Nationals Arm Race

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

Archive for the ‘lance berkman’ tag

Obligatory Post on the 2019 Hall of Fame class

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Rivera's last Yankee Apperance. Photo Jim McIsaac/Long Island Newsday.

Rivera’s last Yankee Apperance. Photo Jim McIsaac/Long Island Newsday.

Its that time of the year, so that means Hall of Fame Ballot time.  BBWAA Writers should have mailed in their ballots by 12/31/18, and we should start seeing a glut of “this is who I voted for and why” posts come out this week.

Nearly 25% of the voters got a jump on things and published early; as of Christmas more than 90 ballots were in Ryan Thibodaux‘s tracker and as of the new year he’s got more than 130 of the total 412 ballots available.

If you’re still “in” on the hall after the inexplicable Harold Baines election, then read on.

Here’s two key links for you, if you’re still reading:

And, here’s a link to one of the best “imaginary hall of fame” ballot stories i’ve ever read, from Jay Jaffe, he of JAWS fame, breaking down the ballot in a great way.

My consideration of candidates for the Hall, unlike my consideration of a lot of stuff in baseball, comes down more to “feel” than it does to stats.  I know Jay Jaffe  has his great JAWS thing that tries to do both peak and longevity.  I know b-r.com has a bunch of metrics per player.  That’s all great.  But it isn’t the hall of stats, it isn’t the hall of WAR.  Its the Hall of Fame.  Its the hall of marquee players from their day.  I look at the players I’d vote for and … they’re the guys you paid money to see.  They’re the arms that were on the mound and you gave the opposing team little chance.  They’re the sluggers who you wanted up in the 9th inning of a tie game.  That’s what makes the game exciting and that’s the lens I like to use when judging players.  Yeah its subjective and partisan; so is every person voting in the BBWAA.  Even Jaffe admits there’s stats and then there’s consideration in his excellent article linked above.

With my imaginary ballot, here’s how i’d vote.  Since there’s a (ridiculous) limit of 10 players per ballot, I’ll list these players in rough order of voting priority to start:

New to the 2019 Ballot Candidates:

  • Absolute Yes on Mariano RiveraRoy Halladay.
    • Rivera may be the closest we ever get to a unanimous player; a dominant closer who impacted the post-season for two decades and was a great guy with no enemies in the press.
    • Halladay was the best or among the best pitchers in baseball for nearly a decade, winning Cy Youngs in both leagues and throwing a post-season no-hitter.  He unfortunately also gets posthumous votes thanks to his ill timed death early in 2018.  Yes, his inclusion technically “lowers” the SP bar .. but I think its just about time people started realizing we have to re-think the way we evaluate SPs in our game.
  • Slight pause to consider Todd Helton, Lance BerkmanAndy Pettitte and Roy Oswalt, but then still vote no.  For each, here’s a couple of thoughts:
    • Helton had a 5 year stretch where he was once of the most feared  hitters in the game, and accumulated a ton of WAR … but was kind of a lack-of-power 1B who got a boost playing in Colorado and probably wasn’t anywhere close to the player that Fred McGriff was, who couldn’t sniff the hall.
    • Berkman was an even better, more dangerous hitter … he retired with a career OPS+ of 144, but aged badly and was done by 37.  His intolerant political views can’t be helping him either (in the same vein they’re affecting Schilling)
    • If you didn’t like Jack Morris, you probably don’t like Pettitte either, as they profile very similarly.  Pettitte has the distinction of having the most Wins in the first decade of the new year … and with Morris’ inclusion every “decade leading” wins getter is in the Hall.  But something tells me that streak ends here.  He also has a bona-fide PED testing result that, for some reason or another, isn’t viewed with nearly the vitriol as other PED-associated players (Bonds, Clemens, McGwire, Sosa, etc).  Amazing how the media narrative changes based on the player (Pettitte == “good guy” while Bonds == “bad guy.”)
    • Oswalt burst onto the scene and was one of the best pitchers in the NL for the first half of his career … then disappeared and was done as an effective pitcher by the age of 33.  He’s like the Orel Hershiser of his generation, but only half as accomplished.
  • No on everyone else, and there’s nobody really close.

Returning Ballot Candidates; i’m not re-litigating these candidates, since i’ve written many times on them in the past.   Plus, most of these guys have been on the ballot so long that, frankly, nobody wants to hear your justification any more.  Its like politics; reading my blog post isn’t going to change your opinion on the Border Wall.

  • Absolute Yes on Roger Clemens, Barry Bonds, Edgar Martinez, Mike Mussina
  • More tepid Yes on Curt Schilling, Manny Ramirez, Fred McGriff
  • Almost ready to say Yes on Gary Sheffield, Billy WagnerScott Rolen
  • Pass for now on Jeff Kent, Larry Walker, Sammy Sosa, Omar Vizquel, Andruw Jones.

So i’ve got absolute Yes’s on 6 guys, tepid Yes on another three, then would probably throw on Sheffield as my 10th.

I vote Yes on Mariano, Halladay, Clemens, Bonds, Edgar, Mussina, Schilling, Manny, McGriff and Sheffield.

I get the arguments for Walker, for Wagner, for Sosa, for Jones.  That’s why lots of people say there’s 14 worth candidates on this year’s ballot but only 10 spots.  Maybe next year.

 

My 2012 Fantasy Baseball Team

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Kemp reacts to being the first overall pick in my fantasy league. Photo unknown via ladodgertalk.com

As with last year’s edition of this post, feel free to stop reading now if you don’t want to read fantasy team analysis of a league that you’re not necessarily in.  I know that really grates some people, and I understand.  For those of you who do play fantasy, I’ll try to talk about who was available and who I had to choose from for each pick so you can get a context of the decisions I made.

League overview: 12 team 6×6 head to head.  Your categories are:

  • Hitting: Runs, HRs, RBIs, SBs, Batting Average and OPS.
  • Pitching: Wins, Saves, K’s, ERA, WHIP and Holds.

Last year we had Losses as a category instead of Holds but too many of the league hated the Losses category, but wanted to keep OPS as a 6th category.  So we’ve introduced Holds as a category for the 2012 season.  I proposed this but rather inadvertantly; my strategy going into this 2012 season was going to be to go after the exact type of pitcher who normally gets holds; the setup-guy, the excellent specialized reliever who pitchers 60-70 innings but gets 70-80 K’s with excellent ERAs and WHIPs.  With no Losses to worry about, the value of holding any type of pitcher increased over last year’s edition of the league. The only downside was that we are also introducing a transaction limit for the season (65 over the 21 week season).  So picking good arms early will be crucial.

We added an 11th and 12th team to the league at the last minute, two newer guys to fantasy baseball who made some “interesting” picks throughout the night.  I was picking 1st out of the 12 in a typical snake draft order.

My draft strategy for 2012 is as follows:

  • Get the minimum number of hitters, and get them early to get the best players available.
  • Focus on Homers.  Homers lead to Runs and RBIs, 3 of your 6 offensive categories.
  • Get a couple of top end starters early, then spend the entire 2nd half of the draft on pitching.
  • Focus on NL, high K/9 starters only.
  • Get a high end closer if they’re available, but don’t over spend.
  • Focus on the high-end Holds leaders and setup guys, getting guys who can close in a pinch.

What became  apparent about 5 rounds into the draft is the disservice of drafting 1st (or last) in such a huge league; if a run starts on a position, you have almost no chance of getting any of the top guys.  Catchers, top-end Holds guys and top-end Closers all had major runs without my even getting a consideration to get a pick in.  Once all the top closers were gone, I decided not to scrounge for saves, at all.  If a guy like Rodriguez or Holland becomes a closer and I get free saves, all the better.  But what I really want are low ERA, low WHIP innings all week that help lower the overall team ERA/WHIP.

Below are my round-by-round picks.  Yahoo O-Ranks are given; this is Yahoo’s rank for the player for the 2012 season.  Average Draft Rank (ADR) is listed as per MockDraftCentral’s ratings, though honestly after the Holds guys start going off the board the ADR is mostly useless.  Plus ADR reports are based on the classic 5×5 league, not the 6×6 league that we’re doing.   But it does illustrate some of the over-drafts and/or value picks I got.

