Nationals Arm Race

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

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World Series Game 5 Pitching Matchup and Prediction

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Four games into this World Series, and we’re tied up at 2 games a piece.  Boston got their must-win victory last night on the strength of the unlikely Jonny Gomes (former Nat) and on 85mph fastballs from Clay Buchholz.  Lance Lynn didn’t pitch badly; in fact his stuff looked pretty good early on.  But one bad pitch to Gomes and the game was over.

Game 5: Jon Lester versus Adam Wainwright.  a repeat of the Game 1 matchup, though this time the tables are reversed in terms of road team/home team.   In four career home playoff starts Wainwright has conceded exactly four runs.   Lester had a .500 record and a 4.21 ERA on the road this season.  Despite St. Louis’ inability to hit lefties, I don’t think Wainwright is losing tonight.

Expect a close game, with St. Louis perhaps coming out on top with a 2-1 victory.  And since we’ve already had two rather rare game-ending baserunning mishaps (an obstruction call and a pick-off), i’m calling for Game 5 to include something like a running out of order, or a missed base being called out on appeal or something random.  Maybe we’ll just get a hotly contested balk.

Written by Todd Boss

October 28th, 2013 at 8:15 am

Roster Construction Analysis of 10 Playoff Teams; 2012 edition

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Justin Verlander is one of the most important home-grown players in the 2012 playoffs. Photo unk via rumorsandrants.com

Every year I do a bit of “Team Construction” analysis to kind of gauge the trends in roster construction.  Last year’s post is here, and the links to the side have the underlying spreadsheet of player acquisition methods so you can see the pure details.  This topic was also covered in-depth by John Sickels on his minorleaguebaseball.com blog for another viewpoint.

Borrowing from last year’s post, there are four main ways teams can acquire players:

  1. Draft: The player is with the original team that drafted him.  In the case of international free agents, if they’re signed as 16-year olds they are considered in this category as well (i.e., Ichiro Suzuki is not a developed player, but an international Free Agent).  It could be better defined as “Club developed players.”  Simple examples for the Nats: Stephen Strasburg and Bryce Harper.
  2. Traded MLBers: The player was acquired by the team by virtue of trading an established MLB player.  Most of the time these days, this means the player was acquired as a prospect (since most trades seem to be of the prospect-for-established player kind).  Example for the Nats would be Michael Morse, who was acquired by our trading an established MLB player in Ryan Langerhans for Morse while he was still (essentially) a minor leaguer.
  3. Traded Prospects: The player was acquired by the team by virtue of trading prospects.  This is essentially the reverse of #2.  The Nats key example is Gio Gonzalez.
  4. Free Agent: The player was acquired in free agency.  This category also includes two other types of acquisitions: waiver claims and cash purchases.  These three categories are lumped together since all three indicate that a team has acquired a player with zero outlay in terms of development or prospects.  Examples for the Nats: Edwin Jackson, Adam LaRoche.

Here is the summary of roster construction and “Construction Strategy Category” that we’ll talk about next.  Note that I only count the “core players” on a team for this analysis.  The core players is defined as the 5-man starting rotation, the setup and closer, the 8 out-field players, and the DH for AL teams.  I didn’t extend this all the way to the 25-man roster, figuring that these core 15 players are the main reasons teams win and advance.  That and huge chunks of the bullpen and the bench are either fill-in FAs or draftees and it would skew the analysis of how teams really got to the playoffs.  Here’s the summary (the table is sorted by count of Draftees):

Season Team Drafted/Developed Traded Prospects Traded MLBs FA/Waivers Ttl Constr Method
2012 Atlanta 11 1 3 0 15 #1
2012 St. Louis 9 0 2 4 15 #1/#4
2012 Washington 8 3 1 3 15 #2
2012 San Francisco 8 2 2 3 15 #2
2012 Cincinnati 8 2 3 2 15 #1
2012 New York Yankees 5 2 1 8 16 #4
2012 Detroit 5 5 2 4 16 #2/#4
2012 Texas 4 2 7 3 16 #3/#4
2012 Baltimore 3 1 8 4 16 #3
2012 Oakland 2 1 7 6 16 #3

So, what are the four construction methods I’ve identified? Again borrowing from last year’s version of this post, they are (with this year’s examples).  The complication this year is that some of the 10 playoff teams don’t fall neatly into one specific category.

Method #1: Build from within 100%: (Cincinnati, Atlanta).   Atlanta, amazingly, didn’t use a single Free Agent among its core 15 this year.  They made a couple of key trades to acquire a few starters, but the rest of their lineup is home-grown draftees.  That may change next year as they try to replace Chipper Jones, Michael Bourn and possibly Brian McCann, who may leave via free agency.  Meanwhile Cincinnati has just a couple of free agents and mostly rely on guys they’ve grown as well.

Method #2: Ride your developed Core and use your prospects to acquire big names: (Washington, San Francisco and Detroit to an extent): The Nats have transformed themselves over just a couple of seasons, relying less on FAs to plug holes caused by an awful farm system to having most of their core team developed at home (See the table further below to follow the transformation of our team over the past few seasons).  Those spots they couldn’t depend on have been filled by trades (three guys acquired by flipping prospects for them; in addition to Gonzalez Kurt Suzuki and Tyler Clippard also count here).  San Francisco has seen their payroll skyrocket as they extend their home-grown talent, but for the most part they have stayed true to the team development concept.  Their one major Free Agent (Barry Zito) is notoriously one of the worst contracts in baseball and it is somewhat surprising to even see him on the post-season roster.  He wouldn’t be if Tim Lincecum was pitching in 2012 like he has regularly done in previous seasons.  Detroit was entirely in method #2 until they decided to spend money like the Yankees; we’ll revisit in #4.

Method #3: Go Young and grow up Strong (Baltimore, Oakland and Texas to an extent): Baltimore acquired a massive chunk of their rosters by flipping major leaguers for prospects and watching them blossom into a surprise playoff team.  Oakland has made a habit of getting rid of guys before they hit arbitration; fully 7 of their squad was acquired this way.  The difference is that Oakland has been forced to buy a big chunk of their core group on the FA market, depending on cast-offs like Brandon Inge and Jonny Gomes to plug leaks and get production on the cheap.  I’m guessing that Oakland will transform more into Category #1 as the vast amount of prospects they’ve landed lately continue to matriculate.  Lastly Texas was entirely in this category before they dropped major money on the likes of Adrian Beltre and Yu Darvish, transforming them into a spending power to go with their still-excellent farm system.

Method #4: Spend what it takes to win: (New York fully with St Louis, Texas and Detroit partially here): The Yankees are the class-A example of this method (along with Boston and the Dodgers frankly), but the spending that St. Louis, Texas and Detroit cannot be overlooked.  The Yankees more and more are depending on expensive FA purchases to replace what their farm system is not developing, and the problem is only being brought into more focus this off-season.  Their 3 primary starters are FA acquisitions, their biggest FA is looking like a contract catastrophe, and their developed guys are not stepping up and taking over major roles (especially on the pitching staff).  The other three teams mentioned here are mostly built on home-grown talent, but have spent so much money on the FA market lately that they are broaching into the upper echelons of MLB payroll.  St. Louis is almost entirely built from within (as noted by other columnists doing this same type of analysis) but still has depended on a couple of key FAs to advance as far as they have.

