nats favorite Brad Peacock isn’t that convincing right now as a starter, based on his numbers in the PCL last year.

Now, here’s Tampa Bay AAA affiliate Durham Bull’s opening day 2013 rotation:

Rank Name Age 2012 Stats
1 Chris Archer 24 (AAA Dur): 7-9, 3.66 era, 1.258 whip, 3.25 fip
2 Jake Odorizzi 23 (AAA Oma): 11-3, 2.93 era, 1.35 whip, 4.19 fip
3 Alex Colome 25 (AA Birm) 8-3, 3.48 ERA, 1.37 whip, 2.91 fip
4 Mike Montgomery 23 (AAA Oma): 3-6, 5.89 ERA, 1.67 whip, 4.95 fip
5 Alex Torres 25 (AAA Dur): 3-7, 7-30 era, 1.93 whip, 4.56 fip

Tampa’s AAA rotation includes Keith Law‘s #53, #68 and #81 top prospects for 2013 in Archer, Odorizzi and Colome respectively.  Montgomery was Kansas City’s #1 prospect for quite a while and has struggled in AAA, but he reached AAA as a 21 year old in 2011.  Torres may switch places with a 6-year ML FA signing (the Bulls do have former Nat favorite J.D. Martin on their roster among other candidates) but the strength of this group is the first four guys.

Given that Tampa is notoriously slow in bringing along its starting pitcher prospects, its safe to assume that most of these guys would have already matriculated to lesser team’s rotations (of them only Archer has MLB service time; he got 4 starts and 30 innings late last year).   As it stands now, none of them can crack Tampa’s MLB rotation of David Price, Matt Moore, Jeremy Hellickson, Alex Cobb and Roberto Hernandez.  And this is all AFTER the big Tampa-KC trade which sent two other starters (James Shields and Wade Davis) to Kansas City.  And this doesn’t include former rotation stalwart Jeff Niemann, who just had season ending shoulder surgery. Man that’s a lot of starting pitching depth.

(Side note: Roberto Hernandez is officially “Roberto (Heredia) Hernandez,” the artist formerly known as Fausto Carmona.  He is also the first Free Agent to start a game for Tampa Bay since 2005!  Just an amazing statistic frankly, and an amazing tribute to Tampa’s pitching development staff).

So, honestly, which of these starting 5 would you want right now?  Not on potential, but on the ability to get major league hitters out in 2013?

Ask Boswell 12/10/12 edition

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Denard Span's "best of 2012" defensive catch, highlighting more of what we can expect in 2013. Photo NYpost.com

I wasn’t expecting much baseball talk in Ask Boswell this week (12/10/12), not with the Redskins on a 4-game winning streak.  But there were some significant baseball moves to discuss, and a ton of baseball questions made their way in.  So here we go.  As always, I read the question and answer before reading Tom Boswell‘s response, and sometimes edit questions for clarity:

Q: I find it hard to imagine any starter of worth will sign with the Nats now that there are five rotation certainties in place.  Will the Nats get the starter depth they desire?

A: There is definitely a class of starter out there who absolutely would take a minor league contract with a team like the Nats in order to rehabilitate their FA value, which may have been eroded due to injury or a bad season.  Who would sign Erik Bedard (as an example) to anything guaranteed right now?  Or Jonathan Sanchez?   I would say though that more likely is the team acquiring guys on the minor league free agent market (where there’s 100s of guys available) and trading for farm system depth (I could envision both Michael Morse and Danny Espinosa being moved for prospect depth right now).  Boswell didn’t really address this part of the question, instead focusing on the next question.

Q: Why did Rizzo non-tender Gorzelanny, who as the LHP long man could spot start? He has been effective at times, the non-tender now seems like a false economy.

A: Simple econonmics; despite Tom Gorzelanny‘s salary being miniscule in the grand scheme of things, they couldn’t tender him and risk getting an un-acceptable award in arbitration.  I posted on the topic ahead of the non-tender deadline.  I’m hopeful that Gorzelanny re-signs with the team at something close to his 2012 salary.  But, that being said the bullpen looks awfully full right now and there might not be room for him.  5 returning RH relievers, new signing Zach Duke and only one spot left, likely being filled by Bill Bray in a pure LOOGY move.  Boswell points out that Duke exactly replicates what Gorzelanny would have given us at a fraction of the price.  Enough said.

Q: How do you like the Denard Span acquisition versus Philly’s acquisition of Ben Revere?   Should the Nats have acquired Revere instead of Span?  Do the Nats have an internal CF option after Span’s contract ends?

