Nationals Arm Race

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

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World Series pitching matchups and prediction

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Verlander could be a difference maker in the World Series. Photo via sporting News.

Verlander could be a difference maker in the World Series. Photo via sporting News.

Lets do a quick glance at the World Series pitching matchups and see how they may drive a prediction.  I was pretty close on LCS predictions (I got LA in 5 and predicted Houston in 6).  Lets see how we do for the World Series.

Despite the seven game ALCS series, it looks like Houston is keeping their rotation in tact.  Nonetheless, they’re going to be at a disadvantage compared to the Dodgers, who have been resting for days.  Here’s how I think the matchups will go: the Dodgers have announced their four rotation guys but the Houston #3-#4 are guesses.

The Astros and Dodgers are literally the two best offenses in baseball this year by fWAR added, so it shouldn’t surprise anyone to see some offense this series.  The Astros take a slight hit versus lefties … but not as much as the Dodgers do.  Meanwhile the Astros led the league in BA versus righties and have plenty of experience hitting against the Dodger’s one RH starter (Darvish) by virtue of him being in their division for years.  So some interesting matchups await.

  • Game 1: Hou@LA: Keuchel vs Kershaw: ace versus ace; both are going on regular rest.  Kershaw has been decent this post-season, counter to his career post-season record of unluckiness.  Hard to predict anything but a game 1 win for the Dodgers at home though.
  • Game 2: Hou@LA: Verlander vs Hill: Verlander has been great since moving over to Houston and has been unstoppable in the post-season.   Hill is no slouch himself but Verlander won’t be denied.
  • Game 3: LA@Hou: Darvish vs Morton: Morton seems to be the weak link in the Houston rotation; he may be replaced by former Nat Brad Peacock.  But as noted, the Astros will not be afraid of Darvish and have yet to lose at home.  I see a Houston win here.
  • Game 4: LA@Hou: Wood vs McCullers: McCullers was surprisingly picked to start over Peacock and really performed well; 10ip, 3 hits.  He’s got a great arm, but he’s also streaky.  How well will he throw
  • Game 5: Keuchel vs Kershaw again
  • Game 6: Verlander vs Hill
  • Game 7: Darvish vs Morton

 

Predictions: I see a split in LA, and I see Houston taking games 3 and 4 in Houston.  So Kershaw is on the mound in game 5 in a do-or-die situation; he gets the series back to LA but Verlander shuts the door again.

Houston in 6.

Written by Todd Boss

October 23rd, 2017 at 8:47 am

LCS Pitching Match-ups and predictions

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Quick look at projected SP match-ups for the LCS and predictions:

Here’s the broadcast schedule with probables listed where known: http://m.mlb.com/postseason-schedule .  I’m assuming the Game 5-7 match-ups would be the same as 1-4

ALCS:

  • Game 1: NYY@Houston: Tanaka vs Keuchel. Both guys were solid in their ALDS appearances, may be a run prevention effort.
  • Game 2: NYY@Houston: Severino vs Verlander: Verlander has been great since moving over, but Severino was no slouch in his ALDS start.
  • Game 3: Houston@NYY: Peacock vs Sabathia: Sabathia’s career renaissance continues; he was dominant in the ALDS.  Peacock is an enigma; advantage NYY here.
  • Game 4: Houston@NYY: Morton vs Gray: you’d have to say advantage NYY here; Morton struggled, as did Gray, but Gray’s ceiling is higher.

I like Houston in 6 here.  I think they win first two games at home, get one game in NYY then win game 6 behind Verlander.

NLDS:

  • Game 1: Chicago@LA: Quintana vs Kershaw: Kershaw should dominate … of course his post-season stats are awful, but Lackey is Chicago’s 5th starter for a reason.
  • Game 2: Chicago@LA: Lester vs Hill: tough match-up of lefties; if Chicago were to steal a game, it’d happen here.  But Hill puts several big Chicago bats into neutral, and if he’s on he’s nearly unhittable.
  • Game 3: LA@Chicago: Hendricks vs Darvish: I don’t see Hendricks taming the Chicago bats, fired up for their first home games of the NLCS.
  • Game 4: LA@Chicago: Arrieta vs Wood: Is Arrieta healthy?  who knows.  I think LA gets to him and steals this game.

The Cubs had to empty the bullpen to get through the NLDS.  And i’m not entirely sure Wood is the LA 4th starter; it could be Kenta Maeda, who threw two relief innings in the NLDS.   I also like LA in 6 here, maybe even 5.  I could see LA winning both LA games, then dropping game 3, getting to Arrieta in game 4 and then having Kershaw shut them down in game 5.  And as we saw in the Washington series … the Chicago bullpen getting from the starter to the closer is … suspect.

Predictions: Houston in 6, LA in 5.

So what did we learn from the LA series?

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Strasburg is the man. Photo allansgraphics.com

Strasburg is the man.
Photo allansgraphics.com

When you squinted at the possible pitching matchups for the big weekend series, I thought perhaps we’d at least get two decent match-ups.  Instead, We got the following thanks to the Nats “6-man rotation:”

  • Edwin Jackson vs Alex Wood
  • A.J. Cole vs Rich Hill
  • Stephen Strasburg vs Hyun-Jin Ryu

So, that’s certainly not LA’s best (we missed both Kershaw and Darvish, who you’d have to say are their #1/#2 right now), but we didn’t exactly throw our best either.  Jackson is a MLFA signing/substitute #5 starter and Cole had a nifty 5.88 ERA in AAA and is our notional “6th starter” right now.

Jackson got bombed, Cole leaked a couple of runs but the Nats could do nothing with Hill (one hit over five, a solo HR).  To their credit, there were no spring training split squad lineups this weekend, so maybe there’s a slight concern about “fatigue” in the offense as we wind down the season.

