Nationals Arm Race

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

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State of the Nats at the halfway point

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Harper's run production in the middle of the order should spark this team now that he's back.  Photo via fansided.com

Harper’s run production in the middle of the order should spark this team now that he’s back. Photo via fansided.com

When Bryce Harper was reinstated from the D/L on 6/30/14, an interesting situation occurred:  The Nationals were at full strength for the first time, all year.

That’s right.  With Doug Fister starting the season on the D/L, even those who think that the team was at “full strength” for the first 7 innings of the first game (that’s how long it took before a Nationals offensive starter got hurt) aren’t quite right.  This team has been hampered and has been covering for injuries to its best available squad since the first day of the season.  Here’s a review of the tale of the injury tape for the ideal 25-man roster of this team so far in 2014:

  • Doug Fister; strained shoulder 3/23/14, missed 34 games
  • Wilson Ramos: broken hand on 4/1/14, missed 32 games
  • Scott Hairston; oblique strain on 4/6/14, missed 26 games
  • Denard Span, concussion on 4/12/14, missed 7 games
  • Ryan Zimmerman, broken thumb on 4/13/14, missed 44 games
  • Bryce Harper: torn thumb tendon on 4/27/14, missed 56 games
  • Adam LaRoche: strained quad on 5/11/14, missed 14 games
  • Gio Gonzalez, shoulder strain on 5/18/14, missed 27 games
  • Ramos again, this time a hamstring strain on 6/11/14, missed 14 games

2/5ths of the rotation and 5/8ths of the starting offense have at one time or another been on the shelf so far this year.  More than 250 games lost.  Ironically the oldest player on the team (Jayson Werth) has been one if its healthiest (he’s only missed 4 games this year).  And (knock on wood) there hasn’t been a single bullpen injury, likely one of the main reasons the Nats bullpen is among the best in the game this year.

The Nats (at the time of this writing) sit 1/2 a game out of first behind nemesis Atlanta, but have several reasons to be optimistic about catching them:

  • The Nats have a +39 run differential right now, while the Braves have a zero run differential.  That means that the Nats should be 9 games above .500 (according to pythagorean records) while the Braves should be a .500 team.  The Nats have been unlucky while the Braves have been quite lucky.  You could expect these situations to reverse themselves over the rest of the season.
  • The Nats are just 2-7 in extra inning games and 9-13 in one-run games.  You’d normally expect both of these W/L records to be near .500 and is likely the real reason behind the above run differential issue.
  • Despite the heart of their batting order missing dozens and dozens of games, the offense is not doing half bad: the Nats as a team are 8th out of 15 in the NL in WRC+, 8th in runs scored, 8th in wOBA, 10th in batting average, and are 10th in homers despite Zimmerman having just THREE on the year.
  • While the Offense treads water, the Pitching has been fantastic.  Our starters are 5th in the NL in ERA, 1st in FIP, 2nd in xFIP, 2nd in SIERA.  The bullpen has been equally as good (a huge improvement over last year):  2nd in NL ERA, 1st in FIP, 6th in SIERA.
  • The starters lead the NL in FIP despite Stephen Strasburg‘s “struggles;” ironically despite his having a .500 record an a 3.70 ERA he has the best FIP of any Nats starter.   He’s just been victim of circumstance while he pitches.   Blake Treinen has been fantastic covering in the rotation, and the team has found an excellent 5th starter in Tanner Roark.  Games that were “thrown away” time and again last year by Dan Haren and a litany of poor-performing minor league call-ups have been handled with aplumb this year.

Where do we go from here?

The Nats schedule from here on out eases significantly; as of the time of this writing the last three months look like this:

  • July: 10 of 25 games against teams with winning records right now
  • August: 12 of 28 games against teams with winning records right now … and that includes teams that very well may have losing records by the time we get to them.
  • September: Just 9 of 27 games against teams with winning records right now, including the final 11 against Marlins and Mets teams likely to be playing out the string with 40-man call-ups from AAA and key young arms sitting due to inning limits.

For this Nats fan, its hard to see the same struggles we saw last year; I see a team finally getting their squad back together, having a solid July and perhaps a dominant closing to the season to fulfil its promise.  I like where this team stands right now (even with the tepid split in Chicago last weekend) and look forward to the next few months.

Law trashes Williams and their handling of Harper

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Harper Harper Harper.  Photo Evan Habeeb-USA TODAY Sports

Harper Harper Harper. Photo Evan Habeeb-USA TODAY Sports

http://insider.espn.go.com/blog/keith-law/post/_/id/2286/the-mishandling-of-bryce-harper

(Yes the post is ESPN Insider only; if you don’t get ESPN insider then ask yourself why you’re not willing to spend $3 a month for access to quality baseball writers like Dave Symborski, Keith Law, or Buster Olney, as well as access to the whole slew of scouting content from Law’s staff… and that’s just their baseball stuff.  $3/month; I spent more than that on my bagel this morning.   And if you’re in that whole “anti paywall camp” and believe that God intended that everything on the internet be for free … well I guess I’d just say sometimes you get what you pay for.   And to me, ESPN’s insider content is worth the 10 or 11 cents a day that I pay for it.  Rant off).

Basically, Law questions whether Matt Williams is in over his head as a major league manager right now.  Law questions his  lineup choices (as others have repeatedly, especially when the team’s best power hitter his batting 7th.  Which to be fair he only did once, but Harper’s been batting 6th for a good portion of the season too, only really moving up when Ryan Zimmerman went out with injury).   I too question his lineup choices; why the h*ll is Denard Span still batting leadoff?  If Williams felt the need to move Harper to 7th because he was struggling, why hasn’t Span been dropped either?  Isn’t Span “struggling” too?  Yeah; he’s got a .282 OBP right now and has fewer stolen bases than the 35-year old Jayson Werth; why exactly is he still batting leadoff??

Law also questions Williams’ public bashing of Harper’s hustle.  Which led, among other things, to Tom Boswell‘s outlandish claims in a chat two weeks ago that Harper was purposely asking out against tough hitters to maintain a meaningless 9-game hitting streak.  Did anyone actually watch the games surrounding the hustle incident?   To me Harper was clearly favoring his leg, and he had been frustrated at the plate, and by multiple reports was also struggling with the flu.  Maybe everyone would have been happier if Harper had just frigging sat out a couple of games instead?   So he didn’t run out a come-backer; that’s human nature.  Law correctly points out that only Harper has been bashed openly in the press by Williams; other team issues were handled internally.

Why is that?  Is Williams “old school” mentality coming through here?  Is he singling out the young Harper in a “youngster hazing” way?  Remember where Williams came from; the “grit is the way to win” Arizona Diamondbacks, who now have the worst record in the majors after a slew of trades and moves that were designed essentially to rid the team of players who couldn’t or didn’t get along with either the manager or the staff for some reason or another.  I’ve touched on the topic of the Arizona methodology before; you just don’t trade away top 3 draft picks for 50 cents on the dollar because of a personality conflict and expect there to be no consequences.  I believe the consequences are going to be a new manager and a new GM this coming off-season after Arizona loses 90+ games.