  1. Matt Kemp: (Yahoo #2, ADR #2) With the first overall pick I really was choosing between Kemp and Miguel Cabrera.  I liked Cabrera because he’ll be gaining positional flexibility at 3B, a relatively thin position.  I also like Cabrera because he’s gaining Prince Fielder to provide lineup protection.  However; Kemp was the #1 producer last season, had 39 Hrs to Cabrera’s 30 and threw in 40 steals for good measure.  I think Kemp is the best player in baseball and I see no reason that he won’t at least repeat his (near) 40/40 performance.  With the understanding that I’ll be missing most of the high end infielders by virtue of not picking again until the 23rd overall pick, I take Kemp.  Cabrera’s grounder to the face just a few hours before the draft didn’t really factor into the decision.  Ironically Ryan Braun was ADR #1 but he didn’t go until 4th or 5th in our league.
  2. Ian Kinsler: (Yahoo #20, ADR #23).  With the 24th pick, I really wanted Curtis Granderson, who was a bit undervalued (Yahoo ranked #22 but 6th best player in 2011), but he got snagged just before I picked.  Kinsler was highest guy on the board and was the natural pick.  I’ve had Kinsler before and he’s always a solid, mid 20s producer with some consistency.  He was hurt in 2010 but in 2009 was a top 10 player.  Lets hope for a similar season.  2B is thin (even more so with Chase Utley‘s injury), so I didn’t mind getting a halfway decent one this high.
  3. Giancarlo Stanton: (Yahoo #25, ADR #26): With the 25th pick, I reached a little bit for Stanton.   I didn’t want to go with slighly higher ranked guys like Mark Teixeira and certainly not Hanley Ramirez (who Itook #2 overall last year and absolutely killed my team).  Cliff Lee (Yahoo #24) should have been there but was drafted incredibly early by one of the new guys in the league.  So, faced with a slew of positional guys after Stanton on the Yahoo chart who all under performed last year (Beltre, McCutchen, Wright) and therefore were not worth the draft position, I took a gamble on Stanton.  Personally I think this guy is going to be one of the biggest names in the game; a 45 homer guy who helps bring his team back to relevance.  Unfortunately I wasn’t aware that he’s been dinged up in Spring Training and now may miss opening day.  That’s not good drafting.  But i’d rather have him and miss a couple weeks than be frustrated with an injury prone guy.
  4. Tim Lincecum: (Yahoo #28, ADR #24)
  5. Cole Hamels: (Yahoo #32, ADR #29): After 22 more picks, drafting with the 48th and 49th overall pick I was stunned to see two NL heavyweight starters sitting there available for the taking.   According to ADR both these guys should have been long gone.  Lincecum struggled last year clearly, but Hamels overperformed based on his Yahoo ranking (#21 performer in 2011) and fit my profile of an NL starter with good stats.  No argument here; I took the two leading starters available.  Its like a repeat of 2011: I had both these starters last year and I’m looking forward to having them both again this year.
  6. Brett Lawrie (Yahoo #45, ADR #53): With the 72nd overall pick I again got great value in Lawrie.  At this point I had not drafted either a 3B or a 1B, having missed out on the first couple of tiers of both.  I had a 1B targeted (see pick #8) so I went for an upside pick.  Lawrie had 9 homers in just 150 ABs in 2011 and based on his minor league production he seems set to be a monster hitter in this league.  Based on who was left on the board at that position at this time (Mark Reynolds, David Frese, Martin Prado) I went with the best available guy.  That being said, Lawrie is a risk.  I’m slightly worried that 2 of my top 4 hitters are relatively young guys who could go south; this strategy failed me last year (when Jason Heyward and Pedro Alvarez both underperformed so badly that I had to drop them).
  7. Alex Gordon; (Yahoo #66, ADR #61): Right after Lawrie with the 73rd overall pick, I was scanning down the available hitters, with an eye on 2011 performance, I was amazed again to find a near top 20 guy from last  year.   Gordon was ranked #23 in 2011 performance but was still on the board.  I grabbed him.  23 Homers, 87 rbi along with 17 steals and I think this is a halfway decent pick.  He takes my last OF spot.
  8. Lance Berkman: (Yahoo #86, ADR #95); With the 96th pick I nabbed Berkman.  Waiting until the 8th round to find a first baseman is not usually a good strategy … but it has served me well in the past.  Instead of overpaying for one of the top 1Bs, I like to wait and get nearly as good a player but many rounds below.  Last year it was Paul Konerko (who I would have loved to get again but Jamos snapped him up a few rounds earlier) so this year I targeted Berkman.  Another undervalued pick (his 2011 yahoo ranking: 32) who qualifies at both OF and 1B but who will be playing the far less taxing 1B position fulltime in 2012.  Because of this shift to the infield, i’m hoping for a healther season and more ABs.  Berkman proved last year he can still hit, and with a relatively decent lineup still around him he should still see pitches to hit despite the Cardinals losing Pujols.  31 homers last year in just 488 ABs; he could broach 40 if he gets 600 Abs like he should.
  9. Jimmy Rollins: (Yahoo #73, ADR #88).  97th overall, still continuing to get value.  Rollins isn’t the best SS out there, but by the 9th round he’s as good as you’re going to get.  He was a decent producer in 2011 but is a far cry from his 2007-2009 numbers (when in consecutive seasons he was the 5th, 9th and 12th ranked fantasy player).  He has some power, 30 SB capability and a decent bat.  With the Phillies injury concerns, perhaps more RBI opportunities will fall to Rollins.
  10. Joe Mauer (Yahoo #95, ADR #82).  At the 120th pick, I was missing two positional players: a catcher and a utility guy.  I’ve been burned in the past drafting catchers too high, and frankly am happy to roll the dice with the recovering Mauer.  Mauer has positional flexibility of qualifying for 1B if needed but what I really need is for him to be in the lineup and hitting.  If Mauer returns anywhere close to his 2009 form (#12 fantasy producer) this will be the steal of the draft.
  11. Josh Johnson (Yahoo #101, ADR #99).  More value, but also more risk, with the #121 pick.  Johnson fits my profile of high K NL starters … but of course is coming off of a major arm injury.  Is he ready to go?  If he’s healthy, this is a 4th or 5th round talent way down in the 11th.  If not … well there’s always the waiver wire.
  12. Drew Stubbs: (Yahoo #92, ADR #79).  With the 144th pick I needed one last hitter to supplement my bench and noticed the huge number of SBs that Stubbs had last year (40).  He was decently ranked for value and I think this is a pretty decent pick.  The ADR of 79 probably is skewed higher because in a 5×5 league steals are more important.  But Steals are important here as well, and looking at this team i’ve got a ton of them.  Big fan of this pick here.
  13. Mike Adams.  Pick #145 and the beginning of my main 2012 strategy; focus on setup guys who get holds and have good peripherals.  By the 13th round the top Holds guys from 2011 (Clippard, Venters, Robinson, and Marshall) were all gone; I was most disappointed to have missed on Robinson in particular, who went just a few picks before I went.  I grabbed Adams as the best holds guy available.  (note from here on out I won’t bother with Yahoo ranks or ADRs for Holds guys since they doesn’t make any sense).
  14. Ricky Romero: (Yahoo #109, ADR #86): At this point in the draft I was targeting a few more starters and a few more setup guys and went for best players available.  but getting a guy of Romero’s caliber with the 168th pick is great.  Romero isn’t entirely my kind of starter; he’s AL, and more importantly he’s AL East.  But his K/9 is improved and he’s a good pitcher on a team that will get wins.  He had 15 wins last year with a sub 3.00 ERA; imagine if he pitched in the NL.  Regardless, he’s a good pickup at this point in the draft.
  15. Francisco Rodriguez: I like K-Rod because, well, if Milwaukee’s closer (John Axford) falters or gets hurt, suddenly I’ve got a pretty good closer getting saves.  As it stands, Rodriguez will get a ton of Hold opportunities and has all the incidentals I want in a back-end reliever (good K/9, good holds from 2011).  The only downside on him is his ERA; its a bit high for an 8th inning guy.
  16. Fernando Salas: Salas was St. Louis’ closer for most of 2011 but got demoted after a couple of blown saves in August.  He didn’t get demoted because his numbers were bad; in fact his 2011 numbers were great.  Unfortunately for Salas, Jason Motte lit it up in the post season and enters 2012 with the job clearly in hand.  Which means, like Rodriguez, he’ll get save opportunities as the former closer and would be the presumptive replacement in case of injury or ineffectiveness.
  17. Jeremy Hellickson (Yahoo #183, ADR #127); Going against my better judgement, I picked up yet another AL East pitcher, but once again went for value.  Hellickson was my 193rd pick and despite being Yahoo ranked 183, he was 86th in performance in 2011.  Lots of people think Hellickson will regress in 2012 because of his amazingly low BABIP (.223 in 2011).  However not all of Hellickson’s BABIP variation is attributed to “luck;” He’s a flyball pitcher.  And flyball pitchers will have more of their balls in play caught, keeping BABIP low.  Hellickson had only 35% of balls in play be grounders in 2011.  Roy Halladay, by way of comparison, has been 50% or more groundballs every year of his career.  Where this should be catching up to Hellickson is in homers given up (more fly balls should lead to more homers), but his home ballpark helps.  Either way. I’ll take him with the 193rd pick.
  18. Mark Melancon: Another deposed closer in Melancon, who got 20 saves for Houston last year but joins Boston as the presumptive 8th inning guy behind Andrew Bailey.  Remember; Bailey missed 2 months in 2011 with a forearm strain; Melancon ably fits into the closer spot.  This pick may be affected by recent news that Daniel Bard will be returning to the bullpen, but holds guys don’t have to be 8th inning guys.
  19. Greg Holland: What a find here; Holland has fantastic numbers and could be another steal since KC closer Soria has blown out his elbow.  I don’t think Holland gets the call as the closer immediately, but if new acquisition Broxton doesn’t step up Holland will.
  20. Alexi Ogando (Yahoo #227, ADP #208); Looking for two more starters I went for best names on the board.  Ogando may not be the best but he’ll get Ks and he has a big arm.  And at the 240th pick of the night I’m happy to get a 13 game winner on a playoff team.
  21. Josh Collmenter (Yahoo #312, ADP #305):  I don’t understand why Collmenter is so low; he plays in the weaker NL West, is in the NL, and won 10 games with good numbers last year (#140 ranked yahoo fantasy in 2011).    Oh; just found out why; he’s got a 14.00 ERA in Spring Training thus far.  Ouch.  We’ll keep an eye on his first couple starts (perhaps sitting him if he’s going against a touch lineup) and see how he goes.

