Nationals Arm Race

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

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Ladson’s Inbox 9/15/16

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Turner is the biggest surprise of the year for me.  photo via wp.com

Turner is the biggest surprise of the year for me. photo via wp.com

Wow, what a treat!  I’ve been kind of slacking in the content department and suddenly our favorite beat writer Bill Ladson pops out an unexpected mid-September mailbag.  So here’s something to argue about this weekend.

As always, here’s how I would have answered his questions.

Q: Who do you think is the most pleasant surprise on the Nationals this year

A: Trea Turner without a doubt.  We knew he was going to be good, but I don’t think anyone knew he was going to be *this* good.  Keith Law in his chat yesterday  pointed out a fun little fact about Trea Turner: he’s got a (now) 3.0 bWAR this year, which would rank him (unadjusted for position) as the 6th best ever for either the Rays or the Padres, the two teams that passed along Turner (and Joe Ross) in that trade two years ago.  What a steal.  And despite his only playing 57 games this year you have to think he’s in the mix for NL Rookie of the Year.  Corey Seager probably has it wrapped up, but a 2nd or 3rd place for Turner seems warranted.

Ladson said Stephen Drew, which I guess you could argue for … except that he’s a bench player who has missed a ton of time and isn’t a lock to make the post-season roster given his illness.

—-

Q: How far do you think the Nationals could go in the postseason?

A: Could?  They could go all the way!  :-)  In reality, I think the Stephen Strasburg injury really, really hurts them in their likely NLDS match up with Los Angeles.  If the Nats rolled out Scherzer-Strasburg-Roark-Gonzalez versus the Dodgers’ Kershaw-Hill-Maeda-random 4th starter i’d feel pretty good about our chances in that series.  Right now we’re basically auditioning pitchers for that 4th spot and Gonzalez has been shaky, and Los Angeles’ arms are daunting for a team that routinely gets shut down by starters from teams like Philadelphia and Atlanta.  Right now, I think we lose a close NLDS series to Los Angeles.

Even if Strasburg was healthy, I think we’d really be hard-pressed to beat Chicago in a 7 game series either.  We took 2 of 3 here, lost 4 out of 4 there this year (though as we’ve discussed here, that sweep wasn’t nearly as dominant as the press made it seem), but we still lost to them, and they’ve stayed at full strength basically the whole season.  I don’t see how anyone beats the Cubs this year.

Ladson hedges his answer, saying he wants to see how the bullpen and offense go the rest of the way.  Why is he worried about the bullpen?  Isn’t it one of the best in the game?  The Nats bullpen is #1 in baseball in ERA, #2 in Fip.   What more do you want?

Q: Do you think Stephen Strasburg will be ready to pitch in the postseason?

A: Nope.  Strained Flexor Mass is usually a 30 day injury; he got hurt on 9/7/16.  So at best t hat’s 10/7/16 … or basically at the end of the divisional series.  But … where’s he going to rehab?  There’s no more minor league games; i guess he could throw simulated or instructional league games.  But more importantly, this is a notably conservative team medically, especially with Strasburg over the years and especially since they just committed $175M to him.  No way do they rush him back from a serious injury just on the opportunity to make one post-season start.  Ladson agrees.

Q: Why do you call Jayson Werth “The King” on Twitter?

A: (me shaking my head): who knows.  Maybe because he’s the king of getting caught doing triple digits on the beltway?  I’ve lived here all my life and can’t tell you how many times i’ve hit 100 on the interstates around here without getting caught.  Ladson says he calls Werth the king because he turned “clubhouse from unprofessional to first class.”  Well, except for all of last year under Matt Williams … I guess even the King couldn’t salvage that dumpster fire.

Q: What do you think of the job Danny Espinosa has done this year?

A: Good power, good defense, bad hit tool.  About what we expected; his plus defense and power this year have outweighed his strikeouts and his low batting average.   He’s got a 1.8 bWAR and a 1.9 fWAR on the year, so its not like he’s totally useless out there.  Its one of the reasons i’ve supported him and havn’t been completely ready to get rid of him; he’s ranked 15th among qualified Shortstops in fWAR this year.  So that’s right in the middle; league average.   I mean, if he had negative WAR, didn’t have power, or wasn’t a plus defender, I could see the huge rush to replace him.  But moving him this coming off-season (as many want to of my readership) opens up another hole in Center that’s probably harder to fill right now than Short.  Its why I suspect the team may just stand pat, keep Turner in center another year, and roll out basically the same lineup in 2017.  Ladson gives him a “6.5 out of 7” and says he deserves the NL Gold Glove.  I dunno about that; there’s 5 or 6 NL shortstops that probably rate better defensively than him.

Q: Was Murphy what you expected this season?

A: No way; Murphy a ton better than I expected.  I was hoping for a solid 6th hitter, not a frigging MVP candidate.  He earned his entire $37.5M contract this year.  Ladson Agrees.

Q: What do you think of Dusty Baker as a manager? I know you often said Davey Johnson is the best manager you ever covered. Where does Baker rank as far as Nationals manager go?

A: I think Baker has done a fantastic job of calming this group, bringing some order, and not showing any of the faults that he was accused of in the past.  He’s shifted, he’s managed the bullpen decently, he’s stuck to his guns and rested players, he’s communicated well, he hasn’t burned out starters.  I think he’s ridden his primary catcher too hard … but then again, Ramos is having a career year and Lobaton is a huge step back offensively.  Is he better than Davey?  Not yet for me: lets see what happens when Baker has to deal with some injury issues or a better divisional rival.  Ladson has them 1-2 with Davey still on top.

 

“Those guys can kiss my *ss!”

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Jayson Werth, right, gave MASN’s Dan Kolko a joyous earful. (Alex Brandon/AP)

Jayson Werth, right, gave MASN’s Dan Kolko a joyous earful. (Alex Brandon/AP)

I “watched” the Nats-Cubs game in the most “2016” way possible yesterday.  I followed along at nationals.com initially, then was glancing at my MLB app on my phone into the later innings, then caught exciting 9th inning and the potentially gut-punch top 12th on the way home in the car on 106.7, arriving home just after Anthony Rendon was tossed for not saying anything after taking a called third strike (which, per Pitch F/X, was low and outside, but was in the zone).

