Nationals Arm Race

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

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The Definition of Insanity…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Why exactly did the Nats call up Turner??

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Turner in a Nats uniform... why?? photo via wp.com

Turner in a Nats uniform… why?? photo via wp.com

In some of the previous posts’ comments sections, I opined that I thought it would be “GM malpractice” to call up uber SS prospect Trea Turner at any point prior to mid April of next year.  My general reasoning including any and all of the following points:

  • the team finally had Ian Desmond hitting decently enough (consistently between about .250-.280 in 1/2/4 week samples going back a month).
  • Danny Espinosa has been a revelation this year, increasing his slash lines across the board and as we speak posting a 99 OPS+ figure.
  • Yunel Escobar being the 2nd most valuable hitter on the team, in addition to wordlessly changing positions as the Nats need dictates.
  • Anthony Rendon finally back on the big club, even if he’s a shell of what he was last year, is still an excellent top-of-the-order MLB hitter.
  • Given the wealth of middle infielders already on the roster (not even mentioning Wilmer Difo or Emmanuel Burriss both of whom have been used already this year in a backup capacity), why call him up to be a backup?

So, given that all four of these middle infield options are (finally) together, healthy and performing relatively decently, what possible rationale would there be to call up Turner??

Why would this team *possibly* want to prematurely start the service time clock on such a polished prospect, unless there was a REAL and ACTUAL need to call him up?  By “real” and “actual” I mean that suddenly the team found itself without an able bodied short stop and found itself in a position where Turner would play full time.

No, that’s not what has happened.  Turner was called up on 8/21/15.  In the five games since, he has two garbage time PAs in a 10-3 loss on his debut and two pinch hit ABs.  He’s played less than 3 whole innings in the field.  What the hell is this team doing??

Matt Williams isn’t going to sit Desmond in favor of Turner.  No way; we’ve seen *time and again* that Williams cow-tows to veterans, ensures that they hit in their preferred lineup spots and play their preferred positions even when evidence shows they’re in need of change.  And even if Williams wanted to sit Desmond … he’s clearly going to play Espinosa in his place, another established vet with a track record and a good 2015 going.  Where exactly is Turner going to play??

I agree whole heartedly with Jim Bowden‘s take: why did the Nats call him up to sit on the bench??  Something is fishy here.  And we’ve harmed the long term benefit of the club in the process.  Instead of waiting til next April to call him up, we’ve needlessly thrown away a year of his career in his prime by starting his service time clock way too soon, and for no reason.  He’s not going to be impactful coming off the bench, he’s not going to play in place of the established regulars Desmond, Escobar and Rendon.  He’s certainly not going to supplant Espinosa as the #1 middle infield option off the bench in case someone gets hurt.  We don’t need a “designated runner” until we’re, you know, actually in the post-season (a concept that seems to be draining by the day thanks to middling losses to 2nd-division teams over and over).

I think this is a clear sign (as Bowden alludes to) that the Mike RizzoMatt Williams working relationship is shot and that this team is quickly heading down the drain of under performance.  But as a long-term fan who thinks Turner’s value to this team is in the next incarnation of the squad, it really infuriates me to see him being wasted on the MLB bench for no reason, costing the team an extra year of his service when he hits his prime.

Written by Todd Boss

August 26th, 2015 at 11:47 pm

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

My favorite “questions” from #AskMatt

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#AskMatt was a huge success .. for humorists.  Photo Nats official 2014 via sportingnews.com

#AskMatt was a huge success .. for humorists. Photo Nats official 2014 via sportingnews.com

So, the geniuses at MASN apparently have never seen just how badly these open Twitter hashtag Question and Answer sessions can go.  I wrote about this once before, when NCAA head Mark Emmert was subjected to an #AskEmmert session and was roundly ridiculed (I also link to a fantastic Peter King session that went just as badly).  Googling something like “worst twitter q&a” sessions also leads to some fun “#AskMe” type sessions that went awry.

Instead, MASN threw caution to the wind and decided to have an “#AskMatt” session last week.  Here’s the Twitter link with the hashtag so you could judge for yourself how it went.

It went, to quote Natsenquirer.com, about as well as you could expect.  WP’s Scott Allen also commented on the unasked questions.

