Nationals Arm Race

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

Archive for the ‘jon lester’ tag

Rizzo gets his 4th starter in Lester

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Lester to feature the curly W in 2021. photo via Grantland

One of our most obvious roster gaps heading into the off-season was a veteran 4th starter, and today Mike Rizzo got his man.

Jon Lester. 3-time World Series winner, cancer survivor, noted wine aficionado, signs a one-year $5M deal with the ubiquitous mutual option that is never mutually agreed to, to be our 4th starter for 2021.

Lester joins an esteemed list of “veteran 4th starters signed to pillow contracts” under the Rizzo regime. To wit:

  • 2010: Jason Marquis (though to be fair he signed a 2 year deal to probably be more than our 4th starter).
  • 2011: Chien-Ming Wang
  • 2012: Edwin Jackson, the first of the “real” 4th starter FA assassins
  • 2013: Dan Haren
  • 2014: Doug Fister
  • 2018: Jeremy Hellickson
  • 2019: Anibel Sanchez

To be fair here, Fister was of course a trade acquisition, and was much more than a 4th starter, but his acquisition, plus Scherzer signing and the eventual rise of home grown products like Roark and Ross led to several years without a need to pursue the veteran 4th starter. Not surprisingly, they made the playoffs 3 of 4 years in this timeframe … inexplicably missing the playoffs in 2015 in a season I hand squarely on the incompetence of Matt Williams. But I digress.

Clearly Rizzo’s strategy in building a rotation goes like this: splurge for the top of your rotation, sign a veteran for your 4th starter, let the kids compete for the 5th starter. What I’d LIKE it to be is, grow a couple of stud starters, pair them with your $30M/year guys, and dominate. He’s had had a slew of misses in the 1st round in the last decade, gave up too early on others (ahem Giolito), and now seems to have put their eggs into the Cavalli/Rutledge basket. Lets hope.

Anyway, back to this post. What do I think of the Lester signing? Well…. i think he’ll be a great clubhouse guy. But i’m tempered on what I think he can provide on the field, unfortunately. Lester went from being an #1/#2 kinda guy to being a #4 starter right starting with the 2017 season. He saw a sustained bump in his WHIP starting in 2017, which he somehow danced around in 2018 to put together a smoke-and-mirrors 18win season where his FIP was a full point higher than his ERA. This run of luck came back to bite him in 2019, in the form of a .347 BABIP that ballooned his ERA to ugly territory. 2020 was a wash; he was bad across the board, which could be a pretty bad sign for 2021.

Now he’ll be in his age 37 season with a whole lotta mileage on his known torn UCL elbow. He’s also famous for his inability to keep runners on first base … which will put pressure on his catchers. Gomes is pretty decent at caught stealing percentage (.305 pct in 2019, which was 6th or 7th or so of “regular” catchers in the league), but who knows about whatever backup we pick.

Do we think Lester is a bounce back candidate? Can he flourish when he’s not “the man” in the rotation? How much does he have left in the tank? All interesting questions. At the worst case its a very small price tag to take that gamble.

Payroll implication; not a heck of a lot. $5M doesn’t really change anything else the team might be doing, which makes this a positive. I now have their projected 2021 payroll at $181M, leaving them a shade under $29M left to work with. Notably, they have about $11.5M in deferred dollars this year, plus their “real” 2021 payroll (i.e. actual dollars heading out the door versus cap space dollar figure) is another $9.5M … so that’s $20M of money that the Lerners may be removing from consideration … which means they only want to spend about another $9m. Maybe. Just throwing that out there; there’s a real versus cap space payroll consideration here as the team starts to see a lot of its deferred dollar contracts catching up to them.

My conclusion; proceed with caution. I would have liked to roll the dice with another candidate on the FA market.

Opening Day Starter Trivia 2020

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Verlander makes his 11th career opening day start, tying him for the active lead. Photo via sporting News.

Verlander makes his 12th career opening day start, putting him in the clear lead. Photo via sporting News.

Every year I update this long-running XLS for this increasingly anachronistic relic of tracking Opening Day Starter honors for teams.  But it does make for some good trivia questions.

After this year’s opening day, which involved few fans and

  • Most Opening Day StartsActive Leaders:
    • Justin Verlander makes his 12th career Opening day start, double the next closest competitor now.
    • Next closest are two veterans, each of which who has 8 career opening day starts, neither of which made 2020 opening day starts (Clayton Kershaw and Jon Lester).
    • Special mention of Felix Hernandez, who is technically active with the Braves but is not on their 40-man roster.  He has 11 but seems like a longshot to make another.
  • Current Leading Consecutive streak:
    • 3; shared by Verlander, Max Scherzer and Aaron Nola
    • Julio Teheran had a streak of 6 broken this year; he signed with the Angels in the off-season
  • Number of first-time Opening Day Starters in 2020: 18 of 30
    • Soroka, Alcantara, Hendricks, Woodruff, Musgrove, Flaherty, Marquez, May, Paddock, Milone, Eovaldi, Morton, Giolito, Bieber, Boyd, Heaney, Montas, Lynn
    • This is easily the highest number of 1st time opening day starters since I started tracking this.
  • Most surprising opening-day starters in 2020:
    • Tommy Milone getting the opening day start for Baltimore.  Just crazy.
    • Sonny Gray getting his 3rd career opening day start, 5 years after last getting one for Oakland.
    • Johnny Cueto getting his 5th career opening day start, also 5 years after his last.
    • Trevor May, who gets a last minute spot start filling in for the injured Kershaw.  The rich keep getting richer out in LA; he was more than adequate, quite a showing for a guy who would normally be in AAA yet could clearly make nearly every other rotation in the league.