Conclusions:

  • There’s no real formula to building a playoff team, as we see from the spread of the 10 teams among the four methods defined.
  • I think its safe to say that the most difficult methods to depend on are #1 and #3.  You need to have a very good farm system to depend on the #1 method to work for you, and over the past few years only a couple of teams really have had success using this method (Atlanta and Tampa Bay).  Kansas City has tried #1 for years and has gone nowhere.  The #3 method is also frought with issues, since it requires a ton of patience from your fan base and may not be sustainable.  Would anyone be surprised if both Oakland and Baltimore collapsed next season?  Probably not; you really need to build on a base of players once you’ve established yourself as a good team and continue to augment, either through trade or through FAs.  But even that can be dangerous; just ask Philadelphia this year, owners of the 2nd biggest payroll in baseball and just a 3rd place team.
  • Is Category #1 and #3 the same?  No, not really. #1 teams rely much more heavily on personally developed prospects, while #3 teams purposely set out to acquire prospects in trade to combine with their own development mis-fortunes.  If Baltimore had a better farm system, they wouldn’t have needed to jettison so many established MLBers to acquire prospects, and they’d probably be closer to a #2 team (a wealthy team who supplements developed players with key FAs, much like what Washington is doing).
  • Oakland is really a unique case; they do develop players but get rid of them because of a self-imposed incredibly restrictive salary cap.  Imagine what Billy Beane could do with that team if he could have purchased just $30M of players on the open market (which would have still left Oakland in the bottom third of payroll).
  • Buying your way to a team (method #4) can work, but only if you have nearly unlimited money and everything goes right for you.  There’s almost no excuse for a $175M payroll to get beat to the playoffs by a $55M payroll team (Oakland).  That is unless you overpay for poor FA targets, install the wrong manager and saddle yourself with the worst clubhouse in baseball.  In case you were wondering, the 2012 Boston Red Sox were a classic case of why money cannot buy happiness, and why unlimited funds do not necessarily guarantee playoff baseball.  The Angels are another example; owing most of their season’s turnaround and success to Mike Trout and his MLB minimum salary providing nearly 10 WAR despite having the 3rd largest payroll in baseball and having just purchased the games pre-emminent hitter in Albert Pujols.
  • Frequent commenter Clark has a good point; classifying Mark Teixeira and Raul Ibanez as the same type of player (acquired via free agency) is a bit mis-leading.  Clearly a $150M player isn’t the same as a $1M player.  But, for the purposes of analyzing how much of your team is “bought” versus “developed” the point remains the same whether its a bargain basement guy or a $20M/year player.

So, if I had just purchased a new team, what construction method would I follow?  I guess it depends; if I thought I had a patient fan base, I’d probably do exactly what is going on in Houston.  I’d gut the MLB roster, trade every tradeable asset and start over payroll-wise.  I’d follow strategy #1 until I was at least competitive, and then i’d probably switch over to a #2 strategy or a #3 strategy, depending on just how good my developed players were.  You hope for #3; it implies you’ve got so much in-house talent that all you need to do is keep extending your key guys and you’ll keep winning.

I don’t think #4 is a sustainable way of building rosters.  The Yankees have gotten away with it for years, but only because they initially had a banner crop of developed players (the “core four”) to depend on up their spine.  Would anyone be surprised if the Yankees fail to make the playoffs next year?  Alex Rodriguez looks incredibly old, Derek Jeter just broke his ankle, they’re losing a number of hitters to FA and they only have a couple of starters locked up.  Where’s their starting pitching for 2013?  And what happens if they finally get hit with injuries to their rotation to the extent that Boston did this year?  I think this is why you see $80M payroll teams beating out $170M payroll teams all the time; teams get bloated, they over pay their own players and suddenly are old, inflexible and unable to adjust financially to buy what they need.

Lastly, here’s what the Nats roster has done over the past few seasons:

Season Team Drafted/Developed Traded Prospects Traded MLBs FA/Waivers Ttl Constr Method
2010 Washington (end of 2010) 7 1 2 5 15 #2
2011 Wash (2011 opening day) 6 2 1 6 15 #2
2011 Wash (primary Roster for season) 6 2 2 5 15 #2
2011 Wash (end of season) 9 1 2 3 15 #2
2012 Washington (playoff roster) 8 3 1 3 15 #2

The team has been slowly replacing Free Agents with home-grown or acquired talent, and as we all know is well on its way towards a strong, home grown team.  This year’s core team only uses 3 pure FAs: Adam LaRoche, Jayson Werth and Edwin Jackson.  We could very well see LaRoche replaced outright with the home grown Tyler Moore, and if the team replaced Jackson with someone like John Lannan (not that we’ll possibly see that happen), we could be down to just one FA in the core squad.

A look at Oakland’s amazing 2012 season so far

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Tommy Milone has made Oakland’s 2012 rotation surprisingly good. Photo AP/Ben Margot via dailyrepublic.com

I’ll admit it; after watching Billy Beane wheel and deal this past off-season, trading away most of his starting rotation and letting most of his FA hitters walk, I was predicting a 55 win season for this team.  They were banking on a proposed move to San Jose and I saw these moves as a purposeful bottoming out while playing out the string in Oakland, ahead of a lucrative move to the South Bay.  Well, that move seems interminably stalled, and many pundits predicted a near record loss season for this team, especially considering the massive moves that the Angels had made, coupled with the 2-time defending AL champs Texas being in the same division.

Instead, they sit at 56-48 and if the season ended today, right now on August 2nd, the Oakland A’s and their $55M payroll (2nd lowest in the league by a couple hundred thousand dollars) would be the 2nd wild-card and would play the Los Angeles Angels, they of the $154M payroll (and counting, considering this was their opening day payroll and they’ve taken on with the Zack Greinke deal at the trade deadline).

How did this happen?  Lets look at the evolution of the Starting Rotation, because what this group is doing is nothing short of amazing.

In 2011, the Oakland had 10 different guys start games for them.  Here’s a quick summary (* indicates a left hander on baseball-reference.com pages):

Name Age W L W-L% ERA G GS
Trevor Cahill 23 12 14 0.462 4.16 34 34
Gio Gonzalez* 25 16 12 0.571 3.12 32 32
Brandon McCarthy 27 9 9 0.5 3.32 25 25
Guillermo Moscoso 27 8 10 0.444 3.38 23 21
Rich Harden 29 4 4 0.5 5.12 15 15
Brett Anderson* 23 3 6 0.333 4 13 13
Josh Outman* 26 3 5 0.375 3.7 13 9
Tyson Ross 24 3 3 0.5 2.75 9 6
Graham Godfrey 26 1 2 0.333 3.96 5 4
Dallas Braden* 27 1 1 0.5 3 3 3

Here’s what happened to each of these guys (good link for trade details from baseball-reference.com here; this link shows the latest trade between Oakland and all other teams but quickly shows all these 2011 deals listed here):

  • Cahill traded to Arizona
  • Gonzalez traded to Washington
  • Moscoso traded to Colorado
  • Harden left via free agency, and as far as I can tell he remains unsigned.
  • Outman traded (with Moscoso) to Colorado.
  • Anderson had Tommy John surgery in June of 2011 and is in the minors rehabbing now.
  • Braden had shoulder surgery in April of 2011 and has not pitched since.

