Nationals Arm Race

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

Archive for the ‘matthew purke’ tag

Great performances from Nats minor league teams in 2013…

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Most people have heard about the historic Nats Gulf Coast Rookie league team’s performance this year, but the Nats farm teams were great up and down the system in 2013.   Here’s a recap of each level’s season, in case you havn’t already gotten the summary from Dave Huzzard or Luke Erickson:

  • AAA Syracuse: Last place, International League North.  Season record: 66-78.  Contrary to the title of this article, our AAA team was pretty bad this year.  Culprets?  A middle-of-the road offense and a relatively weak pitching staff (they were easily last in the league in strikeouts, lower ranked in other major pitching categories).
  • High-A Potomac: 1st half AND 2nd half champions, Carolina League North.   Season Record: 84-55.  Winning both halfs earned them full home field advantage in the first round of the divisional playoffs, which they used to beat Lynchburg easily enough.  However in the Carolina league final the Nats lost both games at home before getting swept by Salem in the league championship series (Salem is Boston’s high-A affiliate).
  • Low-A Hagerstown: 1st half champs of the South Atlantic League Northern.  Season Record: 80-57.  They dispatched the 2nd half champs from West Virginia in the divisional series to face Savannah in the Sally League championship.  After splitting the first two games at home, Hagerstown traveled to Savannah and lost two straight to drop the championship (Savannah is the New  York Mets’ low-A affiliate).

  • Short-A Auburn: Last place, NY-Penn Pinckney.  26-49.  Culprets include a team .230 batting average and near league bottom OPS combined with the worst team ERA and worst team WHIP in the league.  Bad hitting and the worse pitching equates with last place.

  • Rookie GCL Nats: 1st place, GCL League East with an amazing 49-9 record.  That according to press releases by the team is the highest W/L percentage in (domestic) minor league basebal history.  Wow.  They then swept the GCL Red Sox to win the GCL championship.
  • Dominican Summer League Nats: 4th Place, Boca Chica South.  Season Record: 38-31.

So that’s four playoff teams out of six US affiliates (I often ignore the DSL, fairly or otherwise, since it has such a low percentage of players even making it to the US leagues, let alone advancing into relevance).

What  makes these performances even more amazing, especially for Potomac, is that they persevered on despite losing significant numbers of pitchers through out the season to promotion.  Quick glances:

  • Harrisburg lost 3 starters (Clay, Jordan, Hill) and two relievers (Broadway and Krol) to promotions.
  • Potomac lost an entire rotation of starters (Jordan, Gilliam, Hill, Ray and Cole) in addition to four other relivers (Herron, Grace, Frias and Mirowski).
  • Hagerstown graduated at least 5 starters (Schwartz, Dupra, Rauh, Purke and Mooneyham), traded another starter (Pineyro) and matriculated a couple of relievers along the way (Benincasa and Henke).

I know this only focuses on arms on these minor league teams, and that isn’t necessarily fair to the offense, but Potomac especially was amazing in chugging along while losing its best starter month after month to promotion.

Ask Boswell 8/19/13 edition

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Q: Why did the Nats not keep Oliver Perez?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

July 2013: Minor League Monthly Rotation Review

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A.J. Cole is having a good 2013. Photo: AP Stock

A.J. Cole is having a rebound 2013 for sure. Photo: AP Stock

Here’s this month’s Minor League Rotation Review post.  Here’s April 2013May 2013, and June 2013‘s posts for history.

For each level, I’ll put out the rotation members, their “letter grades” per start for this month only, and then throw in a quick link to show their seasonal stats for context.  For each team there are 3 distinct groups of starters: the top group of 5-6 Starters per level is the “current rotation” as best as I can figure it, then the next section of pitchers are swing-men or spot-starters or guys who had “2nd start” or longer outings worthy of grading, followed by a 3rd group of guys who are generally no longer with the team (either by D/L, promotion, demotion or release).  I’ve only listed the third category if something transactionally has happened to the player this particular month.

All stats mentioned (ERAs, Whips, K/9 rates, etc) are as of 8/1/13 and may have slightly changed by the time of this posting.


AAA Rotation: click here for Syracuse Milb.com stats

  • Maya: B+,D,D-,A-,B+,A
  • Tatusko: D,A,B,C+,B,B
  • Rosenbaum: B,C-,A,D,D
  • Roark: B+,C+,C-,A-,A
  • Clay: A,A,D+/inc (rain),B,C
  • Mandel: D->back to bullpen
  • Robertson: F

Discussion: Syracuse has had the most stable rotation of the whole system.   Which is ironic because (if I’m interpreting their service time correctly) 4/5ths of this rotation are minor league free agents this coming off season.   Only Danny Rosenbaum is tied to the organization past this year, having already “survived” one rule-5 draft, but I think we can read the tea-leaves in terms of his future with the organization.  The bright side of this turnover will be the rightful promotion and challenging of several AA pitchers right now, to start grooming the true MLB injury replacements that we just did not have in-house this year (with apologies to Chris Young who really did not work out and Ross Ohlendorf, who has but in a non-starting role thus far).

Yunesky Maya has shown signs of life lately, putting up a few good performances in the latter part of the month.  Tanner Roark seems like he could be a useful swing-man on the MLB roster if called into action; he’s performed ably since returning to the rotation.  Caleb Clay continues to impress; how did he not success in Boston’s organization?

In the bullpen, Xavier Cedeno has excelled since his waiver claim from Houston but suffered from bad timing and bad luck; the two loogies called up (Abad and Krol) have both excelled.   Cedeno is likely another 6-year MLFA heading elsewhere this coming off-season.  (Note: Cedeno has just been called up to cover for Ohlendorf’s “dead arm” D/L trip).

 


AA: click here for Harrisburg Milb.com stats

  • Karns: A,A (inc),A,A,B-,B-
  • Gilliam: A-,A+,D+,B,B,C-
  • Cole: A+,A
  • Ray: B+,A++,D,D,B-
  • Hill: A,B,A-,B,B,D+
  • Herron: D
  • Swynenberg: A-
  • Grace: B
  • Demny: -> D/L, to bullpen, demoted
  • Treinen: D->d/l,C+,B+ -> D/L

Discussion: Harrisburg’s rotation is now down to just one of the 5 guys who opened the year there; Nathan Karns has recovered from his MLB stint and long layoff and is back to dominating; if it weren’t for the full-deck in AAA Karns may have been promoted by now.   Blake Treinen (another original rotation guy) is on his second D/L stint of the month but has kept his numbers respectable.  Robert Gilliam continues his up-and-down season, moving between stellar and sub-par starts (which is reflected in his 4.09 ERA in AA).

The next generation though seems upon us: A.J. ColeRobbie Ray and Taylor Hill are all on the same path this year: succeeded in High-A, pushed to AA and are now succeeding there.  Cole’s first two starts in Harrisburg could not have gone better, and Ray’s numbers are still good despite a couple of rough starts.  Remember; both Ray and Cole were “really young” at the season’s onset for High-A; now they’re among the youngest guys in all of AA and still producing.  This is great news going forward for this farm system, especially considering that another of the opening day Potomac starters (Taylor Jordan) is now effectively pitching in the majors.  I know this is the Harrisburg section, but think about the success of Potomac’s original 5 this year.

