Nationals Arm Race

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

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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 Sheinen 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?

Qualifying Offers; are they working?

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In the wake of several posts I’ve seen on the topic of Qualifying Offers (one long-winded piece from the long-winded windbag Murray Chass here, accusing the owners of collusion in the cases of Stephen Drew and Kendrys Morales instead of just understanding the state of the game, another from the more reasonable Jayson Stark here, talking about some potential fixes, and their respective agent Scott Boras whining about anonymous executive quotes in an ESPN article here), I thought I’d do some quantitiative-summary analysis of the Q.O. so far.

I think its fairly inarguable to state that the system isn’t really working how the players envisioned; especially as two decent FAs still sit un-signed.  Clearly the players union did not realize just how much teams are valuing draft picks, to the point where they’d rather keep a mid-first rounder than sign a decent middle-aged free agent.  I also believe that several of the players this past off-season got *really* bad advice on the state of the market for their services, and wholy deserve their fates.  Baseball is changing; we’re seeing metrics highlighting the value of defense, we’re seeing positional flexibility win out over inflexibility, and we’re seeing teams go with youth over veterans even when the cost difference is rather negligible.  That middle-aged, defensively challenged free agents (especially Morales) didn’t see this is entirely on them.  The situation is even worse for players of advancing years, who are not even getting contract offers after decent seasons and are being forced into early retirement in some cases.

Here’s part of a spreadsheet I put together, analyzing the eight guys who were faced with Q.O. decisions after the 2012 season:

Year Player Old Team New Team Draft Pick Forfeited Signing Date Subsequent contract (w/o options) Money up/down per AAV Q.O. Screw the player?
2012 Josh Hamilton TEX LAA 1-22 12/13/2012 5yrs/$125M 11.7 No
2012 Michael Bourn ATL CLE 2sup-69 2/11/2013 4yrs/$48M -1.3 Sort of
2012 Kyle Lohse STL MIL 1-17 3/25/2013 3yrs/$33M -2.3 Yes
2012 Adam LaRoche WAS WAS none 1/16/2012 2/$24 -1.3 Yes
2012 B.J. Upton TB ATL 1-28 11/28/2012 5/$75.25M 1.95 No
2012 Hiroki Kuroda NYY NYY none 11/20/2012 1yr/$15M 1.7 No
2012 Rafael Soriano NYY WAS 1-29 1/8/2013 2yr/$28M (lots deferred) 0.7 Sort of
2012 Nick Swisher NYY CLE 2-43 12/23/2012 4yr/$56M 0.7 No

Arguably, 3 of the 8 players in question were never going to be affected by the Q.O. (Hamilton and Upton because of the known long-term deals they were going to get, and Kuroda for being nearly guaranteed to return to the Yankees).  So, by my way of thinking 4 of the remaining 5 players in the  2012 FA class had their earnings either curtailed or affected by the presence of the Q.O.:

  • Michael Bourn got a longer deal with more guaranteed money, but he got less in AAV than the Q.O. he turned down, so perhaps my view is arguable that he was affected.
  • Rafael Soriano languished on the FA market until the Nats suprisingly signed him; his AAV in “real” dollars was significantly less in its estimate per year than the Q.O. he turned down (most estimates i’ve seen are at $11M/year with all the deferred money in his deal).  I hope Soriano keeps sending his agent Xmas cards; clearly Boras pulled a rabbit out of a hat to get him signed here.
  • Adam LaRoche saw very little interest in his services and returned to the Nats on a discounted deal; meanwhile players with comparable skills but without compensation issues earned more years and more dollars.  Shane Victorino; 3yrs/$39M as an example.
  • Kyle Lohse probably suffered the worst fate; he didn’t sign until a week before the season and for more than a 15% discount per year.  Meanwhile lesser pitcher Edwin Jackson got 4yrs/$52M by way of comparison, without a Q.O. attached to him.

Now here’s the same information for the thirteen players who dealt with (or who are dealing with) the issue after the 2013 season:

Year Player Old Team New Team Draft Pick Forfeited Signing Date Subsequent contract (w/o options) Money up/down per AAV Q.O. Screw the player?
2013 Carlos Beltran STL NYY 1sup-29 12/??/2013 3yrs/$45M 0.9 No
2013 Robinson Cano NYY SEA 2-47 12/12/2013 10yrs/$240M 9.9 No
2013 Shin-Soo Choo CIN TEX 1-22 12/??/2013 7yrs/$130M 4.47 No
2013 Nelson Cruz TEX BAL 2-56 2/22/2014 1yr/$8M -6.1 Yes
2013 Stephen Drew BOS unsigned ?? unsigned unsigned Yes
2013 Jacoby Ellsbury BOS NYY 1sup-30 12/13/2013 7yrs/$153M 7.76 No
2013 Curtis Granderson NYY NYM 2-51 12/??/13 4yrs/$60M 0.9 No
2013 Ubaldo Jimenez CLE BAL 1-17 2/19/2014 4yrs/$50M -1.6 Yes
2013 Hiroki Kuroda NYY NYY none 12/6/2013 1yr/$16M 1.9 No
2013 Brian McCann ATL NYY 1-18 12/3/2013 5yrs/$85M 2.9 No
2013 Kendrys Morales SEA unsigned ?? unsigned unsigned Yes
2013 Mike Napoli BOS BOS none 12/12/2013 2yrs/$32M 1.9 No
2013 Ervin Santana KC ATL 1-29 3/12/2014 1yr/$14.1M 0 Yes

Similarly to 2012, there were several FAs in this class for whom the Q.O. meant nothing: Cano, Choo, Ellsbury, McCann and Kuroda.  So, by my way of thinking 5 of the remaining 8 players had their contracts impacted … but two in a much more visible way:

  • Drew and Morales remain unsigned to this point … and its hard to envision a scenario right now where any team would sign these players until after the Rule 4 draft in early June.  Why give up a draft pick at this point?   On the bright side for both players, there may be a veritable bidding war for their services after the draft, and they could get decent contracts which have (by rule) no further draft pick compensation issues.
  • Nelson Cruz had to take a $6M pay-cut due to his not taking the Q.O., a serious miscalculation of his market by him and his agent.
  • You may argue whether or not Ubaldo Jimenez really got screwed here, since he got $50M guaranteed in a four year deal.  But his AAV is a good 10% less than the Q.O. that he spurned form Cleveland.
  • You can also argue about Ervin Santana, who signed for *exactly* the Q.O. amount once Atlanta lost most of their rotation for the year.  I still say he was impacted because of the amount of time it took and his subsequent service time loss to start the season.

If i’m a future veteran FA … i’d be rather worried.

So, what’s the fix?  Some say that this situation will naturally just take care of itself; next off-season maybe some players will finally take the Q.O. (remember; we’ve yet to have a single player take the offer), which in turn should make some teams wary of offering them in subsequent years.   But by the time this situation naturally plays itself out, it’ll be time for the next bargaining session.

I think the MLBPA needs to (in the next bargaining session) cut the cord on the link between draft picks and free agent compensation once and for all.  The entire reason draft pick compensation was invented was to “help” the little guys who lost free agents to the big teams.  But look at the list of the teams who are generally offering Q.O.’s to players right now: 6 of the 21 total offer’d players were from the Yankees, another 3 from Boston.  Those aren’t exactly teams “in need” of being given more picks in the draft.  In fact, of the 21 players who have gone through this system, by my count just THREE played for a team that I’d qualify as a “small market” (Upton from Tampa Bay, Jimenez from Cleveland and Santana from Kansas City).  Every other player plays for either a major market or a successful team in a mid-sized market.  How is this system “working” as per its original intent, at all??

