Nationals Arm Race

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

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Starters as mid-relievers Strategy finally blows up

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Corbin did not like pitching in relief. Photo via Arizona republic

Corbin did not like pitching in relief. Photo via Arizona republic

The Nats had been getting lucky using Starters as middle relievers for years in the playoffs … and last night finally their luck caught up with them.

Here’s a history (dating to our first playoff series in 2012) of using starters as middle relievers on their “throw days:”

  • 2012 NLDS Game 4: Jordan Zimmermann pitches the 7th, strikes out the side.
  • 2012 NLDS Game 5: Edwin Jackson pitches 1 inning, throws just 12 of 23 pitches for strikes, walks 2, gives up a hit and was lucky to escape only giving up 1 run.
  • 2017 NLDS Game 5: Max Scherzer throws 1 inning, gives up 3 hits and a walk, gives up 4 runs (2 earned) to blow the lead in the deciding game.
  • 2019 Wild Card: Stephen Strasburg throws 3 shutout innings to bridge the gap between Scherzer and Daniel Hudson.
  • 2019 NLDS Game 2: Scherzer strikes out the side in one inning of relief of Strasburg
  • 2019 NLDS Game 3: Patrick Corbin falls apart, give sup 6 runs in 2/3rds of an inning on 4 hits and 2 walks.

So, not exactly a proven strategy time and time again.  Its hit or miss really.  And, frankly, I might exclude the Strasburg effort because it was always set to be a multiple-inning effort; the rest of these appearances all fell into the “throw one max effort inning on my starter’s in-between starts throw day” type outing.

This post may seem like hindsight is 20/20 criticism of the strategy … but its pretty easy to ask this simple question: if this is such a great strategy, then why don’t we see it done in the regular season?   I mean, we know the answer really (you don’t want to tax your starters and just add on useless middle relief innings; that’s what relievers are for) … but that’s also my point: this is what relievers are for.   You’ve got 8 guys in the frigging bullpen for the sole purpose of getting past the end of the night … but we can’t trust a single one of them now?  Is this now when the chickens come home to roost for the fact that Mike Rizzo cannot build a bullpen?  Is this the end result for a team that’s literally traded away 20 starting pitching prospects in the past few years, any one of whom could have been a home-grown relief alternative?

It looks amazing when Scherzer blows everyone away … but then it looks foolish when he coughs up 4 runs in a series decider.

So now we’re going into Game 4 … and I’ll bet dollars Davey Martinez is planning on throwing Strasburg in the 7th again (but I sure hope not if he’s going in game 5).

I think my bigger criticism of the strategy last night was the early yanking of Anibal Sanchez.  He left the game on 87 pitches, having struck out 9 through 5, and given up one run on 4 hits and 2 walks (both of which were in the first inning).  I realize he’s facing 4-5-6 for the third time … but this is the same guy who retired 20 straight Dodgers earlier this year.  If he gets through 4-5-6 then he’s got the bottom of the order in the 7th and you go to the bullpen then.  Why pull him?  I think that’s the “over managing” that irritates me most.  Its the same over managing that led to Zimmermann getting pulled at 8 2/3rds in the playoffs (and the Nats losing).  Different managers, same issue.

Look, at the end of the day, maybe it was inevitable that the potent Dodgers lineup blasted its way to a 10 run outing.  But the Nats had the early lead and had an effective starter on the mound.  I just don’t like deviating from whats working until you have to.

I like our chances in Game 4 behind an amped-up Scherzer … but who likes Corbin on the bump in game 5 now?  Have the Dodgers figured him out?  It sure seems like it.  His MO seems to be to throw 91 on the black, then bounce sliders to get you to chase; well if you don’t swing at balls that bounce in the dirt … you have a good shot of walking, as we’ve now seen displayed pretty frequently in the post-season.

I’m now hearing rumors of no Corbin game 5; instead Strasburg.  Uh, sign me up!  28 post season innings and 2 earned runs.  Yeah; throw that guy.  but we have to get there first.

 

NLDS Preview: Nationals vs Dodgers

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2019-mlb-postseason

The Nats used two starters to get to this point; how much will it hamper their efforts to supplant the class of the NL this  year?  Maybe not too much, if we can get Strasburg on short rest to pitch Game 2.  Read on.

Here’s a preview of the 2019 NLDS.

MLB Post Season schedule

Likely Pitching match-ups:

  • Game 1: Thurs 10/3/19 5:37pm EST in LA: Patrick Corbin vs Walker Buehler (officially announced)
  • Game 2: Fri 10/4/19: 5:37pm EST in LA: likely Stephen Strasburg vs  (likely) Clayton Kershaw
  • Game 3: Sun 10/6/19 time tbd in DC: Max Scherzer vs (likely) Hyung-Jin Ryu
  • Game 4: Mon 10/7/19 time tbd in DC (if necessary): likely Anibal Sanchez vs (likely) Rich Hill/Kenta Maeda/bullpen game
  • Game 5: Wed 10/9/19 time tbd in LA (if necessary): Corbin vs Buehler rematch.

I just don’t think Scherzer can come back on 2 days rest to start a game on Friday, but as noted Strasburg only threw 34 pitches in the WC game and seems like he can get the start on Friday with perhaps a short leash/pitch count.  This means Scherzer on full regular rest for the Sunday home game (that he’ll be up for, for sure) and then at Sanchez for game 4.  That should get the series back to LA and line up a possible game 5 with probably the best possible guy on the hill for that game (lefty Corbin).

Meanwhile the Dodgers are going with the kid Buehler instead of Kershaw; two years ago it was Kershaw that killed the Nats.  But the last time the Nats saw Buehler they bombed him.  The Dodger’s 4th starter is a question mark; Hill is coming off injury and threw just a handful of innings in September but he’s always been solid against the Nats.  If they have to go Maeda or their 5th starter Ross Stripling its not like its a huge step down in performance.

—-

Season head to head: LA beat DC 4 out of 7; they split four games in LA in May interestingly, when the team was nearly at its nadir, then LA took two of three in DC in mid July when the team had turned it around.

Here’s a quick summary of our pitchers versus LA this season.  First in our 4-game set in LA:

  • Patrick Corbin; beat Rich Hill in LA 6-0 and pitched beautifully; 7ip, 3hits, 0 runs.
  • Anibal Sanchez: lost to Kenta Maeda in LA; gave up 6 hits, walked 2 more and got yanked in the 5th
  • Max Scherzer beat LA giving up 2 runs in 7 innings, but Walker Buehler was better and the team only won b/c we got to LA’s bullpen
  • Stephen Strasburg gave up 2 in 6 but Hyung-Jin Ryu gave up one hit through 8 to beat the Nats.

then, in DC in July:

  • Sanchez pitched one of the best games of his season giving up 1 run on 3 hits to match Ryu’s similar output, then the Dodgers got to the bullpen for the win (stop me if you’ve heard that before)
  • Kershaw threw a QS and the Nats tried the “opener” for the only time on the year (starting Matt Grace with some success) before Joe Ross blew up and got the loss
  • Strasburg was brilliant, giving up 1 run on 2 hits through 7 and the Nats beat Buehler to avoid the sweep.

So.  what can we glean from this?

  • Our lefties have been pretty good against the Dodgers and Corbin may have some success.
  • As a team, the Dodgers are much better against RHs versus LHs … but they’re still pretty good against both.
  • Sanchez was more than adequate in his two LA starts.
  • Scherzer and Strasburg should be able to keep the team in games.
  • LA really doesn’t like hitting against either Strasburg or Corbin, and neither of them are the Nats Ace.

I gotta admit, i’m liking our chances here.  This is where having a big-3 of pitching aces matters; the Dodgers are going to have to win more two starts being made by Corbin, Strasburg and Scherzer, three guys who are all likely getting Cy Young votes this year.  I expect a bunch of low-scoring games with the Nats hoping to god their patchwork bullpen keeps it together.

Notable that the closer in the WC game wasn’t Sean Doolittle?  Or was that playing matchups with the Brewers?  Something to watch for.

 

WC Preview: Nats vs Brewers

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Well, this is why he got $210M. Photo via sportingnews.com

Well, this is why he got $210M. Photo via sportingnews.com

Here it is.  Its Wild Card Tuesday.

The red-hot Brewers (winners of 22 of their last 30) couldn’t quite catch the Cardinals and thus travel to DC.  Meanwhile, the suddenly hot Nationals (winners of 9 of their last 10) finished the season in destruction mode and should be fired up for the game.

Pitching Match-upMax Scherzer; 11-7, 2.92 ERA vs Brandon Woodruff, 11-3, 3.62 ERA.