 


High-A:  click here for Potomac Milb.com stats

  • Purke: A-,F-,C-,D-,D,B+
  • Demny: D,D/inc (2 innings)
  • Solis: A-,D,A-
  • Schwartz: A,D,C-,B+,C+,B+
  • Rauh C,A,D,B+,A,D/inc (2/3 inning)
  • Fischer: A,B
  • Holt: A
  • Ray: -> promoted
  • Pineyro: A -> traded
  • Cole: D,B+/inc,A- -> promoted
  • Frias: B,F -> bullpen -> released 7/24/13

Discussion: The churn in the Potomac rotation continues.   They’ve not gotten starts from 15 different non-rehab assignment players.   And they keep on chugging, holding an 8 game lead in the division on August 1st after winning the first half.  Potomac’s two significant/important names of course are Matthew Purke and Sammy Solis.   Purke has looked hittable in High-A, his ERA skewed by one really bad outing but still not as dominant as you’d like someone with his pedigree to be.  Meanwhile Solis’ latest “return” seems to be going pretty well; he maintains a 2.65 ERA in Potomac while trying to build up arm strength.   Blake Schwartz is now the longest tenured rotation member and has pitched excellently so far in 2013.  He could be quite a find if he continues to develop (he was a 17th round pick who mostly pitched in Division II in college).

Meanwhile, Paul Demny‘s career faced a significant setback upon his demotion from Harrisburg.  He now sits back in High-A, a level at which he pitched a full season in 2011.  It may be time for Demny to try a conversion to relief, as it seems that he may be stalled as a starter.  He had great K/9 rates as a starter; it seems he may make a very effective reliever.


Low-A: click here for Hagerstown Milb.com stats

  • Turnbull: F,D,A,C-,A,D
  • Encarnation: A+,C,A,D,A-,B+
  • Mooneyham: B+,B-,D,B,A+
  • Dickson: A,F,C+,B+
  • Lee: A,B+,C-,B+,A-,B+
  • RPena: B,B+
  • Harper: | | | B,B+
  • Meza: B
  • Purke: -> promoted
  • Anderson: -> d/l

Discussion: with Dixon Anderson‘s D/L trip, Pedro Encarnacion now becomes the senior statesman of Hagerstown.   Both guys have pretty similar numbers; good ERAs (3.20-3.30) and good whips (1.17-1.19).   Encarnaction continues his slow march up the farm system, having gotten further along than most every DSL graduate in recent  years.   Brett Mooneyham continues to dominate a league that he’s over-qualified for.    Kylin Turnbull continues to get pounded in a league that he should be handling.  Ian Dickson (who we got in trade for Henry Rodriguez) has done decently well since being added to the rotation; outside of one blow-up he’s given up just 4 runs in 20 innings over 5 starts.  Not a bad return so far for a guy we were going to cut anyway (and who the Cubs took about 5 weeks to DFA themselves).


Short-A: click here for Auburn Milb.com stats

  • Johansen: A,A,B+,B+,A
  • Barrientos: D,C+,C- -> D/L,F
  • Orlan: F-,B-,A,A,F
  • DWilliams: B-,F,D,C-
  • Voth: A,C+,B/inc (1ip),A-
  • Ullmann: | | | F,B+
  • Hollins: B,B+
  • Bafidis: D+
  • Medina: A-
  • Selsor: B,D,D -> demoted to bullpen
  • Hudgins: D+,A- -> retired !?
  • Turnbull: C -> promoted

We’re seeing some big ERAs in Auburn so far.  Robert Orlan; 5.19 ERA.  Joel Barrientos: 4.66.  Deion Williams: 9.42.  Ugh.  More interesting to me are the 2013 draftee performances thus far.  2nd rounder Jake Johansen has been good; sub 1.00 ERA, sub 1.00 whip and about a K an inning so far.  He’s been a bit wild (28/14 K/BB ratio but has been consistently stingy when it comes to runs.  5th rounder Austin Voth has been sharp; 17/1 K/BB ratio in 14 innings so far in Short-A.  Lastly Ryan Ullman, a 30th round pick has had up and down starts so far in his 13 short-A innings.

I remain baffled with Will Hudgins abrupt retirement; he had 12 innings of relatively decent relief in 2013 and then tweeted out his retirement.   He hasn’t tweeted since, and when I mentioned it in the daily NationalsProspect.com post I didn’t get anyone who knew anything else.  Hopefully the retirement was not injury or illness related.


GCL: click here for GCL-Nationals Stats on MiLB.com

  • JRodriguez: F,A,A,B,B+
  • Silvestre: C-,A,F,A
  • Giolito: D/inc (only 1/3 inning),B,A-,D/inc (2/3 inings),D
  • Suero: B,B+,A
  • Valdez: A
  • Ott: B,B,C
  • DeRosier: B,B-
  • KRodriguez: B,B+,B+,C+
  • Pivetta: B-,B+,A
  • Spezial: A
  • Webb: A
  • Voth: A -> promoted
  • Ullmann: A,D+ -> promoted

It almost isn’t worth trying to grade out these GCL pitchers; most of the time they’re going 2-3 innings per “start” or per long relief stint.  If you pitch 3 scoreless innings, is that an “A?”   Lucas Giolito now has 6 “starts” but only a total of 12 combined innings thrown.   DSL grads Wander Suero and Jefry Rodriguez have looked promising.  Kelvin Rodriguez has good numbers in his combined mid-relief stints but relatively few strike outs (only 9 in 21 1/3 innings).

 

 

One lesson learned from 2013: you can never have enough starting pitching

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If Detwiler is out for the year, the Nats have a problem. Photo: Haraz Ghanbari/AP via federalbaseball.com

If Detwiler is out for the year, the Nats have a problem. Photo: Haraz Ghanbari/AP via federalbaseball.com

We all knew the Nationals had a glaring, acknowledged weakness heading into the 2013 season; almost no quality starting pitching depth in the high minors.  We non-tendered former opening day starter John Lannan in lieu of paying him somewhere between $5M-$6M dollars to toil in Syracuse again.  We non-tendered former starter Tom Gorzelanny despite his excellent 2012 season for us instead of paying him a few millions dollars a year to continue to be the 7th guy out of the pen.  We traded away top starting pitching prospect Alex Meyer to acquire a center-fielder that (in my oft-stated opinion) we didn’t need.  We were blinded by the excellent but short-sample-sized performance of Zach Duke upon his call-up last September and chose to make him not only the sole lefty in our 2013 pen, but the long-man/spot starter as well.

And we talked ourselves into it.

In 2012 our primary rotation made 150 of 162 starts.  Those 12 missed starts were made by Chien-Ming Wang (five starts) in a quickly-aborted glimpse to see if the many millions of dollars invested in his recovery over the past few years were going to pay off (they did not), by Lannan (six) for a couple of mid-season spot starts and his Stephen Strasburg replacement plan in September, and one by Gorzelanny the day after the team clinched the division (editor note: mistakely originally put “pennant.”  Duh).  That’s it; otherwise the rotation was solid, consistent, and one of the best in the majors by any statistical measure.