Team analysis

Hitters: I’ve got a ton of power, but also a ton of SB capability.  Kemp is 40/40 guy, Kinsler and Lawrie project to be 30/30 and Gordon a 20/20 guy.  Rollins and Stubbs both get a ton of steals.  I’ve got 5 guys with 30+ homer capability.  Homers lead to runs and RBIs.  What may hurt me is AVG and OPS: Kinsler, Stanton and Stubbs all seem to be .250 hitters.  Rollins and Stubbs both are < .800 OPS guys.  So we’ll take the good with the bad.  But I do like my hitters.

Name Team Pos O-rank 2011 Actual Owned H/AB R HR RBI SB AVG OPS
Lance Berkman StL 1B,OF 86 32 97% 147/488 90 31 94 2 0.301 0.959
Ian Kinsler Tex 2B 20 22 99% 158/620 121 32 77 30 0.255 0.832
Brett Lawrie Tor 3B 45 771 97% 44/150 26 9 25 7 0.293 0.953
Joe Mauer Min C,1B 95 820 97% 85/296 38 3 30 0 0.287 0.728
Matt Kemp LAD OF 2 1 99% 195/602 115 39 126 40 0.324 0.985
Giancarlo Stanton Mia OF 25 66 99% 135/516 79 34 87 5 0.262 0.893
Alex Gordon KC OF 66 23 98% 185/611 101 23 87 17 0.303 0.878
Jimmy Rollins Phi SS 73 67 97% 152/567 87 16 63 30 0.268 0.737
Drew Stubbs Cin OF 92 103 93% 147/604 92 15 44 40 0.243 0.685

Pitchers: I’m less liking my starters versus what I had last year.  I have three good NL guns but then have three #2/#3 AL starters.  And I have a big injury risk in Johnson to go with spring dismal performances out of Collmenter.  I may be playing some waiver wire games.

Name Team Pos O-rank 2011 Actual Owned IP W SV K HLD ERA WHIP
Tim Lincecum SF SP 28 49 99% 217 13 0 220 0 2.74 1.21
Cole Hamels Phi SP 32 21 99% 216 14 0 194 0 2.79 0.99
Josh Johnson Mia SP 101 183 97% 60.1 3 0 56 0 1.64 0.98
Ricky Romero Tor SP 109 46 95% 225 15 0 178 0 2.92 1.14
Jeremy Hellickson TB SP 183 86 86% 189 13 0 117 0 2.95 1.15
Alexi Ogando Tex SP 227 131 68% 169 13 0 126 0 3.51 1.14
Josh Collmenter Ari SP,RP 312 140 21% 154.1 10 0 100 0 3.38 1.07

The middle relief/holds strategy should be interesting; with a transaction limit in place we’re going to have to monitor the 5 RPs closely.  I’m not after saves (clearly; having not drafted a single closer) but I wouldn’t mind getting a few here and there.  I have tried the no-closer route in the past; it didn’t work exactly as I wanted.  I had too many mediocre starters and got killed in ERA and WHIP.  This time around is slightly different; by focusing on middle relievers who generally have great stats, I’m hoping to keep ERA and WHIP down and continually add Ks and holds.

Name Team Pos O-rank 2011 Actual Owned IP W SV K HLD ERA WHIP
Mike Adams Tex RP 305 83 32% 73.2 5 2 74 32 1.47 0.79
Francisco Rodriguez Mil RP 374 149 33% 71.2 6 23 79 17 2.64 1.3
Fernando Salas StL RP 371 73 31% 75 5 24 75 6 2.28 0.95
Mark Melancon Bos RP 379 138 14% 74.1 8 20 66 3 2.78 1.22
Greg Holland KC RP 383 135 11% 60 5 4 74 18 1.8 0.93

That’s your fantasy team.  What do you think?

Nats Rule-5 lossee Spring Training Update pt 1

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Are the Nats gonna get Brad Meyers back? Photo Kevin Littlefield/Milb via mlb.com

I was thinking about the AAA rotation and how thin it stands to be for my “updated minor league rotation” post last week, when I was reminded that we may eventually get back at least one solid AAA starter if Brad Meyers fails to make the Yankees 25-man roster.  Then, spurred on by this Seedlingstothestars.com post reviewing all the Rule-5 draft picks so far this spring, here’s a quick look at both Meyers and Erik Komatsu, who were both taken in the Rule 5 draft last December but who both may very well end up back with the team.

  • Brad Meyers Spring Training Stats as of 3/10/12: No stats.  He reportedly injured his shoulder lifting weights over the winter and, while he’s throwing off flat ground he’s yet to appear in a game.  I’m guessing he’ll get stashed on the DL so the Yankees don’t have to immediately return him, waiting to see if they get an early season injury.

Most pundits (examples here and here) seem to think that Meyers is competing for the Long Man spot in the Yankees rotation, what with the late off-season acquisitions of both Michael Pineda and Hiroki Kuroda filling out all 5 available starter spots for the team (not to mention the jettisoning of AJ Burnett).   It is relatively difficult to see Meyers beating out the likes of Freddie Garcia or Phil Hughes (who themselves seem to be set up to be the 5th starter and long man, depending on the outcome of spring training battles) for this spot, and the rest of the Yankees bullpen seems set.  But, without any spring training stats to go by and with his injury status up in the air, and the possibility of a DL trip looming, I’d say that its safe to say he’s not getting returned to the Nats any time soon.