What the Dodgers did get was a lovely tour of our bullpen, thanks  in no small part to Jackson’s 2 1/3 inning outing friday.  So there’s that.  And to their credit the bullpen pitched amazingly.  6 2/3rds innings on friday giving up just 3 hits and 0 runs, 4-hitless innings on saturday,  Plus our standard 7/8/9 guys throwing three more shutout innings in the finale when our bats finally got going.

So, here’s what I think we learned this weekend:

  • Roark will be the 4th starter in the playoffs: I think Jackson’s outing clearly took him out of any 4th starter conversation that might have remained.  I still think he’s a threat for the last bullpen arm, unless they decide to go with one extra lefty who can throw lots of innings in the form of Matt Grace.  In the end it might just be matchup driven as we’ve discussed.
  • We need Harper back; we didn’t even face LA’s best and in a long series we get Kershaw twice plus whatever other shenanigans he does on short rest.  We scored 9 runs in 3 games … 7 of them against LA’s flailing bullpen.
  • Our offense struggles against good lefties: which is not good news, since we didn’t even face LA’s *best* lefty starter this past weekend.
  • Our bullpen is … solid: for all the angst it caused us in the first half of the year, this bullpen just *completely* shut down a stellar offense.  That’s great news for our chances in October.
  • Strasburg is better than Scherzer right now: great start last night; 3 hits and 1 run in 6 innings … and one of those “hits” was a ball that Taylor absolutely should have caught.  Not sure why that was not an E-8.  Nonetheless, you have to like the chances of a series where someone has to go against Scherzer/Strasburg 4 times out of 7 games.
  • A LA-DC series will be epic, if we can get there.  We took 2 of 3 in their house and they returned the favor, with both sides not really getting their optimal lineups or rotations going for either series.  No such excuses if both teams can get to the NLCS (which, I might say, is no given … LA has a losing record against both its potential WC opponents and the Nats have never won a post-season series and are set to face the Cubs).

What are your thoughts?

 

 

What’s the best Pitching Staff you could make out of Ex-Nats?

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Imagine tis guy in a Nats uniform? Photo via latimes.com

Imagine tis guy in a Nats uniform? Photo via latimes.com

It seems like every time I turn around, I see another ex-Nat pitching against us.  This past weekend our old friend Tommy Milone surfaced with the Mets to help lead his team to victory against us.

It got me wondering; what’s the best pitching staff of ex-Nats you could come up with right now?

Using a quick and dirty reference guide for depth charts at rotoworld.com, and basically going off of memory of who used to be in our organization, here’s my starting five rotation members, how they were connected with us and how we parted ways.

  1. Rich Hill, LA Dodgers.  He of the near perfect-game turned to walk-off homer loss.  Hill was a MLFA signing in March of 2015, threw in 25 games of relief and then was given his release halfway through the season (he probably had an opt-out).  From there, he bounced to Boston before signing a one year deal with Oakland where he suddenly was an all-star starter.  Oakland flipped him to LA, and now he’s the #2 starter basically on the best team in baseball.
  2. Robbie Ray, Arizona.  He was a big-money draft-pick by us before the new rules came in.  Initially seen as a throw-in in the Doug Fister trade, Ray is now the one who “got away.”   Detroit moved him to Arizona in the 3-way Didi Gregorius move, and he’s slowly come into his own.  He made the All-Star team in 2017 and is one of the better starters in the NL this year.
  3. Marco Estrada, Toronto.  This one still amazes me; we drafted him in 2005 and developed him all the way through his 6-year free agency in the minors, with him showing little of what he now shows for Toronto.   After leaving Washington, he signed in Milwaukee and eventually became a solid rotation member for them, but became an all-star in Toronto.  I’m tempted btw to also put in Marcus Stroman, who we drafted out of HS as a short stop in 2009 before he went to Duke, learned how to pitch, and became a first rounder.
  4. Brad Peacock, Houston.  He’s got a 11.9 K/9 rate as a starter/swingman for Houston this year.  We drafted him under the old “draft and follow” rules in the 41st round in 2006, developed him to the majors, then flipped him in the Gio Gonzalez deal.  Oakland then moved him (as they’re apt to do) to Houston in 2013, where he’s pitched ever since.  2017 is easily his best pro season.
  5. Alex Meyer, Los Angeles Angels.  Our second “first round”pick in the 2011 draft (the “Rendon” draft), he was thought to be perhaps too big to start.  Initially the trade bounty sent to Minnesota for Denard Span, Meyer took for ever to develop, got flipped to Los Angeles and took til his age 25 year to even debut in the majors.  Finally in 2017 he’s showed some promise as a starter (though he’s missed time with a shoulder injury).

Honorable Mentions: Doug Fister, Lucas Giolito, Reynaldo Lopez, Jordan Zimmermann, Nate Karns,  Tommy Milone, Nick Pivetta, Mat Latos, Bronson Arroyo, Vance Worley

Interesting.  When I started this post I thought it’d be deeper.  I struggled to pick the 5th starter over the list of HMs.  Would you take any of the honorable mentions over Meyer or Peacock right now?  Can you think of anyone I’m missing?  Giolito just had a nice start; do you take him over Meyer or these other guys?

Do we have any regrets about any of these guys getting away?  Probably not.  There’s no way we could have predicted what Hill would have become, and Ray was just a baby when he was flipped.  We knew we were giving up talent in Peacock and Meyer … just not knowing how long it would have taken to matriculate.  Estrada’s maturation was totally unexpected too.

As far as the honorable mentions go … i’m completely surprised Fister (and Milone for that matter) is still in the league.  Giolito/Lopez was giving up talent to get talent.  We seem to have dodged a huge bullet with Zimmermann.   Karns has never really been healthy enough to show us what he has.  Pivetta may eventually come back to haunt us, but his 24-yr old season showed he’s not quite ready for the bigs.  Latos and Arroyo are barely hanging on (Arroyo may have already announced his retirement).  Worley pitched against us a few weeks ago and beat us but overall his 2017 has been a struggle.