Was it just hubris that led us to believe that the same thing would happen in 2013?  That our vaunted rotation (which I certainly thought was the best in the majors before the season started) would steamroll through another 150+ starts in 2013 as we marched to the inevitable World Series title?  Maybe so.

The latest blow is the news that Ross Detwiler‘s herniated disk may very well keep him out for the rest of 2013.  Taylor Jordan has been more than ably filling in for Detwiler … but in a familiar twist Jordan is facing an innings restriction limit.  After August 4th’s start he’s got 40 2/3 major league innings in 2013 to go with 90 1/3 in the minors for 131 total on the year.  He only threw 54 1/3 all of 2012 coming back from Tommy John surgery, and this year easily marks a professional career high (he’s never thrown more than 100 professional innings).  He’s going to get shut down, soon (in about four more starts per the Washington Times’ Amanda Comak, which would put him just about at the same 160ip limit that both Strasburg and Jordan Zimmermann pitched to the year after their own TJ surgeries).  This leaves the team right back where they were on May 20th, when the whole “find a competent 5th starter” charade started.

Duke failed and was released.  Yunesky Maya got his last attempt at pitching in the majors and was outrighted (a move long overdue in the opinion of many Nats followers).  Nathan Karns got three bites at the apple and returned to AA with a 7.50 ERA.  Ross Ohlendorf gave us a fantastic spot start in a double header last week… and just went on the D/L after not being able to dial it up more than 85mph in his last appearance.  The only other 40-man starter in the whole of the minors is Matthew Purke, currently posting a 6.35 ERA in high-A.

Hey, at least Dan Haren suddenly resembles the 2009 version of himself, having tossed 14 innings oof one-run ball en route to winning his last two starts.  A month ago we were talking about releasing him.

So, what should the team do when Jordan is shutdown?  It sounds to me like in the short term we’ll go back to Ohlendorf as the 5th starter (assuming of course his recent “dead arm” injury doesn’t turn into much more than a quick D/L trip).   However, despite Ohlendorf’s excellent work for us thus far, lets not forget why he was available on a minor league deal in the first place; his ERAs in 2011 and 2012 were 8.15 and 7.77 respectively.  Odds are that he’s not likely to be that effective going forward.

Plus, Ohlendorf’s time in the rotation means the bullpen will need another guy … presumably one that can pitch long relief to replace Ohlendorf.  I’m not entirely sure any of the other relievers on the 40-man but in the minors (Drew StorenErik Davis or Tyler Robertson) fits the bill.  Craig Stammen has absolutely done that role in the past, but I think Stammen’s value to this team now lies in his 7th inning “bridge reliever” role, getting the team from a short start to the 8th/9th inning guys.

If Detwiler is indeed out for the year I think he should be immediately transferred to the 60-day D/L (opening up a spot on the 40-man roster) and I’d like to see Tanner Roark  get a look-see as the long man in the bullpen.  He’s put up very good numbers in AAA this season in a swing-man role and faces minor league free agency this off-season.  Or, I wouldn’t be opposed to keeping Ohlendorf in the pen and giving Danny Rosenbaum a shot at the 5th starter.  He’s been the most effective AAA starter all year and, despite not being that overpowering, could turn into another Tommy Milone-esque lefty starter that we could leverage in trade.  We may not have fantastic depth in the upper minors, but you never know who may suddenly be an effective MLB pitcher (see Krol, Ian).

(Editor’s note: after I wrote this mid-weekend MASN’s Byron Kerr wrote and posted almost identical analysis).

Taylor Jordan: Never too soon to think about the future…

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Jordan is making a case for his future with this organization.  Photo via wffn.net/hueytaxi on flikr.com

Taylor Jordan is making a case for his future with this organization. Photo via wffn.net/hueytaxi on flikr.com

I’ll file this as one of the “Patently Obvious” responses that have come out of Mike Rizzo‘s mouth in response to a reporter’s question, but Rizzo went “on record” as saying that Taylor Jordan will “get every opportunity to be in the mix for the rotation next year” per beat reports (this example from Byron Kerr) after Jordan got his first major league victory in Sunday 7/28/13′s 14-1 blow-out of the Mets.

Well, of course he’ll get a chance to compete for the rotation.   He’s pitching a hell of a lot better right now than $13M man Dan Haren, for approximately 1/30th of the cost.  What GM doesn’t want that??

One of the big reasons I started this blog was to talk about the development of Nats minor league pitchers.  Back in the dark days, when the team was spending $15M on the FA market to acquire 5th starters like Jason Marquis, I became convinced that the single most valuable commodity in Major League Baseball (in terms of talent development and acquisition) was the pre-arbitration starting pitcher.   Our farm system had the “Loria/Bowden” holes in terms of player development in the 2007-2009 time frame and for a few years the team couldn’t develop an effective starter, instead relying on guys like Marquis and on other minor league/low-end free agent signings (think Tim ReddingDaniel Cabrera, and the aging Livan Hernandez being examples).   Rizzo came in, put the emphasis on drafting and development, and now the opening day rotation features 3 home-grown guys and a fourth in Gio Gonzalez who was acquired by trading other home-grown guys.

One of my biggest data-collection projects was the information behind my regular “Pitcher Wins on the Free Agency Market” post.   After looking at pretty much every significant FA pitcher signing that baseball has ever had, and calculating salary versus wins, it became clear that teams are historically doing well if they get about one win per $1M spent on a FA pitcher.  Sign a guy for $13M a year?  You hope to get 13 wins out of him.

But this analysis also shows just how valuable the pre-arbitration, cost-controlled starter is.  Consider Clay Buchholz for Boston in 2010; he goes 17-7 in his 3rd active year, earning the MLB minimum of $443,000.  That 17-win capability eventually earned him a $12-$13M/year contract, but while he was getting the minimum he was winning games for Boston for pennies on the dollar versus what it would have cost Boston to purchase that capability on the open market.

Combine this point with the continually dwindling talent available on the FA market these as teams lock up their players earlier and more frequently, and the price for pitching just continues to go higher.  Zack Greinke signed a 6 year $147M contract paying him more than $24M annually last summer partly because he was the only significant pitcher out there.  Grienke is talented, don’t get me wrong, but outside of his unbelievable 2009 season he’s basically pitched like a #3 starter.   Even this year, he’s pitching to a rather pedestrian 103 ERA+, just barely above the league average of adjusted ERA for starters.  Not exactly what you expect for that kind of money.  The 2014 Free Agent Market in terms of pitching is looking equally as bare as 2013.   The best guy out there may be Matt Garza, who again is talented but is also injury prone and not exactly a league-wide Ace.   Get past Garza and you’re looking at inconsistent (Ricky Nolasco or Phil Hughes), injury plagued (Shawn Marcum or Colby Lewis), just old guys (Freddy Garcia, Hiroki Kuroda) and pure wild cards (Tim Lincecum or Scott Kazmir).

