Nationals Arm Race

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2016 Season Statistical review of the 2016 Draft Class

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Dane Dunning was a 1st round pick and was arguably the best producer in 2016 of his draft class. Photo via gatorcountry.com

Dane Dunning was a 1st round pick and was arguably the best producer in 2016 of his draft class. Photo via gatorcountry.com

Editor note: from this post forward i’m going to start tweeting out via the new Nationals Arm Race twitter account.  @natsarmrace is the account.  I’m going to try to do a better job promoting the blog and its posts since, hey, why not.  Feel free to follow me there and retweet if you’re into that to get more people involved in the discussion.

In years past, I’ve adapted a topic stolen from minorleagueball.com’s John Sickels and reviewed all our draft classes statistically.  Last years set of posts (2015 draft class, 2014 draft class, 2013 draft class2012 draft class and 2011 draft class) turned into a great way to see how everyone was doing, and helped me write rotation reviews later on.  So let’s do it again!  Using last year’s posts to help make this year’s writing go better, we’re going to do another series of posts on each draft class.

First up; 2016’s class.  Here’s a fast review of the 2016 draft class, looking at their 2016 numbers and making some snap judgments.

Web links to use while reading:

  • Stats are pulled from milb.com and/or fangraphs.com; put the player name into the search bar to get his seasonal stats
  • The MLB.com Draft Tracker (which I believe is the best draft tracker out there) is the best place to get draft class information.
  • The Big Board and the Draft Tracker are the goto resources for prospects for any Nats fan.
  • More obscure stats on players are sometimes found at places like thebaseballcube.com, perfectgame.org, their college websites, twitter accounts for the players, and good old fashioned deep-dive googling.

At the end of each player write-up i’ll put in a color coded trending line for the player: Green for Trending UpBlue for Trending steady, Red for Trending Down.   This is just my knee-jerk opinion of the prospect status of the player system-wide.  And yes I realize this is their first pro ball season, short-sample sizes, scouting the stat line, etc etc.  So apologies in advance if you think i’m being too harsh passing judgement on a 15 inning sample size.  Of course I am; what else are we going to argue about this off-season?  :-).  I solicit any and all feedback from those who actually saw the games, who think differently or who have inside information that i’ve missed here (like last year when we found out that Perkins was converting to switch hitting).

Without further ado:

Round 1: Carter Kieboom, SS, Walton HS (Georgia).  Slashed .244/.323/.452 in 135 at-bats in the GCL, signing four days after being drafted and thus getting as full of a season in as could be expected.  43/12 K/BB in 135 ABs, 4 homers, 1 SB in 36 games.  He played SS exclusively and made 9 errors in 31 games in the field.   When he did hit the ball, he hit for a decent amount of power (.452 slugging).  At age 18 he’s still a year and a half younger than the average age of the GCL, so this is a positive start.   Still, I think he’d be hard pressed to make a full season squad in 2017, so I’d expect him to repeat GCL in 2017.  Trending Steady.

Round 1: Dane Dunning, RHP (starter) Coll Jr from UFlorida.   3-2, 2.14 ERA in Short-A (ignoring 2 innings at the GCL) with 29/7 K/BB in 33 2/3IP (7 app, 7 starts, 1 CG).  0.98 whip, 2.57 FIP, .263 babip.   He gave up 26 hits and one homer in those 33 innings, which is more or less in-line with the numbers he posted for the University of Florida his junior  year in a swing-man role.  I like Dunning and I like his approach; he comes right at you, doesn’t shy away from contact, and makes you hit his pitch.  He had a sub 1.00 whip, which is great from a starter at any level.  He doesn’t have eye-popping stuff, but he seems to consistently getting guys out.  You can’t ask for a better apprenticeship than Florida and SEC baseball, so he seems like a good candidate to jump from Low-A to High-A next season.   Trending Up.

Round 2: Sheldon Neuse, 3B Coll Jr. from Oklahoma.  Slashed .230/.305/.341 in 36 games in Short-A.  26/13 K/BB in 126 ABs, 1HR, 2SB.  Played mostly 3B (filled in 6 games at Short) and made 5 errors in 222 innings while playing third.  Neuse struggled a bit in his first pro season, not hitting anywhere close to the .369/.465/.646 slash line he put up in his stellar junior year.   And he ended up missing nearly half the season in two separate stints of inactivity.  I’d definitely say this is a disappointing debut season, but luckily for Neuse he’s a big bonus kid so he’ll get plenty of time to work things out.  I fully expect to see him starting at 3B for Hagerstown next year; he’s not going to be kept in XST to start the year.  Though I will say it was interesting to see that a 17th rounder from this same draft “jumped” Neuse and finished the year starting at 3B for Low-A (more on that later).  Trending Steady, barely.

Round 3: Jesus Luzardo, LHP (starter) from S. Douglas HS (FL).  No Stats in 2016; he had Tommy John surgery on 3/22/16 and spent the season on the GCL D/L.  We’ll see him in the GCL next year.  Trending Steady.

Round 4: Nick Banks, OF (Corner) Coll Jr. from Texas A&M: Slashed .277/.310/.320 in 60 games in Short-A.  37/11 K/BB in 231 ABs, Zero homers, 7 SBs.   Not a ton of power from Banks in his first pro season; he slugged just 10 points higher than his OBP.  Banks is a tough one; I loved this pick back in June, so I’m not going to kill him yet, but clearly we need to see a bit more from a guy who is already relegated to a corner OF position.  I suppose its possible he’s still affected by the back surgery he had in late 2015 (that was the excuse for his college junior stats falling off), but that’s nearly a year in the rear-view mirror by now.   He’s presumably pushing Rhett Wiseman up a level since they’re both upper round-drafted corner-only outfielders.  Trending Down.

Round 5: Daniel Johnson, OF (CF) Coll Jr. from New Mexico State.  Slashed .265/.312/.347 in 62 games in Short A.   42/7 K/BB in 245 ABs, 1HR, 13SBs split between playing CF and RF.   Wow; just 7 walks in 245 ABs; that’s not good.  As with Neuse and Banks, the slash line isn’t that impressive though Johnson managed better power numbers by showing a bit of gap power (9 doubles, 4 triples).   He should move up with his draft class to low-A next year, but (again, as with Neuse and Banks) we need to see some improvement and some patience at the plate.   Trending Steady.

Round 6: Tres Barrera, C Coll Jr. from Texas.  Slashed .244/.337/.366 in 48 starts behind the dish for Short-A.  22/15 K/BB in 164 ABs, 3HR, 0SB.  A solid season for the catcher, who led Auburn’s qualifying players in OPS on the year.  An interesting decision may eventually await the team; is Barrera good enough for the team to decide to cut bait on Jakson Reetz?   Reetz improved his numbers greatly this year (which we’ll discuss in the 2015 draft class review post), and there’s a straightforward promotion path for Reetz, Raudy Read and for Barrera this year … but it is going to get crowded at the top and soon.   Trending Up.

Round 7: Jacob “Jake” Noll, 2B Coll Sr. from FGCU.  Hit .318 in 18 games in Auburn and earned a promotion on 8/1/16 to Hagerstown.  Slashed .275/.332/.401 across 3 levels in 2016.   26/15 K/BB, 5homers, 3SB in 207 ABs.   A good season for a senior sign, who should start at 2B again for Hagerstown in 2017 and look to continue his excellent start to his career.  Trending Up.

Round 8: A.J. Bogucki, RHP (starter) Coll Jr. from UNC.  0-6, 8.20 ERA in 10 games (6 starts) for Auburn.  17/14 K/BB in 26 1/3 IP.  1.97whip, 4.53 FIP, .378 BABIP.   So clearly a 4-point delta between his ERA and FIP highlights a bit of unluckiness in Bogucki’s numbers this year.  Still, nearly 2 baserunners an inning is an awful place to reside.  He had two especially bad outings that helped inflate his numbers, but overall its hard to see Bogucki having a guaranteed full-season spot next year.  I presume he’s in XST and then re-trying short-A in 2017.   Trending Down.

Round 9: Joey Harris, C Coll Sr. From Gonzaga.  Slashed .301/.414/.329 in 26 games catching roughly every third day in the GCL.   15/9 K/BB, zero HR, 1SB in 73ABs.  He had a nice average .. but non-existent power even despite being a 22yr old in a rookie league.  Harris was a cut-rate bonus senior sign and the odds of him making it past next season’s draft seem slim.   Trending Down.

Round 10: Paul Panaccione, SS/Util Coll Sr. from Grand Canyon U.  Slashed just .205/.254/.250 in 50 games serving as a utility backup for Auburn.   20/9 K/BB, zero homers, 1 SB in 176ABs.   There doesn’t seem to be any cinderella stories with the senior signs this year; like Harris above, Panaccione seems like he’s a quick release once the 2017 class starts signing.  Trending Down.

Round 11: Armond Upshaw, OF (CF) J2 from Pensacola State CC.  Slashed .325/.391/.400 in 13 games (40 ABs) for the GCL.  He missed a couple of weeks in July then did not play after August 1st.  He had a promising start for sure and, assuming there’s not a serious, long-term injury he should make sense to perhaps compete for a spot at Low-A Hagerstown in 2017.  It’s too small sample size to really pass too much judgement, so we’ll go with Trending Steady.

Round 12: Hayden Howard, LHP (reliever) Coll Jr. from Texas Tech.  0-2 with a 5.06 ERA in 11 games for Short-A.  12/9 K/BB in 21 1/3 innings, 1.73 whip, 4.03FIP, .365 babip.   Not the best start from Howard, who was one of the last drafted players to sign and start his career.  He mostly pitched 2-3 inning relief stints but didn’t show much in the way of swing-and-miss stuff.  His BABIP shows he was a bit unlucky, and at the risk of over-reacting to 21 innings, I’d say he’s already on a short leash.  He’ll be competing for a bullpen spot in Hagerstown next year.   Trending Down.

Round 13: Conner Simonetti, 1B Coll Jr. from Kent State.  Slashed .280/.333/.446 for the GCL Nats.  54/13 K/BB ratio, 6  homers, 0 ABs playing 1B for the rookie league squad.  A college junior should have at least made the Short-A team; i’m guessing Simonetti was pushed to the GCL thanks to a numbers game.  54 strikeouts in 42 games played against guys who were 1-2 years younger is the biggest concern i’d have here; I would like to have seen more contact.  Just based on where he played in 2017, i’m going to say Trending Down.

Round 14: Kyle Simonds, RHP (reliever) Coll Sr. from Texas A&M: 0-3 with a 2.51 ERA in 13 games (3 starts) for Auburn.  27/8 K/BB in 32 1/3 innings.  1.08 whip, 3.43 fip, .272 BABIP.  A nice little season for the senior sign Simonds, who got a few “starts” (which I put in quotes because clearly they were doing tandem starts) but mostly was a 2-3inning middle reliever.  Good K/BB ratio, good overall numbers, kept baserunners to a minimum.  I think he’s a shoe-in for middle relief in Hagerstown next year.   Trending Up.

Round 15: Ryan Williamson, LHP (starter) Coll Jr. from NC State: No Stats in 2016; he had Tommy John surgery on 6/22/16 with Dr. Andrews and spent the season on the GCL D/L.  We’ll see him in XST next year to start and then likely with Auburn in 2017.  If he recovers, this could be another nice pick for the Nats; he had promising numbers as a weekend starter for NC State this year (7-2, 2.69 ERA in 13 starts)   Trending Steady.

