Nationals Arm Race

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

Archive for the ‘johnny cueto’ tag

Strasburg Extension Shocker!

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Wow. Photo allansgraphics.com via free-extras.com

Wow. Photo allansgraphics.com via free-extras.com

Woke today to check the score from last night (we have a toddler, ergo we are sleep deprived and go to bed early).  After reading about Bryce Harper‘s mouth and ejection and Clint Robinson‘s walkoff, there was a small little link at the bottom of the article…

Stephen Strasburg signs a 7yr, $175M extension to stay with the team, as broken last night by the Washington Post’s Chelsea James.

Wow.  Did not see this coming.  I never thought this team would re-sign Strasburg frankly, because I thought there’d be a feeding frenzy when he hit free agency this coming off-season.

Strasburg’s representation (Scott Boras) is not exactly known for having his players sign extensions.  The 2016-17 free agent market for starters was so bare that Strasburg likely would have inspired a bidding war and you have to think Strasburg just left a bunch of money on the table.  The next best starter hitting free agency next off-season now might be Rich Hill.  Rich Frigging Hill, as in the guy the Nats had on a MLFA deal last summer and cut him loose so he could go re-make his career out of the Oakland bullpen.

What kind of value did the team just get?  Here’s a quick look at the other SP deals in the $150M or higher range:

  • David Price: 7yrs/$217M starting in 2016.
  • Clayton Kershaw: 7yrs, $214M starting in 2014
  • Max Scherzer: 7yrs/$210M starting in 2015 (albeit with significant deferred money that brings the net present value down to around $185M)
  • Zack Greinke: 6yrs/$206M starting in 2016
  • Felix Hernandez, 7yrs/$175M starting in 2014
  • Masahiro Tanaka: 7yrs/$155M (but with his $20M posting fee its a $175M deal all told)
  • Jon Lester: 6yrs/$155M starting in 2015.

So, this is the selection of contracts to compare this Strasburg deal to.  Other big deals signed last off-season include Johnny Cueto (6yrs/$130M) and Jordan Zimmermann (5yrs/$110M).

There’s already a bunch of hot takes; some like the deal, some think its a mistake.  On the one hand, Yes, pretty much any big long term free agent deal eventually looks like a stinker, so in that respect you can be a cynic and say that every long term FA contract is a mistake.  But that’s just not a realistic way to look at team building in this modern era.  Unless you’re willing to completely punt on your season for several years running (see Chicago Cubs, see Houston Astros, see the Atlanta Braves right now, even look at what our own Nats did for two seasons so they could acquire both Strasburg and Harper in the draft), then keeping your team consistently in the upper division requires spending on the FA market to paper over what your farm system may  not be developing.

But looking at (specifically) the Cueto and Lester deals … I can’t help but think that the Nats got a steal here.  Who would you rather have, Cueto for 6/$130M or Strasburg for 7/$175?  Same question for Lester. Strasburg, to me, is a better pitcher (a far better pitcher) and they got him for basically the same AAV as those guys.  Would you rather have Strasburg for $25M AAV or Price at $31M AAV?  Honestly?  Give me Strasburg and I can use that $6M to buy more bullpen guys.

I know Strasburg has his detractors out there, people who with a straight face don’t think he’s an “Ace” or one of the best 10-15 arms in this league;  you people are fools.  Look at nearly any metric you want over the last 3-4  years and you’ll find that Strasburg is in the top 10-15 league wide.  Here’s a helpful link to fangraphs individual pitcher stats from 2012-now; in this time frame Strasburg is (among qualified starters): 13th in fWAR, 13th in ERA, 9th in FIP, 2nd in xFIP, 9th in SIERA, 4th in K/9, 11th in K/BB, 5th in FB velocity, 20th in wFA, 7th in wCU, 6th in wCH.  That’s pretty rare air to be that high up in so many different categories spanning the various statistical ways to measure pitching these days.  He’s not Clayton Kershaw … who is?

Interesting question to ponder: is this Strasburg/Boras “payback” for “shutdown-gate” in 2012??  Their way of saying “thank you” for looking out more for the pitcher than the team in that case?   Because it seems so to me; that’s my “hot take.”

I leave you with this before debating the merits of this move: Here’s our projected rotation in 2017:

Scherzer, Strasburg, Giolito, Ross, and Gio Gonzalez or Tanner Roark.

Yeah; that could be pretty frigging good.

2016 MLB Rotation Rankings 1-30

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The best pitcher on the best rotation in the league. Photo: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

The best pitcher on the best rotation in the league. Photo: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

I’m returning to a fun post that I did in 2013 and again in 2014 (but couldn’t find the time to do while switching jobs in 2015): Ranking the MLB rotations 1-30 ahead of the new season.  I normally wait to do this post until all the significant starter free agents have signed; when Yovani Gallardo signed, he was the final QO-attached starter who might make a difference in a team’s ranking, so it was time to publish.

This is not a scientific analysis necessarily; i’m not looking at PECOTA or ZIPS to project war to do my rankings.  Rather, this is an eye test of the guys projected to pitch 1-5 for each team in the coming season.  So feel free to disagree.  For what its worth, I am pretty confident in my top 10 and my bottom 5 rotations … but am not exactly going to argue vehemently that the rotation i’ve got ranked 22nd is appreciably better than the one I have ranked 24th.

At the bottom i’ve put links to other pundit’s rankings, which are similar but different.

As always, I show my work; here’s the rotation ranks worksheet that I use to track rotation players.  As an added bonus to what is shown below, the worksheet color codes new acquisitions, puts in “depth” for each team and tracks who the team lost from last  year.  it also has a list of as-of-yet-unsigned hurlers, though none would move the needle if/when they sign for 2016.

I’ll put these into sections and put in comments as we go.

Team Rank Projected 2016 Rotation 1-5
New York Mets 1 Matt Harvey, Jacob deGrom, Noah Syndergaard, Steven Matz, Bartolo Colon
St. Louis 2 Adam Wainwright, Michael Wacha, Carlos Martinez, Jaime Garcia, Mike Leake
San Francisco 3 Madison Bumgarner, Johnny Cueto, Jeff Samardzija, Matt Cain, Jake Peavy
Cleveland 4 Corey Kluber, Carlos Carrasco, Danny Salazar, Trevor Bauer, Cody Anderson
Washington 5 Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg, Joe Ross, Gio Gonzalez, Tanner Roark

Discussion 1-5: My top 5 is pretty similar to other people’s top 5 rotations.  I don’t think anyone would argue against the Mets being at #1; if Zack Wheeler comes back healthy he can replace either the ageless Colon or the oft-injured Matz and perhaps even improve what is clearly the class of the league.  I have St. Louis #2 since everyone seems to forget just how good they were last  year; yes they lose Lynn but they gain back Wainwright.

