Nationals Arm Race

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

Archive for the ‘max scherzer’ tag

GM for a day (or an off-season): what do you do to this team for 2016?


Picture at the top of his C.V. that he'll be updating this off-season. Photo Nats official 2014 via

Picture at the top of his C.V. that he’ll be updating this off-season. Photo Nats official 2014 via

How about some navel gazing to start the off-season?  2015 was a train wreck, both on the field (the projected opening day line up played together exactly 2 games out of 162 and there were something like 15 D/L trips among the projected starters this season) and off (the Barry Svrluga series at the Washington Post literally made me say “Wow” audibly while I sat alone reading the stories).  What can this team really do to right the ship for next year?

Now, I realize the questions “What *should* they do?” and “What *will* they do?” are two completely separate questions.  I have no idea what they will actually do; its hard to read Mike Rizzo and the Ted Lerner-led ownership group.  We often hear that Rizzo has an “ego” and is sometimes afraid to admit mistakes.  We hear rumors that Lerner is in bed with Scott Boras and has gone over Rizzo’s head to sign players Rizzo may not have actually wanted (Rafael Soriano, Jonathan Papelbon?).  But we’re not blessed with a hidden camera inside the boardroom of the Nationals management offices, so its mostly speculation.  In fact, Svruluga’s stories really led the reader to believe that the Papelbon acquisition was Rizzo’s idea as a consolation prize to acquiring Chapman or Kimbrel.  So who knows.

This post is about what I’d do.  From a front-office/managerial perspective:

  1. Fire Matt Williams.  Sorry, the evidence is too overwhelming at this point.  Here’s some quick qualifications for the manager i’d like to see: able to communicate properly, isn’t a Micro managing inflexible drill sergeant, knows how to read a Run-Expectancy chart, knows how to properly set a lineup, realizes that saves are useless and isn’t afraid to throw his best pitcher when needed, understands that bunting was exposed as mostly useless 10 years ago, is open to new ideas about usage, shifting, matchups and statistics in general, listens to his coaches, understands that sometimes the 23 yr old precocious rookie is actually a better player than the 38 year old vet on an 9-figure deal, and lastly, relates to the frigging players.  Shouldn’t be too hard.  Oh one more thing; I want someone who has actually managed a f*cking major league team before.
  2. I don’t have an opinion on the rest of the staff but would go under the general theory that a new manager wants his own staff in place.  Who knows if hitting coaches, pitching coaches, bench coaches, bullpen coaches and 1st/3rd base coaches have any impact on the players.  Hard to prove one way or the other; if the team hits well, the Hitting Coach is a genius.  If the team can’t hit … the hitting coach gets canned.  I like Steve McCatty … but hey, a new manager deserves his own coaches.
  3. Keep Rizzo, but have a serious talk with him about clubhouse chemistry and roster construction and the clear effects their actions have had over the years.  Its really simple: when a guy who’s been with the organization is given an under-market, professionally insulting extension contract offer and then you give $210M to some outsider … that’s “Baaaaaaaad” for morale.  When you tell everyone you can’t “afford” to keep Tyler Clippard (great clubhouse guy, grown up in the organization, thrown 70+ innings year after year for you) because he makes $8.5M …but then you bring in a clubhouse disaster like Papelbon at $11M to replace your UNION REPRESENTATIVE and all around well liked guy Drew Storen, you may have some downstream issues.  Oh; one other thing: take your ego and throw it away and stop trading away useful bullpen parts like Jerry Blevins because he had the audacity of challenging you in arbitration over $200k.  You either are or are not on a budget; $200k represented exactly 0.125% of the $160M payroll of 2015.  That’s like killing a deal for a $500,000 house over a $625 bill for something or another.  Its nothing and it should not have been a factor in the 25-man roster construction.  That Blevins got hurt for New York or that Felipe Rivero (his replacement) worked out isn’t the point.
  4. Budget: here’s a brilliant idea; if Lerner is “freezing” the budget mid-season, then SAVE SOME PAYROLL MONEY for mid-season acquisitions.  Look what the frigging Mets were able to accomplish this trade deadline by being flexible with their payroll and their prospects; they completely remade that team, bought a clubhouse presence and just raced ahead of the Nats.  (Tangent: For  you “clubhouse chemistry is BS” proponents, can you still tell me with a straight face that the 2015 fortunes of the Mets and Nationals had NOTHING to do with chemistry?)

Now, assuming that the Nats are going to reign back in the budget slightly from their $160M plus payroll in 2015:

  1. Let 8 of the 9 FAs go.  Zimmermann, Uggla, Fister, Desmond, Span, McLouth, Janssen and Johnson.  This frees up approximately $60M in payroll.  You’re going to need some of it in arb extensions (there’s 8 arbitration cases pending though we may trade/non-tender a couple).
  2. I’d try to resign just one of my FAs: Matt Thornton.  I think he’s done a pretty good job as a situational lefty.
  3. I’d offer Qualifying Offers to Zimmermann, Desmond and Span but not Fister.  Both Zimmermann and Desmond turned down significant deals to stay here and have made their beds at this point.  I think the team has made the decision to not allocate money there and go with internal options.  I don’t think any of the three take the QO, not even Span.  Why?  Because Span just hired Scott Boras and Boras will tell Span there’s a long term contract to be had in the market.  Span didn’t hire Boras so he could take a one-year Qualifying Offer (deeper discussion on QOs for the Nats pending FAs was previously done here: To Qualifying Offer, or not to Qualifying Offer (2015 version).
  4. I havn’t done major analysis of Tender/Non-Tender cases yet but the only guy seemingly in jeopardy of a non-tender is Tyler Moore; discussed more below.  Maybe David Carpenter too depending on the severity of his shoulder injury.
  5. Rule-5: this is more about the 25-man roster and not the edges of the 40-man; we’ll do a separate rule-5 post later on.