How about Komatsu?

  • Erik Komatsu Spring Training Stats as of 3/10/12: .333/.385/.583 through 12 at-bats in 6 games, playing mostly right field.  He’s got a double, a triple, and a SB.  Not bad so far.

Here’s a good analysis of Komatsu by a St. Louis focused blog upon his acquisition last December; he’s clearly competing for a backup outfielder spot, what with the team’s acquisition of new RF starter Carlos Beltran (moving incumbent Lance Berkman to the vacated 1B position for 2012). The Cardinals have a clear 4th outfielder candidate in Allen Craig but Craig is injured and most likely won’t start the season with the team.  Komatsu is also competing with a couple other prospects for a backup outfielder job, but may very well stick with the team out of camp.  I’d like to see Komatsu back; he was disappointed that he didn’t get much of a shot in Washington and he was coming off an injury most of last off-season.  But at the same time this team has been looking  high and low for a possible lead-off hitter/center fielder and Komatsu could (if you squint perhaps) fill that role.

Nats Off-season News Items Wrap-up 12/28/11 edition

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Just how bad is Alex Rodriguez’s knee? Bad enough for an experimental treatment in Germany. Photo John Munson/The Star-Ledger via nj.com

This is your semi-weekly/periodic wrap-up of Nats and other baseball news that caught my eye.

Nationals In General

  • Per CBS’s Danny Knobler (who really needs a new profile picture), the Nats had to out-bid the Red Sox for Gio Gonzalez‘s services, possibly indicating why the price in prospects went so high.
  • Buster Olney ranks the current 10 best rotations in the game after all our recent FA moves and trades.  Philly is still #1, but surprisingly LA Angels have not risen to #2.  Honestly I think the Angels have supplanted the Rays at the near-top.  And, amazing of amazing, he has the Nats at #8.  Here’s a direct quote from the article: “It’s possible that a year from now, we will view the front three of the Washington rotation as the best in the majors.”  That is high-praise indeed; perhaps THREE years from now when we have the likes of Solis, Meyer and Purke shaken out into possible MLB starting roles … but a year from now there will still be the stud 1-2-3 punches in LA, Philly and SF.
  • The next day, Olney ranks the current 10 best bullpens and, again, the Nats come in 8th.  They were 5th in the MLB in bullpen ERA last year and may need one more arm to continue that trend.
  • John Sickels‘ has published his preliminary Nats top 20 prospect list (I may have linked this in the last article frankly).   This was posted just prior to the Gio Gonzalez trade, meaning that his #3, #4, #6 and #9 prospects are now playing for Oakland.   The list is considerably thinned now, of course, but what we got in return may make everyone forget what we gave up.

Free Agents/Player Transaction News

  • Carlos Beltran signs with the St. Louis Cardinals, probably pushing Lance Berkman to the Albert Pujols vacated first base position with Beltran playing RF.  Its a good signing for St. Louis, who obviously is taking a step back offensively but Beltran should help soften the blow.  What gets me though is the price Brian Sabean paid for a couple months of Beltran, only to decide in the off-season that he wasn’t worth signing.

General Baseball News

  • Great article on Brian Cashman, the Yankees, payroll and their direction over the past few years from Jonah Keri on Grantland.com.  Whereas most teams operate on payroll budgets, the Yankees never really have before … but they do seem to be targeting the luxury tax threshold now.  Not that any team with a $189M payroll can be really that “constricted,” but the fact remains the Yankees have only won the world series once in the past decade.  This same topic covered here as well by Bob Klapish.
  • Oakland reportedly granted permission to move to San Jose.  This certainly affects the Giants and their market, though probably not as much as people may think.  When the team moved from Candlestick into the city, the move was a significant distance more than just the 7 miles and 15 minutes added onto the drive for most suburban fans.   Now those fans in the far southern parts of the Bay area, the affluent areas closer to Stanford, Sunnyvale and deep in Santa Clara county will be just a few minutes (against the majority of traffic) from an Athletics stadium, even if its built north of San Jose in Milpitas.
  • Of course, the A’s have been in a dismaying sell-off of talent so far this off-season, and don’t have a starting outfielder under contract, so they could be severely struggling until they do secure a new stadium.  Ken Rosenthal talks about this topic here; noting that Billy Beane has taken one look at his division rivals Texas and Los Angeles and concluded that the A’s are a lost cause in 2012.  Now they’re so young and weak that they may very well lose 110 games.
  • Side effect of all the action in the AL west this off-season; does anyone doubt that the AL wild card, long the property of the also-ran in the AL East, may suddenly belong to the AL west titans for the forseeable future?  Texas and Los Angeles look to feast on the incredibly weak Athletics and the still-not-contender status Mariners and could easily take 14 of 18 from these teams (in much the same way that the 103 loss 2009 Nats went 3-15 on the year versus Philadelphia).  Meanwhile, New York has done little to address its needs this off-season, nor has Boston (except to swap relievers but do relatively little to address injuries to its pitching staff).  Tampa continues to be who they always are; a young cheap team meticulously assembled to sneak up on team with 5 times their payroll … but all these teams seem set to beat each other up while their wild card contenders in the west get fat on easy teams.  Perhaps its only a one-year issue; the addition of a second wild card really lowers the difficulty bar for most of these franchises.
  • Boy, if you didn’t think the Mets franchise was in serious financial trouble, check out this article and the high lighted quote from Craig Calcaterra.  Quick calculations show that the team owes around $900 million on various loans coming due in the next few years.  I don’t see how this team could possibly stay solvent for the next 5 years.  But then the question becomes; how do you possibly pay off this much debt on a franchise that you couldn’t possibly argue is even worth $900M?
  • Phew; The Yankees have to be concerned reading this news item: Alex Rodriguez went to Germany to get experimental treatment on his knee.  In case you had forgotten, this is the same guy the team still owes $143M in salary plus a likely $24M more in homer-plateau reaching incentives that he seems relatively likely to reach.

Collegiate/Prospect News

  • Updated 2012 draft order from PerfectGame.org.  This also has a significant amount of interpretation of the new draft and compensation rules in the new CBA, and is honest in admitting that there are some things we just don’t know.  As it stands now, the Nats draft 16th overall and then not again til #80 overall because of the massive number of supplemental first round picks.
  • We have lots of family that went to UCal-Berkeley, so I always take interest in stories about the school.  This article talks about some larger fiscal problems in the State of California, ones that led to the disbanding of their baseball program and the subsequent fund-raising efforts that resurrected it (a good thing, since they made the CWS this year).  We talk a lot in politics about education and funding, but to see tuition rising 18% in one year in California public schools, with more budget cuts set on the horizon, is kind of depressing given the state of our economy in general.
  • One of the few local area Div1 baseball programs George Washington announced their spring baseball schedule.  A three-game set in mid-march versus Georgetown is the local highlight here; one game in Arlington then two at Georgetown’s home field in Bethesda (Shirley Povich stadium).  They have home-and-homes with George Mason but not JMU this year, and have a mid-week visit to the slaughter in UVA.  GWU plays in the A-10 in baseball; a pretty weak baseball conference but with some interesting teams nonetheless.

 

 

 

General News; other

  • Wow, i’m hoping this guy lost a bet.
  • Kobe Bryant; how about a little discretion buddy?  The “proof” is a little lacking though.  This website did the same thing with all of Tiger Woods‘ alleged affairs.


End of Season 2011 Award Review

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Here’s a wrap up of the end of season awards.  I posted my predictions here (albeit without MLB comeback player of the year predictions, since those came out very early in the off-season).

Final results: For the 2nd year running, I went 8-for-8 in predicting the BBWAA awards.   But I will say this; predicting these awards going forward will be more difficult, as more modern baseball writers will depend more and more on advanced stats to decided these awards.  Meanwhile, I was only 1-for-4 in predicting the Sporting News “unofficial” award add-ons for GM and Comeback player (and I pretty much disagree with all I was wrong about :-).

