Nationals Arm Race

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

Archive for the ‘jim callis’ tag

Mid-spring update on local draft prospects

leave a comment

High Schools are heading into post-season tournaments and local prep players have had their chances to make impressions through the Spring HS season.  How are our local prep phenoms faring this year, and what players with Virginia ties may feature prominently in the upcoming MLB draft?

Note; it is difficult to find updated stats on Prep players.  I tried.  If you know where to find reliable prep hitting and pitching stats, let me know.  So there’s not much in the way of stats here unless they’re college players.  For all the players below I’ve listed if they appear in the latest top-100 draft prospect rankings from two reliable sources: Keith Law‘s top-100 draft list and BaseballAmerica’s top 100 list and top 250 list.  Instead of re-linking over and over, i’ll refer to these two lists in shorthand via the links here.

First, quick updates on the players mentioned in my March 2013 posting on 4 local players:

  • Andy McGuire: SS/3B: leading Madison HS in Vienna to a 19-1 record (with 19 consecutive wins) heading into the District tournament and a #1 local ranking by the Washington Post.  Madison is also an honorable mention in the latest USA Today national rankings.  I asked Law in his 5/16/13 chat about McGuire’s draft status (he’s regularly in the lower 50 of pundit’s top 100 draft prospects for this year, implying a mid 2nd round pick) but Law is “hearing” 4th round, which he’s surprised by and may indicate that McGuire will honor his U. Texas committment.  Draft Rankings: Law #74/BA #196.  6/6/13 update: some video of McGuire at this link; just watching him run and move and his body type I’m immediately thinking he’s going to struggle to stay at SS, echoing what scouts say.
  • Alec Grosser: RHP TC Williams: Nothing else has really popped up about Grosser after the initial flurry of articles, and he’s listed as “Signed” and committed to George Mason.  PerfectGame has his best measured fastball at 92, ranging 89-92.  That’s still pretty good and I’m guessing he’ll head to George Mason to see where his arm takes him.  His HS has not had the success one would expect with a dominant arm, sitting at around .500 heading into the post-season.  Not ranked by Law/BA #158.
  • Matt McPhearson: OF with Riverdale Baptist popped up on MinorLeagueBall’s Mid-Atlantic report recently with the note that he has “game changing” speed.  He’s still listed as a “Verbal” Commit to U. Miami.  I’ve seen him as a late 1st rounder on some mock drafts.  Here’s a good scouting report on him from BaseballHounds.com.  Lastly there’s some scouting video online of him, showing a good bat from the left-hand side and with some amazing speed stats: a verified 6.2 in the 60 yard dash and home-to-first in less than 3.8 seconds.  As the articles say; that’s Crazy fast.   He’s one of only three guys with an “80″ scouting grade in this year’s class per Jim Callis (the other two being Jonathan Gray’s fastball, and Kris Bryant’s power, and those two guys are both going in the top 3 of the 2013 draft). The only knock on him may be his size (just 5’10″) but he profiles as a prototypical leadoff/center fielder.  Law ranked #62/BA #136.
  • Thomas Rogers, LHP injured all year is still verbally committed to UNC.  Nothing new to report.  Not ranked in either Law/BA’s lists.

A couple of new names that I’ve taken note of locally, by virtue of their college commitments to major Baseball programs:

  • Errol Robinson, SS from St. Johns, signed to play at Ole Miss.  He was #92 in BaseballAmerica’s top 100 pre-season draft prospects and had a nice Q&A with them in March 2013.  His PerfectGame profile and draft write ups indicate he’s a quick-bat SS who has the capability of going in the top 5 rounds.  NatsGM’s Ryan Sullivan scouted him about a week ago and wrote it up here.   Based on this interview (where he talks about how his Mom, Dad and sister all attended or currently are at Ole Miss), I’m pretty sure he’s going to honor his college commitment despite any potential drafting.   Not ranked in either Law/BA’s lists.
  • Alec Bettinger, a RHP with Hylton HS in Woodbridge, has a verbal commitment to UVA.  PerfectGame has him with about a 90 mph fastball.  He’s “small but athletic” per this MinorLeagueBall article (6’0″ 165lbs), which may have him leaning towards a future professional bullpen role.  6’0″ is really on the low-end for what scouts like to see in a starter (think Tim Hudson is considered undersized and he’s 6’1″ 175lbs), so it seems likely he’ll take his fastball to college to see how it develops.  Not ranked in either Law/BA’s list.

Other Virginia-connected big names being talked about in the draft (thanks to this MinorLeagueBall article and comments for crowd-sourced Virginia-connected names to target)

  • Conner Jones, RHP with Great Bridge HS, the HS of Justin Upton down in Chesapeake.  Jones is leading his HS to a current 19-0 record, good enough for being ranked 18th by USAToday/22nd by BaseballAmerica in the state title game.  He’s easily the best Virginia draft prospect this year and is the only guy that MLBDraftInsider.com has going in the top 50 of their mock drafts right now.  PG has him at 93mph with a UVA committment that he has told scouts he intends to honor, but he’s getting back-of-the-1st round notice for the upcoming draft.  As scouts have noted, these “verbal commitments” are pretty meaningless unless a player specifically fails to file one specific item prior to the draft (which automatically invalidates them; i can’t recall what it is right now but believe its a drug test).  So we’ll see.  Law ranked #29/BA ranked #33.
  • Bobby Wahl: RHP from Ole Miss, a good sized Righty who is Ole Miss’ Friday night starter and who hails from Springfield, VA (West Springfield HS).  He’s 9-0 with a 1.43 ERA on the season, quite a stat line considering who he’s typically going up against (the #1 starters of other SEC teams, easily the best baseball conference in the land).  Law ranked #66/BA ranked #36.  If he last til the late 2nd round as Law suggests, he could be right around where the Washington Nationals could draft him with their first pick (#68 overall).  However, John Sickels/MinorLeagueBall’s latest mock draft has Wahl going #31, more consistent with BA’s rankings.  It doesn’t seem likely he’ll fall to the Nats.
  • Austin Nicely, LHP from Spotswood HS in Grottoes, Virginia (way down I-81 by my alma Mater James Madison University).   PG has him as a lefty who throws 90 and is committed to UVA.  Law #78/Not in BA’s top 250, a huge disparity.
  • Chad Pinder, 3B Virginia Tech.  Described as a plus-defender, decent bat.  His season batting stats aren’t that impressive as compared to his teammates, so he must be some defender.  If he can really move to SS like the scouting reports say and still hit for average and some power, he’s a good 2nd-3rd round prospect.  Law ranked #86/BA ranked #53.
  • Jack Roberts, RHP from James River HS in Richmond, committed to UVA and per PG gets up to 92mph.   Big guy (6’4″ 200lbs) who I’d bet can add more velocity if he goes to college.   If he threw a couple ticks higher he’d probably be a big time prospect.  Not ranked in either Law/BA’s list.
  • Zach Rice, LHP from Suffolk (outside of Norfolk), tall lanky kid who slings it 89 from the left hand side.  Committed to UNC.  Worth mentioning since he’ s been recruited by the best team in the country.  Not ranked in either Law/BA’s list.
  • Kyle Crockett, LHP from UVA.  He’s UVA’s closer (and a HS teammate of fellow draft prospect Chad Pinder).  He throws 90-92 from the left side but has impeccable control; he has just one unintentional walk in 43 innings this year while getting more than a K/inning.  Despite being used as a reliever, I can see someone moving him back to the rotation to see if his stuff can play for 6-7 innings at a time.  Not ranked by Law/BA #103.

Conclusion: Looking at this list, UVA stands to lose an awful lot of pitching recruits if these guys don’t honor their commitments.  Bettinger, Jones, Nicely and Roberts are all UVA commits.  But imagine that staff in a couple years if they all go to college.  Phew.

http://www.baseballamerica.com/draft/2013-state-draft-report-virginia/

Washington/MLB Pitching Staff Year in Review; 2012

leave a comment

The Nats staff was led start to finish by 21-game winner Gio Gonzalez, even if Strasburg was the lead story all year. Photo Joy Absalon/US Presswire via usatoday.com

This is the final post in a series of posts reviewing the Nats pitching staffs at various levels, and has been about 5 weeks in the making.  Since the minor league seasons end September 1st, all the minor league versions have already been posted.  Here’s links for the farm system: AAA is hereAA is hereHigh-A is hereLow-A is hereShort-A is hereGCL is here. Tomorrow I’ll post the organization-wide far-too-early predictions for who will be at what level (and in what role) in 2013, summarizing all of the “Outlook for Next year” points for every pitcher in the system.

