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My 2019 MLB Awards Predictions

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Is Trout going to get shut out again? Photo Gary Vasquez/US Presswire via espn.com

Is Trout going to get shut out again? Photo Gary Vasquez/US Presswire via espn.com

Hi there.  Its time to write about the “silly season” of baseball.   Its my annual awards predictor piece.

(Important note: despite publishing this after the post-season … like the voters, I write the entirety of this at the end of September.  This is not skewed or influenced by anything that happened in the post-season.  Which is pretty important, because likely NL MVP Cody Bellinger was embarrassed in the NLDS while his competitor Anthony Rendon really out-classed him, both in that series and throughout the post-season.  Same thing with Cole versus Verlander for the NL Cy Young; after the post-season, i’m sure many would want to reconsider their votes).

Side Note: I was listening to a Ringer podcast and Bill Simmons had a very simple, elegant solution the long running debate about what the “Most Valuable Player” means.   His point about the MVP is the same as my point: how can you be the “most valuable”player on a team that only wins 75 games?  You were so valuable that you prevented that team from only winning 65 games?   Instead he thinks we should add an “Most Outstanding Performance” award in each league to identify exactly what it says; the best individual performance irrespective of the player’s impact on the playoff race.  Many times it may very well be the same player.  But a lot of the time it won’t be.  The “MOP” can be heavily driven by WAR totals, perhaps looking at all three iterations of it.

So, would MVP and MOP differ over the past few years?  Lets look.  Here’s a list of MVP winners historically, and then links to b-r’s WAR, fangraphs WAR and BP’s WAR.

  • 2018: MVPs were Christian Yelich and Mookie Betts.  MOP candidates:  Still Betts in the AL, Jacob deGrom in the NL (who won the Cy Young fwiw)
  • 2017: MVPs were Giancarlo Stanton and Jose Altuve.  MOP candidates: Aaron Judge or Corey Kluber in the AL, Max Scherzer in the NL (both pitchers mentioned won the Cy Young)
  • 2016: MVPs were Kris Bryant and Mike Trout.  MOP candidates?  Probably Trout and Bryant still, though Scherzer has a case (and he won the Cy Young here too)
  • 2015: MVPs were Bryce Harper and Josh Donaldson.  MOP candidates: Harper and Trout.  Harper was head and shoulders above anyone this season, as was Trout (who lost b/c his team was bad).
  • 2014: MVPs were Clayton Kershaw and Mike Trout: MOP candidates?  Kluber and Kershaw (both were cy Young winners).

So, of the last 10 MVPs, i’d say that half of them were not also the “MOP” that year.  That’s half the MVPs, even given more modern thinking in voting for the award.


anyway, to the predictions:

  • AL MVP:  Alex Bregman
  • NL MVP: Cody Bellinger
  • AL Cy Young: Gerrit Cole
  • NL Cy Young: Jacob deGrom
  • AL Rookie: Yordan Alvarez
  • NL Rookie: Pete Alonso
  • AL Manager: Rocco Baldelli, Minnesota
  • NL Manager: Mike Shildt, St. Louis

