Nationals Arm Race

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First off-season shoe drops: Dusty Baker is not coming back

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Sayonara Baker. Photo via UPI

Sayonara Baker. Photo via UPI

In a move that surprised me, the Nats announced mid friday 10/20/17 that Dusty Baker would not be renewed.  I’m guessing that also goes for his whole staff.

I think he did an excellent job with the team this year, given the ridiculous number of injuries the team face.  He clearly stabilized the clubhouse post Matt Williams.  The knock on him prior to his Nats career was handling of pitchers, over-use of relievers, and a general lack of modern baseball strategy.  But his tenure here has seen none of these issues; there’s quibbles about starter over-use earlier in the year, but that was more about his decrept bullpen than him riding his arms too heavily.  The team shifts and plays modern baseball; I see no evidence that he’s a Mike Scoscia-level old-school hard  head.  So I’m not exactly sure why they felt the need to move on.

I don’t think you can pin the playoff loss on Baker either; when your team  hits .186 and loses two games where the starter threw 6-no hit innings … its tough to win.  Some people keep mentioning his sticking with Jayson Werth instead of Howie Kendrick … or his lineup construction choices batting Werth 2nd (nevermind that lineup construction theory has been proven to be practically negligible over an entire season).   I’m not sure I agreed with the quick hook of Scherzer in his start, much like I hated the quick hook of Scherzer in game 5 of 2016’s NLDS.  But otherwise, its hard to blame the manager for this playoff loss.  I mean, if Jose Lobaton‘s foot doesn’t come off the bag, do the Nats rally and win game 5 and we’re still playing playoff baseball right now?  If the ridiculous 5th inning sequence of events doesn’t befell Scherzer’s outing … are we having a different conversation?

Mike Rizzo took over in 2009 and he’s now set to be on his 6th full time manager.   I’m beginning to wonder about the workability of this front office.  Here’s the history step by step of Rizzo’s manager selections:

  • in 2009, He inherited Manny Acta and an awful team and whacked him mid-season.  Fair enough.
  • He elevated then-bench coach players’ manager Jim Riggleman to the job and let him lead a mediocre to bad team for another year and a half.
  • In 2011, when Riggleman finally had the team playing .500 ball, by all accounts Rizzo refused to even take a meeting with him to discuss his job status, leading to Riggleman’s resignation (my take on it here from the time).
  • He then appoints the guy he apparently wanted all along in Davey Johnson … who led the team to a .500 record the rest of the way, just as Riggleman was doing.
  • The team improves 18 games in 2012, but then slumps and misses the playoffs in 2013, at which point Johnson gets whacked.
  • Rizzo brings in his old Arizona buddy Matt Williams, who catches the team as it recovers from its injury issues and leads them to the 2014 playoffs, where he badly over-manages and the team loses in four.
  • By the end of 2015, the clubhouse is in absolute disarray, as documented by WP beat writer Barry Svrluga  here: Part 1Part 2Part 3.  There’s some amazing information here, and its no shock that the team not only missed the playoffs but whacked Williams soon after the season was over.
  • The team then had the embarrassing interlude with Bud Black.
  • then they hired on Dusty Baker and tried to save-face with the Black situation, saying Baker was their choice all along.
  • And now they’ve whacked Baker after a season where he’s possibly in line to be Manager of the year.

That’s 5 full time managers in 8 seasons at the helm.  Does this sound like a good strategy to you?  Look at some of the better teams out there; they’re not cycling through managers every two seasons.

Is this a concern?

Pressing issues for the Nats this off-season

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Will Dusty get another contract here? Photo via UPI

Will Dusty get another contract here? Photo via UPI

Since our season is over (but the hot-stove has not yet kicked in), i’ll piggy back on the recent posts to this same topic done by Mark Zuckerman at MASN and by Chelsea Janes at WP.

Their posts both touched on some of the same issues; i’ll take those issues and add in a few of my own.

Major issues for the Nats to address this coming off-season, how I would address them and what I think the team will do:

