Nationals Arm Race

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Ask Collier 1/11/18

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how successful will Martinez be here? Photo via wtop.com

how successful will Martinez be here? Photo via wtop.com

Another week, another slow news week.  So lets see what questions MLB Nats beat reporter Jamal Collier took.

Q: How will the Nats respond to the new coaching staff? They won so many games with the previous one, why wouldn’t management try and retain more of those coaches (besides Bob Henley)?

A: Well, lets take the 2nd question first.  Because its a good one: why the heck didn’t the ownership group give Dusty Baker and his staff another shot?  We have talked this to death of course, but to review: My opinion is that the ownership made an over-reaction/rookie mistake and and under-valued what Baker brought to the table.  I don’t put the 2017 play off loss on Baker.  Baker completely turned around the clubhouse after the Matt Williams debacle, and it made more sense from a roster transition stand point to make a staff change after 2018, not after 2017.  But whatever.

I can’t see how a veteran team of professionals would respond badly to Dave Martinez in particular though; he was a player, he had accomplishments on the field that will speak to the vets, and he comes from a well respected staff in Chicago.  But, sometimes you never know.  Maybe Martinez comes in and is totally rah-rah and turns off the vets like Murphy and Zimmerman, which sends the clubhouse into a death spiral.  Maybe he makes some bone-headed mistakes early with the pitching staff and turns off the two aces Scherzer and Strasburg.  I don’t know if anyone can predict what will happen here.  It isn’t like there was a huge obvious problem with the previous manager that they immediately get respite from; the prior staff by all accounts was respected and successful.

Collier mirrors what I said; we just don’t know what will happen.

Q: What are the most realistic options to improve at catcher or do you see us sticking with Matt Wieters all season?

A: I’m going to ask a different question, because it relates here.  Is the team willing to blow past the luxury tax threshold or not in 2018?  Because if they’re not … then people need to stop asking about upgrading at catcher.

That being said … my take on his ownership group is that they still cling to the notion that you run a team like a business to a certain extent.  And as a business owner, if you were in the hole for $10M in salary would you continue to throw good money after bad or would you just stand pat with what you have?  Furthermore … Wieters is a Boras client and i’m sure Boras has already bent their ear about layering his client and effectively destroying his FA value.   Plus, in case you’re clamoring for a trade for J.T. Realmuto, the Nats have already emptied the farm system, so any further prospect trades will be cutting deep.  Would you give up Soto or Robles for a mediocre catcher?  I wouldn’t.  I’d just suck it up, play out 2018 with Wieters hitting 8th and learn from my mistake (and this is no hindsight is 20/20 statement; everyone knew Wieters was a bad signing when it happened).

So, for me, i’m guessing they stand pat.

Collier notes that Wieters is in better shape , but also notes the team is pursuing a better backup catcher option than the untested Pedro Severino.

Q: For years we’ve seen Joe Maddon hit players such as Addison Russell ninth in the order behind a pitcher. With how dense the middle of our lineup is, could you see Martinez taking this approach with Michael A. Taylor or Trea Turner?

A: Well, the numbers are definitely there: batting the pitcher 8th definitely makes a difference over the course of a whole season.  But it isn’t much of a difference.  And you need a contact guy at the 9-hole to take advantage.  Is Michael A. Taylor that guy?  I don’t think so; I think Taylor is hitting 7th and Wieters hitting 8th all year, forcing the pitcher to the 9-spot with Eaton/Turner 1-2 in some combination.  This lineup kind of writes itself.

Collier disagrees, thinking Taylor could be that “second leadoff” guy in the 9-hole behind a pitcher.  Uh … have you seen how much he strikes out?  He lowered his rate year over year and was still striking out 31.7% of the time in 2017.  

Q: Do the Nats have genuine interest in bringing Howie Kendrick back?

A: I’m sure they do; Kendrick filled a bunch of nice holes and hit so well that many were clamoring for him to play over Werth last post-season.   But there’s no starting position for him, this team when healthy is stacked and he’d be riding the pine.  So i’m sure he’s holding out for a starting role, trying to parlay his excellent 2017 into a full time gig.  Maybe he fails and the Nats get him on a one-year pillow contract … but I doubt it, since he’s got more than just corner defensive capabilities.

Collier basically says the same thing I did, but with better quotes from Mike Rizzo.

Q: At this point, what other offseason moves do you think would be necessary? More bench players? Adding another to the rotation? Bullpen help?

A: Rotation.  Its all about the 5th starter at this point honestly.  We can live with this bench: Severino, Matt Adams, Wilmer Difo, Brian Goodwin and a RH corner bat to be signed or discovered in spring training.  I also think any additions to the bullpen mean difficult decisions given the options status of players this coming spring; the bullpen has basically has 4 guys signed to guaranteed contracts plus 3 guys who have no options left.  Not much room for wiggling there.

So that really means two more moves at most.  Do you want your 5th starter to be A.J. Cole?  If not, we need an arm.  Do you want your last bat off the bench to be Andrew Stevenson?  If not, we need a Chris Heisey like character.

Collier agrees.

Ask Collier; Pre-New Year’s Eve Mailbag

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Is this what we're waking up to on 4/1/2019?  Photo via barstoolsports

Is this what we’re waking up to on 4/1/2019? Photo via barstoolsports

 

In this slow baseball off-season news cycle, anything is good.  We’ve signed a handful of MLFAs, some of which may even contribute, and we’ve fortified a couple of known roster spots.  But nothing major has happened really (at least not to us).

Lets check in with mlb.com Nats beat reporter Jamal Collier, who posted a mailbag today on 12/28/17.


 

Q: What’s the impact of the Stanton to Yankees on Bryce’s next deal and potential for remaining with Nats?

A: I think its significant, and combined with a couple of other factors may actually help convince Bryce Harper to stay put.

First, the players union focused all its efforts on the Qualifying Offer  in the most recent CBA negotiations and gave up a huge concession in form of the luxury tax implementation.  Now, it isn’t a “salary cap” but it sure is acting like it.  When your biggest spenders (Yankees and Dodgers) are playing payroll games in order to get under neath the threshold … its serving as a defacto cap.  And it should be noted the Union did not get a corresponding “floor” … meaning that team after team will be punting on seasons ala Houston and Chicago and not spending money, thus bringing the FA spending down.  This situation will only continue into next off-season, which is setup to be the greatest Free Agency bonanza ever.  But are all these 2018 FAs fooling themselves into thinking they’re going to get the money they’re seeking?  You can already see the impacts; there’s been almost no movement in the 2017 FA market and I suspect that mid-level guys are going to get completely screwed.

Meanwhile, the Yankees have now committed $30M/year to an outfielder who basically plays the same position as Harper in Giancarlo Stanton.  And even the Yankees still need to find money to pay for pitching.  Can you field a competitive team with a thinned farm system and two players accounting for nearly half your payroll?  I don’t think you can.  Where would you even put Harper?  He’d have to commit to playing CF with Stanton and Aaron Judge in the corners … that’s a lot of power in the outfield yes .. but also not a ton of defense.

Lastly, there’s already rumors (a comment from a connected blogger recently) who is hearing that Harper may very well stay put.  And why not?  Thanks to a middling division filled with teams going in the wrong direction and a relatively young team with key players locked up … Washington isn’t the worst place to hang your hat for a while.  We offer him a deal with an opt out perhaps in 3-4 years, when he won’t even be 30 yet, and he’ll have another bite at the apple.

So, maybe Harper is going to be wearing the curly-W a while longer.

Collier thinks the Yankees are less obvious of a suitor … but that anything could happen.


 

Q: Should we read much into the lack of a Rizzo extension, or is it something that the Lerners would be more likely to do this summer (assuming everything is going well in-season)?

A: I wouldn’t read anything into the lack of movement; I continue to think the Lerner group treats its baseball employees no differently than its regular construction business employees, and have no issue letting employees go to the end of their deals before renewing.

Collier says the same.


 

Q: With news breaking of Realmuto wanting out of Miami, could you see the Nationals making a push for the young catcher?

