Nationals Arm Race

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Nats post-2016 “GM for a Day” Off-Season Priorities for filling Roster Holes


Ramos may be the toughest off-season decision the team makes. Photo via

Ramos may be the toughest off-season decision the team makes. Photo via

Another year, another playoff failure.  Beat it to death already.  Time to move on.

Lets talk about the post-season “To Do” list is for the Nats.  We’ll have eventual posts to talk about other stuff, like Tender decisions, 40-man decisions ahead of the Rule5 draft, etc.

In this post, we’ll squint at the overall roster, look at blatant holes that will need filling, and discuss how they might get filled.  Call it the cliche’s “General Manager for a day” post for the Nats this coming off-season.

Pending Free Agents we are waving good-bye to and the holes they thus leave (as per the invaluable Cots site at BaseballProspectus):

  • Mark Melancon: though i’d love to re-sign him … see later in the post.
  • Wilson Ramos: his injury is a shame for both player and team; he likely lost $50M in guaranteed FA money and the team lost a clear QO-compensation pick.  He may not even be able to catch again, which dumps him to the AL, where his market is significantly cut thanks to the lessening of demand for bat-only DH types.  Ramos is in serious career jeopardy right now; would he decamp back to the Nats on some sort of minimally guaranteed deal with performance incentives?
  • Stephen Drew: also one I hope re-signs; see later in the post.
  • Chris Heisey: one who I think is replaceable; look for another cattle call for RH bat options this coming spring training.
  • Matt Belisle: despite not making the NLDS roster, he was great for Washington this year and is worth another contract.
  • Mark Rzepczynski: He’s been very effective for us, and overall had a good 2016.  His 2015 was awful, but he was good before that.  Such is the life of specialist relievers.
  • Sean Burnett and Mat Latos: both given Sept 2016 tryouts; neither seem likely to be retained.
  • Jonathan Papelbon: worth mentioning if only for the payroll flexibility.

Total payroll “savings” from these FAs: roughly $22M.  Papelbon’s $11M, Ramos’ $5.3M and the rest total about $6M.

Guys who I think are clear Non-Tenders (probably a topic worth its own post).

  • Yusmeiro Petit: $3M option with $500k buyout for 2017; pitched poorly in 2016, didn’t make the post-season roster and should be replaceable on the roster by any number of our AAA starters.
  • Ben Revere: $6.25M salary this year, due an arbitration raise for 2017; struggled badly in 2016, lost his job to a guy who had about 2 week of CF experience and didn’t make the post-season roster.
  • Aaron Barrett: as heartless as it would be; he’s arb-eligible, still hurt, not likely to be ready by opening day and is completely replaceable as a RH middle reliever).

Total savings from these non-tenders: roughly $10M

Guys who I think its Time to Trade and the holes they thus leave.  This also may be worthy of its own whole post.

  • Gio Gonzalez: I think the Nats can take advantage of a historically weak FA market for starters and Gio’s very friendly contract (two $12M options for 2017 and 2018) and move him.  Yes he struggled this year, but if you look at what middle rotation innings eaters like him are getting these days, $12M is a bargain and he should fetch something we value.  Moving him lets some of the guys who are clearly biting on the heels of a deserved rotation spot earn it for 2017 and thus the Nats “save” $11.5M in salary for the 2017 roster.
  • Danny Espinosa: As much as I have argued against this, his 2017 playoff performance has solidified in my mind the need to move him.  He has his pros (a plus defender range wise, perhaps the best SS arm in the game, and serious power for a SS) and his cons (he hit just .209 this year, he strikes out at about a 30% clip, and his switch hitting capabilities are really in question).  Nonetheless, there has to be some demand for a 25-home run capable plus defender SS in a lineup that can afford one crummy batting average at the bottom of the order.  Perhaps an AL team that doesn’t have to also bat a sub .200 BA pitcher.

Total savings from these guys getting moved (not counting payroll received in return of course): $15-$16M.

So, adding up all three lines, assuming a steady payroll ceiling similar to this year’s and not counting arbitration raises (or Strasburg‘s new contract), you’d have roughly $47M with which to work.  Not bad.  Strasburg’s new contract will take $5M away from that flexibility (he made $10M last year, will make $15M next) and arbitration raises for Harper, Rendon and Roark will cost some cash, but that’s a post for another day.  Lets call it $30M in available FA dollars when all is said and done.

So, assuming you’re even reading this far and havn’t already started commenting and arguing about that list of players, here’s the presumed holes that losing these 10 players leaves (in order of mention above):

  • Closer
  • Starting Catcher
  • Backup Utility Infielder
  • Backup RH bench bat/corner outfielder
  • 6th/7th inning RH reliever
  • Loogy
  • Long Man/Spot starter/7th guy out of the pen
  • Backup Outfielder (CF capable)
  • Another 6th/7th inning RH reliever
  • #5 Starter
  • Starting Shortstop
  • (and not really counting the “loss” of Burnett and Latos for this discussion)

If we just filled these holes internally, what would it look like?

  • Closer: Make Shawn Kelley the closer and move up Treinen and Glover to be 8th inning guys.  This leaves a hole later on in the pen for the middle RH relievers (see below)
  • Starting Catcher: promote Lobaton to starter and install Severino as the backup.  Or switch them; honestly I like Severino’s at-bats; he looks confident.  I don’t think Kieboom is ready for the show, so it makes sense to tender Lobaton for one more year.
  • Backup Utility InfielderDifo becomes the first go-to guy to backup Turner/Murphy, but we’ll still need another utility guy.
  • Backup RH bench bat/corner outfielder: not much internally to go to; both the 2016 AAA and AA rosters are basically bereft of decent hitting prospects who might be candidates.  We’ll be trolling the FA market here for sure.  See the next section.
  • Two 6th/7th inning RH relievers: We have Gott and Martin on the 40-man; they could step up to replace these two guys like for like.  Right now we have five RH relievers under contract for 2017 (Kelley, Treinen, Glover, Gott and Martin) to go along with two lefties (Solis and Perez); that’s not too bad of a bullpen to start out with, but could be improved.  And this lineup doesn’t “really” have a long man, so you’d have to think one of Gott or Martin is in AAA to make room for a long-man (likely Martin at this point).
  • Loogy: its arguable whether we need another lefty with both Solis and Perez under contract, but they went most of the year this year with three.  Matt Grace is still on the 40-man and would be an internal option.
  • Long Man/Spot starter/7th guy out of the pen: loser of #5 starter competition (see below)
  • Backup Outfielder (CF capable)Michael Taylor, in what likely is his ceiling from here forward.
  • #5 Starter: have Sprint Training 2017 tryouts for the #5 starter between Lopez, Giolito, Cole and even Voth (who I’m assuming by that time will be on the 40-man, protected ahead of this coming off-season’s Rule-5 draft).  The winner is #5 starter, and one of the losers could be the long-man (well, if the loser is someone like Cole or Voth, who aren’t nearly as “big” of a prospect as Giolito).  There’s also the distinct possibility that Lopez’s arm is turned into a closer at some point if he can’t turn over lineups.  Check out Lopez’s 2016 splits, specifically SP versus RP and specifically the “Times Facing an Opponent” during the game; as a starter he struggles with the first time through the order, but not as a reliever.
  • Starting Shortstop: move Trea Turner to his natural position, leaving a hole in Center.

So, with my “all internal” fill-ins, your 25 man roster for 2017 looks something like this:

  • Starters: Scherzer, Strasburg, Roark, Ross, Lopez
  • Relievers: Kelley, Treinen, Glover, Gott, Solis*, Perez*, Cole
  • Catchers: Lobaton, Severino
  • INF Starters: Rendon, Turner, Murphy, Zimmerman
  • INF backups: Difo, Robinson
  • OF Starters: Werth, Harper
  • OF Backups: Taylor, Goodwin

And we’re missing one-two spots that don’t really have natural in-house replacements: another backup infielder and a starting Center fielder.

So, looking at that 25-man roster, where do we see areas of need?  This feeds directly into the Off-season Priorities in the next section.

