Nationals Arm Race

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

Archive for the ‘jeremy hellickson’ tag

MLBTradeRumors FA prediction piece paints quite a rosy picture for the Nats…

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Could Keuchel look good in Nats colors too? photo via Houston Chronicle

Could Keuchel look good in Nats colors too? photo via Houston Chronicle

Baseball FA prediction pieces are, well, about worth the electrons they occupy in the interweb in terms of predictability.  But they’re off-season conversation starters, often good ones, and the first major publication of such a piece (from MLBtraderumors) seemed especially well thought out when it came to the Nats and their likely targets.  So I thought i’d pipe up.

Starting points: with the Trea Turner Super-2 fiasco and the Trevor Rosenthal signing, here’s a rough payroll figure for 2019:

  • $88M for 7 veteran players now under contract
  • $43M for the 7 arbitration eligible players we have (this assumes we re-sign everyone, including Sammy Solis and Michael Taylor and Tanner Roark even at $10M).
  • $8.75M for the remaining pre-arb players to fill out the 40-man (tangent: 26 players total $8.75M in salary outlay.  That’s less than what a 4th starter in Roark likely makes in arbitration.  While this has always been the case, I can’t help but think that this will become the defining issue of the next CBA negotiations).
  • $14.5M estimate for 2019 benefits
  • That totals $154.5M right now, leaving $51.5M or so for FA signings and moves.

So we have $51M to play with right now.  We primarily need a Starting Pitcher, a Catcher, and a 2b.  MLBtraderumors has us signing:

  • Dallas Keuchel for 4yrs/$82M for an AAV of $20.5M
  • Yasmani Grandal for 4yrs/$64M for an AAV of $16M
  • Brian Dozier, for 1yr/$10M.

So that’d be a total outlay of $46.5M on these three players, within the $51M budget but leaving precious little room for the “edge of the roster” kind of signings the team still needs (middle relief, loogy, corner infielder to platoon with Ryan Zimmerman, etc).

Its also notable that both Keuchel and Grandal would cost the Nats draft picks as Qualifying Offer extended players.  So if the team signed these two guys, they’d basically shred their 2019 draft.  Thanks to the idiocy of luxury tax management, if they signed one QO-assigned pick they’d lose their 2nd and 5th “highest picks” AND $1M from their international bonus pool.  If they signed a second QO assigned pick, they’d also give up their 3rd and 6th highest.  So, just so we’re on the same page, assuming the Nats lose Bryce Harper and sign both Keuchel and Grandal this is what their 2019 draft would look like:

  • 1st round: protected
  • 2nd round: forfeited
  • 3rd round: forfeited
  • 4th round: kept
  • post-4th round compensation pick for Harper: forfeited
  • 5th round: forfeited
  • 6th round and onwards; kept.

So we’d have just a 1st and 4th rounder, then 6th onward.  In other words … we’d be absolutely punting on the 2019 draft.

HOWEVER, here’s what your 25-man roster would look like with these 3 signings:

  • Rotation: Scherzer, Strasburg, Keuchel, Roark, Ross (with Fedde, Voth, JRodriguez as AAA backups prior to any Jeremy Hellickson-style reclamation signings)
  • Bullpen: Doolittle, Rosenthal, Barraclough, JMiller, Grace, Suero, Glober, Solis (pushing Adams, Gott, AWilliams and Cordero to AAA or to MLFA based on options issues).
  • Catching: Grandal, Kieboom with Severino/Read in competition (Severino has an options issue for 2019, complicating the situation).
  • Infield: Rendon, Turner, Dozier, Zimmerman (with Difo and Kendrick as backups)
  • Outfield: Soto, Eaton, Robles, with Taylor as a 4th outearning 2/3rds of the starting outfield.

I mean, that’s a heck of a rotation.  That’s 2 guys with Cy Youngs and a third in Strasburg who is clearly top 15 in the league.  Roark and Ross have both put up better-than-5th starter numbers.  I’d go to battle with that rotation.  The bullpen could use some bolstering, especially since Solis was so bad in 2018 and is out of options.  Kendrick backs up multiple spots when needed, Difo stays where he’s good ( a backup middle infielder).  We have a good starting C but will struggle during his off-days.

I’d be a-ok with this.

Now, lets say the team wanted to slightly vary its draft shredding.  They could replace Keuchel with Nathan Eovaldi or Charlie Morton both of whom have re-made their careers and wouldn’t have  QOs and would be cheaper.  Instead of Dozier they could go with someone like Jed Lawrie or DJ LeMahieu and get less production for less money and have a bit more for bullpen/backups.  There’s less on the Catcher market (would anyone trust Wilson Ramos and his two ACL injuries?), but there’s always the option to trade guys too.

thoughts?

 

Ask Collier: first mailbag of the 2018-19 off-season!

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The off season all revolves around Harper.  Photo via GQ Magazine

The off season all revolves around Harper. Photo via GQ Magazine

Hey there!  If its the Nat’s off-season, it must mean mail bag time.  We havn’t seen one from MLB.com beat reporter Jamal Collier in a while (what, was he busy or something? :-) but now we get one with some good discussion-generating questions.

