Nationals Arm Race

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

Archive for the ‘miguel batista’ tag

The Nats should just move Detwiler

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Detwiler's being wasted right now. Photo: Cathy T via nationalsdailynews.com

Detwiler’s being wasted right now. Photo: Cathy T via nationalsdailynews.com

How do you go from being the 5th most important pitcher on a MLB staff (yes, I believe the 5th starter is more important than the closer or any other bullpen guy, a statsitical fact that can be easily seen by WAR contributions by even the best closers), to being the least important, aka the last guy out of the pen, the swingman or long man, the mop-up guy?

Well, that’s what’s happening to Ross Detwiler so far this year.

Now, its sort of hard to feel a ton of compassion for a guy who is making $3M this year guaranteed, whether he pitches 50 times or five.   So this article isn’t so much about Detwiler or his salary, but about things like “opportunity costs” and the relative value of players in particular roles, and how teams can turn replaceable assets into needed depth.

Coming into this season, I figured (along with many) that Detwiler’s pre-injury 2013 performance, coupled with his break-out 2012 season would earn him the 5th rotation spot.  As it turned out, not only did the team not want to give him that spot … but they have repeatedly passed over Detwiler to make starts when the opportunity has arisen.  When Doug Fister went down with injury, Detwiler wasn’t pulled back into the rotation; the starts were given to Taylor Jordan.  When Jordan proved unreliable and was sent down, the team called up Blake Treinen and gave him a spot start on 5/6/14 instead of throwing Detwiler.

Which makes you wonder; what’s the point of keeping a high-priced/high-talent “swing man” if you never let him do his role??  Detwiler’s usage so far in 2014 has been more like a middle reliever than a long-man; in 9 appearances (before last night) he’s logged 14 2/3 innings.  Now, on the one hand this is a relatively good sign; if you’re never using your swing-man for 4 inning stints it means your starters are pitching well.  But on the other hand … the team is clearly wasting Detwiler’s talents.  Of the 66 batters he had faced prior to 5/6/14’s debacle, only SIX of them were classified as “high leverage” situations by baseball-reference.com.  He’s being used as a mop-up guy.

You don’t use power lefty capable starters as mop-up guys.  Its a waste of their skills and talent, and ends up leading to human-nature meltdowns like we saw out of Detwiler on 5/6/14.

Here’s a quick history of the Nats longmen in recent years: Ross OhlendorfZach DukeTanner Roark (to some extent in late 2013), Tom GorzelannyMiguel BatistaSaul Rivera (to some extent), Stephen Shell, Micah Bowie and Levale Speigner (though honestly, dipping back into the 2007-2008 timeframe is tough because our starters were so bad, it was difficult to find who the designated “long-man” really was because eventually they were starting too).  There’s common features to most all of these guys: they’re generally either veterans signed to MLFA deals or on one year deals for limited money, or they’re rookies who earned their way up and provided some value.  The point is this;  you don’t pay your long-man good money, and you certainly don’t waste a good former starter in the long-man position.

The missed opportunity cost for the Nats is this: they can turn Detwiler into something of value in trade for some other team out there, right now.  Go look at our favorite trade partner Oakland’s #4 and #5 starters stats (Straily and Milone); we could move Detwiler to Oakland and get something of use back in a heartbeat and it’d make both teams better.   The Yankees would kill for a reliable 5th starter right now, with Pineda hurt or suspended, Nova lost to Tommy John and Nuno ineffective.   The Mariners are now 9-deep into their starter depth chart and are treading water.   I’ll bet you couldn’t even name Pittsburgh’s 5th starter right now.   Cincinnati’s two starters down right now and that’s before Johnny Cueto gets his inevitable D/L trip (he made 3 such trips last year).  So there’s definitely teams out there who expect to contend with starter depth issues.

Meanwhile, the Nats have 4 or 5 guys in AAA right now who could fill the role that Detwiler is playing right now, for less money and just as well, and we’d be a better team with Detwiler’s return in trade for it.   Every additional injury further thins this team and highlights more need for backup hitters (right now as we speak, we don’t have a SINGLE middle infielder on the 40-man who could get called-up to cover … and our only two out-field 40-man options Eury Perez and Michael Taylor are basically a pinch runner and a guy who’se got a month above A-ball.   (Admittedly, this situation has somewhat cleared up recently with Hairston‘s return and considering that we also have Souza and Moore back in the minors … but we still need some depth).

Move Detwiler, get some closer-to-the-majors bats, and install Treinen as that last-guy in the bullpen.  Or call back Aaron Barrett or Ryan Mattheus and just leave t hem in the bullpen instead of making them rack up frequent flier miles.  If you want another lefty, re-call Aaron Laffey and/or Xavier Cedeno and leave them on the club for a while.  You don’t need your best prospect pitching mop-up/low-leverage innings in 8-0 games.

(I’m not the only one talking about this right now: WP’s James Wagner has peppered Matt Williams about it and MLBTradeRumors Jeff Todd mentioned it prominently this week as well).

Minor League Pitching Age Appropriateness for 2013

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Yunesky Maya is “Really Old” for AAA; but does it matter? Photo unknown

A recurring statement that you often hear when talking about prospects in the minors is “Age Appropriateness” for the level in which the player is playing.  And for good reason; a seasoned minor league player who is playing against younger, weaker competition should have dominant numbers, and when analyzing that player’s performance this should be taken into account.  On the flip side, if a guy advances quickly up the minors and is a “youngster” at a high level and performs poorly, he shouldn’t immediately be written off, since he’s likely overmatched and needs time to “grow” into the level.

This topic comes up here often when talking about pitchers and their performances, and I frequently talk about a guy “being old” or “being young” for his level as a way to either discount good performances or explain away poor ones.  But what is “Too old for a level?”

