Nationals Arm Race

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

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Nats Trivia: Home Opener and Record Attendance Figures 2014 Edition

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Here’s some useless trivia related to the Nats home openers, now that we have the Nats 10th home opener in the books.

Nats Trivia: capacity of Nats park? 

  • 41,888 at opening
  • 41,546 in 2010
  • 41,506 in 2011
  • 41,487 in 2012
  • 41,418 in 2013
  • 41,506 for 2014

Interesting how the capacity has slightly decreased each year but jumped for this year.  Do we know where they’re adding/removing seats?   By the way, RFK capacity: 45,596 per wikipedia/ballparks.com.

Nats All-time Record attendance?

  • 45,966 10/12/12 game 5 2012 NLDS

Other/Previous Attendance Records

  • 45,274 Opening Day 2013 (new and current Regular Season record for Nats park)
  • 45,017 10/10/12 first home playoff game
  • 44,685 8/20/11 vs Phillies (longer standing Nats park record)
  • 41,985 6/24/09 vs Boston. (Nats reg-season record standard bearer for a while in the new stadium)
  • 45,157 Fathers day 2006 vs Yankees (long standing Regular season Record)
  • 45,596 RFK franchise opener (long standing franchise attendance record)

Opening Day Attendances and weather through the years

  • 2014: 42,834 (1:05 Friday game, 50s and overcast)
  • 2013: 45,274 (1:05 Monday game, 60 and beautiful)
  • 2012: 40,907 (1:05 Thursday game 56, partly cloudy)
  • 2011: 39,055 (1:05 Thursday game, 41 degrees and overcast)
  • 2010: 41,290 (1pm game Monday, beautiful weather 80s and sunny): this was the “Phillies invasion” game.
  • 2009: 40,386 (3pm game on a Monday, chilly 53degr and overcast).
  • 2008: 39,389 (season and stadium opener), 8pm Sunday night, nat’l tv, clear but very cold.
  • 2007: 40,389 (in rfk, 1pm game vs Florida, 72degrees)
  • 2006: 40,516 (in rfk, Tuesday day game vs Mets, 72degr and sunny)
  • 2005: 45,596 (in rfk, debut of entire franchise, 62degr and clear, evening game)

Opening Day Box Scores and Results

Nats are 4-6 in their home openers now since moving to Washington, and they’re just 2-6 in non-stadium openers.  Just one starter has thrown more than one home opener for the Nats: Livan Hernandez.  When Livan gets elected to Cooperstown, I hope he’s wearing the curly W.  :-)

  • 2014: mlb.com or b-r.com.  Braves d Nats 2-1.  WP: Luis Avilan.  LP: Tyler Clippard.  (Starters: Jordan Zimmermann and David Hale).
  • 2013: mlb.com or b-r.com.  Nats d Marlins 2-0.  WP: Stephen Strasburg.  LP: Ricky Nolasco
  • 2012: mlb.com.  Nats d Reds 3-2.  WP: Craig Stammen. LP: Alfredo Simon (Starters: Gio Gonzalez and Mat Latos)
  • 2011: mlb.com.  Braves d Nats 2-0.  WP: Derek Lowe.  LP: Livan Hernandez
  • 2010: mlb.com.  Phillies d Nats 11-1.  WP: Roy Halladay.  LP: John Lannan
  • 2009: mlb.com.  Phillies d Nats 9-8.  WP: Jamie Moyer.  LP: Saul Rivera (Nats Starter: Daniel Cabrera)
  • 2008: mlb.com.  Nats d Braves 3-2.  WP: Jon Rauch.  LP: Peter Moylan (Starters: Tim Hudson and Odalis Perez)
  • 2007: mlb.com.  Marlins d Nats 9-2.  WP: Dontrelle Willis.  LP: John Patterson
  • 2006: mlb.com.  Mets d Nats 7-1.  WP: Brian Bannister.  LP: Ramon Ortiz
  • 2005: mlb.com.  Nats beat Arizona 5-3. WP: Livan Hernandez. LP: Javier Vazquez

Ladson’s Inbox 2/5/13

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Lots of questions about Gonzalez and Garcia this week. Photo unknown credit.

Hey, what great timing for another Bill Ladson inbox (posted 2/5/13).  Baseball news is light, pitchers and catchers report in a week or so, and I’m not quite ready to continue my Stats series.

As always, I write my answer before reading his, and sometimes edit questions for clarity:

Q: Do you think general manager Mike Rizzo will add starting pitching depth before Opening Day? Does the lingering possibility of a Gio Gonzalez suspension change whom the Nationals would consider acquiring?

A: In Ladson’s 1/22/13 mailbag, some one asked what could prevent the Nats as constructed from winning the World Series in 2013.  I answered Rotation Injuries and Luck.  Well, in the wake of the Miami PED scandal, I guess the third answer may be “PED scandal.”

This is a tough question to answer; Gio Gonzalez has denied the rumors, but the newspaper in question (the Miami New Times) clearly only named Gonzalez because they felt like the evidence they had in hand was irrefutable.  Many other players have not been named.  So as a GM; how do you go about preparing for 2013 at this point?   If Mike Rizzo knows that Gonzalez is getting suspended, you have to think he’s on the horn to his buddy Scott Boras about possibly buying Kyle Lohse, which is clearly the best remaining FA starter.  But Lohse isn’t coming cheap, and likely isn’t coming on a one year deal, and would cost another draft pick (I believe).  The Nats are already topping $120M in payroll; would they go to $135M?

If we think Gio at least gets a pass and the suspension is put off, maybe Rizzo’s recent activities of signing random starters to minor league contracts is going to be sufficient.

Ladson mentions Javier Vazquez and the ever-present rumors of Christian Garcia going to the rotation as possible Gonzalez replacements if he gets suspended quickly.  Probably fair; Vazquez may be a great, cheap alternative.

Q: Everyone is saying that it’s going to be a two-team race in the National League East between the Nationals and Braves. Do you think the Phillies have a shot to contend with both these teams, or is their time done?

A: Boy, its hard to look at the aging, expensive Phillies lineup they had in place in 2012, which suffered injuries and setbacks and creaked their way to a .500 record, and then look at the highly questionable slew of acquisitions and signings this off season (Ben Revere, John Lannan, Michael YoungDelmon Young and everyone’s favorite anti-gay advocate Yuniesky Betancourt) and not, well, giggle at where this team is going.  My favorite baseball joke from the off-season goes like this: “The Phillies wanted to get Younger this off-season, so they signed Michael Young and Delmon Young.”

The two Youngs were both negative WAR players last year, Lannan is a 5th starter, Revere was a backup centerfielder who the Phillies traded some decent assets for, and Betancourt is who he is (though admittedly he’s on a minor league deal and seems at best set to be a utility infielder behind starters Jimmy Rollins and Chase Utley).  I see the Phillies being a very bad defensive team with the two Youngs in the starting lineup, I see some serious questions in the back side of the rotation, and I see continued regression and louder complaints about Ryan Howard‘s contract.  Fun times a-coming in Philadelphia.  Ladson actually says that the Phillies will “be improved with Michael Young.”  Bill!  Have you seen Young’s WAR figures from 2012??  He was a NEGATIVE WAR player at both major War sites.  That means he makes your team worse!    Now, he was completely servicable in 2011 … so if you want to make the argument to me that 2012 was an aberration for an aging hitter playing in a hitter’s park, well I guess that’s a stance you can take.  But pretty much every other pundit in the blogosphere has loudly criticized the Philadelphia moves this off-season.

