Nationals Arm Race

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

Archive for the ‘mike rizzo’ tag

Nats offered Bud Black how little??


The Shredder comes to town.  Photo via, his current gig.

The Shredder comes to town. Photo via, his current gig.

Boy, if there was something I didn’t expect to read this morning, it was that the Nats franchise has managed to embarrass themselves *yet again* in a basic baseball executive management function.  Its like the bad old days of “The Lerners are cheap” and “Jim Bowden is incompetent.”

As noted in this piece and in this David Nichols post (which contains some pretty damning tweets), the Nats offered Bud Black a ridiculously under valued offer, he was insulted and refused to take it.  It apparently was than $2M for two seasons (or less than what they’re going to be paying Matt Williams NOT to manage in 2016).  USAToday’s Bob Nightengale reports it at $1.6M and only guaranteed for two years.  By way of comparison, Don Mattingly got 4 guaranteed years for a million more per year despite having significantly less experience.  Unbelievable slap in the face for a guy with Black’s resume.

And so now we’re apparently looking back at Dusty Baker, aka the shredder, aka Mr “walks are bad?,” aka “back when I played RBIs were important.”  Yahoo and other places are reporting that he’s been officially hired … though we thought Black was hired last week too, so maybe i’ll reserve judgement until we see him putting pen to paper.

My opinion of this situation: Awesome.  (that was sarcasm, by the way).

The team inexplicably makes itself look amateurish and incompetent in one fell swoop (how do they NOT know the going rates of managers in this league??  Pick up the frigging phone and call around) *and* miss out on a candidate that I personally thought was a pretty good transition away from the Matt Williams debacle.

I defended Jim Riggleman in this space when he abruptly resigned in 2011, putting some blame on Mike Rizzo for poor management/communication and leaving him out to dry for so long as “interim” manager.  Now, with Rizzo dealing with his SIXTH manager in 6.5 years at the helm (inherited Acta, hired Riggleman, installed Davey Johnson, (not even counting the 3-game interim manager McLaren) hand-picked Williams as replacement, butchered negotiations with Black and now has hired Baker), at what point do you look firmly at the executive in charge here and start asking serious questions about his abilities to manage?  Maybe you put this entirely on the Lerners … but isn’t it the job of the GM to counsel his non-baseball lifer owners on what is and isn’t possible in this game?  How is it possible they so badly low-balled a senior professional candidate while so badly overpaid for sh*tty edge-roster guys over the past two years (ahem, Nate McLouth).  How is it possible that the Lerners *still* seem to have this team in some weird corporate-world budgetary constraint system where they have their “slot” pre-defined for managers, for payroll, etc?  I don’t get it.

You know, sometimes you get what you pay for.  Lets hope this team doesn’t “get what it paid for” in Baker for the next two years (two years that will represent a significant “era coming to an end” situation for this team).

2015 Season Statistical Review of the 2012 draft class


Lucas Giolito still leads the line of the Nats 2012 draft class. Photo unk via

Lucas Giolito still leads the line of the Nats 2012 draft class. Photo unk via

(Useless blog information: this is my 900th post!  And we’ve had nearly 7,500 comments on those posts; that’s fantastic.  )

The next in a series: previously we reviewed the 2015 season stats for the 2015 draft class, 2014 draft class, and the 2013 draft class.  Like with the 2013 post, this one was easier to do thanks to having done the 2012 guys back in 2013 time-frame.  Is it worth going back one or two more draft classes at this point?  Maybe not; the 2012 draft class has mostly already been Rule-5 exposed, a good benchmark for prospects to make it or break it in terms of advancement or resignation as “org guy.”  I have gone back one more class to 2011 and that’s it, so one more in this series after this.

Web links to use while reading:

  • Stats are pulled from and/or; put the player name into the search bar to get his seasonal stats
  • The MLB Draft Tracker (which I believe is the best draft tracker out there) is the best place to get draft class information.
  • The Big Board and the Draft Tracker are the goto resources for prospects for any Nats fan.
  •’s draft database for Nats 2011 class.
  • My working XLS in Google for all this data (cut-n-pasted at the bottom).
  • for really obscure stats for players, like college stats for these  upper round 30s guys.

Without further ado:

Round 1: (#16 overall) Lucas Giolito HS RH Starting pitcher: 7-7, 3.15 ERA across two levels, starting at HighA and moved up to AA.  131/37 K/BB in 117 IP (21 “starts”) with 1.96/3.18 fip, and .352/.341 babip splits between HighA/AA.  A fantastic season for the newly-turned 21-yr old, who dominated HighA before moving up and holding his own in AA for the last two months of the season.  All the pre-season talk about how he was going to have “no innings limits” was bunk; he was kept in XST until the first week of May and routinely skipped starts so as to extend him through the whole season while keeping his innings year-over-year increase just below the magical 20% mark (98 IP in 2014, 117 in 2015).  He’s now routinely named as either the best or the 2nd best (behind LA’s Julio Urias) pitching prospect in all of baseball.  Not much else to say.  I’m guessing he starts 2016 in AA, moves to AAA and may even get tapped once he surpasses the Super-2 deadline as an injury fill-in starter in the majors.  Look for him to get about 140 innings in 2016 all told (that’s 20% bump from his 2015 117 total).  Trending Up.

Round 2(80) Tony Renda, Coll Jr 2B: .267/.333/.340 in Harrisburg with 15/19 K/BB ratio and 13 SBs in a little less than a half a season in AA before he was traded to the Yankees on 6/11/15 for David Carpenter.   Renda had progressed nicely in the system as a defense and speed-first second baseman, but in the immediate seems like he was blocked by Wilmer Difo, perhaps the rising of Chris Bostick and the presence in the majors of three or four different guys who can play an adequate second base.  So the team flipped him for something they needed; reliever depth.

Round 3(111) Brett Mooneyham, Coll Jr LH starting pitcher: was 0-2 with a 6.41 ERA in 19 ineffective innings for LowA Hagerstown before the Nats finally cut the cord and released him on 6/3/15.  Mooneyham was in Low-A for the third successive season, having failed to make the cut in Potomac in each of 2013 and 2014.  You’d have to say that he’s one of the more higher-profile drafting failures of the Mike Rizzo era.  Or maybe not; the team had to go over-slot to sign Giolito and may have skimped for the rest of the draft.

Round 4: (144) Brandon Miller Coll Sr Corner OF: .226/.301/.421 in 59 games with Potomac before voluntarily retiring on 7/10/15.  Despite showing some power (he hit 20 homers in the 2013 season), he never really solved HighA and made way in the Potomac outfield for some rising DSL grads.

Round 5: (174) Spencer Kieboom, Coll Jr C: Slashed .248/.344/.346 with 30/36 K/BB in 246 ABs with Potomac, which were incremental steps back from his great low-A numbers in 2014.  He missed a good portion of the season with injury (concussion) and is currently playing in the Arizona Fall League to make up for it.  He was starting to get some notice in the organization, appearing in the tail end of top-30 prospect lists.  Despite his step back in offense, Kieboom has taken a huge step forward in terms of his defense, his play-calling and pitch-framing.  Scouting reports on him are glowing in this regard, with most projecting him at worst as a backup catcher in the bigs because of his defensive capability.  I think he starts 2016 in AA with an eye towards getting his bat back on track, and if he keeps producing he could soon be a viable alternative to the current catching tandem in the majors.  Trending up.