  • AL MVP:  Prediction: Justin Verlander.  Winner: Verlander.  Ellsbury 2nd, Bautista 3rd.
  • AL Cy Young: Prediction: Justin Verlander. Winner: Verlander, unanimously.  Weaver 2nd, Shields 3rd.
  • AL Rookie of the Year: Prediction: Jeremy Hellickson. Winner: Hellickson rather easily.  Trumbo 2nd, Hosmer 3rd.
  • AL Mgr: Prediction: Joe MaddonWinner: Maddon.  Leyland 2nd, Washington 3rd.
  • Sporting News AL GM: Prediction: Andrew FriedmanWinner: Dave Dombrowski.
  • Sporting News AL Comeback player of the Year.  Prediction: Bartolo Colon.  Winner: Jacoby Ellsbury.
  • NL MVP: Prediction: Ryan Braun. Winner: Braun.  Kemp 2nd, Fielder 3rd.
  • NL Cy Young: Prediction: Clayton Kershaw.  Winner: Kershaw handily.  Halladay 2nd, Lee 3rd.
  • NL Rookie: Prediction: Craig Kimbrel.  Winner: Kimbrel unanimously.  Freeman 2nd, Worley 3rd.
  • NL Mgr: Prediction: Kirk GibsonWinner: Gibson. Roenicke 2nd, LaRussa 3rd.
  • Sporting News NL GM:Prediction: Doug MelvinWinner: Melvin.
  • Sporting News NL Comeback player of the year.  Prediction: Ryan Vogelsong.  Winner: Lance Berkman

Discussion (here’s a link to all the 2011 post-season voting with totals from Baseball-Reference.com).

  • AL MVP: Verlander as predicted.  Not because I think he’s the MVP (see my rant about Pitchers winning the MVP here), but because he won the voting.  I think this kind of winner will gradually fade as more modern, stats-aware voters pour into the BBWAA and start “improving” the vote.  The same goes for Cy Youngs as well; see commentary for the NL Cy Young award.  That being said, this voter’s explanation perfectly sums up what I would have guessed would have happened.  And this guy, who voted Michael Young first, Verlander 2nd, Ellsbury 5th and Bautista 7th should really have his voting credentials questioned.
  • AL Cy Young: no surprise on the winner, or 2nd or 3rd place really.  I was surprised that Josh Beckett didn’t fare better.  Perhaps it was because of his injury later in the season.  His WAR should have put him in the top 5.
  • AL Rookie: Again, no surprise winner here.  Hellickson proved his value with a sparkling 2010 late season call-up, just as Matt Moore did this year for Tampa.  This award looked to be Michael Pineda‘s at the all-star break.  He finishes 5th.
  • AL Manager: Maddon won pretty handily; no surprise here.
  • AL Comeback Player of the Year: when you put Ellsbury’s season into context, he certainly out-performed any reasonable expectation of his abilities.  He wasn’t exactly a slouch in 2009, but he certainly wasn’t a 30-home run talent either.  I guessed Colon just based on the fact that he was basically out of baseball before the Yankees signed him.
  • AL Executive: Perhaps the voters have tired of the tight-rope act going on in Tampa.  Dombrowski’s FA signings were sublime, but his mid-season trade for Doug Fister probably won over the voters, who watched the Tigers improve 14 games and win the AL Central.  I question the award though; Detroit already had a massive payroll and established players in most positions.  Tampa made the playoffs in a year they slashed payroll by 40% in the AL east.
  • NL MVP: another award that will be roundly criticized by Sabre-nerds, since Kemp had a slightly better statistical season.  However I agree 100% with Mark Zuckerman‘s reasoning.  The MVP is the best player on a playoff team, unless a player on a non-playoff team has an other-worldly season.
  • NL Cy Young: Even I was surprised at the overwhelming win; 27 of 32 first place votes.  Halladay the easy 2nd place winner, though we’re bound to hear stat-heads whining that Halladay had the more impactful season.  Interesting that Ian Kennedy garnered one first place vote; thankfully it didn’t factor into any of the eventual results, because anyone who thought Kennedy’s season was better than the first three pitchers was crazy.  I think the Kershaw vote was predictable if only because Halladay already has a Cy Young to his credit, and voters wanted to give the award to someone new.  Predictably, Keith Law voted against the majority in a major award category, as he’s done the past few years.  I say predictably because Law represents the stat-heavy minded voter that, while probably correct in their voting way, does not represent the majority of current voters and thus made the predictability of this award relatively straight forward.  Here’s Amanda Comak‘s vote and explanation.
  • NL Rookie: Again, no surprise that Kimbrel won unanimously, as most older voters notoriously over-rate closers.  But there wasn’t a better choice than Kimbrel after his dominant season.  Atlanta shows how good a franchise they have been in developing talent lately with 1st and 2nd place in this competition, to go with the excellent Brandon Beachy.  Watch out next year for Julio Teheran and Arodys Vizcaino to be early ROY candidates.
  • NL Comeback Player:  No offense to Berkman’s incredible offensive season, but its not as if he was exactly chopped liver prior to 2011. Vogelsong hadn’t appeared in the majors since 2006!  Vogelsong was one of this year’s great feel-good stories, stuck in the minors for years and then putting up a fantastic season covering for the injured Barry Zito at the age of 33.  The players showed why they can’t be trusted to vote properly; Vogelsong is the definition of a comeback player.
  • NL Executive: Melvin’s all-in approach for 2011 worked, and he was rewarded for it.
http://www.freep.com/article/20111116/SPORTS02/111116004/Dave-Dombrowski-co-winner-Sporting-News-Executive-Year-award?odyssey=mod%7Cnewswell%7Ctext%7CSports%7Cs:

My 2011 End-of-Season award Predictions

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Justin Verlander’s season is one for the ages. Will it net him both a Cy Young and an MVP? Photo unknown origin via rumorsandrants.com

Last year (not to pat myself on the back or anything) but I went 8 for 8 in predicting the end-of-season awards for MLB.  In 2010 though, most of the major awards were relatively straightforward, even the Managers of the year being pretty obvious, so perhaps it wasn’t that great of a feat.

Here’s my predictions for 2011.  There’s been enough discussion about these awards in the media, with enough differing opinions, that its going to be interesting to see how this plays out.  This time through, there’s enough controversy about who really “deserves” the two MVP awards that I’ll be offering up some distinctions between who I think will win and who really should win.  I wonder if sometime soon we won’t have to make that distinction.