Quick diversion: Notice I didn’t say what position Bryce Harper is playing.  Honestly, if Turner is vacating CF and we’re waving good-bye to Espinosa, then I think you have to put Harper in center.  Here’s my main arguments for putting him in center (most of which are “anti-arguments” for those who for some reason think he cannot play center):

  1. He’s young.   He just turned 24 for crying out loud; there’s no reason he doesn’t have the youth or athleticism to handle center.  Mantle did it while hitting for power.  So did Mays.  So did Griffey Jr and Aaron for the early part of his career.  Trout plays center.
  2. He’s got the arm (he has the 2nd best statistically rated arm in the majors in 2016), he’s got the speed (21 Stolen bases this year).  And now he has years of OF experience on which to depend.
  3. He’s played there before and played well.  Here’s his career fielding stats from He had more than 700 innings in CF in 2012 and played it to a fantastic UZR/150 figure of 19.1 and 13 DRS.  He was also great there in more limited sample sizes in 2013 and 2015.  I leave out 2014 since that was his injury season and its clearly skewed as compared to his other seasons.
  4. By putting Harper in Center, you vastly open open up the roster possibilities on the FA market.  Look at the pending FA last at and compare/contrast the available options at CF versus LF/RF.

Top FA/Trade Priorities in 2016-2017 Off-season

Fantasy: I view these as not really possible but are listed as “fantasy” wish lists.  Both fixate on moving unmovable contracts, so they’ll probably remain fantasies.

  • Upgrade 1B: dump Zimmerman and upgrade offensively at that position.
  • Upgrade LF: dump Werth and the last year of his deal and find a LF-capable bopper.
  • Acquire a leading CF: back up the farm system and dump it out for a leading center fielder.  Charlie Blackmon or Andrew McCutchen are names often mentioned thanks to the precarious position their teams face.  Mike Trout is the funny name you also hear since he’s so good he’s virtually untrade-able.  Unlike Tom Boswell, and as discussed in comments here before, re-signing Ian Desmond to man CF poorly would not be my first choice either.  I’d rather go with my “Bryce to Center” plan as laid out above.


  • Corner Outfielder.   See above Harper->CF logic.  If you want to splurge (and hurt your #1 divisional rival) sign Yoenis Cespedes.   Or you could make a big splash and sign Jose Bautista to a 3-yr deal that ends the same time Harper hits FA.  Werth remains serviceable in left, where he is mitigated defensively while Bautista still has value in RF.  This is where I could see a big chunk of the $30M of FA dollars going.  Lord knows we could use another clutch hitter in the middle of the order.
  • Closer: Above I said i’d love to re-sign Melancon, but more and more it seems like he’s going to be the 4th prize in a 4-closer musical chairs race.  And he’s gonna get paid.  And I’m not sure that the Nats are going to pay him.  Per the same previously mentioned FA list there’s 5 “active” closers hitting FA: Melancon, Wade Davis, Aroldis Chapman,  Kenley Jansen and Sergio Romo There’s a whole slew of guys who are FA who are former closers though, names like Andrew BaileyJoaquin Benoit, Santiago Casilla, Neftali Feliz, Jason Grilli, Greg Holland, J.J. Hoover, Jonathan Papelbon (haha, just making sure you’re still reading), Joe Smith, Fernando Salas, and Brad Ziegler.  There’s probably even more frankly; these were just the ones who stood out as I read the list.  Now, i’m not saying most of these guys are legitimate options, but some of these guys were perfectly good as closers and got “layered” by better closers.  Take Ziegler for example: he was just fine for Arizona for a while, then got moved to Boston where he got demoted to 8th inning duties.   I’d take him as a late-innings bullpen option.  
  • Bullpen arm: middle reliever: Now, all that being said about Closers, I think maybe what the team does is install one of their existing options as “the closer” and then maybe  hire one of these former closers to be an 8th inning/emergency closer kind of guy.  That’s essentially what they got last year with Shawn Kelley and that’s worked out ok.  I’d go after some of the ex-closer guys listed above, try to get them on an affordable deal (like halfway to closer money maybe) and that’d help off-set the losses of Melancon and Belisle.
  • Veteran utility infielder: as noted above, there’s not much in the farm system here.  If you keep Espinosa and put him in this role, then this is moot .. but we’ve read over and again about his disposition when he’s not playing.  This is kind of why I think we need to move him.  He’s more valuable in trade than he is in this bench role.  I hope the team re-ups with Stephen Drew honestly; he was solid, can cover all infield positions as needed, and can probably be had for a similar deal as last year.  I’d be happy with Difo and Drew and wouldn’t be opposed to perhaps another veteran utility guy to pair with Drew and compete with Difo if we don’t think Difo is up to the task.

Less Likely:

  • Backup LF/IB bench bats: While I like Robinson and I think Heisey did a good job this year, one struggled and the other is a FA with no guarantee of returning.  I absolutely expect to see another spring training cattle call of veteran bats of the LF/1B type to compete for roster spots.  I’m appreciative of Goodwin‘s completely unexpected line at the plate upon his call up; do we think he’s a better lefty bat option off the bench than Robinson?  I’m not sure.  I also sense (based on anecdotal evidence read over the years) that Robinson is a clubhouse and teammate favorite, which might make it tougher to cut him when the time comes.  Especially with a player’s manager type like Dusty Baker.  I know this is where MartyC will cry about Matt Skole (likely to depart in MLFA this coming off-season) and I understand; its all about potential versus production and Skole never produced enough during these annual spring training “tryouts” to win his spot.
  • Catcher: Here’s where the most arguing may occur.  I’m of the belief, after watching Severino down the stretch, that he could slide right into the starting spot right now.  I thought he looked good at the plate, took confident at-bats, never looked over matched, and (here’s the kicker) *puts the ball in play!*   This lineup has too many strikeouts; Severino struck out just 3 times in his 34 PAs down the stretch.   That correlates to about 50 punch-outs over a 600-plate appearance season; that’s awesome.  He was known for years for his defense, not his bat, so if he can provide even competent ABs he could be a starter.  So i’m up for saving money on the FA market (where the catcher ranks are thin and the prices will get bid up badly as a result).  Now, I could absolutely see us re-signing Wilson Ramos to an incentive-laden deal to keep him in house and hopefully get a good second half out of  him.  Why not?  If he signs for $5-6M (basically his salary this year) and then has games played incentives that could take him up to $7 or $8M why wouldn’t he do that here instead of elsewhere?   We go into the season with Severino and Lobaton with Kieboom in AAA and when Ramos shows up we (finally?) cut bait on Lobaton and have the two remaining guys platoon.  I’d be onboard with that plan.
  • Loogy: Why spend money here?  Solis and Perez ably fill the need.  Do we need a third lefty in the pen at the expense of one of the aforementioned righties?  I liked Rzepczynski this year; would he re-sign for reasonable dollars?  Would you want him back?  There’s several interesting names on the FA list; maybe one of them can be had for cheap.


What can we get in Trade versus buying on the FA market?   Payroll implications?

  • I suspect that Gonzalez can fetch some seriously valuable resources.  He’s an innings eating 4th starter who probably thrives in a pitcher’s park and is significantly less expensive at $12M/year than what something comparable costs on the FA market this year.  So can he fetch maybe one MLB-ready player that fits a need above plus maybe one decent prospect?  Is that too much?
  • Espinosa probably fetches less, unless you can get a GM to fall in love with his power/defense combo and somehow miss his BA and his K rate.  By way of comparison, Yunel Escobar (a lesser defender with less power but more contact) fetched us two upper-level pitching prospects in Trevor Gott and Michael Brady (by upper-level I mean AA/AAA level, not top 100 prospects).  I’d guess that Espinosa could fetch a bit more since he plays a premium position.  So that could end up being more of the needs above plus maybe an additional prospect.

But who knows what we can and cannot get.  In Mike Rizzo we trust when it comes to trades; no matter how much we bitch about prospects heading out the door, you’re really hard pressed to find a trade where Rizzo got the short end of the bargain or “lost” the deal.  So lets see what he can do.

Payroll implications.  I think we could get a $20M/yr corner OF slugger, a former closer at like $6M/year, resign Ramos at $5M, find a utility infielder in the Drew $3M/year range, and then sign a couple of guys to $1.25M conditional deals like what Belisle and Heisey got and fit right into the $145M payroll budget, even after arbitration raises.


Well; that’s a lot to argue about.  Maybe I should have split this up.  But let the discussions begin!