So, this leaves the 25-man roster looking like this for 2016 as a starting point;

  • Rotation: Scherzer, Strasburg, Gonzalez, Ross and Roark
  • Bullpen: Papelbon, Storen, Treinen, Thornton, Rivero, ? and ?
  • Inf: Rendon, Turner, Escobar, Zimmerman, Ramos
  • OF: Harper, Taylor, Werth
  • Bench: Robinson, Moore, Espinosa, Lobaton, den Dekker?

What do we need?  In order: bullpen, lefty hitters, backups and maybe rotation competition.  Every projected starter save Harper hits righty right now and that just needs to change.

So, section by section (using the  mlbtraderumors 2016 FA list for reference):

Rotation: Could the team go shopping for a 5th starter?  I like Roark and don’t think his 2013 and 2014 seasons were flukes, but the team doesn’t seem to rate him.  I like Ross as #3 and think he’s locked in based on his performance this year.  Depth wise, we have Giolito who probably will be ready for the rotation by mid 2016; he could see action as an injury call up if need be.  I have little faith in the rest of the upper-minors depth right now.  Cole, Jordan, Hill have all disappointed at the majors and may be traded for other spare parts.  I like Treinen and Rivero … they are both former starters but both have struggled at times and seem likely to stay in the pen.  I don’t think this is a high priority to supplement the rotation but I could see it.  Maybe Voth gets a shot next year if we get shredded with injuries.  Reynaldo Lopez and Erick Fedde are really more like 2017 options unless the Nats get creative and put Lopez’ 100mph heat in the bullpen short term (not the worst idea…)  Rotation wise, I think they have bigger fish to fry and will stand pat with what they have.

Bullpen; Thanks to the ridiculous choking incident, I think the team needs to part ways with Papelbon.  Won’t be easy; he’s due $11M next  year, his performance tailed off badly, he’s proven once again in his third organization out of three that he’s a bad apple, and he has a partial no-trade.  I’m sure his wife will be happy; reportedly they *just* bought a $2.9M house in Alexandria, like the day before he choked his teammate on national TV.  (side note: why would they buy if he was only here for another year??  That just doesn’t seem like the best investment.  Now they have a brand new property that they have to ditch).  Worst comes to worse, they have to release him to eat $11M.

If they part ways with Papelbon, what do they do with Storen?  I think Storen still demands a trade; this organization has jerked him around enough times, has now gotten not one but two higher-paid veteran closers to replace him despite regular season numbers that looked just fine each time.  Problem is: The FA market for “closers” is pretty weak (there’s just one closer on the market: Joaquin Soria); maybe if Papelbon is gone the organization makes right by Storen and lets him reprise the role.  Of course, on the flip side, the trade market for closers should be pretty good as a result and maybe Rizzo can spin some gold like he did with the Matt Capps trade.  If Papelbon leaves, maybe they kiss and make up with Storen and give him a bigger-than-he-deserves arbitration award and makes him happy.

Even if they keep Storen, the team still needs to acquire two good power arms for the 7th/8th inning.  I like Treinen, Thornton and Rivero to reprise their roles (Rivero in particular is intriguing; he can hit 100 from the left hand side, a rarity.  Too bad he doesn’t have a 3rd pitch or i’d be asking why he isn’t in the rotation).  They’ll get Stammen back so that’s a good 7th inning righty.  Barrett may miss the whole of 2016 so he’s not an option.  Carpenter’s got a shoulder injury and was AAA fodder anyway.  They can fill the long man with Roark if he gets replaced in the rotation or someone else like our spare starters (Cole, Hill, Jordan).  They could buy a whole lotta good will with the fans and re-sign Clippard.  How about someone like Jim Johnson, who kind of re-made himself with his closer performance in Atlanta, to be your 8th inning guy?  How does this look like for 2016:

  • Storen, Clippard/Johnson, Treinen, Stammen, Thornton, Rivero and someone like Cole as your long man
  • bullpen depth:  de los Santos, Davis, Martin, Solis, Grace, Carpenter (if he’s ready to go for 2016)

Still kind of thin; how many of those “depth” guys proved they were ready to go in the majors this year?  Are there any guys on the rise in the system who could make sense to push for a spot next year?  How much would you pay for someone like Clippard on the open market?  Maybe we’re going to see some kind of blockbuster trade where we acquire the surplus of arms we need.

Infield: seems rather set; Turner is a ready made replacement for Desmond.  Healthy Rendon at 3B is a 5-win player.  Escobar more than earned his money this year and defensively makes more sense at 2B where he can do less damage.  Zimmerman isn’t going anywhere (except back to the D/L for the millionth time in his career).  Espinosa remains one more year as the backup infielder and the team finds an additional utility guy from within (Difo?) or in the FA market for backup purposes.  Ramos was finally healthy for a whole season … and took a huge step back at the plate; do we try to replace him?  We could go for someone like a Matt Weiters, who hits lefty and addresses a need and flip Ramos for something we need like bullpen or bench depth.

Outfield: Harper and Werth are set in the corners .. .Werth for better or worse.  Is his 2015 the start of his decline or an injury excuse?  He’s got a no-trade and makes a ton of money and seems locked into LF as long as he’s here.  Question marks remain about Taylor; is he a starter or a 4th OF?  I think the Nats will pursue a lefty hitting outfielder, then position Harper in either CF or RF depending on the abilities of the acquisition.  The name Gerardo Parra keeps popping up; they liked him at the trade deadline and could pursue him again.  Or, if Span inexplicably takes the QO, there’s your lefty CF for 2016.  Jayson Heyward is a lefty but doesn’t add much punch and is going to be crazy expensive.

How about a radical realignment: Zimmerman goes to LF to make way for a lefty hitting 1B like Chris Davis; Harper to center, Werth back in RF, Taylor the 4th OF.  That’d give the team another lefty, a ton more power (imagine a lineup with both Harper and Davis?, and would fit in the budget even if Davis gets something like 6/$100M or so.  Or do you say “Davis is a nightmare FA contract waiting to happen when he starts inevitably declining and/or his Ritalin prescription runs out” and not commit money in this fashion?  I could buy that argument absolutely.  How likely is this team, really, to extend Bryce Harper for $300M plus?  Are they saving their pennies for that attempt or are they saying “he’s a goner lets just try to win while we have them?”