Season Series: 4-2 in favor of Milwaukee, but with a caveat.  The Nats got swept in Milwaukee in early May, when they were awful.  Woodruff pitched the series finale and dominated the Nats lineup of the day, throwing 6 innings of 4-hit, one-run, 9-K ball.  We threw Jeremy Hellickson, he got shelled, and a rare error from Anthony Rendon accounted for 3 unearned runs on the night.

When Milwaukee came to Washingotn, it was in mid August and they faced a different team: Washington took 2 of 3 at home, one game of which was the amazingly odd 15-14 game on August 17th where a tired Sean Doolittle blew a 3-run 9th inning lead and the beleagured bullpen forced the offense to extend the game three different times.  (Woodruff didn’t pitch in this series because he missed two months with an oblique injury starting in July 2019).

Scherzer hasn’t exactly lit the world on fire since his return from the D/L: in his 5 starts in September his seasonal ERA has risen half a point.

Looking at the Brewer’s splits; they walk a lot (2nd most in league), but as a team don’t actually have that great of an wRC+ figure … and that’s playing most of the season with Christian Yelich.  They hit lefties and righties about the same, so no real advantage/disadvantage there.  Their bullpen is supposedly a strength, but their bullpen macro stats (ERA/FIP/fWAR) are all middle of the pack.

Prediction: two weeks ago I would have been more pessimistic about this team.  But with Yelich out and finishing as strong as they did and basically being at full strength, I like the Nats here.  I think they put a couple runs on Woodruff early, they let Max settle in and he goes 7 innings (he’s going to be fired up, lets be honest).  Then you go 8th/9th guys w/o screwing up the LAD rotation.  That’s the hope anyway.

 

 

Written by Todd Boss

September 30th, 2019 at 4:06 pm

Nats All-Star review: 2019 and years past

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1200px-2019-MLB-ASG.svg

 

Here’s my annual Nationals All Star selection post.

Nats All Star Game Trivia:

  • All-time leader in Nats all-star appearances: Harper with 6 appearances.  Scherzer has been named 7 times but some pre-dated his time here (he has 5 with the Nats now)
  • All-time leader in All-Star Game starts: Harper, who had 5 starts.
  • Total number of Starters in the history of the Franchise: Now is 10; Harper 5 times, Scherzer twice, and one each for Soriano, Murphy, Zimmerman.
  • Most all-star players named in a single year: 5 in both 2016 and 2017.
  • Least all-star game players named in a single year: 1 in multiple years during the “dark years” of 2006 through 2011.

(* == All-Star game starter)


2019

  • Nationals All-Star representatives: Max Scherzer, Anthony Rendon
  • Possible Snubs: Juan Soto, Stephen Strasburg, Howie Kendrick, Trevor Rosenthal (just kidding)
  • Narrative: Rendon finally is named to an all-star team, having played in the shadows of other more well-known NL third basemen for  years.  Arbitrary Endpoints: Rendon is 7th in baseball among hitters in total fWAR since 2014.  7th.  In the entire league.  And this is his first ASG.  Meanwhile Scherzer is the obvious pick, though i’m not sure he gets the start this year.  Scherzer leads the NL in bWAR … but Hyun-Jin Ryu is having an amazing season and could get the nod (indeed, he has).  Soto’s numbers are solid, as good as his rookie campaign, but he started slow and the story-line surrounding the Nats this season has overshadowed his production.  Strasburg actually has more bWAR than Rendon … but his numbers are solid, not all-star good.  Kendrick would never have gotten a nod, but he should be a shoe-in for comeback player of the year for the season he’s having.  Others of note: Sean Doolittle was amazing for most of the first half but has tired and his numbers slipped.  Patrick Corbin‘s debut season has been solid, not flashy, and he has the same issues as Strasburg had.

Post publishing update: neither of our two representatives are actually going to Cleveland.  Rendon staying home to rehab a nagging quad injury, and Scherzer is traveling but will not pitch b/c he threw a start just ahead of the game.  Both players were replaced by non-Nats … which was a shame b/c a like-for-like with Strasburg for Scherzer seemed like the right thing to do.


 

2018

  • Nationals All-Star representatives: Bryce Harper*, Max Scherzer*, Sean Doolittle
  • Possible Snubs: Juan Soto, Trea Turner, Anthony Rendon
  • Narrative: For the home-town All Star Game, Harper gets the starting nod from the fans despite his abhorrent season at the plate (his slash line on 7/8/18: .219/.371/.475).  However, by making the ASG, Harper now keeps his promise to participate in the Home Run Derby one last time before hitting free agency.   There’s no real “snubs” on this Nationals team; The #2 player on the team in terms of seasonal bWAR is Trea Turner but he’s not exactly having a head-turning season.  He was named to the “last 5 ballot” but was a huge long-shot to make it (update; he didn’t: the very deserving Jesus Aguilar did).  Anthony Rendon is having his typical under-rated season and got no love from the voters over the more famous Nolan Arenado (a common refrain when it comes to Gold Gloves/Silver Sluggers too).  None of our starters besides Scherzer are really deserving; Stephen Strasburg was having a decent but not spectacular season but missed a month and is on the D/L.  Nor is any of the bullpen past Doolittle.  Its an odd-season where a team-wide malaise is contributing to the team hovering at .500 at the All Star Break.  Only Juan Soto really is deserving … but he was never going to make the ASG (not when recent more spectacular rookies failed to make it) and thanks to his missing all of April and most of May he wasn’t on any ballots and may struggle to win the RoY over guys who have played longer this season.  Scherzer is named to the team on 7/8/18 was named the  NL starter for the 2nd year running on 7/16/18.

2017

  • Nationals All-Star representatives: Bryce Harper*, Daniel Murphy*, Ryan Zimmerman*, Max Scherzer*, Stephen Strasburg
  • Snubs: Anthony Rendon, Gio Gonzalez
  • Narrative: For the second  year in a row, the Nats are well and properly represented in the All Star Game.  We have three starters named in the field, including Zimmerman who beats out a slew of 1B sluggers in the NL to not only make the team but get his first start.  Its also likely i’ll be editing this post and adding in Scherzer as an additional starter; he is the obvious choice to start the game for the NL given his first half production (7/10/17 update: yes indeed we did).  Rendon is having a very quiet solid season and is in the “last 5” popular vote, but he seems unlikely to win given that last year’s MVP Kris Bryant is also in the voting (Update: neither guy got in).  Gonzalez misses out despite having a better first half than Strasburg by nearly any statistic; he’s having a career year but seems unlikely to get rewarded with his 3rd ASG appearance.  There’s no other real snub from our 2017 team; certainly there’s nobody in the bullpen meriting a spot, and Trea Turner‘s torrid 2016 2nd half did not translate into the 2017 season (not to mention, he’s had two separate D/L trips).  Once again i’m slightly perturbed that Harper continues to refuse to participate in the HR derby; why the reticence?  Its a fun event that is quickly becoming better than the actual game itself and practically every other slugger is participating.  Is he afraid to lose?  On a larger scale, i’m really happy to see (finally) that deserving rookies are named: Aaron Judge and Cody Bellinger are both named and are both on the inside track for ROY awards; too many times in the past we see deserving rookies unnamed.  On July 10th, the fourth Nat starter was named: Scherzer got the starting pitcher nod, a first for the Nats.  August Update: Rendon’s omission is looking even more ridiculous; he’s top 5 in the league in bWAR.

2016

  • Nationals All-Star representatives: Bryce Harper*, Stephen Strasburg, Daniel Murphy, Wilson Ramos, Max Scherzer (named as replacement for Strasburg on 7/8/16),
  • Possible Snubs: Danny EspinosaTanner Roark
  • Narrative: The four obvious candidates from the Nats this year were all initially correctly selected, though voting shenanigans out of Chicago elected Ben Zobrist over Daniel Murphy by a scant 500 votes.   I thought perhaps Strasburg would have a chance to start the game, given his 12-0 record, but it seems the team pre-empted any such thought when Scherzer’s naming occurred.  For the first time writing this post, I can’t really name any “snubs” and the team has (finally?) earned the proper respect it deserves in terms of naming its players properly.  Espinosa had a week for the ages just prior to the end of voting but really stood little chance of selection in the grand scheme of things.  He’s not really a “snub” but is worthy of mention based on his resurgent year.  At the break, Espinosa ranked 3rd in NL fWAR but 7th or 8th in bWAR thanks to differing defensive value metrics, so maybe/maybe not on him being a “snub.”  As pointed out in the comments, even I missed the sneaky good season Roark is having; he’s 12th in the NL in bWAR at the break and 9th in fWAR but was left off in favor of any number of starters that stand below him in value rankings.  Unfortunately for fans (and for Harper’s “Make Baseball Fun again” campaign, he opted to skip the Home Run Derby again.  I guess its kind of like the NBA superstars skipping the dunk contest; the Union should really do a better job of helping out in this regard.  The new format is fantastic and makes the event watchable again; is it ego keeping him from getting beat by someone like Giancarlo Stanton?