How about relievers?  Here’s my best seven ex-Nats relievers out there (feel free to remind me if I forgot someone):

  • Felipe Rivero: the big name on this list; he’s exploded onto the scene since being flipped to Pittsburgh in the Mark Melancon deal.  He’s got an ERA+ for 2017 of 345, a just ridiculous.  He’s my ex-nat closer.
  • Blake Treinen: flipped to Oakland in a classic “change of scenery” move and he’s been stellar from day one on the west coast.  Sub 2.00 ERA, 7 saves.  Will he stay at this level?  Hopefully for him, yes.
  • Mark Melancon: I know he’s struggled with injury this year, but he’s only 32 and should have plenty of more success.  I’ll take him as closer 1-A to Rivero on my Ex-Nat staff.
  • Fernando Abad: DFA’d in the 2013 off-season then flipped to our favorite trade partner for a non-prospect minor leaguer, Abad was subsequently stellar for Oakland the following season.  He’s been up and down since, but has also been stellar in Boston’s bullpen this year.  He’s one of my Ex-Nat Loogies.
  • Jerry Blevins: the guy who (I think) Mike Rizzo traded for 50 cents on the dollar because he took the Nats to arbitration in 2015.  He got hurt soon after the trade in 2015, but has given the Mets two very solid years out of the pen since.
  • Craig Stammen: that’s right; he’s not only back but has had a very nice season in San Diego’s bullpen.
  • Yusmeiro Petit: we signed him away from our nemesis San Francisco … and then he struggled badly enough to have his club-option declined.  He promptly signed with the Angels and has been quite effective in 2017.  He’s my ex-Nat long-man.

Honorable Mentions: Tyler Clippard, Matt Belisle, Michael Brady, Ian Krol, Drew Storen, Josh Smoker, Marc Rzepczynski, Zach Duke, Paolo Espino, Abel de los Santos, Matt Purke, Xavier Cedeno.

So, this is a much better bullpen than starting rotation.  Three closer-quality guys at the top and two quality lefties.  Both Stammen and Petit have been good this year.  There’s a long list of honorable mention Nat relievers at this ponit and there may be others who are sitting in AAA right now.

 

 

Fantasy Baseball: my 2017 team

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Altuve is my fantasy leader for the 2nd year running. Photo via mlblogs.com

Altuve is my fantasy leader for the 2nd year running. Photo via mlblogs.com

Standard disclaimer; I do this post every year.  If you don’t play fantasy, you probably won’t care about the 3,000+ words contained herein.  You won’t hurt my feelings by not reading.  I’ll include a  jump so it doesn’t blow out your mobile reader.  Back to our regularly scheduled programming next week with final roster analysis once the last bench spots are announced.

Last year’s version of this post.

Read the rest of this entry »

LCS Predictions

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I think Lester has at least two more Game 1 starts in him... photo via Grantland

I think Lester has at least two more Game 1 starts in him… photo via Grantland (RIP)

LDS quick thoughts:

  • ALDS #1: Not surprised at all that Toronto manhandled Texas; look no further than the run differentials for the teams on the year (Texas was only +8, Toronto was +93).  Anyone who thought that was a surprise isn’t following the games closely.  The only surprise for me in that series was the fact that Odor and Bautista didn’t get into another fight.
  • ALDS #2: On the flip side, color me shocked that Cleveland swept Boston.   Cleveland is basically without its two best starters, yet still swept the AL East champ.  What it tells me is that Boston’s starters aren’t nearly as good as they are reported to be, and it showed as both Porcello and Price got bombed.
  • NLDS #1: I never expected a Chicago sweep of SF, not with Bumgarner lurking, and SF did indeed win the Bumgarner start (but without that much help from him in the end; he was in a position to take the loss in Game 3 when he departed).  But nonetheless, Chicago won in four games and get three full days off before the first game of the NLCS with which to reset their rotation.  A luxury that the Nats/Dodgers winner will not get.
  • NLDS #2: Nats/Dodgers came down to game 5, and despite their chances the Nats lose another heartbreaker.

Quick good links: MLB Post-season Schedule. and MLB.com’s Probable Pitchers.


Here’s a preview of the NLDS.  Thanks to wrapping up the NLDS early, Chicago can re-set their rotation but likely goes with the same set of arms.

  • Game 1: 10/15 in Chicago: Kenta Maeda versus Jon Lester
  • Game 2: 10/16 in Chicago: Clayton Kershaw versus Kyle Hendricks … i guess.  Kershaw is in uncharted waters here; a win on 10/11 on 3-days rest then an inning in relief on 10/13 … I guess he’ll be ready to go for a full start on 10/16.
  • Game 3: 10/18 in LA: Jake Arrieta versus Rich Hill
  • Game 4: 10/19 in LA: John Lackey versus Julio Urias

Its definitely saying something about your SP depth when last year’s Cy Young winner is relegated to being your #3 starter in a post-season series, but such is the strength of the Chicago pitching this year.  The Cubs will face a distinctly weakened LA pitching staff, shredded by the stress of the NLDS win over Washington, putting them at a severe dis-advantage.  LA will be incredibly lucky to get a split in Chicago; Lester (a lefty) should dominate the Dodgers in Game 1 and then the Cubs should have their hacks against Kershaw in game 2 (Cubs 7th in the league against lefties in terms of BA).   Then LA has no choice but to throw two more lefty starters in game 3 and 4, again playing more into Chicago’s strengths.  This isn’t like last year when NY’s strong RHP-centric starting pitchers blew away Chicago (who don’t hit Righties as well); this is a tough matchup for LA in general.

Prediction: Chicago in 5 or 6; i’m not sure it even gets back to Chicago for a game 6.