Bench: the team got a ton from Robinson and Espinosa this year; they’re both back.  Moore?  Probably DFA’d; he’s eligible for arbitration and there’s likely to be a dozen right handed power hitters who could play a corner and pinch hit here and there.  Look for a cattle call of veteran MLFAs like we did for the lefty 1b/LF position that Robinson won this past spring training.  I think the team likes den Dekker as “speedy backup CF outfielder” guy so he likely returns too.  Plus he hits lefty and really hit well in September.  No reason to mess with Lobaton; he gives flexibility at the plate and is cost-contained as a backup C.

Honestly, the core of the team is mostly still intact.  If all these guys were healthy all year and hitting at their 2014 rates, this season would have gone a lot differently.  I think we’ll see a lot of work in the pen and some activity on the fringes, but no major signings and no major trades.  Payroll takes a step back; I can’t tell you how much b/c payroll projections will take time and depend on who gets tendered/re-signed/QO’d, but I could see this team back at $130M heading into 2016.

Does this sound like a winning formula?  Did I miss anything?

That’s all she wrote: Nats officially eliminated


Yes its a cliche. But you laughed. Photo via allthingsd.comYes its a cliche. But you laughed. Photo via

While I thought the season was symbolically “over” when the Nats got swept at home by the Mets in early September (and, if you were looking for the pin-point event that buried them, look no further than the 6-walk bullpen implosion to blow a 7-1 lead), the Mets officially clinched the NL East crown yesterday by virtue of their 10-2 defeat of Cincinnati.

So how ironic is it that this morning, finally, there’s an honest assessment of the clubhouse from one of our beat reporters.  The Washington Post’s Barry Svrluga published a story titled “Manager Matt Williams lost the clubhouse; will he lose his job?”  where he quotes the well known “players who did not wish to be identified” to talk in a wide ranging factor about the ills in the Nationals clubhouse that have been alluded to and reported by National guys all season long.  Apparently, Williams’ “strategy, communication and trust” have all been issues with the players, across the spectrum of vets/rookies and position/pitchers.


Reading the story, I think it has finally dawned on me what the big problem is with Matt Williams and this particular team.  Read this quote: “Some players now wonder whether that management of minutia leaves him unable to adjust, to think on the fly.”

He’s a classic micro manager!  Of course, how obvious was this all along.  I’ve talked frequently about his “color by numbers” managing and his inability to adjust to the situation at hand … but (tying this back to roles we all know from our own workplaces), in reality he’s a classic micro manager who fails to let his veterans do what they have always known how to do, attempting to ramrod in his methods, irritating them so much in the process that they’ve tuned him out.  The signs are all there; his famous spring training rigorous schedules, his detailed plan that he brought to his job interview, his adherence to “bullpen roles” all season costing him game after game.

How would you feel if your boss asked you to write a memo about something or another and then pulled a classic Micro Manager move like sitting over your shoulder while you typed it, editing ever sentence as you wrote it?  You’d probably be irritated at first and then if it persisted for months and months, you’d likely either tune him out, refuse to do the work or just flat out avoid him.  Now imagine if you had no outlet; you’re on a team that spends 8-10 hours a day together in a tight space, takes trips together, is forced to just “deal” with each other for 6 straight months, and you can’t stand your boss.  Yeah; no wonder someone was quoted as saying that the “environment was terrible.”

It is what it is: this 2015 team had a number of well established, long since proven they know what they’re doing veterans.  A handful of them are on long term contracts with no-trades and job security (Werth, Zimmerman, Scherzer), others are seriously accomplished players who have nothing left to prove in this league (Desmond, Escobar, Gonzalez, Span, Fister to a certain extent), and others may be younger but certainly have stated their claim for respect (Harper, Rendon, Strasburg).  I don’t think any of these guys would appreciate being told that their approach is wrong or that their method of preparation isn’t right.

Williams has to go, and the Nats brain-trust needs to really take a hard look at their next manager to make sure they find someone who can properly handle the clubhouse issues that clearly torpedoed this season.  I’m sure some of you will argue that “chemistry” is BS or who will blame this season on injuries or pitching or whatever else.  Fair enough; you can’t exactly quantify human behavior.  But everyone has injuries; hell, the best team in the NL St. Louis lost their Ace starter after just 4 games and are 40 games over .500.  And the Mets by pretty much any measure have been more affected by injury in 2015 than the Nats.

Oh well.  Better luck next year.  As others have said, we’ve just wasted an MVP season from Harper and a precious year of Strasburg; hope 2016 goes better.

I said “Call me when they Sweep Atlanta” …


If the Nats want October baseball, they may want to think about how to beat this guy.  Photo: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

If the Nats want October baseball, they may want to think about how to beat this guy. Photo: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

In the comment thread of the last post, I said something along the lines of “call me when the Nats sweep Atlanta.”

Well, they just did that.  They did what they were supposed to do, had some luck, got some clutch hitting (thanks Matt den Dekker) and swept Atlanta at home.  They picked up 2 games on the Mets, who sputtered in Miami.

… and then they go and drop the ONE “sure thing” match-up in this series.  Our “Ace” Max Scherzer craps the bed yet again (He now has a 4.52 ERA in the 14 starts since his no-hitter/one-hitters in June) versus the Mets’ #5 starter Jon Niese.  After knocking out said #5 starter in the 4th and after scoring 5 runs, the Nats lose again.

Coincidentally, the Nats have now dropped three games 8-5 in the last week, after holding the lead in all three.  Their record on the season when they score 5 or more runs: 45-13 … but they’re just 8-10 when scoring exactly 5 runs.  That’s crazy.