A: Nope.  Nats are already overspending at the position and are going to be hoping for a Ryan Zimmerman-esque bounce back year from Matt Wieters.  And with them being so close to the luxury tax already (if not over it), I can’t see them spending even more money at a position where they’re already spending significant dollars.  I just don’t see this team throwing good money after bad at the catcher position.

Collier basically the same.


 

Q: I have to say that one of my biggest concerns with the new coaching staff is the absence of Davey Lopes. This is a team that should be using speed as a primary weapon, and Lopes’ coaching was essential to the younger speedsters on this team. Can you reassure me that both the coaching staff and Martinez will still buy into this approach and that they have the tools to make good on the potential headaches for opposing pitchers and defenders?

A; I dunno how anyone can make that claim honestly.  The only thing we have to go on is Joe Maddon‘s approach; will Dave Martinez use the same?  It will be a wait and see thing.

Collier thinks they’ll stay aggressive.


 

Man, that was kind of a lame mailbag.  No hot takes, nothing controversial.  We need some stuff to argue about.

Thankfully …. Hall of Fame voting is next week.  Can’t wait.

Ask Collier & Happy Thanksgiving

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Why do so many people think TRADING Harper is the way to win the 2018 World Series? Photo via fanragsports.com

Why do so many people think TRADING Harper is the way to win the 2018 World Series? Photo via fanragsports.com

A nice little surprise just before the Turkey day weekend: an ask Jamal Collier post on mlb.com.


Q: Would you consider trading Harper? I am one of his biggest fans, and I know the desire to win next year, but would the return be worth it in the long run?

A: Forensicane; don’t bother reading this next answer, because you’re not going to like it.

Teams attempting to WIN THE WORLD SERIES in the coming year do not trade their marquee players.  Not only that, but teams attempting to win don’t trade one of the best players in the league.  \

Not only that, but lets say for the sake of argument that the Nats WERE willing to trade Harper.  He’s got one  year of control left.  He’s set to make north of $20M in 2018.  He’s an injury risk.  And he’s absolutely going to Free Agency.  How much does anyone really think he’ll realistically fetch in trade right now?  If he were cost controlled or had multiple years of control left (like an Adam Eaton or a Jonathan Lucroy when he fetched a lot a couple years back) he’d get a kings ransom.  But he’s not; he’ll cost a significant portion of a team’s payroll in 2018 and gets just one year of service.

And then there’s this: why does anyone think this ownership group will trade him??  For many years, we’ve asked why the Angels hold on to Mike Trout and “waste” his talents on a sub-.500 team.  The answer is always the same: the owner in Los Angeles doesn’t want to move his marquee asset.  Why does anyone think that the Lerner group isn’t thinking the same thing?  Baseball is still relatively “new” in this town, still fighting it out for the casual sports fan.  What kind of message does it send to the casual fan base if you move your most marketable asset?  Who else on the Nats is getting goofy TV spots with national telecom companies?

So, no, the team isn’t trading Harper, nor should they.  Instead they should be doing *everything* they can to win in 2018 before he (and many others) walk out the door.  And (lets not forget), while I think its a certainty that Harper is in NY or LA in 2019 … we also were pretty sure Stephen Strasburg was heading out the door too, so you just never know.

Collier also expresses similar exasperation at the number of these questions he’s getting, then re-iterates many of the arguments above.


Q: You don’t list Adam Lind as a possible signee. Why not? Is it that Brian Goodwin can fill that role … but who is the backup first baseman?

A: I think Lind could resign … similarly to the way that Stephen Drew thought he could parlay his successful 2016 into a starting gig for 2017, Lind probably thinks the same.  Finding veteran bat-only beefy 1B/PH types on the open market is not tough; the Nats have specialized in this for years.  So they’ll do what they always have done; wait out the market, sign someone on the cheap later in the off-season if they get desperate, or otherwise have a cattle call in spring training for the backup bench bat.

Its worth noting that, much like one-year relievers, sometimes you catch lightning in a bottle with your pinch hitters and its worth cutting bat early, not later.  Consider some of the year over  year stat lines for our primary bench bats recently:

  • Adam Lind: great in 2017 (.303/.362/.513): can he repeat that in 2018?
  • Clint Robinson: awesome in 2015 (.272/.358/.424), then awful in 2016 (.235/.305/.332)
  • Chris Heisey: adequate in 2016 (.216/.290/.446), then fell off a cliff in 2017 (.162/.215/.270)
  • Tyler Moore: fantastic in 2012 (.263/.327/.513), then a combined .216/.264/.362 over PT roles the next three seasons before finally getting cut loose.
  • Chad Tracy: good in 2012 (.269/.343/.441), then not so good in 2013 (.202/.243/.326)

And some of these guys never even had a “good” season (ahem, Matt Stairs).

So, perhaps the smart thing to do is to let Lind go (as well as Albers for similar reasons) and try some one new.

Goodwin as a backup 1B??   No, that doesn’t make a ton of sense (he’s only 6’0″ and is an outfielder by trade), but he could feature as a backup outfielder easily enough.  Honestly, the “backup 1B” if Ryan Zimmerman goes down for any length of time probably is Daniel Murphy, with his position getting covered by Wilmer Difo.

Collier notes that it was the Nats who declined their part of the $5M mutual option, which somewhat surprised me honestly.  I would have thought it would have been the player to decline that and shoot for something more.  Nonetheless, it makes the odds of a reunion a bit lower. 


Q: Can you do a bit of an explainer about the new luxury tax rules, where Nats are with respect to threshold right now, and how that’ll inform Rizzo’s offseason (speculating anyway)?

A: Without going into it in great detail (I have a post about Nats payroll coming soon), right now as we stand I have the Nats 2018 payroll at about $170M in “real dollars” (counting arb estimates and deferred payments), but about $10M  higher in the eyes of MLB’s luxury tax calculators thanks to the Strasburg and Scherzer deals.  The team broached $190m with last season’s mid-season transactions and thus became a luxury tax spender for the first time (which will cost them significantly if they were to go after a QO-attached free agent, not that I think they will).

The luxury tax threshold for 2018 is $197M (see this wikipedia page for the link and figures).  So, I suppose the team has about $17M or so of “wiggle room” for transactions this off-season plus next mid-season.  That isn’t a lot, and all the high-priced players on our payroll are either key pieces or immovable (thanks Matt Wieters).   So unless they swing a huge salary, or trade some young assets in payroll-offsetting moves, I think the team will do very little this off-season.

Collier notes similar sentiments.


 

Q: Last year, the four top outfielders were out due to injuries for extensive periods of time. Shouldn’t they have six top-notch outfielders to draw from next year?

A: Easy to say in theory, harder in practice.   You generally only care 4 or perhaps 5 outfielders on a 25-man roster … so how do you make an argument to your 5th and 6th “top-notch” outfielders that they have to hang out in Syracuse for half the season until they’re needed?  Not to mention options statuses, 5-year veteran limitations and other things that get in the way of stuff like this.  This isn’t the 1950s when you could just stash players all over without regard to service time issues.

No, the better way to go is to have your named starters, then depend on your prospect depth to cover things.  And honestly, that’s kinda where the Nats are.  Going into 2018 without any moves, you’re looking at:

  • Starting OF of Eaton, Taylor and Harper.
  • 4th and 5th outfielders Goodwin and Stevenson, both prospects that we developed and being paid the MLB min.
  • 6th outfielder in the name of Victor Robles, who is just one of the best prospects in the game.
  • 7th and further depth still with the likes of Bautista or perhaps the Cuban Yadiel Hernandez who is 30 and could be closer than we think.  We have Jose Marmolejos on the roster still; couldn’t he fill in at LF even if he’s primarily a 1B?  And then there’s further-away prospects like Daniel Johnson, who hit pretty well between Low-A and High-A, seems like he’ll start in AA in 2018 and might push his way up.