I could see why people could argue against having both San Francisco and Cleveland higher than Washington, and indeed over the course of the winter I had Washington above both.  But I’m convinced that both of SF’s new acquisitions Cueto and Samardzija will completely thrive playing in the NL West, and you can do worse than Cain/Peavy as your 4/5.   They have some depth in case those two veterans get hurt and I see SF as a sneaky NL West challenger in 2016.

Cleveland you say?  Kluber is a former Cy Young winner who hasn’t forgotten how to pitch, Carrasco and Salazar are two of the best young arms in the league (I’m seeing Carrasco in particular going very high in fantasy ADP rankings for 2016), and their 4/5 are comparable to Washington’s back end.  If you wanted to argue that man for man Washington was just ahead of Cleveland i wouldn’t disagree; i’ve been burned over-ranking DC’s rotation in the past so perhaps I was gun shy this time around.

Team Rank Projected 2016 Rotation 1-5
Chicago Cubs 6 Jake Arrieta, Jon Lester, John Lackey, Jason Hammel, Kyle Hendricks
Arizona 7 Zack Greinke, Shelby Miller, Patrick Corbin (TJ), Robbie Ray, Rubby De La Rosa
Los Angeles Dodgers 8 Clayton Kershaw, Scott Kazmir, Alex Wood, Kenta Maeda, Mike Bolsinger
Seattle 9 Felix Hernandez, Taijuan Walker, Hisashi Iwakuma, Nate Karns, Wade Miley
Chicago White Sox 10 Chris Sale, Jose Quintana, Carlos Rodon, John Danks, Erik Johnson

Discussion 6-10: So, is Washington > than the Cubs?  I think so: I don’t view Lester as a real #2 any more, Lackey is approaching retirement and their 4/5 are basically 5th starters easily found on the waiver wire; i’d take the Nats’ 3-4-5 over the Cubs any day.  Still, Arrieta‘s 2nd half was legendary and it is possible that Lackey puts up a 3-win season, so they’re still quite good.  Both Arizona and the Dodgers are propped up by virtue of their Aces; the back side of both rotations looks downright scary.  In fact, you can say the same for Seattle and the White Sox too; all four of these teams have league-wide top end Aces and then 5th starters who seem like they could be replaced by someone in AAA.  That’s really the difference between these teams and the top 5 ranked teams; its the back of the rotations, not so much the front.

I could be slightly wrong about Seattle’s depth; if Iwakuma is really hurt and if Felix‘s decline phase has really started, then Seattle’s a notch down.  If Rodon takes the step forward that he can, then the White Sox can really become a force of a rotation quickly.

Team Rank Projected 2016 Rotation 1-5
Pittsburgh 11 Gerrit Cole, Francisco Liriano, Jeff Locke, Jon Niese, Ryan Vogelsong
Houston 12 Dallas Keuchel, Collin McHugh, Lance McCullers, Mike Fiers, Scott Feldman
Boston 13 David Price, Clay Buchholz, Rick Porcello, Eduardo Rodriguez, Roenis Elias
Tampa Bay 14 Chris Archer, Jake Odorizzi, Erasmo Ramirez, Drew Smyly, Matt Moore
Detroit 15 Justin Verlander, Jordan Zimmermann, Anibal Sanchez, Daniel Norris, Mike Pelfrey

Discussion 11-15: So again looking at edge cases, I have the likes of Seattle and Chicago > Pittsburgh based on the strength (or lack there of) of the back-end of Pittsburgh’s rotation; NieseVogelsong??  Really?  I just have a hard time believing that Pittsburgh is going to reach 90 wins with this 2016 rotation.  Houston is one Cy Young winner and four guys who look like 4-A replacements.  I like the Price signing … but Price is not exactly Kershaw-esque when it comes to putting up constant shut-down performances; Price gets just lit up some times.  Last year he had outings where he gave up 10 hits/8 runs in 2+ innings and a 13-hit 6 1/3 outing.  75% QS rate, which sounds good but isn’t in the 82-85% range like Kershaw and Arrieta.  My point is this: Price goes to the AL East, to pitching in a hitters park, and he can take some big numbers.  The rest of Boston’s rotation is weak too; would you trust Buchholz at this point?  Porcello is their #3 and he’d be in the Syracuse if he played for us.

In fact, Maybe I have Tampa and Detroit too low; Tampa in particular could be a monster if Moore comes back strong and Archer is as good as he could be.  If Verlander can capture his 2nd half form … then Detroit could take a big step up too.

Team Rank Projected 2016 Rotation 1-5
Texas 16 Yu Darvish (TJ), Cole Hamels, Derek Holland, Martin Perez, Nick Martinez
Miami 17 Jose Fernandez, Wei-Yin Chen, Jared Cosart, Tom Koehler, Adam Conley
Kansas City 18 Yordano Ventura, Edinson Volquez, Danny Duffy, Ian Kennedy, Chris Young, Kris Medlen
Los Angeles Angels 19 Garrett Richards, Jered Weaver, Andrew Heaney, Matt Shoemaker, ?
New York Yankees 20 Masahiro Tanaka, CC Sabathia, Michael Pineda, Nathan Eovaldi, Ivan Nova

Discussion 16-20: Texas is an interesting one; Darvish won’t be ready for opening day, but if he comes back this ranking could rise.  Likewise, I might have Miami too low considering that Fernandez is one of the top pitchers in the game; i just don’t trust the rest of their rotation, and the Chen signing made zero sense for a team that can’t seem to decide if they’re trying to win or not.  The strength of Kansas City’s pitching staff isn’t their starters; its the bullpen (best in the league along with the  Yankees), and the Kennedy signing seemed to make no sense.  Thanks to two early ST injuries, I literally have no idea who the Angels 5th starter is going to be now … perhaps they should now be lower.  Lastly you have the Yankees: every guy in their rotation seems like a huge question mark; Tanaka has a torn UCL, Sabathia is a shell of who he once was, Pineda had a shoulder injury that cost him all of 2012 and half of the next two seasons, Nova just came off of Tommy John surgery, and Eovaldi (himself on his 2nd elbow ligament) can’t find the plate.  If these guys are ranked 20th … imagine what’s coming below.

Team Rank Projected 2016 Rotation 1-5
San Diego 21 James Shields, Andrew Cashner, Tyson Ross, Robbie Erlin, Colin Rea
Toronto 22 Marcus Stroman, Marco Estrada, R.A. Dickey, J.A. Happ, Drew Hutchison
Oakland 23 Sonny Gray, Jesse Hahn, Chris Bassitt, Kendall Graveman, Rich Hill
Baltimore 24 Ubaldo Jimenez, Chris Tillman, Yovani Gallardo, Miguel Gonzalez, Kevin Gausman
Atlanta 25 Julio Teheran, Matt Wisler, Manny Banuelos, Bud Norris, Williams Perez

Discussion 21-25: As with all the edge cases, perhaps you can squint at San Diego and say they could be ranked higher.  Perhaps; but take any of those 5 guys at this point and put them in a hitter’s park and they’re not half as good.  I like Stroman (former Nats draft pick!) but the rest of the Toronto rotation looks like guys who are just holding on.  I’m not sure even Oakland’s management knows who some of their rotation candidates are.