It was there that I saw the fantastic end of the game live on MASN.  Danny Espinosa getting a HBP and subsequently stealing second easily.  Michael Taylor slapping a single to drive him in and tie the game again.  And then Jayson Werth‘s 2nd walk off hit this week, nearly a walk-off homer (he certainly thought it was out at first glance), and a fantastic ending to the most well attended game at Nats park in a while (42,000 announced attendance).

Instant classic and instant addition to “greatest games” honorable mention list.  Nats win 4-3 to take the series 2-1 against the perhaps the best team we’ve seen since the 116 win 2001 Seattle team.

Box Score link.  Bill Ladson‘s great game summary.

But … for me the best part was the on-field post-game interview.  It was laugh out loud funny live and its even funnier in the clips.  If you havn’t seen them, you have to listen.  NSFW obviously.  But fantastic.

Yeah those guys can kiss my *ss!

Its like Werth is the lead singer at a rock concert playing to his crowd during an encore.  And his hair completely supports that simile :-)

Great win; great series.  This team is legit.  I know they lost four straight to these Cubs and lost the season series by the ugly line of 2-5, but some of those Chicago games were closer than a 4-game sweep would indicate.  And i’m starting to see national writers dreaming on a Washington-Chicago NLCS.  Wouldn’t that be great.

 

Written by Todd Boss

June 16th, 2016 at 8:35 am

Operation “First tough stretch of the season” underway…

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Loved the Robinson homer ... even it if cost me in fantasy.  Photo via minorleagueball.com

Loved the Robinson homer … even it if cost me in fantasy. Photo via minorleagueball.com

We all know the Nats had a cream-puff schedule in April.  And they delivered; despite a somewhat inexplicable sweep at home to Philadelphia, they finished 14-7 in their first 21 games against basically a collection of teams that aren’t really trying in 2016.

14-7 is a nifty 108 win pace by the way.  Just saying :-)

We all were looking at this first road trip as the first true test; they havn’t played the Mets  yet, they havn’t really had much of a struggle (outside of a couple of pretty good Philadelphia young arms).  They were going to their old nemesis St. Louis (where they’ve always struggled, year over year), then 3 games at the defending WS champs (and in an AL park with their inherent DH advantage), and then to top it off 4 games in Chicago against a team that looks more and more like its gonna win 110 games (hyperbole, if only slightly; they’re 17-6 right now and that’s a ridiculous 120 win pace).

I didn’t think the Nats would win three games this entire trip.  Imagine my surprise that they frigging SWEPT St. Louis, in St. Louis, in three games that honestly weren’t really that close?  Strasburg, Ross and Scherzer pitched like bosses (no pun intended), and gave up a combined 3 earned runs in their 20 innings.  They won a game yesterday where Harper struck out four times.  They got great clutch hitting from unlikely sources (Espinosa, Robinson, Taylor) and they got a turn-back-the-clock Saturday from Werth.

What does this mean?

Well, for one, I think this already bumps up their projected win totals on the year.  You know the adage; dominate the bad teams and break even with the good ones.  I’ve got a little spreadsheet where I have projected Win/Loss totals for the season and it goes like this:

  • The team basically breaks even with the entire rest of the league: 43-41 against the NL Central, NL West and in Interleague
  • The team goes 13-6 against Atlanta, 12-7 against Philly and 11-8 against Miami.
  • The team goes 9-10 against the Mets (they have an extra home game in NY this year) for a combined 45-31 in-division.

If the team does this, then they win 88 games.  Probably not enough to make the playoffs.  So to improve on 88 wins, they need to pick up “extra” wins here and there.  Instead of going 13-6 against Atlanta maybe they go something ridiculous like 18-1 or 17-2 (they’re already 6-0).  They picked up an “extra” win against Minnesota already, sweeping them at home.

I had them going 1-2 in St. Louis in this scenario; going 3-0 is amazing.  Lets see what they can do in KC.  I’m hoping for 1 win out of 3.  They’re giving KC their two “worst” starters and they’re not really hitting well as a team, but what it does mean is that the Cubs will get Ross and Scherzer on the weekend.  Should be fun.

Written by Todd Boss

May 2nd, 2016 at 9:12 am

Ladson’s Inbox 4/8/16

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Werth looking shaggy; i'd like to see this beard in the leadoff hole. Photo via fansided.com

Werth looking shaggy; i’d like to see this beard in the leadoff hole. Photo via fansided.com

Wow, a ton of Ladson inboxes so far this year!  This is great!  Here’s the 4/8/16 version.

Q: I noticed on Twitter that you want to see Jayson Werth as the leadoff hitter now that Ben Revere is on the disabled list. Isn’t Werth best suited for the middle of the order?

A: Wow, Ladson and I agree!  I absolutely want Jayson Werth in the lead-off spot right now.  Why?  Because more and more it seems like Werth’s power has left him in his advancing age.  I’ve said it before in this space several times, but yes I believe Werth would be a great lead-off hitter.   Short version: sees a ton of pitches (4.16 P/PA last year, which would make him top 10 if he qualified … and that’s WAY down from normal).  Great OBP (.365 for his career, and while 2015 was an aberration the three years before he was in the .380 to .390+ range), and when he was coming back from his wrist injury and batting lead-off for the team in 2012 his splits batting lead-off were fantastic (.309/.388/.450).  When you put Werth in the middle of the order, he’s going to try to hit like a middle-of-the-order bat.  What if he can’t do that anymore?  Then you end up with a guy who we may be seeing right now; flailing at the ball, trying to drive it at the age of 36-37).  If you put him at the top, and ask him to be a leadoff hitter, I think his advanced bat skills make him a great option there.  Ladson says the same things I do; working the count, seeing lots of pitches.

Q: When are you going to give Danny Espinosa some credit? He is off to a good start. You always write about Trea Turner.

A: Yeah, great start.  He’s 3 for 9.  But he was awful all spring.  Can you spell “Short Sample Sizes?”  Nobody in the league or the organization has any question that Trea Turner is the future and Danny Espinosa is just holding the spot for now.  If he continues to earn playing time, so be it.  I’ll take an extra year of control if Turner hangs out in Syracuse for 2-3 months.  The fact is though that at some point somebody’s getting hurt (Ryan ZimmermanAnthony Rendon?  Both are good bets) that will require some infield coverage/shifting around, and at that point Turner makes perfect sense to bring up and see what he can do with full time playing time.  Ladson gives Espinosa some love.