That’s not too bad.  Btw, how good defensively is our OF projected to be in 2018?  Eaton at a corner in 2016 was one of the best in the majors, Harper has consistently been a positive-metric fielding RF with one of the best arms in the game, and Taylor just showed how statistically he rivaled the best defensive center fielders in the game.  You can’t discount this fact, and it will show itself next year as more fly balls are turned into outs.

Collier likes where our OF depth is.


Q: Why should we believe in Dave Martinez? What makes him different ?

A: I have not weighed in on the manager selection yet.  I thought firing Dusty Baker was a mistake, and that the team did not need to break in a new manager in the critical transition year of 2018.

Nonetheless, Martinez does click some boxes for me; he was a successful player with a long career and can command respect from even the veterans on this team.  He may not have direct managerial experience, but 10 years as Joe Maddon‘s bench coach is nothing to shake a stick at.  He had interviewed for vacancies for years, and deserved a shot.  Details of his contract show that he’s severely under-paid and this probably factored into the team’s decision to hire him (for whatever reason, this team remains “cheap” at the manager’s position), but I think he can do the job.

What makes him different?  Well, he’s clearly learned the “ropes” of managing underneath the game’s best, and in that position he would have had many opportunities to evaluate Maddon’s decisions, privately decide what he would have done, and then seen how things play out.  So he should be able to take the best of what the Cubs are doing and augment those experiences with those opinions he had that were not necessarily taken but which he believed were right.   I’m hopeful that his regime will go well.

Collier notes the points above, but also very fairly says that in reality we have no idea how he’ll manage here since he’s never done so before.  

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

BBWAA award post-mortem; are the writers finally getting things right?

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Well, he'll always have Kate. And his Ferraris. Photo unk via rumorsandrants.com

Well, he’ll always have Kate. And his Ferraris. Photo unk via rumorsandrants.com

Every year I publish an “End of Season Awards Prediction” piece, and then every year I write a post-mortem patting myself on the back for how good I was at predicting the awards.

(I should put this in as a reminder; my “prediction” pieces are just that; my attempt to Predict how the BBWAA electorate will vote.  It is NOT my personal opinion on who should have won. )

In 2015 I went (7 for 8).   In 2014 (6 for 8), 2013 (8 for 8), 2012 (7 for 8), 2011 (8 for 8), and 2010 (8 for 8).

However this year, I missed on fully half the awards.  Here’s the ones I got right:

And here’s the ones I got wrong:

For the ones I got wrong, here was my thinking for predicting the wrong winner:

  • For AL MVP, I figured that once again Trout would be penalized and get a 2nd place MVP vote thanks to his team being awful.  Instead, he got 19 of the 30 1st place votes to rightfully earn his 2nd MVP.
  • For the AL Cy Young, I never thought Verlander would get close thanks to his slow start, and I figured Kluber would repeat as a result.  Instead Porcello won when two writers inexplicably left Verlander completely off their ballots.
  • For the AL Rookie, I absolutely figured that the NY media would over-blow Sanchez’ amazing start and give him the award over the more deserving Fulmer.    I was way off; Fulmer got 26 of the 30 1st place votes to win in a landslide.
  • And for the NL Manager, I figured people would do what they always do; look at the team that improved the most and give the award to their manager by default.  For 2016 that was easily the Nats.

So what happened?   My conclusion; I think the Electorate is finally starting to get these awards “right,” or at least more “right” than in recent memory.  All of my “narrative-driven” predictions were wrong thanks to voters being smarter and picking the right winner (well, except for Verlander of course).

This is great news!   Bravo to the BBWAA writers for improving.   Now about that Hall of Fame ballot….

 

 

My 2016 End-of-Season Awards Predictions

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Scherzer may have the best shot of our 4 "finalists" for awards this week. Photo via washtimes.com

Scherzer may have the best shot of our 4 “finalists” for awards this week. Photo via washtimes.com

Quick break from Nats off-season stuff to talk about the “silly season” of baseball.  Its awards week, with all the major BBWAA awards to be given out this week.

Here’s my predictions for how the awards will go.  This is not necessarily how I believe the awards should go … once again, I think narrative wins out over Mike Trout‘s 10+ WAR season, and we may see an east coast bias in the AL rookie award.  But lets see how it goes.

Here’s the list of finalists, published last week.

The writers have to submit their ballots at the end of the season; I finished this post in early October but waited until the awards season to arrive to publish it.  Thus, it contains no inclusion of any post-season accolades or accomplishments since the votes were already in before the playoffs started.

How do I think the voting will go?

  • AL MVP: Betts, Trout, Donaldson, Machado, Altuve (maybe some 5th place votes for Ortiz).
  • NL MVP: Bryant, Seager, Murphy, Rizzo, Freeman/Arenado
  • AL Cy Young: Kluber, Verlander, Porcello, Sale, Britton
  • NL Cy Young: Scherzer, Fernandez, Hendricks, Lester, Snydergaard
  • AL Rookie: Sanchez, Fulmer, Mazara
  • NL Rookie: Seager, Turner, Maeda
  • AL Manager: Franconia, Bannister, Girardi
  • NL Manager: Baker, Maddon, Roberts

Actual Award Results added as they were awarded:

My prediction results: 4 for 8.  Got Seager, Franconia, Scherzer, Bryant.  Missed on Fulmer, Roberts, Porcello, Trout.  Historically i’ve been pretty good at these predictions; this was a very bad year for me.  Which is good, because it means that the electorate is improving and that generally my over-thinking of voters picking bad results should lessen.

Links to other awards that I didn’t necessarily predict:


 

Note: I made some prediction mistakes based on the publication of the 3 finalist links; I’ll note those in the discussion links below.

Discussion:

  • AL MVP : I know some view “MVP” as “Best Player,” but it isn’t.  And I’m in agreeance with the narrative that with like candidates, the playoff chase matters.  Who cares that the Angels went 74-88 with 10-win Trout; Betts had nearly as valuable a season while doing a bit of everything for Boston.  Betts wins, Trout gets another 2nd place finish.  With the publication of the finalists, we now know that I was wrong on Donaldson for 3rd and that it will go to Altuve; i get that, since Altuve was “in the lead” for a lot of the season.
  • NL MVP: Bryant and it isn’t close.  I think Seager gets 2nd over Murphy b/c he’s a short stop.
  • AL Cy Young: I like Kluber slightly over Verlander but I could see arguments on both sides.  What I really hope does NOT happen is over-emphasis on Britton’s season.  Yes he’s had a nice season; no he isn’t the best pitcher in the AL.  I am slightly proud of myself for at least getting the top 3 right.
  • NL Cy Young: Kershaw’s injury has opened the door for a slew of guys: Scherzer probably has the combination of wins, IPs, Ks to be the “leader” even if he’s eclipsed in WAR by Fernandez, Snydergaard.  Lester, Cueto and Hendricks also each have cases.  This could be a completely wide-open race.  I wrote most of this before the tragic death of Fernandez; will he now win out of sentimentality?  No he won’t; with the publication of the 3 finalists we know Fernandez wasn’t in the top 3.
  • AL Rookie: Michael Fulmer was a shoe-in until Gary Sanchez hit 20 homers in his first 45 games; this race is closer than you might think.  Fulmer really should get it, but the NY media narrative game is strong.  I think Sanchez ekes it out; it was a pretty historic debut.  I did get the third finalist wrong, Cleveland’s Naquin sneaks in.
  • NL Rookie: Seager is in the MVP discussion and should win unanimously.  Trea Turner’s probably top 3, as is Seager’s japanese teammate Maeda.  I am guessing Maeda pips Turner for 2nd place based on playing a full season.
  • AL Manager: No idea how this goes: maybe Franconia in Cleveland still?  Perhaps Girardi for having the Yankees in the WC mix after their sell-off?  Maybe John Ferrell for getting Boston’s act back together?  Maybe Bannister in Texas for running away with a division that most thought Houston would win?  I thought Girardi would sneak in over Francona; if we knew about Francona’s post-season exploits we may be giving him the award unanimously.
  • NL Manager: Baker in Washington still for me.  Yes Maddon will get some love, but Baker’s going to improve the Nats by 13 wins; the Cubs were widely expected to get to 100 wins.  Maybe Roberts in LA gets some love too.  Honestly this is the award i’m least confident in guessing.