Discussion/Reasoning

  • AL MVP: Even though Trout plays for a crummy team, and even though he missed most of Sept with injury, I think he may win.  But Houston’s clean-up hitter Alex Bregman provides a pretty compelling case from a value perspective.  If two players have the same WAR but one plays for a 107 win team and the other’s team didn’t win 70 … i think we know who should win.  I like Betts and Matt Chapman to get votes here too.  Not sure which Yankee gets the “best player on the playoff team” votes for them.  It wouldn’t completely shock me if Trout won in a close vote, but I’ll go Bregman for now.
  • NL MVP: It was probably a neck-and-neck battle between Bellinger and Christian Yelich, who had exploded in the 2nd half to “catch” Bellinger’s monstrous first  half.  But a season-ending knee injury costs Yelich the bulk of September, likely ending his chances.  I think it goes Bellinger 1, Yelich 2, and then maybe the Nats Anthony Rendon getting some down-ballot love.  Also look for Ronald Acuna to get votes, as the “best player on the playoff team” for Atlanta.
  • AL Cy Young: Cole going away, with his teammate Justin Verlander 2nd.  What a late-career arc for Verlander.  I initially thought Verlander might get this with some sympathy votes, but Cole’s narrative was so dominant (as were his stats) and his 2nd  half so incredible that I find it hard to believe he won’t take the prize.
  • NL Cy Young.  This was absolutely Hyung Jin Ryu‘s award to lose for most of the season.  Then it looked like Scherzer’s to lose until he got hurt … which has opened the door for DeGrom to repeat.  I think Strasburg‘s ERA will look too high as compared to deGrom’s despite his career year.
  • AL Rookie: Dating back to perhaps mid last season, when it became clear that Toronto was manipulating his service time, this was Vladimir Guerrero Jr’s award to lose.  And, despite all the hype, he probably has lost it thanks to a pretty medicore first half.  it took him months to get going, eventually heating up in August to post nearly a 1,000 OPS for month.  Might be too little too late to catch Houston’s slugger Alvarez, who has top-of-the-leaderboard wRC figures.
  • NL Rookie: Alonso hit 53 homers; how can you not give him the ROY?  Understood there’s other qualified names, but Alonso’s accomplishments make him pretty famous, and makes him a shoe-in for this award.  No point in mentioning 2nd place here; this should be unanimous.
  • AL Manager: Baldelli wins the award for “most surprising AL team” to get the Mgr.  Everyone knew the Yankees and Astros would be good.  Maybe Oakland’s manager (Bob Melvin) or Tampa’s manager (Kevin Cash) gets votes or wins outright.  Maybe Yankees manager (Aaron Boone) gets some credit for navigating the myriad of injuries he has to face.
  • NL Manager: Shildt wins here out of apathy.  The NL race was mostly decided in the West before the season started, so hard to give it to Dave Roberts.  We knew Atlanta could repeat, so hard to make an argument for Brian Snitker.  the NL race was more about teams flailing that should have been better (Chicago Cubs, Washington Nationals, maybe even Philadelphia too).  Maybe i’m wrong and the press sees the recovery job the Nats did this year and gives it to Martinez.

Finalists announced on  11/5/19;  i didn’t miss any of my top candidates, but was kind of surprised by some of the finalists.


Actual Award Results added as they were awarded (updated post-publishing).  Voting results on baseball-reference.com for 2019 BBWAA awards.

  • AL MVP: Mike Trout in a close one over Bregman, 17-13 in 1st place votes
  • NL MVP: Bellinger in a tight one as well.
  • AL Cy Young: Justin Verlander 17-13 in 1st place votes over Gerrit Cole.
  • NL Cy Young: deGrom nearly unanimously, with 29/30 1st place votes.  Scherzer 3rd, Strasburg 5th, Corbin 11th.
  • AL Rookie: Alvarez unanimously.  John Means 2nd, Brandon Lowe third, Eloy Jimenez fourth, Cavan Biggio fifth.   Guerrero finished 7th, getting a handful of 3rd place votes.
  • NL Rookie: Alonso with 29/30 votes.    Mike Soroka 2nd,  Fernando Tatis Jr. 3rd.  Victor Robles finished 6th with one 3rd place vote.
  • AL Manager: Baldelli, edging out Boone.
  • NL Manager: Schildt barely over Counsell.

My prediction results: 6 for 8.    I switched out original guesses that would have had me 8 for 8 by over-thinking things.  I do like that Trout was not penalized for his performance, and kind of remained surprised Bregman didn’t win in the end.


 

Links to other awards that I didn’t predict this year (again, updated post-publishing as they’re announced)

Other links to awards worth noting

  • MLB.com Players/Pitchers/Rookies of the Month.
  • Players choice awards:
  • Esurance MLB Awards:

Ranking the top Nats post-season games of all time

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The new Nats #1 all -time game. Photo via nytimes.com

The new Nats #1 all -time game. Photo via nytimes.com

In the wake of the 2019 World Series run, I thought (while its fresh in everyone’s mind) it’d be a fun one to try to rank all the Nats post-season games.

