Nationals Arm Race

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

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World Series Pitching Matchups & Predictions (that you should laugh at)

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In my Divisional series prediction post, I predicted the following:

  • Washington-San Francisco: predict a Washington 3-1 series win.  Actual: SF wins 3-1.
  • St. Louis-Los Angeles Dodgers: predicted a LA sweep or 3-1 series win.  Actual: StL wins 3-1.
  • Detroit-Baltimore: predicted a Detroit sweep or a 3-1 win.  Actual: Baltimore sweeps 3-0.
  • Kansas City-Los Angeles Angels: predicted a LA victory in 5.  Actual: Kansas City sweeps 3-0.

In my League Championship Series prediction post, I predicted the following:

  • San Francisco- St. Louis: predicted St. Louis in 7.  Actual: San Francisco walks off 4-1.
  • Baltimore-Kansas City: predicted Baltimore in 6: Actual, Kansas City sweeps 4-0.

So.  Six post season series down, and i’m 0-6 in predicting things.  Mostly off badly too.  What now?  Of course!  Predict the World Series!  Here’s the post-season schedule and the likely matchups:

  • Game 1: SF@KC Tue Oct 21: Madison Bumgarner v James Shields
  • Game 2: SF@KC Wed Oct 22: Jake Peavy v Yordano Ventura
  • Game 3: KC@SF Fri Oct 24: Jason Vargas v Tim Hudson
  • Game 4: KC@SF Sat Oct 25: Jeremy Guthrie v Ryan Vogelsong
  • Game 5: KC@SF Sun Oct 26: Shields-Bumgarner (if necessary)
  • Game 6: SF@KC Tue Oct 28: Peavy-Ventura (if necessary)
  • Game 7: SF@KC Wed Oct 29: Hudson-Vargas (if necessary)

How do things look?

Bumgarner has now thrown 31 post season innings so far in 2014.  He’s given up 19 hits, 5 walks, and just 5 earned runs in that time (3 last night, 2 more against the Nats).  Shields, despite his moniker of “big game,”  has not been solid this post season, giving up 10 runs in 16 innings.  Ventura has one good outing and one mediocre outing.  Peavy has been on a very short leash (thanks to the presence of two reliable long-men in the Giant’s pen in Yusmeiro Petit and Tim Lincecum) but has given decent performances.  Advantage Giants in pitching in the first two games; I’ll go with a 1-1 split in KC.

Back in SF, Hudson and Vogelsong both were dominant against the Nats, but not so much against the Cards.  I have a feeling the Royals are going to hit them.  I’ll predict that the Giants take 2 of 3 in SF, sending the Royals back to KC down 3-2.  From there, Its hard to argue against the run the Royals are on, and they’ll have home field plus be done with Bumgarner.  Royals ride their wave of good fortune in beating “better” teams and take the series.  Prediction: Royals in 7.

Just a note: are you troubled  by the fact that both wild cards are in the world series?  Or that the teams with the best records (Nats and Angels) were both (rather easily) defeated in the divisional series?

Champion Series Pitching Matchups & Predictions (that you should ignore)

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So, in the Divisional series prediction post, I predicted the following:

  • Washington-San Francisco: predict a Washington 3-1 series win.  Actual: SF wins 3-1.
  • St. Louis-Los Angeles Dodgers: predicted a LA sweep or 3-1 series win.  Actual: StL wins 3-1.
  • Detroit-Baltimore: predicted a Detroit sweep or a 3-1 win.  Actual: Baltimore sweeps 3-0.
  • Kansas City-Los Angeles Angels: predicted a LA victory in 5.  Actual: Kansas City sweeps 3-0.

Had I published in time, I likely would have gotten at least one of the WC games wrong too (I liked Bumgarner but thought Francisco Liriano could revert to his dominant 2013 post season form).

Four predictions, four incorrect, mostly wildly so.  Damn.  So much for the “pitching wins in the postseason” narrative.

Now what?   Of course!  Post another prediction piece :-)

In the NL; the two top teams lost in the divisional series, leaving the weakest divisional champ going against the wild card, both with two off-days to re-set their rotations.  In the AL; two surprising sweeps and a huge gap between games lets both teams re-set their rotations too.  I’m guessing at the rotation order, but it should go as follows:

NL:

  • Game 1: SF@Stl: Jake Peavy vs Adam Wainwright
  • Game 2: SF@Stl: Madison Bumgarner vs Lance Lynn
  • Game 3: Stl@SF: John Lackey vs Tim Hudson
  • Game 4: Stl@SF: Shelby Miller vs Ryan Vogelsong
  • Game 5: Stl@SF: Wainwright-Peavy (if necessary)
  • Game 6: SF@Stl: Bumgarner-Lynn (if necessary)
  • Game 7: SF@Stl: Lackey-Hudson (if necessary)

SF barely hit against Washington’s starters but still squeaked out 3 games from 4.  St. Louis on the other hand hits the ball a ton and should pound SF’s lesser starters.  I like a split in Stl thanks to Bumgarner, then Stl taking two of three in ATT, and SF liking their chances throwing their ace in game 6.  But who the heck knows what is going to happen; Wainwright gave up 11 hits in his last outing.   St. Louis in 7.

AL:

  • Game 1: KC@Balt: James Shields vs Chris Tillman
  • Game 2: KC@Balt: Yordano Ventura vs Wei-Yi Chen
  • Game 3: Balt@KC: Bud Norris vs Jason Vargas
  • Game 4: Balt@KC: Miguel Gonzalez vs Jeremy Guthrie (or perhaps Danny Duffy)
  • Game 5: Balt@KC: Shields-Tillman (if necessary)
  • Game 6: KC@Balt: Ventura-Chen (if necessary)
  • Game 7: KC@Balt: Vargas-Norris (if necessary)

I, and every other national pundit, continue to be underwhelmed by Baltimore’s pitching staff.  But they get the job done: Norris was un-hittable against Detroit, and Tillman pitched good enough to win.  Is KC on a mission to save Dayton Moore’s job?  It sure seems so.  They couldn’t surpass Detroit in the regular season but swept the best team in baseball in the ALDS.  But meanwhile, Baltimore *hits* the ball.  I think Baltimore could win both games at home to start and then two of three in KC.

Prediction: Baltimore in 6.

 

 

Divisional Series Pitching Matchups & Predictions

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Strasburg's first post-season start is upon us. Photo unk via thewifehatessports.com

Strasburg’s first post-season start is upon us. Photo unk via thewifehatessports.com

Last year I went nearly game-by-game, night-by-night with predictions and analysis of the playoffs.  Can’t do that this year, but I am doing some quickie starter match-up analysis to do some Divisional Series match-up predictions.  The current list of probables is mostly guess work, with the help of MLB.com’s probable pitcher page.  Also using depth charts to make guesses on the probables.

Lets start with the home team.

Washington-San Francisco

Potential Pitching Match-ups:

  1. Game 1: SF@Wash: Jake Peavy vs Stephen Strasburg
  2. Game 2: SF@Wash: Tim Hudson vs Jordan Zimmermann
  3. Game 3: Wash@SF: Doug Fister vs Madison Bumgarner
  4. Game 4: Wash@SF: Gio Gonzalez vs Ryan Vogelsong (if necessary)
  5. Game 5: SF@Wash: Peavy vs Strasburg (if necessary)

The WP’s James Wagner has a nice “how do the Nats fare against Peavy and Hudson” story on 10/2/14 with per-National stats against Peavy and Hudson for the first two games.  And Wagner also just announced the rotation order for the Nats.