(did I forget anyone?)

Post-Season pitching Staff; who should it be?


Gonzalez is key in the NLDS. Photo via Wikipedia/Flickr from user muohace_dc

Gonzalez is key in the NLDS. Photo via Wikipedia/Flickr from user muohace_dc

As requested in the comments, here’s a good thread to argue about and attempt to read the tea leaves as to what the team will do for its upcoming divisional series against Los Angeles.

A quick note before starting: the Dodgers are literally dead last in the majors against lefties as a team.   The have a team BA of .216 against all lefties, which is 15 points lower than the 29th ranked team.  They have a 75 wRC+ against lefties and a .634 OPS figure as a team  … by way of comparison, Michael Taylor has an OPS figure of .648 for the 2016 season.  So the Dodgers hit lefties kinda like Taylor hits pitching in general.  I only mention this because, while I knew the Dodgers were “bad” against lefties, I didn’t know they were this bad.

So, common sense may seem to indicate that the team would know an important fact like this and either a) plan their rotation accordingly, and b) plan their bullpen accordingly.  But, we are talking about a team managed by Dusty Baker, and I’m not sure he’ll have it in him to perhaps consider using Gio Gonzalez in this fashion.

So, that being said, here’s what I think will happen with the rotation and bullpen, based on what we’ve been seeing the last few weeks.  (Btw, i am assuming that the Nats don’t blow home field advantage this weekend and the first two games are in DC … which may be a bad assumption but I can’t see them losing 2 of 3 to the unfortunately reeling Marlins)


Rotation goes (and this isn’t much of a surprise): Scherzer, Roark, Gonzalez, Ross

Discussion: Scherzer is scheduled to throw Sunday 10/2 in the final game of the season, giving him normal 4 days rest before the first game of the NLDS (here’s the MLB 2016 post-season schedule).  Past that, i’m guessing that Baker will re-arrange the rotation based on performance and not the current order since everyone will have plenty of rest by the time the NLDS rolls around.  Assuming that the final three games feature the expected probables of A.J. Cole tonight, Tanner Roark tomorrow 10/1 and Scherzer, then Roark would be on five days of rest for the NLDS game 2.

Gonzalez then goes in Game 3, in LA.  Is that bad?  Maybe not; in 2016 his home/away splits are nearly identical; he’s been not good no matter where he pitches.

Game 4 is where we think Joe Ross goes 100 pitches or so, which might get him to the 5th inning, and then we see Reynaldo Lopez in a “once through the order” bridge to the back end of the bullpen.  Ross seems like he has gotten back to the point where he can go.

This leaves the likes of Mat LatosA.J. Cole and Lucas Giolito off the post-season roster.  None has really merited inclusion.

Bullpen goes (and this is where I’m sure there’s some disagreement): Melancon, Kelley, Treinen, Belisle, Perez*, Rzepczynski*, Solis*

This means we’re leaving off:

  • Petit: he’s struggled badly and his long man role is replicated by Lopez or Perez
  • Glover: he has also struggled down the stretch and loses out in lieu of a third lefty
  • Gott, Martin and Grace: all have pitched well since their 9/1 call ups, but none are better options or have made cases to supplant the four righties listed above, all of whom have excelled this year.  But I will say, these three may make excellent in-house options to replace the guys who will likely be departing this off-season via FA (specifically Belisle and Rzepczynski).


I think this is a good plan of attack.

Who is the first lefty out of the pen to face the likes of Joc PedersonCorey Seager, Adrian Gonzalez or Chase Utley?   Per their current depth chart, the Dodgers are starting no less than six guys who are lefty only but the above four are the ones to be most scared of.  I think it’ll be scrabble, but having three arms makes it easier to do lefty matchups multiple times in a game.



Do the Nats have a LOOGY problem?


Can we count on this guy in October? Photo via getty images

Can we count on this guy in October? Photo via getty images

We’ve clearly seen some middle relief issues lately, despite nearly sweeping a 4-game set in Atlanta this past weekend.  And one of the issues we’ve been continually discussing is our left-handed relief options.

We traded Felipe Rivero.  Oliver Perez has a 5.61 ERA.  Sammy Solis just had an MRI on his left shoulder.  Matt Grace has nice looking AAA numbers, but got shellacked last year (2.00 whip in 26 innings) during a brief call-up.  Nick Lee was so ineffective this year that he passed completely through waivers when we DFA’d him off the 40-man.  We just paid cash for twice-TJ survivor and ex Nat Sean Burnett, whose AAA numbers look good but is now on his fourth organization of 2016.

Do we have a LOOGY problem?

Well, maybe.

I constantly have to remind myself of this sentence: “You don’t have to be left-handed in order to get lefties out.”  That and this sentence: “If your lefty splits are good … then you’re still a good LOOGY option.”

Here’s the 2016 versus lefty splits for every reliever on our 40-man, RHP or LHP.  And then lets add in some of the call-up candidates just for fun… (all numbers as of 8/21/16’s Atlanta game via

Right Handed reliever options

  • Melancon: .202/.253/.274 for an .527 OPS; as you’d expect, an elite closer gets both lefties and righties out.
  • Treinen: .211/.357/.351 for an .708 OPS.  Not bad.
  • Kelley: .250/.294/.609 for an .903 OPS.  Not good.
  • Petit: .261/.327/.511 for an .838 OPS.  Again, not really that good, but then again that’s not what we’re asking him to do generally.
  • Belisle: .150/.203/.267 for an .470 OPS.  Wow; that’s better than any of our lefties.
  • Glover: minimal stats in MLB; for 2016 he had a .161 BAA in AAA, .250 in AA and .143 in High-A for lefty splits (which are kind of hard to come by at   That looks promising, but he seems to be more effective against righties.

Left Handed reliever options

  • Perez: .217/.321/.377 for an .698 OPS.  Its his rightly split that’s killing him.
  • Solis: .200/.279/.273 for an .551 OPS.  Awesome … if we can get him back healthy.
  • Sean Burnett: Again, minor league splits are harder to come by, but Burnett had a .150 BAA against in 12 IP in his longest AAA stint of the year.
  • Bryan Harper: .161 BAA in AAA this year, even better .091 while in AA.  And it’d be cool to have him on a roster with his brother.  But he’s on the D/L right now.
  • Matt Grace: .207 BAA in AAA this year … but as noted above he struggled in his 2015 audition.

Rivero, by the way, has this for a lefty split in 2016: .325/.424/.429 for an .852 OPS.  A .325 BAA; no wonder they were willing to part with him.  He was a lefty who couldn’t get lefties out.

What if we thought outside the box a bit?

  • Reynaldo Lopez: .180/.250/.340 for an .590 OPS.  Interesting; we’ve already talked at length about Lopez being a fire-baller out of the pen for a post-season team and his lefty splits are good.
  • Lucas Gioilto: .269/.406/.462 for an .868 OPS; not nearly as impressive.
  • Aaron Laffey: just a .254 BAA in AAA this year in a swing-man role.
  • Nick Lee: the aforementioned struggling lefty is the only other lefty in the minors above High-A; he’s got a decent .214 BAA against lefties in AA … but his overall ERA/Whip is ugly; 4.73 and 1.77,
  • I didn’t go to High-A, where we have a couple of  lefty prospects but they’re no where near consideration for a call-up.

So, we need Solis back; he’s the closest thing we have to a matchup lefty who we can count on.  But clearly Belisle’s numbers make him a matchup option too, despite his being a rightly.  It reminds me of when we had Tyler Clippard, who always had stellar lefty splits.  Perez’s split line isn’t great; I feel like we should be pushing him almost all the way to the mop-up/Petit role right now.

Are you concerned though?  On a whole, the Nats bullpen has been one of the best in all of baseball.  Are the falterings lately just due to a too many innings thanks to a couple of bad starter outings?


Papelbon asks out? May be the simplest solution


Papelbon can do this for any team. Photo via

Papelbon can do this for any team. Photo via

Rumors started getting published early saturday morning: embattled, demoted and struggling former Nats closer Jonathan Papelbon has reportedly asked for his release.

He’s appeared in precisely two games since he was replaced as closer by the newly acquired Mark Melancon.   Both appearances can be generously characterized as “mop up duty.”  He’s gone from highest leverage closer to 8th guy in an 8-man pen in less than two weeks, and it seems he’s reading the tea leaves.