Here’s how i’d answer the questions he took.


 

Q: As a fan of the great outfield we had at the end of the year. Are the Nationals considering trading Adam Eaton if they resign Bryce Harper?

A: Indeed, an outfield of Soto, Eaton, and Harper is pretty awesome, if (biiiiig if) all are healthy and producing at optimal levels.  And the on top of that we have a top-5 prospect in all of baseball Victor Robles who no longer can be kept in the minors.  So that’s four solid players who all would start for any team in this league on one team.  So what do we do?

Well … only one of these four guys is a Free Agent: Harper

And, only one of these guys is projected to make a ridiculous, franchise altering amount of money in free agency: Harper.

Harper has played for 7 nearly full-seasons: he has a total bWAR figure for his career is 27.4.   That’s an average of 3.9 bWAR per season.  Yes he had a monster 10 win season in his MVP season of 2015, but he’s also lost huge portions of several seasons to injury.  And that has to be part of the conversation when you consider whether you commit $200M to him for the next 7 years.

For me the answer is easy.  Juan Soto will make the MLB minimum (or near to it) next year; call it $600k.  He generated 3.0 bWAR in 116 games, which projects to a 4.1 Win season with 162 games.  I’d rather pay Soto $600k to give the team the same expected level of production as Harper would for 30-TIMES more money.   You let Harper walk, you go to war in 2019 with Soto in left, Robles in center, Eaton in right, finally have three outfields all in the “right” positions defensively, and then deal with a 4th outfielder from internal candidates.

NOW.  Letting a tranformative player like Harper go is … well its an “above the GM” decision.  Not only because of the impact on payroll, but because of his role with the team.  He’s a massively marketable star, transformative not just for the team but for the sport of professional baseball.  His $30M/year salary (or whatever he wants) is not just about payroll; you can’t put a price tag on the marketability of a player of his stature and what it means for the team.  He puts “butts in the seats.”  He is in national commercial ad campaigns.  He’s a foil (for better or for worse) across the sport.  Do you just let a guy like this walk?  They’re getting basically *nothing* back for him (a compensation pick between the 4th and 5th rounds, thanks to the criminally poor job the team did in managing the luxury cap over the last two years), so that barely factors into the discussion.

Now, lets say, for the sake of argument, that the team does re-sign Harper.  Yeah for me, if you re-sign Harper, you’re going to have to move either Eaton or Robles.  So … which do you move?   Eaton, like Harper, has been just crushed by injury the last two years, producing a fraction of his value the 3 years prior.  So even though he’s still quite affordable, trading him this off-season would be trading pretty low.  Robles is still the unknown; yeah he’s an amazing prospect, but is he going to have a Juan Soto-like 2019?  Robles can be the centerpiece of a trade that could return a significant player in an area of need for this team (mid-level Starter or quality starting Catcher).  Would you prefer to go that route?

For me; i’m on record.  I want to part ways with Harper, field a starting OF that costs less than half of a one-year Harper salary figure and allocate his projected payroll towards other areas of need.

Collier echos my concerns about trading Eaton low, but also notes that … well this is THE decision that the team faces, probably the biggest one in a decade.  We can’t know until the Harper decision is made.


Q: What’s Michael A. Taylor’s future with this team?

A: For me, despite Michael Taylorawesome 2017 season, he’s reverted back to form.  He’s a 4th outfielder.  Great defensively, poor offensively.  Can play all three OF positions, plays CF excellently.  But he still strikes out 33% of the time and cannot be trusted.  After his 2018, its not like he has real trade value, and he’s now also arbitration eligible so he’s not exactly cheap.  Is he a non-tender candidate?  Probably not, but assuming the team goes with my plan of letting Harper walk and going with a starting OF of Soto-Robles-Eaton, then for me Taylor is an ideal 4th and competes in the spring with Andrew Stevenson for that role.  He should win it, then be coupled with a corner-OF bench bat type who can play LF in a pinch.

Honestly, you learned everything you needed to know by looking at the amount of playing time Taylor got this past September once Robles came up.  Almost none.

Now, if the team reasigns Harper?  I don’t think much changes; the team moves either Eaton or Robles, still leaving Taylor as the 4th.

Collier thinks they’ll explore moving him “before his trade value falls anymore.” Uh … too late dude!


 

Q: Who are the free agent starting pitchers that Nationals will attempt to sign?

A: Taking a quick gander at the list of available starters …  there’s all kinds of interesting names.  Who knows who they may end up with.

Lets start with, what do they need?  They’re keeping Scherzer, Strasburg, Roark, and Ross.  They can either go to war with a 5th starter like Fedde or McGowin or Voth or Jefry Rodriguez, or look at free agency to improve the back end.  I’d love to get a 3rd starter-quality guy to slot in behind the big two, then hope for a better season from Roark (something closer to 2016 than 2018), and hope for Ross to come back to what we know he’s capable of.  That’s a potentially solid rotation for me.