Q: With Bryce Harper saying that he doesn’t view himself as a leader on the team, who do you think is the “official” leader of the Nationals’ clubhouse?

A: I’m pretty sure this is Harper‘s way of being deferential to the veterans on the team without proclaiming himself as the leader.  But lets not kid ourselves; this franchise has had one MVP and he’s it.  Who is the leader?  I think there’s several leaders; there’s four significant veterans on this team: Werth, Zimmerman, Max Scherzer and Jonathan Papelbon.  Not all of them have been here forever like the FotF has, but they’re the ones that have been around the league, who are on the 8-figure deals, and they’re the ones who seem to dictate the pace of the clubhouse.  Ladson also mentions Murphy and Ramosarguable.  I only name Papelbon because in the span of a few weeks he went from being the last guy hired to being the unquestioned leader in terms of tenure both here and in the league.  

Q: Were you surprised Sean Burnett wasn’t put on the 25-man roster?

A: Yes and No.  On the one hand, the team had two solid lefties in Felipe Rivero and Oliver Perez already under contract, and keeping Burnett would have meant sending down Treinen basically thanks to options issues.  And that would have been a non-starter.  If Burnett had 8th inning stuff, perhaps.  No, i see the Burnett signing and tenure as a “favor to a long standing former player” trying to help him get back on his feet in this league.  Ladson mentions we already had two good lefties.

Q: What do you think of outfielder Victor Robles?

A: I think he’s young, apparently talented, on pace to perhaps be a solid 5 tool player.  I also think he’s years away from helping this team.  So its great that he’s potentially great … but that doesn’t do much to help this current team win while it still has Strasburg and Harper under contract.  Ladson has glowing words for the 18-yr old.

PS: I was heading to the game today before they cancelled it due to … the threat of snow?  I dunno; its chilly right now but clear.  We’ll have to wait to get to our first game :-)

Ladson Inbox 3/22/16

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Michael Taylor has been lighting it up this spring. Photo via wp

Michael Taylor has been lighting it up this spring. Photo via wp

Bill Ladson‘s inboxes seem to now just be sporadic Spring Training devices.  I should do more post-Boswell chat reaction posts to drum up conversation.  Nonetheless, here’s Ladson’s latest mailbag and how i’d have answered the questions he took.

Q: Former Nationals general manager Jim Bowden believes Michael Taylor should be the starting left fielder over Jayson Werth. What is your take on it?

A: My take is, “thats why Jim Bowden isn’t a GM anymore.”  Or even a manager.  Yes Michael Taylor has had a great spring.  He also struck out, a lot, in 2015, (158 Ks in 511 PAs for a nifty 31% clip) and (per his splits) didn’t really improve much as the season progressed.   Meanwhile Jayson Werth put up very, very good numbers in 2013 and 2014, the two most recent seasons when he wasn’t hurt.  In both of those seasons he put up oWAR of 4.7 (his total bWAR figures being drug down by his idiot manager continuing to play him in RF instead of left).

Of course, Werth isn’t getting any younger.  There’s not guarantee that he hasn’t fallen off a cliff of performance.

So what’s the answer?  You let Werth play his way to the bench.  The odds are that someone’s getting hurt in our OF and Taylor is going to get 400-500 ABs anyway.  So he’s gonna get playing time.  But there’s just no way that Dusty Baker the “veteran’s manager” is going to sit a long-time vet and team leader by virtue of a few weeks of Florida ABs.  It may take half a season of under-performance, but eventually these things sort themselves out.  This is basically what Ladson said too.

Q: What do you think is Baker’s toughest decision before heading north?

A: What socks to wear on opening day?  Honestly, there’s really very little to decide upon with this team.  They’ve had a very injury-free spring.  The rotation was basically settled upon months ago.  The trades that Mike Rizzo made to solidify the roster also had the effect of basically locking up the roster going north.  Maybe there will be a surprise in the bullpen but that seems unlikely too; the team acquired all these guys for a reason and it wasn’t to compete for a bullpen slot.

The obvious answer prior to spring training was “who starts at Shortstop” but I’ve never thought there was any question that Danny Espinosa will be the starter.  That’s not to say I don’t recognize the potential of Trea Turner (he’s not a top 10-15 prospect on most pundits’ sheets for nothing), but returning to a theme, I just had a hard time thinking that a manager like Baker was going to go with a guy with 5 weeks of service time over a guy with nearly 5 years.  As with Taylor/Werth though, this situation likely sorts itself out.  If Espinosa hits .200 for April, then he’ll switch places with Stephen Drew and the team will start thinking hard about bringing back up Turner (especially if he’s hitting .320 in AAA).

I think there’s still some question at the edge of the bench; do you go with who I think they’ll go with (Tyler Moore and Clint Robinson) or do we get a surprise DFA so they can stick with someone like Matt den DekkerLadson also says its the last bench spot, where Moore is the incumbent but a number of guys could stick based on spring performance, specifically Scott Sizemore, who might be a bit more positionally flexible than Moore.

Q: What is your biggest concern about the Nationals?

A: Bullpen.  We’ve talked about how the Nats, despite all their injuries on offense last year, really struggled in terms of run prevention as the core reason they went from 96 to 83 wins.  Now they’re rolling out nearly a 100% changed bullpen from opening day last year.  How will it perform?  Will it be able to hold down the fort?

We also likely are taking a step back in the rotation, unless Strasburg remembers his September form and brings that from day one.  But, we hopefully counter this with a step forward in offense, with healthy seasons from Anthony Rendon and the veterans.  Ladson also says Bullpen.

Q: Who do you see having a breakout year in the Nationals’ farm system?

A: Well, do you count Giolito at this point?  Probably not.  I’m going to go with the prospects who are getting publicity but who are still in the lower minors.  Guys like Victor Robles, Anderson Franco.  I’d like to see what Max Schrock can do.  I’m excited to see what Taylor Hearn can bring to the table with a full season.  The two Lees: Andrew Lee and Nick LeeLadson mentions Severino; meh; i think we know what we have with Severino by now; great catcher, no hit, #8 hitter in the majors.  I think you see this team let both Ramos and Lobaton go this coming off-season and find a new starter with Severino as the backup.  But that’s a year away so lots could change.

Q: Should the Nationals consider trading Stephen Strasburg before the non-waiver Trade Deadline since it seems he has no interest in returning to Washington next year?

