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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.

Gonzalez to play in WBC: why this is really Bad News for the Nats

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Gonzalez decides rolls the dice with his 2013 performance. Photo via Wikipedia/Flickr from user muohace_dc

Word came out over the weekend that suddenly embattled Nats pitcher Gio Gonzalez has accepted an invitation to play for Team USA in the World Baseball Classic, replacing Kris Medlen (who is anticipating having a child right around the same time).

Why is this bad news for the team?

Simply put: there’s a really bad track record for Pitchers who throw in the WBC the subsequent season, both league-wide and especially with the Nats.

Speaking just about the Nats first: Here’s a quick table showing the before and after ERA and ERA+ figures for the five Nationals pitchers who played in the first two iterations of the WBC (the “before” year is the season leading up to the WBC, while the “after” year shows performance in the season following the WBC):

WBC Yr Pitcher Name ERA before ERA After ERA+ before ERA+ after
2006 Luis Ayala 2.66 inj 153 inj
2006 Chad Cordero 1.82 3.19 225 134
2006 Gary Majewski 2.93 4.61 139 96
2009 Joel Hanrahan 3.95 4.78 109 89
2009 Saul Rivera 3.96 6.1 109 70

As you can see; every single one of our pitchers was either injured or regressed (mostly significantly) after playing in the WBC.  Ayala’s injury cost him the entire 2006 season.  I talked about this discovered phenomenon back in November, 2012 when trying to predict who may participate in the WBC (and where I actually predicted that Gonzalez would play, though the rest of my team USA predictions were wrong).

But this is just our team’s experiences.  How about Baseball wide?  MLB has endeavored itself to argue that participation in the WBC does not lead to an increase in injuries amongst its players and especially pitchers.  But we’re not talking about injuries here; we’re talking about performance.   Here are two very well done studies that show the negative impact of pitching in the WBC:

  1. This July 2010 study on Fangraphs
  2. This Feb 2013 study from BaseballPress.com

The BaseballPress one shows some of the same numbers I’ve shown above, but conducts the analysis across every pitcher who participated in both WBCs.  And the results are pretty evident; across the board on average pitchers regressed both in the year of the WBC and in the year after.  Plain and simple.

It isn’t hard to figure out why these guys regress; playing in the WBC interupts the decades-old Spring Training plans for getting a starting pitcher ready for a season by slowly bringing him along in terms of innings and pitch counts.  And, suddenly exposing both starters and relievers to high-leverage situations in February/March that they aren’t ready for either physically or mentally puts undue stress on these guys that (as we have seen) manifests itself later on down the road.

In the comments section of another post, someone asked what would stop the Nats from steamrolling to the World Series this year.  I answered “rotation injuries” and “bad luck in the playoffs.”  Well, now thanks to Gonzalez we can add two more items: PED suspensions and WBC regression.

Written by Todd Boss

February 11th, 2013 at 9:45 am

Nats Franchise FA history; biggest, best, worst deals

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Jayson Werth is certainly our most expensive FA, by a considerable sum. Photo Mitchell Layton/Getty Images NA

The second in a series: The first looked at the Biggest/Best/Worst Trades of the Washington Nationals era and was posted in late March.  Yes, it took me 8 months to return to this series, despite writing most of this post in July.  Here in Part 2, we’ll look at the biggest, best and worst Free Agent signings in the tenures of both Jim Bowden and Mike Rizzo. In the last section we’ll look at Draft picks.

Ground rules for this article:

1. When considering a Free Agent we’ll only consider the FIRST signing in this list.  So, for guys who have signed multiple one-year free agent contracts in a row (guys like Rick Ankiel and Chien-Ming Wang), we’ll only consider them as a single signing.  For others who signed here and then left, only to come back (example: Livan Hernandez) we’ll consider them as separate signings.

2. We are considering extensions given to existing players (since they don’t fit elsewhere).  You can consider an extension just a pre-emptive free agent contract.

3. We’re mostly focusing here on Major League free agents; each year we sign many minor league FAs ahead of camp.  If a Minor League FA signing ends up having a decent impact on the major league team, we’ll note him (good recent example being Laynce Nix).

Just for review, here’s the tenure period of both GMs:

  • Nov 2004 – Mar 2009: Jim Bowden
  • Mar 2009 – present: Mike Rizzo

The team has made dozens and dozens of signings: I won’t try to go through them all here.  For those interested, here’s my List of Free Agents from over the years (also available on the links section to the right of this blog).  I put up a similar notes file (List of Trades and Trading Partners) from the first post of this series, also available in the list of resources on the right-hand side of the blog.

Jim Bowden Tenure: Nov 2004 – Mar 2009

Bowden’s Biggest Free Agent Signings

  • 2006: Nick Johnson 3yr $16.5M
  • 2007: Austin Kearns 3yr $16.5M
  • 2008: Cristian Guzman 2yr $16M
  • 2009: Adam Dunn 2yr $20M

I wonder sometimes if Bowden doesn’t sit in his ESPN office as he writes his blogs and ask himself what he could have done here had he had more money to spend.  Look at this list; Bowden’s biggest deal in 5 off-seasons was a 2yr/$20M contract for a slugger who really had nowhere else to go that off-season.  Jayson Werth will make more than that annually starting in 2014.

Bowden’s Best Free Agent Signings

  • 2006: Brian Schneider 4yr extension, $2.9M
  • 2007: Ronnie Belliard 1yr ML deal
  • 2007: Dmitri Young 1yr ML deal
  • 2008: Willie Harris 1yr $800K
  • 2009: Adam Dunn 2yr $20M

Bowden’s 2007 off-season was pretty amazing, looking back.  He assembled a team on the backs of Minor League Free Agents galore, one of which (Dmitri Young) ended up being our lone All-Star.  The team went 73-89 and gave 145 of its 162 starts to guys who aren’t even in the league any more (exceptions: Joel Hanrahan‘s 11 starts with 6.00 ERA and late-season call up John Lannan‘s 6 starts as a 22-yr old).  He was the master of the scrap heap and spun a team that should have lost 100 games into a respectable 73 win team.  Too bad that luck ran out in 2008 as the team bottomed out.  But you have to hand it to Bowden for these three 2007 signings; Hanrahan didn’t really pay off for the Nationals, ever, but did enable us to eventually get Sean Burnett, a valuable member of the team’s bullpen these last few years.

