Nationals Arm Race

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

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Qualifying Offer analysis: Nats and Leaguewide


Desmond gets a Q.O. Photo Drew Kinback/

Desmond gets a QO. Photo Drew Kinback/

Qualifying Offer (QO) extension time has come and past, and a record 20 players received the 15.8M one-year contract tender for 2016.

The Nationals, as has been typical, went the conservative route and only gave a QO to the two players they expect to reach significant, multi-year deals.  Jordan Zimmermann and Ian Desmond.  They opted not to extend offers to their other 7 free agents, nor to the two guys who a  year ago you would have thought to be locks to get one (Doug Fister and Denard Span).

(coincidentally: am I the only one who thinks that the Nats actually have 9 free agents on their end-of-year 40-man roster?   Zimmermann, Desmond, Span, Fister, Uggla, McLouth, Janssen, Thornton and Johnson.  Why is it that all the other stories I read only list the first 8?  Is Reed Johnson actually not a FA?  Look at the Nats XLS on Cots‘; Johnson is absolutely listed as a FA, as are 6 others, plus the two with options that we’ve already declined.  Am I wrong?)

Anyway.  I’m on record as saying that the Nats should have extended 3 QOs to include Span.  Yet not for the first time, the team has opted not to offer a QO to a guy who clearly would have declined it.  And this will be the third time they have made a crucial mistake as an organization and gave away a high draft pick needlessly.  Edwin Jackson was always going to sign a multi-year deal and the Nats inexplicably failed to give him one.  Same with Adam LaRoche, who clearly still had a market for his services and would have garnered another pick.

I’m not sure exactly what Scott Boras seems to “have” on the Lerners … but not for the first time they’ve cut him a break and done him and his clients an inexplicable favor.  So, what exactly do the Nats get out of this?  Span should send the team management a fruit basket for not destroying his FA market this coming off-season.  I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Span didn’t hire Scott Boras so that he could hand over a commission check on a gift of a $15.8M one year deal.  Span was never going to accept that QO.  Just dumb.  But hey, it isn’t exactly the first dumb thing this front office/ownership group has done this off season…

So, of the 20 players who did get a QO … the annual question remains.  Will someone actually take it this year?  Just as a reminder, here’s the entire list of QO-offered players since the system began, with their eventual contract offer and a judgement of whether or not the QO “hurt” their next contract.  Eight in 2012, 13 in 2013, and 12 after last season.  That’s 33 total players and so far NOT ONE has signed the deal.  I’m still not entirely convinced that there’s not a Player’s Union-wide conspiracy going on where they decline the QOs en masse because they don’t agree with it for some reason.  Certainly it seems like the next CBA will eliminate it, since it has clearly done little except harm the market for FAs.

Here’s a quick opinion on the 20 guys who got QOs and what I think may happen (AAV = Average Annual Value on their contract):

  • Easily surpass AAV of $15.8M and get monster deals: Greinke, Heyward, Zimmermann, Upton, Gordon: All of these guys are marquee free agents, are the kind of guys you give up a pick to sign gladly, and will sign for significant money well eclipsing the QO AAV or guaranteeing a significant amount of money (like, in the $80M+ range).
  • Will sign multi-year deals with significant money, even if AAV is “only” at or near $15.8M: Desmond, Davis, Iwakuma, Gallardo, Samardzija: I can see Desmond doing 4/$60 or something like that in New  York, I can see the two pitchers getting nice deals in the 3/$45 range and I can see Davis banking a short high AAV deal.  For me, even Samardzija’s 2015 decline won’t scare off some teams, especially teams out west in pitcher’s parks and especially since he could be a nice 2nd-tier deal of an arm once you get past the significant FA pitchers.
  • Might not get $15.8M AAV, but will sign for at least 2/$25M or 3/$40M or something: Lackey, Chen, Kendrick, Weiters, Anderson: Most of these guys probably take less AAV but guarantee more total cash, like several guys did last off-season.  I’ll bet some of these guys re-sign with their current teams too (Anderson, maybe Kendrick, maybe Lackey too).  The draft pick compensation likely scares off some teams here, so their market will be limited, but if a team has a protected first pick they might be ok giving up a second rounder for these guys.  Or, a team like Washington, which will get two supp-1st picks, may be willing to give up its 1st rounder to just “drop down” 10-15 slots to sign these guys.

So that leaves more than a few guys who might be crazy not to sign the offer sheet:

  • Rasmus: made just $8M this year; does anyone really think he’s getting significantly more in FA on an AAV basis?  Plus, who is going to give up a 1st or even a 2nd round pick to sign him?  And he hit just .238 in a hitter’s park.  This seems like a “dare” move from the Houston front office, known in the industry to be just a bit too clever for their own good sometimes.  As in, “I dare you to break with your union and take this deal.”  If there really is some un-spoken agreement among players to never take a QO, he’s a great test case.
  • Fowler: Similar situation to Rasmus ($9.5M this year): he’s not the kind of guy you commit significant money to, is he?  He does have value in a very small CF market, so perhaps you  make the argument he belongs in the same conversation as Lackey or Kendrick.
  • Murphy: made just $8M this year and hit half as many homers in the post season as he had all year.  So clearly he made himself some cash with his post-season exploits .. but enough to double his pay on an AAV basis?  A shrewd move from the NY front office, pressing the issue here with Murphy.
  • Kennedy: $9.8M this year but has been awful.  Might not even be a 5th starter, and has Scott Boras as an agent.  Who’s giving up a 1st rounder to make him their 5th starter?  Who’s signing him to a long term deal?  Without the QO stigma, I could have seen him signing a 1yr/$8M deal but not much else.  How can he possibly not take this offer, a gift of a pillow contract to re-gain some value for next off-season?  One reason: his agent.  Is Kennedy going to be the next Stephen Drew or Kendrys Morales, who gets talked into hitting the open market by his aggressive agent only to find himself sitting until next year’s draft passes since nobody’s willing to give up a high round pick to sign him?
  • Estrada: he made just $3.9M in 2015 and has made just $10m TOTAL in his career, yet got offered $15.8M for next season after a breakout  year in Toronto.  Uh, why wouldn’t he take this QO?  He’s on the wrong side of 30, would more than double his CAREER earnings with one stroke of the pen, and if he repeats his performance could get a 3-year deal taking him past age 35 to lock up his financial future.  This is easily the craziest QO we’ve seen yet and will be the biggest test of the system.

It just seems to me that this last group of players are either going to re-sign with their own team or are going to get really screwed in the open market.  Look at that last group of 5 players and tell me who’s giving up a 1st round pick to sign them?

Good further reading on the same topic:


Arizona management: Get off my Lawn!


Miley must be happy to get out of Arizona.  Photo via

Miley must be happy to get out of Arizona. Photo via

A couple of years ago, the Arizona Diamondbacks curiously traded their #1 draft pick from the previous year (Trevor Bauer) for a package of players that centered on the underwhelming Didi GregoriusI posted about the Bauer trade when it happened (Dec 2012) and, frankly, laid the blame at the kid’s feet for working his way out of town.

But since then, we’ve had other incidents involving Arizona players on their way out the door.  To wit:

  • In Jan 2013, the team moved its star Justin Upton for (again) a questionable return (centered on Martin Prado), and the litany of history between the player and the team was documented in the trade recap here via  This Deadspin link also references Ken Rosenthal‘s reporting, which detailed the team’s issues with Upton: he didn’t play with enough “intensity.”
  • This past July, the team traded starter Brandon McCarthy to the Yankees for a middling Vidal Nuno.  McCarthy’s splits before/after the trade?   He was 3-10 with a 5.01 ERA before the move, 7-5 with a 2.89 ERA after.  And that’s moving to the AL East.  The apparent reason?  Arizona was actively discouraging him from using his effective cut-fastball.

Why do I bring this up?  Because, in the wake of the off-season Wade Miley trade to Boston … guess what?  Nick Piecoro of the Arizona Republic reported that Miley and the Arizona training staff clashed in the past, and he thinks it led to his out-ster from the team.

And then there’s stuff like this: Arizona management forced some fans sitting behind home plate to change their clothes in April of 2013 … and apparently just did it again.