A: Nope.  You try to WIN when you have guys like Strasburg, not flip them away like you’re some small market team stashing away prospects for the future.  This isn’t Tampa Bay; this is the #5 market in the nation.  Besides, who said Strasburg has “no interest” in returning to Washington??  I’ve never read that.  His agent is Scott Boras, who always advises going to free agency, and next year’s FA class is weak, meaning Strasburg will probably get into a bidding war for his services.  Its the modern game; he’ll be overpaid, he’ll get too many years, and he’ll likely get priced out of the comfort level of Ted Lerner and company.  But that’s not the same as implying that Strasburg doesn’t want to be playing in Washington.  Would you give Strasburg 8yrs/$200M?  Because that’s the going rate for an Ace-quality guy like him on the market.  Ladson agrees.

Q: What do you think of Blake Treinen? Is he a starter or reliever?

A: I think  he’s a starter at heart but a reliever in reality.  That is unless he can actually develop a 50-55 grade third pitch that he can reliably get lefties out with.  If that’s the case, then he could become a very effective starter.  And it does seem like the Nationals are thinking the same thing.  He’s definitely pitching this spring like he’s a starter; perhaps the team is thinking about Treinen as the longer guy instead of PetitLadson says he’s showing progress and his spring stats are good; is he the 6th starter over A.J. Cole or Austin Voth at this point?  If someone goes down with injury, are you trying out Trienen or are you calling up the kid Giolito?

 

Ladson’s Inbox 2/21/16

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We need Rendon to hit in 2016. Photo Nats Official via espn.com

We need Rendon to hit in 2016. Photo Nats Official via espn.com

Wow, no inboxes for months and suddenly two in two weeks??  It must be spring training! This is great!  MLB.com’s Nats beat reporter Bill Ladson on 2/20/16 has published more reader questions.  Here’s how I would have answered them.

Q: Without a doubt, Bryce Harper will be the best hitter on the Nationals this year. Who do you see as being the second-best hitter on the team?

A: Anthony Rendon.  If this team is going to win in 2016, Rendon needs to return to form.  Everyone else at this point in the lineup will be a table setter for Rendon and Harper.  Ladson says Zimmerman, who I admit i’ve begun to lose faith in.

Q: How does the front office justify bringing back Jonathan Papelbon after what happened last year with Harper? Papelbon has proven time and again that he is not a good teammate, yet he’s back for 2016?

A: I guess the questioner didn’t know that Papelbon was still *signed* for 2016.  So it wasn’t so much about “bringing him back” on purpose as it was the team “not being able to get rid of him.”  I put the Papelbon acquisition as one of the worst of the Mike Rizzo tenure; not so much for who we gave up (a good but not game changing prospect in Nick Pivetta) but for the incredible mis-calculation of the acquisition’s affect on the rest of the team.  I’m sure the team desperately tried to move him in the off-season but (with echos of “Lerner’s are cheap” abounding) probably weren’t willing to dump him for no return.  So here we are; its 2016 and Papelbon is here in lieu of the home grown popular (and team union rep) Drew Storen.

I’ll bet Rizzo doesn’t make this mistake again.

Nonetheless, Papelbon said the right things in his first media interviews since the interview, actually managing to appear humble and contrite while talking about how he was in the wrong and flat out apologizing to the fans.  I say good for him; even I couldn’t help but applaud his performance last last week.

Ladson says the team “made a good decision” in not moving Papelbon; yeah right.  If they could have gotten *anything* for him he’d be gone.  You worry about “finding a closer” in the current bullpen?  Uh, how about anyone?  We don’t need to go into more historical reviews of the uselessness of closers vis-a-vis teams holding leads after 8 innings.

Q: Why did the Nats not re-sign Craig Stammen? Before last year, I thought he did a great job as a middle reliever.

A: It all came down to risk mitigation.  Stammen absolutely did a great job for this team for many years … but he’s got a lot of innings, is coming off of a season-long injury, has (to be fair) rather funky mechanics, and the team just couldn’t justify guaranteeing him what probably would have been $2.5M or so for the unknown.  The industry felt the same way: Stammen ended up with a non-guaranteed minor league deal with Cleveland instead of either a major league deal or anything of significant value.  Trust me I was bummed; we met Stammen years ago at a golf event and he was awesome; hate to see these long-time Nats leave.  Ladson basically says the same thing.

Q: Don’t you think it’s time to improve left field? Jayson Werth is not the player he used to be. He makes a lot of money and doesn’t provide much in return.

A: And do what with Werth?  Magically trade him for valuable assets and get his payroll off your books?  The asker clearly thinks that the rest of the league are run by morons and the Nats can just magically get rid of the likes of Werth for value.  Yes he’s costing you more than 10% of your payroll.  It is what it is; veteran FA contracts all end up like this.  Honestly, I think Werth still has a ton of value if you use him properly; that means batting lead-off where you take advantage of his high pitches-per-plate appearance and high OBP.  We’ll see if Dusty Baker thinks outside the box like this (doubt it).  Ladson says Werth is a comeback player of the year candidate.

Q: What are the chances the Nationals make a trade for someone like Carlos Gonzalez to protect Harper in the lineup?

A: I like Carlos Gonzalez … but his home/away splits are pretty distinct.  .972 OPS in Denver, .758 OPS elsewhere last year.  I’m not sure he’s anything more than a mediocre outfielder if he’s not playing half his games at altitude.  Besides, the team made its play for the outfield when they acquired Ben RevereLadson thinks Rizzo could still “make a deal for a slugger” during Spring Training if he doesn’t like what he sees.  Uh; trading season is over, dude.  How many big-time sluggers can you think of that moved in spring training?

Q: A prime component of the Mets’ rotation is the ability to throw hard and get a bunch of strikeouts, but how unique is the Nationals’ rotation and how could it help them win the NL East next season?

A: Indeed, the Mets have a plethora of big-time arms throwing big-time heat.  But the Royals buzzed through their staff with ease in the World Series.  Why?  Because the Royals were the best team in the league for not taking a strikeout and putting the ball in play.  So once it became apparent that the Mets starters couldn’t close out games by themselves, the Royals (with their superior bullpen) outlasted them.  So Ks are important but not the end-all/be-all.