Yes, it seems like we’re going to see Strasburg & Zimmermann at home instead of Stras-Gio.

Looking at the match-ups, its easy to say “advantage Washington.”  Strasburg has been hot.  Zimmermann has been even more hot.  We then throw the underrated Fister against Giant’s best starter, then come back with Gio in game 4 on the road, where he’s  going against the erratic Vogelsong.  Hudson has had the Nat’s number for years, but he’s been a train wreck in the 2nd half of 2014.  Peavy has been a bulldog for San Francisco since the trade, but was nearly a 5.00 ERA in the AL.

I’m predicting Washington sweeps the first two at home, loses Bumgarner’s start, then beats SF in game 4 to wrap up the series 3-1.



St. Louis-Los Angeles Dodgers

  1. Game 1: Stl@LAD: Adam Wainwright vs Clayton Kershaw
  2. Game 2: Stl@LAD: Lance Lynn vs Zack Greinke
  3. Game 3: LAD@Stl: Hyun-Jin Ryu vs John Lackey
  4. Game 4: LAD@Stl: Dan Haren vs Shelby Miller (if necessary)
  5. Game 5: Stl@LAD: Wainwright v Kershaw again (if necessary)

St. Louis has already announced that Michael Wacha is *not* in the post-season rotation, which is a huge blow for their chances to out-last the Dodgers.  The game 1 match-up might be the pitching matchup of the post-season, with perennial Cy Young candidate Wainwright going against the likely MVP in Kershaw.  Lynn has gone from being barely a 5th starter to being the #2 guy on St. Louis’ staff, but I don’t know if he’s got enough to get St. Louis the split against Greinke.  Missing Wacha means that St. Louis will have to depend on both Lackey and Miller.  Long odds there.

This series might end up being a sweep frankly; I think LA has the distinct pitching advantage here.  And not having Wacha’s dominance from previous post seasons makes it tough.  Dodgers in a sweep or 3-1 if the Cards can get to either Greinke or Ryu.

 


Detroit-Baltimore

  1. Game 1: Det@Balt: Max Scherzer vs Chris Tillman
  2. Game 2: Det@Balt: Justin Verlander vs Wei-Yin Chen
  3. Game 3: Balt@Det: Bud Norris vs David Price
  4. Game 4: Balt@Det: Miguel Gonzalez vs Rick Porcello (if necessary)
  5. Game 5: Det@Balt: Tillman-Scherzer (if necessary)

The 96-win Orioles get rewarded with having to face three Cy Young winners in the first three games.  Their rotation mates are underrated (3rd best ERA in the 2nd half) but certainly not in the same class as what Detroit puts up there.  Baltimore’s best case is to get a split at home, then a split away and get to the 5th game.  I don’t see it: I think this series hinges on whether Verlander is Cy Young-Verlander or inexplicably-bad-lately Verlander.  I’m guessing the former; Detroit wins this series in a sweep or perhaps 3-1.


Kansas City-Los Angeles Angels

  1. Game 1: KC@LAA: Jason Vargas vs Jered Weaver
  2. Game 2: KC@LAA: Yordano Ventura vs Matt Shoemaker
  3. Game 3: LAA@KC: C.J. Wilson vs James Shields
  4. Game 4: LAA@KC: Weaver vs Jeremy Guthrie (if necessary)
  5. Game 5: KC@LAA: Shoemaker v Vargas (if necessary)

The Angels are struggling into the playoffs and have announced they’re going with a 3-man rotation.  Weaver’s history of going on 3 days rest is spotty; one decent start and one blow-out.  Meanwhile the Royals burned their #1 guy in the WC game AND threw Ventura enough to have people question Ned Yost‘s sanity (even moreso than they already were with his multiple bunting).  But the Angels hit, and the Royals’ guys won’t be able to completely put them at odds.

I think the 3-man rotation will backfire, and whether the Royals throw Guthrie or Danny Duffy in game 4 won’t make a difference; they’ll hit Weaver at home and push this to a 5th game, where everybody will be on deck.  Angels in 5.


Lets see if these probable pitchers hold up to guesses made on 10/1/14.

Rotation Reviews of your 2014 Playoff Teams

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Will the Nats be staring down Kershaw in the playoffs? Photo via wiki.

Will the Nats be staring down Kershaw in the playoffs? Photo via wiki.

Here we are.  After a crazy trade deadline in July, and an August and September that featured the division leaders (in most cases) solidifying their positions and extending their leads, the playoffs are upon us.

Lets take a look at the rotations of the playoff teams (despite the fact that the four Wild Card teams are just one-man pitching staffs until they win the play-in game).  Who lines up best?  For each team i’ve tried to line the pitchers up one through five, with the 5th guy being the one headed to the bullpen.

(Quick useful links: AL full standings on b-r.com, NL full standings, and post season schedule at MLB.com).

Trade deadline 2014 acquisitions highlighted in blue.  Pre-season acquisitions highlighted in Green for context.

NL Division Champs:

  • Washington: Strasburg, Gonzalez, Zimmerman, Fister, Roark (yes this is how I think it will shake out despite Roark’s great season-long performance; we posted on this separately)
  • St. Louis: Wainwright, Lynn, Wacha, Miller, Lackey (Masterson to the bullpen when Wacha came back)
  • Los Angeles: Kershaw, Greinke, Ryu, Haren, Hernandez, Wright (Beckett hurt, done for year, Ryu coming back, should be ok for playoffs so I’ve inserted him as the #3.  Maholm, Billingsley, Fife hurt all year).

Just look at what the Dodgers have tried to do to keep their rotation afloat in terms of player acquisition over the past couple of years.  I’d like to have their budget.  They will have no less than eleven capable, MLB-experienced starters once they’re all healthy.  Yes Kershaw is unbeatable, but as pointed out earlier this year, they are basically a .500 team otherwise.  Their 4th and 5th starters have been below replacement for much of the past month but they’re getting back Ryu right in time for the playoffs.   St. Louis’ rotation looks just as strong as it has been for the past few years; Wainwright quietly has 20 wins and a 2.38 ERA on the season.  Lynn has been great.  Only Miller has struggled but still has a league-average ERA+.

It is hard not to look at the Nationals’ rotation and claim they’re the deepest one-through-four, despite Gonzalez’s struggles.   I’d take our #4 (Fister) over anyone else’s #4, I think our #3 matches up just as favorably to anyone els’es #3, and Strasburg has a 1.34 ERA in September as the #1.

NL Wild Card:

  • Pittsburgh: Liriano, Cole, Locke, Volquez, Worley (Morton dinged up late Sept, made way for Cole).
  • San Francisco: Bumgarner, Hudson, Petit, Vogelsong, Peavy (Lincecum to bullpen for Petit, Cain out all year)

The NL WC pitching match-up will be Bumgarner-Liriano.  Both teams manipulated their rotations at season’s end to preserve their aces for the coin-flip game.  We’ll do a separate prediction piece.

NL Also-Rans;

  • Atlanta:  Teheran, Minor, Santana, Harang, Wood (Beachy, Floyd, Medlen out all year)
  • Milwaukee: Lohse, Garza, Gallardo, Peralta, Fiers (Nelson and Estrada to bullpen)

The Braves fell so far, so badly in September that they were nearly surpassed by the lowly NY Mets for 2nd place in the NL East.  That’s crazy.  But they still remain here as an also-ran because they were in the wild card race until mid-September.  I still think it is crazy what they were able to accomplish given the starting pitcher injuries they suffered in spring training and don’t quite understand why Frank Wren was fired.  If you want to fire him for his crummy FA contracts so be it; but the man engineered a team that made the playoffs three of the past five years.  Harsh treatment if you ask me.  Insider comments seem to think that Wren lost an internal power-struggle involving Fredi Gonzalez.