Maybe the right way of doing things is to punish the big teams for signing FAs … but don’t allow them to “game” the system by subsequently gaining more picks back.   The Yankees signed four Q.O. affected free agents this past off-season … but only really lost one draft pick thanks to them having offered up and received their own compensatory picks for the players they knew they were going to lose anyway.  Why aren’t the Yankees being forced to lose their first four ROUNDS of draft picks?  If you’re in the top 10 in payroll, you only can lose in the draft pick compensation game, not win.

Footnote: Yes I acknowledge that, “in the grand scheme of things” it is really difficult to feel sorrow for a player for “only” earning $8M/year when he could have signed for $14.1M.  And its pretty hard to feel empathy for someone who feels slighted because he “only” got a 1-year 8 figure deal.  In some ways the money figures we talk about remind me of the infamous quote from NBA player Latrell Sprewell, who turned down a contract offer of $21M on the grounds that he “needed to be able to feed his family.”   For the sake of this post, lets dispense with the typical comments I see on the internet about how much money these guys are making as compared to middle-americans who struggle to get by on the median incomes for this country.  Baseball players participate in an economic market just like the rest of us; it just happens to value their talents at levels measured in the tens of millions of dollars instead of the tens of thousands that us normal people are used to.  For a huge, huge majority of professional baseball players, even a few seasons at the MLB minimum is all they’re ever going to see as payoff for years and years of incredibly curtailed earnings in the minors, and I’ll never consider these guys “overpaid.”

Ask Boswell 2/18/14 Edition

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Lots of questions about Mr. Williams.  Photo Nats official 2014 via sportingnews.com

Lots of questions about Mr. Williams. Photo Nats official 2014 via sportingnews.com

Washington Post columnist Tom Boswell must be in heaven: he’s at Spring Training, in 80 degree weather, talking baseball.  Here’s his 2/18/14 WP chat edition and how i’d have answered his baseball questions.  He did an extra long session, doing an hour and then coming back for even more questions, so this is a huge post.

Q: Which Nat is most and least likely to benefit from Matt Williams’ detail-oriented approach?

A: I’ll take the easy way out on this one: I’ll say that the rookies are most likely to benefit and the veterans are least-likely.  But that’s probably not very fair because it assumes that our vets will automatically have a hard time adjusting to a new voice.  In reality, Matt Williamspedigree as a player is going to shut just about any veteran up; name one player on this team who has accomplished anything close to what Williams did as a player?   I mean, we’re talking about a guy with multiple All Star appearances, multiple Gold Gloves, multiple Silver Sluggers, a couple near MVP seasons, more than 200 post-season at-bats spread across 5 post-season trips, three trips to the World Series and one ring.  He also played in two specific games that are both counted among the best games of the last 50 years (Game 7 of the 1997 World Series and 2001′s Game 7 of the World Series).

That’s a heck of a lot of accomplishments.  Who in their right mind is looking him in the fact and doubting his wisdom about anything?

Boswell points out a number of guys who are “introverts” who like the structure, mentions Rafael Soriano as a possible problem child … but then also notes Soriano lost a ton of weight and is playing for a contract, so he doesn’t expect any issues.  Fair enough.

Q: Where can I get good details on the Nats spring training schedules in Viera?

A: CSN’s Mark Zuckerman posts a great intro-to-spring training on his Natsinsider.com blog each year.  Here’s parts 1 and 2, focusing on the Nats baseball Complex and the Town of Viera.  Boswell speaks highly of watching bullpen sessions.  Can’t blame him; man I want to do Spring Training sometime!

Q: What does the Yankees signing of Masahiro Tanaka do for the Yankees season?

A: Not much in my opinion.   Despite Tanaka’s pedigree and $175M paycheck, he’s being touted by his own team as a “#3 starter.”  That’s a heck of a lot of money for a #3 starter.  Now in reality scouts liken him to a young Dan Haren (in terms of his repertoire), but he’s still not nearly in the same Ace class as the most recent Japanese import Yu Darvish.  Plus he’s got to deal with the inevitable adjustment to this country, a new language, 10,000 obnoxious NY beat reporters, the food, the city, and that pesky 4-days of rest schedule we have here for our starters.

As for the Yankees chances in 2014 in general, check out their current depth chart: Their rotation is set to be Sabathia (coming off an awful year), 40-yr old Kuroda, TanakaIvan Nova and David Phelps.  Does that sound like a 95-win rotation?   Here’s their infield: Mark Teixeira (15 games last year), Brian Roberts (77 games last year), Derek Jeter (17 games last year), and Eduardo Nunez (90 games last year).   Does that infield inspire confidence?  What makes anyone think that infield is lasting even a quarter of the season without a major injury?  Plus, Buster Olney or Jayson Stark recently mentioned this factoid:  ”No team has ever in the history of the game had a winning season starting a shortstop as old as Jeter.”    Yes the Yankees made some significant signings (Beltran, Ellsbury, McCann).  But I don’t think its enough to make up for what’s going to happen to their infield.  I think years of overpaying for FAs and being unlucky in their player development has caught up with the Yankees in a big way and they’ll be lucky to be a .500 team this year.  Boswell points out that PECOTA has them as 82-80.   And then he drops a scary subtle hint saying that Ian Desmond has already declined an $85M deal and may have his sights on becoming the next Yankees long-term shortstop.  Ouch.  Thankfully the timing doesn’t quite work out; Jeter retires after this year and the Nats have Desmond locked up for two seasons.

Q: Can you go into the stadium and see the view from your seats before committing to a Season Ticket?

A: No idea, but I’d bet the answer is yes.  We could do that before, you know back when I was a season ticket holder, pre Nats stadium, pre kids, pre getting-royally-screwed-in-the-new-stadium-relocation game.  Boswell assumes yes, and posts an answer confirming it from another fan later on who did exactly this.

Q: Why is the name Redskins such a hotbutton while the Braves gets almost no press?

A: (I couldn’t resist this question even if not entirely about Baseball): Probably because one name is a slur and the other is just a noun.  In a politically correct world no person-indicating moniker would ever be used as a team nickname … but then again you can get rather ridiculous (is “Padre” and the drawing of a priest with a goofy smile swinging a bat offensive to the clergy?  I’m of Irish descent; what if I said that the Notre Dame “Fighting Irish” is offensive to me because of my culture?).   Plus, frankly, I don’t get why little Danny Snyder won’t just frigging change the name; I mean, how many gazillions of dollars of new merchandise sales would he get if he re-branded the team?  Why is he so obstinate about this issue?  Every time he posts some dumb letter defending the name it makes him look more and more like a little rich whiny fan-boy who grew up loving the team despite being too sickly to actually play, and now he’s clinging to an iconic symbol of his youth.  As if it was a ratty security blanket.   Boswell talks about cultural change and social progress and hints that he’s going to post his official opinion on the matter soon.

Q: Has Jeter’s retirement caused TOO much media attention?

A: Honestly, I don’t feel like it has; at least not as much as the questioner, who whined about all the coverage and news items related to Jeter.  Perhaps its because he’s gone up against the Olympics and NBC’s force-fed human interest coverage machine that I havn’t noticed.

Olympics Rant/Tangent: Seriously; I thought I had seen it all with NBC’s ridiculous coverage over the years of figure skaters as “athletes” … now the coverage of these silly snowboarders has surpassed it.  I’m sorry; if your “sport” requires judges who take into consideration your “style” or your “costume,” then it isn’t a sport.  ”Team skating?”  ”Ice Dancing?”  Why not just have a frigging spinning contest or see who can coast the longest on one skate or some other useless reason to award a few more gold medals?  In my opinion, if there isn’t a score or a race to a finish line or one man versus another in a contest … you’re not a sport.  Nothing against figure skaters specifically; what they do is amazing, requires elegance and strength and years of training.  But so does Ballet; why is one an olympic sport and the other a performance art?  All those cirque-de-soleil performers?  Why isn’t that an olympic sport too?