  • AL MVP:  Who I think will win: Justin Verlander.   In a year where none of the four playoff contending teams really had a break-out candidate, I think the voters will give it to a pitcher for the first time in 25 years.  I don’t agree with it: I don’t think pitchers should be eligible for MVPs (a topic for a future blog-post), but Verlander’s season was clearly a step ahead of the normal pitcher’s season.  As for Jacoby Ellsbury, his 30/30 season and his single-handed effort to drag his team into the post season almost earned him the nod, but when Boston missed the playoffs I’m guessing Ellsbury’s candidacy took a nose dive as well.  Curtis Granderson‘s fade in the 2nd half after a blistering first half costs him, despite a fantastic season overall. Adrian Gonzalez also started out w/ a monster first half, but faded down the stretch.  Jose Bautista would get more consideration if he was playing for a better team.  Miguel Cabrera quietly had a fantastic season but he’s completely overshadowed on his own team by Verlander’s great season.  Who really should win? Batista if his team was relevant at all.  He was clearly the best AL offensive player this year and put up historic stats.  But, the modern MVP isn’t about guys who toil in the 2nd division.  If they wanted to give the equivalent of a “Cy Young” to the “best hitter” in the league, Batista would be the winner hands down.  The definition of the MVP comes into consideration yet again.  Who probably would have won if his team didn’t collapse and miss the playoffs? Ellsbury.
  • AL Cy Young: Justin Verlander, with a no-hitter and dominance day-in and day-out, first to 20 wins and the pitching triple crown.  Jered Weaver, Josh Beckett get some 2nd place consideration (despite Beckett’s late season injury and subsequent beer and chicken distractions).   James Shields became a new pitcher in 2011 and could get some top 5 votes. CC Sabathia will get votes since wins play so heavily.  Felix Hernandez won’t get the votes he got last year.  CJ Wilson had a great season leading Texas to back-to-back titles; thankfully for him the voting for this award came in prior to his post-season meltdowns.
  • AL Rookie of the Year:  Jeremy Hellickson had wins and a great ERA and should be the pick.   Michael Pineda looked like a lock until fading in the 2nd half, but Hellickson’s toiling on the East Coast (media bias) and in the AL East (legitimately more difficult than the teams Pineda normally faced) gives him the nod.  Mark Trumbo put up some comparisons to Wally Pipp for Los Angeles and gives the Angels another big bat going into 2012.  Jordan Walden (closer for the Angels) had a fine season.  Ivan Nova quietly put his name into the mix with a 16-win season.  Justin Smoak, perhaps Dustin Ackley, Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas, Aaron Crow could get mentions.  Zack Britton started strong but disappeared in the 2nd half.  There’s so many good candidates this year, the voting may be pretty close, and any of the above names could get some top-5 votes.  But Hellickson should be the winner.
  • AL Mgr:  Joe Maddon‘s magic show of a managing job, with a completely new bullpen, huge loss of talent and nearly halving of his team’s payroll from the 2010 version of the Rays yet still sneaking into the playoffs should be your winner.  Manny Acta, who had the Indians in playoff position for a bit after last year’s 93-loss season in the first half, gets some consideration.  You could mention the job Ron Washington did to get his team back to the WS despite losing his ace pitcher.
  • (Unofficial “award”): AL GM: This award begins and ends with Andrew Friedman, who had the Rays in the playoffs with a payroll 1/5th of his competition.  It just doesn’t get any better than that.  Dombrowski in Detroit gets some credit for trades that paid off well, and Daniels in Texas gets some longer term credit for continuing to build a good young team.
  • NL MVP: Who I think will win: Ryan Braunled his team to the playoffs and overshadowed his cleanup hitter down the stretch.   Matt Kemp hit the cover off the ball all season but his team went nowhere during the season of the McCourts, and there’s little precedent for players from the 2nd division winning the MVP unless they have an outer-world season.  Jose Reyes had a great (contract) year, but his team is faltering and he was hurt by injuries.  And, his little ploy to guarantee the batting title on the season’s final day certainly turned off some BBWAA members.  Andrew McCutchen had a breakout season but the Pirates swoon will cost him.  Lance Berkman will get some consideration but will be difficult to select since he’s (arguably) the 3rd best player on his own team.   Prince Fielder also had a monster year and could take votes away from Braun, but without a clear candidate in the competition I’m guessing Fielder comes in 3rd.  Justin Upton came out of nowhere (as did his team) to put his name in the discusion and likely is a top-5 finisher.  Who really should win? Kemp clearly, but for the same reasons Batista won’t win, neither will Kemp.
  • NL Cy Young:  Clayton Kershaw won the NL pitching “triple crown” (Technically, he tied for the league-lead in wins with 21) for a team with a losing record on the year.  That’s tough to do.  Roy Halladay, having his typical dominant year with 6 CGs at the break, certainly deserves the award but i’m guessing voters want to reward someone new.  Cliff Lee isn’t having a half-bad season either.  Cole Hamels and Jair Jurrjens should be in this conversation but tailed off in the latter part of the season.  Ian Kennedy should get some 4th and 5th place votes for his fantastic season, finishing 21-4 for the surprising NL West winning Diamondbacks.
  • NL Rookie: Craig Kimbrel, who broke the rookie-save record before the all star break and is one of the top closers in the game right now will win despite what people may think about saves and reliever value.  Freddie Freeman is in the conversation.  Phillies starter Vance Worley has come out of nowhere to go 9-1 to start the 2nd half.   The Atlanta rookies (including Brandon Beachy) could go 1-2-3.  Hometown candidates Danny Espinosa and Wilson Ramos certainly deserves some notice and may get a few 5th place votes here and there, but you can’t hit .230 and expect to win the ROY award.
  • NL Mgr: Kirk Gibson in Arizona for a worst-to-first turn around.  Clint Hurdle of Pittsburgh, with his 2010-worst team over .500 at the all star break is 2nd.
  • (unofficial award) NL GM: Milwaukee’s Doug Melvin wheeled and dealt his prospects into two front-line starters and a first place team out of last year’s 77-win team.  You can also give some credit to Towers in Arizona (though a lot of the work there was due to his predecessor).

Thoughts?  There’s plenty of opinion pieces out there with these predictions, though most were published at the end of the season.  Get ready for two weeks of award over-analysis as these awards are given out by the BBWAA starting November 14th.

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

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All other news items are meaningless until we know if Wilson Ramos is safe. Photo Al Bello/Getty Images via federalbaseball.com

Here’s a weekly wrap up of Nats-related news items, along with other general interest baseball articles, with my thoughts as appropriate.  (Note: these news items are more or less chronological, with me going back and adding in clarifying links as needed.  Hence the Ramos news is towards the bottom, having happened late in the Saturday-to-Friday blog post news cycle i’m using, despite clearly being the most important item to the team right now…)