  1. Resolve Dusty Baker situation.  Many reports have noted that the team wants him back and that he wants to return.  I see little that he could have done differently in the 5-game NLDS loss to use as evidence that he’s not the right guy (you can’t lose when your pitchers throw 6 no-hit innings in playoff starts), and he’s so clearly a better man-manager than his predecessor Matt Williams that I see no reason not to extend him.   I know that the Lerner’s don’t like to do long term contracts, and lets just hope they offer Baker the raise he deserves for two straight division titles (and, in my opinion, the NL Manager of the Year in 2017 award that he should get for working around so many injuries this year).
  2. Should we bring back Jayson Werth?   Yes he’s the “club house leader,” yes he’s been here for seven years and has settled in the DC area.  But he struggled this year with both injuries and performance, is entering his age 39  year, posted a negative bWAR in 2017, and the team has a surplus of outfielders who are probably MLB “starters” heading into 2018, more than we can even field.  I think the team says to Werth something along the lines of the following: Go see if you can find a DH/part time OF job in the AL for a couple years until you’re done playing and then we’ll hire you back as a special assistant/hitting instructor/bench coach or something.  I’m not entirely convinced that Werth is a DC lifer though; he’s been kind of a nomad in his career.  Drafted by Baltimore, traded to Toronto (with whom he debuted), traded to the Los Angeles Dodgers, signed as a FA with Philly for four years, then with us for seven.  Yes he’s been with us the longest, but this isn’t a situation like Ryan Zimmerman where we’re the only org he’s known.  I think he heads off to the AL for a couple years then comes back to the fold with a front office job.
  3. What do we do at Catcher?  I’ll quickly repeat what we’ve been discussing in the comments of previous posts; yes I know Matt Wieters struggled badly at the plate this year, yes I know he botched the 5th inning of that fateful game 5.  But he’s not going to decline a $10M offer after this season, nor is the team going to swallow that amount of money.  Prepare yourselves for another season of Wieters, who we can only hope bounces back in his “contract year” and gets a bump in performance.  Meanwhile, as much as we love the Jose Lobaton cheerleader routine, we do need more production from the backup.  Even though Lobaton got just 158 ABs this year, he still managed to put up a -1.0 bWAR figure.  That’s hard to do.  If only we could just have him only play for us in the playoffs … (big hit in game 5 in 2017, the clutch 3-run homer in 2016).  I suspect the team will go with Wieters and Pedro Severino as his backup, getting Severino at least two starts a week to get him up to speed on MLB pitching, then making a 2019 decision based on whether Severino looks like he could hit enough to be a full time starter or if he remains the backup to some FA acquisition.  We have others in the pipeline who may prove themselves worthy soon (Raudy Read in AAA, Taylor Gushue in AA, Jakson Reetz in High-A, Tres Barrera in Low-A, plus long-serving minor leaguers Spencer Kieboom and Jhonatan Solano in the AAA fold who may or may not come back for 2018).
  4. Will they pursue FA extensions with key players?  Namely, Bryce Harper, Anthony Rendon and Daniel Murphy.  Lets take them one by one:
    1. Harper: lets face it, there’s NO WAY he’s not hitting free agency.  Scott Boras client with a chance to set the all time contract record?  Both guys have the ego required to pursue that avenue.  And yes, while some Boras clients (Stephen Strasburg) have taken pre-FA deals, very few do.  You hire Boras generally to get the biggest value deal and to leverage his relationships with owners so as to negotiate directly with them and that’s what Harper will do.
    2. Rendon: he’s still got two arb years: what I think the team will do is do a 2-year deal to buy out the Arb years and get cost containment.  MLBtraderumors projected Rendon’s arb salary for 2018 at $11.5M and they’re usually pretty accurate; I could see the nats offering Rendon a 2yr/$26M deal for $10M in 2018 then $16M in 2019 or something like that … maybe a little higher in his final year given his MVP-calibre season.  That’d be good for the team because Rendon might be a $20M/year player, and good for Rendon b/c he’s injury prone.  Past this though … Rendon is also a Boras client but he projects to me kind of like Strasburg in that he’s low-key and may want to commit to DC longer term.  Of course, Rendon is also a Houston lifer (born, high school and college there) so he could also want a return trip home to play for his home town team.  Probably an issue for the 2020 hot-stove season.
    3. Murphy: the Nats have gotten such a huge bargain with the Murphy signing.  He’ll only be 34 at the beginning of his next deal, and he plays a position (2B) that isn’t nearly as taxing as an OF or other infield position.  I would feel completely comfortable offering him another 3 year deal, increasing the dollars to maybe $16M/year (3yrs/$48M).
  5. Do they need to pursue a Starting Pitcher?  Absolutely, 100% yes.   Joe Ross is out for basically the whole of 2018, they traded away all their AAA depth last off-season, and the guys remaining in AAA (A.J. Cole and Erick Fedde) did not grab the 5th starter job like they had the chance to in 2017.  Edwin Jackson probably earned himself a shot elsewhere but was too inconsistent for my tastes.  I think the team splurges here, trying to get the best additional veteran starter they can find either on the free market or in trade.  The market for starters is intriguing: Yu DarvishJake Arrieta are Cy-Young quality arms available.  There’s some decent SPs like Masahiro Tanaka and Johnny Cueto who can opt out but who also may just stay put.  There’s #4 starter types like Lance Lynn and Jeremy Hellickson who are available and could be good 5th starters for us.  There’s guys who have put up good seasons but have struggled lately (Jaime GarciaFrancisco LirianoClay Buchholz) who could be intriguing.  So it’ll be interesting to see who they get.
  6. What is the Nats 2018 outfield?  Do they stick with Internal options or do they hit the FA/trade Markets?   I like a potential 2018 outfield of Taylor/Eaton/Harper.  I like Taylor in CF providing better defense than Eaton right now, given that ACL injuries really are 2-year recoveries.  Given Taylor’s big 2017 and his “Michael A Tater” NLDS, he’s more than earned a starting spot in 2018.  That leaves some surplus in the OF for 2018 … something we’ll talk about next.  There are some intriguing names out there on the FA market (J.D. Martinez, Justin Upton, Lorenzo Cain) who could slot into either LF or CF as needed and give a hopeful boost to the offense … but are any of those guys and their 8-figure salaries guarantees to be better than the cost-contained Taylor?  I don’t think so, and that’s why I think we stick with him.
  7. Do the Nats leverage their sudden depth of position players in trade this off-season?  In particular, i’m talking about Wilmer Difo and Brian Goodwin, both of whom played extremely well when given the opportunity and who both proved that they’re MLB starting quality.   If we stick with Taylor as a starter, then you have both Goodwin and Andrew Stevenson as able backups and that’s one too many.  If we (going back to the previous point) buy another outfielder, then that’s even more surplus.  I’m of the opinion that the team needs to sell high on both Difo and Goodwin and acquire needed assets (5th starter, bullpen help, near-to-the-majors pitching prospects).
  8. What do we do with the benchDrew, Lobaton, Kendrick, de Aza, Raburn all FAs, Lind has a player option but may want to try to parlay his excellent PH season into a FTE job.  So that leaves … not much.
    1. We have already talked about a backup catcher above
    2. We need a RH bench bat who can play corners (1B/LF): that was Chris Heisey to start the year .. but he’s long gone.  Kendrick ably filled this role … but he won’t sign back on as a utility guy given his excellent 2017.
    3. If Lind doesn’t exercise his $5M player option, we’ll need a big bopper lefty on the bench again.  We do have a guy like this on the farm and on our 40-man (Jose Marmolejos) but is he MLB ready?  He had a nice AA season, but AA to the majors is a jump.
    4. If we flip Difo, we’ll need a backup middle infielder.  Do we keep him assuming that Turner/Murphy will get hit with injuries (as they both are apt to do?)  Turner missed months, Murphy missed nearly 20 games in each of the past two years; is that enough to keep someone around versus flipping them?
    5. We do seem OK with backup outfielders right now, assuming that Andrew Stevenson is sufficient as a 4th OF/CF-capable defensive replacement/pinch runner type.

So, that’s potentially a brand new bench.  Luckily its not too hard to find veteran big-hitting RH or LH bats; we seem to do this every year and have some luck.  Middle infielders?  Would you sign up for another year of Drew?  I don’t think I would at this point; he just seems to brittle to count on.   I suspect the team will be quite active in this area.