They traded or released the starters who made nearly 80% of their starts in 2011.  That leaves 3 guys who had any MLB starts last year: Brandon McCarthy, Tyson Ross and Graham Godfrey, a total of 35 starts.  To add insult to injury, Oakland traded their 2011 closer Andrew Bailey to Boston last December.

So, what does the Oakland rotation look like this year?  Here’s the same data through August 1st:

Name Age W L W-L% ERA G GS
Tommy Milone* 25 9 8 0.529 3.68 21 21
Bartolo Colon 39 7 8 0.467 3.78 20 20
Jarrod Parker 23 7 5 0.583 3.44 18 18
Brandon McCarthy 28 6 3 0.667 2.54 12 12
Travis Blackley* 29 3 3 0.5 3.15 14 10
Tyson Ross 25 2 8 0.2 6.35 12 12
A.J. Griffin 24 3 0 1 2.51 7 7
Graham Godfrey 27 0 4 0 6.43 5 4

So, where’d all these guys come from?

  • Milone: acquired from Washington in the Gonzalez Deal
  • Colon: bottom-of-the-barrel FA signing (1yr/$2M).
  • Parker: acquired from Arizona in the Cahill deal.
  • McCarthy; signed a 1yr/$4.275M FA deal after accepting arbitration from the team after last year
  • Blackley: selected OFF WAIVERS from San Francisco earlier this year
  • Ross: homegrown: a 2nd round pick in 2008
  • Griffen: also homegrown; he was a 13th round draft pick by Oakland in 2010.
  • Godfrey: acquired from Toronto in the 2007 Scutaro deal

Ross and Godfrey got demoted after poor performance, and McCarthy currently sits on the DL, giving Oakland this current rotation: Colon, Blackley, Griffen, Milone, Parker.  All 5 guys with ERAs under 3.78 and all with ERA+ of at least 104 and mostly greater than that.  And, when McCarthy comes back he’s essentially the best pitcher of any of them.  AND, this is all being done with out Dalles Braden and Brett Anderson, two guys who were core components of the 2010 rotation and who would clearly be in the 2012 rotation if not for injury.  AND, Oakland just announced today they’re promoting one of their best starter prospects in Dan Straily for a spot start this coming friday.

Wow.

And, when Braden, Anderson and McCarthy come back, that gives Oakland a major surplus of pitching that can be flipped in the coming off-season for even more prospects and hitting (much as they did this past off-season).

Combine this pitching revolution with the schrewd Yoenis Cespedes signing (who immediately became the highest paid player on the team), the explosion of Josh Reddick (acquired in the Andrew Bailey deal from Boston), unexpected output from DH/FA signee (and ex-Nat) Jonny Gomes and a solid season from Seth Smith (acquired in the Moscoso deal) and you’ve got a team that is producing enough to win.  They’re not an offensive juggernaut (mostly ranked 12th-13th in the 14-team AL in the major offensive categories) but you don’t need to score 8 runs a game when you have a staff ERA of 3.47.

As much as Moneyball critics will hate to hear it, I think Billy Beane is your easy choice for AL Executive of the year right now.

Nats Franchise Trade history; biggest, best, worst

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Was getting Gonzalez the "biggest" trade the franchise has ever made? Photo Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images via nydailynews.com

In response to a topic that came up in the comments section, I’ll do a 3-part series reviewing the biggest/best/worst moves by the franchise since arriving here in Washington.  We’ll differentiate between Jim Bowden and Mike Rizzo moves as we go through.  We’ll talk about trades, then draft picks, then FA signings.

First up: Trades.

The Nats have made dozens of trades since 2005, and by my records have traded with every team in the league save for three: Baltimore, Cleveland and the Los Angeles Angels.  In fact, the franchise has not done business with Baltimore in any capacity since the year 2000, a testament perhaps to the difficulties of dealing with Peter Angelos even before the team moved to Washington.  Now post-relocation, the conventional wisdom is that the two teams would never do business on the off-chance that one team ended up “winning” a trade with the other.

I’ll divide this post into into 3 sections: the “biggest” deal (not the most players, but the biggest impact/most news worthy), the “best” deal(s) and the “worst” deals.  For Rizzo, we’ll add a 4th category for “Too Early to Tell,” since the big off-season trade of last season probably won’t shake it self out for a few more years.

Jim Bowden Tenure: Nov 2004 – Mar 2009

Biggest Trades

  • 2005: Soriano deal
  • 2006: Kearns/Lopez deal
  • 2007: Milledge deal
  • 2008: Willingham/Olsen deal

The Alfonso Soriano move made all sorts of news; he wouldn’t move to LF, threatened not to play at all, then ended up putting in a 40/40 season in a pitcher’s ballpark and then resulted a host of national news as the team debated whether to trade him, re-sign him or let him go.  Bowden held firm on his demands in the trade market, never traded him and landed two compensatory draft picks (which the Nats turned into Jordan Zimmermann and Josh Smoker).

The Kearns/Lopez deal, in the end, was more about moving deck chairs than making progress for either team.  Bowden was obsessed with players that he knew from his Cincinnati days, and showed a proclivity to trade for or acquire them throughout his tenure here, and this deal was just the biggest example.  The only player in the deal who still remains with his original team is Bill Bray, and most of the players in the deal have become large disappointments for their careers or are out of baseball.  The Reds accused Bowden publically of selling them damaged goods (Gary Majewski got injured about 5 minutes after the trade was completed) and Kearns/Lopez never really lived up to anything close to their potential.

We’ll talk about the other two deals below.

Best Trades

  • 2007: Getting Tyler Clippard
  • 2009: Getting Michael Morse
  • 2008: Getting Willingham/Olsen

Bowden gets major credit for obtaining two core members of the current Nationals squad for almost nothing.  He obtained Tyler Clippard from the Yankees for Jonathan Albaladejo in a like-for-like trade of under-performing minor league relievers.  Of course we all know what’s happeend since; Clippard has become a super-star setup man, the 2011 league leader in holds.   Getting Michael Morse in return for sending the feeble Ryan Langerhans to Seattle in what most thought was a mercy trade at the time (i.e., trying to send good-guy Langerhans to a team that would actually play him) seems like one of the steals of the decade.  Nobody thought Morse had a fraction of the potential he’s now shown to have.

I include getting Josh Willingham and Scott Olsen as a win based on who we gave up: PJ Dean, Emilio Bonifacio and Jake Smolinski.  I’ve always had a soft spot for Willingham and thought his offense potential was the key to this deal; we got two major leaguers for two dead-end minor leaguers plus a backup infielder.  Luckily for the Nats, Florida was always ready to give up arbitration candidates to save a buck.

Worst Trades

  • 2007: Milledge deal

Honestly, I had a hard time really saying that I thought one of Bowden’s trades was egregiously bad.  Most of his deals (outside the deals mentioned above as biggest or best) were minor leaguer swaps or dumping veterans at the trade deadline.  Even the acquisition of Elijah Dukes wasn’t really that “bad” based on who we gave up (Glenn Gibson, who was released a couple years later by Tampa Bay and ended up back with us anyway).

However, the acquisition of Lastings Milledge for Ryan Church and Brian Schneider might be the one trade that I’d most quibble with.  Bowden showed his obsession with “toolsy” and “potential” players in this deal, acquiring the malcontent Milledge and giving the Mets two immediate starters.  At the time I certainly defended the deal; neither Church or Schneider were slated to be starters for the 2008 Nats so you could argue that we got a plus prospect for two backups.  I know I certainly argued that point.  Church seemed to be a brooding platoon outfielder who wouldn’t be happy unless he was starting and Schneider had lost his starting spot to Jesus Flores and was a relatively weak hitter.

