Nationals Arm Race

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

Archive for the ‘jon paul morosi’ tag

Are we going to have to go through this every time he stubs his toe??

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Strained Oblique is not the same as torn UCL. Photo credit unknown.

It didn’t take the holier-than-thou Jon Paul Morosi 10 minutes after Stephen Strasburg‘s early exit on 5/31/13 to post this “I told you so” missive to remind everyone that he thinks the Nationals 2012 Shutdown decision was stupid (oh, and just to make sure everyone knows how smart he was, he also conveniently posted a link to his own opinion posted at the time).

Of course, the fact that a “Strained Oblique” isn’t the same thing as an “Ulnar Collateral Ligament” didn’t stop him from his highly hypocritical post.  Why hypocritical?  Because teams shut down pitchers on innings limits ALL THE TIME.  When the Cubs shut down Jeff Samardzija at the end of last season, did anyone bat an eye?  No?  Why was that?  Was it because the Nats were in first place and the Cubs in last?  Is that so?  Well if you’re going to have a national debate about one guy and not a word about the other solely based on the team’s position in the standings, then something is wrong.  Because both decisions were made to protect the player, not advance the team’s best short-term interest.

I’m not going to re-hash the whole argument again.  It isn’t worth it.  Nobody’s going to listen, everyone has their opinion already formed and hardened again and again.  The reason the Nats lost the NLCS wasn’t because our bullpen leaked run after run or because our closer coughed up a 2 run lead in the 9th; it was because Mike Rizzo arrogantly shut down Strasburg!  Of course!  Never mind that Strasburg’s replacement on the roster (Ross Detwiler) gave the team its best post season start.  Never mind that the St. Louis Cardinals were a heck of a hitting team and never mind that our offense only really showed up in Game 5 (when, as it turned out, scoring SEVEN runes wasn’t enough to win).

Ok, maybe I did just rehash the issue again.

But to the point of this post; are we going to have to live with this stupid argument every time Strasburg stubs his toe or has any sort of routine strain or injury for the rest of his frigging career?  Pitchers, as a rule of course, get injured.  Throwing a baseball at max effort is hard on the body.  Guys get injured all the time.  Some guys are incredibly durable (think Justin Verlander) and other guys are just not (think about what this franchise went through with John Patterson and Shawn Hill).  Just because Strasburg had a minor injury (and by all accounts it seems to be minor at this point) doesn’t mean Rizzo’s 2012 shutdown decision is to blame.

Are we going to have this discussion every time?  I hope not.

6/3/13 update: found this Tweet from Jon Heyman who acts as the voice of reason, not only shooting down Morosi’s article by pointing out that Oblique/Lat is not the same as Arm, but shouting down Twitter followers who questioned the shutdown.  He had a very, very good point about last year’s shutdown; is it worth a 25-yr old’s career for “1 or 2 more starts?”  A sage question that few people seemed to be asking, even if it was going to probably be 4-5 more starts.  There needs to be more people coming back to the middle on this (as Will Carroll seemed to be doing), saying that we just don’t know if a shutdown helps or not, as opposed to people who vehimently and rudely state that the Nats and Rizzo were so stupid for shutting him down.  It just gets old.

6/10/13: A little late to the game but Thom Loverro of the Washington Examiner calls out specifically Morosi and an Atlanta reporter for their “gutless” criticism of the Strasburg shutdown.  He makes very good points.

Have we seen the last 300-game winner? (updated post 2012 season)

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San Francisco Giants starter Randy Johnson acknowledges the crowd after the Giants beat the Washington Nationals 5-1 for his 300th win, in the first game of a baseball doubleheader Thursday, June 4, 2009, in Washington. (AP Photo/Nick Wass)

Despite being much maligned as a method of judging a starting pitcher’s worth, the “Win” is still the essential goal of every starter in the majors and the accumulation of them over a season or career still inspires much thought and discussion.  The magical “300 win” threshold remains one of the more challenging career objectives for any starter, and remains an interesting benchmark to discuss.    Only 23 pitchers in the history of the game have reached 300 wins.

So, after Randy Johnson‘s reaching the benchmark, and after a number of recent start pitchers also hitting the plateau (Greg Maddux, Roger Clemens and Tom Glavine), are we ever going to see another 300-win pitcher?

Here’s some other reading on this same topic by the likes of John Dewan (referencing Bill James‘ annual predictions on who may reach 300 wins with his percentile chances), David Schoenfield (in a dated piece predicting Roy Halladay‘s chances for getting to 300 wins), and an early 2012 piece from Jon Paul Morosi talking about Clayton Kershaw‘s chances.

Achieving 300 wins in a career is getting more and more difficult.  Here’s some interesting stats  about reaching 300 wins for a starter in the modern baseball age:

  • If a pitcher were to enter the major leagues at age 23, he would need to AVERAGE 20 wins for the next 15 years to reach 300 and pitch until age 38.
  • Put another way, that same pitcher entering at age 23 would have to average 18 wins for 17 seasons to reach 300 by about age 40.
  • The majors have had ONLY Eleven 20-game winners in total over the past 5 seasons.  (Seven of which have come in the last two years, echoing the “rise of the pitcher” and the collapse of the PED slugger era, so perhaps its getting easier to accumulate wins).
  • 5-man rotations mean that starters are averaging 33-34 starts a year, down from the 38-40 starts that Pitchers would get just 20 years ago.
  • Because of mania over inning counts, specialized relievers, and an obsession with using “closers” in save situations, starters now only earn decisions in around 69% of starts, down from 78.5% of starts in 1972 (source Jay Jaffe‘s article, referenced further down).  This means the average pitcher only gets about 24 decisions from their 33-34 starts, making the 20-game winner even that more rare.  One can argue that better pitchers get more decisions because they’re more likely to pitch into the 7th and 8th innings, by which time their team should have scored enough runs to win for them.  But the fact remains that a lot of wins and losses are in the modern bullpen.