9. What do we do with the bullpen Right now, given the departing FA relievers (Perez, Kintzler, Blanton, Albers), our “standing pat” bullpen for 2018 looks something like this:

  1. Closer: Doolittle
  2. 7th/8th inning guys: Madsen, Kelley, Glover
  3. Lefties: Solis, Romero
  4. Long Man: Grace/Cole
  5. Minors options: Adams, Gott

So, that’s a pretty solid looking bullpen if two guys in particular are healthy: Kelley and Glover.  Our entire strategy in the off-season seems to hinge on the health of these two.  I have no guesses; so lets assume one of them is good and one of them has a significant all of 2018 injury.  That means we probably pursue another Matt Albers type in the off-season.  Meanwhile, there’s a difference of opinion on the value of both our current lefties: Romero’s ancillary numbers were barely adequate and lefties hit him for nearly a .300 BAA, so he’s not exactly an effective lefty.  Solis blew up this season, posting a seasonal ERA of nearly 6.00 (his FIP was much better) and getting demoted at one point.  But he gets lefties out, Baker trusts him, and I can’t see him not being a part of the solution.  If the team thought they could improve upon Romero, perhaps they also pursue a lefty reliever (or resign the swashbuckler Perez).  I’m ok with Grace as a long man (though his K/9 rates leave something to be desired) but I’d also like to see the team convert Cole to relief at this point.  There’s some options issues to consider; Solis, Romero, Cole, and Grace are all out of options for next year, so they all either make the team or get cut loose.

 


So Summary:

  1. Bring back Baker
  2. Say good bye to Werth
  3. Stand pat on catcher with internal options
  4. Buy out Rendon’s arb years this year, talk about Murphy next year
  5. Get a decent 5th starter
  6. Go with Taylor/Eaton/Harper with Stevenson as your backup in the OF
  7. Yes, trade Goodwin and Difo for stuff
  8. Get one middle RH reliever, one middle LF reliever, convert Cole to relief
  9. Cattle call for bench bats next spring.

Am I missing anything?  Lots of talking points here.

 

 

Missed opportunities result in a Short Series loss; Season over

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Werth ends his Nats career with a K. Photo via getty images

Werth ends his Nats career with a K in the 9th. Photo via getty images

It was a tough watch, to stay up til nearly 1am watching the inevitable.  And it seemed inevitable to watch this team fritter away another NLDS clinching win through another wild outing from Gio Gonzalez to a rather inexplicable “failed starter giving relief innings attempt” from Max Scherzer.  That was the shocking part to me honestly; how does he give up 4 runs?

Just like in 2012 and in 2016, reliable bullpen guys leaked runs to either cut into hard-earned leads or to drip drip and put the game just slightly out of reach in the end.

The Nats drop a series to Chicago where they hit better (both teams were god-awful at the plate but the Nats only slightly more so), where their team ERA was a full point better than Chicagos, and where they outscored the Cubs 20-17 over five games.  Just as in 2016 when the Nats similarly outscored the Dodgers but dropped the series 3-2.

It was tough watching Ryan Zimmerman flail at a very tough slider from Wade Davis to end the 7th with runners in scoring position.  It was ridiculous to watch the umpires call Jose Lobaton out despite zero “conclusive evidence” that showed that the tag stayed on, killing a rally that looked like it was about to turn the tide of the game.  And it was pretty tough watching both Werth and Harper get punched out by the same uber-reliever Davis to end the game.  All in all, the Nationals batters left an astounding NINETEEN runners on base in this game.  Nineteen.  I guess they left their “clutch” pants at home.

Baseball Playoffs rarely distill down the “right” champion.  In fact, the team that had the best regular season record has subsequently won the World Series just five times since 1990 (the 1998 Yankees super team, the dominant 2007 Boston team, the 2009 A-Rod Yankees team, again with the 2013 Boston team and last year’s Chicago Cubs).   The other 22 champions during that time were not the best teams in their leagues and in some cases weren’t even the best teams in their divisions.  Miami famously has two WS wins but zero divisional titles in their history, which seems kind of ridiculous.  I’m not saying the Nats were necessarily “better” than the Cubs … they were separated by 4 wins over 162 games, but they deserved to win this series.

End of the line for Werth most likely, also for a handful of bit players, but the core of this team gets another shot at it next year.

Shout out to Michael A. Taylor, who may have shared series MVP honors with Strasburg for his exploits in this series (he drove in 8 of the 20 runs we scored in five games).  Between his renaissance this season at the plate and his exploits this series, it has me rethinking what to do with him for next season: I was pro-trade of Taylor and going with FA/Eaton/Harper outfield … but now i’m thinking you put some combination of Eaton/Taylor/Harper in that OF and save your cash for a 5th starter and/or more bullpen help.  But we’ll get into off-season moves later on in depth.

As for the rest of the offense, tts telling that the only  other guys on this team who drove in runs were the “key men” in the lineup: Harper, Rendon, Murphy, Zimmerman.  So our key guys struggled at the plate but still drove in the runs to keep it close.  Turner finishes off a disappointing season with a disappointing series … lets hope an off-season of rest gets him back to his late 2015 days for next year.

One last series stat.  Strasburg’s line: 14 innings, 6 hits, 3 walks, 22 punch-outs, a 0.00 ERA … and a 1-1 record.  He took a loss for his efforts in game 1.  Bully for him for taking his game 4 start and shoving it down every pundit’s throat who questioned him.  He really turned the narrative on his career with this performance … do you believe there’s still people out there who don’t think he’s an “Ace” in this league?  Maybe that nonsense will end, given his dominance down the stretch and in this series.

Next up for me; i’ll do playoff predictions I guess, because i like looking at pitching match-ups and guessing who might win.  Quick predictions: Houston beats over-their-depth Yankees, LA crushes the exhausted Cubs, and LA fulfils their destiny by holding the Houston bats at bay in the WS.  But we’ll dig deeper into it later.

See you 2016.  Another playoff opportunity lost for this team.

 

Nats salvage the split; how’s our chances of getting back to DC for a 5th game?