Historically, here’s the all-time record holders:

  • Most Ever Opening day StartsTom Seaver with 16.  Tied for 2nd place with 14 is Jack Morris, Randy Johnson and Steve Carlton
  • Most Consecutive Opening Day StartsJack Morris, all of whom’s 14 opening day starts were in a row.

Hope you enjoy this useless trivia!

Opening Day Starter Trivia 2019

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Verlander makes his 11th career opening day start, tying him for the active lead. Photo via sporting News.

Verlander makes his 11th career opening day start, tying him for the active lead. Photo via sporting News.

Every year I update this long-running XLS for this increasingly anachronistic relic of tracking Opening Day Starter honors for teams.  But it does make for some good trivia questions.

After this year’s opening day (including the two-day series in Japan), here’s some interesting stats related to Opening Day Starts from around the league:

  • Most Opening Day Starts, Active Leaders:
    • Justin Verlander makes his 11th and he seems well suited to increase that total given current form and new contract.
    • 11 ties him with both CC Sabathia and Felix Hernandez for the most active, neither of whom seem like they’ll get another shot to extend their totals.
    • Next closest are three tied with 8 each: Jon LesterClayton Kershaw and James Shields.  Lester’s is active, Kershaw’s should continue, while Shields remains unsigned for 2019 and seems unlikely to get another shot.
  • Current Leading Consecutive streak:
    • Julio Teheran with 6, which is pretty amazing because there was talk of him not even making the team with all the pitching depth Atlanta has.
    • Next closest is Corey Kluber with 5.
    • Nobody else really is close.  Lester has 3 straight for the Cubs, to add to his total of 8 between Boston and Chicago.
  • Consecutive streaks ended in 2019:
    • Felix Hernandez has his streak of 10 starts broken, and he wasn’t happy about it.
    • Kershaw had his streak of 8 broken thanks to the spring training injury.
    • Chris Archer has his streak of 4 broken thanks to a mid-season 2018 trade.
  • Number of first-time Opening Day Starters in 2019: 14.
    • deGrom, Castillo, Taillon, Mikolas, Freeland, Ryu, Lauer, Snell, Rodon, Keller, Berrios, Fiers, Gonzales, Minor
    • I’d say half of these are rewards for excellent 2018 seasons (deGrom, Taillon, Mikolas, Freelan, Snell for sure, perhaps also Berrios), some are covering for obvious candidates who are injured (Ryu), while the rest mostly play for tanking teams who have little better choice than to name a starter for opening day (Castillo, Lauer, Rodon, Keller, Fiers, Gonzales and Minor).
    • This is the highest number of first-time opening day starters in my decade of tracking this.

Historically, here’s the all-time record holders:

  • Most Ever Opening day Starts: Tom Seaver with 16.  Tied for 2nd place with 14 is Jack Morris, Randy Johnson and Steve Carlton
  • Most Consecutive Opening Day Starts: Jack Morris, all of whom’s 14 opening day starts were in a row.

Hope you enjoy this useless trivia!

 

 

MLB Rotation Ranks for 2019, 1-30

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Lester: the best pitcher on the best rotation heading into 2019. photo via Grantland

Lester: the best pitcher on the best rotation heading into 2019. photo via Grantland

I got out of the habit of doing this piece last year: right around this time in 2018 i was slammed at work, But, I found a bit of time earlier this off-season (thanks for Conference Calls) and put it together.

The core XLS is much more impressive than the text: here’s a Google version of it with the below data.

Here’s my 2019 Rotation ranks for every team in MLB, One to Thirty (1-30).

As I went through doing this, the ranks ended up naturally dividing into kind of natural groupings.  So I’ll show these groupings and then do commentary on the group all together.

Terminology used here:

  • to me an “Ace” is one of the best 15-20 starters in the game.  I think i’ve got 18 identified heading into 2019.   And yes, I count both Strasburg and Corbin as Aces for these purposes.  I’ve seen plenty of op-eds claiming Strasburg isn’t an “Ace” for various reasons …. but he’s in the top 10-15 of practically every statistical measure of starters over the past 4-5 years.  Just because someone is the #1 starter for a team does not make them an “Ace.”
  • A “#2 starter” is then one of the next best 15-20 guys, players who either used to be Aces but have grown a bit old (good example: Jake Arrieta or Cole Hamels) or younger guys who are one more solid season from taking the next step up (Luis Severino, Mike Foltynewicz).
  • A #3 starter is a level below the #2, the next 25-30 guys or so.  A good solid mid-rotation starter.  I have 30 identified.
  • A #4 starter is basically slightly better than the #5 starter.
  • A #5 starter is someone who gives replacement level starting pitching capabilities, a guy who is only slightly better than a 4-A guy.  Often either a rookie or an aging FA signing.