Round 16: Phil Morse, RHP (reliever) Coll Sr. from Shenandoah U (by way of McLean HS): 1-0, 7.79 ERA in 19 games as a late-innings reliever for Auburn.  23/13 K/BB ratio in 21 innings, 2.24 whip, 3.37 fip, .508 babip.  So, at first glance his ERA and WHIP look awful.  But look at his BABIP: above .500!  That’s 200 points or more above where it should be, and his FIP indicates it.  So, hopefully the Nats officials also see this vast discrepancy and give him another shot.  It looks like he was used as an 8th/9th inning guy because of stuff, so in short outings one string of hits can really inflate your stats.  I think he gets another look in the Hagerstown bullpen next year.  Trending Steady.

Round 17:  Tyler Beckwith, MIF Coll Sr. from URichmond; slashed .253/.330/.331 across 45 games across two levels.  44/16 K/BB ratio, 1HR, 5SB in 166 ABs.  Beckwith spent most of the season in the GCL despite being a college senior sign, then interestingly was promoted to Hagerstown to finish out the season.  He split time evenly between 2B, SS (his drafted position) and 3B.  In the GCL, his OBP was higher than his slugging, indicating very little power potential here.  He will compete for a full season job but already seems behind higher-drafted players from 2016 (Neuse, Noll) plus some aging IFAs from the D.R., plus some hangers on from prior drafts.  He could be a release candidate soon after the 2017 class is drafted.   Trending Down.

Round 18: Ben Braymer, LHP (Starter) Coll Jr. from Auburn: 0-2 with a 4.12 ERA in 8 games (2 starts).   24/13 K/BB in 19 2/3rds innings, 1.32whip, 3.02 fip, .289 babip.  Braymer was used as a notional “starter” despite not getting the official starts; he was kept on a starter’s regime for the GCL but was shut down in early August (unsure if injury or just innings limits).  He was a Junior out of Auburn, where he was a highly regarded Juco transfer and was used as a swingman.  I’d like to see how he’d fare against like-aged players; more than a K/inning but against rookie league guys.  I’m hoping he competes for at least the Hagerstown rotation next year.   Trending Steady.

Round 19: Jarrett Gonzales, C from Madison HS in San Antonio; did not sign, apparently honored his college commitment.  At the time of the draft, I had him committed to Grayson Junior College in Denison, North Texas.   However, perfectgame.org now has him committed to Dallas Baptist University.  He is cousins w/ Garrett (our 32nd round pick, see below) and nephew of Nats scout Jimmy Gonzalez.  Initially I thought this might have been a “favor pick,” but you don’t generally blow 19th round picks (35th round?  yes).  The fact that he’s going to a powerhouse baseball program lends a bit more credence to his drafting in this spot.

Round 20:  Jake Barnett, LHP (starter) Coll Jr from Lewis-Clark State (Idaho).  0-0, 1.80 ERA in 2 games and just 5IP for the GCL.  Barnett signed on 6/20, reported to Florida on 6/24, pitched on 6/25 and then again on 7/1 … and then didn’t pitch again.  There’s no D/L assignment.  I guess we have to say he’s  Trending Steady until we find out his fate next spring.

Round 21: Jacob Howell RHP (reliever) Coll Jr. from Delta State (Miss.).  Posted a 2-1 record with a 3.49 ERA across 28.1 innings and three levels.   Looking just at his time in Hagerstown; 4.57 ERA, 15/7 K/BB in 21 2/3 innings.  1.25 WHIP, 3.59 FIP, .279 Babip.  Howell quickly moved from the GCL through Auburn to live in Hagerstown for most of the year, becoming the first 2016 draftee to matriculate to full-season ball.  Not bad for a 21st rounder from a small school.  His FIP indicates that his numbers are better, and his season was cut short a month with injury.  I’d suspect he’ll start again in Hagerstown in 2017 (unless his injury was serious) and move on up from there.  Good first pro season.  Trending Up.

Round 22: Sterling Sharp, RHP (starter)  Coll Jr. Drury (Mo.).  Posted a 3-0 record with a 3.24 ERA in 11 games (7 “starts”) in the GCL before getting an end-of-season promotion to Auburn.  35/6 K/BB in 41 2/3 innings in GCL.  1.27whip, 2.85 fip, .354 babip.  Nice looking numbers, much better than his college numbers this year, but done against younger competition even given the fact that he went to a smaller school.  His one Auburn start was solid and efficient; 5 innings, 2 runs on 69 pitches.  I like what I see, but will repeat the typical age-related caveat for all college kids in the GCL.  We’ll know more when he hits a Short-A or Full-season league.  Trending Up.

Round 23: Michael Rishwain,  RHP (reliever) Col Sr. Westmont (Calif.); was 1-0 with a 3.63 ERA in 13 relief appearances in the GCL.  14/5 K/BB in 17 1/3 innings.  1.90 whip, 2.58fip, .400 babip.  His usage was odd; he only pitched about every 5th day despite not being a “starter” in the GCL, and had several “gaps” of more than a week between appearances.    He also gave up a gazillion hits; 28 in his 17 innings to go along with a few walks, hence the inflated WHIP.  If they were holding him back to manage his innings that is one thing; if he was only getting brief looks because every time he got on the mound 2 guys got on base, then he may not be long for the season.  I see him as a long-shot to make a full-season bullpen and he may be a mid-season 2017 release.   Trending Down.

Round 24:  Joseph Baltrip RHP (reliever) J2 from Wharton County (Texas) JC; went 2-1 with a 1.38 ERA in 16 relief appearances in the GCL.  17/23 K/BB in 26IP.  1.46whip, 5.40 fip, .194 BABIP.  Well, I loved the ERA until I saw the K/BB ratio; he walked 23 guys in 26 innings.  Look at the delta between his ERA and FIP.  Despite being a J2 guy, he was 21 at the point of drafting so he’s the same age as a typical College Junior.  Clearly he’s got some control issues to work on.  As with previous college RHP relievers who were in the GCL all year, results need to be shown in like-age leagues and soon.   Trending Down.

Round 25:  Branden Boggetto, SS Col Sr. Southeast Missouri State.  Slashed .280/.328/.411 in 32 games in the GCL.  13/6 K/BB ratio, 3 homers, 2 SBs in 107 ABs.  Drafted as a SS, he played mostly 2B in the GCL this season.   Solid enough numbers for Boggetto, but (and I feel like a broken record) he’s 22.  I’m guessing he has a shot at a utility position for a team next season, but the roster’s crowded.  Trending Down.

Round 26:  Jack Sundberg OF (corner) Col Sr. Connecticut.  Slashed .256/.346/.340 while earning two promotions and ending the season in Hagerstown.  33/22 K/BB ratio, 1 homer, 12SB in his three stops.  You cannot complain about a 26th rounder who earned two promotions, even if the jump from Short-A to Low-A seemed odd based on his stat line in Auburn.  He played mostly LF, where you hope for a bit more power.   He did feature at CF a bit, so perhaps it was a positional thing.  A great first pro season.  Trending Up.

Round 27:  Jeremy McDonald, LHP (starter/reliever) Col Sr. California Baptist.  Went 2-1 with a 3.42 ERA in 11 appearances in the GCL.   27/5 K/BB ratio, 1.22 whip, 1.85 fip, .338 BABIP.  Yes he’s old for the level (he turned 23 just after the season ended), but clearly he’s got some command.  Nearly a 6-1 K-BB ratio is great.  I’m slightly surprised he didn’t get bumped up to one of the A-ball levels, but (like a few before him) he seemed to be on a starters schedule all season.  He generally went every 5th or 6th day even though he was only throwing 2-3 innings at a time.  I can see him competing for rotations in Low- or Short-A next year.   Trending Up.

Round 28:  Jonathan “Jonny” Reid, LHP (starter/reliever) Col Jr. Azusa Pacific (Calif.).  Went 3-1 with a 2.50 ERA across two levels, ending the year in Auburn.  24/7 K/BB, 0.94 whip, 4.41 fip (in Auburn), .281 babip (in Auburn).  Reid quickly proved to be unhittable in the GCL (8 hits in 15 2/3 innings) and got jumped to Auburn after a month.  There he pitched on a starter’s rotation, going every 5th day or so for 2-3 inning stints and finished with a 3.10 ERA in 7 outings.  He should compete nicely for a full-season rotation job or at least have a look at being a longer-man out of the pen.  Trending Up.

Round 29:  Sam Held RHP (starter/reliever) Col Sr. Nevada.  Went 1-2 with a 1.86 ERA across three levels, ending the year in Hagerstown.  22/8 K/BB ratio, 1.14whip combined for the year.  Like a couple guys before him. Held quickly showed he was too good for the GCL and got jumped to Auburn after three weeks.  There, he held his own for  a month of tandem starter appearances before finishing the last few weeks in Hagerstown.  He more than held his own once he got to full-season ball and should at least start there in 2017.  Trending Up.

Round 30:  Tristan Clarke, OF J2 Eastern Oklahoma State JC.  Did not sign, honored his commitment out of JuCo to attend the University of New Orleans.

Round 31:  C.J. Picerni, C Col Sr. New York.  Had just 8 ABs for the GCL, and it took 5 weeks for him to even get an appearance.   No idea what to think here; was he hurt?  Given his draft round and his lack of playing time, you can only assume he’s a short-timer until we get more information.  Trending Down.

Round 32:  Garrett Gonzales, 3B HS San Antonio HS in Texas.   Did not sign, honored his college commitment to Incarnate Word.  As noted above, he is cousins w/ Jarrett (our 19th round pick).  This seems like a “favor pick” for sure; he’s reportedly the son of a Nats area scout.

Round 33:  Ryan Wetzel SS Heritage Christian Academy in Overland Park, Kansas.   Did not sign, honored his college commitment to Pitt State.   The son of a special assistant to the GM for the Nationals, so definitely another “favor pick.”

Round 34:  Morgan Cooper, RHP (starter) Col Jr. Texas.  Did not sign, decided to return for his senior year (technically his redshirt junior year) at Texas.  He had Tommy John surgery, which caused him to miss the whole 2015 season.  In 2016 he was a mid-week starter for Texas, so likely he wanted to return to Texas to improve his draft standing for 2017.  Makes sense.  If he can produce as a weekend starter in the Big12 two  years removed from surgery he’ll be looking at a decent bonus next year.

Round 35:  Tristan Bayless LHP (starter) Hutto (Texas) HS.  Did not sign, honoring his commitment to McLennan Community College.  Bayless had a nice season on the mound for his prep team but was not a heavily scouted or recruited player apparently.  PerfectGame had very little on him and only some deep googling returned his Juco commitment.

Round 36:  Jordan McFarland OF  Waterloo (Ill.) HS.  Did not sign, honoring his commitment to Arkansas.  McFarland was a big-time player; a 2nd-team PerfectGame All American and this may have been the Nats planting a seed for a pick three years from now.

Round 37;  Cory Voss C J2 McLennan (Texas) CC.  Did not sign, honoring his planned transfer to U of Arizona for 2017.  Voss played his freshman year at New Mexico, went JuCo sophomore year and then was playing in the Cape this past summer.  He joins a very good recruiting class for Arizona and will be back in next year’s draft.

Round 38:  Noah Murdock RHP (starter) Colonial Heights (Va.) HS.  Did not sign, will honor his commitment to UVA.  Murdock was one of the players I was tracking all spring and once he passed out of the top 10 rounds it was clear he’d go to school.  He will help augment a UVA rotation that lost its ace and may be struggling for starters in 2017.

Round 39:  Matt Mervis 1B  Georgetown Prep HS, North Bethesda, Md.  Did not sign, will honor his commitment to Duke.   Another local kid drafted; Mervis was no favor pick.  He was highly ranked (the #1 prep player in Maryland according to one source Prep Baseball) but clearly going to Duke is a better alternative than a minimum bonus at this spot.