 


 

Running Diary of Awards candidates.

End of April; Here’s MLB’s players of the month link.

  • MVP : Manny Machado and Bryce Harper had fantastic months.  Names also in the mix early in 2016: Dexter Fowler, Nolan Arenado, Josh Donaldson.
  • Cy Young: Jordan Zimmermann and Jake Arrieta, picking up right where he left off.  Also off to great starts: Chris Sale, Stephen Strasburg and Noah Snydergaard.
  • Rookie: Nomar Mazara and Trevor Story.  Also in the mix: Kenta Maeda, Aledmys Diaz, Vincent Velasquez.

Mid May Check-in:

  • MVP : Jose Altuve now in the lead in the AL.  Machado and Mike Trout in the mix.  In the NL Harper has tailed off, opening the door for Clayton Kershaw and Anthony Rizzo to nose their way into the discussion.  Arenado also tailed off a bit in May but still strong.
    Cy Young: Sale has won his first 9 starts and looks unbeatable; Zimmermann has taken a step back in the AL race.  In the NL, Kershaw remains the class of the league and the likes of Arrieta and Strasburg stay close behind.
  • Rookie: Nomar Mazara leading the way in the AL: Twins 1B Byung Ho Park close behind.  In the NL, Diaz is also an MVP candidate right now and remains in the NL ROY lead.  Story’s “storybook” start keeps him close.

Half-way point of the season: Cliff Corcoran’s First half Awards,  Jeff Passan‘s mid-way awards article.  The Ringer’s Mike Baumann‘s mid-season awards post.

  • AL MVP : Jose Altuve has cooled slightly, leaving last year’s 1-2 finishers Trout and Donaldson in the lead again this year.  But if Altuve continues to produce at these levels (with slash lines nearly identical to Trout’s) he’ll win as long as Houston stays in the playoff hunt.  And once again, Trout finds himself leading the league in value-based stats while playing for a dead-last team, and once again he likely finishes 2nd to someone like Donaldson, who has a good but not as good of a season but plays for a winner.  Ortiz’s monster farewell season gets him top 5 votes.
  • NL MVP: Harper has never regained his bat since the walk-a-thon in Chicago, and with a lack of any other candidate it seems ripe for another Kershaw double.  He’s hit the D/L though, having some wonder if the likes of Kris Bryant could get the award since he’s the best player on (one of the) best teams.  Matt Carpenter is quietly having a fantastic season.  If the Giants (as of the halfway point owning a better record), then their leader Buster Posey will get votes.
  • AL Cy Young: Sale has started the season 14-2 and Cleveland’s entire rotation (led by Danny Salazar) sits among various league leader categories.
  • NL Cy Young: Kershaw remains the class of the league and needs to miss significant time to lose out.  Its hard to fathom the season he’s having, with just 9 walks in 121 innings in the first half.  Strasburg is the first NL starter in 100 years to start a season 12-0 and seems like the likely 2nd place finisher.  But there’s a slew of NL starters with sterling numbers right now: Bumgarner and Cueto in particular.  NL East beasts Snydergaard and Fernandez have been awesome as well.
  • AL Rookie: Nomar Mazara has tailed off and Park got demoted to AAA; the leader in the  clubhouse seems like Detroit starter Michael Fulmer right now.  Tyler Naquin is in the running, and Baltimore’s Hyun Soo Kim is there as well.
  • NL Rookie: Diaz and Story are still on the whole having great seasons but Dodger SS Corey Seager is running away with this and could hit 30 homers from the shortstop position this year.  Don’t sleep on Seager’s teammmate Kenta Maeda though; he’s rebounded from a rough patch to be a solid starter.
  • AL Manager: probably Jeff Bannister for the turnaround in Texas.  Perhaps Terry Franconia for the surprise in Cleveland.
  • NL Manager: likely our own Baker for having the Nats on a 96 win pace, which would beat 2015 by 13 games.  But likely it goes to Bochy or Madden for leading good teams to good records.
  • Comeback Player of the year: I have nothing narrative-driven for either league.  Maybe Stephen Wright in the AL and maybe Anthony Rendon in the NL?

Mid August check in:

  • AL MVP : I think it goes Altuve-Trout-Donaldson at this point.  Betts and Machado fill out the top 5.
  • NL MVP: With Kershaw’s injury, I think its Kris Bryant’s to lose.  Daniel Murphy gets some top 5 votes, as does Buster Posey and Nolan Arenado.
  • AL Cy Young: Hamels and Quintana seem like the obvious choices, even if Fulmer is leading the league in bWAR.
  • NL Cy Young: Kershaw’s injury has opened the door for a slew of guys: Bumgarner, Scherzer and Strasburg, deGrom and Arrieta.  Who knows how it shakes out.  If Strasburg finishes the season 21-3 though, it’ll be hard to vote against him.
  • AL Rookie: Michael Fulmer leads the AL in bWAR midway through August; he seems like a shoe-in for ROY.  And he’s crushed it for my fantasy team too; that Cespedes trade isn’t looking so hot now is it?
  • NL Rookie: Seager sits 3rd in the NL in bWAR; he has to be the unanimous vote right now.
  • AL Manager: Franconia in Cleveland.
  • NL Manager: Baker in Washington.

Mid September check-in:

  • AL MVP : Its tight: Trout has now eclipsed 10 WAR on the season.  Altuve has dropped out, but Betts has risen.  Its going to be close, but I think it goes Betts-Trout-Donaldson with Machado and Altuve filling out the top 5.  You have to think Ortiz’s monster farewell season will get some votes too.
  • NL MVP: This is now Bryant’s to lose.  Daniel Murphy gets some top 5 votes, as does Buster Posey and Corey Seager.  Anthony Rizzo also gets some MVP votes, and if the Mets somehow sneak into the playoffs so does Cespedes on narrative.  Freddie Freeman getting some attention with his monster WAR season but he’ll be a 5th-place type vote getter at best.
  • AL Cy Young: this race is wide open.  Kluber leads the league in bWAR but may not be the best pitcher on his staff.  Porcello has reached 20 wins but is vastly eclipsed by Kluber in terms of Ks.  Sale, Quintana in the mix, as is Verlander.  Tanaka has quietly had a solid season too.  Some narrative-driven writers are pushing for Zach Britton.
  • NL Cy Young: Kershaw’s injury has opened the door for a slew of guys: Scherzer probably has the combination of wins, IPs, Ks to be the “leader” even if he’s eclipsed in WAR by Fernandez, Snydergaard.  Lester, Cueto and Hendricks also each have cases.  This could be a completely wide-open race.  I wrote most of this before the tragic death of Fernandez; will he now win out of sentimentality?
  • AL Rookie: Michael Fulmer was a shoe-in until Gary Sanchez hit 20 homers in his first 45 games; this race is closer than you might think.  Fulmer really should get it, but the NY media narrative game is strong.
  • NL Rookie: Seager is in the MVP discussion and should win unanimously.  Trea Turner’s probably top 3, as is Seager’s japanese teammate Maeda.
  • AL Manager: No idea how this goes: maybe Franconia in Cleveland still?  Perhaps Girardi for having the Yankees in the WC mix after their sell-off?  Maybe John Ferrell for getting Boston’s act back together?  Maybe Bannister in Texas for running away with a division that most thought Houston would win?
  • NL Manager: Baker in Washington still for me.  Yes Maddon will get some love, but Baker’s going to improve the Nats by 13 wins; the Cubs were widely expected to get to 100 wins.  Maybe Roberts in LA gets some love too.

 

2015 End-of-Season Awards; results vs predictions

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Harper & Donaldson deservedly win MVPs. photo via si.com

Harper & Donaldson deservedly win MVPs. photo via si.com

There’s few long running posts I have managed to do year after year in this blog; this is one of them.  Every year I predict the awards, then report on how my predictions went after the fact.  And then I brag about how good a job I did in reading the tea leaves and predicting the awards.