As it has worked out Church was a very productive player for New York, Flores got hurt and left the team in a very serious catcher-dearth position, and Milledge turned out to be not nearly the talent that we thought we were getting.  By the time we flipped him to Pittsburgh in 2009 he was barely hitting his weight in AAA and was completely out of the picture for this team.

Mike Rizzo Tenure: Mar 2009 – present

Biggest Trades

  • 2011: Gio Gonzalez deal

  • 2009: Morgan/Burnett deal

  • 2010: Ramos for Capps deal

  • 2011: Henry Rodriguez/Willingham deal

  • 2011: Gorzelanny deal

You have to hand it to Mike Rizzo; he’s not been afraid to make deals.  In his 3 year tenure he’s made 5 significant deals that have vastly changed the way this team is constructed.  Two of those deals (Morgan/Burnett and the Willingham deals) were mostly about cleaning up the roster to get it more in his image of pro-clubhouse guys and pro-defense.  Trading away Milledge and Willingham succeeded in moving the team towards these goals.  The Gorzelanny and Gonzalez trades were about acquiring power arms to shore up the rotation, another tenant of Rizzo-constructed teams.

Best Trades

  • 2010: getting Wilson Ramos

Clearly Rizzo’s best move was stealing Wilson Ramos for a closer (Matt Capps) that we had ample candidates for internally.  The Twins panicked post-Joe Nathan injury and overloaded their bullpen with closer candidates.  Meanwhile Rizzo turned an astute FA signing (a minor league signing that turned into an All Star) into an even more astute trade by getting a nearly MLB-ready catcher in return for a guy who the team wouldn’t be re-signing anyway.  Great move.

Worst Trades

  • 2011: Gomes for Rhinehart/Manno
  • 2009: Bruney for ptbnl (eventually rule5 top pick Jamie Hoffman)

Most readers here loved Christopher Manno and the promise he was showing in A-ball.  Most were also aghast to see Manno go the other way to Cincinnati for a 4th outfielder Jonny Gomes.  At the time, the argument was that Davey Johnson wanted a bat off the bench and that the team needed some OF depth.  What really happened was that Gomes hit his way out of his type-B arbitration status and played so poorly the 2nd half of 2011 that the team couldn’t dare offer him arbitration to get a compensatory draft pick.  So we traded two decent prospects for a half season of awful production.  Not a good move.

Even worse, trading anything to acquire Brian Bruney.  The team acquired Bruney, promptly argued against him and beat him in arbitration, and then (unsurprisingly) Bruney vastly underperformed until being flat out released a few months into the 2010 season.  For me this is a lesson in what not to do with your arbitration eligible players.  It wasn’t so much what we gave up (the first pick in the rule-5 draft *could* have been used to acquire someone of value), it was what we got in return.

Too Early to Tell Trades

  • 2011: Gio Gonzalez deal

Pro-prospect pundits (anyone at Baseball Prospectus, Keith Law, etc) will already tell you that the Nats vastly overpaid for Gio Gonzalez.  That’s because they value the potential of prospects more than the proven commodity of the major league player.  But the fact is this; you KNOW what you’re getting in Gonzalez but you have no idea how a low-A prospect will play out.  The Nats rolled the dice that AJ Cole isn’t going to turn into the next incarnation of Justin Verlander and that Brad Peacock‘s promise will peak as a middle reliever.  The only way to tell how this trade turns out is to track the progress of those players we gave up versus what Gonzalez does for this team over the next 3-4 years.

Thoughts?  Any trades out there that stick in your minds that you thought should be mentioned?

Nationals off-season todo-list: 2011 edition

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Signing Wang took care of one of our most important off-season tasks. Photo via Washington Nationals

(I’ve had this in draft form for weeks; might as well publish it now that the FA period has started).

Before we get too deep into the off-season, I thought it’d be good to do a level set of what exactly this team is in the market for.  Last year’s to-do list included a Center Fielder (Ankiel), a Right Fielder (Werth), a First baseman (LaRoche), a couple of Utility Infielders (Cora, Hairston), some veteran Starting Pitching (Gorzelanny), and some bullpen help (Coffey, Ramirez).

Based on how the team has played down the stretch and watching some players rise and fade in September, here’s what I think the team’s off-season to-do list may look like.

First, lets start with what we know we do NOT need.  Here’s players that seemingly have spots already locked up for 2012:

  • C: With Pudge leaving, Ramos and Flores seem set to be the 2 catchers for a while here.  Flores is healthy but clearly inferior to Ramos right now both defensively and at the plate.  We just added Solano and Norris for catcher cover in case someone gets hurt.
  • 1B: LaRoche should be back healthy, and Morse has shown he clearly can play first if not, though that would lead to a hole in left field.
  • 2B: Should be ably filled by Espinosa, or Lombardozzi if we move Espinosa to short (see next).
  • SS: Desmond‘s one of the lowest qualifying OPS hitters in the league, but the team management loves him.  I’m guessing he’s given one more season.  Rizzo has already stated he’s not after Jose Reyes, and the Marlins seem set to over-pay him.
  • 3B: Zimmerman isn’t going anywhere, despite some blogger’s statements that he should be moved.
  • LF: We’re assuming that Morse is the starter in left.
  • RF: As with Zimmerman, Werth is set to play right field well into the next presidency.
  • SPs: Strasburg, Zimmermann, and Lannan seem locks to be in the rotation.  We re-signed Wang for the #4 rotation spot.  There’s some talk here and there about non-tendering Lannan; he’s a solid mid-rotation guy who is still under arbitration control who is underrated by most people outside of this area, and I believe it would be a mistake to cut him loose at this stage.
  • Setup/Closer: Clippard and Storen managed to survive silly trade rumors this season and should be the 8th/9th inning tandem for at least 2012.
  • Loogy: Burnett: He struggled at times in 2011. He’s also under contract for 2012 with guaranteed money.  So he’s going to be back.  He’s more than a loogy though, so we’ll look for the team to replace Slaten.
  • Middle Relief: Henry Rodriguez and Ryan Mattheus look to return in their middle relief roles.  Kimball will be on the 60-day DL until he’s proven to have regained his fastball.

That’s actually a pretty large chunk of our planned 25-man roster (17 of the 25 are already accounted for, for the most part).

