Nationals Arm Race

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

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Ladson’s inbox 3/1/15

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Roark; the lost starter.  Photo Alex Brandon/AP via wp.com

Roark; the lost starter. Photo Alex Brandon/AP via wp.com

I havn’t posted something in weeks.  I was facing writers block.  What is there to really write about in the early weeks of Spring Training?  Thankfully, MLB.com beat reporter Bill Ladson piped up with an inbox!

As always, these are (presumably) real questions from (presumably) real Nats fans who took time out of their busy day to email Ladson personally.  And as always, i write my response here before reading his so as not to color my own opinion.


Q: Would the Nationals consider a six-man rotation so Tanner Roark isn’t left out?

A: Uh, no.   You don’t commit $210M to Max Scherzer and then immediately tell him and all the other veterans in the rotation that their entire work preparation process is going to be adjusted, for the first time ever by any MLB team, to account for a guy with a year and a half of service in Tanner Roark.

By going to a 6-man rotation for an entire 162-game season,  you’d be lowering the number of starts for each guy by at least 6.  What would you rather have, 6 less starts by the likes of Scherzer and Strasburg, or 20-some starts for Roark?  I like Roark too, and trust me I wouldn’t mind a bit for a trade to enable him to be the 5th starter again, but this team has made its bed with this contract.

Ladson says that Roark will be in the bullpen as the long man when the season starts.  Cutting-edge analysis!

Q: If the Nationals and Jordan Zimmermann cannot come to an agreement and he signs somewhere else, what kind of effect will this have on the Nationals in general?

A: Not as much as you might think.  Yes, losing a near-Ace is never good, but this team has a 5-win starter pushed to the bullpen right now, and has significant depth in AAA.  I’m of the belief that a lot of the Scherzer signing was about providing rotation stability through the next few years as the team (likely) parts ways with a significant portion of its current rotation through free agency.  Two years from now you’re probably looking at a rotation that goes Scherzer, Gonzalez, Roark, Cole and Giolito.  And the Nats will have likely acquired a whole slew of upper-level prospects either by trade or by virtue of supplemental draft picks.  Ladson confidently says “there will be no effect at all” because Matt Williams “won’t allow it.”  Beat reporter bravado?  Of *course* there will be an effect; we’re talking about what will probably be a difficult and nasty separation when all is said and done.

Q: Why is Gio Gonzalez starting over Roark? Roark is clearly better. Gio won’t throw strikes.

A: Simple answer: because Gonzalez is lefty.  Secondary issue; Gonzalez is getting paid more than 20 *times* what Roark is in 2015.  I’m not entirely in disagreement here; I’ve been a Roark believer ever since he got called up.  But he’s going to be the odd man out in this competition no matter how good he looks this spring.  Ladson says Gio was his good ole self after getting past his shoulder injury.

Q: I like Drew Storen and his numbers are, overall, excellent. I have to admit, though, I worry about him in close games in the postseason. Am I overly concerned about the fact that 2012 and ’14 playoffs saw him blow saves in key games?

A: Three words for you: Short.  Sample.  Size.  Like it or not (and I too fall victim to this), you just can’t look at a couple of outings in the post-season and judge a guy.  Exhibit 1a: Clayton Kershaw‘s career post-season era is 5.12.    I killed Storen‘s 2014 NLDS performance too, but in reality he was rather unlucky to blow Zimmermann’s gem (Posey kind of fisted the ball into center and then Sandoval hit a down-and-away pitch for a very well-placed double to tie the game).  Storen’s regular season record speaks for itself right now: he had a frigging 1.12 ERA last year!

I say, lets worry about *making* the post-season first, then lets see how the games go.  At some point you have to think the Nats will, you know, hit the ball in a post-season series to the point where it won’t matter whether our closer will pitch a 1-2-3 ninth.  Lets you forget: the team slash line in the 2014 NLDS was .164/.222/.258 and in the 2012 NLDS was .232/.290/.393.  That’s not very good.

Ladson basically says the same thing.

Q: Do you expect a significant contribution from any of the players signed to Minor League contracts?

A: We already talked about the NRIs in depth.  Short answer is this: *maybe* one of the veteran right handers might have an impact but not immediately.  And we might very well see one of the lefty-hitting vets pushing Tyler Moore for the last spot on the roster.  Ladson thinks Mike Carp in particular is going to contribute off the bench … which means he’s predicting Carp to make the 25-man roster?

Q: Which Minor Leaguers could get called up during the season?