There’s a reason Tampa went nearly 8 full seasons without having a Free Agent acquisition start a game for them; they know exactly what it means to develop effective starters, and they have a stableful of them.  Trade away James Shields and Wade Davis?  No problem; just call up Chris Archer and Alex Colome (never mind the rest of their Durham rotation).

So, back to Jordan.  If the Nats can find an effective 4th or 5th starter from their farm system right now, it frees them from the one-year hired gun strategy of Haren and Edwin Jackson.  It gives them the flexibility to continue to allow their best prospects in the lower minors to develop (i’m thinking specifically of A.J. ColeRobbie RaySammy Solis, and Matthew Purke, though Cole and Ray aren’t exactly in the “low” minors anymore with their promotions to AA).  It gives them the depth they did not have this year to cover for a starting pitcher injury.   It gives them time to let Nathan Karns figure out if he’s going to be a starter or a reliever at the MLB level.  It gives them added payroll flexibility can go towards fixing holes in the short term.  Longer term it allows the team to spend money on extending the core guys, or allows them to consider whether the rising price tag on someone like Ross Detwiler is worth paying (much like they cut loose John Lannan last year).  If you’re going to pay market value for Strasburg and Harper, then you’re going to need some low-cost players who can contribute to counter balance the payroll.

Or, and it wouldn’t surprise me to see this either, it gives Rizzo interesting trade chips that he could package with other guys to acquire the Haren/Jackson hurler instead of buying him.

Two years ago we acquired Gonzalez for two near-to-the-majors starters, a surplus catcher prospect and a low-minors/high profile arm.  Right now it seems like we could put nearly the same package together (Jordan, Karns, Jhonatan Solano or Sandy Leon and then a decent arm from A-ball, or maybe even a Ray or Cole) and move them for such a resource.  I wouldn’t put it past Rizzo; Jordan may be looking good right now, but his peripherals don’t project as a “Rizzo Guy.”  Neither did Tommy Milone so he got shipped out; will Jordan be a 5th starter candidate in 2014 or trade bait?

Personally, I’d like to see Jordan succeed.  He’s a great success story; unhearalded 9th rounder coming off an injury that most of us thought was good, but who also thought that finishing the year successfully at high-A would have been a great achievement.  Instead he blows through high-A and AA ball and is now more than holding his own in the majors.

June 2013: Minor League Monthly Rotation Review

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Taylor Jordan is the big name in the Minor League Rotations this month.  Photo via wffn.net/hueytaxi on flikr.com

Taylor Jordan is the big name in the Minor League Rotations this month. Photo via wffn.net/hueytaxi on flikr.com

Here’s this month’s Minor League Rotation Review post.  Here’s April 2013 and May 2013‘s post for history.

For each level, I’ll put out the Rotation members, their “letter grades” per start for this month only, and then throw in a quick link to show their seasonal stats for context.  For each team there are 3 distinct groups of starters: the top group of 5-6 Starters per level is the “current rotation” as best as I can figure it, then the next section of pitchers are swing-men or spot-starters or guys who had “2nd start” or longer outings worthy of grading, followed by a 3rd group of guys who are generally no longer with the team (either by D/L, promotion, demotion or release).

All stats were as of 7/1/13 and may be slightly changed now with additional starts.


AAA Rotation: click here for Syracuse Milb.com stats

  • Maya: B+,D+,C+
  • Tatusko: C -> hburg spot start and back,B+,D-,D
  • Rosenbaum: B,B+,D,C-,B-,D
  • Roark: A-,A
  • Clay: B,C,A
  • Mandel: D-,A-,D,D-
  • Perry:  demoted
  • Young: still on the D/L; no starts in June
  • Demny: D- -> back down
  • Ohlendorf: B+ -> promoted
  • Torra: D,D-,C+->released

Discussion: The AAA rotation was rather tumultuous to follow in June.  Only Danny Rosenbaum made all of his expected starts.   Yunesky Maya nursed an injury and recognition of the looming ignomious end to his Nats career after his outright off the 40-man.  Ryan Tatusko continues to struggle in a starting role.  Tanner Roark always seems to do well in his spot-starts and may keep his gig in the rotation starting in July with the struggles of fellow swingman Jeff Mandel.   Caleb Clay has done very well since his promotion; he holds a 2.21 ERA in AAA and looks like quite a MLFA find so far.  Paul Demny wasn’t ready for AAA and got hammered in his one spot-start.  The team ran out of patience with Matt Torra and released him with a 5.53 ERA through 5 starts in April and May.  Ryan Perry‘s future in the organization is in question after being demoted to AA and successfully being outrighted off the 40-man roster.  Chris Young remains in organizational limbo, having not pitched in nearly 6 weeks.  Lastly the one success story: Ross Ohlendorf‘s patience has paid off with his promotion and his continued presence in the Nats bullpen.

 


AA: click here for Harrisburg Milb.com stats

  • Gilliam: D,A+,D,D,D-
  • Treinen: B+,B,B,A,C-
  • Demny: -> up/back,A-,A+,D,F-
  • Karns: returned/11 day layoff,C,A
  • Hill: A
  • Broderick: still on the D/L: no June Starts
  • Tatusko A (rain driven spot start->back to AAA)
  • Clay: A+,B,A -> promoted
  • Rauh: demoted
  • Jordan: A,A+,A+,A+,A- (pitch limit) -> promoted

Harrisburg’s rotation has now been picked twice by the Nats for a starter to promote; Nathan Karns struggled in 3 spot starts before being returned and looked rusty in his return, while Taylor Jordan‘s 2013 continues to be magical as he holds a sub 3.00 ERA through his two MLB starts (though he’s likely to be returned once all the Nats regular rotation guys return from D/L stints).  As for the rest of the Harrisburg Rotation in June: Rob Gilliam has mostly struggled since his promotion.  Blake Treinen continues to be the staff work-horse, leading the team in starts and innings.  Paul Demny got a spot start in AAA that seemed more due to schedule availability than performance; Demny continues to sport the same mid 4.00 ERA that he’s had essentially for his whole career in the Nats farm system.  Taylor Hill has had a couple of very nice debut starts on the heels of a sterling run of starts in Potomac.


High-A:  click here for Potomac Milb.com stats

  • Ray: A,A,F,D-,C+
  • Cole: B-,A+,A,B-,C+
  • Pineyro: D
  • Schwartz: A,F,D+,C-
  • Rauh F,A
  • Detwiler: C- rehab
  • Solis: C-,C- -> shelved for weeks
  • Sylvestre: D->demoted back to short/A spot start
  • Hill: A+,A,A+,A- -> promoted

Robbie Ray and A.J Cole continue to be the Potomac workhorses, both being high over-slot 2010 high school pitcher draftees and both with highly varying degrees of expectations both from Nats prospect followers and from the organization.  Both guys pitched in a double header that new Delaware resident Keith Law took in and he posted his 6/30/13 blog review of all the starters involved.   The link is insider-only (which everyone should be who wants to read ESPN’s premier content) but Law’s consensus seems to be this: Cole’s taken a step back since his last (2011) opinion and Ray is only projecting as a 5th starter at best.  You’d hope for more out of these two guys, given their draft pedigree and bonus money paid.  Sammy Solis threw 2 early June starts and hasn’t appeared since in a concerning development for the 2010 2nd rounder coming back from TJ surgery.   Ivan Pineyro‘s high-A debut went roughly, but he’ll presumably get a few more chances with few other viable candiates right now.  Despite a couple of up-and-down June starts Blake Schwartz maintains the best season-long numbers of any of Potomac starter right now.  And i’ll make mention of it here; its amazing to think that Taylor Jordan started 2013 as the #2 starter in Potomac and is now making (near) quality starts in the majors.