In the XLS, i do assign quantitative values to assist in the rankings … so you can see who i call a 4, who’s getting a 5, etc.

OK lets get to it:


 

1. Chicago Cubs: Jon Lester, Kyle Hendricks,Cole Hamels, Yu Darvish, Jose Quintana
2. Boston: Chris Sale,David Price, Nathan Eovaldi, Rick Porcello, Eduardo Rodriguez
3. Cleveland: Corey Kluber, Carlos Carrasco, Trevor Bauer, Mike Clevinger, Shane Bieber
4. Washington: Max Scherzer, Patrick Corbin, Stephen Strasburg, Anibal Sanchez, Jeremy Hellickson

I have Chicago as the #1 rotation in the game.  I have them at the top not so much because the top of their rotation is the best … its because man for man, 1 through 5, they’re the best.  When your 4th starter is Yu Darvisha guy who was the Cy Young runner up a few years back and is only 32 .. that’s a tough rotation.  Quintana is the Cubs’ 5th starter but was the White Sox’ long time #2.  Its just a lot of good, veteran pitching.   Boston comes in slightly below b/c I rate Porcello/Rodriguez slightly lower than Chicago’s 4/5.  Cleveland has a strong case (as does Washington) for having three legitimate Aces; if their #5 was better they’d probably be #1.   If you wanted to argue that Washington is  above or below the teams above them I wouldn’t argue too much; I look at the #4/#5 starters and say “who would you rather have?”  And I find that i’d rather have Chicago’s arms on the back end than ours.  I’d also note that we’ve had Scherzer now for four seasons; no real injuries … and Strasburg gets hurt literally every year.  So Washington’s rotation really has to take into account its depth … or lack there of.

5. Los Angeles Dodgers:  Clayton Kershaw ,Walker Buehler, Hyung-jin Ryu, Rich Hill, Kenta Maeda
6. New York Yankees:  Luis Severino, James Paxton, Masahiro Tanaka, J.A. Happ, CC Sabathia
7. New York Mets:  Jacob deGrom, Noah Syndergaard, Zach Wheeler, Steven Matz, Jason Vargas
8. Houston:  Justin Verlander, Gerrit Cole, Wade Miley, Brad Peacock, Josh James
9. St. Louis:  Miles Mikolas, Carlos Martinez, Jack Flaherty, Michael Wacha, Adam Wainwright

The Dodgers could jump to the next level if/when Walker Buehler turns into an Ace; i’ve still got him as a #2 but hope to gosh I can get him in Fantasy this year.  The Yankees sport four #2 starters … with Severino nearly ready to make the jump to Ace they’re pretty close.  I’d rate the Mets higher but the back end of their rotation just-cannot-stay-healthy.  Houston’s rotation would look a lot better if they re-signed their former ace Dallas Keuchel (more on him at the end), and Houston could really be good fast if their #1 prospect Forrest Whitley pans out.  Lastly in this group is St Louis, which is notable to me b/c their long time ace Adam Wainright is now their #5 starter, just barely hanging on.  Remember how much we heard about how the Nats missed out on Michael Wacha in the 2012 draft?  Well he’s a pretty solid 4th starter and if he could stay healthy he’d improve this rotation quickly.

10. Philadelphia: Aaron Nola, Jake Arrieta ,Nick Pivetta, Vincent Velasquez, Zach Eflin
11. Arizona: Zack Greinke, Robbie Ray, Zack Godley, Luke Weaver, Merrill Kelly
12. San Francisco: Madison Bumgarner, Dereck Robinson, Jeff Samardzija, Derek Holland, Drew Pomeranz
13. Atlanta: Mike Foltynewicz, Julio Teheran, Kevin Gausman, Sean Newcomb ,Touki Toussant
14. Colorado : Kyle Freeland, German Marquez, Jon Grey, Tyler Anderson, Antonio Senzelata
15. Tampa Bay:  Blake Snell, Charlie Morton, Tyler Glasnow, Ryan Yarbrough, Yonny Chirinos

An interesting grouping here; all six of these rotations are nearly identical in my private scoring … but looking at the names, you can see that some of these teams are prepped to move up quickly (Atlanta) while others are barely hanging on (San Francisco) with aging cores.  I’m not sure what to make of Philly’s rotation; are these guys scaring you in a short series?   Meanwhile … Tampa in 2018 was so shredded by injuries they went head first into the “opener” strategy … while having a Cy Young winner on staff.  They won 90 games this way, and now have back the starters that got hurt AND added a solid 2nd starter in Morton; are they going to challenge the two teams ahead of them?