In 2009, just as Randy Johnson won his 300th, I had two long winded discussions (one in April 2009, another in June 2009) an older version of this blog that I maintained with friends about the demise of the 300-game winner.  Blog author Jason Amos did a great summary in this posting along with some great links.  Now, with another 3 seasons in the books, I thought it might be interesting to see who we were considering as candidates just a few years ago and who might be the next “best” candidates to get to 300 wins.  I’ll address candidates and their chances as we present pitchers a number of different ways.

(coincidentally, the 300-game winner spreadsheet I’m using for this post can be found at this link, and in the Links section along the right hand side of this page).

Here’s the current list of active wins leaders post 2012.  For brevity’s sake here’s the top 10 (and I’ve included Jamie Moyer as being “active” for the sake of this argument):

Rank pitcher age wins
1 Jamie Moyer 49 269
2 Andy Pettitte 40 245
3 Roy Halladay 35 199
4 CC Sabathia 31 197
5 Tim Hudson 36 197
6 Livan Hernandez 37 178
7 Derek Lowe 39 175
8 Mark Buehrle 33 174
9 Bartolo Colon 39 171
10 Kevin Millwood 37 169

Of this list of top 10 active win leaders, clearly most of them are never going to reach 300 wins.  Jamie Moyer has not yet retired at age 49, but the odds of him even making another MLB roster seem thin. Likewise Livan Hernandez and Derek Lowe may struggle to get guaranteed contracts in 2013.  Andy Pettitte has returned and pitched effectively for the Yankees this year, but he’s 50+ wins away from the plateau and only seems likely to maybe pitch one more year.   Bartolo Colon does have a contract for 2013 but it may be his last season, and Kevin Millwood is just too far away.  Tim Hudson, despite his strong performances the last few years, is just too far away at this point as well.  The chances of any of these guys to reach 300 wins is 0%.

How about the rest of this top 10 list?  Specifically CC Sabathia, Roy Halladay and Mark Buehrle?  There’s some intriguing candidates there. Lets look at their chances a slightly different way.

When Randy Johnson hit 300 wins, two Baseball Prospectus authors posted similar posts to this with some interesting analysis.  First, Jay Jaffe used a fun little stat he called the Jaffe Blind Optimism method (JABO), which takes a pitcher and assumes he will win 15 games a year until age 42.  Well, this incredibly optimistic formula leads us to a new set of more reasonable candidates.  I changed the formula slightly and only ran out the 15 wins/year til age 40 and got this list:

Rank pitcher age wins Jaffe 15wins/yr avg->40
1 CC Sabathia 31 197 332
2 Felix Hernandez 26 98 308
3 Clayton Kershaw 24 61 301
4 Trevor Cahill 24 53 293
5 Justin Verlander 29 124 289
6 Matt Cain 27 85 280
7 Mark Buehrle 33 174 279
8 Yovani Gallardo 26 69 279
9 Chad Billingsley 27 80 275
10 Roy Halladay 35 199 274

By this analysis we see that CC Sabathia looks like a pretty sure bet to hit 300 wins, and for good reason.  He’s been healthy, he plays for a team that is constantly winning, and he doesn’t have to pitch like a Cy Young award winner to get wins in New  York (21, 19 and 15 wins his last three seasons).  He has always been healthy and just needs 5 more solid seasons to be very close to the 300 win plateau.  He’s signed through 2016 (with an option for 2017), and there’s no reason to think he’s not going to see that contract through.  His elbow-injury scare in the post-season turned out to be innocuous, but we’ll keep an eye on his health status in 2013.  If he loses a season or more to injury the chances of his making 300 wins declines precipitously.  Felix Hernandez has nearly a 100 career wins at age 26, and also seems like a decent bet to hit 300 wins at this point.  But, he’ll need to move to a winning team to make this task easier on himself; he’s only won 13,14 and 13 games the last three seasons because of dreadful run support.  He’s signed through 2014 and I’d be surprised if he stays in Seattle (unless they turn that franchise around in the next 3 years).

Clayton Kershaw and (surprisingly) Trevor Cahill appear here by virtue of a lot of early career success (Cahill was an 18 game winner for a bad Oakland team at age 22 in the majors, no small feat).  While both have been injury free thus far, it is really difficult to project 24yr olds as staying healthy deep into their 30s.  So, we’ll say they’re promising for now but need to get to about 150 wins before we can really start projecting their odds.  Yovani Gallardo has quietly been racking up wins as Milwaukee’s “ace,” but is sort of in the same boat as Kershaw and Cahill; he’s only 26, so its hard to see how he’ll sit at age 30.  If he’s got another 60-70 wins in four year’s time, we’ll talk.

Justin Verlander‘s 24-win season in 2011, as well as his established status as the “Best Pitcher in Baseball” right now, has launched him into the discussion.  The problem is that he “only” has 124 wins entering his age-30 year.  He needs to average 18 wins a  year for the next decade to have a shot.  That’s a tall task, especially considering how well he pitched to just get to 17-8 this year.  It isn’t out of the realm of possible, but it is a longshot.