We also might be focusing on a lefty, since Gio Gonzalez was our only lefty starter.  But I don’t think that should be a huge factor honestly.  The team needs to find the best value and availability.

I don’t see them pursuing a $20M/year guy.  Not with the amount of money already going to their two #1 starters and certainly not given the possibilty of their re-signing Harper.

So, lets think about middle-of-the road lefty veteran starters.  How about someone like a Jaime Garcia, or Hyung-Jin Ryu?

If they can’t land a lefty, there’s a slew of interesting names out there that are righties.  I like Nathan EovaldiWade Miley, Garrett Richards.

Collier hedges and says the obvious; we won’t know until they decide what they’re doing with Harper.  Yeah i get it.  He mentions that Patrick Corbin is probably out of the conversation (duh; he’ll be like the 4th most expensive player this off-season) and mentions re-upping with Jeremy Hellicksonwhich I don’t think happens b/c he pitched himself into a decent sized contract..  Its also worth mentioning; maybe the team goes the trade route, which opens up the realm of possibles to half the league’s starters if they’re willing to give up Robles or Carter Kieboom in trade.


 

Q: At what point will the Nats start looking for a more durable first baseman? Zim has averaged only 100 games a season over the last five years.

A:  Uh, the second Ryan Zimmerman isn’t guaranteed 8 figures a year?  And, by the way, what is this guy missing with the current roster construction?  We were nearly to the point of an 1980s Orioles John Lowenstein/Gary Roenecke type platoon this year between Zimmerman and the lefty hitting Matt Adams.  The team is already mitigating Zimmerna’s annual health issues with a backup.

And guess what?  They’ll do it again this off-season.  Look for the team to sign another Adams clone, someone like Lucas Duda or Steve Pearce or Pedro Alvarez.  Heck, maybe they’ll re-sign Adams.

Collier basically says the same thing I did.


Q: Will Riz let Difo and Kieboom fight it out for 2b in spring training or will he look for a veteran 2b, using Kendrick in a super utility role?

A: The question probably should have read: “Wil Rizzo let Difo and Howie Kendrick fight it out…”  Because Kieboom aint’ making this team in 2019.  For one, he’s never played 2B professionally.  Not that its a heavy lift going from SS to 2B (it isn’t) .. but he’s also just 60-some games removed from A-Ball.  Kieboom needs to go from the AFL back to AA and return his OPS figures back to the .880 level before even being considered for AAA.

Honestly, I think the team goes with Kendrick (assuming he’s recovered from his bad achilles injury) as the starter, with Difo as the utility guy.  Thanks to Kendrick’s injury and Daniel Murphy‘s prolonged recovery, Difo was essentially a starter this year.  And he did not impress, his average dropping 40 points from where it was last year.  I think that cements his status as a backup utility infielder who can cover middle infield positions in a pinch.  I’m glad we have someone on the bench who can at least hit at a 75 OPS+ figure; lets not push it.

That being said, for me Kieboom is the future here.  I think he might be ready after a half a season, and at that point you bring him up and slot him in at 2B.  He could eventually move to 3B if the team cannot retain Anthony Rendon, or can stay at 2B and be a Jeff Kent-style slugger.  I’d love to see that come together and have him join Soto and Robles as the core of the next generation of this team.

Collier thinks the team might look elsewhere for a starting 2B.  I think they can make-do from within and not waste money chasing another  Murphy replacement.

 

Strasburg to DL again; is this the official white flag?

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"My Neck hurts." "Oh yeah, something always frigging hurts with you, you snowflake." -- photo via WP

“My Neck hurts.” “Oh yeah, something always frigging hurts with you, you snowflake.” — photo via WP

At some point, you have to stop performing CPR and just call it.

I wonder if we’re at that point.  Today we learned that #2 starter Stephen “the Orchid” Strasburg is heading back to the D/L for what will be his 50th* career D/L trip (* estimated).  I just don’t see how this team goes on the run it needs without one of its best starters.

Even given Tanner Roark‘s wonderful start yesterday, the team (as of this writing) sits at 50-51.  They’re 7 games out of the Division lead, 5.5 games out of the WC, and face a massive uphill climb to make the playoffs.

To get to 90 wins (often regarded in the 2-wild card system as the minimum you’ll need) the team needs to go 40-21 in its remaining games.  That’s a .622 W/L percentage.  I suppose they could go on a 20-7 rampage like they did in May and make it up… but it seems less likely the longer this season goes along.

Of their remaining 61 games…

  • 7 against Atlanta
  • 9 against Philly
  • 7 against the Cubs
  • 7 against the Cardinals
  • 3 more against Milwaukee
  • 3 in Colorado to end the season

So that’s 36 of the remaining 61 games against teams that I think are patently better than us.  And we’ll have to play .622 ball against them AND hold serve against the scrubs we’re playing too.

Oh, and now we’re doing it with, by my count, our #9 starter in Tommy Milone called up.  Scherzer, Strasburg, Gio, Roark, Hellickson, Fedde, JRodriguez, Voth ahead of him in the pecking order.  I’m sure things will go great; lest you forget, Milone’s ERA in 2017 was 8.56 in 27 innings.  Actually, with an ERA like that, he’ll fit right into this team.