By way of comparison, in 2014 when they scored exactly 5 runs, they were 13-1.  In 2014 when they scored 5 or more runs, they were 57-6.  You want to know why this team is hovering near .500 in September versus running away with the division like they did last year?  There’s a big reason.  13-1 versus 8-10 in games they should be winning; that’s 9 games in the loss column.  Heck, in 2014 when they scored *four* or more runs they were nearly unbeatable, let alone 5 runs.  This year when they score 4 or 5 runs they’re a .500 team (18-17).  That’s an indictment of the starters *and* the bullpen, two areas that were supposed to be locked down this year.

Can this team beat Matt Harvey and Jacob deGrom in the next two nights to salvage this series? They have their work cut out for them;

  • In 4 starts against Washington this year Harvey is 2-1 with a 0.98 ERA, having given up just 18 hits in 27 innings.
  • In 4 starts against Washington this year, deGrom is 1-2 with a 3.47 ERA, having given up 20  hits in 23.1 innings.

Not out of the realm of possible, given the way they’re scoring runs (they’ve scored 5 or more runs in 9 of their last 10 games).  But the Nats starters need to do some work.  We need our trio of “Aces” to do more than what Scherzer did yesterday.

ps: Bryce Harper is right; why the F are fans leaving in the 7th on a holiday weekend day game??  It isn’t like its a tuesday night on a school night and you’ve got to get the kids to bed.  No excuse.  I’d be pissed too.

Written by Todd Boss

September 8th, 2015 at 9:22 am

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


The Nats post-All Star game gauntlet of opposing Starting Pitchers


Hard to win games when you're going against guys like this for two straight weeks.  Photo via

Hard to win games when you’re going against guys like this for two straight weeks. Photo via

The Nats just finished being swept at the hands of our closest divisional rival, and the natives seem to be getting a bit restless.

I’m not worried.  You know why?  The Nats just finished one of the most brutal stretches of opposing pitchers I can ever remember.  To wit, here’s what they had to face coming out of the all star break:

  • LA: Bolsinger, Kershaw, Greinke
  • Mets: Harvey, DeGrom, Snydergaard
  • Pitt: Liriano, Locke, Burnett, Cole
  • Miami: Fernandez, Koehler, Haren
  • Mets: Harvey, DeGrom, Snydergaard

The 16 starters they’ve had to face since the All Star game include:

  • Six 2015 All-Stars (Kershaw, Greinke, DeGrom twice, Burnett and Cole)
  • The 2015 all-star game *starter* in Greinke
  • The two-time defending Cy Young winner in Kershaw
  • The guy who probably *would* have won the Cy Young in 2013 had he not gotten hurt (Harvey)
  • The last two NL Rookies of the Year (DeGrom and Fernandez)
  • Seven guys ranked in the top 20 in all of baseball for ERA, not to mention 4 of the top 10 and the two best in Greinke and DeGrom.
  • Five guys ranked in the top 15 in the game for pure fastball velocity (Snydergaard, Fernandez, Cole, deGrom and Harvey).
  • At least half of these guys being what i’d call an “Ace” in this league, and a handful more that are easily #2’s.

That’s just a brutal stretch.  By my estimates, I had the Nats with a favorable pitching match-up just three times in their first 16 games back: Zimmermann over Bolsinger (a win), Scherzer over Locke (a bad loss), and Scherzer over Haren (a 1-0 squeaker win).  Certainly I did not have us with a favorable matchup in any of the 3 games this weekend, and it was little surprise to me to see us get swept.  I thought we’d be lucky to be at .500 for these 16 games and with some bad luck they ended up this stretch 6-10.

Now here’s the good news.  We should get pretty healthy in the next week or so.  We face Arizona at home with four pitching matchups that favor Washington.  Then Colorado comes to town and are throwing a couple of guys that I’ve frankly never even heard of (Yohan Flande and Eddie Butler).  So a week from now we may be on a 6-1 or 5-2 streak and be back in happy town.

The Nats have been very streaky this year.  With apologies to “arbitrary endpoint” haters, you can divide the season into five neat streaks:

Start Date End Date Wins during Streak Losses during streak Record at end of Streak GB or GA in Division Key moments starting/ending streak
4/6/2015 4/27/2015 7 13 7-13 -8 GB Opening day instability of offense leads to sputtering start.
4/28/2015 5/27/2015 21 6 28-19 +1.5 GA Unbelievable 13-12 win in Atlanta on 4/28 ends 7-13 start to season and kicks off a 21-6 run
5/28/2015 6/19/2015 6 13 34-33 -1.5 GB Strasburg lasts just 5 batters on 5/28 and hits the D/L in Cincinnati
6/19/2015 7/12/2015 14 6 46-38 +2 GA Long road trip/tough schedule stretch ends with dominant Ross performance at home 6/20/15, kicking off easy stretch and full-strength pitching rotation
All star break
7/19/2015 8/2/2015 6 10 54-49 even Brutal stretch of opposing pitchers to start the 2nd half.

And now here we stand, on 8/3/15, even up with the Mets for the division and just a handful of games over .500.  Inarguably the Mets made great moves at the trade deadline.  But remember, they’ll face the same post-TJ decision on Harvey that the Nats did with Strasburg in 2012.  And Snydergaard’s max IP was 133 last year; He’s already at that for 2015 and its just the beginning of August.  Both these guys may be looking at regression or outright damage as they rocket past conservative workloads for 2015.  Will that work to the Nats’ favor?

I still like the Nats offensive capabilities once they’re fully healthy.  Its like getting players at the trade deadline, only you don’t have to bet the farm for them.  Will they hold up through the end of the season?  Will Strasburg return and give us the same level of pitching that Joe Ross has in his absence?  Lets hope so.


