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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.

Nats Franchise FA history; biggest, best, worst deals

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Jayson Werth is certainly our most expensive FA, by a considerable sum. Photo Mitchell Layton/Getty Images NA

The second in a series: The first looked at the Biggest/Best/Worst Trades of the Washington Nationals era and was posted in late March.  Yes, it took me 8 months to return to this series, despite writing most of this post in July.  Here in Part 2, we’ll look at the biggest, best and worst Free Agent signings in the tenures of both Jim Bowden and Mike Rizzo. In the last section we’ll look at Draft picks.

Ground rules for this article:

1. When considering a Free Agent we’ll only consider the FIRST signing in this list.  So, for guys who have signed multiple one-year free agent contracts in a row (guys like Rick Ankiel and Chien-Ming Wang), we’ll only consider them as a single signing.  For others who signed here and then left, only to come back (example: Livan Hernandez) we’ll consider them as separate signings.

2. We are considering extensions given to existing players (since they don’t fit elsewhere).  You can consider an extension just a pre-emptive free agent contract.

3. We’re mostly focusing here on Major League free agents; each year we sign many minor league FAs ahead of camp.  If a Minor League FA signing ends up having a decent impact on the major league team, we’ll note him (good recent example being Laynce Nix).

Just for review, here’s the tenure period of both GMs:

  • Nov 2004 – Mar 2009: Jim Bowden
  • Mar 2009 – present: Mike Rizzo

The team has made dozens and dozens of signings: I won’t try to go through them all here.  For those interested, here’s my List of Free Agents from over the years (also available on the links section to the right of this blog).  I put up a similar notes file (List of Trades and Trading Partners) from the first post of this series, also available in the list of resources on the right-hand side of the blog.

Jim Bowden Tenure: Nov 2004 – Mar 2009

Bowden’s Biggest Free Agent Signings

  • 2006: Nick Johnson 3yr $16.5M
  • 2007: Austin Kearns 3yr $16.5M
  • 2008: Cristian Guzman 2yr $16M
  • 2009: Adam Dunn 2yr $20M

I wonder sometimes if Bowden doesn’t sit in his ESPN office as he writes his blogs and ask himself what he could have done here had he had more money to spend.  Look at this list; Bowden’s biggest deal in 5 off-seasons was a 2yr/$20M contract for a slugger who really had nowhere else to go that off-season.  Jayson Werth will make more than that annually starting in 2014.

Bowden’s Best Free Agent Signings

  • 2006: Brian Schneider 4yr extension, $2.9M
  • 2007: Ronnie Belliard 1yr ML deal
  • 2007: Dmitri Young 1yr ML deal
  • 2008: Willie Harris 1yr $800K
  • 2009: Adam Dunn 2yr $20M

Bowden’s 2007 off-season was pretty amazing, looking back.  He assembled a team on the backs of Minor League Free Agents galore, one of which (Dmitri Young) ended up being our lone All-Star.  The team went 73-89 and gave 145 of its 162 starts to guys who aren’t even in the league any more (exceptions: Joel Hanrahan‘s 11 starts with 6.00 ERA and late-season call up John Lannan‘s 6 starts as a 22-yr old).  He was the master of the scrap heap and spun a team that should have lost 100 games into a respectable 73 win team.  Too bad that luck ran out in 2008 as the team bottomed out.  But you have to hand it to Bowden for these three 2007 signings; Hanrahan didn’t really pay off for the Nationals, ever, but did enable us to eventually get Sean Burnett, a valuable member of the team’s bullpen these last few years.

All things considered, I’d have to say that Adam Dunn may have been his best FA signing.  Dunn’s bat was mostly wasted during his two years here, considering the unbelievably bad pitching staffs that Bowden assembled.  But the combination of Zimmerman-Dunn-Willingham was a pretty fearsome 3-4-5.  Ironically, NOT re-signing Dunn may also have been one of Rizzo’s best non-moves, considering Dunn’s amazing 2011 collapse and the subsequent rise of Michael Morse (who would have continued to be a bit player if the Nats still had Dunn in LF).

Bowden’s Worst Free Agent Signings

  • 2007: Austin Kearns 3yr $16.5M
  • 2008: Paul Lo Duca 1yr $5M
  • 2008: Rob Mackowiak 1yr $1.5M
  • 2008: Johnny Estrada 1yr $1.25M
  • 2008: Cristian Guzman 2yr extension $16M
  • 2009: Daniel Cabrera 1yr $2.6M

2008 was as bad as 2007 was good for Bowden.  Nearly every move he made back-fired, some spectacularly.  Paul Lo Duca hadn’t been signed for a week when his name showed up prominently in the Mitchell Report; he was released before July.  Rob Mackowiak and Johnny Estrada were just stealing money; its still not clear what Bowden saw in these guys.  I hated the Kearns deal, never understood what Bowden saw in the guy.  Daniel Cabrera was so bad for us it was almost comical, and it was a relief when we DFA’d him after 8 starts.

But the worst FA signing has to the Guzman extension.  He seemed decent enough after coming back from an injury that cost him all of 2005 and most of 2006, but Bowden inexplicably extended him for 2 years for the same amount of money that he had earned the previous four … and almost immediately his production tailed off.   Its not that Guzman was that BAD in 2009 and 2010, its just that he was so vastly overpaid for what he gave the team.  We flipped him for two minor league pitchers, he promptly hit .152 in 15 games for Texas and he was out of the league.