So yes, the Braves have scuffled recently and the Phillies are treading water.  And yes our Pythag record shows we’re better than 50-51.  All fair points.  But we’re nearly to August and are still playing .500 ball, with no signs of getting better.

And, as become apparent this week, thanks to the Nats doing such a bang-up job with payroll management this year, they snuck over the luxury tax threshold so the comp pick they’ll get for a once-in-a-generation player leaving next year via FA in Bryce Harper will be … voila!  A supplemental 4th rounder??  Are you frigging kidding me?  That’s all we’ll get by offering him a Qualifying Offer??  Wow, that Matt Wieters contract just keeps looking better and better doesn’t it?  I sure hope Scott Boras enjoys the boat he bought off of that commission that he screwed the Nats out of.  Can someone change the Lerner’s cell phone number so Boras can’t go over Mike Rizzo‘s head to make bad deals any more?

Nats should trade Harper and hope to get a MLB top 100 pick for the rental.  They should also shop around basically every other guy set to leave in FA.  That means Murphy, Gio, Madsen, Wieters, Kelley, heck lets through in Benoit and Reynolds and Adams and all the one-year MLFAs we’ve got too.   Its bargain basement shopping time in DC.  First come, first served.

Will this leadership team admit defeat and make these trades?  Probably not.  They’ll probably do something dumb in the next few days like trade a top prospect for 2 months of a dead-arm starter or a catcher we can just go buy next off-season with the $80M of saved payroll.   They’ll leverage the farm system yet again so they can be an 86 win team instead of an 81 win team.

But I could be wrong.  We’ll see what happens.

ps: I managed to write this whole post without mentioning the manager.  My stance is as clear now as it was the day they let Dusty Baker go, and nothing that Dave Martinez has done has made me think that he was in any way a better choice to manage this team and this set of players in the year 2018.  Any argument about the manager is tough to quantify … i prefer arguments I can back up with stats frankly, so my opinion on his handling of veterans, of Ryan Zimmerman, of the bullpen, of baserunning strategy, of lineup-construction, and of his seeming inability to stand up to the veterans on this team will stay with me.

Panic time for 2018

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The time has come to officially panic, both about Harper and this team. Photo via ftw/usatoday

The time has come to officially panic, both about Harper and this team. Photo via ftw/usatoday

I’ve certainly been among those making excuses for this team, and for players on the team, for a while now.   These points are true:

  • They are better than their pythagorean record; by runs scored versus runs against, they should be 45-39, in 2nd place ahead of the luckier Phillies but still 5 games back of the surprising Braves.
  • They’ve been incredibly unlucky in one run and extra inning games.  This is a direct input to the pythag record; they’re 8-16 in one run games and 2-4 in extra innings.  Both the teams ahead of them in the NL east have wildly better one-run records (13-6 and 18-7 respectively)
  • They’ve been just slaughtered with injury, at various times this year leading the NL in total players on the D/L and total man-games lost.
  • They’ve experienced a complete gutting of last year’s middle of the order, with Ryan Zimmerman disappearing for weeks on end with little-to-no idea when he’d come back, Daniel Murphy taking nearly half a season to recover from his surprise off-season knee injury, and Bryce Harper putting up one of his worst seasons … clearly pressing, expanding his zone and being amazingly unlucky in terms of BABIP thus far this season.

To add insult to injury, #2 starter Stephen Strasburg threw his annual arm injury into play early this year, our mid-rotation guys have struggled, and our #5 starters keep going down with injury.

What else is true?  This is a team that’s kinda old; average age 29.1 (which is only 10th), but which is helped greatly by the presence of youngest-guy-in-the-league Juan Soto.  And Old teams get hurt, a lot.  Meanwhile  young teams (like Atlanta at 5th youngest and Philly who are the absolute youngest teams) don’t get hurt a lot.

This season is starting to remind me of a couple of past seasons:

  • 2012, when the Nats were significantly improved from 2011 and took the league by storm, frankly, a year before they thought they would.  To me, this is the 2018 Braves.   The Braves only won 72 games last year; now they’re on a pace to win 94 games.  That’s a massive difference year over year and they’re doing it with almost  no off-season moves; all internal.
  • 2015, when the Nats themselves showed similar season-long malaise and only came to life at the end of the season when it was too late and all they managed to do was cost themselves draft position the next year.

So what now?  They just finished a relatively brutal section of the schedule, playing a ton of AL East teams.  AL teams are bad match-ups for any NL team thanks to the DH’s impact on roster construction … even if they’re playing a crummy AL team like Tampa or Baltimore.  But to face off against the likes of Boston and New York, who are juggernauts, with a sputtering offense and missing a couple of key arms … well its no surprise to me they got swept.

The next 3 weeks will be the season.  They have 3 series against poor teams where they should be able to go 8-3 or 9-2 if they’re a legit team.  The should get at least one arm back in Hellickson and maybe Fedde can be replaced like for like with the surprising Jefry Rodriguez until Strasburg shows back up.   Then we have to hope for a post-all star game bump and take it to Atlanta in the first season post ASG to make up some ground.

