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2013 Rotation Rankings; Ranked 1-30

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Greinke bolstered the Dodger’s already strong rotation. How much? Photo Jeff Golden/Getty Images

(Editor Note: I’ve had the bulk of this post written for weeks and have been waiting for the last couple of impact FA starters to sign.  I’m tired of waiting.  If/when guys like Kyle Lohse, Shawn Marcum or Joe Saunders signs, or if there’s another big trade that happens, perhaps I’ll re-post this).

On December 5th, awash in the after-glow of the Dan Haren acquisition, I postulated that the Washington Nationals’ 2013 rotation was the Best in the Majors.

That was before the next shoe dropped in the Los Angeles Dodger’s unbelievable spending spree in 2012: signing Zack Greinke to a 6yr/$147M contract.  This is the 2nd largest starting pitcher contract ever signed (just behind CC Sabathia‘s 7yr/$161M deal that he opted out of to sign a slightly larger deal in terms of AAV after the 2012 season).  These rankings also are updated for the highly-criticized James Shields (and parts) for Wil Myers (and parts) deal, the Ryan Dempster signing.

The larger story behind the Greinke signing remains the unbelievable payroll Los Angeles will be sporting in 2013; they’ll spend roughly $225M in 2013, breaking the  Yankees record by a 10% margin, and all boldly in the face of a dollar-for-dollar luxury tax.  And they’re likely not done yet on the FA market.  But the focus of this article is a revisiting of baseball’s best rotations, now that Greinke is in the Dodger’s fold.

Instead of trying to figure out which handful of teams are the best, why not rank all 30 rotations?  With the help of some Depth Chart websites (ESPN, rotoworld, mlbdepthcharts, and some good old-fashioned baseball-reference.com), here’s my rankings of the 30 rotations as they stand for 2013, right now.   For the sake of this ranking, I am trying to take a reasonable expectations case for each of the pitchers on each team, as opposed to a “best case” for each team (this is most important when considering San Francisco’s rotation).  I’m also not considering “depth,” just the Ace through 5th starter (this is important when judging Washington especially).

Note: a couple of other National writers have done similar analysis, with David Schoenfield‘s NL-only rankings on his Sweetspot blog back in November and Buster Olney‘s top-10 in the MLB rankings here.  By and large the rankings match up, with a couple of different .

Discussion on each rotation is below the rankings.

  1. Washington: Strasburg, Gonzalez, Zimmermann, Haren, Detwiler
  2. Detroit: Verlander, Fister, Sanchez, Scherzer, Porcello (with rookies Smyly, Crosby, Wilk awaiting)
  3. Los Angeles DodgersKershaw, GreinkeBeckett, Harang, Capuano (with Ryu, Lilly, Billingsley in the wings)
  4. Toronto: DickeyMorrow, Johnson, Buehrle, Romero with Happ/Laffey/Drabeck/Huchinson in the wings.
  5. San Francisco: Cain, Lincecum, Bumgarner, Vogelsong, Zito.
  6. Tampa Bay: Price, Hellickson, Moore, Niemann and one from Cobb/Archer.  Possibly Odorizzi and Montgomery now in the mix too.
  7. PhiladelphiaHalladay, Hamels, Lee, Kendrick, Lannan (with Cloyd/Pettibone/Hyatt as backups)
  8. St. Louis: Carpenter, Wainwright, Westbrook, and probably Lynn and Garcia (Kelly/Miller if Garcia is not ready)
  9. CincinnatiCueto, Latos, Bailey, Arroyo, Leake (possibly Chapman?)
  10. Arizona: Kennedy, McCarthy, Cahill, Miley, and one from Skaggs/Collmenter
  11. Atlanta: Medlen, Hudson, Minor, Maholm, and one from Beachy/Delgado/Tehran
  12. Texas: Darvish, Harrison, Holland, Ogando and likely a FA pick up. (Perez for now)
  13. Los Angeles Angels: Weaver, Wilson, Vargas, Hanson, Blanton (wth Richards/Cassevah for depth).
  14. Oakland: Anderson, Griffen, Parker, Colon, Milone, with Straily/Blackley/Ross/Godfrey in the wings.
  15. Chicago White Sox: Sale, Peavy, Danks, Floyd, Quintana
  16. New York Yankees: Sabathia, Kuroda, Pettitte, Nova, Hughes/Phelps.  What about Pineda?
  17. Boston: Lester, Buchholz, Dempster, Lackey, and 1 from Doubront/Morales/ De La Rosa.
  18. Baltimore: Hammel, Chen, Tillman, Gonzalez, Britton (perhaps Bundy)
  19. Chicago Cubs: Garza, Samardzija, Jackson, Wood, and one from Baker/Feldman/Villanueva (likely two if Garza is still injured or is traded).  They also just signed Dontrelle Willis to a minor league deal.
  20. Kansas CityShields, Guthrie, Santana, Davis, Chen (Hochevar, Moscoso?)
  21. Seattle: Hernandez, Iwakuma, Ramirez, Beavan (Hultzen?).  Bonderman on a reclamation project.
  22. Pittsburgh: Burnett, Liriano, Rodriguez, McDonald, Locke, McPherson
  23. Milwaukee: Gallardo, Estrada, Fiers, Narveson, Rogers (with the likes of Peralta and Thornberg waiting if Narveson cannot go).
  24. Minnesota: Diamond, Worley, Correia, Pelfrey (if he’s healthy), Hendricks, Duensing, De Vries (maybe Gibson or May? ).  Harden on a reclamation project.
  25. New York Mets: Santana, Niese, Gee, Harvey, and who knows.
  26. Cleveland: Jimenez, Masterson, McAllister, Kluber, Carrasco, Bauer (Kazmir and Myers on reclamation projects)
  27. Colorado: De La Rosa, Chacin, Pomeranz, Nicaso, Francis (and newly acquired Rosenbaum perhaps?)
  28. San Diego: Volquez, Richard, Marquis, Stults, Ross
  29. Miami: Nolasco, Alvarez, LeBlanc, Eovaldi, Turner, Maine?
  30. Houston: Norris, Humber, Ely, White, Harrell, Lyles (who, who and who?)

Free Agents as of 1/2/13 that could impact the above list: Lohse, Marcum, Saunders, Lowe.  Also guys like Webb, Vazquez and Pavano could be coming out of retirement but likely won’t make much of an impact.

Rumored trades as of 12/31/12 that could impact this list:  Harang, Capuano, Masterson, Smyly/Porcello.