Round 40:  Sean Cook RHP (starter) Whitman HS, Bethesda, Md.  Did not sign, will attend Maryland and “attempt to walk-on.”  Definitely seems like a “favor” draft pick to someone, in that Cook was not on anyone’s radar, does not have a perfectgame profile and is not even a guarantee to make Maryland’s team.   Perhaps further evidence that the MLB draft is still 8-10 rounds too long.

 


Trending Summary:

  • Trending Up (10): Dunning, Barrera, Noll, Simonds, Howell, Sharp, Sundberg, McDonald, Reid, Held
  • Trending steady (7): Kieboom, Neuse,  Johnson, Upshaw, Morse, Braymer, Barnett
  • Trending steady b/c they’re injured all year (2): Luzardo, Williamson 
  • Trending Down (11): Banks, Bogucki, Harris, Panaccione, Howard, Simonetti, Beckwith, Rishwain, Baltrip, Boggetto, Picerni
  • Did Not Sign (11): Gonzales, Clarke, Gonzales, Wetzel, Cooper, Bayless, McFarland, Voss, Murdock, Mervis, Cook

Executive Summary

So far, the key names out of this draft have done decently.  I’m worried about Banks and (to a lesser extent) Neuse.  Its great to see 20th+ round guys like Reid and (especially) Held produce and earn promotions; that’s a feather in the cap of the scouting department for those finds.  Its just a half a season of course, but plenty of guys are on course or impressing out of this class.

 

Pros and Cons of pushing back the College Baseball Season

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Baseball fields aren't supposed to be covered in snow.  Photo via twitter

Baseball fields aren’t supposed to be covered in snow. Photo via twitter

So far, 2015 has been one massive cold spell for much of the nation.  Boston got 7 feet of snow.  Places deep into the south felt freezing temperatures.  DC just experienced its second coldest February since 1950, with an average temperature for the month below freezing.

And the College Baseball season kicked off in the middle of all this!   Division 1 college baseball programs kicked off the 2/13/15 weekend with many cold-weather teams traveling and many traditionally warmer-weather schools being forced to move home dates to warmer locations.  For example, UVA had to move a bunch of lucrative home dates to South Carolina and played one game on a HS field in Charleston.  The #1 team in the country (Vanderbilt) had to move a home series to Florida.  UNC had to move a marquee early-season match up against fellow top-10 team UCLA all the way to Orlando.

Long time collegiate baseball coach (currently at West Virginia) Randy Mazey has been pushing a recommendation to radically alter the college baseball schedule for years and has latched onto this year’s uncommonly cold winter to spread the word and gain support.  The Washington Post picked up his story in mid-February and he’s made some appearances on baseball-themed broadcasts to spread the word, and details on the email that Mazey has been sending to fellow college coaches is on d1baseball.com’s site.  I listened to a long-form interview with Mazey on d1baseball.com’s podcast (hosted by d1baseball authors Kendall Rodgers and Aaron Fitt) and gleaned the following details:

Mazey’s proposal goes like this:

  • Pitchers & Catchers would not start working out until mid-late February, similarly to the way that MLB spring training works.
  • College Baseball seasons would start April 1 (currently starts mid February, or 2/13/15 this year).  This leads to basically a 6-week cascading slip for all College Baseball events.
  • Continue to play 56-game schedule
  • Finish regular season over July 4th weekend with a “rivalry” week (current schedules end mid-May)
  • Put in a week’s delay before starting conference tournaments, to be scheduled 2nd week of July.  Current conference tourneys generally run through the 3rd week and weekends of May.
  • This puts the Regionals in the 3rd week of July, the super-regionals in the 4th week of July.  Currently Regionals are held the last weekend of May, and the super-regionals are held the first weekend of June.
  • The CWS would start the first week of August and would be coordinated with ESPN so as to fall “after” the Little League World Series.  Currently the CWS runs from mid June through the end of June.

Arguments for this proposal:

  • Levels the playing field between “northern” and “southern” baseball programs.
  • Pushes back the start of the season, avoiding obvious weather issues with more northern schools.
  • Lowers travel burdens for northern programs, who often play the first 15 games of their season on the road thanks to cold temperatures in their home towns.
  • Safer travel for teams that depend on bus travel on icy/snow-covered roads in February.
  • Attempts to increase fan interest in college baseball by avoiding conflicts with basketball season/March Madness.
  • Improves the post-season scheduling to avoid the conference-tournament crunch that occurs on college pitching staffs.
  • Reduces harm to players (pitchers especially) having to compete in very low temperatures (a stance supported by Dr. James Andrews).  More than a few marquee/1st round projected picks  have already been pulled from starts this year due to warming up for games to be played in 30-35 degree temperatures (Mike Matuella and Andrew Suarez both have already missed starts this year).
  • I suppose its a “pro” to force kids to be in school all summer so they can do summer school classes to augment their (presumably) smaller class-loads while playing during the spring session.
  • Pushing schedules into summer lessens the burden on students missing a ton of class during spring semesters (Mazey’s players missed 31 days of class one recent spring semester).  This theoretically will help kids actually graduate college, a rarity among baseball players, who generally leave school after their junior year and rarely return (tangent: Scott Boras did a study a few years back, finding that of the 824 players in the majors that year just *six* (6) had 4-year college degrees; that doesn’t say much about the job that college baseball is doing graduating kids).

Arguments against this proposal:

  • With this proposal, you’d essentially be telling college baseball players that they’re “on the clock” from mid February all the way to Mid-August, an incredibly long season.  They’d lose their entire summer vacation, have limited to no summer league baseball opportunities, no jobs to make money.  They’d essentially have 2 weeks “off” at the end of their baseball seasons (if they made the CWS) before the fall semester picked back up (at best; see further with the LLWS analysis).  This sounds like one heck of a burden for college student-athletes.  Its tough enough with spring semesters generally ending the first week of May and kids are forced to continue playing deep into June.
  • If CWS needs to work around the LLWS … well I’m not sure how you do that.  In 2014, the LLWS schedule in Williamsport, PA ran from August 14th through the championship game on August 24th (a sunday).  If CWS waits to play its final until after the LLWS does … well when exactly does it play its final 3-game set?  You presumably want to play those games on a weekend to get fan interest and attendance, but waiting until the weekend after the LLWS puts you into Labor Day weekend, which is a football kickoff.  Not to mention, the beginning of the fall semester for most students.  So now you’re telling CWS college baseball players that they potentially get NO summer break.  You can’t jam the entire CWS into one week before the LLWS happens.  So I’m not sure how CWS fits in with LLWS with the current broadcast partner ESPN.
  • The current Rule-4/amateur draft is set for early June; when would you draft players if they’re playing deep into August?  MLB is already talking about pushing back the draft slightly to avoid the current draft date-CWS completion conflict … but a couple weeks is different from a couple months.  Mazey doesn’t think the draft would need to change, making the argument that kids playing in the CWS have been drafted and are still playing.  Well, there’s a difference with a limited number of players playing a few playoff games and playing half a season.  If i’m a pro team and I draft a college pitcher in the first round, I don’t want to watch some back-woods college coach abuse my pitcher for weeks and weeks trying to get a slightly higher seed in his conference tournament when I’m committing potentially seven figures to him.  I think what would really happen is this: MLB would draft a kid and basically tell him to quit college right then and there.  Imagine what that would do to the college season if all the drafted kids are suddenly removed from the competition prior to even the conference tournaments?
  • Similarly; the short-season pro leagues are set to start just after the draft in mid June specifically so that newly drafted kids can start playing.  Who would stock these teams if most of the college draftees weren’t going to join up for months?  What would these teams do if their draftees are still competing in college seasons?   Mazey didn’t have an answer other than to say that it would take “creative scheduling.”  There are some places where the short-season team shares the same facility as a college team (Penn State and Oregon being two examples); clearly you couldn’t have both of these teams playing schedules concurrently.
  • This proposal would effectively kill summer leagues as we know them.  And there are a *lot* of summer leagues out there, and they serve a very vital role in the player scouting process for pro teams.  The major leagues out there (Cape Cod, Northwoods, Valley, Coastal Plains) would be put out of business if most Div 1 players couldn’t join them until regionals were ending near the end of July.  Mazey tries to make the argument that summer league teams would rely on JuCo, Div2 and Div3 players not affected by Div-1’s schedule … but if Division 1 is changing its schedule to account for weather, wouldn’t Division 2 and 3 teams be thinking the same?  Mazey also thinks that prep players who have signed with Div-1 programs could be targets for teams in the Cape, thinking that fans just want to root for a player affiliated with a big-name program.  I think he’s incredibly wrong here; the Cape and the Northwoods teams draw because they’re watching the *best* college players in the country, guys who are going to be first round draftees the subsequent year.  And, how many parents are going to finance their 17yr old to go play in the Cape Cod league before he’s even stepped foot in college?
  • Would college baseball game attendance be adversely affected if the crunch-time games played by the schools were held in the dead of summer, when student populations at these schools is at is lowest?  Mazey for some reason thinks this switch will help college teams draw like minor league teams do, but to me his logic doesn’t add up.  To me, the issue of god-awful college baseball attendance is a whole separate issue unrelated to anything mentioned here related to scheduling.
  • Keeping kids on campus extends the scholarship costs to schools; more classes, more room & board and potentially more travel.  Mazey’s argument is that assumed rising attendance figures would somehow finance these additional costs.
  • If its too cold in the north in February … well wouldn’t it be too hot in the south in July/August?  Yes it would.  The average temperature during the day in July in Arizona is between 105-107.   Yes there’s a MLB team in Arizona and guess what; they have a frigging dome for this reason.  Same thing with the Houston team and the Miami team; all three play in domed stadiums because its really, really hot down there in the summer.  Would there be issues with marquee teams in Arizona and Texas (of which there are many) playing home dates in 105 degree temperatures?

What do I think College Baseball should do?

Well, if you couldn’t tell from reading my point-by-point argument against logic, I think this is a dumb proposal that would be done in the best interests of a small population (the coaches and players of northern baseball schools) at the expense of many others (coaches and players from all other schools, pro teams, summer league teams).  I think the baseball coaches behind this need to admit to themselves that baseball is inherently a warm weather sport and thus warm weather schools are going to have advantages.  Prior to Oregon State winning the CWS a few years back, a “cold weather” state hadn’t won the CWS since Ohio State in the mid 60s (and Oregon is “barely” a cold-weather state for this discussion; Corvallis averages just 3.1″ of snow a year .. about as much on average as Atlanta, Georgia). Consider the reverse: are cold-weather sports being forced to change their schedules to accommodate warm-weather schools who want to participate?  I don’t think so; and that is why you don’t have (say) ice hockey programs at schools in Texas and Arizona clamoring for changes to the NCAA hockey tournament.

However, there a couple of things that Mazey is right about.  Why are colleges playing baseball in mid February?  Why do colleges play fifty six (!) games a season?  The logical thing to consider is to force back the start of the season a month, and lower the playing burden.  Or, if you wanted to keep 56-game schedules, then play some mid-week series during spring break and in May once semesters are over.  Or just accept the fact that some colleges can play in February and others cannot; same thing happens with high schools all over the country.

Take a look at UVA’s schedule.  The first 13 games on their schedule are non-conference.  Then, starting on 3/6/15, they play a 3-game weekend series every weekend for 10 straight weekends (save one weekend in early May presumably blocked off for finals).  In between each of those 10 weekends they play at least one mid-week game against an in-state rival for another 13 games.  13+30+13=56.  Ask yourself; do they need the first 13 games at all?   Do they need to play ten in-conference series?  The ACC is split into two 7-team divisions; play all your division rivals and then lower the cross-division games and you can cut weeks out of the schedule.

Anyway; food for thought.  Personally, I don’t think there’s anything “broken” with college baseball as it stands; its CWS event is great, it dovetails nicely into a vast industry of summer leagues and pro short seasons, and it doesn’t drag all summer.