Here’s some thoughts on the ALCS.  Two teams that (rather easily) swept their divisional opponents.  Here’s how the pitching match-ups project (assuming these teams keep the same rotation from the LDS):

  • Game 1: 10/14 in Cleveland: Marco Estrada versus Corey Kluber
  • Game 2: 10/15 in Cleveland: J.A. Happ versus Josh Tomlin
  • Game 3: 10/17 in Toronto:  Trevor Bauer versus Aaron Sanchez
  • Game 4: 10/18 in Toronto: Mike Clevinger versus Marcus Stroman

A couple of interesting Nats connections here: Estrada was our 6th round pick in 2005 out of Long Beach State; he toiled in our system for years before being released and establishing himself as a superb starter elsewhere (first Milwaukee, now Toronto).  Stroman was our 18th round pick in 2009 out of a NY high school; he projected as a shortstop then; he went to Duke, remade himself as a starter, and was Toronto’s 1st rounder 3 years later.

The Cleveland slate of starters keeps changing;  Kluber is a Cy Young candidate; he will lead off for Cleveland instead of Bauer (and, as of this 10/14/16 note, Bauer is getting pushed further due to a “Drone” injury to his finger).  Meanwhile, Sanchez is probably Toronto’s best starter and Stroman was their opening day starter; I’d think both guys would get the ball before Happ.  I may have to re-write this section before all is said and done.  My gut feeling is that Cleveland’s superior record was attained thanks to a weaker division and the strong work of two starters (Danny Salazar and Carlos Carrasco) who are no longer there, and the step-down to Tomlin/Clevinger will cost them in the end.   Meanwhile Toronto emerged from an AL East with four near-playoff quality teams and is battle tested.  They had no problems going on the road to Texas and won’t either in the hitters park that is Cleveland.  Toronto gets a split in Cleveland and then batters Cleveland’s #5 starters in Toronto.  From there, its about what Kluber can do; can he get the series back to Cleveland?  It could be a quick one.

Prediction: Toronto in 5.


Lastly, i’m stealing this thunder from Craig Calcaterra at Hardball Talk/NBCsports.com, but this final four will award a winner who has been waiting an awful long time to win a world Series.

Here’s the final four teams:

  • Chicago Cubs: Last WS appearance was way back in 1945, and of course their last WS win was 1908.
  • Dodgers: Last WS appearance and win in 1988 … in case you forgot, that series featured the epic Kirk Gibson walk-off homer in game 1.
  • Toronto: Last WS appearance and win was the awesome Joe Carter walk-off in 1993, the year before divisional play took over.
  • Cleveland: Last WS appearance was in 1997 (but really their big missed opportunity was losing in 1995 as a 100-44 win team), last WS win was of course in 1948.

Lots of history at stake here; imagine a Cleveland-Chicago series.  For the historians that’d be the best.  I think the best series quality wise would be Chicago-Toronto.

Game 5; by hook or by crook, we got here.

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Maybe they'll bring back out chocolate if Scherzer wins game 5. Photo via thesportsquotient.com

Maybe they’ll bring back out chocolate if Scherzer wins game 5. Photo via thesportsquotient.com

I didn’t really do a pre-NLDS prediction piece for this series.  A combination of work and life events conspired against me.

But if you had asked me what I thought a week ago about the Nats-Dodgers NLDS, I would have said the series would have basically gone like this:

  • Nats lose to Kershaw in Game 1 because he’s Kershaw
  • Nats rebound in Game 2 and handle the veteran Hill.
  • Nats throw their sole lefty who dominates the lefty-feeble Dodgers line-up
  • Dodgers then panic down 2-1 and throw Kershaw on short rest, who dominates us again.
  • … leading to the inevitable Game 5 back home.

Now … the above description isn’t exactly how these games have gone, but the end result has been the same.  The Nats hit Kershaw in Game 1 … but the Dodgers hit Scherzer harder; that was no 2-1 squeaker.  Game 2 was salvaged when perhaps the weakest hitter on the roster clubbed a 3-run homer into a 25mph wind, energizing the stadium and the team to a degree i’ve never felt before.  Gonzalez certainly did not “shut down” the Dodgers in Game 3, but the Nats bats came alive at the end to turn it into a 4hour 12min laugher.  In game 4 Kershaw did indeed go on short rest, and up until the 7th looked pretty dominant, but in a recurring theme for him in the post-season, he went one inning too long, loaded the bases in the 7th and was charged with a total of 5 runs on the night despite 11 strikeouts.  Nonetheless, the Nats bullpen (which it should be noted did not give up a single run in the first three games) finally faltered, with Treinen coughing up the game winner in the bottom of the 8th to long-time Nats nemesis Chase Utley.

So here we are.  Game 5 tomorrow 10/13/16.  Max Scherzer on full rest versus Rich Hill on three days rest thanks to the Saturday cancellation.   Hill, 37-yr old veteran journeyman with a career resurgence, has thrown precisely one game on 3 days rest in his career: he gave up 5 runs on 3 hits and 4 walks in just 3IP that day.   No offense to  Hill, but lets hope for that line again and for the Nats to get into the Dodgers incredibly taxed bullpen.

Meanwhile, Scherzer has to figure out a way to keep the ball in the park.  And he probably needs to go 6 or 7 innings to help a bullpen that has now thrown 17 2/3rds innings in four games.

How about the Offense for this team so far?   Hitting .259 as a team despite going against Kershaw twice and a bunch of one-out relievers most of the rest of the time.   The veterans have really come to play: Murphy, Zimmerman and Werth  all stepping up and crushing the ball.  Youngster Turner at the top hitting .353 … but 10 of his 11 outs have been punchouts.  Harper is just 3-14 with 4 walks … but to be fair, 13 of those plate appearances have come against lefties and 3 more have come against LA closer Jansen … not exactly the easiest series for Harper.