Law correctly points out that you can’t have the “hustle” narrative both ways either: Harper cannot be simaultaneously a “lazy” player (as Williams went out of his way to state to the media) but then also be the same player who people thought needed to “slow down” and “play within himself” (as was oft-repeated all last year after he bashed his head in running into outfield walls).   For me; I tend to believe that Harper is human; he was frustrated after an o-fer day, and didn’t run out a come-backer in a meaningless situation late in a game (like a thousand other major leaguers before him).

I’m not sure if I’d lay the play that ended up with Harper’s injury on the manager (Law seems to intimate that Harper’s “over hustle” on that play was in reaction to his press bashing over the lack of hustle the week before), but many, many other players in this game would have just slowed up at 2nd, knowing they had cleared the bases, and not gone for the triple.  Which player would you rather have?   For better or worse, the team will now have plenty of time to think about it; Harper’s out for 2 frigging months.  For those keeping score at home, we’re not even to May yet and we’ve seen the guys hitting 1st, 2nd, 4th and 5th from our opening day lineup now hit the D/L for various lengths.

It bears repeating: Harper, despite being in his 3rd pro season, was STILL the youngest player in the majors on opening day.   If he was sitting on Potomac’s roster right now, he’d be one of the youngest players in the league.  I guess we all need to take a deep breath sometimes and be thankful for what Bryce Harper is, not what he isn’t.  And get well soon…. this team’s offense is going to miss him badly.

Written by Todd Boss

April 29th, 2014 at 10:31 am

Nationals 2014 Walk-on music review

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At the home opener, when Nate McLouth came to bat we were stopped in our tracks by his walk-up music: “Kyrie” by 80′s band Mister Mister.  My wife and I immediately thought this was a rather odd choice.

It made me wonder: should we critique every one of the Nats’ batter’s walk-up songs?  Of course we should!

Thankfully, the team lists each player’s 2014 walk-up music for us on their official MLB.com page.  And, here’s some research by fellow blog DistrictSportsPage on this year’s walk-up songs (and 2013′s walk-up songs) for comparison purposes (note; the official website list isn’t accurate according to those actually listening to and Soundhounding the songs).

Here’s some thoughts on each player’s selection (we’re only going on their primary/1st at bat selection).  We’ll list this in the rough batting order and then tack on the bench guys.  And I’ll give my personal, baseless, unscientific “grade” for the song from a crowd-involvement and song-selection standpoint.

Starters

  1. Denard Span: “Gotta Have It” by Kanye West/Jay-Z.  Fitting song to start; last year he used a selection of hip-hop songs, but not really a big crowd involver.  Grade: D
  2. Bryce Harper: “Flower” by Moby.  A repeat from last year.   Interesting selection for the young Harper; he doesn’t seem to be the typical Moby fan, but the song is catchy and unique.  He also uses a slew of different songs from many other genres for subsequent at-batss.  Grade: B-
  3. Ryan Zimmerman: “This Is How We Do It” by Montell Jordan.  His 2014 actual song differs from the official website; I like this pick.  A familar song, if not a big sing-along song.  Grade: B-
  4. Adam LaRoche: “The Only Way I Know“ by Jason Aldean and Eric Church.  Also fitting; LaRoche is a ranch-owning, game-hunting good ole-boy.  And he’s buddies with the singer Aldean.  So he continues to use his songs as he did in 2013.  Grade C+
  5. Jayson Werth: “Warehouse“ by Dave Matthews Band.  This is the crowd-favorite where everyone calls out, “Wooh!” after each interlude.  Of course, I can’t figure out where in the song that occurs from the video.  Werth also uses “Werewolves of London” periodically (of course).  Brilliant.  Grade: B+
  6. Ian Desmond: “One Sixteen“ by Trip Lee (feat. KB & Andy Mineo).  Does not seem fitting for him, but clearly he likes this genre of hip-hop/rap since his alternates from last year are by and large the same kinds of songs.  Unfortunately for Desmond I’m a middle-aged white guy and can’t stand modern hip-hop.  Grade: D
  7. Anthony Rendon: “No Competition“ by Bun B. Feat. Raekwon & Kobe.  Eh.  Don’t like it, don’t get it.  I will say this: I liked his song from last year moreso (“Still D.R.E.“ by Dr. Dre/Snoop Dogg, which you’d recognize if you ever saw the movie Training Day).   Grade: D
  8. Wilson Ramos: Wepa“ by Gloria Estefan.  I’m not sure if he’s still using this (its a holdover from 2013) since he got hurt so quickly, but its got a good dance beat and latino flavor.   No offense to Lobaton’s selections, but lets hope we’re hearing more Gloria Estefan sooner than later.  Grade: B.

Bench Guys

  • Nate McClouth: “Kyrie” by Mister Mister.  Man, I’m sorry. I know Michael Morse made retro 80′s songs hip with his selection of “Take On Me” (by the way, being in the stadium when 40,000 people were “singing” gave me goose-bumps that I still get thinking about it to this day), but this song is awful.  You gotta find something else.  How about some Kenny Loggins or the Top Gun theme, if we’re stuck in the 80s?  Grade: F
  • Danny Espinosa: “Outside“ by Staind.  Big fan, especially after his 2013 choice as well (from Cage the Elephant).  Grade: B
  • Jose Lobaton: “Mi Chica Ideal“ by Chico & Nacho.  Fast, catchy.  Can’t argue with it.  Grade: B
  • Kevin Frandsen: “Snow (Hey Oh)by Red Hot Chili Peppers.   You’ve heard this song, even if you have no idea who RHCP is (hint: they were a serious underground 80s sensation but are now totoally mainstream and played the Superbowl Halftime show this year and actually wore clothes!)   I like it; even if it seems a bit slow-paced.  Grade: B-
  • Tyler Moore: “Drivin’ Around Song by Colt Ford feat. Jason Aldean (at least according to the Nats website; he hasn’t had a home AB yet).  We see Moore’s heritage here; Mississippi born and bread.  Loves his country music.  Grade: C
  • Scott Hairston: “Blue Sky“ by Common.  Not my cup of tea; not really a crowd-engager either.  Grade: D
  • Sandy Leon: I have no idea; has anyone seen an at-bat by him yet?  They never got his song from last year either.  Grade: Inc

What would I use as walk-up music?