I have always used a rule-of-thumb measurement advocated by John Sickels at minorleagueball.com for looking at player ages (I cannot find the original Sickels posting but have seen it attributed to him in several forums).  That rule-of-thumb is as follows:

  • AAA: Typical Age range is 23-24.  Age 25 depends.  26+ is old
  • AA: 22-23.  24 depends.  25+ is old
  • High-A: 20-22.  23 depends.  24+ is old
  • Low-A: 19-21.  22 depends.  23+ is old
  • Short-A: 19-20.  21/22 for draft year guys only.  22+ is old
  • GCL: 17-19.  20 for draft year guys only.  21+ is old

Now, the caveats to the above are as follows:

1. This is specifically worried about prospect development; clearly we know that a former major leaguer on a minor league free agent contract in AAA is going to look like he’s really “old” for the level when we need understand his presence there differently.  A rising prospect who is in AAA at the age of 26 or 27 who hasn’t made it to the majors yet is absolutely “old” and is probably closer to minor league free agency or a release than he is to making the big team.

2. Injuries matter.  If a college grad loses a year to TJ surgery and then is sitting in high-A as a 24 year old in his second pro season (think Nathan Karns) you can’t really hold that against him.  But if he’s dominant, you can sort of explain why and say that he needs to be moved up.

Luke Erickson (with Brian Oliver‘s help) came up with similar looking ranges for the various levels and have made it a link off the main page of NationalsProspects.com.  And I talked about this topic a couple of years ago in this space in advance of this same analysis, which I last performed in 2011.


Without further ado, here’s a look at the actual age ranges of the Nationals four full season minor league teams as they stood on 2013’s Opening Day (yes, i’ve had this data in the can for a month and a half and am just getting around to publishing it).  I last did this analysis two years ago and it is interesting to see how the age ranges have changed slightly over the years.  Here’s 2011’s and 2013’s ranges (click here for a Google spreadsheet of all the detail to check my work and do your own sorting; this link is also in the Links to the right):

2011 AAA AA High-A Low-A
Really Young 25.54 or younger 24.44 or  younger 22.65 or younger 21.88 or younger
Young 25.54 – 26.93 24.44 – 25.37 22.65 – 23.83 21.88 – 22.84
Old 26.93 – 28.79 25.37 – 26.65 23.83 – 24.77 22.84 – 23.65
Really Old 28.79 or older 26.65 or older 24.77 or older 23.65 or older
2013 AAA AA High-A Low-A
Really Young 25.91 or younger 24.02 or younger 23.08 or younger 21.69 or younger
Young 25.92 – 27.75 24.02 – 25.17 23.08 – 24.00 21.69 – 22.66
Old 27.75 – 30.35 25.17 – 26.84 24.00 – 24.91 22.66 – 23.39
Really Old 30.35 or older 26.84 or older 24.91 or older 23.39 or older

Data Taxonomy: I’ve taken every pitcher on every team’s roster in each of the four leagues that the Nats have farm teams in (AAA = International, AA = Eastern, High-A = Carolina, Low-A = South Atlantic), put them into a spreadsheet, calculated their ages at the end of this season (9/1/13) and then calculated the four quartile figures in terms of age.  I only used pitchers in our leagues as opposed to the entire level across all of baseball thinking that different leagues may have different needs (I’m thinking how the California League and the Pacific Coast League has so many hitters parks and thus the pitchers may linger there longer, skewing the numbers).  I also standardized the numbers to be at the end of the season as opposed to the beginning, so that people can talk about a player’s “Age 25 season” for example.

So (using 2013’s AAA as an example): the 25th percentile age is 25.91, the 50th percentile or median age is 27.75, the 75th percentile age is 30.35.   For ease of labeling, anyone in the lowest quartile is “Really Young” for that level, 25th-50th is “Young,” 50th-75th is “Old” and anyone in the 75th percentile or higher is labeled “Really Old.”  I know some don’t like these labels; if someone just moves past the 50th percentile they go from being “Young” to “Old” in a hurry.  But I have to draw the lines somewhere.  The fractions are represented as fractions of an entire year of days, so .91 is 91/100ths of 365 days old.  This say, as opposed to the way that MLB service time is represented in Years.Days and you see numbers like “1.113.”

Looking at 2011 to 2013’s changes: notice how AAA is getting much older.  I think that is due to so many teams giving non-guaranteed MLFA deals to former starters and relievers and stashing them in AAA.  Look at our own team: we’ve got guys like Chris Young, Fernando Abad, and JC Romero all in their 30s, skewing the numbers northward.  Meanwhile both AA has gotten slightly  younger; its median age has dropped slightly.


Here’s a look at the Nationals’ four full season minor league pitching staffs, with the ages listed and the “age appropriate” label given. Note that I did this right at the beginning of the season so I havn’t captured all the moves made in the last month.

AAA Syracuse

Team Name DOB Age as of 9/1/13 Age Status
Syracuse (Washington) Bill Bray 6/5/1983 30.24 Old
Syracuse (Washington) Cole Kimball 8/1/1985 28.08 Old
Syracuse (Washington) Brad Meyers 9/13/1985 27.97 Old
Syracuse (Washington) Matt Torra 6/29/1984 29.17 Old
Syracuse (Washington) Sean West 6/15/1986 27.21 Young
Syracuse (Washington) Jeremy Accardo 12/8/1981 31.73 Really Old
Syracuse (Washington) Jeff Mandel 4/30/1985 28.34 Old
Syracuse (Washington) Patrick McCoy 8/3/1988 25.08 Really Young
Syracuse (Washington) J.C. Romero 6/4/1976 37.24 Really Old
Syracuse (Washington) Michael Crotta 9/25/1984 28.93 Old
Syracuse (Washington) Bobby Bramhall 7/13/1985 28.14 Old
Syracuse (Washington) Tanner Roark 10/5/1986 26.91 Young
Syracuse (Washington) Ryan Tatusko 3/27/1985 28.43 Old
Syracuse (Washington) Daniel Rosenbaum 10/10/1987 25.89 Really Young
Syracuse (Washington) Ross Ohlendorf 8/8/1982 31.07 Really Old
Syracuse (Washington) Fernando Abad 12/17/1985 27.71 Young
Syracuse (Washington) Erik Davis 10/8/1986 26.90 Young
Syracuse (Washington) Yunesky Maya 8/28/1981 32.01 Really Old
Syracuse (Washington) Ryan Perry 2/13/1987 26.55 Young
Syracuse (Washington) Chris Young 5/25/1979 34.27 Really Old

Discussion: Our “really old” guys are no surprise; they’re all basically guys on MLFA contracts.  Well, and Yunesky Maya, who is just playing out the string at this point.  I’m more interested in the “prospects” who are in AAA and their age status, and they mostly look good.   Pat McCoy and Danny Rosenbaum both rate as really young for the level.  Erik Davis and Ryan Perry both rate as young, even despite Perry’s MLB experience.  Otherwise are there even other “prospects” worth analyzing on the Syracuse roster at this point?  It seems that most everyone else on this team is a backup starter or a backup loogy.