Mike Rizzo Tenure: Mar 2009 – present

Rizzo’s Biggest Free Agent Signings

  • 2010: Ryan Zimmerman 5yr $45M
  • 2011: Jayson Werth 7yr $126M
  • 2012: Ryan Zimmermann 8yrs $100M
  • 2012: Gio Gonzalez 5yr $42M

Its ironic that I had to remove three deals from this list (LaRoche, Jackson, Marquis) that would have qualified for Bowden’s “biggest deal” list.  That’s because the size of these deals are just dwarfing what the team was willing to do under Bowden.  Lots of pundits have (and continue to) criticized the Jayson Werth deal, and it routinely appears on anyone’s list of “Worst Baseball Contracts.”  And his 2011 season confirmed just how bad this may have turned out for Washington.  But a bounceback 2012, which featured Werth putting up a 125 OPS+ despite missing a ton of time with a broken wrist, showing the flexibility of batting lead-off when the team needed him, plus providing the veteran leadership and professionalism that this young team needs certainly would earn back some of that contract value.  In hindsight, I think the team made this deal as a strawman, to send a message to the rest of the league that we were NOT a low-budget, poorly run team, and to pave the path back to respectability in the minds of other professionals out there that Washington can be a destination franchise.

Rizzo’s Best Free Agent Signings

  • 2009: Julian Tavarez 1yr ML
  • 2009: Joe Beimel 1yr $2M
  • 2010: Livan Hernandez 1yr ML 900k
  • 2011: Jerry Hairston 1yr $2M
  • 2010: Matt Capps 1yr $3.5M
  • 2010: Joel Peralta 1yr ML
  • 2011: Todd Coffey 1yr $1.35M
  • 2011: Laynce Nix 1yr ML

In terms of impact-per-dollar, I think the first Livan Hernandez year of his return was probably the best FA signing that Rizzo has done.  Hernandez went 10-12 with a 3.66 ERA and a 110 ERA+ for less than a million dollars on the FA market.  That’s roughly $90k a Win, when most teams are paying more than $1M/win for free agent starting pitching.   However clearly Rizzo’s most shrewd FA deal was the Matt Capps signing.  He took Capps off the scrap heap; he was released by Pittsburgh after a horrid 2009, and his half season of excellent relief for us turned into Wilson Ramos and a minor leaguer (Joe Testa), returned in trade from Minnesota.  I will also mention that the value that minor league signings Julian Tavarez, Joel Peralta, and Laynce Nix gave the team was also fantastic, considering where these players were in their careers prior to joining us.

Rizzo’s Worst Free Agent Signings

  • 2010: Yunesky Maya 4yr $8M
  • 2010: Ivan Rodriguez 2yr $6M
  • 2010: Jason Marquis 2yr $15M
  • 2011: Matt Stairs 1yr ML
  • 2012: Brad Lidge 1yr $1M
  • Chein Ming Wang: all of them.

2010, Rizzo’s first FA class, didn’t turn out very well did it? Yunesky Maya has been a pretty big disappointment, giving the team just one MLB win for an $8M investment.  Ivan Rodriguez just proved to be slightly too old to be worth the starter money he was paid; you could argue that the leadership he provided was worth the money.   And Jason Marquis, bought as a stop-gap for a failed farm system, was god-awful in 2010.  I won’t completely kill Rizzo for the Brad Lidge experiment; it was worth a $1M flier to see if he had anything left in the tank.  Matt Stairs would have been another fine, low-cost experiment except for the fact that the team kept giving him at-bats for weeks/months after it was clear he was washed up.

For me the worst FA signing was related to the money poured down the Chien-Ming Wang rathole for three years running.  The Nats ended up investing $8M total over three years to get 16 starts, 6 wins and a 4.94 ERA.

Rizzo’s Too Early to Tell Free Agent Signings

  • 2011: Jayson Werth 7yr $126M
  • 2012: Ryan Zimmermann 8yrs $100M
  • 2012: Gio Gonzalez 5yr $42M

So far, Werth’s contract is trending as an over-pay, Zimmerman’s as an injury concern, and Gonzalez trending as a complete steal (21 wins for $8.4M AAV in 2012?  That’s a fantastic return for the money).  Pundits have stated that the Nats have “two 9-figure contracts but zero 9-figure players” (I read it at the time of the Zimmerman signing but cannot find the link).  I think that’s slightly unfair to these players, but until Zimmerman can stay healthy enough to produce at his 2009 level, you have to admit that he may be overpaid as well.  Perhaps Zimmerman’s brittle health issues can be alleviated if he makes the move to 1B, where he can continue to play gold glove calibre defense but have less of a tax on his body.  This analysis obviously does not take Zimmerman’s “value” to the franchise into account, which may be unfair when considering this contract (nobody really said Derek Jeter‘s latest contract was a massive overpay considering his service to the Yankees,  his “stature” as the captain and his eventual Hall of Fame induction; for the Yankees to cut him loose would have been a massive public relations gaffe).

Coincidentally, I didn’t view the contracts of guys like LaRoche, Jackson, or Morse as being specifically “good” or “bad.”   I think LaRoche’s one bad/one good season plus Jackson’s MLB average season was just about on-par with expectations for their contracts.  Morse’s 2011 production was pre-contract, so we’ll see how his 2013 goes.

Thoughts?  Any FA signings or extensions out there that stick in your minds that you thought should be mentioned?

Repost: Are the Nats suddenly a 100-win team? With this offense, yes.

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The return of Michael Morse has energized the offense. Photo Jacqueline Martin via federalbaseball blog

(Editor note; I attempted to publish this last Friday, then the server immediately went down all weekend.  Wanted to re-post it to get commentary from typical readers.  All numbers below were as of last friday, before the wild 4-game series against Atlanta).

There’s been lots of press this week, and to an extent all season, about Stephen Strasburg‘s innings limit.  Mike Rizzo came out this week and said (paraphrasing) that there’s not a hard-and-fast 160ip limit, but that he will be shut down, and it will be Rizzo’s decision when Strasburg doesn’t pass the “eye test.”

Nats pundits are already discussing this impact on a playoff race, who the replacement may be (with John Lannan getting an early audition during this weekend’s double header), and whether we should flip someone out of our “thinned” farm system for a rental SP like Zack Greinke or Ryan Dempster (I put “thinned” in quotes out of deference to those that don’t share my glass-is-half empty opinion on the state of our farm system right now as posted here earlier this week).