Round 6: (204) Hayden Jennings, HS OF/CF: Released in May 2014 after two years in the GCL with big K numbers.

Round 7(234) Robert Benincasa, Coll Jr. RH relief pitcher: Just 4 IP for Harrisburg this year until suffering a season-ending injury.  He made the AA bullpen out of spring (which is where he ended the 2014 season) and seemed to be in a decent spot but got almost no playing time.  Minor league relievers generally don’t get a lot of love from prospect hounds, but in a system where an able-bodied RHP who could throw strikes would have been nice to have in August and September, there’s still opportunity for Benincasa going forward.  Trending Steady if he’s healthy, looking at a ST2016 release if not.

Round 8: (264) Stephen Perez, Coll Jr. SS: slashed just .209/.302/.280 with 87/59 K/BB in 435 ABs between Potomac and Harrisburg.  2 homers, 16 steals.  Perez broke camp with Harrisburg but couldn’t cut it, hitting just .130 in April before getting dumped back to repeat High-A.  In 1300+ career minor league ABs he’s now hitting just .233 and doesn’t seem like he’s long for the organization.  As mentioned in this space before, the Nats drafted a ton of college middle infielders in 2015 and Perez may struggle to keep his slot given what’s expected to rise up.  Trending down.

Round 9: (294) Derek Self, Coll Sr. RH relief pitcher: 4-5, 3.56 ERA with 45/15 K/BB in 60ip.  3.71 fip, .291 BABIP in Potomac.  Broke camp as a member of the AA bullpen but got hit and was dumped back to high-A, where he spent most of the season.  This is the third straight  year he’s been in Potomac as a college senior draftee; odds are there won’t be a 4th.  He may break camp with a full season squad in 2016 but may fall victim to a numbers game once the short-season guys start pushing for promotions.  Trending down.

Round 10(324) Craig Manuel, Coll Sr C: slashed just .206/.276/.242 between three levels but mostly with Potomac.  He had just 165 ABs on the year as he served as the backup catcher in High-A.  Its his third straight season of essentially being an “old for the level” backup catcher who has struggled to hit the Mendoza Line since leaving Low-A.  Its hard to read the tea-leaves on catchers since they’re so scarce, so I won’t summarily pass judgement that Manuel’s time is about to come to an end.  He could very well be the backup catcher again in Potomac next year.  He is a local guy (born in Rockville, MD though he went to HS in Florida and college in Texas), so perhaps he enjoys playing in the DC area.  Otherwise, just based on his offensive numbers I have to say he’s Trending Down.

Round 11(354) Brian Rauh, Coll Jr RH starter/reliever: 4-7, 3.39 ERA with 84/24 K/BB ratio in 101 innings (18 starts) across *four* different levels.  2.61/4.95 fip in Potomac/Harrisburg where he spent the most time this year.  Rauh had a nice tour of the system this year, starting in High-A (he was the #2 opening day starter), getting hurt, doing some rehab in the GCL, then working his way back up the chain from Low-A to High-A to AA.  He ended the year in Harrisburg’s rotation, for what its worth.  He didn’t entirely impress at AA but had an incrementally better season in High-A.  My guess is that he starts the 2016 season in the AA rotation, but he has to show he’s worthy in AA.  Trending Steady.

Round 12(384) Carlos Lopez, Coll Sr 1B: Slashed just .138/.265/.241 in 10 games in Hagerstown before being released on 6/30/15.  This was the third straight season that Lopez featured in Hagerstown, having spent the first two months of the season in XST after getting beat out for the 1B job in the spring.  Eventually there just was no more room for Lopez, with uber prospect Jose Marmolejos-Diaz soon taking over at 1B in Hagerstown and slugging 11 homers in a half-season.

Round 13: (414) Elliott Waterman, Coll Jr LH reliever: Struggled in two Short-A stints and was released on 3/15/14 prior to the beginning of the 2014 season when he couldn’t break into a full-season bullpen.

Round 14: (444) Jordan Poole, Juco-2 corner OF: Similarly to Waterman above, Poole struggled to hit in two seasons shuttling between  Short-A and GCL, and the Nats released him on 3/14/14 when he wasn’t set to make a full season roster.

Round 15: (474) Brandon Smith, OF: Didn’t sign.  Attending Division II Grand Canyon University, where he remains today.  He hit a robust .348/.402/.478 for them this season but was not drafted as a draft-eligible junior.  Maybe the Nats take a flier on him in a late round since they love doing re-drafts on late-round HS picks.

Round 16: (504) Ronald Pena, Juco-2 RH starter/reliever: threw just four rehab innings in 2015, spending the entire season on the Potomac Disabled List.  He was coming off a season where he had a 5.96 ERA in High-A and needed 2015 to show he could make the jump.  My guess is that he’ll get another shot at being the Potomac swing-man in 2016 but he may struggle to make the squad, given the huge number of college arms pushing into the system year after year.  Trending Down.

Round 17: (534) Blake Schwartz, Coll Sr RH Starting pitcher: 0-2, 5.87 ERA in 3 Potomac starts and then he called it quits, officially retiring on 4/24/15.  Schwartz was *so good* in 2013 for Potomac (11-4, 2.65 ERA) then struggled in AA before getting hurt in 2014 and missing half the season.  I thought the retirement was surprising; maybe his 2014 injury just killed his arm and with it his career.  Too bad; he was looking like a fantastic low-round find.

Round 18: (564) David Fischer, Coll Sr RH reliever: Released on 7/3/14 after bouncing around the system for a couple of years.

Round 19: (594) Bryan Lippincott, Coll Sr 1B: Retired ahead of the 2014 season after one decent season in Short-A.

Round 20: (624) James Brooks, Coll SR SS/3B: Released May 2013; he was a senior sign who played last season mostly in the GCL, save for a 2 week stretch where he went 1-32 in Short-A.

Round 21: (654) Austin Chubb, Coll Sr C: Released ahead of the 2015 season after struggling to a .221/.299/.324 line in Hagerstown in 2014.  Signed as a MLFA with Los Angeles and bounced around their farm system this year, missing huge chunks of the season with injury.  Backup Catchers can live forever. 

Round 22: (684) Will Hudgins, Coll Sr RH reliever: Suddenly retired 7/12/13 per his Twitter account.

Round 23: (714) Casey Selsor, Coll Sr LH Starter/Reliever: Posted a 4.29 ERA in ShortA in 2014, then released on 3/20/14.

Round 24: (744) Kevin Dicharry, Coll SR RH pitcher: released 7/1/13

Round 25: (774) Freddy Avis, RHP: didn’t sign.  Attending Stanford, where in 2013 he appeared in exactly one game and pitched 2 innings before suffering a season-ending injury.  That injury never got better and he retired from baseball altogether in March of 2015.  Shame.

Round 26: (804) Skye Bolt, RHP: didn’t sign.  Attended UNC, had an excellent college career and was a 4th round pick in 2015 by the Oakland A’s.  He kind of reminds me of our 2015 pick Andrew Stevenson frankly; kind of an odd swing, defense-first speedy outfielder with limited power.