Remember this Weekend


Scherzer can't pitch a no-hitter every time; at some point this team needs to start hitting.  Photo via

Scherzer can’t pitch a no-hitter every time; at some point this team needs to start hitting. Photo via

If the playoffs started today, here’s what the match-ups would look like (and frankly the odds of this setup changing seem slim; maybe SF catches Chicago for the 2nd WC but otherwise this seems like it will be the line-up):

  • Chicago Cubs at Pittsburgh for the wild card
  • St. Louis hosting the WC winner
  • Washington traveling to Los Angeles.

And in said short series, with the Nats traveling to Los Angeles, they’d likely face Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke again in games 1 and 2.

Here’s what the LA 1-2 punch just did to our hapless lineup, on the road no less where Kershaw has a significantly worse stats:

There’s not a pundit in the game who doesn’t think the Nats aren’t going to win the NL East.  That they’re in first place while their #1, #2, #4 and #5 hitters sit on the D/L is pretty amazing (or, perhaps more to the point, a pretty bad indictment of our division in 2015).  But the toll is being seen; between outings against Kershaw, Greinke and (just before the all-star break) Johnny Cueto, we now see the effect of such a weak offense.  MLB-wide Aces will absolutely dominate the Nats.  To the point where we could have Cy  Young himself throwing and not have a chance.  If there’s just one or two legitimate hitters in your lineup, you can pitch around them and attack guys who otherwise would be in AAA or on the bench.  As we just saw.

The question is this: can the Nats offense turn this around?  We have now seen this team make the playoffs twice, each time with the best record in the league, and then each time flail out of the playoffs while barely hitting.  In 2012 they hit .232/.290/.393 and in 2014 they hit .164/.222/.258.

Yes we plan on getting everybody back.  Most of our D/L guys are on rehab assignments as we speak actually.  Can they get their expected form back and make this team respectable on offense?  Can Jayson Werth regain his stroke despite recovering from a broken wrist?  Can Denard Span regain his batting stroke despite a chronic back issue?  I’m less worried about Zimmerman and Rendon; they just need time and luck to stay on the field despite leg/foot issues, and both those guys profile as the kind of middle-of-the-order hitter that would give the Nats lineup some potency back (not to mention some protection for Bryce Harper).

Will it be enough?  Are you worried about looming playoff match-ups?



State of the Nats at the halfway point 2015


Per KW’s comment suggestion, here’s a “State of the Nats” at the halfway point of 2015.

Salient key phrase: “Holding On.”  Lets look at some component parts.


Here’s the full-strength outfield lineup the Nats would optimally like to deploy: Span, Rendon, Harper, Zimmerman, Werth, Desmond, Ramos, Escobar.

Here’s what they lined-up against Red’s ace Johnny Cueto a few days ago: Taylor, Espinosa, Harper, Ramos, Robinson, Uggla, Desmond, den Dekker.  Yeah, its no wonder they wimpered into the night as Cueto threw a 2-hit shutout.  If you’re Cueto, you pitch around Harper (who got a hit and a walk), you attack the rest of the lineup (strike-out prone lead-off hitter Taylor took a hat-trick), and you laugh as you blow through the rest of the lineup (11Ks on the night).

That’s five regulars out, but not just any regulars; the D/L includes your expected #1, #2 #4, and #5 hitters.  Instead they are replaced by a rookie (Taylor), a career minor-leaguer (Robinson), a cast-off veteran failure (Uggla), a career .230 hitter who the team has spent the last 3 years trying to replace (Espinosa) and a 4th/5th outfielder with just a couple hundred MLB at-bats prior to this year (den Dekker).

Frankly, its a miracle the team is in first place.  Only by the grace of Harper’s incredible season does this team manage to stay in games.  For the record, at the halfway point Harper leads the league in bWAR (6.1), OBP, Slugging, OPS and OPS+.  After having a 3-1 K/BB ratio last year, this year he basically has as many walks as strike-outs, one of the primary reasons his average is 60 points higher and his OBP is 130 points higher than it was last year.  Hold your breath that Harper doesn’t crash out and miss a month with some injury like he’s done in the previous seasons.  If he ends the season with this level of an adjusted OPS+, it’ll be one of the 10-12 best offensive seasons in the history of baseball.

Ironically, even given all these injuries the Nats aren’t even close to what some other teams are dealing with; per, we’re not even close to what the Mets, Rangers, Rays or Oakland has had to deal with.  Though I’d venture to say that perhaps the games lost by Nats players are slightly more “important” than the cumulative games lost by some of these other teams.  I don’t care who you are; if you remove four of the top five batters from any team’s lineup, they’d be lucky to be out of the cellar.

The team has gotten absolutely nothing from presumed bench players McLouth and Johnson (Do you think Rizzo will *ever* buy a 4th outfielder for 8-figures again in his life?).  Guys who should be in AAA are getting starts and (at least in the case of Robinson) holding their own.  We talked before the season about where Taylor should be (on the MLB bench or in AAA getting starts) … well he’s getting playing time, for better or worse.  Instead of worrying about whether Moore was going to get DFA’d to make room, we’re *adding* guys to the 40-man like Burriss to help out.


We know about Scherzer.  He’s been amazing, should start the NL All-Star game (of course, he’s scheduled to throw the series ender in Baltimore so we’ll see) and he leads all NL pitchers in bWAR.

What about the rest of the rotation?  Both Fister and Strasburg have missed a  handful of starts, and the Nats have tried a whole AAA-rotation worth of replacements to varying results.  With apologies to “short sample size judgements” I’ll say that Ross was good, Hill has been ok, Cole has been bad, and Jordan has been worse.  Of course, both Cole and Jordan’s delta between ERA and FIP is massive, so their poor ERAs are unlucky to a certain extent.  In the meantime, Ross has a 23/2 K/BB ratio and a FIP of 1.11 in his three starts.  Its safe to say that this person is excited to see what he can do next, and for me he’s at the head of the line for 2016 rotation candidates.