Now, what does this team have going for it?

  • Harper just cannot continue to hit this badly; at some point he should have a solid month.
  • This team was dominant in May; it can play .600 ball when it needs to
  • Strasburg returns likely after the ASG
  • The Nats have one of the easiest remaining schedules in baseball; slightly easer than Philly and significantly easier than Atlanta.   The Nats have no more interleague games either.
  • Furthermore, the Nats have already done all their West Coast trips; their worst remaining road trip is to Colorado the last series of the season.   Both their NL East competitors still have big west coast trips to make.

So the big question is this: can this team get it together a little now, a little in August and put themselves in a position to take back the division?   If they scuffle and go just .500 between now and the ASG … then no way.

 

 

Written by Todd Boss

July 5th, 2018 at 11:18 am

Nats Pitching depth to now be tested…

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It sounds like its Fedde-time. Photo via minorleagueball.com

It sounds like its Fedde-time. Photo via minorleagueball.com

Well, we can’t really seem to go a season without a Stephen Strasburg injury … and this annual affair hit us over the weekend, with Strasburg looking ineffective, getting pulled, going for an MRI and quickly hitting the 10-day D/L with “right shoulder inflammation.”

This comes on the quick heels of two other SP issues for this team:

  • miracle MLFA off-season signing Jeremy Hellickson yanking his hamstring and exiting precisely one batter into his friday start, also hitting the D/L.
  • Off-season SP depth re-signing Edwin Jackson opting out of his minor league deal and departing the team (he signed with Oakland soon after).

So, it seemed like we could stand the absence of Hellickson thanks to the schedule over the next week and a half (plenty of off-days and no need for a 5th starter), and since his injury is listed as “mild” meaning he may only miss the minimum time … but with the loss of Strasburg we’ll need to reach into our depth.  So who’s getting the call?

(oh, btw on top of this, on 6/9/18 Brandon Knitzler strained his forearm and seems likely to be at least unavailable for a bit, if not on his way to the D/L too, so they’re needing reinforcements stat.  He was officially put on the D/L just after posting this on 6/10/18, resulting in both Trevor Gott and Wander Suero getting their tickets for a DC return…).

We’ve now seen all three of our non-active roster 40-man starters get MLB action this year … and they looked promising enough to have the loss of Jackson or even the presence of Tommy Milone in AAA seem like after-thoughts.  So who gets the call to cover for Strasburg?  Options:

  1. Erick Fedde: got one spot-start this year and looked solid: he gave up 3 runs in 5 2/3rds but pitched a lot better than his stat line.  He hasn’t looked as great for Syracuse; a 4.76 ERA and a 1.48 whip showing how he’s giving up too many base-runners.  Do you believe what you saw in the majors, or look at his AAA line for the year?  His most recent start: in Gwinnet, 5 1/3, 2runs, 9Ks but 10hits allowed.
  2. Austin Voth: has turned his career around, going from “next guy to get DFA’d” to a MLB call-up earlier this year (he did not appear).  His AAA ERA of 4.35 is a bit inflated; he’s giving up less than a hit/inning.  He had two bad outings in a row just after his call up/send-back, giving up 12 ER in 2 innings … but his last out ing (6/6/18) was stellar; 7IP, 4hits, 6Ks, 0 walks, 0 runs.  That’s the kind of stat line GMs like to see.
  3. Jefry Rodriguez: he was thrown into action when Hellickson went down and did awesome: 4 2/3 scoreless innings in his MLB debut.  Can’t ask for more than that.  He’s been good for AA Harrisburg this year; 12 starts, 3.57ERA, a bit wild though (24 walks in 63 innings).  Its interesting that he’s gotten MLB time but has yet to get pushed to AAA; perhaps they’re waiting for the typical Nats mid-season shuffle.  His most recent outing?  6/9/18: 5ip, 1 hit and just 65 pitches thrown (a hint?  why would he have gotten  yanked so quickly?)

You have to think it’ll be Fedde first.  Maybe what they do is promote Fedde, move Rodriguez to AAA.  Then if you need a second starter … it seems like Rodriguez has jumped Voth in the pecking order and is next in line.

It isn’t a very opportune time for this sudden loss of their second ace; their next nine games are AL East interleague play … which will be tough games even though both Toronto and Baltimore are struggling.  After that they get 6 games versus Philly interspersed with five more AL East games (including three at home against Boston) … so this might be a pretty crucial stage for this team.  Lets hope our depth stands up.

Someone is finally doing it: Tampa using “Openers” instead of “Starters”

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Sergio Romo; Tampa's new #3 starter.

Sergio Romo; Tampa’s new #3 starter.  And #4 starter sometimes … photo via Zimbio.

The Tampa Bay Rays, thanks to a run of injuries to their starting rotation this spring, and perhaps a bit of typical organizational ingenuity, are doing something this year that has a lot of people talking; they’re essentially using a closer-quality pitcher to start games, get through the top of the opposing team’s order the first time, then hands it over to the real “starter” (or in most cases longer man) who pitches a typical starter-length outing.