Arizona finished 64-98 last season, worst in the majors.  Its no wonder they’re so bad right now, given the rate at which they’ve traded young, good, controllable assets for mediocre and expensive ones.  They canned their entire coaching staff last off-season (aka, the “King of Grit” Kirk Gibson) and their GM (Kevin Towers) as a result, hiring Tony La Russa as their senior-most baseball executive and then Dave Stewart as their rookie GM.  Perhaps the hope is that this new regime will stop openly clashing with its players and will value production on the field versus compliance in the clubhouse.

Of course, Stewart didn’t help his case by plainly stating ignorance of analytics to the press this past off-season.  And the new regime’s moves this past off-season didn’t exactly inspire confidence: their major move being the $68.5M signing of Cuban Yasmany Tomas, who apparently can’t actually play 3B and may start in the minors.  And its hard to look at any of the slew of trades they made and say “wow, that was a winner move.”  You almost have to wonder how they’re going to screw up the #1 pick in the 2015 draft this coming June.

All the better for the rest of the NL West, which features two teams with very clear playoff intentions (LA and SD) along with a third (SF) who has only won three World Series in the last five years.

post-posting update: Arizona has defended its forced uniform changing.  Actually they provided an explanation .. it was just someone playing around.  Sure.

another post-posting update: Stewart essentially “sold” two players to Atlanta, including their 2014 1st rounder Touki Toussaint so as to rid themselves of Bronson Arroyo‘s deal.  When questioned about the deal, Stewart was quoted as doubting Toussant’s velocity readings, saying that “Toussant didn’t throw 96.”  And, as noted here, Stewart is right: Tousannt doesn’t throw 96; he throws 98.  Toussant was well known to be mid-90s as a 16 year old two years prior to his drafting out of high school.  And now Toussant is doing things like this: throwing 6 no-hit innings in low-A for his new team Atlanta.  Thanks Dave!

Yet another post-posting update: the organization left $1.7M on the table in the 2015 draft process, a ridiculously large amount of money, enough to buy at least 4 separate 3rd-4th round talents later in the draft.  Just an amazing example of incompetence.

And there’s more!  Arizona was the sole team in baseball that didn’t make move at the Trade deadline in 2015, despite clearly being out of the NL West and despite having several players approaching free agency who would have made perfect sense to trade.  Their main rumored interest was in Aroldis Chapman (a high-priced closer on a rebuilding team?)  And, he threw the SD GM under the bus for his trade request … which was apparently mentioned in gest.

2014 playoff team payroll analysis


An annual post done at the end of each season.  Here’s 2013’s version.

Money can’t buy me love.  And, in baseball, more and more we’re seeing that Money also can’t buy playoff spots.  Of the ten teams that made the 2014 MLB playoffs, only half of them were among the top 10 spenders in terms of opening day payroll (payroll numbers courtesy of  Here’s the full list:

Team SpotRac Opening Day Payroll SpotRac Opening Day Rank Final W/L W/L Rank Playoff Status Payroll/Record Delta
Los Angeles Dodgers $232,899,930 1 94-68 4 NL West -3
New York Yankees $194,460,757 2 84-78 13 -11
Philadelphia Phillies $177,729,966 3 73-89 22 -19
Detroit Tigers $163,285,500 4 90-72 5 AL Central -1
Boston Red Sox $155,912,125 5 71-91 25 -20
San Francisco Giants $148,589,474 6 88-74 8 NL WC -2
Los Angeles Angels $146,647,750 7 98-64 1 AL West 6
Washington Nationals $133,319,078 8 96-66 2 NL East 6
Toronto Blue Jays $133,070,557 9 83-79 14 -5
Texas Rangers $131,657,214 10 67-95 28 -18
St. Louis Cardinals $112,768,000 11 90-72 5 NL Central 6
Atlanta Braves $112,658,731 12 79-83 16 -4
Arizona Diamondbacks $112,298,833 13 64-98 30 -17
Cincinnati Reds $111,694,938 14 76-86 21 -7
Baltimore Orioles $104,045,833 15 96-66 2 AL East 13
Milwaukee Brewers $103,397,967 16 82-80 15 1
New York Mets $96,554,970 17 79-83 16 1
Colorado Rockies $94,079,071 18 66-96 29 -11
Seattle Mariners $91,739,642 19 87-75 11 8
Kansas City Royals $90,837,000 20 89-73 7 AL WC 13
San Diego Padres $90,361,600 21 77-85 18 3
Chicago White Sox $89,792,166 22 73-89 22 0
Chicago Cubs $89,046,356 23 73-89 22 1
Minnesota Twins $85,465,000 24 70-92 26 -2
Cleveland Indians $84,809,134 25 85-77 12 13
Oakland Athletics $80,360,900 26 88-74 8 AL WC 18
Tampa Bay Rays $76,746,916 27 77-85 18 9
Pittsburgh Pirates $71,929,833 28 88-74 8 NL WC 20
Houston Astros $50,032,900 29 70-92 26 3
Miami Marlins $44,136,900 30 77-85 18 12

As you may have already surmised, the “delta” column to the right quickly shows which teams were badly over or under performing their payroll ranks.  Specifically:

  • Boston, Philadelphia, and Texas are three obvious teams that badly underperformed their payroll.  We’re all well aware of Philadelphia’s problems: too many long term contracts given out to guys in their 30s, locking that franchise into transactional inertia for the past few years.  Texas suffered from injury problems that were beyond ridiculous; they ended the season with 10 players on the 60-day D/L, used 15 different starters and no less than *40* pitchers on the year.  Fourty different pitchers!   Texas started the year with $130M payroll and finished with a worse record than their in-state rivals Houston, who have been *not* trying for years.
  • Arizona is a sneaky under performer, but also merits discussion.  Ownership finally has admitted that the brain trust that has been running players out of town for 50 cents on the dollar for years because of “character” or “make-up” issues has, well, not worked (see Justin Upton, Trevor Bauer most famously, but also see the moves that jettisoned Tyler Skaggs, Ian Kennedy and Brandon McCarthy in the same vein).  Gone are former GM Kevin Towers and the on-field managerial staff who has valued “grit” over “capabilities” for years, led by Kirk Gibson.  However, now running the show in Arizona is a newbie GM Dave Stewart whose accomplishments during his brief front-office experience in Toronto were not exactly well thought of by his former staff-member Keith Law.  Nonetheless; they’ll have the #1 overall pick in 2015 thanks to their ineptitude, and a chance to put some depth into a middling farm system.
  • The three teams who have already replaced their GMs this off season (Colorado, Atlanta, Arizona) all were on the under-performing list.  Colorado had the second worst record with a mid-sized payroll but has replaced its odd executive structure from within (which some pundits think will lead to more ineptitude).  Arizona’s odd choices are discussed above.  Atlanta’s GM switch is surprising to me (as i’ve mentioned before) and seems to be the result of an odd power-struggle going on within the Atlanta executive suite.  How do you fire a guy who constructed a team that has gone to the playoffs three out of the last five years on a budget immediately following a season when he lost 3/5ths of his starting rotation to injury before the season began?

How about on the “good” side?

  • Three of your four WC teams are among the smallest payrolls in the game.  Oakland, Pittsburgh and Kansas City rank 26th, 28th and 20th in 2014 payroll.  Also worth mentioning as overachievers are Cleveland (who missed out on the AL wild card by a game), Baltimore (who won 96 games with the 15th ranked payroll) and (of course) Miami (who sported the lowest payroll *by far* but still won 77 games).  Miami in particular seems like it is ready for another boom and sell-off cycle; they have a good team without the services of its best pitcher nearly all year; one or two more acquisitions and/or successful call-ups could have Miami competing for a divisional title again, and soon.
  • Washington Nationals: 8th highest payroll, 2nd best record.  That’s certainly good news.  Our opening day payroll of $133M may have been on the high side to some observers, but the team lived up to its reputation.
  • The Angels bashed their way to the best record in the league on just the 7th highest payroll, ironically, considering the over-spending they’ve been accused of in the past few years.  Don’t worry though; the Angels payroll will begin to have its own issues when Trout’s $30M/year contract years hit.  $30M a year.

What happens next year?