A: I posted my opinion on the Span deal here; quick analysis: liked the Denard Span deal but didn’t like that they made it.   Now, if I compare the Span to the Revere deals, I can’t help but say that I think Philadelphia overpaid, badly.  Trevor May was Philly’s #1 prospect in their system.  May for Revere may have been a decent deal (akin to our own Alex Meyer for Span), but throwing in a servicable starter with 46 decent MLB starts under his belt was questionable.  It isn’t like Ben Revere is the second coming of Joe DiMaggio; he had a 89 OPS+ last year in his third pro season.  Great defense absolutely, but at what cost at the plate?  At least Span profiles as a better-than-league-average hitter.   The Span contract is for 2 years, by which time the Nats have a slew of potential replacements (in likely order Goodwin, Perez, Hood, Taylor), so yes there’s plenty of rising talent in the system at center.  Boswell doubts the talent of Trevor May despite the consensus scouting opinion of the player, but he likes Worley and thinks the Phillies “took a flier on talent.”  He does think Span > Revere though.

Q: Have the Nats done enough to their roster to win it all?  Do they need another closer?

A: I believe the team has already done enough to re-qualify for the 2013 playoffs, especially in the NL East where Miami and the Mets are reeling, barring a slate of pitching injuries.  I can make a legitimate argument (tease for a future post) that the WAR improvements expected from our existing players (Strasburg, Harper, a full season of Werth, etc), plus addition by subtraction for players who hurt us last year (Nady, DeRosa, Henry Rodriguez, etc) alone will result in a better team than 2012.   Do we need another closer?  No, but I think one more right handed option out of the pen could help.   That being said, we don’t really have any 25-man room right now given the anticipated pen.  I liked last year’s Brad Lidge signing as a way to get some bullpen help, but doubt the team will do it this year.  As far as Drew Storen goes, he’s a top notch reliever and does not need to be replaced.  But I could see the team flipping him or Tyler Clippard as they get more expensive.  Boswell says the Los Angeles acquisitions change the game, and teams like the Nats may have to re-think their approaches.

Q: What do you think of the Shields trade? Who comes out ahead? Do the Rays have enough pitching to remain AL East contenders, even after trading their No 1 starter?

A: I believe Tampa Bay fleeced Kansas City; Shields was NOT their #1 starter (David PriceJeremy Hellickson) or honestly maybe not even their #3 (Matt Moore, at least on potential).  So the Rays traded a mid-rotation starter who they wanted to move anyway, along with a long-man in Wade Davis for the best prospect in the minors right now  (Wil Myers), the Royal’s #1 pitching prospect (Jake Odorizzi), another high-end pitching prospect (Mike Montgomery, a former highly regarded arm), and yet another minor league player.  That is just frankly ridiculous.  If you had told me the trade was simply Myers for both Shields and Davis, I could have squinted and understood.  But the addition of the other prospects made this a complete heist for Tampa.  You don’t trade the best prospect in the minor leagues for anything less than an ACE starter.  Does Tampa have enough to remain AL east contenders?  Absolutely yes; this was a trade of spare parts for Tampa (akin to the Nats trading Tyler Moore and Steve Lombardozzi for some other team’s two best prospects) and they didn’t give up anything that they weren’t already planning on replacing.  Dayton Moore has gone all in on this move; if the Royals do not win the division in 2013, he’s out of a job.  Boswell didn’t really offer an opinion, just saying that the Rays are still stocked and noting that the price in prospects was why the Nats stayed away.  Disappointed not to read an opinion on the trade.

Q: Will Harper be hitting cleanup this year and, if so, what’s your thinking on this?

A: Answer: It depends.  If the team does NOT re-sign Adam LaRoche, then they have precious little left-handed hitting in the lineup, and Harper will be forced to bat somewhere in the middle of the order.  Cleanup may have to be the spot.  If LaRoche does come back, then the team can spread out its lefty power and continue with a similar lineup to what they used last year (going Harper-Zimmerman-LaRoche-Werth for L-R-L-R).  I certainly don’t think that someone like Harper will have any issues batting clean-up in the major leagues; one thing he’s never been accused of lacking is pride.  Boswell agrees with the opinion here, and then talks about just how much respect Harper earned in his rookie season.

Q: Should I be worried about our pitching depth? Our pitching was remarkably healthy this year and if that doesn’t hold true, especially with questions about Haren’s health I am not sure we can assume that will hold true this season. Don’t we need another starter or two who could eat innings if needed?