And here’s what we’re looking at in the AL:

AL Division Champs:

  • Baltimore: Tillman, Norris, Chen, Gonzalez, Gausman (Jimenez demoted to BP)
  • Detroit: Scherzer, Verlander, Sanchez, Price, Porcello
  • Los Angeles: Weaver, Wilson, Shoemaker, Santiago, Rasmus, LeBlanc (Richards injured, Skaggs hurt)

It is hard to look at these rotations and comprehend where these teams currently stand:

  • How is Baltimore leading the AL East by 12 games?  None of these guys are a league-wide “Ace.”
  • How is Detroit not pulling away from the AL Central with this collection of arms?  Of course, you could ask this question of Detroit over and again the past few years; with a stacked lineup and stacked rotation they have just barely won their (usually) weak division year after year.
  • How does Los Angeles have the best record in the majors with a non-drafted FA and a waiver claim in their Sept rotation?  Would you favor this rotation over Detroit’s?

I guess it doesn’t matter; these teams have bashed their way to their titles and should continue to hit in the post-season.  Apparently the O’s aren’t going to go with Gausman in their playoff rotation despite his good seasonal numbers.  It may be a case of veteran manager going with the veterans, as Gausman’s numbers are pretty much in line with most of the rest of the Baltimore rotation.  The injury to Richards really hurts the Angels: Weaver may be close to an Ace but Wilson showed he is hittable in the post-season and lord knows what will happen when LA has to throw their #3 and #4 choices.

AL Wild Cards:

  • Kansas City: Shields, Duffy, Ventura, Guthrie, Vargas
  • Oakland: Grey, Samardzija, Lester, Hammel, Kazmir

AL Wild Card looks like a knock-out match-up of Shields and Lester; the A’s burned Grey yesterday to get the win that put them in the playoffs.  Oakland has to be kicking themselves; how did they go from (easily) the best team in the majors for the first half to struggling to hang onto the WC spot?   On paper replacing 3/5ths of the rotation (out with Chavez, Milone, Pomeranz and Straily, in with Samardzija, Lester and Hammel) sounded like a great idea … but to me the team’s chemistry was clearly un-balanced.  At least they held on to the spot and avoiding a one-game play-in against Felix Hernandez.

AL Also-Rans:

  • Seattle: Hernandez, Walker, Iwakuma, Paxton, Young (Elias out for year)
  • New York: McCarthy, Greene, Kuroda, Capuano, Pineda (with Tanaka finally coming back at season’s end.  Nova and Sabathia gone all year with injuries).

All Seattle needed to do was *get* to the wild card game … and they’d have great odds of advancing behind ace Hernandez.  But struggled to the finish line.  Meanwhile Cleveland and New York would have been mentioned here a week ago, but both squads just ran out of time to make comebacks.  I’ll give NY credit: they played 7 games better than their pythagorean record with huge chunks of their rotation gone for the season and depending on guys who’s names I had to look up.

Coming soon; a review of the WC matchups with predictions.

 

Written by Todd Boss

September 29th, 2014 at 8:58 am

Post trade-deadline playoff contender rotations

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This year’s MLB trade deadline was crazy.  Never before have so many big-time names moved teams.  And certainly I cannot remember so many big-time pitchers relocating mid-season as well.

Lets look at the playoff contender rotations as they stand right now, with Trade deadline acquisitions highlighted in blue.

NL

  • Washington: Strasburg, Gonzalez, Zimmerman, Fister, Roark
  • Atlanta:  Teheran, Minor, Santana, Harang, Wood
  • Milwaukee: Lohse, Garza, Gallardo, Peralta, Nelson
  • Cincinnati: Cueto, Latos, Bailey, Leake, Simon
  • St. Louis: Wainwright, Masterson, Lackey, Lynn, Miller
  • Pittsburgh: Liriano, Morton, Locke, Volquez, Worley
  • Los Angeles: Kershaw, Greinke, Ryu, Beckett, Haren
  • San Francisco: Bumgarner, Hudson, Lincecum, Vogelsong, Peavy

St. Louis clearly did the most in the NL, acquiring two mid-rotation guys to help cover for the injured Michael Wacha and Jaime Garcia, but it is hard to look at their rotation and say they’d have the advantage over some of their potential playoff rivals.  San Francisco lost its ace (thought he hasn’t pitched like an Ace since signing his new deal) Matt Cain, and his replacement was not inspiring confidence (Yusmiero Petit), so they added former Cy Young winner Peavy (who is pitching better than his 1-11 W/L record .. but not a lot better).  Otherwise the NL playoff contenders mostly stood pat.  There was some small surprise that the free-spending Dodgers wouldn’t try to improve upon the suddenly underperforming Josh Beckett and/or the “fool-me-once” Dan Haren.  They’ll struggle to get through the #3 and #4 starts of their planned playoff rotation to get back to their co-aces Kershaw and Greinke (who was good but not shut-down in last year’s playoffs).  The home-town Nats may find themselves with an uncomfortable decision to make if they make the playoffs; which starter to send to the pen?  Roark is the least renound and the least tenured … but he has clearly been more effective than other rotation members.

It continues to amaze that the Braves are competing, given the losses they’ve faced in their rotation.  They are missing (arguably) their planned #2, #3 and #5 starters in Kris MedlenBrandon Beachy and Gavin Floyd but are getting by thanks to two mid-spring acquisitions (Santana and Harang) and the surprise performances of youngsters Wood and David Hale (who didn’t merit his demotion to the bullpen).

AL

  • Baltimore: Tillman, Norris, Chen, Gonzalez, Gausman
  • Toronto: Buehrle, Dickey, Happ, Strohman, Hutchinson
  • New York: Kuroda, Phelps, Capuano, Greene, McCarthy
  • Detroit: Scherzer, Verlander, Sanchez, Price, Porcello
  • Kansas City: Shields, Duffy, Ventura, Guthrie, Vargas
  • Oakland: Grey, Samardzija, Lester, Hammel, Kazmir
  • Los Angeles: Weaver, Wilson, Richards, Shoemaker, Santiago
  • Seattle: Hernandez, Iwakuma, Paxton, Elias, Young

I didn’t include fringe playoff contenders such as Cleveland or Tampa Bay here; both of those rotations were purged and weakened, and their odds of catching one of these listed WC contendors is long.  Oakland completely re-made their rotation here, attempting to keep up with Detroit, who now features the last three AL Cy Young winners to go along with Sanchez (who finished 4th last year in a season where he led the league in both ERA and FIP).  That’s quite a lineup.  Meanwhile Seattle likely finishes 10 games back of the Angels and could end up facing them in the coin-flip wild-card game … and could end up throwing the best pitcher in the AL at them (which has been noted as a significant down-side to the 2nd wild-card matchup; who wants to see a team lose out to a divisional rival that they bested by so many games in a play-in game?).

New York is the “Atlanta” of the AL this year; they currently have four planned rotation members on the D/L and (likely) out for the year (CC Sabathia, Ivan Nova, Michael Pineda and Masahiro Tanaka).   Their 4th and 5th starters were a 14th and 15th round pick respectively.  They’ve been outscored by nearly 30 runs on the year yet somehow have a winning record.  It seems like just a matter of time before their luck runs out and they settle back below .500.