Clearly we know Strasburg has had an off season.  But so has Fister.  And Gonzalez‘ ERA is in the 4’s.   Just how bad is this rotation?  Not as bad as you think; they’re ranked 8th in the league in starter ERA but are 1st in FIP and fWAR.   Last  year they were 1st in all of these categories.  So perhaps we can expect some “progression” in the 2nd half as (hopefully) guys like Strasburg clean up their act and pitch closer to their FIPs than their ERAs.


We knew Rizzo had weakened the bullpen from 2015, which could have been fine had the injury bug not hit.  But the turnover of this bullpen has caught up to the team in some ways.

  • End of 2014: Soriano, Storen, Clippard, Stammen, Thornton, Blevins, and Detwiler.
  • As we stand now: Storen, Janssen, Treinen, Carpenter, Thornton, Rivero, and Roark.

That’s a lot of turnover.  Yes Storen has been typically excellent (as long as its not the post-season, he seems to be one of the most reliable closers in the game).  As we speak, the bullpen is 11th in ERA; last year they were 4th as a bullpen.  Janssen’s injury did not help, as it pushed guys into the 8th inning role they weren’t ready for.  And we saw Treinen and Barrett struggle (3.69 and 5.06 ERA’s respectively).  Granted their FIP shows that those ERAs are unlucky … but those are still runs on the board, blown leads, blown saves.  Roark (predictably) has regressed as he’s pitched in practically every role a pitching staff has (long-man, mop-up, spot-starter, rotation guy, middle reliever, setup guy and even a closer).  Luckily the gambler Rizzo has gotten pretty good performance out of scrap heap guys like Thornton and Carpenter, both of whom have given the team good innings.

Will this last?  It better: there’s practically nothing left in the farm system for reinforcements.  Barrett is set to return soon (probably pushing Carpenter to AAA), but the other options in the minors do not inspire confidence.  Martin got shelled (unfortunately; we were all cheering him on after his call-up and his fantastic start).  Grace and Solis were both mediocre in their auditions, and I can’t quite figure out why Erik Davis is even still on the roster.  Maybe the team will try some more waiver claims or trades (Neftali Felix just got DFA’d…) to shore up middle relief.


Lets talk about streaks.  As of the time of this posting, the Nats season can neatly be fit into these four periods, and then talk about what spurred the beginning/ending of each streak.

  • The Slow Start: 7-13 from opening day through 4/27/15.  The team came out of the game 7-13, thanks to a sputtering offense and a make-shift lineup still trying to gel.
  • The Comeback: 21-6 from 4/28/15 to 5/27/15: Uggla hits his sole homer on the season to spur a pretty incredible 13-12 comeback win in Atlanta, and the team goes on a 21-6 tear following it.
  • Rotational Worries: 6-13 from 5/28/15 to 6/19/15.  Strasburg lasts just 5 batters on his 5/28/15 start, putting 40% of the rotation on the D/L and throwing the rhythm of the pitching staff off.
  • The Kid dazzles: 12-5 from 6/20/15 to 7/9/15; A long road trip/tough schedule stretch ends with a dominant Ross performance at home 6/20/15, kicking off an easy stretch in the schedule and a mostly full-strength pitching rotation.

Definitely a streaky team so far.  At 7-13, they were 8 games back.  At the end of their 21-6 streak, they were 1.5 games up in the division.  Despite their 6-13 stretch the only lost 3 games in the standings as the Mets faltered equally, and as of 7/9/15 they’re still 3 games up despite getting dominated at home by the Reds.

The team is beating who they should be beating (9-3 against Atlanta, 8-5 against Philly).  And they’ve had some success against other teams that are “good” this year (3-1 against the Yankees, 3-0 against Pittsburgh, and a sweep of San Francisco).  But they’re inexplicably bad against Cincinnati (0-5?), Miami (2-4), and were expectedly weak against the rest of the AL East (a combined 3-7 against Boston, Tampa Bay and Toronto).  I’m guessing they’ll struggle against Baltimore this coming weekend since they sputtered against Cincinnati.

Lets just say that the All-Star break is coming at a pretty good time for this team.

Where do we go from here?

The Nats should be healthier coming out of the all-star break.  And they’ll need it; their July schedule is tough.  They host the Dodgers and the Mets to start, then travel to Pittsburgh, Miami and New York.  That’s a slew of games against good teams and their primary divisional rivals.

In August they host some bad teams (Arizona, Milwaukee, Colorado) but they also do their big West Coast trip (at Los Angeles, San Francisco and Colorado).  They also get a 3-game set at St. Louis that could be an eye-opener for where they really stand ahead of the playoffs.  September features practically all divisional games against teams that should all be completely out of it by then, so I forsee a team in cruising mode.

Playoff Outlook

The Nats remain in 1st place despite all their issues, and their closest rival is putting out a lineup that most AAA teams could beat.  Philly is already 30 games under .500.  Miami is 15 games under .500 and just lost their best player.  Atlanta sits around .500 but isn’t really trying for 2015 and won’t spend to compete.  So I think its safe to say the Nats are winning the division.  I’ll guess the Mets hang around since their pitching is so good, but in the end the Nats win the division by at least 10 games.

If the season ended today, Pittsburgh hosts the Cubs in the WC, St. Louis hosts the WC winner and Washington would be traveling to Los Angeles to open the playoffs.  And frankly its hard to see this changing much between now and October 1st.  I don’t think its a stretch to say that the Nats would be underdogs to both the Dodgers and the Cardinals in a playoff series, not unless Strasburg remembers how to pitch again or the offense gets healthy in time.  Are we looking at another first round playoff exit?



Is Ross making the Nats re-think their future rotation strategy?



Joe Ross has been a revalation at the MLB level.  Photo Getty Images via

Joe Ross has been a revelation at the MLB level. Photo Getty Images via

Joe Ross, who it is fair to say was in some respects the “other guy” in the Tampa/San Diego 3-way trade that netted the Nats presumed future shortstop Trea Turner but cost them Steven Souza and prospect Travis Ott, got a somewhat surprising call-up after the starters covering for Doug Fister didn’t quite give the Nats the performance they were looking for.