Here’s some of my favorite “questions” from the session.  Most of these made me laugh out loud in context.  No word as to whether or not Matt actually answered any of them.  :-)

  • “Is Jayson Werth’s inability to drive batters in related to his inability to drive due to a suspended license?”
  • “What is uglier – Jayson Werth’s beard or your bullpen management?”
  • “If Jordan Zimmermann is throwing a one hitter thru 8 2/3 again, when should we expect to see Aaron Barrett?”
  • “If the Nats make the playoffs, who’s your 18th inning guy? “
  • “What really happened in Benghazi?” (asked by Luigi de Guzman, writer of the Natstradamous blog, part of a theme of asking pointed political questions)
  • “Why didn’t Storen or Papelbon pitch once in the biggest series of the year?”  (asked by the twitter account @FireMattWilliams; i guess it was just a matter of time before that twitter account popped up).
  • “I have found the way to eliminate poverty worldwide, should I share it or just leave Storen & Papelbon in the bullpen?” (Asked by former Nats Farm Authority maven Brian Oliver)
  • “If my cat throws up, should I leave him in for another 20 pitches or bring Aaron Barrett in immediately to clean it up?”
  • “Would you rather: eat steamed cauliflower for rest of your life or let closer pitch in tie game when leverage index is highest?”
  • “Who’s ahead in bullpen pecking order, Doug Fister or Tyler Moore?”
  • “Matt, what’s your favorite hippo diarrhea video?” (and then providing a sample)
  • “Do you like movies about gladiators?” (asked by NatsEnquirer’s ck)

Fantastic.  The internet is the best source of unintentional comedy sometimes.

 

Written by Todd Boss

August 11th, 2015 at 10:01 am

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

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Ross deservedly keeps his rotation spot.  Photo Getty Images via federalbaseball.com

Ross deservedly keeps his rotation spot. Photo Getty Images via federalbaseball.com

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Interesting day in Natstown, though, nonetheless.

Written by Todd Boss

August 7th, 2015 at 10:02 am

Cole up … why not Roark?

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A.J. Cole getting his MLB debut. Photo AP

A.J. Cole getting his MLB debut. Photo AP

PSA: your 7-13 Nats are now on a pace to finish 57-105.  Or about 50 games in the Wins column away from where some pundits were talking.

And now instead of our $210M stopper Max Scherzer, we’ll be giving the ball to an untested rookie A.J. Cole to stop an ugly 6-game losing streak.  This is the same Cole who we saw this spring look rather hittable while giving up 9 hits and 4 walks in 10+ MLB spring innings.  Of course, his track record speaks for itself at Syracuse: he’s yet to take a loss in 14 AAA starts dating to mid-last season.  And he’s been on literally every single Nats prospect top 10 list since the moment he was drafted in 2010, so certainly we’re all experiencing some “prospect fatigue” with him despite the fact that he just turned 23.

Don’t get me wrong; i’m happy he’s getting a shot and look forward to seeing if his apparent lack of deception (in my eyes) can be overcome against a team of professional hitters (even if its just the Braves).

Now, that being said … why the heck are we not using Tanner Roark?

Wasn’t the WHOLE POINT of putting 5-win Roark in the long man role so that we could, you know, use him as the first alternative starter in case of injury??  That was the argument we all made, right?  Instead of sticking Roark in AAA to maintain a starter’s schedule, he was (in theory) going to be available out of the pen as needed.

Except now we hear that, thanks to his basically being used now as a right-handed middle reliever (you know, the type that you can find on the waiver wire every day, or on the FA market as we speak), he’s not stretched out enough to actually make the start.  Matt Williams was quoted by Chelsea James in NJ as saying that Roark could “only go 50-60” pitches before needing relief.   Well … if that was the case, then give Roark the start, let him go 5 innings and THEN use Cole.  Or call-up one of the “long men” in AAA who are actually suited for this role.  Guys like Lively, McGregor, or Meek.  No room on the 40-man you say?  Well then put one or both of the guys who are on season-long/season-ending injuries (Erik Davis and Craig Stammen) to the 60-day and make the call.

I just don’t get it.  Who is the better pitcher, Roark or Cole?  Who has demonstrated over parts of two MLB seasons that he’s a highly effective pitcher when given the chance?