Not that I’ve ever thought about this in my life or anything.  But i’d definitely go with something from my head-banging days in high school.  I (fortunatley or unfortunately depending on your point of view) grew up in the 80s, so we listened to glam rock, heavy metal and the like.  I’d probably go with one of these three options:

  • “Home Sweet Home” by Motley Crue (who is on their farewell tour this summer; tickets going fast!)
  • The Final Countdown” by Europe (simply because this is a huge running joke amongst my friends and my wife and I)
  • Something harsh from Metallica.  I’d have to do some digging for a good riff that wasn’t already taken by someone more famous like Mariano Rivera.  :-)

 


I’m tempted to do this same analysis for the pitchers … and maybe I will.  But for some reason “walk on” music for pitchers isn’t as meaning ful.  Well, except for Tyler Clippard‘s epic “Peaches” walk-up song by the Presidents of the United States a few years back.  Ok, we’ll do a part-2 of this post for the pitchers…. stay tuned.

 

DC-IBWA pre-season predictions for Nats 2014 individual leaders

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Happy Opening day!

Every season David Nichols (editor in chief of DC Pro Sports Blog) organizes the unofficial DC Chapter of Nats bloggers to do some surveying about will happen, and then a post-mortem about what happened.

For 2014; here’s how the DCIBWA members voted in total.

And here’s how I voted:

1. Who will lead the Nats in home runs in 2014?  Hard not to go with the kid Bryce Harper.  I’ll predict he manages to stay healthy, stop running into walls, and hits 32 bombs out of mostly the middle of the order.  Last year’s leader was Ryan Zimmerman, who I like for 20-25 homers again but not as many as Harper.

2. Who will lead the Nats in RBI?  I’m going with Ryan Zimmerman here, mostly because I feel like he’s going to be the beneficiary of many guys getting on base ahead of him and will have plenty of RBI opportunities.  Last year’s leader was Jayson Werth by a hair; something tells me he’s more of a table-setter this year (a #2 hitter) rather than a middle of the order bat.  I could be wrong though.  (Insert obligatory argument about lineup construction and dazzle us with your proof of why your best hitter should be batting 2nd while the 3rd place hitter should be one of your lesser batters…)

3. Who will lead the Nats in stolen bases?  I’ll go with 2013 leader Ian Desmond again; Denard Span is the obvious choice here but he seems to have lost a step.  All in all, speed on this team seems to be lacking on this team; will Matt Williams be a more- or less-aggressive manager on the basepaths?

4. Who will lead the staff in wins?  Stephen Strasburg, who I feel is destined for a break-out season with no leashes and no afterthoughts of his injury.  He’s two years removed from TJ recovery; when 2013 staff wins leader Jordan Zimmermann was in his 3rd year back he went 19-9 and got Cy Young votes.  I predict a 20 win season for Mr. Strasburg, some serious consideration for a Cy Young, and a significant arbitration fight next off-season.

5. How many games will Ryan Zimmerman play first base?  I’ll go with 10-12, maybe fewer.  Perhaps once a week he’ll go over to the other corner.  Something tells me that Adam LaRoche in a contract season will step it up and make it really tough to take his bat out of the lineup.  And something else tells me that Zimmerman may return to his plus-defense now that his shoulder issues are seemingly behind him, and we’ll be talking about how we can stick with him at 3rd for the long haul when the season is over.  (I may be eating my words on Zimmerman here; he’s already shown some air-mailing tendencies during Spring; such a shame that his arm is affecting his overall defense so badly).  For what its worth, Zimmerman has played a grand total of 2 innings at first this spring.

6. Who starts more games: Ross Detwiler, Taylor Jordan, Tanner Roark, Ross Ohlendorf?  Tanner Roark.  The winner of the 5th starter spot will pitch to a relatively non-descript league average for months, while the loser (Taylor Jordan) toils in obscurity in Syracuse, waiting for Roark to fail or someone to get hurt.  Ross Ohlendorf‘s trip to the 60-day D/L means he’s likely a non-factor for the first half, and Ross Detwiler‘s trip to the bullpen looks permanent.  (When I wrote the first draft of this in Mid Feb, it was Detwiler).  Even given what has transpired at the end of spring (Fister’s D/L trip meaning both guys are in the rotation), I feel like Roark is going to stick when Fister comes back.

7. Who will get more at bats for the Nats this season: Danny Espinosa or Jamey Carroll?  Danny Espinosa obviously, since Carroll has already been released.  But even in my first draft of this post in Feb, I was predicting that Espinosa would win the backup middle infielder battle with Jamey Carroll.  I just didn’t think the team was ready to punt on a former 20-home run guy with superior defense.

8.  Which minor leaguer are you most interested in keeping tabs on this season?  Instead of copping out and saying an obvious name from our consensus top 3 prospects (Giolito, Cole and Goodwin), I’m going to throw out a couple other names that really intrigue me.  Matt Skole lost all of 2013 by virtue of a freak injury but impressed last year; i’d like to see him bash his way into consideration for a call-up.  I’d like to see what 2013 draftee Austin Voth can do in a full season; I like this guy as a sleeper, a potential Tim Hudson-esque mid-rotation starter who doesn’t get a ton of credit because of his size but suddenly is posting double-digit wins for your team.  I’d like to see what Matthew Purke does this year; the shine is off this guy; I’d really like to see him put himself back into relevance with this organization.  Like everyone else Stephen Souza has really elevated his status; what can he bring to the table if he gets an opportunity?  And lastly we now know that fireballer Blake Treinen is in the AAA rotation; is he a behind-the-scenes important piece of rotation depth for this farm system now?

9.  Who will reach majors first: Sammy Solis, A.J. Cole, Lucas Giolito or Matt Purke?   Well, this one is easy to me; Sammy Solis is on the 40-man, is 25, and is already being talked about as being a potential loogy in 2014.  After that I’d predict Purke (also by virtue of  his 40-man placement); if Purke shows the team something or anything this year, he could earn a Sept 1 call-up to help in the pennant race.  After that say Cole since he will be put on the 40-man this coming off-season (if not before) and then Giolito last; he’s not rule-5 eligible til 2016 and would have to pitch his way into relevance before then (much like Taylor Jordan did in 2013).

10. How many all-stars will the Nats have? Who?  I’ll predict three: Strasburg, Desmond and Harper.

11. Total wins and what place in the division?  94 wins, 1st place in division.  This could trend higher with every new Atlanta injury.

Essay: What should be the single most important development for the Nats this season?

Hitting in the clutch.  The 2013 team to score 80 fewer runs than the magical 2012 team despite a lineup that seemed better on paper.  A lot of this regression was due to the drop-off in bench production, but an awful lot of it was due to coming up weak in the clutch.  In high-leverage batting situations (as defined by fangraphs), the Nats were dead last in 2013.  This team needs to do better all the way up and down the lineup.  We need Harper healthy.  We need Span producing like he did in September.  I’d like to see something better out of LaRoche in 2014.  Give us that and all these great pitchers will look that much better.

 

Ask Boswell 2/10/14 Edition

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I should photoshop in some Nats gear ...  Photo unk via zimbio.com

I should photoshop in some Nats gear … Photo unk via zimbio.com

I havn’t been doing many “Ask Boswell” posts lately; its the off-season and long-time Washington Post writer Tom Boswell isn’t generally taking a ton of baseball questions in December.  But, its the week Spring Training opens and Boswell is heading down, so we check in on the questions baseball fans may be writing.  Here’s his 2/10/14 edition.

