Nationals Arm Race

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

Archive for the ‘jonathan papelbon’ tag

GM for a day (or an off-season): what do you do to this team for 2016?


Picture at the top of his C.V. that he'll be updating this off-season. Photo Nats official 2014 via

Picture at the top of his C.V. that he’ll be updating this off-season. Photo Nats official 2014 via

How about some navel gazing to start the off-season?  2015 was a train wreck, both on the field (the projected opening day line up played together exactly 2 games out of 162 and there were something like 15 D/L trips among the projected starters this season) and off (the Barry Svrluga series at the Washington Post literally made me say “Wow” audibly while I sat alone reading the stories).  What can this team really do to right the ship for next year?

Now, I realize the questions “What *should* they do?” and “What *will* they do?” are two completely separate questions.  I have no idea what they will actually do; its hard to read Mike Rizzo and the Ted Lerner-led ownership group.  We often hear that Rizzo has an “ego” and is sometimes afraid to admit mistakes.  We hear rumors that Lerner is in bed with Scott Boras and has gone over Rizzo’s head to sign players Rizzo may not have actually wanted (Rafael Soriano, Jonathan Papelbon?).  But we’re not blessed with a hidden camera inside the boardroom of the Nationals management offices, so its mostly speculation.  In fact, Svruluga’s stories really led the reader to believe that the Papelbon acquisition was Rizzo’s idea as a consolation prize to acquiring Chapman or Kimbrel.  So who knows.

This post is about what I’d do.  From a front-office/managerial perspective:

  1. Fire Matt Williams.  Sorry, the evidence is too overwhelming at this point.  Here’s some quick qualifications for the manager i’d like to see: able to communicate properly, isn’t a Micro managing inflexible drill sergeant, knows how to read a Run-Expectancy chart, knows how to properly set a lineup, realizes that saves are useless and isn’t afraid to throw his best pitcher when needed, understands that bunting was exposed as mostly useless 10 years ago, is open to new ideas about usage, shifting, matchups and statistics in general, listens to his coaches, understands that sometimes the 23 yr old precocious rookie is actually a better player than the 38 year old vet on an 9-figure deal, and lastly, relates to the frigging players.  Shouldn’t be too hard.  Oh one more thing; I want someone who has actually managed a f*cking major league team before.
  2. I don’t have an opinion on the rest of the staff but would go under the general theory that a new manager wants his own staff in place.  Who knows if hitting coaches, pitching coaches, bench coaches, bullpen coaches and 1st/3rd base coaches have any impact on the players.  Hard to prove one way or the other; if the team hits well, the Hitting Coach is a genius.  If the team can’t hit … the hitting coach gets canned.  I like Steve McCatty … but hey, a new manager deserves his own coaches.
  3. Keep Rizzo, but have a serious talk with him about clubhouse chemistry and roster construction and the clear effects their actions have had over the years.  Its really simple: when a guy who’s been with the organization is given an under-market, professionally insulting extension contract offer and then you give $210M to some outsider … that’s “Baaaaaaaad” for morale.  When you tell everyone you can’t “afford” to keep Tyler Clippard (great clubhouse guy, grown up in the organization, thrown 70+ innings year after year for you) because he makes $8.5M …but then you bring in a clubhouse disaster like Papelbon at $11M to replace your UNION REPRESENTATIVE and all around well liked guy Drew Storen, you may have some downstream issues.  Oh; one other thing: take your ego and throw it away and stop trading away useful bullpen parts like Jerry Blevins because he had the audacity of challenging you in arbitration over $200k.  You either are or are not on a budget; $200k represented exactly 0.125% of the $160M payroll of 2015.  That’s like killing a deal for a $500,000 house over a $625 bill for something or another.  Its nothing and it should not have been a factor in the 25-man roster construction.  That Blevins got hurt for New York or that Felipe Rivero (his replacement) worked out isn’t the point.
  4. Budget: here’s a brilliant idea; if Lerner is “freezing” the budget mid-season, then SAVE SOME PAYROLL MONEY for mid-season acquisitions.  Look what the frigging Mets were able to accomplish this trade deadline by being flexible with their payroll and their prospects; they completely remade that team, bought a clubhouse presence and just raced ahead of the Nats.  (Tangent: For  you “clubhouse chemistry is BS” proponents, can you still tell me with a straight face that the 2015 fortunes of the Mets and Nationals had NOTHING to do with chemistry?)

Now, assuming that the Nats are going to reign back in the budget slightly from their $160M plus payroll in 2015:

  1. Let 8 of the 9 FAs go.  Zimmermann, Uggla, Fister, Desmond, Span, McLouth, Janssen and Johnson.  This frees up approximately $60M in payroll.  You’re going to need some of it in arb extensions (there’s 8 arbitration cases pending though we may trade/non-tender a couple).
  2. I’d try to resign just one of my FAs: Matt Thornton.  I think he’s done a pretty good job as a situational lefty.
  3. I’d offer Qualifying Offers to Zimmermann, Desmond and Span but not Fister.  Both Zimmermann and Desmond turned down significant deals to stay here and have made their beds at this point.  I think the team has made the decision to not allocate money there and go with internal options.  I don’t think any of the three take the QO, not even Span.  Why?  Because Span just hired Scott Boras and Boras will tell Span there’s a long term contract to be had in the market.  Span didn’t hire Boras so he could take a one-year Qualifying Offer (deeper discussion on QOs for the Nats pending FAs was previously done here: To Qualifying Offer, or not to Qualifying Offer (2015 version).
  4. I havn’t done major analysis of Tender/Non-Tender cases yet but the only guy seemingly in jeopardy of a non-tender is Tyler Moore; discussed more below.  Maybe David Carpenter too depending on the severity of his shoulder injury.
  5. Rule-5: this is more about the 25-man roster and not the edges of the 40-man; we’ll do a separate rule-5 post later on.

So, this leaves the 25-man roster looking like this for 2016 as a starting point;

  • Rotation: Scherzer, Strasburg, Gonzalez, Ross and Roark
  • Bullpen: Papelbon, Storen, Treinen, Thornton, Rivero, ? and ?
  • Inf: Rendon, Turner, Escobar, Zimmerman, Ramos
  • OF: Harper, Taylor, Werth
  • Bench: Robinson, Moore, Espinosa, Lobaton, den Dekker?

What do we need?  In order: bullpen, lefty hitters, backups and maybe rotation competition.  Every projected starter save Harper hits righty right now and that just needs to change.