I hate to sound negative, especially with a 7-13 team that clearly has offensive issues.  But don’t be surprised if Cole is shelled early, knocked out and Roark gets the d*mn ball anyways in the 3rd inning and pitches for another 4 in mop-up duty.  Yeah; every team uses a 5-win starter as a mop-up guy.  That’s effective use of your resources.  Hey, i’ve got an idea; if you’re going to waste Roark in the pen in low-leverage middle relief appearances and then not bother to use him when you actually need him, why not just frigging trade him?  Lets trade him for someone who can catch the ball when its hit to them, or can hit better than .135 (Uggla) or even .2015 (Espinosa).

Generally speaking, we’re seeing a pretty “worst-case” collection of issues.  The already-thinned bullpen suffered two very bad losses.  Our Cy-Young quality starters have struggled.  Our best hitter can’t bend his knee without pain.  We may have just lost Escobar (one of the guys actually hitting) to a hand injury thanks to a patently dirty slide.  And we’re depending on starters who shouldn’t even be on MLB teams.  Where’s the leadership?  Where’s the veterans rallying the clubhouse?  Where’s the manager leading the troops?  Where’s the frigging defense (22 errors in 20 games, leading the league)?  Have you ever seen so many non-error defensive blunders in such a short amount of time?  How do you fix this?

Rant off.

Forensicane’s campaign finally fulfilled; Rafael Martin called up & Cedeno axed

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Welcome to the big show Mr. Martin!  photo Nats official

Welcome to the big show Mr. Martin! photo Nats official

So, is that a quick release or what?

Xavier Cedeno, he who has faced exactly 15 batters this season, was DFA’d ahead of the Tuesday 4/14/15 game as first reported by Mark Zuckerman on twitter.  In those 15 batters, he gave up 3 hits, 2 walks, one HBP, struck out 4 and got the other 5 guys out somehow.  Oh and he threw two wild pitches.  Those numbers totaled a 6.00 ERA, a 1.667 WHIP and an even higher FIP.  But more importantly, it spelled his DFA (since he’s out of options and until a week ago everyone thought he had beaten out Jerry Blevins for the bullpen).

I also reference the acerbic comments of others on twitter: from Half Street Heart Blog: “A few days ago, Xavier Cedeno was Matty’s go-to guy with the based loaded and nobody out w/ a 1-run lead. Now he’s off the roster.”

It is hard to argue with this observation because its true.  Yesterday we were wondering why the heck Matt Williams was pitching Cedeno for the 4th time in 5 days despite being 5 runs down in a losing cause … today he’s DFA’d.  What he heck is going on??

In January, I never would have thought that Cedeno had a shot at the team anyway … but I also wouldn’t have thought the team would have dumped Blevins for a 4-A outfielder who we probably didn’t need in a move that smacked of pettiness over the outcome of the off-season’s arbitration result (I reference Ken Rosenthal‘s tweet on the matter here).  Den Dekker is the TENTH outfielder on our current 40-man roster; the only “real” infielder who isn’t already on the MLB bench in the entire system is Wilmer Difo.  To say that the team has a slight imbalance of players on its 40-man right now is an understatement.

Anyway.  To the good news.  Long-serving and well-deserving RHP reliever Rafael Martin has been called up, added to the 40- and 25-man and will join the team in Boston.  He more than earned this spot with his excellent 2014 numbers, and his career path is the stuff of movies.  I say bravo to the Nats for finally recognizing his great minor league performances, and I hope he sticks around.

 

Written by Todd Boss

April 14th, 2015 at 3:36 pm

Nats Full Season Pitching Staffs

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A.J. Cole leads the minor league starter depth.  Photo AP

A.J. Cole leads the minor league starter depth. Photo AP

All our full-season squads have been announced, and its time to start looking at the pitching staffs.

I never got to doing my massive reviews of the rotations of the various farm system teams this past off-season (job change, less free time at home, they being a ton of work, etc).  Which also led to my not doing any predictions on where our pitchers would start the 2015 season.  Which is a bummer, because it is always fun to see if my predictions were decent and to see how player movement has affected the squads.  Lets go team by team and (focusing on the rotations) look at how things have changed since the end of last season.