Low-A: click here for Hagerstown Milb.com stats

  • Anderson: D,A+,D+,D-
  • Mooneyham: D-/short,A-,B,D,A-
  • Lee: B-,A-,C,F,C+
  • Encarnation: B,F,D (took one for the team),C
  • Purke: A,D,B-,A-,A+
  • Rauh: C
  • Lopez: D+->back down from spot-start
  • RPena:  ->demoted to bullpen?->7 day d/l
  • Hudgins: -> demoted to short/A

Dixon Anderson and Pedro Encarnacion‘s monthly grade lines look poor, but their season-long stats are still decent (ERAs of right around 3.20, WHIPs of right around 1.2, about 2-1 K/BB ratios).   Brett Mooneyham‘s starts are looking dominant as they should be, repeating the level as a college draftee.  Matthew Purke‘s performances were a highlight for Nats farm system fans everywhere; after the month ended he was promoted to Potomac.   As for the rest of the starters, there’s room for concern.  Nick Lee and Ronald Pena both sport 1.50 WHIPs.   Hagerstown has already graduated a number of arms this season and may struggle to re-stock.


Short-A: click here for Auburn Milb.com stats

  • Turnbull: A,C-
  • Johansen: B+,C
  • Orlan: C+,A,C-
  • DWilliams: B,D,F
  • Barrientos: A-
  • Selsor: | | B-,F,C+
  • Hudgins: | | B-
  • Lopez: | | F- -> demoted

Auburn’s season kicked off June 17th, so we’ve only gotten a brief glimpse of the “Rotation.”  So far, some up and down.  Kyle Turnbull has looked good (as he very well should, having been demoted from full-season ball).  Robert Orlan‘s ERA looks great (1.38) but his walks are too high (9 in 13 innings).  Speaking of walks, Joel Barrientos has 12 walks against 3 strikeouts in his 11 2/3 innings so far; that’s not going to be sustainable.  Deion Williams has been hit hard thus far.  And 2013 2nd round (our first pick) Jake Johansen has three relatively wild outings under his belt; 8 innings, 8 walks, 8 strikeouts.  Of note; Reynaldo Lopez‘s “F-” outing was a 1 1/3, 7 run debacle giving him a nifty 47.25 ERA.


GCL: click here for GCL-Nationals Stats on MiLB.com

  • Suero: A,D
  • JRodriguez: B-,A
  • Silvestre: A,C
  • Valdez: C+
  • Voth: B-
  • DRamos: A

As with Auburn, the GCL season didn’t start until mid June (June 21st to be exact) so the “rotation” is still shaking out.  And frankly, those who get “starts” aren’t exactly pitching “starter” outings.  For example: the IP leader at the time of this writing is Jefry Rodriguez with 10 2/3 thrown over 3 starts.  So the letter grades here are mostly  misleading, given that they’re for 2-3 inning stints.  Nonetheless, Wander SueroRyan Ulliman, and Austin Voth look good in the early goings.

Matthew Purke is looking good..

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Purke is finally showing signs of life. Photo AP/Nati Harnik

Purke is finally showing signs of life. Photo AP/Nati Harnik

I’ll freely admit it: after two straight injury plagued seasons, I thought the Nats had made a mistake with the Matthew Purke pick.  I’ve even used the “B” word from time to time (“B” as in “Bust”).  Yes he was “only” a third round pick, and yes it isn’t my money that paid him.  But giving him a Major League Deal and a 40-man slot was a roster limiting move at the time and still remains so (Purke was the sole 40-man roster member in the South Atlantic League at the season’s start).

However, what Purke is doing so far in Hagerstown has been, well, impressive.  His latest start on 6/28 probably was his most dominant of the year, going 6 innings, giving up just 1 hit and zero walks while striking out 8.  On the year in Low-A he now has 6 starts, has thrown 29 innings and has 41 strikeouts to just 7 walks in that time.  Those numbers are good for a 2.48 ERA and a 1.10 whip.

Yes, he’s “old” for the level (at the season’s start he was about in the 75% percentile in terms of age for the level).  And yes he’s “experienced” for the level, being now a third year pro and having two college years under his belt when drafted.  But (as we all know) he’s been plagued with injuries and has now missed parts of four straight seasons with various ailments (his 2nd college season, his draft year, most of 2012).   In fact, June 28th was just his 9th professional start.

Nonetheless, its great to see him finally healthy and finally putting together the kind of dominant starts that one would expect from a guy who signed a $4M deal.  I look forward to him getting promoted up to High-A (perhaps after the all-star break) and continuing his trek back to the majors.  If the Nats could count on him to continue being a high-end prospect and a potential future starter for this team, that would go a long way towards roster stability in the coming years.

Written by Todd Boss

July 1st, 2013 at 8:08 am

Posted in Minor League Pitching

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Time to pull the plug on Haren yet?

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How much longer is Haren going to be wearing this hat? Photo nats official via espn.com

The Nats management waited and waited, but finally gave in and dealt with season-long performance issues in Henry Rodriguez, Zach Duke, Danny Espinosa and Tyler Moore in the first two weeks of June, DFA-ing or demoting as needed and bringing in replacements to try to do a better job and turn this season around.

So, when will it be time to talk about the train-wreck season that Dan Haren is having?  For $13M, here’s what the team has gotten in his first 12 starts, including June 12th’s meltdown:

  • a 4-8 Record with a 5.70 ERA and a 67 ERA+ (his ERA is 6th worst in baseball for qualified pitchers).
  • A 6-10 team record in games in which he’s started
  • a league leading 17 home runs allowed

A quick glance at his advanced stats doesn’t give much credence to any apologists that may try to excuse his line either; his BABIP is slightly elevated but not overly so (.320) and his FIP is still an unsightly 5.06 (5th worst among qualified starters).  Only his expected xFIP and SIERA numbers are relatively respectable, but xFip is just an estimator stat and often times never comes to pass, since it assumes silly things like the fact that Haren can’t possibly keep giving up this many home runs… an assumption that continued to be disproven as he gave up two more in his most recent loss in Colorado.

Game-Log analysis: Haren has yet to have a start where he shut out the opponent.  He’s only got 5 quality starts out of 12.  In half his starts he’s allowed 4 or more runs (not good when your team’s offense is only scoring 3.4 runs a game).  Haren’s only really had a couple of starts that were “grade A” in my book (his best start of the year was an 8 inning 4 hit performance in Atlanta of all places).  In his defense, he has gotten awful run support (2.84 runs per start), heavily indicating team losses every time he pitches.