Inarguably, this team will be a worse team without Strasburg.  We’d be weaker in September once he got shut-down and we’d be hampered in a short series without our staff Ace.  I’m not worried about September though; remember last year?  Some teams were fielding 40-man roster specials, with lineups that mostly started the year in AAA.  And I’m not entirely worried about how we’d look in a playoff series, since playoff rotations go 4 deep (meaning whatever question mark we’re throwing out there as a 5th starter in September is in the bullpen in October), and a rotation of Gonzalez, Zimmermann (who, amazingly, is tied for the NL lead in pitcher bWAR right now), Jackson and Detwiler getting the game 4 start is still pretty durn good.

But, here’s some interesting stats that should give you (and anyone in baseball frankly) some pause; this team is positioned to get significantly better from here on out, despite the looming loss of Strasburg and despite the fact that they’re already in first place.  Why?

Because the offense is really starting to heat up.

Here’s some stats to give context: based on the Team Scoring page at baseball-reference.com, here’s the Nats scoring-based records:

  • When the Nats score 0,1,2 or 3 runs, they are 14-28, for a .333 W/L percentage. This is pretty common; even last year’s 102-win Philadelphia team rarely won when scoring 3 or fewer runs.
  • When the Nats score 4 or more runs?  They are 39-9 this season, a .795 W/L percentage.
  • Taking this a step further, when the nats score 5 or more runs, they’re 29-6, a .828 W/L percentage.

(For context, a record of 100-62 equates to a .617 W/L percentage).

Perhaps the above states the obvious; most teams have pretty good records when they score a bunch of runs.   For comparison sake’s, here’s the same analysis for the team with the best record in baseball, the Yankees:

  • Scoring: 0,1,2,3 runs: 5-23 for a .178 W/L
  • 4+ runs: 52-12, .813 w/l
  • 5+ runs: 44-10, .815 w/l

The Yankees and their superior offense leads to a ton of wins once they get above 4-5 runs.  The difference between the Yankees and the Nats is our current ability to win a pretty sizeable number of games when scoring 3 or fewer runs.  This difficulty in winning close games and depending on bashing your way to victory has been a theme for the Yankees for a few years now, and is one of the reasons they have only won one World Series since 2000 despite being in the playoffs nearly every year (only one missed playoff appearance during that span).  They are susceptable to getting shut down by a good rotation in a short series.  But I digress…

Getting back to the theme of this post: Here’s a look at the monthly W/L records for the Nats, along with average Runs scored and Runs Allowed (through July 19th’s game):

Month W/L W/L pct RS RA
April 14-8 0.636 3.36 2.68
May 15-13 0.535 4.21 3.85
June 15-11 0.576 4.46 3.73
July 9-5 0.642 4.78 3.57
season 53-37 0.588 4.166 3.488

Look specifically at the average number of Runs Scored by this team.  It is distinctly trending up; from 3.36 RS/game in April to a massive 4.78 RS/game so far in the month of July.   That’s almost 1 and a half more runs they’re scoring a game right now as compared to April (when their 14-8 record was mostly on the backs of one of the best opening months of starting pitching seen in the Majors since the dead-ball era).

Some reasons for this outburst of runs?

  1. Ryan Zimmerman‘s cortisone shot on June 24th: he had a .589 OPS in June (which should have been even worse, but he finished the last week of June on a tear, going 11-32 with 5 extra base hits after getting his shot), but has a blistering 1.280 OPS so far in July.
  2. The top of the order stepping it up: Danny Espinosa is hitting .327 in July and Lombardozzi is hitting nearly as well.
  3. The resurgence of Roger Bernadina, hitting at a .375 clip so far in July and leading to the DFA of Rick Ankiel (my wife’s favorite player; I havn’t broken the news to her yet).

Meanwhile, the rest of the sluggers in the lineup (Harper, LaRoche, and Tyler Moore doing his best effort to prove scouting pundits wrong who thought he couldn’t hack it against MLB pitching) are for the most part churning along and providing pop in front of and behind the 3-4-5 hitters in the order.

And, this offense could only get better when Jayson Werth returns.  Remember; he was quietly having a solid year at the plate, with an .810 OPS and a 121 OPS+.  You insert Werth and suddenly this team is rock solid and full of power from position 2-7.  You’d have to sacrifice Bernadina and Moore to the bench primarily, but they’re great insurance in case Werth’s wrist betrays him.

They’re averaging 4.78 runs a game, and on the season they’re 39-9 when they score 4 or more runs.  That spells a pretty serious run I expect this team to make in the next month and a half, especially against a slate of opponents that are mostly .500 or below.  Right now, sitting at 53-37 they’re on pace for a 95 win season … but, amazing as it is to say it, this team easily has the capability of reaching 100 wins if their offense continues its upward trend.

Did the Nats call up the wrong OF?

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Harper knows he's ready; is the Media? Photo GQ magazine Mar 2012

As the rest of the free world now knows, Bryce Harper has gotten called up to give the incredibly weakened Nats lineup some potential offense.  Sometimes moves can be planned and orchestrated (such as keeping Stephen Strasburg in the minors in 2010 past the super-2 deadline), and sometimes your hand is called.  With Michael Morse out indefinitely, and with the most fragile $100m player this side of Carl Crawford (aka, F.O.T.F. Ryan Zimmerman) heading to the DL yet again, this team suddenly is without 55-60 homers and 200 RBIs in the middle of its order.

So, we’ll roll the dice with the 19-yr old Harper.

But, should the team really have called up a much more mature, much more MLB-ready member of the Syracuse Chiefs?  A guy who is currently putting up this line in AAA: .278/.354/.556 with 6 homers in 20 games?  A guy who has hit 30+ homers in two successive seasons, at two successive levels of the minors and is currently on a pace for more than 40 in AAA?  Yes I’m talking about Tyler Moore, a 16th round draft pick who has come out of nowhere to become (arguably) this team’s 3rd best hitting prospect in the minors today.