MLB (25-man roster announcement here)

  • 2015 Rotation: Scherzer, Zimmermann, Strasburg, Gonzalez, Fister
  • 2014 Opening Day Rotation: Strasburg, Gonzalez, Zimmermann, Roark, Jordan
  • 2014 Closing Day rotation: Strasburg, Gonzalez, Zimmermann, Fister, Roark

Discussion: We’ve certainly talked this through.  Quickly;  Fister‘s 2014 spring training injury opened the door for both Roark and Jordan to duke it out for the 2014 5th starter job, eventually won by Roark, who gave the team a 5-win season as the 5th starter.  That wasn’t enough for the Nats though; committing $210M on Scherzer for the next decade or so, pushing Roark to mop-up guy/insurance starter for opening of 2015.

Manager Matt Williams also shook up the 2015 rotation order, installing the starters by accomplishment, not by reputation.  Thus 3-year running opening day starter Strasburg is dropped to the #3 hole, and last year’s #2 Gonzalez is now basically the #5 starter.

Enough about the MLB discussion though; lets get to the minor league rotations.

 


All four full season minor league squads are announced here by Nats Journal.   In some cases we know who the rotation will be, in other cases the below is a huge guess.  Especially at Hagerstown (as we’ll see).

AAA (Syracuse roster announcement link)

  • 2015 Rotation: Cole, Jordan, Hill, McGregor, Billings (with Lively, Rivero (L) as swingmen)
  • 2014 Opening Day Rotation: Rosenbaum (L), Hill, Tatusko, Treinen, Poveda
  • 2014 Closing Day rotation: Laffey (L), Hill,  Treinen, Lively, Cole (Espino 9/1 call-up)

Discussion

A late spring training injury to Casey Janssen has called presumed AAA starter Blake Treinen into action in the Nats bullpen, perhaps for the long run.  Which has opened up a couple of spots in the Syracuse rotation … and they’ve been surprisingly filled.  Instead of installing who I presumed to be the 5th AAA starter (trade acquisition Felipe Rivero), the team has announced that 2014 MLFA signing/rubber-armed swingman Scott McGregor and 2015 MLFA Bruce Billings will fill out the rotation.

Changes from 2014?  Rosenbaum traded for catcher depth, Tatusko to Korea, Poveda remains an unsigned MLFA, and Laffey signed a new MLFA deal with Colorado.

One has to think that McGregor/Billings are temporary holds in the rotation until Treinen returns.  The conversion of Rivero to the bullpen is more interesting; the team is rather short on lefty starters in the system right now (thanks to a slew of upper-end draft pick lefty starters failing in the past few years … ahem Solis, Purke, Mooneyham, Turnbull).  As we’ll see later on, there’s nobody really that makes sense to supplant any of these guys as a starter from AA or XST.


AA (Harrisburg roster announcement here)

  • 2015 Rotation: Voth, Ross, Espino, Alderson, Swynenberg (with Bleier (L) perhaps as a swingman?)
  • 2014 Opening Day Rotation: Schwartz, Rivero (L), Gilliam, Purke (L), Cole
  • 2014 Closing Day rotation: Dupra (sort of), Voth, Rivero (L), Poveda, (Espino 9/1 promotion), Kroenke

Discussion

Harrisburg went through an awful lot of starters last year.  19 guys got starts, 15 of which were not just one-offs.  From last year’s opening day, Schwartz got demoted after putting up a 7+ ERA and then hurt, Gilliam got hurt, and Purke had Tommy John surgery.  By the end of the season, only Rivero remained in the rotation, though he spent a good spell on the D/L as well.  Dupra got 12 starts and 24 appearances and was medicore (5.60 ERA), Poveda had great ratios (39Ks in 32innings) but an ugly era (5.34), and MLFA Kroenke was abhorrent (6.72 ERA).

Returning for 2015 are Austin Voth, the 2013 draft pick who shot up two levels last year, and last year’s MLFA Paolo Espino, who has re-upped with the team for 2015.  They are joined by newly acquired Joe Ross, MLFA Tim Alderson and the surprising Matt Swynenberg (who was closer to retirement than a rotation gig this time last year).   I have 2015 MLFA Richard Bleier as a swingman/spot starter for now.  This rotation may be augmented by some of the Missing/XST arms (see later discussion).