Q: What is the status of Lucas Giolito? When do you see him pitching in D.C.?

A: Tommy John surgery in Late August (I can’t remember the exact date; it was 8/24/12 when I posted this highly-critical article about Lucas Giolito and the situation), so figuring a typical 12-month rehab session before he’s actively throwing again in pro-games basically puts him at the end of the 2013 minor league season.  Which means he’ll be 20 before he really is ready to start his pro career in the spring of 2014.  Figure 4-5 years average case for typical high schoolers to work their way up the systems (perhaps fewer years given his talents and pedigree, as we’ve seen with someone like Dylan Bundy in 2012, who made his way from low-A to AA in his first pro season out of HS and got a late Sept callup to the majors) and we’re probably looking at 2016-2017 before seeing him in the majors.  If, of course, he recovers from surgery, hasn’t destroyed his mechanics, is effective, matures, doesn’t get re-injured, or any of the million other pitfalls that typically befall high school arms drafted in the upper rounds.  Ladson thinks he’s pitching pro games “after the all-star break” and is in the majors in 3 years.  Wow.  That is optimistic.

Q: How do you think Henry Rodriguez will do? And what do you think his role in the bullpen will be?

A: I am, and always have been, pessimistic on Henry Rodriguez.  I hated the Willingham trade that got him here.  He’s forced the team to invent injuries to stash him on the DL coming out of spring training b/c he has no options.  He led the league in wild pitches in 2011 in just 65 innings.  He had a 69 ERA+ in 2012.  At some point when does the team say, “OK, its nice that he throws 100mph.  But enough is enough; we need a reliable pitcher who can deliver when called upon.”  Perhaps Spring Training 2013 is that time.

What do I think his role will be?  I’m sure he’ll look great in Spring Training again, will break camp with the team, and very well may look halfway decent for a while.  But just like every other season, he’s going to have those 3-walk outings where he pitches a 1/3 of an inning and gives up 4 runs, and then the manager will be afraid to use him unless the team has a 5-run lead.  And eventually we’ll call up Garcia to replace him and move on.  That’s my prediction for Rodriguez.  Ladson says the team should “attempt to trade him if he is not impressive this spring.”  Wow, that’s sage advice; if only every team could trade its under-performing players and actually get value back whenever it wanted.

Q: Can you predict Washington’s Opening Day lineup if all available players are healthy?

A: Easy.  I’ll even predict the batting order.  Span-Werth-Harper-Zimmerman-LaRoche-Desmond-Espinosa-Suzuki-Strasburg.  Ladson predicts the same names but in a lineup order that makes no sense from a lefty-righty balance perspective.

Q: After announcing his retirement, do you think Brian Schneider is a possible candidate to replace Johnson as manager of the Nationals?

A: Wow, yet another speculative question about the future Nationals Manager.   He took a question about the manager on 1/28/13, and on 1/22/13.  And on 1/14/13.   I guess people like speculating on the Nats next manager.  Not repeating what i’ve said on the topic before, is Brian Schneider a candidate?  Why would he possibly be a candidate to manage the major league team of a system he left 5 years ago?  Why would the Nats pick a manager who’s never managed a day in his life?   Ladson breathes some common sense on this one.

Q: I think Garcia has to be on the Opening Day roster, so is he in the bullpen or someplace else? Can the 25-man roster accommodate him and all the other pitchers?

A: “Someplace else?”  Like where?  In the outfield?   I like Garcia too, but the team has a numbers problem in the bullpen.  Storen, Clippard, Mattheus, and Stammen have all more than earned their spots.  Soriano is being paid a ton of money.  Duke is guaranteed a spot (he’s the only lefty and he’s got enough service time to refuse a demotion).  Oh, and Rodriguez has no options.  So there’s your 7-man bullpen.  Notice there’s only one left-hander out there; if you believe that you need left-handers to get left-handed batters out, then the bullpen needs to sacrifice one of the righties in order to have a second lefty (Bill Bray?) in there.

The only way I see Garcia making this bullpen is if the team runs out of patience with Rodriguez and DFAs/DLs him, or if the team trades away one of their closer-quality surplus guys, or if maybe someone like Mattheus/Stammen (both of whom do have options) struggles or gets hurt.  Otherwise look for Garcia to get stretched out and get looks as a starter in AAA.  Ladson says he’s confident Garcia is on the 25-man roster …. ok explain it to me then based on the above paragraph.  Who is he replacing?

Ladson’s inbox 1/22/13

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Does Boras run the Nats? The national narrative certainly seems to think so. Photo Ezra Shaw/Getty images via espn.com

I love a diversion.  Bill Ladson’s inbox is always a diversion.  Here’s 1/22/13’s edition.

Q: Why do the Nationals need another closer in Rafael Soriano?

A: My posted opinion about the deal from 1/15/13.  Did they “need” another closer?  Probably not.  But, innings sent to Rafael Soriano cascades downwards and means that innings that would be given to lesser relievers will now be pitched by Clippard and Storen (assuming one of them isn’t moved of course), and overall the bullpen is improved.  I wonder if Ted Lerner didn’t pull a George Steinbrenner/Dan Snyder-esque move and force a player signing as a reaction to a singular event (aka Storen’s NLDS game 5 meltdown).  Its possible I suppose.  If so, you hate to see moves like this, because it undermines the GM and leads to poorly constructed rosters.  Ladson belives this is a reactionary move to the NLDS bullpen meltdown in total, not just Storen’s misfortunes.

Q: It seems like Washington takes all of Scott Boras’ clients and puts them on its roster.

A: I hate this Urban Myth that now pervades anyone’s analysis every time the Nats sign a Scott Boras client.  Check the proof: MLBtraderumors keeps a player agent database and guess what?  The Nats don’t even have the most clients of Boras.   The Nats have 7 Boras clients but Boston has 8.  Plus, three of the 7 Boras clients the Nats have were no-brainer 1st round draft picks (Harper, Strasburg and Rendon, and you could even argue a 4th such Boras pick in Goodwin that the team would have taken at that point in the draft irrespective of his representation) that the team was likely going to draft and sign no matter who represented them.  The fact is this: the Nats have become a premier FA destination, Boras represents a lot of good players on the FA, and the Nats have hired some of his players.  When Boston or Texas hires a Boras client, you don’t suddenly hear people sarcastically asking, “Does Boras run the Red Sox?” now do you?  I think its great that Rizzo and Boras have a good working relationship, because other teams/GMs do not, and it affects the quality of their teams as a result.  Ladson defends my point as well, saying similar things to what I’ve pointed out.

Q: Does the Nationals’ front office regret not making Edwin Jackson a qualifying offer? It seems he would have signed elsewhere and the Nats would have received a compensation pick that would help the farm system.