Tangent/Rant off.

I think we’ll all be pretty frigging sick of Derek Jeter once August and September rolls-around.  Yeah he’s a great player, first ballot hall of famer.  But so are about 20-25 other guys playing right now.  I agree with the questioner’s rant about the over-coverage of all things Yankees.   Boswell points out that Jeter’s career WAR is one spot above Bobby Grich, so as to temper some expectations.  That’s harsh; even I recognize his importance to the game as a surpassing point than just whittling down all his accomplishments to one (dubious) number. 

Q: What is Livan Hernandez’s role on this team?

A: Whatever it is, I think its friggin awesome that he’s in Spring Training representing the Nats.  Kudos to whoever reached out and got him to come help out.  Livan Hernandez may have played all over the majors (9 teams in 17 seasons; that’s tough to do when you’re not a left-handed reliever) but he played the most of it with our franchise.  Boswell’s quoting of Drew Storen‘s description of Livan’s role is awesome: ”His job is life-coach, bleep-talker and being Livo.”   He also notes that Livan can provide some fielding and instruction on holding runners, a sore spot for several Nats starters.

Q: How is Christian Garcia looking so far? Any chance that he goes north with the club?

A: All reports list Christian Garcia as (finally) healthy.  But its telling that the team is already specifically pointing out that “he’s made it further than he did last year.”  It seems like his fragility is almost a running joke on the team now.  Chances of breaking into the 7-man bullpen?  Remote unless there’s injuries.  But if he goes to AAA and pitches lights out, he’ll be first guy back.   If he stays healthy (four words that should be attached to every single sentence ever written about Garcia).  Boswell says that if he’s healthy, he’s on the team.  I have a very hard time believing that; who makes way?  Not Soriano, Storen, Clippard or Stammen.  Not Blevins.  Ohlendorf?  Roark?  Roark’s numbers last fall were *better* than anything Garcia did in 2012 and in 4 times the innings.  Ohlendorf isn’t being paid north of $1M to screw around in upstate New York.  And, none of this takes into account the statements from Williams about liking to have two lefties in the bullpen… If it were me, I’d want to see Garcia pitch at least a month straight without hurting something on his person.  

Q: How would you grade Rizzo’s off-season?

A:  Pretty frigging good.  Fister: fantastic acquisition.  McLouth; not too bad, should help.  Lobaton: looking better and better, considering the pedigree i’m hearing about the two guys thrown into the deal (Vettleson and Rivero).  I don’t think his lack of acquiring a better lefty will hurt; Sammy Solis is impressing and could contribute immediately, newly acquired Rivero apparently has some stuff, and there’s still the likes of Cedeno and a couple other AAA guys who we could use.  Boswell says A- … and then tells a tid-bit about the Grant Balfour deal that fell through.

Q: Why are the Nats pitchers so bad at holding runners on?  Is this something they’re working on this Spring

A: Why?  beats me.  Maybe a better defensive catcher will help in that category.  They definitely seem to be working on it this spring as noted in the above Livo question.  Boswell doesn’t really answer the question but then uses this question as a segue into talking about Williams’ anger issues.  Random.

Q: If Ryan Zimmerman is going to play some first base … what the heck is Tyler Moore going to do?

A: A decent question, but which assumes that Tyler Moore is anything other than a bench bat.  And it assumes that Adam LaRoche is going to platoon.  I know plenty in the blogosphere want that to happen … but this is a contract year, and the last time couple times LaRoche faced a contract year he played pretty durn good.  Meanwhile, Moore seems like the kind of player who could use a change of scenery and a trade to a team with more playing time.  Boswell likes his swing.

Q: Is team improvement correlation or causation to a hitting coach change, like what happened last year with Eckstein’s firing?

A: You ask me, i’d say its correlation/coincidence.  It isn’t the hitting coach facing 95 mph fastballs.  But I’m no professional.  Boswell can’t figure it out either.

Q: Did they really need another catcher when they had both two young options and Synder as a proven vet? Why waste a pitching prospect with a high upside for a backup catcher who can’t throw out runners, already a major problem. Did Rizzo get taken by the Rays?

A: Sounds to me like this question-er is overvaluing the potential contributions of our catching prospects Sandy Leon and Jhonatan Solano, is incredibly overvaluing what Chris Snyder still brings to the table, and is overvaluing Nathan Karns and what is ceiling seems to realistically be.  Oh, and he’s undervaluing the prospects we got in return (both of which are in our top 14 according to mlbdraftinsider.com’s recent post).  I like the move, it fixes a hole for the team and gives a couple of prospects to shore up a thinned system, all for a guy who I think we all liked in Karns but who likely faces a ceiling of a reliever.  Boswell notes the need for a “real” backup catcher and notes that the team traded from depth.

Q: Have the Braves taken a step back this offseason and are really counting on BJ Upton to do anything on offense this year?

A: Yes and yes.  McCann is a  huge loss.  Tim Hudson may not “seem” like a loss given the Braves pitching depth, but he was their opening day starter in 2013 and was their bulldog staff leader (if not an “ace” in the literal sense of the word).   They also let go Paul Maholm, who gave them a ton of decent innings last year.  They’re depending on Brandon Beachy to come back healthy and on the rest of their young rotation to contribute.  Otherwise they did little this off-season other than extending a couple of guys.   As far as BJ Upton, what choice do they have but to run him out day after day at this point?  Same as Dan Uggla: those two guys are getting paid a ton of money and will be given every chance to prove themselves.  Boswell agrees.

Q: How often have you seen baseball players take a hometown discount?

A: Not very often: Roy Halladay took a bit less so he could play for Philly … because their spring training complex is in the same town as his full-time home.  Hard to think of obvious other players off-hand.  The asker questioned whether Jordan Zimmermann would consider less money to play for his “hometown” Brewers … without really considering the fact that Milwaukee is a cheap-skate franchise and will *never* come close to paying the 9-figure deal that Zimmermann probably earns in two years’ time.  Boswell doesn’t really answer the original question, just notes that so far our FA players are going for the money.

Q: In your opinion, who will end up being the fifth starter? Detwiler, Roark, or Jordan?

A: Ross Emery Detwiler, for the same reasons I pointed out in my 2014 Staff Projections post in late december.   Quoting myself from that post:

Why am I predicting Detwiler will win the rotation spot?  Partly because of options (Detwiler has none while Roark, Ohlendorf and Jordan all do), but partly because I’ve sort of come back around on him after looking more closely at his 2013 season.  He had a decent to good 2012; he posted a 118 ERA+ and even if his advanced FIP/SIERA didn’t indicate he was quite that good, he was still more than a servicable 5th starter.  Then in his first seven 2013 starts he was also very good (he had a 2.53 ERA in his first 7 starts and 42 2/3 innings … he got hurt in his 8th start).  The rest of his season was a mess, with him fighting injury and ballooning his seasonal ERA from 2.53 to more than 4.00 in five more starts.   If he comes back healthy to start 2014, why wouldn’t we expect more of the same performance that he had at the start of 2013?  For these reasons, I think Detwiler breaks camp as the 5th starter.

I like Tanner Roark and feel the team is going to find a way for him to be in the MLB bullpen.  I also now believe Taylor Jordan‘s off-season ankle injury will give the team an excuse to keep him in the minors a bit to season him up and maybe even keep some innings off his arm.   So it’ll be Detwiler until he either falters or gets hurt again.  At least we have a ton of options this year to cover for a starter injury.