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Harper certainly liked Zimmerman's homer. Photo via fanragsports.com

Harper certainly liked Zimmerman’s homer. Photo via fanragsports.com

It was looking pretty gloomy heading into the 8th inning.  Trea Turner had just struck out for the 8th straight time (ok that was an exaggeration, but he is 0-8 with four punch-outs from the lead-off spot this series) with the bases loaded and the Nats had gone 17 innings and scored precisely one lucky run (Anthony Rendon‘s excuse-me-opposite field homer).

Then Carl Edwards Jr. hung a curve-ball to one of baseball’s best sluggers.  And I mean, he frigging hung it.  It came up to the plate on a big ole loop and Bryce Harper, who has been hitting majestic homers to the upper deck in RF since he was in his teens, did not miss.   Tie Game, and the curious bullpen usage of the 8th inning by Joe Maddon continued a few more batters, enabling Ryan Zimmerman to hit one *just out* of left field off a lefty reliever to cap off a 5 run 8th inning come back and seal the victory.

(Note, per comments, yes this definitely cracks my all time top 10 games list … we’ll publish it again in the off-season.  I think i’ve got it 8th or so).

So we head to Chicago with a 1-1 split and disaster averted.  How do things look in Chicago?  Lets look at the presumed starters here on out:

  • Game 3: Max Scherzer vs Jose Quintana: Scherzer is (hopefully) healed from his hamstring issue, and hopefully can get the Nats the win they need him to get.  Meanwhile, lefty Quintana has been decent for the Cubs since his acquisition, posting a 3.74 ERA for the team (which, ironically, is exactly the same ERA as Max’s career post-season ERA).  Not one current National has ever batted against him, so I’d expect some struggles at the plate from our team, especially our big lefties.  But, we also have some important RH batters who should benefit from facing a lefty starter who doesn’t have as good of stuff as Jon Lester has.  Advantage Nats.
  • Game 4: Tanner Roark vs Jake Arrieta: Arrieta’s 2nd half was awesome (he went 7-2 with a 1.29 ERA in the season’s last two months), but he also suffered a Hamstring issue that pushed his start back.  He hasn’t pitched since 9/26; how rusty will he be?  Roark got bombed in his last start (9/27), then struggled in a mop-up inning to keep him fresh (3 hits and a walk), and is a creature of habit in terms of preparation … so how will he look on October 10th after not having started for 2 weeks?  I suspect this game could get to the bullpens early on both sides.  Advantage Cubs though for the obvious reasons: they’re throwing a former Cy Young winner and we’re not.
  • Game 5 if we get here: Strasburg against Hendricks again.  We feel confident Strasburg will continue his reign of dominance … but can the Nats figure out how to be more patient against the soft-tossing Hendricks?

Lets not get ahead of ourselves here; we need to get the split in Chicago before we talk about Game 5.  When we get there, we’ll talk again.

Bright Spots for the Nats so far: Strasburg, the bullpen, Adam Lind‘s game changing pinch hit in his first post season AB.  Even Gonzalez‘s start wasn’t that bad.

Areas of Concern: The offense in general; the team is hitting just .136 and is lucky to have gotten the split.  Turner is the biggest concern; Werth is 0-fer but is putting the ball in play, and Rendon’s paltry BA takes some of the context out of the harder hit balls he’s hitting; they’ll fall eventually.

Ask Chelsea – post-season/pre-playoffs mailbag

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Farewell Jayson Werth; its been a good 7 years. Photo via getty images

Farewell Jayson Werth; its been a good 7 years. Photo via getty images

Lets bang out a mailbag, this time with WP beat reporter Chelsea Janes at the WP.

I’ll do a Playoffs prediction piece once tonight’s WC game is settled; no point in speculating until we know who the Dodgers are facing.


Q: Is any contract extension for Dusty contingent on getting the team past the first round?

A: I wouldn’t think so, honestly.  I think Dusty Baker has done an excellent job with this team, turning it around starkly from the Matt Williams regime.  Yes its curious that he hasn’t been extended … but then again, the inevitable extension for Mike Rizzo seemed to be a little late coming too.  Maybe this team has told him privately that they’ll get it done this off-season and just focus on winning for the time being.

Janes has reported several times that everyone plans on Baker being back, that Rizzo wanted to do it in ST but ownership did not, and that’s the Nationals MO.  


 

Q: Is Stephen Strasburg going to start Game 1?

A: As of the point of this writing, it definitely seems like it.  This gives Max Scherzer one more day to recover, and gives the team the choice of selecting either guy for Game 5 thanks to multiple off-days in the playoff schedule.  I’d be up for this scenario honestly; Scherzer may be the Ace but Strasburg has been the best pitcher in the last two months.

Janes does not know but pointed out Strasburg’s unbelievable numbers since returning from the D/L in August.  He definitely merits a 2-game NLDS if it comes to it.


 

Q: Chances Anthony Rendon gets an extension this off season?

A: Hmm.  Good question.  Rendon is going to be due a sizeable arbitration raise this off-season and still has another Arb year, so I could see the team doing a 2-year deal now to avoid the arguing.  Perhaps 2yrs/$25M or something (with salaries of $10 and $15M?).  I’d take that for cost certainty for a guy who doesn’t get near the credit he’s due but is putting up MVP numbers.  As far as longer-term extension?  I dunno; is Rendon a lifer in Washington?  What will it take to sign him long term?  In this respect, his under-ratedness works to the team’s benefit.  I see him kind of in the Adrian Beltre mold; good defensive player, not as flashy, solid offensive contributions.  Beltre is getting $18M per right now and just finished a 5yr/$80M deal before that, so that’s a good benchmark.  Maybe Rendon can be had for something like a 5yr/$90M deal which would take him through his age-32 year, so we’d get his best years but he’d get another shot at the FA market at 32.

Janes agrees with my assertion that they’ll likely buy out his Arb years, but notes that he’s a Scott Boras client and likely hits FA.  Fair point.  But our read on Rendon is not the hyper-aggressive big character/ego guy, so maybe in the asme vein as Strasburg (also Boras client) he’ll sign an extension to stay comfortable.  He’s also a Houston guy born and bred (HS and college) and would make a ton of sense heading back there.  Houston has a log-jam of good infielders right now … but a lot can change in a couple years.


Q: Would you start Jayson Werth or Adam Lind in LF for playoffs Game 1?