2015

  • Nationals All-Star representatives: Bryce Harper*, Max Scherzer
  • Possible Snubs: Yunel Escobar, Drew Storen
  • Narrative: Harper not only made it in as a starter for the 2nd time, he led the NL in votes, setting a MLB record for total votes received.  This is no surprise; Harper’s easily in the MVP lead for the NL thanks to his amazing first half (his split at the half-way point of the season: .347/.474/.722 with 25 homers and an astounding 225 OPS+).  I guess he won’t be earning the “Most overrated player” award next year.  That Harper is electing to skip the Home run derby in a disappointment; his father is nursing an arm injury can cannot throw to him in the event.  In a weird year for the Nats, the only other regular worth mentioning is newly acquired Escobar, who is hitting above .300 and filling in ably at multiple positions that, prior to this year, he had never played.  Storen is having another excellent regular season … but at a time when mandatory members from each team often leads to other closers being selected (there are 5 NL closers and 7 AL relievers), the odds of him making the All-Star team were always going to be slim.  Scherzer deservedly makes the team and probably would have been the NL starter; he’s got sub 2.00 ERA and FIP and leads all NL pitchers in WAR at the mid-way point of the season.  But his turn came up in the final game of the first half, making him ineligible for the game and forcing his replacement on the roster.

As a side note, the 2015 All-Star game will go down as the “Ballot-Gate” game thanks to MLB’s short-sighted plan to allow 30+ online ballots per email address.  This led to severe “ballot stuffing” by the Kansas City Royals fans, led to MLB  having to eliminate 60 million+ fraudulent ballots, but still led to several Royals being elected starters over more deserving candidates.


2014

  • Nationals All-Star representative: Jordan Zimmermann (Update post-publishing: Zimmermann strained a bicep, and had to withdraw from the ASG.  For a bit it looked like the Nats wouldn’t even have a representative, until Tyler Clippard was named on 7/13/14).
  • Possible Snubs: Adam LaRoche, Anthony Rendon, Rafael Soriano, Drew Storen
  • Narrative: Zimmermann’s been the best SP on the best pitching staff in the majors this year, and thus earns his spot.  I find it somewhat odd that a first place team (or near to it) gets just one representative on the team (as discussed above).  Rendon tried to make the team via the “last man in” voting, but historically Nationals have not fared well in this competition (especially when better known players from large markets are in the competition, aka Anthony Rizzo from the Chicago Cubs), and indeed Rendon finished 4th in the last-man voting.  LaRoche is having a very good season, almost single handedly carrying the Nats offense while major parts were out injured, but he’s never going to beat out the slew of great NL first basemen (Joey Votto couldn’t even get into this game).  Soriano has quietly put together one of the best seasons of any closer in the game; at the time of this writing he has a 1.03 ERA and a .829 whip; those are Dennis Eckersley numbers.  But, the farce that is the all-star game selection criteria (having to select one player from each team) means that teams need a representative, and deserving guys like Soriano get squeezed.  Then, Soriano indignantly said he wouldn’t even go if named as a replacement … likely leading to Clippard’s replacement selection.  The same goes for non-closer Storen, who sports a sub 2.00 ERA on the year.  Advanced stats columnists (Keith Law) also think that Stephen Strasburg is a snub but I’m not entirely sure: he may lead the NL in K’s right now and have far better advanced numbers than “traditional,” but its hard to make an argument that a guy with a 7-6 record and a 3.50+ ERA is all-star worthy.

2013

  • Nationals All-Star representatives: Bryce Harper*, Jordan Zimmermann
  • Snubs: Stephen Strasburg, Ian Desmond
  • Narrative: Harper comes in 3rd in the NL outfielder voting, ahead of some big-time names, to become only the second Nationals position player elected as an All-Star starter.  He was 4th in the final pre-selection vote, so a big last minute push got him the starter spot.   Harper also becomes the first National to participate in the Home Run Derby.   Zimmermann was 12-3 heading into the game and was on mid-season Cy Young short lists in July in a breakout season.  Strasburg’s advanced stats are all better than Zimmermann’s, but his W/L record (4-6 as the ASG) means he’s not an all-star.  It also probably doesn’t help that he missed a few weeks.  Desmond loses out to Troy TulowitzkiEverth Cabrera and Jean Segura.  Tulowitzki was having a very solid year and was a deserving elected starter, while Cabrera and Segura are both having breakout seasons.  Desmond was on the “Final vote” roster, but my vote (and most others’ I’m guessing) would be for Yasiel Puig there ([Editor Update: Desmond and Puig lost out to Freddie Freeman: I still wished that Puig finds a way onto the roster but ultimately he did not and I believe the ASG was diminished because of it).   Gio GonzalezRyan Zimmerman, and Rafael Soriano are all having solid but unspectacular years and miss out behind those having great seasons.

2012

  • Nationals All-Star representatives: Stephen StrasburgGio GonzalezIan Desmond, Bryce Harper
  • Possible Snubs: Adam LaRocheCraig Stammen
  • Narrative: The two SPs Strasburg and Gonzalez were the obvious candidates, and my personal prediction was that they’d be the only two candidates selected.  Gonzalez’ first half was a prelude to his 21-win, 3rd place Cy Young season.  The inclusion of Desmond is a surprise, but also a testament to how far he’s come as a player in 2012.  Harper was a last-minute injury replacement, but had earned his spot by virtue of his fast start as one of the youngest players in the league.  Of the “snubs,” LaRoche has had a fantastic come back season in 2012 but fared little shot against better, more well-known NL first basemen.  Stammen was our best bullpen arm, but like LaRoche fared little chance of getting selected during a year when the Nats had two deserving pitchers selected.

2011

  • Nationals All-Star representatives: Tyler Clippard
  • Possible Snubs: Danny EspinosaMichael MorseDrew StorenJordan Zimmermann
  • Narrative: While Clippard was (arguably) the Nats best and most important reliever, I think Zimmermann was a more rightful choice.  He was 10th in the league in ERA at the time of the selections and has put in a series of dominant performances.  Meanwhile Espinosa was on pace for a 28-homer season and almost a certain Rookie-of-the-Year award (though a precipitous fall-off in the 2nd half cost him any realistic shot at the ROY), and perhaps both players are just too young to be known around the league.  Lastly Morse is certainly known and he merited a spot in the “last man in” vote sponsored by MLB (though he fared little chance against popular players in this last-man-in voting).

2010

  • Nationals All-Star representatives: Matt Capps
  • Possible Snubs: Adam DunnJosh WillinghamRyan Zimmerman, Stephen Strasburg
  • Narrative: Capps was clearly deserving, having a breakout season as a closer after his off-season non-tender from the Pirates.  The 3-4-5 hitters Zimmerman-Dunn-Willingham all had dominant offensive seasons as the team improved markedly from its 103-loss season.  But perhaps the surprise non-inclusion was Strasburg, who despite only having a few starts as of the all-star break was already the talk of baseball.  I think MLB missed a great PR opportunity to name him to the team to give him the exposure that the rest of the national media expected.  But in the end, Capps was a deserving candidate and I can’t argue that our hitters did anything special enough to merit inclusion.

2009

  • Nationals All-Star representatives: Ryan Zimmerman
  • Possible Snubs: Adam Dunn
  • Narrative: The addition of Dunn and Willingham to the lineup gave Zimmerman the protection he never had, and he produced with his career-best season.  His first and deserved all-star appearance en-route to a 33 homer season.  Dunn continued his monster homer totals with little all-star recognition.

2008

  • Nationals All-Star representatives: Cristian Guzman
  • Possible Snubs: Jon Rauch
  • Narrative: The first of two “hitting rock-bottom” seasons for the team; no one really merited selection.  Zimmerman was coming off of hamate-bone surgery in November 2007 and the team was more or less awful across the board.  Rauch performed ably after Cordero went down with season-ending (and basically career-ending) shoulder surgery.   Guzman’s selection a great example of why one-per-team rules don’t make any sense.  Guzman ended up playing far longer than he deserved in the game itself by virtue of the 15-inning affair.

2007

  • Nationals All-Star representatives: Dmitri Young
  • Possible Snubs: Ryan Zimmerman, Shawn Hill (though I wouldn’t argue for either)
  • Narrative: Young gets a deserved all-star appearance en route to comeback player of the year.  Zimmerman played a full season but didn’t dominate.  Our 2007 staff gave starts to 13 different players, most of whom were out of the league within the next year or two.  Not a good team.