 

Written by Todd Boss

March 4th, 2015 at 1:58 pm

2014 Tommy John Post-Mortem

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Jose Fernandez is (arguably) the biggest name to go down to TJ surgery yet.  Photo via thestar.com

Jose Fernandez was (arguably) the biggest name to go down to TJ surgery in 2014. Photo via thestar.com

When we hit 20 MLB pitchers going under the knife for blown Ulnar Collateral Ligaments (UCL) on the 2014 season, I posted on possible reasons for the epidemic.  By the time the season was over, more than 90 players in professional baseball (and a handful of marquee amateurs, including two first round picks and our own) had gone under the knife for blown UCLs/Tommy John surgery.  2014 was the year of the elbow ligament, no question, in terms of volume and awareness.

This post lists all the major league pitchers who had the surgery this year, with links to the announcements as they happened, along with stills of the pitchers’ mechanics to do a quickie thumb nail analysis of mechanics and whether there’s a relationship to the injury. At the bottom i’ve captured any significant news related to the surgery, MLB being proactive in preventing the injuries, and other TJ news.


First, here’s the complete Tommy John fall-out for the year for major league arms.  According to the great injury tracking links below, no less than 91 players in all levels of pro baseball had the surgery in calendar year 2014, of which 29 were MLB-experienced pitchers.

(data from baseballheatmaps.com, which has detailed Disabled List data).

10 of these 29 pitchers are getting the surgery for the 2nd time.  Wow.

Here’s links to other notable non-MLB pitchers who have gotten the surgery as well in 2014:

  • Jamison Taillon: the Pirates #1 pitching prospect and one of the best pitching prospects in the game.  Diagnosed 4/6/14, surgery 4/9/14.
  • Danny Rosenbaum: Nats AAA starter and long-time farmhand.   Surgery 5/8/14.  Tough for Rosenbaum because he’s a MLFA this coming off-season, now facing a very uncertain future.
  • Miguel Sano: one of the best prospects in the minors, had the surgery 3/12/14.  He’s not a pitcher, and he initially injured his arm playing in the Dominican Winter League, but it still costs Minnesota one of its best prospects.
  • Jeff Hoffman, ECU’s right handed starter and consensus top 5 pick in the 2014 draft, hurt his arm and was diagnosed on 5/8/14.  He dropped 5 places from his likely drafting spot by the Cubs at #4, which cost him about $X in slot dollars.   We talked about whether the Nats (picking at #18) were a likely suitor for him at the time of the injury in early May.
  • Erick Fedde, UNLV’s friday starter and projected mid-1st round pick, was diagnosed two days after Hoffman on 5/10/14.  He dropped perhaps 8 places from his estimated drafting spot of mid 1st round and was picked by Washington.  His injury didn’t really cost him much in slot money thanks to the Nats paying over-slot.
  • Our own Matthew Purke, diagnosed and set for TJ surgery 5/29/14 after really struggling out of the gate this year for Harrisburg.   Purke may face an options crunch by the time he’s done re-habbing, thanks to his MLB deal signed on draft-day.  (Update: the Nats never let him get there, releasing him on 11/14/14).
  • Chad Billingsley having flexor tendon surgery while trying to recover from his 2013 TJ surgery.    This isn’t counted as a TJ, but is noteworthy.
  • Not a pitcher, but key Orioles player Matt Wieters had to have TJ surgery on 6/18/14.
  • Matt Cain dodged a bullet by just being diagnosed with elbow chips, but still had season-ending elbow surgery on 8/5/14.
  • Padres uber-prospect and 2012 first rounder Max Fried went under the knife in mid-august.
  • Yu Darvish didn’t fall victim to the TJ surgery, but an elbow issue is shutting him down in late August, just the latest nail in the coffin of the Rangers’ season.
  • Jonathan Mayo discussion on elbow surgeries and prospects from Mid-Late August.

Here’s quickie images of every MLB starter diagnosed this year as they land to make a quick judgement about their mechanics:

VentersJonny landingHefnerJeremy landing

SkaggsTyler landingJonesNate landingChatwoodtyler landingTanakaMasahiro landing

ArroyoBronson landingBurnettSean landingBellTrevor landingWithrowChris landing

PerezMartin_landingCisnerJose landingFernandezJose landingGriffinAJ landing

 

FigueroaPedro landingNovaIvan landingJohnsonJosh landingMooreMatt landing

 

GearrinCory landingParnellBobby landingDavisErik landingHernandezDavid landing

 

MLB: Spring Training-Arizona Diamondbacks at Los Angeles DodgersRondonBruce landingCorbinPatrick landingParkerJarrod landing

BeachyBrandon landingMedlenKris landingHochevarLuke landingLeubkeCory landing2

Quick and Dirty Mechanics analysis (images in same order as list of pitchers above, which is chronological in order of diagnosis in 2014):

  • Inverted W: Hefner, Skaggs, Withrow, Griffin, Nova, Gearrin, Beachy, Hochevar
  • Sideways M: Ventors, Chatwood, Bell, Burnett, Fernandez, Johnson, Davis, Moylan, Rondon, Parker, Medlen
  • Inverted L: Jones, Tanaka, Arroyo, Perez, Cisnero, Figueroa, Moore, Parnell, Hernandez, Corbin, Luebke

Conclusions? None.  They’re all over the road.  TJ injuries this year happened to those thought to have “dangerous” mechanics and clean mechanics.  TJ injuries happened to the league’s harder throwers (Rondon, Ventors, Fernandez) and its softest throwers (Medlen and Arroyo, both of whom are usually at the absolute bottom of the league in terms of fastball velocity).  Starters and relievers, no discernable pattern.

I think all you can conclude is this: if you throw a lot of innings, you’re more prone to injury.  I know, ground breaking analysis.


Other notable/interesting links I’ve collected on the topic over the length of the season:

  • Yahoo’s Tim Brown interviewed Zack Greinke (published 5/15/14)who says he made a conscious decision to throw fewer sliders, noting that he could really feel it in his elbow after starts where he threw too many.  This tends to support the notion that sliders make a difference.
  • Jerry Crasnick interviewed commissioner Bud Selig on 5/15/14 and Selig said he’s “concerned.”  Great!  On a scale of “Resolve Oakland/San Jose territorial rights” concerned to “Resolve MASN dispute” concerned, I wonder where he falls?  Maybe he’ll form a blue-ribbon committee that can meet for several years without arriving at any solutions.
  • Stephania Bell‘s articles on the spate of TJ injuries: from April and again in May.
  • Nate Silver‘s new blog 538 chimes in in mid-may.
  • Neil Weinberg from Peter Gammons‘ website posts his own theory on 5/16/14 that is basically related to the rise in youth/showcase events.
  • Shawn Anderson from the blog HallofVeryGood.com posts his theory (overuse).
  • An older link to Will Carrol from July 2013 talking about the surgery, how its done, who’s had it and some other great stuff.
  • The American Sports Medicine Institute (led by Dr. James Andrewsreleased a statement on 5/28/14 on the issue of Tommy John surgeries (as pointed out by David Schoenfield and/or Craig Calcaterra in late may and/or Jerry Crasnick on the same day).  Their basic point: don’t throw with max effort.
  • Dr. James Andrews announced that he’s releasing an app to help keep pitchers healthy.   Per screen shots, it will be relatively simple and will have pitch counts, age and rest days calculate a max number of pitchers that a player can throw today.
  • An interesting analysis of Kansas City’s Yordano Ventura after he was diagnosed with a non-UCL related elbow injury in May.
  • Thoughtful piece from Dirk Hayhurst about the quest for velocity and the value of soft-throwers like Mark Buehrle.
  • Danny Knobler special piece to the BleacherReport in June 2014 discussing “child abuse” of kids over-throwing, throwing too much, too hard, too soon.
  • A sleeve has been announced that may help prevent TJ injuries (its called the Motus Pitcher Sleeve).  Dirk Hayhurst subsequently did some research and interviews about the sleeve and offers some thoughts.
  • CBS’s Jon Heyman breaks the news that #1 overall pick Brady Aiken may have an “elbow ligament issue,” thus holding up the signing.  Wow.  As we all know, this turned into a big-time stalemate, the non-signing of Aiken (which cascaded down and cost the Astros their 5th round pick too), possible grievances, possible lawsuits, all sorts of NCAA eligibility concerns, and a whole big black-mark for the Astros organization.  All over $1.5M.  Remember; this is the same team that gave $30M last off-season to 5th starter Scott Feldman.
  • There was a two hour special on the injury on MLB Radio Networks on 7/17/14 that I hope they replay or transcribe to the internet.
  • Bud Selig still awaits the Tommy John study in Mid July 2014.  If its anything like his other blue-ribbon panels, he’ll be waiting a long time.
  • Discussion about youths with UCL/TJ injuries in USA Today on 7/23/14.
  • Study from USA Today on how prep pitchers are avoiding TJ.
  • MLB unveils “Pitch Smart” guide in Mid November to help youth’s understand workloads.  Also discussed by Jeff Passan.

Hope you’ve found this trove of TJ links as interesting as I have.

TJ Surgery epidemic: upbringing, showcases and mechanics

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Jose Fernandez is (arguably) the biggest name to go down to TJ surgery yet.  Photo via thestar.com

Jose Fernandez is (arguably) the biggest name to go down to TJ surgery yet. Photo via thestar.com

Its the biggest story in baseball so far in 2014.   We’ve had nearly 20 MLB pitchers get diagnosed with torn elbow ligaments so far this calendar year.  All of them have or are set to undergo “Tommy John” surgery (also known as ulnar collateral ligament/UCL replacement surgery).  That’s nearly as many as who got the surgery ALL of 2013 and we’re just 6 weeks into the season.  There’s an alarming trend upwards over just the past few seasons of pitchers getting this surgery.  There’s been plenty more minor leaguers (two Nats farmhands in Erik Davis and Danny Rosenbaum have already gotten it in 2014) and already a couple of very high-profile draft prospects as well (including as discussed in this space potential 1st rounders Jeff Hoffman and Erick Fedde just in the last week).

Lots of people are talking about this story, especially some heavy-weights in the baseball world.  A sampling:

  • Dr. James Andrews, perhaps the most famous sports doctor in the world, attributes the growing trend to the rise in year-round baseball competition in the US.
  • SI.com’s Jay Jaffe reviews Dr. Andrews comments and had other excellent stats about the trend in this April 2014 piece.
  • The Washington Post’s Dave Sheinin did an excellent piece in the paper a few weeks ago about the injury, which he attributes to youth usage.
  • Tom Verducci (he of the “Verducci effect”) proposed a solution in a column this week after the Jose Fernandez announcement.  His idea?  Lowering the mound across all levels of the sport.  He draws this conclusion after hosting a very interesting round-table on MLB Network.
  • Jayson Stark teamed up with ESPN injury analyst Stephania Bell and former player Alex Cora to discuss the rise in arm injuries in this ESPN.com video, and they follow Andrews’ theory of year-round pitching.
  • Chris O’Leary, king of the Inverted-W (whether you believe his theories or not, I’ve included this link here) has his own theories as discussed here.  He doesn’t really have much in the way of explanation, just more whining about how every pitcher’s mechanics has something you can complain about.
  • Jeff Passan basically calls out baseball executives for not having any answers.
  • If you want an index of all of ESPN.com’s stories on the topic, click here.  It will have columns, analysis and press releases for individuals getting the surgery.

Some interesting stats about Tommy John surgery:

So what the heck is going on??  Lets talk about some theories.  I’ll highlight them in Blue.