Mark Buehrle and Roy Halladay are both aging workhorses whose chances of reaching the plateau are dimming.  Buehrle has just moved to the hyper-competitive AL East and wasn’t exactly dominating to begin with.  Meanwhile Halladay’s injury struggles have limited his wins the last couple seasons, likely knocking any chance he had of hitting the plateau.  I’ll give them each non-zero chances, but barely non-zero.  I’ll give them both the benefit of the doubt because they both seem like the kind of pitchers who could pitch well into their 40s and get the extra wins they’d need to move over the top.

Matt Cain and Chad Billingsley are both mentioned because they had a ton of wins before the age of 25; both in reality are not accumulating wins at the pace they’ll need to stay even close to hitting the 300-win plateau.  Plus Billingsley struggled with an injury this year and may be affected next season.  Chances right now; slim.

Just for the sake of argument, here’s the next 10 players ranked by the modified Jaffe system:

Rank pitcher age wins Jaffe 15wins/yr avg->40
11 Zack Greinke 28 91 271
12 David Price 26 61 271
13 Johnny Cueto 26 60 270
14 Gio Gonzalez 26 59 269
15 Carlos Zambrano 31 132 267
16 Jered Weaver 29 102 267
17 Jon Lester 28 85 265
18 Jair Jurrjens 26 53 263
19 Ervin Santana 29 96 261
20 Tim Lincecum 28 79 259

I posted this list because a number of these players were formerly listed as good candidates to hit 300 wins.  Specifically, Carlos Zambrano, Jered Weaver, and Tim Lincecum.  Zambrano may be out of baseball in 2013, Lincecum may not even be a starter any more, and Weaver, while clearly getting a ton of wins lately needs a slew of 19-20 game winning seasons to catch back up.  The collection of 26-yr olds in David Price, Johnny Cueto, and our own Gio Gonzalez are all well behind the paces being set by fellow-aged pitchers Hernandez, Cain and Gallardo, though it isn’t hard to see any of these three post multiple 18-20 win seasons in the coming years.

So, here’s my predictions of the chances by player discussed above (anyone not listed here specifically also sits at 0% chance of making 300 wins):

Name age wins % Chance
CC Sabathia 31 197 90%
Felix Hernandez 26 98 75%
Justin Verlander 29 124 33%
Clayton Kershaw 24 61 25%
Trevor Cahill 24 53 20%
Roy Halladay 35 199 10%
Yovani Gallardo 26 69 10%
Mark Buehrle 33 174 5%
Matt Cain 27 85 5%
Chad Billingsley 27 80 5%
Jamie Moyer 49 269 0%
Andy Pettitte 40 245 0%
Tim Hudson 36 197 0%
Livan Hernandez 37 178 0%
Derek Lowe 39 175 0%
Bartolo Colon 39 171 0%
Kevin Millwood 37 169 0%

Conclusion: I believe we will see another 300-game winner.  I think Sabathia has a very good chance of making it, as does Felix Hernandez at this point in his career.  But injuries can quickly turn a 300-game career into an “out of baseball by 36″ career, so nothing is set in stone.

Nats Off-season News Items Wrap-up 12/2/11 edition

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Tough break this week (well, two weeks ago) for Chris Marrero. Photo unknown via curlyw.mlblogs.com

Weekly wrap-up of Nats and other baseball news that caught my eye.

Nationals In General

  • In a minor move, the team re-signed its own AAA minor league free agent Carlos Maldonado, per tweet from Bill Ladson.  This sets up our catcher depth for most of the system (Flores/Ramos, Solano/Maldonado, Norris/Leon, and Nieto/Fritas) and gives the team some flexibility with the inevitable injuries.  Frankly Norris’ poor 2011 season jeopardizes his progression; he’ll obviously be repeating AA in 2012 and needs to show some improvement to keep his oft-repeated “close to the majors” prospect status.
  • Chris Marrero tore his hamstring and had surgery, two weeks ago.  Two weeks ago!?  How did this little nugget stay hidden for so long?  Most of the beat reporters had the story on 11/29 and had the same opinion as I; this probably frees up a bench spot for someone like Tyler Moore or perhaps another veteran 1-year FA.
  • Nats are apparently interested in Mark DeRosa.  No big surprise; we have basically zero competent utility infielders under contract right now.  DeRosa can be 2012′s version of Jerry Hairston.
  • Sorry to hear that Masn beat reporter Ben Goessling is leaving to join the St. Paul Pioneer Press.  No word on his replacement.
  • Per the soon-to-be-departing Goessling as well: Toronto continues to collect ex-Nats players and signs Garrett Mock to a minor league deal.  I’m starting to sense a Jim Bowden-esque obsession on the part of Dana Brown with our farm players.  So be it; if they were that good when he was here, we wouldn’t have been ranked in the bottom 5 farm systems of the league.
  • Espinosa, Ramos and Strasburg on Keith Law‘s best 50 under 25 list.  Harper still too young to consider.