2006

  • Nationals All-Star representatives: Alfonso Soriano*
  • Possible Snubs: Nick JohnsonRyan Zimmerman, Chad Cordero
  • Narrative: Soriano made the team as an elected starter, the first time the Nats have had such an honor.  Our pitching staff took massive steps backwards and no starter came even close to meriting a spot.  Cordero was good but not lights out as he had been in 2005.  Soriano’s 40-40 season is a poster child for “contract year” production and he has failed to come close to such production since.  The team was poor and getting worse.  Johnson had a career year but got overshadowed by bigger, better first basemen in the league (a recurring theme for our first basemen over the years).

2005

  • Nationals All-Star representatives: Livan HernandezChad Cordero
  • Possible Snubs: Nick JohnsonJohn Patterson.
  • Narrative: The Nats went into the All Star break surprisingly in first place, having run to a 50-31 record by the halfway point.  Should a first place team have gotten more than just two representatives?  Perhaps.  But the team was filled with non-stars and played far over its head to go 50-31 (as evidenced by the reverse 31-50 record the rest of the way).

Greinke, Sabathia, Hamels, Fernandez all hit career milestones: lets talk Hall of Fame

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Sabathia hits 250 wins. Hall of Famer? Photo wiki/flickr chris.ptacek

Sabathia hits 250 wins.
Hall of Famer? Photo wiki/flickr chris.ptacek

Earlier this season, when Stephen Strasburg hit 1,500 career strikeouts I posted a thought piece speculating on his Hall of Fame chances.  That conversation kind of got derailed in a projection discussion versus a theoretical discussion on what we could reasonable expect from Strasburg going forward.  Which is fine; its awfully hard to project a guy already on his second UCL for the next decade.

So, lets talk about four guys who have now hit much more impressive career mile-stones and talk about them individually.

Before we do, you may wonder why I care or why I think this is worth discussing.  And here it is: Starting Pitching usage in our sport has drastically changed in the last decade.  The odds of ever seeing a 300-win pitcher again seem remote, given 5-man rotations, openers, and the general downgrading of the “Win” statistic.  Meanwhile, Strikeouts are skyrocketing, as teams no longer care if a guy strikes out 180 times as long as he hits 45 bombs.  As we speak, Seven of the top 10 pitchers in the history of the sport in terms of K/9 are active starters as we speak.

So my overarching question basically is this: do we need to drastically change the way we evaluate the careers of (especially) starting pitchers given where the game has gone as of late?

And pitchers like Strasburg, Hamels, Sabathia, and Greinke are pretty good test cases.  Here’s why.

Historically, 3,000 career strikeouts was nearly a lock to get a guy to Cooperstown.   As we speak, there’d just 17 guys in the history of the sport who have hit that threshold.  Of those 17 starters, 14 are in the hall, 1 is still active (Sabathia), and two are named Roger Clemens and Curt Schilling (who have externalities unrelated to their performance on the field that are holding them out of the hall).  But going forward, it really seems like we’re going to start seeing a glut of guys hit that 3,000 threshold, and I wonder if we’re going to have to re-think what it means to be a Hall of Fame starter.

With respect to Wins … we’re also seeing a drastic change in expectations for career totals.  Sabathia just hit 250 wins, which now seems like the “new 300” given pitcher usage.  Heck, it now seems like even hitting 200 career wins may be a pretty significant accomplishment, which is amazing considering the lofty career totals achieved by Clemens, Greg Maddux and Randy Johnson just a half a generation ago.

We’re kind of already seeing the effects of this change in evaluation; thanks to evolving usage starting in the 1980s and then the PED effects lengthening careers and thus inflating numbers in the 90s, there’s a severe lack of starting pitchers from the 1980s enshrined in the hall, guys with the kind of career numbers that, if they were pitching today, we’d be having a different conversation.  I wrote about this back in 2013 and did a ton of research at the time, and there’s a slew of starters from the 1980s who really deserved a better consideration than they received from the voters at the time.

Are we going to see something similar with pitchers from today?

Anyway, lets talk about these three guys who hit career milestones within the past few weeks:

  1. CC Sabathia: this year has hit both 3,000 career Ks and just got his 250th win.  He has a Cy Young, had a 5-year stretch where he was a top-5 vote-getter, but is slightly below the average HoFamer in terms of JAWS and the Hall metrics available at his baseball-reference.com page.  He’s already announced that he’s retiring after 2019.  Is he a Hall of Famer?
  2. Zack Greinke: just hit 2,500 career Ks, is just 5 wins away from 200 career wins.  He’s signed through 2021, is in his age 35 season and has shown pretty good durability throughout his career (I mention this to try to project how long he can stay effective).  He’s having an excellent 2019 despite pitching in Arizona’s hitter’s park and should be an All Star.  He’s averaged 16 wins a season after his age 30 season, meaning he could possibly be in position to challenge 250 career wins himself.  Just one Cy Young award (in an amazing Kansas City season), and came in 2nd in a year when he had a 1.66 ERA in a full season in 2015.   Statistically, his JAWs looks a lot better than Sabathia’s, and he seems to have several more years to tack on WAR and put himself in the upper echelon of SPs historically.  Is he a Hall of Famer?
  3. Cole Hamels: just hit 2,500 career Ks himself.  But he’s no where near the 200 win totals that Sabathia and Greinke have already hit (he’s 162-116 as of this writing) while also being in his age 35 season.   He’s been almost exactly averaging 9 K/9 for the past few years.  He’s in his contract year this year, and he’s been amazingly durable (missing just a few weeks in 2017 in the last decade).  I think he’s a shoe-in to get a 3 year contract, which should give him a shot at at least 600 more innings and probably 600 more strikeouts on top of what ever he ends up with this year.  He’s never really come close to a Cy Young, and his JAWS/black ink figures are wanting.  Is he a Hall of Famer?
  4. Felix Hernandez also just hit 2,500 career Ks in his last start.  His 5-year peak from 2009-2014 included one Cy Young, two 2nd place finishes and a perfect game in 2012.   Through his age 30 season he sat at 154 wins, 2264 Ks and had people thinking perhaps he had a shot at 300 wins and 4,000 Ks.  But like a light switch, he fell apart upon hitting 31, to the point now at age 33 that the team is considering removing him from the rotation.  Furthermore, he’s falling apart at the end of a long, expensive contract and (as we’ve now seen in the FA market for starters > 30) he may be in trouble of even getting a guaranteed contract for 2020 and beyond.   As of today, he’s got just 15 combined wins in the last three seasons (including this one) and seems influx going forward.    His peak helps him from a JAWs/WAR perspective, but he still sits well behind what a typical Hall of famer sits.  Right now, is he projecting as a Hall of Famer?

There’s other interesting use cases out there in terms of active pitchers.  I don’t think there’s any doubt at this point that the likes of Clayton Kershaw (3 Cy Youngs already), Justin Verlander  (who probably hits 3,000 Ks this season) or Max Scherzer (also 3 career Cy Youngs already) are headed for enshrinement.  But what do you do with someone like Felix Hernandez, who was dominant early and has fallen off a cliff?  What about John Lester?  At age 35 (same as Grienke and Hamels) he’s 4th actively in Wins and led the league in them last year with 18.  What if Lester hits 200 wins and gets close to 3,000 Ks.

So, i’ve thrown these names out there.   If I was a voter, what would I say?

  • Sabathia: yes
  • Greinke: projecting to Yes
  • Hamels; projecting to No, even if he hits 3,000 strikeouts career
  • Hernandez: projecting to No
  • Lester: projecting to No

What do you guys think?  Is it time to re-think career milestones for Starters?

 

If we’re waiving the white flag … what moves should we do?

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Rendon; to trade or not to trade? Photo Nats Official via espn.com

Rendon; to trade or not to trade? Photo Nats Official via espn.com

Yeah, the team just won 3 of 4 from Miami.  They’re still almost guaranteed at this point not to make the playoffs.  As suggested in the comments from the previous post … Here’s a sweep through the 40-man roster as of today, to talk about possible trade chips and who may or may not be in the future of this team.

https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/1vnTLwaXYeHFjahCNrTFLzAVebGw0Fj_-__igrTplZA0/edit#gid=1393584019

Outright Free Agents after 2019:

  • Anthony Rendon: who would also be the most likely to fetch prospects in trade mid-season, but who also is someone the Nats may very much want to sign to an extension.  Will the ownership group learn their lesson after dragging their feet last year with Bryce Harper, costing them the Houston trade that almost certainly would have brought back better stuff than a post 4th round pick (#139 overall, which is what we got instead thanks to criminal cap mismanagement over the past two years).  Is this leadership group going to keep him instead of trading him because they think trading him for half a season will damage their negotiations with him?  Trust me, Rendon WANTS to be traded; it removes the Qualifying Offer from burdening his off-season negotiations.   Frankly, getting moved to a contender shouldn’t preclude his returning to the Nats on a long term contract, but a bigger question is what is he worth?  Unlike other major 3B players who signed mega deals lately (Nolan ArenadoManny Machado), Rendon will be 30 upon signing, has injury history, and thus his value is limited.  This is a tangent conversation to the subject at hand, but factors in.
  • Brian Dozier; so far, he’s not only not earning his 2019 $9M salary, he’s putting his career in serious jeopardy.  If he is still hitting .210 at the end of the year, its hard to see him getting a guaranteed contract next year at age 33.
  • Howie Kendrick, who it should be noted was expected to be basically a 4th OF/utility guy and has been batting frigging cleanup for the team lately.  He continues to be a professional hitter even at advancing age (he’s in his age 35 season), and should be worthy of some halfway decent return in prospects in trade.
  • Jeremy Hellickson: for as good as he was in 2018, he’s been as bad in 2019.  He’s not going to fetch anything in trade, and is closer to a release than a trade.
  • Javy Guerrero: we’ll see if  he even makes it to July 1.  Fungible asset, trade if you can get anything.
  • Gerardo Parra: we’re paying him a pro-rated MLB min … as with Guerrero, trade if you can get anything for him.