Hmm.  I seem to favor NL teams.  The majority of my top Ten rotations are in the NL.  Is this bias?  Discussion, 1-30

  1. Washington: If Dan Haren returns to 2011 form, which I’m assuming he will, this is the best rotation in the majors.  Not the deepest though; if we lose someone to injury we could struggle to repeat 2012’s win total.  But this is an exercise to determine the best 1 through 5, not to determine depth (where teams like the Dodgers and Tampa clearly have more depth).  I will say, this is a close race at the top; I can see arguments for any of the top 4-5 to be the best rotation.  I don’t want to be accused of homerism by ranking the Nats #1, but can make a man-for-man argument that shows we should be #1 above the next several competitors.
  2. Detroit’s rotation in the post season was fantastic against New York, then god-awful against San Francisco.  Why?  What can they change in 2013?  They better figure it out, because upon re-signing Anibel Sanchez they’re rolling the dice on the same big 4 in 2013.  Fister and Scherzer are slightly underrated but showed how dominant they can be in the playoffs.  The #5 starter is likely where Detroit falls to Washington; Detwiler’s 12th ranked ERA+ in 2012 will trump nearly every other #5 starter in the league.
  3. The Los Angeles Dodgers has an Ace in Clayton Kershaw, a near-Ace (in my opinion) in Zack Greinke, a potential near-ace career reclamation project in Josh Beckett, and then a bunch of question marks.  Two rotation stalwarts Ted Lilly and Chad Billingsley remain injury question marks for 2013, and the rest of their rotation right now are league average hurlers.   I believe their pitchers get a bump in adjusted ERA by virtue of their home park, thus I don’t believe their current #4/#5s match up as well with Washington’s or Detroit’s, putting them in 3rd place.  Plus Beckett is a question mark; is he throwing like he did at the end of 2012, or is he the Fried-Chicken eating malcontent he has been in Boston the last couple of years?
  4. Toronto: Its not every day you can trade for 4 starting players, including two rotation members.  But thanks to Miami’s salary dump, Toronto finds itself with a significantly improved rotation.  If Josh Johnson returns to Ace form, coupled with Brandon Morrow’s fantastic 2012 performance and Mark Buehrle’s solid #3 stuff, they have something to build on.   The subsequent acqusition of 2012 Cy Young award winner R.A. Dickey changes things though, valulting Toronto into the discussion for best AL rotation.
  5. San Francisco has won two World Series’ in three years with the same core of hurlers, and there’s no reason to think they won’t continue to be amongst the elite in the league.  The question remains though; what are they getting from Tim Lincecum in 2013?  Is the other shoe going to drop on Ryan Vogelsong‘s fairy tale career resurgence?  And, can Barry Zito continue his career rebound?   If the best-case falls for Lincecum and Zito (Lincecum returns to Cy Young form and Zito pitches even marginally ok) then I think they’re the best rotation in the game.  As it stands though, i’m assuming that both guys fall somewhere short of the best case, meaning that they’re “only” the 5th best rotation in the game.
  6. Tampa Bay has well-known pitching depth, and even with the move/heist of the James Shields trade they have a ton of guys who other teams would love to have.  Expect a bounce-back sophomore campaign from Matt Moore and more excellent innings from rising hurlers Alex Cobb and Chris Archer.  They may not be the best rotation in the game, but they’re certainly the most value for the dollar.
  7. Philadelphia’s big 3 are all fantastic, but are showing signs of age.  Roy Halladay only had an 89 ERA+ last year; has age caught up to him?  The drop-off after the big 3 is significant too.  But the potential of the big 3 keeps this rotation among the league’s elite.  The acquisition of John Lannan didn’t affect their ranking much; he merely replaces the Phillies heading into 2013 with a rookie in the #5 spot.  I had Philadelphia lower in the earlier drafts of these rankings, and have them this high on the assumption that their big three are all entering 2013 healthy.
  8. St Louis’s 2012 rotation was rich enough this year to drop 18-game winner Lance Lynn to the bullpen.   With Chris Carpenter healthy in 2013, with Adam Wainwright recovered from Tommy John, and with the likes of hard-throwing Joe Kelly or Shelby Miller as your #5 starter, this could be a scary rotation.  And that’s if Jaime Garcia isn’t ready for the start of the season after injuring his shoulder in the playoffs.  Kelly/Rosenthal are serious arms though and give far more depth than what a team like Washington has.  Some pundits are not as high on the ability of Carpenter to return to his career form, pushing this ranking slightly lower than I initially had them.   It all comes down to the health of their 1-2 punch; if Carpenter and Wainwright pitch like Cy Young candidates, this rotation gets pushed up much higher.
  9. Cincinnati’s 5 starters took every 2012 start except ONE (the back half of an August double header).  In today’s baseball landscape, that’s nothing short of amazing.  Mike Leake may not be the strongest #5, but Cincy’s 1-2-3 put up great numbers pitching in a bandbox in Cincinnati.  I’m not the biggest Mat Latos fan, but his 2012 performance spoke for itself.   Lastly, there’s rumors that Aroldis Chapman may be moving to the rotation, pushing Leake presumably to a swing-man role.  If Chapman can repeat his K/9 performance in a starter role, this rotation is even more formidable.  Should it be higher?  Perhaps; in previous drafts I had them in the top 5, but I just can’t seem to give their top guys the same “Ace” billing as other leading arms above them on this list.
  10. Arizona‘s acquisition of Brandon McCarthy is a great one for me; if the Nats hadn’t bought Haren, I thought this guy would fit in perfectly.  Arizona has a solid 1-4 and (like Atlanta) has a slew of options for #5.  And, they have help in the immediate future, with Daniel Hudson coming back from July 2012 TJ surgery and a top prospect in AA.  I see them as a solid rotation 1 through 5 but without the blow-away ace that other top rotations have.
  11. Atlanta’s found gold in Kris Medlen gives Atlanta enough depth to trade away starters (the Tommy Hanson for Jordan Walden deal).  They have 4 good starters and then can pick from 3 top-end prospects for the 5th starter until Brandon Beachy is back from surgery.  What pushes this rotation down in the rankings is the unknown; is Tim Hudson getting too old?  And what kind of performance can we expect from Medlen realistically?  Can he really continue to pitch like Bob Gibson in 1968?  Their 3/4/5 guys don’t scare me right now, but the potential of 1 and 2 keep them ranked decently high.
  12. Texas bought an ace last off-season in Yu Darvish, has a couple of good arms developed in house in Holland and Harrison, but has been depending on one-off FAs to fill the void.   They need a full healthy year out of their two upper-end arms Alexi Ogando and/or Neftali Feliz to make the leap.  Felix is out for most of 2013 though after getting Tommy John surgery in August.  Colby Lewis is in the fold but seems like he’s out most of 2013 after elbow surgery late last season.  If they buy another decent FA this off-season (Lohse?), this rotation works its way further up.  I have a hard time seeing them at #12, but who above them on this list right now do you push them ahead of?
  13. The Los Angeles Angels have a great 1-2 punch in Weaver and Wilson, but they’ve spent the off-season watching their former envious rotation erode.  Hanson is an arm injury waiting to happen, Blanton has been pitching below replacement level for 3 years, and they don’t have an established #5 right now.  Perhaps this rotation should be lower.  The shrewd trade for Jason Vargas helps keep them in the upper-half of the league, based on who their planned #4/#5 guys are.
  14. Oakland’s slew of young, cost contained and quality starters is the envy of the league.  The only thing that keeps this list from greater acclaim is Oakland’s relative lack of recent success (2012 not withstanding).  Throw in a couple more playoff appearances and Billy Beane can get a sequel to Moneyball published.  Like the LA and SF rotation, they benefit from their home park, but that doesn’t take away the fact that they won the division last year.  The off-season isn’t over either; I can still see Beane flipping one or more of his rotation for more depth/more hitting and turning to his stable of youngsters again.  I’m not necessarily happy with this ranking spot and feel like it should be higher, but their collection of unknowns doesn’t inspire the confidence of the known Aces above them on this list.
  15. The Chicago White Sox have a big up and coming potenial Ace in the making in Chris Sale and the engimatic Jake Peavy.  After that are some league average options.  Jose Quintana had a great 2012; can he repeat his success?  I feel like the 3/4/5 guys in this rotation are all quality, innings eater types, but nothing that really knocks your socks off.  Middle of the pack feels right.
  16. The New York Yankees continue to get 95+ win teams with a smoke-and-mirror job in the rotation.  Now they set to go into 2013 with one possibly injured Ace and two guys nearly 40 as their 1-2-3.  Is 2013 the year the wheels come off the bus for New York?  A healthy Michael Pineda contributing as the #2 starter he can be would vastly improve the outlook here.
  17. Boston‘s ranking may be changing significantly, depending on which arms they buy up off the FA market.  I think a new manager helps Lester and Buchholz regain their near-Ace form of yesteryear, and Dempster should give them competent innings in the middle of the rotation.  But I can’t assume anything when it comes to their 1/2; they’ve both been so good and so bad in the recent past.
  18. Baltimore amazingly comes in ranked this low despite making the playoffs last year with this collection of no-name starters.  Maybe i’m underselling their 1-2-3 capabilities.  Maybe i’m just treating them like a team that had a pythagorean record of 82-80.
  19. The Chicago Cubs still seem set to be in “sell mode,” so listing Garza as their Ace seems fleeting.  Behind Garza though are a collection of hard throwing, promising guys.  I like Samardzija, the Edwin Jackson acquisition gives them a solid #4.  Perhaps this rotation should be slightly higher on potential.
  20. Kansas City made their big trade to acquire an “Ace” … and only got James Shields.  I mean, Shields is good .. but not that good.  He’s only got a career 107 ERA+, but he is a healthy workhorse.  Behind Sheilds is a collection of guys who mostly are #4 and #5 starters elsewhere, which means this rotation is … below average.
  21. Seattle should have been higher than the teams directly ahead of them on this list just by virtue of the quality of Felix Hernandez … but then they went and traded away Vargas, and seem to have no good ideas on the back end of their rotation right now.  This team could be in trouble.
  22. Pittsburgh is getting by on veteran starters who have the ability to look good, and may not deserve this high of a ranking.  AJ Burnett had a great first half but settled back down to average in 2012.  Here’s a great stat: Burnett is getting paid $16.5M a year … and has *never* made an all star team in his career.
  23. Milwaukee seems like they should be higher with a guy like Gallardo leading the ranks.  But their #2 is Marco Estrada, a guy who couldn’t make Washington’s rotation in the years when we didn’t HAVE a rotation.   I know Fiers is good; perhaps this rotation should be higher.
  24. Minnesota‘s rotation looks pretty poor right now; their ace is a guy whose a #3 on most teams (Scott Diamond) and they’re hoping for one of their injury reclamation projects to pan out.  It could be a long season in Minneapolis.
  25. The New York Mets rotation could be better than 25th, if Santana isn’t allowed to throw 150 pitches pursuing a no-hitter and if Niese pitches up to his capability.  However, Santana hasn’t had an injury-free season since 2008, and I’m not betting on it in 2013.  They are planning on giving both the 4/5 slots to rookies, meaning there could be some long series for this team in 2013.  Their fate was sealed when they traded away their Cy Young winning Ace, and the statement was made about the direction of the franchise.