Free Agents/Player Transaction News

  • There remains to be questions whether or not Yu Darvish will actually post this off-season.  Rumors of a divorce complicating his posting persist, and its now been a week since the end of the NPB season with no word of his posting status.  (Jon Paul Morosi reports).
  • Here’s some non-news: Mark Buehrle won’t come “cheap or short.”
  • Here’s David Schoenfield‘s 3-fix suggestion for each team in the NL east.  His suggestions for us?  CJ Wilson, putting Werth in CF and signing a corner outfielder, and decide whether Davey Johnson is the long term answer.  I’m not sure the 3rd issue matters in the least: Johnson is only 69; there’s plenty of recent evidence showing guys who are older and less accomplished can be successful in the majors.  His argument for Wilson makes sense; he’ll cost half of Pujols/Fielder, wouldn’t be stressed as our “Ace” with Strasburg and Zimmermann around, and will only improve as he goes from the AL to the NL.  I like his Werth answer honestly; I think Werth could hold his own in Center for at least one season, perhaps two.
  • Baseball America’s Rule5 Preview, part 1 (may be subscriber only).  I definitely see some players the Nats could experiment with, given that they are looking for a 7th bullpen arm and a utility infielder.  He mentions our own Brad Meyers as a possible draftee, but not one of the marquee names out there.
  • Ken Rosenthal says the team is really on both Prince Fielder and the cuban-FA Yoenis Cespedes.  I’m not “against” the interest but am surprised by it.  Does the team really want to just give up on Adam LaRoche that quickly?  Do they really think Cespedes could play in the majors in 2012?
  • Well, there goes one of my Nats-trade candidates; the Angels acquired catcher Chris Iannetta from the Rockies for prospect Tyler Chatwood.  My working theory was that the Angels, who have too many outfielders and especially two many guys who can play center field, would be open to trading one of them (specifically Peter Bourjos) to the Nats for a catcher prospect.  Maybe it still can happen.  Of course, Rizzo actually has to be in the country in order to make deals (when this trade went down, Rizzo reportedly was in the D.R. scouting Cespedes).
  • Its just a MLBtraderumors chat, but Tim Dierkes is well respected, at least in my opinion.  He has the Nats as potential FA suiters for most every major name.   Edwin Jackson, Mark Buehrle, Cespedes, Fielder and Pujols, even Jimmy Rollins.  Geeze.

New Labor Deal Items

  • The new CBA seems almost custom-written to drive out the Tampa Bay Rays.  This scout.com article summarizes it nicely.  I wonder what the Tampa ownership group said about these negotiations as they were going on.  Clearly their methods of gaining advantages through player development and stockpiling draft picks are now obsolete.
  • Jim Callis reports via twitter but captured here some more restrictive items about the draft we’re finding out.
  • Teams in the 13 smallest markets now enter a Competitive Lottery for picks.  A quick analysis of the 13 teams selected (from Ben Goessling’s article: the Diamondbacks, Orioles, Indians, Royals, Athletics, Pirates, Padres, Rays, Reds, Rockies, Marlins, Brewers) almost identically mirrors the 13 smallest teams by MSA (in smallest to largest order; Milwaukee, Kansas City, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Denver, Pittsburgh, Tampa, Baltimore, St. Louis, San Diego, Minneapolis, Seattle, Phoenix).  The only deviations are the Athletics and Marlins, who would easily be amongst the smallest markets in baseball once you isolate Oakland from San Francisco’s MSA, and Miami from Ft.Lauderdale.  Tangotiger posted an interesting discussion on the same topic (where in the comments I posted this same analysis) on his blog here.

General News; Baseball and other.

  • It looks like the NBA has finally gotten its act together, announcing a tentative deal to salvage the season on Nov 26th.
  • An interesting take on the Bill James “game score” statistic.  (click here for a list of the 20-best scores in the last 70 years).  Highest ever recorded: an 18-inning shutout pitched by Carl Hubbel scoring a 127 game scoreKerry Wood‘s 20-k 1-hitter is the highest score in the last 25 years, scoring 105.  This was also the highest-scoring 9-inning game in baseball history.  My initial guess on the best ever game pitched would be Harvey Haddix‘s 12-inning perfect game, lost in the 13th inning.  Here’s the box: it scored a 107.   The highest ever recorded Nationals game score?  John Patterson in 2005 pitched a 4-hit shutout with 13 K’s, worth a score of 92Strasburg‘s 14-K debut was worth a 75, though interestingly his final 2011 start (6 innings of 1-hit ball over the Marlins with 10K’s) earned a 78There’s about 10 games out there in the 80s range, including an 88 that I can’t possibly think who could have thrown.  Is anyone a baseball-reference subscriber?  I use the site multiple times per day; I should probably register and pay for my time.
  • From the great blogger TangoTiger, an Expos Tribute video.
  • From another great blogger Rob Neyer, a news item about the future of baseball in the Portland, OR area.  Portland does not have a single pro baseball team in the area, not even a short-season or Indy league team, despite being roughly the same size population wise as the MLB cities of Cleveland and Cincinnati, and being larger than Kansas City and Milwaukee.

Nats Off-season News Items Wrap-up 11/18/11 edition

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With more Wild Cards, get ready to see scenes like this more and more. AP Photo via infopop.cc

Here’s a weekly wrap up of Nats-related news items, along with other general interest baseball articles, with my thoughts as appropriate.  (Note: these news items are more or less chronological in the Saturday-to-Friday blog post news cycle i’m using, with me going back and adding in clarifying links as needed).