If you waive the white flag on 2019, every one of these players should get moved for whatever you can get, if anything.  Rendon and Kendrick bring the most back at this point.

Players with 2020 Options

  • Ryan Zimmerman: boy, is he putting the team into a tough position.  Instead of producing in his possible walk year, he’s been awful at the plate and has gotten hurt with a typical “old guy” injury (Planter Fasciitis).  Yes he’s the Face of the Franchise, yes he’s the longest tenured player, yes he was the first player the team ever drafted, yes he’s the clubhouse leader, yes he means a ton to the community, yes he holds a massive fundraiser each year, yes he’s set down DC roots, yes he’s got a 5 year personal-services contract with the team (since deemed illegal in the CBA), and yes he wants to be with the team post playing career.  Yes to all of that.  However, there’s no way he’s worth his 2020 option of $18M.  that’s 10% of the payroll for a guy who is easily replaced with readily available mid-30s sluggers for a quarter of the price.  This is going to be ugly.  I don’t think you trade him (who would want him and who would give up prospects?), but I also don’t think you sign him at his option.  I privately suspect the team will renegotiate his $18M option to something like a 4-yr/$20M deal that pays him right around what Matt Adams is making, takes him to his late 30s, establishes him as a utility/bench bat for the duration, and keeps him in the fold til that point in his career where inarguably he is done playing.
  • Adam Eaton: his 2020 and 2021 options are ridiculously affordable ($9.5M and $10.5M).  The team gutted its top-end starting pitcher depth to acquire him (a decision that looks worse and worse as Lucas Giolito throws 4-hit shutouts and Reynaldo Lopez maintains 12 K/9 rates and Dane Dunning remains a viable future MLB starter even despite his TJ surgery).  But Eaton is now 30, and his 5-6 bWAR seasons seem past him.  If he’s a 1-2 win player, he’s worth the salary and picking up the options.  If he ends 2019 hitting a punchless .273 …. do you dare cut him or trade him?  Maybe not after 2019, but another season of this after 2020 and they may be cutting bait.
  • Yan Gomes: $9M 2020 option.  While the team didn’t trade as much for Gomes, catchers are difficult to come by in this sport.  So even despite his current BA, I can’t see the team cutting him loose after this year and declining his option.
  • Sean Doolittle has a ridiculously cheap $6.5M 2020 option and is the first stable closer we’ve had under longer term team control since Drew Storen.  He’s not going anywhere.
  • Trevor Rosenthal: $10M option on the table which increases to $15M player option if he pitches in 50 games (he’s appeared in 7 so far).  You may laugh right now at even considering this option; what if he comes back and pitches lights out in June and July?  I think you trade him for whatever you can get and let his options be someone else’s issue.  More likely, he’s going to come back from his “rehab” appearances, continue to struggle and the team will summarily cut him, and he’s exhibit 1A for the 2019 team’s issues.
  • Matt Adams: $4M 2020 mutual option; he’s not earning it right now.  Trade him for what you can get, and find some other middle 30s lefty slugger on the open market next year.
  • Tony Sipp: $2.5M 2020 option, that’s a steal.  But he’s got a 5.40 ERA in limited action; would you pick up this option?

Of this group, i’d move Rosenthal, Adams and Sipp if you can get anything.

Signed for 2020/longer term:

  • Max Scherzer; signed through 2021, and  honestly if he wins another Cy Young he’ll be wearing a Nats cap in Cooperstown.  can’t move him.
  • Stephen Strasburg: signed through 2023, can’t move him.
  • Patrick Corbin; just signed new deal through 2024, why would we want to move him.
  • Anibal Sanchez: $9M for 2020 guaranteed … but he’s not really putting himself into position to get anything back in trade based on performance and injury so far.
  • Kurt Suzuki: $6M for 2020, and he’s playing great.  If you move him you just have to replace him and what has changed in terms of our ML catcher depth from last off-season to now?  We still don’t trust Spencer Kieboom with major league ABs, i’m not sure why Raudy Read continues to take up space on the 40-man, and our best prospect Israel Pineda is in Low-A.  So we need Suzuki for 2020.

I’d keep the big 3 starters and Suzuki; move Sanchez if you can (doubtful).  I just don’t see how you can justify moving any of our big 3 starters unless you’re planning a complete, 59 win season overhaul.

Arbitration eligible next year: 

  • Trea Turner
  • Michael Taylor
  • Kyle Barraclough
  • Justin Miller
  • Wilmer Difo
  • Matt Grace
  • Koda Glover
  • Joe Ross

An interesting set of players.  I’d say the team faces some interesting tender choices next off-season.   Right now looking at this list i’d clearly tender Turner, Barraclough and Ross, I’d probably take a hard look at Miller, Difo, Grace but eventually tender, and I’d probably cut loose Taylor and Glover.  Who of these guys are trade bait?  Honestly, everyone but Turner, Ross and Barraclough.

In terms of Trade deadline … i’m not sure i’d trade any of these guys … they’re all either untouchable or un-tradeable.

Pre-Arbitration players:

  • Juan Soto, Wander Suero, Andrew Stevenson, Victor Robles, Jake Noll, James Bourque, Erick Fedde, Spencer Kieboom, Kyle McGowin, Tanner Rainey, Raudy Read, Adrian Sanchez, Austin Voth, Austen Williams, Carter Kieboom.

No reason to part ways with anyone here; if they’re starters (Soto, Robles, Fedde, etc) they’re too valuable on their current $575k (or so) contracts, and if they’re role players they’re fungible assets who are probably not really trade-able.

—————–

Summary: there’s not really a ton of return value here.  Rendon, Kendrick, Adams seem to be the best trade chips.

—————–

added bonus: CBS sports did some similar analysis of Nats potential trade chips: https://www.cbssports.com/mlb/news/mlb-trade-deadline-anthony-rendon-and-other-nationals-trade-chips-ranked-if-they-become-sellers-by-july-31/  .  They came up with similar names here.

 

Nats first Week of Results and Over-Reactions

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Well, what did you expect him to do after booing him for 5 innings? (AP Photo/Alex Brandon) ORG XMIT: NAT126

Well, what did you expect him to do after booing him for 5 innings? (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

The Nats are through their first week.  They’re 3-3.  The sky is not falling, as opposed to general sentiment coming out of the opening series.

Here’s a quick summary of what happened in the last week or so:

1. The Nats faced this gauntlet of Starters: Jacob deGrom, Noah SnydergaardZack Wheeler, Zach Eflin, Aaron Nola and then Snydergaard again.   That’s one hell of a way to start your season; these 6 games include four starts against guys who are all in perhaps the top 5-6 starters in the NL, last year’s Cy Young Winner, last year’s 3rd place Cy Young winner and a guy who had a 111 ERA+ in 2018 (Wheeler).

This is one heck of an ask for any team, and the fact that the Nats beat Thor, battered Nola and snuck out third win is pretty good.

2. The Nats managed to lose BOTH of Max Scherzer‘s starts.  That’s not good, but also not really predictive.  The Nats went 22-11 in his 33 starts in 2018.

3. The team lost Trea Turner to a broken finger, watched Matt Adams flip over a railing and land on his head (dtd with a sore back), and watched Anibal Sanchez get pegged with a 100+ exit velocity line drive on his hip flexor and hobble out of his first start (also dtd).  That’s not good.

4. The team’s bullpen collectively has a 9.64 ERA (improved by yesterday’s win to now “only” be 29th out of 30 in the sport).  Ironically, despite being 29th in ERA they’re somehow 3rd in fWAR.  This is probably due the fact that their FIP is like 6 full points better than the ERA, with hitters pummeling the bullpen arms to the tune of .453 BABIP.  They’re going to get better and have more games like the last one we just saw (where four guys white washed the Mets to end Strasburg‘s last start).