Washington starters.  The rotation started the season with Strasburg, Gonzalez, Zimmermann, Jackson and Detwiler.  These 5 starters ended up making 150 of our 162 starts, a number that could have risen to somewhere in the 159-160 range had Strasburg not been shut-down and had the team resisted the Wang experiment.  This starter consistency is a huge part of why Washington was so successful this year.  Lets review each pitcher’s season:

  • Stephen Strasburg:  Somewhat lost in the season-long soap opera of “Shutdown-Gate” was the excellent return that Strasburg had.  Final season stats:  15-6, 3.16 ERA and 1.155 whip in 159 1/3 innings, good for a 125 ERA+.   His FIP and xFIP were 2.82/2.81 respectively, meaning his ERA was slightly unflattering on the season.  He dialed back his fastball a little bit as compared to the past two seasons, but can still throw a 95mph 2-seamer and an 88.7mph change-up with 8 inches of horizontal break, leading him to an 11.1 K/9 rate (which would have led the NL by nearly 2 K’s per 9 had he qualified).  Just a few stats for you in case you forgot just how awesome Strasburg can be.   He tired towards the end of the season (4.50 ERA in his last 5 starts combined, including a couple of downright ugly outings) and the shut-down probably came at just the right time.  Yes its too bad we don’t have him for the playoffs; we just have to hope this was the right decision and hope the team continues to make the playoffs. Outlook for next season: Washington’s 2013 opening day starter.
  • Gio Gonzalez came over in the much maligned trade in the off-season and promptly dropped his bb/9, increased his K/9 rates, dropped his ERA and finished the year leading the league in wins.  Final 2012 line: 21-9, 2.89 ERA, 1.129 whip.  He led the league (among qualifiers) in K/9.  He led the league in terms of fewest home-runs allowed.  He should get some consideration for the Cy Young (I’m predicting he comes in 3rd).  Just an all around fantastic debut for Gonzalez in Washington.  His goal in 2013 should be to improve on his post-season performances.  Outlook for next season: same as this year: Robin to Strasburg’s Batman.  Washington #2 starter.
  • Jordan Zimmermann toiled in the background of Washington’s two more well known aces and put up a season that had him being mentioned in Cy Young talks mid season.  Final numbers: 12-8, 2.94 ERA, 1.17 whip.  Some of his ancillary numbers were slightly worse in 2012 than in 2011 (his BB/9, his fip and xfip and his BABIP all trended the wrong way) and he seemed to drift on the mound in the latter part of the season.  It is perhaps explained by his increased workload two years removed from Tommy John surgery, or perhaps just the randomness that baseball is known for.  Either way, Zimmermann is tied to the club for at least 3 more seasons and forms the core of one of the best rotations in baseball.  Outlook for next season: same as 2012: #3 starter and underrated Matt Cain-esque performances for years to some.
  • Edwin Jackson was the man that Mike Rizzo wanted, and he got him, surprisingly signing a one-year deal for 2012 in the face of other multiple year offers and sliding into the Nats #4 starter role (despite being its highest paid pitcher).  Jackson’s military background and frequent moves seem to have led to his itinerant baseball career: he’s now pitched for 7 teams in 10 seasons.  The Nats got pretty much what was expected out of Jackson in 2012: hard-throwing MLB average production with flashes of brilliance (a 2-hit shutout against Cincinnati in April) and flashes of awfullness (8 earned runs given up in just 1 1/3 innings in St. Louis in September), and a .500 record inbetween.  Final year stats: 10-11, 4.03 ERA and a 1.218 whip.  Jackson switched agents this season, possibly indicating a disagreement over the way that Scott Boras has been handling his affairs, and seems set to finally cash in on his stability and fastball in a very weak starter market this off-season.  Which is what makes the team’s decision to NOT give him a Qualifying Offer this past week slightly curious; perhaps the team was worried that Jackson, having lived on year-to-year deals and seemingly comfortable gambling his long-term financial future by accepting these one-year deals, would have just taken them up on the $13.3M offer (it representing a nice raise from 2012′s $11M) and suddenly the Nats would be “stuck” with a guy they didn’t want.  That’s the only way I read the tea-leaves here.  Other than that, perhaps it just wouldn’t play well in the locker room to have the team’s highest paid pitcher as its 5th starter (though, that didn’t hurt the San Francisco Giants much as they won two of the last three World Series in the same boat).  Outlook for next season: pitching somewhere else.
  • Ross Detwiler surprisingly won the #5 starter job out of spring training, struggled in May, leading to his being replaced in the rotation by eternal experiment Chien-Ming Wang, then playing the good soldier and waiting out Wang’s inevitable injury relapse to regain his starting spot and keep it the rest of the way.  He pitched relatively effectively most of the season, resulting in a 10-8 record with a 3.40 ERA and 1.223 whip in 164 1/3 total innings.  Detwiler, after years of ineffectiveness and injury-prone disappointment, seemed to finally put things together for the team in 2012.  Unfortunately, a ridiculous 2007 call-up from Jim Bowden pre-maturely is forcing the Nats hand on Detwiler in terms of options status (he’s out of them) and arbitration pay (he’s a first time arbitration eligible player perhaps a couple seasons before he needed to be).  Nonetheless, even his escalating pay for next year will make him a bargain if he produces at this level again.  And we havn’t even mentioned the fact that he was the SOLE nats starter who redeemed himself in the post-season, a point that won’t be forgotten in subsequent years.  Outlook for next season: firmly entrenched as the #4 starter, pending any major subsequent FA or trade acquisitions.

Other guys who got spot starts here and there (non-rehab):

  • Chien-Ming Wang suffered a fortuitiously timed “injury” at the end of spring training and spent the first 6 weeks pitching in the minors on “rehab.”  He was recalled, replaced Detwiler in the rotation and gave the team four increasingly awful starts before the team realized that Detwiler was the solution all-along.  Wang hung around long enough to prove he was incapable of pitching out of the bullpen, had another injury, and spent the next two months touring Washington’s minor league affiliates (Wang ended up making no less than 15 minor league starts this year, more starts than he had major league appearances) before getting recalled for a few late-season outings.  I think it is safe to say that the Wang experiment, after 3 years, $7M in pay and probably nearly that much in airfare taking Wang to-and-from his various rehab assignments, is officially over in Washington.  Outlook for next season: Minor League Free Agent with another organization.
  • John Lannan was Washington’s starter insurance policy this year, surprisingly getting beat out for the #5 starter job in spring training (this, two years removed from being the Nats opening Day starter) and then spending most of the year pitching ineffectively in Syracuse.  Lannan made two double-header starts during the season and then four “replacing Strasburg” starts in September, finishing up with a 4-1 record, a 4.13 ERA and a 97 ERA+ for the year, numbers slightly lower than his career averages but pretty typical for Lannan.  Lannan is who he is; a softer-tossing lefty with a clean medical record (the only time I believe he’s ever missed was in 2010 when his elbow was sore; he never went on the DL and only missed one start).  Lannan just doesn’t seem to be Rizzo’s kind of starter, and the rotation will undoubtedly be weaker just replacing Jackson one-for-one with Lannan.  Plus, Lannan’s arbitration cost will certainly be north of his 2012 $5M pay, which virtually guarantees that Lannan will be non-tendered on or before November 30th of 2012.  Lannan stated publically he wanted to be traded when he was demoted in April, and his non-tender opens a clean path for him to sell his wares to another organization that would guarantee him a rotation spot.  Outlook for next season: I believe Lannan’s time in Washington is done; look for him to sign a 1yr, $3M offer to be a back-of-the-rotation starter on a rebuilding team (Houston, Kansas City, Chicago perhaps).
  • Tom Gorzelanny got a spot start the last week of the season to save Gio Gonzalez’s arm once the Nats clinched the NL East.  We’ll talk about Gorzelanny in the reliever section.

Washington Relievers: taking a look at the relief corps at the end of the season.  We’ll review from the back of the rotation “forward,” starting with the closers and ending with the mop-up guys.