They seem to be sticking to conventional outings for their two best starters (Chris Archer and Blake Snell) even now, but spring training elbow injuries to planned starters Brett Honeywell and Jose De Leon (both Tommy John surguries), plus recent injuries to #3 starter Jake Faria, Yonny Chirinos  (not Laurel Chirinos!) and Nathan Eovaldi and a lack of upper-end SP prospects has led them to this point.

This strategy is getting put to its biggest test over the Memorial Day weekend series they have with Baltimore, announcing that they’ll be “starting” relievers all three games.

So far this season, they’ve used the strategy at least twice; with Sergio Romo starting on back to back nights.

  • 5/20/18: Romo pitches the first and strikes out the side before handing off to starter Ryan Yarborough, who pitches 6+ and gets the win.
  • 5/21/18:  Romo, going back to back nights, faces the first 6 batters; walks two, gets the other four out, zero runs; the rest of the game is a bullpen game, but the team loses to Shohei Ohtani and the Angels.

Of course, reaction to the moves is already as you’d expect it to be, given our current climate of hot-take/knee jerk reactions.  You’ve got “get off my lawn” types talking about how this isn’t “good for the game.”  You’ve got Joel Sherman (who has been around the sport long enough to know what they’re doing) calling the strategy “Bizarre.”  And you’ve got progressive types like Houston’s A.J. Hinch praising the move.


 

So, what do I think of this?

Well …. honestly this is the natural evolution of the trend towards specialized relievers that we’ve been seeing lately.  A mediocre/failed starter can be converted to a highly valuable reliever by just having them throw harder and focus on mastering two pitches instead of attempting to master three or four, and it happens All The Time.  See Rivera, Mariano and Eckersley, Dennis for hall of fame exhibits A and B here (ok .. to be fair Eckersley was by  no means a failed starter … but he would not be in Cooperstown had he not become a dominant closer).

Well, what if you had an entire roster of specialized relievers instead of spending tens of millions of dollars on a rotation?

Take the Nats: our top four starters this year are earning north of $80M this season.  What if you had spread that $80M around on a bunch of closer/near-closer types, the kinds of guys who go for significantly less per annum?  What if you had an entire team of guys like Ryan Madsen ($7.6M) or Sean Doolittle ($4.3M) or Brandon Knitzler ($5.5M).  Heck, why not load up y our team with pre-arb guys like Sammy Solis ($560k) and Matt Grace ($557k) and spend that $80M on improving the out-field players?

I’ve often wondered if a team couldn’t just have essentially 12 relievers and would basically turn every game into a bullpen game.  What if you deployed your staff kind of like this:

  • Three “Closer” quality guys (like our Doolittle)
  • Three solid RH 7th/8th inning types like Madsen and Kelley.
  • Three left-handed match-up guys (Solis, Grace)
  • Three long-men types who could soak up innings but who can’t turn over a lineup more than twice (kind of like Jeremy Hellickson but perhaps more like a 4-A starter, or what Edwin Jackson is doing in AAA).

You take half this squad and they’re the A-team; that gives you 5-6 arms to pitch the first game of the week.  Then, they all get a break and the other 5-6 arms get the next game.  In a typical week every reliever then gets three to four days off with off-games and off-days.   The long-men only go every two days, since you’re asking them to do 3-4 innings, but still get plenty of rest.  So a pattern of games could look like this:

  • Game 1: Closer1 pitches the 1st, RH1 and LH1 combine to pitch 2nd and 3rd.  Longman1 comes in and throws 4th through the 7th.  Then depending on where you are in the game he returns for the 8th or you go to your RH2/LH2 guy before handing off to Closer2 in the 9th.  So that’s 5 to 6 arms used in the first game.
  • Game 2: Closer3 starts.  RH3 throws next two innings.  Longman2 throws innings 4-7.  LH3 finishes it out, perhaps throwing Closer1 a second day in a row if need be.
  • Game 3: Closer2 starts.  Perhaps you go right to Longman3 for a 5 inning stint.  Back to RH1 and LH1 for the 7th/8th, then either let these guys do a 2 inning stint or go back to Closer3 for back-to-backs to finish the game.

So the workload for a 3-game series goes like this:

  • Closers: 2 innings each with an off-day
  • RH guys: 2-3 innings each with an off-day
  • LH guys: 2-3 innings each with an off-day
  • Long-men: 3-4 innings each with two off-days

That’s basically 27 innings across three games, assuming your middle relievers throw a couple of 2-inning stints in there, or one of your long-men does 4 innings instead of three.

Tell me why this wouldn’t work?  Everyone gets a ton of rest, and if you burn out one of your longmen you just call up re-inforcements from AAA to do mop-up games here and there.  You always have a closer going against the top of the order in the first inning, then you try to work it out so that you can do match-ups the next time they come up with a 7th/8th inning quality guy.  The best hitters on the other team will eventually get a shot at your “long man…” but under this plan, they’re getting four at bats generally against four different arms.  That’s going to give the advantage to the pitcher every time; batters don’t get to study up the opposing starter every night for research; they’re going to be seeing gas, trick pitches and one-trick ponies that have ridiculous BAAs and BABIPs thanks to their specialty.