I might be selling Baltimore a bit short; I’ve just never been convinced that Jimenez can repeat his earlier glory, and Baltimore’s notoriously awful coaching staff has seemingly ruined yet another young vibrant arm in GausmanAtlanta’s rotation may not look that great right now, especially considering that they’re purposely tanking in 2016 … but they have a couple of sleeper potentials and their prospect depth (including two high end hurlers in Michael Foltynewicz and Aaron Blair) put them above the bottom 5.

Team Rank Projected 2016 Rotation 1-5
Philadelphia 26 Aaron Nola, Jeremy Hellickson, Charlie Morton, Vincent Velasquez, Brett Oberholtzer
Cincinnati 27 Anthony DeSclafani, Michael Lorenzen, Raisel Iglesias, Brandon Finnegan, John Lamb
Minnesota 28 Phil Hughes, Ervin Santana, Ricky Nolasco, Kyle Gibson, Tommy Milone
Milwaukee 29 Matt Garza, Wily Peralta, Jimmy Nelson, Taylor Jungmann, Zach Davies
Colorado 30 Jorge De La Rosa, Chad Bettis, Jordan Lyles, Jon Grey, Tyler Chatwood

Discussion 26-30: The bottom 5 rotations feature two teams clearly tanking (Philly and Cincy) who are throwing out mostly kids and 4-A one-year acquisitions.  Its telling that these two rotations are better than the bottom 3 rotations, each of which belongs to a team that just seems to have no idea how to build a modern rotation.  Minnesota has for  years favored soft-tossers and not pursued high-end arms and now they have a relatively highly paid rotation of guys who, well, are not effective.  Milwaukee is in the same boat, having shelled out money for Garza just to watch him implode.

Lastly we come to Colorado, who still is searching for a strategy upon which to build a rotation.  The latest seems to be to pursue high velocity fastball guys who can just throw their ball through the light air and fool hitters.  But they’re not there yet and their Ace for 2016 is a 35yr old with a career 4.55 ERA.  Its not looking pretty in Colorado for 2016 and the fact that they havn’t sold off all their quality outfielders for parts speaks to the incompetence and indecision of their front office.   You’re not going to win in 2016; you’re in a division with the Dodgers, Giants and Diamondbacks, all of which spent big (either last off-season or before) and are putting out quality lineups.

—-

Some other pundit’s rotation ranks for 2016 for comparison purposes.

http://espn.go.com/blog/buster-olney/insider/post?id=12054
http://www.sbnation.com/mlb/2016/1/12/10755692/baseball-rotation-rankings-mlb
All 30 MLB teams' starting rotations, ranked
http://www.sportsonearth.com/article/164500586/top-10-pitching-staffs-major-league-baseball

 

2015 World Series matchup and Prediction

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Can Batman bring a championship to New  York? Photo: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

Can Batman bring a championship to New York? Photo: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

Post season predictions so far:

So, neither LCS went as I thought it would and we have the #1 media market in the post-season for the first time since 2009.

Likely Pitching Matchups for Mets-Royals:

Mets-Royals:

  • Game 1: Harvey vs Volquez
  • Game 2: deGrom vs Ventura
  • Game 3: Cueto vs Snydergaard
  • Game 4: Young vs Matz
  • Game 5: likely Volquez vs Harvey again
  • Game 6: likely deGrom vs Ventura again
  • Game 7: likely Snydergaard vs Cueto again

Discussion

The Mets, by virtue of their quite unexpected sweep, get to reset their rotation and opt (somewhat surprisingly) to lead with Matt Harvey instead of Jacob deGrom.  So be it; both guys likely throw twice in the series anyway, so perhaps its a case of getting Harvey a home start in game 5 where he’s likely to be unbeatable.  The Royals had to burn Yordano Ventura in the LCS game 6; he won’t be available until WS game 2, so they seem set to lead off with their 2nd most effective guy Edinson Volquez in the opener.

Man for man, the Mets seem to have an overwhelming pitching advantage here.  Their 1-2-3 starters each are significant throwers, Volquez doesn’t normally scare anyone, and Johnny Cueto had a 36.00 ERA in the LCS.  But the Royals are formidable at the plate: 2nd in the league in BA (by just a point behind the leader), Fewest in the league, by a fairly significant margin, in percentage of strikeouts.  Lastly, as a team they’re the 3rd best squad in the game at hitting fastballs.  So strength meets strength here.

I can see the Royals working the Mets pitchers, who are all young and may be at the tail end of their effectiveness after a season where almost all of them are pitching far longer than they thought.  If the Royals get into the Mets bullpen … are they in trouble?  Meanwhile, the Royals’ starters don’t exactly inspire confidence necessarily, but the Royals bullpen is 2nd to none and with so many off-days there’s no reason to think that their main bullpen arms can’t throw in practically every game.   With the possible exception of one game in NY, I can see the likes of Kelvin Herrera, Wade Davis and Luke Hochevar throwing each night and shutting down the late innings.  This could make the difference if this team can get a lead and hold on to it in a close game.

Side note: how funny is baseball; Wade Davis was an awful starter … 5.32 ERA for KC in 24 starts in 2013.  and in 2 years out of the pen he’s 17-3 with a 0.97 ERA across 139 IP!!  Read that statline again; it wasn’t a typo.  187/43 K/BB in 139 IP over the last two years as a 7th/8th inning guy.  Hochevar was the same thing: 5.73 ERA as a starter in 2012, then a 1.92 ERA when he got moved to the pen in 2013.  They also have the effective Ryan Madsen (former Phillie) out there, and all of this bullpen success is in spite of losing perhaps their *best* arm in closer Greg Holland to injury earlier this year.  Maybe there’s a lesson to be learned for our Nats in terms of bullpen construction and what it can do for you.

Can the Mets keep up their momentum after such a long layoff?  Will the rest help or hurt their young arms? (probably help frankly).

I have a feeling this is the Royal’s year.  I’m not sure how they do it, but I think the home field advantage and the fact that they’ve “been there before” gives them a bit of an advantage.  The Mets’ arms are not infallible; they’ll give up runs.  Is Daniel Murphy still the second coming of Babe Ruth?  Can Lucas Duda get hot again (when he’s on fire, he’s the best hitter in the league, as my fantasy team this year could attest).