  • Drew Storen missed the first 3 1/2 months of the season from surgery to remove bone spurs from his elbow (which may or may not be related to his inverted-W mechanics, a tease on a future blog post on the topic…).  Upon his return, he patiently waited for his chance while roommate Clippard struggled in the closer role and entered the post-season as the established closer.  We all know what happened in Game 5 of the NLDS unfortunately, but a 4-run blow-up looks like an aberration for Storen’s season in general: a 2.37 ERA and sub 1.00 whip in 30 1/3 mostly high-leverage innings.  His achieving super-2 status is worrisome for the team in perhaps 2015 when his salary has escalated, but for 2013, he will remain a relative bargain in the estimated $1.7-2M range.  Outlook for Next Season: unlike in previous seasons, I think Storen’s injury makes him less likely to be traded; teams would want to see a full injury free season.  He remains with the team as the established closer heading into 2013.
  • Tyler Clippard grabbed the reigns of the closer job after others failed to do so and stuck with it most of the season, collecting 32 saves in 37 save opportunities.  However, two losses and a bad blown save in September ballooned his ERA a full point in just 3 weeks and resulted with Clippard reverting to his 2011 role as 8th inning specialist.  He gave up a critical solo home run in the fateful game 5 NLDS loss but otherwise looked decent in the post-season.  The big decision the team now faces with Clippard is a large potential arbitration award; he will argue that he should be paid like a closer and will point at 32 saves as evidence that he’s a closer-quality player.  MLBtraderumors estimates Clippard’s salary rising from 1.625M to $4.6M on the strength of his season.  I suspect the team will return a far lower value and there could be an ugly arbitration hearing as a result.  Clippard’s decline in form from 2011 also cost him some trade value, though the Nats could still make the argument that he’s a closer-quality guy and look to move him to a team needing a closer.  Of course, that being said he’s an incredibly valuable member of this bullpen, a big reason the team won 98 games, and there’s no urgency to move him unless offered something great. Outlook for next season: Back in the 8th inning role, barring a surprise trade.
  • Ryan Mattheus‘s first full season with the club resulted in an excellent find for the bullpen, providing great RHP middle-relief in the 6th and 7th innings.  Final results: a 2.85 ERA, 1.146 whip and a 139 ERA+ in 66 1/3 innings.   I think Davey Johnson will be rueing the decision not to use Mattheus in the NLDS game 5 middle-relief situation for the entirey of the off-season.  Outlook for next season: firmly entrenched in the MLB bullpen.
  • Craig Stammen‘s conversion from 4-A starter to excellent middle reliever is complete; his 169 ERA+ showing in 88 1/3 2012 innings was fantastic.  As with a number of the Nats prominent bullpen arms, Stammen’s arbitration eligiblity may force the team’s hand at some point, but he seems set for a reasonable pay increase in 2013.  Outlook for next season: also firmly entrenched in the MLB bullpen.
  • Sean Burnett rebounded dramatically in 2012, returning to his excellent 2010 numbers and was an effective middle-to-late innings lefty reliever for the team.  2012 numbers: 2.38 ERA, 1.235 whip and a 167 ERA+ figure in 56 2/3 innings.  Burnett pitched out his contract year as best as could be expected, and subsequently declined his side of a mutual option for 2013.  This was an expected move; Burnett is arguably the best or 2nd best lefty reliever on the FA market (along with Jeremy Affeldt) and should look to cash in.  Will the Nats match his price on the open market or will they look elsewhere for solutions?  The team really doesn’t have much in the way of quality lefty relievers in either AAA or AA and face losing both Burnett and Michael Gonzalez this off-season.  Outlook for next season: Washington re-signs Burnett to a 3 year deal, possibly overpaying him but ensuring he remains with the team.
  • Mike Gonzalez was on the street in May, signed a minor league FA deal and ended up giving the Nats nearly a full season of high-quality lefty relief.  What a great signing.  Final 2012 numbers: in 35 2/3 innings he had a 3.03 ERA, greater than a K/inning, and a .179 BAA versus lefties.  I think it is safe to say Gonzalez made himself some money this season; apparently 10 teams have already inquired about his services.  Outlook for next season: Washington backs out of a FA bidding war for the 34-yr old and he signs a 2  year deal elsewhere.
  • Tom Gorzelanny served as the long-man/mop up guy for the year and continued his trend of excellent relief appearances (as compared to his numbers as a starter) in 2012.  He gave the team 72 innings, posted a 2.88 ERA and was constantly available for spot starts if needed.  The problem with Gorzelanny is the same problem the team probably will have with Lannan; he’s going to command more in arbitration than the team wants to pay.  Gorzelanny made $3M in 2012 and clearly will earn a raise after his 138 ERA+ season.  However, you just cannot pay mop-up guys that kind of money.  Look for the team to non-tender Gorzelanny on or before November 30th.  From there, once he hits the open market anything could happen, but teams know he’s no longer a starter.  Outlook for next season: Washington brings him back on a contract of similar value to the one he played under this year.
  • Henry Rodriguez continued his Jeckyl-and-Hyde career with this team, mostly on the “Hyde” side in 2012, pitching 29 1/3 mostly awful innings before hitting the DL to remove bone spurs from his elbow in August.  His injury report for 2012 is all over the road; he slammed his fingers in a bathroom door, then subsequently hit the 15-day DL for a strain in that same hand, then hurt his back (which is why he was on the 15- and then 60-day DL), then finally had the elbow procedure at the end of August.  Was his performance all related to his various maladies this year?  Possibly.  But it is safe to say that my patience has run out with H-Rod, and possibly management’s has as well.  He’s out of options and faces the competition of a slew of high-performing right-handers with great stuff and better control for the likely 5 bullpen spots in 2013.  Outlook for next season: Rodriguez fails to make the MLB bullpen out of spring training, gets stashed on the DL again, and eventually gets DFA’d as he shows a Steve Dalkowski inability to find the plate.

Other Relievers who appeared for the Nats in 2012

  • Brad Lidge signed a 1yr $1M deal in the off-season which I thought was a steal.  However, the 35-yr old wasn’t able to hold onto either the closer job or a bullpen job in general after posting a 9.64 ERA in his first 11 appearances.  Lidge was released in late June and (as far as I can tell) did not get picked up by another team.  Outlook for next season: Likely out of baseball and facing retirement.
  • Christian Garcia blew through the minors, earned a 9/1 call up after years of injury issues and pitched well enough to earn the 8th bullpen spot on the post-season roster.  That’s quite a rise from where Garcia was in July 2011, when the Nationals signed him as a minor league free agent after the Yankees gave up on the once electrifying prospect.   He threw well enough in his short MLB stint that the team has made noise about converting him back to a starter.  While I’d love to see Garcia’s stuff in a starting role, the odds of him converting back successfully are slim; he has twice had elbow surgery (2009 and 2010) and had an additional knee issue before that.   I think the team will take the safer route and keep him as a middle-relief candidate who throws his nasty stuff.  Outlook for next season: MLB middle reliever.
  • Ryan Perry was ineffective in 7 appearances in relief and was subsequently dumped to AA and converted back to a starter.  His AA season was reviewed here: he was good in AA, but how does that translate to his 2013?  His lack of options and probable lack of a 25-man roster spot may  conspire against him unless he gets an extra option.  A commenter here claims that Perry will get a 4th option because he got to the majors so quickly.  A quick google of the rule indicates this may be the case; the rule is explained here by BaseballAmerica’s Jim Callis, and Perry, by virtue of being drafted in 2008 and then making the majors by 2009 may indeed qualify.  Lets hope so.  Outlook for next season: (assuming he gets an extra option): AAA rotation.
  • Zach Duke was awareded a 9/1 call-up after an excellent season toiling in AAA for the club.  He was a minor league FA signee and seems to have done enough to earn another shot at a major league starting job.  Just not for Washington.  Outlook for next season: MLFA with another club.

Summary

The Nats pitching staff led the league in ERA while being its 3rd youngest squad.  The 5 core starters made 150 of 162 starts and we used just 8 starters all year, a fantastic turn around from the likes of 2010 (14 different starters) or 2009 (12 different starters).  Consistency in the rotation is a huge key to success for major league teams, and the Nats experienced just that in 2012.

Tweaks are needed for 2013.  We’re potentially losing all three of the lefties in the pen.  We have two closer-quality arms but only need one.  And we’re likely looking for a 5th starter.  Our AAA and AA teams aren’t quite ready to deliver replacements, so one-year deals may be in order.  Not much else to complain about after a 98 win season.

Are you concerned about the state of the Nats farm system?

26 comments

Will Giolito become the Nats #1 prospect? Photo Eric Dearborn via Win For Teddy blog

I know it seems silly to criticize the team with the best record in the NL, but I thought the question was worth asking, given a couple things I read this week prospects related.  Given the drain of prospects in the last 6 months (through the Gio Gonzalez trade and through graduation to the majors for several of the team’s better prospects), its safe to say that our cupboard is relatively thin right now.  This point was highlighted to me by two recent online articles;

1. ESPN’s Keith Law posted a mid-season review of farm systems on the Rise or Fall (sorry, insider only), and stated the obvious about our system.  His summary: Yes we got Lucas Giolito but it was essentially at the expense of any other high-end talent in the 2012 draft.  And, a lot of our high-end guys are taking significant tumbles on boards due to lack of performance or injury (see later on for a look at our top 10 prospect performances).

2. Baseball America’s Jim Callis posted an updated Midseason top 50 prospects post 2012 draft and included where he’d put the top-end talents drafted (including international signees) in his weekly Ask BA feature on July 16th.   Of note to me was the fact that Washington, even with the signing of the high-end Giolito, does not have a SINGLE player in his mid-season 50.   Luckily for us, our NL East competition didn’t fare too much better, with a grand total of 5 players between our divisional rivals.  This compared to teams like Seattle (5), Kansas City (4), and the rich-keep-getting-richer Rangers with 3 guys likely to become impact players within a year or two.

Why is this a concern if the team is in first place?  Two primary reasons:

1. If you’re not going to matriculate your prospects and depend on them for production, then you need to utilize them in trade to acquire needed talent.  There’s plenty of trade rumors right now mentioning the Nats desires for a starter to cover for Stephen Strasburg‘s innings limit.  But who are we going to trade to acquire said pitcher?   I’d go as far as saying that there’s not one guy on our 2012 top 10 prospect list (not including Harper and Lombardozzi of course) who, at this point in 2012, could be the centerpiece of a marquee acquisition.  Who is trading for our #1 prospect Anthony Rendon right now? 

2. This team has a LOT of money committed to players over the coming years, and won’t be able to depend on hefty production from salary controlled guys forever.  They will need a stream of up-and-coming players to offer cheap alternatives to free agents and players who have become too expensive.  For example; in the year 2016 the team has $47M committed to just THREE players right now, before considering at least that much in arbitration for just Strasburg, Bryce Harper and Jordan Zimmermann.  $47M is nearly the team’s payroll just a few years ago!  Yes we will naturally grow payroll and revenues with success and the renegotiation of the MASN contract, but constructing a 25 man roster is about making choices.  The last thing we want is to see this team become the 2012 Philadelphia Phillies; a bloated, old team with a ton of injuries and the 2nd highest payroll in the league at $175M, but mired in last place.