All things considered, I’d have to say that Adam Dunn may have been his best FA signing.  Dunn’s bat was mostly wasted during his two years here, considering the unbelievably bad pitching staffs that Bowden assembled.  But the combination of Zimmerman-Dunn-Willingham was a pretty fearsome 3-4-5.  Ironically, NOT re-signing Dunn may also have been one of Rizzo’s best non-moves, considering Dunn’s amazing 2011 collapse and the subsequent rise of Michael Morse (who would have continued to be a bit player if the Nats still had Dunn in LF).

Bowden’s Worst Free Agent Signings

  • 2007: Austin Kearns 3yr $16.5M
  • 2008: Paul Lo Duca 1yr $5M
  • 2008: Rob Mackowiak 1yr $1.5M
  • 2008: Johnny Estrada 1yr $1.25M
  • 2008: Cristian Guzman 2yr extension $16M
  • 2009: Daniel Cabrera 1yr $2.6M

2008 was as bad as 2007 was good for Bowden.  Nearly every move he made back-fired, some spectacularly.  Paul Lo Duca hadn’t been signed for a week when his name showed up prominently in the Mitchell Report; he was released before July.  Rob Mackowiak and Johnny Estrada were just stealing money; its still not clear what Bowden saw in these guys.  I hated the Kearns deal, never understood what Bowden saw in the guy.  Daniel Cabrera was so bad for us it was almost comical, and it was a relief when we DFA’d him after 8 starts.

But the worst FA signing has to the Guzman extension.  He seemed decent enough after coming back from an injury that cost him all of 2005 and most of 2006, but Bowden inexplicably extended him for 2 years for the same amount of money that he had earned the previous four … and almost immediately his production tailed off.   Its not that Guzman was that BAD in 2009 and 2010, its just that he was so vastly overpaid for what he gave the team.  We flipped him for two minor league pitchers, he promptly hit .152 in 15 games for Texas and he was out of the league.

Mike Rizzo Tenure: Mar 2009 – present

Rizzo’s Biggest Free Agent Signings

  • 2010: Ryan Zimmerman 5yr $45M
  • 2011: Jayson Werth 7yr $126M
  • 2012: Ryan Zimmermann 8yrs $100M
  • 2012: Gio Gonzalez 5yr $42M

Its ironic that I had to remove three deals from this list (LaRoche, Jackson, Marquis) that would have qualified for Bowden’s “biggest deal” list.  That’s because the size of these deals are just dwarfing what the team was willing to do under Bowden.  Lots of pundits have (and continue to) criticized the Jayson Werth deal, and it routinely appears on anyone’s list of “Worst Baseball Contracts.”  And his 2011 season confirmed just how bad this may have turned out for Washington.  But a bounceback 2012, which featured Werth putting up a 125 OPS+ despite missing a ton of time with a broken wrist, showing the flexibility of batting lead-off when the team needed him, plus providing the veteran leadership and professionalism that this young team needs certainly would earn back some of that contract value.  In hindsight, I think the team made this deal as a strawman, to send a message to the rest of the league that we were NOT a low-budget, poorly run team, and to pave the path back to respectability in the minds of other professionals out there that Washington can be a destination franchise.

Rizzo’s Best Free Agent Signings

  • 2009: Julian Tavarez 1yr ML
  • 2009: Joe Beimel 1yr $2M
  • 2010: Livan Hernandez 1yr ML 900k
  • 2011: Jerry Hairston 1yr $2M
  • 2010: Matt Capps 1yr $3.5M
  • 2010: Joel Peralta 1yr ML
  • 2011: Todd Coffey 1yr $1.35M
  • 2011: Laynce Nix 1yr ML

In terms of impact-per-dollar, I think the first Livan Hernandez year of his return was probably the best FA signing that Rizzo has done.  Hernandez went 10-12 with a 3.66 ERA and a 110 ERA+ for less than a million dollars on the FA market.  That’s roughly $90k a Win, when most teams are paying more than $1M/win for free agent starting pitching.   However clearly Rizzo’s most shrewd FA deal was the Matt Capps signing.  He took Capps off the scrap heap; he was released by Pittsburgh after a horrid 2009, and his half season of excellent relief for us turned into Wilson Ramos and a minor leaguer (Joe Testa), returned in trade from Minnesota.  I will also mention that the value that minor league signings Julian Tavarez, Joel Peralta, and Laynce Nix gave the team was also fantastic, considering where these players were in their careers prior to joining us.

Rizzo’s Worst Free Agent Signings

  • 2010: Yunesky Maya 4yr $8M
  • 2010: Ivan Rodriguez 2yr $6M
  • 2010: Jason Marquis 2yr $15M
  • 2011: Matt Stairs 1yr ML
  • 2012: Brad Lidge 1yr $1M
  • Chein Ming Wang: all of them.

2010, Rizzo’s first FA class, didn’t turn out very well did it? Yunesky Maya has been a pretty big disappointment, giving the team just one MLB win for an $8M investment.  Ivan Rodriguez just proved to be slightly too old to be worth the starter money he was paid; you could argue that the leadership he provided was worth the money.   And Jason Marquis, bought as a stop-gap for a failed farm system, was god-awful in 2010.  I won’t completely kill Rizzo for the Brad Lidge experiment; it was worth a $1M flier to see if he had anything left in the tank.  Matt Stairs would have been another fine, low-cost experiment except for the fact that the team kept giving him at-bats for weeks/months after it was clear he was washed up.

For me the worst FA signing was related to the money poured down the Chien-Ming Wang rathole for three years running.  The Nats ended up investing $8M total over three years to get 16 starts, 6 wins and a 4.94 ERA.