  • The Nats may be holding steady; LaRoche‘s $12M and Soriano‘s $14M salaries go away, but huge increases to Desmond and Zimmermann‘s salaries in 2015, stepped-up increases for Gonzalez and Span (who I’m assuming we’re going to exercise for 2015), and arbitration cases for a number of key and expensive players (Fister, Strasburg, Ramos, Clippard, Storen) will probably  more than make up for the $26M coming off the books.
  • The Phillies, to my constant amusement, already have $127M committed to just nine players for next year.  They’ll continue to be a top payroll, bottom performer for at least two more years.
  • The Yankees, who dipped underneath $200M for 2014 thanks to a gift-wrapped Bud Selig suspension for Alex Rodriguez and an equally generous $14M payoff from the cubs to take Alfonso Soriano off their hands, have $161M committed next year for just 10 players, with five of those players each earning north of $20M a year.  Wow.   Plus, they stand to lose their closer, two of their five SPs (Kuroda and McCarthy), and several position players to either FA or retirement.  They could be a train wreck again next year.



Roster construction of 2013 playoff teams

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I like doing this post every year (here’s 2012’s version, here’s 2011’s version), looking for trends in baseball’s most successful teams.  How do the best teams generally construct their rosters?

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

  1. Draft/Development: 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. Jose Fernandez is a developed player despite being acquired as an international “free agnet” while Yasiel Puig).  It could be better defined as “Club developed players.”
  2. Trade 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).
  3. Trade Prospects: The player was acquired by the team by virtue of trading prospects.  This is essentially the reverse of #2.
  4. Free Agency: The player was acquired in free agency.  This category also includes several other types of acquisitions: waiver claims, Rule-5 draftees 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.

Sometimes these trades get a bit muddled; if you send a combination of major and minor league talent to the other team, which category does it fall under?  But for the most part trades are simply categorized.

Now, here is the summary of roster construction and “Construction Strategy Category” for all 10 teams that made this year’s playoffs.  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 15-16 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):

Team Drafted/Developed Traded Prospects Traded MLBs FA/Waivers Constr Method
Boston 7 1 0 8 #4
Detroit 5 4 2 5 #2/#4
Oakland 3 1 7 5 #3
Tampa Bay 6 1 4 5 #1
Cleveland 4 1 7 4 #3
St. Louis 10 2 2 1 #1
Atlanta 8 0 5 2 #1/#3
Cincinnati 9 2 2 2 #1
Pittsburgh 5 3 3 4 #1/#3
Los Angeles Dodgers 3 4 1 7 #4

So, what are these four Team Construction Methods?  Lets go one by one:

Method #1: Build from within nearly 100% (Tampa, St. Louis and Cincinnati the best examples, Atlanta and Pittsburgh to some extent): Two great fact points drive this team construction for two of the best example teams in this category:

  1. 18 of St. Louis’ 25 man post season roster was drafted by the team and is still with the team.   Another 5 total guys were acquired in trade (including Adam Wainwright who was acquired more than a decade ago).
  2. When Roberto Hernandez got a start this past April, it broke a nearly 8-season long trend of Tampa having every one if its starts being taken by a starting pitcher developed in house.

These are easily the two best examples in the game of success from almost entirely in-house player development.  St. Louis has one core Free Agent (Carlos Beltran and only two on its entire playoff roster).  Cincinnati isn’t too far behind with its sole major FA acquisition on this year’s roster being Aroldis Chapman.   Atlanta and Pittsburgh do qualify for this (Atlanta has a huge number of home-grown players), but also have made enough trades/signings to create their current rosters that they don’t entirely fit here fully.

Method #2Ride your developed Core and use your prospects to acquire big names: Detroit (to a certain extent).  Detroit has a good core of home-grown guys to which they’ve augmented by trading prospects and major FA acquisitions to arrive at their current incarnation; a very good, very expensive squad.

I continue to classify Washington in this category as well, 6 of our core 15 were drafted and another 3 were acquired by flipping our prospect depth.

Method #3: Wheel and Deal: Oakland, Cleveland entirely, then Atlanta & Pittsburgh to a certain extent.  Is roster-turnover the new market inefficiency?  Oakland’s 2013 team featured an entirely new infield from last year’s 2012 AL West winning team.  Only 3 of Oakland’s core 16 players were home-grown this year.  Billy Beane’s M.O. of wheeling and dealing is paying major dividends; his trades of established major leaguers to acquire prospects has resulted in two AL West divisional crowns in a row.  Meanwhile Cleveland has adopted some of the same strategy, with just one real home grown starter and a whole batting order assembled via trade and free agency.

Atlanta and Pittsburgh each have done their fare share of major trades/signings lately, with Atlanta ending up with Justin Upton and Pittsburgh ending up with 4/5ths of a rotation thanks to big moves.  So while both teams have their cores in player development, smart transactions have made big differences in their 2013 playoff pushes.

Method #4Spend what it takes to win: Boston, Los Angeles Dodgers and Detroit to some extent.  Certainly no one can argue with Los Angeles’ planned path; they more than doubled their team payroll from 2012 to 2013 by taking hundreds of millions of dollars off the hands of … Boston, who still remains in this category despite a large bulk of their core 16 being home grown.  You just can’t have a $150M payroll and not be categorized as a “spend what it takes to win” team.  Detroit’s owner has opened up the pocketbook time and again to try to buy a winner, so they aren’t entirely in this category but they’re getting close.


So, what’s the *right* way to build your team?  I guess it depends; clearly all four of these methods can result in playoff appearances.  Perhaps its better to look at the downsides of each method:

Method #1 depends on a long track record of consistent player evaluation and drafting.  St. Louis, in my opinion the best franchise in the game, has a great track record.  Their 2009 draft alone produced 5 of their 25 man roster, and Michael Wacha was a 2012 draft pick who shot to the majors and may be the steal of that draft.  But getting there takes time and talent; to me clearly teams like the Cubs and Houston are re-booting in order to get to this point.  It tests the patience of your fan base and your RSNs (as Houston is learning).  Kansas City has tried this method for years and years and has had little luck.  Seattle went this route mostly and a slew of big-name prospects have failed to really pan out.  So you need great player development and some draft-day luck.  The new CBA is going to make this method harder and harder to do.

Method #2 is slightly less harrowing than going entirely by method #1, but does depend on finding trading partners and finding matches for your spots.  This is where I classify the Nats right now; we have a good core of home-grown guys earned on the backs of several years of last place finishes/high first round draft picks.  And now we’ve parlayed some prospect depth into two key members (Gio Gonzalez and Denard Span).  The downside of this method basically is that your farm system gets depleted very quickly.  Washington’s farm system went from the best in the game to being ranked in the low #20s after matriculations, losses of first round picks and the two big trades.  Suddenly your team has no big-time rising prospects, your major league team has no reinforcements coming, and you soon devolve more into category #4, spending hand over fist to extend your stars and to fill in holes.  Kind of like where Philadelphia is right now.

Method #3 can go bad, fast.  If your trades don’t work out … you look bad, quickly.  You’re also buying yourself some known down years (think what Miami is doing; they clearly punted on 2013 while trading away a ton of salary and major league assets).  That can be tough on the fan base; Oakland and Miami’s fan bases already have their own problems, but Cleveland struggled to sell seats this  year even on their way to 90 wins.

Method #4 can go bad, fast as well … and expensively so.  Only three of the game’s 11 most expensive teams made the playoffs this year.  The Yankees got 85 wins for their $228M in payroll and look like they may be in trouble for a time to come.  Philadelphia?  73 wins.  The Angels and Giants were losing teams.   Free Agents are generally being paid for what they DID, not what they’re going to do.  And Free Agents are almost always in their late 20s/early 30s, entering their natural decline years, and invariably are going to be overpaid for their performance.  If you want to build your team through FA, consider that new estimates value a “win” at roughly $7M on the open market … meaning that to build just a 90 win team through free agency would cost more than $300M in free agent dollars.  Or about what Robinson Cano wants this off-season.  There will continue to be high-payroll teams of course (that RSN money has to get spent somewhere), but I feel as if the industry is going to get smarter about these long term deals.  One look at the Angels last few off-seasons should give you every bit of proof you need to know; hundreds of millions committed to aging sluggers, several very productive prospects traded away chasing glory, and the Angels (even with the best player in the game at $500k/year) look lost.

I think the answer to “which way is best” really resides in the skills of the organization at large.  You can succeed using all four methods … its just how *long* can you continue to succeed?

Ask Boswell 8/19/13 edition


Arod, the greek tragedy figure. Photo John Munson/The Star-Ledger via

Arod, the greek tragedy figure. Photo John Munson/The Star-Ledger via

With somewhat of a lack of topics to write about lately, I turned to find a relatively deep Ask Boswell discussion on the Washington Post website 8/19/13.  Tom Boswell takes baseball questions, I provide my own answers.