The Nats need a move today to call up their starter Reynaldo Lopez; could a DFA or release of Papelbon be the solution?

We’ve talked in this space about playoff rosters a bit, about how we all are kind of thinking we could use Koda Glover on that roster.  Well, when we dump the 5th starter and expand the bullpen to 8 … not having to worry about Papelbon’s reaction could be a benefit.  I’d gladly take this bullpen construction into a short series:

  • Closer: Melancon
  • 8th inning guys: Treinen, Kelley
  • 7th inning guys: Belisle, Glover
  • Lefties: Perez, Solis
  • Long-man: Petit

That looks strong enough to me.  If Papelbon was still in the picture, you’d face a tough decision on who to drop.  Belisle has more than earned his spot, and there’s nobody else in that list who can really make way thanks to the trade of Rivero.

Thoughts?  Is this a blessing in disguise (if its true?)  Or do you think we should hang on to him and give him a Qualifying Offer?  (sarcasm).

Yes they got swept by the Cubs but…


Here's something Harper didn't do a lot of this past series: swing.  Photo via

Here’s something Harper didn’t do a lot of this past series: swing. Photo via

So, even though the team just got swept in a 4-game set, I’m not really that concerned.  Why?

Well, first, the Cubs are fantastic, and I thought one win out of four would have been a good, expected result.  The Cubs missed Strasburg, our best guy (even if he’s not the “Ace” thanks to Scherzer‘s contract) while we stood up to the Cubs’ Ace Arrieta.  The Nats scored a bunch of runs against a good team and on other days may have gotten a win or two.  Am I right?

Game by Game:

  • Thurs: Lose 5-2: Joe Ross gives up 2 in 6 but the Nats muster just 3 hits against Kyle Hendricks.  Don’t deserve to win when you only get 3 hits.
  • Fri: Lose 8-6 in a game that really wasn’t that close: Max Scherzer gives up four homers, which is just crazy unlucky for him based on his typical FB/HR averages.  Nats make the scoreline respectable by getting into the Cubs bullpen for four runs late.  Don’t deserve to win when your starter gives up 4 dingers.
  • Sat: Lose 8-5 when Gio Gonzalez can’t get through the Cubs’ 3-4-5 hitters a third time.  Nats bullpen doesn’t do its job.  I kinda question the pitching management here honestly; is Solis the right guy to go to there?  Is it a smart move to let your #5 starter attempt to go through the heart of the other team’s order in a hitter’s park?  If you want to go lefty, why not go with your veteran Oliver Perez or your fireballer Felipe Rivero instead of a guy who was in Syracuse last week?  I guess its because Rivero got blitzed thursday night.   Instead Rivero comes in during garbage time and manages to load the bases and leak yet another run.
  • Sun: Lose 4-3 in extras after chasing the best pitcher in the game and squandering a fantastic outing from Tanner Roark.  Again, a leaky bullpen, this time in the same guy Perez that I thought was a better option than Solis the day before.  But the story of this game was the astounding batting lines of Bryce Harper (7 plate appearances, 6 walks and a HBP) and Ryan Zimmerman (a major league record 14 runners left on base).  The team in total left 21 runners on base and went 1-19 with RISP on the day. One for NINETEEN!  Zimmerman hit a couple balls well on the night, but none when it counted.

Total score of the series: Cubs 25, Nats 16.  Lot of runs on the bullpen.  Zero of our lefty relievers really stepped up.  Both our 8th inning guys couldn’t shut anyone down.  And clearly nobody respects anyone else in the lineup besides Harper.

Anyway; before I get all gloom and doom, the Nats just finished their hardest road trip of the year 5-5, when prior to the season I would have been happy with them going 3-7.  Thanks to sweeps in St. Louis and surprising series win in KC, i’ve still got them projected to win 95 games right now (easy math: team goes .500 against the rest of the league and interleague, plays .600 ball in their division).

Now … if they get swept in New York….


Ladson’s Inbox 4/8/16


Werth looking shaggy; i'd like to see this beard in the leadoff hole. Photo via

Werth looking shaggy; i’d like to see this beard in the leadoff hole. Photo via

Wow, a ton of Ladson inboxes so far this year!  This is great!  Here’s the 4/8/16 version.

Q: I noticed on Twitter that you want to see Jayson Werth as the leadoff hitter now that Ben Revere is on the disabled list. Isn’t Werth best suited for the middle of the order?

A: Wow, Ladson and I agree!  I absolutely want Jayson Werth in the lead-off spot right now.  Why?  Because more and more it seems like Werth’s power has left him in his advancing age.  I’ve said it before in this space several times, but yes I believe Werth would be a great lead-off hitter.   Short version: sees a ton of pitches (4.16 P/PA last year, which would make him top 10 if he qualified … and that’s WAY down from normal).  Great OBP (.365 for his career, and while 2015 was an aberration the three years before he was in the .380 to .390+ range), and when he was coming back from his wrist injury and batting lead-off for the team in 2012 his splits batting lead-off were fantastic (.309/.388/.450).  When you put Werth in the middle of the order, he’s going to try to hit like a middle-of-the-order bat.  What if he can’t do that anymore?  Then you end up with a guy who we may be seeing right now; flailing at the ball, trying to drive it at the age of 36-37).  If you put him at the top, and ask him to be a leadoff hitter, I think his advanced bat skills make him a great option there.  Ladson says the same things I do; working the count, seeing lots of pitches.

Q: When are you going to give Danny Espinosa some credit? He is off to a good start. You always write about Trea Turner.

A: Yeah, great start.  He’s 3 for 9.  But he was awful all spring.  Can you spell “Short Sample Sizes?”  Nobody in the league or the organization has any question that Trea Turner is the future and Danny Espinosa is just holding the spot for now.  If he continues to earn playing time, so be it.  I’ll take an extra year of control if Turner hangs out in Syracuse for 2-3 months.  The fact is though that at some point somebody’s getting hurt (Ryan ZimmermanAnthony Rendon?  Both are good bets) that will require some infield coverage/shifting around, and at that point Turner makes perfect sense to bring up and see what he can do with full time playing time.  Ladson gives Espinosa some love.

Q: With Bryce Harper saying that he doesn’t view himself as a leader on the team, who do you think is the “official” leader of the Nationals’ clubhouse?

A: I’m pretty sure this is Harper‘s way of being deferential to the veterans on the team without proclaiming himself as the leader.  But lets not kid ourselves; this franchise has had one MVP and he’s it.  Who is the leader?  I think there’s several leaders; there’s four significant veterans on this team: Werth, Zimmerman, Max Scherzer and Jonathan Papelbon.  Not all of them have been here forever like the FotF has, but they’re the ones that have been around the league, who are on the 8-figure deals, and they’re the ones who seem to dictate the pace of the clubhouse.  Ladson also mentions Murphy and Ramosarguable.  I only name Papelbon because in the span of a few weeks he went from being the last guy hired to being the unquestioned leader in terms of tenure both here and in the league.  

Q: Were you surprised Sean Burnett wasn’t put on the 25-man roster?

A: Yes and No.  On the one hand, the team had two solid lefties in Felipe Rivero and Oliver Perez already under contract, and keeping Burnett would have meant sending down Treinen basically thanks to options issues.  And that would have been a non-starter.  If Burnett had 8th inning stuff, perhaps.  No, i see the Burnett signing and tenure as a “favor to a long standing former player” trying to help him get back on his feet in this league.  Ladson mentions we already had two good lefties.

Q: What do you think of outfielder Victor Robles?

A: I think he’s young, apparently talented, on pace to perhaps be a solid 5 tool player.  I also think he’s years away from helping this team.  So its great that he’s potentially great … but that doesn’t do much to help this current team win while it still has Strasburg and Harper under contract.  Ladson has glowing words for the 18-yr old.

PS: I was heading to the game today before they cancelled it due to … the threat of snow?  I dunno; its chilly right now but clear.  We’ll have to wait to get to our first game :-)

Nats System 2016 Pitching Staff Projections


Scherzer leads the MLB rotation for a second year. Photo via

Scherzer leads the MLB rotation for a second year. Photo via

(Editor note: I was out of the country for the last week; good timing in terms of missing the snow, but not so much for trying to get on a flight back to DC.  Never got one actually; had to settle for a flight to JFK last night and a train ride ride down).