So, who would love this?

  • Owners.  no more 9-figure contracts for starters who have like a 50% injury rate.
  • Some Pitchers: more opportunities for guys who just couldn’t cut it as starters but who crush it as releivers.

Who wouldn’t like this?

  • High end starters: less jobs, less demand for you.  Maybe.  I mean, right now Tampa is sticking with their two solid starters and only doing this for the other slots.  Maybe a team with two Aces like the nats just lets them roll normally then does this kind of bullpen game the other three games out of five.
  • Any baseball fan born before 1970, since they hate any change, any game modification.  I mean come on, there’s people demanding that we ban the shift (including the commissioner).
  • The Players union; you’d have to think salaries would plummet
  • Maybe most every baseball fan?  Offense drives fan interest … and this plan is specifically designed to neutralize the opposing team’s best hitters.

Thoughts?

Nats on a tear … while being hobbled on the D/L

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What a difference a year makes. Last year he was MLB's POTM; this year he's hitting .217 and is now on the D/L. Photo via WashingtonTimes.com

What a difference a year makes. Last year he was MLB’s POTM; this year he’s hitting .217 and is now on the D/L. Photo via WashingtonTimes.com

Another day, another D/L trip.  The latest is Ryan Zimmerman, whose position is more than ably being filled by Matt Adams, heading to the 10-day d/L with “back soreness” but which we know to be an oblique (which is a notoriously iffy injury, if indeed he has a real injury and this isn’t some sort of paper maneuver to get Adams more ABs.  Yes I’m a cynic).  This a day after starting catcher and $10M “homage to Scott Boras‘ ability to undermine Mike Rizzo‘s plans by repeatedly going over his head to ownership” Matt Wieters goes down with a “hamstring” injury (btw: he looked like a 50-yr old man running to first base; was it any surprise he came up hobbled?)

The Nats, as of 5/13/18, now have 10 guys on the D/L and an 11th suspended.  Only three of them even have a vague return date defined, and one of those is Joe Ross, who is recovering from Tommy John and whose return date is listed as “probably 2018.”  Nine of the 10 guys (not including Read) arguably are part of the “best 25” that our team would field, meaning we’re playing 9 guys out of 25 who should be in AAA.

This number of current players on the D/L, not surprisingly, leads the league and their cumulative totals of number of players, games lost and payroll wasted for the season is at or near the top.

Great.

Yet, somehow, during this period the team is on fire.   They’ve won 12 of 14.  They’re 13-7 in their last 20.  Went into the hot Arizona team and crushed them on their turf.

What’s going on?  How is this happening?

Part of this is the particular guys getting hurt; i.e. none of the rotation.  We’re getting a ton of quality starts, guys pitching deep into the games.  Under-rated at the time signing Jeremy Hellickson took a perfect game into the 7th.  That’s the definition of “found gold” for a 5th starter.   Five of the top Eight season-to-date guys by bWAR are the 5 rotation members.

But for the most part it has been part-time players stepping up big time.

  • Pedro Severino in for Wieters (and before that Miguel Montero, 2018’s first “Oblivion” candidate): posting a 98 OPS+ and providing stellar defense behind the plate.
  • Howie Kendrick in for Daniel Murphy?  113 OPS+ thank you very much.  Great signing.
  • Wilmer Difo covering for Anthony Rendon while he missed half the season thus far?  102 OPS+
  • Adams, as previously noted, is crushing the ball right now: 178 OPS+.
  • The hodge-podge of left fielders not named Adams?  well … that’s another story.  Thankfully  we can put most any ole stiff out there and still get production.

I thought this team did amazingly well last  year given its injuries … but now its looking even worse this year.   Yet they’re right where they need to be after a sluggish start.  What I worry about is missing a month of Scherzer, or having Harper  go down ye t again.

 

 

Opening Day Starter Useless Trivia for 2018

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Felix Hernandez made his leading 11th opening day start. Photo Keith Allison via flickr/CCL

Felix Hernandez made his leading 11th opening day start.
Photo Keith Allison via flickr/CCL

Every year I capture the Opening Day Starters into an XLS and then capture some useless trivia on it.  This is that post.

Google Doc XLS link: (the data is too big to make an HTML table): https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/1Mv8gLgJOuJHEAf_pXNwPWGCNRL4RnYEyulH6rxMuudA/edit?usp=sharing

Max Scherzer made his 3rd  career opening day start, all in a Nat’s uniform (he never  got an Opening day start while pitching behind Justin Verlander in Detroit).   Stephen Strasburg has himself made four opening day starts, with these two guys covering every Nats opening day start dating to 2011.

The Nats have one other player with Opening day starts on their resume: Jeremy Hellickson made the 2016 and 2017 opening day starts for Philadelphia.  He currently sits in XST building up arm strength so he can take over for A.J. Cole as our fifth starter after he blows up a couple more times.  And its worth noting that former Nat Jordan Zimmermann earned his first ever such start for Detroit this year, shortly before getting hit in the head with a come-backer.