5. Trevor Rosenthal has now faced seven batters and retired none of them.  Now, to be fair, I thought the ump in Wednesday’s game was really squeezing both sides, so it wasn’t like he was all over the place … but this is not a good sign.  He needs a confidence booster game and soon.

6. All in all, our big three starters have looked pretty solid: Corbin‘s nifty QS, Scherzer striking out 12 on opening day, and Strasburg’s sub 1.00 FIP all giving me some good confidence.  Sanchez is a battler and I like him as our fourth, and I hope he isn’t affected longer term.

7. On the offensive side: Rendon: wow.  Dozier: geeze (just 2 for 22).   Soto and Robles are doing precisely what I’d like them to do. Otherwise … its hard to really pass too much judgement against a squad that’s faced four Cy Young candidates in six games.

8. In general … the Nats have a good shot at sweeping in NY given who is going for us next (Corbin and Scherzer), then return to Philly and probably face more of the same until they get to their mid-April slate of easier opponents (Pitt, SF then Miami).   I like the team’s chances of sitting somewhere in the 12-8 or maybe even 13-7 range by the time they finish the Miami series on 4/21/19.

Lastly …..

9. Bryce Harper played two games here; he wiffed in his two first at-bats to the utter glee of the “fans” who had  clearly only purchased tickets to boo him (or wear t-shirts that spelled out TRAITOR prominently in the outfield), and then he did this in his next eight plate appearances: three singles, a double, a homer and three walks, reaching base in 8 consecutive plate appearances, helping to push his current seasonal slash line through the first week to the gaudy .500/.652/1.840.  I had a sneaking suspicion that Harper was going to just blow up in 2019, especially hitting in Philadelphia, and if the Phillies make the post season I think Harper is a shoe-in for his second MVP.

Tangent question: Harper continually manages to be voted as “most over-rated” player in anonymous polls and in biting commentary all around the sports-internet.  This baffles me honestly; over-rated compared to what?    I mean, the guy has 6 all star appearances, a rookie of the Year and a unanimous MVP through his age 25 season, to go along with between 27 and 31 WAR depending on the system.  Ask yourself this: what exactly does he need to do in order to NOT be “over-rated?”  If he put up another season like he did in 2015 and ran away with the MVP, would he then stop being over-rated?  How many MVPs does he need?  If your answer includes something along the lines of, “well he needs to lead his team to a playoff win” then remind yourself that Mike Trout has never won a playoff GAME let alone a playoff series and went 1-15 in his sole ALDS appearance.

I just don’t get the general vitrol that surrounds Harper sometimes.  Especially with respect to what we now know about his contract situation.  The Nats offered him deals that included massive amounts of deferred data going out decades and that, even in a conservative analysis, were probably 40% less in net present value than what he eventually signed in Philadelphia, but yet somehow he’s the bad guy and the Traitor and the money-grabbing bastard here?  Where’s the vitriol for the ownership group, that opportunistically offered him a *lower* contract as their follow-up offer in December?   What did people expect Harper to do?  Just accept 40% less than what others were offering him just to appease DC-area residents who may attend 2-3 games a year because that’s what they think they’re “owed” as fair-weather fans?  Let me know the next time you change jobs so I can tell you that you should take 40% less in salary and just stay with your same employer instead of taking the better offer to move on.

 

Ask Jesse; a just-before-the-season Mailbag

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Jake Noll looks to make the 2019 opening day roster. Photo via milb.com

Jake Noll looks to make the 2019 opening day roster. Photo via milb.com

In order to move on from my Fantasy Baseball post, here’s a mailbag that WP Nats Beat reporter Jesse Dougherty posted on 3/25/19.

https://www.washingtonpost.com/sports/2019/03/24/nationals-mailbag-regular-season-is-just-about-here/?utm_term=.e92f4a56efd8

Interesting notes here from today: the demotions of Adrian Sanchez in particular, which seems to indicate that NRI and 2016 7th round draft pick Jake Noll may very well be making this team.  Noll signed for $190k in 2016, which definitely wasn’t a senior sign/throw away pick out of FGCU, but he’s gotten absolutely zero prospect love in his career thus far.  He was ranked 26th on 2080 Baseball’s 2019 list, and got an “Honorable Mention” in John Sickel‘s post 2016 minorleaguebaseball.com list, but that’s it.  And how he’s set to be the Nats primary backup middle infielder until Howie Kendrick can return.  So great for Noll.

Questions she took and how i’d answer them:

Q: What do you think the chances are the Nats extend Rendon? I’m not too optimistic after this most recent report.

A: A good question.  I’m guessing that at this point, Anthony Rendon will head to FA.  He better have an action plan though with his agent Scott Boras, who has absolutely blown several high profile cases over the last couple of off seasons.

That being said, I’m hoping Rendon is taking a hard look at the landscape, taking a hard look at the contracts that some of his comparables are signing (Nolan Arenado 8yr/$260M for $32.5 AAV) and perhaps coming back to the table before he faces an embarassing off-season.  Rendon is a year older than Arenado, less accomplished from awards and year end recognition … and will have to eat deferred money to stay here.  Can a deal get done?

Dougherty notes that Rendon has instructed Boras to work on an extension, and they’ll work into the season.  So perhaps we’ll see something like a 6yr/$180M deal in our future with deferred dollars.

Q: How is the team preparing for having AAA players in Fresno instead of Syracuse? Any chatter from likely minor leaguers about the switch?

A: That’s a great question, one that fans like us can’t really answer other than noting the obvious: the team has “demoted” the likes of Erick Fedde and Spencer Kieboom to Harrisburg so they can be a couple hours away in case of an emergency.  Meanwhile longer-term strategic assets like Joe RossKyle McGowin, and Raudy Read are instead heading to Fresno to get stretched out or further tested against more senior competition.

Ironically, Spencer and his younger brother, phenom prospect Carter Kieboom, are both scheduled to now be in AA.  I wonder if they’ll room together 😉

Dougherty notes the same players that I do, but has little else to offer in terms of player insights.

Q: Can you talk about the OF depth issue with Michael A. Taylor’s injury and Kendrick’s? Any insight on the organization’s view of its internal outfield options? Any indications if General Manager Mike Rizzo thinks he needs to go outside the organization to address?

A: Well, it certainly didn’t help when exactly one third of the outfielders on the 40-man got hurt (Taylor and Kendrick).  So the team is breaking camp with their 3 starters and their one remaining option in Andrew Stevenson to start the season.  Depth?  The next likely guy up probably is Rafael Bautista, who was on the 40-man last  year and got DFA’d/assigned to AAA .  Our top OF prospect is probably Gage Canning, who was in short season last year.  Brian Goodwin just got released by Kansas City; maybe he’s worth taking a MLFA flier on and getting him back into the fold.   The team has added some MLFA 4-A type talents that are also sitting in AAA; my guess is that they’d go there first for a short-term fix.  If it turned out that Taylor was done for the season, may be then we’d go for an outside option.

Dougherty says that since Taylor’s injury is short term, nothing will happen, and that in-house options like Wilmer Difo and Matt Adams can cover.

Q: Jake Noll has been tearing it up in spring training, Nats’ OF depth is thin, does Jake have any experience in the OF? Could his success translate to the big leagues soon?

A: This question was a day early, given today’s press reports of Noll’s likely making the team.   So his hot spring training has definitely paid off.

I see no evidence of his playing the OF: he spent his first two pro seasons playing 2B, then split time between 1B and 3B last  year.  Conventional wisdom would seem to indicate that this level of athleticism on the dirt would translate to at least a passing ability to play LF in a pinch.  But it doesn’t seem like that’s his path for now.

Dougherty notes that Noll played some OF in high school, but he only played the three positions in which he has pro experience this spring.

Q: Do Nats fans boo Bryce on April 2?

A:  I’ve been asked this many times by my Bryce Harper hating friends.  His first AB will be a video tribute and a standing ovation.  Perhaps by the 3rd or 4th AB he may get some boos.  He’s slated to face Scherzer in the 4th game of the season on regular rest, unless the team decides to keep its rotation intact.

Dougherty seems to think the reception will be chilly.  We’ll see!  Maybe the team should sell out the stadium to traveling Philly fans to make a buck like they used to in the old days.

 

 

MLB Rotation Ranks for 2019, 1-30

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Lester: the best pitcher on the best rotation heading into 2019. photo via Grantland

Lester: the best pitcher on the best rotation heading into 2019. photo via Grantland

I got out of the habit of doing this piece last year: right around this time in 2018 i was slammed at work, But, I found a bit of time earlier this off-season (thanks for Conference Calls) and put it together.