Three starts later, two of which were easily defined as “dominant,” is it too soon to think that perhaps Ross is a bigger part of the Nats future than the trio of starter prospects we have stashed in Syracuse?

He looked *really good* last night against a team on an 8-game winning streak.  He was making professional hitters look very, very ordinary with his slider.  His slider was so good, he threw it nearly 50% of the time last night and got an astounding 38% whiff rate.  Average fastball of 93.1, max of 96.8 on the night.  Wow.

Small Sample Sizes, of course.  And maybe you could ignore the 11-K performance against the god-awful Brewers.  But Pittsburgh is was hottest team in the league and was mowed down like little leaguers.

At the beginning of this season, if you asked me what the Nats’ rotation was going to look like in the next three transitionary years, I might have said something like this:

  • 2015: Scherzer, Strasburg, Zimmermann, Gonzalez, Fister with Roark as #1 replacement option
  • 2016: Scherzer, Strasburg, Gonzalez, Roark and a battle between Treinen, Cole, Jordan and Hill (in that order) for 5th and 6th spots.
  • 2017: Scherzer, Giolito, Gonzalez, Roark, and a question mark.  Maybe Treinen/Cole, maybe a veteran acquired via FA or trade.  Maybe Lopez if he moves up at the same pace as Giolito.  Who knows.

Now?  I think you have to think Ross has jumped to the top of the list in that 2016 rotational battle, maybe even solidifying his spot.   Does a rotation of Scherzer, Strasburg, Ross, Gonzalez and Roark sound good?  Keep Treinen in the bullpen.  Flip spare depth (Cole, Jordan, Hill) for whatever you can get for them, and make room for the next wave of guys (Giolito, Voth, Lopez, Pivetta).

Wishful thinking?  Perhaps.  We love dreaming on pitching prospects here, but give me  your thoughts.


First Look: Nats top 10 draftees from 2015 Rule-4 Draft


LSU's Andrew Stevenson becomes the Nats highest 2015 draft pick.  Photo via

LSU’s Andrew Stevenson becomes the Nats highest 2015 draft pick. Photo via

As we did for the 2013 draft, and again in 2014, here’s a quick introduction to the Nats top 10 picks for 2015.

Here’s a slew of Draft Prospect rankings that I’ll refer to later on.

As he did last year,‘s Ryan Sullivan live-blogged the draft and does a great job of pulling up stats and observations on each pick.

Draft Links of importance

  • Official 2015 Draft Central home page.
  • MLB’s Awesome Draft Tracker; you can slice and dice the draft 10 different ways, search by schools and home states, etc.
  • Official MLB 2015 Draft Order (Nats first pick is #58 well into the 2nd round, next #69, then #103, then #134 in the 4th round, and then 134+30 picks there-after.
  • Official Draft Bonus Pool totals.  Astros have $17M (most).  Nats have 3rd least at $4.1M.
  • MLB Draft Database
  • Fangraphs Sortable Draft Board; a great new tool Fangraphs has that lets you slice and dice their top draft board.
  • Baseball-Reference Draft Tools: links to their draft database plus some custom reports.
  • Baseball America’s Draft Database for 2015; this will get updated with bonus amounts when the players sign.


Lets get to it!

1st round/#26 overall: in what would have been the Nationals first round pick had they not signed Max Scherzer and forfeited their pick, the Los Angeles Angels went way off-board and picked Taylor Ward, a Catcher from Fresno State.  He’s not even in Keith Law’s top 100 and is mostly in the 75-100 range of other ranking services, and players like Mike Nikorak, John Harris, Kyle Funkhouser, Daz Cameron and Mike Matuella (a Nationals special; a big righty with power and a Tommy John surgery) still on the board.  Unlike two years ago when I complained bitterly about the loss of the 1st rounder, here Scherzer is more than proving his worth and I’m not as worried about the loss of this pick in a weak draft.  But I wouldn’t have minded seeing how Harris or Funkhouser worked out.

2nd round/#57 overall: Andrew Stevenson, Jr. OF (CF) from LSU (hometown Youngsville, LA).  Rankings: Law outside #100, MLB #79, BA #168, Sickels #101, Draft Rpt #115.  A slightly built slap hitter who plays excellent CF for LSU but, from my limited observations, looks like he’s destined to be a spare outfielder at best.   More than one of the above draft guides mentioned Ben Revere as a comparison.  (This was the comp pick for last year’s non-signing of Andrew Suarez … who went 4 picks later).  FWIW, Law said he “fell out of his chair” when he saw the Nats taking him here.  I can only surmise what the team sees here; perhaps they got a deal on him and will apply some of the savings down the road.

2nd round/#69 overall: Blake Perkins, Prep OF (CF) from Verrado AZ HS (hometown: Phoenix, AZ).  Rankings: Law #96, MLB #162, BA #137, Sickels #148, Draft Rpt #283.  Perkins profiles similarly to Stevenson: slight build, very fast, great fielder, decent arm and a questionable hit tool.  He’s committed to Arizona State and hails from the Phoenix suburbs.  For what its worth, in Keith Law’s post-round 2 write-up, he specifically called out this pick as being a very good one.  But, he’s still *way* overdrafted according to most of the rankings.

3rd Round/#103 overall: Rhett Wiseman, Jr. OF (corner) from Vanderbilt (Hometown Mansfield, MA).  Rankings: Law outside #100, MLB #120, BA #88, Sickels #92, Draft Rpt #146.  Developed big-time power his junior year at Vanderbilt.  Probably projects as a LF but is no bigger than the CF draftees the Nats already have picked.

4th round/#134 overall: Mariano Rivera, JR, Jr. RHP (starter) from Iona (Hometown Harrison NY by way of the D.R.)  Rankings: Law #93, MLB #170, BA #142, Sickels #215, Draft Rp #198.  Well, you can’t argue with the pedigree.  He’s stepped it up this year as a junior with a huge velocity spike and *will* sign, but he barely weighs more than my labrador and one wonders if he can withstand the rigors if pitching in the pros.  Very little mileage on the arm (he didn’t pitch until he got to college reportedly).  Interesting pick.