Who has not acquitted themselves at the plate?  Espinosa; 1-11 with 8 punch outs and being outright replaced in game 3.  I read elsewhere, this may change my “next year opinion” on Espinosa; he has looked beyond helpless at the plate despite being a switch hitter.  Remind me of this sentence this coming off-season if I start making arguments for keeping him and keeping Turner in center.   Rendon has had a “loud” 3-16 series; loud in that he has 4 RBI and a monster homer.  Severino is 1-9 but has been putting the ball in play and has not looked overmatched.

Can’t wait for game 5.

Ladson’s Inbox 9/15/16

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Turner is the biggest surprise of the year for me.  photo via wp.com

Turner is the biggest surprise of the year for me. photo via wp.com

Wow, what a treat!  I’ve been kind of slacking in the content department and suddenly our favorite beat writer Bill Ladson pops out an unexpected mid-September mailbag.  So here’s something to argue about this weekend.

As always, here’s how I would have answered his questions.

Q: Who do you think is the most pleasant surprise on the Nationals this year

A: Trea Turner without a doubt.  We knew he was going to be good, but I don’t think anyone knew he was going to be *this* good.  Keith Law in his chat yesterday  pointed out a fun little fact about Trea Turner: he’s got a (now) 3.0 bWAR this year, which would rank him (unadjusted for position) as the 6th best ever for either the Rays or the Padres, the two teams that passed along Turner (and Joe Ross) in that trade two years ago.  What a steal.  And despite his only playing 57 games this year you have to think he’s in the mix for NL Rookie of the Year.  Corey Seager probably has it wrapped up, but a 2nd or 3rd place for Turner seems warranted.

Ladson said Stephen Drew, which I guess you could argue for … except that he’s a bench player who has missed a ton of time and isn’t a lock to make the post-season roster given his illness.

—-

Q: How far do you think the Nationals could go in the postseason?

A: Could?  They could go all the way!  :-)  In reality, I think the Stephen Strasburg injury really, really hurts them in their likely NLDS match up with Los Angeles.  If the Nats rolled out Scherzer-Strasburg-Roark-Gonzalez versus the Dodgers’ Kershaw-Hill-Maeda-random 4th starter i’d feel pretty good about our chances in that series.  Right now we’re basically auditioning pitchers for that 4th spot and Gonzalez has been shaky, and Los Angeles’ arms are daunting for a team that routinely gets shut down by starters from teams like Philadelphia and Atlanta.  Right now, I think we lose a close NLDS series to Los Angeles.

Even if Strasburg was healthy, I think we’d really be hard-pressed to beat Chicago in a 7 game series either.  We took 2 of 3 here, lost 4 out of 4 there this year (though as we’ve discussed here, that sweep wasn’t nearly as dominant as the press made it seem), but we still lost to them, and they’ve stayed at full strength basically the whole season.  I don’t see how anyone beats the Cubs this year.

Ladson hedges his answer, saying he wants to see how the bullpen and offense go the rest of the way.  Why is he worried about the bullpen?  Isn’t it one of the best in the game?  The Nats bullpen is #1 in baseball in ERA, #2 in Fip.   What more do you want?

Q: Do you think Stephen Strasburg will be ready to pitch in the postseason?

A: Nope.  Strained Flexor Mass is usually a 30 day injury; he got hurt on 9/7/16.  So at best t hat’s 10/7/16 … or basically at the end of the divisional series.  But … where’s he going to rehab?  There’s no more minor league games; i guess he could throw simulated or instructional league games.  But more importantly, this is a notably conservative team medically, especially with Strasburg over the years and especially since they just committed $175M to him.  No way do they rush him back from a serious injury just on the opportunity to make one post-season start.  Ladson agrees.

Q: Why do you call Jayson Werth “The King” on Twitter?

A: (me shaking my head): who knows.  Maybe because he’s the king of getting caught doing triple digits on the beltway?  I’ve lived here all my life and can’t tell you how many times i’ve hit 100 on the interstates around here without getting caught.  Ladson says he calls Werth the king because he turned “clubhouse from unprofessional to first class.”  Well, except for all of last year under Matt Williams … I guess even the King couldn’t salvage that dumpster fire.

Q: What do you think of the job Danny Espinosa has done this year?

A: Good power, good defense, bad hit tool.  About what we expected; his plus defense and power this year have outweighed his strikeouts and his low batting average.   He’s got a 1.8 bWAR and a 1.9 fWAR on the year, so its not like he’s totally useless out there.  Its one of the reasons i’ve supported him and havn’t been completely ready to get rid of him; he’s ranked 15th among qualified Shortstops in fWAR this year.  So that’s right in the middle; league average.   I mean, if he had negative WAR, didn’t have power, or wasn’t a plus defender, I could see the huge rush to replace him.  But moving him this coming off-season (as many want to of my readership) opens up another hole in Center that’s probably harder to fill right now than Short.  Its why I suspect the team may just stand pat, keep Turner in center another year, and roll out basically the same lineup in 2017.  Ladson gives him a “6.5 out of 7” and says he deserves the NL Gold Glove.  I dunno about that; there’s 5 or 6 NL shortstops that probably rate better defensively than him.

Q: Was Murphy what you expected this season?

A: No way; Murphy a ton better than I expected.  I was hoping for a solid 6th hitter, not a frigging MVP candidate.  He earned his entire $37.5M contract this year.  Ladson Agrees.

Q: What do you think of Dusty Baker as a manager? I know you often said Davey Johnson is the best manager you ever covered. Where does Baker rank as far as Nationals manager go?

A: I think Baker has done a fantastic job of calming this group, bringing some order, and not showing any of the faults that he was accused of in the past.  He’s shifted, he’s managed the bullpen decently, he’s stuck to his guns and rested players, he’s communicated well, he hasn’t burned out starters.  I think he’s ridden his primary catcher too hard … but then again, Ramos is having a career year and Lobaton is a huge step back offensively.  Is he better than Davey?  Not yet for me: lets see what happens when Baker has to deal with some injury issues or a better divisional rival.  Ladson has them 1-2 with Davey still on top.