Who would you rather go to war with, Detroit or Oakland’s rotation?   Probably Detroit’s rotation, given its depth one to four.  But the ALCS could be one heck of a series.

 

 

Nats Draft History; what were the rumors on draft day historically?

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Zimmerman was the Nats first ever pick.  Photo unknown credit via fantasyknuckleheads.com

Zimmerman was the Nats first ever pick. Photo unknown credit via fantasyknuckleheads.com

I thought I’d do a different take on the “history of Nats drafts.”  What was the mood/feel around the team approaching draft day year after year?  Who do we think they were focusing on as the big day rolled around and why?  We focus mostly on the first round pick, where so many of the mock drafts focus, but we’ll also mention significant moves further down.

To be honest, I didn’t really start closely following the draft and track who the Nats were “rumored” to be with until the 2008 draft.   So if you remember something differently than me, please feel free to chime in.  I also focus pretty heavily on the early picks here, simply because teams generally get the most value out of their 1st round picks, and the thought processes in taking the first round pick often is the focus of draft analysis and mock drafts posted head of each actual draft.

The Draft Tracker xls (created by Brian Oliver, now maintained by SpringFieldFan) is vital for any Nats fan interested in tracking the teams’ drafting history.

  • 2005: Nats picked 4th overall and did not have a 2nd or 3rd round picks (the 2nd round pick went to Colorado for the Vinny Castilla FA signing and the 3rd round pick went to Minnesota as compesation for the Cristian Guzman signing)).  The team was also under MLB control and was (presumably) given quite strict financial guidelines over signings.  Given those considerations, they knew they needed a splash with their #1 overall pick, they needed someone affordable and they needed someone that would speak to their new fan-base.  They wanted college draftees, quick to the majors.  The team was looking at the three top 3rd Basemen in the draft.  Ryan ZimmermanRyan Braun and Alex Gordon.  All three were playing at good schools with good numbers.  Gordon went 2nd overall to Kansas City and the Nats snapped up Zimmerman.  Zimmerman signed quickly for an acceptable amount ($2.9M as the 4th overall pick) and was playing in the majors by September.   Zimmerman’s selection made sense geographically (he grew up in Va Beach and attended UVA) and it made sense considering the talent available at the Nats pick.  MASN’s David Huzzard printed a retrospective of the 2005 draft ahead of 2014′s draft.
  • 2006Thanks to a couple of FA losses (Hector Carrasco and Esteban Loiaza), the team had two extra picks in the first two rounds.  The team had a roller coaster 2005; first place at mid-season and then a collapse as MLB refused to allow reinforcements.  By draft-day 2006 the team was firmly under the control of Jim Bowden, and his philosophy had always skewed towards “toolsy” players, potential over actual.   But the team didn’t have an owner yet, so were still operating under MLB’s guidelines.  These two facts were quite evident by looking at the haul the Nats had with their early picks.  6 picks in the top 4 rounds and they were all high school players.  Chris Marrero, Colten Willems, Stephen Englund, Sean Black, Stephen King and Glenn Gibson.    The team got Marrero for a relatively cheap $1.6M deal mid-way through the first round, failed to sign Black altogether, and got 5 of these 6 players to sign for around $5M all told.  The team on the field was under-performing thanks to a limited MLB-dictated budget, but Bowden was drafting for the longer run.  Unfortunately none of these high school players ever amounted to much of anything, with only Marrero ever reaching the majors and Willems retiring before ever advancing out of A-Ball.
  • 2007: The team had another haul of upper-end draft picks, thanks to their acquisition of Alfonso Soriano and his type-A free agency sending them both an extra first rounder and a supplimental first rounder.   The team took lefty Ross Detwiler from small school Missouri State with the 6th overall pick, a selection that has been lampooned based on who else was available at the time (Madison Bumgarner and Jason Heyward in particular), but literature from 2007 supports his selection at 6th overall.  After Detwiler, the nats spent their two supplimental first round picks on high school raw talents (as was Bowden’s custom), neither of which ever panned out (Josh Smoker and Michael Burgess).  This draft turned into one of the more productive in Nat history, with at least four current major leaguers picked (along with Detwiler, Stephen SouzaDerek Norris and especially 2nd round pick Jordan Zimmermann, so it is unfair to focus on the misses out of 2007.  This was easily Bowden’s best draft while in charge in Washington.
  • 2008: The year of Aaron Crow.  Crow had a strong summer and a strong spring and was the 2nd best college arm in the draft, no question.  There was apparently antagonism between Bowden and Crow’s agents from the moment that he was drafted, and the negotiations between the sides never really came together.  The signing deadline came and went with no signature, and Crow went to Indy ball before getting picked the following summer.  There was talk about how the Crow non-signing was purposeful; the Nats spent significantly less money in the draft in 2008 than they had in 2007 and the ownership group was still being labeled as “cheap.”  Either way, this lack of signing was one more bullet in the ammunition guns of opinion makers in the industry about the state of the Nationals organization under the leadership of Bowden.  This would serve to be his last draft; he was embroiled in the bonus scandal over the off-season and relinquished his job ahead of the 2009 season.
  • 2009: We all are quite familiar with the story by now; Stephen Strasburg was a laconic out-of-shape hurler in high school who barely merited a college spot, then re-made himself into the “greatest pitching prospect of all time” while at San Diego State.   Despite his reported bonus demands (he ended up with more than $15M deal) and his representation (Scott Boras), the Nats never seriously considered not selecting him with the first overall pick.  For me the big question was who the Nats were going to take at #10. I wanted another starter, and there were some significant college pitchers projected to be available at #9.  Kyle GibsonAlex White,  Tyler Maztek, Chad Jenkins and Tanner Scheppers were all left on the board to draft a Stanford reliever in Drew Storen.  Keith Law had Storen ranked as his 28th prospect, a guy who was clearly “good” but who was over-drafted by nearly 20 spots.  This had “signability pick” written all over it, a thought that was even more proven when the team drafted college senior Trevor Holder with their 3rd pick and signed him for 1/2 of slot.  Holder wasn’t even his team’s friday starter and had a 4.48 ERA.  So, the team got Strasburg and paid him significant money, and the 2008 draft misstep turned into an effective closer in Storen, so the draft wasn’t a disaster, but with a bit more money allocated (remember, this was the same year they were paying Guzman $8M to be a mediocre shortstop) the team really could have hit it out of the park.
  • 2010: After another 100+ loss season, the Nats were fortunate to have another no-brainer, consensus #1 overall pick in Bryce Harper.   But the real story of the 2010 draft was Mike Rizzo’s finally convincing the ownership group and Ted Lerner of the power of the over-slot pick.  The Nationals gave Harper a 40-man deal and a lot of guaranteed money … but they also bought two high-end high school arms out of their college commitments for 1st-2nd round money (A.J. Cole and Robbie Ray).  The Nats were quickly becoming a team that was ignoring the advice of the penurious commissioner Bud Selig, known for railing against teams and owners who ignored his “slot recommendations.”  The Lerners tried to be friends with Selig and play by the rules, only to watch other teams out-spend and out-sign them.  Remember this fact when we see the next CBA come out, assigning slot deals ahead of time and implementing draconian policies on teams that over-spend in the draft.
  • 2011: The Nats were looking at a handful of players with their #6 pick; George Springer, Sonny Gray, Taylor Jungman, Jackie Bradley, and the like.  In a pretty shocking draft-day shake-up, teams passed on former college player of the year Anthony Rendon and suddenly he fell into the Nationals’ lap.  The sliding of Rendon to the Nats was amazing; Rendon was considered a clear consensus 1-1 pick for nearly 2 seasons, and the pro track record of BA college players of the year is pretty solid.   The Nats had two extra first rounders (compensation for type-A FA Adam Dunn) and the selection of Alex Meyer with the #17 overall pick was a given; some pundits had the Nats taking him at #6 overall, so much they were enthralled with the huge right hander from Kentucky.   As with 2010, the team continued to write big checks to convince Brian GoodwinMatt Purke and Kylin Turnbull to leave school early.  The Purke pick in particular showed that the Nats were willing to spend money to get big-time players and were willing to risk the dice on injury concerns.  The Nats had no 2nd rounder (lost as compensation for Adam LaRoche but with three 1st/supp-1st rounders got plenty of cracks at top-end talent.
  • 2012:  The Nats had a mid-draft pick after their .500 record in 2011 and were focusing on arms.  By now, Rizzo’s drafting mentality has been made evident; he focuses on college players, and more specifically college arms, unless an outlier falls into his lap.  Well, the definition of a draft-day outlier fell into the Nats lap in 2012 when Lucas Giolito, a big-time prep prospect who was under consideration of being the first ever high school right handed pitcher to go 1st overall early in the process.  Giolito’s size, power and secondary offerings were the makings of a 1-1 pick, but his senior prep season was derailed by what was initially called an “elbow strain” but which turned out to really be a “small elbow ligament tear.”  Nonetheless, the Nats grabbed him, signed him for over-slot money (nearly $3M), and they had their man.  Years later, Rizzo revealed that the next guy on their draft board was St. Louis sensation Michael Wacha … a “what if” question for this team that may be asked for quite a while, given Wacha’s quick rise and overall dominance at such a young age.  The rest of the Nats draft class was entirely about saving dollars to over-pay Giolito and buy him out of his college committment (as is seen by the bonus figures and senior draftees for the rest of the first 10 rounds), and we’re already seeing the after-effects of this strategy; the team has already released 10 of its 2012 draft class after just two pro seasons, and outside of Giolito its hard to see any potential impact players out of the entire class.  The Nats may get a couple of RHP bullpen arms, but little else.
  • 2013: The team knew it didn’t have a first rounder thanks to its signing of Rafael Soriano (though to be honest, knowing that they were picking last thanks to their MLB-best record in 2012, they probably weren’t as reticent about losing that pick), and the new CBA had taken affect, meaning that the team had a very limited budget for signing players.  Their first pick wasn’t until the end of the second round, and they went with a big power college arm in Jake Johansen.  It was impossible to predict who would be available to the Nats at the 68th pick (their first pick), so the Nats draft philosophy seemed to revert to default; lots of college players, lots of college arms.  Of their first 15 selected players, just one prep player was selected (Drew Ward) and a number of their guys signed  for significantly under-slot to pay Ward and a couple of other players.
  • 2014: After a disappointing 2013 season, the team kept its first round pick in a draft that seems deep on college arms but thin in other areas (especially college hitters).  The Nats farm system, after years of drafting predominantly college arms for the past few drafts, has plenty of arms but is thin on hitters, leading some pundits to presume the Nats are looking at college bats.  But a couple of late spring elbow injuries on significant names (James Hoffman and Erick Fedde) also has other pundits thinking that the Nats will have no concerns about taking a pitcher who is known to need Tommy John surgery (given their handling of the likes of Strasburg, Solis, Zimmermann and their picking of Giolito in 2012).  Mock drafts frequently have the Nats selecting Fedde at #18.  And indeed that is who the Nats select.  A run on high-end college arms just prior to the Nats pick probably sealed their fate on taking Fedde.  They take a good balance of pitchers and hitters in the top 10 rounds, almost entirely out of the college ranks (as is their custom).  Like 2013 and 2012, they gambled on one prep player in the top 10 (this year Jakson Reetz) and bought a high-end prep prospect out of his college committment, but otherwise stayed the course drafting college players.