From 26-30, I honestly don’t see much of a difference between these rotations.   Really the only argument was to figure out which rotation of no-names between Miami and Houston was dead-last.  I selected Houston for the time being; if/when Miami trades Ricky Nolasco for 40 cents on the dollar, we’ll feel free to rank them 30th.


At the end of this massive posting, I can honestly say that the difference between the 5th ranked rotation and the 6th is often near nothing. Looking back, I can see anyone from the 5-8 range being listed in any order and I’d agree with it. I ranked and re-ranked these rotations over and over again from the time I started writing this post in early December to the time i’ve posted it. Perhaps it would have been easier to just have groupings of rotations instead of a pure ranking 1-30. But, that would have been a copout.

I look forward to your opinions and arguments for some rotations to be higher/lower than others.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Nats 2013 Rotation; Best in the Majors?

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Nats 2013 rotation:  Strasburg, Gonzalez, Zimmermann, Haren, Detwiler.

Question: Is this the best rotation in the majors?   David Schoenfield already thinks so.  If not, which team’s would you put up against it?

Last year, this same rotation (with Haren being replaced by Edwin Jackson) was considered a very good rotation, but not amongst the MLB’s elite.  That’s mostly because most baseball people thought Gonzalez would regress leaving the comfy confines of Oakland.  Instead, Gonzales put up a 21 win season, finished 3rd in the Cy Young voting and stunned most pundits with his lowered walk rates.  Meanwhile Zimmermann was getting some minor Cy Young consideration mid-way through the 2012 season before tiring in September; in any case the league-wide recognition for our quiet #3 hurler has been welcome.  Strasburg is who he is; inarguably near the top of anyone’s list of the best pitchers in the league.

Now in 2013, with these established guys continuing to improve, with Strasburg unleashed, and with an established #2 Haren in the fold, is this the best rotation in the majors?  Here’s your competition for “Best rotation” teams (I’ve got these ranked in my rough order of strength):

  • St. Louis: Carpenter, Wainwright, Westbrook, and two from Garcia/Lynn/Kelly/Rosenthal
  • Cincinnati: Cueto, Latos, Bailey, Arroyo and Leake
  • Atlanta: Hudson, Medlen, Minor, Maholm, and one from Beachy/Delgado/Tehran
  • Tampa Bay: Price, Hellickson, Moore, Niemann and one from Cobb/Archer
  • San Francisco: Cain, Bumgarner, Lincecum, Vogelsong, Zito
  • Philadelphia: Halladay, Hamels, Lee, Kendrick, Worley
  • Texas: Darvish, Harrison, Holland, Lewis and probably Ogando barring a FA pickup
  • Detroit: Verlander, Fister, Scherzer, Porcello, Smyly
  • Oakland: Anderson, Griffen, Parker, Milone and one from Straily/Blackley/Ross/Godfrey
  • Los Angeles Dodgers: Kershaw, Beckett, Capuano, Harang and a slew of injuries and question marks.
  • Toronto: Johnson, Buehrle, Morrow, Romero and one from Happ/Laffey/Drabeck/Huchinson/someone

Am I missing anyone?  Here’s some thoughts on these rotations as they stand right now:

  • St Louis‘s rotation was rich enough this year to drop 18-game winner Lance Lynn to the bullpen.   With Chris Carpenter healthy in 2013, with Adam Wainwright recovered from Tommy John, and with the likes of hard-throwing Joe Kelly or Trevor Rosenthal as your #5 starter, this is a scary rotation.
  • Cincinnati’s 5 starters took every 2012 start except ONE (the back half of an August double header).  In today’s baseball landscape, that’s nothing short of amazing.  Mike Leake may not be the strongest #5, but Cincy’s 1-2-3 put up great numbers pitching in a bandbox in Cincinnati.
  • Atlanta‘s found gold in Kris Medlen gives Atlanta enough depth to trade away starters (the Tommy Hanson for Jordan Walden deal).  They have 4 excellent starters and then can pick from 3 top-end prospects for the 5th starter until Brandon Beachy is back from surgery.
  • Tampa Bay has well-known pitching depth, and even with the anticipated move of James Shields they have depth up and down the rotation.  Expect a bounce-back sophomore campaign from Matt Moore and more excellent innings from rising hurlers Alex Cobb and Chris Archer.  They may not be the best, but they’re certainly the most value for the dollar.
  • San Francisco has won two World Series’ in three years with the same core of hurlers, and there’s no reason to think they won’t continue to be amongst the elite in the league.  The question remains though; what are thet getting from Tim Lincecum in 2013?  And, can Barry Zito continue his career rebound?  If the answers are yes and yes, then this rotation is much closer to the top of the list.
  • Philadelphia‘s big 3 are all fantastic, but are showing signs of age.  Roy Halladay only had an 89 ERA+ last year; has age caught up to him?  The drop-off after the big 3 is significant too.
  • Texas bought an ace last off-season in Yu Darvish, has a couple of good arms developed in house in Holland and Harrison, but has been depending on one-off FAs to fill the void.   They need a full healthy year out of their two upper-end arms Alexi Ogando and/or Neftali Feliz to make the leap.  Felix is out for most of 2013 though after getting Tommy John surgery in August.  If they buy a FA this off-season, this rotation works its way further up.  Especially if that FA is Zack Greinke.
  • Detroit‘s rotation in the post season was fantastic against New York, then god-awful against San Francisco.  Why?  What can they change in 2013?  They lose Anibel Sanchez to free agency, but their top three arms in Verlander, Fister and Scherzer are just as good as anyone elses 1-2-3 in terms of cumulative depth.  If they retain Sanchez, this rotation rises in the rankings as well.
  • Oakland‘s slew of young, cost contained and quality starters is the envy of the league.  The only thing that keeps this list from greater acclaim is Oakland’s relative lack of recent success.  Throw in a couple more playoff appearances and Billy Beane can get a sequel to Moneyball published.
  • Los Angeles has an Ace in Clayton Kershaw, a possible near-ace career reclamation project in Josh Beckett, and then a bunch of question marks.  Two rotation stalwarts Ted Lilly and Chad Billingsley remain injury question marks for 2013, and the rest of their rotation right now are league average hurlers.  If they make a splash in the FA market (Greinke?) this rotation could rise in the ranks as well.
  • Toronto: Its not every day you can trade for 4 starting players, including two rotation members.  But thanks to Miami’s salary dump, Toronto finds itself with a significantly improved rotation.  Is it close to league best?  No, probably not.  But if Josh Johnson returns to Ace form, coupled with Brandon Morrow‘s fantastic 2012 performance and Mark Buehrle‘s solid #3 stuff, they have something to build on.

Where would I put Washington’s rotation in this list?  At the top, or very close to it.  Each of our guys matches up well in a head-to-head competition going down the line, with Haren as a #4 starter that you’d likely take 100% of the time over anyone else’s #4 starter.

Nats Off-season News Items Wrap-up 11/25/11 edition

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Happy Thanksgiving! image via bloguin.com

A shortened Thanksgiving edition, with me being on travel for the holidays visiting family in Dallas.

Unfortunately they’re not really baseball fans down here, so conversations about whether or not the move of the Houston Astros and forthcoming rivalry with the Texas Rangers fall mostly on deaf ears.

After watching the last couple versions of this post get really bloated and difficult to read, i’m dividing this one up by topic.

Nationals In General

  • Cole Kimball is back, two days after we lost him on a waiver gamble.  Clearly the team values him, though now my post questioning the move and all the subsequent arguing in comments is moot and seems over-reactive.
  • Nats add four players to the 40-man … but only two that I predicted.  More thoughts/opinions here.
  • MLB’s Jonathan Mayo put up his Nats top-10 prospect list.  Its a list that does not include any 2011 draftees, so it differs widely from Baseball America’s and Fangraphs.  He also has some odd rankings, includes Cole Kimball and has Rick Hague above other more promising candidates such as Robbie Ray or Steve Lombardozzi, given that both are pretty big question marks going forward due to injury.
  • No surprise here; Shairon Martis signed a minor league deal with Pittsburgh.  Clearly he wasn’t going to make it in this organization; good luck to him moving forward.  He’s very young and could still have an impact.
  • The new deal probably delays Bryce Harper‘s debut, due to new changes in the super-2 status.  This is pretty much the exact OPPOSITE of what the two sides needed to do; we want to see these star rookies sooner, not later.  Frankly at this point despite it being essentially a useless delay, I’d be in favor of completely scrapping the “super-2″ status and just go to a hard 3-years of arbitration.  If players are kept down artificially for a week in April, that’s still much better than wasting them til mid-June.  Here’s additional links from Adam Kilgore and Mark Zuckerman both discussing this same topic.
  • Here’s some welcome news: Matthew Purke struggled early but finished strong in Arizona due to a quick adjustment by Nats pitching coaches.  By the end of the AFL he was hitting 95 with good life on his breaking pitches.  That’s fantastic news; if Purke can continue showing this kind of velocity coming from the left-hand side with good secondary pitches, he’ll clearly be closer to the #1-starter potential he showed two years ago.
  • As pointed out by Zuckerman, The Nats won’t be getting any more revenue sharing under the new CBA.  And frankly, nor should they, being in the 6th largest market and owned by a billionaire.  This is one small modification in the new CBA that makes 100% sense.

Free Agents/Player Transaction News

  • Yoenis Cespedes apparently expects a deal in the neighborhood $35-50M.  Wow.  Thats a lot of risk for a player who won’t be MLB ready in year one and who most people only know by his incredibly odd youtube scouting video.
  • At one time Scott Kazmir was an “Ace” in this league; a guy easily within the best 15-20 arms in the league.  The Angels gave up on him and released him this summer, eating $9.5M.  Nobody else even sniffed the guy.  Now he’s set to play in the Dominican Winter League to try to re-invent himself.    I agree with the comments in this article mostly; he isn’t even 28 yet.  Someone may take a flier on this guy and really get themselves a diamond in the rough.
  • Here’s Jon Heyman‘s predictions on salaries, with some thoughts on possible locations for the top free agents this off-season.  Not destinations; amounts.  He has Nats sniffing around on Fielder, Buehrle and Madson.  Nothing really earth-shattering there.
  • Tim Dierkes reporting that the Nats are visiting Buehrle at his home, and that he’s the #1 priority for this team.  We’ll see; I still have my doubts that Buehrle would come to Washington.  But signing him pretty much spells the end for Ross Detwiler.
  • The Rangers made an interesting FA signing, getting closer Joe Nathan for 2yrs/$14M.  The signing isn’t as much interesting b/c of Nathan (and $14M for what Nathan put up last year coming back from injury is a huge risk).  But it does imply that Neftali Feliz is going back to the rotation, and THAT would imply that the Rangers aren’t really that interested in re-signing CJ Wilson.  Fair enough for me; starters are far more valuable than closers, and if the Rangers make the world series again in 2012 having lost their #1 pitcher in each off-season, the GM should get a gold star.  They’ll go into 2012 presumably with this rotation: Feliz, Ogando, Harrison, Holland and Lewis.  They could also slot in Scott Feldman in place of an injury, as a former starter who struggled in 2011 due to injuries.  Do you think the Nats would ever consider doing this with Drew Storen?
  • The Nats may be chasing Buehrle, but here’s an interesting note: Roy Oswalt was NOT offered arbitration by the Phillies, so signing him would cost us no picks.  And, more importantly, we wouldn’t surrender our unprotected 1st rounder.
  • The Angels need a catcher.  We have catcher depth.  Maybe we can work a trade?