What makes the Nats rotation unique?  Two part answer for me: they (still) have one of the best 1-2 punches in the league in Scherzer and Strasburg.  What other 1-2 starters would you take over them?   So then past their 2 aces, they have three other guys who are dangerously under-rated.  Gonzalez was a Cy Young finalist just a couple years ago and he still has the same stuff.  Ross is a complete find, a guy who would be most teams’ #2 starter this year despite just having a handful of MLB starts.  And (as often repeated) Roark was a 5-win guy two years ago.  So the potential is there for this to be a top rotation end-to-end.

How does the Rotation help them win the NL east?  By staying healthy, pitching to potential, and outlasting the Mets own powerful rotation when its crunch time.

Ladson doesn’t really give much of an answer here.  He just says what he’d like to “see” each of our starters do this year.

 

 

Spring Training 2016 NRI discussion

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Arroyo could be a surprise NRI making the 25-man roster.  Photo via google images

Arroyo could be a surprise NRI making the 25-man roster. Photo via google images

We discussed Non Roster Invites (NRI) last year (link to 2015’s post) at the behest of reader forensicane, and it was such a good topic that, upon seeing yesterday’s announcement from the various Nats beat writers (here’s James Wagner from the WP’s post), I thought I’d put up a post where we could discuss.

Reminder from last year; there were 20 NRIs; two made the 25-man roster out of spring (Dan Uggla and Clint Robinson), two others eventually got added and called up (Rafael Martin and Emmanuel Burriss) and two others were young catchers since added to the 40-man (Spencer Kieboom, Pedro Severino), so these are not throw-away players.  The odds of several of these names playing a part in this team’s future is high, even past the obvious candidates (i.e. those listed at or near the top of prospect lists).

Like last year, we’ll go by position and discuss their chances for making the team, staying with the franchise, and (depending on their roster status) their future plans with the team in general (the below format is cut-n-pasted from Wagner’s post).

Catchers (1)

  • RHH Jhonatan Solano

Discussion: Solano, the long time Nats-farm hand, returns to the fold after being released ahead of an options crunch in Nov 2014 and spending 2015 toiling for Miami’s AAA team alongside his brother.  He did get 20 MLB at bats in 2015 … and went 1-for-20.  He’s back, though his odds of breaking ahead of any of the four catchers we have on the roster seems very slim right now, even given the known offensive limitations of both MLB-projected catchers.  Now, were one of Ramos  or Lobaton go down with injury … that might open things up.  Would you rather depend on one of the two rookies on the 40-man as your backup or at least go with someone like Solano, who has at least a few MLB at bats over the past few years under his belt?  Neither A or B are good options, and you might think that the “Jonathan Lucroy to Washington” future plan may pick up speed at that point.

Odds of any of these NRIs making the 25-man roster: Negligible unless there’s an injury.

Future plans: Solano back to AAA once again as depth if there’s an injury; he may be flat out released if not since both Severino and Kieboom seem destined to head to AAA to split catching duties.


Infielders (4)

  • RHH Jason Martinson
  • RHH Brendan Ryan
  • RHH Scott Sizemore
  • LHH Matt Skole

Discussion: The team is quite familiar with both Martinson and Skole; both being draft picks and both being relatively close to the end of their tenure here.  Martinson has quietly climbed the ranks but hit just .218 in AAA last year; what he has though is power.  21 homers and corner infield capabilities (he was a SS coming out of college but quickly moved to 3B).  I view him as “Tyler Moore” insurance and the team likely has him at camp to see if he’s at all a possible option in case something bad happens.  Skole has long been a personal favorite, a former Nats minor league player of the year whose promising career was derailed by a season-long injury in 2013.  He took a big step back in 2015, not making the AAA team out of spring but eventually getting there mid-season.  He also has power (20 combined homers last year) but from the left hand side while also playing corner infield.  I view him as “Clint Robinson” insurance.

Meanwhile, both Ryan and Sizemore seemingly are competing for the second “backup utility infielder” role on this team, one that without any other moves would go to someone like Wilmer Difo or perhaps Danny Espinosa were the team to decide to go with Trea Turner from day one.  I don’t see that happening; I think Difo showed he needs more seasoning, I think the team wants a veteran at short and either Sizemore or (more likely) Ryan makes this team as the 2nd utility guy.

Odds of any of these NRIs making the 25-man roster: High: I think Ryan breaks camp with the team.

Future plans: Martinson and Skole back in AAA, Sizemore may have an opt-out but may not since he was in AAA most of last year.


Outfielders (4)

  • LHH Tony Campana
  • RHH Chris Heisey
  • RHH Reed Johnson
  • LHH Logan Schafer

Discussion: Schafer was brought in presumably to compete with Matt den Dekker as a speedy CF-capable 5th outfielder type.  Problem is that Schafer can’t hit: career .212 hitter with a meager career .319 slugging.   Campana?  Same story; the 5’8″ backup outfielder didn’t even appear in the majors last year and has just one homer in 477 career MLB appearances.  den Dekker showed some promise at the end of last season and seems like he’s the first guy to get called up if/when there’s an injury in the outfield.

So lets talk about the two guys who do have some consideration.  The team knows exactly what it has with Johnson: an aging scrappy veteran who can play a corner OF and be a good clubhouse presence.  Sounds like Jayson Werth minus 6 inches of height and $120M of contract.  I think they invited him just as saying “thanks and sorry about last year.”   Meanwhile, some are talking about Heisey having a shot at this roster: I think maybe.  If the team is looking to upgrade the Tyler Moore “right-handed pinch hitter off the bench” role, then Heisey is his competition.  He’s somewhat accomplished; he has never really started in his career but hit 18 homers as a part-timer in Cincinnati a few years back.  But his bat has been just as meager as Moore’s lately: he hit just .223 combined across several AAA levels last year.  Of course, all of those figures are better than what Moore has done lately, and Heisey likely is cheaper than Moore for 2016 (Moore signed a pre-arb deal of $900k but of course could be released mid-spring training without the Nats having to pay a ton of his guaranteed salary).

The question becomes; is Heisey’s positional flexibility (he’s an OF who can play CF in a pinch while Moore can basically only play 1B) going to win out over Moore’s long tenure with the team?  Maybe.

Odds of any of these NRIs making the 25-man roster:  Pretty good: Heisey seems like he could beat out Moore for the RH bench bat.

