Nationals Arm Race

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

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Nats Trivia: Home Opener and Record Attendance Figures 2014 Edition

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Here’s some useless trivia related to the Nats home openers, now that we have the Nats 10th home opener in the books.

Nats Trivia: capacity of Nats park? 

  • 41,888 at opening
  • 41,546 in 2010
  • 41,506 in 2011
  • 41,487 in 2012
  • 41,418 in 2013
  • 41,506 for 2014

Interesting how the capacity has slightly decreased each year but jumped for this year.  Do we know where they’re adding/removing seats?   By the way, RFK capacity: 45,596 per wikipedia/ballparks.com.

Nats All-time Record attendance?

  • 45,966 10/12/12 game 5 2012 NLDS

Other/Previous Attendance Records

  • 45,274 Opening Day 2013 (new and current Regular Season record for Nats park)
  • 45,017 10/10/12 first home playoff game
  • 44,685 8/20/11 vs Phillies (longer standing Nats park record)
  • 41,985 6/24/09 vs Boston. (Nats reg-season record standard bearer for a while in the new stadium)
  • 45,157 Fathers day 2006 vs Yankees (long standing Regular season Record)
  • 45,596 RFK franchise opener (long standing franchise attendance record)

Opening Day Attendances and weather through the years

  • 2014: 42,834 (1:05 Friday game, 50s and overcast)
  • 2013: 45,274 (1:05 Monday game, 60 and beautiful)
  • 2012: 40,907 (1:05 Thursday game 56, partly cloudy)
  • 2011: 39,055 (1:05 Thursday game, 41 degrees and overcast)
  • 2010: 41,290 (1pm game Monday, beautiful weather 80s and sunny): this was the “Phillies invasion” game.
  • 2009: 40,386 (3pm game on a Monday, chilly 53degr and overcast).
  • 2008: 39,389 (season and stadium opener), 8pm Sunday night, nat’l tv, clear but very cold.
  • 2007: 40,389 (in rfk, 1pm game vs Florida, 72degrees)
  • 2006: 40,516 (in rfk, Tuesday day game vs Mets, 72degr and sunny)
  • 2005: 45,596 (in rfk, debut of entire franchise, 62degr and clear, evening game)

Opening Day Box Scores and Results

Nats are 4-6 in their home openers now since moving to Washington, and they’re just 2-6 in non-stadium openers.  Just one starter has thrown more than one home opener for the Nats: Livan Hernandez.  When Livan gets elected to Cooperstown, I hope he’s wearing the curly W.  :-)

  • 2014: mlb.com or b-r.com.  Braves d Nats 2-1.  WP: Luis Avilan.  LP: Tyler Clippard.  (Starters: Jordan Zimmermann and David Hale).
  • 2013: mlb.com or b-r.com.  Nats d Marlins 2-0.  WP: Stephen Strasburg.  LP: Rickey Nolasco
  • 2012: mlb.com.  Nats d Reds 3-2.  WP: Craig Stammen. LP: Alfredo Simon (Starters: Gio Gonzalez and Mat Latos)
  • 2011: mlb.com.  Braves d Nats 2-0.  WP: Derek Lowe.  LP: Livan Hernandez
  • 2010: mlb.com.  Phillies d Nats 11-1.  WP: Roy Halladay.  LP: John Lannan
  • 2009: mlb.com.  Phillies d Nats 9-8.  WP: Jamie Moyer.  LP: Saul Rivera (Nats Starter: Daniel Cabrera)
  • 2008: mlb.com.  Nats d Braves 3-2.  WP: Jon Rauch.  LP: Peter Moylan (Starters: Tim Hudson and Odalis Perez)
  • 2007: mlb.com.  Marlins d Nats 9-2.  WP: Dontrelle Willis.  LP: John Patterson
  • 2006: mlb.com.  Mets d Nats 7-1.  WP: Brian Bannister.  LP: Ramon Ortiz
  • 2005: mlb.com.  Nats beat Arizona 5-3. WP: Livan Hernandez. LP: Javier Vazquez

2014 Rotation Rankings 1-30

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The ace on the best rotation in the game.  Photo: talksportsphilly.com

The ace on the best rotation in the game. Photo: talksportsphilly.com

Last year, with my excitement over Washington’s Dan Haren signing and my supposition that Washington had the best rotation in the game, I ranked all 30 team’s rotations ahead of the 2013 season.  Then, after the season was done, I revisited these pre-season rankings with a post-mortem to see how close (or, more appropriately, how far off) my rankings turned out to be.

Here’s the 2014 version of this same post: Pre-season rankings of the MLB’s rotations; 1 through 30.  Warning; this is another huge post.  I guess I’m just verbose.  At this point midway through Spring Training there’s just a couple of possible FAs left that could have altered these rankings (Ervin Santana being the important name unsigned right now), so I thought it was time to publish.

The top teams are easy to guess; once you get into the 20s, it becomes pretty difficult to distinguish between these teams.  Nonetheless, here we go (I heavily depended on baseball-reference.com and mlbdepthcharts.com for this post, along with ESPN’s transaction list per team and Baseball Prospectus’ injury reports for individual players).

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Written by Todd Boss

March 10th, 2014 at 9:50 am

Posted in Majors Pitching

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Statistics and Rentention rates of Arbitration case players

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Remember when the team took this guy to Arbitration?  Photo: Nats official photo day via deadspin.com

Remember when the team took this guy to Arbitration? Photo: Nats official photo day via deadspin.com

Just as the optimism of the new baseball season begins to flourish every February, as pitchers and catchers report and fans start to get excited for the newseason, some teams and players get to experience one of the more unpleasant realities of the modern baseball game; Arbitration hearings.

The 2013 “arbitration season” was the first since 1974 that didn’t feature a single case of player versus club, perhaps a sign that teams are finally understanding just how damaging these cases can be.  Players are forced to sit and listen to their clubs argue just how mediocore or awful they are just to save (in some cases) a few hundred thousand dollars.  The teams use whatever statistical slant they need to prove or disprove their points, depend heavily on out-dated/old school stats (Wins, Saves, RBI) to make their cases, and generally speaking do their best to save a buck.  I read an example of a catcher who was in the top 10 in the league in batting and mentioned that as a stat in his favor, only to watch the team pull out a COMPLETE list of catchers (including guys who had like 10 at-bats) and show that the player wasn’t even in the top HALF of hitting for catchers.  And the team representative stated it with a straight face.  Meanwhile, these same teams generally have no issues signing veteran guys to multi-million dollar salaries to serve as middle relievers, backup outfields or 5th starters.  It seems like a completely demoralizing process and I’m surprised teams even come close to arguing with their players any longer.

However, as it stands now there’s a whole slew of potential cases out there where players and clubs couldn’t come to an agreement ahead of the Jan 17th 2014 deadline.  None more important than the Nats two open cases with Tyler Clippard and newly acquired Doug Fister.

Thanks to Maury Brown of the bizofbaseball.com blog, who keeps fantastic notes on Arbitration case results over the years for the core of the data that I used to make this post.  This link shows all the argued cases from 2005 to 2012 and this link shows the settled cases to 2011 (needs updating; mlbtraderumors also keeps similar information that is up-to-date for 20122013 and 2014).

Commenter Luke S. asked whether there was a relationship between teams who took their players to arguments and eventual retention.  I thought that was a fascinating question, so I did some digging.  Borrowing from Brown’s aforementioned links and then adding in some “player disposition” information, I’ve created an XLS (uploaded to Google Docs here and added to the NAR creation links to the right) that tracks all arbitration cases going back to 2005 with the disposition results.  I’ve cut and pasted the core of the data here (leaving out the salaries and the description of what happened to the player).

Year Team Player Delta Winner Still with club? Depart club THAT year?
2012 Miami Anibal Sanchez $1,100,000 Player No Yes
2012 Washington John Lannan $700,000 Club No Yes
2012 Milwaukee Jose Veras $375,000 Club No Yes
2012 Miami Emilio Bonifacio $250,000 Player No Yes
2012 Baltimore Brad Bergesen $400,000 Club No Yes
2012 Tampa Bay Jeff Niemann $450,000 Club No No
2012 Pittsburgh Garrett Jones $250,000 Club No No
2011 Houston Hunter Pence $1,750,000 Player No Yes
2011 Pittsburgh Ross Ohlendorf $625,000 Player No Yes
2011 Los Angeles Angels Jered Weaver $1,435,000 Club Yes No
2010 Miami Cody Ross $250,000 Player No Yes
2010 Chicago Cubs Ryan Theriot $800,000 Club No Yes
2010 Washington Brian Bruney $350,000 Club No Yes
2010 Houston Wandy Rodriguez $2,000,000 Club No No
2010 Milwaukee Corey Hart $650,000 Player No No
2010 Tampa Bay BJ Upton $300,000 Club No No
2010 Los Angeles Angels Jeff Mathis $600,000 Player No No
2010 Washington Sean Burnett $150,000 Club No No
2009 Washington Shawn Hill $275,000 Player No Yes
2009 Miami Dan Uggla $950,000 Player No No
2009 Tampa Bay Dioner Navarro $400,000 Club No No
2008 Los Angeles Angels Francisco Rodriguez $2,500,000 Club No Yes
2008 Colorado Brian Fuentes $1,450,000 Club No Yes
2008 Washington Felipe Lopez $300,000 Club No Yes
2008 Houston Mark Lorretta $2,150,000 Club No Yes
2008 Philadelphia Ryan Howard $3,000,000 Player Yes No
2008 New York Mets Oliver Perez $1,775,000 Player No No
2008 Houston Jose Valverde $1,500,000 Club No No
2008 New York Yankees Chien-Ming Wang $600,000 Club No No
2007 Miami Miguel Cabrera $700,000 Player No Yes
2007 San Diego Todd Walker $1,200,000 Player No Yes
2007 Washington John Patterson $1,000,000 Club No Yes
2007 Washington Chad Cordero $500,000 Player No No
2007 Los Angeles Dodgers Joe Beimel $337,500 Club No No
2007 Tampa Bay Josh Paul $315,000 Club No No
2007 Miami Kevin Gregg $125,000 Club No No
2006 Washington Alfonso Soriano $2,000,000 Club No Yes
2006 Baltimore Rodrigo Lopez $750,000 Club No Yes
2006 Minnesota Kyle Lohse $550,000 Player No Yes
2006 Colorado Sun-Woo “Sunny” Kim $200,000 Club No Yes
2006 Kansas City Emil Brown $375,000 Player No No
2006 Tampa Bay Josh Paul $275,000 Club No No
2005 Oakland Juan Cruz $260,000 Club No Yes
2005 Minnesota Kyle Lohse $250,000 Player No No
2005 Kansas City Jeremy Affeldt $250,000 Club No No