The new “hot theory” is essentially this: Over-throwing at Showcase events, which have become crucial scouting events for kids raised in the United States, are to blame.  Thanks to the rise in travel leagues and select teams, scouts spend less time sitting at high school games and more time at these all-star events.  To prescribers of this theory, it isn’t so much about the amount of innings or pitches that kids throw … its the nature of the “showcase” events and the high pressure situations that those events put kids under.  Kids are throwing year-round, and they’re ramping up max-effort pitches at national competitions multiple times per year, and in some cases out of “season.”  This leads to serious damage to kids’ arms done as 16 and 17 yr olds, which then manifests itself over the years and results in blown ligaments in pro ball.

Do you buy this explanation?  It certainly makes sense to me, but how do you prove this?  And, it doesn’t explain the similar rise in elbow injuries to non-American pitchers.

Is it less about the showcase events and more about the Larger Increase in Youth pitched innings thanks to the rise in Travel Leagues?   This theory also makes some sense to me: thirty years ago kids played an 18-20 game spring Little League season, at best would pitch half those games and that was it.  Maybe they played in the fall too, but there were specific innings limits in place that protected kids.  Now instead of playing limited spring and fall seasons, kids are playing AAU travel teams that play 40-50 games a summer, plus weekend tournaments, plus (eventually) the above showcase events as they get closer to matriculation.  This theory certainly is supported by a startling rise in youth arm injuries, as noted in this 2010 study by the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons.

But, if its “bad” to play more baseball … then shouldn’t we be seeing even MORE injuries from players who grew up in third-world baseball hot beds like the Dominican Republic or Venezuela, where by all accounts kids play baseball from sun-up to sun-down 12 months out of the year in tropical climates?

Interestingly, of the list of 19 MLB players so far who have been diagnosed with a torn UCL (see next section), there’s 4 non-American developed pitchers (Rondo, Nova, Figueora, Cisnero).  4 of 19 = 21%, whereas about 22% of MLB pitchers are non-American developed (my 22% figure comes from this quick study that I did; I grabbed every active MLB pitcher as of early May 2014 and did a quick-and-dirty player upbringing analysis to determine that about 78% of players “grew up” in the current American system of player development).  It is small sample size … but the percentage of american versus foreign developed players are so far exactly in line with the total percentage of each type of player in the larger pool of MLB pitchers.  This doesn’t seem to support either of the two above theories.

We’ve all heard horror stories about pitch counts and pitcher abuse at  high school events in Japan (this came to light over the winter as we looked at Masahiro Tanaka and learned about these Japanese showcase events; this article here at thebiglead.com talks about one Japanese prospect’s 772 pitches thrown over 9 days, and Jeff Passan talked about Tanaka’s own pitch count abuse stories and his average pitch counts as a Japanese-league pro).   Unfortunately there’s not a ton of data available about this TJ theory and Japanese pitchers.  I can find a couple of instances of Asian pitchers getting the surgery (Kyuji Fujikawa in 2012 being the most recent example), but not enough to establish any trends.

But lets state it this way: you can’t have things both ways.  Both these stereotypes about player upbringing cannot be true:

  • Latin American poor youth plays baseball from sun up to sun down 12 months a year, building arm strength constantly, therefore his arm is “stronger” and he’s less suceptible to injury
  • American little leaguer plays limited schedules (18 games in the spring, perhaps fewer in the fall), has closely monitored pitch counts, therefore does not abuse his arm as a youth and thus his arm is “stronger” later in life as a result.

Here’s a list of the 19 MLB pitchers who have already gone under the TJ knife so far in 2014 (data from baseballheatmaps.com, which has detailed Disabled List data).

Of these 19 pitchers, they are evenly split between being starters (10) and relievers (9).  So that doesn’t seem to lend itself to any Starter vs Reliever usage conclusion.

How about Pitching Mechanics?  We’ve all heard ad-naseum about the “Inverted W” and people talking about pronation and timing and elbow lift and etc etc.  Here’s a quick attempt to analyize the mechanics of each of these 19 guys (all photos grabbed as thumbnails from google images for the purposes of demonstration; no copyright infringement intended).

CisnerJose landingFernandezJose landingGriffinAJ landingFigueroaPedro landing

 

NovaIvan landingJohnsonJosh landingMooreMatt landingGearrinCory landing

 

ParnellBobby landingDavisErik landingHernandezDavid landingMLB: Spring Training-Arizona Diamondbacks at Los Angeles Dodgers

 

RondonBruce landingCorbinPatrick landingParkerJarrod landingBeachyBrandon landing

 

MedlenKris landingHochevarLuke landingLeubkeCory landing2

Quick and Dirty Mechanics analysis (images in same order as list of pitchers above, which is choronological in order of diagnosis in 2014):

  • Inverted W: Griffin, Nova, Gearrin, Beachy, Hochevar
  • Sideways M: Fernandez, Johnson, Davis, Moylan, Rondon, Parker, Medlen
  • Inverted L: Cisnero, Figueroa, Moore, Parnell, Hernandez, Corbin, Luebke

But I’ll immediately add a caveat to these classifications; at various stop-points in a guy’s delivery, he may exhibit “good” or “bad” trends.   Maybe some of these “sideways-M” guys are actually “inverted-W” guys.  Maybe some of these inverted-W guys are ok and the stills make their mechanics seem worse than they are.

Nonetheless; there’s no trend among the 19 guys in terms of their mechanics.  In some cases they’re “bad” (Griffin and Gearrin’s look awful) but in some cases excellent (nobody should look at Moore’s mechanics and say they’re anything but clean, nor with Parnell or Corbin).  These pitchers are overhanders, 3/4-slot guys and even side-armers/submarine guys (Gearrin and Moylan).   These guys include hard throwers (Rondon had the 3rd highest velocity of *any* pitcher in 2013) and softer-throwing guys (Medlen had one of the lowest fastball velocities in the majors in 2013).  There’s starters and relievers almost equally represented in this list.

Conclusion; there’s no conclusions to draw from pitching mechanics analysis.  I think all attempts to look at guys’ mechanics and make judgements are useless.  I think (as does Keith Law and other pundits in the field) that the “Inverted W” is nonesense and that “research” posted online by concerned-fathers-turned-self-appointed-mechanics-experts is not exactly trustworthy.  The fact of the matter is this: throwing a baseball over and over is hard on the body.  Throwing a ball is an unnatural motion, and throwing a ball at max-effort will eventually lead to pitching injuries, no matter what your mechanics.  They can be “good” or “bad” according to someone’s pet theory on bio-mechanics and it has nothing to do about whether a pitcher is going to throw 10 seasons without injury or have two tommy johns before they’re 25.

Some historical context for pitching mechanics arguments: the pitcher who has the 2nd most innings thrown in the non-knuckleballer modern era (behind Nolan Ryan) was Don Sutton.  Sutton displayed absolutely *classic* inverted-W mechanicsnever hit the D/L in his career and threw nearly 5,300 innings over the course of 23 seasons.   Walter Johnson‘s mechanics were awful; he slung the ball sideways as he literally pushed backwards away from the hitter at the end of his delivery.  If someone saw Johnson’s mechanics today they’d talk about how over-compensated he was on his shoulder and how he lost velocity thanks to landing stiff and having zero follow through.  Johnson only threw 5,900 innings in his pro career; yeah those mechanics really held him back.  Nolan Ryan was a freak of nature, throwing at that velocity for as long as he did.  The point?  You just don’t know.


Maybe there’s something to the “showcase abuse” theory for some players.   Maybe there’s something to the travel-ball overuse theory for some kids.  But I think the answer may be a bit more simple.  We all know there’s been a rise in the average MPH of fastballs in the majors, both on starters and especially with relievers.  My theory is simply this: kids who “can” throw upper 90s spend all their time trying to throw upper 90s/max effort fastballs 100% of the time, and human arms just cannot withstand that kind of abuse over and over.  In prior generations, kids who “could” throw that hard wouldn’t, or would rarely try to throw that hard, and thus suffered fewer elbow injuries.

Side note: I also firmly believe that we’re “victims of our own success” to a certain extent with respect to modern medicine; 30 years ago would someone have just “blown out their arm” instead of being diagnosed specifically with a “torn ulnar collateral ligament?”  Would some kid in the low minors who hurt his harm even bother to get an MRI?  How much of the rise in these injuries is simply the fact that we’re better at diagnosing injuries in the modern sports world?

Why are these kids trying to throw so hard these days?  Because velocity is king, and that’s what scouts look for.   A kid who “only” throws mid 80s as a 17-yr old is dismissed, while the kid who can throw mid 90s at the same age is fawned over.   Guys like Greg MaddoxMark Buehrle, and Tom Glavine probably don’t even get drafted in the modern baseball climate thanks to the over-focus on pure velocity.

You can talk about upbringing and showcase events and pitch counts and mechanics all you want, but I think it comes down to Pitcher over-exertion thanks to the rising trend of fastball velocity and the human nature urge of prospects and farm-hands to show more and more velocity so they can advance their careers.

What do you guys think?  Do you dismiss the “inverted-W” arguments like I do?  Do you think its all about showcase events?

Season Statistical Review of all Nats 2013 draft picks

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Jake Johansen led the Nats 2013 draft.  Photo via DBU website

Jake Johansen led the Nats 2013 draft. Photo via DBU website

Last year, minorleagueball.com’s John Sickels started a quick-hit review of every 2012 draft pick with snap judgements and quick stats.  I thought it was a great project, a nice little way to see how the draft picks were faring.  He petered out around the 17th round, and I took up his cause for just the Nationals picks and went through all 40 rounds at this link here.  Apparently 2012’s project was too much work for Sickels; he doesn’t seem to be doing it this year.  So I picked up the torch and did a Sickels-style analysis for all 40 of the Nats 2013 draft picks below.

(Note: stats are pulled from milb.com and/or fangraphs.com; put the player name into the search bar to get his seasonal stats).  MILB has nice consolidated seasonal stats while fangraphs has better advanced stats.  They do not include any playoff stats for those still playing after 9/2/13).

Finally, at the end of each writeup i’ll put in a color coded trending line for the player: Green for Trending UpBlue for Trending steadyred for Trending Down.   This is just my knee-jerk opinion of the prospect status of the player system-wide.  And yes I realize this is their first pro ball season, short-sample sizes, etc etc.

Without further ado:

Round 1: forfeited w/ Rafael Soriano signing, which as I noted in this June 2013 post cost the Nats a shot at one of several highly regarded pitchers drafted just behind our vacated spot.

Round 2Jake Johansen, Coll Sr. RH Starting Pitcher.  1-3, 1.92 ERA with 51/23 K/BB in 51 2/3 innings between Auburn and Hagerstown, 34 hits.  After signing quickly for slot (very quickly, like in 24 hours or so), Johansen joined short-A Auburn and was essentially unhittable through 10 starts.  He was promoted up to low-A, got hit around in two starts and finishes the season with a 1.92 ERA, and a sub 1.00 WHIP.  Johansen outperformed his poor college numbers somewhat, still walks too many batters, and still flashes a dominant fastball.  Scouts continue to believe he’ll end up in the bullpen, but until that situation presents itself Johansen will stay as a starter.  He seems like he’s bound for the opening day start in Hagerstown in 2014.  Trending Up.

Round 3Drew Ward, HS 3B.  .292/.402/.387 with one homer, 25 walks, 44 strikeouts in 168 at-bats for the GCL Nats in the rookie league.  A good average and a great OBP, but where’s the power?  Ward was reported to have a ton of power coming up but his slugging was lower than his OBP.  He produced at a 142 wRC+ for the season, which is great, but I think he needs to show more power going forward.  That won’t be easy in his next stop; the stadium in Hagerstown is old and cavernous with huge walls; you earn every homer up there.  Trending Up.