The core XLS is much more impressive than the text: here’s a Google version of it with the below data.

Here’s my 2019 Rotation ranks for every team in MLB, One to Thirty (1-30).

As I went through doing this, the ranks ended up naturally dividing into kind of natural groupings.  So I’ll show these groupings and then do commentary on the group all together.

Terminology used here:

  • to me an “Ace” is one of the best 15-20 starters in the game.  I think i’ve got 18 identified heading into 2019.   And yes, I count both Strasburg and Corbin as Aces for these purposes.  I’ve seen plenty of op-eds claiming Strasburg isn’t an “Ace” for various reasons …. but he’s in the top 10-15 of practically every statistical measure of starters over the past 4-5 years.  Just because someone is the #1 starter for a team does not make them an “Ace.”
  • A “#2 starter” is then one of the next best 15-20 guys, players who either used to be Aces but have grown a bit old (good example: Jake Arrieta or Cole Hamels) or younger guys who are one more solid season from taking the next step up (Luis Severino, Mike Foltynewicz).
  • A #3 starter is a level below the #2, the next 25-30 guys or so.  A good solid mid-rotation starter.  I have 30 identified.
  • A #4 starter is basically slightly better than the #5 starter.
  • A #5 starter is someone who gives replacement level starting pitching capabilities, a guy who is only slightly better than a 4-A guy.  Often either a rookie or an aging FA signing.

In the XLS, i do assign quantitative values to assist in the rankings … so you can see who i call a 4, who’s getting a 5, etc.

OK lets get to it:


 

1. Chicago Cubs: Jon Lester, Kyle Hendricks,Cole Hamels, Yu Darvish, Jose Quintana
2. Boston: Chris Sale,David Price, Nathan Eovaldi, Rick Porcello, Eduardo Rodriguez
3. Cleveland: Corey Kluber, Carlos Carrasco, Trevor Bauer, Mike Clevinger, Shane Bieber
4. Washington: Max Scherzer, Patrick Corbin, Stephen Strasburg, Anibal Sanchez, Jeremy Hellickson

I have Chicago as the #1 rotation in the game.  I have them at the top not so much because the top of their rotation is the best … its because man for man, 1 through 5, they’re the best.  When your 4th starter is Yu Darvisha guy who was the Cy Young runner up a few years back and is only 32 .. that’s a tough rotation.  Quintana is the Cubs’ 5th starter but was the White Sox’ long time #2.  Its just a lot of good, veteran pitching.   Boston comes in slightly below b/c I rate Porcello/Rodriguez slightly lower than Chicago’s 4/5.  Cleveland has a strong case (as does Washington) for having three legitimate Aces; if their #5 was better they’d probably be #1.   If you wanted to argue that Washington is  above or below the teams above them I wouldn’t argue too much; I look at the #4/#5 starters and say “who would you rather have?”  And I find that i’d rather have Chicago’s arms on the back end than ours.  I’d also note that we’ve had Scherzer now for four seasons; no real injuries … and Strasburg gets hurt literally every year.  So Washington’s rotation really has to take into account its depth … or lack there of.

5. Los Angeles Dodgers:  Clayton Kershaw ,Walker Buehler, Hyung-jin Ryu, Rich Hill, Kenta Maeda
6. New York Yankees:  Luis Severino, James Paxton, Masahiro Tanaka, J.A. Happ, CC Sabathia
7. New York Mets:  Jacob deGrom, Noah Syndergaard, Zach Wheeler, Steven Matz, Jason Vargas
8. Houston:  Justin Verlander, Gerrit Cole, Wade Miley, Brad Peacock, Josh James
9. St. Louis:  Miles Mikolas, Carlos Martinez, Jack Flaherty, Michael Wacha, Adam Wainwright

The Dodgers could jump to the next level if/when Walker Buehler turns into an Ace; i’ve still got him as a #2 but hope to gosh I can get him in Fantasy this year.  The Yankees sport four #2 starters … with Severino nearly ready to make the jump to Ace they’re pretty close.  I’d rate the Mets higher but the back end of their rotation just-cannot-stay-healthy.  Houston’s rotation would look a lot better if they re-signed their former ace Dallas Keuchel (more on him at the end), and Houston could really be good fast if their #1 prospect Forrest Whitley pans out.  Lastly in this group is St Louis, which is notable to me b/c their long time ace Adam Wainright is now their #5 starter, just barely hanging on.  Remember how much we heard about how the Nats missed out on Michael Wacha in the 2012 draft?  Well he’s a pretty solid 4th starter and if he could stay healthy he’d improve this rotation quickly.

10. Philadelphia: Aaron Nola, Jake Arrieta ,Nick Pivetta, Vincent Velasquez, Zach Eflin
11. Arizona: Zack Greinke, Robbie Ray, Zack Godley, Luke Weaver, Merrill Kelly
12. San Francisco: Madison Bumgarner, Dereck Robinson, Jeff Samardzija, Derek Holland, Drew Pomeranz
13. Atlanta: Mike Foltynewicz, Julio Teheran, Kevin Gausman, Sean Newcomb ,Touki Toussant
14. Colorado : Kyle Freeland, German Marquez, Jon Grey, Tyler Anderson, Antonio Senzelata
15. Tampa Bay:  Blake Snell, Charlie Morton, Tyler Glasnow, Ryan Yarbrough, Yonny Chirinos

An interesting grouping here; all six of these rotations are nearly identical in my private scoring … but looking at the names, you can see that some of these teams are prepped to move up quickly (Atlanta) while others are barely hanging on (San Francisco) with aging cores.  I’m not sure what to make of Philly’s rotation; are these guys scaring you in a short series?   Meanwhile … Tampa in 2018 was so shredded by injuries they went head first into the “opener” strategy … while having a Cy Young winner on staff.  They won 90 games this way, and now have back the starters that got hurt AND added a solid 2nd starter in Morton; are they going to challenge the two teams ahead of them?

16. Pittsburgh: Jamison Taillon, Chris Archer, Trevor Williams, Joe Musgrove, Nick Kingham
17. Oakland: Frankie Montas, Mike Fiers, Trevor Cahill, Brett Anderson, Marco Estrada
18. Texas: Mike Minor, Lance Lynn, Drew Smyly, Edinson Volquez, Jason Hammell
19. Seattle: Mike Leake, Yusei Kikuchi, Marco Gonzales, Felix Hernandez, Wade LeBlanc
20. Minnesota: Kyle Gibson, Jose Berrios, Jake Odorizzi, Michael Pineda, Adalberto Mejia
21. Detroit: Michael Fulmer, Matt Boyd, Jordan, Zimmermann, Tyson Ross, Matt Moore

So there’s a pretty significant step down here; I dont have a single “Ace” defined in this grouping … and only Jamison Taillon even rates for me as a #2.   How did Oakland possibly win 97 games last year?   Texas has bought three lesser-priced pitchers this off season (Lynn, Smyly and Hammel) and stands to improve on their 67 win season.   Seattle is in an interesting place: they won 89 games, added Kikuchi and could be pretty good, pretty fast … but their #1 starter is Mike Leake who’d be the Nat’s #5 starter.

22. Los Angeles Angels: Jamie Barria, Andrew Heaney, Matt Harvey, Tyler Skaggs, Felix Pena
23. Toronto: Aaron Sanchez, Marcus Stroman, Ryan Borucki, Matt Shoemaker, Clayton Richards
24. Chicago White Sox: Carlos Rodon, Ivan Nova, Reynaldo Lopez, Lucas Giolito, Manny Banuelos
25. Kansas City: Danny Duffy, Ian Kennedy, Jake Junis, Brad Keller, Eric Skoglund

The first three of these rotations all seem like they should be ranked higher than they are … but then when you look at them, you realize why.  Los Angeles is depending on injury-heavy arms, Toronto’s arms would be a top 10 rotation if this was 2014, and Chicago’s rotation is proof of the cynical scouting adage, “there is no such thing as a pitching prospect.”    How much better would the Angels be if Shohei Ohtani was there?   Probably 10 spots higher, nearly a top 10 rotation, he’s that good.    Kansas City is lucky to be this high: they  lost 58 games and are rolling out the same crew as last year.