A: I think we’ll see at least three of the AAA starters at some point during the  year (guessing Treinen, Cole and Jordan).   I could see Matt Grace getting some MLB time.  I’m sure we’ll see a backup catcher in Dan Butler at some point.  If Michael Taylor doesn’t start out on the 25-man roster to replace Jayson Werth, then i’m sure we’ll see him at some point.

Perhaps a better question would be this: what non-40man roster guys could you see getting call-ups mid-season?  Rafael Martin comes to mind, as well as someone like Emmanuel Burriss or Matt Skole if the team gets stuck on the injury front.

Ladson mentions Cole and Grace … and then says that he could see Giolito getting a September call-up.  That’s the dumbest thing i’ve read in a while.  Why in god’s name would we want to start Giolito’s clock early like that??  If he’s MLB ready by the end of 2015 …. then you sit on him in AAA for two weeks in 2016 and call him up mid-April.  That’s it.  Every day he spends pitching useless innings in Sept 2015 would be another day the team has to wait for him in 2016. 

Q: Do you see Danny Espinosa on this team in 2016? It seems like he has gotten a lot more slack than anyone on the team. Additionally, what are the team’s long-term plans for second base?

A: I see no reason for Espinosa not to be on this team in 2016, if he continues to serve as an adequate backup.  There’s no reason to cut him, and there’s not really anyone better who is that close to the majors.   I’m not sure if i’d characterize the way the Nationals have handled him as “slack;” in fact the Nats have now gone out of their way to replace him as the starter both with the Cabrera trade mid-2014 and with the Escobar trade this past off-season.  Long term you have to think the team is waiting for Wilmer Difo as the long-term 2B solution .. if he can step it up and advance two levels in 2015 he may be ready by mid 2016.   I’m not as convinced that Tony Renda (who is “ahead” of Difo on the org 2b chart) is a real MLB prospect at this point.  There’s practically nobody of interest at either AAA or AA right now who rates as a prospect.  There’s also a possiblity that newly-acquired-but-not-yet-with-us Trea Turner could be a solution … but the team is hoping he can stick at short.  Ladson basically agrees.

 

 

Qualifying Offers: Are they working? (2015 edition)

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The QO didn't affect Scherzer's next contrct very much.  Photo AP Photo/Paul Sancya

The QO didn’t affect Scherzer’s next contrct very much. Photo AP Photo/Paul Sancya

Last year we did a quick analysis of all the Qualifying Offer-receiving free agents to see if the system was “working.”  (note; from here out I’ll use the abbreviation of QO for Qualifying Offer).

Now that James Shields has signed, there remain no more free agents on the market who received a QO from their former team.  Lets take a look at how the qualifying offers affected the markets for those players who got them this off-season.

Here’s a table of the 12 players who received QOs ahead of free-agency (I hope this table is readable once it publishes…)

Year Player Old Team New Team Draft Pick Forfeited Signing Date Subsequent contract (w/o options) Money up/down per AAV Q.O. Screw the player?
2014 Melky Cabrera TOR CWS 3-81 12/15/2014 3yr/$42M -1.3 Not Really
2014 Nelson Cruz BAL SEA 1-21 12/1/2014 4yr/$58M -0.8 No
2014 Michael Cuddyer COL NYM 1-15 11/11/2014 2yr/$21M -4.8 Sort of
2014 Francisco Liriano PIT PIT none 12/9/2014 3yr/$39M -2.3 Sort of
2014 Russell Martin PIT TOR 1-18 11/18/2014 5yr/$82M 1.1 No
2014 Victor Martinez DET DET none 11/14/2014 4yr/$68M 1.7 No
2014 Hanley Ramirez LAD BOS 2sup-69 11/25/2014 4yr/$88M 6.7 No
2014 David Robertson NYY CWS 2-45 12/9/2014 4yr/$46M -3.8 Sort of
2014 Pablo Sandoval SFG BOS 2-44 11/25/2014 5yr/$95M 3.7 No
2014 Ervin Santana ATL MIN 2-43 12/11/2014 4yr/$55M -1.55 Not Really
2014 Max Scherzer DET WAS 1-29 1/21/2015 7yr/$210M 14.7 no
2014 James Shields KC SD 1-13 2/9/2015 4yr/$75M 3.45 no

It should be noted that for the third consecutive year, not one player who received a QO accepted it despite its ever increasing value ($15.3M for 2015).  Is this “reverse collusion” on the part of the players, not to play the QO game?  For the third year, there were players about whom pundits scratched their heads as to why they chose not to take the offer.  While not as obvious as in 2013 (when both Stephen Drew and Kendrys Morales vastly over-stated the market for their services and were severely penalized as a result), the fact that especially Michael Cuddyer and David Robertson didn’t take the QO remained puzzling.