16. Pittsburgh: Jamison Taillon, Chris Archer, Trevor Williams, Joe Musgrove, Nick Kingham
17. Oakland: Frankie Montas, Mike Fiers, Trevor Cahill, Brett Anderson, Marco Estrada
18. Texas: Mike Minor, Lance Lynn, Drew Smyly, Edinson Volquez, Jason Hammell
19. Seattle: Mike Leake, Yusei Kikuchi, Marco Gonzales, Felix Hernandez, Wade LeBlanc
20. Minnesota: Kyle Gibson, Jose Berrios, Jake Odorizzi, Michael Pineda, Adalberto Mejia
21. Detroit: Michael Fulmer, Matt Boyd, Jordan, Zimmermann, Tyson Ross, Matt Moore

So there’s a pretty significant step down here; I dont have a single “Ace” defined in this grouping … and only Jamison Taillon even rates for me as a #2.   How did Oakland possibly win 97 games last year?   Texas has bought three lesser-priced pitchers this off season (Lynn, Smyly and Hammel) and stands to improve on their 67 win season.   Seattle is in an interesting place: they won 89 games, added Kikuchi and could be pretty good, pretty fast … but their #1 starter is Mike Leake who’d be the Nat’s #5 starter.

22. Los Angeles Angels: Jamie Barria, Andrew Heaney, Matt Harvey, Tyler Skaggs, Felix Pena
23. Toronto: Aaron Sanchez, Marcus Stroman, Ryan Borucki, Matt Shoemaker, Clayton Richards
24. Chicago White Sox: Carlos Rodon, Ivan Nova, Reynaldo Lopez, Lucas Giolito, Manny Banuelos
25. Kansas City: Danny Duffy, Ian Kennedy, Jake Junis, Brad Keller, Eric Skoglund

The first three of these rotations all seem like they should be ranked higher than they are … but then when you look at them, you realize why.  Los Angeles is depending on injury-heavy arms, Toronto’s arms would be a top 10 rotation if this was 2014, and Chicago’s rotation is proof of the cynical scouting adage, “there is no such thing as a pitching prospect.”    How much better would the Angels be if Shohei Ohtani was there?   Probably 10 spots higher, nearly a top 10 rotation, he’s that good.    Kansas City is lucky to be this high: they  lost 58 games and are rolling out the same crew as last year.

26. Baltimore: Dylan Bundy, Alex Cobb, Andrew Cashner, David Hess, Nate Karns
27. Miami: Wei-Yin Chen, Jose Urena, Dan Straily, Caleb Smith, Trevor Richards
28. Milwaukee: Jhoulys Chacin, Chase Anderson, Zach Davies, Brandon Woodruff, Jimmy Nelson
29. Cincinnati: Anthony DeSclafani, Tanner Roark, Luis Castillo, Alex Wood, Sonny Grey
30. San Diego: Joey Lucchesi, Robbie Erlin, Bryan Mitchell, Eric Lauer, Luis Perdomo

 

Baltimore looks to improve on the rotation that lost 115 games last year by … signing former Nat Nathan Karns.   The other 4 starters in their rotation went (in order) 8-16, 5-15, 4-15 and 3-10 last year, none posting an ERA+ better than 85 for the year.  And they’re not the worst rotation in the league!  Amazing.  We all know Miami is trying to do worse than last year’s 98-loss team and, as far as I can tell, has not added ONE arm this off-season.   I really don’t know how Milwaukee did so well last year with this crew; they’re all basically #4 starters, backed up by a phenomenal bullpen and a great offense.  I hope they can compete again this year, b/c the club has done very little to improve.

Cincinnati has made a flurry of moves, adding 3 new starters this off-season …and is still ranked 29th.  I mean, Tanner Roark is their #2.

But none of these rotations is even close to as poor as San Diego’s projects to be.  Maybe you could squint and tell me that a couple of these guys are #4 starters instead of #5 starters.  But that’d just return them to the 30th ranked rotation, just slightly closer to Cincinnatis.  Luckily for San Diego (breaking news!) they just signed Manny Machado and Baseball America has ranked their farm system #1 in the league … which 13 of the last 14 years means they’ll be in the playoffs in two seasons.  So hopefully there’s some big-time San Diego prospect arms to go with those bats, and we’ll see you in the playoffs in 2020.


 

So, what Free Agent pitchers could move the needle of the above?

As of this writing, the biggest FA pitcher who could really move the needle is obviously Keuchel; i rate him as a #2, so if one of the lower-ranked teams replaces a 5th starter with Keuchel they may very well jump up 5-6 spots.  Other impact free agent pitchers available who could change the above rankings include Gio Gonzalez, Clay Buchholz, and Ervin Santana (update: Santana signed minor league deal with the White Sox, which may put them a couple spots higher). Past that, the remaining FAs seem like 4/5 types who wouldn’t really change any of the rankings b/c they’d likely be replacing a 4-A guy at the back of the rotation.  That list includes Bartolo Colon,Yovani Gallardo, Miguel Gonzalez, Edwin Jackson, James Shields, and Chris Tillman.  Yeah, I said Bartolo Colon; i think he can still pitch.   Maybe not that well … but it wouldn’t surprise me if he gave it one last season.