Prediction; I like Kansas City in 7.  This goes against my better judgement, because I always favor the arms, but when the bats can neutralize the arms … go with the team that seems like its destined to win.

PS: in case you were not aware of the local connection … Kansas City’s GM Dayton Moore was involved with the baseball program at George Mason University, serving as an assistant coach from 1990-1994, right around the same time as some of my baseball colleagues were there (my former teammates who played at Mason would have graduated in the 92-94 range).  Now as GM in KC, he’s hired former local player Lonnie Goldberg as his scouting director; we mentioned Goldberg in this space back in Jan 2013 when talking about notable local pro players in my big “All-Virginia team” post, and Goldberg was on those Mason teams in the early 1990s with my former HS teammate Billy Emerson (now the AD at Paul VI in Fairfax).  Small world.

ALCS Pitching Matchups and Predictions

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Post season predictions so far:

While my overall predictions were pretty good, on an individual game-by-game basis i’ve been awful.  Silly me thinking that regular season dominance on the mound would lead to performance in the playoffs (ahem, Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke).

Toronto-Kansas City:

  • Game 1: Estrada vs Volquez
  • Game 2: Price vs Ventura
  • Game 3: Cueto vs Stroman
  • Game 4: likely Young vs Dickey
  • Game 5: likely Estrada vs Volquez rematch
  • Game 6: likely Price vs Ventura rematch
  • Game 7: likely Cueto vs Strohman rematch

Thoughts: Its hard to root against Toronto, the presumptive AL favorite since they remade their team at the deadline.  The incredibly curious handling of David Price seems really odd though.

Game 4 is where I think this series turns.  RA Dickey absolutely shut down the Royals when he saw them this year (7ip 2hits) while the Royals basically have no fourth starter; they went to a 3 man rotation in the ALDS because they could thanks to Ventura’s short outing but they likely won’t have that luxury in the ALCS.  No less than three Nats rejects (Estrada, Stroman, Young) will be pitching in this series and they all could have serious impact. I think the Blue Jays can steal a game in KC, take 2 of 3 at home and then have Price pitch them to a win in game 6.  Prediction: Toronto in 6.

Good reference links for the above analysis:

ALDS Pitching Matchups and Prediction

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Two games down, and my prognostication skills are looking good (2 for 2 in WC games).

Lets look at the ALDS series with pitching matchups

Toronto-Texas:

  • Game 1: Price vs Gallardo
  • Game 2: Stroman vs Hamels
  • Game 3: Estrada vs Perez/Lewis (I’d guess Lewis)
  • Game 4: likely Dickey v Holland
  • Game 5: likely Price vs Gallardo rematch

Buehrle doesn’t make the post-season roster and sails into the sunset having gotten destroyed in his final outing (and torpedoing my fantasy championship in the process, handing a free win to Tampa’s starter on the evening).

Prediction: I like Toronto in this series, winning in 3 or 4 games.  Toronto may struggle with Gallardo in game 1 but will have Price to shutdown Texas.  Toronto is RHP heavy and shouldn’t struggle too much against Hamels in the homer-dome.  Estrada and Dickey don’t sound like they’re scary but they’ve both been dominant in the 2nd half (Dickey in particular: 8-1 with a 2.80 ERA since the all-star break). 

Kansas City-Houston:

  • Game 1: Ventura v McHugh
  • Game 2: Cueto vs Kazmir
  • Game 3: Volquez vs Keuchel
  • Game 4: likely Young vs McCullers
  • Game 5: likely Ventura v McHugh rematch

KC catches a huge break only having to face likely Cy Young winner Keuchel once in this series.  The rest of Houston’s rotation isn’t as impressive on a head to head basis.  I think we might see the home team hold serve in all five games here the way the pitching match-ups look.  I don’t see Keuchel losing, nor do I see McCullers losing his home start (even given his youth; he’s been excellent at home).  Cueto had crummy numbers but finished relatively strong and Ventura can be a beast.  Prediction: I like Kansas City in five.

 

Rotation Reviews of your 2015 Playoff Teams & WC Picks

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Arrieta makes for a great WC matchup this week in Pittsburgh. Photo via mlb.com

Arrieta makes for a great WC matchup this week in Pittsburgh. Photo via mlb.com

Welcome to playoff baseball.  Lets look at the playoff rotations of the 8 playoff teams.

Reference links: MLB post-season schedule, Depth Charts for all teams, baseball-reference for stats.

NL Divisional Winners:

  • New York Mets: deGrom, Snydergaard, Harvey, Matz (Colon)
  • Los Angeles Dodgers: Kershaw, Greinke, Wood, Anderson (Bolsinger)
  • St. Louis Cardinals: Lynn, Wacha, Garcia, Lackey (Lyons)

Discussions/Thoughts

  • NY Mets: Only the Mets so far  have announced their rotation order.  Matt Harvey has quelled shut-down-gate talks by finishing out the season and saying he’d take the ball in the NLDS: hard to see him getting beat in his home game 3 start against the Dodgers, especially given his last outing (6ip, 11Ks).  deGrom struggled somewhat down the stretch and Snydergaard is only 22; hard to see them beating the seasoned vets Kershaw/Greinke at home.  We still don’t know if Matz is going to be healthy for game 4, but the potential LA opponent isn’t exactly scaring anyone, so I could see this go to a game 5 back in LA with Kershaw getting a 2nd divisional start.
  • LA: We say this every year: Kershaw is the greatest … and he has a 5+ post-season ERA.  I’ll never bet against him in the playoffs, especially not after the September he had.  Greinke either wins the Cy Young or finishes a close second, and Wood is an effective 3rd starter.  This is a tough rotation to handle.  But they’re going against probably the 2nd best rotation in the post-season, meaning this could be a tight 5-game set.  Or not; watch every game will be 8-7.
  • StL: They don’t look tough … but this rotation led the Cardinals to a 100 win season in a division with two other 97+ game winners.  That’s pretty amazing.  Bet against them at your own peril.  They were 11-8 versus the Cubs, 10-9 (and got outscored) against the Pirates, so I’m guessing they’re rooting for a Pittsburgh win in the WC play-in game.

NL Wild Card

  • Chicago Cubs: Arrieta, Hendricks, Haren, Lester (Hammel)
  • Pittsburgh Pirates: Cole, Liriano, Happ, Burnett (Morton)

Discussion/Prediction: Arrieta has given up 3 runs in the last month … and two of them were in his road start in Pittsburgh on 9/16/15.  I could see a similar start from him again in the Wednesday WC game.  So what can the Cubs do with Cole?  They have also seen him twice in the last month, got shut down at home but got to him on 9/15/15 in Pittsburgh.   Tough one to predict but I’m going with your presumptive Cy Young winner to hold serve in Pittsburgh, sending home the 97 win Pirates for the 2nd straight year in the play-in game.   Prediction: Cubs win.