So, what do we need?  In rough priority order:

  • Center Field: again, we go into an off season with questions about center field.  Ankiel had a decent September but overall his 2011 offense was poorl.  He does fit Rizzo’s defensive mind, but is he the answer?  Perhaps this is the off-season Rizzo finally gets Upton or Span or someone of that ilk.  Or perhaps we re-sign Ankiel to a holding deal, waiting for wunder-kid Bryce Harper to come up and take over.  Or, perhaps the lineups that Johnson has been fielding in September featuring Morse in LF, Werth in CF and Nix in RF are telling enough that we can “get by” without investing in a center fielder for 2012.  (I’ve got a very large CF-only post coming up, with lots more detail).
  • Right-handed middle relief: we may have to go digging for one-year FA Todd Coffey types again, because Kimball is on the DL til probably July and Carr was flat out released in September.  That’s it in terms of 40-man roster options for right handed relievers.  An internal option could be using Peacock as a 7th inning guy in 2012; he’s shown he can bring it 95-96 and perhaps even higher in short term situations.  The team doesn’t seem to trust either Balester or Stammen, meaning we need a one-year guy.
  • Utility guys: we used Hairston, Cora, and Bixler as backup infielders.  Hairston did a great job starting at 3B in Zimmerman’s absence; the other two were awful.  So we need a couple replacements.  Lombardozzi could fit in, but he’d be better served with a full season in AAA.  Bixler was waived and claimed, so we’re almost guaranteed to go hunting on the FA pile.
  • Backup Outfielder: Bernadina seems to have run out of chances with this team.  Corey Brown has been god-awful in AAA this year and was assigned off of our 40-man to the AAA team.  Nix and Gomes are FAs.  We can’t possibly offer Gomes arbitration and guarantee him a $2M salary, and Nix can’t hit lefties. In any case, we look like we may need a backup outfielder from somewhere.  Nix has been getting starts in RF (as mentioned above) down the stretch and certainly has enough power to feature 6th in a lineup.  Perhaps he’s worth another year.  The team was in preliminary talks on a 2012 contract with him but nothing official has been signed.
  • Loogy: we could use a one-out guy, assuming that we need a 2nd lefty to Burnett.  I’m guessing that Severino is not the answer, based on how little use he got in September.  Or maybe he is.  Certainly I’d prefer giving him a shot versus scraping the bottom of the reliever barrel again and finding another guy who performs as badly as Slaten.
  • Starting Pitcher: We re-signed our own FA Wang, and continue to be in the mix for more of a marquee name like Buehrle and Oswalt.  Do we need another starter?  Signing either of these two vets will probably indicate team flexibility to trade some of our younger starting pitching cache of Detwiler, Peacock, and Milone, but also may end up blocking a guy who could be just as good for a fraction of the price.
  • Long man: I’m guessing that we assign a long man from one of  Gorzelanny (most likely), Detwiler (somewhat likely), Balester and Stammen (less likely).  The team seems down on both the latter guys, who are probably destined for DFA when they run out of options.

So, thats a somewhat big todo list.  Some spots are clearly fill-able from within, but we’re still looking at a few acquisitions.

Nats FA Decisions…

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Is Wang the only FA we resign? Photo courtesy of Nats320 blog/Jeff Saffelle

With the announcement that all 8 of our eligible free agents filed as soon as the FA filing period opened (as reported by Adam Kilgore), its time to talk about what the team could or should do with each of the 8 players.

Here’s a quick table showing our 8 free agents, their latest contract and their pay for 2011.

Player Current or 2011 Contract 2011 Salary
Ankiel, Rick 1yr/$1.5M $1,500,000
Coffey, Todd 1yr/$1.35M $1,350,000
Cora, Alex 1yr/$900k $900,000
Gomes, Jonny 2yr/$2.55M (10-11) $1,750,000
Hernandez, Livan 1yr/$850K $850,000
Nix, Laynce 1yr/$700k $700,000
Rodriguez, Ivan 2 yr/$6M (10-11) $3,000,000
Wang, Chien-Ming 1 yr/$1M plus bonuses $1,000,000

So, what should the team do with these guys?  In order (alphabetically):

  • Rick Ankiel could be an interesting decision for this team.  His 2011 line was bad (.239/.296/.363), and he really wasn’t any better down the stretch than he was at the beginning of the season.  Ankiel tempts and entices you with periodic flashes of power but generally had really poor batting stats.  On the plus side, he’s a lefty in a Right-handed heavy lineup.  He also plays a fantastic Center Field (11.6 uzr/150 on the year in center) and has one of the best outfield arms in the game.  All this screams 4th outfielder at best, and Ankiel may struggle to match his $1.5M salary in 2012.  The Nats may view him as a decent 4th outfielder option, but may not be willing to guarantee him money.  I’m guessing he goes elsewhere looking for a starting job or a guaranteed major league contract.
  • Todd Coffey, by the end of the season, seemed to be a reliable right handed option out of the bullpen for this team.  He had a 3.62 era on the season and a decent whip of 1.2.  His splits on the year show a different story; he was lights out in May, god-awful in June and July before regaining his consistency in the end of the season.  For me, he’s a replace-able asset that should be available in spades on the FA market or from within the farm system.  I’m guessing the team rolls the dice on another one of the middle-relief right handers on the market.  Had Cole Kimball not gone down with injury, the question would be completely moot for 2012.
  • Alex Cora probably will find work on a minor league free agent deal somewhere for 2012; he has that “backup middle infielder” skill set that gives him a good shot of finding work in 2012 despite his horrible batting line in 2011 (a 51 ops+ hitting .224 in 156 ABs for the Nats).  For the Nats, we saw that up and coming prospect Steve Lombardozzi can play both 2nd and SS in a backup role in September and I’m guessing we use a combination of him and Brian Bixler off the bench in 2012 as cheaper alternatives to the FAs Cora and Jerry Hairston that the team used in 2011.
  • Jonny Gomes was acquired mid-season in a questionable trade that sent blocked 1B prospect Bill Rhinehart and blogger favorite Christopher Manno to the Reds.  At first glance the trade seemed to be about acquiring the compensation pick that Gomes would fetch (who at the time had type-B FA status).  After listening to management interviews though the trade seemed to be more about Johnson replacing the impotent Matt Stairs as his primary pinch hitter on the bench.  It became clear that Gomes’ skills not only were not worth the 1.75M contract he was on, but that he was barely worth a 25-man roster spot.  Gomes hit .204 for the team in the 2nd half, mostly as a right-handed power option off the bench and lost his type-B status by years end.  Despite clearly being a good teammate and free-spirit in the clubhouse, Gomes seems destined for a non-guaranteed contract elsewhere for 2012.
  • Livan Hernandez is hitting the FA market despite being our opening day starter and perhaps the most iconic player of this team’s tenure in Washington (with apologies to Ryan Zimmerman, of course).  Hernandez just finished a very up-and-down season, culminating with his being “shut-down” in September (ostensibly to allow rookies to play, but it may have also been somewhat of a mercy-killing after a slew of abysmal performances).  One need only look at his 2011 splits to see the problem with Livan: when he won he was very, very good (8-0, 1.26era in his 8 victories).  But when he lost he gave the offensively-meager team almost no chance to win (a 6.05 ERA in 13 losses) and was nearly as bad in his 8 no-decisions (5.93 era).  I’m sorry, but when you make 29 starts and have an era in the 6′s for 21 of them, you no longer merit a starting spot.  The team will swallow its heart and allow Livan to leave in free agency.  Just a couple months ago I was advocating to keep him, thinking he’d be a great backup plan and a good influence on the pitching corps.  Those points both may be true, but his declining performance coupled with his extraordinarily long warm-up routine pretty much precludes effective use out of the bullpen (where guys need to be warm in 10-15 pitches).  I’ll bet Livan finds a 5th starter job somewhere though; perhaps a sentimental return to Florida, a stop-gap one-year contract for the pitching-poor Mets, or elsewhere.
  • Laynce Nix was hot in Spring Training, and equally as hot in April and May, but tailed off badly and ended the year with a relatively MLB-average 103 ops+ and a slash line of .250/.299/.451.  He did have 16 homers in just 351 plate appearances, nearly a 30homer pace for a full season.  Of course, he’d never get a full season of At bats since his lefty-righty splits are so bad (.263 versus .111 … he was 3 for 27 against lefties this year with 4 walks).  What should the team do?  Nix could be a nice part of a platoon in right field with a good right-handed hitter like Chris Marrero … except we’re pretty sure that we’d take a severe dip in defense if we did such a thing.  Of course, nobody told the Cardinals they couldn’t put Lance Berkman in the outfield, and he promptly put in a -14.4 uzr/150 rating in right while bashing his way to a .547 slugging percentage and a 166 ops+.   Not that Nix is capable of Berkman’s level of productivity, but I still think he could have value as a 4th out-fielder/Davey Johnson prototypical power guy off the bench.  Not to mention a lefty on a team whose primary power guys (Werth, Zimmerman and Morse) are all righty.  I predict he resigns on a one year deal.
  • Ivan Rodriguez really wants to get to 3,000 hits, but man he looked old this year.  He only managed 27 hits in 124 at bats while ceding the starting job to the more capable Wilson Ramos.  Clearly Pudge isn’t coming back to the Nats; the better question is whether there’s a backup job for him anywhere in the league.  Probably so, but he’ll struggle to ever reach 3,000.
  • Chien-Ming Wang, as we already know, is negotiating to stay with the team.  And despite this blogger’s opinion that the team erred in setting up Wang’s 2011 contract, it seems like he probably is coming back.  I’m guessing he signs a moderate 2-year deal with somewhere in the range of $6-8M in guaranteed money.