Rizzo’s Too Early to Tell Free Agent Signings

  • 2011: Jayson Werth 7yr $126M
  • 2012: Ryan Zimmermann 8yrs $100M
  • 2012: Gio Gonzalez 5yr $42M

So far, Werth’s contract is trending as an over-pay, Zimmerman’s as an injury concern, and Gonzalez trending as a complete steal (21 wins for $8.4M AAV in 2012?  That’s a fantastic return for the money).  Pundits have stated that the Nats have “two 9-figure contracts but zero 9-figure players” (I read it at the time of the Zimmerman signing but cannot find the link).  I think that’s slightly unfair to these players, but until Zimmerman can stay healthy enough to produce at his 2009 level, you have to admit that he may be overpaid as well.  Perhaps Zimmerman’s brittle health issues can be alleviated if he makes the move to 1B, where he can continue to play gold glove calibre defense but have less of a tax on his body.  This analysis obviously does not take Zimmerman’s “value” to the franchise into account, which may be unfair when considering this contract (nobody really said Derek Jeter‘s latest contract was a massive overpay considering his service to the Yankees,  his “stature” as the captain and his eventual Hall of Fame induction; for the Yankees to cut him loose would have been a massive public relations gaffe).

Coincidentally, I didn’t view the contracts of guys like LaRoche, Jackson, or Morse as being specifically “good” or “bad.”   I think LaRoche’s one bad/one good season plus Jackson’s MLB average season was just about on-par with expectations for their contracts.  Morse’s 2011 production was pre-contract, so we’ll see how his 2013 goes.

Thoughts?  Any FA signings or extensions out there that stick in your minds that you thought should be mentioned?

Possible 2013 WBC Nationals participants?

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Harper makes perfect sense to represent the US in 2013 WBC. Photo GQ magazine Mar 2012

I read a quickie piece with some Mike Rizzo quotes from the Washington Time’s beat reporter Amanda Comak on November 11th, 2012 and there was an interesting tidbit at the bottom: per Comak,  Rizzo has not been approached yet about any Washington Nationals participation in the WBC, but would approach each request on a “case-by-case basis” to determine what is in the best interests of the team.  This got me thinking about possible Nats representatives on 2013 WBC teams.

Lets take a quick look at the Nationals representatives on WBC teams from the past, talk about whether its really in the best interests of the team to even let these guys play, and then talk about who may be candidates for the 2013 WBC regardless.

(Note: I’ve added updates highlighted in red since the original 11/21/12 publication date on players mentioned here).

Washington has sent a decent number of players to play in the WBC over the years, with very mixed results for the team’s interests.  In 2006 the team sent seven different players to the inaugural WBC:

  • Luis Ayala for Mexico
  • Chad Cordero, Gary Majewski and Brian Schneider for team USA
  • Ronnie Belliard, Alberto Castillo, and Wily Mo Pena for the Dominican Republic.

The tournament was marred for the team by a blown UCL ligament to Ayala, who had undergone elbow surgery earlier in the off-season but pitched for his home country anyway.  The team did not want Ayala to participate in the inaugural event, did not want him used by the Mexican team, and team officials were “livid” by the injury, which cost Ayala the season and cost the team its 8th inning setup guy.  Ayala recovered to pitch again in 2008 but was never as effective, and was shipped out in 2009 for a PTBNL.  Coincidentally, I suspect the team still harbors some ill-will towards Ayala to this day.  Meanwhile the other two relievers who participated both experienced regressions in form; Cordero’s ERA nearly doubled (from 1.82 to 3.19) from his breakout 2005 season while Majewski’s numbers dipped slightly before he was traded in the big Cincinnati deal of 2006.

In 2009, the team had 5 participants:

  • Pete Orr playing for Canada
  • Joel Hanrahan and Adam Dunn playing for the USA
  • Saul Rivera and Ivan Rodriguez playing for Puerto Rico.

The WBC seemed to energize particularly Dunn, who enjoyed playing in a post-season atmosphere for the first (and only) time in his career.  Nobody suffered any injuries, but Hanrahan in particular may have been affected by his lack of a proper spring training; he posted a 7.71 ERA for the team while losing the closer spot and was shipped to Pittsburgh.  Ironically, Rivera also experienced a huge regression of form, going from a 3.96 ERA in 2008 to a 6.10 ERA in 2009 and was eventually released.

This begs the question; do we even WANT our pitchers playing on this team?  The first two WBCs have shown pretty distinctly that our pitchers have regressed greatly after playing.  This only makes sense: the spring training routines are greatly impacted to play in this event.  We may see a ton of front-office resistance to specific guys (especially those coming off injury) playing in the 2013 event.  Which could affect the eligibility of some specific players for 2013.

Now, which Nats may play for the 2013 teams?  First off, looking at the Nationals 40-man roster, we have become an amazingly heavy USA-born team (we’ll get to non-40man roster players in a moment). Thanks to the Nats big board resource (originated by Brian Oliver and now maintained by “SpringfieldFan”), which has the country of origin for players, here’s a breakdown of the home-country of our current 36 active (as of November 15th, 2012) roster players:

  • USA: 27 (would be 29 if adding in our rule-5 avoidance players)
  • Venezuela: 5 (Jesus Flores, Sandy Leon, Wilson Ramos, Henry Rodriguez, and Carlos Rivero)
  • Cuba: 1 (Yunesky Maya)
  • Columbia: 1 (Jhonatan Solano)
  • Dominican Republic: 1 (Eury Perez)
  • Netherlands (via Curacao): 1 (Roger Bernadina)

As you can see, the massive bulk of our team is USA born, and essentially our entire post-season starting roster was USA born as well.  That doesn’t necessarily mean that these USA-born players will actually play for team USA (Alex Rodriguez played for Puerto Rico despite being born and raised in Miami, and our own Danny Espinosa is eligible to play for Mexico by virtue of his first-generation born in the US status), but almost all of these guys will be up for consideration for the USA team.  And this only accounts for our 40-man players; as we’ll see below there’s plenty of lower-minors players from smaller countries that will participate.

Who from the Nationals franchise may make a 2013 WBC roster?  First off, thanks to James Wagner‘s 11/15/12 NatsJournal post we already know of three WBC participants; Solano is on the Columbian team, minor leaguer Jimmy Van Ostrand is on the Canadian team, and A-ball catcher Adrian Nieto is on the Spanish team.  Curacao qualifies to play with the Netherlands, and I’d guess that Bernadina would make a great choice considering the lack of Dutch players in baseball (Baseball Continuum’s projections agree.  And as of 12/4/12 he’s officially been listed as a Netherlands participant).. Venezuela is already qualified for the main draw and has a relatively strong possible team.  The Baseball Continuum blog posted an early projection of the Venezuelan team and listed Flores as a likely participant (specifically mentioning that Ramos wasn’t considered due to injury recovery; I’d suspect these two players to switch based on Ramos’ recovery and Flores’ awful 2012).   If Henry Rodriguez was healthy i’d guess he would be on that list too, but his season-ending surgery probably precludes his participation.  The Dominican Republic has perhaps the strongest depth and has no need for the recently called up Perez among its outfield depth.  Maya’s defection eliminates him from discussion for the Cuban team.  (12/4/12 update): Chien-Ming Wang has been announced as a member of Chinese Taipei’s team (for the purposes of this article I investigated all 2012 Nats).