Yes, I know he’s a 1B primarily, and he’s just started taking reps in LF.  But after watching Xavier Nady lumber towards balls in LF and watching Mark DeRosa turn routine RF fly balls into adventures, how much worse could it be to stick him out there instead and juggle Harper with Werth and Ankiel in CF and RF (matchup dependent)?  Scouts and pundits have routinely discounted Moore’s abilities, and Mike Rizzo‘s scouting trip last week apparently made his mind up for him, so perhaps there’s a method to his madness.  Maybe Moore really isn’t an OF option despite his LF experiments.  We’re not watching him game in and game out, just typing out blog posts from our dining room table.

Either way, the Nats should get at least a more competent batter in the line-up.  If Harper comes up and starts blasting the ball all the better.

Nats Rule-5 lossee Spring Training Update pt 2

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So long Komatsu; you've made the Cards 25-man roster. Photo Chris Lee/Stl Post Dispatch via stltoday.com

As has been published by both Luke Erickson/NationalsProspects and Mac/Capitolbaseball in recent days, its looking more and more likely that both our Rule 5 draftees Erik Komatsu and Brad Meyers may not be coming home any time soon.

  • Meyers has still yet to appear in a Minor League game for the Yankees, meaning the team is well within their rights to stash Meyers on the DL and keep him in their extended Spring Training while he rehabs.  This gives the team ample time to evaluate Meyers while waiting for an opportunity to call him up.  Kinda like what the Nats did with Elvin Ramirez for the entirety of the 2011 season.

As I opined here prior to the Nats failing to protect Komatsu, I thought he was worth protecting prior to last December’s rule 5 draft.  And as I’ve stated in the comments section here and there, I thought the team made a mistake not protecting him.  The Nationals STILL have not broached a full 40-man roster (they sit at 39/40 by  my count after adding Rick Ankiel this week), meaning they could have retained Komatsu and kept the trade bounty they received for Jerry Hairston last July.

Now, in a relatively not surprising, Murphy’s Law kind of way, the Nats really could use Komatsu.  Ankiel’s hurting, Bernadina has been banged up, Morse is starting the season on the DL.  The team is probably going to break camp with TWO non-roster invitees on the 25-man roster to fill outfield spots (Xavier Nady and Brett Carrol).  Its not that Komatsu was an answer for us this spring, but considering the lack of outfield depth and the failure to address the CF situation in the off-season, it seems like the team should have done a better job retaining its own outfielders this past off-season.

Nats seem set to sputter out of the gate

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Morse's injury is starting to really concern me. Photo Jacqueline Martin/AP via federalbaseball.com

Why?

Because it seems like half the team is nursing a strain or an injury or a cold.

You can’t get ready for a 162-game season if you’re not getting ABsMichael Morse has a grand total of 7 ABs this spring.  Adam LaRoche?  8 Abs.  Rick Ankiel?  6.  That’s a big chunk of the presumed starting lineup for this team.   Chien-Ming Wang probably will start the season on the DL as a precaution after straining a hamstring; good thing we havn’t traded John Lannan yet.  Now we hear that Drew Storen has a cold.  He’s only got 2 IP all spring!

Of course we’ve gotten plenty of at bats for Ian Desmond to show us that he’s learned little from his late season improvements; he’s hitting .200 for the spring.

On the bright side, the rest of the rotation seems to be doing ok.  You never want to over-analyze spring training stats; players may go out one inning and work entirely on spotting their change up on the outside corner, not caring what the hitters do to the ball.  If a hitter knows the same pitch is coming 4-5 times in a row, he’s gonna put a charge into it.  Of course, that being said Gio Gonzalez has looked exceptional this spring, flashing more speed than had been previously reported and is pitching to a 1.42 era clip.

And, the Nats do open up with two of the weaker teams in the league.  They could very well take 2 of 3 from both Chicago and the Mets to come home 4-2 no matter who is batting.

Are you worried  yet?

Written by Todd Boss

March 20th, 2012 at 6:46 pm

Is there any Spring Training pitching competition for the Nats?

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Is it too early to guess who starts the Home Opener? My guess is newly acquired Gonzalez. Photo Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images via cbssports.com

We’re getting reports of players getting to Viera early, and we’ve had a slew of off-season moves.  Beat reporters are starting to talk about the 25-man roster (here’s WT’s Amanda Comak‘s take).  The Nats pretty much took care of every off-season need the had:

  • Top-end Starting Pitcher: Gonzalez
  • Backup Outfielder: Ankiel and Cameron (though, apparently Cameron is retiring instead of competing for a spot…)
  • Lower-end Starting Pitchers: Re-signed Wang, signed Jackson
  • Utility Infielders to replace Cora, Bixler, Hairston: signed DeRosa, claimed Rivera
  • Bullpen arm depth (to replace Coffey, Kimball): signed Lidge, traded for Perry

The notable exception to the off-season shopping list, of course, is a lack of a proven center fielder.  Perhaps one could quibble that a shortstop should have been on that list; it seems the team is giving another year to the Ian Desmond experiment, hoping he builds on the strong end of 2011 (he hit .294 in Aug and Sep of 2011).  The backup infielders and backup outfielders listed here, to go along with a slew of minor league/invite to spring training signings, should be where most of the competition for roster slots occurs.

The big question for me is; Is there any real competition for pitching spots this spring?