Here’s his baseball-specific questions, and how I’d have answered them.  Questions edited for clarity.

Q: Into which of your four categories of baseball managers do you expect Matt Williams to fall? And where would you place Buck Showalter?

A: Before answering, you’d have to know what Boswell’s Four Categories are; they stem from an article he published more than 20 years ago.  They are “Little Napoleon,” the “Peerless Leader”, the “Tall Tactician,” and the “Uncle Robbie.”   See this Oct 2011 chat for some explanations of the types.   I would say that Matt Williams is clearly the Peerless Leader while Buck Showalter features as the Uncle Robbie type.  I tend to classify managers into just two main categories: they’re either Disciplinarians or Player Managers.  I view Williams as a disciplinarian (how could he not be; his nickname is “the Big Marine”).  And I viewed Davey Johnson as more of a Player’s manager.  You have to contrast one with the next when you change managers to give players a new message … hard is it to find someone who has the characteristics of both sides of that coin who can last for years and years (think Joe Torre or Bobby Cox).  Boswell hedges, saying Williams and Showalter both display multiple characteristics … and then seems to back away from his own theory by saying that characterizing people into simple descriptions isn’t entirely fair. 

Q: Why were the Nats interested in Grant Balfour if they already have plenty of late innings relievers?

A: Probably because the bullpen was a weakness last year (bymost  macro measures about the 19th or 20th in the league) and a bulldog like Grant Balfour would have only made it better.  Ask yourself: would you rather have Ross Ohlendorf or Ryan Mattheus going in the 7th or Balfour?  Yeah, I thought so.   Mike Rizzo has said that he loves making deals in late January/early February because he knows there are deals to be made.  Players without contracts as spring training starts begin to panic, and come down from their salary demands.  If you could get a closer-quality guy for just a few million a year … yeah you make that deal every time.    Yes I know Balfour eventually signed for 2/$12m, but the point stands.   There’s players out there right now that would still improve this team, and you never know what kinds of deals may happen tomorrow.  Boswell doesn’t think there was real interest … but then says the bullpen needs to improve in 2013.  I’m not sure I buy that; I think there was interest but he had a better offer.

Q: According to a Grantland.com article, MLB has been paying the Nats some money to make up for the TV rights “gap” between what they are getting under the current deal and what they “should” be getting. If true, is this an admission by MLB that the current deal is unfair? Wouldn’t it make more sense to solve the situation as opposed to giving money under the table? Is MLB this powerless that they can’t force a solution between the two teams?

A: Well, we delved into this issue in the previous post here; I can’t wait to see what Boswell’s reaction is.   Boswell  doesn’t say much … he quotes a member of the Nats ownership group who seemed to imply that the solution wasn’t going to be done before Selig retires.  But he somehow “defends” the under-the-table payments as MLB being allowed to operate its business anyway it sees fit.  Odd answer.  I was hoping for an opinion here.

Q: For the last two years, the Nats have seemed to lack something perennial contenders like the Cardinals and Red Sox seem to possess. In short, it was hard to kill them off. You get a lead; they come back. You stay with them for a few innings; they pull away. Is there any validity to this non-statistical assessment? And will the Nats acquire this toughness in 2014 after the experience of overperforming in 2012 and underperforming in 2013?

A: Well, first, I’d clearly say that the 2012 Nats did not lack for the chutzpa; how do you win 98 games and not have the ability to finish teams off?   Their season splits that year against the crummy teams in the league were fantastic.  If you’re throwing out the entire 2012 season because of Drew Storen‘s meltdown in NLCS game 5 (where, remember, he had a clear game-and-series ending strike missed before giving up the crucial hit that buried the team), well that’s not fair either.  However the evidence clearly points to a distinct lack of clutch hitting team-wide for 2013; see this link at Fangraphs to see how the Nats were dead last in batting average in high leverage situations for 2013.

Do you lay some of this on the manager’s head?  Certainly I had more than a few complaints about the way Davey Johnson ran this team last year.  Will a more hard-nosed guy instill that toughness by default into his team in 2014?  Yeah I do think there will be some of that; the will of the manager leading his team.  Can’t measure it very well though.

Boswell gives a nice answer about toughness, gutting out pennant races, Williams’ effect, etc.  

Q: Matt Williams is cited as saying that he is developing new tactics to take advantage of the new rule against runner-catcher collisions at home plate. Any idea what those tactics might be? 

A: No idea.  Maybe have the pitcher half way up the line ready to trip the guy coming home?  Boswell teases the change but refuses to divulge it, instead intimating that it should be obvious to figure out…

Q: What might be the personal dynamics between Luis Ayala and Bryce Harper during Spring Training? Would Bryce carry a personal grudge about his plunking by Ayala, or would he blame the Braves as a team?

A: Hmm.  Wow, I didn’t realize it was Luis Ayala who hit Bryce Harper.  I remember the “important” plunking being done by Julio Teheran.  I’d guess Harper would think it is water under the bridge and would blame the team, not the player.  And if he didn’t, he’d have a grizzled vet like Jayson Werth or his new manager to tell him to cool it.  Besides; what are the odds of Ayala actually making this team?  Boswell agrees.

Q: If the Nats were to make one more move, either through a trade or signing of a FA, what do you think it would be? Where is the biggest need for an upgrade exist in the current roster in your opinion?

A: I’d have to say an accomplished major league catcher for backup may be the biggest need right now.  After that i’d say another left handed option out of the bullpen, and after that i’d say some better depth in the infield.  Boswell says backup catcher then goes on a 1,000 word tangent.

Q: What do you make of the two year (with huge salary escalation in the second year) deals for Desmond and Zimmermann?

A: The deals make sense in a couple ways: the backloaded contract allows the Nats to maintain their payroll in 2015 without going very much higher in 2014.  $30M comes off the books from the end of the contracts for LaRocheSoriano and Span; now they’ve committed about half of that just in 2nd year pay increases to Desmond and Zimmermann.   Both players would probably rather have their pay calculated this way; it makes their annual salaries that much higher as they reach free agency.  Honestly I think Zimmermann is going to end up playing elsewhere, while the $11M/year for Desmond is still pretty cheap.  In the end I’d sign Desmond to the long term deal and let Zimmermann walk, get the Q.O. draft pick and be replaced by one of the big arms we have coming up from the minors.  Boswell agrees.

Q: Do you see the Nats putting enough effort to sign international players outside of the traditional (Dominican Republic, Japan, Venezuela, etc) countries and into the Emerging Markets of Brazil, Aruba, Australia, Curacao? They’re starting to play baseball in China!