A: Werth absolutely.  Especially since Jon Lester is likely to go Game 1.  Maybe you could get more clever in games 2-4 when RHP starters go for Chicago… but I still doubt it.  Unless Werth is hurt, he’s  your starting LF.  And if he was hurt … i’m not sure I’d go with Lind out there in lieu of Howie Kendrick honestly, given the defensive liabilities.

Janes agrees, thinks it would take an injury to get someone besides Werth out there, and points out that Werth was a rock in the playoffs last year.


Q: How worried should we be about the recent performances of Gio Gonzalez and Tanner Roark? 

A: Slightly worried, but not overly so.  The Nats have really had so little to play for for weeks that its possible that these guys just mentally relaxed enough to have bad games, especially in the season finale (which was emotional for it being Werth’s likely final regular season game in a Nats uniform).

Janes thinks Gio was a bit under the weather, and that Roark admitted to not being totally focused during the grind of the final week.


Q: Will Victor Robles make the major league roster out of spring training in 2018?

A: Oh, that’s a good question.  Something tells me he will not for several reasons:

  1. Adam Eaton will be back and starting in CF
  2. Harper is in RF
  3. The team still has TaylorGoodwin and Stevenson all in the mix, all pre-arb, all with more service time than Robles
  4. We still could buy ourselves a bigger bat to play LF and have these guys all jockeying to be the 4th OF.
  5. We still could see a trade in the off-season, flipping some of this sudden OF depth (along with Wilmer Difo) for the answer.
  6. Robles needs to be playing every day, not sitting on the MLB bench, and makes sense to be in AAA against near-MLB quality guys
  7. Robles needs, in the same vein as Trea Turner, to have his service time managed a little bit.

Now, I could be wrong, and the team could find itself in a dogfight early in Harper’s last season.  They could get hit with injuries again and he’d be right back up.  But to start, i’d have him in AAA.

Janes repeats practically everything I wrote.


Q: Who will be the last man on the bench? What will the bullpen look like? Will Robles make the playoff roster? 

A: I think …. if it were me i’d put Robles on the roster.  But Mr, Baker probably wants a more veteran player, so don’t be surprised if the kid is left off in lieu of some .200 hitting last man.  We’ll see.

We talked about this in the last post so we won’t do it again, and Janes posted a whole 2,000 word article on it … so we’ll defer to those discussions.

 

 

 

 

 

How do we stack up against Chicago for the NLDS?

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Nats Nation breathes a sigh of relief; it was just a cramp. Photo via thesportsquotient.com

Nats Nation breathes a sigh of relief; it was just a cramp.  Or was it? Photo via thesportsquotient.com

Warning: lots of judgments based on short sample sizes and possibly not taking into account other factors that may have been in play during 3- and 4-game series, which are in reality a small fraction of a season.  And  yes I know, past performance is no indicator of future performance.  Just read and stop being a buzz-kill will ya?  :-)

So, we’ve known for a while that we were going to face the Cubs in the NLDS.  But now its official.  So lets peek back at our two series against them this year to see how our guys matched up to see if there’s any places to keep an eye on.  On a macro level, we took the season series from the Cubs 4-3, outscoring them 39-28 in the process.  We split four games at home in June, then took 2 of 3 against them on the road in August.

Nats Starters:  Here’s how our playoff starters fared against the Cubs this year:

  • Max Scherzer went 6, gave up 2 hits and a run with a victory over Chicago at home in June.  That sounds pretty good.
  • Stephen Strasburg went 7, punched out 13 (!) and gave up 3 runs (2 earned) in a home victory in June.  I’ll take that.
  • Gio Gonzalez went 6, gave up just two hits (good) but walked 5 (bad) , managed to give up just one run (good) and was an unlucky loser in the June home series.
  • Tanner Roark went 6+, gave up 2 runs on 5 hits and took a loss in Chicago in August.  Not bad.
  • The other three starts against the Cubs were Joe Ross in June, Edwin Jackson in August and Erick Fedde in August, so the Cubs have only seen our starters once each this year.

So, all four of our starters basically had quality starts against the Cubs this year.  That sounds promising.  No red flags.  We’ll ignore the fact that both Gio and Roark got bombed on the season’s closing day.  Maybe they were hung over.

Cubs Starters: How did Chicago’s presumed playoff rotation fare against us?

  • Jon Lester went 6, gave up 3 hits and a run in a no-decision in the June finale.  Tough.
  • Lester threw another QS in August, going 6 2/3rds, giving up 3 runs on 6 hits and getting a ND against Fedde.  Not bad.
  • Jake Arrieta was super-wild, walking 6 in 4 innings and taking the loss against Scherzer in June.  Uncharacteristic performance.
  • Kyle Hendricks went 7, giving up 3 runs on 5 hits and took a loss against Roark in the August series.  About what you’d want out of a 3rd starter.
  • Jose Quintana was a mid-season acquisition and did not pitch against us this year.
  • The other starts against us were thrown by Eddie Butler (who hails from Chesapeake, went to power-house Greenbrier Christian and was a 1st rounder out of Radford a few years back) and Jon Lackey (twice).

So, Lester was solid against us twice, Arrieta had an uncharacteristic struggle, and Hendricks was good but not dominant.  Quintana has thrown to a 3.74 ERA in his 14 starts, good but not lights out.  I have no idea how they’ll line up for the playoffs but think it may be as they’re listed above (maybe Quintana is #3 and Hendricks is #4).  It does look like Lackey is odd-man out of the Chicago rotation, which should be a fun conversation with their manager.

Summary: I like how our Starting Pitching lines up frankly; Scherzer is Scherzer, Strasburg has been unhittable for two months, and Gonzalez has been sneaky good all year.  Gonzalez and Roark project to pitch in Chicago … but Gio’s away splits are pretty good this year (11-5 with a 3.12 ERA).