So, that’s my rankings.  Feel free to argue, tell me i’m wrong 🙂

 

LCS Pitching Match-ups and predictions

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Quick look at projected SP match-ups for the LCS and predictions:

Here’s the broadcast schedule with probables listed where known: http://m.mlb.com/postseason-schedule .  I’m assuming the Game 5-7 match-ups would be the same as 1-4

ALCS:

  • Game 1: NYY@Houston: Tanaka vs Keuchel. Both guys were solid in their ALDS appearances, may be a run prevention effort.
  • Game 2: NYY@Houston: Severino vs Verlander: Verlander has been great since moving over, but Severino was no slouch in his ALDS start.
  • Game 3: Houston@NYY: Peacock vs Sabathia: Sabathia’s career renaissance continues; he was dominant in the ALDS.  Peacock is an enigma; advantage NYY here.
  • Game 4: Houston@NYY: Morton vs Gray: you’d have to say advantage NYY here; Morton struggled, as did Gray, but Gray’s ceiling is higher.

I like Houston in 6 here.  I think they win first two games at home, get one game in NYY then win game 6 behind Verlander.

NLDS:

  • Game 1: Chicago@LA: Quintana vs Kershaw: Kershaw should dominate … of course his post-season stats are awful, but Lackey is Chicago’s 5th starter for a reason.
  • Game 2: Chicago@LA: Lester vs Hill: tough match-up of lefties; if Chicago were to steal a game, it’d happen here.  But Hill puts several big Chicago bats into neutral, and if he’s on he’s nearly unhittable.
  • Game 3: LA@Chicago: Hendricks vs Darvish: I don’t see Hendricks taming the Chicago bats, fired up for their first home games of the NLCS.
  • Game 4: LA@Chicago: Arrieta vs Wood: Is Arrieta healthy?  who knows.  I think LA gets to him and steals this game.

The Cubs had to empty the bullpen to get through the NLDS.  And i’m not entirely sure Wood is the LA 4th starter; it could be Kenta Maeda, who threw two relief innings in the NLDS.   I also like LA in 6 here, maybe even 5.  I could see LA winning both LA games, then dropping game 3, getting to Arrieta in game 4 and then having Kershaw shut them down in game 5.  And as we saw in the Washington series … the Chicago bullpen getting from the starter to the closer is … suspect.

Predictions: Houston in 6, LA in 5.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ask Chelsea – post-season/pre-playoffs mailbag

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Farewell Jayson Werth; its been a good 7 years. Photo via getty images

Farewell Jayson Werth; its been a good 7 years. Photo via getty images

Lets bang out a mailbag, this time with WP beat reporter Chelsea Janes at the WP.

I’ll do a Playoffs prediction piece once tonight’s WC game is settled; no point in speculating until we know who the Dodgers are facing.


Q: Is any contract extension for Dusty contingent on getting the team past the first round?

A: I wouldn’t think so, honestly.  I think Dusty Baker has done an excellent job with this team, turning it around starkly from the Matt Williams regime.  Yes its curious that he hasn’t been extended … but then again, the inevitable extension for Mike Rizzo seemed to be a little late coming too.  Maybe this team has told him privately that they’ll get it done this off-season and just focus on winning for the time being.

Janes has reported several times that everyone plans on Baker being back, that Rizzo wanted to do it in ST but ownership did not, and that’s the Nationals MO.  


 

Q: Is Stephen Strasburg going to start Game 1?

A: As of the point of this writing, it definitely seems like it.  This gives Max Scherzer one more day to recover, and gives the team the choice of selecting either guy for Game 5 thanks to multiple off-days in the playoff schedule.  I’d be up for this scenario honestly; Scherzer may be the Ace but Strasburg has been the best pitcher in the last two months.

Janes does not know but pointed out Strasburg’s unbelievable numbers since returning from the D/L in August.  He definitely merits a 2-game NLDS if it comes to it.


 

Q: Chances Anthony Rendon gets an extension this off season?

A: Hmm.  Good question.  Rendon is going to be due a sizeable arbitration raise this off-season and still has another Arb year, so I could see the team doing a 2-year deal now to avoid the arguing.  Perhaps 2yrs/$25M or something (with salaries of $10 and $15M?).  I’d take that for cost certainty for a guy who doesn’t get near the credit he’s due but is putting up MVP numbers.  As far as longer-term extension?  I dunno; is Rendon a lifer in Washington?  What will it take to sign him long term?  In this respect, his under-ratedness works to the team’s benefit.  I see him kind of in the Adrian Beltre mold; good defensive player, not as flashy, solid offensive contributions.  Beltre is getting $18M per right now and just finished a 5yr/$80M deal before that, so that’s a good benchmark.  Maybe Rendon can be had for something like a 5yr/$90M deal which would take him through his age-32 year, so we’d get his best years but he’d get another shot at the FA market at 32.

Janes agrees with my assertion that they’ll likely buy out his Arb years, but notes that he’s a Scott Boras client and likely hits FA.  Fair point.  But our read on Rendon is not the hyper-aggressive big character/ego guy, so maybe in the asme vein as Strasburg (also Boras client) he’ll sign an extension to stay comfortable.  He’s also a Houston guy born and bred (HS and college) and would make a ton of sense heading back there.  Houston has a log-jam of good infielders right now … but a lot can change in a couple years.