A: Yes, we have a depth issue.  Especially given that we’ve traded nearly an entire AAA team worth of rotation insurance in the last two off-seasons (Milone, Peacock, Meyer, Rosenbaum all traded away or lost to rule 5 in the last two off-seasons).  But Dan Haren has been remarkably durable through his career, only missing 28 games in his entire career to injury.  So lets temper the whole “Haren is fragile narrative.”  He’s not; he just happened to have an injury in 2012.  I’m assuming, until proven otherwise, that Haren will return to his previous form and throw 220 innings.  Does this mean that we weren’t lucky in 2012 and should plan for someone to get hurt in the rotation?  Absolutely.  I believe this is why moving either Michael Morse or Danny Espinosa for starter depth is wise.  Boswell reminds the reader about Duke’s starting capability and the team’s plans for Christian Garcia.  There’s also Ryan Perry.  And there’s also the slew of guys who won’t get MLB jobs but who aren’t ready to hang them up who will be there for the taking.  You know, guys exactly like Duke was last year 2 days before the start of the season.

Q: Don’t you think that if LaRoche was going to re-sign that he would have by now? If he goes, have the Nat’s alienated Morse?

A: No; the baseball off-season moves slowly, and few moves happen before the Winter Meetings anyway.  LaRoche is right on schedule for his negotiations.  Now, the team’s overt coveting of LaRoche has to have Morse pissed.  I would be; clearly the team is planning for your exit on a day to day basis in the open press.  Which is a real shame, because I like Morse and don’t think he did anything to warrant being treated this way.  Boswell somehow thinks that this whole dance is a compliment to Morse.  I don’t get it.

Q: Rizzo has a 2 year offer on the table for LaRoche, and history says he’s not likely to budge. Moreover, with other options like Morse and Moore, there’s no reason for him to. If another team needed help at 1B and was willing to give LaRoche 3 years, wouldn’t they have done so already? You’ve said all along you see the Nats and LaRoche amicably parting ways. Still see it that way?

A: Rizzo can budge on his demands.  Hey; at least it isn’t a four year deal that LaRoche is demanding.  I think a 2year deal with a club option for a 3rd makes a lot of sense for the team.  For the player, not so much.  This is LaRoche’s last chance at the free agent bonanza; he has to get the biggest contract he can.  The market for LaRoche won’t completely clear until Josh Hamilton signs.  While they’re not apples-to-apples comparisons, they are both lefty power hitters.  If a team that wanted Hamilton doesn’t get him, they can come looking for LaRoche to fit a middle of the order lefty bat.  The team still needs and wants LaRoche for two main reasons; plus defense and lefty power.  They’ll take a step backwards in both categories by going with Morse at first and Moore as first guy off the bench.  At the beginning of the off-season I thought LaRoche was leaving, because he’d want (and get) a 4 year deal.  Now I think he may be back.  Boswell now thinks LaRoche may be back and the team may give a 3rd year.

Q: I realize that the life with LaRoche is much preferred by the Nats. However, do you think there will be much of drop off in the quality of Nats play? Even without him, I have no doubt that the Nats will still win their share of games and make the playoffs (assuming the starting rotation stays relatively healthy). All starters are strike out pitchers. Offensive production should be about eqaul (though not as balanced),and Morse/Moore will probably make a few more errors. I feel like moving Zimmerman to first in 2014 and have Rendon starting at third would be the ideal way to make sure the core stays in tact.

A: I mostly agree; we’ll live without LaRoche but will be righty-heavy.  Morse is healthy and has shown 30 homer capabilities in the past; why wouldn’t he do that again in 2013?  It is a contract  year for him after all.  Meanwhile. the “save first base for Ryan Zimmerman” plan is one I’m 100% for; we’re just waiting for Anthony Rendon to show up.  Boswell cautions to temper expectations for Rendon, who hasn’t had an injury-free season in years.

Q: Why does Shane Victorino get a 3 year deal before Adam LaRoche?

A: Because the Red Sox made a rash, poor signing?  The LaRoche market just hasn’t played out yet.  Plus, filling a first baseman versus a corner outfielder is more risky for teams, so they do more due diligence.  Boswell doesn’t like the Victorino deal.  At all.

Q: Michael Young had the lowest WAR of ANY position player last year, do you really think he’s an upgrade for the Phillies? Personally, I can’t wait for those fans to start booing him 2 weeks into the season.