So, among the 12 players, who was hurt?  In the end, nobody really.

  • Half the players got new contracts with AAVs above the QO figure, in some cases significantly above.  So they’re not being “hurt” by the system.  This list includes Russell Martin, Victor Martinez, Hanley Ramirez, Pablo Sandoval, James Shields and of course our own Max Scherzer.
  • Another 3 players (Melky Cabrera, Nelson Cruz and Ervin Santana) signed longer term deals for slightly less than the AAV of $15.3M.  I say these guys were “not really” hurt since they guaranteed themselves 3-4 years and in each case nearly or more than $50M of earnings.   Each player rightly gambled and guaranteed themselves $50M instead of $15M.

The remaining three players each kind of have extenuating circumstances.

  • Michael Cuddyer (inexplicably) signed a 2yr/$21M deal with New York instead of taking a 1yr/$15.3M deal to stay in Colorado.  There has to be more to this story; why wouldn’t his agent have advised him of taking the QO and then hoping to get a 1yr/$6M deal the following off-season??  Wouldn’t that have been the better play?  Did he want to leave a losing team in Colorado?  (If so, why the heck did he go to the Mets??)  The Mets even more inexplicably gave up the 15th overall pick to get an 35-yr old corner outfielder who played just 49 games last year due to injuries and who has a combined 3 bWAR in the last two seasons.   One can see the nature of the kind of player you can generally get in the mid-first round here.  So while Cuddyer’s AAV is way below $15.3M, because he voluntarily signed the Mets contract he only screwed himself :-)
  • Francisco Liriano declined the QO and then re-signed with the same team (Pittsburgh).  He got a 3yr deal for $39M.  Most pundits would agree that nobody would have given Liriano a $15M/yr longer term deal thanks to his age and injury history, so his taking lesser money AAV but for longer is a smart move for him.  Perhaps the QO limited his market, forcing him to go back to Pittsburgh … or perhaps not.
  • David Robertson declined the QO but got a 4yr guaranteed deal for $46M … as a reliever.  Which is fantastic, considering the volatility of the reliever position in general.  So even though his AAV is far less than $15.3M, he made out big time with the amount of guaranteed money.

San Diego gives up the best draft pick (13th overall) to get Shields’ services for four years, but five teams altogether give up first round picks to sign players.  Boston gives up its two second round picks to play Ramirez and Sandoval on the right side of their infield for the next four years.  A number of very wealthy teams pick up supplemental first round picks (Dodgers, Yankees and Detroit), which (like all FA compensation) kind of seems to defeat the purpose of helping “poorer” teams off-set the loss of marquee players.

Lastly, the order (and pools) for the 2015 draft is now set.   A better look is here, showing all the picks gained and lost.  Houston has the 2nd, 5th and 37th overall picks, 12 picks in the top 10 rounds and has an astounding $17M of bonus money to acquire players.  Washington has just $4.1M to sign its first 10 picks, meaning we’re likely looking at another set of college seniors drafted in rounds 6-10.  More on the draft later on.

So, to answer the question of the day; are QOs working?  This year they seemed to have worked; you can’t really argue that any player was negatively affected and teams that lost players got compensation picks.  You can argue whether the right teams got these picks.

Fyi; the spreadsheet with all this analysis is here: https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/1UEiZzwWarVP3PfCtZeYTVBqC49dmBut21O7UhB17htQ/edit?usp=sharing

NLDS Post Mortem

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Not Aaron Barrett's finest moment. Photo via lockerdome.com

Not Aaron Barrett’s finest moment. Photo via lockerdome.com

So, if you told me that the Nats would lose the deciding NLDS game because Matt Williams chose to work the 7th inning with Matt Thornton, Aaron Barrett and then Rafael Soriano as the savior, I would have asked you, “was everyone else in the bullpen dead?”

Instead of going to war in a tie game with any of his three longest serving and most effective relievers (i.e., Craig Stammen, Tyler Clippard or Drew Storen) he went with a waiver claim, a rookie, and a deposed starter with an ERA after the all-star break north of 6.00.

I get bringing in Thornton to go against the first two lefties in the 7th; why the hell do you leave him in to face the Giant’s best hitter in Buster Posey?

When Posey inevitably singles to put guys on first and second with one out … clearly the key point in the game and the post-season … why do you bring in a frigging rookie instead of your #1 shut-down, high leverage reliever (Clippard)?