New Labor Deal Items

  • Not many details at first, but the announcement came on Friday 11/18 that the two sides had reached an agreement for a new 5-year labor deal, per Ken Rosenthal breaking the storyTom Verducci is right though in complaining that there are precious few details right now on how the Houston move affects the schedule.  Here’s a nice Labor agreement overview from a good Business of Baseball blog that covers the business-side of the industry, and also a detailed review of the new CBA.
  • Apparently one feature of the new agreement is the elimination of free agent compensation for relievers.  This is a welcome move and is refreshing to see, in that this particular rule was clearly broken and wasn’t in the best interests of either the clubs or the players.
  • Matthew Pouliot reports that the new agreement could have a “low-payroll” tax on clubs that don’t spend a certain amount.  I struggle with this concept to a certain extent.  Clearly teams that pull the plug on free agency and start over have shown that they can be successful in this league.  Tampa Bay and (to a certain extent) Texas in recent times have won playoff series with payrolls in the bottom 5 of the league.  Meanwhile teams like Pittsburgh and Kansas City may not have big MLB payrolls but are investing heavily in the draft ($17M by Pittsburgh last year).  So any such tax would have to be implemented in a way that it allows teams to “start over” without incurring such a tax.  I think the last thing we want is to see poor free agent signings and millions of dollars in payroll wasted just to reach an arbitrary level.  The bigger problem in this league is not at the payroll bottom, but at the payroll top.
  • Rosenthal calls the new deal a “dagger” to small-market teams.  Hard to disagree.
  • Scott Boras says the new deal hurts “all of baseball.”  I realize he’s quite biased, but I don’t disagree with him either.  It really seems that Selig and his little band of millionaire owners paid little attention to the growth of the game and competitive balance achieved by smart teams building through the draft, and were more interested in saving a few million dollars annually in the draft.  Really disappointing.

General Baseball News

  • Some career-reflection comments from the Owners meetings in Milwaukee from commissioner Bud Selig.  Like him or not, his tenure has resulted in a lot of significant events in the history of baseball.  Some good, some bad.  Expansion, Wild Card, Divisional play, steroids.  Its all in there.
  • Apparently there’s some movement in the A’s relocation to San Jose possibility.  There’s some direct parallels here to the plight of the Washington Nationals, and I’d guess that the Giants will get a similar sweetheart regional sports network deal in order to “relinquish” their San Jose territorial claim.  For me though, the difference between the Baltimore and Washington markets is much more distinct; there’s really only one road between Washington and Baltimore, and a realistic trip to reach Baltimore’s inner harbor from the Northern Virginia area on a week night in traffic would take more than 2 hours.  San Jose is a comparable distance from San Francisco, but with multiple interstate-speed routes between the two cities (I-280, California 101 and I-880) the San Jose market is less distinct from San Francisco.  People regularly commute between the two cities.
  • Interesting article from Mike Silva about possible future expansion in the MLB.  He thinks two more teams would make sense, one in New Jersey and the other in, wait for it, Montreal.  I posted on more or less this same topic in July, concluding that two new teams (San Antonio/Austin and Portland) would make a ton of sense.  Of course, what would make MORE sense is two new teams in the two massive markets of New York (perhaps in Jersey somewhere as is suggested) and Los Angeles (specifically in Riverside/Valley area that’s 1.5 hours on a good day from either Anaheim or down-town).  But baseball has allowed these owners to have territorial claims that are somehow gifted by god (see the previous San Francisco/San Jose argument) and thus making expansion into these markets an impossibility.

Tell me again why Holland wasn’t the game 7 starter?

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Would game 7 have gone differently if Holland had thrown on full rest? Photo unk via businessinsider.com

I know this is going to sound like a classic “hindsight is 20/20″ post, but you can ask my wife (who listened to me ask this same question when Derek Holland came in to pitch relief in game 6 and Matt Harrison took the mound to start game 7) for confirmation that I was already asking this question prior to the outcome of last night’s game 7.

Why didn’t Ron Washington use the extra day off gifted to him by the rain delay on October 26th and use Holland on full rest as his 7th game starter?

I’m sure the answer you get from the old-school Washington is that Harrison did nothing to “lose” the opportunity to take his normally scheduled rotation spot, despite taking the loss in game 3 and giving up 5 runs (3 earned) on 6 hits in 3 2/3 innings.  However, in the post season you ride the hot hand and you go with your best arms.  That’s why Chris Carpenter was on the mound in game 7 on 3 days rest instead of Kyle Lohse (the starter opposite Harrison in Game 4 and the scheduled starter) and that’s why Washington should have gone with Holland (on a short leash) instead of Harrison.

Instead, we got a predictable result; Harrison knocked out of game 7 after a 4 innings and 3 runs and took another loss.  Washington had to go to his shredded bullpen early again, and it cost him.  Scott Feldman walked 3 guys, CJ Wilson forced in another run by hitting a batter with the first pitch he threw and the game was effectively out of reach.

Coincidentally, Wilson finishes off a post season where he was the “ace” starter yet issued a post-season record number of walks and had a 5.79 era.  He had one effective start and three awful ones.  Please, Mike Rizzo, think long and hard before throwing ace money at this guy.  I’ve said it in several spaces before; I think Wilson is a good, effective mid-rotation pitcher who will get vastly overpaid this summer (think John Lackey) and will fail to live up to the contract.  You can see this coming a mile away.  With one Nats player already fitting that contract description (ahem Jayson Werth), lets not saddle the team with another.

As for the series itself, I didn’t feel the need to write my own “Game 6 was the best ever” post after waking up and reading 20 others from every baseball columnist that I follow in RSS.  But i’ll say it here; Game 6 was the best baseball game I’ve ever personally witnessed.  Several times I stated aloud that the “game was over,” only to follow that up with an audible “wow” when the Cards hitters would reach back and get a clutch hit to tie the game late.  Game 7 featured more clutch hitting, with David Freese picking up right where he left off the previous night and keeping his team (and the crowd) in the game early.  You have to hand it to both teams; they slugged their way into the World Series and the series featured a ton of power, lots of clutch hitting, lots of offense and little in the way of clutch pitching.