A: Yes, Michael Young looked pretty bad statistically last year.  But i’m guessing that a change of scenery may help him.  Texas has spent the past several seasons acquiring players to overtly replace Young; the year after he won a gold glove at short the team asked him to make way for Elvis Andrus and he moved to third.  Then the team moved him off of third when they acquired Adrian Beltre.  Then the team moved him to first … but then gave most of the starts at first to Mitch Moreland Maybe his 2012 was just pure disappointment in his treatment by the club where he’d played his entire career.  I think though that at his age (36 next year) he’ll be lucky to be just replacement level.  Boswell states the obvious; the Phillies are hoping for the 2011 version of Young, not the 2012 version.




The reported price for Greinke (updated)

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Zack Greinke at the Royal's photo day 2010. Photo by Harry How/Getty Images North America

12/19/10 update: this article is essentially moot: Zack Greinke was dealt to Milwaukee along with infielder Yuniesky Betancourt for four players (outfielder Lorenzo Cain, shortstop Alcides Escobar and pitching prospects Jake Odorizzi and Jeremy Jeffress (who played HS ball in South Boston ironically enough).  I’m not familiar enough with the Milwaukee prospects to offer opinion one way or the other; here’s some opinions on the trade from FanGraphs, Ken Rosenthal, Jerry Crasnick, Joe Sheehan, and Keith Law.  Also from beat writers Kilgore and Zuckerman.

And, according to Jon Heyman via twitter, the Nats were close to a deal for Greinke in a deal that may or may not have included Storen and Espinosa.  Read more below.

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About 6 weeks ago the question of a possible Nat’s trade for Zack Greinke came up in a Keith Law chat (link is ESPN insider only) and the trade proposal was Zimmermann, Espinosa, Burgess and Detwiler.  I wrote about this theoretical deal at the time, saying it was too much to give up.

A glass-is-half empty analysis of these four players (which was apparently the opinion of Law, since he thought this would be a good deal for Washington) is something along the lines of the following: Zimmermann is promising pitcher but has yet to really produce consistently at the major league level.  Espinosa is also promising but is replaceable by our up-and-coming 2nd base prospects Lombardozzi and KobernusBurgess has been solidly improving as he’s progressed through the system but he’s still the toolsy/high promise player that Jim Bowden adored but which has never really panned out.  Lastly Detwiler has shown flashes of dominance but lost pretty much the entirety of 2010 to injury and is getting pushed further and further down the rotation depth chart.

The glass-is-half full opinion of these four players is simple: they represent the bulk of our farm system’s player development over the past few  years.  These four players represent the absolute cream of our drafting crop over the past few  years; a #1, a supplemental #1, a #2 and a #3 round draft pick.

Now today, we are hearing the TRUE bounty that Greinke would cost, and it is similarly heavy.   Greinke has hired new agents and apparently demanded a trade.  He also has a limited clause in his contract that allows him to block trades to certain teams, and the Nats are on that list.  According to Buster Olney though, the Royals and Nats have been talking and he discovered the actual price it would take (another ESPN insider link): Zimmerman, Espinosa and new closer Drew Storen.  On 12/24/10, KLaw reported that the offer was Zimmermann, Storen, Norris.  Wow that would have been quite the bounty.

This trade option replaces the unknown players (Detwiler and Burgess) with the known quantity (Storen), and only seems slightly less palatable than the Law chat proposal.  Can the Nats possibly give up 3 of their planned “starting 14″ players (the 8 out-field players, the 5 rotation guys and the closer) next year for Greinke?

Here’s my problem: Greinke had the makings of looking like an otherwise solid pitcher with a one-year wonder season that won him the Cy Young in 2009.  Is he really an “Ace” in this league?  His 2010 season was unremarkable (an ERA+ of exactly 100, meaning he performed at the mlb average), but now scouts are surmising that he was tired of his team going nowhere and he was “bored” most of the year.  But the fact remains there is no guarantee he returns to his 2009 performance.

If i’m Rizzo, I say no to this deal.

One last note about possibly overvaluing “prospects.”  Storen, Espinosa and Zimmermann are not prospects; they’ve graduated to becoming “promising young players.”  They have all made the majors, they’ve all competed at the highest levels and the Nats have a decent idea of what they can do.  Guys like Detwiler (because of his injury history) and players who have never reached the majors (Burgess as mentioned in this post) are the real “prospects” in question.  Teams and Fans overvalue prospects in a pseudo-parental relationship because they’ve watched the players grow up and grow.  But as Rosenthal pointed out (in the linked article above), prospects mostly flame out or don’t become major leaguers.  That’s the difference; teams MUST be willing to part with prospects to get real players.