High-A

  • 2015 Rotation: Bacus, Pivetta, Spann (L), Suero, Rauh (with Schwartz as swingman?)
  • 2014 Opening Day Rotation: Rauh, Rpena, Mooneyham (L), Encarnacion, Lee (L)
  • 2014 Closing Day rotation: Bacus, Spann (L), Dickson, Sylvestre,  Rauh,

Discussion

Lots of turnover in the Potomac rotation as well; 14 guys got starts from last year.   Dakota Bacus, Brian Rauh, and Matthew Spann are reprising their roles as starters from the end of last season, while two others (Dickson and Sylvestre) remain in XST limbo for now.  What happened to the rest of these guys?  Brett Mooneyham and Nick Lee posted ERAs of 7.36 and 10.05 respectively and were both demoted.  Encarnacion was nearly as bad and was outright released by the organization earlier this past off-season.

Luckily, we kind of already know that the opening day rotation is going to change: we know where two of the organization’s brightest arms are heading.  Giolito and Lopez should supplant Bacus and Rauh, making for a rather formidable Potomac rotation.


Low-A

  • 2015 Rotation: AWilliams, LReyes, Van Orden … and then who knows.  Orlan?  Ullman?
  • 2014 Opening Day Rotation: Pivetta Voth, Giolito, Silvestre (L)/Anderson, Johansen,
  • 2014 Closing Day rotation: Pivetta, RLopez, Ott, Dickey, Suero,

Discussion

Well; Hagerstown’s rotation should be … interesting.  When you look at the assigned arms, there’s only three clear-cut starters from last year.  So clearly either the Hagerstown team will be getting reinforcements from the XST list or there’s guys being converted from 2014 relievers to 2015 starters.

Pivetta and Giolito were the mainstays from last year; both will be in high-A at some point soon.  Ott was flipped as a throw-in with the Steven Souza deal.   Its hard to pass judgement on this rotation until we talk about those in XST.


Missing/XST

There’s a TON of arms who are currently unassigned.

Starters: JRodriguez, Dickey, Dickson, Estevez, Lopez, Giolito, Simms, Silvestre, Bourque, Amartinez, Gilliam
Relievers: Purke, Bates, Holland, Lehman, Mooneyham, Pena, Simmons, Solis, Turnbull, Feliz, McDowell, Torres, DWilliams

Where might these guys end up?   Well, based on their performance from last year, here’s some guesses for the starters:

  • AAA: nobody who isn’t already there
  • AA: Simms, Silvestre, Gilliam
  • High-A: Dickey, Dickson, Lopez, Giolito, Dupra (already on the Potomac D/L)
  • Low-A: JRodriguez, Estevez, Bourque, AMartinez

And the relievers?

  • AAA: Purke (already on the AAA D/L), Holland, Lehman (release candidate), Simmons (release candidate)
  • AA: Bates (release candidate), Pena, Solis
  • High-A: Mooneyham, Turnbull
  • Low-A: Feliz, McDowell, Torres, DWilliams

We’ll see how things go; I guess we could start seeing some minor league releases soon enough.

 

 

Ask Boswell 3/23/15 Edition

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Scherzer is your 2015 opening day starter.  Photo via Scherzer's twitter account.

Scherzer is your 2015 opening day starter. Photo via Scherzer’s twitter account.

So, I’ve been quiet on the blog front lately.  Not much to write about right now, other than the injury bug that seems to be going around camp.  Max Scherzer named the opening day starter; I guess that’s news for a Monday.

Lets peek at today’s Tom Boswell 3/23/15 chat to see what kind of questions he fielded.  Despite it being post-March Madness, there’s still some baseball talk going on.  As always, I answer here before reading Boswell’s answer and edit questions for clarity.

Q: Say the Nats are under .500 after a couple of weeks. Will a full-scale panic start, or are team and fans’ nerves stronger than that?

A: Maybe the media’s panic will set in, but probably not the fans.  If the team is sub .500 after two months … you’d have to start asking some questions.  Same kind of questions we asked basically all of 2013.  Of course, that being said, the Nats’ early-season calendar isn’t exactly challenging:  10 of their first 11 series of the year are against teams that were sub .500 last year.  Now, we are expecting some of these teams (especially Boston, San Diego, Miami) to be much improved from last year … but the point remains.  The team has no excuse to not come out of the gates firing.  Boswell notes that if all the current injured Nats remain hurt on 4/1 … that fans will expect a long April.  He then goes on a long tangent about how screwed up the Dodgers are right now.