I put in my top 10, then put in all the other candidates in chronological order.  For years I had a running list that conflated regular season exploits and post-season glory; now there’s so many games to consider just from 2019 that I’ve separated them in my (future) larger list of Best and Worst games.  As it turns out, I’ve got 8 of our top 10 post-season games now being from the 2019 run.

Feel free to discuss and tell me i’m wrong.  Nicely please :-)

Greatest Nats Post Season Games:

  1. October 30th, 2019: WS Game 7 win.  Scherzer throws 5 heroic innings, the Nats beat Greinke with a Rendon homer and a Kendrick homer to seal it, then run away to take Game 7.
  2. October 9th, 2019: NLDS Game 5Howie Kendrick caps a come-from-behind win with a grand slam in the 10th to exorcise the Nats playoff daemons and seal their first ever playoff series win, 7-3 over the Dodgers.
  3. October 29th 2019: WS Game 6 win; Strasburg masterpiece, Turner controversy at first, Rendon homer exploits, another elimination game rally.  This game had it all.
  4. October 11th, 2012NLDS Game 4Jayson Werth walk-off homer in an epic battle against Lance Lynn, hitting the 13th pitch of the at-bat (!!) on a line-drive into the seats.  Ironic that what I think is the most special game in Nats franchise history occurred the day before what I consider to be the worst game in franchise history.  (note; thanks to my former coworker Eric Hay for correcting me on my pitch count memory here in the comments).
  5. October 1st, 2019come-from-behind Wild Card win over Milwaukee on Juan Soto‘s bases-clearing single in the 8th against super reliever Josh Hader.  First ever franchise “win-or-go-home” victory.
  6. October 11th, 2019: NLCS Game 1: Anibal Sanchez keeps a no-hitter into the 8th and the team blanks St. Louis to steal game one on the road and set the tone for what became a 4-0 sweep.
  7. October 9th, 2016NLDS Game 2 comeback win over the Dodgers: after dropping the first game in a missed opportunity, the Nats fell behind quickly 2-0 and the crowd was quiet, worried and lethargic.  That all ended when the team put some runners on base for Jose Lobaton, who clubbed a 3-run homer into a stiff wind coming in from left; the crowd exploded, the team relaxed and they tacked on a couple of runs later for a 5-2 win.
  8. October 12th, 2019: NLCS Game 2: Scherzer throws seven innings of one hit dominant ball to power the Nats to the win and the surprising two game sweep on the road.
  9. October 22nd, 2019: WS Game 1: The offense surprisingly gets to Astros ace Gerritt Cole while Scherzer holds on for the shock game 1 win in Houston.
  10. October 23rd, 2019: WS Game 2: The Nats explode on Astros pitching for 12 runs to shock the baseball world and take a 2-0 series lead.

I’m putting the 2019 WC winner just below the Werth homer.  I realize this is not a popular take; I like the way that frequent commenter MarkL put it in a discussion just after the WC game:  “[the WC winner] excitement level is #2 after the Werth game but #1 in importance.”  I agree with that sentiment.  If the Soto hit had been a walk-off we wouldn’t be having this argument; it’d easily be #1.  But its ok for a non-clinching game to be considered great; consider that most pundits put Game 6 of the 1975 World Series (aka the “Fisk  homer”) as the greatest game of the last 50 years…. and it was won by a team that went out the next day and lost game 7.  It doesn’t matter in the end, since the Kendrick homer trumped them both, and then the WS winner trumped all.