A: No, and for years they weren’t putting enough effort into IFAs from the traditional places either.   Look at our Big Board at the end of last season: where’s all the home grown IFAs?    Solano, Leon and Perez are on the 40-man … but they’re all backups/edge of the 25-man roster guys.  There wasn’t a SINGLE international free agent in AAA or AA developed by this  team by season’s end.  The entirety of these rosters were USA-born/drafted players and/or minor league free agents.  Just two had matriculated even to Potomac/High-A; two guys signed in 2007 who are now finally in high-A (one of whom was born in 87 and clearly isn’t a prospect any longer).    Look no further than at the WBC Dominican roster to see the value of developing talent out of the DSL.  At least we’re finally starting to see some guys creep onto the prospect lists out of our DSL graduate lists, guys like  Jefry Rodriguez and Pedro Severino being the two best examples.  Boswell didn’t really answer; another tangent of a response.

Q: A.J. Burnett: Wouldn’t signing him make a lot of sense for the Nats (assuming he can be had on a one-year deal)? Detwiler to the pen gives us another quality lefty and he’s excellent insurance for an injury to a starting pitcher. And the Nats saved some cash by backloading the two-year Desmond/Z’nn deals. What’s not to like here?

A: Can’t argue.   I’ve got us north of $130M in payroll now for 2014; would he do a 1yr/$13M deal and would Ted Lerner go north of $140M?  Maybe if MLB kicked in even more cash than they already are, we could turn it around on A.J. Burnett and have, hands down, by far the best rotation in the game.  Is that what this team needs?   Burnett > Detwiler, so it’d be an improvement.  And Detwiler’s bullpen splits have been great.  If it makes the team better, and its just about money, yeah i’d be for it.  Boswell poo-poos the deal because he doesn’t want to block the pitching pipeline?!   Whatever; the goal is to win the frigging World Series.

Q: I don’t believe Davey Johnson quietly fades into the sunset. Does he still have an official role with the Nats? Do you know if he has other plans? Do you expect you’ll see him in Florida?

A: If I was Johnson, and I knew what was right, i’d stay far away from this team.  He’s out, Williams is in, and any lingering around just undermines the new guy.  And if I was Mike Rizzo, i’d be thinking the same thing.  Give him a scouting job or some BS; just keep him away from the team.  Boswell says the exact same thing.

Q: I was surprised by A-Rod’s sudden decision to pull his lawsuit against MLB and, despite all the initial coverage.  Why’d he give up now?

A: I think he (finally) got some sage legal advice about his prospects.  And I think he finally listened to someone giving him sane counsel.  He’s got bigger problems ahead, like who is going to possibly give him a shot in 2015 or beyond… Wow, Boswell trashes him with some vindictiveness.  

Ladson’s inbox 1/15/14

22 comments

Lots of speculation on Zimmerman's near future position. Photo AP via tbd.com

Lots of speculation on Zimmerman’s near future position. Photo AP via tbd.com

Rapid fire!  Nats mlb.com beat reporter Bill Ladson didn’t even wait seven days to release his latest inbox, this one dated 1/15/14.   We just got done arguing about the last one!  He must have a huge backlog of questions from baseball-starved fans who can’t wait for pitchers and catchers to report (we’re less than a month away now; Nats report date is 2/13/14).

Btw; I heard it from a friend of a friend that the Nats may have given extension offers to both Ian Desmond and Jordan Zimmermann this week; havn’t seen that news pop up on any beat reporter RSS feeds or elsewhere yet.  But if true, its good to see the dialog opening up now as opposed to deep into spring training.  Stay tuned and lets see if these rumors turn out to be true!

As always, we write our responses here before reading his and edit questions as needed:

Q: What was the reason behind signing Jamey Carroll and Mike Fontenot to Minor League deals?

A: Because Syracuse loves having old, over the hill veteran guys playing middle infield for them.  No seriously, both Jamey Carroll and Mike Fontenot profile as your typical aging veteran trying to hold on for one last shot, accepting a minor league/non guaranteed contract with an invite to major league spring training so that they can compete for bench spots.  And this team absolutely has a need for middle infield depth after trading away Steve Lombardozzi and given the question marks that come with other middle infield options on our roster Danny Espinosa (has he remembered how to hit again?), Zach Walters (can he actually play shortstop without booting every other ball hit to him?), and Jeff Kobernus (is he even a middle infielder any more after focusing on the OF for so long)?  At this point, I think at least one of them will make the roster unless we make another trade.  Ladson says Mike Rizzo loves depth and the team is looking for a backup to Espinosa.  

Q: At which Minor League level will Lucas Giolito start this coming season after tearing it up with the Gulf Coast Nationals and Class A Auburn?

A: In my big system-wide prediction piece in December 2013, I predicted Lucas Giolito will start in Low-A/Hagerstown.  There’s no reason not to get him going in full-season ball, and low-A makes the most sense given his age.  In a perfect world he’d dominate low-A in the first half and get promoted to high-A/Potomac for the 2nd half.  Ladson also says Hagerstown.

Q: Am I the only one concerned about Bryce Harper‘s weight gain?

A: Bryce Harper is in his low-20s; he was always destined to “fill out” and gain more muscle mass.  It will only mean more ferocious power and hopefully more strength to help him slog through the 162 game schedule.  On the downside, it means less speed on the bases and probably less range in the outfield, neither of which is really too much of a concern for a premium power hitter.   If it means that my dream of Harper playing center field and taking over the reigns from the likes of Mickey Mantle and Willie Mays as premium power-hitting CFers, so be it.  Ladson says there’s no worry.

Q: If the Nationals give Espinosa or Jeff Kobernus a spot on the Opening Day roster, who would be the first player sent to Syracuse?

A: I’d have to think Kobernus would be first expendible player; the team already has too many outfielders (3 starters in Harper, Denard Span and Jayson Werth, a backup in Scott Hairston and a presumed 2nd backup in Tyler Moore).  There’ s just no room for a third extra outfielder on modern teams; you need that 2nd bench spot for a guy who can cover the middle infield.  Ladson didn’t really answer the question, just saying that Espinosa would be “given every chance” to make the team.

Q: Do you think the Nationals would move Ryan Zimmerman to first base and trade Adam LaRoche for a good starter or bullpen pitcher? They could move Anthony Rendon to third base.

A: I do not think the team would move Adam LaRoche at this point.  You’d get almost no value back and would be creating a hole in your lineup that the team can’t easily fix.  If you think a team is going to give up a “good starter” or even a “bullpen pitcher” for a mid-30s guy who underperformed last year, then you’re fooling yourself.  Bill Ladson: stop taking dumb trade questions!