 

Strasburg Extension Shocker!

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Wow. Photo allansgraphics.com via free-extras.com

Wow. Photo allansgraphics.com via free-extras.com

Woke today to check the score from last night (we have a toddler, ergo we are sleep deprived and go to bed early).  After reading about Bryce Harper‘s mouth and ejection and Clint Robinson‘s walkoff, there was a small little link at the bottom of the article…

Stephen Strasburg signs a 7yr, $175M extension to stay with the team, as broken last night by the Washington Post’s Chelsea James.

Wow.  Did not see this coming.  I never thought this team would re-sign Strasburg frankly, because I thought there’d be a feeding frenzy when he hit free agency this coming off-season.

Strasburg’s representation (Scott Boras) is not exactly known for having his players sign extensions.  The 2016-17 free agent market for starters was so bare that Strasburg likely would have inspired a bidding war and you have to think Strasburg just left a bunch of money on the table.  The next best starter hitting free agency next off-season now might be Rich Hill.  Rich Frigging Hill, as in the guy the Nats had on a MLFA deal last summer and cut him loose so he could go re-make his career out of the Oakland bullpen.

What kind of value did the team just get?  Here’s a quick look at the other SP deals in the $150M or higher range:

  • David Price: 7yrs/$217M starting in 2016.
  • Clayton Kershaw: 7yrs, $214M starting in 2014
  • Max Scherzer: 7yrs/$210M starting in 2015 (albeit with significant deferred money that brings the net present value down to around $185M)
  • Zack Greinke: 6yrs/$206M starting in 2016
  • Felix Hernandez, 7yrs/$175M starting in 2014
  • Masahiro Tanaka: 7yrs/$155M (but with his $20M posting fee its a $175M deal all told)
  • Jon Lester: 6yrs/$155M starting in 2015.

So, this is the selection of contracts to compare this Strasburg deal to.  Other big deals signed last off-season include Johnny Cueto (6yrs/$130M) and Jordan Zimmermann (5yrs/$110M).

There’s already a bunch of hot takes; some like the deal, some think its a mistake.  On the one hand, Yes, pretty much any big long term free agent deal eventually looks like a stinker, so in that respect you can be a cynic and say that every long term FA contract is a mistake.  But that’s just not a realistic way to look at team building in this modern era.  Unless you’re willing to completely punt on your season for several years running (see Chicago Cubs, see Houston Astros, see the Atlanta Braves right now, even look at what our own Nats did for two seasons so they could acquire both Strasburg and Harper in the draft), then keeping your team consistently in the upper division requires spending on the FA market to paper over what your farm system may  not be developing.

But looking at (specifically) the Cueto and Lester deals … I can’t help but think that the Nats got a steal here.  Who would you rather have, Cueto for 6/$130M or Strasburg for 7/$175?  Same question for Lester. Strasburg, to me, is a better pitcher (a far better pitcher) and they got him for basically the same AAV as those guys.  Would you rather have Strasburg for $25M AAV or Price at $31M AAV?  Honestly?  Give me Strasburg and I can use that $6M to buy more bullpen guys.

I know Strasburg has his detractors out there, people who with a straight face don’t think he’s an “Ace” or one of the best 10-15 arms in this league;  you people are fools.  Look at nearly any metric you want over the last 3-4  years and you’ll find that Strasburg is in the top 10-15 league wide.  Here’s a helpful link to fangraphs individual pitcher stats from 2012-now; in this time frame Strasburg is (among qualified starters): 13th in fWAR, 13th in ERA, 9th in FIP, 2nd in xFIP, 9th in SIERA, 4th in K/9, 11th in K/BB, 5th in FB velocity, 20th in wFA, 7th in wCU, 6th in wCH.  That’s pretty rare air to be that high up in so many different categories spanning the various statistical ways to measure pitching these days.  He’s not Clayton Kershaw … who is?

Interesting question to ponder: is this Strasburg/Boras “payback” for “shutdown-gate” in 2012??  Their way of saying “thank you” for looking out more for the pitcher than the team in that case?   Because it seems so to me; that’s my “hot take.”

I leave you with this before debating the merits of this move: Here’s our projected rotation in 2017:

Scherzer, Strasburg, Giolito, Ross, and Gio Gonzalez or Tanner Roark.

Yeah; that could be pretty frigging good.

Syracuse/AAA Pitching Staff Year in Review; 2015

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Espino probably had your best overall season out of the AAA staff. Photo via milb.com

Espino probably had your best overall season out of the AAA staff. Photo via milb.com

After skipping the minor league pitching staff reviews in 2014 (that silly thing called work interfered), I’m back for 2015.  I’ll be reviewing the six minor league levels and the major league levels going from high to low.  In this series, we have already published the MLB version for 2015.

For some historical perspective, here’s 2013’s version (featuring Tanner Roark), here’s 2012’s version (featuring John Lannan) and 2011’s version (featuring Tommy Milone) of this post for AAA Syracuse.  In the missing 2014 post I likely would have “featured” either Taylor Hill or Rafael Martin.

All stats are courtesy of either milb.com’s Syracuse Stats page or via Fangraph’s Syracuse Stats page.   Also useful here are the Big Board and the Nats Draft Tracker.  And here’s the Baseball America Minor League Free Agent (MLFA) tracker.  And here’s a list of the official MLB MLFA declarations for 2015.