Post season honorable mentions (in chronological order):

  • October 7th, 2012: NLDS Game 1: 2-run rally in the 8th on Tyler Moore‘s flair to beat the Cardinals in St. Louis in the first ever playoff game for the team.  In theory it should have completely set up the Nats to cruise through the series.  Didn’t quite happen that way (see worst games ever).
  • October 6th, 2014: NLDS Game 2: Beating Madison Bumgarner in the 2014 NLDS; our only 2014 post-season win and the only time Bumgarner lost that post-season.
  • October 10th, 2016NLDS Game 3, a win in Los Angeles 8-3 to grab back home field advantage and put themselves on the brink of advancing.
  • October 7th, 2017: NLDS Game 2: Behind homers from Bryce Harper and Ryan Zimmerman, the Nats dump 5 runs in the bottom of the 8th on the Cubs to turn what was looking like a 2-0 series deficit into a 6-3 victory.
  • October 11th, 2017: NLDS Game 4: Stephen Strasburg shakes off illness and pitches the game of his life, punching out 12 in 7 scoreless innings in an elimination NLDS game against Chicago.  Michael Taylor squeaks out a grand-slam in the 8th to turn a 1-0 nail-biter into a 5-0 win to force a decisive game 5 back home.
  • October 4th, 2019: NLDS Game 2: Nats jump on Clayton Kershaw early, Strasburg shuts down the Dodgers to steal a game on the road
  • October 14th, 2019: NLCS Game 3:  Nats score four in the 3rd to set the tone and run away in Game 3, nearly guaranteeing the series win behind another dominant Strasburg performance.
  • October 15th, 2019: NLCS Game 4: A shocking 7 run first was all the team needed to complete the sweep at home behind a rocking crowd and move onto the World Series.
  • October 8th, 2019: NLDS Game 4: Scherzer dominates the Dodgers in a NLDS win-or-go-home Game 4 at Nats park, Zimmerman blasts a 3-run homer to put the team ahead for good, and the Nats push the series back to LA for Game 5.

Unbelievably, the 2019 Nats are WS champs!

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They did it. Photo via nytimes.com

They did it. Photo via nytimes.com

The final  unbelievable act in an unbelievable season has come to pass.  The cardiac kids overcame yet another 2019 playoff elimination in-game deficit (their 5th of the post-season I believe) to rally in the late innings for an improbable win.

Only this time, it was in Game 7 of a World Series that they were 2-1 underdogs in at the start and in which they got swept on home soil.

Game thoughts:

  • Max Scherzer pitched better than i thought he would, but labored to get through 5 innings on more than 100 pitches.
  • Zack Greinke was pitching the absolute game of his life, and I thought this team was done for in the 6th.
  • For all the scorn heaped on Patrick Corbin … damn what an outing.  Three scoreless innings, faces just one over the min, gets the W in game 7.  Bravo.
  • Anthony Rendonhe continued to make himself a lot of money with his off-season.  Same with Strasburg (a subject for another day).
  • Kendrick finally came alive to win it for the team.  Eaton had a heck of a game.  Soto; well, nobody in America will be surprised by Soto again after this post-season.

Now, some more detailed thoughts on the absolute butchering of the pitching management by Houston’s manager A.J. Hinch.

  • Why would you possibly take out a guy in Greinke who had completely flummoxed the Nats lineup for 6+ innings in that situation?  He was on just 80 pitches.  Yes he’d given up a homer to Rendon, and yes he’d walked Soto … but that’s the two most dangerous hitters in the lineup.  Once you get past Soto, you have to favor your chances against our 5-9 (with all due respect to Kendrick of course).  I couldn’t believe our fortunes there, to move on from Greinke and get into the suspect bullpen.  Was Greinke gassed?  On 80 pitches?  Was he giving up a ton of sharp hit balls?  Rendon’s homer was hit hard, sure, but it was also a rare mistake from a guy who had been painting corners all night.  You pitch around Soto b/c you don’t want him to beat  you.  I just couldn’t believe this over-managing move.
  • Then, instead of bringing Gerritt Cole or his closer … he goes with Will Harris.  Ok.  I guess you could have looked at  Harris’ numbers prior to this inning this post season and said, “oh that’s their stopper.”  But he’s clearly  not better than Greinke.  So it was karma when 3 pitches later Kendrick gets a lucky homer off the foul pole.  Just amazing turn of luck.
  • NOW he goes to his closer Osuna.  Still no Cole, who was idly throwing the ball in the pen.
  • Then, in the next inning, he leaves in his one-inning closer to runout of gas and give up another run.
  • THEN in the next inning he cycles through more of his ineffective bullpen, who leaks two more demoralizing runs to make the 9th a coronation.
  • Cole?  Sitting on his ass in the bullpen.  Peacock?  burned last night.  he eventually goes with 4th starter Jose Urquidy to stop the bleeding, 5 runs too late.