A: Great Question!  One I asked in this space myself on 11/5/12.  I honestly think the team believed that Edwin Jackson, who had a history of signing one year deals, would have taken the contract.  Either that or there was a hand-shake deal in place stating that the team wouldn’t extend the offer.  I don’t truly believe the latter part of this, because (as others have pointed out) it’d be illegal as per the latest CBA.  Either way, I thought it was a mistake at the time and the Nats indeed missed the opportunity to gain an extra pick.  Ladson believes point #1; he thinks the team was afraid that Jackson would take the deal.

Q: If there was one thing that could hold the Nationals back from winning the World Series this year, what would it be?

A: I’ll give you two things that could prevent the team from winning.  1) Injuries in our Rotation and 2) bad luck.  We’re very thin in terms of starters and a season-ending injury to one of our big names would be a bad impediment.  And, the playoffs are crap-shoots; 83 win teams (St. Louis in 2006) can get hot and win it all while 116 win teams (Seattle in 2001) get beat easily before ever getting to the World Series.   That being said, even a starter injury probably wouldn’t be fatal to this team’s chances of making the playoffs; the Mets and Marlins are moving backwards, the Braves seem to be treading water, and the Phillies are getting older by the day.  The division is there for the taking even without winning 98 games again.  Ladson says injuries.

Q: Is it true that the Nationals are interested in Kyle Lohse and plan to put Ross Detwiler in the bullpen?

A: Man, I hope not.  I like Kyle Lohse but there’s a reason he’s still on the FA market despite a TON of teams needing pitching help (and it isn’t just because of the lost draft pick).  He’s really not THAT good.  He had (easily) his best season last year, the definition of a contract year if there ever was one.  Career 98 ERA+.  I think he’s a good fit for a team that needs a 3rd starter, but the Nats aren’t that team.  I made my arguments for keeping Ross Detwiler in the rotation on 1/16/13, when rumors swirled about the team looking at Javier Vazquez.  Who would you rather roll the dice with?  A young, up and coming power lefty or a soft-tossing righty who’ll be 34 next year?  I think buying another $12M/year starter and pushing Detwiler to the bullpen just for the reason of “needing another lefty” in the bullpen is arbitrary and would be a waste of Detwiler’s promising 2012.  Ladson agrees, saying that Davey Johnson likes Detwiler in the rotation.

Q: Would Mark DeRosa be a viable managerial candidate for the Nationals in 2014?

A: Random question.  What makes you think Mark DeRosa won’t still be playing in 2014?  Plus, what ties does he have to this organization that would make you think that the Nats think he’s the heir apparent?  I mean, if we’re talking about former players who have put in the time with this organization, look no further than Matt LeCroy, who played for the team and has been managing in our minor league system for years.  Personally, I think the team will go with a “celebrity manager” when the time comes.  Ladson expresses some surprise at the question as well.

Q: After he was acquired from the Athletics for Michael Morse, where does A.J. Cole fall on the Nationals’ list of prospects?

A: I’d say he’s probably 3rd in line, after Rendon and Goodwin.  That’s about where he was when he was still in the system, and despite his rough 2012 in the California league he’s still very promising.  Ladson says 3rd, as does mlb.com’s rankings for the team.

Q: What did you think of what the Nationals received for Morse? Could they have gotten more — a Major League lefty reliever in addition to a starting prospect? Is the problem that Morse only had a total of two good seasons?

A: I think the Nats got what they could for Morse, frankly.  I would have liked to have seen a MLB lefty and a starting pitcher prospect in the lower-to mid minors.  Lots of people were using the Josh Willingham trade as a comp; both players are similar (both are good offense, no defense type guys in the last year of an affordable contract).  Willingham netted us a mlb reliever and a high-minors OF prospect.  However Morse’s defensive inabilities preceed him reputationally, and many scouts perceive his 2011 as a one-off instead of a ceiling of potential.  Ladson says they made a great deal.

Nats & Vazquez; Do people really think Detwiler is going to the bullpen?

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Do people really think Detwiler is heading to the bullpen? Photo: Haraz Ghanbari/AP via federalbaseball.com

By now we’ve all seen the reports; the Nats have been to Puerto Rico to scout Javier Vazquez, the veteran starter who inexplicably “retired” after an effective 2011 at the age of 34.  According to Adam Kilgore‘s initial reports and as stated in other places on line Vazquez is apparently hitting the mid 90s in winter ball and is looking to possibly re-start his pro career.  Kilgore reports that the Nats are looking to offer Vazquez a minor league contract with an “out clause” if he’s not assigned to the Majors by a certain date.

This out clause arrangement seems to make perfect sense for the Nats.  We have a full rotation, we need starter depth in AAA, and Vazquez is a risk having been out of the league for a year, despite how good he looks in a winter ball league that rates at best at being a “weak AAA” level of talent.

What I don’t understand in some of these reports is the claim that the team would love to sign Vazquez and then drop Ross Detwiler to the bullpen.  Mike Axisa from MLBtraderumors stated as much in his report and I got into it with a NY-based blogger who keeps stating that Detwiler “belongs” in the bullpen without really giving much in the way of proof.

Here’s what Detwiler did in 2012: 10-8, 3.40 ERA and a 1.22 whip in 164 1/3 innings and 27 starts.  He posted a 117 ERA+, good for 12th in the league among qualified starters.  He’s a lefty who averages 92-93 and can reach 96 in a division with a number of teams with lefty power (especially Philadelphia).  And he saved the Nats bacon by giving the team its best post-season start in the NLCS.  He is still cheap (he’s first year arbitration eligible this year), meaning he provides great value for the dollar as a starter.

Why exactly would the Nats be looking to replace Detwiler in the rotation??  And why would the team be looking at a reclamation project like Vazquez to be his replacement?  Vazquez’s 2011 numbers were good (13-11, 3.69 era, 1.183 whip) but not earth shattering (106 ERA+ in 2011 after getting hammered in New York the year prior).   Detwiler was a significantly better pitcher by this measure in 2012 than Vazquez was in 2011.   If you had the 12th best pitcher (by ERA+) in the league installed as your 5th starter, why exactly would you be looking to replace him?

Then there’s the “personnel issues” involved with Vazquez at this point.  Why did he walk away from the game?  Wouldn’t you be concerned about his committment levels and his drive at this point?  Why would a team want to give him anything other than a non-guaranteed deal?

Yes, I realize the team’s bullpen, as it is currently constructed, is light on left-handed relievers.  We’ll ignore for the time being the fact that our existing RHPs out there mostly have good lefty splits.  If you go on the assumption that the team “needs” another left handed reliever, there are certainly better ways to fill that spot than by wasting an excellent starter by putting him in the pen.  Any statistical measure of player value will show you that even a medicore starter is usually “worth” more than even an excellent closer; sometimes FAR more.  A quick proof: Craig Kimbrel‘s 2012 season as the Braves closer was epic and historical, and was worth a 3.6 fWAR.  That would only have qualified him for 25th in the league, tied with Kyle Lohse and just ahead of our own Jordan Zimmermann.   And that was for one of the best reliever seasons ever seen.  Rafael Soriano was an excellent closer last  year and only had an fWar of 1.2, a more typical closer number, which would have been about 77th in the league in fWAR, around what Bruce Chen and Edinson Volquez provided in 2012.