 

Nats Hitters; here’s how some of our key hitters have fared against Chicago starters in their career (thanks to the wonderful baseball-reference.com per-Pitcher stats):

  • Bryce Harper is 1-7 against Lester, 4-14 against Arrieta, 4-13 against Hendricks and has never faced Quintana.  At least his one hit against Lester was a dong.
  • Daniel Murphy is 4-14 against Lester, 6-19 against Arrieta, 4-15 against Hendricks and also has never faced Quintana.  Better.
  • Ryan Zimmerman is 2-16 against Lester, 5-21 against Arrieta, 0-9 against Hendricks and has also never faced Quintana.  Might be a rough series for Zim.
  • Trea Turner is 1-2 against Lester, 1-2 against Arrieta, and has never faced either Hendricks or Quintana.  Not much to go on here.
  • Jayson Werth is 2-4 against Lester, 2-9 against Arrieta, 0-3 against Hendricks and has never faced Quintana.  About what you’d expect.
  • Anthony Rendon is 1-5 against Lester, 4-11 against Arrieta, 2-11 against Hendricks and has never faced Quintana.  Not bad.

I didn’t bother looking up Wieters or Taylor numbers because I expect little from them this off-season; anything they contribute is gravy.  Our 1-6 hitters need to make it happen.

Cubs Hitters; here’s the same analysis against our guys for Cubs key hitters (career figures):

  • Kris Bryant is 1-10 against Max, 2-5 against Stras, 2-10 against Gio and a strong 5-11 against Roark.   Might be an interesting series for the defending NL MVP.
  • Anthony Rizzo is 3-10 against Max, 2-13 against Stras, 2-22 against Gio and 4-18 against Roark.  Clearly the lefty and Roark’s swing-back fastball is effective against him.
  • Willson Contreras has never faced Scherzer, is 1-3 against Strasburg, 1-2 against Gio, 1-3 against Roark.  Almost no history go go on.
  • Javier Baez is 0-5 vs Max, 0-6 against Stras, 0-6 against Gio and 1-3 against Roark.  Not a lot of success here for Baez.
  • Kyle Schwarber has just two ABs against any of our starters, going 1-2 in a game against Roark.

I’m not entirely sure that Schwarber will play (he had 30 homers but an awful BA), nor Baez (since the Cubs have Ben Zobrist).  But these are the key bats for the Cubs and there’s not a ton to go on.  It seems like Bryant will be a handful, Rizzo may be an issue against some of our guys, and the rest of the squad could hit or miss (which, perhaps, is what you’d say also having not seen any of these stats).


 

So how does it look overall?  I like our chances, honestly.  I don’t like how Harper has looked since his “return” so that’s a huge worry, but I like our chances with the Cubs having to beat Scherzer twice and Strasburg once in a short series, and I like Gio going against the power hitting lefties in Chicago’s lineup.  I like our revamped bullpen, especially if we never have to depend on the 5th and 6th guy out of it.

It comes down to this injury scare at this point; is Scherzer going to be ok?  Can the Nats survive if Scherzer is out and we’re forced to give a playoff start to Jackson?

Assuming Scherzer is ok, Nats in 5.

 

Congrats on 4th Title in 6 years and a mailbag to kick off discussions

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Can Harper come back from this unnatural-looking injury? PHoto via si.com

Can Harper come back from this unnatural-looking injury? PHoto via si.com

The subject says it all.  This is easily the earliest the team has ever clinched; normally its like the 2nd to last game of the year.   (Previous clinch dates in order: 10/1/12, 9/17/14, 9/25/16).  I will be adding the 2017 clincher to my running/ever growing list of notable Nats games, to be republished this off-season after we win the World Series ;-).

From a content generation standpoint I have started (after not doing them in 2016) the pitching staff reviews for the minor leagues … but they’re slow to develop because we ran through SO MANY pitchers in AAA and AA.  So those are coming eventually.  Its been a challenging couple of months for me personally, hence the lack of content.

Meanwhile, with the off-day comes a mailbag from Nats beat reporter Jamal Collier.  Since i’ve been struggling with content generation lately, lets do a response to kick off some conversation.


 

Q: What does your beat reporter’s gut tell you about Bryce & October? If Werth can’t get his timing either… OF is looking tough

A:  Well, this is the million dollar question isn’t it?  I read somewhere and will paraphrase someone’s research about the Nats offense with and without Bryce Harper … and its about a run/game less.  That’s significant.  His knee injury was worse than we originally thought and includes a calf strain too.  He’s got about 3 weeks left to get back.  My prediction is that Harper makes it back but is hobbled/not 100%.   Meanwhile Jayson Werth has fewer at bats in June/July/Aug/Sept combined than he had in April alone, and now he has a shoulder issue.  No wonder the team called up its #1 prospect Victor Robles.  I’m also beginning to think that Robles is part of the post season discussion, since these two guys are struggling and Alejandro de Aza isn’t exactly lighting the world on fire.

OF prediction for October: Werth, Michael Taylor and Harper starting but struggling, with the team turning to Howie Kendrick as needed and carrying Andrew Stevenson as its 5th/defensive replacement/pinch runner.  Robles comes into play if there’s another injury over de Aza or Rafael Bautista or anyone else we can think of.

Collier thinks Harper will be there in October but doesn’t speculate any further on the OF


Q: Right now, I have no faith Kelley won’t give up hard hit balls whenever he comes in. Odds he makes the playoff roster???

A: We may have to revisit our post-season roster predictions, published on 8/26/17, given what’s been going on.  At that time I went with Doolittle, Madsen, Kintzler, Albers, Glover, Perez, Grace,  Romero as the bullpen, leaving out Shawn Kelley.  However, it does not look like Koda Glover is making it back, so we need another name up there.  That could be a lefty like Solis, or one of struggling vets in Kelley/Blanton, or perhaps more likely Edwin Jackson.  Nonetheless, I think Kelley has pitched himself out of contention.

Collier agrees; he does not think Kelley merits a spot on the post-season roster either.


 

Q: Will @EJ36 be on the postseason roster?

A: Well, speaking of.  Yeah I think he makes sense as the 8th man in the bullpen right now.  He can spell a starter if they get into trouble early and he’s certainly pitched like he deserves it.  He also has experience relieving and could come in and throw middle innings if need be.  I like him as the Glover replacement in the above question.

Collier completely agrees.


 

Q: Based only on the Nats Park locations: what’s better, Ben’s or Mike Isabella’s?

A: I don’t know how anything can ever top Ben’s Chili Bowl for ballpark fare.

Collier is a huge fan of the subs at Mike Isabella’s.  Maybe he doesn’t like getting chili all over his game notes.