Boswell says Detwiler as well but writes a ton on othe other guys, including a glowing talk about Roark.  And he throws in this tidbit: Detroit asked for Jordan and Robbie Ray before settling for Ray and spare parts.  Interesting.  

Q: What’s your read on how the last two bullpen spots play out?

A: Also borrowing from my Dec 2013 post, I’ll go with Ohlendorf and Roark.  Ohlendorf as the long-man, spot starter rubber arm guy.  Roark with the hope he continues his magical run of exceptional command and fearless relief.  I know that only leaves on lefty out there, and leaves guys like Ryan Mattheus and Christian Garcia in AAA.  Hey, I could be wrong.   Boswell doesn’t seem to guess.

Q: Do you think the coaches will let Espi continue to be a switch hitter or keep him as a lefty hitter only? 

A: I hope you mean righty hitter only; he is a career .220 lefty hitter but .262 righty. If I was the Nats brass, i’d try him as a righty-only guy.  But by all accounts Danny Espinosa is a bit stubborn and may not be open to limiting a unique skill that he may continue to think distinguishes himself from other competitors.  I continue to wonder just how hurt he was last year … as others have said, it isn’t like Espinosa suddenly forgot how to hit.  Yes he was always somewhat limited as a player, but 20-homer capable middle infielders don’t grow on trees.  Boswell says the team isn’t messing with Espinosa, and that they want to see what he can do in 2014.  Fair enough.

Q: Are you worried about the power (or lack thereof) in the Nats lineup?

A: Not really.  The capability is there across the lineup.  Zimmerman has hit 30.  So has LaRoche.  Desmond has hit 20.  So has Espinosa.  Ramos has 20+ homer capability if he’s healthy.  Werth is good for 25 and has hit 30+ before.  And none of this talks about our best power hitter Harper and what he can do.   Basically the team is a whole bunch of guys with 20 homer capability.   The Nats were T-3th in the NL in homers last year as a team (trailing two teams in offensive parks) and should improve in this category with a healthy Harper.  Boswell just talks about Ramos’ stats extrapolated to a full season.

Q: Is praise of Williams’ approach tacit criticism of Davey Johnson’s?

A: Yeah probably.  That’s why you change managers; to change the message.  I’m not going to disparage Davey Johnson too much here other than to say what i’ve said before; the team needed a new voice.  Boswell points out that Johnson’s 2012 job was fantastic and that there’s “different jockeys for different horses.” I like that analogy.


One last point: there was a question about MASN that Boswell went off on and gave some tidbits, including a shot at Bud Selig.  Its worth the read; click on the chat link and head to the bottom.

Fister acquisition thoughts and fallout

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

My 2013 End-of-Season award Predictions

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Clayton Kershaw may be the sole unanimous major award winner in 2013.  Photo via wiki.

Clayton Kershaw may be the sole unanimous major award winner in 2013. Photo via wiki.

This post is months in the making.  In WordPress I looked up the first revision and it was dated May 4th.  Its on at least its 50th revision.  Its crazy.  But its a fun piece to do, to kind of keep track of these awards throughout the season.  But with yesterday’s release of the top-3 candidates for each BBWAA award, I thought it was finally time to publish.  The top-3 announcement didn’t have too many surprises in it, but was eye opening for some of the also-rans in each category.

I like seeing how well I can predict these awards by reading the tea leaves of the various opinions that flow into my RSS feed (here’s 2012′s version of the same post with links to prior years).  The goal is to go 8-for-8 predicting the major awards, with an even loftier goal of going 12-for-12 adding in the unofficial Sporting News awards.  I succeeded in 8-for-8 in 2010 and 2011, but missed out last year by over-thinking the Manager of the Year award in the AL.   This year is going to be tougher; the NL Rookie award and the AL Manager of the Year award are going to be coin-flips.

Here’s links for the MLB Players of the Month, to include Player, Pitcher and Rookies of the month, though frankly these monthly awards don’t amount to much.  But they’re fun to go see who was hot and how they ended up (think Evan Gattis).

Here’s links to some mid-season award prediction columns from Tom Verducci, Matthew Pouliot and Jayson Stark.  Here’s an 8/27/13 post from Keith Law, a 9/5/13 post from Cliff Corcoran, and a 9/25/13 prediction piece from USA Today’s Frank Nightengale that may be very telling about the Cabrera/Trout debate.   Lastly a few end of season pieces from Stark, Passan, Pouliot NL and AL, Gammons, Keri, Olney, Heyman.

Lastly here’s a great Joe Posnanski piece complaining about the faults the typical BBWAA voter has in their methodology.  He touches on some themes I mention below.  Remember this is a prediction piece, not who I necessarily think should actually win.

Without further ado, here’s my predictions and thoughts on the awards (predicted winners in Blue).

  • AL MVP:  Miguel Cabrera (May’s AL player of the month) and was leading the league in nearly every offensive category through a big chunk of the season before injuries cost him a lot of September.  There’s talk of another Cabrera-Mike Trout competition for the MVP in 2013, but I think the same results will hold as in 2012.  It comes down to the simple question; how can you be the “MVP” of a last place team?  That vastly over-simplifies the debate of course, but it is what it is.  I continue to be impatient with holier-than-thou writers who ignore the BBWAA definition of the award and who think this MVP should just be a ranking of the seasonal WAR table.  This award is not (yet) the “Best Player” award, and if it was then Trout would be the easy winner.  Of the also-rans:  Chris Davis tied the AL-record for pre-All Star break homers and finished with 53, but he’s likely #3 in this race.   Rounding out my top 5 would be Josh Donaldson and  Manny Machado.  Names briefly under consideration here earlier in the season (and possible top 10 candidates) include Joe Mauer and Evan Longoria.
  • AL Cy Young: Max Scherzer started the season 13-0 and finished 21-3.  This will propel him to the award despite not being as quite as good overall as his top competition.  Yu Darvish was on pace for nearly 300 strikeouts for a while before finishing with 277 and is likely finishing #2.   Despite a losing record pitching for one of the worst teams in the league, Chris Sale pitched to a 140 ERA+ for the second season in a row and should be rewarded with a top-5 finish.  Hisashi Iwakuma has fantastic numbers in the anonymity and depression of Seattle and will also get top-5 votes.  Rounding out the top 5 could be one of many:  Clay Buchholz was unhittable in April and weathered  accusations of doctoring the baseball from the Toronto broadcast team (Jack Morris and Dirk Hayhurst specifically), but then got hurt and may fall out of the voting.   Felix Hernandez put up his typical good numbers early despite a ton of kvetching about his velocity loss early in the season, but tailed off badly in August to drop him from the race.  Anibal Sanchez‘s 17-strikeout game has him some buzz, and he led the league in both ERA and ERA+.    Matt Moore became the first young lefty to start 8-0 since Babe Ruth and somewhat quietly finished 17-4 for the game-163 winning Rays.  Lots of contenders here.  Predicted finish: Scherzer, Darvish, Iwakuma, Sale, Sanchez.
  • AL Rookie of the Year: Wil Myers may be the winner by default.  Nobody else really stands out, and the biggest off-season narrative involved Myers and the big trade, meaning that nearly every baseball fan and writer knows of Myers’ pre-MLB exploits.  Jose Iglesias put up good numbers in the Boston infield before being flipped to Detroit, and is a great candidate but most of his value resides in his defense, meaning old-school writers won’t vote for him over Myers.   Past that, the candidates are slim.  Justin Grimm‘s fill-in starts for Texas were more than adequate.  Nick Tepesch is also holding his own in Texas’ rotation.  Coner Gillaspie and Yan Gomes are in the mix.  Texas’ Martin Perez put himself in the race with a solid year and got some last-minute exposure pitching in the game-163 tie-breaker.  Leonys Martin is another Texas rookie that has quietly put up good numbers.  Myers’ Tampa Bay teammate Chris Archer could get some votes.  Predicted finish: Myers, Iglesias, Perez, Archer and Martin.
  • AL MgrJohn Ferrell in Boston for going worst to first may be the best managerial job, but Terry Franconia in Cleveland deserves a ton of credit for what he’s done with significantly less resources in Cleveland and should win the award.  Its hard to underestimate what Joe Girardi has done in New York with injuries and the media circus this year, but this award usually goes to a playoff bound team.  I’ll go Franconia, Ferrell, Girardi.
  • (Unofficial “award”): AL GM: Initially I was thinking Ben Cherington, Boston.  He traded away all those bad contracts, brought in several guys under the radar, leading to a 30 game swing in its W/L record.  Though, I agree with David Schoenfield; with Oakland’s 2nd straight AL West title it’s hard not to give this to Billy Beane.
  • (Unofficial “award”): AL Comeback Player of the Year: Nate McLouth has come back from the absolute dead for Baltimore, though technically he was decent last year too.  Josh Donaldson has come out of nowhere for Oakland, but really had nowhere to come “back” from.  John Lackey and Scott Kazmir both rebounded excellently from injury plagued seasons.  I think the winner has to be Kazmir by virtue of his slightly better record over Lackey.  Editor’s update: this award was already given and I got it wrong: Mariano Rivera won for his great 2013 comeback; I completely forgot about him.  We’ll cover the results versus my predictions in a future post.
  • (Unofficial “award”): AL Fireman of the YearGreg Holland, despite some sympathetic desire to give it to Mariano Rivera on his way out.  Joe Nathan is also in the AL discussion.  Jim Johnson is not; despite leading the league in saves for the 2nd year in a row he blew another 9 opportunities.  I hope the voters see past that.