Oldest Guy in the Int’l League: Miguel Batista with Toronto’s AAA affilliate.  Yes our own Mr. Batista from two years ago, still hanging around.  He’s yet to get called back up in 2013.  Ironically the 2nd oldest guy in AAA is also on Buffalo and is also an ex-Nat: Ramon Ortiz, who has gotten called up to help cover for Toronto’s injury-devistated staff and has a couple of apperances already.

Youngest Guy in the Intl’ League: Giovanni Soto with Cleveland’s AAA affilliate in Columbus.  He’s not considered a high-end prospect; he’s just a guy drafted out of HS who has made his way level-by-level and is now 22 in AAA.  The 2nd youngest guy in AAA is a more familiar name (Trevor Bauer, also with Cleveland’s team) and the ten youngest pitchers in the league reads like a top-50 Pitching prospects list MLB-wide.

Percentage of Int’l League pitchers on MLB 40-man rosters: 65/210 or 30.9%.   This shows just how much AAA is turning into a spare-parts holding league.


AA Harrisburg

Team Name DOB Age as of 9/1/13 Age Status
Harrisburg (Washington) Adam Olbrychowski 9/7/1986 26.98 Really Old
Harrisburg (Washington) Sammy Solis 8/10/1988 25.06 Young
Harrisburg (Washington) Rafael Martin 5/16/1984 29.30 Really Old
Harrisburg (Washington) Cameron Selik 8/25/1987 26.02 Old
Harrisburg (Washington) Paul Demny 8/3/1989 24.08 Young
Harrisburg (Washington) Marcos Frias 12/19/1988 24.70 Young
Harrisburg (Washington) Brian Broderick 9/1/1986 27.00 Really Old
Harrisburg (Washington) Trevor Holder 1/8/1987 26.65 Old
Harrisburg (Washington) Aaron Barrett 1/2/1988 25.66 Old
Harrisburg (Washington) Caleb Clay 2/15/1988 25.54 Old
Harrisburg (Washington) Neil Holland 8/14/1988 25.05 Young
Harrisburg (Washington) Rob Wort 2/7/1989 24.56 Young
Harrisburg (Washington) Pat Lehman 10/18/1986 26.87 Really Old
Harrisburg (Washington) Matt Swynenberg 2/16/1989 24.54 Young
Harrisburg (Washington) Ian Krol 5/9/1991 22.32 Really Young
Harrisburg (Washington) Blake Treinen 6/30/1988 25.17 Young
Harrisburg (Washington) Nathan Karns 11/25/1987 25.77 Old

Borrowing from my Monthly check-in on the Minor League staffs, who are we really interested in on this roster?  The rotation is Broderick, Treinen, Demny, Clay and Karns.  Broderick is really old for the level, but we already knew that (considering he was in the majors as our Rule-5 draftee two years ago).  Karns and Clay are “old” for the level but not overly so; the median age is 25.17 and they’re 25.77 and 25.54 respectively.  So just a few months older than the median.  Not bad considering Karns basically lost two years of development time due to injuries.   When the team gets Solis back, he’ll still be young.  And most interestingly is Ian Krol who is the 4th youngest guy in the Eastern League but has dominant numbers thus far in 2013.  Most of the “really old” guys are relievers who most would agree are “Org guys” and will naturally fall of the roster when their 6-year FA period arrives.

Oldest Guy in the Eastern League: Willie Collazo on Toronto’s AA team in New Hampshire, who had four years in the PCL and likely is only on a AA roster as a procedural location since he started the season on the DL.  In fact, most of that team’s roster is among the 20 oldest guys in the league.  And as with the AAA team there are ex-Nats all over their rosters.   I think we’re seeing the effects of former Nats front-office member Dana Brown now in Toronto helping to shape their minor league roster with guys he’s familiar with.

Youngest Guy in the Eastern League: One Dylan Bundy, Baltimore farm-hand who already has MLB innings and who some thought could have broken camp with the Orioles.  Unfortunatley for Bundy, he’s been sidelined with shoulder issues all year.  But he’s clearly an up-and-coming talent.  The 2nd youngest guy in the Eastern league is also a big-time prospect: Jamison Taillon in Pittsburgh’s org.  In fact, when Taillon and his fellow uber-prospect Gerrit Cole matriculate to the majors, Pittsburgh is going to suddenly find themselves with one of the league’s elite pitching staffs.

Percentage of Eastern League pitchers on MLB 40-man rosters: 15/182 or 8.24%.  Just a handful (Nathan Karns is one, Bundy is one).