Back to the question though; the team seems convinced that Ryan Zimmerman‘s throwing issues are behind him, since he’s had more than enough time by now to recover from his Oct 2012 shoulder surgery.  Btw, take a look at his baseballprospectus link and look at his unbelievable injury history; I can’t think of another player with such a long list of maladies.  Now, once LaRoche is gone and the team is looking at a hole at first, a premium 3rd base defender wasting his talents at 2nd, and a litany of free agent options to provide cover at 2nd and/or 3rd… yes we may see Zimmerman come back across the diamond.  Lets see what happens in 2014; if Zimmerman returns to gold glove form, we may be having a different conversation next off-season (as in, who are we getting to play 1B).  Ladson talks up LaRoche, calling him one of the best defensive firstbasemen in club history.  If LaRoche is so good, we must have really had a bad run of first basement.  LaRoche posted a -2.0 UZR/150 last year, good for 17th of 19 qualified first basemen in the league … sorry, hard to talk about how great defensively you are one of the WORST first basemen statistically in the league.

Ladson Inbox 1/9/14

14 comments

Is Zimmermann getting a contract extension?.Photo Manuel Balce-Ceneta/AP

Is Zimmermann getting a contract extension?.Photo Manuel Balce-Ceneta/AP

You know spring training is coming close when Bill Ladson does two mailboxes in two weeks.  Here’s 1/9/14′s version.

As always, I write my response here before reading his and edit questions for clarity as needed.

Q: Most of the talk about a middle infielder for the bench is centered on Danny Espinosa. What are your thoughts about Jeff Kobernus? I would play him and trade Espinosa.

A: I think the talk is focused on Danny Espinosa since, right now he seems like the best option thanks to the trade of Steve Lombardozzi and the lack of any other real competitors.  Zach Walters hit 30 homers in AAA … but by some accounts is a very poor defender.  I can’t find his minor league fielding stats but others have pointed out that he made 30 errors last year in AAA.  Jeff Kobernus has been playing outfield lately; he played 2nd in college and earlier in his pro career but can he even play short stop?  New signees Jamey Carroll and Mike Fontenot can both play 2nd and SS … but aren’t exactly MLB quality guys any longer; Fontenot spent the entire year in AAA in 2013 and Carroll is a guy on a minor league contract nearing 40 who hit for a 40-something OPS+ in 2013.

Ask yourself; what do you ideally want out of a backup infielder?  They have to be a plus defender (apparently knocking out Walters), they have to be able to play 2nd and SS (knocking out Kobernus).  Espinosa is a fantastic defender, a short stop in college with a rocket arm who many once upon a time thought was a better short stop than Ian Desmond.  Right now, I want to see if Espinosa can re-gain his former self and use everyone else in this discussion as a fallback plan.

Trade Espinosa?  Can you define the term “selling low?”  That’s the last thing the organization wants to do right now.  That being said, Ladson continues to be insistent that Espinosa will be traded before opening day.  His prediction for the opening day backup infielder is “lets see what happens in spring training.”  Strong stance.

Q: Is Bill Bray still with the Nationals? If I remember, he had health issues. Any chance he could be in the mix for a lefty slot in the bullpen?

A: Bill Bray is a Minor League Free Agent, and according to Baseball America is still unsigned.  Even if he did re-sign with Washington, it’d be on a minor league deal, meaning he’d have to be added to the 40-man to be in the mix for the loogy.  That already puts him behind several guys; Jerry Blevins and Xavier Cedeno for sure, and likely Sammy Solis if the first two guys failed.  Bray also has to show he’s healthy, which he hasn’t really done in quite a while now.  I hate to say it, because i’ve got a soft-spot for him (he’s from Virginia Beach and i’m friends with his cousin), but he may be looking at retirement.  Ladson says he’s not ready until May but wants to stay in the organization; lets hope they throw him a bone and give him a minor league deal.

Q: Are the Nats pursuing any other lefty relievers, or is Jerry Blevins all there is to it?

A: I’d guess the team is pursuing other lefties, but not actively.  I’m sure there will be a couple of MLFA signings here and there to provide some competition in Viera.  Ladson reminds us that they’re thinking about both Solis and Ross Detwiler as lefties out of the pen.

Q: Any word on F. P. Santangelo re-signing for the 2014 season?

A: No idea.  I thought he was a fine broadcaster so I hope he comes back; didn’t realize there was a question.  Ladsons says they’re both back for 2014, after which Santangelo’s contract expires.

Q: Tyler Moore is an enigma. He seems to have all the tools to be a regular .280 hitter with 20 homers. Why does he appear to only be in the Nats’ plans as a bench player?

A: Moore is an enigma; is he the power hitting slugger (one homer every 15.6 ABs) in 2012 who bashed his way to an .840 OPS or is the overmatched, strike-out-one-out-of-every-three times guy we saw in 2013?  I’d hope he’s closer to the former than the latter, and thus can still be a servicable righty power bat off the bench.  Why is he just a bench player?  Because he’s not better than any of the guys ahead of him?  I would have thought this was kind of obvious, looking at Bryce Harper and Jayson Werth and their accomplishments and status on this team.  Ladson assumes Moore is a backup firstbaseman, I guess, but says Moore isn’t going to be platooning with Adam LaRoche either.

Q: Do you think it is likely that the Nationals will sign both Ian Desmond and Jordan Zimmermann to contract extensions this offseason?

A: Likely?  No.  I think at least one (Desmond) gets done, and we may see the other guy (Zimmermann) get moved in a cost-containment move with the team thinking ahead to its rising minor league players and its need to pay both Harper and Strasburg sooner than later.  Ladson sort of agrees.

 

 

Ladson inbox 1/2/14

7 comments

Espinosa's role with the Nats is still a major concern for fans. Photo AP via mlb.com

Espinosa’s role with the Nats is still a major concern for fans. Photo AP via mlb.com

Ah, what a great way to bring in the new year, with another edition of Bill Ladson‘s inbox (dated 1/2/14).

As always, these are real questions from presumably real people, and I answer here before reading Ladson’s answer.

Q: Do you think that Denard Span will be the leadoff hitter, with maybe Ian Desmond batting second? If so, shouldn’t the order be reversed since Desmond is a much better offensive player?

A: The answer to this question goes to the evolving lineup construction question and a rising opinion in the Sabre ranks that states that a team’s “best” hitter should be batting 2nd.  Joe Sheehan discussed why the Reds specifically should have been batting Joey Votto 2nd instead of 3rd in this July 2013 article on SI.com, but his arguments were less about Votto and more about the idiocy of Dusty Baker‘s insistence on batting a sub-par hitter ahead of Votto all year.  The real proof is from Tom Tango in his publication The Book, which is summarized in this 2009 BeyondtheBoxScore post by Sky Kalkman.  Basically the argument is that a #2 hitter is slightly more important situationally than a #3 hitter, based on the fact that the #2 hitter bats more frequently than the #3 hitter, often bats with the bases empty and thus needs to be both a high OBP and a high average guy to be able to either set things up for the #3/#4 guys behind him or to do something with the #1 guy who just got on base ahead of him.

Now that being said, nothing trumps a good OBP in the lead-off spot.  Last year our best OBP guy was Jayson Werth, but he also had the best average AND hit 25 homers.  Hmm; maybe Werth is your #2 hitter right now.   Desmond’s OBP was slightly better than Span’s on the season (.331 to .327), but Desmond hits for a ton of power.  Span is the prototypical lead-off hitter; he’s a lefty, he’s fast, and he normally gets on at a .350 OBP clip (career .351).  So right now if it were me I’d be batting Span 1, Werth 2 and Desmond somewhere around #5.