So, section by section (using the  mlbtraderumors 2016 FA list for reference):

Rotation: Could the team go shopping for a 5th starter?  I like Roark and don’t think his 2013 and 2014 seasons were flukes, but the team doesn’t seem to rate him.  I like Ross as #3 and think he’s locked in based on his performance this year.  Depth wise, we have Giolito who probably will be ready for the rotation by mid 2016; he could see action as an injury call up if need be.  I have little faith in the rest of the upper-minors depth right now.  Cole, Jordan, Hill have all disappointed at the majors and may be traded for other spare parts.  I like Treinen and Rivero … they are both former starters but both have struggled at times and seem likely to stay in the pen.  I don’t think this is a high priority to supplement the rotation but I could see it.  Maybe Voth gets a shot next year if we get shredded with injuries.  Reynaldo Lopez and Erick Fedde are really more like 2017 options unless the Nats get creative and put Lopez’ 100mph heat in the bullpen short term (not the worst idea…)  Rotation wise, I think they have bigger fish to fry and will stand pat with what they have.

Bullpen; Thanks to the ridiculous choking incident, I think the team needs to part ways with Papelbon.  Won’t be easy; he’s due $11M next  year, his performance tailed off badly, he’s proven once again in his third organization out of three that he’s a bad apple, and he has a partial no-trade.  I’m sure his wife will be happy; reportedly they *just* bought a $2.9M house in Alexandria, like the day before he choked his teammate on national TV.  (side note: why would they buy if he was only here for another year??  That just doesn’t seem like the best investment.  Now they have a brand new property that they have to ditch).  Worst comes to worse, they have to release him to eat $11M.

If they part ways with Papelbon, what do they do with Storen?  I think Storen still demands a trade; this organization has jerked him around enough times, has now gotten not one but two higher-paid veteran closers to replace him despite regular season numbers that looked just fine each time.  Problem is: The FA market for “closers” is pretty weak (there’s just one closer on the market: Joaquin Soria); maybe if Papelbon is gone the organization makes right by Storen and lets him reprise the role.  Of course, on the flip side, the trade market for closers should be pretty good as a result and maybe Rizzo can spin some gold like he did with the Matt Capps trade.  If Papelbon leaves, maybe they kiss and make up with Storen and give him a bigger-than-he-deserves arbitration award and makes him happy.

Even if they keep Storen, the team still needs to acquire two good power arms for the 7th/8th inning.  I like Treinen, Thornton and Rivero to reprise their roles (Rivero in particular is intriguing; he can hit 100 from the left hand side, a rarity.  Too bad he doesn’t have a 3rd pitch or i’d be asking why he isn’t in the rotation).  They’ll get Stammen back so that’s a good 7th inning righty.  Barrett may miss the whole of 2016 so he’s not an option.  Carpenter’s got a shoulder injury and was AAA fodder anyway.  They can fill the long man with Roark if he gets replaced in the rotation or someone else like our spare starters (Cole, Hill, Jordan).  They could buy a whole lotta good will with the fans and re-sign Clippard.  How about someone like Jim Johnson, who kind of re-made himself with his closer performance in Atlanta, to be your 8th inning guy?  How does this look like for 2016:

  • Storen, Clippard/Johnson, Treinen, Stammen, Thornton, Rivero and someone like Cole as your long man
  • bullpen depth:  de los Santos, Davis, Martin, Solis, Grace, Carpenter (if he’s ready to go for 2016)

Still kind of thin; how many of those “depth” guys proved they were ready to go in the majors this year?  Are there any guys on the rise in the system who could make sense to push for a spot next year?  How much would you pay for someone like Clippard on the open market?  Maybe we’re going to see some kind of blockbuster trade where we acquire the surplus of arms we need.

Infield: seems rather set; Turner is a ready made replacement for Desmond.  Healthy Rendon at 3B is a 5-win player.  Escobar more than earned his money this year and defensively makes more sense at 2B where he can do less damage.  Zimmerman isn’t going anywhere (except back to the D/L for the millionth time in his career).  Espinosa remains one more year as the backup infielder and the team finds an additional utility guy from within (Difo?) or in the FA market for backup purposes.  Ramos was finally healthy for a whole season … and took a huge step back at the plate; do we try to replace him?  We could go for someone like a Matt Weiters, who hits lefty and addresses a need and flip Ramos for something we need like bullpen or bench depth.

Outfield: Harper and Werth are set in the corners .. .Werth for better or worse.  Is his 2015 the start of his decline or an injury excuse?  He’s got a no-trade and makes a ton of money and seems locked into LF as long as he’s here.  Question marks remain about Taylor; is he a starter or a 4th OF?  I think the Nats will pursue a lefty hitting outfielder, then position Harper in either CF or RF depending on the abilities of the acquisition.  The name Gerardo Parra keeps popping up; they liked him at the trade deadline and could pursue him again.  Or, if Span inexplicably takes the QO, there’s your lefty CF for 2016.  Jayson Heyward is a lefty but doesn’t add much punch and is going to be crazy expensive.

How about a radical realignment: Zimmerman goes to LF to make way for a lefty hitting 1B like Chris Davis; Harper to center, Werth back in RF, Taylor the 4th OF.  That’d give the team another lefty, a ton more power (imagine a lineup with both Harper and Davis?, and would fit in the budget even if Davis gets something like 6/$100M or so.  Or do you say “Davis is a nightmare FA contract waiting to happen when he starts inevitably declining and/or his Ritalin prescription runs out” and not commit money in this fashion?  I could buy that argument absolutely.  How likely is this team, really, to extend Bryce Harper for $300M plus?  Are they saving their pennies for that attempt or are they saying “he’s a goner lets just try to win while we have them?”

Bench: the team got a ton from Robinson and Espinosa this year; they’re both back.  Moore?  Probably DFA’d; he’s eligible for arbitration and there’s likely to be a dozen right handed power hitters who could play a corner and pinch hit here and there.  Look for a cattle call of veteran MLFAs like we did for the lefty 1b/LF position that Robinson won this past spring training.  I think the team likes den Dekker as “speedy backup CF outfielder” guy so he likely returns too.  Plus he hits lefty and really hit well in September.  No reason to mess with Lobaton; he gives flexibility at the plate and is cost-contained as a backup C.

Honestly, the core of the team is mostly still intact.  If all these guys were healthy all year and hitting at their 2014 rates, this season would have gone a lot differently.  I think we’ll see a lot of work in the pen and some activity on the fringes, but no major signings and no major trades.  Payroll takes a step back; I can’t tell you how much b/c payroll projections will take time and depend on who gets tendered/re-signed/QO’d, but I could see this team back at $130M heading into 2016.

Does this sound like a winning formula?  Did I miss anything?

The Definition of Insanity…


… is to do the same things over and again, and to expect different results.