Round 4Nick Pivetta, Juco RH Starting Pitcher.  1-1, 3.41 ERA with 18/12 K/BB in 29 innings between GCL and Short-A, 28 hits.  Pivetta started 8 games but averaged less than 4 innings a start.   For such a big guy (6’5″ 220) with such a reported fastball (upper 90s in short spurts) I would have hoped for more K’s (18 in 29 innings).   Outlook; bound for Hagerstown but seems like someone who may convert to short relief soon where he can maintain higher velocity in shorter outings.  Trending Steady.

Round 5Austin Voth, Coll Jr RH Starting Pitcher: 3-0, 1.75 ERA with 55/6 K/BB in46 1/3 innings between three levels, 33 hits.  You read that correctly; 55 to 6 strike out to walk ratio for this U of Washington product.   He pushed his way through two promotions on the season, ending up in the Hagerstown rotation.  Another interesting stat: Zero home-runs in his 55 innings on the year.  And these stats were done with pretty normal looking BABIPs; his FIP values were lower than his ERAs in short- and low-A.  He seems like an exciting draft find and should be in the Hagerstown rotation in 2014.  Trending Up.

Round 6Cody Gunter, Juco 3B.   .229/.294/.313 with 3 homers, 20 walks, 62 strikeouts in 214 at-bats for Auburn.   62 punchouts out of 214 at-bats; that’s more than 25%.  With so many Ks and so little power (.084 ISO), I’d be concerned about Gunter’s future at the corner.  Its possible he was just a bit young for Auburn as a 1st-year JuCo grad.  Trending down.

Round 7Jimmy Yezzo, Coll Jr 1B.  .267/.282/.342 with 2 homers, 5 walks, 37 strikeouts in 243 at-bats for Auburn.   Five walks in 243 at-bats??  That shows a pretty significant plate discipline issue.  Yezzo came to the Nats with such a good hitting reputation in a decent baseball conference (the CAA); what has happened?  Drafted as a first baseman, Yezzo needs to show some serious power improvement to continue at a spot which normally is where lesser defenders “end up” to keep their bat in the lineup.  Trending down.

Round 8David Napoli, Coll Sr LH relief pitcher.  1-0, 1.14 ERA with 28/10 K/BB in23 relief innings in Auburn, 16 hits.  He had a very wild reputation coming out of college, but seems to have toned it down at Auburn to become an excellent relief pitcher.   I’m a little disappointed to see him already get converted to relief, but his size and stuff seems to point towards situational lefty anyway.  I could see him in Potomac in 2014 quickly turning into the next Ian Krol.  Trending up.

Round 9Jake Joyce, Coll Sr RH relief pitcher.  1-3, 5.22 ERA with 25/12 K/BB in 29 relief innings in Auburn, 37 hits.  Joyce was unlucky (.381 babip) and his FIP reflects that (3.03 versus 5.22 era), but he still gave up a ton of base-runners (1.67 whip) and a ton of air-outs (0.62 GO/AO on the year).   Given the fact that Joyce was a senior sign for very little money, he could seem rather expendible if he doesn’t start strong in 2014.  Trending down.

Round 10Brennan Middleton, Coll Sr SS/2B.  Did not play an inning in 2013; I cannot find any details of the injury.  There are some reports that he injured his ankle towards the end of his senior season at Tulane; perhaps that injury carried over into the summer.  He signed for a pittance and was not highly regarded; he could struggle to make a team out of spring.  Trending down.

A quick note before continuing: you can see the effect very clearly of the new MLB draft rules by looking at the Nats draft picks here; our 8th,9th and 10th round guys signed for a combined $40,000 so the team could over-pay earlier in the draft.  We got mostly cheap guys, senior signs with zero leverage as we got closer to the 10th round and the production shows.   Then, starting at round 11 (where the slot per pick is a flat $100,000 and the signing bonus cap re-sets) we start to see more significant prospects get signed and coaxed out of remaining college eligibility.  Its almost as if we should treat the 8th-10th rounders as closer to 30th round picks, all things considered.

Round 11John Simms, Coll jr RH relief pitcher.  0-4, 5.70 ERA with 34/7 K/BB in 30 relief innings mostly in Auburn, 41 hits.  His walks were low but hits were high.  His ERA looks ugly but look beyond the top layer and you discover that Simms actually didn’t pitch that badly this year.  A ridiculously high BABIP of .438 contributed to his inflated short-A ERA; his FIP was just 2.38.  Combine that with his 5/1 K/BB ratio and he has the makings of at least a good reliever in the system.   Look for him in Hagerstown or Potomac’s bullpen, where shorter stints should allow him to maintain velocity.  Trending steady.

Round 12Andrew Cooper, Juco RH relief pitcher.  2-1, 3.86 ERA with 16/7 K/BB in 25 2/3 relief innings mostly in Auburn, 29 hits.  Drafted as a project, and so far he’s pitched like a project.  His numbers aren’t bad or great in any direction.  I’d suspect the team knew he needed some complex time so I could see him staying in Viera until next season’s short-A starts up and repeating the level.  Trending steady.

Round 13John Costa, Juco RH relief pitcher.  Did not pitch an inning in 2013; he had Tommy John surgery in March and won’t be healthy until mid 2014.   Likely stays in the complex league until short-season starts, then heads to the rookie league.  Trending down.

Round 14David Masters, Juco SS.  .178/.246/.237 with 0 homers, 9 walks, 33 strikeouts in 152 at-bats for Auburn.  Masters showed little power, little hit tool in general.  He had a wRC+ of just 51 and slugged lower than his OBP.  He’s apparently a genius in the field though.  But, you’ve got to hit to advance.  If he’s the defensive whiz that the scouting reports say, then he may get another shot in 2014.  Note; as others have noted, Masters is a 2nd cousin to Mad Men star John Hamm.  I hope this wasn’t the reason we drafted him :-).  Trending down.

Round 15Isaac Ballou, Coll Sr OF/CF.  .273/.381/.366 with 2 homers, 32 walks, 37 strikeouts in 238 at-bats mostly for Auburn.  Ballou was Auburn’s leading hitter by average and earned a promotion up to Hagerstown, where a 3/27 start dented his seasonal numbers.   No reason not to see him in low-A again starting in 2014.  Trending up.

Round 16Willie Allen, Juco Corner OF from Oklahoma/Newtown, MA.  Did not sign; I cannot find any reason; there’s a link to his hometown paper that seemed to indicate that he was ready to sign and report.   Perhaps something came up in his medicals.  Allen also does not appear to have transferred to a 4-year school.  Interesting question; how did a kid from Boston end up in an Oklahoma junior college program?

Round 17Geoff Perrott, Coll Sr C.  .308/.308/.308 in 12 at-bats for Hagerstown; Perrott was hurt most of the year and is providing late-season cover for the Suns’ playoff push.  A lost season for Perrott; hopefully he gets a chance to prove himself next season.  Trending down.

Round 18Cory Bafidis, Coll Sr LH relief pitcher.  2-0, 2.73 ERA with 22/13 K/BB in 26 1/3 relief innings mostly in Auburn, 18 hits.  He got pushed to low-A too early, settled into short-A where he probably belonged to begin with, and pitched relatively well for 20 innings.   Too many walks for a relief pitcher, though, he’ll have to work on that.   He mostly worked in 2 inning stints and never got any looks at starting.  Trending steady.

Round 19Niko Spezial, Coll Sr LH relief pitcher.  1-0, 3.32 ERA with 21/8 K/BB in 19 relief innings mostly in the GCL, 16 hits.  Spezial started the season with Auburn but got the quick demotion after just 3 1/3 relatively non-descript innings.  A college senior draftee, he did not belong in the rookie league.  Nonetheless he pitched effectively for the record-setting GCL Nats.  Spezial needs to show how he fares against someone his own age, which hopefully he’ll get a chance to do in 2014.  Trending steady.

Round 20Brenton Allen, Coll Jr Corner OF.   .186/.319/.271 with 1 homer, 15 walks, 31 strikeouts in 113 at-bats mostly for Auburn.  A disappointing pro debut for Allen, a 9th rounder out of HS who chose UCLA at the time.   Which makes his signing all the more curious; if he was a 9th rounder at one point, why sign for 20th round money?  Why not go back for your senior season to try to build draft value?  Nonetheless, he seems like he’ll compete for a full season OF job in 2014 but will have to show a better hit tool.  Trending down.

Round 21Justin Thomas, Coll Sr LH relief pitcher.  1-0, 3.13 ERA with 28/3 K/BB in 23 IP split between FOUR levels.  Thomas was well traveled this summer; he started in the GCL, got promoted to Auburn, then again to Potomac before settling back in Hagerstown for the bulk of the 2nd half.   All he did in Hagerstown was post a 21/1 K/BB ratio in 15 2/3 innings.  His ERA was a bit inflated versus his low-A FIP (2.56) and he remains the sole member of his draft class to broach high-A on the year (even if it was just for a game or two).  He’s clearly a leading situational lefty candidate with his control and should feature for Potomac in 2014.  Trending up.

Round 22Cody Dent, Coll Sr SS.  .222/.310/.242 with 0 homers, 19 walks, 47 strikeouts in 153 ABs for Auburn.  A light hitting senior sign middle infielder who strikes out one out of every three times isn’t going to go far in this game unless he fields like Ozzie Smith.   What’s interesting is this: Dent is actually hitting BETTER than he did at Florida this year.  A blogger on fangraphs dug into the numbers and found that Dent had an amazingly low babip his senior year in college.  Trending down.

Round 23Garrett Gordon, Juco Corner OF.  .257/.356/.317 with 0 homers, 12 walks, 27 strikeouts in 101 ABs for the GCL Nats.   We’d hope for some more power here for the undersized Gordon; he’s listed as an outfielder but he caught in high school.  Perhaps he’s considering going back to the position.  Trending down.

Round 24Matt Derosier, Juco RH relief pitcher.  2-1, 2.43 ERA with 20/5 K/BB in 19 relief innings mostly in the GCL, 24 hits.   Derosier may have been a Juco guy but he’s young; he turned 19 in July of this year.  After a brief stint to start the season in Auburn he pitched in middle relief for the GCL Nats, getting at least 4 long enough stints to earn a “grade” in my monthly starter grades.   He posted good, solid numbers, nothing flashy, nothing bad.  A 4/1 K/BB ratio is great.  He’ll move up next year, looking to stick as a younger member of the bullpen in low-A.  One interesting point related to Derosier: despite his young age, he’ll achieve rule-5 eligibility as if he was a college draftee, so he could run out his eligibility when he’s in the very low-minors.   Trending up.

Round 25Travis Ott, HS LH starting pitcher.  3-0, 4.03 ERA with 32/12 K/BB in 29 innings in the GCL, 24 hits.  The rare mid-20s round high schooler who signs, Ott was used as a starter in the GCL and was mostly good all year.  His seasonal numbers were skewed by one bad outing where he gave up 6 earned runs in 1 2/3 innings in mid-July.  This tall, lanky left-hander (6’4″ 170lbs) seemingly has room to grow and is very young; he turned 18 at the end of June.  Looks like the Nats might have a find here.  Trending up.

Round 26Garrett Hampson, HS SS from Reno, NV.  Did not sign; honored committment to Long Beach State (as confirmed by a local media site as well as PerfectGame).  Hampson was a well regarded prospect  heading into the draft (BA had him #84) and may have been a typical casulty of the new MLB draft reality; unless you’re picked in the first couple rounds and will sign for slot, you’re dropping.

Round 27Bryce Harmon, HS LH starting pitcher from Richmond, VA.  Did not sign; honored committment to East Carolina University.  A big lefty clocked 87-91 but recruited by lesser baseball schools (per PerfectGame).

Round 28Joey Webb, Coll Sr LH relief pitcher.  2-0, 1.89 ERA with 25/6 K/BB in 19 innings in the GCL, 13 hits.   A college senior who turns 23 in a few weeks pitching in the rookie league?  The definition of “too old for the level.”  But, Webb comes from a very small baseball school (NAIA’s Menlo College in California) and may not have been ready to compete with a bunch of Division I guys in Short-A.   Webb has almost no baseball pedigree (PerfectGame doesn’t even have a profile of him) so he’ll have to earn it going forward.  Trending steady.