In the end, it may not matter; if Vazquez is coming back there’s plenty of teams that make much more sense for him to join that would give him a guaranteed MLB deal and a guaranteed rotation spot.  Any of the bottom 4-5 teams in my Rotation Rankings would make sense.  Returning to Miami would make too much sense, based on where he pitched last and proximity to his home in Puerto Rico.  But it bugs me just the same that people don’t use some common sense when looking at what Detwiler gave the team last year and assuming that he is better served in the bullpen to make way for a lesser pitcher.  I’ll fully admit; I have not always been a Detwiler fan.  But after what he showed the team in 2012, I think you stick with him in 2013 no matter what.

NL East Rotation Preview

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Remember this guy? He’ll be 100% for next spring and may spell a changing of the guard in the division. Photo via AllansGraphics.com

With major moves being made this off-season for the rotations of the NL East teams, we seem set to be in store for some serious pitching duels intradivision in 2012.  How do the rotations stack up, right now?  If the season started tomorrow, here’s what we’d be looking at for rotations:

Philadelphia Atlanta Miami Washington New York
#1 Halladay Hudson Johnson Strasburg Santana?
#2 Lee Jurrjens Buehrle Gonzalez Dickey
#3 Hamels Hanson Sanchez Zimmermann Pelfrey
#4 Worley Beachy Nolasco Jackson Niese
#5 Pineiro Delgado Zambrano Wang Gee
In the mix Blanton, Kendrick, Willis? Minor, Teheran Vazquez?Volstad, LeBlanc Lannan, Detwiler, Gorzelanny Young? Schwinden?

By team, some observations:

  • Philadelphia plans on replacing Roy Oswalt‘s 2011 starts with a call-up who looked pretty good last year in Worley. Joe Blanton looks like the odd-man out and his $8.5M salary may be wasted by virtue of an underrated but saavy acquisition of Joel Pineiro.  The Oswalt trade didn’t give the team what it seeked (a World Series title) but it didn’t cost them a ton in prospects either (JA Happ didn’t exactly light it up for Houston).  They’ve signed Dontrelle Willis for rotation depth.  Still, you can’t argue with three Cy Young candidates at the top of your rotation, and this team remains the team to beat in the division despite injuries (Ryan Howard) and aging (every single projected starter not named Hunter Pence is 30 or older, and Pence will be 29).   The pitching staff was #1 in ERA in the NL and I can’t imagine them dropping far from that.    If Worley performs like he did in 2011, and if Pineiro returns to his St. Louis form, then this is just as tough a 1-5 as last year.
  • Atlanta should have won the wild card last year and seems set to roll out a rather similar rotation this year.  They’ll replace their worst starter Derek Lowe with starts from one of three up-and-coming rookies (I’ve got Delgado slated there now but likely Mike Minor wins the #5 spot in spring training) and should be improved.  Hudson is a year older and hasn’t missed a start in 2 years, but is slow coming back from off-season back surgery and may or may not be ready for opeing day.  The staff was #4 in the NL in team ERA and should do nothing but improve … but there’s some serious injury question marks.  Their incredible SP minor league depth should get them through.
  • Miami has a some major question marks, despite acquiring Mark Buehrle to slot into their #2 spot.  They will cross their fingers on Josh Johnson; if he’s not healthy this team will be really hurt.  Nolasco can be brilliant or awful from start to start.   We still don’t know if Vazquez is retiring or returning; my initial guess would have been that he was too good in 2011 (3.69 era, 106 era+) and too young (reportedly 34 but i’ve never heard of any age-questioning here) to retire.  To provide cover though, the team traded for the volatile but possibly still talented Carlos Zambrano to slot in at #5.  Which Zambrano will they get?  And will his notorious clubhouse antics gibe with new hot-head manager Ozzie Guillen? On paper, a 1-5 of Johnson, Buehrle, Nolasco, Sanchez and Zambrano spells an awful lot of power and a lot of Ks.  They could be tough.  They should improve on last year’s #10 team ERA ranking.
  • Washington just got a lot better, replacing 29 mostly awful Livan Hernandez starts with a healthy Stephen Strasburg and likewise replacing 35 combined mediocre starts out of Jason Marquis and Tom Gorzelanny with newly acquired power lefty Gio Gonzalez and power righty Edwin Jackson. They were 6th in the NL in team ERA, have mostly the same bullpen in place (5th best in the league in ERA in 2011) and seem set to improve.   Chien-Ming Wang seems set for the #5 spot, leaving John Lannan potentially being the most expensive pitcher in Syracuse.   The jeopardy the team now has is an utter lack of starting pitching depth; Peacock and Milone WERE our 2012 rotational safety nets; now we have just Detwiler, Gorzelanny and a couple guys who clearly seem to be AAA starters.  For this reason the team probably keeps Lannan around with the eventual goal of having him provide cover until our next wave of high-end pitching prospects develop.  Either way, this rotation and bullpen look to be improved from 2011.
  • New York faces a grim 2012, not only in the rotation but also in the front office.  We’re hearing reports that Johan Santana is still too hurt to make opening day (though he’s since spelled some of these concerns with his first spring training outing).  Converted knuckleballer R.A. Dickey spent his off-season in a nasty fight with management over his charity climb of Mt. Kilimanjaro.  All their other starters posted ERAs in the mid to upper 4’s (or worse) with ERA+ figures in the 78-82 range.  And there doesn’t seem to be help coming on the Free Agency front (since the team can’t afford to keep operations running without bank loans) or on the prospect front (a quick glance at their AAA and AA starting talent resulted in ONE starter who had a minor league era in the respectable range, an 18th rounder in AA).  I think this team is finishing dead last in 2012 and may lose 100 games despite their payroll.  And to add insult to injury, the owners were just forced to cough up $83 million in a pre-trial settlement over their Madhoff scandal involvement.  Tough times are ahead for the Mets.

What do you guys think?  In terms of Washington, more than a few pundits have stated that the addition of Gonzalez makes the Nats a wild card contender, right now, and that was before the Jackson move finally brought some plaudits from typically cynical national baseball writers when considering signings by this franchise.

Do you think the Nats have now supplanted the Braves as having the 2nd best rotation in the division (as ESPN’s Buster Olney is opining?)  I think they have; I think Atlanta’s starters may be taking a slight step back while our quintet looks to be a solid, young but relatively experienced core.

2011 FA Market Analysis and Predictions for Starting Pitching

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Is CJ Wilson worth a 9 figure contract this off season? We’ll see. Photo Chris O’Meara/AP via livesportsdb.com

As the World Series ends, and as clubs start exercising (or more importantly, declining) player options, the FA market for starting pitching is starting to really take shape this off season.

The Nats don’t “need” Starting Pitching as they have in the past, but a quality veteran starting pitcher would certainly be preferred to the question marks that we might have if we used the likes of Ross Detwiler, Tommy Milone or Brad Peacock as a 5th starter in 2012.