Future plans: we don’t have a ton of depth at the OF position in AAA; i’m sure one or both of Schafer/Campana could stick around.  Johnson could elect to retire if he doesn’t make the team at his advanced age.  Heisey could stick around or could have an opt-out if he doesn’t make the squad.


Starting Pitchers (6)

  • RHP Bronson Arroyo
  • RHP Paolo Espino
  • RHP Lucas Giolito
  • RHP Taylor Hill
  • LHP Aaron Laffey
  • RHP Austin Voth

Discussion: Thanks to FA departures and starter conversions, the Nats now have just seven starters on their 40-man roster.  Scherzer, Strasburg, Gonzalez*, Ross, Roark, Cole, Jordan.   Where as last year the team could afford to send a 5-win starter to the mop-up role, this year they’re one injury from really having to answer some very serious questions.  Which is probably why they have signed Bronson Arroyo honestly; despite throwing up low-to-mid 80s heat, he has remained relatively effective deep into his 30s.

In reality though, the Nats real SP depth is seen directly in the NRIs; in order Giolito, Voth and Espino.  These three guys are who this team likely turns to if the injury bug really bites the projected rotation.  I’m on record saying that Giolito is going to be up in 2016; might as well get him used to seeing MLB hitters (or close to it, depending on when they give him innings).  In reality, nobody on this list projects to have a shot at cracking the 2016 rotation save for injury.  The big question really comes down to Arroyo versus Roark for the 5th spot.  Is it likely that Roark gets dumped back to the bullpen again, causing a cascading series of bullpen moves (Petit to middle relief, Treinen likely to AAA)?  Not that likely but you never know, and Dusty Baker certainly goes way back with Arroyo.  I think its a certainty that the NRI prospects don’t break camp with the squad … but Arroyo could have a shot.

Can’t wait for Spring Training games though to get a glimpse of Giolito on the mound…

Odds of any of these NRIs making the 25-man roster: Decent for Arroyo.

Future plans: Four of these six NRIs will form the bulk of the Syracuse rotation (Espino, Hill, Laffey, Voth), to be joined with Cole and Jordan for the core rotation in upstate NY.  I’ve projected Giolito to start back in AA and prove he can dominate that level before moving up and bumping someone like Laffey or Hill from the AAA rotation.  That leaves Arroyo; if he doesn’t make the team, I’m guessing he’s opting out instead of lowering himself to riding buses in AAA.


Relief Pitchers (5)

  • RHP Michael Brady
  • LHP Sean Burnett
  • RHP Erik Davis
  • RHP Nick Masset
  • RHP Wander Suero

Discussion: While the 40-man roster of starters is thin (7), the Nats now have no less than thirteen (!) relievers on their 40-man roster.  That’s a lot of arms.  Only 7 of them are making the MLB bullpen, and for the most part you can ink in the opening day rotation by looking at the acquisitions the team has done since July of last year.  So not a lot of room in the inn for NRI relievers.  Davis gets the invite despite getting dumped off of the 40-man roster probably as one last ditch effort to show the MLB staff he can still pitch.  Long time Nat Burnett returns to the fold coming off of a second TJ, probably given the NRI for sentimental reasons more than anything.  Brady and Masset are new acquisitions (one by trade, one by MLFA) who both project to be Syracuse middle relief (where my pre-season analysis also showed a massive glut of arms), while Suero’s callup seems like an audition to be added to the 40-man roster ahead of next off season’s rule 5 draft, since Suero just finished his 6th pro season and will be exposed next December.

Odds of any of these NRIs making the 25-man roster: Nil: the Nats have way too many relievers already and none of these guys projects to be better than what we already have on the 40-man.

Future plans: Brady, Davis, Masset to AAA, Suero to AA, Burnett opts-out looking for a MLB loogy job after proving he’s healthy again on the Nats spring training meal money dime.


Summary

I think there’s a good chance of at least one and perhaps two NRIs to make the 25-man roster.

 

 

Ladson’s Inbox 2/12/15

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What will Treinen give this team in 2016? Photo via zimbio.com

What will Treinen give this team in 2016? Photo via zimbio.com

Happy Valentines Day 2016!  And what better way to celebrate it than an Inbox from MLB.com’s Nats beat reporter Bill Ladson.  Here’s how I would have answered his questions had someone bothered to ask me.  As always, I write my answer before reading his, and edit questions for clarity.

Q: What is the biggest change the Nationals must make to be competitive in the NL East?

A: Well first, lets be honest.  There’s really only 2 teams even *trying* in the NL East 2016, so calling it “competitive” is sort of like claiming that the Washington Generals were “competitive” with the Harlem Globetrotters all those years.

For me the biggest thing the Nats need to do is just stay frigging healthy.  If Harper plays another full year maybe he doesn’t do another 10-win season, but you have to think he’ll be quite good.  Rendon was one of the NL’s top players two years ago; no reason not to think he could return to form.  Strasburg needs to be the guy all year in 2016 that he was in August and September of last year.  Werth and Zimmerman are both seemingly on the down side of their careers but there’s no reason they can’t be valuable contributors if they can stay on the field.  If all of that happens, then this team suddenly is the 95-98 win juggernaut that everyone thought they’d be in 2015.

Ladson mentions the Bullpen and team defense.  I guess he’s bought into the Royal’s plan as the way of winning going forward.

Q: What will Blake Treinen‘s impact be on the team be this year? It seems like he has the talent to make an impact on the team.

A: Well, right now Treinen is probably the “last guy in” to the bullpen; if the Nats were to acquire another RH middle reliever, Treinin likely gets bumped to AAA.  That’s because lefties hit him for an astounding .934 OPS last year.   His K/9 jumped dramatically his 2nd year in the pen .. but so did his BB/9.  Its pretty astounding to me that a guy with his kind of stuff (upper 90s sinking fastball with so much  movement that commentators think he’s throwing circle changes) struggles the way he does.  So my answer to the question is “minimal unless he can get lefties out with more regularity.”  Ladson basically says the same thing with the same observations.

Q: Do you expect Lucas Giolito with the big league club in 2016 or will he get a full season in Syracuse?

A: Something tells me that we may see Giolito in the majors this year, yes.  He didn’t light AA on fire last year … so I see him starting the season there (and not AAA).  I also see him quickly earning a promotion to AAA or perhaps straight to the majors, just like the team did with Joe Ross last year.  Or, consider what the team did with Jordan Zimmermann, who jumped straight from AA to the majors (albeit after spending most of the 2008 season in AA).