High-A Potomac

Team Name DOB Age as of 9/1/13 Age Status
Potomac (Washington) Paul Applebee 5/17/1988 25.29 Really Old
Potomac (Washington) Robert Gilliam 11/29/1987 25.76 Really Old
Potomac (Washington) Josh Smoker 11/26/1988 24.76 Old
Potomac (Washington) Matthew Grace 12/14/1988 24.71 Old
Potomac (Washington) Robbie Ray 10/1/1991 21.92 Really Young
Potomac (Washington) Colin Bates 3/10/1988 25.48 Really Old
Potomac (Washington) A.J. Cole 1/5/1992 21.66 Really Young
Potomac (Washington) Ben Hawkins 11/4/1989 23.82 Young
Potomac (Washington) Tyler Herron 8/5/1986 27.07 Really Old
Potomac (Washington) Gregory Holt 6/19/1989 24.20 Old
Potomac (Washington) Taylor Jordan 1/17/1989 24.62 Old
Potomac (Washington) Christian Meza 8/3/1990 23.08 Really Young
Potomac (Washington) Richie Mirowski 4/30/1989 24.34 Old
Potomac (Washington) Derek Self 1/14/1990 23.63 Young
Potomac (Washington) Taylor Hill 3/12/1989 24.47 Old
Potomac (Washington) Kylin Turnbull 9/12/1989 23.97 Young

Discussion: Our starters at the time of this writing in Potomac are Ray, Jordan, Schwartz, Cole and Hill.   Schwartz wasn’t on this roster when I did the cut-n-paste jobs but he’s almost the same identical age as the man he replaced Turnbull.   Ray and Cole still rate as “Really Young” (they’re the 7th and 10th youngest guys in the Carolina league) despite both guys repeating this level, a testament to just how young these guys were LAST year.  Jordan rates as “old” but with the injury caveat.  Hill is four months older than the median age so frankly he’s right on schedule.   By and large though this is an older staff, which to me is indicative of the college-heavy pitcher drafts Mike Rizzo has done the last few years.  All of our staffs are going to trend old.

Oldest/Youngest Guys in Carolina League: Baltimore’s Frederick affiliate oddly has the two youngest guys (Eduardo Rodriguez, Zachary Davies) and the two oldest guys (Eunchul Choi and Rob Delaney) in the league.  I’ve never heard anything about any of these four, so I can’t really add much commentary here :-)

Percentage of Carolina pitchers on MLB 40-man rosters: Just 2/115 for 1.74%


Low-A Hagerstown

Team Name DOB Age as of 9/1/13 Age Status
Hagerstown (Washington) Blake Schwartz 10/9/1989 23.90 Really Old
Hagerstown (Washington) Brett Mooneyham 1/24/1990 23.60 Really Old
Hagerstown (Washington) Brian Dupra 12/15/1988 24.71 Really Old
Hagerstown (Washington) Brian Rauh 7/23/1991 22.11 Young
Hagerstown (Washington) Bryan Harper 12/29/1989 23.67 Really Old
Hagerstown (Washington) David Fischer 4/10/1990 23.39 Old
Hagerstown (Washington) Dean Weaver 5/17/1988 25.29 Really Old
Hagerstown (Washington) Dixon Anderson 7/2/1989 24.17 Really Old
Hagerstown (Washington) Ivan Pineyro 9/29/1991 21.92 Young
Hagerstown (Washington) Matt Purke 7/17/1990 23.13 Old
Hagerstown (Washington) Pedro Encarnacion 6/26/1991 22.18 Young
Hagerstown (Washington) Robert Benincasa 9/5/1990 22.99 Old
Hagerstown (Washington) Ronald Pena 9/19/1991 21.95 Young
Hagerstown (Washington) Todd Simko 12/5/1988 24.74 Really Old
Hagerstown (Washington) Travis Henke 7/9/1988 25.15 Really Old
Hagerstown (Washington) Will Hudgins 2/12/1990 23.55 Really Old
Hagerstown (Washington) Wirkin Estevez 3/15/1992 21.46 Really Young

Discussion: as with Potomac, 9 of the 17 guys on this staff are in the “Really Old” category, again a testament to the college-heavy arm drafting of late.  Even Brett Mooneyham is now on the old side of the league median age, and he’s just got one full pro season under his belt.  The one guy listed as “Really Young” is DSL grad Wirkin Estevez

Oldest Guy in the Sally League: Miami’s low-A affiliate in Greensboro has a guy who is already 28 named Miguel Fermin.  He’s in low-A because he’s converting to be a Pitcher after 6 years as a middle infielder.

Youngest Guy in the Sally League: Atlanta’s Lucas Sims, their 1st round draft pick from 2012, who hasn’t even turned 19 as of today (but will have by the end of the season).  The 2nd youngest is a lefty prep draftee in Baltimore’s system named Josh Hader who has an interesting story thus far; he was a HS draftee in the 19th round who put up great numbers in short-season last year, broke with the low-A team and has a 1.74 ERA through four starts as of the time of this writing.  Sounds like a heck of a draft find for Baltimore so far.

Percentage of Sally League pitchers on MLB 40-man rosters: 1 of 196 pitchers.  That one?  our very own Matt Purke, who at this point, I’m not afraid to say, looks like he could be a draft bust.  Not a major one though mind you; the Nats bribed him out of his college commitment with a 3rd round pick but mid first round money in 2011.   But that could end up being a lost 3rd round pick unless Purke can show us something this year.  In some ways it was a great gamble to get a guy who was 15-0 as a freshman … and “its just money” right?  If this kind of draft money allocation were to have happened in the new system, and the team blew its entire wad of money on one injury-prone guy, we’d be much more concerned.

What to do with Livan Hernandez?

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Is Livan's time in Washington coming to an end? Photo AP/Tom Gannam via prorumors.com

Livan Hernandez holds a special place in the hearts and history of the Washington Nationals.  He pitched our first game as a franchise.  He’s been our opening day starter four times (including in 2011).  And he continues to pitch reasonably well despite a fastball that’s barely good enough for some adult leagues in the area.  He’s on an incredibly cheap contract for a veteran of his capabilities ($1M base for 2011 with some performance bonuses) and you know pretty much what you get from him year-to-year (roughly a .500 record, roughly 9 to 12 wins, a career 4.37 era).  From a salary perspective, he’s one of the best FA bargains out there (assuming he ends the season with 8 wins, a FA figure of $125,000 per win is fantastic in an age when teams try to get FA pitching at $1m/win.  See my “Contract value for FA pitcher” post from last October, which I’ll update this off season with 2011’s season results and new signings).