 

Q; Will some of the vets who don’t make the playoff roster still travel with the team?

A: Oh yeah, they’re still part of the team and will want to take part.  They know how things go; you can get onto the NLCS foster even if you’re not on the NLDS roster.  You aren’t going to just give up on your season’s accomplishments because you got squeezed out of the roster.

Collier says the same.


 

Q; Since Goodwin looks like he is not returning, who do you think will be our backup CF for the playoffs?

A: I kind of answered this above, but I do think its going to be Stevenson over Robles or others.  Primarily because I think he’s more of a CF than other options, he’s sufficiently fast to pinch hit, he’s older and more experienced, and he’s projecting to be a very good defensive CF (24.5 UZR/150 in his limited time there).

Collier goes with Stevenson too.

 

 

 

 

 

Who is on your Post season Nats roster?

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So, is this photo from 2012 or 2017? via federalbaseball norm hall getty images

So, is this photo from 2012 or 2017? via federalbaseball norm hall getty images

Assuming that the expected players on the D/L come back (all 10 of them as of this writing), there’s a ton of decisions to make in September.

This is probably premature, but it keeps coming up, and the Nats now have a 100% playoff odds chance right now per fangraphs, so might as well speculate.

Who is on your post-season roster?

Assuming that all of Drew, Glover, Goodwin, Harper, Madsen, Raburn, Romero, Scherzer, Turner and Werth come back and are fully healthy (yes, huge caveat), here’s what the Nats are looking at by category:


4 SPs: Options: Scherzer, Strasburg, Gonzalez, Roark, Jackson.  Plus for completeness sake, Fedde and Cole.

As discussed previously, it’d take an injury to one of the first four to get Jackson to the post-season roster and in the rotation (more on this later).  Gio’s great 2017 moves him up to 3rd starter and possible 7th game decider in a long series.  Lets hope we get there.

Who plays in October:  Scherzer, Strasburg, Gonzalez, Roark, in that order.


8 RPs:  Options: Doolittle*, Kintzler, Kelley, Albers, Perez*, Blanton, Grace*, Solis*, Glover, Madsen, Romero* plus 40-man guys Gott and Adams.

I think you have to carry the 7th-8th-9th guys we just acquired, so that’s your law-firm of Doolittle, Madsen and Kintzler.  Madsen apparently is more hurt that we thought and may not be back until the end of September, a situation to monitor for sure.  Albers is a lock as a middle reliever.  Perez’s capabilities of soaking up innings plus doing match-up puts him on the roster too.  I think Grace and Romero have earned their spots, thought that makes for e very lefty-heavy bullpen (which might really come in handy against the Dodgers, if we get there).  One remaining spot; i’d say that it should go to Glover …. but maybe it goes to EJackson instead if Glover isn’t healthy.  I know the assumption here is that everyone is healthy, so we’ll go with Glover for now, but I could also see Dusty Baker going with the experienced arm that could start in a pinch if Roark struggles.

So that leaves Blanton and Kelley having pitched themselves out of contention.  Solis’s up and down season costs him a post-season spot too.  Gott/Adams never had a chance based on MLB performance.

Now, the question is this; does Baker leave off vets like Blanton/Kelley for youngsters like Grace or Romero?  Maybe.  Grace/Romero’s ERAs on the season are in the 4 range … not the sub 2.00 range that would guarantee the spot.  So I dunno.  Maybe they go righty-heavy against Chicago in the NLDS then switch things up and go lefty heavy if we make it to the NLCS against LA.

Who plays in October: Doolittle, Madsen, Kintzler, Albers, Glover, Perez, Grace,  Romero.


Starting lineup: I cannot disagree with Jamal  Collier’s predicted playoff lineup from his Mailbag earlier this week.

1 SS Turner
2 LF Werth
3 RF Harper
4 1B Zimmerman
5 2B Murphy
6 3B Rendon
7 C Wieters
8 CF Taylor

Werth can work the count in the 2-hole, makes good contact and can drive the ball; if Rendon wants to stay in the 6-hole then there’s no better person to put up top with Turner.  Perhaps you switch Wieters and Taylor.  Perhaps you switch Zimmerman and Murphy if you’re not worried about having two lefties in a row.   If Goodwin could play CF, maybe he’d be starting there but right now its a coin-flip between them performance wise.  I don’t think the playoffs are a good time to experiment with Harper in CF so you can slip in Goodwin in RF so as to gain a few incremental points of OPS.  Still can’t quite believe that under-the-radar MVP candidate Rendon is batting 6th.

If Werth still isn’t healthy … then we slot in Kendrick nice and neat into LF/#2.  He’s done great there for us since his acquisition.


 

Bench 
INF/OF Kendrick, INF/OF Lind, C Jose Lobaton, INF Drew, OF Goodwin

This Bench means that the likes of Raburn and more specifically Difo are off the roster.   I’d much rather have Drew off the bench in a critical situation than Difo.  But the thing is … Drew may not be healthy, which would leave Difo on the roster.  Maybe you carry Difo instead of Drew b/c that’d make one too many lefties on the bench (Lind, Drew, Goodwin all lefty only), while Difo can switch hit.  I could see that argument … but then again, does the player’s manager Baker go with Difo over the vet?  It may not matter; if Werth isn’t healthy, both Drew and Difo make it while Kendrick starts.

 

 

Ask Collier 8/21/17

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Kendrick has been a revalation.  Photo via Federal Baseball/USA Today

Kendrick has been a revalation. Photo via Federal Baseball/USA Today

Sorry for the break in action; i’ve had a difficult month.  And we’re actually on vacation this week, which means we missed last night’s Game of Thrones, which means I’ve got to avoid a dozen different outlets I normally read on Mondays and Tuesdays so as not to spoil it for myself.  But I did see that Mlb.com Nats beat reporter Jamal Collier put out a mailbag, and since i haven’t put up content in a month or so, I thought i’d do a response while the kids slept.

Here’s the questions he took and how i’d have responded.


 

Q: Updates on the remaining DL members and timing? Who are likely to be September call ups.