Round 27: (834) Cody Poteet, RHP: didn’t sign.  Attended UCLA and got drafted (like Bolt) in the 4th round of the 2015 draft by the Marlins.

Round 28: (864) Hunter Bailey, Coll Sr SS/2B: released May 2013.

Round 29: (894) Leonard “LJ” Hollins, Juco RH reliever: released 7/2/14 after struggling for half a season in Hagerstown.

Round 30: (924) Robert Orlan Coll Jr LH Starter: 3-1, 3.00 ERA with 85/28 K/BB ratio in 72 relief IP between LowA and HighA.  Orlan bounced between Potomac and Hagerstown all season, ending up in HighA with pretty good numbers in a “more than a loogy” role.  Especially impressive is 85 Ks in just 72 ip.  He’s older for these levels, inarguably, but could put himself in a good position by continuing to succeed in 2016.  I see him in the Potomac bullpen again with an eye towards a June promotion to AA when the short-season promotions come due.  Trending Steady.

Round 31: (954) Michael Boyden Coll Sr RH reliever: Released Jan 2014 after struggling for two years in Rookie ball as a college senior sign.

Round 32: (984) Michael Mudron, Coll Sr LH reliever: Released Jan 2014 after posting a 6.82 ERA in Short-A in 2013.

Round 33: (1014) Mike McQuillan, Coll Sr 2B/3B: Released 3/26/15 after hitting just .207 in Potomac last  year, likely losing out on a numbers game.

Round 34: Jake Jefferies, 2B: didn’t sign.  Attended Cal State Fullerton and subsequently drafted again by the Nats in the 39th round in 2015.

Round 35: Corey Bafidis, LHP: didn’t sign but Washington picked him in 2013. 

Round 36: Max Ungar, Cdidn’t sign.  Attending Division III Denison, where he did not seem to even be playing.

Round 37: Tyler Watson, LHPdidn’t sign.  Attended Kansas U for a year, then bounced to McLennan Community College in Waco, TX and and got drafted by the Angels in the 38th round of the 2014 draft.  This is *not* the same Tyler Watson, by the way, that the Nats drafted in the 2015 draft.

Round 38: Jarred Messer, RHPdidn’t sign.  Pitched the last two years with the Kansas City T-Bones in the independent American Association

Round 39: Mitchell Williams, Cdidn’t sign.  Attended the Marion Military Institute in Alabama, for which I cannot find any current stats.

Round 40: Ricky Gutierrez, CFdidn’t sign.  Presumably playing football for U-Conn, as per the Draft Tracker.


Trending Summary:

  • Trending Up (2): Giolito, Kieboom
  • Trending Steady (3): Benincasa, Rauh, Orlan
  • Trending Down (4): Perez, Self, Manuel, Pena
  • Did Not Sign in 2012 (11): Smith, Avis, Bolt, Poteet, Jefferies, Bafidis, Ungar, Watson, Messer, Williams, Gutierrez
  • Released/Retired (19): Mooneyham, Miller, Jennings, Lopez, Waterman, Poole, Schwartz, Fischer, Lippincott, Brooks, Chubb, Hudgins, Selsor, Dicharry, Bailey, Hollins, Boyden, Mudron, McQuillan
  • Traded (1): Renda

Executive Summary

Three years onward, there’s just 10 of the 40 names left active somewhere in the minors.  11 never signed and another 19 have been released or retired.  We cashed in Renda on a middle reliever who subsequently got hurt, and this class has one of the best 2 or 3 prospects in the game.  Otherwise … there’s just not much there.  It seems likely that the Nats 2012 class is going to end up producing just two MLB players; a near Ace and possibly a backup Catcher.  Maybe one of the trending steady middle relievers can make a run ala Aaron Barrett.  Otherwise, is this class a disappointment?


Welcome Bud Black


Jun 8, 2015; Atlanta, GA, USA; San Diego Padres manager Bud Black (20) watches a game against the Atlanta Braves in the second inning at Turner Field. Mandatory Credit: Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

Jun 8, 2015; Atlanta, GA, USA; San Diego Padres manager Bud Black (20) watches a game against the Atlanta Braves in the second inning at Turner Field. Mandatory Credit: Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

Well, I wish I had published something predictive at the time, but as soon as I heard Bud Black‘s name being discussed as a candidate, I had a feeling he was going to be the choice.  Why?  I dunno; it was just a feeling.  Black was the 3rd longest tenured manager in the league when his under-performing/poorly constructed 2015 Padres team cratered, leading to his exit (behind only the bullet-proof Mike Scioscia and the excellent Bruce Bochy).  As noted by Ben Lindbergh in his post-axing piece earlier this year, Black had survived several changes in ownership and executive power, which speaks to his value as a skipper since most new regimes clean house to get “their guys” in place.  Point is, you don’t hang around that long unless you’re good … and he makes a lot of sense to be the next manager here.

In my “GM for a day” piece a few weeks back I wrote the following as “job requirements” for a new manager:


  • … 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, match-ups 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.

That was quite a rant.  Lets look at Mr. Black and see how he fits in, requirement by requirement (paraphrasing in order from above without the swear words):

  • Communication: Tom Boswell‘s leading point about Black relates to his communication.
  • Player’s Manager: Black absolutely has the reputation of being a player’s manager, not a disciplinarian.
  • Up on Sabremetrics: no idea, probably not as progressive as younger guys who havn’t spent a lifetime in the game.
  • Lineup construction: remains to be seen; see above.
  • Bullpen management/Meaning of the Save: purportedly a strength of Blacks, by virtue of his long career as a Pitching coach before becoming a manager.  Black himself had a long career (15 seasons) mostly as a starter in this league, so his presence as a manager makes him a rarity.  It should be noted though that Black has always had a dominant closer on his staff (Trevor Hoffman, Heath Bell, Huston Street and Craig Kimbrel this year) so maybe this is an area of concern.

What else?

  • Small Ball/Bunting: remains to be seen, along with shifting, run-expectancy matrix, lineup construction and other factors.
  • Open to new analytical ideas: presumably so to the extent required by *this* management team.  Mike Rizzo is not known as the biggest analytical guy in the game but certainly isn’t a Ruben Amaro type who completely discounts stats and still thinks Wins and RBIs are the biggest evaluation factors.
  • Listens to his coaches: seemingly a no-brainer, since the Nats cleared their entire slate of coaches and probably give Black full reign to name his staff.  This, to be entirely clear, was not necessarily a benefit given to Matt Williams it should be noted.  Maybe it isn’t that big of a surprise that the lines of communication broke down between Williams and his staff.
  • Rookies over Vets when appropriate: may be a problem given his own playing career (a similar issue that Williams ran into over and again), but then again, the team he inherits won’t really have an issue in that regard.  The only real high-flying rookie that he may end up having to deal with is Lucas Giolito, and he won’t be ready til mid-season/won’t be called up unless there’s an obvious injury to replace.
  • Relates to the players: see “players manager” above; Black was himself an accomplished Major Leaguer (as was Williams) so should command the respect of both rookies and vets alike.
  • Prior Management experience: plenty of it, and evidence (2015 notwithstanding) that he could do quite a lot with not a lot based on his low-payroll Padres having a bit of success during his tenure.

I read/heard an interesting analogy on divorce and remarrying once; often times people who re-marry end up over-emphasizing those specific faults they found in their first spouse.  So if your first wife was really opinionated and vocal … you find a second wife who is really demure.