However, in the 2nd half his “mood swings” on the mound have become problematic.  His starts dating to May 30th he’s as likely to give up 2 runs in 7 innings as he is to give up 6 in 5.   In my trends his line reads basically good-bad-good-bad-good-bad.  In all these games lately where he’s given up a large parcel of runs, it is in fewer than 5 innings pitched, meaning the game is basically out of hand before it is halfway done and the bullpen has to pick up a hefty workload of 4-5 innings each time.  The team today has essentially announced that after his Sunday 9/4 start he’s being shut down for the season, in favor of younger pitchers (read, Brad Peacock).

What should we do with him for 2012?  The Nats blogosphere has weighed in on the topic in the recent past, with opinions pro- and anti- Livan.

The answer however may have come to the team almost by accident on 8/30.  In a post-game interview after beating the Braves, Livan mentioned more or less that:

  • He wants to stay with the team (… of course, every veteran FA says this.  Its on page one of the FA-to-be playbook).
  • He’s willing to be a long reliever, knowing the team has a ton of young starters coming in.

Really?  A guy who hasn’t missed a start since he got into the league is willing to be a long-man/spot starter on this team?   If that’s the case then I’m 100% for bringing him back.  In this scenario:

  • Johnson has his long-man out of the pen that he really hasn’t had all season (Gorzelanny may seem like he fits the bill, but clearly the team is down on him).
  • Livan can compete for a starter role in the spring and may very well earn a spot on merit anyway.
  • He’s great backup insurance for the inevitable injuries and spot starts.
  • He’ll be cheap; he was on $1M this year and probably won’t be much more expensive next year (for comparison purposes, Todd Coffey earned 1.35M this year and was so bad that we couldn’t even flip him at the trade deadline for a low minor leaguer).

I think Livan can effectively fill the Miguel Batista role of 2010, a role that this team never really replaced for the 2011 season.  And his veteran presence in the clubhouse and bullpen.  I hope he stays around.

Written by Todd Boss

September 3rd, 2011 at 9:01 am

Nats Rotation Cycle #20: good/bad/soso

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Is Livan Hernandez pitching his way out of the Nats rotation? Photo: AP

The All-star break comes in-between rotation cycles 19 and 20 for the squad.   At this halfway point, only two of our starters have made all 19 starts (Livan and Lannan).  Zimmermann missed a start when the Pittsburgh “rainout” in May and Marquis missed a start to serve out his suspension for the beanball series in Arizona.  Gorzelanny missed the first rotation through, then missed another 4 starts to injury (those being taken by Maya).  Lastly the rescheduling of Zimmermann’s missed start into a 4th of July doubleheader called for a spot start from Detwiler.  That’s 19+19+18+18+13+4+1 = all 92 starts so far this year.  You have to think that the consistency out of the rotation is one of the big reasons this team is doing so well.

The all-star break also gives the squad a chance to slightly re-order its rotation, since most of the guys will be on major rest.  You can’t take your #1 starter and have him become the #5 though b/c of days rest.  But the team does seem to be slightly modifying its order.  We’ll go out in the 2nd half with Livan, then Lannan, then Gorzelanny, then Marquis and with Zimmermann 5th.  The move of Zimmermann to 5th seems like yet another attempt to preserve his arm, despite what Johnson is telling the press.  He seems set to hit his 160 innings limit in mid-August now, by which point we should start seeing alternatives in the rotation.

Good

  • John Lannan evened both his W/L record and the team’s season record to .500 with a 5 2/3 inning, 2 run outing against the Braves on Saturday 7/16.   It wasn’t the cleanest outing for Lannan (5 hits and 4 walks in less than 6 innings) but he worked around the baserunners and kept the potent Atlanta offense off the board for the most part.
  • Jason Marquis gave his team exactly what it needed on 7/18 (box/gamer): lots of quality innings to rest a bullpen that was shredded by Gorzelanny’s injury and (in my opinion) mismanagement by Davey Johnson (see bullet points below).  Marquis went 8 strong innings, giving up only 6 hits and striking out 9.

Bad

  • Livan Hernandez kicked off the 2nd half with an awful performance in Atlanta on 7/15 (box/gamer).  He only lasted 4 innings, giving up 8 hits and 6 runs (3 earned).  The Braves hitters were tattooing his pitches, which he regularly was floating over the plate.  As the TV announcers said, Hernandez is a guy who depends on working the corners and keeping his pitches under control.  Friday he was routinely hanging curveballs over the plate and missing his spots and it showed.   I wonder at what point the team gives up on the Hernandez experiment; his inconsistency on the mound has to be baffling and he’s now thrown enough lemons to make him the worst of our starters statistically.  I can see Livan getting moved for a low-end prospect and one of our promising starters from AAA getting plucked to finish out the season.
  • Jordan Zimmermann had an uncharacteristically bad outing on 7/19, getting touched for 6 runs in 5 innings against the lowly Astros to take the loss (box/gamer).  These are not the kind of innings we want out of Zimmermann before he gets shut down in August.

Mediocre/Inconclusive

  • Tom Gorzelanny only lasted 2 innings in his 7/17 start (box/gamer) against the Braves before twisting his ankle on a play at the plate, putting the bullpen into all-hands-on-deck mode.  For the most part, the bullpen was ineffective, with Henry Rodriguez giving up the lead, Sean Burnett looking horrible, and Tyler Clippard striking out 4 in 2 innings but giving up a game-tying homer in the 8th.  It remains to be seen if Gorzelanny is going on the DL, but the injury didn’t seem that bad.