Two nights in a row, the Nats held leads that should have been protected while playing at their most difficult opponent.  And twice in a row. the same reliever Casey Janssen was completely ineffective and the team lost a game that they could not afford to lose.

At least in the 9/1/15 debacle Janssen had help; deposed closer Drew Storen had yet another awful outing, blowing the save and putting Janssen in the position to give up the walk-off homer.  Storen now has a 7.98 ERA in the 15 games (14 2/3rds innings) in which he has pitched since getting demoted for Jonathan Papelbon.  You want to quibble about causation versus correlation?  How about *cause and effect?*  The Nats man management of this ball-club has been inept at best and horrific at worse (you know where I stand on the idiotic callup of Trea Turner just so he can shine the bench with his ass).

You remember Papelbon right?  He’s the high-priced closer that this team figured it needed to get to the post-season, disrupting the chemistry of the bullpen in the process?  Yeah Papelbon; the highest paid reliever, who finished YET ANOTHER game sitting his surly ass in the bullpen while lesser relievers blew multiple run leads.  That’s because our “color by numbers” manager Matt Williams can’t quite get it through his thick skull that you need to be flexible with relievers, that you can’t just write up the roles ahead of time and wait for it, that the “Save” stat is utterly meaningless to anyone except the idiots who apparently decide all arbitration cases and conclude that 1.5 WAR “closers” are worth 10 times as much as the guys who hand them their cushy 3-run leads night after night.

I ask this question again: where is the sense of urgency on this team?  The offense is certainly doing its part, finally hitting the ball and putting runners on base.  12  hits last night, 8 hits to go along with 7 walks the previous night.  In fact you might wonder how they didn’t score more than five runs each night with that many guys on the basepaths … not that it would have mattered, given the ineptitude of the bullpen lately.

Janssen now has nearly a 5.00 ERA on the season.  Storen is giving up nearly a run an inning.  Maybe, I dunno, maybe its time to try someone else to protect leads??  Blake Treinen has been great since coming back: he has *NOT GIVEN UP A RUN* since his return from AAA, a span of 13 innings over 12 appearances.  I dunno; maybe he’s the guy to get the ball in the 8th right now instead of the sh*t-show that is Storen and Janssen.

We miss Stammen.  We miss Barrett.  We really miss Clippard; why again didn’t we try to acquire him or some other middle reliever instead of disrupting the whole bullpen by acquiring the arrogant headcase Papelbon?  I dunno.  I just watch the games and try not to throw things at the TV screen when our soon-to-be-ex-manager makes his latest idiot move.  Instead of getting a proven middle reliever at the trade deadline, we continue to get by with retreads (Janssen, Thornton) and rookies (Rivero) and demoted starters (Fister, Roark).  Hell, instead of getting someone like Clippard, or Soria, or Johnson, or Broxton, or Jepson or Dyson, or any of the 8th/9th inning types that were moved at this trade deadline, our team KEPT TWO LONG-MEN instead, letting Fister and Roark it in the bullpen to await blow-out situations to throw a couple of useless innings.  You remember Roark right?  Yeah, he was our 5-win starter who the team deemed unnecessary who is now riding buses in AA to “remember” how to be a starter again, since clearly Joe Ross is about 2 more walks from getting shut-down for the season.

Hmm; I see a parallel between Roark and Storen.  Home grown guys, both worked their asses off to get where they got, both had great 2014 seasons … and both were supplanted by FA acquisitions from other teams and were demoted from positions that they not only had earned with blood and sweat but had no business being demoted from.  Is it any surprise either guy has struggled this year?  Will it be any surprise when either or both guys demand trades in the off-season as a result?  Nope, not to me.

This season’s done.  6.5 games out and the team has a losing record in the second half and can’t string together 3 straight wins when they really need about 10 straight wins to get back in this race.  Don’t be surprised when the Mets come to town in a week’s time and the team scores 4 runs in 3 games.  The Mets have better starters, actually MADE ACQUISITIONS at the trade deadline to improve, and apparently want it more.  Get me to the off-season; i’ve had it with 2015.


Its make or break time; even more so than a week ago.


A week ago, at the beginning of this west coast trip, I thought the team might end up going 2-5 between LA and SF.  They faced two good teams on the road against good pitching.

I was wrong.  They went 1-6.  What a Disaster.  Scherzer and Gonzalez both laid massive eggs in games where the Nats held a rare and clear SP advantage (over Vogelsong and Cain respectively) and the team squandered games where the offense uncharacteristically scored more than 1 run (5 and 6 respectively in consecutive losses).  It was no surprise they got shut out by Kershaw, Greinke and Bumgarner … but they had no excuse to lose to these other stiffs.

Amazingly, we’re mid-August and this team has gone 10 and 20 since the all-star break.  10 and 20.  Yes they’ve faced some tough pitching, but a playoff team should at least go .500 against a good team throwing good arms.  This team has not; it has completely folded.

Dave Cameron at summed up things a lot better than I could.  He has a table of 2014 and 2015 WAR figures that’s pretty amazing.  He also has the playoff odds for both Washington and New York and what they’ve done over the past few weeks and that’s pretty amazing too.

The Nats are 58-59.  Amazingly despite a 6 game losing streak the Mets also fell on their faces this weekend and the Nats didn’t lose much ground in the race.  But they’re 4.5 back with 6 weeks to go and need to step it up.

They now have 6 straight games against two bad teams (Colorado and Milwaukee).   Can they salvage their season and actually win some of these games?

What is wrong with this team?  Is it just everyone unluckily under performing all at once?  Is it the Manager?  Is it the frigging Papelbon trade? I don’ t mean to find some “arbitrary endpoints” but consider:

  • Nats Record before Papelbon trade: 52-46
  • Nats Record since: 6-13
  • Storen’s ERA before the trade: 1.73 in 36 1/3 innings
  • Storen’s ERA since: 10.38 in 8 2/3rds innings.
  • Papelbon’s entire contribution since arriving: 5 IP in 5 games, 2 saves.

Could just be a coincidence.  Demoting a popular, home grown player who was having a great season with a blow-hard attitude guy couldn’t possibly be a reason for a team that has shown itself to be mentally fragile in the past to shut it down, right?


West Coast Trip 2015: its crunch time for this team


I'll take about 10 more of those starts, Stephen, Thank you.  Photo via

I’ll take about 10 more of those starts, Stephen, Thank you. Photo via

I wrote earlier about the ridiculous slate of starters this team had to face coming out of the All Star break.  They went 6-10 in that stretch, an admirable record considering the opposition.  That took the team to a relatively “easy” looking home-stand against two also-rans (Arizona and Colorado) who were sellers at the trade deadline.  The Nats have practically their whole offense back, augmented the bullpen with Jonathan Papelbon, and got their 2nd “Ace” back in Stephen Strasburg.  They have no more excuses; its time to take control of the division from the suddenly energized Mets.