What was William’s biggest faults in the eyes of management?  Lost the clubhouse, didn’t communicate, couldn’t manage the pitching staff.  Now look at Black’s purported strengths: player’s manager, great communicator and a former pitching coach.

Sound like someone who fits what the Nats are looking for?

Side note: I did a bit of quick-analysis of what positions the 30 managers this year played and came up with this analysis (this analysis was done at the end of the season, after Black’s removal but before the likes of Mattingly and Williams got fired):

  • Infielders (9): Hale, Weiss, Mattingly, Counsell, Collins, MacKanin, Williams, Ventura, Molitor
  • Outfielders (4): Hurdle, Showalter, Francona, McClendon
  • Catchers (14): Gonzalez, Maddon, Murphy, Bochy, Matheny, Ausmus, Hinch, Yost, Scioscia, Girardi, Melvin, Cash, Banister, Gibbons
  • Pitchers (2): Price, Farrell
  • Unknown or unclear (1): Jennings (formerly the GM; played in college but can’t find what position).

So, Black will be just the third active manager who was a former pitcher while nearly half the managers in the league were former Catchers.  Does this matter?  Not if he can do the job.  Former catchers make great sense to be managers for the obvious observation that they “cross the lines” between hitters and pitchers unlike any other player.

My opinion: the right hire for this team at this time.  I completely subscribe to a theory that teams that burn out on a disciplinarian manager then immediately embrace a player’s manager, thankful for the overall “relaxing” of the clubhouse.  Lets hope the 2016 Nats react similarly (oh, and stay healthy, and play up to capabilities).


2015 Season Statistical review of the 2013 draft class


Loving what Austin Voth is doing for the Nats. Photo via mlbdirt

Loving what Austin Voth is doing for the Nats. Photo via mlbdirt

The next in a series: previously we reviewed the 2015 season stats for the 2015 draft class and the 2014 draft class.  Unlike these other two posts, this one was a bit easier to write.  Why?  Because I had done this analysis for the 2013 class previously … back in 2013.  All I had to do was cut-n-paste that post and all 40 draftees were already listed with key details.  Ahhh.  I may continue this with previous classes since it was easier to compile.  Hopefully I didn’t miss any obvious promotions for key guys like I did previously.

Web links to use while reading:

Without further ado:

Round 1: forfeited w/ Rafael Soriano signing, which as I noted in this June 2013 post cost the Nats a shot at one of several highly regarded pitchers drafted just behind our vacated spot.  In retrospect, here’s a quick summary of the careers so far of the guys I liked at the time in that spot (Rob Kaminsky, Sean Manaea, Ryne Stanek, Ian Clarkin):

  • Kaminsky: so far, looks pretty good.  Career 2.22 ERA across multiple levels, finishing this year in High-A.  Flipped this  year to Cleveland from St. Louis (his drafting team) in the Brandon Moss deal.
  • Manaea: looks awesome after some injury issues in 2013.  Finished 2015 going 6-0 with a 1.93 ERA for Midland in AA and was a key prospect going to Oakland in the Ben Zobrist deal.  I really liked him in 2013 and thought his hip injury bumped him down the line from being the top 10 talent he was initially projected to be, and nothing he’s done professionally has countered that.
  • Stanek: dominated high-A for Tampa Bay this year, finished the year in AA.
  • Clarkin: drafted by the Yankees, pitched his first full season of pro ball in low-A (impressive), giving Charleston 16 decent starts.  Hurt his elbow in 2015 spring training and didn’t pitch all year, but is apparently recovered and is now pitching in the AFL.

I dunno.  I hate to sound like a repeating record on the Soriano signing, but it looks even worse know knowing who we could have had.  Knowing how Mike Rizzo loves college arms, you have to think he was likely looking at either Manaea or Stanek, and both those guys are looking like mid-rotation starters perhaps by mid 2016.  All for an overpriced malcontent closer we didn’t need and who was eventually supplanted from the role by the same in-house option (Drew Storen) who the team AGAIN tried to supplant with another unnecessary over-priced malcontent (this time Jonathan Papelbon) in 2015 to disastrous results.  Do you think Rizzo and Lerner have learned their lesson by now?

Back to the analysis.

Round 2Jake Johansen, Coll Sr. RH Starting Pitcher Dallas Baptist U..  1-7, 5.44 ERA  with 48/27 K/BB in 48 relief IP, 4.69 fip, .358 babip for Potomac this year.  He was pushed to the bullpen full time for 2015 yet was, frankly, awful in relief.  This is on top of his 5.19 ERA in 2014 in Hagerstown.  This pick is looking more and more like a disaster.  I don’t see any silver linings here, other than his K/inning rate (which is thrown off by his 4.5 walks/9 inning rate for his career).  Trending Down.

Round 3Drew Ward, HS 3B. Slashed .249/.327/.358 with 110/39 K/BB in 377 Abs, 6hr for High-A Potomac.  Missed a month with an injury, but otherwise took incremental steps back on his performance from his 2014 campaign in Low-A.  Where’s the power?  Slugging .358 isn’t great, especially for a corner infielder.  But there doesn’t seem to be anyone else really preventing him from suiting up for Harrisburg as the starting 3B in 2016.  Also worth remembering; he’s a HS draftee so he was a 20-yr old in High-A; quite young.  That tempers any criticism.   He’s in the Arizona Fall League, a good sign for the team’s opinion of him, so even my opinion may be slightly conservative. Trending Steady.

Round 4Nick Pivetta, Juco RH Starting Pitcher.  7-4, 2.29 ERA for Potomac in 2015 before getting traded to Philadelphia for Jonathan Papelbon.  Was working on a nice improvement over his 2014 campaign for Hagerstown (13-8, 4.22 ERA).  Was bumped up to Philly’s AA affiliate in Reading PA and struggled to finish out 2015.

Round 5Austin Voth, Coll Jr RH Starting Pitcher: 6-7, 2.92 ERA and 148/40 k/bb across 157 ip (28 starts) for AA Harrisburg.  3.07 fip, .284 babip.  Another excellent campaign after his three-level jump in 2014.  He’s now regularly mentioned in the back-end of Nats top 10 prospect lists and seems like he could be one of the first options considered in 2016 if a MLB starting pitcher gets injured.  Looks like a steal of this draft and could be the best player to come out of it by the time all is said and done.  Trending Up.

Round 6Cody Gunter, Juco 3B: 1-0 4.15 ERA, 23/8 K/BB in 21.2 IP for Short-A Auburn, 3.84 fip, .259 babip.  Gunter was drafted as a 3B and after two non-descript seasons in Auburn converted to the mound.  so far, results look promising; he maintained a K/inning ratio with good control and could be better based on the ERA-FIP delta.   I see him getting pushed to the Low-A bullpen in 2016.  Trending Steady.

Round 7Jimmy Yezzo, Coll Jr 1B.  Slashed .192/.250/.256 with 36/13 K/BB in 49 games at Potomac, with just one homer, before the team pulled the plug and released him on 7/22/15.  Yezzo showed some power in Low-A in 2014 (13 homers in 123 games) but clearly not enough to justify keeping him around as a 1B-only player.  This was always going to be the jeopardy with drafting him; he was positionally limited from the start and, despite a great college campaign, couldn’t make the transition in pro ball.  Immediately after his release he picked up with a Frontier League team, finishing out the season, so hopefully he gets another shot.