Round 29Mike Sylvestri, Coll Sr RH relief pitcher.  3-1, 5.40 ERA with 14/9 K/BB in 18 innings split between Short-A and the Rookie league.  Sylvestri started in Auburn, got shelled (12 runs in 8 2/3 innings) then threw a shutout in the rookie league (9 2/3 innings, 9 hits, zero runs).   He’s undersized (5’10”, 180) and could have trouble getting out of rookie ball (as evidenced by his short-A experience).  May not be long for the organization.  Trending down.

Round 30Ryan Ullmann, Coll Sr RH Starting pitcher.  3-2, 4.74 ERA with 38/13 K/BB in 49 1/3 innings, 64 h its.  Ullman, like Webb, started in the rookie league being a senior coming from an NAIA (small).   By the end of the season, Ullmann was in the Auburn rotation.  He got 6 starts in Auburn with some up and down results (3 decent, one ok, two bad) that resulted in a 5.30 ERA all told.   You can’t teach size (he’s 6’6″, 230).  Ullmann closed in college and may return to the pen.  Trending down.

Round 31Willie Medina, Coll Sr SS.  .228/.315/.237 with 0 homers, 9 walks, 24 strikeouts in 114 ABs for the GCL Nats.   A .552 OPS playing as a 22-yr old in the rookie league is disappointing.  Medina may struggle to make it out of Viera next spring.  Trending down.

Round 32Pat Boling, Coll Jr LHP: Did not sign, chose to return to U. of Georgia for his senior season.  Bolling missed all of the 2012 season with an injury and redshirted, then had an uneven 2013 season (going from weekend starter to bullpen guy).   Probably looking to either complete his degree or try to compete for a full time starter job a year removed from injury in 2014.

Round 33Andrew Dunlap, HS C/RHP from Houston.  Did not sign.  Honoring a committment to Rice University.  Research on Dunlap finds an interesting story; he apparently went to 3 different  high schools all told (he moved around b/c because at the time he was a catcher and was blocked at the varsity level), was committed to Texas Tech at one point but then de-committed when he decided to become a pitcher and discovered he could hit 95-96 on the mound, transferred again and tried to gain a 5th year of high school eligibility, apparently failed, and had no “team” to play for this past spring.  Nonetheless, he had multiple offers for scholarships (Rice, UNC and U San Diego) before going to Rice.  BA did a Q&A feature on him in Feb 2013, so I’m guessing he was supposed to go much higher than the 33rd round.

Round 34Jake Walsh, Coll Sr LH relief pitcher.  0-0, 1.40 ERA with 17/5 K/BB in 19 1/3 innings closing in the Rookie League.  Promoted to Hagerstown on 9/3/13 to provide lefty bullpen coverage in the playoffs.    He was probably too old and too experienced for the rookie league but showed enough promise to get a two-level call-up for the post-season.  Lets see how he does in 2013, likely as a situational lefty/closer for Hagerstown.  Trending up.

Round 35Lukas Schiraldi, Juco RHP from Texas.  Did not sign.  The son of Calvin Schiraldi, Lukas was a 2nd year All-American Juco pitcher ranked #162 by Baseball America who has decided to transfer to U Texas Austin (like his father) instead of signing.   Understandible; if Schiraldi succeeds for Texas next spring, he’ll come into the 2014 draft as a high-powered college junior with much better earning potential.

Round 36Reid Humphreys, HS SS from Missouri.  Did not sign.  Honoring committment to Mississippi State.  Humphreys was the 2013 “Mr. Baseball” for the state of Missouri.  He is also the brother of the Nationals’ own Tyler Moore, who also was Mr. Baseball for Missouri and also attended Mississippi State.

Round 37Karsten Whitson, RH starting pitcher from Florida.  Did not sign, returning to U Florida for his senior/4th year.   Whitson is an interesting story.  He was San Diego’s 1st round pick (9th overall) in 2010 and was drafted just behind Matt Harvey and just ahead of Chris Sale.  In a move that surprised the Padres, Whitson refused to sign for slightly above-slot money and chose to go to school, turning down a $2.1M offer.    After a great freshman year, Whitson struggled with arm pain his sophomore year and turned to Dr. James Andrews this past spring, performing a “cleanup” surgery on his shoulder to alleviate an “impingement” and costing him the whole season.  Clearly Whitson needs to return to school and complete a full healthy season to regain draft value, so I don’t entirely understand this pick.  Maybe the Nats wanted to see if Whitson wanted to sign and rehab with the team as opposed to on his own (they did something similar with Robert Orlan last year).  But that would have made no sense for Whitson; he’s already in college on scholarship; why would he possibly have signed for round 37 money at this point in his career?

For me Whitson confirms what Keith Law always says when it comes to significant bonus money; take the money; you can always go back to college if you wash out of the minors.  But you just never know what may happen; if Whitson suffers another injury or performs badly next spring, he’ll be lucky to be offered $10k and will really wish he’d have taken that life-changing $2M bonus.  When proposed with this scenario, my wife says “I want my kid to go to college” but the reality is this; that money may not ever be there again, and the kid can always go to college later.  You have to take it if it is there.

Round 38Caleb Hamilton, HS SS from Washington State.  Did not sign; honoring committment to U of Washington.  Seems like Washington’s area scout liked Hamilton, so they made an impression on the kid and drafted him late.

Round 39Robbie Tenerowicz, HS 2B/SS from California.  Did not sign; honoring committment to UC Berkeley.  He looks like an excellent Oakland-area product staying close to home.  Made the Area Code team and was on some all-american lists.  The Nats have drafted two middle infielders from Cal lately (Kobernus and Renda) so perhaps Tenerowicz will be a third in a few years.

Round 40Shaun Anderson, HS RH starting pitcher from Florida.  Did not sign; honoring committment to U of Florida.  Baseball America had a nice little writeup on the 2013 draft’s Mr. Irrelevant.

Matt Harvey; just unlucky

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Harvey gets a really unfortunate diagnosis.  Photo: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

Harvey gets a really unfortunate diagnosis. Photo: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

What happened to Matt Harvey?
One of my friends speculated that his overuse at UNC may have contributed to his very unfortunate torn UCL/possible need for Tommy John surgery and drew a parallel to our own Stephen Strasburg in terms of young phenoms going down.  I don’t recall any accusations of overuse of Strasburg at SD State; in fact Tony Gwynn seemed to be hyper aware of the media outcry if there would have been overuse and handled him very carefully.   His workload in college was carefully monitored, the Nats brought him along very carefully and were hyper sensitive to any slight issues in his first pro years.  And Strasburg got hurt anyway.
UNC has a somewhat dim reputation among scouts for destroying pitcher arms (as does Texas, Rice, and a couple other programs), and you saw some evidence of that in this past CWS (where UNC’s “closer” suddenly was starting games and throwing 100s of pitches during the tournament after being a one-inning guy most of the year).  But Harvey left UNC in 2010.  A long time ago.
UCL tears are often point-source injuries; think about Strasburg’s torn UCL: he did it on one pitch.  Yes he probably “strained” the UCL before then (strain is medical term for “small tear” apparently, as we learned during the Lucas Giolito drafting), but it was very clear the exact moment Strasburg blew it out.  Meanwhile, shoulders seem to be more degenerative over time from overuse.  There doesn’t seem to be any video of a single pitch that blew out Harvey’s UCL, and I’m sure there’s arguments and counter-examples against this, but my observations seem to support this.  One day pitchers are healthy, the next day they have a blown elbow ligament.
What else could have caused Harvey’s injury?
Pitch counts?  Harvey’s game logs this year aren’t egregious: a couple of 120 pitch games (studies have shown that 120 pitches is about the threshold for pitches in the majors before workload effects are demonstratble in subsequent starts).  Lots of games in the 100-110 range.  But that’s to be expected; he’s a big guy, a workhorse, always has been.
Innings thrown?  Here’s a concern area.  96 college innings in 2010, 135.2 in 2011, 169.1 in 2012 and 178.1 in 2013 before this injury.  You generally don’t want guys to increase workloads more than 20% per year (the “Verducci effect,” so to speak)  He increased his workload 28% from college to his first pro year and another 20% from his first pro year to his second.  He was well on his way this year to another 20% increase and was set to be shut down before this injury.  He was definitely a risk for ramping up his innings too fast.
Mechanics: no evidence of any trouble spots; his mechanics have always been clean.  He threw hard but he wasn’t considered a “max effort” guy.  Too bad for the “inverted W” conspiracy crowd; they can’t have another poster child for their internet meme which is usually ignored by scouts and baseball professionals.  (as you can tell, I don’t believe in the inverted W b.s. as being anything other than coincidental.  For every pitcher with an arm injury and inverted W mechanics you can 1) find a pitcher with inverted-W who has NO injury history or 2) find a pitcher with impeccable mechanics who suffers the same type of injuries that the inverted W supposedly caused).
Is it the  Travel-league/year round baseball that prospects these days have grown up in?   If anything, you’d think that year-round baseball would help these kids, not hurt them, by building up arm strength and building up the muscles surrounding the critical points in a throwing arm (ucl, rotator cuff, labrum, etc).  This goes counter to recent advice from Dr. James Andrews, who advised that kids need an off-season from baseball to allow their arm muscles to rest and regenerate from the abuse that pitching causes.  Of course, you could also counter argue it and say that “the arm only has so many bullets in it” and each pitch is one pitch closer to an injury.
The “right” answer is probably some combination of all of the above, as well as genetic bad luck.  Some guys have absolutely perfect mechanics and get injured (Harvey), some guys have perfect mechanics and throw 10,000 innings (say, Nolan Ryan), some guys have crummy mechanics and get away with it for a long time (think Don Sutton or someone like that).
On the bright side; Tommy John surgery is now somewhere between 85-90% success rate.  And these TJ surgeries actually improve the arm action.  An amazing stat was tweeted by Rob Neyer in the wake of the Harvey injury; of the 360 pitchers who have started games this year, 124 have had Tommy John surgery.  124 of 360!  That’s one out of every three major league starters in the game.  Our own Nats experience exactly matches this: of the 9 guys we’ve had start a game this year 3 have TJ surgeries in their history (Strasburg, Jordan Zimmermann, Taylor Jordan).  The surgery doesn’t just repair, it improves the arm stability and strength.  TJ pitchers often come back with more break on their curve because the elbow has been improved.  They don’t just staple the tendon in place; they drill holes in the bones to attach the tendon so its got a stronger bond than what was naturally there.
In any case, it really is unfortunate to see such a great young guy suffer an arm injury so soon.  Hopeful for a full recovery.  The baseball world is a better, more fun place with young aces like Harvey out there every 5 days.

Ewing theory and the Strasburg Shutdown

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How much will Strasburg's shutdown really affect the team? Photo allansgraphics.com

Here we are, September 1st, and every single columnist and blogger who covers baseball has, by law, added their 2 cents to the Stephen Strasburg shutdown debate. And as the imminent shutdown date approaches (I had predicted 9/12 being his last start either in a post or the comments section, and that date still seems to hold; 9/12 gives him 3 more starts, which seems to match what we’ve been hearing lately out of Davey Johnson and the front office), I’m honestly not looking forward to the coming blitz of additional opinions from the blogosphere talking about what idiots the Nationals are, blah blah.