Syracuse Pitching Staff movement throughout the year (* == lefty)

  • Opening Day Rotation: Cole, Jordan, THill, McGregor, Billings
  • Closing Day Rotation:  Espino, Bleier*, McGregor , THill, Jordan (Cole 9/1 callup)
  • End of Season Swingmen: Walters, Billings
  • End of Season bullpen:   Runion,  Gutierrez, Harper*
  • 9/1 promotions: Solis*, Martin, Grace*, Cole
  • Mid-Season Promotions: Rivero*,  Ross, Treinen
  • Up-and-back: Martin, Grace*, Cole, Jordan, THill, Solis* (not counting 9/1 call-ups)
  • Down-and-back: Bleier*, Runion
  • Demotions: Spann* (was up for spot start), AWilliams (up for spot start),  EDavis, Demny,
  • DL/restricted: Swynenberg
  • Cut/released: Delcarmen, Lively (Japan), RHill*, Simmons, Meek (Korea), Valverde (opt-out), Fornataro

Syracuse starters.  The rotation started the season with Cole, Jordan, Hill, McGregor, and Billings.  It finished the year with Espino, Bleier, McGregor , THill, Jordan and Cole.  Here’s an overview of the starters Syracuse used, starting with the original five starters.

  • A.J. Cole was Syracuse’s opening day starter in 2015.  On the year, he was 5-6, 3.15 ERA, 1.18 whip, 3.90 FIP and 76/34 K/BB in 105.2 innings.  Cole got yanked up and down a couple times on the year, with one ill-fated spot-start for the major league team where he looked completely out of his depth against Atlanta (not exactly the ’27 Yankees).  His K/9 is down, BB/9 is up from his stint in AAA in 2014, though his BAA improved significantly.  I’m struggling not to write him off; after all he’s only 23, he’s still listed in or near the top 100 prospects in all of the minors, and he still could have value.  I just don’t think its going to happen with the Nats.  He’s been pushed down on the starter depth chart and (save an injury) has no chance of making the 25-man roster in 2016.  So is there value in having him pitch another year in upstate New York?  I could see Cole getting flipped to a team that could use a cheap 5th starter candidate.  Outlook for next season: Syracuse’s opening day starter again, unless moved.
  • Taylor Jordan was 5-6, 2.95 ERA, 1.15 whip, 3.41 FIP and 61/27 K/BB in 103 IP.   He’s slipping further and further away from a rotation job that seemed rather likely after his 2013 sterling debut.  His AAA numbers were pretty good this year but he got lit up in his one 2015 spot start (to be fair, it was against Toronto and the best offense in the majors).  His margin for error is just so much lower because he doesn’t get the K/9 that other guys do.  Unlike Cole though, Jordan doesn’t necessarily wow the scouts and may be tougher to move.  I think he plays out his options string as a AAA starter with occasional big league cover and then gives it a go in another organization.  Outlook for next season: Syracuse rotation again.
  • Taylor Hill was 3-10 with a 5.23 ERA, 1.62 whip, 3.85 fip and 70/29 K/BB in 118 IP.  Not a good year for Hill, who got a handful of mop-up bullpen gigs in late May/early June and wasn’t entirely impressive while doing it.  See all that we’ve said for Cole and Jordan, but lower expectations a bit more.  I have Hill near the top of my “guys to get DFA’d to make room on the 40-man roster” at this point and he needs to figure out what changed between 2014 (2.81 ERA) and this year (5.23 ERA, both at Syracuse).  We won’t really know if he’s getting pushed out of the rotation until deeper dives into the AA rotation.  Outlook for next season: Syracuse rotation/release candidate.  1/6/16 update: Hill was DFA’d on the 40-man to make room for Stephen Drew: we’ll update in this space when his roster status is finalized.
  • Scott McGregor (boy I have a hard time typing that w/o remembering the old Baltimore Orioles hurler from the mid 1970s) was 6-6 with a 4.04 ERA, 1.43 whip, 4.67 fip and 63/35 K/BB in 107 IP split between starting and relieving.  He started in the rotation, having signed as a MLFA in June of 2014 originally then re-upped with the Nats over last off-season to continue his role as AAA 5th starter/long-man.  But his performance slipped considerably this year.  I don’t see him listed on the MLFA tracker so its possible he’s signed through 2016 with the team, so we’ll assume he’s reprising his role again in 2016.  Outlook for next season: Syracuse long-man/spot starter
  • Bruce Billings was 8-5 with a  3.63 ERA, 1.26 whip, 3.23 fip and 90/28 K/BB in 121 IP.  The MLFA produced well in a season spent in a similar role to McGregor; 4th/5th starter who made way for prospects as they got moved up but who eventually spent most of the year in the rotation.   His numbers are about what you’d expect for a veteran minor leaguer/classic AAA org guy; he’s declared again and will look to build on his decent 2015 with an organization where he has a better shot at getting called up.  Outlook for next season: in AAA for another organization.
  • Paolo Espino had a nice season, getting promoted up from AA and giving Syracuse 20 starts of 3.21 ERA, 1.15 whip, 3.68 fip pitching (88/19 K/BB in 117 AAA innings).  The 2014 MLFA signing (as with McGregor) stuck with the team for 2015 and could be an interesting piece going forward.  Question is; is he a MLFA for this upcoming season?  My records and research disagree with each other: he’s *not* listed in the BA MLFA tracker nor is he on the official MLB declared MLFA list (links at the top), but the drat tracker says he’s a MLFA.  I’ll assume our private files are not better than MLBs and assume he’s still under team control.  Outlook for next season: Syracuse Rotation.
  • Richard Bleier was 14-5 with a 2.57 ERA between AA and AAA this year.  65/16 K/BB in 171 IP.  Bleier had a nice season, working his way out of AA and finishing the year in the AAA rotation.  His K/9 is shockingly low given his stat line, perhaps why he’s not likely to draw much attention from the team’s executives on 1/2 street.  He’s a declared MLFA already for 2015 and likely plies his trade elsewhere next year.  Outlook for next season: in AAA for another organization.
  • P.J. Walters was acquired mid-season from the Dodgers for cash: for the Chiefs he threw 60 innings of 5.35 ERA and got 5 spot starts towards the end of the year.  52/23 K/BB in his 60 innings for Syracuse on the year.  Walters has significant MLB experience, with 152 IP across several organizations dating to 2008.  He’s yet to really have a decent MLB stretch thought, and his AAA numbers are starting to look just as bad.  Given the team’s dearth of RH bullpen depth options though, I think its safe to say they’ll keep him around to see if he’s an option to consider.  Outlook for next season: Syracuse bullpen.
  • Other guys who got spot starts here and there:
    • Joe Ross had 5 starts before getting called up to the majors.  See MLB write-up for more.  Outlook for next season: Nats #4 starter.
    • Matt Swynenberg had exactly one AAA start of 3 innings this year before spending the rest of the year on the restricted list, which usually indicates retirement.  We’ll see if he gets an official release this coming off-season.  Outlook for next season: retired/out of the organization.
    • Mitch Lively had 2 spot starts but was mostly a reliever; see the reliever section.
    • Sam Runion and Eric Fornataro each had a spot start but were primarily relievers; see the reliever section.
    • Matthew Spann, James Simmons and Austen Williams each got called up to AAA from lower levels to provide exactly one spot start.  See High-A for for Spann and Williams, AA for Simmons writeups.
    • Strasburg and Fister had one-two rehab starts for Syracuse in 2015.