  • Great news: Wilson Ramos was rescued with apparently on 11/11/11 no bodily harm and no ransom paid.  This is a great end to this saga, which really could have gone so much worse for Ramos and his family.  Mark Zuckerman reports on the details of the rescue.
  • Interesting read from Jon Paul Morosi, who interviews an anonymous american player about life in the Venezuelan Winter League.  The player wanted to stay anonymous, but he didn’t seem to really say anything of note that would require protecting his identity.  Better safe than sorry though.
  • Joe Sheehan, writing for si.com, mentions both Bryce Harper and Sammy Solis in his AFL review of players to watch on 11/10/11.  He saw Solis’ 4-inning/9 K game and was impressed.  I would be to if a 6’5″ lefty could throw 94mph and punch out guys at will.  That’s Solis’ “ceiling.”
  • As if it wasn’t enough to do analysis of the current FA crop, Buster Olney apparently was bored and did a year-too-early analysis of the 2012 free agent crop.  I only post this because it corresponds with one of my frequent matras about this off season; don’t waste your FA dollars competing for 2-3 front-line pitchers.  Wait for 2012 when there’s 10-12 good candidates.
  • More BA links related to the Nats top 10 prospects, announced last week.  Here’s the free version of the top-10 with scouting reports, the Organization quick-overview page.
  • BA’s Jim Callis 11/9/11 editorial piece about how the Nats picked “a good time to be bad.”
  • For Yu Darvish fans, yet another scouting reportAnd another oneTom Verducci posted a very well done piece demonstrating how most pitchers from NPB hit “The Wall” 2 years into their MLB careers, also noting that there has never been a single Japanese pitcher to make more than one all-star team.  Fangraphs.com has a bunch more articles on Darvish from a few weeks ago, and BaseballAmerica has some as well for you to find at your leisure.  Side-story: In one of the weekly chats last week (can’t remember which one) a very good point was made about using previous Japanese pitchers as comparisons to Darvish.  The chat-host flat out called it racist.  I have certainly drawn those same comparisons, looking at player’s birth place (as a way of determining NPB-graduates) and asking whether or not there’s ever been a huge success story for a Japanese-born pitcher.  I don’t view this as racist; just factual.  When I point out that there’s never been (for example) a French-born star baseball player, there isn’t a subsequent implication that “there fore all French baseball players are crap.”  Therefore I will continue to point out that Darvish, as a NPB-graduate, comes with risk no matter what his scouting report or genetic make up happens to be.  And my stance is that the risk involved isn’t worth the likely 9-figure price tag.
  • Wow the Marlins are doing some serious FA inquiries.  Rumors this week that they’re talking with Jose Reyes, Albert Pujols, Mark Buehrle AND new Cuban FA Yoenis Cespedes.  Those players alone would probably represent something in the range of $400M of guaranteed contracts.  I just have a really hard time believing that this club, which has sucked revenue sharing money for years and easily transferred it into the owner’s pockets, will suddenly do an about-face and actually spend the money they need to be competitive.  Really hard time believing it until I see it.  Jeff Passan agrees with me.
  • Thanks to DistrictOnDeck for transcribing a few points of the Mike Rizzo-Jim Bowden conversation on mlb radio this week.  I can’t help but taking note of the glaring discrepancy in Rizzo’s double-speak when it comes to pitching.  Despite having his 1-2-3 already being set for the 2012 rotation (Strasburg, Zimmermann, Lannan) and re-signing Wang this week, Rizzo still says that at the same time he wants to “bring in another starter” AND have the likes of Milone/Peacock/Detwiler compete for the 5th starter.  Well, which is it?  Because if you buy another FA starter, there is no 5th spot available.  Not unless we’re about to see a non-tender for John Lannan.
  • Excellent post from David Schoenfeld, in the wake of the Ryan Madson $44M contract being withdrawn, about the value of closers and the need to have a marquee closer at all in the modern game.  In the post, he lists the named closers of the past 10 WS winners, and his point is this; its littered with names of guys who were clearly not elite-level closers.
  • Interesting opinion piece from Jim Breen on FanGraphs about Hard-Slotting.  Breen posits the same opinion i’ve read over and over from Keith Law in the anti-draft slotting camp; they both claim it will “drive players to other sports.”  They use names like Zach Lee, Bubba Starling, and Archie Bradley as recent examples of guys who were legitimate 2-sport stars and were “bought” out of football commitments at major Div-I universities by virtue of the large bonuses they received.  Here’s the problem I have with this stance: where’s the proof?  I just have a hard time believing that these athletes, when presented with a choice, would have a larger-than-slot bonus make up their minds.  You’re either a baseball-first player or not, irrespective of your talents and desires in a secondary sport.  Nowhere in these arguments have I ever seen an interview or a survey where these two-sport stars are actually asked the basic question, “Would you be playing college football if your guaranteed baseball bonus was smaller than what you got.”  Its all assumptions, and this article is no different (posting the assumption that Lee “would not be playing  baseball right now if there was a hard-slotting system.”
  • Good information to know from Dave Cameron‘s fangraphs chat: the BABIP on ground-balls is .235 for ground balls, .130 for fly balls, .720 for line drives.  Cool.
  • Here’s a funny article from Baseball Prospectus on Hot Stove League terminology and how to interpret it.
  • Joe Lemire writes a great piece highlighting the safety issues and general decline of Venezuelan baseball over the past decade, in light of the Ramos kidnapping.