But, instead of rolling to a 5-2 or a 6-1 home stand … the team scuffled to a 3-4 record, with Drew Storen blowing two games single-handedly, Doug Fister blowing a start against an opposing pitcher with about 5 minutes of service time, and one game that the bullpen so badly bungled that Tyler Moore was on the mound at the end.

Not good.

The team now sits at 57-53 (just an 84 win pace) and is a game and a half back of the Mets.  And they now hit the road for a crucial, difficult 10-game west coast swing.  Three games in LA, four in SF and then 3 more against the Colorado team that embarrassed them at home.  This while the Mets play 7 straight in New York (albeit against the same Rockies who I thought were patsies and then against a Pirates team that just battered the Dodgers’ starters in Pittsburgh).

Lets take a quick look at the projected starter match-ups against the Dodgers and Giants.  Because, lets face it, those are the two series that could be pretty telling:

Nats SP Projected Opposing SP
Gonzalez Anderson
Ross Kershaw
Zimmermann Greinke
Strasburg Vogelsong
Scherzer Cain
Gonzalez Peavy
Ross Bumgarner

Daunting.  Are the Nats in danger of being outright swept in Los Angeles?   I think so.  They then move up the coast but face a SF team that plays a lot better at home than on the road, despite what looks to me like a SP advantage for the Nats.  I don’t really trust Gio Gonzalez anymore in big games, and certainly not on the road (where he has a 4.80 ERA this year, versus 2.60 at home).   Joe Ross has a grand total of 7 starts in the majors and he’ll be given the rather daunting task of facing two of the best pitchers in the game back to back in Kershaw and Bumgarner.  Tough.

Here’s the problem.  I can easily see this team going 2-5 in these games.  What happens if the Mets keep winning?

This season is more and more reminding me of 2013.  Tons of expectations, and tons of under performance all year, leading to a mid 80s win season but no playoffs.  If this team returns home a week from now and is at .500 (a very distinct possibility), is it finally time to worry?

Ross over Fister; best pitching move Williams has made all year (and a bit of ranting)


Ross deservedly keeps his rotation spot.  Photo Getty Images via

Ross deservedly keeps his rotation spot. Photo Getty Images via

After his second questionable starting pitcher yank in as many nights, 2014 Manager of the Year Matt Williams made perhaps his best pitching change of the season.  Instead of favoring his veteran Doug Fister like everyone thought he would based on past experiences with player management, he went with a rookie and announced (as first reported by Mark Zuckerman last night) that Joe Ross would keep his rotation spot, sending Fister to the bullpen.

First; some stuff I’ve wanted to get off my chest on Williams’ handling of the pitching staff as of late:

There’s already been enough kvetching about his yanking Gio Gonzalez the previous night; though my readers cannot see this “proof,” as soon as the pitching change occurred I texted a friend saying (in effect) this was going to backfire.  Pulling Gonzalez made zero sense: If you’re going to yank your starter so quickly in the 6th, why let him frigging *bat* in the bottom of the 5th??  Gonzalez was only on 95 pitches; professional, veteran starters can throw at least 105-110 pitches before showing any wear, and studies show that you’re not really in “danger” of causing subsequent regression until you hit 120.  And the most egregious issue: Gonzalez was set to face not 1-2-3 but 6-7-8 in the Arizona order.  To this observer, it was classic over-thinking/over-managing that resulted in a blown lead, a blown game and an embarrassing 9th where a position player had to throw for just the second time in the Nats tenure in Washington.

So, what did 2014 Manager of the Year Matt Williams learn from the 8/5/15 experience??  Absolutely nothing.  Ross was on even fewer pitches last night (89), was absolutely handling the weakened Arizona lineup (they sat two of their best  hitters to give them a day off), and Ross was set to face … wait for it … 6-7-8 in the order.  Yet another “shut down” reliever comes in and gives up a ton of runs … and it looked like yet another game would be lost.  Only the heroics of Matt Thornton (waiver claim) and eventually in the 8th Clint Robinson‘s 3-run homer (minor league free agent) saved the game for this under performing $160M payroll “win now” team.

Starters are starters because, by and large, THEY ARE BETTER PITCHERS THAN RELIEVERS.  If relievers were better, they’d be frigging starters!  Williams needs to STOP yanking effective starting pitchers unless it makes sense.  This dates back to his most egregious yank, that of Jordan Zimmermann last year in the NLDS.

Anyway.  Back to the Fister/Ross decision.  Here’s my quick thoughts:

  • Props to Fister for taking the demotion like a pro.  If it were me, i’d have gone with some BS “soft tissue” D/L stint.  That was a gutsy move for a guy facing free agency this coming off-season.  Maybe he and his agent talked it through and decided it would be less damaging to be demoted to the pen than take a D/L stint and have the league think you’re fighting injuries in your walk year.
  • Despite the above complaints, which are the latest in a series of complaints about our “paint by the numbers” manager and his handling of the pitching staff that has been exposed recently by his lack of use of Storen or Papelbon in the Mets series (and then his subsequent use of Storen in a 5-0 laugher one day later), Williams absolutely made the right move here.  Its a performance game, the team is struggling, and Fister was the low-man on the totem pole in terms of production (the team is just 5-10 in his 15 starts).  Cynical view; was this Mike Rizzo telling Williams what to do or was it Williams begrudgingly realizing that Ross was giving his team the best chance to win?
  • We talked before about how it might have been premature to give Ross a 2016 rotation spot based on short sample sizes; no longer.  Ross is your #4 starter next year as we speak and the rest of the potentials are chasing #5 down in Viera next spring.  And that’s assuming the team doesn’t make a trade or sign a FA or (could it happen?) resign Jordan Zimmermann.
  • There goes any thought of giving Fister a Q.O. this off-season.  He’s gone from something like a 4yr/$55M deal to looking for a pillow contract with some lesser team willing to give him a rotation spot in just 4 short months.
  • How long before the Nats shut Ross down?  He threw right around 120 innings in both 2013 and 2014.  So far this year he’s at 76 in the minors and 45 in the majors for a total of 121, basically matching his career high.   Increasing his workload by 20% means he’s only got another 4 starts in him; is this just a temporary rotation assignment?  Or is the team thinking he can increase his workload considerably this year?  There’s 55 games left, which is 11 turns through the rotation; do you think he’ll be allowed to throw 11 more starts?  That’d put his innings somewhere in the 175-180 range, a huge increase year over year.  Honestly, I think Fister will regain the rotation spot in a month’s time or so as the team shuts down Ross for the season.