Lets take a look at the starters on the market, put in some predictions as to what kind of money they’re going to get, and discuss whether or not the Nats should (or might) pursue them.  For reference, here’s a list of 2012 FAs from mlbtraderumors, as well as the Elias rankings as of the end of the 2011 season.  Remember, thanks to their end of the season run, the Nats 1st round pick is NOT protected and would be forfeited if they signed a type-A free agent.  So the FA types will be of importance when talking about each of the pitchers below.

Category: Aces (or nearly Aces) and Type-A starters.

  • CC Sabathia seems certain to opt-out of his remaining Yankee contract and will almost certainly re-up with the team.  11/1/11: he has done just that.  5yrs, $122M, fewer years honestly than I thought he’d demand.  He raises his AAV from $23M in the last deal to $24.4M and gets one additional guaranteed year.  The structure of the deal pays him $23M/year for the first four years, then $25M the last.  There’s an option for 2017 at $25M that he most likely makes if he stays healthy.
  • CJ Wilson is also a type-A FA and seems set on testing the market.  I would too if I were Wilson; I don’t think he’s an ace but he’s certainly going to be paid like one.  He seems set to get an AJ Burnett type deal (5yrs $85M) or perhaps more.  I hope the Nats don’t over-spend and get him.  I’d guess he heads to Boston; his free-spirit personal seems to fit with that franchise and the team just got a shock bit of news that John Lackey, despite how bad he was in 2011, is out for the entirety of 2012 with Tommy John surgery.
  • Roy Oswalt had his team option for $16M bought out on 10/25/11, but I’m guessing this is just a procedural move to re-sign him and keep the “big 4″ together for a few more years.  Oswalt’s on the wrong side of 30 and had a rough season of declining stats and missed starts, but still slots in as the best #4 starter in baseball and certainly didn’t come to Philadelphia for anything less than a World Series shot.  I’d guess he re-ups for 3 years, $36M with the Phillies.  Other pundits disagree and see him moving back to Texas to take over Wilson’s #1 spot on the Rangers rotation.
  • Edwin Jackson: another guy whose post season performances seem certain to hurt his FA prospects.  Big arm, good numbers, right age (only 28 hitting free agency), but a propensity to get hit hard and often.  Mike Rizzo loves him, tried to trade Adam Dunn for him in 2010, and it wouldn’t be a stretch to see the Nats go after him again.  Look for him signing with the Nats for 3 years and $28M.  Unless a pitching-starved big-money team like Boston or New York offers him a ton more than that.  I’m not really in favor of this deal for the Nats, but wouldn’t be surprised to see it happen.
  • Yu Darvish: as I opined here, I really do hope that the Nats do not spend fools money after Darvish.  A posting fee in the $40-$50M range, then at least that amount to sign the guy.  I know he’s got great numbers in Japan.  So did Dice-K.  There’s a halfway decent chance he doesn’t even get posted this year, so all ink spilled over Darvish could be moot.  Baseball Prospectus put out a great article about Darvish, including lots of analysis and links to others who share the same concerns that I do.  If you’re in the “pro-Yu” camp there’s a couple good articles on places like fangraphs that support your case.

Category: Mid-rotation/decent starting options.

  • Mark Buehrle is hitting the FA market, but i’d be shocked if he leaves Chicago at this point in his career.  I’m sure he’ll take a team friendly deal that extends his career out 3-4 more years, at which point he may very well retire a one-franchise guy with a surprisingly high number of career wins.
  • Hiroki Kuroda just finished off a sneaky-good season, going 13-16 with a 3.07 era.  The problem is that he’s 36 and had a ton of innings on his arm in the Nippon league prior to getting here.  He’d be a risk.  The Dodgers franchise is a mess but its the only team he’s known, and I’d guess he wants to stay on the west coast.  I’d guess he gets a decent 2-year deal from Seattle if the Dodgers can’t find the money.
  • Javier Vazquez looked washed up during last year’s FA market analysis, having lost 3-4 mph on his fastball and getting shelled in NY.  However, he had a great bounce-back season in Miami and i’d guess he re-ups there for the new season and new stadium.  However, there’s word out there that he may retire.  Hard to see a guy who just put in a decent, comeback season retire though, especially if guaranteed money is thrown around.

Category: Aging/Back of the Rotation starters

  • Bruce Chen has very quietly put together two pretty good seasons for the Royals all things considered, but will be 35 and may see a precipitous drop in production.  He’s not any better than the options the Nats face now, when you consider price and productivity.
  • Freddie Garcia had a revelation of a season for the Yankees; I’d think he stays there as insurance for 2012.   Still hard to believe the Yankees won 97 games giving no less than 51 starts to Garcia and Colon.
  • Bartolo Colon is in the same boat as Garcia, but is 38 to his 34 and may be cut loose to find another team willing to give him a shot with his stem-cell enhanced shoulder.
  • Joel Pineiro has never stayed healthy long enough to reach his potential, and he just laid an egg in his contract year in LA.  I’d be surprised if he got anything more than a 1yr $5M deal.
  • Aaron Harang: beware the veteran pitcher who goes to San Diego and suddenly looks like a #2 starter.  2011 numbers: 14-7, 3.64 era.  Home/Away splits?  3.05 era at home, 4.70 on the road.  I’m sure he’ll get some money, somewhere for a back-of-the-rotation job.
  • Livan Hernandez reportedly offered to move to the bullpen for the Nats, in order to stay here.  Unfortunately he pitched so poorly, and takes so long to warm up, that using him in extended relief really isn’t much of an option.  My guess is that Livan returns to his roots in Miami as the Marlins’ 5th starter on the cheap and enjoys one more spin around the league.
  • Jason Marquis, in a remarkable sense of timing by the Nats, was traded for Zack Walters and then promptly broke his leg.  Its too bad for Marquis, who clearly was using 2011 to regain some market value for his free agency this off-season.  At this point he certainly won’t be getting any 2year deals for 8 figures.  I’d guess he gets a 1yr $4M deal with some incentives, if that.
  • Chien-Ming Wang, by virtue of being in THIS section and not the next, has already had a successful 2011.  He is what he is right now; a guy trying to reclaim former glory and his former sinking fastball, and a guy who looks like a #4 starter who has capabilities of improving as he gets more and more innings into his repaired shoulder.  My guess is that he repays the Nats for nursing him back to health while providing him millions in salary and signs for a 2-year deal worth roughly $6-7M overall.
  • Tim Wakefield; I would have predicted him to possibly hang up the spikes until news of Lackey’s injury and Dice-K’s question mark.  Wakefield’s stats have really declined the past two years, but Boston seems in need of a back of the rotation guarantee that Wakefield’s $4M standing salary can fill, cheaply.
  • Brad Penny, Jeff FrancisPaul Maholm, Chris Capuano, Vicente Padilla, Rodrigo Lopez, Zack Duke, Aaron Cook, Kevin Milwood, Dontrelle Willis and anyone else not already mentioned: all of these guys were either so mediocre in 2011, went unsigned in 2011, or are so old, that i’d be surprised if more than just a few of them got major league deals for 2012.

Category: Reclamation Projects/Injury recovery guys.  The Nats have a history of pursuing former glory with recovering stars.  Would they try it again?