Starters

We all know the narrative; we now have 6 starters with multi-million dollar commitments for 5 spots, and someone has to give.  The Edwin Jackson signing has pretty much made John Lannan the odd-man out of this rotation.  Mike Rizzo likes power arms, and has gone to great lengths to acquire guys who throw more than 89-90 to replace what he inherited in 2009.   Wang and Jackson can’t be moved until June 15th without his consent by virtue of the FA signing rules (as discussed in this article here), Gonzalez just signed a long-term deal, and Strasburg/Zimmerman are our future.  To me, there’s no mystery who’s going to be in the rotation, and frankly articles that say there’s going to be a competition for the 5th starter between Wang, Lannan, Detwiler and Gorzelanny are not really paying attention to the contract realities of the situation.  Barring injury, your opening day rotation will be (in this order):

  • Strasburg, Gonzalez, Zimmermann, Jackson and Wang.

Should someone go down with injury, Lannan steps in to take the 4th or 5th rotation spot (depending on whether Davey Johnson likes to mix up LHSP/RHSP in any fashion).  Otherwise, Lannan is trade-bait and should be moved during the spring.  There are plenty of teams that could be trade partners if we wanted to focus on a center fielder (see this article I did in November talking about the CF market for the whole of baseball for some thoughts).  Barring a trade, it seems inconceivable but Lannan does still have a minor league option left and could be sent down, but a $5M pitcher toiling in Syracuse (to go along with $2M bust Yuniesky Maya) could make the Nats AAA team the most expensive minor league rotation in the league.  (We won’t say “most expensive ever,” since the Yankees kept Kei Igawa and his $46M commitment in the minors for most of his contract).

Relievers

A recent post on option status at Nationalsprospects.com (the option status of every player is now kept on the Big Board, which is good for me since I did this work last year and its a nightmare to keep track of), as well as a question asked of Bill Ladson leads to this conclusion: there literally is no question right now who your 7 bullpen members will be.  Tyler Clippard, Sean Burnett, Henry Rodriguez, Tom Gorzelanny and Ross Detwiler ALL are out of options.  Brad Lidge can refuse a demotion based on his service time and Drew Storen is your closer.  There’s your 2012 bullpen; not much room for anyone else.

The only wiggle room may be with someone like Detwiler: he’s clearly a starter and seems set to be the first Spot starter to fill in for an injury (assuming we trade Lannan of course).  Does the team keep him in the bullpen, where he basically fills the exact same role as Gorzelanny (ex-left handed starter long man/spot starter in a pinch)?  Or does the team cash him in to fill a hole?

This configuration leaves newly acquired Ryan Perry, Ryan Mattheus and Atahualpa Severino in AAA.  Cole Kimball starts on the 60-day DL (and, frankly, probably stays there; the odds of him coming back from that shoulder injury are low).  Lastly Craig Stammen joins Maya in AAA as deep-need emergency starters.

So, here’s your bullpen:

  • Closer: Storen
  • Setup: Clippard
  • 7th inning guys: Lidge, Rodriguez
  • Loogy: Burnett
  • Long Men: Gorzelanny and Detwiler

What’s nice about this bullpen is that, despite my naming players to roles, there’s lots of flexibility.  Rodriguez on a good day has 8th or even 9th inning stuff.  Lidge is a former closer and clearly can do the setup or closing roles.  Clippard excels in the 8th inning role and doesn’t seem to aspire to replace Storen.  Burnett is far more than just a one-out guy, but can serve that role in a pinch.  Lastly both Gorzelanny and Detwiler can be anything from a one-out lefty to a 3-4 inning mop-up guy, given the day.  I like the way this sets up and I think we go into 2012 with a better bullpen than in 2011 (when, if you recall, we wasted a spot on Brian Broderick, had the failure of Doug Slaten in the loogy role and watched Chad Gaudin pitch horribly).

Who starts the Home opener?

Quick guess: based on the way the schedule plays out it looks like our home opener will be thrown by our #2 starter Gonzalez.  We play two 3-game series away to Chicago and New York, then open at home with what should be the #2 rotation spot up.  There’s only one off-day in between, meaning the starters most likely stay on normal rest.

Ladson’s inbox: 2/14/12 edition

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Which Henry Rodriguez will the Nats get in 2012? The July version or the September version? Photo unknown via humorfeast.blogspot.com

Another edition of mlb.com beat reporter Bill Ladson’s inbox, dated 2/14/12.  As always, I write my response before reading his, and sometimes edit questions for clarity.

Q: I loved what I saw from relievers Henry Rodriguez and Craig Stammen last year. What do you think 2012 has in store for them?

A: I loved what I saw from Henry Rodriguez too … as long as it wasn’t July.  Check out his splits from 2011: he posted an 8.10 in July but was excellent otherwise.  Also noteworthy is how much he managed to put things together in September; he had 14/4 Ks/BBs in his 12 1/3 September innings (and only one wild pitch!), by far his best bb/9 rate of any month.  Whatever the coaching staff was finally able to get him to do, assuming it took all season to get there, paid off.  The question for 2012 is this; can he be the guy he was in September, is he gonna be the guy we saw most of the rest of the season, or is he gonna be Mr. July?

Craig Stammen may have had stellar late-season numbers in 2011, but look at his game log.  He had 5 appearances in September; Houston (worst team in the league), NY Mets (which by September was fielding a AAA lineup), Florida twice (your last place team in the division), and a reeling Philadelphia squad (which finished the season a pedestrian 16-14).  I like Stammen but think that his role is pre-ordained for this team in 2012; he’ll be a starter in Syracuse, biding his time and serving as insurance for a starting pitching meltdown in Washington.  He may get another September call-up but he seems set to reach minor league free agency in next off-season.  Ladson says he thinks Rodriguez will have a break-out season based on September.  Fair enough guess.  He thinks Stammen may make the team as a long-reliever?!  Not sure how; have you see the options status of the bullpen lately?  Click on the Big Board and look at the Options tab; Tyler Clippard, Sean Burnett, Henry Rodriguez, Tom Gorzelanny and Ross Detwiler ALL are out of options.  Brad Lidge can refuse a demotion based on his service time and Drew Storen is your closer.  There’s your 2012 bullpen; not much room for anyone else.

Q: Who do you think will be the Nationals’ Opening Day starters in right and center field? Do you think Bryce Harper gets the nod with Jayson Werth in center?