If the Cubs win, they’ll be at a huge disadvantage against the Cards.  If the Pirates win, Liriano and Happ have been pitching well enough to get them back to their ace quickly and make a series of it.


AL Divisional Winners

  • Toronto: Price, Estrada, Buehrle, Dickey/Stroman
  • Kansas City: Cueto, Ventura, Volquez, Young (Medlen)
  • Texas: Hamels, Gallardo, Holland, Perez/Lewis

Discussion:

  • Toronto is setup for the playoffs and will get Price twice.  The back-end of their rotation doesn’t exactly inspire confidence in a playoff series, but Toronto isn’t about top-notch pitching.  They hope to bash their way to the title and just may do it.  Would you roll the dice and sit Dickey for the 4th spot in favor of Stroman and his live arm?  Do you insult the veteran Buehrle and leave him off your playoff roster (probably not).
  • Kansas City: blew Cueto in an attempt to keep home field and were successful, so Ventura likely gets two NLDS starts.  Nationals re-tread Young suddenly looks like the #4 starter for a WS contender.  Who would have thought that?
  • Texas burned Hamels just to get to the playoffs; they’ll struggle to compete against two David Price home starts.  Who is their #4 in the playoffs?  Will Toronto average 6 runs a game against this staff?  Could be a short-post season run for the Rangers; no judgement here; they’ve done fantastically just to get into the playoffs given the number of rotation injuries and their poor start.

AL Wild Card

  • Houston: Keuchel, McHugh, McCullers, Kazmir/Fiers
  • New  York  Yankees: Tanaka, Severino, Pineda, Nova (Sabathia)

Discussion/Prediction: well, it doesn’t look good for the Yankees; Keuchel is scheduled to start and has thrown twice against New York this year: he threw a 6-hit shutout with 12 Ks against them in June and then threw 7 innings of 3-hit shutout ball in late August.  He’s your shoe-in Cy Young Winner and seems likely to pitch the Astros into the divisional series.   New York counters with Tanaka; in his sole appearance vs Houston he got lit up (5ip, 6runs) and the Yankees seem like they’re struggling just to field a lineup at season’s end.  They get the home game but likely go out a loser to end their season.  And if the Yankees somehow won, they’d have thrown their best pitcher … and one of the presumptive rotation members just checked himself into Alcohol RehabPrediction: Astros Win.


 

Interesting collection of guys with Washington ties featuring prominently in the 2015 playoffs.

  • Dan Haren was nearly released mid-season because he was so bad in Washington 2  years ago, now he’s the #3 starter on a 97 win team.
  • Marco Estrada was waived by the Nats after a long and uninspiring minor league career; now he’s the #2 starter for the AL favorite?
  • Chris Young played a whole season for Syracuse in 2013, working his way back from an injury.  When he didn’t make the 2014 roster he signed with Seattle and has been pretty effective since.
  • Marcus Stroman was an 18th round pick out of HS by the Nats; he was listed as a SS (he’s only 5’8″) but went to Duke, became a power arm and was a 1st round pick by the Blue Jays 3 years later.
  • Colby Lewis signed on with the Nats back in the bad years, failing to make the team out of Spring Training in 2007.  He hooked on with Oakland, playing most of the year in Sacramento before signing a 2-year gig in Japan.

 

To Qualifying Offer, or not to Qualifying Offer (2015 version)

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Zimmermann will get a QO: who else? Photo Unk.

Zimmermann will get a QO: who else? Photo Unk.

We’ve talked around and about this issue.  Here’s a post entirely about it.

Which Nats pending Free Agents should the team offer a Qualifying Offer (QO) to this coming off-season?

First, for completion of Analysis, here’s the canonical list of FAs on the 40-man roster as of the end of the 2015 season (using Cots as a source):

  • Jordan Zimmermann, Dan Uggla, Doug Fister, Ian Desmond, Denard Span, Nate McLouth, Casey Janssen, Matt Thornton, Reed Johnson

So, lets just get this out of the way; we’re not talking about Uggla, McLouth, Janssen, Thornton or Johnson here.  Maybe the team could think about re-signing some of these guys to non-guaranteed/minor league deals, or negotiate an extension for one of the relievers.  I wouldn’t be entirely against that (especially for Thornton, who has been pretty durn good both in general (2.43 ERA on the year even if he got hit hard a couple times in August) and against lefties in particular (.203 BAA against lefties on the year), but this post is about the 4 big names.

Important links for this analysis: Here’s the total 2016 FA list at mlbtraderumors.com and their take on the 2016 FA power rankings.  We won’t know what the QO amount is until mid-October, but we can estimate that it will likely be somewhere around $16.3M.  Here’s my Qualifying Offer worksheet, listing every player who has gotten one and their eventual signed contract details with Average Annual Values (AAVs) listed.

By the way, here’s some salient points ignored for the purposes of this post, but which could make this post obsolete.

  1. I’m assuming that all pending FA players are acting rationally and in their own interest, and not working in concert with the players union and en masse turning down the qualifying offers.  So far, evidence shows this point may not be the case, as we’ve seen several players who inexplicably turned down QOs in the past.  The most blatant examples were Michael Cuddyer in 2014 and Kendrys Morales in 2013.  Cuddyer in particular was curious mostly for the timing; he signed a 2yr/$21M deal even before officially rejecting the 1yr/$15.3M qualifying offer, and it is hard not to make the argument that Cuddyer would have been much better suited to just taking the one-year deal for what was nearly the entire sum of the two year deal he eventually took.  I have no idea if Cuddyer just desperately wanted out of Colorado, which could be true … but then his destination didn’t support that argument either (prior to the season, the Mets were projected to be just another also-ran in the NL East; nobody predicted their run to 90 wins).
  2. I’m assuming that Mike Rizzo hasn’t already made a “hand shake” deal with any of these players to specifically NOT offer the QO, since it can be such a huge damper on their eventual FA market.  We have argued this conspiracy theory before, with lack of QOs to both Adam LaRoche but especially Edwin Jackson being examples of players who may have had a gentlemen’s agreement prior to departing the franchise.

Lets take these guys one by one.