Starter Trends

Lhernandez    great,bad,good,bad,(break),bad
Lannan    good,good,bad,incomplete,(break),good
Gorzelanny    bad->dl,bad,good,good,(break),incomplete
Marquis    bad,great,bad,soso,(break),good
Zimmermann     good,great,good,good,(break),bad

Relievers of Note and other News

  • The JC Romero experiment didn’t last very long; he was released on 7/13 after putting up good numbers in AAA.  Goessling guesses that perhaps he had an out clause in his contract calling for his release unless he was promoted.  I’m surprised he wasn’t kept around a bit longer, given Doug Slaten‘s continued DL stint and Sean Burnett‘s troubles.
  • Ben Goessling reports on one of Chien-Ming Wang‘s latest rehab starts on 7/14, 6 shutout innings with zero walks and where he hit 94mph in Harrisburg.  I’m beginning to think that Wang’s actually healthy again and that the team may start looking to move Jason Marquis or Livan Hernandez sooner than later to make room for him.
  • Ross Detwiler looked nearly as bad in relief as Livan did during his start on 7/15, requiring 47 pitches to get through 2 innings.  This was a perfect opportunity to shut down an offense that perhaps wasn’t in need of scoring any more runs on the night (especially behind Tim Hudson) but he continued to allow the game to get out of control.  If Detwiler doesn’t put something together this season, the team is going to have a very difficult decision on its hands.  He’s out of options (Gee, thanks for the 2007 callup Jimmy Bowden!) and clearly would be given a flyer by another team (as a first rounder lefty starter who reaches 94mph).
  • Speaking of Detwiler, why exactly do we have him as the “long man” in the bullpen if he’s not available as that long man because the team wants to keep him on some sort of “every 4 days” starting-esque schedule?  The Long man needs to be available for exactly the kind of situation we faced on 7/17, when Gorzelanny came out after 2 innings.  Instead its all-hands on deck since Detwiler had pitched two days prior.  In this situation i’d far far rather still have Miguel Batista, who ably fit this role in 2010 and wouldn’t have cost a ton of money for 2011.
  • Chien-Ming Wang‘s next start will be in AAA, per Bill Ladson‘s published report on Sunday.  This should be the best test yet for Wang’s recovery.  He’s looking like a good bet to join the rotation when he’s done with rehab.

Starting versus Closing

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Should we try Clippard as a starter? Absolutely! Photo: NationalsDailyNews/Meaghan Gay/DCist.com

Baseball writer extraordinaire Tom Verducci posted a fantastic article today talking about Neftali Feliz‘s proposed move from the Rangers closer to the starting rotation.  The article touches on a topic that I’ve been meaning to write about for a while; Starting versus Closing.  It also is literally the best summation I’ve seen yet describing why the save is over-rated, closers are overpaid and why you’d rather have starters versus relievers.

Lets face it; for the most part relievers are failed starters.  A few get drafted or signed as relievers (Washington’s Drew Storen being one local example), but most starters are drafted as starters and work their way through the minors as starters.  Some starters discover that they can’t develop secondary pitches, but their primary pitches are so fantastic that the club (rightly) turns them into relievers.  This especially allows hard-throwers (think someone like Joel Zumaya) to have a career despite the fact that they only really have one pitch and throw with such effort that they could not possibly last 6+ innings.

Minor league relievers definitely make the majors, but most often as either LOOGYs or rubber-armed replaceable right-handers (think Miguel Batista) out of the bullpen.  In recent  years the desire to have more and faster throwing arms out of the bullpen has led to more pitchers opting to become relievers sooner, but they still are converted out of starting roles for either performance or fragility.

Two items from his story that I’d like to comment on:

1. Managers don’t use Closers in the most high-leverage situations. I could not agree more.  When is the best spot to use your best, most reliable reliever?  In a one-run game in the 6th when your starter runs out of gas and loads the bases with one out?  Or at the beginning of the 9th inning of a 5-3 lead?  Verducci is right; managers in the modern game are slaves to the save statistic and will not bring in their closer unless its a “save situation.”   But he also notes what is common knowledge; that you could be putting out the 12th man in your bullpen and probably have only a slightly worse chance of getting 3 outs without losing the game for your team.  Per the article, 94% of 2-run leads in the 9th inning are won irrespective of who you put out there, and that percentage has not changed significantly over the past 50 years of baseball.  Joe Posnanski also wrote about this same topic in November with similar results, finding that teams in the 50s closed out games with the same regularity as teams now, but without high-priced one-inning closers.

Luckily for the Nats, we look to have 3-4 different guys who are of sufficient quality who we CAN bring in to a game in the 6th and get a high-leverage situation.  Storen, Clippard, Burnett or newly acquired Henry Rodriguez all seem to fit the bill.  But that doesn’t mean that we don’t have a manager in Riggleman who is in the “slave to the save” category.  Matt Capps was brought in to be the closer and he closed games.  That’s it.  It is safe to say that if Riggleman decides on a closer, that’s going to be his role and that’s that.

The save stat is ridiculous and most people know it.  You can get a save in a game where you give up 2 runs and 5 hits in a 1/3 of an inning.  You can get a save when you perform mop up duty but let the score get too close while you rubber-arm your way through a meaningless blowout.  The save takes nothing about the pitcher’s performance into account; only whether or not the game ended while he was on the mound and the win was preserved.

But the save stat, and its monster creation the specialized one-inning closer, are here to stay.  Prospects come up through the ranks specifically to be closers, free agent players will only play for certain teams if given “the chance to close.”  Closers are well paid, and their pay is directly tied to this flawed save statistic.  Statisticians have tried to create a better set of metrics for middle relievers (“Holds” mostly) but the reality is that closers have high leverage in salary situations while middle relievers are lucky to get paid a bit more than the veteran’s minimum.  Verducci touches on this ridiculousness, pointing out that Papelbon‘s higher salary in 2011 than Cole Hamels despite the relative levels of production for their teams.

Ironically, some Major League managers *know* this fact, but continue to trot out their best reliever for a 3-out save at the beginning of the 9th inning in a 3-run game.  They do the same as the other 29 managers because the radical idea that backfires directly leads to termination.  No manager is willing to risk their job to try to do something the right way.  To say nothing of the reaction of a highly-paid FA closer who is suddenly told he’s going to be primarily used in the middle of the 7th to clean up the starter’s mess.