Round 8David Napoli, Coll Sr LH relief pitcher.  Went 7-5, 4.01 ERA with 62/36 K/BB in 60 relief IP mostly for LowA Hagerstown.  3.57 fip, .289 babip.  He started with Potomac but spent most of the year in Hagerstown, despite turning 25 during the season.  If anything,  his numbers took a step back from his 2014 Hagerstown campaign, and given his age and the glut of arms in the system, time may be running out.  Or maybe not: i mean, he signed for $15k and basically cost the team nothing and eats innings; that kind of guy is useful to have around.  See McGregor, Scott for AAA the last couple of years.  Trending Down.

Round 9Jake Joyce, Coll Sr RH relief pitcher.  Released in July 2014 as the 2014 signees started reporting to Vermont after just one season in Auburn where he posted a 5+ ERA.  A cheap, senior sign who had to do more to impress and stick around as Napoli has done.

Round 10Brennan Middleton, Coll Sr SS/2B. Slashed .198/.252/.264 for half a season while repeating LowA despite his age and was summarily released in July 2015.  Senior sign, low bonus figure, poor performance all contributed.

Round 11John Simms, Coll jr RH relief pitcher.  6-6, 2.74 ERA with 48/25 K/BB in 88.2 (15 starts) for Potomac.  4.15 fip, .236 babip.  Earned a mid-season promotion and ended the season with 6 starts in Harrisburg’s rotation.  Excellent season-over-season improvement for Simms, who will look to do the same thing in AA’s rotation for 2016.  The team clearly sees the same potential and sent him to the Arizona Fall League this year.  Trending up.

Round 12Andrew Cooper, Juco RH relief pitcher.  2-2, 3.53 ERA with 35/16 K/BB in 63.2 relief IP for LowA Hagerstown, 3.63 fip, .283 babip.  Improved his numbers across the board while repeating LowA.  Still isn’t getting the K/9 we’d like to see though.  He’ll be 24 in High-A next year in what probably is a make or break season.  Trending Steady.

Round 13John Costa, Juco RH relief pitcher.  Released 4/1/15 after being injured most of 2014.  Without knowing the details, I’d guess that whatever injury he suffered was a career ender, that he couldn’t show enough improvement in spring training 2015 to merit keeping around.  Tough break.

Round 14David Masters, Juco SS.  Slashed .226/.311/.285 with 69/40 K/BB in 354 Abs, 2hr, 3SB mostly in LowA, missed most of May and June.  Did earn a promotion to HighA in August to finish out the season.  With so many MIF in the system and the likes of Chris Bostick blasting homers in the AFL, Masters may not be long for the organization.  Trending down.

Round 15Isaac Ballou, Coll Sr OF/CF.  Slashed .271/.344/.397  with 82/47 K/BB in 431 Abs, 8homers 21steals CF/LF as  he jumped two levels (from HighA to AAA) in 2015.  A nice season from the local product (hails from Germantown, MD, went to Marshall U).  An .876 OPS in AA greased the skids for him to move up the line.  He has some speed (56 career SBs in 322 games) and can hit and can play all three OF positions; can he push the likes of Matt den Dekker for a  utility OF spot on the big club?  Maybe not for 2016, but a strong AAA campaign would help.  Trending up.

Round 16Willie Allen, Juco Corner OF from Oklahoma/Newtown, MA.  Did not sign; transferred to Lewis-Clark State (ID).  Allen was an odd case at the time; it was literally impossible to find information on him.  But he’s definitely playing college ball at Lewis-Clark now.  Now known as “William Allen” if you’re trying to find him in various databases, fyi.

Round 17Geoff Perrott, Coll Sr C.  released/retired (2015): never played in 2014 and no record of his official release in, but clearly he’s done playing.

Round 18Cory Bafidis, Coll Sr LH relief pitcher.  Released July 2014 once the 2014 draftees started showing up in Auburn.  This release has troubled me; he had decent numbers in 2013, then got axed after just 6 innings in 2014.  Seemed too fast to me.

Round 19Niko Spezial, Coll Sr LH relief pitcher.  Released in May of 2014, even before the draft.  Only threw 19 innings in 2013 and none in 2014, not getting a full-team assignment and likely just losing out on the anticipated numbers game.

Round 20Brenton Allen, Coll Jr Corner OF.  As with Bafidis, Released in June 2014 once the 2014 draftees started showing up in Auburn.  He only hit .197 in Auburn in 2013 and was clearly replaceable with new 2014 OF draftees.

Round 21Justin Thomas, Coll Sr LH relief pitcher.  1-6, 3.43 ERA with 50/18 K/BB in 57.2 relief ip for Potomac. 2.84 fip, .300 babip in HighA.  Oddly, he’s a lefty but he has much better L-R splits than loogy splits.  But, he also wasn’t really used as a loogy, accumulating 57 innings in 28 games.  He was more of a swing-man/innings sponge for the team despite never getting an official start.  Good peripherals, good K/9 rates, I see him moving up to the AA bullpen easily.  Nice find in the 21st round.  Trending up.

Round 22Cody Dent, Coll Sr SS.  Slashed .193/.257/.224  with 42/12 K/BB in 161 abs, 1hr, 2sb, mostly in LowA.  Played 3B, got moved up to HighA and then went 0-24 in Potomac.  He didn’t play after 7/31 but did not appear on any injury report; he was on the TIL for basically the rest of the season.  The son of Bucky Dent seems to be getting similar treatment as Ryan Ripkeand Cutter Dykstra (also sons of former MLBers); he’s hanging around despite poor numbers.  How long can it last with all the MIF options moving up the line?  Trending down.

Round 23Garrett Gordon, Juco Corner OF.  Released in March of 2015; hit just .230 in Auburn in 2014 as a corner OF and, as with Allen above, was deemed replaceable with the 2015 crop of players rising up.

Round 24Matt Derosier, Juco RH relief pitcher.  0-2, 3.58 ERA with 30/7 K/BB in 27IP (7 starts) mostly in the GCL, having gotten dumped out of Auburn after a couple of poor starts.   2.02 fip, .435 babip in Auburn, so perhaps it was a short-sample-size that was unflattering.  He needs to put together a nice string of healthy starts somewhere outside of complex ball though.  Trending down.

Round 25Travis Ott, HS LH starting pitcher.  Traded 12/17/14 along with Steven Souza in the Trea Turner/Joe Ross deal.  Despite his sterling short-A 2014 season, Tampa had him repeat the NY Penn league, where he was 6-3 with a 3.90 ERA in 13 starts.  Odd.

Round 26Garrett Hampson, HS SS from Reno, NV.  Did not sign; honored commitment to Long Beach State.

Round 27Bryce Harmon, HS LH starting pitcher from Richmond, VA.  Did not sign; honored commitment to East Carolina University.

Round 28Joey Webb, Coll Sr LH relief pitcher.  Released 6/25/15, losing out in the numbers game when the 2015 short-season college draftees started flowing in.

Round 29Mike Sylvestri, Coll Sr RH relief pitcher.   Retired on 6/13/14 after struggling in low-A.