  • Zimmermann: he’s a member of the likely “big 4” of FA starting pitchers to be available this off-season (also including David Price, Johnny Cueto and presumably Zack Greinke if/when he opts out of his existing deal).  Given Cueto’s issues at the end of 2015, I’d likely put Zimmermann as the third most valuable starter available.  And he’ll have no shortage of suitors.  We know he spurned signing a longer term deal on two different occasions (first when they negotiated his 2-year arbitration-buyout deal and then again last off-season) and the rumors are that the Nationals management/Rizzo are hesitant to commit major dollars to a post-Tommy John survivor.  He seems likely to sign a nine-figure deal somewhere, easily outdistancing the AAV of the QO.  Verdict: Offer the QO, he’ll reject it and signs elsewhere for more money than the Nats are willing to commit.
  • Desmond: he’s *easily* the best middle infielder on the FA market, a good combination of offense and defense whose best season was in 2012 but has three straight Silver Sluggers and sort of rebounded towards the end of his otherwise dismal 2015.  I agree with other analysts; he likely was a fool to turn down $107m as has been widely reported, and will be lucky to get 60% of that in the FA market.  I’m guessing he gets a four year deal with an AAV of $18M or so.  Verdict: Offer the QO, he’ll reject it and signs elsewhere because that’s kind of the corner he’s painted himself into, and the Nats have their ready-made replacement for him in Trea Turner.

Those two were obvious.  These next two are not.

  • Span: Another guy who picked a really bad year to miss 2/3rds of the season.  Span’s 2015 numbers are exactly in line with his excellent 2014 numbers, a point that his agent will be making this off-season. His injuries however could give teams pause.  He had “core” surgery in the spring, recurring back issues in the summer and then a torn Hip labrum in August that put him out for good.  Would you want to risk signing a 31yr old center fielder who just had hip surgery?  A good question.  Span does have competition in the CF free agency market, with decent players like Dexter Fowler, Colby Rasmus and Austin Jackson in the space.  The interesting tidbit that just popped up though is Span’s announcing that he’s switched agents and is now with the Scott Boras Corporation.  Boras is Mr. Free Agency, and has gleefully advised several prior clients to decline QOs and go head long into free agency only to watch them flounder (see Kyle Lohse, Stephen Drew and the aforementioned Morales as examples of players under Boras advisement who declined QOs in seemingly ill-conceived decisions).  Why did Span just switch to the super-agent Boras unless he needed someone to go out and drum up a good offer?  I think this is evidence enough that he’ll decline the QO and test the market.  And, even if Span accepts the QO (which I don’t think he would), he’d be competing with Michael Taylor for the starting CF job … on a team where our starting OF missed hundreds of games in 2015 and where the presumed 4th OF got 500+ at-bats this year.  So having Span around (who, by the way, hits lefty on a team that desperately needs lefty-hitting players) wouldn’t be the end of the world if he accepted the offer.  Verdict: Offer the QO, Boras will tell him to decline it anyway and the Nats will get an additional comp pick.
  • Fister: Prior to 2015, Fister was one of the more under-rated starters in the league and seemed like a safe bet to sign one of these 5yr/$65M deals that we see all the time.  Believe it or not, Fister ranked 17th in the league in fWAR among starters for the combined seasons 2011-2014.  17th!  That’s better than the likes of Cueto, Darvish, Strasburg, and a whole  host of “better” pitchers.  Unfortunately, he chose his walk year to fall off a cliff, with his average fastball velocity (which has already been trending down for 4 seasons) falling more than a MPH and a half just this year.  He was ineffective in the rotation and was removed, and has been pitching out of the bullpen for weeks.  He’s making $11.4M this year but it seems like he’s going to be lucky to get a 1yr $8M deal now from a team willing to give him a shot at the back of their rotation.  If the Nats were to offer him a QO and he took it,  he’d likely be the leagues most expensive long-man (now that Tim Lincecum is out of contract that is) and/or he’d block a spot that really needs to go to either Joe Ross or Tanner Roark.  I just don’t see how the team can risk extending one.  VerdictNo QO, and Fister tries to find a pillow contract with a team like Oakland or San Diego where he can likely put up decent numbers.

So, that’s my thinking.  Nats make three QOs, cut ties with everyone, replace internally across the board like they were always planning to, and net a slew of extra supplemental first rounders in a 2016 draft that is significantly deeper than this year’s.  Sounds good to me.

MLB Trade Deadline 2015: who improved their rotation the most?

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He looks pretty good in Canadian blue.  Photo via ctvnews.ca

He looks pretty good in Canadian blue. Photo via ctvnews.ca

It was by most accounts the busiest trade deadline ever.  Lots of high impact players moved.  And we were worried that the 2nd wild card would curtail the trade market!

Here’s a couple of good summary links: a division-by-division overview of teams post-deadline, BaseballAmerica.com’s Trade Central, with a review of every 2015 trade, and a nice trade-by-trade grade at Minorleagueball.com.

Lets look at those teams that altered their rotations and talk about how much they improved.  In order of perceived impact:

1. Los Angeles: added Mat Latos and Alex Wood, replacing two placeholders who had taken over for the injured Brandon McCarthy and Hyun-Jin Ryu.  Add Latos and Wood to what the Dodgers were already rolling out and I feel like they have become the new team to beat in the NL.

2. Toronto: adds the best pitcher on the market David Price to a team that really, really needed a bump in their pitching.  Price is used to the AL East and gives Toronto (coupled with their big Troy Tulowitzki move) a leg up on their divisional rivals.  The rest of the division mostly stood pat in terms of the trade deadline, and the division is there for the taking.  I believe Toronto can catch the Yankees; they’ve been incredibly unlucky by RS/RA and should regress upwards.

3. Kansas City: Johnny Cueto immediately replaces the injured Jason Vargas in a “nice timing” move, and KC solidifies its grip on the division.  This move wasn’t about getting to the post season as much as it was about winning once they get there.  Cueto is their 2015 version of James Shields; the workhorse who they can lean on in the 5- and 7-game series.

4. Houston: added Scott Kazmir and Mike Fiers, who will slide in to the 4th and 5th spots and supplant the under performing Scott Feldman and others who need more time in AAA.  While not as flashy as some other teams’ moves, this makes the back of Houston’s rotation stronger.  And, it should be noted, Houston’s main AL West rival (Los Angeles) not only didn’t make a move but just lost one its key starters to injury (C.J. Wilson).  Houston’s rebuilding plan looks like its at least a year ahead of schedule and coupled with serious injury issues to their competitors look like the favorite in the AL West.

5. Texas: adds Cole Hamels, who Philadelphia *finally* moved after sitting on the pot for 2 years.  I think this move is more about 2016; I don’t really see Texas making a move in 2015.  But it is a significant move: Hamels could give Texas one of the best AL 1-2 punches when Yu Darvish comes back, and then they have a nice collection of arms to choose from to fill out the rotation (Gallardo, Holland, Perez, Lewis, Martinez).

6. San Francisco adds the underrated Mike Leake, who slides into the #3 spot, prevents the Giants from even considering using Tim Lincecum in the rotation any longer, and certainly gives them an upgrade over what they were getting from Tim Hudson.  SF isn’t *that* far back from LA in the division … but more importantly is working hard to secure a WC spot.

7. Pittsburgh makes a minor move in adding J.A. Happ, who slides nicely and fortuitously into the spot that A.J. Burnett may be giving up to injury.