Here’s some useless trivia related to Opening Day Starts:

  • Active Leader: Tie at the top: Seattle’s Felix Hernandez with 11.  CC Sabathia also has 11, but hasn’t made the Yankee’s start since 2014.
  • Active Consecutive Leader: Also Hernandez, who has made 10 straight, missing one in 2008 when Erik Bedard took the mound in Game 1 as the new shiny FA signing that spring.  The next closest is Clayton Kershaw, who has made 8 straight for LA.
  • Other longish conseutive starts streak: Atlanta’s Julio Teheran with 5, Corey Kluber with 4, and Chris Archer with 4.
  • Madison BumgarnerMasahiro Tanaka and Dallas Keuchel all had 3-4 start streaks broken thanks to injury or being passed over for a different guy.
  • 13 of the 30 games were started by first time Opening Day starters this year, continuing a trend of new,  younger guys getting these starts.  In fact, I’d say that a couple of the opening day starters you’d be hard pressed to pull out of a lineup: Miami’s Jose Urena, Milwaukee’s Chase Anderson, and SF’s Ty Blach in particular.

All-time records:

  • Most Ever: Tom Seaver (16).  Tied for 2nd place with 14 is Jack Morris, Randy Johnson and Steve Carlton
  • Most Consecutive: Jack Morris (14)

Can Felix get 5 more starts to break Morris’ record?   He’s only signed through 2019 with an option for 2020, so he’d need to get an extension … something that’s more and more rare in today’s Baseball climate.

Thanks to that same trend against aging pitchers, a slew of former leaders of Opening Day starts may be permanently retired out of the game.  Guys like Jered WeaverTim Lincecum, Edison Volquez, Yovanni Gallardo (who was just DFA’d), Ricky NolascoJake Peavy and perhaps a few others, all of whom have at least 4-5 opening day starts to their name are struggling to find work right now or may be done.   Its turning into a young man’s game.

Sorry for Radio Silence/its the Over-reaction Season!

20 comments

Cole: over reaction to his first start or not? Photo AP

Cole: over reaction to his first start or not? Photo AP

 

First off, welcome to the 2018 season.  Sorry for the lack of material here; its been a heck of a spring.  Shifting priorities and a job transition that included basically four months of overlapping tasks has sapped all my spare time.  Thanks for keeping the conversation going.  Today marks the official end of the main source of time issues … so perhaps starting in the coming weeks i’ll be able to return to all the “fun stuff” that I like to talk about.  Minor league pitching staffs, opening day trivia, starter rankings, nats prospect rankings/farm system rankings analysis, etc.  We’ll get there.

In the meantime, inspired by Keith Law’s frequent answer to questions in his chat yesterday,  lets have some  Over Reactions to the first few games of the season.

  1. A.J. Cole‘s first start debacle; disagree with me if you want, but was anyone really, really that surprised by his dud of a first start?  If you want to tell me that its just one game, SSS, yadda yadda … then what in his previous time in the majors gave you any impression that he had turned a corner?  I didn’t get a chance to post about it, but the signing of Jeremy Hellickson to me was a sneaky awesome move .. i absolutely think he can and will slot into that 5th starter spot and give much more competent starts for the big league team going forward.
  2. Ryan Zimmerman‘s slow start.  I have literally never heard of a player who “took off” the entirety of Spring Training like he just did.  Now he’s just 3 for 22 and has gotten sat twice in the season’s first week.  WTF is going on?  I am firmly in belief there’s some unannounced injury issue there that the team for whatever reason is being silent about.
  3. Koda Glover‘s shoulder.  Is Glover the new Christian Garcia at this point?  He’s now on the 60-day D/L… is he gonna come back off?
  4. Adam Eaton‘s ankle.  Hmm … considering the irony that the Nats traded not one, not two but eventually three guys who could have eliminated the entire A.J. Cole situation to acquire Eaton … and that he’s played a grand total of 29 games in a Nat’s uniform … any injury, even if minor, seems like a cause for concern.
  5. Catchers.  our three catchers are now a combined 3-22.

I realize its easier to focus on the negatives (above) than the positives (Bryce Harper‘s monster start, the other four starters excelling thus far, Eaton’s great production early).  But hey, its also conversation starters.

So which of these 5 issues above is really something you’re worried about at this stage?  Are you worried about nothing because its 7 games in and nobody should over-react to anything?    If I had to rank my 5 issues in terms of worry for me right now, not even being realistic and acknowledging that its still early, blah blah, i’d probably go 1,2,5,4,3.

How about you guys?  Anybody go to opening day?  We had SRO tickets but bailed when it looked like the wind chill was going to be in the 30s.  :-)

Written by Todd Boss

April 6th, 2018 at 1:42 pm

Pressing issues for the Nats this off-season

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Will Dusty get another contract here? Photo via UPI

Will Dusty get another contract here? Photo via UPI

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 


So Summary:

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

Am I missing anything?  Lots of talking points here.