My succinct opinion on the shutdown can be expressed in this metaphor; if you had open heart surgery, and your cardiologist says to you, “take it easy next season and only pitch 160 innings,” wouldn’t you follow his advice?   Both the doctor who performed Strasburg’s surgery (Lewis Yocum) and the famed James Andrews (together essentially the two leading experts on the injury and the surgery) have come out in support of the National’s conservative plan.  To every other pundit out there who says something like, “there’s no proof that shutting him down will protect him in the long run,” I’ll say this: I trust the guy with the M.D. behind his name over the internet dork sitting in his mom’s basement who thinks he knows better.

Even my wife has added her 2 cents; while watching Saturday’s game (a pretty amazing back and forth offensive outburst ending with St. Louis scraping a run against Drew Storen to take it 10-9), one of the telecasters added his opinion on the matter and my wife asked me why the Nats didn’t just “let him pitch less” earlier on in the season.  A common theme for Strasburg shutdown critics; to which I say this: if you think the whole shutdown thing isn’t playing will with the Veterans in the Nationals clubhouse, exactly how do you think it would have played out if the entire pitching rotation was manipulated all season on account of one guy?  Baseball is a team game; you have 25 guys out there who contribute to each win, and I’m pretty sure the veterans on this team wouldn’t have taken well to having their routines thrown off in an effort to squeeze 5 more starts out of a 24 yr old (no matter how promising he may be).

But I digress slightly from the point of this post.  I’m of the opinion that we may see an interesting phenomenon occur when Strasburg gets shutdown for the season.  We may see a theory that Bill Simmons has come to popularize called “The Ewing Theory.”  In essence, the theory says that teams with stars who receive an inordinate amount of media attention often perform better once that star has either left the team or gone down with injury.  Teams rally around each other after their star player either leaves or goes down with injury partly because of the “relief” they get from media questions, partly to show that they can win without the big name, and partly (in some cases) because the star player was “holding the team back” by virtue of his presence (this happens more in sports like Basketball, where one player can really command an entire team’s attention; less so in Football or Baseball).  It is named after Patrick Ewing because his 1998-99 New York Knicks ended up in the finals despite Ewing going down with injury.  The phenomena has repeated itself in a number of notable ways over the years; off the top of my head these situations fit the theory:

  • UVA basketball went as far in the NCAA tournament without Ralph Sampson in 1984 than they ever did with him.
  • The NY Giants won the super bowl the year AFTER Tiki Barber retired.
  • The Seattle Mariners won 116 games the year after Alex Rodriguez left as a free agent.
  • The Tennessee Volunteers won the National title the year AFTER Peyton Manning graduated.

I think this team may exhibit a bit of inadvertent Ewing Theory once Strasburg sits.  You have to think the players are tired of being asked about it; who’s to say they won’t just keep on rolling and play even better once Strasburg gets shutdown and the issue is done?  Plus, here’s some corroborating evidence that may help out;

1. After September 12th, the Nats will only miss three Strasburg starts.  The difference between Strasburg starting those three games and John Lannan is likely to be nearly negligible.  Strasburg’s Wins above Replacement (bWAR) figure for the season is 2.6 right now through 26 starts.  That’s .1 WAR per start that Strasburg gives the team over a replacement player.  And Lannan isn’t exactly a replacement-level pitcher; he owns a sub 4.00 ERA and a 103 ERA+ for his career.  Lannan’s WAR for his two spot starts this year?  Exactly .2, or the same .1 WAR contributed per game as Strasburg.

2. Lannan is the quintessential guy pitching for a contract, and in all likelihood will use these three spot starts to showcase himself for his eventual new team in 2013.  It isn’t that Lannan isn’t a good pitcher, its just that he isn’t the type of guy Mike Rizzo likes to have in his rotation (i.e., power arms with high k/9 rates).   So I’d bet dollars to donuts that Lannan pitches three quality games in mid-to-late September, then gets left off the post-season roster and eventually gets non-tendered at the arbitration offer deadline.

3. Of the 6 series that the Nats play between September 12th and the end of the season, at least 3 will be against teams with no playoff implications (home-and-home versus Philadelphia plus a 4-game home series against Milwaukee).  The Nats are also at St. Louis in the second to last series, by which time the Cardinals may very well be completely out of the Wild Card race.  If the end of 2011 showed us anything, its that teams out of playoff contention in September have a tendency to play really, really weak lineups of prospects and September 1 call-ups.  Look at some of the lineups that the Nats faced in September of last year (especially some of the New York line-ups): they were literally two regulars and 7 AAA guys.  There’s no reason to think that the Nats won’t improve on the .655 winning percentage they’ve had for the last two months despite not having Strasburg in the rotation.

But, the critic may say, wouldn’t you rather have Strasburg pitching Game 1 of your divisional series?  Well, yes of course.  In arguably putting out a playoff rotation of Strasburg-Gonzalez-Zimmermann-Jackson is better than Gonzalez-Zimmermann-Jackson-Detwiler.  But, our playoff rotation is still pretty darn good.  Using the probable playoff teams as of this writing, here’s how our playoff rotation would rank with other NL playoff teams (the ranking is league rank in ERA)

  • Washington: Gonzalez (12), Zimmermann (8), Jackson (17), Detwiler (13).  Strasburg, btw, is 10th.
  • Cincinnati: Cueto (1), Latos (27), Arroyo (29), Bailey (37).  Leake, their #5 starter, is 43rd.
  • San Francisco: Cain (4), Vogelsong (9), Bumgarner (11), Zito (42).  Except there’s no way they’d go with Zito in a playoff series, so you’d be seeing Lincecum, amazingly ranked 50th of 51 qualifying NL starters in ERA this year.
  • Atlanta: Maholm (14), Hudson (25), Minor (46).  Their likely 4th starter would be Medlen, who in 6 starts has a 1.71ERA.
  • St. Louis: Lohse (3), Wainwright (32), Westbrook (33).  Their likely 4th starter would be Garcia over Lynn, but Garcia’s era would rank him 45th or so if he qualified.

San Francisco’s rotation looks pretty tough.  Until you remember that the Nats swept them at home and just beat them 2 of 3 on the road for a 5-1 season split.  In fact, of probable playoff teams here’s the Nats current season records:

  • Cincinnati: 5-2.  We beat them 3 of 4 in April, then took 2 of 3 in Cincinnati in May.
  • San Francisco: 5-1.  Swept at home, took 2 of 3 on the road.
  • Atlanta: 10-5 at current, with 3 critical games in Atlanta in mid September.
  • St. Louis: 3-1 in the series just concluded, with a 3 game set in St. Louis in late September.

Wow.  I didn’t even realize just how well the Nats have played against the league’s best until I looked it up.  This has to give any Nats fan some serious confidence heading into a playoff series, no matter who we may end up playing.

Here’s hoping the Strasburg shutdown doesn’t affect the team as much as pundits seem to believe.

Nats Rotation Cycle 2012 #1: good/bad/soso

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Surprise 5th starter Detwiler turned in your best outing of the first Rotation Cycle. Photo Cathy T via nationalsdailynews.com

It has been so long since I did one of these, that I nearly forgot that I used to do them :-)

For the uninitiated, I try to do a quick recap of our starters each turn through the rotation, culminating in 33 “rotation cycle” posts that can be seen if you click on the “Nats Rotation Review” category tag to the right.  If I’ve seen the game, I’ll give more detailed analysis based on my observations.  Otherwise I’m recapping the box score and interpreting the stats to come to a conclusion.  The focus is on the starters, but there is a section for relievers and the offense.

The classifications are not very scientific; usually good, bad or mediocre/soso.  If someone is great or awful, we’ll note that as well.

Good

  • Stephen Strasburg looked healthy and in command on opening day 4/5 (box/gamer), getting a no decision after 7 complete innings.  His line: 7ip, 5 hits, 1 ER, 5K and 1BB.  More importantly he was only on 82 pitches through 7 innings, a very efficient work day.  A couple of these hits were relatively weak (one an infield pop fly that fell between 4 infielders, another a scoring issue that probably was a hit).  Its not difficult to look unhittable when its 41 degrees and the wind is blowing in, but Strasburg seems to be adopting the same strategy as his compatriot Jordan Zimmermann: pitch efficiently, pitch to contact, and keep your pitch counts down so you go deeper into games.  It may not be as flashy as a 14-K effort, but if it leads to wins everyone is happy.
  • Jordan Zimmermann‘s first start on 4/8 (box/gamer) was just as effective as Strasburg’s; unfortunately for Zimmermann he went up against a buzz-saw in Jeff Samardzija and his offense couldn’t help.  Zimmermann took the loss on a day when he went 7 complete innings on just 80 pitches, giving up 6 hits, 0 walks and one earned run.   This is the classic adage of why W/L records are misleading; if Zimmermann pitches this way all year as our #3 starter we’re going to go far.
  • Ross Detwiler‘s rotation spot won’t be going away any time soon if he continues outings like 4/10 (box/gamer).  5 innings, 2 hits and a walk with 6 Ks to earn the win.   Detwiler picks up where he left off last summer and gives immediate validation to the Lannan– demotion decision.

Bad

  • Yes, its bad when your marquee off-season acquisition Gio Gonzalez fails to get out of the 4th inning in  his debut start.  Gonzalez struggled with control and with effectiveness on 4/7 (box/gamer) and gave up 4 runs on 7 hits and 3 walks.  He did have 6 strikeouts in his 3 2/3 innings, so there’s that.  His fastball was hopping; 95mph in the first two innings, averaging about 93 on the day.  He threw mostly fastballs but wasn’t getting the swing-and-miss effect like he needed.  Of course, an outing like this isn’t helped in the analysts’ minds when Tommy Milone (the 4th best prospect sent the other way in the trade) pitched 8 shutout innings in his debut.  Lets hope this is first-start jitters.

Mediocre/Inconclusive

  • Edwin Jackson‘s 4/9 start (box/gamer) wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t as effective as we would have liked.  He was a victim of the long-ball, giving up 3 runs on 4 hits and a walk in 5 innings.  He did have 6 punchouts on a night where he threw a ton of off-speed stuff (only 42 of his 78 pitches were fast-balls; he threw a ton of sliders on the night).   The homer he gave up ended any chance of his getting a W on the night on a game that was more or less thrown away by replacement starter Henry Rodriguez.

Starter Trends

MLB Trends (through Detwiler 4/10 Cycle 1)

Strasburg    good
Gonzalez    bad
Zimmermann    good
Jackson    soso
Detwiler    good

Relievers of Note and other News

  • So far its looking like Brad Lidge may be the steal of the FA market.  He’s throwing well, his slider is back and he’s closing out save opportunities for just $1m.
  • So far, its looking like the “bad” Henry Rodriguez from 2011; a 0.00 ERA but a 2.25 whip and a loss by virtue of his own throwing error.
  • Ryan Mattheus isn’t doing himself any favors right now and may not be long for this bullpen.  Of course then again its looking like Drew Storen is closer to Tommy John surgery than returning to the field, having visited Dr. James Andrews this week.  Meanwhile, surprise 25-man roster includee Craig Stammen is performing decently in a swing-man role and looks to stick.

Thoughts on the offense

  • Adam LaRoche comes out on fire, a shock considering he’s usually a slow starter and the fact that he looked beyond awful in the first game, waving weakly at curveballs in the dirt.  Ian Desmond looks like the Desmond of September, which is great news.
  • Meanwhile, in a completely unsurprising development Roger Bernadina has started out the season 3-for-20.  Why aren’t we looking for a CF again?
  • Too bad Chad Tracy doesn’t have any OF flexibility; he’s looked great off the bench so far.

Overall Summary

Can’t argue with an away series win, despite the weakened nature of the opponent in Chicago.  We could get a second away-series win tonight if one stud young Ace (Strasburg) can beat one come-back Ace (Johan Santana).  That’s the way to go in baseball; play .500 on the road and play .600 ball at home and you’re a 90 win team in an era where 90 wins almost certainly guarantees post-season play.