8. Chicago Cubs curiously added Dan Haren to their rotation; adding a mediocre #5 starter to a team that plays in a hitter’s park may back fire.  I would have thought Chicago would have been more aggressive to try to secure the 2nd wild card, but then again is it fair to say their rebuilding plan is also a year ahead of schedule right now?  Maybe they go big in the off-season to add starters behind Lester/Arrieta.


 

Sellers and the Impacts to their rotations:

Detroit moved backwards, selling their ace but acquiring a good prospect in Daniel Norris.  This move also lets them try out a couple of starter prospects for the rest of a season where they’re clearly not going to catch Kansas City.

Oakland was a seller but didn’t augment their rotation very much, getting a #5 starter in Aaron Brooks.  Oakland has been completely snake-bit this season, sporting one of the best run differentials in the game but having lost 75% of the one-run games they’ve played.  Billy Beane isn’t afraid to deal though and he’s got more than enough starting pitching coming off injury to compete in 2016.

Philadelphia got the rotting corpse of Matt Harrison in return for Hamel, along with a whole slew of players; I doubt Harrison ever pitches for them.

Cincinnati sold off their two best pitchers and now are doing open auditions at the MLB level for their 2016 rotation.

Miami finds themselves in a familiar place, selling off assets so as to line the pockets of their owners needlessly.  They lose two rotation guys but augment from the D/L and the farm system.  They’ll regroup for 2016 and continue to challenge as the worst organization to their fan base.

Seattle was sort of a seller, flipping off back of the rotation guys for spare parts.  They did not meaningfully alter their core rotation.  Their problem is simply under-performance.

Atlanta curiously parted with one of the most valuable resources in the game; the effective MLB-minimum starter.   They ended up with draft picks and prospects and a Cuban wild card in Hector Olivera.

Milwaukee parted with a 5th starter, giving those starts to their #1 prospect Taylor Jungmann.  A good deal for them.

 

Remember this Weekend

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Scherzer can't pitch a no-hitter every time; at some point this team needs to start hitting.  Photo via thesportsquotient.com

Scherzer can’t pitch a no-hitter every time; at some point this team needs to start hitting. Photo via thesportsquotient.com

If the playoffs started today, here’s what the match-ups would look like (and frankly the odds of this setup changing seem slim; maybe SF catches Chicago for the 2nd WC but otherwise this seems like it will be the line-up):

  • Chicago Cubs at Pittsburgh for the wild card
  • St. Louis hosting the WC winner
  • Washington traveling to Los Angeles.

And in said short series, with the Nats traveling to Los Angeles, they’d likely face Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke again in games 1 and 2.

Here’s what the LA 1-2 punch just did to our hapless lineup, on the road no less where Kershaw has a significantly worse stats:

There’s not a pundit in the game who doesn’t think the Nats aren’t going to win the NL East.  That they’re in first place while their #1, #2, #4 and #5 hitters sit on the D/L is pretty amazing (or, perhaps more to the point, a pretty bad indictment of our division in 2015).  But the toll is being seen; between outings against Kershaw, Greinke and (just before the all-star break) Johnny Cueto, we now see the effect of such a weak offense.  MLB-wide Aces will absolutely dominate the Nats.  To the point where we could have Cy  Young himself throwing and not have a chance.  If there’s just one or two legitimate hitters in your lineup, you can pitch around them and attack guys who otherwise would be in AAA or on the bench.  As we just saw.

The question is this: can the Nats offense turn this around?  We have now seen this team make the playoffs twice, each time with the best record in the league, and then each time flail out of the playoffs while barely hitting.  In 2012 they hit .232/.290/.393 and in 2014 they hit .164/.222/.258.

Yes we plan on getting everybody back.  Most of our D/L guys are on rehab assignments as we speak actually.  Can they get their expected form back and make this team respectable on offense?  Can Jayson Werth regain his stroke despite recovering from a broken wrist?  Can Denard Span regain his batting stroke despite a chronic back issue?  I’m less worried about Zimmerman and Rendon; they just need time and luck to stay on the field despite leg/foot issues, and both those guys profile as the kind of middle-of-the-order hitter that would give the Nats lineup some potency back (not to mention some protection for Bryce Harper).

Will it be enough?  Are you worried about looming playoff match-ups?

 

 

State of the Nats at the halfway point 2015

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Per KW’s comment suggestion, here’s a “State of the Nats” at the halfway point of 2015.

Salient key phrase: “Holding On.”  Lets look at some component parts.

Offense

Here’s the full-strength outfield lineup the Nats would optimally like to deploy: Span, Rendon, Harper, Zimmerman, Werth, Desmond, Ramos, Escobar.

Here’s what they lined-up against Red’s ace Johnny Cueto a few days ago: Taylor, Espinosa, Harper, Ramos, Robinson, Uggla, Desmond, den Dekker.  Yeah, its no wonder they wimpered into the night as Cueto threw a 2-hit shutout.  If you’re Cueto, you pitch around Harper (who got a hit and a walk), you attack the rest of the lineup (strike-out prone lead-off hitter Taylor took a hat-trick), and you laugh as you blow through the rest of the lineup (11Ks on the night).

That’s five regulars out, but not just any regulars; the D/L includes your expected #1, #2 #4, and #5 hitters.  Instead they are replaced by a rookie (Taylor), a career minor-leaguer (Robinson), a cast-off veteran failure (Uggla), a career .230 hitter who the team has spent the last 3 years trying to replace (Espinosa) and a 4th/5th outfielder with just a couple hundred MLB at-bats prior to this year (den Dekker).

Frankly, its a miracle the team is in first place.  Only by the grace of Harper’s incredible season does this team manage to stay in games.  For the record, at the halfway point Harper leads the league in bWAR (6.1), OBP, Slugging, OPS and OPS+.  After having a 3-1 K/BB ratio last year, this year he basically has as many walks as strike-outs, one of the primary reasons his average is 60 points higher and his OBP is 130 points higher than it was last year.  Hold your breath that Harper doesn’t crash out and miss a month with some injury like he’s done in the previous seasons.  If he ends the season with this level of an adjusted OPS+, it’ll be one of the 10-12 best offensive seasons in the history of baseball.

Ironically, even given all these injuries the Nats aren’t even close to what some other teams are dealing with; per mangameslost.com, we’re not even close to what the Mets, Rangers, Rays or Oakland has had to deal with.  Though I’d venture to say that perhaps the games lost by Nats players are slightly more “important” than the cumulative games lost by some of these other teams.  I don’t care who you are; if you remove four of the top five batters from any team’s lineup, they’d be lucky to be out of the cellar.