It makes you wonder if there’s a better way.  Here’s two radical suggestions:

1. Comprise a bullpen with no named closer role, and tell the entire 7-man bullpen they’re doing closer-by-committee.  It may infuriate fantasy baseball players and the union (since saves translate to salary for their FAs), but it probably placates an entire roster of wanna-be closers.  Imagine if 5 of the 7 guys in your bullpen (leaving out the LOOGY and long-man) know they may be brought in to rescue a game in the 6th or close it out in the 9th, and their roles change on a daily basis based on use.  That to me is a far better situation than pre-naming a closer (which invariably is the best guy out there) and then never using him until the 9th.

2. Comprise an ENTIRE pitching staff of long-men relievers.  Imagine if you didn’t have starters at all, but an entire bullpen of guys who were geared to pitch 2-3 innings every other night.  You would never have a need for specialized closers or even high-priced starters.  You’d rotate through who got the start, the starter would go 2-3 innings, then the next guy would go, and you’d repeat this until the game was over.  It’s kinda like spring training but all year.  Since these guys are only throwing 2-3 innings, they should be able to repeat this task multiple times in a week.

There’s 54 regular innings to be had per week mid-season (6 games at 9 innings per).  54 innings divided out by 12 guys in the pen means about 4.5 innings per WEEK per pitcher.  If you split those 4.5 innings up across three games you’d be pitching (say) 2 innings on monday, 1 on thursday then 1.5 on saturday.  That’s pretty manageable.  Plus if everyone else is doing the same, you can rotate through the guys and slightly adjust based on how they’re pitching that day.

Plus, think about how CHEAP this pitching staff would be.  12 middle relievers could not possibly cost your team more than about $15-20M annually in salary, even if they were mostly on veteran contracts.  Roy Halladay makes more than that in 2011 just by himself.

Coincidentally, this is exactly what Tony LaRussa tried at one point in the early 90s with the Athletics.  Unfortunately his experiment ended quickly, failing less because of execution and more because of lack of support from his players and management.  Its just a matter of time before someone tries it again.


Here’s the second item i’d like to comment on:

2. Starters are FAR more valuable than Relievers or Closers.  Last year in the midst of Clippard’s fantastic middle-relief run I asked myself, “Why isn’t Clippard in the rotation?”  He pitched 91 innings spread out over 78 appearances and only gave up 69 hits.  He maintained an 11.1 K/9 ratio, which is better than any starter in 2010.  91 innings was good for 4th on the entire staff in 2010.

The leading argument i’ve read for Clippard staying in the bullpen relates to the nature of his stuff.  He’s got a sneaky good fastball, a decent curve but his bread and butter pitch is the change-up.  Apparently the knock on him is that hitters adjust to him more quickly and thus he makes more sense in a relief role.  In a starting role hitters would be getting their third crack at him in the 5th or 6th inning, right when he’s tiring and right when he’s vulnerable.  In relief, he can “show” all his pitches in one at bat and work each batter individually, then leave the game before his “stuff” is exposed.

Clippard was a starter his entire minor league career, and his minor league numbers were pretty good.  He always maintained a small hits-to-IP ratio, a good k/9 ratio.  It wasn’t until he reached the majors that suddenly he couldn’t start.  I think perhaps he’s either gotten pigeonholed or he’s psychologically set in the reliever mind-frame now.

A quality starter gives your team 6+ innings, works through the opposing team’s batting order nearly 3 full times and keeps your team in the game.  6-7 innings at a 3.00 era is invaluable for your team’s psyche as it tries to win game after game.  Leaving just 2-3 innings a night for a bullpen staff of 7 means that there’s fewer days when your staff is over worked and you have to give up games for lack of bullpen arms.

How about using career WAR as a bench mark?  I don’t really like the career WAR analysis (since it is an accumulator stat and a mediocre guy with 22 years of experience appears to be better than the best pitcher of his day who only had a 15 year career).  But it is telling in this situation.  Here’s a link to career WAR for pitchers at baseball-reference.com.  And here’s the rank of the 5 best relief pitchers of all time (the 5 relievers currently in the hall of fame), along with the rankings of some of their active contemporaries who seem likely for the hall.

Lname Fname Career WAR Rank
Smoltz John 38
Eckersley Dennis 46
Rivera Mariano 69
Wilhelm Hoyt 121
Gossage Goose 133
Hoffman Trevor 215
Wagner Billy 238
Sutter Bruce 315
Fingers Rollie 325

Smoltz and Eckersly both started for large portions of their career, hence the high rank.  Mariano Rivera is clearly (in my mind) the greatest reliever who has ever played and his career WAR shows.  But notice how low closer-only guys like Sutter and Fingers are on this list.  Both are currently below modern day starters Ted Lilly and Kevin Millwood, again guys who are hardly listed as being among the game’s elite.

By means of comparison, Trevor Hoffman, who is ranked 215th all time is ranked just ahead of one Freddie Garcia in all time WAR.  Now, is Freddie Garcia a serious hall of fame candidate?  Not likely; he’s currently on a minor league contract offer with the Yankees after nearly washing out of the game two years ago.


Oh, coincidentally, I absolutely think Felix should be in the rotation.  As should Aroldis Chapman in Cincinnati.  Because they’ll be able to help your team win on a much more frequent basis.  You always want the chance of 180 innings of quality versus 60.  Its that simple.

Nats GM for a day. Part 2: the Free Agents

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Is this the National’s 2011 First Baseman? Photo: J. Meric/Getty Images

In our first of a 3-part post, we talked about the arbitration cases that the Nats face.  Some of those decisions are already being made and that post has been updated.  Now, lets talk about the free agents.

Player What Should Washington Do?/What WILL We do?
Dunn, Adam We should resign him, but Rizzo seems dead set against it.  Offer him arbitration and let him walk.
Batista, Miguel Valuable rubber arm in BP; I would resign him to a simliar 1 year deal in 2011.
Harris, Willie Let him go.  Declining value, Morse a better utility option.
Mench, Kevin Let him go; awful september numbers.  Perhaps ML FA in AAA
Kennedy, Adam Decline club option and let him go.  No need for 2nd baseman.