Interesting day in Natstown, though, nonetheless.

Written by Todd Boss

August 7th, 2015 at 10:02 am

Papelbon for Pivetta: good trade, bad karma?


Hopefully, this won't be what we remember him for.  Photo via (yes its a site)

Hopefully, this won’t be what we remember him for. Photo via (yes its a site)

So, by now we’ve all heard the news.  The Nats acquired disgruntled Phillies closer Jonathan Papelbon for 2013 4th rounder Nick Pivetta, newly promoted to AA.

On the plus side, the Phillies pick up all of his remaining 2015 salary (roughly $4.5M), and Papelbon pre-negotiated his 2016 option at a slightly lower figure ($11M with $3M deferred).  This is no 2-month rental; this is a strategic decision to go with him for the next two years.  So in that respect, what the Nats get versus what they gave up is pretty durn good.  Pivetta is a decent prospect who had a great first half for Potomac and just earned a promotion to AA (where he’s gotten hit around a bit in his first couple of starts).  But in terms of what the team is giving up, Pivetta is a “minor prospect” (mostly on the outside of our top 10 lists) and is perhaps no better than 13th or so on our starter depth chart (just off the top of my head, Scherzer, Strasburg, Zimmermann, Fister, Gonzalez, Ross, Roark, Cole, Jordan, Hill, Treinen, Espino, Voth and Giolito ahead of him), so the Nats trade from a surplus/depth for a position of need.

As a side-effect of the acquisition, AAA catcher Dan Butler was DFA’d to make room on the 40-man roster. Butler has been struggling in AAA and may pass through waivers, but if he doesn’t suddenly the Nats have zero catcher depth on the active roster.  So that’s a risk i’m surprised they took (if it were me, I could have named several other guys I would have risked versus Butler first).

My concern with this deal is more on the non-quantifiable side.  What message does this send to your team?  Drew Storen has been *excellent* this year, has remade his mechanics and (as noted elsewhere) has the 2nd best ERA of any reliever in the game over the last two years.  He’s been just as good a closer as Papelbon this year, and for his troubles gets demoted out of the closer spot.  Storen’s future compensation is *directly* tied to the number of saves (however arbitrary and useless that statistic may be) he earns, and now the team has told him “hey, we know you’ve been awesome but too bad you’re no longer going to have the opportunity to earn saves and therefore we’ll argue against you in arbitration to that end.”  Its no wonder Storen was immediately quoted as wanting to “explore his options” with his representation.

Lets also just say that it would not surprise this observer in the least if Storen’s performance fell off a cliff in the coming months.

You can argue that winning creates clubhouse chemistry; that’s your perogative.  You can talk about how the old Yankees “25 men, 25 cabs” had no problem winning and you can disclaim the chemistry factors that seemed to be in play with recent teams like the 2013 Red Sox or last year’s Royals.  Fair enough.  You can make the argument that these guys are all highly paid and should just accept whatever role is given to them … but lets be honest here; MLB players are human, they have egos, and (especially in the case of a reliever) they want to be the closer.  More to the point, when they do everything management asks of them and still get replaced, its hard not to blame them for being disgruntled.  This isn’t like when the Nats demoted John Lannan: Storen didn’t get beat out in spring training; he’s been absolutely stellar for the past two years.

Is this yet another reaction to Storen’s post-season record?  Lets all say it together: “short sample sizes.”  Storen has a grand total of 5 1/3 post-season innings.  Papelbon’s numbers in the post season are great (a 1.00 ERA in 27 innings), but he hasn’t pitched in October in 6 years.  Clayton Kershaw has a 5+ ERA in the post-season and nobody’s talking about replacing him.  You look for excellence in the regular season and hope it plays out in the post-season.

Two years ago, the management over-reacted to Storen’s post-season performance by over-paying (and burning a first round pick) on a closer in Rafael Soriano who, it should be noted, was himself demoted from the closer role in favor of the man he replaced by the time the deal was done.  Lets just hope that we’re not standing here in September of 2016 with Papelbon and his waning velocity ballooning to a 4+ ERA in his walks year with the ever-steady Storen right back in the same role…

I would have much preferred the team find some middle-to-later innings relievers to strengthen things in the 7th and 8th innings and not upset what Storen has established.  But it isn’t my team.  I just hope Storen can take the high road (much like Tanner Roark has been forced to do) and goes back to being a team player.

A few other excellent takes on the trade I recommend:

Post-publishing update: Joe Posnanski wrote a column 2 weeks onward, crucifying Rizzo and this trade (calling it “The Worst trade of the Season”) for its intangible impact on the team, echoing many of the same sentiments expressed here.


Closer post-mortem 2014


Francisco Rodriguez screwed my fantasy team this year.  Photo via

Francisco Rodriguez screwed my fantasy team this year. Photo via

This post is somewhat driven by fantasy baseball, where one of the typical pitching categories is “Saves,” and the constant churn of closers has become a huge detriment to most fantasy baseball players.  I’m no exception; this year I drafted who I presumed was going to be the closer for Milwaukee (Jim Henderson), only to watch him be replaced the day before the season started, inexplicably and without warning, by Francisco Rodriguez, who subsequently earned 40+ saves for the guy in my league who vulture waiver-wire picked him up.  (We eventually found out why; Henderson gave up 10 runs in 11 innings before going under the knife for “Labrum & Rotator Cuff Debridement.”  Ugh).

My research shows that just 13 of the 30 teams in the MLB this year started and ended the season with the same closer.  That’s a pretty amazing churn of players.  So I put together a tracking XLS.