  • I first took note of Tax issues during last off-season’s Cliff Lee sweepstakes, noting that he faced perhaps a 12% difference in salary by taking a deal to stay in Texas versus New York.  Eric Seidman looks at the same issue and more with his great article in FanGraphs titled “Jock Tax.”  Conclusion; taxes for athletes are ridiculously complex.
  • Phillies sign Jonathan Papelbon to a 4 yr/$50M contract.  Well, I guess they’re not going to be re-signing Ryan Madson. The Phillies resign Papelbon basically for the same money they had been paying Brad Lidge, so its not going to directly lead to an increase in their payroll.  But as someone who openly questions the value of closers in general, I have to criticize the move as wasting money on a player they could replace from within for a fraction of the cost.  David Schoenfield agrees with this sentiment.
  • Adam Kilgore has a nice little primer on the upcoming GM and Owners meetings in Milwaukee.  He does some quick Nats off-season planning analysis, and I agree with him that it’s looking more and more like the team is going to pursue someone like Mark Buehrle or Roy Oswalt, meaning that the Detwiler/Peacock/Milone battle for 5th starter may not actually happen.  This would imply the team is looking to trade these guys, presumably for CF talent.  Lots of moving parts.
  • Si.com’s Jon Heyman broke news on 11/14 from the GM meetings that prospective Houston Astro’s owner Jim Crane has accepted the condition of moving his team to the AL west as a prerequisite to ownership approval.   Interleague blurring, here we come.  ESPN reports that this MLB “demand” was a condition of the sale of the team to Crane.  You have to love Bud Selig and his hard-line ways, given his precious anti-trust exemption.
  • The Nats outrighted both Cole Kimball and Corey Brown from the 40-man on 11/16/11 and lost Kimball to Toronto.  My thoughts here along with a healthy discussion.
  • Courtesy of Craig Caltaterra, a fantastic blog entry just crucifying Peter Angelos.
  • Op-ed piece about proposed draft changes, from ESPN’s David Shoenfeld.
  • Another Collective bargaining agreement fall out: elimination of compensation picks for type-B free Agents.  Probably a wise move; type B free agents are usually not valued nearly as much as a supplemental first round pick, leading to hijinks in the draft system by teams who covet these picks.  Frankly, the revampment to the system that needs to be done is the reliever classification.  How is Darren Oliver, a 41-yr old loogy possibly a type A free agent??  That classification immediately eliminates half the league from even looking at him, and probably the other half as well (meaning they’d be giving up a 2nd round pick at worst).  The union has to be upset at the way their veteran players have their job movement limited by this classification.  Ironically, about 5 minutes after I wrote this, Buster Olney also used Oliver as an example as to why the system needs to change.
  • In the “no surprise here” category, Hanley Ramirez isn’t keen on switching positions should the Marlins, who have been woo-ing every FA out there this off season, somehow acquire Jose Reyes.  Ramirez is pretty much the ultimate non-team player and the Marlins have spent far too long coddling him and cow-towing to his demands.  Good luck EVER getting him to agree to anything that isn’t Hanley-first.
  • Ex-Nats rumors: Jason Marquis apparently has interest from his “hometown” NY Mets for a 2012 contract.  I say that’s great news for the Veteran hurler, who had to be dismayed when he broke his leg in a contract year.  Even if its a non-guaranteed deal, or for significantly less money than he got from us two years ago (2yrs $15M), he deserves another shot.
  • Interesting side effect of MLB’s obscure player transaction rules: by virtue of the Angels only sending Mike Trout down for 17 days instead of 20, the demotion still counted towards his 2011 service time.  This has two implications: Trout officially now has served his rookie season and won’t be eligible for the 2012 Rookie of the Year award, AND the Angels now are in serious jeopardy of exposing Trout to eventual “Super-2″ status.  The first point is a slight shame for Trout, who seems set to rocket into prominence in this league based on his minor league production.  The second point is “shame on the Angels” for not knowing the rules; if Trout is as good as promised, this mistake could cost them millions and millions of dollars.  WP Dave Sheinen did a great study about Stephen Strasburg‘s super-2 status, comparing it to Tim Lincecum‘s, and concluded that avoiding super-2 for superstars can save a team almost $20Million.  Seriously.
  • Why is this news?  The Nats and Ryan Zimmerman, a player who is signed through 2013 havn’t talked about a contract extension.  So what?  This shouldn’t be news until NEXT off-season.  I don’t care that Kemp signed a big deal, or that Braun got locked up for a few more years, or that Tulowitzki signed a ridiculous deal through 2020.  Just because YOU jumped off a bridge doesn’t mean I have to.  If i’m the Nats GM, I wouldn’t sign on for an 8year contract, let alone a 5year, for a guy who has missed significant chunks of the last few seasons through injury until I saw him back at the 155-160 game level.  He’s only 26, but has already had three major injuries (hamate bone surgery, left labrum and this year’s abdomen surgery).  Plus he missed the last couple weeks of the 2010 season with a muscle strain.  That’s a lot of medical on a young guy.  Maybe the musings of some other Nats bloggers on the topic could have some credence.
  • Its official; two wild cards coming in 2013Judge Landis is rolling in his grave.  Actually I’m somewhat ok with this news; I think more needs to be done to mitigate the possibilities of Wild Cards winning the World Series.  If a play-in round is introduced that thins your pitching staff and makes it harder to advance, i’m all for it.  I’m not a 100% traditionalist but I do like to see teams that win the most regular season games actually competing for the World Series, instead of the St. Louis Cardinals sneaking in as a last-second wild card and winning the championship.