I was texting along with friends throughout all of this, calling the debacle as it happened.  Houston deserved their fate here for pulling an effective starter 30 pitches too early.    And the Nats made them pay.

Go Nats!  This is a long time coming.  A long time coming for everyone who was there at the beginning, helped support this team for years before they actually began trying, who stuck with them as they tried to find their way.

 

WS Game 1 quick recap; shocking win for Nats

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Can't even buy a beer; but he's already a post-season star. Photo via NYpost

Can’t even buy a beer; but he’s already a post-season star. Photo via NYpost

So, in my preview, I thought that the Nats really could “steal” one of the two games in Houston.   I never thought they’d steal game 1 by getting to Gerrit Cole.  But they did; putting more runs on him (5) in just a handful of innings than he’d given up in 22+ across three previous post season starts.  So much for narrative.  And I don’t think he pitched “badly” per se; i think the Nats just hit the ball well and made him pay for upper-zone fastball misses like other teams have not.

Hand it to this team; this was a complete team effort to win.   Max Scherzer just didn’t look sharp on the night, burning through nearly 110 pitches in 5 innings.  He didn’t seem like he had any command of his off-speed stuff, and Houston is just too good of a hitting team to not make you pay.  Patrick Corbin worked his way through his mid-start relief inning (notably; does this push his start to game 4 instead of game 3?  Not a bad idea honestly if you think Anibal Sanchez is the hotter hand to take possibly two post-season starts), Daniel Hudson bailed out the shaky outing from Tanner Rainey, and Sean Doolittle kept it together to close it out.  Great pitcher management on the night; Davey Martinez did not hesitate to yank Rainey and keep the inning from getting out of hand.

Then there’s the hitting: up and down the order, the Nats made it happen.  Credit to Ryan Zimmerman for putting the team back into the game, of course credit to “working his way towards a post-season MVP award” Juan Soto for having a game of the ages on the biggest possible stage.  But up and down the order, this team got timely hits.

I thought the Nats might be able to get to Verlander in game 2; can they possibly take two games on foreign soil again?

One other point: one through nine, this Astros lineup is stacked (well, at least 1-7).  Geeze.  All night i’m chewing nails watching them try to get through this order.  Giving up “only” four runs seemed like an accomplishment; the Nats are going to have to hit this series moreso than I thought just to keep up.

WS Pitching Preview: Nats vs Astros

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Corbin is the key to this series. Photo via Arizona republic

Corbin is the key to this series. Photo via Arizona republic

The 2019 World Series is here.  And boy does it look like its going to be a heck of a pitching duel.  Thanks to the Astros finishing off the Yankees in 6 games, they (like our Nats) are able to perfectly setup their rotation as they wish.  Which means … wow we’re going to have some pitching duels.

Here’s a preview of the pitching matchups, with my predictions game by game.