Q: Notwithstanding Taylor’s excellent weekend; I don’t understand why Williams would bat him lead-off (regardless of Taylor’s leadoff “skills”) but wouldn’t bat Harper higher than sixth.  Does Williams have a double standard for prospects not named Harper?

A: A good question.  Certainly some people have questioned Matt Williams‘ ongoing public criticisms of Bryce Harper.  Why call him out, in the media, for his supposed transgression of baiting the runner into trying for second?  Dude; its the 2nd week of March; it isn’t a big deal.  Except by calling him out in public, it *becomes* a big deal since Harper is such a lightening rod in the National media (deserved or not).  My two cents: there’s no lack of evidence coming out of the Arizona Diamondbacks organization over the last few  years about the institutional bull-headedness concerning “the right way to play” and other old-school baseball idioms, and it seems to me that Williams has continued his dogged old-school ways as the on-field leader of the Nats.  Is this a good thing?  Probably not.  Harper is talented enough to back up his actions (see last year’s NLCS when Harper was one of only two Nats hitters to bother making the trip to SF).  But will this conflict become a distraction?  Will it drive Harper from this team eventually?

Sorry for that tangent.  To answer the question at hand; with Denard Span out, *someone* has to bat lead off, and if you’re an “old school” guy who do you pick?  Do you pick the skinny, fast center fielder?  Or do you take a smarter look at your hitter capabilities?  I guess we’ll see.  Boswell says that Taylor batted leadoff in the minors, so he’s ok there.  Uh; the bush leagues playing infront of a few hundred people isn’t quite the majors.  Oh, and Boswell conveniently “explains” why Harper was batting 6th too.  Williams, the old-school manager for the old-school baseball writer Boswell.

Q: Why is Pete Rose back in the news with regard to reinstatement?

A: Because new commissioner Rob Manfred was dumb enough to engage Pete Rose‘s request?   The Dowd report was a pretty galling chronicle of Rose’s activities.  I think Rose appears as a sympathetic figure because of the ardor to which former commissioner Bart Giamatti pursued his penalty.  I too was sympathetic to Rose, feeling like baseball went far out of its way to rid themselves of him at the time.

But, now with time and retrospection, Rose’s sins were pretty bad.

I think the best way for baseball to deal with the likes of Rose, Shoeless Joe Jackson, Barry Bonds, Mark McGwire, Roger Clemens and perhaps others will to eventually create a special election with large caveats to their enshrinement.  Yes these players were among the best in the game … but broke cardinal sins against the game.  Imagine a veteran’s committee designed to create a permanent special exhibit in Cooperstown dedicated to great players who have clouds surrounding their names.  I dunno.  The cynical part of me says that the museum based in upstate New York has no incentive to *ever* stop the rhetoric surrounding these guys.  It gets tiresome to argue about the *same things* over and over … but we do it anyway, year after year.

Boswell coincidentally advocates for Rose for the HoF but not an active role in the game. 

Q: With the Nats celebrating ten years in the District, do you have any random memories that stand out since they’ve been in town?

A: I put out a post periodically that talks about “Best games” in Nats history.  This question kind of feels like the games captured in this post and in the comments.   No need to re-answer.

Q: Who deserves the opening day start?

A: You can make a pretty cogent argument for any of the three of Strasburg, Scherzer or Zimmermann.  Strasburg since he’s gotten three straight such starts and normally you don’t replace the home-grown “Ace” of a team.  That’d be my choice and my argument, coincidentally.  Zimmermann b/c of his no-hitter last year and generally accepted stance as the “actual” best hurler on the team.  But its now known that Scherzer is getting the nod (not a real big surprise once you saw how the rotation was laid out starting from early spring).  For me (as noted in the prior thread’s comments), Scherzer is the only guy with a Cy Young to his name, so it isn’t surprising that players’ manager Williams goes with the veteran with the most career accomplishment in that ceremonial spot.  Works for me; we just bought our opening day tickets (we’re in section 131 I think) so I look forward to seeing him pitch.  Boswell says that Strasburg’s sore ankle cost him the spot.  BS. 