So, in the end I’m guessing we re-sign one (and perhaps two) of our 8 free agents.  This means we’ll be somewhat active on the FA market looking to back-fill some of the positions these guys filled this year.   But not totally so; players coming back from injury and players rising from the minor league ranks are expected to take the place of players that we had to buy on the FA market in the past.  That’s great news for the team in general; lowered payroll and further proof that our farm system is developing real talent.

Consider re-upping for OF cover
Let him go. Replaceable commodity.
Non-type A/B FA: let him walk
Decline arbitration b/c he’d likely take it. Missed type-B status
Non-type A/B FA: let him walk despite his offer to be a pullpen guy
Consider re-signing for 2012
Non-type A/B FA: let him walk
Re-sign to a 2-year deal; seems healthy, get some ROI

Boswell Chat 10/24/11: My answers to his Baseball questions

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Hall of Famer? Yes. Best hitter ever? Almost. Photo: unknown via fantasyknuckleheads.com

Tom Boswell did his monday morning chat on 10/24 after a week off; in-between taking questions about the death of the Redskins, he managed to fit in some baseball and Nats questions.  Here’s how i’d have answered them…

Questions are edited for clarity and space, and I write my answer before reading Boswell’s.  We’ll only address baseball-related questions.

Q: Is there any question at this point that Pujols has joined Ted Williams and Babe as the three best hitters ever?

A: (side note; this is just AFTER Pujols‘ 3-homer performance in game 3 of the World Series, just the third time that’s ever been done).  If Pujols retired tomorrow here’s what his career lines would look like: 455 homers, .328 career hitter, 170 career OPS+, 3 MVPs and another six times in the top 5 candidates (four times coming in 2nd place).  That by itself is Hall of Fame worthy, no doubt.

By the time he retires?  I think clearly he’ll be mentioned as either the best or 2nd best right-handed hitter of all time (Willie Mays) and in a small grouping with Mays, Ruth and Williams as the best all-around hitters to ever play the game.  Absolutely.  I don’t think Pujols needed a 3-homer World Series game to cement that status either.    Boswell agrees, saying that Pujols joins the list just behind Ruth.

Q: Thanks for pointing out he did all his damage after the Cards were ahead in Game 3. We’re so quick to pronounce “best ever…” these days that it was good to get some context.

A:Very fair comment.  Pujols may have a 3-homer game, but it doesn’t nearly have the significance of Reggie Jackson‘s 3-homer game.  Also fair about pronouncing current stars “the best ever” without much context to those that came before.  Ruth’s domination of baseball and the country at large is so difficult to understate that we’ll never really be able to draw a modern comparison.  Boswell agrees, at least with the first part.

Q: Game 5 prediction (on the night of this chat)?

A: I’d pick Carpenter and the Cardinals.  I don’t trust CJ Wilson and don’t think he’s nearly the pitcher that Carpenter is.  I stick with my St Louis in 6 predictionBoswell goes against logic and says that Wilson will outpitch Carpenter.

Q: Do Lefties with high-heat give a significant advantage over right-handers with comparable velocities?

A: Absolutely.  Lefties are already rare enough and effective enough that any left hander with velocity in the upper 80s can usually find work in this league.  There’s a reason for that.  Add a few more mph and the cache of left-handers who can reach the mid 90s in this league can be counted on one hand.  They are special, and they are valuable.  Boswell doesn’t have a good explanation.

Q: With all the issues in Boston, should the Nats be calling the Red Sox to see who they might get in trade?

A: Sure.  But the Red Sox are prospect hounds and will want our farm system depth in return.  The guys they’re probably willing to trade are probably not going to be the guys we want anyway.  Boswell didn’t really answer the question but mentioned that Ellsbury will be a FA after 2013 … gee, only 3 years too late for the leadoff/CF that we need!

Q: Boswell had previously described baseball Managers as one of four types: Little Napoleon, the Peerless Leader, the Tall Tactician, and the Uncle Robbie.  Who are the best four examples of each type now in the modern game?

A: Interesting question.  Here’s a list of 2011′s baseball managers to choose from.  I’ll guess that Ozzie Guillen is the Napoleon manager, Tony LaRussa is the peerless leader, Ron Roenicke is the Tall Tactician, and Joe Madden is little Robbie.  Boswell’s answers werent’ close to mine; perhaps because its his manager classifications to begin with.

Q: Was the strike zone in game 4 inconsistent?

A: I thought it was; in the bottom of the first a strike 3 was called on Elvus Andrus that had been a ball earlier in the count.  And that wide zone continued throughout.  Its no wonder Holland looked so unhittable.  Boswell blames the TV strike tracker as being misleading.

Q: Could Albert Pujols go to the Rangers?

A: I guess he could … but that doesn’t seem to be the way he’s going.  He seems set to stay in the NL and stay in the mid-west.  I think he’s either staying in St Louis or going to save the Cubs.  Texas might as well light Michael Young on fire if they got Pujols and, for the 3rd or 4th season in a row, asked their franchise leader to move positions for incoming talent.  Boswell predicts Pujols stays in StLouis.

Q: Should Texas have pulled Holland after the 7th to retain him for the 7th game?

A: Nope.  Texas’ bullpen was shredded and its much more important to have a fresh Feliz than a starter on 2 days rest.  Of course, Washington USED Felix in a non-save situation to finish off the game.  Waste.  At least the rest of the bullpen got a night off.  Boswell disagrees with me, saying the team should have pulled him in the 7th to have him in game 7.

Q: What are the odds of the following players returning next season: Livan Hernandez, Ivan Rodriguez, Chien-Ming Wang, Jonny Gomes, Laynce Nix and Rick Ankiel?

A: Livan: 10%.  Ivan 1%.  Wang 80%.  Gomes: 25%.  Nix: 40%.  Ankiel 40%.  Boswell didn’t offer percentages, just saying that he thinks Wang will be back and that Johnson loves guys like Gomes and Nix on the bench.

Q: How long does it take Theo Epstein to turn around the Cubs?