Side note: I hate the trend of naming things that just happened or current players “the best ever;” we saw it when Albert Pujols hit 3 homers earlier in the series (despite their being relatively meaningless in the grand scheme of that blow out victory) and we saw it again within hours of the end of Game 6.  Does Game 6 stand up to the immortal World Series games played in 2001, 1991, 1988, 1986, 1975 or 1960?  We think so, but we won’t really know for years to come.  Why isn’t it enough to just say, “Wow, that was one of the best games i’ve ever seen” and leave it at that?

What does Texas take away from this World Series?  Despite having a great 7th-8th-9th inning set of relievers in Mike Adams, Darren Oliver and Neftali Feliz, their bullpen failed them badly this off season.  Ogando had an era in the 11’s for the post season.  So did Oliver.  Their bullpen blew THREE save chances in the infamous game 6.  All credit to the team for making it back to the World Series after losing Cliff Lee, but clearly the team needs a bit more starting depth to outlast a 7-game series against a quality team.  To that end, look for Texas to work long and hard on retaining Wilson, moving Feliz to the starting rotation and supplementing their bullpen for next year.

Welcome to the off-season!

Boswell Chat 10/24/11: My answers to his Baseball questions

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Hall of Famer? Yes. Best hitter ever? Almost. Photo: unknown via fantasyknuckleheads.com

Tom Boswell did his monday morning chat on 10/24 after a week off; in-between taking questions about the death of the Redskins, he managed to fit in some baseball and Nats questions.  Here’s how i’d have answered them…

Questions are edited for clarity and space, and I write my answer before reading Boswell’s.  We’ll only address baseball-related questions.

Q: Is there any question at this point that Pujols has joined Ted Williams and Babe as the three best hitters ever?

A: (side note; this is just AFTER Pujols‘ 3-homer performance in game 3 of the World Series, just the third time that’s ever been done).  If Pujols retired tomorrow here’s what his career lines would look like: 455 homers, .328 career hitter, 170 career OPS+, 3 MVPs and another six times in the top 5 candidates (four times coming in 2nd place).  That by itself is Hall of Fame worthy, no doubt.

By the time he retires?  I think clearly he’ll be mentioned as either the best or 2nd best right-handed hitter of all time (Willie Mays) and in a small grouping with Mays, Ruth and Williams as the best all-around hitters to ever play the game.  Absolutely.  I don’t think Pujols needed a 3-homer World Series game to cement that status either.    Boswell agrees, saying that Pujols joins the list just behind Ruth.

Q: Thanks for pointing out he did all his damage after the Cards were ahead in Game 3. We’re so quick to pronounce “best ever…” these days that it was good to get some context.

A:Very fair comment.  Pujols may have a 3-homer game, but it doesn’t nearly have the significance of Reggie Jackson‘s 3-homer game.  Also fair about pronouncing current stars “the best ever” without much context to those that came before.  Ruth’s domination of baseball and the country at large is so difficult to understate that we’ll never really be able to draw a modern comparison.  Boswell agrees, at least with the first part.

Q: Game 5 prediction (on the night of this chat)?

A: I’d pick Carpenter and the Cardinals.  I don’t trust CJ Wilson and don’t think he’s nearly the pitcher that Carpenter is.  I stick with my St Louis in 6 predictionBoswell goes against logic and says that Wilson will outpitch Carpenter.

Q: Do Lefties with high-heat give a significant advantage over right-handers with comparable velocities?

A: Absolutely.  Lefties are already rare enough and effective enough that any left hander with velocity in the upper 80s can usually find work in this league.  There’s a reason for that.  Add a few more mph and the cache of left-handers who can reach the mid 90s in this league can be counted on one hand.  They are special, and they are valuable.  Boswell doesn’t have a good explanation.

Q: With all the issues in Boston, should the Nats be calling the Red Sox to see who they might get in trade?

A: Sure.  But the Red Sox are prospect hounds and will want our farm system depth in return.  The guys they’re probably willing to trade are probably not going to be the guys we want anyway.  Boswell didn’t really answer the question but mentioned that Ellsbury will be a FA after 2013 … gee, only 3 years too late for the leadoff/CF that we need!

Q: Boswell had previously described baseball Managers as one of four types: Little Napoleon, the Peerless Leader, the Tall Tactician, and the Uncle Robbie.  Who are the best four examples of each type now in the modern game?

A: Interesting question.  Here’s a list of 2011’s baseball managers to choose from.  I’ll guess that Ozzie Guillen is the Napoleon manager, Tony LaRussa is the peerless leader, Ron Roenicke is the Tall Tactician, and Joe Madden is little Robbie.  Boswell’s answers werent’ close to mine; perhaps because its his manager classifications to begin with.

Q: Was the strike zone in game 4 inconsistent?

A: I thought it was; in the bottom of the first a strike 3 was called on Elvus Andrus that had been a ball earlier in the count.  And that wide zone continued throughout.  Its no wonder Holland looked so unhittable.  Boswell blames the TV strike tracker as being misleading.

Q: Could Albert Pujols go to the Rangers?

A: I guess he could … but that doesn’t seem to be the way he’s going.  He seems set to stay in the NL and stay in the mid-west.  I think he’s either staying in St Louis or going to save the Cubs.  Texas might as well light Michael Young on fire if they got Pujols and, for the 3rd or 4th season in a row, asked their franchise leader to move positions for incoming talent.  Boswell predicts Pujols stays in StLouis.

Q: Should Texas have pulled Holland after the 7th to retain him for the 7th game?

A: Nope.  Texas’ bullpen was shredded and its much more important to have a fresh Feliz than a starter on 2 days rest.  Of course, Washington USED Felix in a non-save situation to finish off the game.  Waste.  At least the rest of the bullpen got a night off.  Boswell disagrees with me, saying the team should have pulled him in the 7th to have him in game 7.

Q: What are the odds of the following players returning next season: Livan Hernandez, Ivan Rodriguez, Chien-Ming Wang, Jonny Gomes, Laynce Nix and Rick Ankiel?

A: Livan: 10%.  Ivan 1%.  Wang 80%.  Gomes: 25%.  Nix: 40%.  Ankiel 40%.  Boswell didn’t offer percentages, just saying that he thinks Wang will be back and that Johnson loves guys like Gomes and Nix on the bench.

Q: How long does it take Theo Epstein to turn around the Cubs?

A: I’ll say most of the 5 years he’s signed up for right now.  His starting pitching is a MESS, he’s got an aging, expensive team with big contracts and little wiggle room, and he’s got very little in terms of young players.  He needs all his bad contracts to age off, he needs to scout and draft better, and he needs time.  Boswell punted.

My 2011 Fantasy Team

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Note; stop reading now if you’re one of those people who hate to hear about fantasy teams or analysis of leagues.  I understand your point; its kinda like hearing someone go on and on about how their ugly baby just did the cutest thing last week.

I’m in a modified 5×5 yahoo league with 9 other fantasy baseball nuts (of all the fantasy sports, baseball tends to have the biggest nerds I think.  Well, perhaps fantasy golf or fantasy nascar).  We’ve modified the typical 5×5 categories to add in a 6th category on both sides.  We put in OPS on the hitter side and Losses on the pitcher side.  We made this change a few years back when one of the players won by churning and burning starting pitchers over and over to stock-pile wins and Ks.