A: I’m not going to speculate on the exact days these guys will come back, just note that this team has gone 7-3 in its last ten games, 13-7 in its last twenty, and 18-12 in its last thirty games despite leading the league in D/L spots, having their entire opening day outfield on the D/L, and having 3/5ths of their original rotation on the D/L.  That’s patently ridiculous.  When they get their team back, it’ll be like they went crazy at the trade deadline.  A better question might be who makes the playoff roster if everyone is healthy … because guys like Howie Kendrick are going to make it tough for some long-time players to make that roster.  A post for another time.

September call-ups: If i have my notes right, here’s who’s on the 40-man in the minors currently:

SP: Fedde, Cole, Voth
RP: Gott, Adams
C: Severino, Read
INF: Marmolejos
OF: Bautista

I’m guessing the team re-calls everyone save Voth, Read and Marmolejos.  Voth hasn’t merited it with his performance this year and both Read and Marmolejos may just be too young.

Collier gives some rehab updates on our now 12-man long D/L, and also says that we’ll call up “virtually” every player on the 40-man


 

Q: If Werth comes back and doesn’t hit, do you think there’s a possibility he becomes a bench guy with Howie/Lind in left field?

A: Absolutely yes.  As I alluded to above, Kendrick may be putting Werth to the bench.  I can’t imagine the team insulting him and leaving him off the playoff roster, not while he has a career .924 OPS in the playoffs.  Adam Lind will not be the starting LF, not in a playoff situation.  You need a real outfielder, not a lumbering pinch hitter.  I know that I often call for “hiding” a guy out there … but Lind is a stretch even by my theory.

Collier thinks there’s no way Werth doesn’t retain his starting spot, unless he’s clearly still hurt.


 

Q: Is there any chance that Adam Eaton can come back from his injury late in the postseason?

A: No chance.  ACL tears are a year long recovery and then another year past that to regain the confidence to turn on the knee.  He may be optimistic with his rehab, but (following up on the previous question) there’s just no way you’d weaken your bench for a guy coming off an ACL tear.

Collier agrees.


 

Q : What is your guess on the post-season roster assuming full health except for Eaton?

A: we’ll save it for a separate post.  Collier gives his and its similar to what i’d probably go with.

 

Ask Collier 7/21/17

26 comments

Doolittle has settled right hin. Photo via federal baseball/getty images

Doolittle has settled right hin. Photo via federal baseball/getty images

Off days seem to be accompanied by mail bags.  And that’s good, because i’m kind of in a writing lull.  I have no interest in looking at the hundreds of players in the game and trying to write one of those speculative, useless “hey we should make this trade” posts.  So here’s MLB.com nats beat reporter Jamal Collier‘s latest mail bag and how i’d have answered the questions he took.


Q: With the A’s trade and Robertson traded, do you think the Nats still look for a closer? Or do they go for another bullpen piece (ie Neshek)?

A: …. and yet,  here we are, needing to look at all 30 teams and all the theoretically “available” closers to write an educated answer.  *sigh*

Ok: here’s who is for certain selling: Detroit, Chicago WS, Oakland, NY Mets, Miami, Philly, Cincinnati, San Diego, San Francisco.  And here’s who probably should be selling: Baltimore, Toronto, Atlanta, maybe Texas.

That’s 12-13 teams, some of which have pretty good closers.  So there’s some arms available.  But at what cost?  Does anyone want to stomach the trading of yet another set of higher-end prospects for a rental “proven closer?”  I’m hoping the team goes a different direction, with a trade of lesser quality prospects for another couple 7th and 8th inning guys.

Bullpen now:  Doolittle, Madsen, Albers, Romero, Perez, Blanton and Grace.  Lefty heavy, and Blanton just cannot seem to get it together.  So another righty to replace Blanton could work, given how bad he’s been this year.  Maybe the return of Glover or a healthy/effective Kelley is what the team really needs instead of another trade (because who else on that current list of 7 do you want to jettison?).

Collier says that the team added a lot of payroll and may not do another blockbuster.


 

Q: Will the Nats make a push for a fifth starter at the trade deadline?

A: Nope.  They’ll give Edwin Jackson starts until he gives them a reason to dump him, may try existing internal solutions, and will eventually call up Erick Fedde to try him out too.  But they seem likely to cull the veteran 1yr FA market next off-season instead of overpaying now.  Of course, that being said seemingly the next available option in AAA (Jacob Turner) just got absolutely shelled (1 2/3rds innings 6 runs) … maybe he had transaction-lag from being activated and DFAd within like a 24 hour period.  A.J. Cole seems to have nearly exhausted his effectiveness as a starting pitcher; wow how far has he fallen.  Hill and Voth both now demoted to AA, along with Greg Ross.

Collier agrees.


 

Q: Who are the tradeable assets on the big league squad & in the minors? Likeliest to be dealt?

A: Hmm.  Most tradeable assets (outside the obvious all stars/marquee players we’d never move) on the big league squad might be Taylor and Goodwin thanks to their excellent seasons, and Gio Gonzalez who has pitched great and has two more option years.  But now that Ross is on the shelf for a year, we can’t possibly trade Gio.  Eaton should be back  in 2018 so there’s no room for both Goodwin and Taylor; i’d guess they’d trade one of them and let the other start in LF after Werth plays out his contract.  That is unless the Nats seek to improve offense in LF (like I think they should) and go for a big bopper … then they might have two OF trade assets (I think i’d rather move these guys than have them sit to be the 4th option).

In the minors?  Andrew Stevenson comes to mind as someone who might be surplus to requirements in the short term and be someone worth flipping.  That is unless we move both TAylor and Goodwin; then he’d make a perfect 4th OF for 2018 behind a LF FA acquisition.  Past that?  Its pretty empty in AAA and AA, so you’d be looking at guys in Low- and  High-A as trade assets.  Perhaps even lower; we have a number of high-dollar IFAs in the GCL right now.

Collier doesn’t even speculate; i guess he’s not a minor league guy.


Q: Will Koda Glover close games when he returns?

A: Lets get him to return first.  Is there even a time table for him to return?  Honestly I was almost assuming he was done for the year.  If he does return … then yeah, absolutely he’s in the closer mix.

Collier says the same thing basically.


 

Q: Any word on Davey Lopes return?

A: didn’t even know he was gone.  Its been a busy summer.  :-)

Collier has no updates; he’s away on personal matter.