Obligatory blog post about Realignment rumors

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Buster Olney wrote a piece (insider ESPN, sorry) on June 12th with some interesting comments on realignment and the future structure of the league.   Specifically Olney says that the players union is FOR a two-league 15-team structure, which means that it very well may happen along with the addition of a 2nd wild card (and possible draft slotting, and perhaps trading of draft picks) in each league when the next CBA ends.

How do you organize the league, if you were to move a new team into the AL?

Two proposals:

1. Two division-less 15-team leagues, with the top 5 from each league making the playoffs.  I call this the “Guarantee that Boston and the Yankees make the playoffs for the rest of time” plan.  It certainly would make for a fairer test of the long season, and would mean that a team like Toronto would actually make the playoffs every once in a while, since they’ve been winning 85-87 games and finishing fourth.  But it eliminates the whole concept of divisional play and resembles too closely the English Premier League.

2. Three 5-team divisions in each league, taking the 3 division winners and the two next best teams.  Still a plan that favors the monstrous budgets in Boston and New York, but also guarantees that the five teams that spend the most aren’t necessarily going to be the 5 teams that make the playoffs.

Who switches leagues?  It is obviously a NL team.  Perhaps its easier to start with the teams that will NOT move leagues based on history:

  • Philly, Atlanta, the Mets, St Louis, Cincinnati, Pittsburgh, the Cubs, San Francisco, the Dodgers.

Also, Geographically speaking the 4-team AL West is almost certainly the division that needs to be augmented, which more or less eliminates the Nats, the Marlins (despite what Olney’s sources say.  If the Marlins moved to the AL, what division would they join?), and the Brewers (despite their having already switched leagues in recent memory).

Candidates:

  • Houston: Houston Chronicle (and former WP columnist) Richard Justice wrote some compelling reasons here.
  • Arizona: Has a WS victory, probably not going to move, despite its WS victory seemingly accomplished on the backs of FA acquisitions.  They had the chance to move in the mid 90s and declined.  They have an AL style ball park, offensively heavy, and could fit in nicely with the existing AL west.
  • Colorado: one WS appearance since inception in 1992.
  • San Diego: in the NL West since inception in 1969.  Two world series appearances.  Budget constrained and would probably struggle to compete in the AL west.

Plus, if you  moved someone out of any division except the NL Central, then immediately Houston would become a member of the NL West to replace whoever left.  By moving Houston once, you end the divisional disruption.  In fact, the more you look at it, the more you realize that Houston is really the only logical candidate to move.

Downsides to this plan?  Interleague play all year.  But really, perhaps the real answer is to eliminate the whole interleague nonsense and go towards a more NFL-style schedule where the lines are blurred.  In every other pro league the two “leagues” all play each other all year.

(By the way, Rob Neyer and Jon Paul Morosi both agree; Houston must move to the AL).

DH or no DH?  Perhaps it is just time to admit the obvious and go with all DHs and eliminate pitchers from hitting altogether.  The union wants it (it keeps older sluggers employed for longer periods of time), Fans want it (nobody likes seeing a weak #8 hitter get intentionally walked to get an automatic out of a pitcher).  About the only people who do NOT want it are good-hitting hitters like Livan and NL starters who get somewhere in the range of 30-40 extra strikeouts per year facing their counter parts.

Written by Todd Boss

June 13th, 2011 at 4:12 pm

Pettitte’s retirement spells doom for the Yankees season

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Pettitte is done ... leaving a massive hole in the Yanks rotation. Photo: noahhunt.org

One of the last major off-season issues to resolve prior to the beginning of spring training (the status of lefty Andy Pettitte) was resolved with the pitcher announcing his retirement earlier this week.

The retirement leaves the Yankees rotation in serious trouble.  Pettitte may have only given the 2010 team 21 starts but he went 11-3 in those starts and was the Yank’s 2nd best pitcher.  They failed to acquire any of the marquee free agents or trade targets in the off-season and are going into 2011 with this as a rotation: Sabathia, Burnett, Hughes, Nova, and Mitre.  The problem is that after Sabathia, every one of these guys has serious question marks;

  • Hughes may have gone 18-8 but his accompanying numbers (4.19 era, 1.28 whip) only rated a 102 era+ for the season.  That’s essentially league average.  He benefited from some pretty amazing run support that probably cannot be sustained in the long term.  It was also his first year starting full time.  He has a great pedigree (1st round pick in 2004) and has pitched well.  But he may be a candidate for the Verducci effect of quickly increasing workload.  The Yanks have been burned in the past by young starters blowing out their arms (Wang).
  • Burnett may be the latest in a long line of quality pitchers who just cannot perform in the spotlight.  He was relatively awful in 2010; 10-15, 5.26 era, 1.511 whip.  Most teams would put up with this in a 5th starter if the guy was a promising rookie … but Burnett is a highly paid supposed ace starter.  He’s never been a complete lights out starter, sports a career 110-100 record and should never have been given a $84M contract to begin with.
  • Mitre is a 29-yr old journeyman pitcher with a career 13-29 record.  And he’s slated to be the Yankees #4 starter.
  • Nova looks like he could be a ok back of the end starter prospect … but he owns a grand total of 3 career major league starts.  And he’s slated to be the #5 starter.

New York has signed a couple of MLB veterans in Freddie Garcia and Bartolo Colon to minor league deals, and they may provide insurance/competition for Mitre and Nova in the spring.  But there is a reason these guys couldn’t catch on with even the worst teams out there; they’re more likely to put up a 6.00 era than a 3.00 era.  Perhaps Garcia’s decent 2010 season may land him a rotation spot, but Colon hasn’t pitched in the majors in over a year and was awful then.

Now, the Yankees are still one of the best offensive teams in the league and can slug their way to a number of 8-6 wins … but in a division where Boston has restocked and looks dominant and Tampa has a rotation that New York only wishes it had, 3rd place looks like it is in the Yankees future.  Writer Jon Paul Morosi thinks that the Yankees won’t miss Pettitte, but i think he’s crazy.  His article seems to just assume that a Fausto Carmona trade is a done deal (despite the fact that the Yankees have swung and missed on every pitcher acquisition this off-season).  He also assumes that 3 prospects that nobody has heard of (Dellin Betances, Manny Banuelos or Andrew Brackman) will magically come to the rescue.  Banuelos and Betances each are grizzled minor league veterans with 3 AA starts to their credit, and Brackman isn’t that far ahead of them (he was 5-7 with a 3.01 era in 15 AA starts in 2010).  Yeah; not exactly Jeremy Hellickson-esque prospects waiting in the wings.

2/7/11 update: Seth Livingstone at USA Today wrote about this same topic and reviewed some other possible prospects in the Yankees system that may be better options than the three mentioned above.