Now, thanks to some pivot table work in XLS and some other interesting analysis, here’s what we can glean from the 45 cases that have been argued going back to 2005:

  • Clubs are 28/45 (62%), players are 17/45 (38%) in the last nine years of cases.  Per Brown’s overall stats, Clubs hold a 291-214 lead in these cases  historically, a 57% success rate, meaning the clubs are getting better at these hearings over the past decade or so.
  • Washington is the  leading “arguing” club with 8 of 45 cases since 2005.  This is not a category with which we want to be a leader.  I attribute a lot of these cases to an antagonistic former GM (Jim Bowden) who had no issues going to war over relatively small amounts, coupled with a new owner who had a very bad reputation for penny pinching in the early years of his tenure.  That doesn’t absolve Mike Rizzo though; he’s already had 3 cases argued in his four seasons of management.
  • 42% of all cases since 2005 by just 3 clubs (Washington, Miami and Tampa).   The two Florida clubs are both notorious for squeezing money, albeit for different alleged reasons.  Miami because their owner is well established as being in the game for the money, and Tampa because they’ve long since established the revenue issues their stadium situation places on the franchise.
  • 12 of 30 clubs in the game have not had an arb argument/case dating to 2005.  To me, this means 12 of the 30 clubs have figured out that $200,000 isn’t worth destroying a player’s ego.
  • Smallest amount argued over: $125k by Miami in 2007 and $150K by Wash in 2010 w/ Sean Burnett.   Again, no real surprise here that Miami went to arguments over $125k.
  • Largest amount argued over: $3M by Philadelphia w/ Ryan Howard (player won)
  • Biggest player demand: Francisco Rodriguez $12,500,000 (player lost).
  • Biggest club offer ($10M twice; both club wins).  One of these was Washington’s Alfonso Soriano case in 2006.

So, based on these numbers, lets think about the two cases Washington may have pending.  The amount delta with Washington’s two 2014 cases is $3M with Fister and $1.9M with Clippard.  So for comparison purposes, the $3M delta with Fister would tie the largest ever delta argued before the court.   The $1.9M delta with Clippard is large as well, in the top 5 deltas ever taken to arbitration.  Clearly, the team and these players have some serious work to do.  Clippard is seemingly in more jeopardy of losing an arbitration case, thanks to his “demotion” and sudden lack of save opportunities.  The fact that he is easily argued as our best reliever and has some of the best BAA/BABIP stats in the league is meaningless; no saves means less money in front of the panel.   And what a welcome to the organization it would be for Fister to arrive and before throwing a pitch in anger having to hear how crummy a pitcher he is.  I feel its vital to clear these cases up, extend the guys, do whatever you have to do in order to avoid the arbitration hearing.

Lastly, here’s a couple of interesting player retention stats related to those who go to arbitration:

  • Just 2 of 45 players who have argued arb cases remain with their teams to this day; Jered Weaver and Ryan Howard.  That seems like an awfully small number until you consider the nature of player movement in the game.  The fact of the matter is this; players are constantly on the move in baseball, especially once they hit arbitration age where their salaries quickly overshadow their value.  Teams have no issues employing pre-arb guys who are replacement level players.  But once their salaries start jumping up and you have ready made replacements in AAA who cost 1/3rd or 1/4th as much as a 2nd or 3rd year arbitration player, it becomes pretty easy to trade, non-tender or DFA the near replacement level guy.  So while it seems natural to think that players who argue with their teams are more apt to leave … I think perhaps its more common for guys to just end up leaving thanks to the huge churn and burn that exists at the back end of rosters.That being said, I’m sure something could be gleaned by doing this same “disposition analysis” for the 100s of players who settled their arbitration cases without hearings … but that’s just far too large a project for today’s little blog entry.
  • Here is something rather interesting though: 23 of 45 players who argued w/ their clubs were traded or released THAT same season.  Including a number of the Nationals argued cases.  John Lannan lost his arb case in 2012, was relegated to AAA and was non-tendered.  Bruney was released just two months into the 2010 season.  Both Shawn Hill and John Patterson were cut in spring training before their salaries could even kick in.  Felipe Lopez moped his way into a July release the summer after his hearing.   And generally speaking about half of all players who had arguments ended up in new organizations either during or just after the season in which they argued with their teams.  Is this a statement about player-club relations?

Anyway; just some interesting Arbitration Case stuff for you this cold January friday day.  Extend Fister!  Sign Clippard!  Don’t go to hearings!

2014 Projected Pitching Staffs and Rotations; entire Nats system

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Mr. Detwiler's 2014 assignment will have cascading effects for MLB and AAA.  Photo Haraz Ghanbari/AP via federalbaseball.com

Mr. Detwiler’s 2014 role will have serious cascading effects for MLB and AAA. Photo Haraz Ghanbari/AP via federalbaseball.com

OK here we are.  We did seven comprehensive pitching staff reviews (the GCL review is here, which has links to the other 6 reviews) in order to arrive at this post.

So, without further ado, here’s what I’m predicting for all seven systems right now, absent any more deals (like say for a MLB lefty or another starter or trading a closer to Chicago):

 MLB Level

  • MLB Rotation: Strasburg, Gonzalez (L), Zimmermann, Fister, Detwiler (L)
  • MLB Bullpen: Soriano, Storen, Clippard, Stammen, Blevens (L), Ohlendorf, Roark
    MLB out of Org: Haren, Duke (L), Abad (L), Krol (L), HRodriguez

Discussion: the 5th starter competition could shake out so many different ways, that it almost is not worth predicting.  I can see any of the following scenarios playing out:

  • Detwiler gets one last shot at the 5th starter as the incumbent, pushing Jordan to AAA and Ohlendorf/Roark to the bullpen (my current prediction).
  • Jordan wins the 5th starter, pushing Detwiler to the bullpen as a power lefty by virtue of his lack of options.  This would push (likely) Roark to AAA.
  • Roark wins the 5th starter, continuing his blistering sub 2.00 ERA pace from September, pushing Detwiler to the bullpen and Jordan to AAA.
  • Less likely, Karns wins the 5th spot, which pushes Detwiler to the bullpen and Roark & Jordan to AAA.
  • Even more less likely, Ohlendorf wins the spot, which pushes Detwiler to the bullpen but lets Roark stay as the long man/spot-starter.
  • Mike Rizzo shocks us again with another starter acquisition; Detwiler goes to the bullpen, Ohlendorf stays as long man, and Roark & Jordan are in AAA.

Why am I predicting Detwiler will win the rotation spot?  Partly because of options, but partly because I’ve sort of come back around on him after looking more closely at his 2013 season.  He had a decent to good 2012; he posted a 118 ERA+ and even if his advanced FIP/SIERA didn’t indicate he was quite that good, he was still more than a servicable 5th starter.  Then in his first seven 2013 starts he was also very good (he had a 2.53 ERA in his first 7 starts and 42 2/3 innings … he got hurt in his 8th start).  The rest of his season was a mess, with him fighting injury and ballooning his seasonal ERA from 2.53 to more than 4.00 in five more starts.   If he comes back healthy to start 2014, why wouldn’t we expect more of the same performance that he had at the start of 2013?  For these two reasons, I think Detwiler breaks camp as the 5th starter.  Now …. I have zero confidence that he’ll remain healthy enough to keep his spot in the rotation, but that’s a problem for another day.  And a problem for which this team has plenty of coverage.

Another scenario that could affect this predition: Rizzo acquires yet another lefty reliever (latest rumors were about Scott Downs before he signed elsewhere, but I’m sure a trade could be arranged), which complicates any of these predictions because it means one less spot for either Ohlendorf or Roark.  For a team that seems so obsessed with left-handed relievers, we sure have let a bunch of them go in recent years (Duke, Abad, Krol this year, Gorzelanny, Lannan, Burnett and Gonzalez last year).  Maybe we should just hang on to one or two of these guys?  I will say this: I do NOT believe that the Nats will choose Xavier Cedeno and his 6 2013 MLB innings for the Nats over Roark just because he’s left handed at this point.