I’ll admit it; I talked myself into the Haren deal big time after it was announced.  I ignored his 2012 struggles, looked back to the near Cy Young guy he was in 2009 and thought this was the move that could push the Nats to a 105 win team.  Now clearly whatever excuses we made for his performance in 2012 (back injury leading to diminished velocity leading to loss of his sinker leading to crummy numbers) seem like they’re covering up for an aging sinkerballer who never had lights out velocity and who now looks dangerously close to extinct as his very-hittable fastball flattens out and gets hit harder and harder.

So what’s the answer here?

Don’t talk to me about his salary; that $13M is out the door already.  Kaput.  Gone.  Look up the definition of a “Sunk Cost” in economic terms.  If you were worried about $13M in annual salary then you shouldn’t have bought a $15M a year closer who isn’t exactly a complete shutdown guy (Tyler Clippard has almost identical stats this year to Rafael Soriano for a third of the price and he didn’t cost us a 1st round draft pick, which as it turned out could have been spent on one of two pre-draft top-10 talents).  The decision needs to be made; do you still want to try to “win now” in 2013 as all the other off-season moves seemed to indicate?  Because the solution likely is going to be a bit more money and a few more prospects.

Short term (as in, the next week): see how Ross Ohlendorf does in his spot start (Answer: uh, he did awesome, holding a good hitting team to two hits through 6 in the best hitters park in the league).  If he’s anything remotely close to effective, I think you look at an invented D/L trip for Haren and send him on a rehab assignment tour of the minors.

Mid-term (as in, for the next couple weeks): do we have anyone else in the minors worth checking out?  Not on the 40-man and not with enough experience.  Maybe we give Danny Rosenbaum a shot if another spot-start is needed after Detwiler and Strasburg come back.

Longer term (as in, the next two months); Look at the trade market and look at who may be available leading up to the trade deadline.  We’re already seeing some teams completely out of it and clearly some guys will be available:

  • The Cubs probably will look to move Scott Feldman and especially Matt Garza.
  • The Astros probably will cash in on Lucas Harrell and Bud Norris (nobody’s likely interested in Erik Bedard at this point).
  • The Marlins would listen for offers for Ricky Nolasco, though perhaps not intra-division.
  • The Mets aren’t winning this year and could be moving Shawn Marcum (though perhaps not intra-division).
  • I think eventually Seattle becomes a seller: Joe Saunders and Aaron Harang should be dangled.
  • I also think San Diego eventually realizes they’re not going to win the NL West: Edinson Volquez, waiver pickup Eric StultsClayton Richards and our old friend Jason Marquis all make for possible trade candidates.

A few other poorly performing teams are probably going to be too stubborn to wave the white flag, which cuts down on the number of guys that will be available (see the Los Angeles Angels, the Los Angeles Dodgers, Toronto specifically).

The only problem with a trade market move is this: all these teams are going to want prospects back.  And the Nats prospect cupboard has been cleaned out recently to acquire all these fools who are underperforming so far in 2013.  I’m not an opposing GM, so I can’t say for sure, but from a quick look at the Nats best prospects in the minors right now (basically in order: Giolito, Goodwin, Cole, Karns, Garcia, Skole, Purke, Solis, Perez, then guys like Hood, Taylor, Walters, Ray and Jordan round out the list) and I see a lot of injured guys or players on injury rehab, backups or guys barely above or still in A-ball.  I’m not trading a valued asset for an injury-risk guy who has never gotten above AA.  Who on this list is going to fetch us a quality major league starter?

Maybe we trade Haren along with a huge chunk of his remaining salary and multiple prospects to one of these teams in order to get one of these 5th starters back.  But that’d be an awful trade when it was all said and done (about as awful as, say, the Giants trading Zack Wheeler to the Mets for 2 months of Carlos Beltran in a failed effort to make the playoffs in 2012; with all the Giants 2013 pitching issues do you think they wish they had Wheeler back right now??)

Or, it very well may be that the Nats are stuck; we knew going into the season we had no starter depth and those MLFAs we did acquire (Ohlendorf and Chris Young basically) probably aren’t the answer.  But something has to give; we can’t give away every 5th start like we seem to be doing now and claw back into the NL East race.

May 2013: Minor League Monthly Rotation Review

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Welcome back Matt Purke. Photo AP/Nati Harnik

With the draft and the big early June roster shakeup and the College World Series going on (I’m apparently the only guy in Nats-land who cares about it), I’m a little late with this monthly quick glance at the Minor League starters.  Here’s April 2013′s version.

For each level, I’ll put out the Rotation members, their “letter grades” per start and then throw in a quick table to show their seasonal stats for context.  As with last month, the top group of Starters per level is the “current rotation” as best as we can figure it, then I’ve got a line for guys who got spot starts or (especially in the lower levels) guys who did long relief or “second start” stints.


AAA Rotation

  • Maya: A,D+,A–>promoted/dfa/back, D-/inc->injury
  • Tatusko: B+,A,C-
  • Ohlendorf: A,C-,D,D-,A,A
  • Torra:  D,D-
  • Rosenbaum: D,A,F,B+,B-,F
  • Roark: A
  • Mandel: B-,D+,A
  • Perry: F,B,F,F -> D/L
  • Young: B,C-,F-,C-,D-/inc -> D/L

Discussion: Syracuse YTD Stats are here for reference

May saw some interesting movement in the underperforming Syracuse rotation.  MLFA signing and supposed MLB rotation insurance policy #1  Chris Young continued to struggle before hitting the D/L.  Similarly, Ryan Perry put in a number of ugly appearances and also landed on the D/L.  This created an opeing for two new guys in the rotation, handled somewhat ably by Ryan Tatusko and somewhat less ably by MLFA Matt Torra.  Ross Ohlendorf righted the ship a bit and put himself in line for an earned callup on the strength of several good outings, only to have the weather in Washington conspire against him.  Yunesky Maya got a long-deserved DFA and outright, and now sits in limbo having not pitched since his aborted 5/31 start.  Lastly Danny Rosenbaum continues to have the best stat line of any starter in Syracuse, but (as often discussed here) he seems destined for life as a 6-year free agent plying his trade elsewhere in this Mike Rizzo-run organization that values power arms over finesse artists.


AA Rotation

  • Gilliam: D,A+
  • Treinen: A,F,D,B+,C-,B+
  • Demny: D+,A+,A-,D,A,B
  • Clay: C-,F,D,A-,A-
  • Jordan B,A+,D/inc->up and back,A
  • Swynenberg C+,C+
  • Holland: B+
  • Rauh: A
  • Holder: released (why?)
  • Broderick: C-,C+->D/L
  • Broadway: A->promoted
  • Karns: A-,B+,F,C+,C+->promoted

Discussion: Harrisburg YTD Stats are here for reference

The Harrisburg rotation continues to house a number of sub 4.00 ERA hurlers and we’re starting to see some movement among the ranks.  First and foremost Nathan Karns “earned” a callup to the big club probably mostly by his placement on the 40-man roster at the time, but also b/c of his excellent K/9 ratio.   Brian Broderick‘s D/L stint (will he return at this point or go straight from the D/L->release?) has opened the door for a couple new names.  Taylor Jordan continues his great comeback from his 2011 Tommy John surgery.  Paul Demny‘s string of excellent starts earned him a brief Syracuse call-up.   Robert Gilliam struggled in his AA debut but righted the ship and (as of this writing) has decent enough AA numbers that he seems to be capable of sticking on.  One odd personnel move was the abrupt release of Trevor Holder, who didn’t have bad numbers on the season and was immediately picked up by San Diego.  I wonder if there’s something to this story.