As always, I’ll write answers here before reading his, and edit questions for clarity.  All stats quoted are as of 8/19/13.

Q: Leave it to the Red Sox to make A-Rod into a sympathetic figure!

A: Agree.  I wouldn’t normally have tuned into the expected 4.5 hour 8pm Sunday night game between Boston and New York, but just happened to see the first Alex Rodriguez at bat last night.  My immediate thought: Ryan Dempster‘s actions were pretty gutless and he should have been immediately ejected.   You throw at a guy once and miss?  You’ve made your point.  You had your chance to make a statement and missed.  But then throw two more balls inside then blatantly drill the guy on 3-0?  Sorry; that’s just bush league.  The umpires badly mismanaged that situation; Dempster should have been immediately ejected.  Joe Girardi had a very legitimate point at the time, and continued with very intelligent observations afterwards (where, paraphrased, he said that Dempster was a union rep, should have known better, and if he had a problem with the process of his own players’ union the time and place was elsewhere, not on a nationally televised game).

So, yeah, Alex Rodriguez did earn sympathy there.  How poetic was his home-run later in the game?  Were it me, I would have milked it for everything it was worth, making it a poster child for every egregious home-run celebration.  Bat flip, slow trot, kisses to the stands, fist pumps and multiple pointing to the sky.  But that’s just me.

Boswell doesn’t really say much about the question other than stating the obvious about the athlete and the situation.

Q: Wouldn’t it be better to show up the Braves by actually beating them once in a while, rather than throwing at them?

A: Not the point.  As I posted in this space over the weekend, there’s a code in the game that the Nats, for some unknown reason, were not keeping to.  Kudos to Stephen Strasburg for finally standing up for his own.  It has nothing to do with wins or losses on the field, it has to do with protecting yours.  Boswell says the Justin Upton plunking was done perfectly, but then questions the ejection for what a lot of people thought were just very wild pitches to Andrelton Simmons.

Q: Why did the Nats not keep Oliver Perez?

A: Who said it was just the Nats decision?  Oliver Perez piched as a starter for our AA team in 2011 and then signed another minor league deal with Seattle for 2012.  Only then he converted to a reliever and has had success since.  We don’t really know what happened; maybe the Nats offered to keep him but wouldn’t promise a AAA spot or a spring training invite.  Maybe Perez saw our rotation for 2012 and thought Seattle would give him a better shot at a MLB job.  Honestly I don’t remember a single word at the time indicating that either side wanted a 2012 deal.  Perez was good but not great in AA for us in 2011 (3-5, 3.09 ERA. 1.3 whip in 15 starts), far less than a guy who was once a very effective MLB starter.  Maybe we just though he was washed up.  Boswell questions whether a guy with a 4.25 ERA is even worth discussing.  Fair point

Q: Who would the Nationals “third-string” catcher be? If, for instance, Suzuki got injured and Ramos pinch-hit. -Who would be the preferred position player to pitch if they ran out of pitchers? 

A: Great question.  3rd string catcher?  I have no idea, maybe Steve Lombardozzi.  I do remember the team saying that despite Bryce Harper‘s youth position being predominantly catcher that he was not an option.  Pitcher?  Boy, another who knows.   I can’t remember a single positional player who has taken the mound for the Nats since they moved here.  The best guess would be a utility guy, either Lombardozzi or Scott Hairston.  Boswell guesses the same names I do.

Q: Do you think the Nats will make a serious effort to keep him next year? (I’m already writing off 2013) I’m sure he wants to play every day, but given Ramos’ physical issues that isn’t out of the question.

A: Kurt Suzuki is gone.  His $8.5M option for next year is way, way too much for what he has become; a once-a-week catcher.  Even given Wilson Ramos‘ fragility, you just can’t waste money at the backup catcher position.  Look for a 2014 spring training fight between Sandy Leon and Jhonatan Solano for the #2 catcher spot, and look for the team to add a lot of depth in the minor league ranks in the off-season.  Boswell notes the horrific catcher ERA of Suzuki compared to Ramos, and predicts a minor FA signing this coming off-season.

Q: Is there a more insincere human being in sports than A-Rod? Has he always been like this?

A: The above answer was my weekly quota of Alex Rodriguez discussion.  I will say this though; how do you really KNOW that A-rod is an “insincere human being?”  Do you know him personally?  Or are you just following the media narrative?  Boswell makes a good point; the damage he’s done to the game outweighs any sympathy you could have for him.

Q: You’ve said in the past the Nats would return to their career averages…eventually. Are the Nats reverting to their mean, or is this the new mean?

A: If 2012 was the high, maybe 2013 is the low.  Lets hope for somewhere in the middle for 2014.  Hell, i’ll settle for league average.  I did a quick little runs-scored analysis at the end of June that showed where the Nats record would have been if they had a league-average offense (tied for 1st place) or their 2012 offense (best record in majors).  You could quibble with the math, but I think we all know what has let down the team this year.  Boswell summarizes many of the same points I made … and then has some great stats isolating the bench’s collapse this year.

Q: Given Haren’s performance since returning from the DL, does Rizzo make him a qualifying offer for 2014?

A: Good question.  I just don’t see how you can give Dan Haren a qualifying offer.  The Q.O.  amount is going to increase; lets assume its $14M/year.  Would you give a guy with this stat line $14M?  7-11, 4.79 ERA?  Probably not (those are his season numbers).  His last 8 games (since coming off D/L?)  3-2, 2.25 ERA.   Yeah, that’s worthy of a Q.O.   Maybe the team avoids having to make a decision and flips him to someone needing a starter for September, since he passed through waivers.  That’d be advantageous to Haren too, meaning his signing next off-season won’t have compensation associated with it.  In any case, I think the performance of Taylor Jordan has clearly made Haren expendible, giving as good as or better performance for 1/26th the cost.  Use that $13M towards some hitting.  Boswell says no.

Q: When does Drew Storen replace Soriano as the Nats closer?  (After another blown save).

A: When Soriano’s contract is over.  You bought him, you’ve gotta use him.  Rafael Soriano‘s m.o. was always “good when he’s the closer, sullen underperformer when not.”  He was a poor signing when they got him, and continues to be wasted money.  But hey, its not my money.  Boswell agrees.

Q: When Magic Johnson’s group purchased the Dodgers, he was going to fire Mattingly, whom you said would be a very good manager. Does he still want to fire Donnie, now that the Dodgers have gone 42-8, the best MLB win stread in 100 years? Would you like to see him managing the Nats?

A: Well of course Don Mattingly isn’t going to be fired; he’s now neck and neck with Clint Hurdle for manager of the year.  I don’t have a good sense for what kind of manager he is; after Davey Johnson‘s laissez-faire attitude I know what kind of manager I do want; I want someone with some emotion.  Girardi proved a lot to me last night; lighting into an umpire who failed to control the game.  That’s the kind of emotion I want in my skipper.  Boswell gives some good managerial candidates.

Q: Who are the young pitchers the Nats thing are coming soon?

A: From AAA on downwards, here’s a few starters to keep an eye on: Nathan Karns, A.J. Cole, Robbie Ray, Taylor Hill, Sammy Solis, Matthew PurkeBlake Schwartz, Jake Johansen, Austin Voth and Lucas Gilioto.   Almost every guy on this list has performed well and/or earned a promotion in 2013.   Boswell points some of these guys out and then mentions that we need to produce some hitting too.

Q: Should I be worried that the Nats are going to become the new Caps, a talented team who just lacks the discipline to get it done when it matters?

A: No, because at its heart this is still the same basic team of guys who nearly won 100 games last year.  They need a new voice in the skipper’s office, one who reverses the course of Johnson and who properly motivates them.  Boswell says not to judge a team because of 3/4’s of one disappointing season.

Q: Zim’s surgically-repaired shoulder clearly affected his throwing this year — whether physically or mentally. However, his power numbers at the plate are down too, and we haven’t seen his usual late summer hot streak. Do you think his shoulder affected his hitting? If so, what’s the prognosis for next year for Zim’s hitting?

A: If his shoulder really is/was as bad as everyone seems to think, then yeah you can derive all sorts of bad performance indicators from it.  Next year?  Who knows; he should be healthy.  Of course, he was promised to be healthy by spring training of THIS year.  It takes me back to what I now perceive as disinformation from the team about the whole shoulder issue from the onset.  Either way, I think he’s playing 3B for this team in 2014 no matter what (well, unless the team somehow unloads Adam LaRoche).  Boswell shows some good stats showing Zimmerman’s consistency over the years, then goes on to rave about Jayson Werth.