The team has gotten absolutely nothing from presumed bench players McLouth and Johnson (Do you think Rizzo will *ever* buy a 4th outfielder for 8-figures again in his life?).  Guys who should be in AAA are getting starts and (at least in the case of Robinson) holding their own.  We talked before the season about where Taylor should be (on the MLB bench or in AAA getting starts) … well he’s getting playing time, for better or worse.  Instead of worrying about whether Moore was going to get DFA’d to make room, we’re *adding* guys to the 40-man like Burriss to help out.

Rotation

We know about Scherzer.  He’s been amazing, should start the NL All-Star game (of course, he’s scheduled to throw the series ender in Baltimore so we’ll see) and he leads all NL pitchers in bWAR.

What about the rest of the rotation?  Both Fister and Strasburg have missed a  handful of starts, and the Nats have tried a whole AAA-rotation worth of replacements to varying results.  With apologies to “short sample size judgements” I’ll say that Ross was good, Hill has been ok, Cole has been bad, and Jordan has been worse.  Of course, both Cole and Jordan’s delta between ERA and FIP is massive, so their poor ERAs are unlucky to a certain extent.  In the meantime, Ross has a 23/2 K/BB ratio and a FIP of 1.11 in his three starts.  Its safe to say that this person is excited to see what he can do next, and for me he’s at the head of the line for 2016 rotation candidates.

Clearly we know Strasburg has had an off season.  But so has Fister.  And Gonzalez‘ ERA is in the 4’s.   Just how bad is this rotation?  Not as bad as you think; they’re ranked 8th in the league in starter ERA but are 1st in FIP and fWAR.   Last  year they were 1st in all of these categories.  So perhaps we can expect some “progression” in the 2nd half as (hopefully) guys like Strasburg clean up their act and pitch closer to their FIPs than their ERAs.

Bullpen

We knew Rizzo had weakened the bullpen from 2015, which could have been fine had the injury bug not hit.  But the turnover of this bullpen has caught up to the team in some ways.

  • End of 2014: Soriano, Storen, Clippard, Stammen, Thornton, Blevins, and Detwiler.
  • As we stand now: Storen, Janssen, Treinen, Carpenter, Thornton, Rivero, and Roark.

That’s a lot of turnover.  Yes Storen has been typically excellent (as long as its not the post-season, he seems to be one of the most reliable closers in the game).  As we speak, the bullpen is 11th in ERA; last year they were 4th as a bullpen.  Janssen’s injury did not help, as it pushed guys into the 8th inning role they weren’t ready for.  And we saw Treinen and Barrett struggle (3.69 and 5.06 ERA’s respectively).  Granted their FIP shows that those ERAs are unlucky … but those are still runs on the board, blown leads, blown saves.  Roark (predictably) has regressed as he’s pitched in practically every role a pitching staff has (long-man, mop-up, spot-starter, rotation guy, middle reliever, setup guy and even a closer).  Luckily the gambler Rizzo has gotten pretty good performance out of scrap heap guys like Thornton and Carpenter, both of whom have given the team good innings.

Will this last?  It better: there’s practically nothing left in the farm system for reinforcements.  Barrett is set to return soon (probably pushing Carpenter to AAA), but the other options in the minors do not inspire confidence.  Martin got shelled (unfortunately; we were all cheering him on after his call-up and his fantastic start).  Grace and Solis were both mediocre in their auditions, and I can’t quite figure out why Erik Davis is even still on the roster.  Maybe the team will try some more waiver claims or trades (Neftali Felix just got DFA’d…) to shore up middle relief.

Streaks

Lets talk about streaks.  As of the time of this posting, the Nats season can neatly be fit into these four periods, and then talk about what spurred the beginning/ending of each streak.

  • The Slow Start: 7-13 from opening day through 4/27/15.  The team came out of the game 7-13, thanks to a sputtering offense and a make-shift lineup still trying to gel.
  • The Comeback: 21-6 from 4/28/15 to 5/27/15: Uggla hits his sole homer on the season to spur a pretty incredible 13-12 comeback win in Atlanta, and the team goes on a 21-6 tear following it.
  • Rotational Worries: 6-13 from 5/28/15 to 6/19/15.  Strasburg lasts just 5 batters on his 5/28/15 start, putting 40% of the rotation on the D/L and throwing the rhythm of the pitching staff off.
  • The Kid dazzles: 12-5 from 6/20/15 to 7/9/15; A long road trip/tough schedule stretch ends with a dominant Ross performance at home 6/20/15, kicking off an easy stretch in the schedule and a mostly full-strength pitching rotation.

Definitely a streaky team so far.  At 7-13, they were 8 games back.  At the end of their 21-6 streak, they were 1.5 games up in the division.  Despite their 6-13 stretch the only lost 3 games in the standings as the Mets faltered equally, and as of 7/9/15 they’re still 3 games up despite getting dominated at home by the Reds.

The team is beating who they should be beating (9-3 against Atlanta, 8-5 against Philly).  And they’ve had some success against other teams that are “good” this year (3-1 against the Yankees, 3-0 against Pittsburgh, and a sweep of San Francisco).  But they’re inexplicably bad against Cincinnati (0-5?), Miami (2-4), and were expectedly weak against the rest of the AL East (a combined 3-7 against Boston, Tampa Bay and Toronto).  I’m guessing they’ll struggle against Baltimore this coming weekend since they sputtered against Cincinnati.

Lets just say that the All-Star break is coming at a pretty good time for this team.

Where do we go from here?

The Nats should be healthier coming out of the all-star break.  And they’ll need it; their July schedule is tough.  They host the Dodgers and the Mets to start, then travel to Pittsburgh, Miami and New York.  That’s a slew of games against good teams and their primary divisional rivals.

In August they host some bad teams (Arizona, Milwaukee, Colorado) but they also do their big West Coast trip (at Los Angeles, San Francisco and Colorado).  They also get a 3-game set at St. Louis that could be an eye-opener for where they really stand ahead of the playoffs.  September features practically all divisional games against teams that should all be completely out of it by then, so I forsee a team in cruising mode.

Playoff Outlook

The Nats remain in 1st place despite all their issues, and their closest rival is putting out a lineup that most AAA teams could beat.  Philly is already 30 games under .500.  Miami is 15 games under .500 and just lost their best player.  Atlanta sits around .500 but isn’t really trying for 2015 and won’t spend to compete.  So I think its safe to say the Nats are winning the division.  I’ll guess the Mets hang around since their pitching is so good, but in the end the Nats win the division by at least 10 games.

If the season ended today, Pittsburgh hosts the Cubs in the WC, St. Louis hosts the WC winner and Washington would be traveling to Los Angeles to open the playoffs.  And frankly its hard to see this changing much between now and October 1st.  I don’t think its a stretch to say that the Nats would be underdogs to both the Dodgers and the Cardinals in a playoff series, not unless Strasburg remembers how to pitch again or the offense gets healthy in time.  Are we looking at another first round playoff exit?