Was anyone really shocked when Barrett walked the next guy to load the bases?  Was anyone then subsequently surprised when he overgripped, overcome by the moment and bounced a mid 90s fastball to the fence?   Wilson Ramos looked like an amateur trying to “block” that pitch, stabbing at it backhanded like someone who’s never caught before, but whatever.  The damage had already been done.  If it wasn’t a wild pitch, it would have been a deep ground out, or a sac fly; the run expectancy of bases loaded with one out is more than 1.5.  I won’t even go into the little league IBB wild pitch; the poor guy was clearly still thinking about the run he just gave up and the weight of the team’s season was on his shoulders.

For the record, you’re not going to win a ton of games where you get just four hits.  Gio Gonzalez once again proved he wasn’t up to the task, and the Nats were lucky to get out of the 5th without giving up a run (also a bases-loaded, one-out jam that Tanner Roark mostly created on his own but also mostly got out of thanks to a ballsy 2-0 changeup to Pablo Sandoval).

No, the story of this game and this series can be summarized with the following list of lines for the 4-game series:

  • Leadoff hitter Denard Span: 2 for 19 with one walk.
  • #3 hitter Jayson Werth: 1 for 17
  • #4 hitter Adam LaRoche: 1 for 18
  • #5 hitter Ian Desmond: 3 for 18.

All of those hits?  Singles.  No power, no driving the ball from the heart of the order.  Basically, the top half of the Nats lineup played four games of automatic outs.  Hard to win like that.  The bottom half of the lineup wasn’t much better: Cabrera was just 3 for 15 though with two clutch hits and Ramos was just 2 for 17 in the series and was a guaranteed weak ground-ball to shortstop every time.

You’re not going to win games when your 3-4-5  hitters get 5 combined hits in four games, none for extra bases and none driving in any runs.  Did you know that Anthony Rendon was 9-17 with a walk and scored ZERO runs in the series?  He was on base TEN times in four games and never scored.  That’s a huge indictment of the middle of the Nats order.

The only hitters who showed up in this series were the two youngest regulars on the field; Rendon and Harper.  With three homers and a double in four games (driving in four of the 9 total runs the team scored), Harper showed once again why it was folly that he was batting 6th.  He drove in exactly four runs; had he been batting with Rendon on all the time, he may have batted in double that and we’re talking about a different series.

Its a bummer; the Nats offense picked a really crummy time to shut down, to make Ryan Vogelsong look like a staff ace.  And they’re out in the divisional round for the 2nd time in three years despite being the #1 seed.  Tim Hudson: you have your answer.

Would you have pulled Zimmermann?

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This picture is 2 years old; replace it with a red jersey and you would have thought it was last night.  Photo Andrew Harnik/washingtontimes.com

This picture is 2 years old; replace it with a red jersey and you would have thought it was last night. Photo Andrew Harnik/washingtontimes.com

On his 100th pitch of what I certainly thought was going to be a 3-hit shutout masterpiece to resurrect this playoff series for the Nats, Jordan Zimmermann missed on a fastball up to Giants #2 hitter Joe Panik, issuing his first walk and just the fourth base-runner of the night.

I was not entirely shocked to see Matt Williams trot to the mound, but I also wasn’t happy.  As my wife can attest, I uttered the following phrase: “I think he’s going to regret taking him out.”

Sure enough.  Another Drew Storen meltdown, another blown 9th inning lead that led to the team snatching defeat from the jaws of victory.

To be fair; this isn’t entirely about second guessing.  You can quite easily make the argument to put in Storen as thus: Storen has been lights out for the entire year.  The Giant’s most dangerous hitter (Buster Posey) was coming to the plate.  You would rather have Posey going at a fresh Storen than getting his 4th look at Zimmermann (most starters’ third time through the lineup averages inflate wildly, to say nothing of their 4th).  It was righty-versus-righty.

Well, sometimes you can over-think things.  Certainly Tom Boswell feels that way, based on his column this morning.

On the other hand, if the following scenarios had played out, I’m not sure anyone would have argued against the strategy.

  1. After giving up the walk, Williams walks out to talk to Zimmermann, he stays in and gives up the Posey single, *then* Storen comes in and gives up the run-scoring double to Pablo Sandoval.  You’ve yanked the starter after putting two guys on, and you’ve gone to your closer in the highest-leverage situation of his career and he got unlucky.  That’s still harsh on Storen, but more understandable.
  2. After giving up the walk, Williams leaves Zimmermann in like a total old-school manager and watches him subsequently give up the single and then the double, all while his closer warms up in the bullpen.  That would have led to the reverse second-guessing; why leave him in when you’ve got your closer ready to go?