Q: Will baseball be ruined by the addition of instant replay or have the times changed?

A: I think times have changed.  But from all accounts, the implementation will be typical of everything MLB does; half-done, ham-handed, inefficient and not going nearly as far as its counterparts.  Boswell isn’t a fan.

Q: With two years under his belt, he has a 3.00 ERA and a pretty good 27-19 record. He doesn’t hit 100 mph anymore. He hasn’t proven so far to be anything better than mediocre in the clutch. Not a bad track record, of course, but not anywhere near great. He’s 25 years old now. Is it time to adjust expectations?

A: Is this a baiting question?   Quotes ERA and W/L record as the sole ways to evaluate a pitcher (especially a pitcher who hasn’t yet pitched a full season).  What proof is there that he’s “mediocre in the clutch?”  He’s still the highest or 2nd highest average fastball of any starter in the league despite dialing it down, he’s still a league leader in K/9.  His ERA+ is still significantly above average both for this year and for his career.  What more do you want from the guy?  Ask any baseball pundit to give you a list of his top 5 starters in the league and he’s still on it.   Boswell gives some great historical stats, putting Strasburg in pretty elite company thus far.

Q: Why has Bryce Harper not made the 20 year old leap we expected him to? Did the collision with the wall in LA derail his entire season?

A: A fair point; everyone saw his splits pre and post-LA wall.  His lefty splits are abhorrent.  But he hasn’t been the second coming of Mike Trout.  Maybe we just need to appreciate him for what he is right now.  Boswell mirrors what I said.


Why aren’t the Nats getting Harper’s back??


Harper reacts to his purposeful drilling by Julio Teheran on 8/7/13.  Photo HarperBryce hbp Teheran Aug2013 Evan Habeeb-USA TODAY Sports

Harper reacts to his purposeful drilling by Julio Teheran on 8/7/13. Photo Evan Habeeb-USA TODAY Sports

Julio Teheran blatantly drilled Bryce Harper after he thought Harper showed him up after hitting a long bomb on August 7th.  There was no question the pitch was purposely thrown at Harper.  (By the way; watch the video of that home run and try to find the objectionable action there.  Maybe he pauses slightly, maybe he tosses his bat away instead of dropping it, maybe he runs slower than normal.  Not one of these actions comes even close to what some guys in this league do on EVERY homer, ahem Yasiel Puig).

What did the Nats do in response?  Nothing.

Last night, Harper was hit not just once but TWICE.  First in the 4th inning on an errant Alex Wood curveball, then again in the 8th when Luis Avilan threw a ridiculous pitch behind Harper’s head.

What did the Nats do in response?  Again, nothing.

The Nats broadcast team (as heard in the link for last night’s game above) said it right: “What is going on??”

I don’t care if Harper got hit with a curve (not on purpose) and a wild fastball (probably not on purpose, since it put the go-ahead runner on base in a tight game).  I don’t care what the situation is; YOU HAVE TO RESPOND in kind.  Enough is enough.  That’s three straight plunkings of our best guy by the same team inside of a week.

The reaction of the Atlanta crowd was rather telling.  Pathetic in that they cheered the HBP and then gave Avilan a standing ovation.  However also telling because the message is clear; the Nationals ball club, for whatever reason, is not responding in kind to their best hitter getting repeatedly thrown at.

What is going on??  Why aren’t the Nats protecting Harper?  Why aren’t they responding to these HBPs?

The correct response to the August 7th event would have been to hit Justin Upton in the middle of the back the next time he came to the plate.  First pitch.  Plain and simple.  Why Upton?  Because it was Upton who just the night before did the exact same thing that Harper was accused of, only it took him LONGER to prance around the bases.  If Harper got hit because the Braves thought he was too slow around the bases, then how exactly do they excuse Upton’s trot, which was 4 seconds longer?  And the correct response last night was to absolutely drill the first guy up in the bottom of that inning.  No questions; first pitch, in the back.

I don’t know what the hell Davey Johnson is doing.  Why wasn’t he out on the field last night, defending his player?  Why wasn’t he calling out Atlanta’s manager Fredi Gonzalez?  Why isn’t he ordering a response??   Why isn’t he showing any of the passion you would expect from a hall of fame manager who should know better?  Better question; why aren’t Harper’s teammates taking any initiative here and doing what should be done?  Where’s the leadership on this team?  Where’s the leadership in this clubhouse??

If your answer is, “well it was a close game and the Nats couldn’t afford to purposely put a runner on base” then my response is this: 59-62.  That’s the team’s record right now.  You want another couple numbers?  15.5 (games out of first place with 6 weeks of the season to go), or how about 9.5 (games out of the wild card behind a team clearly better than them).  The point is this; the season is over.  They’re playing out the string.  Time to start standing up for yourselves, protect your teammate, show some g*d d*mn spine, and protect your best hitter for the future.

I can’t image what Harper is thinking about his manager and his teammates right now.  If it were me, I’d be asking my manager and my teammates point blank to their faces why i’m not being protected.  It almost makes you wonder if his teammates flat out don’t like him.  Is that what’s going on?  Is the Nats clubhouse, which I’ve accused many times of being dysfunctional, even worse than we thought?

If you don’t think beanball justice has a role in the game, then you’ve either never played the game or don’t understand this aspect of it.  The Nats are sending a message that its ok to go after their guys.  That’s a really bad precedent to create.



Written by Todd Boss

August 17th, 2013 at 12:19 pm

MVP Races getting interesting…

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I usually don’t do post-season award analysis until, well, the post-season.  But this year the MVP races seem like they could end up being really interesting.  So lets take a look at who’s in the hunt.

The MVP candidates year in and year out generally are chosen by the voters using these criterion (fair or not):

  1. Best player on the Best teams
  2. Outstanding performances from players on non-playoff teams.
  3. Generally position players, except in a year when no position player really stands out.
  4. East Coast Bias.

I’m not going to get into an argument about whether the “MVP” means the “best player” or “most valuable” here.  I’ll leave that to the multitude of other people who can’t get over this distinction.  For me, the “MVP” still is a subjective award not entirely driven by the guy with the best WAR on the season.  There are plenty who cannot get over the fact that Mike Trout had s uch a fantastic statistical season last year and didn’t win the MVP.  Not me; I don’t see how you can be the “MVP” of a league when your team finishes 20 games out of first.

If the season ended today, your 5 playoff teams per league would be:

  • NL: Divisional Winners Atlanta, Pittsburgh, Los Angeles with St. Louis and Cincinnati meeting in the wild card game.
  • AL: Divisional winners Boston, Detroit and Oakland with Tampa Bay and Texas meeting in the wild card game.

The NL playoff picture seems mostly set; the two wild card leaders have a decent lead on Arizona that seems, well not insurmountable but surprisingly strong.  The AL picture is a bit more unsettled; lots can still  happen in the AL East, and there’s three teams within 4.5 games of the wild card right now (Cleveland, Baltimore and Kansas City).  And that’s to say nothing of the Yankees, who are in the hunt but seem more of a sideshow these days than a contender.

So, using these guidelines, lets look at the leading players that are likely to be in the MVP race.  All stats are as of 8/10/13.  Per team, lets look at the “leading” player both statistically and “honorarily.”

Lets start with the NL:

  • Atlanta: Andrelton Simmons leads the team in bWAR, with almost all of it coming on the defensive side of the ball.   He’s hitting .243 and your voter base just doesn’t have an appreciation for defensive exploits just quite yet.  Justin Upton started out scorching hot and still has great stats on the year, but has cooled so significantly that I don’t believe Atlanta has an MVP candidate.  They have 4-5 really solid hitters and solid pitching driving them to their divisional title.
  • Pittsburgh: it begins and ends with Andrew McCutchen, a serious leader for the award right now.  He’s tied for the league lead in bWAR and is having an outstanding season.  Starling Marte has broken out this year but nobody denies that this is McCutchen’s team.  Pedro Alvarez leads the NL in homers but is otherwise good, but not great, in other offensive statistics.
  • Los Angeles Dodgers: Yasiel Puig leads the team’s hitters in bWAR while taking the league by storm, but he’s only slightly ahead of Hanley Ramirez, who is having a relatively quiet break through season.  But neither guy has played in half the team’s games, leaving a lot of pundits to call for Clayton Kershaw, who is tied with McCutchen for the NL lead in bWAR to get MVP votes.  While I don’t advocate this scenario, it would not surprise me to see Kershaw win the Cy Young and get a top-5 MVP finish.
  • St Louis: Yadier Molina continues to be the transcendent catcher in the NL and is the “spiritual leader” of the Cardinals, but he has gone down with injury and may be losing MVP steam.  He no longer even leads his own team in bWAR (Matt Carpenter does), but remains a good candidate.
  • Cincinnati: the obvious candidate here is Joey Votto, But something seems like Cincinnati’s scuffling as of late combined with the flashier candidates out there will lead to Votto getting votes but not the award.