High-A Rotation

  • Ray: B-,A,A/Inc,A,C-,B+/inc
  • Solis: C+/inc,A/inc (pitch count limited)
  • Cole: A,B+,D-,D,B-
  • Hill: A,A-/inc,B+,F,F
  • Schwartz: B-,A+,B+,A+,C-
  • Fischer: C+,D+
  • Bates A,B+
  • Holt: A
  • Herron: D+,B+ -> Promoted
  • Jordan:  A+->promoted
  • Gillam:  B,F->promoted
  • Dupra: D,B- -> demoted
  • Grace: A

Discussion: Potomac YTD Stats are here for reference

Welcome back Sammy Solis; he’s slowly getting re-initiated to the rotation and spent his last May starts on strict pitch count limits.   After a disastrous 2012 Robbie Ray continues his excellent campaign and may be making a statement for the next promotion (as of this writing: 81Ks in 62 innings as one of the younger guys in high-A?  wow).  A.J. Cole continues to be frustratingly hit or miss; one night he’ll strike out 11 in 6, another night he gives up 5 runs in 5.  Speaking of inconsistent; Taylor Hill‘s last two May starts were awful, then his first two June starts were stellar.  All in all though, Potomac’s rotation has been a bright point for the farm system and has produced a number of promotions before the all star break.


Low-A Rotation

  • Anderson: A,A-,F,A,C-,B+
  • Encarnation: A,A-,C-,D-,B->bullpen for Purke?
  • Lee: B+,F
  • Pineyro: A-,C+,C-,A,C
  • Purke: A
  • Henke: | C
  • Rauh: D,B+->up/down
  • RPena: C-,A for effort,C,F,C-
  • Fischer: A,A–>promoted
  • Turnbull: D+,F,D-,C- ->demoted

Discussion: Hagerstown YTD Stats are here for reference

I’ll be honest; right now its hard to tell what the “rotation” is in Hagerstown.   The arrival of Matthew Purke seemingly had to bump someone, but its hard to tell who.  Purke’s showing some great swing-and-miss stuff in his first pro starts in half-of-forever; if this guy can turn back into the prospect he once was, the Nats will be ecstatic.  DSL grads Pedro Encarnacion and Ivan Pineyro continue to put up good numbers for the Low-A Suns.  As does Dixon Anderson, who is seemingly due for a promotion at this point.

Ask Boswell 11/26/12 Edition

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The Nats entire off-season plan revolves around what Adam LaRoche does. Photo Alex Brandon/AP via wp.com

I havn’t done a “how would I answer this chat question” from The Washington Post’s Tom Boswell in a while, but on the back of his 11/26/12 “Stay the Course” opinion piece in the Washington Post (where he basically advises that the team should stay out of the major FA market this off-season), I thought I’d chime in and read/respond to his 11/26/12 chat.

My opinion on Boswell’s piece; I don’t think you can stand pat in today’s baseball world.  Yes this team won 98 games last year.  But does anyone think we’ll win 98 games again by doing little to nothing to address the team’s needs?  Trying to replace Adam LaRoche and Edwin Jackson‘s departures internally has a large chance of weakening the team, and I believe we need to explore a significant FA purchase (or a trade) this off-season.  Now, inarguably TV deals and the rising revenue streams are fueling the FA market, and we’re already seeing contracts that heretofore would have been immediately labeled as “over pays.”  Therefore, even if the Nats go after a 2nd or 3rd tier player in free agency, they’re going to be compensated far more than we ever thought their value represented.  But this is just the way the baseball world is going; we can no longer say that someone is “overpriced” … we need to remember that everyone is going to be “overpriced.”  Perhaps Jayson Werth‘s $126M/7yr deal will look like a bargain in a few  years.

And this is before even addressing the impact that the amazing new Los Angeles Dodger’s TV deal, reportedly worth between $6 and $7 billion dollars over 25 years, will have on the baseball world.  Even at the low-end estimate, that’s $240M a year in RSN revenue.  $240M a year!  They could field a $200M team, pay luxury taxes and still have money to spare under this deal, and that’s before a single dollar in gate, game-day revenues, suites, parking or merchandising comes in.  To call this a “game-changer” is an understatement; I think this could be a serious issue facing Baseball in the coming years.  We’re already seeing what the new ownership group is capable of doing in terms of acquiring talent without much regard to payroll.  What happens if they also acquire the likes of Josh Hamilton and Zack Greinke this coming winter?  A quick check of Cot’s page shows that Los Angeles has $169.5M committed to its top 14 players right now, with three guys making > 20M and nine total with pay > $11M/year.  And they’re reportedly in the mix for the top FAs this off-season, potentially adding 20-30M more to that base number.  That’s amazing.  Just more revenue sharing for Jeffrey Loria to pocket I guess (Thanks Bud!).

Anyway, back to the chat responses.  As always, I write my response before reading his, and sometimes edit questions here for clarity/conciseness.  I’m only answering baseball-related questions, ignoring the slew of Redskins issues.

Q: Are the Nats positioning themselves to make a strong push in the next two drafts?

A: This is what I whittled down a long-winded, rambling “question” to.  The gist is that a comp pick from Adam LaRoche leaving, plus another potential comp pick if Michael Morse leaves next year could help re-stock the farm system.  I’d tend to say, “maybe.”  The Nats are no longer where they were in 2009 and 2010, getting franchise players by virtue of back to back awful seasons.  So the likelihood of finding an impact player is far less.  That being said, having multiple first and supplemental first round picks is a great way to find players and to get guys who “slipped” due to signability/injury issues (as Lucas Giolito did this year).

The Nats farm system has taken some hits in the last two seasons; one from trade (losing 4 top-10 players in the Gio Gonzalez trade) and then another from injury concerns for its top guys (Sammy Solis, Matthew Purke, Lucas Giolito, and Anthony Rendon all representing 1st and 2nd round talents who suffered either season-ending injuries or significant injuries curtailing their progression in the last calendar year, to say nothing of injuries to lower-level guys like Taylor Jordan who will provide depth rising up).  This thinned farm system may prevent Rizzo from making the kind of deal he made last summer, and he may want to focus on getting some more depth in the 2013 draft, as much as is possible from drafting so low.

Here’s the issue writing my own response before reading Boswell’s: he didn’t even talk about the draft portion of the “question,” instead talking about the FA pitcher angle.

Q: What do you think the team is planning on doing to replace Edwin Jackson?