Major league manager; sometimes you just can’t win.  Williams had a quick hook last night.  Don Mattingly had an excruciatingly slow hook two nights ago, letting his ace Clayton Kershaw give up *SIX* hits in the 7th inning of the Dodgers-Cardinals series before relieving him, and then watched his reliever give up a 3-run homer to turn a 6-2 lead into a 7-6 deficit.  That’s “lose your job” kind of decision making (if the Dodger’s don’t get out of the NLDS).

You guys know what I follow and am most interested in; starting pitching.  So you probably know what I would have done; stick with my starter.  But sometimes it isn’t that simple.  So I’m not going to kill Williams for last night.  I do think Storen’s future with this team is in serious doubt; would you throw him again this post-season?  Would you trust him going forward?  Fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice …. and I see Storen in a new uniform next year.

I spent 6+ hours watching that baseball game (practically the first time all summer I have watched a game from start to end).  The longer I watched, that more and more looked like it was going to be the inevitable disappointment, as Yusmiero Petit looked like the second coming of Roger Clemens and the Nats hitters looked like a AAA team at the plate for much of the night.  A deflating end to a long night.  Tanner Roark gave up the game-winning homer on a mistake (he missed over the plate while trying to hit the outside corner and Brandon Belt destroyed it), but the offense had more than their share of walk-off opportunities.

The Nats have a long road ahead; they match up with the Giant’s Ace next, have to win 2 straight on the road just to get it back to a 5th game.  Lets see if they have what Tim Hudson implied they may not have: I can’t say it here in a PG blog but it rhymes with “Walls.”  :-)

Ask Boswell 5/13/13 edition

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Zimmerman keeps making news for the wrong reasons. Photo AP via tbd.com

I was out all last week, hence the radio silence here.  I couldn’t help posting yesterday though about the Nats blowing another excellent start.  So lets get back into the swing of things with another episode of Tom Boswell‘s weekly chats, this one for 5/13/13.  As always I write my response here before reading his, and sometimes edit questions for clarity.

Q: With the technology we have today, do we really need umpires anymore?

A: You know, the answer is probably “Yes, we could replace Umps with robots” and have a better product on the field … but the implementation details seem so difficult that I doubt it ever really fully happens.  You have to have real people on the field to deal with all the randomness that occurs in baseball games.  I think the best eventual solution will be to have challenge systems put in place like we have with Football, only hopefully done much much faster.  Sort of like the NHL’s New York-office based replay officials.  The strike zone issues we’re seeing lately though are troubling; can you automate a strike zone call with players who move and bend over in mid-swing?  How do you establish a strike zone for these guys?  Inside and outside are no problem, but up/down is tough.  Boswell supports robot strike zones.

Q: If Harper had been just a normal everyday player, coming up through the system, would that swing of his — namely the left foot coming up and the seemingly wild attack at the ball — have been beaten out of him by now by the coaches?

A: Not necessarily.  But if Bryce Harper had been a “normal” prospect instead of an uber-prospect then I think he would have had adjustments pushed onto him.  There have been successful players with that trailing foot off the ground; Frank Thomas and Roberto Clemente come to mind.  I always have a pet peeve personally when I see a  hitter who lifts his back leg; I have the same issue in my own swing and was told by a high school coach that it was a flaw.  Well, I don’t think guys like Clemente and Thomas were flawed hitters.  I think it is what it is; if you feel comfortable hitting off your front foot and are successful, then so be it.  Boswell notes Clemente and a few others who have this trait, and agrees with me that it’s an overstated issue.

Q: Is this the breakout season for Jordan Zimmermann? Is it the changeup? I’ve never seen him look so in control out there.

A: Can it be as simple as Jordan Zimmermann has finally fully recovered from Tommy John surgery?  Fangraphs shows pretty consistent frequencies and speeds of his pitches from last year to this year.   One thing that jumps out for me right now is his very low BABIP (.209 so far this year).  That smells like some regression.  So while he can’t sustain his ridiculous numbers (1.59 ERA through 7 starts), he does seem to be on track for a very good season.  Cy Young capable?  With his current W/L streak and peripherals, he may pitch his way into the conversation.  Boswell notes that Zimmermann would have been in top 10 of league ERA last year with a few more IP, and that poor run support has cost him wins for years … so this all likely is Zimmermann finally getting the full package.

Q: How concerned are the Nats about Zimmerman’s shoulder?