The following links were crucial to doing this post:

Opening Day Starter Trivia – Updated for 2014

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CC Sabathia continues to be the active leader in Opening Day starts. Photo via wiki/flickr.

Some of my favorite trivia questions  revolves around Opening Day Starters.  With another Opening Day in the books, here’s some useless trivia related to Opening Day starters.  I’ve updated my Opening Day Starters spreadsheet to Google Docs and created a link in the “Nationals Arm Race creation” section along the right.  Fyi, on a team-by-team basis you can query Baseball-Reference.com for the opening day lineups (here’s the Washington/Montreal franchise’ opening day lineup history as an example).

Current Active Leaders in Opening Day Starts

11 CC Sabathia
9 Mark Buehrle
7 Felix Hernandez
7 Justin Verlander
6 Bartolo Colon
6 Tim Hudson
6 Jered Weaver
6 James Shields
5 Josh Beckett
5 Yovanni Gallardo
4 Jake Peavy
4 Tim Lincecum
4 Clayton Kershaw
4 Jon Lester
3 Strasburg, Cueto, Wainwright, Price, Masterson, Nolasco
2 Lee, Samardzija, Liriano, Dickey, Sale, Feldman

Those players bolded in the list above had 2014 opening day starts and added to their totals.   (Note; there’s plenty of guys out there with 2 or 3 opening day starts but who did not extend their count in 2014; they are not included here).  With the retirement of Roy HalladayCC Sabathia extends his active lead in this category.  Mark Buehrle has given over the reigns of opening day starter possibly for good, based on his standing in the Toronto rotation.  Meanwhile the next closest competitors (Justin Vernalder and Felix Hernandez) could eventually supplant Sabathia, especially if he continues to struggle and gets replaced as the Yankees’ ace.

Felix Hernandez and Justin Verlander continue to be the best bets to broach the all-time records (see below) based on their ages, their current counts and their new long-term contracts.

Answers to other Opening Day start trivia:

Current Active Leader in consecutive Opening Day Starts: Sabathia with 9 consecutive, split among two teams.  Second is Verlander with 7 straight, albeit all with the same team.  There was talk about how his Cy Young-winning rotation mate Max Scherzer should have gotten the ball this year, given Verlander’s 2013 struggles.

Most ever Opening Day Starts all-timeTom Seaver with 16 in his career.

Most ever Consecutive Opening Day Starts: Hall of Fame lightning rod Jack Morris, who made 14 straight such starts.

Number of first-time opening day starters in 2014: Ten (10) guys got the ball on opening day for the first time, slightly down from last year’s 13.  Injuries gave some pitchers the ball on opening day over other expected rotation mates (this is definitely the case with the likes of Julio Teheran, Tanner ScheppersSonny Gray, Dillon Gee, Jorge De La Rosa), and its probably the case that others got the ball on opening day thanks to their own personal ascention to the “lead-dog” spot on their teams (Jose Fernandez, Madison Bumgarner).  The other three newbies (Andrew CashnerWade Miley, and Chris Tillman) probably fall somewhere inbetween these categories.