For context of this discussion, here’s a list of Baseball America’s top 10 prospects for this team for 2011 and 2012 (compiled after the Gonzalez trade), and a status of where they are as of now:

Year Nats Rank Name, pos Status
2011 1 Bryce Harper, of In majors
2011 2 Derek Norris, c Traded
2011 3 Danny Espinosa, ss/2b In majors
2011 4 A.J. Cole, rhp Traded
2011 5 Wilson Ramos, c Out for Season (two knee surgeries)
2011 6 Sammy Solis, lhp Out for Season (Tommy John)
2011 7 Cole Kimball, rhp 60-day DL (shoulder surgery)
2011 8 Eury Perez, of .299/.325/.342 in AA Harrisburg in his 6th pro season
2011 9 Chris Marrero, 1b 60-day DL (torn hamstring)
2011 10 Brad Peacock, rhp Traded

That’s 2 guys who are starters in the Majors, 3 traded for Gonzalez, 4 guys on long term DL stints and Eury Perez with his meager .667 OPS in AA, in his 6th pro season.  How about 2012′s list?

Year Nats Rank Name, pos Status
2012 1 Bryce Harper, OF In majors
2012 2 Anthony Rendon, 3B Out for Season (broken ankle, his 3rd major leg injury in 4 years)
2012 3 Brian Goodwin, OF .324/.438/.542 in low-A.  Stellar season so far
2012 4 Alex Meyer, RHP 7-4, 3.10 Era, 1.13 whip and 107/34 k/bb in 90IP in low-A Hagerstown.  Just promoted
2012 5 Matt Purke, LHP Long term DL (Shoulder concerns); hasn’t thrown in 5 weeks.
2012 6 Sammy Solis, LHP Out for Season (Tommy John)
2012 7 Steve Lombardozzi, INF In Majors
2012 8 Destin Hood, OF .223/.296/.313 in AA Harrisburg, in his 5th pro season
2012 9 Chris Marrero, 1B 60-day DL (torn hamstring)
2012 10 Michael Taylor, OF .225/.314/.333 in High-A Potomac in his 3rd pro season

2012′s list includes 4 major injury concerns, two guys under-performing (Hood and Taylor), and two guys matriculated to the majors.  The two players putting up good statistical seasons may come with astericks though; Alex Meyer was compiling his stats in low-A, going against guys 2-3 years younger than himself.  His promotion to High-A was overdue and should be telling, to determine if his future lays as a dominant 12-6 starter or a high-leverage reliever.  Brian Goodwin’s excellent season is a great sign of things to come … but again, in Low-A.  I know he was a Juco signee, but he’s 21 now, turning 22 in November and is the same age as college juniors getting drafted now.  If he continues to produce upon promotion to better competition, I’ll feel better.

Now, I know there’s guys in our system who are coming back from injuries (i.e. Nathan Karns), or who are putting up good numbers despite being lower draft picks (i.e. Matt Skole, Cameron Selik, Danny Rosenbaum), and we have some guys who we acquired through trades and who are having surprisingly good seasons in the minors (i.e., Zach Walters, Ryan Perry and Corey Brown) but are these kinds of players going to step up and either be a) next year’s top prospects or b) eventual productive major leaguers?  I know we all love Rosenbaum for example, but most scouts think he’s a marginal prospect at best (and his lack of inclusion on our top 10 lists reinforces that notion).

This sudden lack of depth was one of the reasons I wasn’t the biggest fan of drafting Giolito.  With the new draft rules and specific limits on bonuses, combined with the significant injury issues we’ve had with high end draftees Rendon and Purke in 2011′s draft, I thought the team should have gone the safer route.  Yes I’m sure Mike Rizzo did a ton of due diligence and was confident in Giolito’s long term health.  But missing on three first rounders (or in Purke’s case, a first round talent given a significant bonus and a 40-man deal) could lead to a significant hole in player development for this team right at a time a couple of years from now when they desperately need a MLB-minimum impact guy.

Nats Off-season News Items Wrap-up 1/22/12 edition

6 comments

Gonzalez signs a long term deal; we're committed now. Photo Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images via nydailynews.com

This is your semi-weekly/periodic wrap-up of Nats and other baseball news that caught my eye.  Apologies for the delay in posting; new rules on laptop usage at work have thwarted my typical read-sports-news-at-lunch habits.  I’ll have to get creative.

Nationals In General

  • Nats extend Gio Gonzalez for 5 years.  Terms: 5yrs, $42M with two more club options.  A little more than $8m AAV, or in other words what we were paying Jason Marquis.  I’m sure its backloaded somewhat, but I like the deal for two main reasons.  First, we buy out all the arbitration years ahead of time and avoid the arbitration process altogether (which does nothing but serve to bruise the fragile egos of professional athletes over a few hundred thousand dollars of salary).  Secondly, it locks up the player for the longer term and gives the team some stability for the next few years.
  • Jim Callis at BaseballAmerica answered a question about what an updated Nats top 10 prospect list would look like post trade: he’d promote up Destin Hood, Chris Marrero, and Michael Taylor.  Considering what Marrero’s prospect status is now, considering how long it has taken Hood to get the hang of playing baseball, and how far away Taylor is from the majors, I think its safe to say our farm system is officially “thin.”
  • Nice little piece on Bryce Harper from Buster Olney, who relays the well known opinion that Davey Johnson really likes young superstars and predicts that Harper may break camp with the team.  Why doesn’t anyone relay all the facts in this case?  Like the fact that there wasn’t a concept of “Super-2″ when Johnson promoted Gooden and Strawberry and there wasn’t a punitive financial issue lurking by doing so.
  • Great news to see so many of our arbitration eligible guys settled well ahead of going in front of the arbitrator.  These cases don’t help anyone in the long run and end up arguing semantics over a few hundred thousand dollars that the team can clearly pay.
  • Though I havn’t seen any confirmation of this elsewhere, Bill Ladson reports that the Nats are engaged in extension talks with Ryan Zimmerman.  If so, this comes at a relatively good time for the team to be doing the negotiating; Zimmerman’s value is as low now as it has been since before his rookie season, on account of multiple injuries and a lack of overall production.   Which is exactly why I don’t think any long term deal is going to be struck this off-season frankly; Zimmerman would expect a Troy Tulowitzki like deal and I don’t think he’s done enough to earn it.


Free Agents/Player Transaction News

  • The arbitration case to watch this coming off-season will be Tim Lincecum; he is asking for $21.5M for 2012, with the Giants offering $17M.  Wow.  There’s really no case like his out there to use as a precedent; if you think he should earn roughly 80% of his FA value, then $21.5M equates with an annual salary of $26.875/year AAV.  That’s more than Cliff Lee, CC Sabathia or Johan Santana (the three highest paid pitchers at current).  So I guess you have to ask yourself; is Lincecum the best pitcher in the league?  Because he’s about to be paid in line with that title.


Hall of Fame items

  • Not HoF specific, but inspired by it.  David Shoenfield compiles a list of the best players by running 5-year WAR figures to show some enlightening information.  WAR has some limitations over longer terms but I like what it shows for season-to-season value for players.  His point was that some relatively unsupported hall of fame claims appear on these lists.  For me the last couple periods showing guys like Chase Utley and Matt Holliday were kind of eye opening.


General Baseball News

  • Phillies sign Joel Pineiro to a minor league deal.   I know he struggled in LA last season, but at one point this guy was pretty decent.  If he can regain his health and his St. Louis form, suddenly the Phillies might have themselves a pretty good 5th starter option to take mediocre innings away from Joe Blanton.  I’m surprised they were able to get him on a minor league contract.
  • I’ve read bits and pieces about the fall of Puerto Rican baseball before; but this is the first article i’ve seen that really delves into it deeply.  Rob Neyer lists the cause and effect; baseball subjected Puerto Rican’s to the normal draft and almost immediately killed baseball in the country.  This is the lesson/concern about going to an international draft; individual teams won’t cultivate and build off-site academies if they serve to build players who can be drafted by other teams.  This is what happened in Puerto Rico and its probably what would happen in the Dominican Republic, Venezuela and other developing countries.  Its a scary thought.
  • Related to the above Puerto Rican story is this: Cleveland pitcher Fausto Carmona arrested in the Dominican Republic for falsifying his name and age ahead of his big signing.  For all the lamenting of the above Puerto Rican situation … this is yet another example (see Gonzalez, Smiley for Nats fans) of the flip side of the lack of an international draft.  Draft experts and scouting mavens lament the loss of Puerto Rican development and think that the exact same thing would happen in the D.R. if they were included in the draft, and yes its hard to argue differently.  But the down side of having such a “lottery” for 15-16 yr old players in the impoverished D.R. is the continued fraud among players growing up there related to age falsification.
  • Sabre-nerds may decry the lack of statistical science behind it, but Tom Verducci‘s annual “Year After” effect (which has come to be known as the Verducci-effect by others) has had an 84% success factor in predicting either injury or distinct decline in performance for his named pitchers.  The most interesting names on the list are newly traded Michael Pineda, Jeremy Hellickson, and both Texas mid-rotation starters Matt Harrison and Derek Holland.  Holland in particular threw a whopping 77 more innings this year over last.