Other NL Candidates to consider:

  • Arizona’s Paul Goldschmidt is in the top-10 in league bWAR for the Diamondbacks, but unless this team makes a huge run to the playoffs he’s merely going to be a top-10 vote getter.
  • Milwaukee’s Carlos Gomez is tied for the league lead in bWAR, but his streakiness and his team’s place in the standings is going to make it tough for him to get anything other than a top 10 finish.
  • New York‘s David Wright is also putting together a great season, sitting in the top 10 in league bWAR almost entirely on the back of his bat (surprising given his prowness at third).  As with Gomez, the Mets position in the standings hurts him badly.  And his recent D/L trip (which seems like it may end his season) ends his chances.

My opinion of the NL voting right now: McCutchen, Kershaw, Molina, Votto, Gomez.

Over in the American league, the playoff situation may be murky, but the MVP race is pretty straight-forward.  There is a lot to shake out in terms of the playoff positions and the candidates from those teams don’t seem to stand out as much.  But as with 2012, there are two leading MVP candidates and we seem set to have the same arguments this year as last.  But lets go team by team:

  • Boston is being led by their two best players, Jacoby Ellsbury and Dustin Pedroia.  They are both top-10 in bWAR and are having excellent seasons.  Voters likely won’t be able to tell between them and they’ll split the vote with both guys getting top-10 MVP seasons.
  • Detroit: Is there any question?  Miguel Cabrera, who despite negative defensive bWAR is leading the AL.  Max Scherzer will get serious Cy Young consideration but not MVP votes, not with Cabrera and other candidates.
  • Oakland: Jody Donaldson has become the latest “who is that?” player that Oakland has found to drive them to a pennant in a division they have no business competing in.  But east-coast bias and lack of star-power will work against him.
  • Tampa Bay: It has to be Evan Longoria, once again, the face of the franchise.  But as with year’s past, he’s toiling in relative obscurity in front of half the fans that should be supporting a team this good.  And a lot of credit will go towards Wil Myers‘ call-up, taking away Longoria votes.
  • Texas: the story of Adrian Beltre‘s career; he’s a darn good player and nobody gives him enough credit.  Texas has shed many of its name players over the past few seasons, but Beltre continues to provide great value on both sides of the ball.  The transcendant player on Texas this year is Yu Darvish, who will struggle in the Cy Young race (subject of anohter post).

Other AL Candidates to consider:

  • Baltimore may very well sneak into a WC slot as they did last year, entirely on the backs of two guys.  Chris Davis is having a great power season while Manny Machado is having a historic 20-year old season in general.  Both guys have top-10 bWAR seasons and, as with the Boston guys, may split votes here.  Machado in particular looks like he’s already put himself in the “Trout-Harper” discussion for most transcendent young player in the game.
  • Los Angeles Angels: Here we go again.  Mike Trout has put “sophomore slump” naysayers to shame, posting as good or better numbers across the board in 2013.  Interestingly, Trout’s defensive component in 2013 is significantly hurting him whereas in 2012 it gave him a huge boost; his defensive component in bWAR is actually *negative* for 2013.  A topic for another day, the ridiculous swings we see in defensive advanced stats.  In any case, as with 2012 I think Trout’s team’s underperforming will hurt him and he will lose out again.  It is what it is.

My opinion of the AL voting right now: Cabrera, Trout, and then I have no idea.  Right now I’d probably go Machado, Ellsbury and Davis.


There’s still a lot of season to go, so lots could still happen. But I’m putting early markers on McCutchen and Cabrera. Both well deserved.

Mid-spring update on local draft prospects

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High Schools are heading into post-season tournaments and local prep players have had their chances to make impressions through the Spring HS season.  How are our local prep phenoms faring this year, and what players with Virginia ties may feature prominently in the upcoming MLB draft?

Note; it is difficult to find updated stats on Prep players.  I tried.  If you know where to find reliable prep hitting and pitching stats, let me know.  So there’s not much in the way of stats here unless they’re college players.  For all the players below I’ve listed if they appear in the latest top-100 draft prospect rankings from two reliable sources: Keith Law‘s top-100 draft list and BaseballAmerica’s top 100 list and top 250 list.  Instead of re-linking over and over, i’ll refer to these two lists in shorthand via the links here.

First, quick updates on the players mentioned in my March 2013 posting on 4 local players:

  • Andy McGuire: SS/3B: leading Madison HS in Vienna to a 19-1 record (with 19 consecutive wins) heading into the District tournament and a #1 local ranking by the Washington Post.  Madison is also an honorable mention in the latest USA Today national rankings.  I asked Law in his 5/16/13 chat about McGuire’s draft status (he’s regularly in the lower 50 of pundit’s top 100 draft prospects for this year, implying a mid 2nd round pick) but Law is “hearing” 4th round, which he’s surprised by and may indicate that McGuire will honor his U. Texas committment.  Draft Rankings: Law #74/BA #196.  6/6/13 update: some video of McGuire at this link; just watching him run and move and his body type I’m immediately thinking he’s going to struggle to stay at SS, echoing what scouts say.
  • Alec Grosser: RHP TC Williams: Nothing else has really popped up about Grosser after the initial flurry of articles, and he’s listed as “Signed” and committed to George Mason.  PerfectGame has his best measured fastball at 92, ranging 89-92.  That’s still pretty good and I’m guessing he’ll head to George Mason to see where his arm takes him.  His HS has not had the success one would expect with a dominant arm, sitting at around .500 heading into the post-season.  Not ranked by Law/BA #158.
  • Matt McPhearson: OF with Riverdale Baptist popped up on MinorLeagueBall’s Mid-Atlantic report recently with the note that he has “game changing” speed.  He’s still listed as a “Verbal” Commit to U. Miami.  I’ve seen him as a late 1st rounder on some mock drafts.  Here’s a good scouting report on him from  Lastly there’s some scouting video online of him, showing a good bat from the left-hand side and with some amazing speed stats: a verified 6.2 in the 60 yard dash and home-to-first in less than 3.8 seconds.  As the articles say; that’s Crazy fast.   He’s one of only three guys with an “80” scouting grade in this year’s class per Jim Callis (the other two being Jonathan Gray’s fastball, and Kris Bryant’s power, and those two guys are both going in the top 3 of the 2013 draft). The only knock on him may be his size (just 5’10”) but he profiles as a prototypical leadoff/center fielder.  Law ranked #62/BA #136.
  • Thomas Rogers, LHP injured all year is still verbally committed to UNC.  Nothing new to report.  Not ranked in either Law/BA’s lists.

A couple of new names that I’ve taken note of locally, by virtue of their college commitments to major Baseball programs:

  • Errol Robinson, SS from St. Johns, signed to play at Ole Miss.  He was #92 in BaseballAmerica’s top 100 pre-season draft prospects and had a nice Q&A with them in March 2013.  His PerfectGame profile and draft write ups indicate he’s a quick-bat SS who has the capability of going in the top 5 rounds.  NatsGM’s Ryan Sullivan scouted him about a week ago and wrote it up here.   Based on this interview (where he talks about how his Mom, Dad and sister all attended or currently are at Ole Miss), I’m pretty sure he’s going to honor his college commitment despite any potential drafting.   Not ranked in either Law/BA’s lists.
  • Alec Bettinger, a RHP with Hylton HS in Woodbridge, has a verbal commitment to UVA.  PerfectGame has him with about a 90 mph fastball.  He’s “small but athletic” per this MinorLeagueBall article (6’0″ 165lbs), which may have him leaning towards a future professional bullpen role.  6’0″ is really on the low-end for what scouts like to see in a starter (think Tim Hudson is considered undersized and he’s 6’1″ 175lbs), so it seems likely he’ll take his fastball to college to see how it develops.  Not ranked in either Law/BA’s list.