Now that we’re through all the 2015 Pitching staff review series, level by level, here’s a summary projection of what the pitching staffs may look like for 2016.  These projections are based on the 7 deep dive rotation reviews but are all put in one place.  Since player movement occurs daily, I may have missed one or two MLFA signings but these should be up-to-date as of the time of publishing.

All the reviews in the 2015 series:


Nats System Staff projections for 2016 season

(* == lefty, ^ == MLFA or new acquisition for 2016)


  • Rotation: Scherzer, Strasburg, Ross, Gonzalez*, Roark
  • Bullpen: Papelbon, Treinen, Rivero*, Perez*^, Kelley^, Gott^, Petit^, Barrett (60-day DL)
  • out of organization: Zimmermann, Fister, Storen (traded), Thornton*, Janssen, Carpenter, Stammen (non-tendered)

Quick Discussion: This assumes no more rotation acquisitions; if one occurs, bump Roark to long-man with Treinen then getting dumped to AAA save for injury (See next section for the Arroyo discussion).  It looks like the team can’t move Papelbon for anything of value and refuses to eat $11M and instead moved Storen for something we do value (a CF).  I know they’re still connected to random starters here and there, which continues my amazement in their lack of trust of Roark as an effective 5th starter (I guess his 50 innings in 2013 and 200 awesome innings in 2014 just weren’t convincing enough).  Honestly if they don’t trust Roark, then just call up Giolito.  This is their last season with Strasburg and one of their last with Harper, so “saving” Giolito at this “win now” point seems dumb.  We’ll see.


  • Rotation: Cole, Jordan, Espino, Voth, Laffey*^, THill, Arroyo^
  • Bullpen: Martin, Solis*, Grace*, Brady^, Bacus, de los Santos, Runion, Velasquez^, Masset^, EDavis, Burnett*^
  • Release Candidates: McGregor, Walters
  • out of organization: Billings, Bleier*, Swynenberg, Fornataro, Meek, Runion, Lively, Gutierrez, Valverde, Delcarmen, RHill, Overton

Quick Discussion: Both Hill and Davis took outright assignments to AAA to stick with the team after being DFA’d in the last few weeks: this could lead to some downstream moves in spring training (specifically someone like McGregor getting squeezed in a numbers game).  We have slightly overloaded the bullpen assuming that there’s some injuries to come.  Only a few “veteran MLFA” types listed here, a good sign for the system and its ability to generate upper-level minor league talent, but seemingly every other day we hear about more such signings, probably for competition purposes and/or to fulfil what seems to be the annual ritual of giving guys a few weeks of meal money to throw innings in spring training for one last shot at a roster spot.

The very recent signing of Bronson Arroyo is an interesting one; he’ll be 40, coming off of TJ and has shown himself to be effective even despite a lack of velocity even deep into his 30s.  Is he a competitor to Roark for the 5th starter spot?  Is this a favor to Dusty Baker?  For now, i’m putting him as AAA depth but have to think he’s got an opt-out if he doesn’t make the MLB team so he’s likely to be either the 5th starter or a FA come 4/1/16.

Post-publish edit: thanks to JohnC, I totally forgot about our early off-season MLFA signing of Sean Burnett, our old favorite loogy (who also happens to throw the ball right handed while shagging flies in the OF).  If he doesn’t have an opt-out, I’ll project him as a Syracuse loogy but perhaps behind Solis and Grace thanks to his lack of 40-man status.  I hope he’s still got it after two TJs.


  • Rotation: Spann*, Giolito, Simms, Alderson, Lopez, Mapes, Gorski^
  • Bullpen: Mendez, Harper*, Shackelford^, NLee*, Benincasa, Suero, Thomas*, Walsh*, Robinson^, Whiting^
  • Release Candidates: Rauh, Bates, Self, Dupra
  • out of organization: Purke*, Pivetta, Simmons, Demny, Ambriz, Gilliam

Quick Discussion: here’s where we start to see some log jamming going on; we already have 6 good candidates for the AA rotation (and that was before the recently announced Gorski signing), 10 for the bullpen (some of which already have been promoted to AAA in 2015) and another 4 guys who could still slot in somewhere who i’ve called “release candidates” because of the numbers game.  That’s 20+ guys for 12-13 slots.  Do they get pushed down and cause cascading High-A fall out (where the story is the same?) or do we see some wholesale shredding of contracts this coming spring training?  Do you move UP guys like Giolito, Harper instead and cut AAA veteran MLFAs?


  • Rotation: AWilliams, Valdez, Dickson, Bach*, Van Orden, Fedde
  • Bullpen: Johanssen, Amlung (swingman),  Napoli*, Orlan*, Glover, Brinley, Sylvestre*
  • Release Candidates: RPena, Turnbull*
  • out of organization: Schwartz, Howell, CDavis, MRodriguez, Cooper (just released)

Quick Discussion: Again, I see this as an overloaded squad; 6 starters, 10 relievers.  Perhaps some AA guys drop down, perhaps there’s guys listed here to are more likely release candidates than sure things (Napoli?  Amlung?  Johanssen even?). We may eventually get our answer; the team just released Cooper despite my thinking he was more or less a lock for the Potomac bullpen in 2016.   I’m really curious to see what a couple of the starters here do this year in particular: Austen Williams and Erick Fedde.  We talked earlier about Fedde perhaps starting the season in Hagerstown … but as we’re about to see, there’s just so many guys for a couple of slots.


  • Rotation: LReyes, JRodriguez, ALee, Dickey, Hearn*, Crownover*
  • Bullpen: MSanchez (swingman),  Guilbeau*, Borne*, Rivera Jr., Gunter, Peterson, Baez
  • release candidate: Estevez, DWilliams, DRamos, Boghosian, Mooney, Pirro
  • out of organization: Ullmann, KPerez, Mooneyham, Johns (just released)

Quick Discussion: 6 projected starters, another 8 for the bullpen, and another 6 relievers who … well, i’m not sure where you put them.  You can’t have 20 pitchers in XST can you?  Well, maybe you can and they can catch on with the short-season squads … but look at who is already projected for Short-A below.  In the comments section of the Short-A post a few weeks back, we talked about the four lefty college starters who were drafted and in the Auburn rotation (Hearn, Crownover, Guilbeau and Borne); all had more or less the same pro numbers in Auburn; who stays in the rotation moving up?  Who goes to the pen?  There were already 4 guys who made sense to project to the Hagerstown rotation; where are 4 more college lefties going to go?  Its almost like the team needs an entire additional low-A team to staff.


  • Rotation: Bourque, AMartinez, Valero, Watson
  • Bullpen: Morales (swingman), LTorres, Acevedo, Harmening, Serrata
  • release candidates: Feliz, Reynoso, Mills, DeRosier, VanVossen, Copping, Pantoja
  • out of organization: Overton, Plouck, Webb, McDowell, Sylvestri

Quick Discussion: I’ve already got nearly a full squad of arms for short-A as it is, and we havn’t accounted for any 2016 draftees nor potential dropdowns from Hagerstown.  I just feel like there’s going to be some whole sale releases this spring.  Either that or Rizzo is going to draft nothing but bats in 2016.


  • Rotation: Avila, Fuentes, WPena
  • Bullpen: CPena
  • release candidate: De La Cruz
  • out of organization: Salazar, Jauss, DVasquez, Morel, EGomez, Charlis, JRamirez, Costa, Uribarri, Mancini, Yrizarri, Bermudez

Quick discussion: practically nobody in the domestic system right now projects to repeat the Rookie league, which means that a) we should expect a ton of guys to make their way from the DSL and/or b) we should expect more 2016 draftees to start here.  Perhaps I should have done a review of the DSL guys to make predictions on who earned their way off the island.



Guys who really impressed me in 2015 and to watch out for in 2016.  Kind of my own version of Luke’s “watch list” but I was definitely struck by several guys while doing these posts and here’s the list.