A: I’ll say most of the 5 years he’s signed up for right now.  His starting pitching is a MESS, he’s got an aging, expensive team with big contracts and little wiggle room, and he’s got very little in terms of young players.  He needs all his bad contracts to age off, he needs to scout and draft better, and he needs time.  Boswell punted.

Ladson’s latest inbox; my answers to his questions 10/3/11

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MLB beat writer Bill Ladson doesn’t do mailbags that often, and when he does sometimes his answers are arguable.  Here’s his 10/3/11 edition.

Q: Do you think Davey Johnson will return as manager of the Nationals in 2012?

A: Yes; there’s no reason to replace him at this point and the team finished the year strong.  Ladson says he’s coming back.

Q: Are the Nationals thinking about moving Ian Desmond to center field, Danny Espinosa to shortstop and Stephen Lombardozzi to second? They always say that shortstops are the best skilled players. I think they will get the center fielder they need and improve their infield defense.

A: (the same question was posed in Boswell’s chat on monday): I don’t think Desmond helps the team in Center.  You need more production out of center fielders.  If Desmond can’t cut it for this team at Short, we’ll trade him and put Espinosa there.  Lombardozzi hasn’t shown me that he’s anything more than a Brian Bixler-utility guy, and the team may bide its time until Anthony Rendon is ready.  Ladson reminds us how much the team, and Johnson, likes Desmond.

Q: If the Nationals are looking for a center fielder, why not Carlos Beltran, even though he is aging and has been hurt in the past? He seems to fit all of the Nationals’ needs and is a good veteran presence for some of the young players.

A: Three primary reasons: Beltran isn’t a center fielder anymore.  He’s now a corner outfielder at this point in his career.  Plus I think you’d be overpaying for a contract year.  Lastly, he’s a type-A free agent, meaning it would cost us your #16 overall pick.  Ladson points out that he’s a corner outfielder.  He’d be for a one-year deal, that’s it.

Q: Stephen Strasburg, Jordan Zimmermann and John Lannan are locks for next year’s rotation. Considering Mike Rizzo would like to acquire a veteran starter, that would mean that Chien-Ming Wang (if re-signed), Ross Detwiler, Brad Peacock, Tom Milone and the other Minor Leaguers will all be fighting for one spot?

A: This seems like the current situation, yes.  However, I would not be surprised to see some of this starter depth flipped for a plus defender that we can put out in leadoff/center field.  Lannan could be trade bait (though I think we’d struggle to get enough for him to match how this team values him).  Wang is no sure thing to re-sign.  Detwiler pretty much HAS to make the team in 2012, so you may have your rotation already stated. Ladson just says generically that you can never have enough depth.

Q: I think Chris Marrero has proven in a short time that he is a Major League hitter. What role, if any, do you think he will have with the team next season?

A: Good question: he hit well, but doesn’t seem to have the power you need to man the First Base position in the majors.  Its tough to take a .300 hitter out of the lineup though.  Of course, he wasn’t a .300 hitter by the end of the season (final slash line: .248/.274/.294); a 5-game slide to end the season cost him 40 batting average points.  Marrero’s problem is a lack of power.  His slugging percentage wasn’t even at .300; it needs to be closer to .500 to play first base.  I think he starts 2012 back in AAA, waiting for an injury or slow Adam LaRoche start to get a call-back.  Ladson predicts trade chip or 2012 bench player.

Q: Since being sent to the bullpen, Tom Gorzelanny has done a pretty decent job. Do you see him back in the bullpen next year?

A: Yes you bet.  Gorzelanny’s bullpen split for 2011 was great; 2.42 era in 15 games.  He immediately takes over the primary long-man/spot-starter role and features as a middle reliever as needed.  He’s just the kind of guy that Davey Johnson likes in the pen.  Ladson agrees.

Q: You have reported that the Nats’ front office isn’t sold on outfielder Roger Bernadina. Please explain how Werth, Jonny Gomes and Brian Bixler are improvements.

A: At least Werth provides enough power and OBP to pull his OPS+ value up to nearly 100 in a season where he struggled mightily.  Bernadina doesn’t get on base nearly as much and doesn’t slug as much, meaning on average he’s about 20% less valuable a hitter than a MLB average player.  And he’s done this consistently across 1000+ at bats at the major league level.

Gomes is not an improvement; he was a mid-season bench augmentation who probably gets non-tendered in November.  Meanwhile, Bixler is not an apples-to-apples comparison.  Teams need utility infielders to provide cover at 2nd, short and 3rd.  Bernadina is a backup outfielder who can be replaced, and is replaceable.

I’m not sold on Bernadina either; he’s had plenty of chances and i doubt he’s part of the organization in 2012.  Ladson says he never said these three guys were replacements for Bernadina, but thinks that Gomes and Bixler are not with the team in 2012.

Q: Despite his inconsistency, Hernandez definitely shows that he wants to stay with the Nationals and brings so much to the clubhouse. He is even willing to become a long reliever. With that in mind, do you think he’ll be re-signed?

A: Good question.  Initially I thought he’d be resigned as a valuable and cheap middle relief/spot starter guy.  But now i’m worried there’s not going to be room for the guy in the bullpen.  I think our 2012 bullpen starts with Storen, Clippard, Burnett, Mattheus, HRodriguez, Gorzelanny as near locks.  The 7th guy could be a FA signing, or perhaps Peacock or even Stammen.  Livan needs too long to warm up to really be useful in the bullpen.  Sorry to say; i think we part ways.  Ladson says that Gorzelanny is the “swingman” and that the team won’t need two.  Fair enough.



Nats Rotation Cycle #33: good/bad/soso.

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31 and Done for Michael Morse, capping a fantastic breakout season. Photo Jacqueline Martin/AP via federalbaseball.com

This is it; the last rotation cycle of the season.  And it will be a shortened one; with just 3 games remaining.  But we do get one more start out of Stephen Strasburg as the team improbably has a chance to finish the season with a winning record.  To do it, they’ll have to go into the lion’s den and beat a Florida team that has had its number over the past few seasons.  Here’s the Nats record against Florida over the past few seasons:

  • 2011: 5-10 (not including last three games)
  • 2010: 5-13
  • 2009: 6-12
  • 2008: 3-14 (!)
  • 2007: 10-8
  • 2006: 7-11
  • 2005: 9-9

That’s a total (since moving to Washington) of 45-77.  This clearly needs to improve, especially since in 2011 the team beat or was even with the rest of their NL east opponents.

Good

  • Stephen Strasburg finished off the season with a bang on 9/28 (box/gamer), absolutely dominating the Marlins over 6 innings.  Final line: 1 hit, 0 runs, 2 walks and 10 Ks in just 79 pitches.  Wow.  How’s that for a teaser for 2012?

Mediocre/Inconclusive

  • Tommy Milone labored through 4 1/3 innings before getting an early hook on 9/26 (box/gamer), leaving it for later heroics (aka, Michael Morse’s 9th inning 3 run shot) to get the win.  The mediocre start caps off a pretty good September for Milone, who has certainly staked his claim for the 2012 rotation.
  • John Lannan‘s final 2011 start on 9/27 (box/gamer) wasn’t too bad; 6ip 3 hits and 3 walks resulting in 2 earned runs and a no-decision.  As has been typical in September he was yanked an inning too early (he sat on 89 pitches) and could have gone 7.  None the less, he caps off a great season, his best as a pro, and is clearly the #3 starter on this team going into 2012.