Now for the National League:

  • NL MVP:  Andrew McCutchen is the shoe-in to win, both as a sentimental favorite for the Pirates first winning/playoff season in a generation and as the best player on a playoff team.  Clayton Kershaw‘s unbelievable season won’t net him a double, but I’m guessing he comes in 2nd in the MVP voting.  Paul Goldschmidt has become a legitimate stud this year and likely finishes 3rd behind McCutchen and Kershaw.  Rounding out the top 5 probably are two from Yadier Molina, Freddie Freeman and possibly Joey Votto as leaders from their respective playoff teams.  Also-rans who looked great for short bursts this season include the following:  Jayson Werth (who is having a career-year and making some people re-think his albatros contract),  Carlos Gomez (who leads the NL in bWAR, won the Gold glove and led the NL in DRS for centerfielders but isn’t being mentioned at all for the NL MVP: isn’t that odd considering the overwhelming Mike Trout debate??  I’ve made this case in this space to little fanfare in the past; if you are pro-Trout and are not pro-Gomez, then you’re falling victim to the same “MVP Narrative” that you are already arguing against), and maybe even Matt Carpenter (St. Louis’ real offensive leader these days).
  • NL Cy Young:  Clayton Kershaw put together his typical dominant season and won’t lose out to any of his darling competitors.  He may be the only unanimous vote of the major awards.  Marlins rookie phenom Jose Fernandez probably finishes #2 behind Kershaw before squeaking out the RoY award.   Matt Harvey was the All-Star game starter and looked like he could have unseated Kershaw, but a later season swoon and a torn UCL in late August ended his season and his chances early.  He still likely finishes #3.   Others who will get votes here and there: Jordan Zimmermann (who nearly got to 20 wins),  Adam Wainwright (who is back to Ace-form after his surgery and is put together a great season), St. Louis teammate Shelby Miller,  Patrick Corbin (Pitcher of the Month in May), Cliff Lee (who has been great for the mediocre Phillies), and perhaps even Zack Greinke (who finished 15-4; did you know he was 15-4?).  Predicted finish: Kershaw, Fernandez, Harvey, Wainwright, Corbin.
  • NL Rookie of the Year: Seems like its coming down to one of 5 candidates: Fernandez, Puig, Miller, Ryu and Teheran.  I’d probably vote them in that order.  Shelby Miller has stayed the course filling in St. Louis’ rotation and may also get Cy Young votes and seemed like the leading candidate by mid June.  Evan Gattis, the great feel-good story from the Atlanta Braves, started out white-hot but settled down in to relative mediocracy.  Tony Cingrani continued his amazing K/9 pace from the minors at the MLB level, filling in quite ably for Red’s ace Johnny Cueto but was demoted once Cueto returned and struggled with injuries down the stretch.   Didi Gregorious, more famous for being the “other” guy in the Trevor Bauer trade, has performed well.  Meanwhile don’t forget about Hyun-Jin Ryu, the South Korean sensation that has given Los Angeles a relatively fearsome frontline set of starters.  Yasiel Puig took the league by storm and hit 4 homers his first week on the job.  Jose Fernandez has made the jump from A-Ball to the Marlins rotation and has been excellent.  Julio Teheran has finally figured it out after two call-ups in the last two years and has a full season of excellent work in Atlanta’s rotation.  The question is; will narrative (Puig) win out over real performance (Fernandez)?  Tough call.
  • NL MgrClint Hurdle, Pittsburgh.  No real competition here.  Some may say Don Mattingly for going from near firing in May to a 90 win season … but can you really be manager of the year with a 250M payroll?
  • (Unofficial award) NL GMNeal Huntington, Pittsburgh.  It really has to be Huntington for pulling off the low-profile moves that have paid off with Pittsburgh’s first winning season in 20 years.  Ned Colletti‘s moves may have resulted in the best team in the league, but he has the benefit of a ridiculously large checkbook and I hope he doesn’t win as a result.
  • (Unofficial “award”): NL Comeback Player of the Year: I’d love to give this to Evan Gattis for his back story but that’s not the point of this award.  I’m thinking Carlos Gomez with Milwaukee for his massive out-of-nowhere season.  But honestly the award has to go to Francisco Liriano.  Editor’s update: this award was already given and I got it right: Liriano indeed won.
  • (Unofficial “award”): NL Fireman of the YearCraig Kimbrel, who looks to finish the year with a sub 1.00 ERA for the second year running.   Edward Mujica and Aroldis Chapman in the discussion but not really close.

 

Ladson’s Inbox 8/26/13

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Tyler Clippard has been one of the few bright spots for the 2013 Nats; why isn’t he closing? Photo Masn.

Excellent, I was just thinking that I had nothing to write about and MLB Nats beat reporter Bill Ladson posted a mailbox.  Honestly, if I had a steady stream of people emailing me questions I’d have a field day.  I’d post so much content my hands would melt from carpal tunnel syndrome.  I’d post 8,000 word columsn like what Bill Simmons used to do.  Anyway.

Here’s how I’d have responded to the questions Ladson took.  As always, I write my answer here before reading his and edit questions for clarity/conciseness.

Q: Given the way Dan Haren has pitched since being activated from the disabled list, do you see any chance the Nationals re-signing him?