  • MLB’s Bill Ladson reports that the Nats have interest in Roy Oswalt, late of the Phillies.  I don’t think its a serious interest frankly; yes Oswalt would be nice to have and would be a better member of the rotation than either Detwiler or Milone (your probable #5 starters right now), but I suspect that this is just Mike Rizzo claiming interest in every good FA.  I’m sure if you asked Rizzo if he was interested in Pujols he’d say, “yes!”  But its not worthy of an 800 word article.
  • Nice start in the AFL from Sammy Solis on Friday 11/5/11: 9 K’s in 4 scoreless innings.  He gave up 3 hits and 3 walks though, so not an entirely clean outing, but that many strikeouts against an AFL hitting all-star lineup is good.  Also on the night, Matthew Purke had a 1-2-3 inning, progress considering what he’s done earlier in the AFL.  Solis’ next start wasn’t as clean, 3 runs in 3 innings for the loss.  We’ve all been cautioned not to read too much into any stat line coming out of the AFL; its the end of a long season, the pitchers are tired, the hitters are tired, its a hitters league in hitters ballparks, etc.  So perhaps I’ll stop trying to analyze performances in Arizona.  I’d like to see some progress, some decent scouting reports about Purke specifically, but Solis, who just finished a full season, probably isn’t a concern.  Especially if, by previous accounts, he’s working on a new curve ball.
  • For anyone who cares about our neighbor franchise in Baltimore, their GM search did not go very well.  The lost out on their (presumed) top choice Jerry Dipoto to the Angels, then had their #2 choice Tony LaCava turn down the job.  Why?  According to Danny Knobler, owner Peter Angelos refused to clear out his cronies in the front office, so LaCava declined the job.  Now we hear that the #3 candidate DeJon Watson has pulled out, seemingly because (according to allegations in this post) he was only being interviewed to satisfy minority-consideration requirements out of the front office.  Wait, it gets better; Boston assistant Allen Baird declined to even interview for the job.  Finally on 11/6, former Montreal and Boston GM Dan Duquette signed on for the job.  Still, what a joke; at what point does Angelos look in the mirror, and look at the 15 years of destruction he’s done to what was once the best team and best franchise in the sport, and admit to himself he needs to change his ways?  I don’t have a reference necessarily, but recall an article discussing this decline of the once proud Orioles as a classic case of successful business executive in one field (in Angelos’ case, law) obtaining a sports franchise and then immediately assuming (because of ego) that because he was successful in business, he will be successful in sports ownership.  You see this clearly with Dan Snyder‘s tenure of the similarly once-proud Redskins.  How do the Orioles get out of this mess?  Unfortunately, it may take the untimely death of Angelos to get some movement towards reality in the ownership group.
  • Is it just me, or is the Oakland franchise heading for some dark days?  Per Ken Rosenthal, they’re taking offers on nearly any player on the team, their entire OF and DH are free agents and not likely to be pursued, and they may look to actually pare salary from last year’s 21st ranked salary team.  The A’s have a slew of younger arms that all put up good numbers (albeit in a pitcher’s ballpark), and could be entertaining phone calls on some of their arbitration-eligible starters.  Perhaps the Nats, who have a history of trading with Billy Beane, could flip some prospects for someone like Trevor Cahill or Gio Gonzalez, both entering the first year of arbitration and sure be in the $3M range (Rosenthal’s article says Cahill is signed long-term, but its not in Cots).  Or, they could pursue a non-guaranteed deal with Dallas Braden, who clearly will be non-tendered coming off major shoulder surgery but who could be the next Wang-like reclamation project.  Lastly, Brandon McCarthy is a free agent,  and pitched pretty well in 2011 when he wasn’t hurt.  He could be another injury-reclamation, low-cost acquisition.
  • Frank McCourt, as we all know by now, is selling the Los Angeles Dodgers.  About time.  But did you also know he’s selling the Los Angeles Marathon?  Question: how do you “own” a marathon?
  • Silver Sluggers announced on 11/2/11:  No Nats mentioned, hardly a surprise.  Michael Morse was never going to beat out the NL outfield trio of Kemp, Braun, and Upton, who may finish nearly 1-2-3 in MVP voting.  No room in the NL outfield for Lance Berkman either.
  • Thanks to Nats blogs District on Deck and NationalsProspects for pointing out BA’s published list of all 500-something Minor League Free Agents.  There’s several very familiar names on the list (Garrett Mock, JD Martin, and Shairon Martis to start) and it could be interesting to see if these guys try their luck elsewhere.  I’ll probably put together a re-cap of these FAs along with my commentary culled from my minor league review articles later on.
  • My former teammate and GM/coordinator of the collegiate wood bat franchise Antonio Scott just got enough backing to enter his team into the Cal Ripken league for next season.  His team, which generally tries to recruit from historically black colleges and also spends a great amount of time reaching back into the DC youth baseball community, will partner with Gallaudet University and play at their new facility.  Great news for Antonio and for youth baseball in the District.
  • Per Byron Kerr, Baseball America released top 10 prospects for NL East teams on 11/6.  Here’s the BA link directly for the Nationals.  The rankings show just how good BA thinks our 2011 draft was, and more or less mirrors the Fangraphs.com ranking that came out earlier this off-season.  Here’s 2010’s rankings for comparison.  There is some complaining in the Natmosphere about the over-ranking of our 2011 draft crop, but (as I pointed in in comments on other blogs) there’s little argument in ranking Rendon, Purke, Godwin and Meyer over the guys most likely ranked 11-15th in our system (guys like Hood, Kobernus, Marrero or Smoker).
  • The next great hope from Cuba: Yoenis Cespedes. Wants $30M contract, projects as a center fielder (albeit with a poor arm) and a #5 power hitter. Of course, the Nats have their name listed as “interested.”  One wonders if the Yuniesky Maya experiment will color their opinions of the next great Cuban question mark.
  • I found a random blog related to Cuban baseball; here’s their reaction to Cespedes’ FA announcement.  All I can say is, wow.  Can’t say I’ve ever seen a blog post calling someone the “N-word” for pursuing a free agent contract.
  • Awful news coming out late Wednesday: Wilson Ramos kidnapped in Venezuela.  This is, as noted in Adam Kilgore‘s article, a growing trend in certain South American countries.  Lets hope its done for a quick buck and Ramos is returned unharmed.  The call to return home in the off-season is large for latin american players; I wonder how much incidents like this (along with other well publicized incidents of late involving family members of other prominent baseball players, as well as numerous accounts from pro Soccer players and their families) will force teams to “strongly advise” against their players returning to latin america in the off season.  Ryan Tatusko, Nats farm-hand and fellow Venezuela Winter League participant, blogged about his thoughts of the safety issues in the country.
  • Rob Neyer scanned and published (with Bill James’ consent) the first set of Baseball Analyst articles edited and written by James back in the early 80s.  You can save-as all the PDFs and cover art JPGs.
  • Great, great Nationals Prospect chat by Aaron Fitt at Baseball America, in the wake of their top 10 for the system.  Lots of interesting nuggets of opinion from Fitt.  Unfortunately Baseball America is subscription only but its worth the $30/year for content like this (as is ESPN insider).
  • Why are the Phillies getting ready to give Ryan Madson $40M+??    And why would the Nationals POSSIBLY be involved in the bidding for a $10M/year right-handed reliever when we already have that, in spades, at a fraction of the cost??!  That would be a colossal waste of money.  Closers are a colossal waste of money in general (google Joe Posnanski and the history of the save for his excellent article on how team’s save percentages are virtually identical through the  years despite the rise of highly paid closers.
  • My 2 cents on the entire Sandusky/Paterno/PSU mess: I couldn’t have said it better than Tom Boswell said it on the front page of the WP on 11/10. Paterno may not have done anything “illegal,” but he certainly did not use his best judgement throughout the years, allowing Sandusky to continue to be in the good graces of the program.  And that is why Paterno doesn’t have a job any more (as opposed to being charged with a perjury felony like the administrators who lied to the Grand Jury).  Just a sad event all around, for the victims, for Paterno (who found himself in an impossible situation) and for the Penn State students and alumni who are not exactly distinguishing themselves for not seeing what poor judgement was used by their icon throughout the years.

Boswell Chat 10/31/11: My answers to his Baseball questions

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Lots of World Series questions from Boswell this time around. Photo unknown via usasportsbettinglines.com

Tom Boswell did his monday morning chat on 10/31 in the wake of the end of an epic World Series and a brutal 23-0 loss by the town’s #1 draw Redskins.  Lets see how many baseball questions he takes…

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

Q: What do you make of the decision to post-pone game 6 of the World Series so early?

A: The implication being, it never really rained.  Baseball was very quick to do cancellations this year, as we saw when a day game here was cancelled despite it being perfectly sunny outside.  The extra day of rest enabled St. Louis to put Carpenter on the mound for game 7 on a relatively acceptable amount of rest (3 days), a key factor that helped turn the tide.  Meanwhile Texas didn’t take advantage and kept the same rotation they announced at the beginning of the series (a point I made in this space, asking why Holland wasn’t recalled after his game 4 gem).  I understand what MLB was worried about (starting, stopping, rain-delays and losing TV viewership), but the delay ended up affecting the world series in a way that the Rangers can’t be happy about.  Boswell notes that he was in St. Louis, it was barely raining but he supported the decision at the time.

Q: Is St. Louis the “team of the decade,” since they went to three world series to the Yankees and Red Sox’ two?

A: Eh; both St. Louis WS victories were as weaker teams that ran the table in the playoffs.  For me the Yankees are probably the “team of the decade,” with their winning percentage and 90% playoff rate being paramount.  Boswell notes that St. Louis’s A-players are far better than the Nats comparable players, and that we have a long way to go.

Q: Are baseball players overpaid?  (Citing Pujols’ contract demands, Sabathia’s opt-out and Jeter’s $12M/year)?

A: In a game where you can have MVPs on rookie contracts making $450k (Dustin Pedroia) and a large percentage of your team also on league minimums, its hard to say that a player is “overpaid.”  Pujols IS the St. Louis Cardinals; if I were them i’d offer him ownership in the team, since he’s a legacy ball player that will always be as associated with St. Louis as Stan MusialSabathia is just taking advantage of the market; he knows that he can get a few more guaranteed years and more guaranteed money, so why not do it?  Blame the Yankees for giving him that ridiculous opt-out clause in the first place.  Lastly the Jeter contract was NOT about equating pay with performance; it was about the Yankees paying to save-face for their own vast overpayment of Alex Rodriguez when Jeter’s the captain and the clear face of the franchise.  Boswell notes that most FAs show solidarity towards the efforts of their yesteryear colleagues who fought so hard for free agency, and try to push the envelope.