Which leaves our large contingent of American players.  A couple of writers have started postulating on these rosters (David Schoenfield‘s very early guess as to a potential USA roster is here, Baseball Continuum’s latest projection is here).  So using these two posts as a starting point, lets go position-by-position and give some thoughts as to who may get some consideration.  Keep in mind the WBC rosters are generally very reliever heavy, since no starter is going to be “allowed” to pitch a complete game in March.

(Note: I’m still considering our Free Agents as “Nats players” for the purposes of this analysis, since this really goes position by position from our 2012 team to find candidates).

  • Catcher: Kurt Suzuki isn’t nearly in the class of the likes of Buster Posey, Brian McCann, Joe Mauer, or Matt Weiters.  There are a ton of quality american backstops right now.
  • First Base: Free Agent Adam LaRoche probably faces far too much competition from the likes of Prince Fielder, Paul Konerko, Adam Dunn, Allen Craig, Eric Hosmer, and Mark Teixeira to make this team.  If it were me, I’d go with Fielder and Teixeira.  But, LaRoche’s great 2012 season and his Gold Glove recognition may get him a spot.  He is a FA though, so i’d guess he won’t commit until he signs and gets the go-ahead from his new team.  Or, perhaps he uses the WBC to showcase himself?  Not likely needed; he should sign long before the WBC kicks off in March.
  • Second Base: Danny Espinosa is a decent player, but not in the same league as  Shoenfield’s projection of Dustin Pedroia and Ben Zobrist.  Brandon Phillips is also in the mix for the team.
  • Shortstop: Ian Desmond‘s breakout 2013 season may get him some consideration.  There’s not a lot of American quality short stops out there.  Troy Tulowitzki is the obvious leading choice (as was Derek Jeter in the first two WBCs), but is he ready to come back from injury?  Looking around the majors there are a couple other possibilities (JJ Hardy, Brendan Ryan, Jimmy Rollins and Brandon Crawford all could be alternatives as well).   I think Desmond’s combination of offense and defense, combined with Tulowitzki’s injury recovery could get him on the team.
  • Third Base: Ryan Zimmerman cannot break the hegomony of David Wright and Evan Longoria right now, even given Longoria’s injury struggles this season.  Chase Headley and David Freese are also in the 3b mix.  12/4/12 update: Apparently Wright is committed, Longoria is out due to injury recovery and Headley “was not asked,” so perhaps Zimmerman is back in the mix.
  • Outfielders: I think Bryce Harper is a natural to make this team, not only on talent but also because of the brand-name recognition (and TV ratings and fan interest) it would generate.  Same goes for Mike Trout.  Otherwise there’s a slew of top-end american players who can man the outfield and they read like the top of the MVP boards: Braun, Kemp, McCutchen, Stanton, Hamilton, and Granderson are all candidates to make this team.  12/6/12 update: Scott Boras has stated that Harper will skip the WBC to focus on his sophomore season.
  • Starters: The two logical Nats candidates to be considered would be Gio Gonzalez and Stephen Strasburg.  But lets be honest; there is no way in hell Strasburg would be allowed to play.  Could Gonzalez make this team?  Given the depth of American starter talent right now (just off the top of my head: Verlander, LincecumCain, Hamels, Halladay, Kershaw, Lee, Weaver, Sabathia, Medlen, and so on) perhaps this will be a selection of attrition moreso than a selection of availability.  So if a number of the older guys on this list beg out, perhaps Gio gets his shot.  The WBC’s location in San Francisco has already lead to Ryan Vogelsong committing to play in his home town, and could lead to other Bay Area players signing up.  I’m not sure any of the rest of our starters are really candidates, given the reputations of the above list plus the reliever-heavy nature of the roster.
  • Relievers: our two most well known relievers (Tyler Clippard and Drew Storen) are possibilities; would the Nats block Storen based on his 2012 injury?  Craig Stammen‘s breakout 2012 season could get him looks, based on the reliever-heavy needs of the team.  Normally Sean Burnett may be in the loogy mix, but there’s better lefty relievers out there AND Burnett’s FA status may lead him to bow out to curry favor to his new team (Schoenfeld lists Burnett as a possible member back in July, before knowing he’s declared free agency).  The question is, would you take Clippard/Storen against the likes of this list of quality american back-of-the-bullpen arms: Kimbrel, Ventors, Marshall, League, Janssen, Papelbon, Hanrahan, Motte, Boggs, Bailey, Reed, and Nathan?  Possibly, considering that a lot of these guys probably bow out.  We’ve sent multiple relievers to each of the past two WBCs and its likely going to be the same thing this year.

Summary: here’s my guesses as to which Nats (and recent ex-Nats) will play in the WBC:

  • Venezuela: Ramos
  • Spain: Nieto
  • Canada: Van Ostrand
  • Columbia: Solano
  • Netherlands: Bernadina
  • Chinese Taipei: Wang
  • USA: Harper, Desmond, Gonzalez, Clippard.  Perhaps Zimmerman and Stammen.

March 2013 update: here’s the post-WBC actual list of participants when all was said and done, helped by  the list of rosters via Wikipedia.  MLB reports that nine (9) Nationals are participating in the classic, though the below list (excluding Wang) totals more.  They’re not counting Solano/Columbia, having lost in the preliminaries.