Team Switch during 2014 season? 2014 Closer, start of season 1/2 point Closer End of Year Closer Most Saves 2014 full season # Saves for Team Leader in 2014
Ari Addison Reed Addison Reed Addison Reed Addison Reed 32
Atl Craig Kimbrel Craig Kimbrel Craig Kimbrel Craig Kimbrel 47
Bal Yes Tommy Hunter Zach Britton Zach Britton Zach Britton 37
Bos Yes Koji Uehara Koji Uehara Edward Mujica Koji Uehara 26
Chc Yes Jose Veras Hector Rondon Hector Rondon Hector Rondon 29
Cin Yes J.J. Hoover Aroldis Chapman Aroldis Chapman Aroldis Chapman 36
Cle Yes John Axford Cody Allen Cody Allen Cody Allen 24
Col LaTroy Hawkins LaTroy Hawkins LaTroy Hawkins LaTroy Hawkins 23
Cws Yes Nate Jones Ronald Belisario? Jake Petricka Jake Petricka 14
Det Joe Nathan Joe Nathan Joe Nathan Joe Nathan 35
Hou Comm. Chad Qualls Chad Qualls Chad Qualls Chad Qualls 19
KC Greg Holland Greg Holland Greg Holland Greg Holland 46
LAA Yes Ernesto Frieri Joe Smith Huston Street Huston Street 17
LAD Kenley Jansen Kenley Jansen Kenley Jansen Kenley Jansen 44
Mia Steve Cishek Steve Cishek Steve Cishek Steve Cishek 39
Mil Yes Jim Henderson Francisco Rodriguez Francisco Rodriguez Francisco Rodriguez 44
Min Glen Perkins Glen Perkins Glen Perkins Glen Perkins 34
NYM Yes Bobby Parnell Jennry Mejia Jennry Mejia Jennry Mejia 28
Nyy David Robertson David Robertson David Robertson David Robertson 39
Oak Yes Jim Johnson Sean Doolittle Sean Doolittle Sean Doolittle 22
Phi Jonathan Papelbon Jonathan Papelbon Jonathan Papelbon Jonathan Papelbon 39
Pit Yes Jason Grilli Mark Melancon Mark Melancon Mark Melancon 33
Sdp Yes Huston Street Joaquin Benoit Joaquin Benoit Joaquin Benoit 11
Sea Fernando Rodney Fernando Rodney Fernando Rodney Fernando Rodney 48
Sfg Yes Sergio Romo Santiago Castilla Santiago Castilla Sergio Romo 23
Stl Trevor Rosenthal Trevor Rosenthal Trevor Rosenthal Trevor Rosenthal 45
TBR Yes Grant Balfour Jake McGee Jake McGee Jake McGee 19
Tex Yes Neftali Feliz Joaquim Soria Neftali Feliz Neftali Feliz 13
Tor Casey Janssen Casey Janssen Casey Janssen Casey Janssen 25
Was Yes Rafael Soriano Rafael Soriano Drew Storen Rafael Soriano 32

Now, technically the Reds never “switched” their closer; they just knew that Aroldis Chapman was coming back after a brief stint on the D/L.  And the Astros show Chad Qualls in all the positions, but they clearly were going with a committee for most of the season.  So you could argue against those two teams, but that still leaves half the league switching their closer mid-season.  Other teams stuck with the same guy all year (Detroit with Joe Nathan) despite awful numbers (4.81 ERA on the season for Nathan), so you could argue that they *should* have switched.

The Nats were no exception; they started the year with Rafael Soriano, who was one of the league’s best for half the season.  By September, the Nats had dumped Soriano for their *previous* closer in Drew Storen, who then dumped the bed in his only two post-season appearances (blowing the save in Jordan Zimmermann‘s epic 8 2/3 shutout innings, and then allowing two hits and a run in a non-save situation the next night).

What does this mean?  For “real” baseball, not much that we didn’t already know.  Closers are judged mostly on high-leverage short-sample sizes, where one blow-out inning destroys ERA and WHIP numbers for a month.  Its a ridiculous statistic that has far too much credence in the modern game.  And its even more ridiculous that a mediocre “closer” with a ton of saves earns more than a middle-to-late innings reliever with a ton of “holds” and great numbers.  But this is our system.

For “fantasy” baseball, the take away again is kind of known: closers are a crapshoot.  Try to get a couple of “known” closers in the 5th-8th rounds, grab a couple of fliers on people later on, but be sure to be incredibly proactive on the waiver wires in the last week of spring training/first week of the season.  A lot of these personnel changes happened in early April and then stuck the rest of the way through (quick examples being Milwaukee as described above and the New York Mets, who saw presumed closer Bobby Parnell blow out his elbow on practically the first day of the season and have Tommy John surgery on 4/8/14).


Chasing Saves: a cautionary tale for GMs


Mariano Rivera’s success has led to a generation of closer-chasing in MLB. Photo wikipedia

One of the mantras we hear from Fantasy Baseball experts is “Don’t chase Saves.”  Closers are so hit-or-miss in this league, that on draft day trying to chase mediocre closers usually turns into wasted draft picks as these guys frequently get hurt or under-perform and get replaced.  Well, its not that much better in “real” baseball, where teams best laid plans for closers often backfire mightily.

In fact, check out this link on, which charts the Opening day and Closing Day 2012 closers for all 30 teams.  In summary:

  • Only 10 of the 30 MLB teams kept the same closer wire-to-wire.
  • 14 of the 30 teams had a different guy in the closer role by season’s end.  That’s half the league!
  • The other 6 teams had the same guy at season’s start and end, but went through personnel changes in between.  This includes our own Nats, who started with Drew Storen, he got hurt, Tyler Clippard took over and stayed in the role after Storen got back, then Clippard melted in September and Storen took back over the role.

By my observations, as of June 15th 2013 here’s the same stats for this year:

  • 22 of 30 teams have same guy as start of season
  • 8 teams have already made a switch (Boston, Detroit, Arizona, Oakland, Chicago Cubs, Cleveland, St Louis, Los Angeles Dodgers)

So what’s the point here?  Teams need to re-think they way they grow, acquire and pay for “Saves.”  Lets look at how far one particular organization has gone “Chasing Saves” and pursuing a Closer.  I present you the Boston Red Sox, normally considered a very forward-thinking, analytical organization but which seemingly has a very large blind spot for the mytical “shutdown closer” position.  As of the publishing of this article (June 14, 2013):

  • Current Closer: Andrew Bailey, for whom they traded 3 players to the Oakland A’s in 2011 to obtain.  Two minor league prospects and one Josh Reddick, who hit 32 homers last year.
  • Acquired last off-season to be their 2012 closer: Mark Melancon, for whom they traded two good prospects to the Houston Astros in 2011; Jed Lowrie and Kyle Weiland.   Lowrie is now posting a nifty 126 ops+ for the Athletics (to whom he was flipped by Houston for even more prospects).  Melancon had two bad outings at the beginning of 2012, was banished to the minors and eventually flipped for ….
  • Former 2013 closer: Joel Hanrahan, for whom they traded 4 players to the Pittsburgh Pirates last December.  Including Mark Melancon, who is repaying the Pirates for their patience in him by posting a .072 ERA in 25 innings thus far this year.  Hanrahan just had Tommy John surgery and is out for at least a  year.
  • [Post-post update]; By the end of June, Bailey allowed 4 homers in 5 games, hit the D/L and on July 22nd was announced as undergoing season-ending surgery. and is being replaced by … somebody.  By Mid July it seemed clear that it was Kenji Uehara, a free-agent signing last off-season.  So for all their trades, they end up using a minor FA signing as their closer.