Who seems most likely to break Seaver or Morris’ Records at this point? Still Sabathia, who already has 11 opening day starts (and 9 straight), is the #1 in New York, is only 32 and still has four years on his current deal. However, he took a big step backwards in 2013 performance-wise, and the Yankees spent a ton of money on Masahiro Tanaka, and there could be a passing of the torch if Tanaka blows it out in 2014.  Meanwhile Hernandez already has 7 opening day starts, just signed a deal that takes him through 2019 with a relatively easy option for 2020.   That’s many more seasons under contract and he’d only be 34 years of age by its end.   He could be the standard holder if he stays healthy and continues to pitch like an ace.

Most Inconsisent team using Opening Day Pitchers: Oakland.  They’ve used 9 different opening day starters in the last 9 seasons, and that’s likely to continue since both the candidates for this year had injuries that forced them to go to a rookie for 2014.  Pittsburgh is right behind them;  they have used 7 different opening day starters in the last 7 seasons, and 13 different starters in the last 15 seasons. The Nats have at some point employed no less than three former Pittsburgh opening day starters: Ron Villone, Oliver Perez and Zach Duke.   Colorado, Baltimore and Minnesota have also struggled for most of the past decade to find a dominant, reliable “Ace” and constantly cycle through new opening day starters, and once again each is using a different guy in 2014.

 

2014 Rotation Rankings 1-30

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The ace on the best rotation in the game.  Photo: talksportsphilly.com

The ace on the best rotation in the game. Photo: talksportsphilly.com

Last year, with my excitement over Washington’s Dan Haren signing and my supposition that Washington had the best rotation in the game, I ranked all 30 team’s rotations ahead of the 2013 season.  Then, after the season was done, I revisited these pre-season rankings with a post-mortem to see how close (or, more appropriately, how far off) my rankings turned out to be.

Here’s the 2014 version of this same post: Pre-season rankings of the MLB’s rotations; 1 through 30.  Warning; this is another huge post.  I guess I’m just verbose.  At this point midway through Spring Training there’s just a couple of possible FAs left that could have altered these rankings (Ervin Santana being the important name unsigned right now), so I thought it was time to publish.

The top teams are easy to guess; once you get into the 20s, it becomes pretty difficult to distinguish between these teams.  Nonetheless, here we go (I heavily depended on baseball-reference.com and mlbdepthcharts.com for this post, along with ESPN’s transaction list per team and Baseball Prospectus’ injury reports for individual players).

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Written by Todd Boss

March 10th, 2014 at 9:50 am

Posted in Majors Pitching

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Have we seen the last 300-game winner? (updated post 2013 season)

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Sabathia remains the best chance for another 300-game winner .. Photo wiki/flickr chris.ptacek

Sabathia remains the best chance for another 300-game winner .. Photo wiki/flickr chris.ptacek

Welcome to the latest installment of  the “Will we ever see another 300-game winner” post.

(Aside; yes I know the limitations of the “win” statistic.  However, nobody looks at a 20-game winner on the season or a 300-game winner for his career and excuses it as a statistical aberration; the pitcher win will continue to be important to players and in the lexicon of the game for years to come, despite Brian Terry‘s #killthewin campaigns).

Of the 24 pitchers in the game’s history to have reached the 300-game plateau, 4 of them have done it in the last decade (they being Randy Johnson, Roger Clemens, Greg Maddux, and Tom Glavine).  However, there exists a distinct belief in the game that we may not see another 300-game winner for some time, thanks to pitch count obsessions, innings limits, 5-man rotations, NL small-ball managing, match-up relievers and generally a huge rise in bullpen usage over the last 20 years.

In the past year, I’ve collected some topical reading related to this post:

When we first broached this topic (in April 2009), Sabathia was still the best bet (outside of Randy Johnson, who sat at 296 before the 2009 season began), but it didn’t look that good for anyone else to reach the plateau, and a couple of the names we guessed as having an outside shot (Ervin Santana and Scott Kazmir) seem like ridiculous choices now.  When we most recently broached this topic (at the end of the 2012 season), we explained some statistical models we and others were using to try to predict who may have the next best shot at reaching the mark.  We concluded that Sabathia and Hernandez were both pretty good guesses at the time to reach the plateau.

How are things looking now?

I maintain a spreadsheet (uploaded to google and/or available via the links to the right of this page) that ranks candidates using a couple of formulas inspired by Jay Jaffe (see 2012′s post for the full thought process behind them).  Basically Jaffe’s prediction models assume that the pitcher can win X games per year after a set age (in Jaffe’s case, his simple formula assumes pitchers win 15 games/year until their age 42 season, a relatively optimistic projection and hence why he self-titles it using the words “blindingly optimistic”).  I’ve used a couple other methods to rank pitchers (calculating average number of wins past the age of 18 or 23, but since some guys get drafted out of HS and debut at 20 or 21 these projections end up looking ridiculous), in order to find candididates to put into the discussion.  I also don’t really even consider a guy until he gets to 50 career wins, so there’s no wild speculation about someone like Shelby Miller (15 wins in his age 22 season) or Jose Fernandez (12 wins in his age 20 season).

So, without further ado, here’s a list of starters right now who are in the conversation of possibly reaching 300 wins in their career and my % chance opinion of getting there.

pitcher age wins % Chance of making 300 wins
CC Sabathia 32 205 75%
Clayton Kershaw 25 77 50%
Felix Hernandez 27 110 10%
Justin Verlander 30 137 10%
Madison Bumgarner 24 49 5%
Trevor Cahill 25 61 5%
Zack Greinke 29 106 5%
Mark Buehrle 34 186 1%
Rick Porcello 24 61 0%
Yovani Gallardo 27 81 0%
Matt Cain 28 93 0%

Thoughts per starter:

  • CC Sabathia remains the pitcher with the best chance of reaching 300 wins, but i’ve downgraded his probability from last year’s 90% to just 75% right now.  Why?  Well read no further than the link about his 2013 decline, where his FB velocity dropped, his ERA rose and he posted a sub 100 ERA+ value for the first time in his career.  He still won 14 games, but his win totals have declined four years in a row.   On the plus side, he’s a workhorse pitching for a team that historically has a great offense, which enables him to get wins despite an inflated ERA (he had 4 or more runs of support in 20 of his 32 starts in 2013 … Stephen Strasburg just started crying).   It still seems entirely plausible he can average at least 10-12 wins for the next 7 seasons and hit the milestone before hanging them up.
  • Clayton Kershaw improves his probability of hitting the plateau from last year to this year based on two factors: First, he has clearly stepped up and is now the pre-eminent starter in the game and seems set to continue to post 16-20 win seasons for the extended future.  Secondly, the Dodgers now spend money like no other, ensuring a winning team that gets Kershaw victories even if he’s not pitching his best.  He was “only” 16-9 in 2013; I would expect him to put up more wins each season in the next few years, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see him with 160 career wins before he’s 30.
  • Felix Hernandez‘s chances have plummetted; going from 75% last year to just 10%.  Why such a precipitous drop?  Two factors; first he took a noted step back in FB velocity this year, to the point where pundits were questioning his arm strength.  Secondly, he signed a massive deal to stay in Seattle … and Seattle right now is not a winner.  It has a completely dysfunctional ownership and management group and seemingly has no idea how to put together a baseball team.  They’re competing in a division of teams with better management willing to spend more money, and these factors are going to continue to have Hernandez put up the 13-14 win seasons he has been doing for the last four years.  He’s already 27: if he’s doesn’t have back to back 20 win seasons his chances are kaput.
  • Justin Verlander, like Hernandez and Sabathia, also had a curious drop in performance in 2013, leading me to drop his 300-game chances from one in three to one in ten.  At age 30 he has logged just 137 wins and has gone from 24 to 17 to 13 in the last three seasons.  If he can right the ship and get back to the 18-20 game win plateau, he can get his 300-game mojo back, but at age 30 he’s less than halfway there, so chances are looking pretty slim.
  • Madison Bumgarner appears here mostly because of his advanced win totals at such a young age; he already has 49 career wins before his 24th birthday.  He’s averaging 14 wins a season so far, and with a 14 win average in every season between now and his age 40 year he’d hit his mark.  But I have his chances right now at only 5%; its just too early to really tell if Bumgerner will have the endurance and continued success to get there.  Plus, is Bumgarner an elite starter or more in the mold of a Mark Buehrle (i.e., a durable lefty who grinds out 13-14 win seasons for a decade)?
  • Trevor Cahill is in nearly the same boat as Bumgarner, except that I don’t think he’s quite as good.  In fact, Cahill seems like he’s bound for Mark Buehrle territory (see below); an innings eating guy who is always right around the 13-12 mark each season.  If he does this for the next 15 years, he may get close.  I give him a slight chance.
  • Zack Greinke has gone from not even being considered to having a 5% chance.  Why?  Well he’s signed a huge long term deal with a very good team AND he now pitches in both the NL and in a pitcher’s park.   In 2013 he put up a very quiet 15-4 record and I think with his stuff and his health he could put up multiple 16-18 win seasons.  That’d get him to the mid 200s by the time he’s nearing 40 … maybe enough to have him go for it while pitching into his early 40s.  Or maybe not; by the time he’s 40 he’ll likely have nearly $250M in career earnings and may just buy a ranch somewhere.
  • Mark Buehrle‘s career 162 game average W/L record (14-11) is identical to Bumgarner’s.  In his last 5 season’s he’s won 13 games four times and 12 games once.  I have given him a 1% chance of hitting 300 on the off-chance that he pitches well into his mid 40s, continues to put up 4th starter figures and finishes with a career record of something like 302-285.  He doesn’t miss many starts, so perhaps he’s that durable.
  • The last three guys mentioned (Rick PorcelloYovani Gallardo and Matt Cain) are all given 0% chances at this point but are listed thanks to their advanced win totals by their mid 20s.  Cain’s sudden drop off in 2013 (a common theme in this list) has seemingly cost him any shot at reaching 300 wins despite his normal sturdiness.  Gallardo had a 10% chance last year and drops to zero thanks to my having almost no confidence that he is a good enough pitcher to accumulate enough wins going forward.  And Porcello remains essentially a 5th starter who just happened to matriculate to the majors at the tender age of 20.  I can see him having a career similar to Buehrle’s; long tenures of near .500 record. In fact, ironically Porcello’s 162-game average W/L record is identical (14-11) to Buehrle’s … which is also identical to Bumgarner and very close to Cahill’s.  I think there’s something clearly “accumulator” in nature to all these guys.

What has happened to some of the candidates from last year not mentioned yet?

  • Roy Halladay went from a near Cy Young season in 2011 to retirement in just two short seasons.  Shoulder injuries are a killer.  He retires with 203 wins.
  • Chad Billingsly lost nearly the entire 2013 season to injury, scuttling what dim chances he had.  He’s now not even guaranteed a spot in LA’s high powered rotation.
  • A bunch of veterans who already had little chance (but were mentioned anyways) have now retired: Jamie MoyerLivan HernandezAndy Pettitte, and Kevin Millwood.
  • Tim Hudson is an interesting case; he sits at 205 wins, lost a chunk of last season to injury but signed on in a pitcher’s park in SF.   He’s gotten 17,16 and 16 wins the last three seasons in his mid 30s; can he just continue to get 16-17 win seasons and suddenly be looking at 300 wins by the time he’s 42?  Maybe, but he’s going to have to be good these next two seasons.

Thoughts?  Do you care about 300 winners like I do, or is it just an anachronism of baseball history that will go the way of 300 strikeouts, 30-wins and hitting .400?

 

 

 

 

 

What is the “ceiling” of various Nats pitching prospects? (Updated for 2013)

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Can Giolito live up to his potential? Photo unk via federalbaseball.com

Can Giolito live up to his potential? Photo unk via federalbaseball.com

Two off-seasons ago, I did an analysis piece discussing the “ceilings” of the various pitchers (focusing on starters in the system) on our major and minor league rosters.   That led to some good discussions in the comments about what the definition of a pitcher’s ceiling is, about what a “#3″ starter is, etc.

Now that the 2013 season has ended, I thought it’d be a good topic to revisit and factor in recent performances and the last couple year’s worth of player movement in and out of the organization.

This post mostly focuses on the Starters we have in the organization.  There’s no real mention of guys who are already in the bullpen (either in the majors or the minors) unless we have heard rumors of them converting back to being starters at some point or another.


Some setup

What do I mean by a #1, #2, #3, #4 or #5 starter?  With some simple examples (from the 2011 post)

  • A #1 starter is a MLB-wide “Ace,” one of the best 15-20 pitchers in the league, someone who you’re genuinely surprised if he performs badly on a given day, opten mentioned in Cy Young conversations.   Guys like Clayton Kershaw and Justin Verlander.
  • A #2 starter is a  slight step down from your elite “Aces,” but still an excellent starter.  Can challenge for the top awards if they put everything together for a season, but remains consistently above average.   I see guys like Madison Bumgarner, Homer Bailey or James Shields in this category
  • A #3 starter is better than your league average pitcher, someone who is solid, consistent innings eater and who routinely gives you quality starts but not much more than that.   I think of guys like Mark Buehrle, Kyle Lohse, or John Lackey here.
  • A #4 starter is basically someone defined as someone who’s a slight step above the back-of-the-rotation guy, usually a veteran guy who knows how to pitch but doesn’t have the best stuff to really go much beyond or a younger guy who is establishing a foothold of a career.   Good examples from this year could include the likes of Kyle Kendrick, or Edwin Jackson or Bronson Arroyo.
  • A #5 starter is just good enough to fill out your rotation.  Starters at the back end who all you’re hoping for is 6 innings and keeping your team in the game.  Think of someone like Jason Marquis at this point in his career, or Ryan Vogelsong.

For clarity; if your team has three excellent pitchers, it does not mean that a league-wide ace is defined by these standards as a “#3″ starter.  When the Phillies big 3 of Roy HalladayCliff Lee and Cole Hamels were all healthy and firing on all cylinders a couple of years back, all three were #1 starters in my book.  Just because Hamels pitched third in the rotation didn’t mean he was a “#3 starter.”

Also before getting going, a quick discussion on “ceiling” versus “predictions” and what I’m trying to do here.  As was pointed out when I posted on this topic in 2011, a pitcher’s “ceiling” is quite literally the highest level of capability that we can expect that pitcher to accomplish given a perfect set of circumstances.   Scouts routinely talk about player “ceilings” and “number X” starters as a convenient way to speak a common language when describing a pitcher.   I like to be a bit more grounded in predicting what may happen to pitchers, so this analysis is less about the perfect-scenario “ceiling” as it is a thoughtful prediction on where a guy may eventually fit in given his talents and his performances as compared to scouting reports and industry buzz.


Updated ceiling predictions for Nats pitchers post 2013 season:

Nationals Starter Ceilings (per scouting reports, personal observations).  I’m not going to include any MLFAs here, assuming that they’re all either 4-A or minor league starters as a ceiling.  I’m also only really going down to full-season ball guys, throwing in a couple of our higher-end prospects.  Its just impossible to really project guys in rookie ball unless you’re a professional scout.