A: Can’t speak for the team, but is anyone happy with Ryan Zimmerman‘s throwing issues right now?  Nothing has changed from what I wrote in Mid-April about the situation.  And I don’t know what the team is going to do with him.  Jon Heyman quoted an anonymous competing Front Office executive after Zimmerman signed his big deal that the Nationals “now have two $100M contracts but no $100M players.”  It pissed me off at the time … but is really hard to argue against now.  Will these contracts hamper this team’s development and/or ability to sign all its players in a few years time?  We’ll see.   Boswell mirrors what i’ve written before; the team has no place to put Zimmerman and they have to just ride it out.

Q: Drew Storen looks like a different pitcher this year. ERA is up to 4.73, and for the first year since his debut I’m nervous when he takes the mound. What gives?

A: A great question.  Others here have predicted that Drew Storen may be demoted this season due to performance.  His blowing of the Gonzalez gem was just one more nail in his coffin.  But a look at the stats shows that he’s basically been unlucky so far this year.  Most of his peripherals are improved in 2013 over last year; his K/9 is up, BB/9 is down.  His BABIP is incredibly high right now (.370).  Despite an ugly ERA his fip/xfip numbers are normal and low.   His velocity is a tick lower this year but not appreciably so.  I think he’s just been unlucky and will improve with more innings as he regresses downwards to the expected mean.  The one thing stats can’t measure though is his mentality; is he “depressed” because he’s not the closer?  Any way you spin it, the acquisition of Rafael Soriano represented a “demotion” for Storen, and it comes on the back of a pretty demoralizing NLCS game 5 meltdown last year where Storen single handedly lost the series for a team that most thought was the best in the game.  Boswell says his stuff is still “plenty good” but that he’s screwing around with too many pitches in his outings, relying on his sinker too much.  He needs to just go after hitters.  I agree; young guys have a tendency to nibble and work backwards if they’re too clever (see Bauer, Trevor) and need to listen to their pitching coaches.

Q: When errors occur or a bad call is made, Strasburg appears to have a difficult time making the necessary pitches to get out of an inning. Is this just an example of him being 24 and still learning or is there a bigger long term issue?

A: Great question again (lots of good ones here).  We’ve all played behind pitchers who lost their composure when a simple error occurs behind them (in adult leagues, this pretty much happens on every other ground ball, so you have to learn to go with it).  Stephen Strasburg‘s mental breakdown after Zimmerman’s latest throwing error, leading to 4 unearned runs and a loss in a game where I thought perhaps he had no-hitter stuff, was really disappointing.  Is it him being young and immature?  Could be, though I have never gotten the impression that Strasburg ran on the immature side.  How can you, when you have so much career hype?  But the evidence speaks for itself; when your manager and your catcher call you out in the press for losing your composure, you have some work to do.  Boswell posted a fantastic stat; 15% of Strasburg’s career runs allowed were unearned, twice what Justin Verlander has allowed in his career.  That’s incredibly telling.  Strasburg needs to work on his mental approach after bad things happen behind him.

Q: So Bryce has cooled off some, but what concerns me more is that even when he was scalding hot, he was hitting LHP. Should we be concerned? His OPS against LHP is .502.

A: I’m not concerned about Harper’s Lefty split, since nearly every left-handed batter in the game has a bad lefty split.  He looked downright awful against lefties in 2012 (highlighted by his 5-K game against Andy Pettitte and the Yankees), but has made adjustments.  Now it seems that the league has re-adjusted, so Harper needs to re-adjust.  So far in his young career, Harper has shown how well he adjusts (he’s years above his age in this regard), so I have confidence he’ll be ok.  Boswell prints some great numbers so far for Harper and says he’ll be ok.

Q: I recently read two articles that said that sabermetics considers a strikout to be no better or worse than any other out. This fact does not seem to make sense because missing the ball completely with two strikes eliminates any chance for productive outs, for foul balls leading to another chance, or reaching base due to normal batting average on balls in play. Also, psychologically, a strikeout has to be more deflating to the individual and team than another out.  Thoughts?

A: There’s a weird dichotomy in sabremetrics in this regard: batter K’s are “not that bad” but Pitcher K’s are what everyone strives for.  Doesn’t this seem at odds with itself?  The only reason I can think that a K is “ok” if you’re going to make an out is if it somehow prevents a double play.  But this is a research-worthy topic.  I also heard a great stat on a podcast; 3 players struck out 40 or more times in April of this year (if memory serves it was Jay Bruce, Chris Carter, and Mike Napoli).  Joe DiMaggio didn’t strike out 40 times in a season his whole career.  The league is just different now.  Boswell doesn’t really say much on the question other than the DP angle.