A: I’d guess the team is working on two fronts: one looking at possible trade angles with teams that have surplus starting pitching (Arizona, Tampa Bay, Oakland, Los Angeles Dodgers and perhaps even Atlanta) and seeing if he can swing a deal.  Then I’d guess he’s looking at a 2nd tier of starters, looking to avoid the Greinke sweepstakes (despite his affinity for the hurler).  I do NOT think the team is going to tender John Lannan, instead looking to get a better pitcher for slightly more money than the $5M he’d likely earn at a minimum in 2013.  Of course, with the prices we’ve seen for lefties already perhaps we will tender Lannan and consider another $5M insurance policy a bargain.  Boswell scrolls through the same 2nd tier of starters, noting that there’s definitely someone out there who could work.  He also mentioned the team may look at re-signing Zach Duke, though I’d be surprised by that.  Why would we re-sign Duke but non-tender Lannan, if Lannan clearly is a better pitcher?

Q: Is the lack of a MASN deal hindering the Nats FA plans?

A: You have to think it is.  If the Nats knew what they were getting next year, they’d certainly have a better idea of how much they could spend.  The fact that Bud Selig has allowed Peter Angelos to hijack this MASN revenue negotiation for this long is deplorable.  Of course, by waiting this long with the negotiations Angelos has only cost himself money, as the price we can command as a franchise certainly skyrocketed between the end of 2011 and now.  So there’s that.  But its clear the team is getting a pittance as compared to other comparably sized markets (Houston, Philadelphia) and needs a larger share.  Boswell doesn’t think the lack of a deal is affecting the team’s plans, mostly because there’s not a $250M player on the market this year as there was last year.

Q: Were you invited to any of the seven off-season Nationals player weddings?

A: I wasn’t.  Boswell wasn’t either.  :-)

Q: Why did the MLB allow the Marlins trade to go through? It poisons Miami against baseball probably for a decade and will surely be seen as a cautionary tale for city governments for at least as long.

A: Simple reason: Selig is buddies with Jeffrey Loria and has enabled his crummy behaviors for nearly 2 decades.  More complex reason: on the face of it, from a purely baseball sense this trade was little different than the Boston-Los Angeles trade, and I’d guess you would have a hard time accepting one and denying the other.  Loria’s position with Miami is not Selig’s concern; he got the new stadium that Selig claims is necessary in every market and Loria clearly will continue to profit from the team.  To an owner, that’s the primary concern.  And Selig works for the owners.  All of us bloggers and columnists to deplored the trade and Loria in general (including me, in this space in September and again in November) and talk about the sanctity of the game are just blowing hot-air.  Selig doesn’t care.  Boswell didn’t really answer the question, just saying that baseball is dead in Miami for a long, long time.  Hey, it only helps the Nats to have a 110 loss team in the division, right?

Q: Is Adam LaRoche destined for the AL as an aging 1st baseman?

A: I don’t think so; the questioner compared LaRoche to Adam Dunn, who can DH and is more valuable in the AL.  Inarguably aging sluggers fare better in the AL … but LaRoche just won a gold glove for his defense at first base.  He isn’t exactly a plodding first baseman slowed by age.  He should be able to capably play the position for several more  years, through whatever contract he’s about to sign.  Boswell agrees that this is the trend, and says that Baltimore is a possible destination … but mentions nothing about LaRoche’s plus defense.

Q: Why aren’t the Nats making a bigger play for Edwin Jackson?

A: A good question.  I questioned the Nats lack of a Qualifying Offer being extended to Jackson and surmised it was because the team was afraid he’d take it (having a history of working on one-year deals).  So clearly the lack of the Q.O. indicates a new direction for the team.  I don’t think its related to his meltdown in the post-season; that can happen to anyone (see most of our pitching staff not named Ross Detwiler).  I’d guess that it relates somehow to Jackson’s maddening capabilities; shutdown power pitcher one night, gopher-ball machine the next.  I think they’re just going in a different direction.  Boswell says Jackson wants a 5-year deal … which if true even more reinforces my questioning of the lack of the Q.O.  I disagree with his sentiment that the team is “saving room” for the rising farm system arms; to me a prospect starter is not a solution until the day he arrives in the majors and gives you 30 starts.

Q: Why did Tampa extend Evan Longoria?

A: The team had him under baseball’s most team-friendly contract (6yrs, $17.5M with three team options, locking him to Tampa from 2008 til 2016).  One of baseball’s best players, he made just $2M and $4.5M in the last two seasons.  Which is just ridiculous.  I feel Tampa did the extension to show good faith to the player who was just so woefully underpaid.  Boswell didn’t really answer the question, just saying its a good move because hitters come back from injury better than pitchers.

Q: Should the team be worried about losing LaRoche and his lefty power?

A: Yes absolutely.  Which is why the team should either try to get him to sign a reasonable deal (3 years max) OR the team should let him walk and try to replace the lefty power on the FA market (perhaps in the form of someone like Nick Swisher, who won’t be cheap but also can stick in LF for a while and should fit in nicely to the clubhouse).  Or maybe the team swings a deal for a lefty outfielder in trade and sticks Morse at first.  Boswell agrees, thinking that LaRoche’s hot FA market will get him a 4 year deal for more money than the Nats are willing to pay.

Q: Is there any chance that MASN just cuts ties with the Nats and frees us from the awful deal?

A: No. Chance. In. Hell.  Angelos stands to get such massive, major profit from this deal that he’ll die before giving in.  There is just no way.  And more and more its looking like this pact with the devil, which enabled the team to move here, will be a limiting factor in the years to come.  People talk about how Atlanta has the worst TV deal in the MLB?  Well what about the Nats?  Boswell asked Selig about this and was told that “everything is on the table.”  I highly doubt that, but I’m not going to call Boswell a liar.  I’ll just say, “Don’t hold your breath” that the Nats will be allowed to extract themselves from MASN and create their own RSN.  This would be the absolute dream scenario, but I just cannot see Selig backpeddaling on this deal less than a decade after it was signed.

Q: Will the Nats learn the lessons heeded by other big-money teams who got saddled with old, expensive players?

A: Hopefully so.  Not giving LaRoche 4 years would be a signal to that end.  But it can be difficult; what happens when the whole core of our young team hits free agency?  That’s a lot of big checks to write, and the fan base will bemoan every star that is allowed to walk.  Boswell thinks LaRoche is consistent enough to warrant the contract, but also notes that he’s several years past the typical hitter prime.

Q: Is Morse really the better choice at 1B if it’s between him and Moore? Is he really just that bad in the OF?

A: I’m convinced this narrative is overplayed.  Morse was a shortstop coming up through the minors, so he’s not exactly immobile, and suddenly nobody remembers that Tyler Moore was a plodding minor league first-baseman who only tried LF for the first time in spring training of last year.  Now suddenly Morse isn’t the better LF option?  I don’t buy it.  Neither are great LF choices; Morse had a -23.3 UZR/150 in 493 innings while Moore had a -22.7 in 229 innings this past season (small sample sizes both).  So it seems they’re both awful out there.  But then again (as I’ve said many times) you can “hide” guys in LF if they’re big bats.  You take the lesser defense in order to get a middle-of-the-order hitter.  The last thing you want is a #8 hitter (think Xavier Nady) bumbling around in LF and hitting .190.  If we lose LaRoche, I think the team should put Moore back in his natural position at 1B and let Morse get one more season out there.  Boswell didn’t answer the question, instead rambling about something else.