Other Virginia-connected big names being talked about in the draft (thanks to this MinorLeagueBall article and comments for crowd-sourced Virginia-connected names to target)

  • Conner Jones, RHP with Great Bridge HS, the HS of Justin Upton down in Chesapeake.  Jones is leading his HS to a current 19-0 record, good enough for being ranked 18th by USAToday/22nd by BaseballAmerica in the state title game.  He’s easily the best Virginia draft prospect this year and is the only guy that has going in the top 50 of their mock drafts right now.  PG has him at 93mph with a UVA committment that he has told scouts he intends to honor, but he’s getting back-of-the-1st round notice for the upcoming draft.  As scouts have noted, these “verbal commitments” are pretty meaningless unless a player specifically fails to file one specific item prior to the draft (which automatically invalidates them; i can’t recall what it is right now but believe its a drug test).  So we’ll see.  Law ranked #29/BA ranked #33.
  • Bobby Wahl: RHP from Ole Miss, a good sized Righty who is Ole Miss’ Friday night starter and who hails from Springfield, VA (West Springfield HS).  He’s 9-0 with a 1.43 ERA on the season, quite a stat line considering who he’s typically going up against (the #1 starters of other SEC teams, easily the best baseball conference in the land).  Law ranked #66/BA ranked #36.  If he last til the late 2nd round as Law suggests, he could be right around where the Washington Nationals could draft him with their first pick (#68 overall).  However, John Sickels/MinorLeagueBall’s latest mock draft has Wahl going #31, more consistent with BA’s rankings.  It doesn’t seem likely he’ll fall to the Nats.
  • Austin Nicely, LHP from Spotswood HS in Grottoes, Virginia (way down I-81 by my alma Mater James Madison University).   PG has him as a lefty who throws 90 and is committed to UVA.  Law #78/Not in BA’s top 250, a huge disparity.
  • Chad Pinder, 3B Virginia Tech.  Described as a plus-defender, decent bat.  His season batting stats aren’t that impressive as compared to his teammates, so he must be some defender.  If he can really move to SS like the scouting reports say and still hit for average and some power, he’s a good 2nd-3rd round prospect.  Law ranked #86/BA ranked #53.
  • Jack Roberts, RHP from James River HS in Richmond, committed to UVA and per PG gets up to 92mph.   Big guy (6’4″ 200lbs) who I’d bet can add more velocity if he goes to college.   If he threw a couple ticks higher he’d probably be a big time prospect.  Not ranked in either Law/BA’s list.
  • Zach Rice, LHP from Suffolk (outside of Norfolk), tall lanky kid who slings it 89 from the left hand side.  Committed to UNC.  Worth mentioning since he’ s been recruited by the best team in the country.  Not ranked in either Law/BA’s list.
  • Kyle Crockett, LHP from UVA.  He’s UVA’s closer (and a HS teammate of fellow draft prospect Chad Pinder).  He throws 90-92 from the left side but has impeccable control; he has just one unintentional walk in 43 innings this year while getting more than a K/inning.  Despite being used as a reliever, I can see someone moving him back to the rotation to see if his stuff can play for 6-7 innings at a time.  Not ranked by Law/BA #103.

Conclusion: Looking at this list, UVA stands to lose an awful lot of pitching recruits if these guys don’t honor their commitments.  Bettinger, Jones, Nicely and Roberts are all UVA commits.  But imagine that staff in a couple years if they all go to college.  Phew.

Ask Boswell 4/29/13 edition


Loved Zimmermann’s 1-hitter last week. Photo AP/Manuel Balce Ceneta

We havn’t done an Ask Tom Boswell chat response in a while; I started one from last week’s chat but ended up deleting it.  Nothing really to add to what Boswell was responding.

Here’s the 4/29/13 edition, after an up and down week with the Nats; getting swept by St. Louis and then taking three of four from Cincinnati behind some of the best starting pitching we’ve seen in a while.

As always, I’ll write a response here before reading Boswell’s, and will edit questions for clarity.

Q: Did Strasburg learn anything from watching Gio’s and JZimm’s efficient starts against the Reds?

A: We talked a bit about Stephen Strasburg‘s issues last week in this space.  I’m not sure what he could have learned from Gio Gonzalez and Jordan Zimmermann‘s consecutive 1-hit outings that he didn’t already know; get ahead of hitters, throw first-pitch strikes, use your whole arsenal.  Cincinnati is a good hitting team, but Atlanta is better.  At least we have the distinct pitching matchup advantage in game one (when the struggling Julio Teheran goes for Atlanta).  Boswell repeats both my points here; first pitch strikes and a favorable Teheran matchup.

Q: Why is blocking the plate by the Catcher now suddenly such an issue?

A: I think it starts with the horrible injury suffered by Buster Posey; a needless debilitating injury that took out an MVP candidate and cost him a year off his career.  Locally, we all remember Chase  Utley‘s cheap shot on Jesus Flores, which essentially cost him two years and a job in the majors.  And I think it is the general climate in sports today to try to avoid concussive injuries at all costs in the wake of the very scary CTE studies that are out there and may change the very fabric of Football as we know it.  Every time there’s another injury, another collision the drumbeat gets louder.  Just because catcher collisions have always been a part of the game doesn’t mean they’re right.  I’m in favor of eliminating the play, and If I was a MLB manager i’d advise my catchers to give the runner half the plate and try to avoid injury.   Boswell agrees.

Q: Why isn’t Solano catching any games?

A: Two reasons: Kurt Suzuki by virtue of the off/on schedule with Wilson Ramos for the first couple of weeks is relatively rested and can catch 6 straight days.  The other?  Jhonatan Solano just isn’t as good of an offensive option, and with the whole team struggling at the plate why put a guy in who is clearly overmatched?  The guy only has about 100ABs above AA after all.  Boswell says the last thing you should do when struggling is bench a veteran for a rookie, especially at catcher.  Ramos returns from the DL tonight so its a moot point.

Q: If you were betting on a team to win the next World Championship in DC who would be that team?

A: You have to think its the Nats right?  Redskins are lookup up with RGIII but aren’t a complete team yet and may be a couple years off (and no more salary cap penalties) from putting together a SB team.  The Wizards may not be relevant for another decade.  The Caps are hot and may go for a decent run in the NHL playoffs, but those series are such coin flips that if they couldn’t win when they were the league’s best regular season team, its hard to see why they’d win now.  Lastly DC United is just getting back to some respectability after years of decline, but winning an MLS title over some of the powerhouses in the league is a tall order.  Boswell says Nats, Caps, Skins.  Doesn’t even mention the other two franchises :-)

Q: Any chance Bud steps in ala with the Dodgers and Frank McCourt and forces Loria’s to sell the team?

A: I think there’s a chance, but something “illegal” would have to happen.  Selig was able to force McCourt to sell when the league was being embarassed and the team was clearly suffering financially because of mis-management.  Selig has allowed Loria to already do several unsavory things to fan bases in both Montreal and Miami, so its hard to see what else could happen.  However, if this supposed SEC investigation finds real evidence of fraud and the team is sued, I can see Selig stepping in and forcing Loria out.  Boswell doesn’t really answer the question.

Q: When he gets sent down next week, would you be surprised if he played second base exclusively given that Espinosa is now struggling with the bat and glove?

A: Anthony Rendon was ALREADY playing multiple positions in the minors this season, starting mostly at 3B but also getting a few games at 2B and at least one at SS.   But I don’t think Rendon would be Danny Espinosa‘s replacement; Steve Lombardozzi would be.  If Espinosa were to be sent to the DL, Lombardozzi starts and then Rendon probably gets called back up to provide some infield cover.  Boswell thinks Rendon could make the transition, but needs more minor league time.  He also talks a lot about Espinosa vs Lombardozzi and (in my opinion) overrates the defensive value of Espinosa a bit.  In the age of rising strikeouts, it isn’t as important to have Gold Glove calibre fielders everywhere.  This is just a partial answer that may need eventual expansion in a blog post of its own.

Q: Mr. Boswell, why did Davey insert Rendon instead of Lombardozzi (following Ryan’s injury) into the lineup and why did he not allow Tyler Moore to start Sunday with Cingrani on the bump?