General News; other

  • Not that any of us needed to read any more about the Jerry Sandusky/Penn State Scandal, but reading Washington Post’s Sally Jenkins‘ front page story with Joe Paterno‘s first interview post-scandal was an interesting read.  Frankly, I don’t buy some of the way the story reads (intimating that Paterno had “little to do” with Sandusky by the time the 2002 allegations came around, for example).  It doesn’t seem like Paterno was really challenged in the interview.  Gene Wojciechowski echos some of these sentiments in this analysis piece here, criticizing Paterno’s convenient stance on the scandal and on the multitude of other stories that have come out about his manipulation of the system and real influence at the university. The real problem is just the nature of dealing with a legend; he worked for Penn State for 61 years and made the university what it is; how do you possibly deal with such a figure, who clearly was larger than the university?  Update: just prior to publishing this, Paterno lost his battle with lung cancer, a quick and unfortunate end to his legendary career.  Its amazing to consider that just 3 months ago, Paterno was still the larger than life legend and nothing bad had ever happened on the campus.
  • I’m sure the real story is somewhere in-between the original story and the “Update” at the end, but there seems to be enough truth in the former to not necessarily believe the latter.  A new Utah high school’s board decided that the student-voted mascot name “Cougars” can’t be used because the name is derogatory towards middle-aged women who hook up with younger men.  Seriously.


Nats Off-season News Items Wrap-up 12/25/11 edition

5 comments

Welcome to Washington Mr. Gonzalez. Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images via cbssports.com

This is your semi-weekly/periodic wrap-up of Nats and other baseball news that caught my eye.  No better time than today to publish, since there’s not much else going on Christmas day.

Nationals In General

  • Bus Leagues Baseball profiles Matthew Purke, with a nice scouting report and recap of his journey to the Nats franchise.
  • Nice little bench move here: Nats claimed infielder Carlos Rivera from Philadelphia’s waivers and stuck him on the 40-man.   He theoretically can play both SS and 3b, though reports are that his SS defense is suspect.  I’m not going to nit pick moves like this and the Mike Cameron signing; our farm system kind of has a gap in terms of player development from the last Bowden draft years, so we are missing these roster-augmentation players that otherwise would be filled from within.  Soon though with the college-heavy drafts of the past couple years we should have all the spare parts we need sitting in AAA so that we’re not signing mid 30′s utility players and claiming mediocre players.
  • Welcome to 2012′s version of Jerry Hairston; Mark DeRosa to sign with the Nats and be our super utility guy.  Can’t argue with the move; he fills a need, is willing to be a bench player, and can play a bunch of positions.
  • Congrats to ex Nat Jason Marquis, who looks to sign a deal with Minnesota.  I’m glad he’s landed on his feet after a freak fractured tibia just after we traded him last year.
  • Obviously the big news this cycle is the Gio Gonzalez move.  Frequent readers here saw a very healthy discussion in the past week in this space.  I’ll post some reaction links here not posted elsewhere: Buster Olney‘s blog (the take away for me is how badly Oakland’s fans seem to be reacting), Jim Bowden‘s video reaction and his description how the deal went down (the interesting takeaway being how the 2nd player thrown into the deal from Oakland’s side turning the tide).  Keith Law values our prospects highly and says we overpaid.  Another prospect-heavy analyst John Sickels analyzes our outgoing prospects (surprisingly Sickels says the A’s got “fair value” instead of calling it a loss for the Nats as Law did).  Here’s Tim Brown‘s reaction, plus Ken Rosenthal‘s original report.  Lastly, fangraph’s David Fung graphically analyzes projected WARs and determines that we gave up nearly twice the value in future production, which involves quite a leap of trust that all four of these guys pan out to their potential.  Lastly, here’s Baseball Prospectus’ take on both sides; not nearly as glowing for the 4 prospects gained as I thought they would be.

Free Agents/Player Transaction News

  • Roy Oswalt is considering one-year deals, immediately bringing nearly every MLB team into the discussions.  I’d love to have him on the Nats but suspect that he may end up in a situation that makes it easier for him to get one more relatively lucrative FA contract.  I.e., an easier division that’s closer to home.  Imagine him in San Diego against weaker NL west teams.  With the Gonzalez signing though, my guess is that we’re out of the FA pitcher race.
  • Interesting take on the Yu Darvish bidding results and the Toronto loss from Buster Olney (insider only), intimating that all the talk about the Toronto interest was overblown.
  • Great points by David Schoenfeld on espn, pointing out another similar article on Grantland, talking about the “Prospect Mania” that has become the norm in baseball over the past 10 years.  Ironically, this same issue was seen in our Gonzalez deal; are our prospects really that good, or are we over-valuing them and their potential?

General Baseball News

  • College Baseball Newspaper announces its pre-season Collegiate All American team.  From first glance, Florida looks really strong (4 guys on the first team, another four on the 2nd team, wow).  South Carolina returns two all-american starters, virtually guaranteeing weekend series wins all year.  Finally Texas has 2 first team, 3 second teamers just in its rotation.  Too early to predict Florida versus Texas in the Omaha final in June 2012?
  • George Washington, a lesser Div-1 baseball program that has given the Nats some later-round org players in recent years, is renovating Barcroft park in South Arlington, where they play their home games.  They’re putting in artificial turf, nicer facilities and a nicer snack bar.  Nice.  It was already a nice place to see good collegiate baseball; now it should be this much better.
  • Documentation/Actual testimony from a player who won an appeal of his PED positive test.  Latest rumor I read about Ryan Braun is that he was taking something for an STD.  I can’t find a link so perhaps its just that; a ridiculous rumor.
  • Good, non-hysterical analysis of the new CBA’s winners and losers from Basball America’s J.J. Cooper and Jim Callis. Callis continues with this analysis of the impact on big and small market teams.
  • Man, I can’t wait to see this soap opera in Spring Training; former Marlins manager says that Hanley Ramirez won’t go to third easily.
  • Nice shirt, Mike Napoli.  (NSFW, in other words, “Not Safe for Work.”)  Not really; you can barely see the “R-rated” part.
  • I wonder why they left the field?  A current picture of Detroit’s old stadium.  We were in Detroit 3yrs ago and drove by this stadium as it was only in partial de-construction.
  • LA Dodger’s plans to sell dealt a blow by a bankrupcy judge.  Or were they?  I’m not entirely clear how this ruling affects anything frankly.  As long as Frank McCourt is removed from the picture, I think everyone will be happy.

General News; other

  • Categorize this in the “people who don’t have a sense of humor, ever” department: Pat Robertson found the hilarious Tim Tebow skit on SNL last weekend “disgusting.”  Hey Pat; I find your opinions on race, discrimination, acceptance, tolerance, and your stated stances on the reasons that Hurricane Katrina, the Haitian earthquake and 9-11 happened to be “disgusting” as well.
  • This link was ironic for me, in that my family just had the same discussion about what is the best Xmas movie of all time.  Jim Caple presents a 64-team bracket for Xmas movies.  I think the selection committee screwed over “Scrooged,” giving it only a 9 seed.  In another bracket, its a regional winner :-) .


Nats Off-season News Items Wrap-up 12/2/11 edition

5 comments

Tough break this week (well, two weeks ago) for Chris Marrero. Photo unknown via curlyw.mlblogs.com

Weekly wrap-up of Nats and other baseball news that caught my eye.

Nationals In General

  • In a minor move, the team re-signed its own AAA minor league free agent Carlos Maldonado, per tweet from Bill Ladson.  This sets up our catcher depth for most of the system (Flores/Ramos, Solano/Maldonado, Norris/Leon, and Nieto/Fritas) and gives the team some flexibility with the inevitable injuries.  Frankly Norris’ poor 2011 season jeopardizes his progression; he’ll obviously be repeating AA in 2012 and needs to show some improvement to keep his oft-repeated “close to the majors” prospect status.
  • Chris Marrero tore his hamstring and had surgery, two weeks ago.  Two weeks ago!?  How did this little nugget stay hidden for so long?  Most of the beat reporters had the story on 11/29 and had the same opinion as I; this probably frees up a bench spot for someone like Tyler Moore or perhaps another veteran 1-year FA.
  • Nats are apparently interested in Mark DeRosa.  No big surprise; we have basically zero competent utility infielders under contract right now.  DeRosa can be 2012′s version of Jerry Hairston.
  • Sorry to hear that Masn beat reporter Ben Goessling is leaving to join the St. Paul Pioneer Press.  No word on his replacement.
  • Per the soon-to-be-departing Goessling as well: Toronto continues to collect ex-Nats players and signs Garrett Mock to a minor league deal.  I’m starting to sense a Jim Bowden-esque obsession on the part of Dana Brown with our farm players.  So be it; if they were that good when he was here, we wouldn’t have been ranked in the bottom 5 farm systems of the league.
  • Espinosa, Ramos and Strasburg on Keith Law‘s best 50 under 25 list.  Harper still too young to consider.