5th round/#164 overall: Taylor Hearn, Jr. LHP  starter from Oklahoma Baptist (Hometown Royse City, TX).  Rankings: … well, nobody ranked this kid.  Not even on the top 500 prospect list.  He was 9-0 for the NAIA team with good K/9 rates.  Not much else to be said.  The Nats have drafted twice before players from this school (Richie Mirowski and Matthew Page) with decent success and clearly have a scout working that area with success.  Is this a signability/money saving pick?  But for whom?  Perkins?

6th round/#194 overall: Matt Crownover, Jr. LHP starter from Clemson (Hometown: Ringgold, Ga.).  Rankings: BA #344, Draft Rpt #161.  Great numbers at Clemson: 10-3 with a 1.82 ERA.  Tommy John survivor, undersized.  Perhaps projects as a future reliever.

7th round/ #224 overall: Grant Borne, Jr. LHP starter from Nichols State (Hometown: Baton Rouge, LA).  BA #348, otherwise unranked.  Another mystery player.  6-5 with a 1.48 ERA as a starter for Nichols State.

8th round/#254 overall: Koda Glover, Sr. RHP Oklahoma State (Hometown: Heavener, OK).  Sickels #297, otherwise unranked.  Glover was a back-end reliever for Oklahoma State, having transferred in after two years at Juco.  MLB says he’s a senior, OK State says he’s a junior.  Either way, he’s a reliever who could be quicker to the majors, which isn’t too bad a pick for the 8th round.

9th round/#284 overall: David Kerian, Sr. switch hitting 1B from Illinois (Hometown: Dakota Dunes, SD).  He hit .366 with 14 homers on the year for one of the best teams in the country.  Not a bad pick.

10th round/#314 overall: Taylor Guilbeau, Sr lefty starter from Alabama (Hometown Slaughter, LA): nice sign here, getting a Friday starter in the SEC.  3-6 with a 3.69 ERA on his senior season, which ended in the SEC playoffs for Alabama this year.


Breakdown by position:

  • Three outfielders, two definite CFs and one corner OF.
  • One 1B who could feature as a corner OF
  • Five college starters: four LHP and one RHP
  • One college reliever (RHP)

His first three picks were outfielders … then 6 of the next 7 were arms.  Mostly left-handed college starters.  How many of these starters will profile as pro relievers?  Probabaly a few of them; Rivera for sure, likely Crownover, probably Guilbeau as well.

Breakdown by Player Demographic

  • One Prep/HS player
  • Six College Juniors, all four-year college picks
  • Three College Seniors, all from four-year colleges

Well, Rizzo likes college grads, and this shows it.  ONE prep player out of his first 10 picks.

Breakdown by Region

  • Southeastern US: 1 from LSU, 1 from Vanderbilt, 1 from Clemson, 1 from Nichols State, 1 from Alabama
  • Midwest: 1 from Oklahoma Baptist, 1 from Oklahoma State, 1 from Illinois
  • Southwest: 1 from Arizona
  • Northeast: 1 from Iona College

Its amazing to me, year after year we seem to see this.  The Nats draft so heavily from the southeast and midwest.  Meanwhile, everyone knows that the two best states for prospects are California and Florida.  If you look at the home towns of these top 10 picks, still nobody from the two major baseball states and just one guy who hails from Texas.  I guess Rizzo really trusts his area scouts down there.


Well, like in 2013 when you don’t have a 1st round pick … you’re not likely to end up with a name that you’ve heard in the pre-draft coverage.  And I hadn’t heard of practically any of these guys prior to seeing their names read.  Picks 8-10 seem like typical low-value senior signs, but you have to wonder where the draft bonus dollars are going here.  Is everyone signing for slot?  Are there any risky picks here?

All is not lost


Nice performance from Fister on sunday.  Photo via

Nice performance from Fister on sunday. Photo via

So, after destroying the ball in Atlanta (30 runs in 3 games) and getting what feels like an early “turn around the ship” 13-12 epic come from behind win, the team goes to New York and takes 3 of 4 from the Mets (who were theretofore undefeated at home and had the best record in the game).  Even if you don’t think the Mets are really that good, it was still a statement series to go to a divisional rival ahead of you in the standings and take 3 of 4.

They couldn’t beat Matt Harvey (who can these days?), not even with Max Scherzer going, but beat Jacob DeGrom and got the kind of shut-down performances from their #4 and #5 starters (Gonzalez and Fister) that practically no other team in the league can depend on.  It isn’t a good sign having to depend on untested rookies and fortunate bounces to get one-off runs that lead to 1-0 victories, but then again, its a great sign that you have a team that *can* win these kinds of games.

Now Miami comes to town; they’ve been hot (8-2 in their last 10), but the pitching matchups favor the Nats.  I’ll take Zimmermann, Strasburg, Scherzer (the best 1-2-3 in the majors) over what Miami’s bringing to the table this week (Phelps, Latos and Koehler).  Anything less than a sweep of Miami will be a disappointment.  The Nats have clear, inarguable pitching matchup advantages, and Latos/Koehler sport ugly ERAs that should help the Nats offense get healthy again quick.

Are we backed away from the ledge yet?   There’s still areas of improvement of course.  Per Fangraphs today, the team ranks:

  • 23rd in team WRC+ at 86 (my favorite all-equaling offensive stat measure)
  • 23rd in team Batting Average at .235, which sounds awful but there’s seven teams worse right now.
  • 7th in Starter ERA … but 2nd in Starter FIP and 1st in Starter WAR (Scherzer leads the league in fWAR despite being just 1-3)
  • 12th in Bullpen ERA and 11th in bullpen FIP

So, the bullpen we’ve fretted about is holding on but could use improvement, the Starters are holding up their end of the bargain, and the offense needs to improve.  About where we expected the team to be?