  • #1: Strasburg, Giolito
  • #2: Gonzalez, Zimmermann
  • #3: Cole, Ray
  • #4: Jordan, Roark
  • #5: Detwiler, Solis
  • MLB bullpen: Purke, Karns, Ohlendorf, Garcia, Johansen, Treinen
  • 4-A starter: Hill, Mooneyham, Schwartz, Voth, Meyers
  • Minors starter: Rosenbaum, Maya, Gilliam, Rauh, Anderson, Encarnacion, Bacus, Turnbull
  • Minors bullpen: Perry, Demny, RPena

Discussion:

#1 Starters: Stephen Strasburg is already an “Ace” starter in this league, ranking up among the 15-20 best arms out there.   However he’s no longer considered in the same class as the likes of Kershaw, thanks to injury and a curious lack of dominance this year (have a draft post on this topic that i’ll expand on later).  Lucas Giolito is widely considered the Nats top prospect and an easy future #1 pitching prospect.  Big guy, big arm, and by all accounts has come back post TJ surgery.  The BA guys think that he could be the #1 prospect in the entire minors with another dominant 2014.  How quickly can he move through the minors?  Can he stay healthy?  Right around the time Giolito arrives, the Nats “3 big names” could all be at the end of their current contracts and an interesting conundrum could face the team; keep the band together?  Or let these guys go and re-load/re-build?

#2 Starters: Just as Gio Gonzalez made the leap to a #2 starter with his Cy Young challenging 2012, Jordan Zimmermann has made that leap by virtue of his near-20 win season in 2013.  I believe these two guys can stay as #2 starters for the next few years, until they hit the regression stages of their careers.

#3 Starters:  A.J. Cole has regained his mojo after bouncing around the California league and advanced to AA this year.  He features a significant fastball and but complaints in the scouting world about his secondary stuff lead him to a #3 starter prediction.  I think he should be a #2 ceiling, and perhaps a spring training working with the Nats staff can get him back where we thought he was when we drafted him.  I’m sure picking Robbie Ray to have a higher likely ceiling than his 2013 AA counterparts would be mocked.  But look at the evidence: he’s the same age and same draft class as Cole and has consistently out-performed him when they’ve been on the same team.  He’s lefty, he averaged well over a K/inning this year, and suddenly he’s 22 and he may be “done” with AA.  Why aren’t his credentials higher with prospect-watchers?  It isn’t has if he’s a soft-tosser; he throws decent stuff from the left side.  I continue to think he’ll move along with Cole and they’ll be promoted to the majors within a couple of weeks of each other, perhaps mid 2015.

#4 Starters: If you want to say I’m crazy for thinking that Tanner Roark can maintain his September pace as a starter for this team, I can understand.  I’m not personally convinced that he’s going to be a mediocre 6th inning reliever or continue to be a Kris Medlen-in-2012 anomoly who continues to get guys out.  For now, i’m rooting for the better story.  Meanwhile I’m also not convinced that I have Taylor Jordan pegged properly; I think honestly he could be a #3 pitcher in the league.  This lack of real punch-out capabilities is what’s holding him back for now.  That being said, guys don’t just come up to the majors and post a 3.66 ERA.  For now, a #4 ceiling sounds good.

#5 StartersI’ve come to believe that Ross Detwiler‘s reached his ceiling; his 2012 season is as good as we’re going to see him.  Not because of a lack of talent; its because he just can’t stay healthy.  I’ve seen and heard reports that Detwiler’s stuff is fantastic; that’s great on paper but he just can’t seem to translate that to the big club on a consistent basis.  I would not shed a tear if he headed to the bullpen, other than to think that its a waste of his talents.   I also feel like Sammy Solis will stay as a starter and continue to climb up the ranks, and tops out as a 5th starter just by virtue of his being left handed.  There’s just something to be said about being a lefty with decent stuff being able to hang around the league (think of someone like Eric Stults).  

MLB Bullpen: Right now i’m projecting a whole handful of our good minor league starters to eventually get transitioned to the bullpen.  Which is good and bad; good for this team as they continue to develop arms and continue to have quality guys in the pen.  But bad in that it predicts a severe thinning of the starting pitching corps.  First off, I think the Christian Garcia as starter experiment is over; he needs to focus on being a reliever so that he can stay healthy and contribute.   I believe that Ross Ohlendorf‘s time as a starter is over, but he should slot in nicely as the 7th guy/long-man/spot-starter that this team will need here and there in 2014.  The more I think about Nathan Karns, the more I think he’d make an excellent setup guy.  Big arm, big fast-ball, not really that much secondary stuff.  He got hit hard as a starter; in shorter stints he could dial it up more and focus on his limited arsenal.   Unfortunately I think Matthew Purke may be headed to the pen as well, but his gun-slinger action could make him an excellent later-innings pitcher, perhaps even a closer, if he can translate that to a bit more velocity.  Lastly the reported two biggest arms in the minors (Jake Johansen and Blake Treinen) project for now as bullpen guys.  Again, I hope I’m wrong, but so far the evidence seems to point at big velocity and little else.

What is a 4-A starter?  A guy basically who looks good in AAA but who, for whatever reason, can’t translate that success to the Majors.  They may get a call-up here and there but never pitch well enough to stick.  This is how I see a handful of guys ending up: Brad Meyers has been hanging around this status for several seasons and just can’t get a break.   I’ve also tagged some guys with good numbers in the lower minors but with fringy scouting reports with this for now, thinking that a lack of a dominant fastball means they’ll stay as a starter until they reach their peak.  Taylor HillBlake Schwartz, and Austin Voth all seem to fit this bill.  Lastly the curious lack of dominance of Brett Mooneyham lends me to believe he’ll end up in this predicament as well.  I hope I’m wrong here; I’d love to see these guys take the leap, or (save that) find success in the bullpen.

Career Minors Starter: Unfortunately, I think we’ve seen the best that Danny Rosenbaum and Yunesky Maya can give; they’ve both had shots at a major league roster and couldn’t stay.  I think they’ll retire as AAA starters.  The rest of these guys listed are mediocre-to-decent starters in the system who don’t seem to be listed as true prospects.  I’m specifically disappointed thus far in Kylin Turnbull, who couldn’t make the leap to high A and seems like he needs to make some sort of adjustment in 2014.

Career Minors Bullpen guys: When Ryan Perry passed through waivers off the 40-man roster, his chances of ever making it back to the majors took a huge dent.  Paul Demny‘s precipitous drop this season also seems to spell doom for his career.  And apropos of nothing else, Ronald Pena seems like he has achieved the dreaded “organizational arm” tag.


On the bright side, the top-heavy nature of this list gives fans optimism for the power of this rotation for years to come.  In 3 year’s time (if Giolito, Ray and Cole all matriculate as expected) you’d have two Aces, two #2s and two #3s to choose from for your rotation.  That’s significant, considering that lots of teams are scraping the bottom of the barrel for their 5th starter.  If Ray and Cole turn into servicable major leaguers, you could trade/let go a guy who gets too expensive (Gonzalez or Zimmermann) with an able, cheap replacement.  Maybe I’m too high on Ray and Cole (who are both youngsters) … but then again maybe i’m too low on Jordan and Roark (both of whom have already shown the ability get major league hitters out).

Agree/Disagree/Hate what I’ve written?  I’m open to criticism.