Free Agents/Player Transaction News

  • There remains to be questions whether or not Yu Darvish will actually post this off-season.  Rumors of a divorce complicating his posting persist, and its now been a week since the end of the NPB season with no word of his posting status.  (Jon Paul Morosi reports).
  • Here’s some non-news: Mark Buehrle won’t come “cheap or short.”
  • Here’s David Schoenfield‘s 3-fix suggestion for each team in the NL east.  His suggestions for us?  CJ Wilson, putting Werth in CF and signing a corner outfielder, and decide whether Davey Johnson is the long term answer.  I’m not sure the 3rd issue matters in the least: Johnson is only 69; there’s plenty of recent evidence showing guys who are older and less accomplished can be successful in the majors.  His argument for Wilson makes sense; he’ll cost half of Pujols/Fielder, wouldn’t be stressed as our “Ace” with Strasburg and Zimmermann around, and will only improve as he goes from the AL to the NL.  I like his Werth answer honestly; I think Werth could hold his own in Center for at least one season, perhaps two.
  • Baseball America’s Rule5 Preview, part 1 (may be subscriber only).  I definitely see some players the Nats could experiment with, given that they are looking for a 7th bullpen arm and a utility infielder.  He mentions our own Brad Meyers as a possible draftee, but not one of the marquee names out there.
  • Ken Rosenthal says the team is really on both Prince Fielder and the cuban-FA Yoenis Cespedes.  I’m not “against” the interest but am surprised by it.  Does the team really want to just give up on Adam LaRoche that quickly?  Do they really think Cespedes could play in the majors in 2012?
  • Well, there goes one of my Nats-trade candidates; the Angels acquired catcher Chris Iannetta from the Rockies for prospect Tyler Chatwood.  My working theory was that the Angels, who have too many outfielders and especially two many guys who can play center field, would be open to trading one of them (specifically Peter Bourjos) to the Nats for a catcher prospect.  Maybe it still can happen.  Of course, Rizzo actually has to be in the country in order to make deals (when this trade went down, Rizzo reportedly was in the D.R. scouting Cespedes).
  • Its just a MLBtraderumors chat, but Tim Dierkes is well respected, at least in my opinion.  He has the Nats as potential FA suiters for most every major name.   Edwin Jackson, Mark Buehrle, Cespedes, Fielder and Pujols, even Jimmy Rollins.  Geeze.

New Labor Deal Items

  • The new CBA seems almost custom-written to drive out the Tampa Bay Rays.  This scout.com article summarizes it nicely.  I wonder what the Tampa ownership group said about these negotiations as they were going on.  Clearly their methods of gaining advantages through player development and stockpiling draft picks are now obsolete.
  • Jim Callis reports via twitter but captured here some more restrictive items about the draft we’re finding out.
  • Teams in the 13 smallest markets now enter a Competitive Lottery for picks.  A quick analysis of the 13 teams selected (from Ben Goessling’s article: the Diamondbacks, Orioles, Indians, Royals, Athletics, Pirates, Padres, Rays, Reds, Rockies, Marlins, Brewers) almost identically mirrors the 13 smallest teams by MSA (in smallest to largest order; Milwaukee, Kansas City, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Denver, Pittsburgh, Tampa, Baltimore, St. Louis, San Diego, Minneapolis, Seattle, Phoenix).  The only deviations are the Athletics and Marlins, who would easily be amongst the smallest markets in baseball once you isolate Oakland from San Francisco’s MSA, and Miami from Ft.Lauderdale.  Tangotiger posted an interesting discussion on the same topic (where in the comments I posted this same analysis) on his blog here.

General News; Baseball and other.

  • It looks like the NBA has finally gotten its act together, announcing a tentative deal to salvage the season on Nov 26th.
  • An interesting take on the Bill James “game score” statistic.  (click here for a list of the 20-best scores in the last 70 years).  Highest ever recorded: an 18-inning shutout pitched by Carl Hubbel scoring a 127 game scoreKerry Wood‘s 20-k 1-hitter is the highest score in the last 25 years, scoring 105.  This was also the highest-scoring 9-inning game in baseball history.  My initial guess on the best ever game pitched would be Harvey Haddix‘s 12-inning perfect game, lost in the 13th inning.  Here’s the box: it scored a 107.   The highest ever recorded Nationals game score?  John Patterson in 2005 pitched a 4-hit shutout with 13 K’s, worth a score of 92Strasburg‘s 14-K debut was worth a 75, though interestingly his final 2011 start (6 innings of 1-hit ball over the Marlins with 10K’s) earned a 78There’s about 10 games out there in the 80s range, including an 88 that I can’t possibly think who could have thrown.  Is anyone a baseball-reference subscriber?  I use the site multiple times per day; I should probably register and pay for my time.
  • From the great blogger TangoTiger, an Expos Tribute video.
  • From another great blogger Rob Neyer, a news item about the future of baseball in the Portland, OR area.  Portland does not have a single pro baseball team in the area, not even a short-season or Indy league team, despite being roughly the same size population wise as the MLB cities of Cleveland and Cincinnati, and being larger than Kansas City and Milwaukee.

Nats Off-season News Items Wrap-up 11/18/11 edition

2 comments

With more Wild Cards, get ready to see scenes like this more and more. AP Photo via infopop.cc

Here’s a weekly wrap up of Nats-related news items, along with other general interest baseball articles, with my thoughts as appropriate.  (Note: these news items are more or less chronological in the Saturday-to-Friday blog post news cycle i’m using, with me going back and adding in clarifying links as needed).