  • MLB: Ross, Rivero
  • AAA: Espino, Martin
  • AA: Voth, Giolito, de los Santos, Harper, NLee
  • High-A: Lopez, Mapes, Walsh
  • Low-A: Valdez, ALee, Orlan, Glover, Brinley
  • Short-A: AWilliams,Fedde, Rivera Jr, Johns (why was he released??)
  • Rookie: Valero, Watson, Avila



Operation Bullpen Makeover Status Report


Welcome to the Nats Mr. Gott. Photo via gettyimages

Welcome to the Nats Mr. Gott. Photo via gettyimages

At the end of the 2015 season, our (primary 7-man not including 9/1 callups) bullpen looked like this:

  • Papelbon, Janssen, Treinen, Thornton*, Rivero*, Fister and Solis* (Stammen, Barrett, Storen on the D/L)

Then half these guys (Janssen, Thornton and Fister) hit the road via Free Agency, already leaving huge holes to fill.  In fact as of just a week ago after this was what our Opening Day 2016 bullpen would have looked like:

  • Papelbon, Storen, Treinen, Stammen, Rivero*, Solis* and Martin as a long-man I guess (Barrett to go to the 60 day D/L as soon as  he’s eligible).

After a flurry of moves in the past 10 days, here’s what we’re looking at now:

  • (Papelbon, Storen) Gatt, Kelley, Treinen, Perez*, Rivero*, Petit

And presumably there’s more work to be done (you have to think we’ll acquire a Proven Closer™ to replace the Papelbon/Storen combo).   But, so far, not a bad week for Mr. Rizzo.

Quick thoughts on each move (in chronological order)

  • Craig Stammen non-tender: discussed at length in the Non-tender deadline preview post comment section.  I didn’t like it for reasons discussed ad naseum, but agree that the team must have decided the risk was too much.
  • Oliver Perez signing 2yrs/$7M: good 2015 numbers in the NL with Arizona, then not so much in 12 innings with Houston.  His LHP-LHB splits are good while righties hit him at an .881 OPS clip in 2015.  I guess that’s as good of a Matt Thornton replacement as we need.
  • Yusmeiro Petit signing 1yr/$2.5M after getting non-tendered by SF.  An odd move by SF; his 2015 regular season numbers were just fine to me.  An ERA+ over a 100, flexibility to go long or go short.  And the Nats certainly remember getting shut down by him in the 2014 NLDS.  A good move for me as a near like-for-like replacement for Stammen (with the exception that Petit can go longer than Stammen could so he could be the long-man as needed).
  • Shawn Kelley for 3yrs/$15M (as reported); three straight years of fantastic swing and miss stuff (11-12 K/9 rates).  Great option to add as an 8th inning guy/eventual setup role, eventually replacing what Casey Janssen never did.
  • Trevor Gott in trade for Yunel Escobar: it seems like an underwhelming return for Escobar on the face of it.  Escobar was our 2nd leading hitter last year and played multiple infield positions.  But his batting average was pretty “empty” (he slugged .415) and his defense was abhorrent (not that he ever should have been playing 3B once Anthony Rendon came back … but that’s another gripe).  I think what it does indicate is the rising cost of good relievers and the fact that Escobar has one year of control while Gott has just 114 days of service time and is thus controlled for at least *six* more seasons, three of which will be at the pittance MLB minimum.  Gott’s numbers as a 22  yr old were pretty good; 125 ERA+, an ERA right around 3.00.  Not a ton of swing and miss so far in the majors but he was a closer in the minors and seems like a good 6th/7th inning guy (in other words, a Barrett replacement for the time being).

This configuration leaves a slew of projected relievers set to start in AAA or on the D/L:

  • D/L: Barrett (60dl), likely lost for the whole year
  • RH middle relievers: Martin, eDavis, de los Santos,
  • Loogies: Solis*, Grace*, Lee*
  • Long Men options: Jordan, Hill, Espino

What’s left to do?

  • Flip Storen for value
  • Dump Papelbon for a couple of pizzas
  • Find a for-real closer; its going to cost some serious stuff, based on the Craig Kimbrel and Ken Giles trades.  Be ready for it.
  • Sign some more veteran relievers for AAA like we always do.

Questions for the group;

  • Do you like the configuration of this bullpen so far?  Assuming we get a for-real closer and dump Storen and Papelbon, would you say that its an improvement over last year?
  • Is this too many new players to gel properly?  Don’t we always hear about how pitchers are creatures of habit and how “Teams” take a while to gel and play well together?  We’re basically throwing out a bunch of guys in that pen who will have never even met, let alone build camaraderie.  Do you worry about this?  Or do you believe that “winning builds chemistry” and that players are just cyber machines who you charge up in the morning with Red Bull and then slot them into their roles and they magically produce?  (If you couldn’t read between the lines in that sentence of sarcasm to tell what I think … well I can’t help you :-)


Quick pre-Winter Meetings thoughts…


The off-season is off to a great start for the Nats. Photo via (yes its a site)

The off-season is off to a great start for the Nats. Photo via (yes its a site)

Winter meetings this week.  I figured I’d wait to start posting rotation reviews until after the craziness goes on (if its anything like last winter).

Here’s some thoughts I have:

  1. If the Nats intend to “completely remake their bullpen” then they’re off to a pretty slow start.  We’re already missing out on several key guys who would be good candidates to join the pen.  Darren O’Day, Joaquin Soria to start, Ryan Madsen, Jim Johnson or even Mark Lowe (who signed about 2 minutes after publishing this) as other examples.  Instead we sign Oliver Perez, a soft-tossing lefty retread to (I guess) replace Matt Thornton, who is perhaps the 5th or 6th most important role to fill in a 7 man rotation.  You couldn’t have adequately handled a LOOGY out of our cache of minor league arms?  Didn’t we draft like 10,000 lefty arms in the last three years?
  2. And now we hear that the Dodgers are hot on the case of Aroldis Chapman, not that I want to spend what it will take to get him.  Yes he’s great, yes he’d be a fantastic closer.  No I don’t want to give up a top-100 prospect for one year of his time.  (post-publishing update: literally 5 minutes after hitting publish, word comes out that the Dodgers have acquired Chapman).
  3. Why would they non-tender Craig Stammen given the bullpen turnover they already plan to have?  Stammen is talking in the press like he’s completely moving on, as if the negotiations went that sour that fast.

Here was 2015’s opening day bullpen: Storen, Treinen, Stammen, Thornton*, Cedeno*, Barrett, Roark with Janssen on the D/L.

Here’s where we stand now: Storen on the chopping block,
Treinen still there, Stammen DFA’d, Thornton a FA, Cedeno DFA’d/traded, Barrett on the D/L with TJ surgery all of 2016, Roark presumably going back to the rotation and Janssen a FA.   Throw in late-season acquisition Papelbon also being on the trading block and that’s basically the *entire* bullpen getting turned over.  That’s a recipe for disaster.

If the season started tomorrow: I guess the bullpen would be: Papelbon, Storen, Treinen, Perez*, Rivero*, Solis*, Martin.  Except that we know that’s not going to happen; you have to think the first two guys are moved one way or another.

Maybe we won’t end up seeing both closers moved and instead we’ll make amends somehow with one of them.  Since Papelbon is basically untradeable me thinks the “Lerners are cheap” mentality will win out and he’ll be back for 2016.  Awesome.  Especially considering the fact that he just filed a grievance against the team for not paying him during his “suspension.”  Can’t blame him; the team was stupid for not paying him and thinking they’d just pocket a union player’s salary.  Dumb.  I hope Dusty Baker has his game face on for dealing with this issue next  year, and I hope the whole “Bryce Harper reached out/bros will be bros” BS is not, actually, BS.  I’m skeptical.

4.  So, is the team going after Ben Zobrist or are they not?  Is Zobrist going to be that much better than just keeping Yunel Escobar, who can play 2nd and hit just fine for half the money Zobrist will cost?  What’s the urgency of moving Escobar?  The way I see it, Rendon goes back to 3rd, Turner plays SS (and if he cannot, then the excellent Danny Espinosa starts at SS instead) and Escobar goes to 2B where his defensive limitations won’t hurt us.  Why alter that plan?

5. Where’s the lefty bat going to come from?  How about Pedro Alvarez?  Still not sure why the Pirates were so quick to non-tender him.  I mean, he hit 27 frigging homers last year and his Ks are way down from two years prior.  How about buying Alvarez, sticking him at 1st, then shuffling Zimmerman to LF, Werth to right and Harper to CF?