Q: Yesterday’s game was as strong an argument as I could make for the National League to use the Designated Hitter. Gio should have been allowed to finish the game with his low pitch count and excellent throwing, but he was pulled for a batter (who did nothing). Forget tradition! If we had the DH, we could have kept Michael Morse! And we probably would have won yesterday.

A: A good ancillary point to my rant on Gio Gonzalez‘ replacement the other night.  I support a DH across both leagues and posted many good reasons in this space in March 2013.  No reason to repeat them here, but this question goes to points #2 and #4 in my March post (fan experience and NL pitcher’s getting limited).  Boswell talks about the Gio decision and not really about the DH.

Q: Is Zim still among to the top 5 or top 10 3rd baseman in the majors in your opinion?

A: Interesting question.  A quick glance at the Third Basemen on depth charts around the league leads to this list of players who I would take right now over Zimmerman: Miguel Cabrera, Evan Longoria, Adrian Beltre, David Wright, and maybe even Chase Headley or David Frese. Now counting contract status/potential at this point given Zimmerman’s money owed and his declining performance on both sides of the ball, I’d think hard about Manny Machado, Bret Lawrie, Todd Frazier, Nolan Arenado, Pedro Alvarez and Pablo Sandoval.   Of course, potential is potential and Zimmerman already has a long list of accomplishments in this game, so on the whole of his career i’d put him just behind Wright in the above list.  So yeah I think its safe to say he’s a top 5 third baseman right now.  Ironically in my Yahoo Fantasy list, he’s also #5 and listed exactly behind the four guys in that upper grouping, in that exact order.  Boswell says no, not defensively.  But i’m not sure that’s entirely how you judge players these days.  Cabrera isn’t exactly a gold glover at third but would anyone say he’s not the “Best Third Baseman” in the game?

Q: No doubt that Jayson Werth is a phenomenal locker room presence and his home run in the playoffs last year was one of the highlights of the year, but he missed half the season last year and is on the DL now. He turns 34 next Monday and the Nats have him on contract for 4 more years. What do you think they can legitimately expect from him?

A: I think you expect Jayson Werth to contribute in the same ways he did in 2012; around a 125 OPS+ with some power and a lot of OBP.  Eventually he moves to left field, where he should be a excellent defender in the latter years of his contract.  It is what it is: the Nats paid him for his four years of unbelievable offense in Philadelphia, and he’ll be lucky to get back to that level in his mid 30s.  Boswell agrees.

Q: Is Denard Span the best centerfielder we’ve had since Clyde Milan? I don’t recall seeing a smoother Washington centerfielder.

A: Easily the best “all around” player to play center since the team moved here.  I’d probably argue that Rick Ankiel was better defensively and clearly had a better arm, but Denard Span‘s consistency at the plate gives him the easy nod overall.  Can’t speak to years prior to 2005.  Boswell agrees and signs off.

DC-IBWA Pre-2013 Season Predictions

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I took part in the DC-IBWA’s pre-season survey this year (despite this blog being missing from the “participants” page on the result link…) along with many of our fellow Nats bloggers.  The full results are here; I gave both a player and a guess on the totals, and compared my guesses to the poll results.

1) Who will lead the Nats in home runs in 2013? Bryce Harper, 35hrs.  Makes sense that Harper takes the lead; Morse is gone, Zimmerman has only shown 30-homer power in one injury-free season and I think Harper is a dangerous bet for a 30/30 season in 2013.  (Harper was the poll leader as well).

2) Who will lead the Nats in RBI?: Adam LaRoche, 105rbi.  The #5 hitter behind a slew of high OBP guys in front of him is going to get plenty of RBI opportunities.  Most people said Zimmerman; I just constantly worry about his ability to play 162.

3) Who will lead the Nats in stolen bases? Ian Desmond, 25sbs.  Most people guessed Span, but he hasn’t been the SB machine that people think.  Desmond is a better bet.

4) Who will lead the staff in wins? Stephen Strasburg, 20wins.  As good a guess as any.  It wouldn’t surprise me to see any of our top 3 pitchers broach 20 wins.

5) Who will make more appearances for the Nats this season: Rafael Soriano, Drew Storen, Tyler Clippard or Craig Stammen? Tyler Clippard, 70games.   The addition of Soriano allows Clippard to go back to his work-horse self, and he’ll lead the team in appearances again.  Soriano will only get save opps, Storen is too close to being the closer to get the workhorse treatment, and Stammen isn’t going to throw unless the starter gets yanked early.   (Clippard was the poll leader as well)

6) Who will get more at bats for the Nats this season: Kurt Suzuki or Wilson Ramos? Hmmm.  Tough one.  I’ll go with Suzuki with 400ab.  I don’t think Ramos can stay healthy.  I could be wrong; Ramos seems to have won the starter role at least from the onset.  Poll favored Ramos.