  • Game 1; 10/22/19: Was@Hou: Max Scherzer vs Gerrit Cole: Cole is either finishing 1st or 2nd in AL Cy Young voting and has been unhittable this post season (3 starts, 22 2/3rds innings, 10 hits, 8 walks, just ONE earned run, 32 Ks).  So its going to be a tall task to get to him in Game 1.  Scherzer is Big Game Max: he got hit a bit in the WC game, but his three NLCS and NLDS appearances are pretty solid: 15 innings and one earned run vs the Dodgers and Cardinals, including a 1-hit 7 inning domination of St. Louis in Game 2 to really put the series out of reach.  Prediction?  I think Cole continues his hot streak and out-duels Scherzer in a 1-0 or a 2-1 type game.
  • Game 2: 10/23/19: Was@Hou: Stephen Strasburg vs Justin Verlander: Verlander likely wins the Cy Young (if it isn’t Cole) thanks to an amazing age 36 season … but he’s been quite hittable this post-season.  He’s got 4 starts, has given up 10 runs in 23 innings.  Strasburg has not been hittable, this off-season or any other; he continues to put up Sandy Koufax esque post-season numbers; he got hit in LA but held on to keep the team in the game, then blew away St. Louis.  I like Strasburg here and think the Nats can sneak a win in game 2.
  • Game 3: 10/25/19: Hou@Wash: Zack Greinke vs Patrick Corbin: i wonder what Arizona fans are thinking when they watch this game.  Greinke might be the best #3 starter in the game, or maybe Corbin is.  Greinke got knocked out by Tampa in the NLDS, and wasn’t lights out or anything in the NLDS either; the Nats can score runs against him.  Corbin has also been hit or miss this post-season, with an ugly 7+ ERA despite striking out 26 in 13 innings.  The Astros hit the ball, irrespective of lefty or righty, so this game might be one where the bullpens of both teams get exposed a bit.  Can Corbin make it happen?  One good thing going for him; he’s significantly better at home vs on the road (2.40 ERA versus 4.18 ERA away).  Of course … Greinke shows reverse H/A splits himself, and is no stranger to playing the Nats (he dominated the Nats in June, shutting them down in our park to the tune of 7ip, 2h).  I think Astros can get back home-field advantage here.
  • Game 4: 10/26/19: Hou@Wash: Bullpen vs Anibal Sanchez: Game 4 could be interesting; the Astros don’t really have a 4th starter they trust; they’ve gotten to this point riding their big 3 starters and getting by with openers and bullpen games otherwise.  So this could be former Nat Brad Peacock or perhaps Wade Miley, who seemed to be their 4th starter all season but who didn’t even appear in the ALCS.  Can Sanchez do what he did again against St. Louis?  Can a bullpen game shutdown the Nats?  I like the Nats here to get a solid start and to get at the slightly-hittable Houston bullpen.
  • Game 5: 10/27/19: Cole vs Scherzer: You think big-game Max is losing a home start?  I don’t think so.  The Nats get to Cole and take a 3-2 series lead heading back to Houston.
  • Game 6: 10/29/19: Verlander vs Strasburg: Verlander recovers and pitches the game of his life to push the series to Game 7.
  • Game 7: 10/30/19: Corbin vs Greinke: Nats get to Greinke again, Corbin gets hit … game turns into a bullpen game … Nats pull another late-inning come back and win in 7.

Sound good?

One thing I did want to point out.  There’s a very solid sportswriter narrative out there that teams can get “cold” with long layoffs like the Nats have had.  And there’s some SSS proof that indeed teams who sweep have a struggle in the series.  Teams are just 1 for 9 in the World Series after sweeping the LCS in four games since 1985 (when the LCS was expanded to 7 games).  See https://sports.yahoo.com/tbs-crew-explains-nationals-avoid-044927265.html (thanks Luke Erickson for the link, which you can also find on ESPN and other places).   This is obviously worrisome for the Nats, who have taken some steps to stay hot.  On the one hand, I think a veteran team will benefit from the longer layoff to rest muscles and get bodies ready to go.  I think Victor Robles will cherish the time to let his leg heal a bit.  And of course, the rest lets all the starters (most of whom were pulling double duty starting and relieving) to rest up and get into their regular schedules.   On the other hand …. 1 for 9.  And they’re going against a 107-win team.

One other thing worth pointing out: the four games in the AL gives the Nats a unique opportunity to finally be able to play their best defensive roster and stick MVP Howie Kendrick in the DH spot.  I like having Asdrubal Cabrera in the lineup with his switch-hitting bat and veteran approach and his better-than-Kendrick defense.   That’s huge for this team.

 

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?