Clearly, the Adam Dunn decision will be critical to the direction of the team and our offense next year.  As noted above, personally I think he needs to be re-signed.  The team’s actions all year (plus Tom Boswell‘s repeated comments about how the front office has bungled the negotiations) seem to indicate though that we’re content with getting the compensatory picks and moving another direction.  If we decide to let him go, I’d prefer to sign someone like Adam LaRoche, a player who plays decent defense and shows a good bat.  I don’t think Carlos Pena (as is frequently rumored) is a good choice, and there’s sentiment in the Tampa Bay community that he may stay on in Tampa and try to improve on an awful 2010 season.  But, most pundits seem to think he’s coming here.

We also could become more creative and put someone like Josh Willingham, Michael Morse or even a supposedly healthy Jesus Flores at first as a stop gap until one of our prospects like Chris Marrero or even, say it isn’t so, Bryce Harper is ready to come up.  I mean come on, you “hide” defensive liabilities at first base.  If someone is 6’4″ and has any fielding ability they should be good enough to play the position.

Moving on to other FAs to be the decisions are relatively easy.  Harris, Mench, and Kennedy are gone.  None batted well enough to even consider and we have more able (and cheaper) minor leaguers ready to come up and serve as backups.  The last FA to be Miguel Batista proved to be a great asset to the bullpen at relatively little cost and would be worth bringing back.  We signed him last year on a non-guaranteed contract but guaranteeing him $1M wouldn’t be a huge risk.

Now, given the above, what is in store in the FA market?  I know i’ve heard lots of noise about how the Nats are going after Cliff Lee but I just don’t see that happening.  Here’s what I do see them doing:

1. Getting one or two pitchers.  Rizzo has a history with Brandon Webb, Arizona has blown enough cash on the guy, and he may be ready to come back.  We sign him to a one year deal and try to get lucky.  I’d also be happy with trading for one of Tampa’s spare starters (Garza, Shields), acquiring Vazquez (who I think is an NL, non-NY market pitcher and could return to his 2009 Atlanta form) or a De La Rosa type (hard thrower and can get Ks).  Most pundits have us signing Vazquez, some have us getting Webb.

2. Get a FA first baseman: I’ve previously said I like Adam LaRoche.  Rizzo likes Carlos Pena.  We’ll see what happens.  There’s lots of teams looking for first basemen, so the competition for these guys may force our hand into a guy we don’t want.

3. Find a utility player: we need a better version of Willie Harris.  May come from the minors as a prospect but probably not.  We need a guy who can play 2nd/ss or 3b in a pinch.

Less Likely:

4. Sign or acquire a marquee outfielder.  I’d love to see someone like Werth or Ross in right field, which could move Bernadina to center, allow us to rid ourselves of Morgan and then use Maxwell as the 4th outfielder.  We could also acquire someone like Rasmus or Ellsbury, put them in center, dump Morgan and go with Willingham-new CF-Bernadina.  Or we could use a Morse/Bernadina platoon in Right with Bernadina occasionally spelling Morgan in center (though they’re both lefty and both hit relatively the same, so that may not actually work).

I don’t really see us going after any bullpen help or a closer.  As Zuckerman once said, we’re remarkably set on 2011 positions despite being a 90-loss team.   We had a good bullpen last year and have a couple of decent looking reliever prospects in Carr and Kimball.  I could see a 2011 bullpen with Clippard, Burnett, Storen, Stammen, Balester, Slaten and Carr.  Or substitute some of our arbitration/fa guys for Stammen and Balester.

I’ve said for a while that the Nats need to spend like a mid market team.  $90M payroll at a minimum so as not to insult the fanbase.  Perhaps this off season we’ll see it.  They only have a paltry $24M committed for 2011 right now and, while that number will increase with potentially 13 arbitration cases, a huge chunk of last year’s payroll is now gone (just Guzman and Dunn consisted of nearly 1/3 of our 2010 payroll).  So, lets see some FA dollars get spent!

Strasburg is human… not all is lost.

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21 days on the nose since his last start Strasburg took the mound last night and, well, got hit.  Hard.  He gave up 6 hits and 6 earned runs (thought the last run was courtesy of Batista allowing his inherited runner to score).

4Ks and 2 walks but he was behind most of the hitters and went 3-2 more than a few times.

Those 6 hits were no flukes.  All of them were extra bases.

– A homer by Uggla (who hit a 1-2 fastball up and in and lined it into the stands.  Great swing, no mistake here.).
– A bullet of a double by Hanley Ramirez (he hit a first pitch fastball that was right down the heart of the plate the other way over the RF’s head).
– Another well hit ball by Uggla for another double (he sat on a 2-1 fastball and swung hard on it).
– Another bullet by Stanton (who sat on a 2-0 fastball and tattooed it into the leftfield corner).

– Hanley hitting a hanging 0-2 curveball for a double into left field (definitely a mistake pitch).
– finally, Gabby Sanchez hit a 1-1 ball on a line to left field.  Scored a double but should have been an error on Willingham, who gloved it but a good fielder easily makes that catch going backwards over their head.

So, what happened?  It all comes down to one primary reason: Strasburg had Zero feel for any of his pitches besides his 4-seam fastball, and even that was all over the place.  For the first time in his starts i saw a MPH reading of 101, but he couldn’t control it.  He threw six or seven curves before getting one called for a strike.  His 2-seamer kept missing the plate low.  He had so little feel for his circle-change that he only threw it once in the first 4 innings.

So he keeps running up the fastball.  Constantly behind in the count.  By the 5th inning it was clear that he was throwing it slower just to get it over (aiming it almost) and that’s why he got the yank.  This is a good hitting team.  Hanley Ramierez, Gabby Sanchez, Uggla, and Stanton did the damage.  He walked a .234 hitter twice and both times it led to Uggla getting a 2 out atbat that he shouldn’t have had.  But what we saw is that good hitters, if they know what is coming and can sit on the fastball, can hit the fastball no matter how fast it is going.

In the end, it is all rustiness.  He’ll probably be dominant again in his next start (Sunday 1:35pm game at Nats park against Arizona).

your cub reporter,
boss

Written by Todd Boss

August 11th, 2010 at 11:05 am