A: Good questions, both.  I think the team likes Rendon’s defense at 3B more than Lombardozzi or Chad Tracy, so that makes sense at least against lefties.  Why didn’t Tyler Moore play against the tough lefty Tony Cingrani?  I do not know.  You could see Adam LaRoche‘s o-fer a mile away going against the second coming of Randy Johnson (Cingrani’s now has 37 Ks in 23 MLB innings).  Perhaps veteran preference/veteran blind spot on the part of Davey Johnson?  Boswell agrees at least with the LaRoche assessment.

Q: Have the Nats have over-managed Strasburg (in terms of pitch counts, innings limits and pitching to contact) since his injury and gotten into his head?

A: I don’t see Strasburg’s issues being a result of lack of confidence.  If that was the case we’d be seeing 3ip-8 run explosions, not “first inning bad then lights out for the next 6 innings” outings.  Have the Nats over-managed him?  Perhaps; we know Strasburg didn’t like the 2012 shutdown but I supported it (as did the surgeon who performed the damn operation, nobody ever remembers).  I think Strasburg also understands the value of getting hitters to hit your pitch instead of going for blow-em-away Ks every time.  Call it “pitch to contact” but I like to call it “making them hit your pitch.”  You want to try to get a great swing in after falling behind in the count?  Fine; hit my 97mph inside fastball for power, or try to drive my 94mph sinking 2-seamer on the outside corner.  I’ll tip my hat to you if you do.

But Strasburg misses his spots; his command has not been great.  97mph flat on the corner is good; in the middle of the plate is bad.  He’s been missing in the middle way too much.  Boswell defended his column, saying Strasburg needs to “keep it simple.”

Q: What does the team do with Henry Rodriguez?

A: So far this year we’re seeing nothing but “bad” Henry Rodriguez: more walks than hits, too many base-runners, and too many pitches that he just has no idea where they’re going.  He only threw FOUR of Seventeen pitches yesterday for strikes.  Luckily for him, its only a “wild pitch” if someone advances right?  Because some of those pitches were just ridiculous.  I’ll chalk it up to the wet conditions, as (likely) will management.

What can they do with him?  As often repeated in this space, he’s a human roster logjam.  The team has been forced to carry him and his Jeckyl and Hyde pitching for 3 years now because he was out of minor league options when we acquired him.  We’ve invented nebulous DL trips to stash him in extended spring training.  He’s now the lowest leverage guy on the bullpen, when he should be in the mix for 7th and 8th inning opportunities.  But the thing is, there’s not really a guy in Syracuse who is beating down the door to come up.  Maybe Erik Davis, who has pitched really well in AAA and has shown why the team put him on the 40-man.  Or perhaps the team could call up one of its veteran lefties (Fernando Abad or JC Romero) in a pinch.  But I think we’ll see at least another month of H-Rod trying to find his way before that happens.

Boswell raves about his career BAA (.211).  To that I say this: he has now for his career walked 91 batters out of 606 plate appearances.  That’s 15%.  6.1 bb/9.  I’m sorry, but how can you have a reliever with those kind of walk rates be put into any close game?  You can’t.  So in my opinion there’s better ways to use the 7th bullpen slot.

Q: What’s a good ratio for balls to strikes?

A: I’ve always used 60% strikes to pitches thrown as a benchmark for a good outing.  In Jordan Zimmermann‘s 1-hitter he threw 59 of 91 for strikes, or 64%.  In Yu Darvish‘s near perfect game in early April he threw 78 of 111 pitches for strikes for 70%.    Boswell says 65% is a good goal; honestly that’s a bit too high for me realistically.

Q: Do you think Soriano’s presence is helping or hurting Storen?

A: Good question.  Drew Storen‘s struggles so far are really baffling; how do you go from a career 1.099 whip in your first 3 seasons to a 1.7 whip in 2013?  And it isn’t on walks; he’s giving up a ton of hits.  Perhaps it is mental; when Rafael Soriano himself has been a non-closer, his numbers have never been as good than when he’s getting the Saves.  Perhaps Storen is struggling to adapt to this mindset so far.  It also could just be small sample size syndrome too; its only April 29th after all.  Boswell basically says that Storen isn’t a kid anymore and that he should “man up.”

Q: What are Harper’s MVP chances looking like right now?

A: Pretty good.  MVP voting usually starts with “the best players on the best teams” and then whittles down from there.  Bryce Harper is clearly the best hitter on what should be a playoff team, and has been making a game-wide name for himself so far with his performance.  If Washington wins the division and Bryce keeps playing like this, he’s a shoe-in.  However, some guy named Justin Upton has been just as strong; if Atlanta wins the division Upton may be the name people vote for.

Trevor Bauer video of pitch grips


Pitching phenom Trevor Bauer demonstrates his pitching grips. Photo Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images via

Fascinating stuff here (link on youtube but referenced via the HardBallTalk blog).

I know I criticized Trevor Bauer in the wake of Arizona trading him away for what seemed to be personality issues.  But in hindsight, with the knowledge now that the team also traded Chris Young and now Justin Upton for apparently all the same reasons (manager Kirk Gibson didn’t like them, or didn’t like the way they played), at some point you have to start looking at the manager who can’t get along with star players versus the reverse.

But stuff like this video really makes me like the kid.  He posted this video showing how he grips and throws all his pitches in response to questions he got from regular fans.  He also freely gives out his facebook and twitter contact information and promises to try to get back to fans who ask questions.  I love social media sometimes.

Bauer’s pitch grips and thoughts:

  • Four Seam Fastball: conventional grip, nothing special.  He doesn’t mention throwing a 2-seam fastball other than mentioning the pitch in passing later on, but with his velocity and his throwing motion (straight over the top) you’d have to think a 2-seamer would be effective.
  • Regular Changeup: not a palm-ball, but a de-acceleration technique by throwing the ball off his middle fingers.
  • “Cut” Changeup; moves his index finger up and provides a bit of pressure; this apparently causes the ball to “cut” 2-3 inches.
  • Cutter; he calls it his “regular slider,” but its an odd grip for a slider; it looks more like a 2-seam fastball grip.  He admits it moves more like a cutter, so that’s what I’ve called it.  He seems to fix his wrist slightly askew, then go through a fastball motion and the ball cuts.
  • Slider: This is a much more conventional slider grip and throwing motion.  He calls it a “dot” slider (likely because the seams form a dot on the spinning baseball) and says that its rather “slurvy,” probably because (unlike his curve) it moves across his body.
  • Reverse Slider: He uses the same cutter grip but fixes his wrist in and then comes through the ball with a screw-ball motion.  He says he gets 4-6 inches of reverse movement.  Man that’s a lot of movement if its true.  Mariano Rivera only gets about 7-8″ of movement on what is generally the best cutter in the game.
  • Curve: he throws 2 variations depending on whether he’s looking to control it for strikes or to really break it off as an out pitch.  He varies the pressure of his middle finger; less on the tip for lesser movement/more control and then more on the tip for more movement/sharper break.  He doesn’t seem to snap his wrist in the same way that a 3/4 pitcher would (basically where the wrist snaps towards the opposite side of the body); he snaps his wrist straight down towards the ground.   This should result in close to a 12-to-6 curve that is relatively rare in the majors.  I would have thought this meant less spin, but I’d also guess that with enough wrist strength and repeitition,  you’d get the spin you need.
  • Split Fingered fastball: he definitely throws this like Roger Clemens or Mike Scott, where the ball isn’t jammed back into the hand like a forkball, but instead is more like a fastball brip with spread fingers.   He doesn’t throw this much, but it makes sense for an over-the-top guy to throw this.  (I often said that Brad Peacock needed to learn this same pitch).

He also talks a lot about the way he fixes his wrist on pitches (changeups and sliders) and brings his arm through.  I wonder; is that conventional?  I’ve never given thought to the position of my own wrist when I have pitched in the past.

So, that’s 8 specific pitches, perhaps 9 if you count a 2 seam fastball in there.  And there’s no circle change or knuckle curve.   How do you call a game with this guy?

His pitch f/x data is limited from 2012; they only have 169 pitches classified.  They have him throwing 4 differerent pitches (FB, CU, CH, SL) at speeds that generally are lower than his scouting reports have him throwing (FB average velocity 92.2 with a 95.1 max).  I’m hoping he gets a shot in 2013 to really show his repetoire.  I’d like to see what he can do in the majors.

Written by Todd Boss

January 31st, 2013 at 9:50 am