7) Which minor leaguer are you most interested in keeping tabs on this season? Matt Purke.   We know what our top two guys can do for the most part (Rendon and Goodwin).  Giolito is basically out all year and Cole needs a full season in A-ball to regain confidence.  Purke needs to show us something in 2013.  He seems to be healthy, and we need to know if the monetary investment is going to pay off.  A close second may be Matt Skole; can he make the leap from over-aged low-A slugger to a legitimate power prospect who could take over 1st when LaRoche’s contract ends?  So far from spring training, it seems like the answer could be a yes.  (Poll winner was Rendon easily).

8 ) Date of Anthony Rendon’s Major League debut? July 1.  Long enough to ensure one additional year and avoid super-2.  The club gives Espinosa 3 full months to show he’s healthy and can hit better than .240.  I could easily see more Espinosa struggles, a DL trip to repair his shoulder and Rendon taking over 2B for the 2nd half.  I hope not; he’s my fantasy shortstop :-).   Poll winner was Sept 1.

9) How many all-stars will the Nats have? Who? 4; Strasburg, Gonzalez, Harper and Desmond.  The Poll results were all over the road, but lots of support for Zimmerman to re-gain his all-star stature.  Problem is … there’s a few big names at third base in the NL that Zimmerman would have to out-perform to get votes.  David Wright and Pablo Sandoval first among them, perhaps David Freese and Chase Headley as well.

10) Total wins and what place in the division? 100 wins, 1st in division.  Most people have the team pegged for slightly fewer.

Essay: What should be the single most important development for the Nats this season?

I think the overall health of the Rotation is going to be the biggest factor for the team.  We have no starting pitching depth to speak of, and a lengthy injury to any of the front line pitchers will affect our win total.

Interesting thoughts about the Giant’s roster construction…

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As I watch the NLCS and its surprising results so far (Cody Ross with a Reggie Jackson-esque performance thus far, Roy Halladay getting beat, etc), you can’t help but notice some interesting items about the Giants roster and its makeup.

1. The Giants THREE highest paid players (Zito, Rowand, Guillen) are not even on the post season roster, and their 4th highest paid player (Renteria) is not the starter at short.

2. The position players that the Giants are depending on are all either developed internally (Posey, Sandoval) are retread/journeyman free agents on one-year deals (Torres, Uribe, Huff, Fontenot) or total reclamation projects (Burrell who was DFA’d earlier this season and Ross who they got on waivers).

3. Almost their entire pitching staff is home grown. Lincecum, Cain, Sanchez, Bumgarner plus setup/closer
combo of Romo and Wilson are all original SF draft picks. Only #5 Starter Zito is an (infamous) FA acquisition.

Here’s a quick table of Giants “primary starters” player acquisition methods:

SF (postseason 2010) acquisition method
Buster Posey Draft
Aubrey Huff FA
Freddy Sanchez Trade Prospects
Pablo Sandoval FA (intl)
Juan Uribe FA
Pat Burrell FA (dfa’d)
Andres Torres FA
Cody Ross Waivers
Tim Lincecum Draft
Matt Cain Draft
Jonathan Sanchez Draft
Madison Bumgarner Draft
Barry Zito FA
Sergio Romo Draft
Brian Wilson Draft
Drafted/Developed 8
Traded Prospects 1
Traded MLBs 0
FA/Waivers 5

By way of comparison, the Nationals opening day roster featured only FOUR such home grown players (Zimmerman, Desmond, Lannan and Stammen).

The Giants list their 2010 payroll at $96M, of which $42M is allocated to those 3 guys not even rostered.  Imagine what this team would look like if that $42M was properly allocated.

I think what this shows is that, with enough development time and effort put into your pitching staff you can get to the playoffs even with near replacement players in most of your fielding positions. Hope for the Nats, since this seems to be the direction Rizzo is going with his 2009 and 2010 pitcher heavy drafts. 8 of the first 11 picks in 2009 were arms, and while only 4 of 2010’s top 10 picks were arms there was significant funds paid to Solis, Cole and Ray.

Can the Nats turn these two drafts (plus other prospects) into a Giants-esque rotation? Strasburg, Zimmermann, Solis, and Cole all project to be #1 or #2 starter quality per scouting reports. Those four, plus live arms in the pen like Storen, Holder and Morris could be our future. 3-4 years out future, but still promising.

Or am I too rosy glasses colored?