This is that post for 2015 :-)

Here’s the same prediction posts with my BBWAA award prediction results for 2014 (6 for 8), 2013 (8 for 8), 2012 (7 for 8), 2011 (8 for 8), and 2010 (8 for 8).

For 2015, here were my original predictions and the actual winners for the major BBWAA Awards plus the “Comeback” awards for 2015:

My Final Predictions with discussion: We went 7 for 8 in predictions for 2015.  I missed on the NL manager of the year.

  • NL MVP: Predicted Bryce HarperActual winner: Harper unanimously.  After all the angst about narrative, the voters did the right thing and selected the only guy who made sense to select.
  • NL Cy Young: Predicted Jake ArrietaActual winner: Arrieta, with 17 1st place votes.  Scherzer 5th.
  • NL Rookie: Predicted Kris BryantActual winner: Bryant.  Unanimous winner, no real challenger in the NL.
  • NL Manager: Predicted Terry CollinsActual winner: Joe Maddon, with 18 1st place votes.  My guess (Collins) came in third.  This was probably a dumb prediction; I should have “read the tea leaves” a bit more in terms of narrative, which drives these awards so much, and correlated the fact that it was the Cubs (a high profile team), Maddon (a high profile manager) and the fact that the Cubs did in reality really exceed expectations this year.
  • AL MVP: Predicted Josh DonaldsonActual winner: Donaldson, with 23 1st place votes over Mike Trout, who many argue (yet again) had a better statistical season.
  • AL Cy Young: Predicted Dallas KeuchelActual winner: Keuchel with 22 1st place votes over David Price‘s 8.
  • AL Rookie: Predicted Carlos CorreaActual winner: Correa, in a close race over Francisco Lindor (17-13 in terms of 1st place votes)
  • AL Manager: Predicted Jeff BanisterActual winner: Banister with 17 1st place votes

In my 2015 post I also predicted the “Comeback Player of the year awards,” given a couple of weeks ago.

  • NL Comeback: Predicted Matt Harvey.  Actual winner: Harvey, as announced on 11/5/15.  Really no better option in the NL than Harvey, who had a very solid season after missing the entirety of 2014 with Tommy John surgery.
  • AL Comeback: Predicted Prince Fielder.  Actual winner: Fielder, as announced on 11/5/15.  Really, unless you were going to give Alex Rodriguez the award for his drug-related suspension, there was no better NL candidate.

Other Awards given that I don’t try to predict anymore.

  • Fielding Bible Awards: not an official award but certainly a better way of evaluating defenders than the Gold Gloves (though, to be fair, they’re getting much much better at identifying the true best defenders year in, year out).
  • Gold Gloves; A couple of questionable awards for the Gold Gloves; we’ll post a separate fielding award post reviewing the Gold Gloves, Fielding Bible awardees and look at the various defensive metrics to see if/how they all align.
  • Silver Sluggers: Bryce Harper wins, no real surprises.
  • Hank Aaron awards for “Most Outstanding Offensive Player” in each league: Bryce Harper and Josh Donaldson, who not surprisingly is who I chose for my MVP predictions.  I kinda wish this was a more prevalent award than the constant arguing we have about MVP.
  • Relievers of the Yearformerly known as the “Fireman’s reliever awards” and now named for legendary relievers Mariano Rivera/Trevor Hoffman: won this year by Andrew Miller of the Yankees, Mark Melancon of the Pirates.
  • Sporting News Executive of the Year: Toronto’s Alex Anthopoulis, who announced he was stepping down the same day he got the award.
  • A slew of other Sporting News awards, mimicking the BBWAA awards: googleable but more or less following the above.
  • MLB Player’s Choice Awards: Donaldson beats out Harper for POTY; also awards BBWAA-emulating awards that more or less follow how the actual BBWAA awards went.
  • Links to all the awards I know of plus the full off-season schedule of events is on my 2015-16 Off-Season Baseball Calendar.

That’s it for the silly season!  On to the fun business of player moves for 2016.

My 2015 End-of-Season Awards Predictions

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Hopefully his MVP vote goes better for Harper than this day did. (Photo by Greg Fiume/Getty Images) ORG XMIT: 538595765 ORIG FILE ID: 490330798

Hopefully his MVP vote goes better for Harper than this day did. (Photo by Greg Fiume/Getty Images)

Everyone does an “Awards Prediction piece.”  This post for me is kind of a running diary throughout the season, with the final predictions written at season’s end but then not published until after the WS ends/Awards season starts.

A few awards have already been given out, ones that I don’t necessarily try to predict anymore:

  • Fielding Bible Awards: not an official award but certainly a better way of evaluating defenders than the Gold Gloves (though, to be fair, they’re getting much much better at identifying the true best defenders year in, year out).  No Nats awarded.
  • Gold Glove Finalists: announced with 3 finalists for each award; Bryce Harper and Wilson Ramos named as finalists but neither will win.
  • Hank Aaron awards for “Most Outstanding Offensive Player” in each league: Bryce Harper and Josh Donaldson, who not surprisingly is who I chose for my MVP predictions.  I kinda wish this was a more prevalent award than the constant arguing we have about MVP.
  • Relievers of the Yearformerly known as the “Fireman’s reliever awards” and now named for legendary relievers Mariano Rivera/Trevor Hoffman: won this year by Andrew Miller of the Yankees, Mark Melancon of the Pirates.
  • Sporting News Executive of the Year: Toronto’s Alex Anthopoulis, who announced he was stepping down the same day he got the award.
  • A whole slew of other Sporting News annual awards: google “sporting news baseball awards 2015” and you can see players of the year, pitcher of the year,  post-season all-star teams, manager of the year, etc.

I put all these dates and links plus a whole lot more into my “off-season” calendar, which will publish soon now that the season is officially over.

(random self promotion related to the Sporting News: they recently published one of my quora.com “answers” titled “Are there Any cities that should have an MLB team,” an answer that I wrote referencing back to this blog for previously published/researched information).

My Final Predictions:

  • NL MVP: Bryce Harper
  • NL Cy Young: Jake Arrieta
  • NL Rookie: Kris Bryant
  • NL Manager: Terry Collins
  • NL Comeback: Matt Harvey
  • AL MVP: Josh Donaldson
  • AL Cy Young: Dallas Keuchel
  • AL Rookie: Carlos Correa
  • AL Manager: Jeff Bannister
  • AL Comeback: Prince Fielder

These are not always who I think *deserve* the awards necessarily, just how I think the voters will vote.  There are some really close races.  Here’s my thoughts:

  • NL MVP: Bryce Harper wins for three main reasons: 1) his season is one of the best of the last 50 years.  2) there’s no obvious candidate on any of the division winning teams (no sorry, Yoenis Cespedes doesn’t count) and 3) Even though the Nats didn’t win the division, they were in the race nearly the entire season.  No excuses here.  You might see some non-Harper votes b/c some middle aged fat slob of a homer writer has some misrepresented axe to grind but he should win easily.
  • NL Cy Young: Jake Arrieta: I can’t believe I’ve selected Arrieta over Greinke, but Arrieta’s 2nd half will, again, “win the narrative.”  Kershaw has been unbelievable too (and my fantasy team in the championship is proof), so really you can’t go wrong with these guys in any order.  I think it goes Arrietta, Greinke, Kershaw.  Side note; so, is the Baltimore pitching coaching staff the most incompetent in the league or what?  How does Arrieta go from being a 6ERA starter in Baltimore to a guy who is posting a sub 2.00 ERA in one of the best hitter’s parks in the league?
  • NL Rookie: Kris Bryant: for a while I thought this was Joc Pederson‘s to lose … but Bryant kept hitting and Pederson sat.  Wow are the Astros kicking themselves for drafting Mark Appel over Bryant or what??
  • NL Manager: Terry Collins: There’s no team in the NL in a more surprising position than the Mets, so Collins wins the award that our own Matt Williams so richly “earned” last year.  I wouldn’t be surprised though to see Joe Maddon get this given how great the Cubs were.
  • NL Comeback Player of the year has to be Matt Harvey; there’s nobody else really close in the NL.
  • AL MVP: Josh Donaldson: There’s just no reason Mike Trout shouldn’t win this award … except that voters are a fickle bunch and fall for the story.  Donaldson is a good story, playing on a good story of a team in Toronto.  He wins.
  • AL Cy Young: Dallas Keuchel: He was the best in the first half, the ASG starter, and no there’s no reason not to think he finishes off the season.  In fantasy he was like a 15th round pick and he’s a top-10 producer.  Amazing.
  • AL Rookie: Carlos Correa: If you want to argue that Francisco Lindor deserves this, I wouldn’t disagree.  I’m guessing Correa has the name power with the voters though and wins out.  Lindor has a much better average and is a superior defender, but Correa has 20+ homers, a benchmark number that will get him the votes.
  • AL Manager: Jeff Bannister: Even though Toronto is a surprise team, getting the talent handed to you like that is not the mark of a champion manager.  What is going on in Texas is nothing short of amazing.  At the beginning of the season the had an *entire rotation* on the D/L: Darvish, Harrison, Perez, Scheppers and Holland.  Scheppers may not have stayed there very long, but they looked like a 90-loss team, not a divisional winner over the likes of LA and Houston.
  • AL Comeback player of the  year goes to Prince Fielder for returning strongly from his neck injury.  If Alex Rodriguez had missed a year due to injury instead of litigation, he would likely be the winner.  By the way; how good was Alex Rodriguez doing color work for Fox Sports at the World Series?  He was damn impressive to me, great analysis, well spoken, well-dressed of course … and could not have provided more contrast to Pete Rose if they had found those two guys out of central casting.

So, how did the major awards evolve over the course of the season?  By my sense, the awards kind of went like this from April to September:

  • NL MVP: Stanton to Harper, maybe Goldschmidt, no definitely Harper, narrative Cespedes but has to be Harper.  Nobody else makes sense to take it away from him on narrative.
  • NL Cy Young: Scherzer early, definitely Scherzer, maybe Cole, suddenly Greinke in the lead, Kershaw coming on fast late but Arrieta’s 2nd  halve clinches it.
  • NL Rookie: Bryant and Pederson early, Pederson stretching a lead … but then Pederson gets benched while Bryant continues to play.  Some talk about Duffy, but still Bryant.  Too many homers.
  • AL MVP: Trout to Cabrera, back to Trout, then Donaldson takes over despite Trout’s phenomenal season.
  • AL Cy Young: Hernandez early, Keuchel strong mid season, Grey fading, Sale making a name but still Keuchel despite Price’s excellent season.
  • AL Rookie: Travis/Souza early, Burns making a name, but Correa is the leader most of the season, Lindor making noise late, Correa holds on.

As with last year’s version of this post, instead of printing links to writers early and mid-season predictions, I’ll just throw those links into the monthly reviews for context.   This post is more like a season-long diary of the evolution of these awards; the sections were written in each month as the season progressed.

BaseballMusings maintains a Cy Young tracker stat, which is useful to identify candidates but not really a predictor.


April
:

Here’s some early candidates out to fast starts.

Opinions this month: Symborski‘s ZIPS predictors after one month.

  • MVP candidates: Trout/Cabrera again in the AL.  Adrian Gonzalez, Giancarlo Stanton and Paul Goldschmidt in the NL.
  • Cy Young candidates: Felix Hernandez in the AL, Kershaw and Scherzer in the NL.
  • Rookie of the year candidates: Devon Travis and Steven Souza in the AL, Kris Bryant and Joc Pederson in the NL.

May:

Harper NL Player of the month, after getting 2 straight player of the week awards.  Scherzer wins NL Pitcher of the month.

  • MVP candidates: Trout stretching lead in AL, Jason Kipnis and Nelson Cruz also high in bWAR.  Bryce Harper has stretched a massive WAR lead in the NL, Goldschmidt #2.  Anthony Rizzo entering the discussion.
  • Cy Young candidates: Dallas Keuchel and Sonny Gray in the AL, Max Scherzer really standing alone in the NL; closest WAR pitcher in the NL is Aaron Harang and he isn’t likely to keep the pace.
  • Rookie of the year candidates: Still Travis and Souza in the AL, Kris Bryant and Joc Pederson in the NL are both explosive players and will be hard to catch.

All Star Break

  • MVP candidates: Probably still Trout and Harper.  Goldschmidt is nearly as good but Harper has the narrative.
  • Cy Young candidates: Dallas Keuchel and Zack Greinke were the All Star starters and may be the leading candidates. Scherzer needs to get some run support; he’s barely above .500.
  • Rookie of the year candidates: Former Nat Billy Burns is in the bWAR lead, but Carlos Correa likely gets the nod.  In the NL, Bryant/Pederson have a commanding lead but Matt Duffy starting to put his name out there, and if the Cubs would just let Kyle Schwarber stay in the majors he might hit his way to the title.

Mid August

  • MVP candidates: Trout has competition in the form of Josh Donaldson in the AL.  Nobody’s close to Harper in the NL, still.
  • Cy Young candidates: In the NL, Scherzer’s star has faded while LA’s two aces have each had a significant scoreless innings streak and could finish 1-2.  Also in the NL; deserving candidates Jacob deGrom, Jake Arrietta and Gerrit Cole.  In the AL, it still looks like a dogfight between Gray and Keuchel.  But David Price is coming on strong post-trade and Chris Archer should get some top-5 votes.
  • Rookie of the year candidates: Its the year of the rookie; never before have we seen so many high-impact rookies in the league at once.  The AL seems set for Carlos Correa, with guys like Roberto Osuna, Andrew Heaney and Lance McCullers chasing him.  The NL has a number of candidates.  Bryant and Pederson have gotten the ink, but guys like Matt Duffy, Jung Ho Kang, Noah Snydergaard and Randal Grichuk are also worthy players.  Taylor Jungmann, Kyle Schwarber and even Joe Ross are also rans in the race thanks to later callups.  Bryant may win thanks to name recognition, but in other years any of these guys would have been candidates.
  • Managers of the  Year: we’re 100 games into the season, early enough to see some trends in the “Award-given-to-the-manager for his team unexpectedly overachieving the most in 2015” award.  In the AL, clearly Houston is the surprise team and in the NL the Mets are the surprise team, so we’ll go with A.J. Hinch and Terry Collins.
  • Comeback Players of the Year: Early candidates include Brett Anderson, Jeff Francoeur, Danny Espinosa and perhaps Matt Harvey.  In the AL, I think it has to be Alex Rodriguez or perhaps Prince Fielder.  Perhaps Chris Davis comes into the mix too.

September

  • MVP candidates: In the AL: Donaldson has overtaken Trout thanks to a huge end-of-season push and Trout’s injury.  In the NL, the Nats downturn may have opened up the door for both Anthony Rizzo and Andrew McCutchen.  That is if we listen to “narrative” about how teams need to be playing meaningful games.  Of course that being said, the Nats are playing very meaningful games; they’re trying to chase down a divisional leader so maybe the narrative still works for Harper.  But  not after a home sweep, when NY beat writers start beating the drum for Cespedes .. .which would be ridiculous since he only played a couple of months in the NL.
  • Cy Young candidates: In the AL, it probably comes down to Keuchel and Sale, with Price in the mix too thanks to his sterling season for Toronto post-trade.  In the NL: Arrietta has had the greatest 2nd half in baseball history; can he overtake Greinke?
  • Rookie of the year candidates: In the AL: Francisco Lindor making some noise but its still Correa.  In the NL, Pederson has gotten benched so it looks like Bryant is the leader, despite Duffy’s better season by WAR.
  • Managers of the  Year: at this point the “surprise” teams are the Mets and suddenly the Rangers.  I’ll go with their managers Collins and Bannister.  Some in the NL think Maddon and the Cubs are really the surprise team and they’re kind of right … but I maintain the Mets are even more so.
  • Comeback Players of the Year: I’ll go with Harvey in the NL, Fielder in the AL; nobody’s giving A-Rod an award.