A: Nope.  Zero.  Zilch.  They’re not going to make another $13M mistake in 2014, not with the way that Taylor Jordan has pitched.  The Nats little splurge last off-season pushed their payroll into unknown territory, and I’ll bet they bring it back (especially since that pocketbook hit brought nothing but a .500 record).  Dan Haren is more likely to get flipped to a pitching starved contender in the next week (unless the Nats stupidly hold out for too many prospects, as seems to be the case) and will be plying his trade elsewhere next season.  Ladson says no as well but then completely hedges his answer, saying that “things could change” and “we should have more information in the off-season.”   Well, can’t that be the answer to every question?  

Q: Why isn’t Tyler Clippard closing? 

A: Because the Nats stupidly gave Rafael Soriano a $30M deal, and he’s a “big name closer” that someone in this team’s executive heirarchy was convinced that we needed.  I don’t think it was Mike Rizzo; this moves smelled like a fan-boy ownership panic move in reaction to Drew Storen‘s NLCS Game 5 meltdown.  The problem with Soriano, as has been well established in his prior stints, is that he’s a whiner, a clubhouse cancer, and a problem child when he’s not used in save situations.  His track record speaks for itself: look at his seasonal performances when he’s a closer versus when he’s not.  He wore out his welcome in Tampa Bay with probably the most easy-going manager in the game Joe Maddon.  We’ve already learned this year he doesn’t work out with his fellow relievers, sits off to himself, isn’t a part of the team.  Great acquisition guys!

We played in the Diamond Dream Foundation golf tournament yesterday and had the opportunity to play alongside former Baltimore Oriole pitcher Dave Johnson, who now does radio work for the Orioles on MASN.  This same topic came up; why isn’t Clippard closing but more importantly; what are the Nats going to do with Tyler Clippard in this coming arbitration hearing?   Johnson said that the save statistic is what the players wanted to be judged on for arbitration hearings, and now they’re slaves to it.  Clippard is having a fantastic season, but isn’t the closer, and he belives that management isn’t going to want to pay him $5-$6M to be a “middle reliever.”  I’m guessing the Nats try to sign Clippard to a 2-year deal this off-season, buying out his arbitration years.

They’ll never do this, but another option for the team is this; trade Clippard to a team looking for a closer, get prospects back, and then his pay becomes commensurate with his role.  But this would significantly weaken the bullpen going into next year needlessly.  Its only money; if the Nats didn’t learn this from last year’s transactions (letting Tom Gorzelanny walk over a couple of million dollars?  Non-tendering John Lannan to save $5m?) then that’s unfortunate.  I’d rather have had a couple of guys getting a ton of money as insurance policies than a $30M closer for a .500 team.

Ladson pointed out curious reliever usage in the last series and postulates that Davey Johnson may have had enough of Soriano himself.  We’ll see if Clippard closes the rest of the way and how Soriano handles it.

Q: Do you think Mike Rizzo would consider hiring Mike Scioscia as the Nationals’ next manager? Looks like his time in Anaheim may be ending.

A: Absolutely.  If the Angels are dumb enough to let Mike Scioscia go, then I agree with Buster Olney and Jayson Stark, who talked about this same issue on the Baseball Tonight Podcast late last week.  They said that if Scioscia is fired, “he’ll have a new job in 0.2 seconds.”   The Angels aren’t losing because of Scioscia; they’re losing because the GM wanted to spend $400M on aging FA bats in Albert Pujols and Josh Hamilton while spending about $5 on starting pitching this year.  (I STILL cannot believe the Joe Blanton contract; how does he get a 2yr/$15M contract after the way he pitched in 2012??).  Ladson agrees.

Q: Considering how well Werth has played this year, are we giving up on Span too soon?

A: Possibly.  Or possibly we were just expressing irritation that Denard Span is playing exactly as we feared he would; posting a 91 OPS+ which is nearly identical to his production in 2010 and 2011.   I’m tired of repeating my own opinion on the matter (we didn’t need Span, we could have kept Harper in center, you’re wasting Harper’s defense in left, we could have used Morse’s power, we didn’t need to give up our best starting pitching prospect, defense in LF and 1B is overrated, blah blah blah).   Ladson says that Span has a “friendly contract” and can be dealt.  Sorry; don’t see that.  Rizzo’s way too egotistical to admit a mistake and deal Span now.

Q: Looking to next year, doesn’t Steve Lombardozzi remind you of Chase Utley at second? And what happens with Tyler Moore as either an outfielder or first baseman? Both of these young guys are too good not to get a real chance at starting for the Nats.

A: Steve Lombardozzi as Chase Utley?  Uh; Utley averaged 30 homers in his peak years and has more than 200 for his career.  Lombardozzi has four.  4 homers in his life.  Lombardozzi is a slap hitter, Utley is a middle of the order power hitter.  Other than that, yeah I guess they’re similar.   As for Tyler Moore I guess the questioner either a) hasn’t seen his seasonal numbers or b) has forgotten that the Nats have guys locked up through 2014 at every position that Moore can play.  Unless there’s an injury, the guy is a backup in 2014.  Ladson agrees with me on Lombardozzi.  As for Moore, Ladson seems to think that the Nats might trade LaRoche.  Really??  Who is going to take LaRoche for 2014?  He’s hitting .238 with barely any power for a first baseman.  Who’s taking that contract and giving us anything of value coming back?  Wishful thinking.

Q: Would the Nationals have interest in signing outfielder Jacoby Ellsbury, who is a free agent after this season?

A: I would think not; Jacoby Ellsbury is going to want too much money, we have no place to play him, and I don’t think he’s worth the money.  He had one great season, a couple of decent ones and otherwise is a below-average offensive outfielder.    I think he’s a lock to stay in Boston.  Ladson notes that Ellsbury is a Scott Boras client so you never know what’ll happen.

Interesting Trade Season rumor…

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Could the Nats trade LaRoche? Photo: Rob Carr/Getty Images

Could the Nats trade LaRoche? Photo: Rob Carr/Getty Images

In a recent column, Jayson Stark floats an interesting trade scenario: basically the Nats trade Adam LaRoche, move Ryan Zimmerman to first base, move Anthony Rendon to his natural third, and recall the hopefully back-on-track Espinosa.

In other words, the exact future scenario envisioned for this team before locking in LaRoche for 2 years at first base, necessitating the jettison of Michael Morse (and his offense) this past off-season.

He wouldn’t have reported it if he hadn’t heard some rumblings in the industry about it; how seriously would the Nats consider such a  move?

Major issue with this situation?  You’re losing LaRoche’s bat.  This team needs all the offense it can get; it doesn’t need to trade their cleanup hitter away.  In this scenario you’re replacing LaRoche like-for-like in the rotation with Danny Espinosa, not exactly an even deal.

We’ve already heard that the team is playing Espinosa at short in AAA, in what most believe is a show-casing of Espinosa’s skills at the position.  He’s far more valuable to teams as a career .240 shortstop with 20-homer power than he is putting up those same numbers at second base.  However, as others have noted, trading Espinosa after the start he had in 2013 would be the definition of “selling low.”  So I’m guessing he’s just filling in where needed in Syracuse for now.  Once a short-stop, always a short-stop.  After a horrible start in Syracuse, reports are that Espinosa is tearing it up as of late.  Is he ready to come back up?

Another issue with this scenario is Zimmerman’s improved defense at third lately.  Is it possible that all his throwing issues were lingering effects of his off-season shoulder surgery?  You know, the surgery that was supposed take just a few weeks to recover from but whose recovery period is now well into the 2013 season?  Despite Rendon’s reputed skills at the hot-corner, you don’t lightly move Gold Glove-winning fielders off their positions.

What if LaRoche was packaged with Espinosa and moved to a team that could provide the Nats back with a bigger bat who plays first base but who is making too much money for the team in question?  I can’t think of someone like this off-hand, but the scenario would be the Nats providing payroll relief for some bad contract.