  • Columbia: Jhonatan Solano (AAA/Mlb in 2012)
  • Spain: Adrian Nieto (low-A in 2012)
  • Canada: Jimmy Van Ostrand (AA in 2012)
  • Italy: Matt Torra, Mike Costanzo (both AAA in 2012, Washington MLFA signings for 2013)
  • Netherlands: Roger Bernadina, Randolph Oduber (high-A in 2012)
  • Chinese Taipei: Chien-Ming Wang (former Nat, non-signed FA for 2013 start of season)
  • USA: Gio Gonzalez, Ross Detwiler
  • Dominican Republic: Eury Perez (3/4/13 addition to DR team)

Thoughts on Brad Peacock’s debut start

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Brad Peacock fires in another fastball during his debut start last night. (Photo by Christopher Pasatieri/Getty Images via sbnation.com)

As a fan of the team, its always neat to see shots of the parents of an up and coming rookie and to listen to the in-game interviews done by Masn’s Debbie TaylorCollin Balester‘s dad was wearing a big hawaiian shirt and was clearly telling his entire section “that’s my son” while pointing at the field.  Craig Stammen‘s parents were a bit more reserved and mentioned their faith while praising their son’s performance.  Last night, Brad Peacock‘s dad (a retired cop) was jubilant (if ill-dressed for the occasion) but gave a great mid-inning interview while holding Brad’s son on his lap.  That kind of stuff reminds you about something you often forget about when following a team of highly-paid athletes; these guys are people too.  They have families, they have priorities, hopes and dreams, and their parents root for them just like your own parents rooted for you when you were a kid.  Anyway…

Last night 9/14, Brad Peacock got his first major league start against the Mets, in New York (box/gamer).  Though I posted some thoughts on his MLB debut a week ago, it was clearly not the most optimal debut for a rookie starter (brought in with runners on base and pitching from the stretch against an MVP candidate).  Last night is a much better indication of what kind of pitcher Peacock may be and what his capabilities are setting up hitters multiple times and working deeper into games.

Game Summary: On the night Peacock’s line was great: 5ip, 0 runs on 2 hits and 3 walks.  He had a wild pitch that *maybe* should have been caught by Jesus Flores but which didn’t hurt him.

Early on in the game, Peacock was clearly not getting calls when he missed his spots.  He had more than a few calls that were clearly in the “K zone” graphic that MASN uses, but he had missed the target that Flores set up for him.  One of the two hits he gave up was to  Reyes, who he clearly had struck out but didn’t get the call at the knees.  When he did give up harder-hit balls it was usually on pitches that he missed his location.  On more than a few occasions he missed out over the plate badly, but the velocity and/or movement on the pitch usually bailed him out, getting popups for foul balls.

After cruising through 3 no-hit innings (only blemish was a 2-out walk to the opposing pitcher), he gave up a decently struck single and then suddenly struggled to find the plate.  He had two walks and a wild pitch in the 4th to load the bases before getting a harmless popout.  He was more in control in the 5th, getting a nifty play out of Desmond and a one-pitch out from the opposing pitcher before having Reyes struck out (as mentioned before) but giving up the single before retiring Tejada on a liner to Werth.

Velocity: His fastball peaked at 95.1mph early, then he seemed to settle into a pattern of low-90s heat.  On the night he averaged 92.77mph on the 4-seamer.   This average MPH was a bit lower than during his MLB debut last week (pitch f/x for his debut here, where he averaged 94.15 and peaked at 95.8) and the commentators noted that Peacock’s velocity will average lower in starts than in relief efforts.  I’m not sure I believe that necessarily.  This team’s approach with its harder throwing starters has clearly been pitching to contact and working deeper into games at the expense of a couple MPH and a few strikeouts.  Was that what we saw last night?  Or was Peacock just tired from the adrenaline rush of his first start?  Or was an average of 94 versus 92 what we should expect during starts?  Everything we’ve heard from his stellar minor league season mentions a 95mph fastball, and you would have to think that implies a 95 average, not one 95mph heater every now and again while sitting consistently 92.  Yes, relievers can generally throw harder, since they go max-effort for an inning as opposed to having to protect their arm for 100 pitches over 6 innings, but it would be nice to know what to expect out of a starter.

Whatever the speed is on his fastball, the delta between it and his change-up is fantastic.  He threw a ton of change-ups (21 out of 94 pitches) and relied on it heavily.  His curve more often than not either bounced or started outside and kept on moving outside.  I’m not sure I ever saw an inside curve-ball attempt.

Pitch Counts: Through 5 complete innings  he was sitting at 94 pitches, needing 31 just to get through the fourth, and clearly his night was over.  94 pitches on the night, 61 for strikes for a pretty good strike/ball ratio.   However, 94 pitches to complete 5 innings is rather inefficient, especially for someone who only got two Ks on the night.  Lots of these strikes were foul balls, raising his pitch count and driving him from the game early.  He will need to find a way to avoid 30-pitch innings and 10-pitch at bats, and will need to work on getting through 6 or 7 innings on that same number of pitches.

GO/AO Ratios: More concerning was the very high ratio of air-outs versus ground-ball outs.  Of the 15 outs he recorded:

  • 9 were fly balls or line drives to the outfield
  • 2 were pop-ups caught in foul territory
  • 2 were groundballs
  • 2 were strikeouts.

(side note/complaint: the official box score lists ground-outs/fly-outs ratio as 2/6.  How do they possibly arrive at this ratio?  11 of his 15 outs were recorded via balls caught before they hit the ground, whether they were fly balls or pop ups.   I assume they don’t count foul-ball pop ups as “fly ball outs,” but do they not count the 3 fly-ball outs recorded that were more “line drive” than fly out?  At least they got the 2 ground-ball outs correctly tabulated).

That’s an air-out to ground-out ratio of 11/2.  That’s downright scary.  Conventional wisdom will tell you that a standard number of fly-ball outs turn into home-runs for normal pitchers, and “fly ball” pitchers therefore get tagged with a number of additional runs over their ground-ball pitcher compatriots.  This is one of the tenants of the xFIP stat (trying to adjust for “expected” FIP versus actual FIP by standardizing for typical fly-ball to home-run ratios) and sure enough Peacock’s Xfip sits at a monstrous 6.25 right now despite an ERA of 1.42.   Of course, we are talking about small sample sizes, and we’d need more information to really draw any conclusions going forward.

Repertoire: Peacock again showed that right now he’s a 2 and a half pitch hurler (here’s pitch f/x data on the night).  He featured a four-seam fastball that he relied on heavily, throwing it nearly 2/3s of the time, moving it inside and outside against hitters.  He has a pretty good change up that features a 10-mph difference from the fastball and that he commands pretty well and isn’t afraid to throw at any count.  And he has a big overhand “knuckle-curve” that features pretty true 12-6 movement but which he doesn’t command nearly as well (he threw 13 last night, only 5 for strikes, but one was an absolute beauty to Satin to get one of his two K’s on the night).