Before going into my draft results and analysis, a few notes on my strategy for picking baseball teams:

  • I like pitching and I like to analyze pitching, so I focus on pitchers.  I like to have the bare minimum of hitters and load up on pitchers.  This strategy can be questioned; the clear winner last year had a bare minimum of pitchers but tons of hitter depth and was tough to beat.
  • I try to focus on NL starters with good K rates.  I try to avoid AL pitchers if I can, and I especially try to avoid AL east pitchers because of the gauntlet of great hitting teams they face.
  • I try to get 5 closers.  This can be tough, especially in a 10-person league with only (theoretically) 30 closers to go around.  However, I try not to overpay for closers.  Two years ago I experimented with a Zero closer system and it did not fare as well as I thought it would.
  • Do not overpay for a Catcher.  I’ve been burned so many times on catchers going down with injuries (in the past three years I’ve dealt with Varitek, Russell Martin and Victor Martinez injuries or inadequacies, going to the waiver wire each time).

Here’s my team’s draft results.  I was picking 2nd in a 10-man league with a typical snake-style draft order.

1. Hanley RamirezPujols goes first; I could have gone with Tulowitzki here but I opted to go with a guy who has been a bit more consistent (and less injury prone) at the #2 spot.
2. Matt Holliday.  By the time I pick again, all the top tier 1B and 3B were gone.  I figured this would happen and had targeted a couple of lower-end 1B and 3B players that I figured I could get later on (see rounds 10 and 14).   I wanted Hamilton here but he went earlier than I thought he would.  I would have loved for Adrian Gonzalez to slip but he did not.
3. Tim Lincecum.  I was either-or for Felix Hernandez or Lincecum here.  In the end I went for Lincecum because of the NL angle and because of how bad Seattle is.  Hernandez went immediately after Lincecum.
4. Richie Weeks.  Coming back at the end of the 4th, I needed to focus one at least one of the “skill” positions that can be tough to fill.  I wanted Uggla but missed him by a few picks.  Weeks is a good all around player; 29 homers with 11 SBs in 2010.  I’ll take that out of the 2nd base position.  Someone took a flier on Chase Utley not knowing just how bad his injury is … it pays to be prepared and up-to-date on injury news.  Weeks himself is an injury risk and was listed as a possible fantasy bust for 2011.  We’ll keep our fingers crossed.
5. Jason Heyward: I can’t remember if Posey was sitting there available at this point or not, but I like having an up-and-coming power hitter here.
6. Alex Rios: I filled my 3rd OF position with a bit of a sleeper in Rios.  He was #27 fantasy producer in 2010, hitting 21 homers and getting 34 sbs.  My first 5 out-field players all can be described as guys who can hit for power and get SBs.
7. Cole Hamels: I missed out on Cliff Lee but am a bit wary of him this year anyway.  He wasn’t THAT great in the regular season last year.  Meanwhile Hamels had a sneaky solid season with 211 ks in 208 innings.  He took a lot of losses though; lets hope that his move to the #4 starter puts him in line to get many more wins.
8. Mat Latos.  #32 ranked 2010 fantasy performer in the end of the 8th round.  I’ll take that.  Lots of Ks, great ERA and whip and pitching in the massive Petco.  Love this pick.
9. Neftali Feliz: I announced prior to this pick that I didn’t care if he was starting or closing, that I wanted him.  He apparently will be the closer, which i’m kinda bummed about since I think he’d be a great starter … but at the same time he’s probably the 3rd or 4th best closer out there.  I wanted Marmol and his ridiculous K rates but he went very early.  I also wanted Heath Bell right around here but missed him by one pick, with Acheson getting him just before I was to pick him.
10. Paul Konerko.  In the 10th round I sitll didn’t have a first baseman or a third baseman, two positions that are very power-hitter friendly.  As mentioned above, once I missed out on the top guys in the 1st-2nd rounds, I made a calculated gamble targeting two guys I figured would be either overlooked or be later round guys.  Konerko was the first: he was the #12 fantasy hitter last year, blasting 39 homers with 111 rbis.  It was a contract year, which is a bit scary, but he also inherits Adam Dunn as protection for 2011.  I’m hoping he continues to hit at this level despite him being 35 this year.  With him and Dunn switching off between 1B and DH perhaps the rest will do him good.
11. Jonathan Sanchez.  Oddly Yahoo has him ranked 173rd, despite being the 70th best producer last year.  I don’t get it; 13-9, 205 ks in 193 innings, good era and whip.  This may have been a reach by ranking points but I like him.
12. Matt Weiters. At this point there was a slight run on Catchers and I felt I needed to make a move.  I was looking at either Weiters or Geovany Soto.  Honestly before the draft I would have loved to have taken a shot at Carlos Santana but he went very early.  I debated between Soto and Weiters and went with the promising rookie.  Vito, drafting right behond me, was thinking the same thing and immediately snapped up Soto.
13. JJ Putz.  At this point in the draft, I nearly had all my positional players and generally go SP-RP all the way out.  I wanted to get my hands on at least one of the upper-end closers available and went with Putz.  Putz took a setup job in Chicago last year and pitched well enough to earn another closer job.  Arizona isn’t going to get him a ton of closer opportunities but after their debacle last year trying Qualls, Rauch and the kitchen sink in the role, Putz may do well.  Remember, Matt Capps got a ton of saves for a last place team last year too.
14. Pedro Alvarez.  My last positional player.  Most of the good 3rd basement went in the first two rounds.  I didn’t want to mess with guys like Bautista (flash in the pan?), Michael Young (he’s a utility player in a bad professional situation) or Aramis Ramirez (two bad years in a row).  I was targeting Alvarez or Mark Reynolds.  Reynolds hit less than .200 last year after a monster 2009 and is moving to a fantastic hitters park for him, so that was tempting.  But he’s also moving to the toughest division with a lot of upper-end pitching and he may push 250 Ks this year.  Meanwhile, Alvarez is a cool rookie with a lot of upside and he could be fun to follow.
15. Francisco Cordero: my 3rd closer; from here out my goal is to get the best closers available til I get to 5, then get whatever starting pitchers look enticing.  Cordero got 40 saves last year; works for me.
16. Leo Nunez; 20 picks later I get Nunez, who I have ranked right next to Cordero.  More Ks, better whip but fewer saves for Florida.
17. Brandon Lyon: Not a ton of saves last year but he wasn’t the closer til August.  then in 6 weeks he got 15 saves.  I’m hoping this is a steal of a pick and he racks up 35-40 saves this year.
18. Madison Bumgarner; Amazing, i’ve got Bumgarner ranked the exact same as Sanchez, who I got 7 rounds earlier.  I like Bumgarner and think he can be as effective as he was in the playoffs.  Honestly I wanted Hellickson around here but Droopy got him.  Bumgarner fits my profile better; NL starter with good numbers.  Not the best K/9 guy but he’s also a youngster and can get better.
19. Carlos Zambrano; This pick was partly a joke; there is a massive Cubs fan in our league (Erwin) who absolutely would have picked this guy.  But this was also strategic; Zambrano got an incredibly quick hook out of the rotation last year, missed a month but still finished the season 11-6 with 8.1K/9.  He was very effective down the stretch.  I’m hoping he picks right back up where he was before.
20. David Aardsma: Strategy pick; I know he’s going to start the season on the DL, so I will move him to my DL slot and pick up another guy.  As it turned out I did not pick up a utility player, so I’ll get the best hitter available before the season starts.
21. Anibel Sanchez: in the last round, i looked at my starting pitcher depth charts for the NL and selected what I thought was the best targeted starter available.  I was considering the likes of Fausto Carmona, Travis Wood, Dallas Braden or Jorge De La Rosa.  In the end Sanchez had a solid season last year for Florida and could do well.