Thoughts?

Written by Todd Boss

July 16th, 2013 at 10:04 am

My 2012 End-of-Season award Predictions

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Mike Trout is a shoe-in for Rookie of the Year. Will he add AL MVP as well? Photo Gary Vasquez/US Presswire via espn.com

I’ve had a good string of predicting MLB’s major Post season awards in this space.  In 2010 I went 8 for 8.  In 2011 I again went 8-8 in predicting MLB’s awards, though I missed on predicting the unofficial Sporting News Executive and Comeback Player of the year.   I don’t have much confidence in going 8-for-8 this year though; the AL MVP seems way too close to predict, and I have no idea how the Cy Young awards will go.

[Editor Note: I write this in phases over the course of the season, and finalized it in early October.  After I wrote this piece some of the awards have already been announced; Sporting News announced Comeback Players of the Year last week.  I'll put up another post talking about my guesses and which awards I got right and wrong in another article once all awards are announced in November.]

Here’s a sampling of major baseball writers’ and their predictions that I could find ahead of my publishing this article: Tom Verducci, Ken Rosenthal, Bob Nightengale, Jonah Keri, and Jayson Stark.  Here’s the Fangraphs.com staff picks, heavily statistically weighted as you’d expect.  As you will see, even the national writers are all over the road with their predictions.  Here’s HardballTalk’s Matthew Pouliot‘s theoreticall ballot, with some contrarian picks.  Seamheads’ Andrew Martin has the typical sabre-slanted ballot.

Before reading on to my predictions on 2012′s winners, a statement to prevent arguments in the comments section.  These are my guesses as to who will WIN the awards, not necessarily who DESERVES them.  Invariably there’s a player who plays on a non-playoff or losing team but puts up fantastic numbers (Matt Kemp for the 2011 Dodgers, perhaps Mike Trout this year) who a number of loud pundits say “should” win the MVP.  Well, the fact of the matter is that the current voter base absolutely takes into account the circumstances behind a player’s production, and places more value on batters who are in a pennant race.  As do I.  The MVP isn’t the “Best Overall Batter Award,” which would end a lot of these arguments (since, the Cy Young essentially is exactly the “Best Overall Pitcher Award” and thus is easier to predict); its the “Most Valuable Player” award, and I agree with many who believe that a guy hitting .370 for a last place team isn’t nearly as “valuable” as the guy who hits .320 and leads a team deep into a playoff race.  It is what it is; if we want to change it perhaps the Baseball Writers Association of America (BBWAA, whose awards these are) needs to add a category or clarify their requirements.

Secondly, when considering the Cy Young, invariably there’s one pitcher who puts up comparable numbers to another, but one plays in a weaker division so the same Sabr-focused pundits make their holier-than-thou proclamations about how the voter base failed in their picks.  And their points are valid.  But this is a prediction piece, not an opinion piece, and the fact of the matter is that current voters are still mostly old-school and put value on things like “Wins” and “ERA,” stats that most Sabr-nerds think are useless in evaluating a pitcher.

So keeping those two points in mind, Here’s my predictions for 2012:

  • AL MVP: Miguel Cabrera.  Despite the massive amount of internet baseball material devoted to talking about how great a season Mike Trout has had (mostly looking at his WAR values historically), I still see the voter base placing emphasis on three major points:
    • Cabrera plays for a playoff team, Trout does not.   The fact that the Angels will finish with a better record than the Tigers, or that the Angels clearly played in a harder division?  Immaterial to the old-school voter base.
    • Cabrara won the Triple Crown.  And most Triple Crown winners throughout history also won the MVP.  The fact that the triple crown is based on 3 relatively flawed statistics?  Irrelevant to the narrative of the achievement itself.  It remains an incredibly difficult achievement to accomplish in modern baseball’s era of specialized hitters (Ichiro for batting, Adam Dunn for homers) to hit for both average and power in the way that Cabrera consistently does.  (Rob Neyer posted thoughts about this topic, quoting random people on the internet with various takes).
    • Cabrera had a monster finish, Trout did not.  Cabrera’s OPS in the run-in months was over 1.000 each of July, August and September.  Trout peaked in July but was merely above average in the closing months.   Your finish matters (as we’ll see in the NL Rookie of the Year race discussed later on).

    Opinions like USA Today’s Bob Nightengale‘s exemplify the bulk of the voter base right now.  A few years ago the writers were smart enough to award Felix Hernandez a Cy Young with nearly a .500 record by recognizing more of the advanced metrics in play, but the Cy Young’s definition is a lot more specific than that of the MVP.

    This is nothing against Trout; the Angels were 6-14 when he got called up and finished 89-73.  That’s an 83-59 record with him, a .584 winning percentage that equates to 95 wins, which would have won the AL West.  Trout was the undeniable MVP for me nearly all season.  You hate to say it, but when the Angels faltered so did Trout’s MVP candidacy.

    The rest of the ballot?  Adrian Beltre and Robinson Cano get some typical “best player on best teams” votes.  I’d give Josh Reddick some top-5 votes too.

  • AL Cy Young: David Price, by virtue of his 20 wins and league leading ERA, will squeak out the win over last year’s winner Justin Verlander. The statistical crowd will point out that Verlander was just as dominant in 2012 as he was in 2011 (when he unanimously won), and that his significantly higher innings total and lead in Pitcher WAR should get him the award.   However, as with the AL MVP you have to take into account the voter base.   Price won 20 games, that he pitches in a tougher division, that he beat out Verlander for the ERA title.  Plus, and I hate to say it, but Price is the “sexy pick,” the guy who hasn’t won before.  Verlander is the known guy and sometimes you see voters being excited to vote for the new guy.  Its kind of like the Oscars; sometimes an actor wins for a performance that wasn’t the best as a way to “give it to the new guy.”  Certainly this contributed to Clayton Kershaw‘s victory in 2011 and we may see similar behaviors again.  There might even be an east coast voter bias in play.  Jered Weaver, Chris Sale, Jake Peavy, and Felix Hernandez all get some top-5 votes, possibly finishing in that order behind Price and Verlander.
  • AL Rookie of the Year: Mike Trout, in what should be an unanimous vote. He could (if the MVP vote goes the way many thinks it should) become only the 3rd player ever to win both the MVP and the RoY in the same year (Fred Lynn and Ichiro Suzuki being the others).  In the conversation: Yu Darvish (who certainly did not have a BAD year, but drifted mid-season), Yoenis Cespedes (who would win it in most years), Matt Moore (my preseason guess; I’m still shocked he displayed virtually none of the dominance of the 2011 post-season during his 2012 season), Will Middlebrooks (who made Kevin Youklis expendible within just a couple of months of arrival), and amazingly Tommy Milone (who was nearly unhittable in his home stadium and continued his performance from the Nats in the end of 2011).  A couple other names in the conversation: Scott Diamond and Jarrod Parker.
  • AL Mgr: Buck Showalter should get this this award for taking a team that should be a .500 ballclub based on pythagorean record and put them in the playoffs for the first time in a decade.  I also think he wins because of east coast bias, since certainly what Bob Melvin and the Oakland A’s pulled off is nothing short of fantastic.  Robin Ventura may have gotten some votes had the White Sox held on, but may be the 3rd place finisher.
  • (Unofficial “award”): AL GM: I almost hate to say it, but Billy Beane. The A’s were supposed to be awful this year, having traded away most of their starting rotation (as explained further in this Aug 2012 post here) and let most of their hitters walk.  Instead they acquire a couple of good pieces from Washington, sign the exciting Cespedes to go with a few bottom-barrel FAs, and overcame a 13-game deficit to win the powerhouse AL West.  A great story.
  • (Unofficial “award”): AL Comeback Player of the Year: It has to be Adam Dunn, right?  How do you go from the lowest qualifying average in history to career highs in homers and not get votes.  Jake Peavy may get some votes after two injury plagued seasons, but he was pretty decent last year and isn’t exactly coming out of nowhere like Ryan Vogelsong did last year.