Personally, I think Roark and Ohlendorf pitched like big leagers last year and deserve to stay in the majors until they prove otherwise.  Ohlendorf’s recent $1.25M deal seems to indicate he’s more likely to stick than Roark, but perhaps the long-man/spot starter competition is open as well.  This pushes previous stalwards in the bullpen (specifically Ryan Mattheus ) to AAA.   I will say this though: if you expect to win, you have to go north with your 25 best guys no matter how much they make or their option status.  And at the end of last year, that undoubtedly included Tanner Roark.  So thats why I’m going with Roark in the pen to start the season.

One other wrinkle; does Rizzo trade one of Storen or Clippard to Chicago, who desperately needs a closer?  This seems less likely, especially for a team that has World Series aspirations, but the truth is this team is paying a LOT of money into its bullpen ($25M and counting), has three closer-quality guys, and potentially a log jam of righties (see the AAA bullpen prediction for more).  I see this as less likely unless Chicago sends back pieces that we really need, but rumors get started because GMs are talking, so maybe this still happens.  But if a guy like that is traded, then that re-opens a slot for the deposed Mattheus or possibly the newly healthy an electric Garcia.   I think these are lesser possibilities and both those guys are pushed to AAA to begin the season.

I’m sure this section garners plenty of discussion; have at it in the comments :-)

AAA Level

  • AAA Rotation: Jordan, Karns, Rosenbaum (L), Young, MLFA or two?
  • AAA Bullpen: Barrett, Mattheus, Garcia, Davis,  Cedeno (L), Robertson (L), Herron (AA?), Alfaro, Stange, Delcarmen
  • AAA Release candidates: Meyers, Lehman
  • AAA out of Org: Maya, Tatusko, Clay, Mandel, Torra, Broadway, Crotta, Lowe, Kimball, Accardo, Bramhall, Romero (L)

Discussion

So, the projected AAA rotation has one hold over in Rosenbaum, two “promotions” in Jordan and Karns, and then a whole bunch of question marks.  Is Chris Young healthy enough to pitch this year?  Is Brad Meyers?  Right now i’ve got Meyers as a release candidate, figuring that he hasn’t been healthy in two years and may be finished.  I have to think that the team will give a couple of lower-level free agents minor league contracts to try to pitch their way back into the league, much as they have done with the likes of Zach Duke, Ross Ohlendorf and Young in the last couple of off-seasons.  There’s plenty of guys out there who may make sense; a quick glance at the current list of free agents offers intriguing names (think of someone like a Joe Saunders or a Barry Zito or an Aaron Harang; do you think these guys are getting guaranteed contracts for 2014?).  I’m predicting that at least one or two of these types of guys get MLFA deals and end up in the AAA rotation, though I suppose at least one guy i’m projecting from the AA rotation could start in AAA.

The AAA bullpen has a couple of MLB-quality arms in Ryan Mattheus and Christian Garcia who we know can contribute at the MLB level but who end up here because of a numbers game at the big club.  The AAA closer likely is Aaron Barrett, newly added to the 40-man and looking to make his mark.  Erik Davis is here, who I kind of soured on last season but his numbers in small MLB samples were good and I think he can contribute in a Craig Stammen sort of way going forward.  We have a couple of hold-over loogies in Xavier Cedeno and Tyler Robertson, the latter of which successfully passed through waivers and was outrighted to Syracuse last month.   We already have three off-season MLFA signings (Gabriel Alfaro, Daniel Stange, Manny Delcarmen) who all project as righty middle relievers, making it seemingly less likely that the team will retain some of its own MLFAs (the likes of Ryan Tatusko and Jeff Mandel being longer serving Nats minor leaguers who pitched decently in 2013).

But as you can see there’s more candidates here than there is room on the Syracuse roster (10 for 7 spots, and that’s assuming that Pat Lehman doesn’t make the cut either).  There will be injuries and D/L stints among these guys, but there may also be some releases next March.

Still, a AAA rotation led by Jordan and Karns (and possibly Ohlendorf and/or Roark if another move is made at the MLB level) leaves Syracuse with a pretty good staff to start the season.  And I like the fact that we have one reasonably accomplished MLB starter (Jordan) waiting in the wings to go along with a guy who might get there soon (Karns), to go with potentially a couple other former major league guys who are working their way back.

AA Level

  • AA Rotation: Cole, Hill, Solis (L), Schwartz, Treinen (AAA?)
  • AA Bullpen: Benincasa, Mirowski, Holland,  Swynenberg, Grace (L), Bates, KPerez, Gilliam (swingman), Spann (L)
  • AA release candidates: Perry, Selik, Demny, RMartin
  • AA out of Org: Broderick, Ray, McCoy, Frias, Holder, Bray

Discussion

We’ll see this trend again and again; despite the fact that the likes of A.J. Cole and Taylor Hill reached AA last year, the organization seems to like seeing these guys “beat the level” a second season in a row before moving guys up.  And so I see these guys in AA again.  Sammy Solis here is no surprise; he’s nearly 26 and has been mentioned as a MLB bullpen candidate already.  Meanwhile for the time being i’ve got Blake Treinen here, repeating the level, but can also see him moving up to AAA.  His numbers were good but not *that* good last year, and I left him in AA assuming that the team will try out some re-treads in the AAA rotation.  Lastly Blake Schwartz gets a deserved promotion after leading Potomac in IP, wins and starts last year.

In the bullpen I think Robert Benincasa is your closer to start, with Richie Mirowski and Neil Holland continuing to put up dominating late-innings relief.  All three guys should be pushing for promotions to AAA.  We’re a little light on lefties here admittedly.  A couple of injury-prone guys in Ryan Perry and Cameron Selik are listed as release candidates in the face of a number of guys meriting placement here.  Paul Demny and Rafael Martin have been around forever and may also be release candidates at this point, but they also could (at least in Demny’s case) convert to relief and try to rekindle their careers.  Lastly, there’s newly acquired Matthew Spann, the bounty for the Nats gambit on David Dejesus near the end of last season.   He’s a lefty who looks like he could start but i’ve got him in the bullpen for now.

High-A Level

  • High-A rotation: Purke (L), Anderson, Mooneyham (L), Encarnacion, Bacus, Turnbull (bullpen?) (L)
  • High-A bullpen: Wort (AA?), Holt (AA?), Fischer, Henke, Mendez, Harper (L), Davis, Thomas (L), RPena (swingman), Dickson (swingman)
  • High-A release candidates: Dupra, Rauh (starter?), Meza (L)
  • High-A out of org: Pineyro, Hawkins

Discussion

I don’t think there’s too many surprises in this rotation: Matthew Purke leads the line and should push for a promotion mid-season.  If he doesn’t dominate High-A at this point it may be time to think about moving him to the pen.   The same can be said about Brett Mooneyham and especially Kylin Turnbull, two guys who (by now) should have accomplished this level.   Otherwise the rest of this projected rotation are three guys who succeeded in Low-A in 2013: Dixon AndersonPedro Encarnacion and Dakoda Bacus.

In the bullpen, at this point i’m not sure who the closer candidates are to start the season.  Perhaps Greg Holt starts in the role.  Perhaps low-A phenom Gilberto Mendez gets a shot at closing.  Both Holt and Rob Wort may belong in AA at this point; Wort began 2013 there but there’s a lot of relievers in that AA section who would have to get hurt/be released to make room for these two guys right now.  There’s a couple of decent swingmen candidates here in Ronald Pena and Ian Dickson both started for long stretches in Hagerstown and could be useful guys in Potomac.    There’s a lot of names in the mix here for this bullpen; from here on down there could be plenty of releases come the end of spring.

 

Low-A Level

  • Low-A rotation: Giolito, Johansen, Voth, Lee (high-A?) (L), Orlan (L)
  • Low-A bullpen: Self (high-A?), Selsor (swingman), Ullmann, Pivetta, Simms, Hollins, Napoli (L), Bafidis (L), Suero (swingman), Valdez, Walsh (L), Aries
  • Low-A release candidates: Joyce, Waterman, Boyden
  • Low-A out of org: McKenzie, Smith

Discussion

I like this rotation, a lot.  Two of our best prospects, a third guy in Austin Voth who impressed last year, a guy in Nick Lee who probably deserves a high-A rotation spot and then Auburn’s staff leader in Robert Orlan.  Jake Johansen may find himself needing a promotion quickly, if he’s all that he’s cracked up to be.

The bullpen is going to be tough; basically every college aged short-season guy who pitched well in 2013 is named in this bullpen competition.  There’s a couple of interesting DSL graduates in Wander Suero and Phillips Valdez, some big arms in Ryan Ullmann and Nick Pivetta, and some polished college-aged lefties in David Napoli, Cory Bafidis and Jake Walsh.   I have 15 names here for 7-8 spots; Viera’s extended spring training could be busy this year.