A: Gun to the head i’m going with Jayson Werth in RF and Rick Ankiel in CF.  Bryce Harper is not going to make the opening day roster.  I wish this story would go away.  Lets bottom line it; 2 months of Harper as a 19-yr old at the expense of possibly 15-18M in extra payroll due to the kid by starting his arbitration clock early PLUS possibly losing his age-25 year to free agency is NOT going to be an adequate trade-off.  Davey Johnson may want Harper on his opening day lineup, but Johnson isn’t responsible for administering the long-term plan for this franchise.  Ladson doesn’t even address the arbitration clock issue and says he thinks Werth-Harper is best combination.  Great reporting.

Q: Assuming Harper starts in the Minor Leagues, why not have Mark DeRosa as an option in right field? The team can still put Werth in center. When healthy, DeRosa is a proven hitter who could provide more offense than any platoon of players could.

A: Hmm.  Just looked up Mark DeRosa‘s uzr/150 in the outfield over his career and it isn’t half bad; he didn’t play any OF for San Francisco in 2011 but has decent numbers historically in either corner outfield position.  Problem is, he’s a righty.  If you put Werth in CF and DeRosa in right, then you’re fielding a lineup of 6 righties and 2 lefties.  Not good unless you’re going up against a lefty starter.  Which, of course, the NL East has plenty of.  So yeah that may be a line-up option.  Ladson agrees.

Q: What is Danny Espinosa doing to correct the drop-off that we saw during the second half of the 2011 season?

A: A good question; lets hope that its “first full season-itis” that led to natural league adjustments and player fatigue of playing 162 games when theretofore he had only ever played around 140 in a full minor league season (to say nothing of the 50-some odd games that collegiate players play, with mostly mid-week games against weak opponents).  Espinosa has been working hard this off-season and it would be nice to see his lefty/righty splits improve over last year (.223 batting lefty but .283 batting righty).  Ladson also predicts a break out season for Espinosa.  Is there anyone he does NOT think will have a breakout 2012?

Q: Does Stephen Lombardozzi have a legitimate shot at taking a starting spot from Ian Desmond in Spring Training? Desmond has been inconsistent and doesn’t get on base enough for someone with little power.

A: Hard to see that.  Yes Desmond is inconsistent at the plate but he’s also pretty good in the field.  Lombardozzi needs to get some more exposure to MLB pitching to see if his minor league numbers are legit or a mirage.  Ladson says Lombardozzi gets a shot if either middle infielder really struggles in April.

Q: With the addition of Edwin Jackson, where does Ross Detwiler fit with the Nationals?

A: I think its pretty clear that Detwiler is now 7th on the starting pitcher totem pole.  Perhaps even 8th behind Gorzelanny, who has had several seasons of starting versus Detwiler’s handful of sporadic starts over the past few seasons.  Based on option status, Detwiler is in the bullpen as long-man/spot starter, barring injury.  I don’t think the team is really featuring a competition for starting pitching; if it comes down to it I see either Wang or Lannan getting traded or “injured” heading to April 1st.  Ladson agrees.







Nats Off-season News Items Wrap-up 1/14/12 edition

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I’m looking for a contract “This Big!” Photo unknown via iusport.com

This is your semi-weekly/periodic wrap-up of Nats and other baseball news that caught my eye.

Nationals In General

  • Talk about rumors that just won’t go away: Nationals apparently remain the favorites for Prince FielderKen Rosenthal says the sameBuster Olney has a nice overview with pros/cons laid out.  For me (as discussed in the comments of the previous posts), I think he’d be a mistake for 8-10 years, but an absolute steal for 3.  Here’s some thoughts from Tom Verducci, who thinks the Nats are his destination.  And here’s a post that says one of the 3 candidates for Fielder I identified in this space a few days ago (Toronto), is out of the running.
  • Imagine a lineup that goes like this: Espinosa-Werth-Zimmerman-Fielder-Morse-Ramos-Desmond-Cameron to open the season, and then potentially inject Bryce Harper hitting behind Morse and replacing Cameron in the outfield.  That’d be 5 straight home-run hitting threats in the middle of your order, with good L-R balance.  I know he’d be expensive, but that’s a 95 win offense.  It’d be even better if we got a one-year stop gap hitter to open the year playing RF and who we could flip in trade if Harper comes up sooner than later.
  • From Jdland.com: the concrete factory across the street from Nats park is finally coming down!
  • Whoops: Zech Zinicola hit with a 50-game suspension for non-PED drug abuse.  Sounds like Marijuana to me.  I wouldn’t be surprised to see the Nats release him after this, his 2nd transgression.
  • John Sickels‘ new rankings of the Oakland A’s top 20 prospects, post trades this off-season.   6 of the 10 top were acquired in the Trevor Cahill and Gio Gonzalez trades, while three more represent Oakland’s #1 draft picks in 2011 (Sonny Gray) and 2010 (Michael Choice) and 2009 (Grant Green).  Say what you will about Billy Beane, but he’s clearly building a big-time farm system for the future right now.
  • A nice review of the Nationals 2012 outlook from seamheads.com.
  • We lost Doug Slaten.  Now he can go be horrible for Pittsburgh.
  • Good news on both Sammy Solis and Bobby Hanson from Byron Kerr.
  • Adam Kilgore says the team is still talking to Rick Ankiel about coming back as a 4th OF… I wouldn’t be totally opposed to that; he’s essentially the same player we got in Mike Cameron, right?  Only difference seems to be lefty versus righty.
  • Fun little position-by-position exercise: ranking the NL east teams position by position from David Shoenfield.  I must admit though I think he was a bit generous with his Nats rankings in some cases.