Q: Would you start Jayson Werth or Adam Lind in LF for playoffs Game 1?

A: Werth absolutely.  Especially since Jon Lester is likely to go Game 1.  Maybe you could get more clever in games 2-4 when RHP starters go for Chicago… but I still doubt it.  Unless Werth is hurt, he’s  your starting LF.  And if he was hurt … i’m not sure I’d go with Lind out there in lieu of Howie Kendrick honestly, given the defensive liabilities.

Janes agrees, thinks it would take an injury to get someone besides Werth out there, and points out that Werth was a rock in the playoffs last year.


Q: How worried should we be about the recent performances of Gio Gonzalez and Tanner Roark? 

A: Slightly worried, but not overly so.  The Nats have really had so little to play for for weeks that its possible that these guys just mentally relaxed enough to have bad games, especially in the season finale (which was emotional for it being Werth’s likely final regular season game in a Nats uniform).

Janes thinks Gio was a bit under the weather, and that Roark admitted to not being totally focused during the grind of the final week.


Q: Will Victor Robles make the major league roster out of spring training in 2018?

A: Oh, that’s a good question.  Something tells me he will not for several reasons:

  1. Adam Eaton will be back and starting in CF
  2. Harper is in RF
  3. The team still has TaylorGoodwin and Stevenson all in the mix, all pre-arb, all with more service time than Robles
  4. We still could buy ourselves a bigger bat to play LF and have these guys all jockeying to be the 4th OF.
  5. We still could see a trade in the off-season, flipping some of this sudden OF depth (along with Wilmer Difo) for the answer.
  6. Robles needs to be playing every day, not sitting on the MLB bench, and makes sense to be in AAA against near-MLB quality guys
  7. Robles needs, in the same vein as Trea Turner, to have his service time managed a little bit.

Now, I could be wrong, and the team could find itself in a dogfight early in Harper’s last season.  They could get hit with injuries again and he’d be right back up.  But to start, i’d have him in AAA.

Janes repeats practically everything I wrote.


Q: Who will be the last man on the bench? What will the bullpen look like? Will Robles make the playoff roster? 

A: I think …. if it were me i’d put Robles on the roster.  But Mr, Baker probably wants a more veteran player, so don’t be surprised if the kid is left off in lieu of some .200 hitting last man.  We’ll see.

We talked about this in the last post so we won’t do it again, and Janes posted a whole 2,000 word article on it … so we’ll defer to those discussions.

 

 

 

 

 

How do we stack up against Chicago for the NLDS?

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Nats Nation breathes a sigh of relief; it was just a cramp. Photo via thesportsquotient.com

Nats Nation breathes a sigh of relief; it was just a cramp.  Or was it? Photo via thesportsquotient.com

Warning: lots of judgments based on short sample sizes and possibly not taking into account other factors that may have been in play during 3- and 4-game series, which are in reality a small fraction of a season.  And  yes I know, past performance is no indicator of future performance.  Just read and stop being a buzz-kill will ya?  🙂

So, we’ve known for a while that we were going to face the Cubs in the NLDS.  But now its official.  So lets peek back at our two series against them this year to see how our guys matched up to see if there’s any places to keep an eye on.  On a macro level, we took the season series from the Cubs 4-3, outscoring them 39-28 in the process.  We split four games at home in June, then took 2 of 3 against them on the road in August.

Nats Starters:  Here’s how our playoff starters fared against the Cubs this year:

  • Max Scherzer went 6, gave up 2 hits and a run with a victory over Chicago at home in June.  That sounds pretty good.
  • Stephen Strasburg went 7, punched out 13 (!) and gave up 3 runs (2 earned) in a home victory in June.  I’ll take that.
  • Gio Gonzalez went 6, gave up just two hits (good) but walked 5 (bad) , managed to give up just one run (good) and was an unlucky loser in the June home series.
  • Tanner Roark went 6+, gave up 2 runs on 5 hits and took a loss in Chicago in August.  Not bad.
  • The other three starts against the Cubs were Joe Ross in June, Edwin Jackson in August and Erick Fedde in August, so the Cubs have only seen our starters once each this year.

So, all four of our starters basically had quality starts against the Cubs this year.  That sounds promising.  No red flags.  We’ll ignore the fact that both Gio and Roark got bombed on the season’s closing day.  Maybe they were hung over.

Cubs Starters: How did Chicago’s presumed playoff rotation fare against us?

  • Jon Lester went 6, gave up 3 hits and a run in a no-decision in the June finale.  Tough.
  • Lester threw another QS in August, going 6 2/3rds, giving up 3 runs on 6 hits and getting a ND against Fedde.  Not bad.
  • Jake Arrieta was super-wild, walking 6 in 4 innings and taking the loss against Scherzer in June.  Uncharacteristic performance.
  • Kyle Hendricks went 7, giving up 3 runs on 5 hits and took a loss against Roark in the August series.  About what you’d want out of a 3rd starter.
  • Jose Quintana was a mid-season acquisition and did not pitch against us this year.
  • The other starts against us were thrown by Eddie Butler (who hails from Chesapeake, went to power-house Greenbrier Christian and was a 1st rounder out of Radford a few years back) and Jon Lackey (twice).