 

Short-A Level

  • Short-A rotation: Barrientos, JRodriguez, Silvestre (high-A?) (L), and then 2013 draftees and/or drop-downs from Low-A
  • Short-A bullpen: DWilliams, Cooper, KRodriguez, Derosier, Webb (L), Spezial (L), 2013 draftees and drop-downs from Low-A
  • Short-A release candidates: Sylvestri, Grisz
  • Short-A out of org: Hudgins, Simko, Dicharry

GCL Level

  • Rookie Rotation: Ott (L), 2013 draftees and DSL graduates
  • Rookie bullpen: RLopez, 2013 draftees and DSL graduates
  • Rookie release candidates: DRamos, MRodriguez

Discussion

Its frankly impossible to predict the short-season squads, since (especially Auburn) they exist to park newly signed draftees.  However, I do see a ton of guys who competed and succeeded in the GCL this year who won’t necessarily make the Hagerstown squad, and I see them forming a good chunk of the Auburn squad.   The rest of the Auburn squad will be populated with upper-end 2014 draftees and losers from the Hagerstown pitching staff competition.  More of the same with the 2014 GCL squad, which was heavily tilted with DSL graduates this year.  The Nats tend to focus on college arms and thus only small college guys are generally put in the GCL in their draft year.

Nats 2013 Arbitration cases; Non-tender candidates and salary analysis

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Ohlendorf's old-school/new-look windup has resurrected his MLB career.  Mandatory Credit: Evan Habeeb-USA TODAY Sports

Ohlendorf’s old-school/new-look windup has resurrected his MLB career. Mandatory Credit: Evan Habeeb-USA TODAY Sports

In 2012, the Nats had no less than 10 arbitration candidates once the dust settled on the Super-2 cutoff.  The team cut ties with three of the players (Jesus Flores, Tom Gorzelanny and John Lannan) and then subsequently struggled in areas where Gorzelanny (left handed matchups) and Lannan (5th starter) may very well have helped during hte 2013 season.  We predicted these three non-tenders and mostly agreed with the thought process behind each decision at the time.  This is a complete “hindsight is 20-20″ analysis, but it does go to show that perhaps instead of dumping $11M/year onto a mediocre closer they could have fortified their ranks and kept all three players (who together wouldn’t have totaled the $11M Rafael Soriano got) and perhaps wouldn’t have struggled in these areas for so long.  Or perhaps not.  I digress.

For 2013, the Nats have 8 Arbitration-eligible players.   They had a few other candidates before some demotions (Danny Espinosa, Ryan Perry) and releases (Roger Bernadina and Henry Rodriguez) cleared out potential non-tender/additional arbitration candidates early.  Unlike last year there’s really not much argument about nearly any of our arbitration-eligible players (even mlbtraderumors does not list any Nats in its non-tender candidate list).  Lets take a look at the 8 guys, their 2013 salaries, their 2014 estimates, and discuss.  The salary projections are from Matt Swartz‘s mlbtraderumors model, and I’ll discuss if I think they’re slightly over- or under-representative.  As with all salary discussions, all information comes from Baseball Prospectus’ Cots page.

Player Arb Status 2013 Salary 2014 Swartz Estimate
Jordan Zimmermann Arb 3 $5.3M $10.5M
Tyler Clippard Arb 3 $4.0M $6.2M
Stephen Strasburg Arb 1 $3.9M $3.9M
Ian Desmond Arb 2 $3.8M $6.9M
Drew Storen Arb 2 $2.5M $3.6M
Ross Detwiler Arb 2 $2.3M $2.8M
Wilson Ramos Arb 1 $501k $2.1M
Ross Ohlendorf Arb 2 ? $1.3M

Frankly, the only possible non-tender candidate I see here is Ross Ohlendorf.  He signed a minor league free agency deal with Washington whose terms were never released, so one can only assume it was for the major league minimum or near it.   He went through arbitration once already, earning more than $2M/year from Pittsburgh in 2011 before bottoming out as a starter.  He’s reinvented himself this year though and merits a tender.  Paying anything less than $2M/year for what we got from Ohlendorf would be a bargain.  If the Nats got him for Swartz’s estimate of $1.3M that’d be fantastic.

Speaking of Swartz’s estimates, lets take a look at his 10 predictions from last year versus what transpired:

Swartz’s arb salary model for our 2012 candidates
Player Swartz Estimate Actual Salary
John Lannan $5.0M NT $2.5M
Jordan Zimmermann $4.9M $5.3M
Tyler Clippard $4.6M $4.0M
Ian Desmond $3.2M $3.8M
Tom Gorzelanny $2.8M NT $2.6M
Ross Detwiler $2.2M $2.3M
Drew Storen $1.7M $2.5M
Jesus Flores $1.2M NT ML
Roger Bernadina $1.1M $1.2M
Craig Stammen $900k $875k*

(* Stammen signed a 2 yr/2.25M deal paying him 875k and $1.375M his first two arb years.  After non tenders Lannan signed a 1yr/$2.5M deal with Philadelphia, Gorzelanny signed a 2yr/$5.7M deal that pays him $2.6M and $2.8M and which gave him a $300k signing bonus.  Flores signed a minor league deal).

I’m not sure I’d call Swartz’s model the self-titled “very accurate” based on these numbers.  He was significantly wrong on the three biggest cases the Nats faced last year but proved be much more accurate on the lesser players.   It sounds to me like his system does a great job of predicting arbitration figures for bit players but struggles with significant players.  I also get the feeling that the Nationals are less willing to argue with their players than other teams, after a series of brusing and self-defeating fights over a few hundred thousand dollars under the previous regime (relative pennies, all things considered).

With that in mind, lets do a little arbitration salary analysis for our 8 guys.   The general rule of thumb with arbitration salaries is that they are intended to ramp up the full FA value of the player over the three arbitration periods.   So in the first arbitration year, the salary should be roughtly 40% of the full FA value.  60% in the second year and 80% in the third year.  Players with a fourth year are tricky; generally i’ve just assumed that by the 4th year you’re paying them nearly full FA value (we don’t have any 4th year arbitration cases this year, so we don’t have to guess).  The table below contains the Swartz estimates, then has calculations of the player’s full FA value based on the Swartz estimate, then my own personal estimate of each player’s full FA value, and a working-backwards arbitration salary guess for each guy:

Player Arb Status 2013 Salary 2014 Swartz Estimate Full FA Value based on Swartz Estimate My Est of full FA value Arb estimate based on my full FA value
Jordan Zimmermann Arb 3 $5.3M $10.5M $13.125M $15M $12M
Tyler Clippard Arb 3 $4.0M $6.2M $7.75M $8m $6.4M
Stephen Strasburg Arb 1 $3.9M $3.9M $9.75M $15M at least $6M
Ian Desmond Arb 2 $3.8M $6.9M $11.5M $15M $9M
Drew Storen Arb 2 $2.5M $3.6M $6M $6M $3.6M
Ross Detwiler Arb 2 $2.3M $2.8M $4.66M $5M at best $3M
Wilson Ramos Arb 1 $501k $2.1M $5.25M $8M if healthy $3.2M
Ross Ohlendorf Arb 2 ? $1.3M $2.16M $2.5M at best $1.5M

Lets go player by player:

  • Jordan Zimmermann: 2013 Salary was $5.3M.  Swartz guesses he’ll get $10.5M while I think he’ll get more.  If Zimmermann hit the open market right now you have to think he’s at least a $15M/year guy, and I think the team will have to pay him as such after his 2013 season.   The Nats face an interesting decision with Zimmermann; they clearly waited one season too long to lock him down and he now may cost double what it cost the team to secure Gio Gonzalez‘s services.
  • Tyler Clippard: 2013 salary $4.0M.  Swartz guesses he’ll get $6.2M.  Clippard represents a different arbitration case; by virtue of the fact that Clippard went from being the 2012 closer to being the 2013 setup guy, he’ll have a harder time arguing for additional money despite his excellent season.  Why?  Because arbitration is driven by the same old-school stats (Wins, Saves, ERA, RBI) that drive sabrematricians crazy, and unfortunately Clippard didn’t get them in 2013.  So even though I think he’s a $8M/year closer for a team that gives him that opportunity, he won’t get that value in arbitration.  I’ll be surprised if he gets near to Swartz’s estimate of $6.2M.  Honestly the team should look to buy him out of his last two arbitration seasons and look to move him to a team in need of a closer.
  • Stephen Strasburg; 2013 Salary $3.9M.  Swartz guesses he’ll get $3.9M again?  Clearly something is wrong with his system.  No matter what you think about Strasburg’s 2013 season … by nearly any measure available he’s one of the 10 best pitchers in the game.   If he hit the open market right now I’d guess he’d command at least $20m/year, but for simplicity’s sake I’m putting his FA value at a conservative $15M, which would equate with a $6M valuation for his first arbitration season.   Do the Nats just buy him out of his arbitration figures, much as the Giants did with Tim Lincecum?
  • Ian Desmond: 2013 salary $3.8M.  Swartz guess: $6.9M.  Again, I feel like Swartz is undervaluing a significant player here.  Desmond has now established himself as one of the best shortstops in the game.  If you want a comp, look no further than Elvis Andrus‘s $15M/year contract.  I think Desmond is absolutely worth a 6/$90M deal or higher right now, and I think we’ll see it in his arbitration case.
  • Drew Storen: 2013 salary $2.5M.  Swartz estimate: $3.6M.  Here I think Swartz is right on; because Storen’s not getting saves right now, and because of his crummy 2013, I’ve got his FA value pegged at a mid-range closer cost of $6M/year.  Which puts him right in line for a $3.6M payday in his second arbitration year.  As with Clippard, I think Storen’s value is limited as long as he doesn’t get saves, and the team should look to move him before he gets too expensive.
  • Ross Detwiler: 2013 salary $2.3M.  Swartz Estimate $2.8M.  Frankly Swartz may be over-estimating on Detwiler, based on his 2013 season.  At this point in Detwiler’s career its hard to say he’s any more valuable on the FA market than John Lannan was last year (getting a 1yr $2.5M deal).  Which means that any arbitration award above $2.5M may mean Detwiler enters non-tender territory if he struggles in 2014.  Nonetheless, I think he’ll end up getting just a modest raise and an organizational ultimatum for 2014.
  • Wilson Ramos: 2013 salary $501k.  Swartz Estimate: $2.1M.   Here, despite my thinking that Ramos is eventually going to be more valuable than Swartz’s estimate indicat es, I believe that his number will be about right.  Ramos needs to stay on the field consistently to realize his full FA value, and right now that just hasn’t happened.
  • Ross Ohlendorf: 2013 salary unknown.  Swartz Estimate: $1.3M.  This guess is as good as any; at best Ohlendorf is a $2.5M player on the FA market and even that might be a stretch.  A right-handed long-relief guy isn’t going to command a ton of money.