Free Agents/Player Transaction News

  • MLBTraderumors is great; they’ve created arbitration tracking pages that will “keep score” of all the cases coming up in Jan-Feb.
  • If you believe Jim Bowden, the Rangers are playing hardball in their Yu Darvish negotiations.  If this falls through … look for pandemonium both on the Prince Fielder front and with Darvish next year when he’s an unrestricted FA and could attract interest from pretty much every team in the league.
  • Makes sense: Marlins plan to aggressively pursue Yoenis Cespedes.  Getting the latest big name Cuban defector can only be a good thing for the franchise as they try to re-build a fan base in a heavily latino/cuban community.
  • Well, the  Yankees shored up their rotation in one 3 hour period on Friday night; trading for Michael Pineda and then signing Hiroki Kuroda.   They went from having three question marks in their rotation to now wondering if AJ Burnett can hold onto the 5th rotation spot.  Wow.  Here’s Keith Law‘s analysis, predictably giving the “edge” to the Mariners in the deal despite the obvious fact that Pineda is MLB proven while the other three guys in the deal, aren’t.

Hall of Fame items

  • Mike Silva becomes one of the very few BBWAA writers with a HoFame vote to publish support for Jack Morris.  I’m sure I’ll be seeing the inevitable Craig Calcarerra blog posting questioning Silva’s IQ for doing so.
  • David Shoenfield has a little missive on the HoFame, voting procedures and comments on how few players are getting elected these days.
  • Chris Jaffe does an excellent job predicting HoFame votes every year; here’s his guess on 2012′s election.  Bad news for Bagwell and Morris, good news for Larkin though.
  • Other interesting HoFame notes: one site in particular collects ballots; here’s a summary of the 80-some ballots she has right now.  Very good support for Larkin.
  • No Bagwell votes here; prepare for the ridiculing.  Danny Knobler and Scott Miller.
  • I think i’m just about fed up with bloggers who see everything in modern baseball through little spreadsheets of data and who never even saw Jack Morris and Bert Blyleven tell me I’m an idiot because i think the former is a better pitcher than the latter.  At some point statistics are just that; numbers that prove or disprove whatever your theories are.  You can’t just ignore 20 years of performance and context of playing in the league by boiling down thousands of innings pitched into one number, whether it is ERA+ or WAR or whatever.   For me, when you talk about whether a player is a Hall of Famer, you look at individual season accomplishments.  Morris basically had 15 seasons of full time pitching.  In 5 of those seasons he was a top-5 vote getter in the Cy Young; that means in 5 seasons those people who covered baseball that season considered him among the best 5 pitchers in his league.   In another two seasons he didn’t finish top 5 but still received votes.  He was god-awful his last two seasons, lowering his career totals.  And there’s dozens of examples of him completing games despite having given up 3-4 runs and sitting on 140 pitches.  Maybe Morris just needed to pitch in the current era, where he would be taken out in the 7th on a pitch count and then replaced by specialized relievers.  Meanwhile Blyleven, in 21 full seasons of starting made exactly TWO all-star games and received comparable Cy Young support 3 times.  I’ll ask again; how can you be considered one of the best of all time if nobody who covered you day in and day out during your career thought you were even among the best of your day??
  • Jorge Posada announces his retirement; the inevitable “Is he a Hall of Famer” articles start.  Immediate gut reaction from me: yes he’s a HoFamer.  Unlike some of his Yankees dynasty team members (Bernie Williams, Andy Pettitte) Posada seems a bit more transcendent in terms of talent and legacy.  A quick glance though at his career stats show some of the problems with his eventual candidacy.  He’s a late bloomer; not playing a full-time season til he’s 25.  However for the 10 seasons he had from 25 to 35 he was fantastic; 5 all-stars, 5 Silver Sluggers and two top-6 MVP votes.  After he turned 35 though he struggled with health and had a relatively poor final season at the plate.  He has no gold gloves and had a reputation for having a very weak throwing arm but had a 121 OPS+ for his career (a great offensive player for a catcher).  His compareables in b-r are heady company (including Carlton Fisk and Gabby Hartnett).  I guess we’ll see in 5 years’ time.
  • Jan 9th 2012: the wait is over.  Only Larkin elected, Morris and Bagwell vote totals rise but still not close.
  • Spreadsheet of all published/known hall of fame votes, with links to explanations.  Interesting to say the least; several blank ballots and several very odd ballots to say the least.

General Baseball News

  • Buster Olney continues his rankings of the top 10s of baseball; this time with lineups.  Predictably its very AL East heavy. Previously he had done rotations, bullpens, infields and outfields.  Links to other lists available from this article (ESPN insider only; consider spending $2/month for it; its worth it).
  • Buster, after finishing the above rankings, publishes his preliminary 2012 top 10 Power Rankings.  Rays #1, Nationals essentially #11/”Best of the Rest.”  Boy this team’s reputation has come a long ways in just a few short years.
  • Jeff Passan‘s A-to-Z discussion on Baseball this off season and in 2012.  I link it since I like most everything Passan writes.
  • Joe Torre joins an ownership group chasing the LA Dodgers … but not the one that Stan Kasten is heading.  Bad move; I think Kasten’s a shoe-in to be Selig‘s pick.
  • This could have a bigger effect than the loss of Albert Pujols: St. Louis pitching coach Dave Duncan is taking a leave of absence from the team to care for his ailing wife.  Duncan has been such a miracle worker for reclamation project starters over the past few years that its hard to imagine the Cardinals pitching staff not to take a dent.
  • The Chicago Cubs franchise potentially takes another hit: Starlin Castro reportedly accused of sexual assault.  Castro returned home for the off-season and isn’t in the country; could this incident prevent him from getting a work visa in 2012?
  • Jonah Keri takes on one of my favorite topics; calling out Billy Beane and showing how he’s closer to being an incompetent GM than he is to his vaunted reputation as the game’s best GM.
  • Great article on Baseball Prospectus about SLAP tears in baseball players (normally pitchers).  The article is very heavy on medical jargon but talks about the different types of tears and surgical remedies.  This is the injury that Chris Carpenter had and recovered from (though I’m pretty sure he ALSO had Tommy John surgery too).
  • Nice book review for “A Unique Look at Big League Baseball.”