As has been noted by other scouting reports I’ve read, Peacock really needs to work on his curve and develop a 4th pitch if he wants to be a successful MLB pitcher.  I don’t perceive his 4-seamer to have enough movement to rely upon (think of Roy Halladay or Greg Maddux, both of whom had such great natural movement on their fastballs that they didn’t really “need” to develop their secondary pitches), and he clearly needs to work on his curve-ball command.  The over-hand throwing motion kind of precludes him from considering a cutter (perhaps) or from adding a slider to his arsenal.  He probably doesn’t use a 2-seamer because he’s not getting much movement on his 4-seamer now.  The overhand motion does lend it self to a couple of pitches he could try: a split-fingered fastball could come in a few mph slower than his current fastball but should exhibit sinking behavior similar to a 2-seam fastball.  Or a forkball could be a good pitch that tumbles and drops but which could be thrown a bit harder than a straight change.

Summary: I think he had a nice outing but had some clear areas of concern.  I am not sure he can stick as a MLB starter based on what i’m seeing, but could easily be a later innings relief guy (think Joel Hanrahan, and his conversion from 5-inning high ERA starter to effective closer).

Written by Todd Boss

September 15th, 2011 at 11:16 am

My Answers to Boswell’s Chat Questions 7/5/11 edition

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Here’s Boswell’s 7/5/11 chat.  As always, I read the question, write my own answer then interpret Boswell’s answer.  All questions are paraphrased from the chatroom for clarity here.

Q: Should the Nats move Espinosa to Short, making room for Rendon?

A: I believe the Nats may eventually consider moving Danny Espinosa to shortstop to make way for either Anthony Rendon but perhaps Steve Lombardozzi in the near future.  For the beginning of 2012 season?  I doubt it.  Yes, Ian Desmond has been hitting ridiculously badly, but he’s a plus defender at Short with an absolute gun of an arm.  He’s cut way down on errors and mental mistakes.  We all believe Espinosa can handle the position (he was a grade-A short stop at Long Beach State), but the right answer may be to give Desmond one more full season before pulling the trigger.  Any move would be done in a spring training presumably.  (Boswell more or less agrees, saying Lombardozzi will be a full time MLBer, Desmond moves too much in the box, and that Espinosa has better hands but not as much range).

Q: Did Harper skip high-A because of Potomac’s field situation?

A: Great question.  Personally I believe Potomac’s field disaster factored into the situation.  Perhaps part protection of Bryce Harper (who was promoted to AA over the weekend and went 2/3 in his AA debut), part penalization of the ownership/management of the  Potomac franchise (which they must believe has botched this badly, to be giving away home dates).  Of course there is the plain fact that Harper, despite his young age, held his own against AA-calibre talent and higher in 2010′s Arizona Fall League and he may just be ready for AA.  (Boswell punts on the question, quoting Rizzo who said “the field is fine, it had nothing to do with it.”  A non-answer.)

Q: What are the chances Michael Morse wins the “last man standing” all-star vote?

A: I’ll say slim, based on who he’s up against (here’s a link to the voting).  Ethier, Helton, Victorino, and Ian Kennedy are the candidates.  I’d guess that either Victorino or Helton wins, though Ethier is a deserving candidate.  Nobody’s heard of Michael Morse unfortunately.  (Boswell thinks Philly fans will vote in Victorino).

Q: Is Ryan Zimmerman’s new throwing motion working?

A: It seems not; if anything its causing even more problems.  Zimmerman used to make most of his errors on relatively routine throws over to first; if he’s making a throw under duress it is usually spot on.  So the new motion is designed to remove the scatter-arm throws.  But now, instead of making a routine throw and it getting into his head, he’s got this new motion into his head.  I can’t see how its an improvement.  For me when playing the answer was always to go to a side arm motion to gain accuracy but I was playing from middle-infield positions that didn’t require long, overhand throws like what the third baseman has to do.  (Boswell thinks it is working and that Zimmerman needs a bit longer to get comfortable with it).

Q: Was it too early, too late or the right time to promote Harper?

A: From a productivity standpoint it was probably too late; he clearly owned how-A pitching after just a few weeks.  But, from a “learning how to be a baseball player” standpoint its just right.  Finish out a half, a playoff-run, get a bunch of road trips in and get used to playing day after day.  Now he can move up and get challenged by better pitching.  Personally I would have put him in high-A for an incremental improvement.  Run him up to AA if he dominated in Potomac, else start him at AA next year with an eye to move him quickly to AAA.  I think there’s value in growing into your role.  (Boswell says it was the right time to promote, but not to which level, and then compares Harper’s minor league splits to A-Rods and Ken Griffey Jr’s).

Q: How much credit should we give Rizzo the GM for 4 specific moves that paid off (Ramos-Capps, Willingham trade, letting Dunn walk and failing to get Greinke)?

A: I give Rizzo some good, some bad for his moves over the past year or so.  The Ramos for Capps trade was spectacular.  The Guzman trade (something for nothing) was quality.  His purchase of Bixler has turned out well.  I think we got fleeced on the Willingham deal frankly and think this team could have used the offense.  Dunn was never going to stay here so I don’t know how much credit you can give Rizzo for purposely picking up the draft picks.  He overpaid badly for Werth (for reasons that have been discussed ad-naseum here and were bigger than just the player).  I liked the acquisition of Gorzelanny for what we gave up.  His two rule5 draft picks were garbage.  Cora and Nix on minor league contracts has turned out great.  He got a decent AA starter for Gonzalez but a middling low-A infielder for Morgan.  He wanted and was going to pay for Greinke, who i think is vastly over-rated, had one good season and is by no means an “ace” in this league.  He’s a solid guy but not a $100m pitcher.  (Boswell points out the Hanrahan-Burnett deal is looking bad for the Nats; I’ll defend the Nats there since Hanrahan was SO bad for us.  Boswell also mentions Aaron Crow for some reason; that non-signing was 110% on Bowden, not Rizzo).

Q: Are Nats buyers or sellers at the trade deadline?