Total payroll hit: $37.3M if all of Swartz’s estimates come true exactly.  $44.7M if all of my estimates above come true.  Honestly I think my calculated estimates are slightly high in a couple of cases, so I think the arbitration bill will come in at around $42.5M.  Which, by the way, would put 2014′s payroll at around $122M before signing a single free agent.  So think about that and think about what the Nats “real” payroll budget is before thinking that they’ve got some significant signing in their back pocket.

2013 Pre-season Rotation Rankings revisited

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Scherzer's dominant Cy Young season brings the Tigers to the top.  Photo AP Photo/Paul Sancya

Scherzer’s dominant Cy Young season brings the Tigers to the top. Photo AP Photo/Paul Sancya

In January, after most of marquee FA signings had shaken out, I ranked the 2013 rotations of teams 1-30.  I was excited about the Nats rotation, speculated more than once that we had the best rotation in the league, and wanted to make a case for it by stacking up the teams 1-30.

I thought it’d be an interesting exercise to revisit my rankings now that the season is over with a hindsight view, doing some post-mortem analysis and tacking on some advanced metrics to try to quantify who really performed the best this season.  For advanced metrics I’m leaning heavily on Fangraphs team starter stats page, whose Dashboard view quickly gives the team ERA, FIP, xFIP, WAR, SIERA, K/9 and other key stats that I’ll use in this posting.