Round 30Ryan Ullmann, Coll Sr RH Starting pitcher.  Released 6/25/15, in a similar fashion to Webb above.

Round 31Willie Medina, Coll Sr SS.  Released in Jan 2015 after a mediocre season between LowA and ShortA in 2014.

Round 32Pat Boling, Coll Jr LHP: Did not sign, chose to return to U. of Georgia for his senior season.  It does not look like Boling was re-drafted, nor does it appear he played any independent ball.

Round 33Andrew Dunlap, HS C/RHP from Houston.  Did not sign.  Honoring a commitment to Rice University.

Round 34Jake Walsh, Coll Sr LH relief pitcher.  2-1, 1.96 ERA, 32/14 K/BB across 36ip as he was promoted from LowA->HighA.  3.51 fip, .273 babip in Potomac.  After starting the 2015 season with 17 scoreless innings for Hagerstown, he got bumped up and spent the rest of the season there.  Despite his lowly draft status, Walsh has now impressed at every stop and owns a career 1.65 ERA across the various Rookie/A-ball levels.  Maybe its time to give this guy a shot at AA?  At the very least he looks like a left-handed specialist in training.  Trending up.

Round 35Lukas Schiraldi, Juco RHP from Texas.  Did not sign; instead transferred to U Texas.  Drafted in 2014 in the 15th round by Seattle, but he has since struggled as a low-A starter, with two straight seasons of 5+ ERA.

Round 36Reid Humphreys, HS SS from Missouri.  Did not sign.  Honoring commitment to Mississippi State.

Round 37Karsten Whitson, RH starting pitcher from Florida.  Did not sign, returning to U Florida for his senior/4th year.  There’s plenty of cautionary stories about Whitson, who turned down 1st round money and eventually was drafted by Boston in 2014 as an 11th rounder (likely bonus; max of $100k).  His pro season looks like its a struggle right now; he had just 7IP in 2014, and was listed as “inactive” for all of 2015.  Hate to see such a promising arm apparently fizzle out.

Round 38Caleb Hamilton, HS SS from Washington State.  Did not sign; honoring commitment to U of Washington.

Round 39Robbie Tenerowicz, HS 2B/SS from California.  Did not sign; honoring commitment to UC Berkeley.  Washington sure loves 2nd basement from Cal-Berkeley, doesn’t it?  See Tony Renda in 2012 or Jeff Kobernus in 2009.  I’m sure we’ll revisit Tenerowicz when the time is right.

Round 40Shaun Anderson, HS RH starting pitcher from Florida.  Did not sign; honoring commitment to U of Florida.


Trending Summary:

  • Trending Up (5): Voth, Simms, Ballou, Thomas, Walsh
  • Trending Steady (3): Ward, Gunter, Cooper
  • Trending Down (5): Johanssen, Napoli, Masters, Dent, Derosier
  • Did Not Sign in 2013 (11): Allen, Hampson, Harmon, Boling, Dunlap, Schiraldi, Humphries, Whitson, Hamilton, Tenerowicz, Anderson
  • Released/Retired (13): Yezzo, Joyce, Middleton, Costa, Perrott, Bafidis, Spezial, Allen, Gordon, Webb, Sylvestri, Ullmann, Medina
  • Traded (2): Pivetta, Ott

Executive Summary

The 2013 class is being whittled down quickly; of the 39 initial names, 11 never signed and another 13 have already been cut loose.  That only leaves 15 guys to draw conclusions from.  I think its safe to say the loss of the 1st rounder and the failures of our 2nd rounder severely dampen this draft, but Voth and Simms give us some promise.  I also like what we’re seeing out of long-shots Thomas and Walsh, with some lingering hope that the  youngster Ward could make the leap.  Meanwhile, two important names out of this draft (Pivetta and Ott) were used to acquire important players; especially Ott’s role in acquiring two every day players of the planned 2016 25-man roster.

cut-n-paste of Working XLS of data:

Round Player/Pos Level 2015 Level 2015 Basic Stats
2 Johansen, Jake RHP COL sr Potomac 1-7, 5.44 ERA
3 Ward, Drew 3B HS (3) Potomac .249/.327/.358
4 Pivetta, Nicholas RHP ** JUCO Traded (2015)
5 Voth, Austin RHP COL jr Harrisburg 6-7, 2.92 ERA
6 Gunter, Cody 3B JUCO Short-A 1-0 4.15 ERA
7 Yezzo, James 1B COL jr released (2015)
8 Napoli, David LHP COL sr LowA 7-5, 4.01 ERA
9 Joyce, Jake RHP COL sr released (2014)
10 Middleton, Brennan SS COL sr released (2015)
11 Simms, John RHP COL jr Potomac 6-6, 2.74 ERA
12 Cooper, Andrew RHP JUCO LowA 2-2, 3.53 ERA
13 Costa, John RHP CC released (2015)
14 Masters, David SS JUCO High-A->LowA .226/.311/.285
15 Ballou, William (Isaac) CF COL sr HighA->AA->AAA .271/.344/.397
16 Allen, Willie CF JUCO did not sign: Lewis-Clark State (ID)
17 Perrott, Geoffrey C COL sr released/retired (2015)
18 Bafidis, Cory LHP COL sr released (2014)
19 Spezial, Niko LHP COL sr released (2014)
20 Allen, Brenton LF COL jr released (2014)
21 Thomas, Justin LHP COL sr Potomac 1-6, 3.43 ERA
22 Dent, Cody SS COL sr LowA mostly .193/.257/.224
23 Gordon, Garrett RF JUCO released (2015)
24 Derosier, Matthew RHP JUCO GCL->ShortA 0-2, 3.58 ERA
25 Ott, Travis LHP* HS traded (2015)
26 Hampson, Garrett SS HS did not sign: Long Beach St.
27 Harman, Bryce RF HS did not sign: East Carolina
28 Webb, Joey LHP COL sr released (2015)
29 Sylvestri, Michael RHP COL sr retired (2014)
30 Ullmann, Ryan RHP COL sr released (2015)
31 Medina, Willie SS COL sr released (2015)
32 Boling, Pat LHP COL jr did not sign: Georgia
33 Dunlap, Andrew RHP NA did not sign: Rice
34 Walsh, Jake LHP COL sr LowA->HighA 2-1, 1.96 ERA
35 Schiraldi, Lukas RHP JUCO did not sign: Texas
36 Humphreys, Reid SS HS did not sign: Mississippi State
37 Whitson, Karsten RHP COL jr did not sign: Florida .248/.307/.376
38 Hamilton, Caleb SS HS did not sign: U of Washington
39 Tenerowicz, Robbie 2B HS did not sign: UC Berkeley
40 Anderson, Shaun RHP HS did not sign: Florida 1-2, 5.45


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.

To Qualifying Offer, or not to Qualifying Offer (2015 version)


Zimmermann will get a QO: who else? Photo Unk.

Zimmermann will get a QO: who else? Photo Unk.

We’ve talked around and about this issue.  Here’s a post entirely about it.

Which Nats pending Free Agents should the team offer a Qualifying Offer (QO) to this coming off-season?