  • Adam Wainwright: his injury in spring training 2011 amazingly didn’t really cost the Cardinals, who marched right into the World Series without their #2 starter.  Wainwright’s injury couldn’t have been worsely timed in terms of his contract options; St Louis dodges a major payroll bullet by being able to opt out of millions of dollars of guaranteed money.  But Wainwright is free to look elsewhere.  Will he?  Doubtful: i’d guess he signs a one-year incentive-laden contract with St. Louis aimed towards regaining his career.  10/26/11 update: the team exercised its options on Wainwright, meaning he’s off the market.
  • Justin Duchscherer: had some lights out seasons, but missed all of 2009 and 2011 with injury.  Will anyone take a flier on him?
  • Chris Young and his 6′ 10″ faster-than-it-seems fastball only got 4 starts (2 against the Nats) before getting shoulder surgery.  Seems to run in the NY Mets family (see Santana, Johan).  It wasn’t as bad a surgery as it could have been, and he should return for 2012.  He’s now missed games in 4 straight seasons and its buyer-beware.
  • Jon Garland had season-ending surgery in July after just 9 starts, but when healthy is a 105 ERA+ guy, a 4th starter who can eat innings and be solid.  He had great durability up until this injury, having not missed a start since 2002.  But now its not clear if he’ll even be ready for 2012.
  • Ben Sheets is in almost the identical spot as Duchscherer; ironically both have a history of pitching in Oakland.
  • Rich Harden; mr Day Game split (or Mr. Unreliable Injury guy, if you play fantasy baseball) just finished yet another unproductive season with a 5+ ERA pitching in one of the best pitchers parks in baseball.  He seems set for a minor league contract for one last flier at a comeback.
  • Eric Bedard wasn’t half bad for Boston down the stretch, with a 9.0 k/9 rate on the season.  But at the end of the season he was yanked early in two critical games and i’d bet the team won’t be willing to roll the dice with him again.  We’ll see who overpays for his injury-plagued services in 2012.  With Boston’s sudden shortage of starters, look for Bedard to resign in Boston and start the year as Boston’s #4.
  • Brandon Webb: got some looks in spring training 2011, including from the Nats, but then went under the knife yet again.  You can usually come back from TJ surgery.  Shoulders are tougher.  He may be done.

Predictions:  I’d guess the Nats throw their name in the mix for Wilson but get scared off by his price tag.  Maybe we’ll post a respectable figure for Darvish.  But Rizzo goes hard after Jackson and we get him.  Meanwhile Rizzo also signs one of these injury reclamation projects to a nominal guaranteed contract to see what pans out.

Ladson’s Inbox 4/1/11 edition

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Is Ankiel the solution for the Nats in center field? Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images via federalbaseball.com

Editors note: I was out of town last weekend and had this queued up but never hit publish :-).

MLB’s Nationals beat writer Bill Ladson hasn’t done an inbox for a few weeks, probably because he’s been busy at spring training.  Now that the regular season has started and we’ve had some debatable 25-man roster decisions made, he has published another edition of his Inbox column.  Here’s how i’d answer the questions he selects…

Q: What are you most worried about with the Nationals in 2011?

A: I’d say, in order, offense, the starting rotation, center field, and the back end of the bullpen.  I feel like we took a step backwards in terms of offense, we have improved the rotation over last year but still would probably rank this rotation 28th or 29th in the league, that Rick Ankiel in center field doesn’t really help us a ton, and that Drew Storen had such a rough spring that our end-of-game scenarios may be challenging.

Q: How do you think the Nationals will fare this season in the National League East with their off-season signings?

A: Probably the same as last year; last place.  Philadelphia and Atlanta are probably playoff bound no matter how many injuries the Phillies sustain.  Florida is probably taking a step side ways, having lost Uggla but picked up Vazquez (honestly, I don’t see how their fans don’t revolt at their perennial 87 win team doesn’t spend the $10 needed to improve themselves to be a 92 win team and challenge for the wild card).  The Nats may finish above the Mets, if only because that franchise is in such disarray right now.  They’re eating more than $20M in salary for players they’ve already released, they made no significant off-season moves and there’s serious injury question marks around 4 of their 5 best paid players (Santana, Beltran, Bay and Francisco Rodriguz).  I can see that time imploding badly and the Nats sneaking ahead of them for 4th place, maybe.

Q: If Bryce Harper has an amazing year in the Minors, is there a chance he will get a Major League callup?

A: They shouldn’t … but they may.  I would not be surprised to see the kid rocket through low-A and high-A ball.  It would be purely a late-season revenue grab to call him up, but they need to be careful on his service time accrual.  If he plays 30 days in September we’d have to keep him down an extra 30 days in 2012 to ensure he doesn’t become a super-2.  For those not clear on the implications of super-2 screwup, read this bit about the mistake the Giants made with Tim Lincecum.

That being said, i’d love to see him playing in the bigs before his 19th birthday.  That’d be fantastic.  And he may very well earn it.  His weakness in the AFL and in spring training was offspeed pitches, but its hard to fault the kid for wanting to swing and make something happen in the limited time he’s seen.  Once a full season gets going and he’s getting 4 ABs every night, he will learn patience, he will earn walks as pitchers work around him, and he’ll pick his spots.  This, more than anything else, is the lesson he needs to learn to advance in the minors.

Q: Do we see a parallel developing between Roger Bernadina and Justin Maxwell? How long do we have to wait?

A: It isn’t a bad parallel to note.  Bernadina lost the LF job, then the CF job, then the 4th outfielder job to a non-roster invitee.  He’s burning his last option as we speak.  He has a career 80 OPS+.  I openly questioned in this space why he was the presumed starter in LF all off-season, and as it turned out I was right about Morse being the better player.  I think he’ll play out the string in AAA this year and get traded for a low-level minor leaguer at the end of spring training 2012, just as we did with Morgan and Gonzalez this week.

Q: What do you think of the job general manager Mike Rizzo and manager Jim Riggleman have done since they took over in 2009?

A: I think Rizzo has done a decent job with the major league team and a pretty good job with the farm system.  I feel like he’s tried a little TOO hard to rid the team of the non-defensive hitters Willingham and Dunn, and could have gotten more for them.  I understand the Werth signing but think (like the rest of baseball) that he overpaid and strangely backloaded the contract (why back load instead of front load?  We’re actually at LESS payroll this year than last, so we could be paying him $20M this year instead of $10M and still look like we’re treading water).  He’s definitely assembled a team in his vision; defensively gifted, a bullpen full of power arms.  Next step; power rotation.

Riggleman is doing the best with what he has; I don’t believe other managers could do much better.  Most people believe we have probably the 28th or 29th best collection of talent in the majors, but we’re achieving better than 29th place.

Q: Besides Harper, which rookie impressed you during Spring Training?

A: I cannot disagree with Ladson’s selection of Cole Kimball as “most impressive rookie.”  I would not be surprised to see him called up in 2011 and to start getting high-leverage appearances.

Rizzo’s off-season todo list: where do we stand?