Todd Boss the Nats manager puts out this line-up opening day: Span-Werth-Zimmerman-Harper-Desmond-LaRoche-Ramos-Rendon-Strasburg.  Good lefty/righty balance, has your best all-around hitter in the #2 hole and your best power hitter in the #4 hole, with Desmond getting more ABs than LaRoche right now and the rest of the lineup cascading down normally.

Ladson posts his lineup, which uses more conventional thinking and has LaRoche batting before Desmond.  I think he’s wrong there; LaRoche was clearly not a better hitter than Desmond and has no business batting ahead of him in this lineup right now.

Q: The Nationals recently signed D.C. native Emmanuel Burriss to a Minor League contract. Is he a viable candidate for a backup role with the club in 2014?

A: I think the Emmanuel Burriss signing was about AAA depth, not a real attempt to find a utility infielder who can contribute at the MLB club.  Look at his 2013 slash line: .213/.270/.221.  Wow, that’s really bad.   Of course, that’s still better than what Danny Espinosa did last  year … Presumably Burriss is competing with Espinosa and Zach Walters for that backup middle infielder spot.  Burriss’s problem is that he’s a minor league/non 40-man signing while both Espinosa and Walters are already on the 40-man … so for the time being I see him with fellow locally-tied minor league signee Wil Rhymes (he went to college at W&M) as Syracuse’s middle infield.  Ladson thinks he’s a candidate but not a starter … and then predicts that the team will be trading Espinosa.

Q: If Espinosa makes the team as a bench player, my concern is his clubhouse attitude. Do you think management shares this concern as well?

A: Great question; who here knows Espinosa personally to see how he may react?  Who here works in the Nationals organization and can effectively judge Espinosa’s character, given everything that’s happened to him in the past year (injuries, performance, loss of starting job and demotion)?  Not me, and presumably nobody reading this, so its all just fan speculation.

So, given that I don’t know anything about the guy, here’s what I think: He has to realize that a) he’s no longer a starter here and b) he’s not even guaranteed a bench spot thanks to his 27 OPS+ hitting last year.  But, he also has to realize that his best shot at this point of regaining a starter job in the majors is going to be to perform, and perform ably, wherever he gets his chance, and thus either improve his trade value to make him more valuable to other organizations or possibly to force his way over someone in the Nats organization.  That chance may end up being full time in AAA but it’ll be better for him if he’s at least a backup in the majors.  If he doesn’t realize these things, then his representation is doing him a massive disservice (and I don’t think Scott Boras is bad at his job).  So my guess is that he’ll swallow his pride knowing he has to be in the majors to show that he can produce in the majors and will embrace his role.

There’s also the small issues of money and  service time; he’s making peanuts in AAA versus what he makes riding the bench in the majors.  And, if he makes the bench for at least 2 months or so in 2014 he accrues enough service time to hit arbitration following next season … which means either a pay raise or freedom to move to another organization where he may not be as blocked as he is in Washington.  So no matter what, it is in his best interests professionally and financially to make the team, no matter what the role, out of spring training.

One last point: just ONE injury anywhere in the infield opens a massive swinging door for him to not only get playing time but likely to start.  He has to be ready.

Ladson says Espinosa works hard and that Jayson Werth would get him in line if he had an attitude problem.  

Q: What is the situation behind the plate? Ever since Ivan Rodriguez retired, it seems that’s been an injury-riddled spot. Why aren’t the Nationals making any moves for a backup catcher?

A: Catcher is an injury-riddled spot for nearly everyone in the league; the guys get beat up and miss time no matter if they’re the best or worst guy in the league.  I’m guessing the team is actively in the market for backup catchers, but so are a bunch of other teams.   I still count 10 catchers out there available in free agency and I’m guessing teams in need are all still jockeying for position with the better and lesser candidates.  I’m sure we’ll sign at least one more guy to be in the mix with Jhonatan Solano, Sandy Leon and Chris Snyder.  Plus there’s this: nearly every catcher who can still crouch will get a spring training gig because there’s just so many arms that need to throw simaltaneously for these teams.  So we’re sure to see more guys sign up.   Ladson says they’re trying to acquire more catcher depth but have been unsuccessful.

Q: How come Zach Walters is not being given a decent shot at making the team out of Spring Training? He has pop and is adequate defensively.

A: I don’t think people are saying that; I think the consensus seems to be that the backup infielder spot is Espinosa versus Walters right now.  Who would you rather have?  I think i’d lean towards one more chance for Espinosa (the guy did hit 20 homers in 2011 after all) and then either trade him or move him out.  The concern with Walters (despite his 29 homers in AAA in 2013) is his strike-outs; they’re pretty high.  You put up with 1 K/game if  you get 30 homers … not if you get 10.  He hit nearly 30 in AAA; can he do that in the majors?  Ladson points out an important note; new manager Matt Williams knows Walters from when they were both in the Arizona system.  Hmm.  Will that have an effect?

Q: Would you try to get Eric O’Flaherty on the Nats if you were Mike Rizzo?

A: I’m not sure I would; he had TJ surgery in late May 2013 (5/21/13 specifically), meaning he’s looking at likely a May 2014 return date.  So he’s likely missing the first 2 months of the season, and even then he’s on a shorter leash next season.  Is this what the Nats need?  My guess is that he re-signs an incentive deal with Atlanta out of some sort of professional courtesy for having gotten injured on their watch.  Ladsons agrees with me and thinks he goes back to Atlanta.

Q: Shouldn’t the Nats bid on pitcher Masahiro Tanaka?

A: Bid yes.  Go crazy and blow $20M/year on the guy?  No way.  Scouting reports thus far seem to indicate that Masahiro Tanaka is good but not Yu Darvish-good.  And this team needs to start thinking about extending its own known quantity guys versus blowing that money on a lottery ticket like Tanaka.  My guess is that a team with deeper pockets (Los Angeles, New York) or a team with more desparation (Seattle) agrees to pay Tanaka just ridiculous amounts of money.   Ted Lerner seems to be indicating we’re nearing the team’s payroll budget and we’re going to start having to get creative fitting in some of these mid-to-upper level talents we have now accumulated.  Ladson doesn’t really consider the merits or consideration of Tanaka, instead just saying the rotation is set.  I’m not sure that was the question.

 

Ladson’s inbox 12/2/13 edition

19 comments

 

The drumbeat to have Morse back continues.  Photo hardballtalk.nbcsports.com

The drumbeat to have Morse back continues. Photo hardballtalk.nbcsports.com

Happy Thanksgiving!  Apparently I didn’t realize how long between posts it had been (nearly 2 weeks).    I didn’t go anywhere or anything; just hunkered down for the holidays, entertained the in-laws, and found myself with very little non-work computer time to delve into hot-stove season issues.