A: This answer will vary day by day between now and 7/31 honestly.  If the Nats go on a 5 game losing streak they’re selling like mad. Right this moment, they’re probably doing nothing, stuck into inactivity by virtue of their .500 record and proximity to the wild card race.  (Boswell agrees, saying the team’s record on July 28th is what matters).

Q: Will the Nats over pay and sign Marquis and Livan for next season?

A: God I hope not.  Marquis should be jettisoned to make way for Strasburg’s return.  Livan is worth 1.5-2m/per, but not much more.  If he demands more cut him loose.  Livan at this point is merely a holding over pitcher until our farm system prospects pan out.  (Boswell seems to think that Detwiler could make an able replacement for Marquis, either this August/September or later on).

Q: Is Werth unable to get around on fastballs?

A: I don’t have enough video evidence to offer an opinion.  Boswell says he’s just trying too hard, his mechanics are out of whack.

Q: Thoughts on the all-star rosters?

A: Havn’t even looked at them.  Looking them up to comment here.  Don’t care really; the all-star rosters will always have too many Red Sox, too many Yankees and too many Asians from ballot-box stuffing.  I can’t stand the “every team must be represented” issue, which dilites the team and gives players cheap all star appearances.  I think the fact that the world series home field advantage depends on this exhibition is beyond ridiculous.  So doing a 2500 word column nit picking the all-star selections is just July column filler for most baseball writers.  For me its like complaining about the BCS: its never going to change.  Let other people bitch about the fact that Derek Jeter has basically been awful this year, not the best.

I will say that the manager’s selecting the pitchers is ridiculous.  Yes Vogelsong has had a great season but he’s not who the fans want to see in the all star game, nor is he one of the best 15 pitchers in the league.  Picking middle relievers?  Ridiculous as well.

(Boswell says he likes the rosters and won’t waste an answer on what could give him an easy column!)

Q: How much money is Pujols’ injury- and poor-performance season costing him?  Would he take a 1-year deal to regain value?
A: Great question.  I think Pujols poor season has already cost him a shot at a 10-yr/$300M contract that many spoke of.  He’s clearly going to lose years and value.  I think he deserves a 7yr deal that pays him more per-annum than A-rod, and it may be what he’s shooting for.  I do not think he’ll take a one-year deal.  Too much can go wrong, too risky.  Even if he doesn’t get the years and money he seeks, you cannot blow the opportunity to guarantee hundreds of millions of dollars.  (Boswell wouldn’t even give him 7 years right now).

Q: Could Lombardozzi come up and force a replacement of Desmond in 2011?

A: No way.  There’s little value in yanking Desmond in mid-august, forcing Espinosa to move to shortstop with no work all year and possibly disrupt a Rookie-of-the-Year season AND do the 40-man move to add Lombardozzi just for a few games in the bigs.   (Boswell answered by defending Desmond, calling him a 10-year career shortstop.  He needs to start hitting though).

Q: Comments on the Soriano “hit” that scored 2 runs?

A: An official scorer just can’t give Bernadina an error on a ball that drops in front of him, despite it clearly being a fielding mistake.  Its one more piece of evidence showing how inaccurate ERAs are for pitchers.  Zimmermann had Soriano popped up and was out of the inning; suddenly he’s given up 2 earned runs that he didn’t deserve.  To me, it looked like Bernadina lost the ball in the over-cast sky.  (Boswell points out that the play perfectly encapsulates why the team doesn’t think Bernadina is the long term answer in center.  Well, duh, I could have told you that was the case long before this play!)

Q: Why aren’t the Nats hitting?/How much accountability does Rick Eckstein have in this situation?

A: Honestly, I’ve never thought that a hitting coach really could impact what a major leaguer could do.  Be it out of respect, or lack thereof.  If everyone thinks Werth’s mechanics are out of whack, why hasn’t he fixed them?  Its an easy video fix right?

Werth is trying too hard.  Espinosa’s babip is awful.  Desmond just isn’t that good.  Morse is good but has holes that pundits/scouts like Keith Law think are going to get exposed.  Zimmerman is just getting back in the saddle.  Willingham and Dunn (despite what they’re doing in 2010) were stable, high OBP forces in this lineup and when they left, there was major disruption.  LaRoche has always been a slow starter, complicated (as we eventually found out) by a bad shoulder injury.  (Boswell ducked the question as I have, but gives some interesting analysis of just how not-so-bad the team really is offensively right now).

Q: Why is Nyjer Morgan suddenly good again?  Same question for Kearns, Felipe Lopez and (possibly) Werth?

A: Morgan needed a change of scenery, and has taken advantage of it.  Same goes for Hanrahan, and in that respect that trade has worked out well for Pittsburgh.  Kearns never wanted to be traded here; he is from Kentucky and liked it in Cincinnati.  Once he got his balloon payment here he never earned the contract.  Lopez is a special case; a good player with an awful attitude, and he’s earned a one-way ticket out of several towns by now.  I wouldn’t put Werth in any of these classes; he’s hard-nosed, plays hard, doesn’t play dirty, doesn’t show-boat, and takes his craft seriously.  (Boswell just says that change of scenery is sometimes good, without throwing (especially) Lopez under the bus).

Q: Why is Sean Burnett still on the roster?

A: True, his 2011 numbers have been pretty bad.  But one really bad game can make 3 weeks worth of good look awful.  Look at his game logs; he’s been pretty good lately except for one or two blow ups.  The team needs a loogy, Burnett actually gives them more than just a one-out guy, and he was pretty good last year.  Way too early to give up on him, to say nothing of the fact that there’s very little in AAA or even AA to replace him.  We’re still trying to replace our actual LOOGY Slaten, signing JC Romero and possibly looking at Severino or even Chico at some point.  (Boswell agrees).

Q: What are we going to do with Rendon?

A: Wait for him to prove he belongs, then find a spot.  He hasn’t signed yet, could get injured again and be a total bust, or he could hit like the 2nd coming of Alex Rodriguez in the minors and shoot up to earn MLB at bats inside a year.  If he forces his way onto the roster then you make room for him.  Install him at 2nd, move Espinosa to short.  Or, put Rendon in left and keep your current MI.  Maybe Zimmerman wants out of town after 2013 and Rendon naturally moves to third.  Maybe the entire team gets hit by a bus and we start over from scratch.  Way too much can happen with minor league prospects to make intelligent predictions til they get to AAA.  (Boswell’s answer rambled on about the state of the team … saying we’re much further along than intimated in the question).