Q: With the likelihood of multiple starters starting the season on the DL, how do you see that effecting the bench players on the roster.

A: We’ve talked about this before, but clearly it means that at least one, perhaps two NRIs are getting opening day jobs.  And it means that some options-limited guys are getting shots too.  If Span is out a month, Werth can’t make opening day, if Rendon is down and out, if Escobar can’t get enough reps … that’s a lot of spots to fill.  For me, just guessing, i’d say the team heads north with Tyler Moore, Tony Gwynn Jr, Michael Taylor and maybe Ian Stewart to start the season.  Dan Uggla?  Numbers are good; lots of walks.  But he can’t play 3B (not well, presumably) and its 3B where the team might need some cover.  Boswell is more bullish on Uggla, thinking he’d be a huge steal.  I dunno; can’t play SS, doesn’t bat lefty. 

Q: Are there going to be any longer-term impacts to demoting Tanner Roark to the bullpen?

A: Maybe.  Is it a coincidence that Roark has the worst starter stats of any pitcher this spring?  Probably not; spring training NRIs have a tendency to be uber aggressive, and minor league defenders aren’t always adept at catching the ball when playing out of position.  Maybe not; Roark’s attitude has sounded great, and he’s hopefully being told that he’s first in line and likely will get a big number of starts filling in for the inevitable injuries.  He’ll have his rotation spot back next year for sure.   Boswell doesn’t think so.

Q: If the Nats don’t make it out of the first round of the playoffs this year (assuming they will make it), do you think the fans develop the same anxiety that Caps fans have over the years?

A: Yes.  Two playoff appearances, two “best record in the majors” and two impotent first round exits to wild cards.  If the Nats fail in 2015, then  yeah we may begin to wonder what’s going on.  Boswell points out that the Caps have one of the worst track records in professional sports.

Q: What is your opening day lineup (including who leads off) given the injury spate?

A: If it were me?  If we assume that everyone who is  hurt is *not* making it to opening day, I’ll go with something like this:

Escobar-Desmond-Harper-Zimmerman-Ramos-Moore-Frandsen-Taylor pitcher.  Escobar at 2B, Moore in LF, Frandsen at 3B and Taylor in CF.  Not a great lineup.

A better assumption is that Rendon and Werth will make opening day, which makes the lineup a lot easier.  Escobar-Rendon-Harper-Zimmerman-Werth-Desmond-Ramos-Taylor-pitcher.  When Span returns, put Escobar at #8 and that’s that.

Boswell doesn’t give a leadoff-suggestion, but using induction by reduction, he’s likely pushing for Escobar at lead-off too.

Q: Is it time to cut the cord on Espinosa?

A: Not until you find someone else who can play short stop in a pinch who isn’t already slated to start.  Boswell gives a non-answer too.  I don’t feel bad.

 

Nats Outfield … what happens next?

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Span's injury is going to really affect this team. Photo: Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports

Span’s injury is going to really affect this team. Photo: Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports

I’ve held off posting about this, since most other pundits are putting in their two cents as well.  But Denard Span‘s “core muscle” surgery has suddenly got this team potentially in a pickle in terms of outfield depth and I thought it was worth discussing.

Unlike the Jayson Werth surgery announcement, which seemed to be well enough timed to cause only a brief disruption to the Nats starting outfield plans, the Span injury could have a longer lasting issue.  And, even though Span’s not nearly the hitter that Werth is, he’s much more difficult to replace thanks to his position (center instead of corner) and his lineup skills (lead-off).

What do I think happens now?  In no particular order:

  • I’m guessing that Span misses the entire month of April.  His surgery has a “4-6 week” recovery time frame and there’s plenty of recent players who struggled for entire seasons after dealing with similar injuries.  Not a great sign for the team or for Span, heading into a walk year.
  • I’m guessing Werth also starts the season on the 15-day DL with the idea of coming off of it on the first possible day and only missing 2 weeks.
  • That means your opening day lineup projects right now to having Bryce Harper in right, Michael Taylor in center and probably Tyler Moore in left.  I’m assuming also that Nate McLouth is starting on the 15-day DL as well, given that he’s apparently not even throwing the ball yet after his Aug 2014 labrum surgery, and that the team would rather have Moore in LF than Kevin Frandsen.  Well, let me rephrase;  *I* would rather have Moore playing than Frandsen …
  • I also think the Span/McLouth DL combination creates an opening for a backup OF on the opening day roster.  And I think one Tony Gwynn Jr. is going to win it.  He may not be with the big club very long, but he could serve as the prototypical “4th OF who can play center field really well who does a lot of late-inning defensive replacement duty” guy until the roster is back.  There’s not really another guy in camp who has CF quals and the MLB experience that Gwynn Jr. has, even if he’s a career .238 hitter.
  • Gwynn could easily be added to the 40-man by opening day because at the same time he’s to be added, the team will likely be DFAing both Xavier Cedeno and Sandy Leon, both of whom are out of options and not likely to make the 25-man roster.
  • When both Span and Werth come back, it could spell the end of the line for Moore thanks to his options crunch.  That being said, he’s hitting the cover off the ball so far in spring training (insert standard March debate about spring training stats and their meaning), and the team won’t dump him if he’s hitting .350 in April, so he controls his own destiny.  Where the roster moves do come into play is the assumption that one of these lefty-hitting NRI guys is making this team too.  We likely cannot keep both Moore and someone like a Mike Carp once everyone is back.  Luckily three injuries to presumed 25-man holders makes for a stay of execution for many guys.

Now the big question; who the heck hits lead off if Span is out??  A good question.

Presuming your opening day fielders are: Harper, Taylor, Moore, Zimmerman, Escobar, Desmond, Rendon and Ramos.

Who in that group makes sense to bat lead-off?  Basically just three candidates: Taylor, Escobar and Rendon.  And none of them are really “good” candidates frankly.

  • Yunel Escobar (who is nursing his own injury and could very well also be joining the others on the DL, but we’re assuming for the purposes of this post that isn’t happening and we’re not looking at an April 1 roster that has Dan Uggla on it) isn’t exactly a prototypical leadoff hitter at this point in his career, though he generally has batted either 1st or 2nd. throughout his career.
  • Taylor projects more as a middle of the order hitter frankly, thanks to his massive K numbers (144 in 110 minor league games last year).
  • Anthony Rendon *could* bat lead-off … but he’s likely the team’s best hitter and makes the most sense batting in the #2 slot.

If I were Matt Williams, I’d probably go with this lineup: Escobar, Rendon, Harper, Zimmerman, Desmond, Ramos, Moore, Taylor.  Man that’s a lot of right handers.  The only lefty in that lineup is Harper.  But what choice does the team have?

I’m kind of excited to see Taylor get some opportunity at the MLB level frankly.  What if he lights it up?  What if he proves he’s a legitimate power-hitting center fielder who can man the #8 position for the next 5  years in Washington?  We’ll never know until he gets a shot.

Oh, btw, to all those second guessers who now feel the need to question the Stephen Souza trade, asking smarty-pants questions like “gee do you think the Nats regret trading him now??” stuff in national forums, I say this: the trade made sense at the time, the return was great, and you cannot manage your baseball team on the fear of two unexpected injuries in a 3 month time span.  Souza is very promising, so is Michael Taylor, and the team is assuming that Taylor has more positional flexibility than Souza.  You only need one or two backup outfielders on a 25-man roster, and the Nats had more than plenty heading in to 2015.  Yes hindsight is 20/20, but if the team was presented with the same trade today, knowing they were getting a future back-of-the-rotation starter in Joe Ross plus their shortstop of the future in Trea Turner, i’m not so sure they still wouldn’t make that deal and just work their way through April of 2015.

Oh, pps, has anyone noticed that the setting up of the spring rotation seems to imply that the Nats 1-5 rotation is shaking things up from years past?  It seems like we’re going to go Scherzer, Zimmermann, Strasburg, Fister and Gonzalez.  That’s last  year’s #1 pitching third, and last year’s #2 pitching last.  Can’t say I disagree based on the career accomplishments of Scherzer and Zimmermann, just kind of surprised to see Strasburg being “deposed” as the Nats #1 starter.

And, another PS: with the injury announcements to Yu Darvish and now Marcus Stroman, I wonder if teams are calling the Nats to work a trade for one of our surplus starters.  Maybe there’s still a deal out there for Zimmermann or Fister, reinstating 5-win starter Tanner Roark to the rotation and padding the farm system coffers a bit more.