  1. (#2 pre-season) DetroitVerlander, Fister, Sanchez, Scherzer, Porcello (with Alvarez providing some cover).  Scherzer likely wins the Cy Young.  Three guys with 200+ strikeouts.  The league leader in ERA.  And we havn’t even mentioned Justin Verlander yet.  A team starting pitching fWAR of 25.3, which dwarfed the next closest competitor.  There’s no question; we knew Detroit’s rotation was going to be good, but not this good.  Here’s a scary fact; their rotation BABIP was .307, so in reality this group should have done even better than they actually did.  Detroit’s rotation was *easily* the best rotation in the league and all 6 of these guys return for 2014.
  2. (#3 Preseason): Los Angeles DodgersKershaw, Greinke, Ryu, Nolasco, and Capuano (with Fife, BeckettLilly, Billingsley and a few others helping out); The 1-2 punch of Kershaw (the NL’s clear Cy Young favorite) and Greinke (who quietly went 15-4) was augmented by the stand-out rookie performance of Ryu, the surprisingly good half-season worth of starts from Nolasco, and then the all-hands-on deck approach for the rest of the starts.  This team used 11 different starters on the year thanks to injury and ineffectiveness, but still posted the 2nd best team FIP and 5th best fWAR in the league.
  3. (#8 pre-season): St. LouisWainwright, Lynn, Miller, Wacha and Kelly (with Garcia, Westbrook, and a few others pitching in).  Team leader Chris Carpenter missed the whole season and this team still was one of the best rotations in the league.  Westbrook missed time, Garcia only gave them 9 starts.  That’s the team’s planned #1, #3 and #4 starters.  What happened?  They call up Miller and he’s fantastic.  They call up Wacha and he nearly pitches back to back no-hitters at the end of the season.  They give Kelly a starting nod out of the bullpen and he delivers with a better ERA+ than any of them from the #5 spot.  St. Louis remains the bearer-standard of pitching development (along with Tampa and Oakland to an extent) in the game.
  4. (#22 pre-season): Pittsburgh:  Liriano, Burnett, Locke, Cole, Morton (with Rodriguez and a slew of call-ups helping out).  How did this team, which I thought was so low pre-season, turn out to have the 4th best starter FIP in the game?  Francisco Liriano had a renessaince season, Burnett continued to make Yankees fans shake their heads, and their top 6 starters (by number of starts) all maintained sub 4.00 ERAs.  Gerrit Cole has turned out to be the real deal and will be a force in this league.
  5. (#1 pre-season) WashingtonStrasburg, Gonzalez, Zimmermann, Haren, Detwiler with Jordan, Roark and other starts thrown to Karns and Ohlendorf).   Despite Haren’s continued attempts to sabotage this rotation’s mojo, they still finished 3rd in xFIP and 5th in FIP.  Haren’s 11-19 team record and substandard ERA/FIP values drug this group down, but there wasn’t much further up they could have gone on this list.   If  you had replaced Haren with a full season of Jordan’s production, maybe this team jumps up a little bit, but the teams above them are tough to beat.
  6. (#11 pre-season) Atlanta: Hudson, Medlen, Minor, Teheran and Maholm, (with rookie Alex Wood contributing towards the end of the season).  Brandon Beachy only gave them 5 starts; had he replaced Maholm this rotation could have done better.  Hudson went down with an awful looking injury but was ably covered for by Wood.  They head into 2014 with a relatively formidable  and cheap potential rotation of  Medlen, Minor, Teheran, Beachy and Wood, assuming they don’t resign Hudson.  How did they over-perform?  Teheran finally figured it out, Maholm was more than servicable the first couple months, Wood was great and came out of nowhere.
  7. (#26 pre-season) ClevelandJimenez, Masterson, McAllister, Kluber, Kazmir.  Too high for this group?  7th in rotation fWAR, 8th in FIP, and 6th in xFIP.  This group, which I thought was going to be among the worst in the league, turned out to be one of the best.  Jimenez and Masterson both had rebound years with a ton of Ks, and the rest of this crew pitches well enough to remain around league average.  They were 2nd best in the league in K/9.  You can make the argument that they benefitted from the weakened AL Central, but they still made the playoffs with a relative rag-tag bunch.
  8. (#9 pre-season) CincinnatiCueto, Latos, Bailey, Arroyo, Leake (with Tony Cingrani).  Cueto was good … but he was never healthy, hitting the D/L three separate times.  Luckily Cingrani came up from setting strikeout records in AAA and kept mowing them down in the majors.  Latos was dominant,  Leake took a step forward, and Bailey/Arroyo gave what they normally do.  If anything you would have thought this group would have been better.  6th in Wins, 7th in xFIP, 9th in FIP.  Next year Arroyo leaves, Cingrani gets 32 starts, Cueto stays healthy (cross your fingers, cross your fingers, cross your fingers) and this team is dominant again despite their FA hitting losses.
  9. (#25 pre-season) New York MetsHarvey, WheelerNiese, Gee, Hefner and a bunch of effective call-ups turned the Mets into a halfway-decent rotation all in all.  7th in xFIP, 11th in FIP.  Most of this is on the backs of Matt Harvey, who pitched like the second coming of Walter Johnson for most of the season.  Wheeler was more than effective, and rotation workhorses Niese and Gee may not be sexy names, but they were hovering right around the 100 ERA+ mark all year.  One superstar plus 4 league average guys was good enough for the 9th best rotation.
  10. (#12 pre-season) TexasDarvish, Holland, Ogando, Perez, Garza at the end.  Texas’ fWAR was the 2nd best in the league … but their accompanying stats drag them down this far.  Despite having four starters with ERA+s ranging from 114 to Darvish’ 145, the 34 starts given to Tepesch and Grimm drag this rotation down.  Ogando couldn’t stay healthy and Perez only gave them 20 starts.  Garza was mostly a bust.  And presumed #2 starter Matt Harrison gave them just 2 starts.  But look out for this group in 2014; Darvish, a healthy Harrison, and Holland all locked up long term, Ogando in his first arbitration year, and Perez is just 22.  That’s a formidable group if they can stay on the field together.
  11. (pre-season #6) Tampa BayPrice, Moore, Hellickson, Cobb, Archer and Roberto Hernandez.   Jeff Niemann didn’t give them a 2013 start, but no matter, the Tampa Bay gravy train of power pitchers kept on producing.  Cobb was unhittable, Archer was effective and Moore regained his 2011 playoff mojo to finish 17-4 on the year.  An odd regression from Price, which was fixed by a quick D/L trip, and a complete collapse of Hellickson drug down this rotation from where it should have been.  They still finished 12th in FIP and xFIP for the year.
  12. (pre-season #21) SeattleHernandez, Iwakuma, Saunders, Harang, Maurer, and Ramirez.  Seattle featured two excellent, ace-leve performers and a bunch of guys who pitched worse than Dan Haren all year.  But combined together and you have about the 12th best rotation, believe it or not.
  13. (pre-season #7) PhiladelphiaHalladay, Hamels, Lee, Kendrick, Lannan (with Cloyd and Pettibone as backups).  The phillies were 13th in xFIP, 10th in FIP on the year and regressed slightly thanks to the significant demise to their #1 guy Halladay.  Lee pitched like his typical Ace but Hamels self-destructed as well.  The strength of one excellent starter makes this a mid-ranked rotation.  Had Halladay and Hamels pitched like expected, they’d have finished closer to my pre-season ranking.
  14. (pre-season #17) BostonLester, Buchholz, Dempster, Lackey, Doubront, and Peavy: Boston got a surprise bounce back season out of Lackey, a fantastic if oft-injured performance from Buchholz, a mid-season trade for the effective Peavy.  Why aren’t they higher?  Because their home stadium contributes to their high ERAs in general.  Despite being 3rd in rotation fWAR and 4th in wins, this group was 17th in FIP and 18th in xFIP.  Perhaps you could argue they belong a couple places higher, but everyone knows its Boston’s offense that is driving their success this year.
  15. (pre-season #16) New York YankeesSabathia, Kuroda, Pettitte, Nova, Hughes/Phelps Hughes and Phelps pitched as predictably bad as you would have expected … but Sabathia’s downturn was unexpected.  Are  his years of being a workhorse catching up to him?  The rotation was buoyed by unexpectedly good seasons from Nova and Kuroda.  Pettitte’s swang song was pretty great, considering his age.  Enough for them to slightly beat expectations, but the signs of trouble are here for this rotation in the future.   Pettitee retired, Kuroda a FA, Hughes a FA, a lost season for prospect Michael Pineda and other Yankees prospects stalled.  Are we in for a dark period in the Bronx?
  16. (pre-season #29) Miami: FernandezNolasco, Eovaldi, Turner, Alvarez, Koehler and a few other starts given to either re-treads or MLFAs.  For Miami’s rotation of kids to rise this far up is amazing; looking at their stellar stats you would think they should have been higher ranked still.  Fernandez’s amazing 176 ERA+ should win him the Rookie of the Year.  Eovaldi improved, rookie Turner pitched pretty well for a 22 year old.  The team dumped its opening day starter Nolasco and kept on … losing frankly, because the offense was so durn bad.  Begrudgingly it looks like Jeffry Loria has found himself another slew of great arms to build on.
  17. (pre-season #5) San FranciscoCain, Lincecum, Bumgarner, Vogelsong, Zito, Gaudin.  What the heck happened here?  Cain went from an Ace to pitching like a 5th starter, Lincecum continued to completely forget what it was like to pitch like a Cy Young winner, Vogelsong completely fell off his fairy-tale cliff, and Zito completed his $126M journey in typical 5+ ERA fashion.  I’m surprised these guys are ranked this high (14th in FIP, 16th in xFIP but just 27th in fWAR thanks to just horrible performances all year).  What the heck are they going to do in 2014?
  18. (pre-season #10) Arizona: CorbinKennedy, McCarthy, Cahill, Miley and Delgado.  Corbin was 2013′s version of Miley; a rookie that came out of nowhere to lead the staff.  Miley struggled at times but righted the ship and pitched decently enough.  The rest of the staff really struggled.  I thought this was a solid bunch but they ended up ranked 23rd in FIP and 14th in xFIP, indicating that they were a bit unlucky as a group.
  19. (pre-season #15) Chicago White SoxSale, Peavy, Danks, QuintanaSantiago and Axelrod.  Floyd went down early, Peavy was traded.  Sale pitched well but had a losing record.  The team looked good on paper (16th in ERA) but were 26th in FIP and 17th in xFIP.
  20. (pre-season #14) Oakland: ColonAnderson, Griffen, Parker, Straily, Milone, with Sonny Gray giving 10 good starts down the stretch.  This rotation is the story of one amazing 40-yr old and a bunch of kids who I thought were going to be better.   Oakland is bashing their way to success this season and this group has been just good enough to keep them going.  I thought the likes of Griffen and Parker would have been better this  year, hence their falling from #14 to #19.
  21. (pre-season #19) Chicago CubsGarza, Samardzija, JacksonWood, and FeldmanFeldman and Garza were flipped once they showed they could be good this year.  Samardzija took an uncharacteristic step backwards.  Jackson was awful.  The Cubs ended up right about where we thought they’d be.  However in 2014 they look to be much lower unless some big-armed prospects make the team.
  22. (pre-season #20) Kansas CityShields, Guthrie, Santana, Davis, Chen, Mendoza: despite trading the best prospect in the game to acquire Shields and Davis, the Royals a) did not make the playoffs and b) really didn’t have that impressive a rotation.  12th in team ERA but 20th in FIP and 25th in xFIP.   Compare that to their rankings of 25th in FIP and 26th in xFIP in 2012.   But the results on the field are inarguable; the team improved 14 games in the Win column and should be a good bet to make the playoffs next year if they can replace the possibly-departing Santana and the ineffective Davis.
  23. (pre-season #23) Milwaukee: LohseGallardo, Estrada, Peralta, and dozens of starts given to long-men and call-ups.  I ranked this squad #23 pre-season before they acquired Lohse; in reality despite his pay and the lost draft pick, Lohse’s addition ended up … having almost no impact on this team in 2013.  They finished ranked 23rd on my list, and the team was 74-88.
  24. (pre-season #13): Los Angeles AngelsWeaver, Wilson, Vargas, Hanson, Blanton, Williams: The Angels are in a predicament; their two “aces” Weaver and Wilson both pitched well enough.  But nobody in baseball was really that surprised by the god-awful performances from Hanson or Blanton (2-14, 6.04 ERA … and the Angels gave him a two year deal!).  So in some ways the team brought this on themselves.  You spend half a billion dollars on aging offensive FAs, have the best player in the game languishing in left field because your manager stubbornly thinks that someone else is better in center than one of the best defenders in the game … not fun times in Anaheim.  To make matters worse, your bigtime Ace Weaver missed a bunch of starts, looked mortal, and lost velocity.
  25. (#28 pre-season) San DiegoVolquez, Richards, Marquis, Stults, Ross, Cashner: have you ever seen an opening day starter post a 6+ ERA in a cave of a field and get relased before the season was over?  That happened to SAn Diego this year.  Another case where ERA+ values are deceiving; Stults posted a sub 4.00 ERA but his ERA+ was just 87, thanks to his home ballpark.  In fact its almost impossible to tell just how good or bad San Diego pitchers are.   I could be talked in to putting them this high or all the way down to about #28 in the rankings.
  26. (pre-season #27) Colorado: ChatwoodDe La Rosa, Chacin, Nicaso, Francis and a few starts for Garland and Oswalt for good measure.  Another staff who shows how deceptive the ERA+ value can be.  Their top guys posted 125 ERA+ figures but as a whole their staff performed badly.  26th in ERA, 19th in FIP, 26th in xFIP.  Colorado is like Minnesota; they just don’t have guys who can throw it by you (29th in K/9 just ahead of the Twins), and in their ridiculous hitter’s park, that spells trouble.
  27. (pre-season #4) TorontoDickeyMorrowJohnson, Buehrle, Happ, Rogers, and a line of other guys.  What happened here?  This was supposed to be one of the best rotations in the majors.  Instead they fell on their face, suffered a ton of injuries (only Dickey and Buehrle pitched full seasons: RomeroDrabeck were hurt.  Johnson, Happ, Redmond only 14-16 starts each.  This team even gave starts to Chien-Ming Wang and Ramon Ortiz.  Why not call up Fernando Valenzuela out of retirement?  It just goes to show; the best teams on paper sometimes don’t come together.  The Nats disappointed in 2013, but probably not as much as the Blue Jays.
  28. (pre-season #18) BaltimoreHammel, Chen, Tillman, Gonzalez, FeldmanGarcia with a few starts given to Gausman and Britton.  I’m not sure why I thought this group would be better than this; they were in the bottom four of the league in ERA, FIP, xFIP and SIERA.  It just goes to show how the ERA+ value can be misleading.  In their defense, they do pitch in a hitter’s park.  Tillman wasn’t bad, Chen took a step back.  The big concern here is the health of Dylan Bundy, who I thought could have pitched in the majors starting in June.
  29. (pre-season #30) Houston: BedardNorris, Humber, Peacock, Harrell to start, then a parade of youngsters from there.  We knew Houston was going to be bad.  But amazingly their rotation wasn’t the worst in the league, thanks to Jarred Cosart and Brett Olberholtzer coming up and pitching lights-out for 10 starts a piece later in the year.  There’s some potential talent here.
  30. (pre-season #24) MinnesotaDiamond, Pelfrey, Correia, Denudo, Worley and a whole slew of guys who were equally as bad.  Minnesota had the worst rotation in the league, and it wasn’t close.  They were dead last in rotational ERA, FIP, and xFIP, and it wasn’t close.  They were last in K/9 … by more than a strikeout per game.  They got a total fWAR of 4.6 from every pitcher who started a game for them this year.  Matt Harvey had a 6.1 fWAR in just 26 starts before he got hurt.  Someone needs to call the Twins GM and tell him that its not the year 1920, that power-pitching is the wave of the future, that you need swing-and-miss guys to win games in this league.