First, for completion of Analysis, here’s the canonical list of FAs on the 40-man roster as of the end of the 2015 season (using Cots as a source):

  • Jordan Zimmermann, Dan Uggla, Doug Fister, Ian Desmond, Denard Span, Nate McLouth, Casey Janssen, Matt Thornton, Reed Johnson

So, lets just get this out of the way; we’re not talking about Uggla, McLouth, Janssen, Thornton or Johnson here.  Maybe the team could think about re-signing some of these guys to non-guaranteed/minor league deals, or negotiate an extension for one of the relievers.  I wouldn’t be entirely against that (especially for Thornton, who has been pretty durn good both in general (2.43 ERA on the year even if he got hit hard a couple times in August) and against lefties in particular (.203 BAA against lefties on the year), but this post is about the 4 big names.

Important links for this analysis: Here’s the total 2016 FA list at and their take on the 2016 FA power rankings.  We won’t know what the QO amount is until mid-October, but we can estimate that it will likely be somewhere around $16.3M.  Here’s my Qualifying Offer worksheet, listing every player who has gotten one and their eventual signed contract details with Average Annual Values (AAVs) listed.

By the way, here’s some salient points ignored for the purposes of this post, but which could make this post obsolete.

  1. I’m assuming that all pending FA players are acting rationally and in their own interest, and not working in concert with the players union and en masse turning down the qualifying offers.  So far, evidence shows this point may not be the case, as we’ve seen several players who inexplicably turned down QOs in the past.  The most blatant examples were Michael Cuddyer in 2014 and Kendrys Morales in 2013.  Cuddyer in particular was curious mostly for the timing; he signed a 2yr/$21M deal even before officially rejecting the 1yr/$15.3M qualifying offer, and it is hard not to make the argument that Cuddyer would have been much better suited to just taking the one-year deal for what was nearly the entire sum of the two year deal he eventually took.  I have no idea if Cuddyer just desperately wanted out of Colorado, which could be true … but then his destination didn’t support that argument either (prior to the season, the Mets were projected to be just another also-ran in the NL East; nobody predicted their run to 90 wins).
  2. I’m assuming that Mike Rizzo hasn’t already made a “hand shake” deal with any of these players to specifically NOT offer the QO, since it can be such a huge damper on their eventual FA market.  We have argued this conspiracy theory before, with lack of QOs to both Adam LaRoche but especially Edwin Jackson being examples of players who may have had a gentlemen’s agreement prior to departing the franchise.

Lets take these guys one by one.

  • Zimmermann: he’s a member of the likely “big 4” of FA starting pitchers to be available this off-season (also including David Price, Johnny Cueto and presumably Zack Greinke if/when he opts out of his existing deal).  Given Cueto’s issues at the end of 2015, I’d likely put Zimmermann as the third most valuable starter available.  And he’ll have no shortage of suitors.  We know he spurned signing a longer term deal on two different occasions (first when they negotiated his 2-year arbitration-buyout deal and then again last off-season) and the rumors are that the Nationals management/Rizzo are hesitant to commit major dollars to a post-Tommy John survivor.  He seems likely to sign a nine-figure deal somewhere, easily outdistancing the AAV of the QO.  Verdict: Offer the QO, he’ll reject it and signs elsewhere for more money than the Nats are willing to commit.
  • Desmond: he’s *easily* the best middle infielder on the FA market, a good combination of offense and defense whose best season was in 2012 but has three straight Silver Sluggers and sort of rebounded towards the end of his otherwise dismal 2015.  I agree with other analysts; he likely was a fool to turn down $107m as has been widely reported, and will be lucky to get 60% of that in the FA market.  I’m guessing he gets a four year deal with an AAV of $18M or so.  Verdict: Offer the QO, he’ll reject it and signs elsewhere because that’s kind of the corner he’s painted himself into, and the Nats have their ready-made replacement for him in Trea Turner.

Those two were obvious.  These next two are not.

  • Span: Another guy who picked a really bad year to miss 2/3rds of the season.  Span’s 2015 numbers are exactly in line with his excellent 2014 numbers, a point that his agent will be making this off-season. His injuries however could give teams pause.  He had “core” surgery in the spring, recurring back issues in the summer and then a torn Hip labrum in August that put him out for good.  Would you want to risk signing a 31yr old center fielder who just had hip surgery?  A good question.  Span does have competition in the CF free agency market, with decent players like Dexter Fowler, Colby Rasmus and Austin Jackson in the space.  The interesting tidbit that just popped up though is Span’s announcing that he’s switched agents and is now with the Scott Boras Corporation.  Boras is Mr. Free Agency, and has gleefully advised several prior clients to decline QOs and go head long into free agency only to watch them flounder (see Kyle Lohse, Stephen Drew and the aforementioned Morales as examples of players under Boras advisement who declined QOs in seemingly ill-conceived decisions).  Why did Span just switch to the super-agent Boras unless he needed someone to go out and drum up a good offer?  I think this is evidence enough that he’ll decline the QO and test the market.  And, even if Span accepts the QO (which I don’t think he would), he’d be competing with Michael Taylor for the starting CF job … on a team where our starting OF missed hundreds of games in 2015 and where the presumed 4th OF got 500+ at-bats this year.  So having Span around (who, by the way, hits lefty on a team that desperately needs lefty-hitting players) wouldn’t be the end of the world if he accepted the offer.  Verdict: Offer the QO, Boras will tell him to decline it anyway and the Nats will get an additional comp pick.
  • Fister: Prior to 2015, Fister was one of the more under-rated starters in the league and seemed like a safe bet to sign one of these 5yr/$65M deals that we see all the time.  Believe it or not, Fister ranked 17th in the league in fWAR among starters for the combined seasons 2011-2014.  17th!  That’s better than the likes of Cueto, Darvish, Strasburg, and a whole  host of “better” pitchers.  Unfortunately, he chose his walk year to fall off a cliff, with his average fastball velocity (which has already been trending down for 4 seasons) falling more than a MPH and a half just this year.  He was ineffective in the rotation and was removed, and has been pitching out of the bullpen for weeks.  He’s making $11.4M this year but it seems like he’s going to be lucky to get a 1yr $8M deal now from a team willing to give him a shot at the back of their rotation.  If the Nats were to offer him a QO and he took it,  he’d likely be the leagues most expensive long-man (now that Tim Lincecum is out of contract that is) and/or he’d block a spot that really needs to go to either Joe Ross or Tanner Roark.  I just don’t see how the team can risk extending one.  VerdictNo QO, and Fister tries to find a pillow contract with a team like Oakland or San Diego where he can likely put up decent numbers.

So, that’s my thinking.  Nats make three QOs, cut ties with everyone, replace internally across the board like they were always planning to, and net a slew of extra supplemental first rounders in a 2016 draft that is significantly deeper than this year’s.  Sounds good to me.

Why exactly did the Nats call up Turner??


Turner in a Nats uniform... why?? photo via

Turner in a Nats uniform… why?? photo via

In some of the previous posts’ comments sections, I opined that I thought it would be “GM malpractice” to call up uber SS prospect Trea Turner at any point prior to mid April of next year.  My general reasoning including any and all of the following points:

  • the team finally had Ian Desmond hitting decently enough (consistently between about .250-.280 in 1/2/4 week samples going back a month).
  • Danny Espinosa has been a revelation this year, increasing his slash lines across the board and as we speak posting a 99 OPS+ figure.
  • Yunel Escobar being the 2nd most valuable hitter on the team, in addition to wordlessly changing positions as the Nats need dictates.
  • Anthony Rendon finally back on the big club, even if he’s a shell of what he was last year, is still an excellent top-of-the-order MLB hitter.
  • Given the wealth of middle infielders already on the roster (not even mentioning Wilmer Difo or Emmanuel Burriss both of whom have been used already this year in a backup capacity), why call him up to be a backup?