So, Lester was solid against us twice, Arrieta had an uncharacteristic struggle, and Hendricks was good but not dominant.  Quintana has thrown to a 3.74 ERA in his 14 starts, good but not lights out.  I have no idea how they’ll line up for the playoffs but think it may be as they’re listed above (maybe Quintana is #3 and Hendricks is #4).  It does look like Lackey is odd-man out of the Chicago rotation, which should be a fun conversation with their manager.

Summary: I like how our Starting Pitching lines up frankly; Scherzer is Scherzer, Strasburg has been unhittable for two months, and Gonzalez has been sneaky good all year.  Gonzalez and Roark project to pitch in Chicago … but Gio’s away splits are pretty good this year (11-5 with a 3.12 ERA).


 

Nats Hitters; here’s how some of our key hitters have fared against Chicago starters in their career (thanks to the wonderful baseball-reference.com per-Pitcher stats):

  • Bryce Harper is 1-7 against Lester, 4-14 against Arrieta, 4-13 against Hendricks and has never faced Quintana.  At least his one hit against Lester was a dong.
  • Daniel Murphy is 4-14 against Lester, 6-19 against Arrieta, 4-15 against Hendricks and also has never faced Quintana.  Better.
  • Ryan Zimmerman is 2-16 against Lester, 5-21 against Arrieta, 0-9 against Hendricks and has also never faced Quintana.  Might be a rough series for Zim.
  • Trea Turner is 1-2 against Lester, 1-2 against Arrieta, and has never faced either Hendricks or Quintana.  Not much to go on here.
  • Jayson Werth is 2-4 against Lester, 2-9 against Arrieta, 0-3 against Hendricks and has never faced Quintana.  About what you’d expect.
  • Anthony Rendon is 1-5 against Lester, 4-11 against Arrieta, 2-11 against Hendricks and has never faced Quintana.  Not bad.

I didn’t bother looking up Wieters or Taylor numbers because I expect little from them this off-season; anything they contribute is gravy.  Our 1-6 hitters need to make it happen.

Cubs Hitters; here’s the same analysis against our guys for Cubs key hitters (career figures):

  • Kris Bryant is 1-10 against Max, 2-5 against Stras, 2-10 against Gio and a strong 5-11 against Roark.   Might be an interesting series for the defending NL MVP.
  • Anthony Rizzo is 3-10 against Max, 2-13 against Stras, 2-22 against Gio and 4-18 against Roark.  Clearly the lefty and Roark’s swing-back fastball is effective against him.
  • Willson Contreras has never faced Scherzer, is 1-3 against Strasburg, 1-2 against Gio, 1-3 against Roark.  Almost no history go go on.
  • Javier Baez is 0-5 vs Max, 0-6 against Stras, 0-6 against Gio and 1-3 against Roark.  Not a lot of success here for Baez.
  • Kyle Schwarber has just two ABs against any of our starters, going 1-2 in a game against Roark.

I’m not entirely sure that Schwarber will play (he had 30 homers but an awful BA), nor Baez (since the Cubs have Ben Zobrist).  But these are the key bats for the Cubs and there’s not a ton to go on.  It seems like Bryant will be a handful, Rizzo may be an issue against some of our guys, and the rest of the squad could hit or miss (which, perhaps, is what you’d say also having not seen any of these stats).


 

So how does it look overall?  I like our chances, honestly.  I don’t like how Harper has looked since his “return” so that’s a huge worry, but I like our chances with the Cubs having to beat Scherzer twice and Strasburg once in a short series, and I like Gio going against the power hitting lefties in Chicago’s lineup.  I like our revamped bullpen, especially if we never have to depend on the 5th and 6th guy out of it.

It comes down to this injury scare at this point; is Scherzer going to be ok?  Can the Nats survive if Scherzer is out and we’re forced to give a playoff start to Jackson?

Assuming Scherzer is ok, Nats in 5.

 

Is this the turning point for the bullpen?

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Is Treinen in danger of a DFA or a demotion? Photo via zimbio.com

Is Treinen in danger of a DFA or a demotion? Photo via zimbio.com

Yes, its one game.  Yes, it was one game in a regular season 162 games long, with a team playing in an abhorrent division that they’ll probably win by 20 games irrespective of what happens.

But, at the same time, last night’s debilitating 6-5 loss, featuring a 3-run ninth from your opening-day closer Blake Treinen seemed different.  Why?  Because it blew a game against a playoff contender, a team that the Nats very well may face in the first round of the playoffs if the season plays out as expected.  Because this wasn’t just a run-of-the-mill regular season game; this was one of those statement series that this team faces where it can measure up against last year’s champion and determine where they stand in the NL pecking order.  The team s hould be walking away with a dominant series win, having outscored the defending WS champs 22-12.  Instead they concede a split series that ended with a ton of frustration.

The loss last night (per Byron Kerr‘s twitter status) now represents the SIXTH time in 79 games this year that the bullpen has blown a 9th inning lead.   That’s only slightly worse (92.5% conversion rate) than historically  is to be expected (about 95% per Joe Posnanski research), but in the era of the closer … you’d expect better results.