Ladson’s Inbox 8/26/13

4 comments

ClippardTyler_landing_masn.com

Tyler Clippard has been one of the few bright spots for the 2013 Nats; why isn’t he closing? Photo Masn.

Excellent, I was just thinking that I had nothing to write about and MLB Nats beat reporter Bill Ladson posted a mailbox.  Honestly, if I had a steady stream of people emailing me questions I’d have a field day.  I’d post so much content my hands would melt from carpal tunnel syndrome.  I’d post 8,000 word columsn like what Bill Simmons used to do.  Anyway.

Here’s how I’d have responded to the questions Ladson took.  As always, I write my answer here before reading his and edit questions for clarity/conciseness.

Q: Given the way Dan Haren has pitched since being activated from the disabled list, do you see any chance the Nationals re-signing him?

A: Nope.  Zero.  Zilch.  They’re not going to make another $13M mistake in 2014, not with the way that Taylor Jordan has pitched.  The Nats little splurge last off-season pushed their payroll into unknown territory, and I’ll bet they bring it back (especially since that pocketbook hit brought nothing but a .500 record).  Dan Haren is more likely to get flipped to a pitching starved contender in the next week (unless the Nats stupidly hold out for too many prospects, as seems to be the case) and will be plying his trade elsewhere next season.  Ladson says no as well but then completely hedges his answer, saying that “things could change” and “we should have more information in the off-season.”   Well, can’t that be the answer to every question?  

Q: Why isn’t Tyler Clippard closing? 

A: Because the Nats stupidly gave Rafael Soriano a $30M deal, and he’s a “big name closer” that someone in this team’s executive heirarchy was convinced that we needed.  I don’t think it was Mike Rizzo; this moves smelled like a fan-boy ownership panic move in reaction to Drew Storen‘s NLCS Game 5 meltdown.  The problem with Soriano, as has been well established in his prior stints, is that he’s a whiner, a clubhouse cancer, and a problem child when he’s not used in save situations.  His track record speaks for itself: look at his seasonal performances when he’s a closer versus when he’s not.  He wore out his welcome in Tampa Bay with probably the most easy-going manager in the game Joe Maddon.  We’ve already learned this year he doesn’t work out with his fellow relievers, sits off to himself, isn’t a part of the team.  Great acquisition guys!

We played in the Diamond Dream Foundation golf tournament yesterday and had the opportunity to play alongside former Baltimore Oriole pitcher Dave Johnson, who now does radio work for the Orioles on MASN.  This same topic came up; why isn’t Clippard closing but more importantly; what are the Nats going to do with Tyler Clippard in this coming arbitration hearing?   Johnson said that the save statistic is what the players wanted to be judged on for arbitration hearings, and now they’re slaves to it.  Clippard is having a fantastic season, but isn’t the closer, and he belives that management isn’t going to want to pay him $5-$6M to be a “middle reliever.”  I’m guessing the Nats try to sign Clippard to a 2-year deal this off-season, buying out his arbitration years.

They’ll never do this, but another option for the team is this; trade Clippard to a team looking for a closer, get prospects back, and then his pay becomes commensurate with his role.  But this would significantly weaken the bullpen going into next year needlessly.  Its only money; if the Nats didn’t learn this from last year’s transactions (letting Tom Gorzelanny walk over a couple of million dollars?  Non-tendering John Lannan to save $5m?) then that’s unfortunate.  I’d rather have had a couple of guys getting a ton of money as insurance policies than a $30M closer for a .500 team.

Ladson pointed out curious reliever usage in the last series and postulates that Davey Johnson may have had enough of Soriano himself.  We’ll see if Clippard closes the rest of the way and how Soriano handles it.

Q: Do you think Mike Rizzo would consider hiring Mike Scioscia as the Nationals’ next manager? Looks like his time in Anaheim may be ending.

A: Absolutely.  If the Angels are dumb enough to let Mike Scioscia go, then I agree with Buster Olney and Jayson Stark, who talked about this same issue on the Baseball Tonight Podcast late last week.  They said that if Scioscia is fired, “he’ll have a new job in 0.2 seconds.”   The Angels aren’t losing because of Scioscia; they’re losing because the GM wanted to spend $400M on aging FA bats in Albert Pujols and Josh Hamilton while spending about $5 on starting pitching this year.  (I STILL cannot believe the Joe Blanton contract; how does he get a 2yr/$15M contract after the way he pitched in 2012??).  Ladson agrees.

Q: Considering how well Werth has played this year, are we giving up on Span too soon?

A: Possibly.  Or possibly we were just expressing irritation that Denard Span is playing exactly as we feared he would; posting a 91 OPS+ which is nearly identical to his production in 2010 and 2011.   I’m tired of repeating my own opinion on the matter (we didn’t need Span, we could have kept Harper in center, you’re wasting Harper’s defense in left, we could have used Morse’s power, we didn’t need to give up our best starting pitching prospect, defense in LF and 1B is overrated, blah blah blah).   Ladson says that Span has a “friendly contract” and can be dealt.  Sorry; don’t see that.  Rizzo’s way too egotistical to admit a mistake and deal Span now.

Q: Looking to next year, doesn’t Steve Lombardozzi remind you of Chase Utley at second? And what happens with Tyler Moore as either an outfielder or first baseman? Both of these young guys are too good not to get a real chance at starting for the Nats.

A: Steve Lombardozzi as Chase Utley?  Uh; Utley averaged 30 homers in his peak years and has more than 200 for his career.  Lombardozzi has four.  4 homers in his life.  Lombardozzi is a slap hitter, Utley is a middle of the order power hitter.  Other than that, yeah I guess they’re similar.   As for Tyler Moore I guess the questioner either a) hasn’t seen his seasonal numbers or b) has forgotten that the Nats have guys locked up through 2014 at every position that Moore can play.  Unless there’s an injury, the guy is a backup in 2014.  Ladson agrees with me on Lombardozzi.  As for Moore, Ladson seems to think that the Nats might trade LaRoche.  Really??  Who is going to take LaRoche for 2014?  He’s hitting .238 with barely any power for a first baseman.  Who’s taking that contract and giving us anything of value coming back?  Wishful thinking.

Q: Would the Nationals have interest in signing outfielder Jacoby Ellsbury, who is a free agent after this season?

A: I would think not; Jacoby Ellsbury is going to want too much money, we have no place to play him, and I don’t think he’s worth the money.  He had one great season, a couple of decent ones and otherwise is a below-average offensive outfielder.    I think he’s a lock to stay in Boston.  Ladson notes that Ellsbury is a Scott Boras client so you never know what’ll happen.

Chasing Saves: a cautionary tale for GMs

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Mariano Rivera’s success has led to a generation of closer-chasing in MLB. Photo wikipedia

One of the mantras we hear from Fantasy Baseball experts is “Don’t chase Saves.”  Closers are so hit-or-miss in this league, that on draft day trying to chase mediocre closers usually turns into wasted draft picks as these guys frequently get hurt or under-perform and get replaced.  Well, its not that much better in “real” baseball, where teams best laid plans for closers often backfire mightily.

In fact, check out this link on RotoAuthority.com, which charts the Opening day and Closing Day 2012 closers for all 30 teams.  In summary:

  • Only 10 of the 30 MLB teams kept the same closer wire-to-wire.
  • 14 of the 30 teams had a different guy in the closer role by season’s end.  That’s half the league!
  • The other 6 teams had the same guy at season’s start and end, but went through personnel changes in between.  This includes our own Nats, who started with Drew Storen, he got hurt, Tyler Clippard took over and stayed in the role after Storen got back, then Clippard melted in September and Storen took back over the role.