So, given that all four of these middle infield options are (finally) together, healthy and performing relatively decently, what possible rationale would there be to call up Turner??

Why would this team *possibly* want to prematurely start the service time clock on such a polished prospect, unless there was a REAL and ACTUAL need to call him up?  By “real” and “actual” I mean that suddenly the team found itself without an able bodied short stop and found itself in a position where Turner would play full time.

No, that’s not what has happened.  Turner was called up on 8/21/15.  In the five games since, he has two garbage time PAs in a 10-3 loss on his debut and two pinch hit ABs.  He’s played less than 3 whole innings in the field.  What the hell is this team doing??

Matt Williams isn’t going to sit Desmond in favor of Turner.  No way; we’ve seen *time and again* that Williams cow-tows to veterans, ensures that they hit in their preferred lineup spots and play their preferred positions even when evidence shows they’re in need of change.  And even if Williams wanted to sit Desmond … he’s clearly going to play Espinosa in his place, another established vet with a track record and a good 2015 going.  Where exactly is Turner going to play??

I agree whole heartedly with Jim Bowden‘s take: why did the Nats call him up to sit on the bench??  Something is fishy here.  And we’ve harmed the long term benefit of the club in the process.  Instead of waiting til next April to call him up, we’ve needlessly thrown away a year of his career in his prime by starting his service time clock way too soon, and for no reason.  He’s not going to be impactful coming off the bench, he’s not going to play in place of the established regulars Desmond, Escobar and Rendon.  He’s certainly not going to supplant Espinosa as the #1 middle infield option off the bench in case someone gets hurt.  We don’t need a “designated runner” until we’re, you know, actually in the post-season (a concept that seems to be draining by the day thanks to middling losses to 2nd-division teams over and over).

I think this is a clear sign (as Bowden alludes to) that the Mike RizzoMatt Williams working relationship is shot and that this team is quickly heading down the drain of under performance.  But as a long-term fan who thinks Turner’s value to this team is in the next incarnation of the squad, it really infuriates me to see him being wasted on the MLB bench for no reason, costing the team an extra year of his service when he hits his prime.

Written by Todd Boss

August 26th, 2015 at 11:47 pm

Ross over Fister; best pitching move Williams has made all year (and a bit of ranting)


Ross deservedly keeps his rotation spot.  Photo Getty Images via

Ross deservedly keeps his rotation spot. Photo Getty Images via

After his second questionable starting pitcher yank in as many nights, 2014 Manager of the Year Matt Williams made perhaps his best pitching change of the season.  Instead of favoring his veteran Doug Fister like everyone thought he would based on past experiences with player management, he went with a rookie and announced (as first reported by Mark Zuckerman last night) that Joe Ross would keep his rotation spot, sending Fister to the bullpen.

First; some stuff I’ve wanted to get off my chest on Williams’ handling of the pitching staff as of late:

There’s already been enough kvetching about his yanking Gio Gonzalez the previous night; though my readers cannot see this “proof,” as soon as the pitching change occurred I texted a friend saying (in effect) this was going to backfire.  Pulling Gonzalez made zero sense: If you’re going to yank your starter so quickly in the 6th, why let him frigging *bat* in the bottom of the 5th??  Gonzalez was only on 95 pitches; professional, veteran starters can throw at least 105-110 pitches before showing any wear, and studies show that you’re not really in “danger” of causing subsequent regression until you hit 120.  And the most egregious issue: Gonzalez was set to face not 1-2-3 but 6-7-8 in the Arizona order.  To this observer, it was classic over-thinking/over-managing that resulted in a blown lead, a blown game and an embarrassing 9th where a position player had to throw for just the second time in the Nats tenure in Washington.

So, what did 2014 Manager of the Year Matt Williams learn from the 8/5/15 experience??  Absolutely nothing.  Ross was on even fewer pitches last night (89), was absolutely handling the weakened Arizona lineup (they sat two of their best  hitters to give them a day off), and Ross was set to face … wait for it … 6-7-8 in the order.  Yet another “shut down” reliever comes in and gives up a ton of runs … and it looked like yet another game would be lost.  Only the heroics of Matt Thornton (waiver claim) and eventually in the 8th Clint Robinson‘s 3-run homer (minor league free agent) saved the game for this under performing $160M payroll “win now” team.

Starters are starters because, by and large, THEY ARE BETTER PITCHERS THAN RELIEVERS.  If relievers were better, they’d be frigging starters!  Williams needs to STOP yanking effective starting pitchers unless it makes sense.  This dates back to his most egregious yank, that of Jordan Zimmermann last year in the NLDS.

Anyway.  Back to the Fister/Ross decision.  Here’s my quick thoughts:

  • Props to Fister for taking the demotion like a pro.  If it were me, i’d have gone with some BS “soft tissue” D/L stint.  That was a gutsy move for a guy facing free agency this coming off-season.  Maybe he and his agent talked it through and decided it would be less damaging to be demoted to the pen than take a D/L stint and have the league think you’re fighting injuries in your walk year.
  • Despite the above complaints, which are the latest in a series of complaints about our “paint by the numbers” manager and his handling of the pitching staff that has been exposed recently by his lack of use of Storen or Papelbon in the Mets series (and then his subsequent use of Storen in a 5-0 laugher one day later), Williams absolutely made the right move here.  Its a performance game, the team is struggling, and Fister was the low-man on the totem pole in terms of production (the team is just 5-10 in his 15 starts).  Cynical view; was this Mike Rizzo telling Williams what to do or was it Williams begrudgingly realizing that Ross was giving his team the best chance to win?
  • We talked before about how it might have been premature to give Ross a 2016 rotation spot based on short sample sizes; no longer.  Ross is your #4 starter next year as we speak and the rest of the potentials are chasing #5 down in Viera next spring.  And that’s assuming the team doesn’t make a trade or sign a FA or (could it happen?) resign Jordan Zimmermann.
  • There goes any thought of giving Fister a Q.O. this off-season.  He’s gone from something like a 4yr/$55M deal to looking for a pillow contract with some lesser team willing to give him a rotation spot in just 4 short months.
  • How long before the Nats shut Ross down?  He threw right around 120 innings in both 2013 and 2014.  So far this year he’s at 76 in the minors and 45 in the majors for a total of 121, basically matching his career high.   Increasing his workload by 20% means he’s only got another 4 starts in him; is this just a temporary rotation assignment?  Or is the team thinking he can increase his workload considerably this year?  There’s 55 games left, which is 11 turns through the rotation; do you think he’ll be allowed to throw 11 more starts?  That’d put his innings somewhere in the 175-180 range, a huge increase year over year.  Honestly, I think Fister will regain the rotation spot in a month’s time or so as the team shuts down Ross for the season.

Interesting day in Natstown, though, nonetheless.

Written by Todd Boss

August 7th, 2015 at 10:02 am

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?