The hitters are already grumbling.  As noted in this weeks’ Tom Boswell chat (and subsequently picked up by Craig Calcaterra in Hardball/NBCSports blog), players are getting pretty frustrated that they are beating teams for 8 innings only to lose it in the 9th.  And with good reason; if you’re facing a Cy Young quality pitcher and are in a position to beat him (well, beat his team that day, even if you couldn’t do jack with Jon Lester himself), then you HAVE TO WIN that game.  You can’t have your starters going 120 pitches and trying to pitch complete games every night because you can’t trust a single member of your bullpen.  Hell, they even got a quality start plus from Joe Ross!  You can’t waste those!  Normally Ross needs the offense to score him 12 runs to win.

I saw the result last night and the first thing I thought was, ” I wonder if they’ll DFA Treinen.”   This is the same team that layered Drew Storen after high profile post-season meltdowns; was Ted Lerner in the crowd last night?  What value does Trienen give the team right now?   He’s got a 1.7whip, an ERA north of 6, and clearly can’t be trusted with the ball unless its a low-leverage situation.  I’m sure it won’t actually happen, thanks to the general health meltdown out there and the clear lack of options on the farm.  But at some point, you have to think out side the box.

They were thinking outside the box moving Erick Fedde to the pen; guess what?  Its time.  I’d also start thinking about other AAA starters out of the pen while the two closer-retreads they’ve just signed (Francisco Rodriguez and Kevin Jepsen get fitted for uniforms and throw a few innings in AAA).   Call up guys from AA straight and DFA the deadweight that you know you don’t trust that’s sitting in AAA . You hate trading from a position of weakness, but its time to start working the phones and cashing in assets.

I’ve preached patience for this bullpen, and I just ran out of it.

ps: the larger news on the night of course is the Trea Turner injury.  That’s a bad piece of luck … but its also why we got back Stephen Drew.  My initial thoughts on Turner’s hit are these: its not season ending, we have a 9.5 game lead in a division were nobody else is really even trying, we’ll be fine.   He’ll be back for September when it counts.  Fix the bullpen.

WBC Round 2 Results and Round 3 predictions

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2017_wbc_logo

The USA has never advanced past the 2nd round of the WBC before, and they get a clutch performance to beat the defending champs (and best team on paper) to advance in 2017.  Here’s a quick review of the Round 2 results and a look ahead/predictions for round 3.

(quick links for the WBC:   Official site here, wikipedia site here with schedules, and another wiki site here with rosters).

Predictions for round 2:

Round 2 Results:

Pool E: Predicted Japan and the Netherlands

Actuals: Israel continued its hot streak early and downed Cuba in what I predict is the 3rd place game, while Japan held serve and beat the Netherlands in extras.  Netherlands turned around the next day and destroyed Israel, handing them their first tourney loss.  Japan handled Cuba to more or less guarantee it spot in the WBC finals on 3/14/17.  On the pool’s final day, the Netherlands destroyed Cuba 14-1 while Japan remained undefeated and my predictions held out; Japan and Netherlands advance to the final round.

Pool F: Predicted DR and USA.

Actuals: Puerto Rico played an inspired game and downed the DR in the first pool game, which puts the DR’s chances of advancing in jeopardy early.  USA held serve and beat Venezuela on a couple of late homers and then the DR beat Venezuela the next night to essentially eliminate them.  The DR needs some help; they would be benefitted by a USA loss to Puerto Rico …. which they got.  The US kept trying to catch up but could never recover from an early 4-0 deficit and dropped a 6-5 decision to Puerto Rico to guarantee PR’s advancement and to setup a do-or-die rematch between USA and DR.  In that game, US starter Danny Duffy wiggled out of jams early and the US’s big bats came through and they downed the defending champs DR 4-2 to advance to their first finals.  Puerto Rico and USA advance.

(tangent; really?  Danny Duffy?  That’s the best starter the US could come up with?  The USA’s three primary starters in this tourney were Chris ArcherMarcus Stroman and Duffy.  Here’s a quick link to 2016’s fangraphs pitcher WAR leaders and thus here’s a quick list of all the US-born players they could have selected ahead of any of these three guys: Kershaw, Snydergaard, Scherzer (who we know was set to attend but got injured), Porcello, Verlander, Sale, Kluber, Bumgarner, Price (also currently injured), Hendricks, Lester, Strasburg, Hill, Arrieta, Grey.  Stroman was 21st in the majors in pitcher WAR last year, behind every one of these guys.  I mean, come on.  How can we alter this event so that the US can put out a rotation of Kershaw, Snydergaard and Bumgarner??)

Round 3 Predictions:

Now we’re to the semis.  Honestly I think the two best teams are unfortunately matched up against each other in the first semi (Netherlands and Puerto Rico).  I’ll go with the Netherlands in one semi, the USA in the other, and then the Netherlands to beat the US in the final.

ps. Yes I agree with all prior commenters; having Daniel Murphy and Tanner Roark on this team has been a complete waste.  I just hope it doesn’t affect their regular seasons…