Why do I think Giolito is going to appear in the majors this year?  Because this is our last year with Strasburg before he signs a $200M contract somewhere.  And this is  one of our last couple years with Harper before he signs a $500M contract.  And when you have two of the marquee players in the game … you try to win at all costs.  This is the criticism of the Angels right now with Mike Trout and if the Nats go cheap or don’t use everything in their disposal to try to win a championship while they still have Harper, then it’ll be the same situation with the Nats.  So if one of our starters goes down and A.J Cole or Austin Voth can’t cut the mustard, then I expect Giolito to be on the MLB team without too much delay.

Ladson says it depends on how he looks in Spring Training.  I dunno about that; when scouts talk about how he has two grade 70 pitches already … what else is there to see?  I’m sure he’ll look awesome against AAA players and other re-treads in the later innings of ST games, will go to AA with the missive of “working on something” in particular, and will be up soon.  Ladson also says he “has no limits” in terms of innings; that too I think is BS.  He’ll be limited to no more than a 20% increase year over year.  He threw 117 innings last year; don’t expect him to throw much more than 140-150 innings.

Q: What kind of season do you expect from Gio Gonzalez?

A: I think we’ll see a slight improvement for Gonzalez over 2015’s campaign for reasons as frequently pointed out by JohnC: his peripherals were crummy, lots of bad luck on balls in play, and the defense behind him was rather subpar.  I’m thinking something like 13-9, 3.45 ERA, 1.30 whip.  Not bad for a 3rd or 4th starter.  Ladson implies that this could be Gio’s “last year” because he’s entering his option years.  Uh Bill, are you seeing what mediocre starting pitchers are going for on the FA market?  Gonzalez’s options are each at $12M for the next two years.  Jon Lackey is older and lesser, and just signed a 2yr/$32M deal.  Who would you rather have?

Q: Do you expect a significant contribution from any of the players signed to Minor League contracts?

A: A couple of the MLFA signings come to mind as possible contributors, absolutely.  Reed Johnson, Brendan Ryan, and Bronson Arroyo could all be surprising players come spring training, and an injury or two could open the way for their place on the opening day roster absolutely.  Just look at what happened to this team last spring, with a slew of guys on the opening day D/L and both MLFAs and non-tender candidates not only making the team but contributing the entire season (see Robinson, Clint and Moore, Tyler).  Ladson mentions one other guy Chris Heisey who could also factor in.

Q: I’m asking for a prediction: Who do you think will be the starting shortstop between Danny Espinosa, Trea Turner and Stephen Drew?

A: I’m going with Danny Espinosa honestly; the way the roster has been constructed its clear to me Turner is starting the season in AAA and Drew will be the utility infielder.  If Espinosa hits .200 in April though, all bets are off.  I know many will say that it should be Turner … bit if its Turner, then that leaves a veteran like Moore or Drew on the outside looking in.  Ladson says Turner; well see!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Drew Storen for Ben Revere; a trade that seems to work on both sides

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Lets Hope Storen doesn't have days like this in Toronto. Photo Andrew Harnik/washingtontimes.com

Lets Hope Storen doesn’t have days like this in Toronto. Photo Andrew Harnik/washingtontimes.com

(Editor’s note: sorry for the delay on this post: you might have noticed the site being unavailable for a bit of time yesterday.  That’s because the shared server hosting all my various business and personal websites crashed and was down for hours.  Hopefully we’re all back up and normal.  This post is written and posted as of 1/10/16).

Drew Storen got his wish today; a fresh start with another team.  And amazingly, Mike Rizzo was able to turn an asset that basically the entire industry knew he was shopping (and knew that the player wanted out) and was able to basically get the *exact* player he was seeking in Ben Revere; a capable hitter who fits precisely into the hole left by the departed Denard Span.  Lefty, center fielder, lead-off hitter, good stats.

Amazing trade, frankly, by Rizzo, given these circumstances.

The Nats hadn’t consummated a trade with Toronto since 2005 (and that was a two minor leaguers swapping deck chairs kind of a deal in Tyrell Goodwin for Aaron Wideman).  Clearly Rizzo has a better working relationship with the new brain trust in Toronto (former Cleveland GM Mark Shapiro) than he did before (Alex Anthopoulos).

For Storen; he gets out of town and gets a chance at a fresh start for a team that won its division last year and still sports the best offense in the game.  He’s gotta be happy.  I’m not sure he is the closer in Toronto (Robert Osuna was pretty good: 20 saves, 2.58 ERA, 153 ERA+, sub 1.00 whip but is also just 20); maybe there’s a ST competition, maybe Storen just accepted the deal and the 8th inning to get a fresh start.  Can’t blame him.

For the Nats, they get basically the #1 priority they’ve been seeking all off-season.  And they get it without committing to major dollars in the future, without giving up a draft pick, and without trading any of their prospects.  In this respect, A+ trade for Rizzo.  Revere had a good lead-off hitter slash line last year (.306/.342/.377), hits lefty to help with lineup balance, and plays a position of need (CF).  I’m not sure he’s the super duper awesome CF that the team sought (a good looking uzr/150 in 2015 but negative defensive figures the three previous years in Philly), but he’s always been awesome in RF so maybe we’re looking at Harper in CF and Revere in RF as a optimized defensive alignment.  (Oh who am I kidding?  Do you think Dusty Baker is looking at fangraphs and seeing massive negative DRS figures for Revere and going, ‘gee he should play RF?’)

The Nats also save some cash (Revere makes a bit less than Storen in terms of projected Arb salaries), AND the Nats get a PTBNL (probably a low-level prospect).  We sent some unreported amount of cash to Toronto; probably a few hundred thousand or so to balance out the salary delta.  I love it when billion dollar assets send piddling amounts of cash in deals; can you imagine the negotiations?  “Hey Mike, I need $100k to make this deal work.”  “Oh ok Mark, lemme dig into my car cushion and see what i’ve got here that fell out of my pocket during my last arbitration negotiation … oh!  here’s $200k.  Sold!”

New projected opening day 2016 lineup:

  • Revere*, Rendon, Harper*, Zimmerman, Murphy*, Werth, Espinosa*, Ramos, pitcher.