Biggest Surprises: Pittsburgh, Cleveland, Miami and New York Mets to a certain extent.

Biggest Disappointments: Toronto, the Angels, San Francisco, Philadelphia and Baltimore to some extent.

Disagree with these rankings?  Feel free to pipe up.  I’ll use this ranking list as the spring board post-FA market for 2014′s pre-season rankings.

Written by Todd Boss

October 10th, 2013 at 2:23 pm

Posted in Majors Pitching

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Ladson’s Inbox 8/26/13

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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.

One lesson learned from 2013: you can never have enough starting pitching

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If Detwiler is out for the year, the Nats have a problem. Photo: Haraz Ghanbari/AP via federalbaseball.com

If Detwiler is out for the year, the Nats have a problem. Photo: Haraz Ghanbari/AP via federalbaseball.com

We all knew the Nationals had a glaring, acknowledged weakness heading into the 2013 season; almost no quality starting pitching depth in the high minors.  We non-tendered former opening day starter John Lannan in lieu of paying him somewhere between $5M-$6M dollars to toil in Syracuse again.  We non-tendered former starter Tom Gorzelanny despite his excellent 2012 season for us instead of paying him a few millions dollars a year to continue to be the 7th guy out of the pen.  We traded away top starting pitching prospect Alex Meyer to acquire a center-fielder that (in my oft-stated opinion) we didn’t need.  We were blinded by the excellent but short-sample-sized performance of Zach Duke upon his call-up last September and chose to make him not only the sole lefty in our 2013 pen, but the long-man/spot starter as well.

And we talked ourselves into it.

In 2012 our primary rotation made 150 of 162 starts.  Those 12 missed starts were made by Chien-Ming Wang (five starts) in a quickly-aborted glimpse to see if the many millions of dollars invested in his recovery over the past few years were going to pay off (they did not), by Lannan (six) for a couple of mid-season spot starts and his Stephen Strasburg replacement plan in September, and one by Gorzelanny the day after the team clinched the division (editor note: mistakely originally put “pennant.”  Duh).  That’s it; otherwise the rotation was solid, consistent, and one of the best in the majors by any statistical measure.

Was it just hubris that led us to believe that the same thing would happen in 2013?  That our vaunted rotation (which I certainly thought was the best in the majors before the season started) would steamroll through another 150+ starts in 2013 as we marched to the inevitable World Series title?  Maybe so.

The latest blow is the news that Ross Detwiler‘s herniated disk may very well keep him out for the rest of 2013.  Taylor Jordan has been more than ably filling in for Detwiler … but in a familiar twist Jordan is facing an innings restriction limit.  After August 4th’s start he’s got 40 2/3 major league innings in 2013 to go with 90 1/3 in the minors for 131 total on the year.  He only threw 54 1/3 all of 2012 coming back from Tommy John surgery, and this year easily marks a professional career high (he’s never thrown more than 100 professional innings).  He’s going to get shut down, soon (in about four more starts per the Washington Times’ Amanda Comak, which would put him just about at the same 160ip limit that both Strasburg and Jordan Zimmermann pitched to the year after their own TJ surgeries).  This leaves the team right back where they were on May 20th, when the whole “find a competent 5th starter” charade started.

Duke failed and was released.  Yunesky Maya got his last attempt at pitching in the majors and was outrighted (a move long overdue in the opinion of many Nats followers).  Nathan Karns got three bites at the apple and returned to AA with a 7.50 ERA.  Ross Ohlendorf gave us a fantastic spot start in a double header last week… and just went on the D/L after not being able to dial it up more than 85mph in his last appearance.  The only other 40-man starter in the whole of the minors is Matthew Purke, currently posting a 6.35 ERA in high-A.

Hey, at least Dan Haren suddenly resembles the 2009 version of himself, having tossed 14 innings oof one-run ball en route to winning his last two starts.  A month ago we were talking about releasing him.

So, what should the team do when Jordan is shutdown?  It sounds to me like in the short term we’ll go back to Ohlendorf as the 5th starter (assuming of course his recent “dead arm” injury doesn’t turn into much more than a quick D/L trip).   However, despite Ohlendorf’s excellent work for us thus far, lets not forget why he was available on a minor league deal in the first place; his ERAs in 2011 and 2012 were 8.15 and 7.77 respectively.  Odds are that he’s not likely to be that effective going forward.

Plus, Ohlendorf’s time in the rotation means the bullpen will need another guy … presumably one that can pitch long relief to replace Ohlendorf.  I’m not entirely sure any of the other relievers on the 40-man but in the minors (Drew StorenErik Davis or Tyler Robertson) fits the bill.  Craig Stammen has absolutely done that role in the past, but I think Stammen’s value to this team now lies in his 7th inning “bridge reliever” role, getting the team from a short start to the 8th/9th inning guys.

If Detwiler is indeed out for the year I think he should be immediately transferred to the 60-day D/L (opening up a spot on the 40-man roster) and I’d like to see Tanner Roark  get a look-see as the long man in the bullpen.  He’s put up very good numbers in AAA this season in a swing-man role and faces minor league free agency this off-season.  Or, I wouldn’t be opposed to keeping Ohlendorf in the pen and giving Danny Rosenbaum a shot at the 5th starter.  He’s been the most effective AAA starter all year and, despite not being that overpowering, could turn into another Tommy Milone-esque lefty starter that we could leverage in trade.  We may not have fantastic depth in the upper minors, but you never know who may suddenly be an effective MLB pitcher (see Krol, Ian).

(Editor’s note: after I wrote this mid-weekend MASN’s Byron Kerr wrote and posted almost identical analysis).

July 2013 Monthly Review of Nats Rotation by Opponent

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Zimmermann really struggled in July. Photo Manuel Balce-Ceneta/AP

Zimmermann really struggled in July. Photo Manuel Balce-Ceneta/AP

[Editor's note: duh, I published this with the wrong title; just fixed 8/2/13]

Continuing a monthly series of look-backs at our starters (here’s Apr 2013May 2013June 2013, July2013 posts), here’s a monthly glance at how our rotation is doing from a Starting Pitching standpoint. As with previous posts, we’ll have “Grades” per outing, the team’s performance per opposing starter sliced and diced a few ways, and other per-starter stuff that I like to track.

MLB Rotation Per-Start Grades (click here for Nats overall season stats)

  • Strasburg: A,C,F,B,A+,D
  • Gonzalez: C+,A,A+,B,F-
  • Zimmermann: C-,C,B,F-,D
  • Haren: C-,A+,D,A
  • Jordan: B-,C-,B,C+,A
  • Ohlendorf: B long relief,A spot start
  • Detwiler: B- -> D/L

Quick Summary:  A month where we had a handful of really shocking blow-up starts.  Gonzalez‘s 11 run debacle  yesterday, Strasburg‘s 2 inning/7 run meltdown being the most shocking examples.  Only rookie Taylor Jordan kept an even keel, never pitching that badly and only really pitching excellently in his last start (also, not coincidentally his first win).  I will say it is good to see Dan Haren putting in some good-to-great starts; that may really help.  Ross Ohlendorf‘s injury yesterday better not be serious; Jordan’s innings limit is fast, fast approaching.

Performance By Opponent Starting Pitcher Rotation Order Number

A look at the opposing team’s rotation ranked 1-5 in the order they’re appearing from opening day.  This table changes at the all-star break and honestly must be taken with a grain of salt, since guys like Clayton Kershaw are now the “#3 starter” because their turns were skipped coming out of the all-star game.

Starter # Record Opposing Starter in Wins Opposing Starter in Losses
1 2-3 Gallardo, Burnett Hamels, Nolaso, Sanchez
2 2-3 Lee, Slowey Peralta, Greinke, Verlander
3 1-4 Harvey Lohse, Kendrick, Kershaw, Liriano
4 2-1 Marquis, Gee Cole
5 2-3 Hand, Torres Lannan, Fernandez, Morton
5+ 2-2 Cashner, Erlin Eovaldi, Mejia

Quick thoughts: given the aforementioned caveat of having Justin Verlander listed as a #2 and Kershaw listed as a #3, the team more or less performed as you’d expect.  A 1-4 record against opposing teams’ #3 starters is really skewed by the likes of Harvey, Lohse, Kershaw and Liriano in that grouping, all four guys being their team’s current aces.  This table is becoming less and less meaningful as rotations get scattered as the season goes along.

Performance By Opponent Starting Pitcher Actual Performance Rank Intra-Rotation

A ranking of opposing teams’ rotations by pure performance at the time of the series, using ERA+ heavily.

Starter # Record Opposing Starter in Wins Opposing Starter in Losses
1 3-4 Lee, Harvey, Cashner Sanchez, Lohse, Kershaw, Fernandez
2 1-2 Hand Kendrik, Liriano
3 4-2 Gallardo, Burnett, Marquis, Gee Greinke, Eovaldi
4 1-4 Erlin Nolasco, Peralta, Verlander, Morton
5 2-2 Slowey, Torrez Hamels, Cole
5+ 0-2 Lannan, Mejia

Quick Thoughts: the Nats actually held their own very well against other teams’ best performing guys.  They hung losses on Matt Harvey somehow, and hung a loss on Cliff Lee.  Less impressive was the collapse against AAA-callup Jenrry Mejia or the no-show against former teammmate John Lannan.