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Mike Rizzo answering the latest question about where the money is coming from for the Werth contract. Photo: centerfieldgate.com

Each year heading into the off-season, I make up a transactional “to-do” list for the team (as if I were the GM).  Essentially you look at the roster and kind of work backwards.  Based on the way things looked at the end of 2010, the Nationals seemed set on:

  • C (Pudge, Ramos)
  • most of the infield: 2b (Espinosa), SS (Desmond), 3B (Zimmerman)
  • LF (Willingham)
  • 3-4 starters (Lannan, Marquis, LHernandez, Zimmermann), and
  • several relievers (Clippard, Burnett, Storen)

So, given this, here’s what I listed as off season priorities and where we stand post the Winter Meetings (and counting all the rumors and scuttlebutt we’ve been hearing):

Fantasy

  • Power hitting reliable RF
  • Top-of-the-rotation Starting Pitcher
  • Better Centerfielder/Leadoff Hitter

1. In what was easily the most surprising move this team has done since relocating from Montreal, we acquired a front-line marquee FA in Jayson Werth, satisfying the “power hitting RF” fantasy requirement.  Yes there are concerns about the contract’s length and value, but hey, we’re a better team for getting him.

2. Rizzo has definitely made mention of wanting to acquire a “top of the rotation” starter but they are hard to come by this off season.  Cliff Lee is the target, and from there the list dwindled quickly to include guys who were middle of the road veterans with question marks (Vazquez, Pavano), FA starters that weren’t exactly planning on going anywhere (Lilly, Kuroda, de La Rosa, Arroyo, Garland, Padilla) and incredibly risky alternatives (Webb, Darvish, Francis).

3. Lastly, despite my desire to upgrade from Nyjer Morgan in center and leadoff (for reasons that include discipline, chemistry and performance), Rizzo seems set on the guy for the time being.  I would not be surprised to see no more movement in this area.  I advocated trading Willingham to Boston for possible spare-part outfielder Jacoby Ellsbury in a previous post, but despite Willingham’s offensive capabilities Boston may also value defense and may not really be interested in acquiring more bats this off season.

Reality

  • First Baseman
  • 1-2 Veteran FA pitchers
  • Utility Middle Infielder

1. Acquiring a first baseman included the possibility of re-signing Adam Dunn, despite all indications that it was never to happen.  Rizzo clearly will take less power for more defense at first, and we seem destined to sign Adam LaRoche (after missing out on Carlos Pena, the player I was absolutely sure we’d get).  Frankly, for my money I’d rather have LaRoche.  He’ll sign a 2 year deal for less than any of Dunn, Pena, Konerko or Huff would have signed for, he hits for power and he is a plus defender.  I think he’s perfect until we figure out if Chris Marrero or someone even more remote (like high-A stud hitter and Nats minor leaguer of the year in 2010 Tyler Moore) becomes a possibility.  A final thought; I do NOT want to be left with Derrek Lee as the solution.  He’s a right handed hitter on a team that is now full of them.  Zimmerman, Willingham, Werth all righties; we need a lefty slugger to break up the middle of our batting order.

2. I still see the acquisition of one or two veteran FA pitchers on the horizon.  I can see us (unless someone foolishly offers him $10M) signing Brandon Webb on a one year flier.  I can see us re-signing Wang to a minor league deal with an invite to spring training.

3. The backup middle infielder is a lower priority but still important.  If Desmond/Espinosa are holding down the starting spots and Alberto Gonzalez is begrudingly serving as the primary glove-man backup, we still need a second player that can do middle infield.  Willie Harris has been that player but he really tailed off last season.  Adam Kennedy served as the backup for the right side of the infield but he clearly wants to start.  I was lobbying for Pete Orr as a nice cheap candidate; he had always produced for us when called up, could play 2nd, 3rd or even outfield.  But he signed elsewhere as a minor league FA.  Perhaps the answer is a prospect to be named (Lombardozzi?) or a FA signing.  I like David Eckstein to team him up with his hitting-coach brother but he probably wants a starting job too.  And Eckstein wouldn’t make sense unless we traded one of Desmond/Espinosa (still a possibility; see later).

Less Likely

  • FA Closer
  • Trade for a Veteran pitcher
  • 1 veteran bullpen presence

1. There are a couple closer-types on the FA market and I can now see the Nats picking one up ala their deal with Matt Capps to cover for Storen as he grows into the spot.  Jenks, Dotel,Gregg, Hoffman, Soriano, Wood all available (Soriano a type-A though, so we wont’ get him).  I think this would make for a good piece of business and could serve as a useful trade chip mid season.

2. I can see us working out a trade with Tampa Bay to acquire Matt Garza.  Tampa wants to get rid of payroll, not add it, but perhaps we can pre-arrange a one-year deal with Willingham and flip him to Tampa.  Washington could eat some of the salary and Willingham would slot nicely into the left field spot recently vacated by Carl Crawford.  Tampa may like this deal since Willingham projects to be a type-A free agent and would net them 2 picks when he leaves (you have to think Willingham wants to get at least a 3-year deal when he hits the FA market based on his age and his proclivities for injuries).  Of course, getting rid of Willingham also puts a hole into OUR lineup, one that looks pretty promising when we get a power hitting lefty first baseman.  And we certainly would like to get some compensation picks to continue to rebuild the farm system.  More likely Tampa would ask for someone like Desmond, which would be a tough trade to swallow for a team that hasn’t really developed that many marquee players in the last 5 years.  We could trade Desmond, acquire Garza, move Espinosa to short (where he’s a better fielder anyway) then sign a short term 2nd baseman like David Eckstein or Orlando Hudson until one of our high-end 2nd base prospects (Lobardozzi, Rick Hague or Jeff Kobernus) is ready to go.

3. Lastly, with not one but TWO arms picked up in the rule5 draft, the likelihood of us acquiring any veteran bullpen arms seems nil.  Perhaps we re-sign Peralta as a long man, but we have plenty of cover there in Balester and Stammen.  We have all the arms we could want coming up (Kimball, Carr, Wilkie all project as mid-bullpen arms, and the AA team is filled with good arms with no place to move up to with so many AAA starters on the 40-man) and we have three great live arms in Storen, Clippard and Burnett already in place.

It has been a pretty fun offseason to track thus far for Nats fans.  I can’t wait to see what happens next.

Nats, Free Agency and Payroll

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Nats fans have seen Adam Dunn do this for the last time. Photo: seasonticketdc.com

Several years ago, I began a rant about the Nats payroll levels vis-a-vis our market size that essentially continues through to today.  Washington DC as a market is clearly a large market:

  • We are 7th in total population (when measured by Metropolitan Statistical Areas); just behind Miami/Ft. Lauderdale and Dallas and just ahead of  Houston and Detroit.
  • We are 9th in terms of DMA TV households (just behind Atlanta/Boston and just ahead of Houston and Detroit again).

And yet, in 2010 we had the 23rd ranked payroll of the 30 teams, spending just $66M in salary (2010 opening day number).  Meanwhile the teams located in comparable cities spent much much more.  Houston had a $92m payroll, Detroit $122M, Atlanta $84M.  Miami and Boston are outliers for separate and obvious reasons (Boston essentially services the entire NE area while the Florida Marlins owners are the worst examples of owners taking advantage of the revenue sharing system in the league).