Syracuse Relievers: taking a look at the relief corps.  We’ll organize relievers by going by IP from most to least.  Anyone with less than 10 IP will get cursory analysis at the end.

  • Rafael Martin was Syracuse’s closer for a good portion of the season, getting 12 saves in 50 IP across 46 games.  We discussed Martin at length in the MLB writeup but will repeat our prediction here.  Outlook for next season: Syracuse bullpen/MLB reliever depth.
  • Eric Fornataro was a waiver claim last off-season, then DFA’d off the 40-man roster before the season started.  He then failed to impress, posting a 5.54 ERA in 50 innings before getting released in July.  Outlook for next season: in another organization/out of baseball.
  • Matt Grace had a 2.40 ERA in 48 IP and spent a decent amount of time on the MLB roster (17 ip across 26 appearances).  See MLB writeup for more.  Outlook for next season: Syracuse bullpen/lefty reliever coverage.
  • Evan Meek posted a 2.15 ERA across 37.2 innings in the early part of the year, effective if a bit wild (33/19 K/BB in those 37 ip) and, after not getting consideration for a call-up, asked for his release to sign with a Korean team.  Outlook for next season: still in Korea or with another Organization.
  • Sam Runion posted a 2.91 ERA in 65 IP across AA and AAA after getting picked up in June of 2014 as a MLFA.  1.43 whip, decent K/9 rates, just not enough to get a sniff at a MLB call-up.  Just a classic org guy who is a MLFA this year and likely plies his trade elsewhere next year.  Outlook for next season: MLFA, re-signed per BA ML transactions so AAA bullpen again (updated 12/29/15)
  • Mitch Lively was in basically the same boat as Meek; put up good numbers (2.31 ERA, 0.97 whip, but wasn’t called up and decided to go overseas.  He was released on 6/17/15 so as to sign with a Japanese team.  He posted a 6.75 ERA in 16 games in Japan; not sure what the future holds for him.  Outlook for next season: still in Japan or with another Organization.
  • Juan Gutierrez was signed off the AAA waiver wire in August 2015 and threw 34 mediocre innings (3.47 ERA)for Syracuse down the stretch in a classic “we need someone to pitch innings for us to finish the season” move.  He’s a MLFA and likely keeps on moving for 2016.  Outlook for next season: in another organization.
  • Jose Valverde signed a month into the 2015 season with a typical veteran MLFA contract that guaranteed an opt out after a couple of months if the big club didn’t use him.  Valverde closed effectively for Syracuse until July, when he opted out.  He did not sign elsewhere for 2015.  He’s playing in the DWL but I wonder if he’s done; his last two MLB stints were both ugly.  Outlook for next season: in another organization/out of baseball.
  • Manny Delcarmen had an 8.14 ERA in 21 IP across 18 appearances before getting released in early June.  He played out the rest of the season in Mexico.  Outlook for next season: in another organization/out of baseball.
  • Rich Hill signed as a MLFA late in the 2015 spring from the  Yankees, pitched decently as a middle reliever in Syracuse and likely had an “out clause” forcing the team’s hand, who released him in late June.  He picked up with Boston, pitched well for their AAA squad, got promoted back to the majors, pitched lights out in 4 starts in the end of the season … and signed a $6M contract to pitch for Oakland in 2016. Go figure.  Did the Nats miss the boat here?  This isn’t the first time they’ve had a guy in their AAA rosters who went on to have significant success for another club (Colby Lewis, Marco Estrada, Chris Young).  Maybe they should have given Hill a 40-man job while they were trying out everyone else in late May/early June.  Maybe you could say the same thing about a whole bunch of the MLFA MLB-experienced veterans who passed through Syracuse’s roster in 2015.  Outlook for next season: Pitching for Billy Beane out in Oakland on a $6M deal.
  • Other Relievers who appeared in AAA of note (not including Rehabbing MLBers): Outlook for next season for all of these guys seems the same: either continued “org guy” middle reliever or minor league free agent in another organization.
    • Solis, Treinen and Rivero each had a nominal amount of AAA innings: see MLB writeup for them.
    • Demny and Davis spent more time in AA than AAA: see Harrisburg write-up.
    • Everyone else not mentioned had 5 or less IP in AAA and were mostly in other levels.

Summary

34 different hurlers passed through the Syracuse locker room this year.  Phew.  And it seems like a huge percentage of them have already churned out of the organization, looking for their next stop.  I guess this is the way AAA teams go these days.  We may see more MLFA veteran arms coming into the system for 2016 given the number of guys they’re losing.

Its hard to say whether we really learned much from the AAA staff this year; the team kind of already knew what it had with its highest-end prospects in AAA (the likes of Cole, Jordan and Hill).  Almost the entire bullpen was veteran MLFAs who likely won’t be back, most of whom never got a chance to contribute to the major league team in its time of need in 2015.