Performance By Opponent Starting Pitcher League-wide “Rank”
A team-independent assignment of a league-wide “rank” of what the starter is. Is he an “Ace?” Is he a #2?

Starter # Record Opposing Starter in Wins Opposing Starter in Losses
1 2-4 Harvey, Lee Kershaw, Grienke, Verlander, Hamels
2 0-3 Sanchez, Liriano, Fernandez
3 2-3 Gallardo, Burnett Lohse, Nolasco, Cole
4 0-1 Kendrick
5 6-4 Cashner, Hand, Marquis, Gee, Erlin, Slowey Eovaldi, Peralta, Morton, Lannan
5+ 1-1 Torres Mejia

Quick thoughts: despite a supposedly “weak” schedule the team faced a lot of big-time names in July.  Six of the 27 games went against league-wide Aces, a tall order for any team.  They also got whitewashed by the near-Aces/#2 starters, losing all three games against these types.  More disappointing?  Only a 6-4 record against league-wide #5 pitchers, the kind of guys that are nearly interchangeable with AAA players.  Maybe John Lannan isn’t really a #5 starter (probably not; he’s probably more of a #4), but the rest of these guys?

Records by Pitching Advantage

Start-by-start advantages in my own opinion and then looking at the results.

Wash 4-6 Zim-Gallardo, Gio-Cashner, Zim-Marquis, Stras-Erlin Det-Lohse, Stras-Nolasco, Zim-Kendrick, Stras-Eovaldi, Stras-Peralta, Zim-Mejia
Even 3-3 Gio-Burnett, Jordan-Hand, Jordan-Torres Gio-Verlander, Stras-Sanchez, Stras-Liriano
Opp 4-8 Jordan-Slowey, Ohlendorf-Harvey, Haren-Gee, Gio-Lee Zimm-Kershaw, Gio-Greinke, Haren-Fernandez, Jordan-Hamels, Haren-Lannan, Jordan-Cole, Haren-Morton

A sign of how our season has gone:  I gave opponents the clear advantage in 12 of our 27 games this month.    Compare this to April, when I only gave our opponents the advantage in TWO of our first 27 games.  We’re to the point where Haren and Jordan are automatically underdogs nearly every time they take the mound, and we face enough power arms where our big three may not always be favored to win either.

Matchup analysis

Looking at the opposing starter rank that our guys are going up against to see how their competition fares.

Nats Starters Opponents matchup analysis Nats Record under starter
Strasburg Two #2s, a #3 and three #5s 1-5
Gonzalez Three Aces, a #3 and a #5 3-2
Zimmermann An Ace, a #3, a #4 and two #5s 2-3
Haren one #2, three #5s 1-3
Detwiler one #3 0-1
Jordan An Ace, a #3 and three #5s 3-2
Ohlendorf An Ace in Harvey 1-0

Instead of classifying by rotation order in this table, this is by “league wide rank.”  And we see some very interesting information.

  • The team was only 1-5 in Strasburg’s 6 starts this month, and he wasn’t exactly going against an all-star collection of opposing starters.  That’s a big-time area of concern.  It all comes down to run support.
  • Gio meanwhile had to face up with three of the best 20 pitchers in the league and still managed to have a winning record during his starts.
  • Zimmermann, as we see in his grades, tailed off badly this month.
  • Haren, despite facing off mostly against other #5 quality guys, still conspired to lose 3 of his four starts.
  • Jordan, as we all know, has really surprised everyone and has been helping the team win.
  • Ohlendorf faced off against one of (if not the) major’s best hurlers and the team got a win in his spot start.

 

Taylor Jordan: Never too soon to think about the future…

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Jordan is making a case for his future with this organization.  Photo via wffn.net/hueytaxi on flikr.com

Taylor Jordan is making a case for his future with this organization. Photo via wffn.net/hueytaxi on flikr.com

I’ll file this as one of the “Patently Obvious” responses that have come out of Mike Rizzo‘s mouth in response to a reporter’s question, but Rizzo went “on record” as saying that Taylor Jordan will “get every opportunity to be in the mix for the rotation next year” per beat reports (this example from Byron Kerr) after Jordan got his first major league victory in Sunday 7/28/13′s 14-1 blow-out of the Mets.

Well, of course he’ll get a chance to compete for the rotation.   He’s pitching a hell of a lot better right now than $13M man Dan Haren, for approximately 1/30th of the cost.  What GM doesn’t want that??

One of the big reasons I started this blog was to talk about the development of Nats minor league pitchers.  Back in the dark days, when the team was spending $15M on the FA market to acquire 5th starters like Jason Marquis, I became convinced that the single most valuable commodity in Major League Baseball (in terms of talent development and acquisition) was the pre-arbitration starting pitcher.   Our farm system had the “Loria/Bowden” holes in terms of player development in the 2007-2009 time frame and for a few years the team couldn’t develop an effective starter, instead relying on guys like Marquis and on other minor league/low-end free agent signings (think Tim ReddingDaniel Cabrera, and the aging Livan Hernandez being examples).   Rizzo came in, put the emphasis on drafting and development, and now the opening day rotation features 3 home-grown guys and a fourth in Gio Gonzalez who was acquired by trading other home-grown guys.

One of my biggest data-collection projects was the information behind my regular “Pitcher Wins on the Free Agency Market” post.   After looking at pretty much every significant FA pitcher signing that baseball has ever had, and calculating salary versus wins, it became clear that teams are historically doing well if they get about one win per $1M spent on a FA pitcher.  Sign a guy for $13M a year?  You hope to get 13 wins out of him.

But this analysis also shows just how valuable the pre-arbitration, cost-controlled starter is.  Consider Clay Buchholz for Boston in 2010; he goes 17-7 in his 3rd active year, earning the MLB minimum of $443,000.  That 17-win capability eventually earned him a $12-$13M/year contract, but while he was getting the minimum he was winning games for Boston for pennies on the dollar versus what it would have cost Boston to purchase that capability on the open market.

Combine this point with the continually dwindling talent available on the FA market these as teams lock up their players earlier and more frequently, and the price for pitching just continues to go higher.  Zack Greinke signed a 6 year $147M contract paying him more than $24M annually last summer partly because he was the only significant pitcher out there.  Grienke is talented, don’t get me wrong, but outside of his unbelievable 2009 season he’s basically pitched like a #3 starter.   Even this year, he’s pitching to a rather pedestrian 103 ERA+, just barely above the league average of adjusted ERA for starters.  Not exactly what you expect for that kind of money.  The 2014 Free Agent Market in terms of pitching is looking equally as bare as 2013.   The best guy out there may be Matt Garza, who again is talented but is also injury prone and not exactly a league-wide Ace.   Get past Garza and you’re looking at inconsistent (Ricky Nolasco or Phil Hughes), injury plagued (Shawn Marcum or Colby Lewis), just old guys (Freddy Garcia, Hiroki Kuroda) and pure wild cards (Tim Lincecum or Scott Kazmir).

There’s a reason Tampa went nearly 8 full seasons without having a Free Agent acquisition start a game for them; they know exactly what it means to develop effective starters, and they have a stableful of them.  Trade away James Shields and Wade Davis?  No problem; just call up Chris Archer and Alex Colome (never mind the rest of their Durham rotation).

So, back to Jordan.  If the Nats can find an effective 4th or 5th starter from their farm system right now, it frees them from the one-year hired gun strategy of Haren and Edwin Jackson.  It gives them the flexibility to continue to allow their best prospects in the lower minors to develop (i’m thinking specifically of A.J. ColeRobbie RaySammy Solis, and Matthew Purke, though Cole and Ray aren’t exactly in the “low” minors anymore with their promotions to AA).  It gives them the depth they did not have this year to cover for a starting pitcher injury.   It gives them time to let Nathan Karns figure out if he’s going to be a starter or a reliever at the MLB level.  It gives them added payroll flexibility can go towards fixing holes in the short term.  Longer term it allows the team to spend money on extending the core guys, or allows them to consider whether the rising price tag on someone like Ross Detwiler is worth paying (much like they cut loose John Lannan last year).  If you’re going to pay market value for Strasburg and Harper, then you’re going to need some low-cost players who can contribute to counter balance the payroll.

Or, and it wouldn’t surprise me to see this either, it gives Rizzo interesting trade chips that he could package with other guys to acquire the Haren/Jackson hurler instead of buying him.

Two years ago we acquired Gonzalez for two near-to-the-majors starters, a surplus catcher prospect and a low-minors/high profile arm.  Right now it seems like we could put nearly the same package together (Jordan, Karns, Jhonatan Solano or Sandy Leon and then a decent arm from A-ball, or maybe even a Ray or Cole) and move them for such a resource.  I wouldn’t put it past Rizzo; Jordan may be looking good right now, but his peripherals don’t project as a “Rizzo Guy.”  Neither did Tommy Milone so he got shipped out; will Jordan be a 5th starter candidate in 2014 or trade bait?

Personally, I’d like to see Jordan succeed.  He’s a great success story; unhearalded 9th rounder coming off an injury that most of us thought was good, but who also thought that finishing the year successfully at high-A would have been a great achievement.  Instead he blows through high-A and AA ball and is now more than holding his own in the majors.