Thankfully, we have a Bill Ladson inbox to get us going this week!  Dated 12/2/13.

(Note: I was mid-way typing this post when the Doug Fister news broke … so its a day later than I wanted it to be, and I edited this to be relevant).

As always, I write my response here before reading his and edit questions for clarity/conciseness.

Q: I’ve heard about so many big-market teams being out of the Robinson Cano sweepstakes. What about the Nats? They did swing a shocker of a deal in Jayson Werth, and Cano could be the signing that brings the World Series trophy back to the beltway.

A: Several national writers (including this latest, most comprehensive viewpoint from Paul Swydan on ESPN insider just this week) are making the same point.  In simple terms, sign Robinson Cano, move Anthony Rendon to third, move Ryan Zimmerman and his scatter-arm to first, and put Adam LaRoche out to pasture (or, more likely, a trade for 20 cents on the dollar).   I’d love the move in the short-term but would absolutely hate it in the long term.   Its really simple: the guy’s 30.  He wants to be paid for the next decade as if he’ll never age.   His anticipated 10 year $200-and something million dollar contract will immediately be at the top of the list of albatross contracts in the league.  You just can’t do it, not if you want to maintain finacial flexibility to extend the core of this team (Strasburg, HarperDesmond to name three) and maintain some sort of a budget.  (Oh, by the way, I have always maintained the Jayson Werth contract was a “statement contract” to the league, an overpay that legitimized this franchise as a FA player after years of being a laughingstock in the league under Jim Bowden and inept league ownership.  So, i’m not entirely sure I’d use Werth’s deal as any sort of predictor of Mike Rizzo‘s intentions).

Hey, it isn’t my  money.  If Ted Lerner‘s ok with spending $150M or more a  year … maybe i’d be on board.  But man, 3 or 4 years from now when Jayson Werth is hobbling around the outfield earning $20M plus, Zimmerman’s at $15M/year and possibly clogging a 1st base spot, each of Desmond, Gonzalez, Harper, Strasburg and Zimmermann earning 8 figure deals, a Cano $25M/year albatross is clogging your payroll, and the team starts telling its fans that they’re standing pat or depending on signing middling free agents to try to “win” next year (you know, like the Phillies), I think you’ll regret this contract.

Ladson thinks the team could be in on Cano, and could use Rendon as trade bait for a pitcher.  *sigh* well, we’ll see what happens.

Q: Do the Nats have any interest in a guy like Raul Ibanez to fill the fourth outfielder/power-left-handed-bat-off-the-bench role? He’s over 40, but a veteran with outstanding work ethic. His 2013 season’s numbers suggest that it might be worthwhile to take a gamble on him for one year, if he’s willing to accept a reasonable salary and less playing time. Your thoughts?

A: I just do not see it.  Would you trust a guy who suddenly spikes his performance at age 41?  Rizzo needs to go younger, not ancient.  Raul Ibanez makes sense to sign a series of one year deals with AL teams that can DH  him as long as he proves his worth until he’s retired.  Ladson says the nats need a 4th OF who can man center; a good point.

Q: With the way that Ryan Mattheus hurt his hand last year and then struggled mightily after being activated from the disabled list, is he in the Nats’ bullpen plans for 2014?

A: I think Ryan Mattheus may be on the outside looking in come April 1, 2014 after his performance and injury in 2013.  Without any other moves, you have to think right now the Nats bullpen has 4 locks (Soriano, Clippard, Storen and Stammen), one loogy (from within or outside), one long man (Ohlendorf or a 5th starter competition loser) and one spot up for grabs.  Mattheus is the current leader in the clubhouse for that spot .. but he’ll face competition.  Right now, if Christian Garcia is healthy he’s proven to be more effective than Mattheus.  If Garcia can’t go, then Mattheus probably has the spot locked up barring any more signings.  He could face some competition from guys in the minors like Nathan Karns (if the team decides he can’t find a 3rd pitch and converts him to a reliever… though this probably doesn’t happen until 2015 at the earliest), or possibly from new 40-man addition Aaron Barrett.  For right now i’d say he’s the 7th guy but he needs to produce at 2012 levels to keep his job over Garcia.  Ladson agrees with me, I guess.

Q: Just wondering, do you think No. 2 prospect Lucas Giolito will get an invitation to Spring Training with the big club?

A: Nope, not this year.  No point.  He’s yet to play a day in full-season ball; he needs to stay in the minor league section and get his full work, not languish on the MLB spring training bench getting an inning every other day.  Now, if he shoots up the system in 2014 and ends in AA, then yeah a spring training invite for 2015 could be in the works.  Ladson agrees.

Q: After reading all these trade rumors, I feel like the Nationals are going to make a huge move this offseason. Do you feel it would come as a bat or as a pitcher?

A: Even before the Fister deal, I still would have said a Pitcher.  Even though I don’t think pitching was our problem in 2013 (a tease for a draft blog post with some interesting stats that I have in progress).  The problem with trading for a Bat is this: there’s just no obvious place to upgrade.   Not unless you move a guy like LaRoche or Span (our two least productive bats last season) and make a hole for someone coming in.  Ladson really goes out on a limb and says ‘it could be both.’

Q: Why not bring back Michael Morse for the extra power on the bench and replacement forAdam LaRoche from time to time?

A: I think the book on Michael Morse has been written by now: he can’t stay healthy, he’s a liability in the field, and he needs to be able to DH.  He’s just not an NL player anymore.  A quick look at the depth charts in the AL shows a couple of teams that could take a flier on Morse.  The problem is that two of the teams with the most need for a DH (Seattle and Baltimore) both had Morse last year and he washed out.  Maybe his last shot could be with a team like Oakland or Houston, teams with limited budgets willing to give last-chances to guys like Morse to resurrect their careers.  Ladson repeats his last Morse answer; Morse wants to be an every-day player and at Washington he’d be  a bench player.

Q: With Stephen Drew being a Scott Boras client, could you see the Nationals signing him, having him or Ian Desmond transition to second base? It could solidify the middle infield with veteran stability, couldn’t it?

A: Why in the h*ll would you purposely take a plus defender shortstop (whether it be Stephen Drew or Desmond)  and waste him at second base?   That’d be dumb.  That’d kind of be like what Texas is doing to Jurickson Profar.  Despite the oft-repeated mantra that the “Nats are Scott Boras‘ b*tch” if you check the records we’re not even the team with the most Boras clients.   And most of our Boras clients were guys we drafted irrespective of who represented them.  I’m really tired of reading the cliche that any and all Boras clients are Nats targets because we for some reason feel obliged to deal with him.  I’ll tell you this; I’d rather be friendly with Boras than unfriendly; he represents serious talent in this game and if we can get access to his players more easily than an antagonistic GM, we’re in a better positions.  Ladson doesn’t think Drew would want to switch positions either.

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.