  • Great news: Wilson Ramos was rescued with apparently on 11/11/11 no bodily harm and no ransom paid.  This is a great end to this saga, which really could have gone so much worse for Ramos and his family.  Mark Zuckerman reports on the details of the rescue.
  • Interesting read from Jon Paul Morosi, who interviews an anonymous american player about life in the Venezuelan Winter League.  The player wanted to stay anonymous, but he didn’t seem to really say anything of note that would require protecting his identity.  Better safe than sorry though.
  • Joe Sheehan, writing for si.com, mentions both Bryce Harper and Sammy Solis in his AFL review of players to watch on 11/10/11.  He saw Solis’ 4-inning/9 K game and was impressed.  I would be to if a 6’5″ lefty could throw 94mph and punch out guys at will.  That’s Solis’ “ceiling.”
  • As if it wasn’t enough to do analysis of the current FA crop, Buster Olney apparently was bored and did a year-too-early analysis of the 2012 free agent crop.  I only post this because it corresponds with one of my frequent matras about this off season; don’t waste your FA dollars competing for 2-3 front-line pitchers.  Wait for 2012 when there’s 10-12 good candidates.
  • More BA links related to the Nats top 10 prospects, announced last week.  Here’s the free version of the top-10 with scouting reports, the Organization quick-overview page.
  • BA’s Jim Callis 11/9/11 editorial piece about how the Nats picked “a good time to be bad.”
  • For Yu Darvish fans, yet another scouting reportAnd another oneTom Verducci posted a very well done piece demonstrating how most pitchers from NPB hit “The Wall” 2 years into their MLB careers, also noting that there has never been a single Japanese pitcher to make more than one all-star team.  Fangraphs.com has a bunch more articles on Darvish from a few weeks ago, and BaseballAmerica has some as well for you to find at your leisure.  Side-story: In one of the weekly chats last week (can’t remember which one) a very good point was made about using previous Japanese pitchers as comparisons to Darvish.  The chat-host flat out called it racist.  I have certainly drawn those same comparisons, looking at player’s birth place (as a way of determining NPB-graduates) and asking whether or not there’s ever been a huge success story for a Japanese-born pitcher.  I don’t view this as racist; just factual.  When I point out that there’s never been (for example) a French-born star baseball player, there isn’t a subsequent implication that “there fore all French baseball players are crap.”  Therefore I will continue to point out that Darvish, as a NPB-graduate, comes with risk no matter what his scouting report or genetic make up happens to be.  And my stance is that the risk involved isn’t worth the likely 9-figure price tag.
  • Wow the Marlins are doing some serious FA inquiries.  Rumors this week that they’re talking with Jose Reyes, Albert Pujols, Mark Buehrle AND new Cuban FA Yoenis Cespedes.  Those players alone would probably represent something in the range of $400M of guaranteed contracts.  I just have a really hard time believing that this club, which has sucked revenue sharing money for years and easily transferred it into the owner’s pockets, will suddenly do an about-face and actually spend the money they need to be competitive.  Really hard time believing it until I see it.  Jeff Passan agrees with me.
  • Thanks to DistrictOnDeck for transcribing a few points of the Mike Rizzo-Jim Bowden conversation on mlb radio this week.  I can’t help but taking note of the glaring discrepancy in Rizzo’s double-speak when it comes to pitching.  Despite having his 1-2-3 already being set for the 2012 rotation (Strasburg, Zimmermann, Lannan) and re-signing Wang this week, Rizzo still says that at the same time he wants to “bring in another starter” AND have the likes of Milone/Peacock/Detwiler compete for the 5th starter.  Well, which is it?  Because if you buy another FA starter, there is no 5th spot available.  Not unless we’re about to see a non-tender for John Lannan.
  • Excellent post from David Schoenfeld, in the wake of the Ryan Madson $44M contract being withdrawn, about the value of closers and the need to have a marquee closer at all in the modern game.  In the post, he lists the named closers of the past 10 WS winners, and his point is this; its littered with names of guys who were clearly not elite-level closers.
  • Interesting opinion piece from Jim Breen on FanGraphs about Hard-Slotting.  Breen posits the same opinion i’ve read over and over from Keith Law in the anti-draft slotting camp; they both claim it will “drive players to other sports.”  They use names like Zach Lee, Bubba Starling, and Archie Bradley as recent examples of guys who were legitimate 2-sport stars and were “bought” out of football commitments at major Div-I universities by virtue of the large bonuses they received.  Here’s the problem I have with this stance: where’s the proof?  I just have a hard time believing that these athletes, when presented with a choice, would have a larger-than-slot bonus make up their minds.  You’re either a baseball-first player or not, irrespective of your talents and desires in a secondary sport.  Nowhere in these arguments have I ever seen an interview or a survey where these two-sport stars are actually asked the basic question, “Would you be playing college football if your guaranteed baseball bonus was smaller than what you got.”  Its all assumptions, and this article is no different (posting the assumption that Lee “would not be playing  baseball right now if there was a hard-slotting system.”
  • Good information to know from Dave Cameron‘s fangraphs chat: the BABIP on ground-balls is .235 for ground balls, .130 for fly balls, .720 for line drives.  Cool.
  • Here’s a funny article from Baseball Prospectus on Hot Stove League terminology and how to interpret it.
  • Joe Lemire writes a great piece highlighting the safety issues and general decline of Venezuelan baseball over the past decade, in light of the Ramos kidnapping.
  • I first took note of Tax issues during last off-season’s Cliff Lee sweepstakes, noting that he faced perhaps a 12% difference in salary by taking a deal to stay in Texas versus New York.  Eric Seidman looks at the same issue and more with his great article in FanGraphs titled “Jock Tax.”  Conclusion; taxes for athletes are ridiculously complex.
  • Phillies sign Jonathan Papelbon to a 4 yr/$50M contract.  Well, I guess they’re not going to be re-signing Ryan Madson. The Phillies resign Papelbon basically for the same money they had been paying Brad Lidge, so its not going to directly lead to an increase in their payroll.  But as someone who openly questions the value of closers in general, I have to criticize the move as wasting money on a player they could replace from within for a fraction of the cost.  David Schoenfield agrees with this sentiment.
  • Adam Kilgore has a nice little primer on the upcoming GM and Owners meetings in Milwaukee.  He does some quick Nats off-season planning analysis, and I agree with him that it’s looking more and more like the team is going to pursue someone like Mark Buehrle or Roy Oswalt, meaning that the Detwiler/Peacock/Milone battle for 5th starter may not actually happen.  This would imply the team is looking to trade these guys, presumably for CF talent.  Lots of moving parts.
  • Si.com’s Jon Heyman broke news on 11/14 from the GM meetings that prospective Houston Astro’s owner Jim Crane has accepted the condition of moving his team to the AL west as a prerequisite to ownership approval.   Interleague blurring, here we come.  ESPN reports that this MLB “demand” was a condition of the sale of the team to Crane.  You have to love Bud Selig and his hard-line ways, given his precious anti-trust exemption.
  • The Nats outrighted both Cole Kimball and Corey Brown from the 40-man on 11/16/11 and lost Kimball to Toronto.  My thoughts here along with a healthy discussion.
  • Courtesy of Craig Caltaterra, a fantastic blog entry just crucifying Peter Angelos.
  • Op-ed piece about proposed draft changes, from ESPN’s David Shoenfeld.
  • Another Collective bargaining agreement fall out: elimination of compensation picks for type-B free Agents.  Probably a wise move; type B free agents are usually not valued nearly as much as a supplemental first round pick, leading to hijinks in the draft system by teams who covet these picks.  Frankly, the revampment to the system that needs to be done is the reliever classification.  How is Darren Oliver, a 41-yr old loogy possibly a type A free agent??  That classification immediately eliminates half the league from even looking at him, and probably the other half as well (meaning they’d be giving up a 2nd round pick at worst).  The union has to be upset at the way their veteran players have their job movement limited by this classification.  Ironically, about 5 minutes after I wrote this, Buster Olney also used Oliver as an example as to why the system needs to change.
  • In the “no surprise here” category, Hanley Ramirez isn’t keen on switching positions should the Marlins, who have been woo-ing every FA out there this off season, somehow acquire Jose Reyes.  Ramirez is pretty much the ultimate non-team player and the Marlins have spent far too long coddling him and cow-towing to his demands.  Good luck EVER getting him to agree to anything that isn’t Hanley-first.
  • Ex-Nats rumors: Jason Marquis apparently has interest from his “hometown” NY Mets for a 2012 contract.  I say that’s great news for the Veteran hurler, who had to be dismayed when he broke his leg in a contract year.  Even if its a non-guaranteed deal, or for significantly less money than he got from us two years ago (2yrs $15M), he deserves another shot.
  • Interesting side effect of MLB’s obscure player transaction rules: by virtue of the Angels only sending Mike Trout down for 17 days instead of 20, the demotion still counted towards his 2011 service time.  This has two implications: Trout officially now has served his rookie season and won’t be eligible for the 2012 Rookie of the Year award, AND the Angels now are in serious jeopardy of exposing Trout to eventual “Super-2″ status.  The first point is a slight shame for Trout, who seems set to rocket into prominence in this league based on his minor league production.  The second point is “shame on the Angels” for not knowing the rules; if Trout is as good as promised, this mistake could cost them millions and millions of dollars.  WP Dave Sheinen did a great study about Stephen Strasburg‘s super-2 status, comparing it to Tim Lincecum‘s, and concluded that avoiding super-2 for superstars can save a team almost $20Million.  Seriously.
  • Why is this news?  The Nats and Ryan Zimmerman, a player who is signed through 2013 havn’t talked about a contract extension.  So what?  This shouldn’t be news until NEXT off-season.  I don’t care that Kemp signed a big deal, or that Braun got locked up for a few more years, or that Tulowitzki signed a ridiculous deal through 2020.  Just because YOU jumped off a bridge doesn’t mean I have to.  If i’m the Nats GM, I wouldn’t sign on for an 8year contract, let alone a 5year, for a guy who has missed significant chunks of the last few seasons through injury until I saw him back at the 155-160 game level.  He’s only 26, but has already had three major injuries (hamate bone surgery, left labrum and this year’s abdomen surgery).  Plus he missed the last couple weeks of the 2010 season with a muscle strain.  That’s a lot of medical on a young guy.  Maybe the musings of some other Nats bloggers on the topic could have some credence.
  • Its official; two wild cards coming in 2013Judge Landis is rolling in his grave.  Actually I’m somewhat ok with this news; I think more needs to be done to mitigate the possibilities of Wild Cards winning the World Series.  If a play-in round is introduced that thins your pitching staff and makes it harder to advance, i’m all for it.  I’m not a 100% traditionalist but I do like to see teams that win the most regular season games actually competing for the World Series, instead of the St. Louis Cardinals sneaking in as a last-second wild card and winning the championship.

My Answers to Boswell’s Chat Questions 8/22/11 edition

leave a comment

Everyone's excited for the return of Strasburg. Photo via centerfieldgate.com

Boswell’s weekly chat had more Redskins questions than normal, but there was a slew of baseball questions in there as well.  As always, questions are edited for levity/clarity and I write my answer before reading his.

Q: When is Strasburg coming back?

A: Per Mark Zuckerman’s csnwashington article, based on his regular 5-day rest and build up of innings, we should expect Stephen Strasburg back in the majors around September 6th or 7th, right in the middle of the mid-week LA Dodgers series.  Wow imagine if he went up against Clayton KershawBoswell guesses 9/6/11 but repeats over and again these are guesses, since rainouts have a funny way of ruining best laid plans for advance ticket buyers.

Q: Will the Nats go after Prince Fielder, as is being mentioned in the national press?

A: I don’t think so; he doesn’t really fit the mold of the track-star/plus-defender mentality that Mike Rizzo wants in his players.  Plus, signing Fielder basically light’s Adam LaRoche‘s $8M 2012 salary on fire.  And I don’t think the owners would take lightly to 1/8th of their payroll being so blatantly wasted.  I don’t think 2012 is the year that this team makes its big FA splash; I still see 2012 as an incremental building year, with 2013 the year to make a run.  Boswell Agrees.

Q: Do you agree with Kasten’s plan to fill the stadium with Phillies fans?

A: Absolutely not.  I don’t care how much money a sold out weekend series full of drunken low-lifes from Philadelphia generates for your team; its not worth the clear damage done to the psyche of the paying Nats fans who DO show up only to be treated like interlopers in their own stadium.  Philly fans show up for one game and spend a few hundred dollars.  Nats season ticket holders spend THOUSANDS of dollars and finance the team’s payroll.  Which customer do you think is more important to keep happy?  Boswell prints a letter describing what most of us went through opening day 2010, the first time the Philadelphia hordes descended en masse on Nats stadium.

Q: Does Jayson Werth check his swing too much?

A: Not that i’ve noticed, but i’m not exactly glued to the television every time he gets to the plate.  I will say that at sunday’s game he was clearly the victim of a horrible 3rd strike call, and then guessed wrong on another versus Halladay.  No shame in that.  He got enough clutch at-bats and hits this weekend to get an awful lot of good grace from fans.  Boswell says its his natural swing.

Q: Who will be here next year of this list?  Desmond. Gomes. Livo. Wang. Gorzelanny. Pudge.

A: Definitely here: Desmond.  Hopefully here: Wang.  Probably here: Gomes.  Likely gone: Gorzelanny.  Most certainly gone: Livo and Pudge.