6. Here’s a radical one.  Los Angeles and San Francisco both whiff on Zack Greinke, who inexplicably goes to Arizona.  Both teams adjusted and bought #3 starters (Iwakuma and Samardzija respectively) but now that basically all the big names are off the market, do you think there’s a possible Stephen Strasburg trade out there?  The Dodgers desperately need a Greinke replacement; word on the street is that they’re talking to Miami about Jose Fernandez and that would just be unfair if they got him.  Meanwhile, San Francisco’s 3-4-5 starters looks scary right now and they need to keep up (think SF can’t out-spend LA?  Google “Mission Rock Development” and see how the Giants are about to become a serious player in the SF commercial real estate market).  Even Boston could still be an interesting option: their projected 4-5 aren’t exactly impressive and their new GM is looking to make a splash, and Boston has serious prospect depth.  What if the Nats and Boston get together and get a couple of serious prospects for Strasburg?  Could you see that?  Maybe he gets moved and Giolito gets pushed into service a lot earlier than people thought.

If we moved Strasburg, the Nats would suddenly have a 5th starter hole too (well, unless Giolito became the guy).  I don’t really trust our AAA rotation guys to step up so maybe we’d be back in the market for a cheap starter too.  Luckily I count like 40 starters who profile like that, and some of them could be had for pretty cheap.

7. I don’t buy that the team needs/wants a CF.  But I could be wrong.  If we really were targeting a CF, we would have tendered Span.  I’ll spit bullets if the sign Dexter Fowler and give up their 1st rounder.  If only they could find a power hitting lefty who could play CF (ahem, Bryce Harper).

That’s a good starting point for the Winter meetings.  Let the swap meet begin!




Pitcher Wins on the FA Market – 2014 edition with bWAR

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Kershaw's new $30M/year contract will be tough to live up to.  Photo via wiki.

Kershaw’s new $30M/year contract will be tough to live up to. Photo via wiki.

One of my pet projects of recent years has been to track “major” Starting Pitcher free agent contracts and then to do analysis of how they turned out, on a Dollar per Win basis.  This post is an updated version of this analysis to determine some of the “best” and “worst” free agent contracts ever awarded to starting pitchers.  It is updated for 2014 from last year’s version of the post by my putting in all the 2013 data for pitchers, plus putting in the significant 2014 FA contracts.  And, per requests I have added in bWAR and $/bWAR for analysis (though, as we’ll soon see, $/bWAR can be tricky to interpret for really poor performing pitchers).

The raw data spreadsheet is available in Google Docs at this link, or along the side of this blog window in the NAR Creation links section.  I havn’t cut and pasted any of the data here because the spreadsheet is too “wide” for the blog; I suggest opening it up in a separate tab while reading this post.

Data Taxonomy/caveats: For ease of analysis, I depend on the Average Annual Value (AAV) of the contracts as opposed to trying to figure out exactly how many wins were earned in which year of a varying contract amount.  Therefore (for example), Gio Gonzalez‘s contract may have only paid him $3.25M in 2012 but I’m using the full AAV of $8.4M for the purposes of the analysis (it would just be far too difficult to calculate each pitcher’s dollar per win on an annualized basis otherwise).  This analysis focuses heavily on dollars per pitcher Win, despite the known limitations of the win stat.  There is also dollars per Quality Start and now dollars per bWAR (baseball-reference’s version of WAR).

Here’s some interesting facts, that come out of this analysis (some of these points can also be seen at the amazing Cots Salary database, now at Baseball Prospectus, and are confirmed in my spreadsheet tracking the same):

Largest total Starting Pitcher Contracts ever signed

  • Clayton Kershaw‘s new 7yr/$214M deal signed this past off-season.
  • It beats out the previous record holder (Felix Hernandez‘s  7 year, $175M extension) by nearly $40M in total value.
  • CC Sabathia (7yrs/$161M in 2009) was the longer-time previous record holder before that.
  • Zack Greinke (6yr/$147M)  and Cole Hamel‘s 6yr/$144M contract deserve mention.
  • Masahiro Tanaka signed one of the biggest ever deals (7 year $155M) before he ever threw a MLB pitch.

Largest Single-Season AAV

  • Kershaw’s new deal finally beats out Roger Clemen‘s long standing single season record 1yr/$28M deal in 2007 as the largest AAV pitcher contract.  
  • Justin Verlander‘s new deal gives him an AAV of $28M, a 10% jump up from the $24-$25M/year threshold deals we saw a number of pitchers sign in the last couple of years.

What are some of the Worst Deals ever made?  Lets talk about some of these awful deals on a $ per win or $ per bWAR basis.  Most of these contracts are well known to baseball fans and are commonly thrown around when talking about the worst historical FA contracts, but they’re fun to revisit.  Thanks to the bWAR inclusion, a number of new/more recent contracts now pop up on this list.

  • Kei Igawa‘s 2007 deal with the Yankees, which was 5yrs/$20M but included a $26M posting fee, is generally speaking the worst $AAV per Win contract ever signed.  Igawa went 2-4 in 13 starts over the life of this 5 year deal, equating to $23M per win for his team.  He made exactly one quality start, meaning the Yankees paid $46M per QS.He spent the last two seasons of this contract buried in AAA.   For their $46M, the Yankees got a combined -0.6 bWAR out of Igawa.
  • Chris Carpenter signed a 2yr/$21M extension in St. Louis before the 2012 season that seemed like a good deal at the time; unfortunately for both sides Carpenter hurt his shoulder, only made 3 starts in 2012, went 0-2 and contributed a -2.3 bWAR in that time.  So his dollars per win is infinite and his $/bWAR is uncalculatable.  I still rank Igawa’s deal as worse though since it cost his team more than double the dollars, and since Carpenter’s troubles were injury related while Igawa’s was mostly due to performance.
  • Jason Schmidt‘s 3yr/$47M contract with the Dodgers.  Schmidt made 10 total starts and went 3-6, equating to $15.6M per win.  He totaled a -0.5 bWAR during this 3 year contract.
  • Oliver Perez made just 21 starts (and got 3 wins in the duration of his 3 year/$36M contract with the Mets.  He was released in March of 2011, the final year of the contract, causing the Mets to eat $12M in salary.  The Nats picked him up and carried him on their AA roster all year before dumping him as well; he’s now trying to remake himself as a loogy and is in Arizona’s bullpen.
  • Matt Harrison‘s current deal (so far) has been pretty expensive for the Rangers: for $11M in salary in 2013 they got just two starts and two bad losses before he hit the D/L and missed the remainder of the season.  He still hasn’t returned.  Odds are he recovers and has a chance to earn this contract, but you never know with shoulder injuries (though to be fair the injury that cost him 2013 was a ruptured disk in his back).
  • Tim Lincecum‘s recently completed 2yr/$40.5M contract was pretty ugly for San Francisco; he went 20-29, had just a 43% Quality Start percentage and contributed -2.3 bWAR over those two seasons for his $40M.
  • Barry Zito signed a 7yr/$126M deal.  In those 7 years he went 63-80 and contributed just 3.0 bWAR in the lifetime of the contract.  That’s $42M per win.  By way of comparison, Tanner Roark‘s 5 weeks of effort for the Nats last summer totaled 2.0 wins.
  • Mike Hampton‘s injury plagued/ill conceived 7yr/$121M contract resulted in two full missed seasons and just a grand total 3.0 bWAR of value.
  • Edwin Jackson and Dan Haren both managed to put up negative bWAR for their 2013 seasons (for which they were both being paid $13M a piece).  But those are just one-year deals; they aren’t the multi-year disasters that these other contracts can be.
  • Chan Ho Park signed a 5yr/$65M deal with the Dodgers; for those $65M the Dodgers got precisely 0.2 total bWAR in 5 seasons.  That’s right; for that money they could have fielded a 4-A pitcher and gotten comparable value.  Park was 33-33 during that time and missed significant time with injury.
  • Darren Dreifort (6.1M/win and 0.2 bWAR in 5 seasons), Russ Ortiz (4.7M/win and -3.2 bWAR in 4 seasons), Carl Pavano ($4.4M/win and 0.4 bWAR in 4 seasons), and Carlos Silva ($4M/win and -0.7 bWAR in 5 seasons) all had pretty infamous contract disasters too.