Now for the National League:

  • NL MVP: Buster Posey‘s strong finish, combined with his team’s playoff run and his playing catcher gives him the nod over his competition here.  For much of the season I thought this award was Andrew McCutchen‘s to lose, but his fade and Pittsburg’s relative collapse from their division-leading mid-season costs him the MVP.  The rest of the ballot? Ryan Braun may be putting up MVP-esque numbers but the fall out from his off-season testing snafu will cost him votes (both in this race and for the rest of his career unfortunately). Johnny Molina getting some press too, for many of the same reasons as Posey.  Joey Votto probably lost too much time to be really considered, but remains arguably the best hitter in the league.
  • NL Cy Young:  R.A. Dickey was the mid-season choice, was challenged late but his 20th win combined with his fantastic ERA for a knuckleballer makes him the winner.  Amazingly, Dickey has pitched most of the season with a torn abdominal muscle, making his season accomplishments even more impressive.   Johnny Cueto makes a great case, leading the playoff-contending Reds, but he slightly sputtered down the stretch.  Clayton Kershaw quietly had a fantastic year, leading the league in ERA, but as we saw with David Price above, I think the voters like to vote for the new guy.  Kershaw got his Cy Young last year; this year is Dickey’s time.  Other names in the top-5 mix: Matt Cain, Cole Hamels, Gio Gonzalez and perhaps even Jordan Zimmermann (who got some mid-season attention by virtue of his excellent July).  I have a hard time giving the award to a reliever, but the numbers Aroldis Chapman and Craig Kimbrel are putting in as the closers of Cincinnati and Atlanta respectively may be enough to at least appear in the top-5.  Lastly, the odd case of Kris Medlen; his WAR puts him in the top 10 despite only having 12 starts.  Is this enough to give him some votes?  Maybe some 5th place votes here and there.  But look out in 2013.
  • NL Rookie of the Year: Bryce Harper, who won his 2nd rookie of the month in September, finished incredibly strong and took advantage of late-season fades from his two biggest competitors to win this award.  The National media buzz on Harper/Trout was never greater than during the season’s last month, and while games in April count the same as in September, the lasting impression is made by he who finishes strongest.   Wade Miley has a great case but I think falls short.  Cincinnati’s Todd Frazier has had a great season and was beating Harper’s numbers across the board, but he sat once Scott Rolen came back and faded down the stretch.   Milwaukee’s Norichika Aoki has had a nice season at age 30, coming over from Japan.  I don’t think guys like this (or Darvish, or Ichiro Suzuki for that matter) should qualify as “rookies” but rules are rules.  Anthony Rizzo, Wilin Rosario, Matt Carpenter, and Mike Fiers also put up good rookie numbers and may get some 5th place votes.
  • NL Mgr: Davey Johnson.  Nobody had the Nats winning nearly 100 games.  Had the Pirates not collapsed perhaps we’d be talking about Clint Hurdle. Don Mattingly had somewhat of a transitionary team playing great early, but the mid-season influx of high-priced talent, and their subsequent collapse costs him any support.
  • (unofficial award) NL GM: Mike Rizzo, pulling off the Gio Gonzalez trade, signing Jackson in a deal immediately lauded as a great move and quickly putting together a team that looks to be 15-20 games improved over 2011.  We thought they’d be in the mid-80s in wins; who thought they could be pressing for 100??
  • (Unofficial “award”): NL Comeback Player of the Year: Buster Posey.  He went from a season-ending injury to an MVP season.  In other years Adam LaRoche may get some looks here, but not in the face of what Posey has been doing for San Francisco.  Lastly I had Johan Santana on a short list for this award until he was lost for the season in the aftermath of his 134 pitch no-hitter on June 1st.  At at point he was 3-2 but with a 2.38 ERA.  He finished the season 6-9 with a 4.85 ERA and was shut down on August 17th.  Are we sure that no-hitter was worth it?

Pettitte was a very good pitcher… but no Hall of Famer

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Pettitte stares down another hitter. Photo noahhunt.org

Andy Pettitte‘s retirement (see my previous post for thoughts on its effect on the Yankees season) has lead to a series of inevitable posts about his Hall of Fame worthiness.  Si.com’s Joe Sheehan wrote this opinion piece after Pettitte’s retirement, saying that “Modern era of baseball demands Cooperstown find place for Pettitte.”  I won’t really go into his arguments except to say that he believed that Bert Blyleven was “wildly overqualified” for the hall, a position that I “wildly” disagree with and posted as much here about a month ago.  So its doubtful that I’d agree with his sentiments.

(Note; for the purposes of this article we will ignore the fact that Pettitte’s chances of getting voted into the hall in light of his PED usage admissions are somewhere between zero and nil anyway, and just think of his career in its merits).

So far, from what I’ve seen from the baseball columnists who have opined on the subject, there seems to be about a 50-50 split pro and con for the Hall.  Joe Lemire seems to agree with Pettitte’s own assertion that he is not Hall-worthy, Buster Olney thinks he’s a borderline candidate but th inks that he may be a Veteran’s committee inductee some day, and Jayson Stark thinks he’s not quite Hall worthy.

For me, Pettitte is NOT a Hall of Famer.  His career numbers show him to be a consistent hurler who was essentially a very good #3 pitcher on a number of very good Yankees teams.  He finishes his career with a 240-138 record, a career 3.88 era, 1.357 career whip and a 117 career ERA+.  His season-ending accomplishments include:

  • 3rd place in his Rookie of the Year voting (losing out to Marty Cordova and Garrett Anderson)
  • 5 years (out of 16) receiving Cy Young votes, though only one of those 5 years was actually meaningful in terms of the voting.  He finished 2nd to Pat Hentgen in the 1996 voting.
  • 3 all star appearances.

His enduring legacy is his post season career, where he has more appearances and more wins than any other pitcher.  He pitched in the post season in 13 of his 16 professional seasons, had 42 starts altogether, and compiled a 19-10 record with a 3.83 era and 1.304 whip.  These numbers are more or less in line with his career numbers, indicating that he was a good pitcher but not great.

I would be a stingy hall voter.  For me the qualifications of a Hall of Fame pitcher include all the analysis of career achievements, but also some semantical arguments:

  • Was the pitcher ever the best player on his team for a consistent period of time?  (no)
  • Was the pitcher a guaranteed shut-down hurler who was worth the price of admission? (no)
  • Was the pitcher regularly an all star and frequently STARTED the all star game? (no)
  • Were you, as a fan of the opposing team, ever “scared” to hear that Pettitte was going against your team? (not really).

At the bottom of Pettitte’s B-R page, his Hall of Fame Monitor score puts him at 42 .. which is better than Jack Morris but below the 50 range that generally qualifies a player as a HoFamer (this is Bill James‘ concoction and the one overall HoF score that I agree with).  But also more telling is the list of pitchers that Pettitte is most like.  Top two: David Wells, Kevin Brown. .  Ironic that these guys were also middle-of-the-rotation Yankees hurlers who gained many wins by virtue of being along for the ride on one of the best teams ever constructed (the late 1990s Yankees teams).

Bottom line; Pettitte was a good teammate and by all accounts a nice guy who made an awful lot of money in his career and goes down as one of the most decorated Yankees ever.  But he’s not one of the BEST ever.

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.