The team isn’t ready to give up on Desmond; they like him as a leader and he’s turned into a pretty good fielder.  Wang remains to be seen; has he pitched well enough so far to earn a 2012 contract?  Probably not quite yet … but he also isn’t under a club option for 2012 either (a topic for a future post).  Gomes’ acquisition was a mystery; he’s a lower-performing right-handed version of Laynce Nix but without the left handedness.  He’s making $1.75M this year and certainly wouldn’t get that on the open market, so he’d likely accept arbitration from the team if it was offered (which should have been the primary reason we traded for him, to get his compensation pick).  Gorzelanny seems destined for a non-tender; he didn’t get used for 13 straight days and clearly isn’t getting back into the bullpen.  He probably looks for a rotation spot elsewhere in the league.  Livan looks to be closer to retirement than another contract offer, as he’s regressed badly this season.  Finally Pudge; If I were Ivan Rodriguez i’d go looking for one last shot with a winner.  He’s likely to get a 2-year deal as a backup but his days of starting are probably over.  Boswell agrees with me on most of these opinions.

Q: Are any of the prospects they drafted in 2011 considered top 10 in their farm system?

A: Absolutely!  In fact the 2011 draft may go down as the day this franchise turned.  Rendon shoots up to probably be the #2 in our system behind Harper.  Meyer and Goodwin are top 10 right out of the gate.  And Purke, if he turns out to be healthy, is a 1-1 talent (i.e., #1 draft pick in the 1st Round) who may be right up there with Harper and Rendon.  Someone asked what the Nats top 10 looks like in Jim Callis’ latest Baseball America chat and he said, “Off the top of my head, I’d start their Top 10 like this: Harper, Rendon, Peacock, Cole, Meyer, Goodwin, Purke (move him up if he proves to be healthy). Looks like a possible top-five system, definite top-10.”  Boswell says the top 4 guys are all top-12 prospects right now.

Q: Should Clippard replace Storen as the closer?

A: No.  For two reasons: Clippard is a better arm and therefore gets used in more high leverage situations.  The fact that the Nats can do this with their best reliever is fantastic.  Second; the 8-9 guys are used to their roles, are pretty successful in those roles, so why mess with it?  Boswell says they’re both excellent.

Q: Do you see the Nats as NL East contenders in three years?

A: Absolutely.  I see it even before then; we’re slightly below a .500 team this year w/o our Ace starter and with huge chunks of the season missed by our supposed #3 and #4 hitters.  A full season with Strasburg at the helm plus replacing Livan’s poor starts and Zimmermann’s continued improvement should see this team easily move above .500.  Then you spend money in the FA-rich 2012 off season and prepare for a playoff run in 2013.  Boswell’s succinct answer: Yes.

Q: What “letter grade” do you give Harper on the year?

A: A+.  He was the 2nd youngest player in low-A and owned it as if he was playing against the JV team.  He then was (easily) the youngest player in AA and held his own.  Its a common mistake to remember that if he was playing by the rules, he’d have been a high school senior in April instead of playing ball in Hagerstown, and that he wouldn’t have even signed til 8/15 instead of having hundreds of at bats.  How can you not say he’s met all expectations and exceeded them?  Boswell takes a rather nit-picky view and says he’s a year further away than what he thought.

Q: Should the Nats management take a page from Leonsis’ playbook and actively discourage Phillies fans from coming to games?

A: Tough call; clearly they enjoy the revenue bump as discussed above, but the Nationals fan experience is beyond awful.  Maybe wait until you’re a good enough team to draw on your own and then start discriminating against the 215 area code.

Q: Is Adam Dunn finished?

A: No, but he really needs to re-think his approach to the game.  Why he has fallen off a cliff is probably a combination of factors; new league and new pitchers, pressure of the contract, pressure of being the “savior” of a big-market team, new ballpark, new city and moving your family, but most of all a new position (DH) that may leave him “bored” and “unfocused” during games.  But he’s always relied on his talent and physical abilities in the off season to bring him around and at his age perhaps its time for him to work harder in the off-season.  Boswell didn’t really answer this question, just noted that Dunn’s plight is unprecedented.

Q: What would you say if you were the Nats owners/management to Bud Selig’s “singling out” the team for going over-slot to sign its draftees?

A: I would have told Bud Selig to f*ck off.  Boswell was more diplomatic.

Q: How hard is Jordan Zimmermann’s innings limit?

A: I’d say its pretty solid.  Why possibly jeopardize him in 2011, even if you don’t believe in innings limits or think that its bunk science.  Besides, we really need to give starts to Strasburg and possibly to one from Meyers, Milone or Peacock.  Shut him down, tell him to take an early vacation and see you in February.  Boswell points out a great point: at 162 innings Zimmermann qualifies for year-end award lists and top 10s, which he’s currently on.  He’ll get it and then be pulled.

Nats at #6 take … Alex Meyer? Or Trever Bauer?

4 comments

Is Alex Meyers set to be our next 1st round draft pick? Photo: lex18.com

The consensus view on the draft and the Nationals Mike Rizzo‘s draft proclivities seems to fall along two lines of thought:

  • The 2011 draft is heavy on good college arms.  And…
  • Rizzo likes college arms.

So, the odds are he’s taking a college arm at #6.  Lets look at the top college arms available.  These are in rough order of their probable draft position.  All these pitchers are either college juniors or draft-eligible sophomores.

1. Gerrit Cole, Ucla.  Some concerns about his performance this year are knocking him from a consensus 1-1 position to possibly sliding to 5th (if you believe Keith Law‘s mock draft; see below).  If he got to the Nats, it’d be a steal.  But it comes with some concerns.  As in, how does a guy hitting 100mph only have a 9 k/9 rate?  Strasburg had comparable stuff and was striking guys out at nearly twice that rate.

2. Danny Hultzen, Uva.  Most have him going #3 overall to Arizona, some think Pittsburgh is getting scared off both Cole and Anthony Renden and will take him as a value pick, fast to the majors.  Despite his being a local guy, I’m not sure I want him if I’m the Nats.  Lefty, solid pitcher, fast to the majors sure.  But there’s some stories about his training methods and inflexibility to take coaching that are red flags in my opinion (see Trevor Bauer).  There’s also stories about a meddlesome father out and about, though I’d have a hard time that would translate to the pro game.

3. Trevor Bauer, Ucla.  Ucla’s “other” starter is actually going before Cole on some draft boards.  This, I don’t get.  He’s good, and he has a strong arm, but his ridiculous preparation methods and mid-inning throwing is so unorthodox that it may spell doom to whatever organization has to deal with him.  If he’s already telling people “don’t draft me if you want to change my preparation” then how will he ever take constructive criticism or coaching?  To say nothing of the 150-160pitch outings he’s frequently had this season.  He does have a ridiculous 189 Ks in 127 innings this year.  Here’s one scouting report on Bauer for your perusal.

4. Alex Meyer, Kentucky.  Fangraphs.com scouted and did an extensive report on Meyer, his stuff, and his outlook just this week, reviewing his Florida start.  Rizzo likes big body, power arms out of college and Meyer absolutely fits that bill.  Here’s a profile at mlbdraftinsider.com.  Here’s another at mlb.com by Jonathan Mayo.  The major thing that scares me about Meyer is his sudden reversal of fortunes over his first two college seasons.  How does a guy have a 7+ era as a sophomore then suddenly start throwing lights out (2.94 era, 110ks in 101 innings) as a junior?  Who is the real Meyer?

5. Sonny Gray, Vanderbilt. Good stuff, good results, bad body.  Just as with pro quarterbacks, no GM likes to take a sub-6-foot right hander.  Most think he’s headed for the bullpen … if so how could you possibly draft him this high?  A top5 overall pitcher better have future Ace starter potential.

Anyone below this point isn’t going to get past the Nats, since Anthony Rendon probably goes 1st or 2nd and one of the big-time high school prospects (among them possibly Bundy, Starling or Archie Bradley) may go top 5 as well.  Of the arms below; if any of them fall to #23 we may snap them up despite really needing bats in the farm system.

  • Jed Bradley, Georgia Tech.  Good lefty, good league.  Some think he’s top3, others think he’s lasting til the teens.
  • Matt Barnes, UConn.  I’m sure he’s a great pitcher but playing in the Big East isn’t exactly like playing in the SEC.
  • Taylor Jungmann, UTexas.  Stock is falling.
  • John Stilson, Tamu.  lots of K/9 in a good league.  Unfortunately he just destroyed his shoulder and probably won’t even be drafted.  He’ll be lucky to recover from a SLAP tear.
  • Matthew Purke, TCU.  Has had injury concerns all year but has a top-5 talent arm.  I’d wonder if the Nats would roll the dice at #23 or possibly in the supplemental round on him.  Keith Law posted today (insider only) that his price tag won’t be worth what he has shown this year, and I’m guessing he returns to school for his junior year.  More likely he’ll play in the Cape, try to re-gain his mojo and earn his (likely) $6M demand.

Lots of draft pundits are putting the Nats onto Kentucky right-hander Alex Meyer at the #6 spot.  According to some reports, the Nationals were initially targeting him at #23, but a strong 2011 season has him shooting up the draft boards.  If not Meyer, a lot of other mock drafts have us on Trevor Bauer, which scares me for reasons mentioned above.

Here’s some good mock drafts to refer to:

Final thoughts

I think Meyer may end up being an overdraft, but its hard not to fall in love with a big body and a big arm.  You can’t teach MPH.  Bauer (as Passan says) may be Lincecum 2.0 and certainly has amazing k/9 rates this year, but i’d be afraid of his unconventionalism.  Videos of his mechanics aren’t that crazy, and he definitely has a great arm.  We’ll see if the Nats go this way or surprise everyone.