26. Baltimore: Dylan Bundy, Alex Cobb, Andrew Cashner, David Hess, Nate Karns
27. Miami: Wei-Yin Chen, Jose Urena, Dan Straily, Caleb Smith, Trevor Richards
28. Milwaukee: Jhoulys Chacin, Chase Anderson, Zach Davies, Brandon Woodruff, Jimmy Nelson
29. Cincinnati: Anthony DeSclafani, Tanner Roark, Luis Castillo, Alex Wood, Sonny Grey
30. San Diego: Joey Lucchesi, Robbie Erlin, Bryan Mitchell, Eric Lauer, Luis Perdomo

 

Baltimore looks to improve on the rotation that lost 115 games last year by … signing former Nat Nathan Karns.   The other 4 starters in their rotation went (in order) 8-16, 5-15, 4-15 and 3-10 last year, none posting an ERA+ better than 85 for the year.  And they’re not the worst rotation in the league!  Amazing.  We all know Miami is trying to do worse than last year’s 98-loss team and, as far as I can tell, has not added ONE arm this off-season.   I really don’t know how Milwaukee did so well last year with this crew; they’re all basically #4 starters, backed up by a phenomenal bullpen and a great offense.  I hope they can compete again this year, b/c the club has done very little to improve.

Cincinnati has made a flurry of moves, adding 3 new starters this off-season …and is still ranked 29th.  I mean, Tanner Roark is their #2.

But none of these rotations is even close to as poor as San Diego’s projects to be.  Maybe you could squint and tell me that a couple of these guys are #4 starters instead of #5 starters.  But that’d just return them to the 30th ranked rotation, just slightly closer to Cincinnatis.  Luckily for San Diego (breaking news!) they just signed Manny Machado and Baseball America has ranked their farm system #1 in the league … which 13 of the last 14 years means they’ll be in the playoffs in two seasons.  So hopefully there’s some big-time San Diego prospect arms to go with those bats, and we’ll see you in the playoffs in 2020.


 

So, what Free Agent pitchers could move the needle of the above?

As of this writing, the biggest FA pitcher who could really move the needle is obviously Keuchel; i rate him as a #2, so if one of the lower-ranked teams replaces a 5th starter with Keuchel they may very well jump up 5-6 spots.  Other impact free agent pitchers available who could change the above rankings include Gio Gonzalez, Clay Buchholz, and Ervin Santana (update: Santana signed minor league deal with the White Sox, which may put them a couple spots higher). Past that, the remaining FAs seem like 4/5 types who wouldn’t really change any of the rankings b/c they’d likely be replacing a 4-A guy at the back of the rotation.  That list includes Bartolo Colon,Yovani Gallardo, Miguel Gonzalez, Edwin Jackson, James Shields, and Chris Tillman.  Yeah, I said Bartolo Colon; i think he can still pitch.   Maybe not that well … but it wouldn’t surprise me if he gave it one last season.


So, that’s my rankings.  Feel free to argue, tell me i’m wrong :-)

 

Ask Collier 1/28/19

12 comments

it was all downhill from here for Martinez. Photo via Geoff Burke/USA today

it was all downhill from here for Martinez. Photo via Geoff Burke/USA today

I’ll admit, I’m struggling for content this off-season.  I love nearly all the moves the Nats have made, as one of (arguably) only about 6 teams that actually seem to be trying to improve themselves in the FA market this off-season.  Thank gosh for these Inbox/mailbags to give me a chance to opine on the state of the Nationals.

Latest one from MLB.com beat reporter Jamal Collier dated 1/25/19.

Q: With all the additions they have made, can that help in keeping Harper in Washington or is that a negative factor?

A: I can’t imagine how these moves have been a negative for anyone, Team, Fans or Harper.  If Harper was re-signed, and the team made the decision to go well over the luxury tax to do so, then the team is going to be better for it.  Lets be honest with ourselves; if there was no ridiculous luxury tax, would we even be debating this?  Yes, there’s a clear debate on value versus pay, given his injury history and general inability to stay healthy.  But we’re still talking about one of the most marketable players in the game, a guy who you build around, not try to repel away.  If the going rate is $9M/WAR … then a 4 win season (his average since arriving in the league) will make a $35M/year AAV contract “worth it.”

After watching all the other moves the team has made this off-season, which have essentially filled every hole we had, and then adding Harper back to the mix?  Yeah that’d be a hard team to beat.

I’m of the opinion (a difficult to quantify one of course), that Harper played it very conservatively in 2018 knowing he was going into a FA year.  I also wonder about his relationship with the new manager (we’ll get into that more later).  If he comes back, knowing he had security and his big pay check … wouldn’t you be betting on a massive 2019 for him?  Like another 8-10 win season?  I mean, I’d like him to do that for us and not for the Phillies.

Its just money right?  And, its not our money.  The Nats can’t draft past the 1st round anyway (quick; tell me the last time a 2nd round pick worked out for this team?), so who cares if we forgo a few draft picks.

Collier thinks signing Harper would be a positive.  duh.

Q: What does Davey have to do in Spring Training / the early season to prove himself after last season?

A:  Is he really called “Davey?”  What is he, 12?   I’m not sure I particularly care about what he does in the Spring (with the exception of #1 below).  His regular season performance is what is going to matter obviously.  What mistakes do we think rookie manager Dave Martinez made in 2018?  For me:

  • Failed to manage his veteran players from the start (see Ryan Zimmerman‘s play zero games spring training, and see Mike Rizzo‘s transactions in ridding the team of veteran relievers at the trade deadline).
  • Over used starters (at one point last last season the Nats rotation led the league in both IP and pitches thrown)
  • Over used crummy relievers (the fact that Sammy Solis and Ryan Madsen were ever allowed to throw as many innings as they did was crucial to the team’s demise in late innings)
  • Showed poor end-game management (resulting in a -8 pythag record on the season, a 4-10 extra innings record, and an 18-24 record in one-run games)
  • Had questionable management decisions in all other aspects of his job: lineup creation, shifting, double switches, strategy, etc.).

So.  One year in, with his “problem children” mostly now gone, he’ll have another shot at “controlling” the clubhouse.  He’ll have learned his lesson on starters.  He’ll have a whole new stable of relievers to abuse.   And he’ll have a year of in-game practice to learn from all the other mistakes he made.  So call 2018 a big internship for Martinez.  I suspect we’ll see him do better.

And, to be fair … he should have better relievers at his disposal, or at least some more street cred to demand for personnel moves earlier.

Collier notes the need for improved “messaging” related to Zimmerman’s 2018 situation.  But he notes spring training means nothing.  

Q: How likely is it that the Nats go out and improve their bullpen even more before the offseason is over?

A:  At this point … i’m not sure how likely this is.  They’re pretty tapped out from a payroll perspective.  I’ve got them at about $13M under the luxury cap, Cots has them about $10.9M  under the cap.  And those cap figures do not include any of the incentives built into the contracts of the many players who could earn them.  From what I can tell, these are the “hidden” incentives that may come back to pad the 2019 salary cap figure:

  • Stephen Strasburg gets $1M if he hits 180 innings (he’s done it twice, but not in his last four seasons, each of which had a month or so of D/L time).
  • Max Scherzer has all sorts of award bonuses ranging from $100k to $500k for various awards he can earn.  He’s been in top 3 of Cy Young voting every year, so it seems likely some money is spent here).
  • Patrick Corbin  has similar award-based bonuses.  What are the odds Corbin can repeat his 2018 performance and have another top3 Cy season?
  • Anibal Sanchez can earn up to $2M if he gets to 30 starts.  He’s done it 3 times, all many years ago in his  youth, but he may get some additional bonuses for lesser number of starts.
  • Trevor Rosenthal has all sorts of bonuses based on games pitched, games finished … its complicated, but if he pitches in 50 games (as he did in his last season 2017) he can earn another $4-$5M.  This is the big danger line item.
  • Howie Kendrick has per-season bonuses worth $1.1M based on plate appearances.  Based on injury recovery and the buying of Brian Dozier, this seems unlikely to be met.

So …. that’s a lot of money that could hit the books and jack up the 2019 payroll very close to the cap.   So ask yourself; what do you think the team is going to do?

I think the team is going to go one of two ways:

  • stand pat if the luxury tax is treated as a hard cap
  • Sign Harper, blow way past, throw caution to the wind and keep signing guys.

Collier kind of gives a wishy washy answer,  saying well maybe!

Q:  How would you rank the likelihood of: Nats re-signing Harper, Nats re-signing Rendon, both, neither?

A: At this point, i’ll give the following percentage likelihoods:

  • Harper: 5%.  I think Harper is going to follow the paycheck and end up with literally the only team bidding on him; the Phillies.
  • Rendon: 65%.  I think he likes it here, I think he’s a great bet to age gracefully, and will be the next Zimmerman “face of the franchise” kind of guy.

Collier kind of agrees, thinking the most likely scenario is signing Rendon, not Harper.

Q: Who are the candidates for a surprise break out season?

A: A “surprise” breakout season?  Well if Victor Robles blows it out and wins the Rookie of the Year i don’t think that’s a surprise.  I’ll go with newly added reliever James Bourque.

Collier has almost the same answer as me :-)