So for the record that’s 9 guys traded away (including at least two effective hitters) in the past two off-seasons to chase one (in my opinion) relatively meaningless statistic.  And basically all they have to show for it is Andrew Bailey no longer pitching the 9th for them.

Of course, maybe the joke’s on me, since the Red Sox are in first place at the time of this writing.

But for an organization that used to be known for doing smart things (including the smart move of allowing long-time closer Jonathan Papelbon be overpaid by someone else on the FA market), these moves are just dumb.   Find a hard throwing guy in your system, make him the “closer,” repeat as necessary.  That should be the strategy.

And oh, by the way, I don’t exempt our own team from this.  Rafael Soriano was an unneeded purchase who (as we’ve seen by the unwarranted shot at Bryce Harper) could be more trouble than he’s worth.  But hey, its not my money right?  At least the Nats didn’t trade good prospects to acquire him (like Boston has done over and again).

This argument leads into an oft-repeated discussion in this space about the ridiculousness of the Save statistic and how frequently closers are preserved for “Save Situations” despite their leverage rating.   Lets look at a couple of very specific mathematical arguments against overpaying for closers:

1. Joe Posnanski and others have shown how useless closers are.  Teams are winning games at basically the same percentage now in the closer era that they were 50 years ago, without highly paid specialized closers.  Some quick percentages:  For the latest decade teams won 95.2% of games in which they led going into the 9th.  In the 60s, 70s and 80s that same percentage varied between 95.6-94.8%.   Can someone explain to me how the proliferation of highly paid closers in the last 20 years of the game has basically helped teams …. win the exact same number of games they used to before closers, matchup bullpen roles and Loogys existed??

2. Any old mediocre reliever is going to end up being a relatively effective closer.  Proof?

Lets say an average reliever has a 4.50 era or so (which in today’s game frankly is a stretch, given what we’ve talked about before and the advantages that relievers have over starters; they can go max effort for shorter time periods and they don’t have to face batters more than once).  That means he gives up one run every two innings.  Now lets say that you used this pitcher with his 4.50 era in every closing situation you face in a given year.  A save situation can be a lead held by 1, 2 or 3 runs.

So, out of these three scenarios your 4.50 ERA pitcher can give up his run every other start and still “save” 5 out of 6 games.

  • 1 run lead: gives up 0 runs; save
  • 1 run lead; gives up 1 run: blown-save
  • 2 run lead: gives up 0 runs; save
  • 2 run lead: gives up 1 run: save
  • 3 run lead: gives up 0 runs: save
  • 3 run lead: gives up 1 run: save.

And then even in those blown-save situations, extra inning affairs are basically coin flips anyway historically, which means that teams are going to win half those games anyway.  So you’re basically going to win 5.5 out of every 6 games.   5.5 out of 6 is 91%.  So historically even my normal case scenario undervalues the ability of teams to win these games.

And this scenario really undervalues what kind of reliever you’re actually going to put into the role.  Every team has a handful of relievers in their bullpen with ERAs in the 3-3.50 range; that’s 1-1.5 runs better than my “mediocre pitcher” example over the course of a couple weeks (assuming closers get about 9 innings of work every two weeks).  With even this marginal improvement you’re going from 91% to closer to the historical 94-95% of games won.

Want some more food for thought on closers?   Here’s your current top 5 closers in the league by number of saves, along with their acquisition method, salary and general statement about their careers thus far:

  1. Jason Grilli – 23 Saves.  36yrs old.  $2.25M.  He was flat out released in July 2011 by Philadelphia and signed as a Minor League FA by Pittsburgh.  He’s a 36 year old journeyman on his 7th pro organziation with a 106 career ERA+.
  2. Jim Johnson – 23 saves.  30yrs old.  $6.5M.  He’s a home-grown middle reliever thrust into the closer role last year when the O’s got fed up with FA closer Kevin Gregg.
  3. Mariano Rivera – 23 saves.  43yrs old.  $10m, taking a discount from his $15M/year deals since 2008 b/c of knee issue.  Home-grown player who converted to relief after bombing out as a failed starter at age 25.
  4. Joe Nathan – 20 saves.  38yrs old.  $7M, taking a discount from his last contract value of $11.25M/year after significant arm injury.   Failed starter with San Francisco, traded to Minnesota in the AJ Pierzynski deal and has flourished as a closer.
  5. Addison Reed – 19 saves.  24yrs old, $520k (20k above MLB minimum).  3rd round draft pick by the White Sox out of San Diego State, where he was a career relief pitcher after not having ever pitched until his Junior year of HS.

The next few guys are Kimbrel (655k), Mujica ($3.2M).   But you’ve also got guys out there closing like Wilhemlsen, who didn’t even make the majors until he was 27 and was out of the game working as a bartender for 6 years.

The point?  You shouldn’t pay for a high end closer; you find someone internally who looks like a good option on the cheap and go with them.  You can find someone in your farm system, or on waivers, or working in a bar who can be an effective closer.  Find someone who can throw 1mph for 20 pitches a few nights a week; they’re going to give you as good of a chance to win as throwing the last guy out of the bullpen out there with a 3 run lead in the 9th.

One last bit of observation:  Lets look at Dennis Eckersley‘s career.  As a starter: good, not amazing.  A couple years with a smattering of Cy Young votes.  One 20-game winning season but another season where he 9-13 with a 5.61 ERA.  He converts to a closer and immediately his ERA plummets, his K/9 jumps up, his ERA+ numbers rise to stupid levels.  One year (1990) as a 35-yr old he allowed just 5 earned runs and just 3 unintentional walks on the year through 73+ innings.

So, how is it that a 4th starter during his 20s can suddenly become a lights out Hall-of-Fame closer in his mid-30s while doubling his k/9 rates at a time when he should have been regressing as a player?  The answer is easy; relievers only have to face part of the lineup once a night, don’t need 4 pitches and can basically get by with a gimmick pitch.  And, since they’re only throwing 15-20 pitches a few nights a week instead of 100-110 pitches every 4 days, they don’t need to “save their arm for the whole night” and can go with max effort during their outings with no long term effects.

That’s a lot of loosely tied together points to my main theory: If I were the GM of a team, the absolute last thing I’d pursue on the FA market was a high-priced closer.  I don’t think the “closer” role is going away (players know that Saves translate to Dollars in arbitration and on the FA market), but I’m hoping we’ll see less Dusty Baker-esque management techniques and more Joe Maddon.

Why is Toradol “ok” but Steroids and HGH “bad?”