By my observations, as of June 15th 2013 here’s the same stats for this year:

  • 22 of 30 teams have same guy as start of season
  • 8 teams have already made a switch (Boston, Detroit, Arizona, Oakland, Chicago Cubs, Cleveland, St Louis, Los Angeles Dodgers)

So what’s the point here?  Teams need to re-think they way they grow, acquire and pay for “Saves.”  Lets look at how far one particular organization has gone “Chasing Saves” and pursuing a Closer.  I present you the Boston Red Sox, normally considered a very forward-thinking, analytical organization but which seemingly has a very large blind spot for the mytical “shutdown closer” position.  As of the publishing of this article (June 14, 2013):

  • Current Closer: Andrew Bailey, for whom they traded 3 players to the Oakland A’s in 2011 to obtain.  Two minor league prospects and one Josh Reddick, who hit 32 homers last year.
  • Acquired last off-season to be their 2012 closer: Mark Melancon, for whom they traded two good prospects to the Houston Astros in 2011; Jed Lowrie and Kyle Weiland.   Lowrie is now posting a nifty 126 ops+ for the Athletics (to whom he was flipped by Houston for even more prospects).  Melancon had two bad outings at the beginning of 2012, was banished to the minors and eventually flipped for ….
  • Former 2013 closer: Joel Hanrahan, for whom they traded 4 players to the Pittsburgh Pirates last December.  Including Mark Melancon, who is repaying the Pirates for their patience in him by posting a .072 ERA in 25 innings thus far this year.  Hanrahan just had Tommy John surgery and is out for at least a  year.
  • [Post-post update]; By the end of June, Bailey allowed 4 homers in 5 games, hit the D/L and on July 22nd was announced as undergoing season-ending surgery. and is being replaced by … somebody.  By Mid July it seemed clear that it was Kenji Uehara, a free-agent signing last off-season.  So for all their trades, they end up using a minor FA signing as their closer.

So for the record that’s 9 guys traded away (including at least two effective hitters) in the past two off-seasons to chase one (in my opinion) relatively meaningless statistic.  And basically all they have to show for it is Andrew Bailey no longer pitching the 9th for them.

Of course, maybe the joke’s on me, since the Red Sox are in first place at the time of this writing.

But for an organization that used to be known for doing smart things (including the smart move of allowing long-time closer Jonathan Papelbon be overpaid by someone else on the FA market), these moves are just dumb.   Find a hard throwing guy in your system, make him the “closer,” repeat as necessary.  That should be the strategy.


And oh, by the way, I don’t exempt our own team from this.  Rafael Soriano was an unneeded purchase who (as we’ve seen by the unwarranted shot at Bryce Harper) could be more trouble than he’s worth.  But hey, its not my money right?  At least the Nats didn’t trade good prospects to acquire him (like Boston has done over and again).


This argument leads into an oft-repeated discussion in this space about the ridiculousness of the Save statistic and how frequently closers are preserved for “Save Situations” despite their leverage rating.   Lets look at a couple of very specific mathematical arguments against overpaying for closers:

1. Joe Posnanski and others have shown how useless closers are.  Teams are winning games at basically the same percentage now in the closer era that they were 50 years ago, without highly paid specialized closers.  Some quick percentages:  For the latest decade teams won 95.2% of games in which they led going into the 9th.  In the 60s, 70s and 80s that same percentage varied between 95.6-94.8%.   Can someone explain to me how the proliferation of highly paid closers in the last 20 years of the game has basically helped teams …. win the exact same number of games they used to before closers, matchup bullpen roles and Loogys existed??

2. Any old mediocre reliever is going to end up being a relatively effective closer.  Proof?

Lets say an average reliever has a 4.50 era or so (which in today’s game frankly is a stretch, given what we’ve talked about before and the advantages that relievers have over starters; they can go max effort for shorter time periods and they don’t have to face batters more than once).  That means he gives up one run every two innings.  Now lets say that you used this pitcher with his 4.50 era in every closing situation you face in a given year.  A save situation can be a lead held by 1, 2 or 3 runs.

So, out of these three scenarios your 4.50 ERA pitcher can give up his run every other start and still “save” 5 out of 6 games.

  • 1 run lead: gives up 0 runs; save
  • 1 run lead; gives up 1 run: blown-save
  • 2 run lead: gives up 0 runs; save
  • 2 run lead: gives up 1 run: save
  • 3 run lead: gives up 0 runs: save
  • 3 run lead: gives up 1 run: save.

And then even in those blown-save situations, extra inning affairs are basically coin flips anyway historically, which means that teams are going to win half those games anyway.  So you’re basically going to win 5.5 out of every 6 games.   5.5 out of 6 is 91%.  So historically even my normal case scenario undervalues the ability of teams to win these games.

And this scenario really undervalues what kind of reliever you’re actually going to put into the role.  Every team has a handful of relievers in their bullpen with ERAs in the 3-3.50 range; that’s 1-1.5 runs better than my “mediocre pitcher” example over the course of a couple weeks (assuming closers get about 9 innings of work every two weeks).  With even this marginal improvement you’re going from 91% to closer to the historical 94-95% of games won.


Want some more food for thought on closers?   Here’s your current top 5 closers in the league by number of saves, along with their acquisition method, salary and general statement about their careers thus far:

  1. Jason Grilli – 23 Saves.  36yrs old.  $2.25M.  He was flat out released in July 2011 by Philadelphia and signed as a Minor League FA by Pittsburgh.  He’s a 36 year old journeyman on his 7th pro organziation with a 106 career ERA+.
  2. Jim Johnson – 23 saves.  30yrs old.  $6.5M.  He’s a home-grown middle reliever thrust into the closer role last year when the O’s got fed up with FA closer Kevin Gregg.
  3. Mariano Rivera – 23 saves.  43yrs old.  $10m, taking a discount from his $15M/year deals since 2008 b/c of knee issue.  Home-grown player who converted to relief after bombing out as a failed starter at age 25.
  4. Joe Nathan – 20 saves.  38yrs old.  $7M, taking a discount from his last contract value of $11.25M/year after significant arm injury.   Failed starter with San Francisco, traded to Minnesota in the AJ Pierzynski deal and has flourished as a closer.
  5. Addison Reed – 19 saves.  24yrs old, $520k (20k above MLB minimum).  3rd round draft pick by the White Sox out of San Diego State, where he was a career relief pitcher after not having ever pitched until his Junior year of HS.

The next few guys are Kimbrel (655k), Mujica ($3.2M).   But you’ve also got guys out there closing like Wilhemlsen, who didn’t even make the majors until he was 27 and was out of the game working as a bartender for 6 years.

The point?  You shouldn’t pay for a high end closer; you find someone internally who looks like a good option on the cheap and go with them.  You can find someone in your farm system, or on waivers, or working in a bar who can be an effective closer.  Find someone who can throw 1mph for 20 pitches a few nights a week; they’re going to give you as good of a chance to win as throwing the last guy out of the bullpen out there with a 3 run lead in the 9th.


One last bit of observation:  Lets look at Dennis Eckersley‘s career.  As a starter: good, not amazing.  A couple years with a smattering of Cy Young votes.  One 20-game winning season but another season where he 9-13 with a 5.61 ERA.  He converts to a closer and immediately his ERA plummets, his K/9 jumps up, his ERA+ numbers rise to stupid levels.  One year (1990) as a 35-yr old he allowed just 5 earned runs and just 3 unintentional walks on the year through 73+ innings.

So, how is it that a 4th starter during his 20s can suddenly become a lights out Hall-of-Fame closer in his mid-30s while doubling his k/9 rates at a time when he should have been regressing as a player?  The answer is easy; relievers only have to face part of the lineup once a night, don’t need 4 pitches and can basically get by with a gimmick pitch.  And, since they’re only throwing 15-20 pitches a few nights a week instead of 100-110 pitches every 4 days, they don’t need to “save their arm for the whole night” and can go with max effort during their outings with no long term effects.

That’s a lot of loosely tied together points to my main theory: If I were the GM of a team, the absolute last thing I’d pursue on the FA market was a high-priced closer.  I don’t think the “closer” role is going away (players know that Saves translate to Dollars in arbitration and on the FA market), but I’m hoping we’ll see less Dusty Baker-esque management techniques and more Joe Maddon.