Starter Trends

2nd half
Milone    bad,soso,good,good,soso
Lannan    good,good,bad,soso,good,bad,bad,good,soso,good,bad,soso,soso,soso
Strasburg    great,soso,good,bad,great
Detwiler    soso,soso,good,good,bad,bad,soso,great,good
Wang        bad,bad,great,soso,soso,good,bad,soso,soso,soso,good,good
Peacock    good,good,great

Relievers of Note and other News

  • Mike Rizzo was quoted on 9/25 as saying the team was “an outfielder and a starting pitcher” away from real contention in 2012.  This could be an indicator of the off-season plans of the team (definitely a future blog post).  Adam Kilgore guesses the team could sacrifice some of its starter depth to obtain a center fielder (perhaps again going after someone like BJ Upton).
  • Bryce Harper will play all three OF positions in the AFL, and presumably next season, in preparation for positional flexibility once he arrives in the majors.  This makes sense to me; he’s athletic enough to play some center and has a big enough arm to play right.  Meanwhile Jayson Werth is in the same boat.  Only Michael Morse has positional inflexibility.
  • Stephen Strasburg probably will have a similar 160ip limit in 2012 that Jordan Zimmermann had this year, per various national reports.  What may be interesting is this; if this team, which has already won 78 games and surpassed most people’s predictions of between 72 and 75 wins, continues its improvement into 2012, they very well may be in the thick of the wild card race right at the time when Strasburg is set to shut down.  Would the team shelve him for a month to save innings?
  • With the 9/28/11 victory, the team officially dropped to the 16th draft pick in the first round (here’s your Reverse Standings).  Adam Kilgore commented on this same topic here.  This officially means the team had an unprotected first round draft pick for the first time since the team moved here.  This automatically and drastically changes the nature of our off season FA plans.  Knowing we have to give up the 16th overall pick (even if its a weaker draft) certainly will give pause to the draft-pick coveting front office.  Is CJ Wilson worth losing this pick?
  • Hey, here’s a shock; Doug Slaten blew another game for the Nats on 9/27  This time it was the 2nd to last game, giving up a walk-off homer to a lefty who nobody’s ever heard of to lose the game.  I don’t get it; why was Slaten even in the game?  Here’s his game-log for 2011; since returning from the DL he has had exactly ONE “successful” outing (a one-pitch, one out appearance against Houston).  Every other time he’s given up hits, walked the guy he was brought in to face, or otherwise disappointed.  Here’s hoping the team has learned all they need to learn about him and gives him his walking papers as soon as the season is over.
  • The team and Laynce Nix have “exchanged salary figures” for 2012.  Interesting; if the team locks up Nix for 2012, suddenly there’s one less outfield position available for the slew of guys potentially in the mix.  That most likely means the end of Jonny Gomes tenure here (one that probably was guaranteed by his poor batting average anyway).  The problem is that we likely won’t get the benefit of Gomes’ compensation pick now; he probably would accept an arbitration offering, sticking the team with the player for 2012 and locking up two backup outfielder positions.  Nix had a pretty good year, mostly working in a platoon situation against RHPs, and has some positional flexibilty to play LF, RF and 1B.  He’s also played CF in the past, though he seems too bulky to really be a Rizzo-preferred defender there now.

Now that the season is over, I’ll do a wrap-up of the MLB pitching similar to the other levels, and follow that up with projected 2012 positions throughout the entire system.

The return of the prodigal son: Strasburg re-debut thoughts.

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Nats-ville holds its breath for Strasburg's return. Photo allansgraphics.com via free-extras.com

All eyes were on big #37 tonight 9/6 (box/gamer), with Stephen Strasburg making his comeback.  I’ll be the 1000th opinion you will read about his return, but here’s what I thought of his return.

Final line: 5ip, 2hits, zero walks and four strikeouts.  56 pitches, 40 for strikes through 5 complete innings.  He left with a 3-0 lead but got a no-decision when his bullpen conspired to blow the lead.

Strasburg featured mostly 2- and 4-seam fastballs on the night, mixing in a handful of curveballs and a few well timed change-ups.  He sat mostly in the 96-97 range (average on the night was exactly 96.68) on his 4-seamer but (amazingly) humped his 2-seamer up to the 97 range as well (click here for his Pitch f/x data).  A 2-seam running fastball at 97mph is almost unfair to hitters, and if he can continue getting that kind of pace on a ball that moves so much that catchers have a hard time catching it, that’s bad news for the league.  It didn’t seem to me he really was commanding the curve (he only threw 3 of 7 for strikes), and he didn’t throw the change-up nearly as much as in 2010 (only five change-ups on the night).  This approach was perhaps because of who was calling the game; Ivan Rodriguez called lots of change-ups while Wilson Ramos seemed content to call a more conventional fastball-heavy game.  I’m guessing the coaching staff gave him some edicts about not abusing Strasburg’s arm with a bunch of circle-changes his first game back.  Personally I think it was over-use of the change-up that led to his arm injury, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see him develop something less stressful on his arm at some point to use as a change of pace pitch.

Strasburg’s mechanics seemed a bit more reserved, a bit stiffer perhaps than last year.  To me, he wasn’t efforting as much into each pitch as we have seen.  Perhaps this goes along with the same game-plan that Jordan Zimmermann has been employing; instead of running up your pitch count to get a bunch of Ks, try to pitch to contact and get hitters to go after your stuff earlier in the count.  Its better to go 7 or 8 innings on 100 pitches with 6 Ks than to be sitting at 100 pitches after 6 with 10 Ks.  You have a better chance of guaranteeing the win and saving the bullpen.

The Dodgers did their part in extending his planned outing from 4ip to 5 (albeit with a 60 pitch limit) by going up hacking.  They probably figured that Strasburg would be grooving 4-seamers to start everyone off with a routine fastball … and they were mostly right.  First pitch swinging continued into the 2nd pass through the lineup, to the point where I was wondering why Ramos wasn’t mixing up the pitch calling.  No matter; the Dodger hitters more or less couldn’t catch up to his fastball.  The two hits he allowed consisted of a game-leading off double on a jammed blooper over the shortstop’s head, and a grounder up the middle that Ian Desmond really should have gotten (it was a soft hit ruling, in my opinion).  Only one hitter really put good wood on anything Strasburg threw; James Loney lined a grooved fastball to right, but right at Jonny Gomes.

Perhaps the most impressive at bat of the night was the 2nd time MVP candidate Matt Kemp faced Strasburg.  He started Kemp off with a 2-seamer that rode the inside corner for strike one, then he blew a 98 mph 4-seamer at the knees over the outside part of the plate for strike 2.  An absolute unhittable ball.  The announcers thought he’d go curve; I knew he’d go change.  He threw an absolute gem of a change up, a diving 90mph 0-2 change up that Kemp waved at for the best 3-pitch combo he threw all night.

The 2-seamer was moving, his curve seemed to be a bit loopy and out of control.  His vaunted circle change wasn’t diving back as much as we’ve seen; he seemed to be gripping it with more of a palm-ball grip instead of the circle change grip and the changeup was coming in straighter than his change last year.  But, it was still coming in and diving down well enough to elude the batters waving at it.

Summary; fantastic outing, as much as we could have hoped for.

Written by Todd Boss

September 7th, 2011 at 9:09 am