Here’s the team by position:

  • C: Matt Weiters
  • 1B: Paul Konerko
  • 2B: Rickie Weeks
  • 3B: Pedro Alvarez
  • SS: Hanley Ramirez
  • OF: Matt Holliday, Jason Heyward, Alex Rios
  • SP: Lincecum, Hamels, Latos, Sanchez, Bumgarner, Zambrano, Sanchez
  • Closers: Felix, Putz, Cordero, Nunez, Lyon and Aardsma

Based on last year’s averages/week, my hitters are probably going to be

  • a bit below average for Runs scored (30.8 versus 27.6)
  • a bit above averages for Homers (7.92 versus 7.0)
  • right around average for RBIs (29.1 versus 28.1)
  • right around average for SBs (4.8 versus 4.2)
  • above average for BA (.202 versus .273)
  • above average for OPS (.838 vs .790)

Based on last year’s averages/week, my pitchers are probably going to be

  • Above average for Wins (5.00 vs 3.65)
  • Below average for Losses (4 vs 2.9)
  • Above average for Saves (4.56 vs 3.88)
  • Well Above average for Ks (69.4 vs 48.2)
  • Above average for ERA (3.20 vs 3.553)
  • Right around average for WHIP (1.24 vs 1.25)

I see 6 categories where i’m above average, 3 where i’m about average, two a bit below average and one where i’m well below average.  That could average out to a lot of 7-5 or 8-4 weeks.  Far enough.

Draft Analysis Conclusions: it is fair to say i’m weaker on the hitting side.  That tends to happen when drafting very early and missing out on the 1B and 3B rush.  I much more like drafting 4-5-6th spots so you can get top-tier guys in both positions.  I will have to be diligent on the waiver wire looking for hitters.  There are a couple of non-drafted guys that I like who may fit in at 1B if Konerko falters badly.

I’m also depending a lot on 2-3 non-sexy names (Weeks, Rios, Konerko) and several high profile rookies (Weiters, Heyward, Alvarez, Bumgarner).  This could really backfire if these guys don’t produce.  I’m most worried about Alvarez, who put up decent numbers in half a season last year but it may be a stretch to assume he’s already a 30-homer guy. I’m also worried about Weeks’ health and ability to stay on the field.  He may end up sitting in my DL spot for a while. I may focus on finding a speedster/leadoff/high SB/high Runs guy for my utility player.

I really like my slew of starters.  All of them have good K/9, era and whip values.  Lots of losses though; i’m hoping for a bounceback season for Lincecum and better w/l records from the likes of Hamels and Sanchez.

I’ve got a lot of closer depth, including the Aardsma pickup.  There’s a few other possible closers to be had as well; Lidge is down with an injury, Washington’s situation is certainly fluid, Tampa’s closer really hasn’t been identified, Atlanta may flip flop Venters and Kimbrell, and nobody at all knows who is going to close in Toronto.  So there’s more waiver wire work to be done.

1. Hanley Ramirez
2. Matt Holliday
3. Tim Lincecum
4. Richie Weeks
5. Jason Heyward
6. Alex Rios
7. Cole Hamels
8. Matt Latos
9. Neftali Feliz
10. Paul Konerko
11. Jonathan Sanchez
12. Matt Weiters
13. JJ Putz
14. Pedro Alvarez
15. Francisco Cordero
16. Leo Nunez
17. Brandon Lyon
18. Madison Bumgarner
19. Carlos Zambrano
20. David Aardsma
21. Anibal Sanchez

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.

End of Season Award Candidates/Guesses (updated with Winners)

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Josh Hamilton hits another homer. Photo: www.graphicshunt.com

Nov, 2010 Update: actual award winners:

Candidates and Guesses on the award winners for the 4 major categories per league.  I originally wrote this towards the end of the season, and now am updating it based on how the season finished out.

AL MVP: Josh Hamilton (Cano 2nd unless voters get all NY-starry eyed).  Miguel Cabrera getting is putting up serious numbers but the all around play of Hamilton is hard to miss.

AL Cy Young: Felix Hernandez.  Back in late august I had CC Sabathia winning this, but Felix’s statistics pitching for such a poor team are overwhelming.  Mid summer, this was David Price‘s award to lose and, well, he’s lost it.  Cliff Lee was putting in a pretty strong summer as well but has really struggled since getting to Texas.  Guys like Clay Buchholz (who led the Majors in ERA for a bit) and Trevor Cahill looking so strong.  Lots of good starter performances in the AL this year.

AL Rookie: Neftali Felix, who has been lights out for the Rangers as their closer.  Guys like Austin Jackson and Brendan Boesch have tailed off.  Daniel Bard really isn’t in a position as a setup guy to be the impact player the others are.  Reaching the post season and putting up good numbers there didn’t hurt.

AL Mgr: I’m going with Minnesota’s Ron Gardenhire.  He coaxed 94 wins out of a team with a ho-hum pitching staff, a team that lost its closer in the pre-season and which didn’t have its leading slugger for the 2nd half of the season.  Ron Washington also gets some credit, having taken a team with very little payroll to the top of their division.  Its a bit less impressive though since the Rangers were already projecting to be a pretty good team.

NL MVP: Joey VottoPujols may be an equal, but Votto will win the “hey lets give it to someone else” crowd.  I guess Adrian Gonzalez will come in a distant third.

NL Cy Young: Roy Halladay, who has been consistently and quietly awesome so far this year.  Again this was another’s to lose (Ubaldo Jimenez) and indeed he has lost it, performing so badly in the last month that I considering dropping him from my fantasy team.  Wainwright is up there for consideration as well.  Latos, Josh Johnson, and Hudson are also having great seasons.

NL Rookie: Buster Posey.  Yes he only came up in june, but to immediately slot in as the catcher, calling games for a rotation of elite starters AND being  your teams cleanup hitter is impressive.  That they made the playoffs and eventually won the World Series with Posey at the helm is even more impressive.  In August this award was absolutely going to Jayson Heyward, but he tailed off and wasn’t nearly as exciting towards the end of the season as in the beginning.  Jamie Garcia is in third place; it is hard to argue with a potential Cy Young candidate.   Mike Stanton, Gaby Sanchez and even Stephen Strasburg were up for consideration at various times.  Mike Leake‘s accomplishments are pretty noteworthy (not a day in the minors and making the MLB rotation on a playoff-bound team).  Just a great rookie class in the NL this year.

NL Manager: Bud Black, though some serious consideration goes to Dusty Baker for the job he’s done in Cincinnati.  But (in a similar story to Texas) to take a team nearly dead last in payroll to the top of a division with big time talent is tough.  Bobby Cox has also done a nice job turning around Atlanta.