Perfect lefty/righty balance.  If you think Espinosa is super-sub and Drew is the starter at short, replace like for like since Drew is a lefty hitter.  If you think Turner is the starter … you’re crazy to think that given the moves this team has made in the past few weeks :-)

Other downstream effects of this deal:

  • If we didn’t have confirmation before, i’ll say it again: i just can’t see how Trea Turner makes the 25-man roster.  This was more about the Drew acquisition than this, but I don’t see how he makes this team unless someone gets hurt in Viera.
  • The 5-man bench looks pretty much complete: backup C (Lobaton unless otherwise replaced), RH pinch hitter/corner player (Moore), LH pinch hitter/
    corner player (Robinson), speedy backup OF who can play CF as needed (Taylor), and utility infielder (Drew or Espinosa).
  • Matt den Dekker now gets pushed to AAA; i can’t see him beating Clint Robinson for “lefty PH bat” and Moore is now basically the only RH bat on the bench so gets to stick around another year.
  • Taylor now is back to being 4th OF, right where he was last year.  But don’t worry; Werth probably gets a hangnail on April 10th and Taylor will still get 300-400 ABs in 2016.
  • Not a ton of salary difference with the move; Storen and Rivera were projected by mlbtraderumores to make 8.8 and 6.7M respectively.  I had Storen’s projected salary a bit less.  In total, I’ve got the 2016 projected payroll at $143M now, still $18M less than last year.
  • Treinen now is back in the projected MLB bullpen; I think he was last guy out given the acquisitions and make up of the roles prior to Storen’s jettison.
  • Papelbon now probably stays; i’d be shocked if he gets moved now, given his NT clause and his toxicity around the league. And, well, the team still needs a frigging closer.  Ironic that they “had” to move their home grown 1st rounder (who happened to also be the union rep) so that they could keep the former star of their divisinoal rival who also just happened to choke the unanimous league MVP on national TV.  But that’s the bed they’ve made for themselves.

One last thing: The bullpen makeover now seems complete.  Check out how the 2016 projected opening day pen looks compared to years past:
o 2016: Papelbon, Treinen, Gatt, Kelley, Perez*, Rivero*, Petit (Barret on D/L)
o 2015: Storen, Treinen, Barrett, Stammen, Thornton*, Cedeno*, Roark (Janssen on d/l)
o 2014: Soriano, Storen, Clippard, Barrett, Stammen, Blevins*, Detwiler*
o 2013: Soriano, Storen, Clippard, Mattheus, Stammen, Rodriguez, Duke*
o 2012: Clippard, Lidge, Mattheus, Stammen, Rodriguez, Burnett*, Gorzelanny*
o 2011: Storen, Clippard, Coffey, Gaudin, Burnett*, Slaten*, Broderick
o 2010: Capps, Clippard, Bruney, English, Bergmann, Burnett*, Walker*, Batista (yes it was an 8-man pen)

100% turnover from 2015’s opening day rotation, man for man (if Janssen had been healthy, Treinen would have been in AAA).  I know it needed to be done, but i’m still apprehensive about it from a cohesion perspective.

In summary; good trade for both sides.  Sorry to see Storen go but it had to be done for both the player and the team.  I think the Nats are better today than they were yesterday; not because Revere > Storen necessarily (by bWAR they are but that’s probably not a fair comparison) but because Storen wasn’t going to be the best he could be here any longer.

Nationals Arm Race Best Stories for 2015; Happy New Year!

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Here’s a quick recap of the year in stories on this blog, to tie a bow on 2015.  From each month, I’ve grabbed a couple of the more interesting or unique posts I did, with thoughts and follow-on.

(Here’s 2014’s review and  2013’s review as well, to see how far we have or have not evolved…)

Jan 2015:

  • Holy Cow Scherzer! Nats make a statement by signing Scherzer for $210M; he does not disappoint with 2 no-hitters in his first season.  We’ll conveniently forget his 6+ ERA during crunch time when the team was caught and surpassed in the standings by the eventual NL champion Mets.
  • Like the Janssen signing: Yeah; this one didn’t work out as well.

Feb 2015

Mar 2015

  • Brady Aiken has TJ surgery, shakes up draft boards: Aiken eventually goes 17th overall and loses millions versus where he was drafted the year prior.  Hope he can come back from such an early TJ surgery.
  • Nats Outfield … what happens next?  Big discussion once it became clear that both Span and Werth were not making the 2015 opening day lineup healthy.

Apr 2015

May 2015

  • 2015 CWS Field of 64 announced; teams and analysis: one of many CWS posts, culminating in UVA winning in Omaha in late June.
  • DC/MD/VA District High School Tournament Report: 2015 post-season: May is Prep HS tournament time.  June has a ton of College and College World Series posts.  I know I don’t get a lot of comments on my HS and College coverage, but I enjoy following both and try to keep interest in local baseball alive.  FWIW, the area may very well have a first round pick in 2016 in Oakton HS’ Joe Rizzo.  More to come in February when I start up Prep baseball 2016 posts.

June 2015

July 2015

Aug 2015

Sept 2015

Oct 2015

Nov 2015

Dec 2015

 


Total posts for 2015 (including this one): 115.  That’s down from 130 posts in 2014 and down significantly from 2013 (237 posts).  Wow, how in the heck did I do 237 posts in 2013.  That’s nearly a post for every weekday, all year.  Including this post, i’ve published 923 total since the inception of the blog.  When I hit 1000 i’ll do some cool retrospective or something.  Should happen midway through 2016.

923 posts; that’s a lot of writing.  I once calculated that a typical novel is between 90,000 and 100,000 words.  Well, most of my posts are between 1000 and 2500 words … so that means I’m writing about a book every 50 posts.  I’m in the wrong profession.  Of course, i’m not sure who would ever read a book about some random IT guy’s musings about his local baseball team.  :-)

I feel like we have a solid group always commenting, no trolls.  Very grateful for everyone who stops by and everyone who comments.  I wonder how we can get more readers; should I do more publishing on twitter when I post?  Probably.  Now that natsinsider.com is gone, we may struggle to get the word out since Mark was my primary feeder site.

We generally have 20-30 comments on each post, which is cool.  High comments on posts were 70 on a “Ladson Inbox”post in January 2015 and an astonishing 115 comments on the August “call me when we sweep Atlanta” post.

Happy New Year and thanks for reading in 2015.