Q: Why are the crowds booing Jayson Werth?

A: Probably because he’s in an extended slump, combined with a massive paycheck that most of us now have been told is vastly over-paying him.  Nobody likes it when an overpaid co-worker struggles with his assignments; it makes you really question why you’re working at that job in the first place.  Trust me, if he starts hitting the boo-ing will stop.   (Boswell kinda understands the crowd’s displeasure with Werth right now).

Q: Is Werth miscast as a team leader?

A: Perhaps.  I think clearly in Philadelphia he was one of many hitting cogs in a powerful lineup and they covered for each other.  Now, he’s much more in focus (especially with LaRoche’s issues and Zimmerman’s absence).  However, does he HAVE to be a leader by virtue of his contract?  No.  Zimmerman is a natural leader, as is Desmond.  We have veteran pitching that can take the media brunt.  But lets be honest; we don’t live in NYC with a 24-hour yankees news cycle.  There’s, what, 5 beat reporters in total for this team (Ladson, Goessling, Kilgore, Zuckerman and Comack), so that’s not a ton of people asking you questions night after night.  (Boswell agrees, Werth doesn’t have good media presence).

Q: Did the Lerner’s err in naming Davey Johnson as the new manager?

A: Can’t say just quite yet.  Johnson was clearly an excellent manager in his time.  Has the game passed him by?  Unlike in professional football, where clearly Joe Gibbs was exposed as being too old and too out of touch with the modern game during his return to the sidelines for the Washington Redskins, Baseball strategy and management moves at a slower pace.  Since Johnson last managed, there are no major changes in the rules of the game or the basic strategy.  If anything, the major change in the game lies in the renewed emphasis on defense and pitching in the steroid-less game.  Statistics and analysis has vastly increased in importance, but Johnson was already ahead of the curve in those departments when he was managing (and he was a Math major to boot, meaning he should not be wary of such heavy numerical analysis in the sport).  That all being said, only time will tell.  What was the team lacking under Riggleman that Johnson can bring to the table?  Perhaps the answer is basic; accomplishment and veteran respect.  (Boswell ridiculed the question and picked at its points, as opposed to talking about what Johnson may bring to the table).

Q: Do the Nationals ushers need to do more to enforce fan etiquette at the stadium?

A: Probably.  The questioner complains about people being allowed to move freely mid-inning.  I don’t notice a ton while I go to games, because our season tickets are relatively close to the field and the movement here and there isn’t too bad to notice.  We did experience a rather concerning issue on 7/4; we apparently had duplicate tickets to others that we found sitting in our seats.  We never really asked to see the tickets in question (not wanting to irk the woman sitting in our seats, who was clearly combative).  But the usher mentioned that the day before he saw no less than FOUR tickets issued for the same seat.  That doesn’t make any sense to me really; the seats are all season ticket-owned seats in the 100 sections.  Something weird is going on.  (Boswell says the questioner makes good sense).

How’s that Milledge trade looking now?

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This is the only time i’ve ever seen Burnett’s hat on straight. Photo: masnsports.com

6/30/2009: The Nationals and Pirates announce a trade:

  • Nyjer Morgan and Sean Burnett coming to Washington
  • Lastings Milledge and Joel Hanrahan going to Pittsburgh.

To Nationals faithful, the 6/30/2009 trade with the Pirates was a serious talking point.  It was the first major trade of the Mike Rizzo era after a contentious spring training that deposed Jim Bowden.  At the time of the trade, Milledge was sitting in AAA Syracuse after having hit .161 in April, and Hanrahan was busy compiling a 7.71 era while blowing as many saves (5) as he had successes as our closer.

We all know what happened next: Morgan came over, slotted into center field and had a career season.  And Burnett settled into the bullpen and gave us better-than-loogy performances that continue to today.  Milledge hit significantly better for Pittsburgh than had been hitting for us, and suddenly Hanrahan found the plate again and has morphed into a half-way decent late-inning option for the worst team in baseball.

At the time though, pundits far and wide talked about how the Pirates “fleeced” the Nats in the deal.  Here’s one take from a USA Today columnist, and here’s MLB Trade Rumor’s round up of the typical analysts and their comments like “easy win for the Pirates.”

I remember thinking at the time that baseball pundits seemed to constantly be in love with Lastings Milledge.  Nobody could see who he was as a player (immature, egotistical, uncoachable) or see his lack of accomplishments (he has a career 91 OPS+).  All they could see was his age and his “potential.”  (Hmm, reminds me of how Jim Bowden looked at *every* prospect)  Meanwhile, Hanrahan was somehow valued higher than Burnett despite the fact that he had a 1.9 whip for 2009 (as a closer!  That’s nearly two baserunners per inning for a guy you’re entrusting to finish wins) and he was a righty.  Burnett was an effective lefty and remains that way today.

Anyway.  When Milledge was non-tendered in December and then subsequently got into a massive brawl in the Venezuelan Winter League, I didn’t see any mea culpas from these pundits.  The Pirates, probably the worst-run team in baseball and with one of the smallest payrolls, didn’t want to gamble with a probably salary in the $1M range on Milledge turning it around for 2010.  He only lasted four at bats for the White Sox, who DFA’d him today.  He’s officially worn out his welcome for four teams now (New York, Washington and Pittsburgh and Chicago) inside of 5 seasons.

Of course, Milledge’s counterpart in the trade Nyjer Morgan was similarly jettissoned at the end of spring training when he lost out his starting center fielder job to Rick Ankiel.  Morgan was traded to Milwaukee for a low-A player (Cutter Dykstra) that Keith Law described as no better than an “organizational player.”  So now the trade looks more like Hanrahan for Burnett and Dykstra.  Who is winning now?  Burnett has been great for us, and while he’s not a 95-mph flame throwing back of the bullpen type he has been nothing but consistent, continuing to give better-than-loogy performances and now he seems slated as the closer-for-now.

There was so much vitriol in the blogosphere aimed towards the Nationals front office for this move that I feel like bringing it up.  I havn’t seen too many mea culpas out there from the same people who flamed the Nats at the time.

Written by Todd Boss

April 7th, 2011 at 3:51 pm