Collegiate/Prospect News

  • 2012 AL rookie of the year favorite Matt Moore, profiled at seedlingstostars.com.  This is part of a series of prospect reviews, counting down to #1 and Moore is ranked #4 … but the author immediately caveats it by saying that any of the top 4 could be #1.  I talked about Moore after his playoff start on this site, coming away with a Wow factor that I havn’t had since Strasburg.
  • Scout.com’s top 100 Prospect list for 2012Bryce Harper #3 behind Moore and Mike Trout.  Can’t argue there.  Other Nats on the list include Anthony Rendon (#56).  AJ Cole (#76) and Brad Peacock (#85) would have made us a bit more respectable pre-Gonzalez trade.  Here’s hoping that the Nats “other” big prospects (Meyer and Purke in particular) turn in stellar 2012′s and beef up our presence on the national prospect scene again.

General News; other

  • Article on 10 “trendy sports medicine” fixes.  Including some exotic baseball remedies we’ve heard about recently.
http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/2012/writers/tom_verducci/01/13/ryan.madson.prince.fielder/index.html

Ladson’s inbox: 1/4/12 edition

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Will Steve Lombardozzi get a shot at sticking on the 25-man roster? Photo via Syracuse Chiefs

Another edition of mlb.com beat reporter Bill Ladson‘s inbox, dated 1/4/12.  As always, I write my response before reading his, and sometimes edit questions for clarity.

Q: How many wins do you expect the Nationals to have this year? Will a full season of pitchers Stephen Strasburg and Gio Gonzalez translate into a spot in the playoffs?

A: Tough question; If you believe the statistical measurement Wins Above Replacement (WAR), then Mark Zuckerman made a very convincing argument that this team is already 11.7 wins better than 2011 without adding anyone else.  However; even best laid plans don’t pan out.  There are always regressions, injuries and setbacks that you can count on.  So to say that the Nats will win 90 games is probably incredibly optimistic.  However; if this team is really an 85 win team, then they’re going to be in the Wild Card race and may be buyers instead of sellers, and could get pushed over the top.  I’ll say, right now pre Prince Fielder nonsense this is an 88 win team.  Ladson says 85 wins but Fielder would turn them into a competitor for the NL East title.

Q: How do you think the bullpen is shaping up? Will Se an Burnett stay or should we be looking for another lefty? Will Tyler Clippard earn closing opportunities in 2012?

A: Our 2011 bullpen was the strength of the team and it comes back mostly in tact.  We have yet to replace Todd Coffey, who was serviceable in 2011, but we look to be stronger in the “long man/spot starter” role.  Kimball is hurt but Mattheus was pretty good in 2011.   Burnett is signed through 2012 so he’s not going anywhere; do we need another lefty if we have both Gorzelanny and Detwiler projected in the bullpen?  I’m sure either one could prepare on a rotating basis for a one-out role.  Clippard is the set-up guy; he and Storen seem set in their roles and that’s great, since I think Clippard is a better pitcher and is getting the more high-leverage appearances.  Not much to add from Ladson.

Q: What is the situation with Rick Ankiel? Will he be coming back to the Nationals?

A: Ankiel‘s not coming back; if the team wanted a plus defender who couldn’t hit, they can find him much cheaper.  Kinda like Mike Cameron.  Its too bad; he was so good in CF but so bad at the plate.  Ladson thinks the team could still be interested in Ankiel as a 4th outfielder.

Q: There is no doubt the Gonzalez deal helps the Nationals right now. But do you think they should have dealt their prospects for a center fielder?

A: It seems like Mike Rizzo cashed in his prospects on a deal he couldn’t turn down, taking advantage of Billy Beane‘s firesale in Oakland to get a pretty good pitcher.  Did he *need* another starter?  Maybe, maybe not.  Does he *need* a center fielder?   Yeah he does.  He also needs a lead-off hitter.  And a better short-stop.  But you can’t solve all your problems at once.  I like Gonzalez; like what we got and think it was a good return on the prospects we gave up.  I’m ok living with Werth for a year in CF and buying someone on the open market next off-season.  Ladson agrees.

Q: Are there any potential trade suitors for Jesus Flores? He shouldn’t be the Nationals’ backup catcher.

A: Well, the second we traded Derek Norris, Flores became that much more important to this team.  Yes he’s our backup, and yes we think he could start elsewhere, so perhaps at some point (if we feel confident that Ramos look strong) we can flip Flores and use Solano for backup purposes at the MLB level.  But suddenly we may be looking at needing to develop more catcher depth.  Ladson is right in saying that Flores is a project, and that we’d be selling low by trading him now considering his injury past.

Q: With the bench still something of a question mark, will Stephen Lombardozzi be given a shot to crack the roster? If he plays well, what chance is there that he will start playing every day?

A: I suppose; I wasn’t incredibly impressed with Lombardozzi‘s Sept 2011 call-up.  I thought he looked beyond over-matched at the plate.  I’d like to see if he could actually be a good middle infielder and not top-out as a Brian Bixler utility infielder.  The team needs a 2nd utility infielder after DeRosa and Lombardozzi could fit the bill.  Start?  Hmm; Desmond isn’t going to be allowed to hit .220 forever, so yes its conceivable that at some point if Desmond doesn’t start hitting he’ll get replaced in the field, and it’d be great if the team had someone like Lombardozzi to step up.  Ladson says its a long-shot.

Q: Why is right-hander Yuniesky Maya still with the Nationals?

A: Two words: guaranteed contract.  Clearly he’s not the guy that the team thought he was; we have two more years for him to toil in AAA and serve as a spot starter/emergency backup.  Its too bad; he has the arsenal and the moxie but not the stuff to survive.  Ladson calls him a disappointment.  Clearly.