According to my estimates (available here or via the link in the Nats Creations section to the right), the Nats (as of publication) have $29M committed for 2011, and likely will have a payroll that is around $46.5M once all arbitration cases are settled.  Notice this is almost exactly $20M less than in 2010 (Dunn at $12M and Guzman at $8M neatly equal the delta).

Clearly, the Nats need to be increasing payroll.  I’m pretty sure this is one of the reasons Kasten left the team frankly; I don’t think he saw eye to eye with the Lerners in terms of payroll outlay.  Certainly not in terms of the 2009 opening day roster team, which was an abomination of a roster and successfully gutted the season ticket base and fan satisfaction leading into the new stadium.

BUT, and this is a large But, we should not just arbitrarily spend money just to spend it.  So we have a conundrum.  With Vazquez and De La Rosa off the market, the FA pitcher market is, as Jayson Stark put it, a disaster area.  With the exception of an experimental flyer on Webb, I wouldn’t want a single guy left.  Jon Heyman ranked the top 15 or so FAs and it has to be one of the weakest FA markets ever.  Of the hitters out there, we definitely could use them (especially Werth in right and Crawford in center, as well as the probable eventual signing of Pena for 1B), but the question is, will they come to Washington?  Why come to the Nats if a perennial playoff contender comes calling with more money and longer guaranteed contracts?  Isn’t that why Dunn just left?

Tom Boswell put out a post expressing some worry about the Nats and this off season, only somewhat alluding to the payroll issue.  And I agree.  Who knew that we’d be seeing a spending spree this off season, after two relatively frugal off-seasons preceding it.  Now that Dunn has left, one has to wonder what the team really should do.

I’m afraid the Nats are stuck frankly.  We have money to spend, and NEED to spend money to show some good will towards a fan base that clearly sees the Lerners as incompetent, penny pinching and too cheap to really deserve a $600M baseball team.  But, who are we going to spend this money on?  At this point the best moves seem to be to try to acquire guys via trade ( Greinke or Garza come to mind) but these guys will cost us what few prospects we actually have right now.  Is it worth it to give up 4 upper end guys to acquire 2 years of Greinke’s services?

As much as I hate to say it, I believe the best course right now is to NOT spend money, play out 2011 with what we have (and perhaps a couple of lower end, one-year FAs) and regroup for 2012.  Let our prospects play and get experience, find out if the likes of Espinosa, Desmond, Morse, Morgan, Bernadina, Ramos, Zimmermann, Maya and the rest of the bullpen are really quality guys.  Trade Willingham for more kids. Wait for Strasburg to get healthy. And go firing into NEXT off season with a vengeance.

Vazquez and Webb: Do we really want them?

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A younger, thinner, harder throwing version of Javier Vazquez. Photo courtesy of baseball.dailyskew.com

11/28/10 update: possibly obsoleting much of this, the Marlins have reportedly signed Vazquez to a one year deal.

As the FA hot stove gets hotter, more and more players have the “Nationals” name attached to them as intereted parties.  None more so than Javier Vazquez and Brandon Webb.  The question we as Nats fans should have is the following: Are Vazquez and Webb really worth going after?

Javier Vazquez, despite being the answer to one of my favorite trivia questions ever (what major league player has the highest scoring Scrabble last name?) seems to be more famous for the players he’s been traded for over the years (he was the primary chip in trades involving Nick Johnson, Randy Johnson, Chris Young, and Melky Cabrera) than he has been for his pitching.  At age 34 he’s 152-149 for his career for a barely-better than average 105 era+ value.

He has shown that he can be great (2009 for Atlanta) and he can be mediocre (his two seasons in NY and two other seasons in Chicago).  He’s never missed a start in the majors, though the Yankees took him out of their starting rotation towards the end of last season for a bit after a series of poor outings.

Question is: rumors abound that he’s lost his velocity.  Is this true?  Lets take a look at Pitch F/X.  Here’s samples from three games last year (the box score is linked to the date and the Pitch FX data is linked to a mentioning of speed):

1. June 6th: probably his best game of the year.  7 innings, 1 hit, 9ks (though 4 walks).  Again his avg fastball is around 89 but he maxed out at 91.7.

2. July 26: a decent performance middle of the season.  About the exact same figures as on 6/6; 89.22 average, 91.6 max.

3. Sept 29: his final appearance of the year, a loss against Toronto where he got shelled.  Here he was averaging
89, max of barely 90 on his fastball.  Hmm.  not good.

Now Lets look at 2009, when he finished 4th in Cy Young voting (which really means, he received one vote from one of the stat nerd voters who decided NOT to vote for Carpenter because he missed a few starts).  Here’s a random game from the middle of the season.

1. June 11: Vazquez goes 8 innings, gives up 2 hits and strikes out 12 hapless Pirates.  Interesting: he was
throwing an average of 91.43, max of 93.5.

So, his average fastball MPH has dropped nearly 3.5 mph between mid 2009 and the end of 2010.  Not good.  This did not go without notice in the NY press and blogsFederal Baseball pulled out some great links and wrote a similar article to this a few days ago.

Here’s one last visual aid; Fangraphs historical pitch velocity maps. In the mid-late 2007 he was averaging 93-94 with peaks of 97-98.  Now, he’s spent an entire year averaging 88-89 with peaks of no more than 92-93.  That’s a significant drop off and may be indicative of Vazquez’s utility as a power pitcher coming to an end.  The same thing happened to Livan Hernandez and he adjusted, but clearly Livan isn’t the ace starter that the Nats really kinda need.

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So, how about Brandon Webb?  We’re already reading how Rizzo likes Webb dating to his AZ days and we’re seeing pundit predictions and beat writer stories that Webb is coming to the Nats on a one-year reclamation project.

Webb’s history over the last 2 years:
– Made opening day start 2009, shoulder hurt, went on DL with Bursitis, surgery in august.
– Tried comeback 2010, never got off DL.  Pitched in the instructional league after the end of the season.  In those three instructional league games, here’s his performance summary:

  • 9/29/10: 1 inning, fastball at 81mph.
  • 10/2/10: 81-84mpg
  • 10/7/10: 2 innings, fastball low-80s, top mid-80s.

Webb got 2 innings in his last of three Instructional league start and was, per this report, was sitting “in the low-80s and topped in the mid-80s.”    Stated another way, “Webb has thrown in front of scouts multiple times, according to several reports, and in his most recent session his fastball reached four or five miles per hour below his typical velocity.”

Perhaps this is just a tentative guy, trying to work his way back.  In fact, if he was indeed pitching at just 90% of his effort after so long a time off, then mid 80s is just fine.

Webb was never a terribly hard thrower.  His fangraphs velocity chart from his healthier 2007 and 2008 show a consistent mid-to-upper 80s (88.5), with peaks into the low 90s.  His strength is in a serious sinker, that batters drive into the ground and cannot hit hard, consistently.

Conclusion:
– Take a flier on Webb.  I’d go 1yr $5M with $1M incentives at 15,20,25 and 30 games started to push total value to 1yr $9M.  And i’d get a club option at $10M for a second year.
– Stay away from Vazquez.  He’s trending downwards and is in Jose Contreras territory.

Coming soon: similar thoughts about Carl Pavano and Jorge de la Rosa.