Did Papelbon inadvertantly open up a whole new PED angle? Photo Keith Allison via wikipedia/flickr

The latest salvo in the “Questionable Performance Enhancing Drug” storyline in today’s professional baseball landscape was this interesting statement from Jonathan Papelbon last week;  he and other Boston teammates frequently were injected with the drug Toradol by team doctors when they were feeling “run-down” or overly fatigued in order to get a quick pick-me-up for a game.  Apparently Toradol had the effect of giving players a four hour window of feeling “pretty damn good” and it was used by a portion of the Boston clubhouse.  Its also in use in many other clubhouses (though apparently not in Philadelphia, who told Papelbon his Toradol days were over).

Ok, how is Toradol not a Performance Enhancing Drug?  It certainly seems to qualify based on WADA’s “Three Criteria” for PEDs:

  1. The capacity to enhance performance (clearly, as discussed by Papelbon)
  2. Use can result in negative health consequences (absolutely; Jon Lester suffered some of them and had a serious internal bleeding issue, and now Boston is reportedly reviewing its use of the drug)
  3. Violate the spirit of sports. (opinion based .. but after reading what Toradol can do, how can you NOT argue that its use violates the “spirit of sports?”)

(2/15/13 update: The Red Sox trainer who administered all this Toradol apparently “flouted” state laws by doing so, as reported by Jeff Passan, who is all over this case.)

By the way, WADA adds a drug to its banned list if it qualifies for TWO of the above three categories (hence the addition of things like “Deer Antler Spray” despite it having no known side effects, since it clearly seems to violate the spirit clause).

This leads me to my larger question: Why is Toradol, and as a side effect Steroids and HGH “bad” but the use of Cortisone, Toradol considered “ok” in terms of usage?   What do Cortisone shots do?  They enable a player to play through pain that otherwise may keep him out.  Uh … isn’t that the definition of a “performance enhancing” substance??   Our own Ryan Zimmerman clearly benefited from cortisone shots in 2012; his before/after splits after receiving shots in his shoulder are pretty distinct and obvious.   Cortisone itself also fits the 3 WADA principles; it enhances performance, it has side-effects that many doctors are quite worried about, and I’m sure some would agree it changes the “spirit of the game” in some ways.

If your answer involves something along the lines of “PEDs are banned because they’re illegal” then I’ll counter with this: Steroid’s aren’t illegal; they’re just controlled.  But so is Cortisone; you can’t just inject yourself with the stuff without a doctor’s order.  And so is Toradol; you can’t go into your local supermarket and buy injectable Toradol.   And so is HGH: ask yourself why most elderly persons keep bottles of the stuff on their bed-side table?  Even something like a B-12 shot raises some issues; lots of players get B-12 shots and swear by the natural effect it has, but as with Toradol I’m pretty sure you can’t just get injectable B-12 and administer it yourself.  Even though B-12 is naturally occurring, in order to naturally consume the amounts of B-12 being injected you’d likely have to eat a bushel of clams (or some other high B-12 food) every day.

Honestly I may have the biggest issue with the classification of HGH as a PED, when you think about what HGH is (a naturally occurring growth hormone that is generates solely to help the body heal itself after an injury or illness) and then think about what Cortisone accomplishes for athletes.  So its “ok” to take a Cortisone shot that treats inflammation from an injury/strain so that you can go out and play better … but its NOT ok to take a naturally occuring suppliment to help with the same issue??  The only reason adults don’t heal as fast as kids is precisely because our natural HGH generation slows as we age … and doctors prescribe HGH to help the elderly heal from illnesses and injuries all the time.  Isn’t this inconsistent?

And all the above just talks about various medications.  Lets talk about the in-vogue plasma-replacement treatments that Kobe Bryant popularized and which have now been done by others, including Alex Rodriguez and Bartolo Colon. In this op-ed piece from Jeff Passan from Dec 2011, he discusses the blurry line between PEDs and legitimate surgical procedures.  The article has a very in-depth description of the A-Rod procedure and raises the question as to what defines a Performance Enhancing Drug?   If blood doping is illegal, how is a procedure that filters out platelets and re-injects them to targeted spots legal?  Colon was out of the game in 2010, got the procedure and suddenly is a 116 ERA+ pitcher in 2013; isn’t this concerning?

Passan takes things one step further, comparing the healing effects of HGH with these new treatments that A-Rod and Colon got and makes a very good point; these new-fangled surgical procedures absolutely qualify for WADA’s 3 criteria.  Passan has also asked the same questions I’m asking in a June 2006 article that started about HGH but ended with this same general question.  And he makes very good points about cortisone, HGH, Testosterone and even Tylenol usage.  Its worth a read.

Here’s another question: why is it “ok” to have performance-enhancing surgical procedures (Lasik surgery, Tommy John surgery, or any manner of surgery involving transplanted ligaments or tendons) but it is NOT ok to use drugs that have the same general effect?   If I can take a pill that gives me 20-10 vision, which enables me to see the baseball better and become a better hitter, would that be considered a PED?  I’m pretty sure … but yet people go get laser surgery and can get their eyes fixed to this level of quality any day of the week.  Perhaps this is a ridiculous example but my point stands; whether or not your performance is enhanced by virtue of a bottle or by the knife, aren’t these valid questions?  We’re starting to hear of psychotic parents of teen-aged pitchers actually getting “preventative” Tommy John surgery done, knowing that most pitchers who have the surgery see improvement in certain aspects of their game (since the Ulnar Ligament connector is actually strengthened in this surgery over how it grows naturally).  Is this … ethical?

And then there’s this interesting point, which was proposed on a BS Report podcast done between Bill Simmons and Chuck Klosterman last week.  If HGH is considered a PED, and HGH’s sole purpose in life is to help people get better after being sick … then why aren’t classes of anti-biotics such as Amoxicillin also considered PEDs?  What is the difference?   Klosterman then made the additional (scary) point that PED usage and testing may all be for naught eventually; Genetic testing and DNA manipulation may get to the point where there can BE no test to find out whether someone’s been genetically manipulated in order to be a superior athlete.  Testing has been trailing the science for years in professional sports … it may eventually be rendered completely moot.  Of course, taken the the ridiculous extreme, do we really want a slew of genetically engineered super-athletes competing for our enjoyment?  Why not just invent a bunch of robots to play these games?

Food for thought.  I know we’ve discussed some of these topics here before but do you worry about the inconsistencies in professional sports PED policies?  I’m not sure I have an easy solution, but I will say that the classifications of drugs seems arbitrary in some cases.

Possible 2013 WBC Nationals participants?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In 2009, the team had 5 participants:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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