There are definitely some arms to be had in the trade market.  Joe Blanton is probably available, the Braves may have an extra starter in Kenshin Kawakami if their up and coming prospect Mike Minor blows it out in the spring, the Dodgers have 6 starters for 5 slots and may give up Vicente Padilla once the season starts, and even the Washington Nationals may have an extra arm or two worth gambling on (Maya, Wang and Detwiler are all slated to start in the minors right now).

Without a move though, I say “Welcome to 3rd place” and only the 2nd time you’ve missed the playoffs since the wild card era.

What really “caused” the Strasburg Injury?

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By now, we’ve all heard the news: Steven Strasburg is headed towards Tommy John surgery and won’t be back for 12-18 months, which probably puts him out for the entirety of the 2011 season.  Analysis and observation seem to show that the acute injury was the result of a singular injury, namely his 5th inning change up thrown to Domonic Brown which left him visibly shaking his right arm.

So, what really caused the issue?  Here’s some possibilities:

1. Over-protection by the team.  I have an awful hard time believing this.  Strasburg never went more than 100 pitches or 7 innings in any major or minor league start this season.  Does that mean he was more susceptible to a major arm injury?  I seriously doubt it.  There are those pundits who blame the Nats for NOT gaining an MRI of his shoulder during his 15-day DL stint, which is similarly ridiculous.  He had a shoulder injury not an elbow injury.  If he had blown out a groin would those same pundits be saying the team should have MRI’d his legs too?

2. A mechanical change: Some analysis that i’ve read (this post by Foxsport’s Jon Paul Morosi) has quotes from unnamed scouts that say his mechanics had changed slightly, which (Morosi intimated) may have resulted in stress on the elbow that had not been there before.  To test this, compare his Pitch F/X report from his MLB debut on June 8th to that fateful day in Philadelphia  last week. Comparing the release points in these two plots shows something interesting; his release point is indeed several inches higher on average in his last game versus his first.  Comparing The 6/8 video versus the 8/21 video isn’t really helpful; the former just shows every strikeout while the latter replays the fateful pitch where the injury occurred.  One would have to see the isolated feeds side by side to really see a difference.  However, a slight mechanical change could certainly be factor.

3. The “Inverted W” Effect: There some pundits out there on the net who believe that the “Inverted W” effect (where a pitcher’s pre-release arm positions resembles an upside-down W) indicates a proclivity of arm injuries.  The name most often associated with this (the poster boy, so to speak), is Mark Prior, who had supposedly clean mechanics, threw hard and was basically out of baseball by the time he was 25.  Writer Chris O’Leary has several examples plus an entire section on Strasburg, who does exhibit the behavior.

The problem I have with the inverted W theory is that you can cherry pick from the thousands of major league pitchers out there to prove or disprove this theory.  O’Leary himself uses John Smoltz as an example of someone who had the Inverted W, saying that Smoltz “… retired due to shoulder problems.”  Uh, Smoltz made over 700 HUNDRED starts, plus had 4 years as a closer, and made 32 starts the year he turned 40.  Thats about as BAD of an example as you can find to prove your theory.

Yes Strasburg exhibits the inverted W behavior, but not nearly as definitively as poster boys such as Prior or Reyes.  But he’s never had shoulder problems, and damage to the elbow seems to be indicative of something besides the W effect.

4. Scapular Loading: some googling about his injury turned up this interesing article at Drivelinebaseball.com.  In essence, Strasburg puts undue stress on his elbow based on “scapular loading” during his windup.  The article concludes that this behavior possibly contributed but isn’t necessarily the cause.  It is worth a read though.  I don’t know nearly enough about the subject to agree or disagree to heavily.

5. Strasburg was throwing FAR more change-ups than he’s used to.  In college, he was so dominant that he could be a 2-pitch pitcher (4-seamer and curve) and pitch his way to the player of the year award.  However, in the pros 3 pitches are required and 4 good pitches are desired.  Luckily, Strasburg possessed a 91-mph circle change that moved 10-12 inches on the horizontal plane, an absolutely ridiculous pitch.  Well, his catchers noticed this too, knowing that a screw-ball like 91 mph pitch had a better chance of getting hit by lightening than being hit hard, and started calling for it more and more.  For the season he threw that pitch 16.7% of the time (according to Fangraphs.com) but by the time the fateful Philadelphia game rolled around he was throwing it more like 20-21% of the time.

The circle change is a rather difficult pitch to master.  You essentially make a “circle” with your thumb and forefinger around the ball, then throw the ball with a fastball arm-action but letting it “tumble” off your remaining three fingers.  This causes the screw-ball like reverse movement on the ball when thrown with enough velocity.  It is a great pitch; not only does it come out of the hand slower (hence the changeup) but it moves unlike any of your other pitches.  The bad part of the pitch; it causes a ton of stress on the arm.  Your wrist and fingers are very strong and contribute to the natural fastball motion; by taking them out of play with the circle-change you use a lot more of your forearm and elbow to “throw” the pitch.

Conclusions: in the end, it is difficult to  know exactly what happened.  I personally believe the over-reliance on the circle change was his downfall, but the other points (mechanical changes, inverted-W tendencies and scapular loading) are difficult to discount.

In any case, Tommy John surgery is so common now amongst power pitchers that you start to hear rumblings about pitchers getting it done as a preventative measure (!!).  Jonah Keri had a great q&a session with the originator of the procedure and it makes for a great read.  So we’ll cross our fingers, hope that around this time next august Strasburg is pitching rehab sessions in the minors and is ready to go full strength in 2012.

Written by Todd Boss

August 29th, 2010 at 11:35 am