Q: Was Nelson Cruz’s miss on the David Freese triple a Bill Buckner-level gaffe?

A: Not at all; Freese‘s ball hit the fence and was nearly a walk-off homer.  Cruz may not be the best fielder but that was no gimme ground ball (like the one that Buckner missed).  Boswell puts it well; Cruz failed to make an excellent play while Buckner missed an easy one.  No better way to put it.

Q: Was St. Louis’ victory about Karma (and then a long winded, conspiracy theory level email involving the Deckinger blown call)?

A: St. Louis’ victory showed what happens when you put together a very strong 3-4-5, have a couple guys on complete hot streaks, and add a dominant shut-down Ace starter to a good lineup with a deep bullpen.  No matter what the record of the team or how they got into the playoffs, its a crap shoot as to who comes out.  St. Louis went from being out of the playoffs to beating the Phillies within a span of a week.  I hate it when wild card teams win the World Series, because it just validates more and more how the best teams are not being rewarded with post season success.  Boswell notes just how good LaRussa’s teams have been.

Q: Was Lance Berkman’s comment about his batting thought process eye opening in the context of clutch hitting?

A: Not really; Berkman said that he (paraphrased) tries not to think about anything at the plate.  And that’s the key to hitting in general; focus on the pitcher, not the situation or the pressure.  Otherwise you’re distracted at the plate and will be an easy out.  I think the questioner was trying to bat Boswell into a conversation about “clutch hitting,” which can’t really be proven by stat-nerds (so therefore they don’t believe it exists, despite 100 years of experience to the contrary.  Grr).  Boswell didn’t really address the question.

Q: Did Texas “deserve” the world series?

A: Not after blowing leads THREE times in game 6.  The Rangers got everything the deserved there.  Boswell notes, in response to the phrasing of the question, that Dallas has only recently (within the past few years) even had a legitimate “fan base” for baseball.  It is good to see though the area starting to embrace its team.

Q: Thoughts on the way home field advantage is decided for the World Series?

A: Ridiculous.  An exhibition that pulls all its stars after 3-5 innings and lets all-star “scrubs” (which are usually the one-per-team required guys from weaker franchises) decide home field advantage in the World Series.  It was ridiculous that a divisional winning 96-win team didn’t have home field advantage over the barely-eked-into -the playoffs Cardinals.  Either rotate back and forth year to year or give it to the team with the best record each year.  It really shouldn’t be that much more complicated.  Boswell says that he prefers the system stay the way it is except to say that a wild card team can never have home field.

Q: Will the Nationals go after the recently opted out CC Sabathia?

A: I doubt it; I think Sabathia is doing this purely as a procedural move to re-up with the Yankees for a ton more money.  Nobody has reported his having any desire to leave New York.  10/31/11 update; this is confirmed by Sabathia re-upping with the Yankees for 5 years.  Boswell seems to intimate that Sabathia makes sense on a team like the Nats.  Hmm.  Nothing about whether we’d actually go after him.  Then some comments on just how much money Wilson cost himself in the post season.  Agreed.

Q: Was this a better WS since it didn’t have the “best teams money can buy” like in Boston/NY/Philly?

A: I’m not so sure.  Personally I like to see teams be rewarded for superiority over 162 games … but understand the desire of the league to have multiple playoff rounds for TV ratings and excitement.  Boswell says it was a great world series.  In arguable, but not the question.

Q: What do you think of LaRussa’s retirement?  How does Davey Johnson rate compared to TLR?

A: Surprising; we don’t live in the St. Louis market so we don’t get the regular questioning of LaRussa to ascertain whether this was a surprising retirement or not.  I’d rate Johnson relatively close to LaRussa; if Tony is one of the better managers ever, Johnson is still in the upper-calibre grouping.  Boswell says this was a surprise announcement, but not really a surprise since LaRussa has had medical issues of late.  He also notes that this does NOT help the Cards resign Pujols.

Q: Did Boswell save all his “alternative ending” stories and columns that he had to re-write because of some late game heroics or misfourtunes?

A: Boswell says it happens more than you think; he’s had 10-12 blown just in the past few months.  Wow.  He doesn’t save them though.  I agree that they would make for very interesting reading.

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

Did the team waste $8M on Maya?

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Are we about to see the last of Yunesky Maya? Photo: Al Bello/Getty Images via thenatsblog.com

In 5 starts last year; Yunesky Maya was 0-3 with a 5.88 era, a 1.577 whip and a very bad 69 ERA+.  The team lost all 5 games he pitched and he didn’t come close to even recording a quality start.

He was any one of a number of excuses.  He was “rusty.”  He was “rushed to the majors.”  He was “homesick” and he “missed his family.”  He was suffering from a “lack of competition.”  All those points were true.  The real test for Maya would be spring training 2011.

He failed to make the rotation out of the spring this past March, but you can’t fault him there.  The only rotational guy really in any jeopardy of not making the rotation (by virtue of contract or option status) was Jordan Zimmermann, and even then it was only if he was hurt.  So he (by some accounts) sulked to AAA and got pounded his first few starts before sucking it up and starting to pitch like a pro.  Because of Detwiler‘s sudden lack of performance in AAA, Maya was first to be called up to make a spot start when Gorzelanny got hurt.

All the 2010 excuses are now out the window.  He’s had a full spring, he’s rested, he should be in playing shape, and he had a bunch of AAA starts.  So, what happened?

He got lit up.  Again.

  • 5/29: 6 hits and 2 walks in 4 2/3 innings.  His team bailed him out for a ND.
  • 6/3: another 6 hits and 3 more walks in 4 innings plus.  His bullpen failed him and made his line look worse than it was, but still.  He took a loss and dropped his era to 8.00.
  • 6/8: He actually looked great.  6ip, 4 hits, 1 run, albeit against a weaker hitting San Francisco team.  He got an early hook and his bullpen blew the game for him.
  • 6/14: The coup-de-grace.  Finally going against a decent hitting team (St. Louis), Maya got pounded like a bullpen pitcher.  Only a 6run 7th inning from his offense bailed him out and gave him a ND.

Those first two starts were against San Diego and Arizona, two of the weakest hitting teams in the league.  He was clearly nibbling at the strike zone instead of commanding his pitches.  His one quality start was against San Francisco, also a weak hitting team (man that NL west just can’t hit!).  But notice what happened when he went up against a lineup of proven hitters: Pujols homer, Berkman homer, Rasmus rbi-double.  Thank god Holliday is hurt.

With Gorzelanny having finished a rehab start and looking to come back, Maya has been optioned back to AAA.

One of the reasons we drafted Maya was because of his reported “93-94” mph fastball.  That, as it turns out, as proven to be a complete myth.  Here’s his pitch f/x links for his 2011 starts:

  • 5/29: 89.24mph average, a MAX speed of only 91.7.  He only looks like he even broke 90mph a handful of times on the night.
  • 6/3: 88.7 average and ONLY 89.4 as a max.  89.4 as a max fastball for a right-handed starter in the major leagues?
  • 6/8: 88.6 average, 90.6 max.  And this was his best game.
  • 6/14: 89.1 average, max of 91.1.  The announcers said he had no movement, his fastball was flat, he was missing out over the plate and he had no control.

Yeah, he throws a gazillion different pitches.  Pitch f/x distinguishes between 6 of them, but he varies his arm slot on his fastballs and curves for even more variety.    But clearly he’s not throwing 93-94.  Whoever quoted that speed was probably on a fast gun at a stadium or was working on commission.

He’s had two shots at the big leagues and has badly underperformed both times.  If he had better stuff or commanded his pitches better, then his lack of velocity wouldn’t matter as much (see Hernandez, Livan as Exhibit 1-a).  But he doesn’t (have command), so he can’t (get around a lack of velocity).  Unfortunately for Maya and the team, it looks like his contract may be a bust.  When he goes back to AAA, it may be for good.  Perhaps he’ll make for a long-man/mop-up guy at some point.  But his career as a prospective Nationals starter seems done.