How about some of the Best Contracts ever signed?  Lots of players have signed small one year deals and won double-digit games, so those really cannot count.   Starting with an arbitrary floor of a $50M free agent contract, here’s some of the best value FA contracts ever signed:

  • Pedro Martinez: 7yr/$92M, during which he went 117-37 for the Red Sox for a $786k/win total.
  • Justin Verlander‘s 5yr/$80M deal from 2010-2014 will be a steal for Detroit: he’s already contributed 25+ bWAR and is at about $888k/win.  The same probably will not be said about his mammoth $140M extension.
  • Mike Mussina went 92-53 in his 6yr/$88.5M contract for $961k/win.
  • Chris Carpenter‘s 4yr/$50.8M deal from 2008-2011 was a steal for St. Louis: He may have missed some time but he still went 44-23 during that contract, contributed 13.6 bWAR and his $/win number was just $1.1M.  He’s the only guy who appears in both the “best contracts” and “worst contracts” section in this post.
  • Mark Buehrle‘s 4yr/$56 deal from 2008-2011 resulted in about a $1M/win and just $3.2M/bWAR, great value for his team despite his mediocre looking 54-44 record.
  • Jered Weaver, Yu Darvish, and Hyun-Jin Ryu deserve  mention here; they’re all in the early stages of their long-term contracts and are easily providing value in terms of $/win.

So what does this data mean?  Here’s some conclusions when talking about Dollars per Pitcher Win.

  1. Up to perhaps the mid 2000s, if you got about one (1) pitcher Win per million dollars spent on a player in the Free Agent market that you were doing great.
  2. Now, if you’re getting anything under $1.5M per win, you should be happy.  Especially if you’re paying an ace $25-$30M/year.
  3. Anything over $2M/win is usually considered a bust.  Nearly every contract in the $2M/win in AAV and above has been mentioned and criticized as being a bad contract; the list of “worst ever” above starts at $4M/win and goes higher.
  4. If you pay a starter anything more than about $25M/season,  you’re really going to have a hard time getting value back.  There’s only been a handful of 20-game winners over the past 5 years or so, but paying a starter $24M like Greinke is getting is almost certainly going to be regretted at some point.  An injury or a lost season completely blows the $AAV/win.
  5. It illustrates more clearly than anywhere else the value of a top-notch, pre-Arbitration starter.  Take Clay Buchholz for example; in 2010 he was 17-7 while earning the league minimum of $443k.  That equates to $26,059/win on the same staff that was busy paying Daisuke Matsuzaka $2.06M per win (when adding in the $52M posting fee).  Buchholz has struggled with injuries since then, but teams that  lock down and depend on these pre-arb starters save untold amounts of FA dollars as a result.
  6. This analysis is nearly impossible to do across baseball eras because of the general inflation of contracts and especially because of the bonanza of FA dollars being thrown out there right now.  Pedro Martinez at the top of his game signed a 7yr/$92M deal.  Imagine what he’d get today?  It could be three times that considering how good he was in comparison to his counterparts in the mid 90s.  He was coming off a 1997 season in which he struck out 305 batters, had a 1.90 ERA, a 219 ERA+ and won the Cy Young award.  So going forward a general $1.25M/win is a more accurate barometer for whether or not a pitcher has “earned” his contract.  But there’s no easy way to draw a line in the free agency sand and say that before yearX $1M/win was a good barometer while after yearY $1.25M/win is a good barometer.
  7. A caveat to the $1M/win benchmark; there are different standards for obtaining wins.   If you sign a $3M 1 year deal and then subsequently go 3-12 with a 6.00 ERA … while it looks like you reached the $1m/win threshold in reality you were, well, awful.  This analysis only really holds up for major FA contracts paying in excess of $10M/year.

And here’s some discussions on Dollars per WAR, since we’ve added that in for this 2014 analysis.

  1. The general rule of thumb is that “wins” in terms of WAR “cost” is somewhere between $6M and $7M on the open market.  Did $6M/win work out in this analysis?  Yes and no; it is sort of difficult to do this analysis with players badly underperformed.  Take for example John Danks: he’s two years into a 5yr/$65M contract where he’s gotten hurt in both seasons and has just 7 wins and a 0.7 bWAR.  Well, $26M in total salary paid so far for 0.7 bWAR equals a $37M/war figure.  Well that’s not quite right.
  2. The best you can do is look at player-by-player examples.  Johan Santana‘s 6yr/$137.5M contract cost his team $9M/bWAR.  That’s unquestionably bad.   Cole Hamels went 17-6 in 2012 on a 1yr/$15M deal, which turned out to be just $3.2M per WAR for his 4.2 bWAR season.  That’s great.
  3. The $/bWAR analysis gets worse if the bWAR is negative; our own Dan Haren came in with a -0.01 bWAR for 2013; how do you decide how much the Nationals paid on a dollar-per-bWAR basis for Haren?  If you divide 0.01 into his $13M salary you get a non-sensical -$1.3 billion figure.


Lastly, for comparison purposes, here’s the above analysis looks for the 2013 Nationals pitching staff.  Keep in mind that the $/win figures for pre-arbitration pitchers vastly skew the analysis (apologies if this bleeds off the side of the browser screen)

Last Name First Name Total Value (includes guaranteed $) $$/year AAV Contract Term Years Into Contract Starts QS QS % W L $ per start $ per QS $ AAV per win Total bWAR $ per bWAR
Strasburg Steven $19,000,000 $4,750,000 2009-13 5 75 46 61.3% 29 19 $316,667 $516,304 $818,966 8.5 $2,794,118
Gonzalez Gio $42,000,000 $8,400,000 2012-16 2 64 43 67.2% 32 16 $262,500 $390,698 $525,000 7.9 $2,126,582
Zimmermann Jordan $5,350,000 $5,350,000 2013 1 32 21 65.6% 19 9 $167,188 $254,762 $281,579 3.7 $1,445,946
Detwiler Ross $2,337,500 $2,337,500 2013 1 13 6 46.2% 2 7 $179,808 $389,583 $1,168,750 0.1 $23,375,000
Haren Dan $13,000,000 $13,000,000 2013 1 30 15 50.0% 10 14 $433,333 $866,667 $1,300,000 0.0 (0 war)
Maya Yunesky $8,000,000 $2,000,000 2010-13 4 10 1 10.0% 1 4 $800,000 $8,000,000 $8,000,000 -0.8 ($10,000,000)
Karns Nathan 490,000 490,000 2013 1 3 0 0.0% 0 1 $163,333 (0 QS) (0 wins) -0.4 ($1,225,000)
Jordan Taylor 490,000 490,000 2013 1 9 3 33.3% 1 3 $54,444 $163,333 $490,000 0.0 (0 war)
Ohlendorf Ross 1,000,000 1,000,000 2013 1 7 3 42.9% 3 1 $142,857 $333,333 $333,333 0.9 $1,111,111
Roark Tanner 490,000 490,000 2013 1 5 4 80.0% 3 1 $98,000 $122,500 $163,333 2.0 $245,000

The counting figures for Starts/QS/Wins/Losses are cumulative for the life of whatever contract the player is on.  So for Strasburg, he was basically in the 5th year of his original 5 year deal, hence the 75 total starts in those 5 years.

The 2013 Nats have $AAV per win and $/bWAR mostly on the good side:

  • Yunesky Maya and Nathan Karns both contributed negative bWAR for 2013, so their numbers are meaningless.
  • Taylor Jordan and Dan Haren both came in at zero (or close enough to it) bWAR, so their numbers are also meaningless.  Well, not “meaningless” in Haren’s case: basically he gave the team replacement performance for his $13M in salary; the team could have just called up a guy from AAA and let him pitch all year and gotten about the same value.  Thanks for the memories!
  • The best $/win guy was Tanner Roark, who got 3 wins for his MLB minimum salary … and that’s not even taking into account the fact that Roark’s 2013 salary probably should be pro-rated for this analysis.
  • The worst $/win guy was  Maya; who demonstrated yet again that his $8M contract was a mistake.
  • Nearly the entire staff has $/win values under the “you’re doing well” threshold of $1M/win.  And nearly the whole squad is doing $/bWAR well below the $6M/bWAR range.